niblets: wine o’clock edition

1622373_10102361703598911_1610052131_oNow that our dull roots are stirred with spring rain, we yearn for a glass of Oregon wine on a warm evening.  And lo, there are already events that can make it happen.

  • Oregon Wine LAB (488 Lincoln St), the brainchild of former Sweet Cheeks front man Mark Nicholl, offers wines from his new label, William Rose, and other local wineries that don’t have their own tasting rooms.  It’s a great concept and a great space with a long, live-edge bar and vinyl spun on the turntable, made even better by Mark’s rather gifted ability to promote and network among cultural venues.  He’s continually bringing in something new: a range of food carts, live music, vendor fairs, wine classes, wine tastings for professionals, etc., etc.  So here’s the latest:

Working Women’s Wednesdays(HAPPENING NOW!), 4-7 pm.  Light appetizers and prize drawings every 15 minutes. No-host bar.

Chef/Winemaker Dinner, Sat. March 15. The “unshackled cuisine” (love this) of Crystal Platt from Marché paired with William Rose Wines.  Menu here. There are just a few seats left so reserve now: (458) 201-7413 or info@oregonwinelab.com. $75. 6:30 p.m. The first of I hope very many.

  • Oregon Pioneer Wine Dinner Series at Route 5 Wine Bar, with food by Marché.  Absolutely love this idea.  I’m going to the Broadley one tonight, which is sold out, but mark your calendars for Ponzi on April 9, Dom. Drouhin on May 7, and Sokol Blosser on June 4.  Call Route 5 Wine Bar for more details — I suspect some details will change, and their somewhat baffling website doesn’t have these events listed yet.
  • And a whole heck of a lot of really good chef/winemaker dinners at the Steamboat Inn on the outskirts of the Umpqua National Forest.  Yes, it’s a 2-hr. drive, but just look at these pairings from great places all over the state, including our very own Chefs Tobi Sovak and Michael Landsberg from Noisette with Ray Walsh of Capitello Wines on March 22, and Chefs Stephanie Pearl Kimmel and Crystal Platt from Marché with Jason Lett of Eyrie on April 4. Wow!!
  • Or grow your own wine by visiting the Spring Propagation Fair on March 22 and 23 at LCC, and getting FREE SCIONS of grapes and apples and pears.  This year marks the first time I’ve been involved, and I’m so utterly thrilled to have helped cut grape scions at Nick Botner’s amazing farm in Yoncalla, one of the largest experimental and diverse repository for orchard fruits in the world, and reportedly the biggest private one.  That’s his rustic and fruity Marechal Foch wine above, and his farm, below.  Organizer Nick Routledge, whom I managed to capture in the photo below carrying scions, works with Botner and the pear repository up in Corvallis to gather some amazing and rare and resistant varieties.  He offers scions and seeds as part of his activism work on restoring the earth and getting people to grow food locally.  The annual fair also offers plants, a number of free workshops, and root stock grafting resources for a nominal fee.  More information is here.

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separate two eggs: roasted beet parsnip salad and christmas for one

Manzanita, OR.After the darkest day of the year, one can’t help but feel a little brighter.  I took advantage of the day to (appropriately) finish up changing my name on nearly all my documents and accounts and such.  To burn bright in 2014!  That is my mandate, my motto, my personal crest, my raison d’être, my challenge.

Perhaps I should invest in a fire extinguisher.

I’ve been cooking, and anticipating with great joy my Polish Christmas for One.  The theory is to spend far too much time making a miniature version of the 12-dish meatless, fish-heavy Wigilia.  It’s a celebration of being able to cook whatever I want and eat when I want, delighting in the pleasure of being alone and unfettered and ending the year without any more terrible disasters. Hope MUST return, I’ve decided, if only in one-week increments.

Please note the celebratory aspect.  It is far more disturbing, I’m discovering, for others to envision me spending Christmas alone than for me to live the reality of it.  Christmas has always been a quiet affair in our house, involving a break from elaborate dinner parties or socializing or social media or work.  And this year will be no different.  It will just be fancier with Polish dishes and calmer without arguing and more grey and fluffy and energetic and bitey and jumpy and maniacal.

I’ve got salt herring and pickled herring and gravlax.  I have beet kvass souring for borsch, and yellowfoots for mushroom pierogi, dilled sauerkraut for braising, fresh sweet cabbage fermenting with apples, carrots, and cranberries, and apple butter for a miniature cake, and grains for kutia.  There’s vodka and a bottle of good dry Riesling.  I’m still working on the rest.  There will be a little fish, ridiculously complicated, or maybe a crab.  Or oysters?

IMG_5075Anyway, before all that, I am happily eating a new dish made from glorious candystripe beets a new friend pulled from his garden for me.  A fine present for solstice, and unexpected.  I like that.

This pretty and simple warm salad, made with my own parsley and parsnips freshly dug from Tell Tale Farm, is in his honor, as it tastes of our Willamette Valley earth.  The secret is in roasting the parsnip batons separately from the beets with nutmeg and ginger, so they can get crispy and caramelized.

IMG_5094Pretty, no?

Warm Roasted Beet and Parsnip Salad

  • 3 beets (candystripe or other light-colored ones that won’t stain and mute color of parsnips)
  • 1 parsnip
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • fruity vinegar (homemade raspberry vinegar, if you have it; I used my foxy grape-star anise vinegar)
  • pepper
  • Equipment: 2 roasting pans and foil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Scrub beets well, cut in half or quarter if extra large, and place in one roasting pan.  Toss with a glug of olive oil and some salt until well-oiled.  Cover pan with foil and roast in oven until easily pierce-able with a fork. (40 minutes? Depends on the size of the beets.)

Peel and cut the parsnip into small batons, and mince ginger.  In a second roasting pan, and toss with a glug of olive oil, salt, and powder well with a good strong shakes of nutmeg.  Roast uncovered in the oven with the beets until browned and crispy. (15 minutes?)

Chop parsley and set aside.  Remove parsnips from oven when done and leave uncovered and unrefrigerated.

When beets are done, remove the foil and let cool until you are able to handle, then peel off skin with a paring knife.  Slice beets and place in serving dish.  Toss with a good splash of vinegar and some more olive oil, then add parsley, parsnips, and perhaps a little pepper.

Serve while still warm.  It makes a great light supper dish for one with some feta sprinkled on top, or a side dish for sausages or pork chops for 2-4.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

in which midsummer finds our heroine in her garden

IMG_3659As I struggle to finish two articles, work through the sudden loss of my beloved cat and a separation from my husband, and ponder a brave new world and perfect my Oregon tan* at the same time, my garden beckons, that heartbreaking seductress.  How did we get to mid-July? How did I get here?**

The raspberries are still producing, but slowly.  Blackcaps are done. I had no tayberries this year, and that’s probably for the best — the ones in the market were not terrific. Must have been a glitch in the weather, as the loganberries are fine, the boysenberries fanfuckingtastic. Also an almost complete failure of my ‘Poorman’ gooseberries, but the ‘Cherry Red’ currants were finally old enough for a great crop and the rhubarb didn’t wimp out this year.  My ‘Benton’ strawberries are throwing out sisters, rather rudely far from their nice contained bed, deep into my herbs and beans.

I packed away the cured garlic yesterday, big juicy heads of ‘Keith Red’ hardneck with mottled purple-brown skin (above), and a braided strand of a dozen or so pearl-white, mostly ‘Silver Rose’ softneck.  And the potatoes came out: a bit early, but nevertheless a terrific harvest of ‘Russian Banana’ fingerlings and an improved version of the Yukon Gold called Island something-or-another, I forgot.

Still need to thin my cute little round Dutch carrots and cut some kale, which rebounded beautifully from an aphid infestation. Poppies were a bust in partial shade.  Malabar spinach: you disappoint me.  But the frisée and celtuse? Big, perhaps bitter.  I understand.

My peas are finally through, or at least I finally got tired of them, so I pulled them out, gently extracting around the ‘La Vigneronne’ Swiss pole beans that are so pretty with maroon and green striations.  I trained a volunteer ‘Delicata’ squash (or maybe it’s a goddamn gourd) on the far side of the chickenwire fence and thought very hard about more properly netting up my cucumbers.  I bought a few rounds this year, and finally a few heirloom seeds and some hybrids took, and then I supplemented with late starts of ‘Mexican Sour Gherkins,’ ‘Salt and Pepper’ yellows, and ‘Poona Kheera’ whites.

Tomatoes are going like gangbusters; peppers are slow and small-leaved, but fruiting.  I think the early heat and time in the greenhouse produced leggy plants, so they are still recovering by throwing out leaves.

The squash is a mystery, quite frankly.  I planted little hills when garden space freed up: some Open Oak variety of ‘Delicata’ here, a ‘Costata Romanesco’ ribbed zucchini there, some yellow crooknecks over there.  A pumpkin volunteer sprang up in the tomato bed.  A gourd or two or four are scattered throughout.  I cast out seeds.  I take my chances.  Same as it ever was; same as it ever was; same as it ever was; same as it ever was.

*The slightly pinkish hue that comes from being outside with sunscreen and a hat whilst raspberry picking on a hot day.

**At least I’m no longer obsessively thinking about Dante’s hell in the middle of the road.

herbal cuisine

IMG_4591If there’s any one way to describe my summer cooking, it’s herbal.  I grow as many fragrant leafy things as I can, then chop and sprinkle all summer long. I wish I were a caterpillar, able to munch my way happily through my tangle of a garden — much like the little guys at work on a Taiwanese tea leaf in my header above, the image that sends the weak fleeing terrified from my blog.  (Every once in a while, I get a comment like “ohmygod, I loved your recipe until I saw the caterpillars! EWWWWWW. Now I hate it and I hate you!”  Yeah.  Don’t let a giant foot smush you as you crawl out.)

My usual summer lunch is mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with salt and olive oil, of course — of course — but I feel the urge strongly when June hits, even if it’s so grey and chilly I make golabki.  I end up strewing summer savory, lemon thyme, and parsley over the Polish stuffed cabbage baking in the oven for two hours, because one can dream of sunnier days, right?

Or I make potstickers with chives, fennel, and parsley.

There’s plenty of tabbouli, if you want parsley, and I always want parsley.  Home-canned tuna gets parsley, chives, and savory in a salad with beans, or if fresh, grilled with charred “scallions” from culled onion tops.  When I grill a steak, my favorite topping is a gremolata, described in my screed against Steak Diane, resplendent with parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.

Gosh, what don’t I eat with fresh garden parsley?

Chicken salad gets tarragon from my miracle bush, with sprigs already three feet long and growing, or lovage, topping out around eight feet high right now. Vegetable salads like cole slaw or spring baby veg get a shower of herbs from borage and johnny-jump-up flowers and salad burnet.

Fish or potatoes can be grilled in packets with handfuls of fresh Mediterranean bay leaves (absolutely worth growing).  New potatoes and mint is an early summer ritual.

Pair cilantro with tiny Oregon pink shrimp for ceviche or with tomatoes and hot peppers in a thousand summer salsas.

Steamed rice gets a shower of shiso chiffonade, or I just fold up bits of rice in a heart-shaped entire leaf, like little fresh dolmades from Japan. Pizza? Fresh marjoram or oregano.  Grilled zucchini shares the plate with mint and pine nuts.  Blackberries get thyme and peaches get basil with rose geranium syrup.

Only raspberries shall remain untouched, I decree: those plump ruby pillows are gifts from the gods, the ones that finally smile on Oregonians in the summer.  Finally.  Lord hear my prayer.

chile weather 2013

IMG_2980I don’t think I’ve ever planted cucumbers and peppers on the same day before, but call me behind the times and ahead of my time.

This year, I’m going loco and concentrating on Mexican chile varietals to play with molé. That’s me eating enchiladas molé at a restaurant in Las Vegas with some modernist studies colleagues, above.

I also bought a couple of Facing Heavens, the Sichuan chile that I use dried and fermented and chopped into a sauce.  Jeff’s Garden of Eaton has several hundred varieties of tomatoes and hot and sweet peppers, including many rare ones, so it’s always fun to go out River Road to look and pick up a few for $2 a plant.  They’re getting tall already, so you’ll want to go soon.

I am switching beds this year, so am hoping the peppers will be happy.  They grow remarkably well in the hottest, driest spot in the garden.

Here’s my lineup (clockwise from East end). What is yours?

  • Facing Heaven
  • Chiltepec
  • Sweet Pickle
  • Pimiento de Padron
  • Chile de Agua (tell your Mexican friends about this Oaxacan pepper, very rare)
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca
  • Mulato
  • Chilhuacle Negro
  • Costeno Amarillo
  • Another Facing Heaven

 

 

eats weeds and leaves: edible spring pruning

IMG_3152Hello!  Long time no see.  It’s planning season in academia, and I’ve been scrambling to pull together grants and reports and abstracts and introductions and applications.  Like so many young(ish) scholars working in adjunct positions, I’ve also been struggling with job instability and will be moving to a joint position teaching in English and Comparative Literature at the university in the fall.  Although I’m excited to work with colleagues I know and respect already (don’t forget Eugene is a small town, so this is like moving down the street), it will shift priorities for me as the new classes and structure will take up more time.  Some additional family financial pressures mean I will need to start prioritizing stability and writing much more, both for academic journals and professional food publications to make ends meet.  Having to move is a very real possibility.

Unfortunately, this will mean fewer events and volunteer projects for the community starting next year, and I’m deeply sorry about this.  It’s important to give back, and the pleasures of the volunteer work I do, including the radio show, this blog, the preservation classes, the events I host at the UO through my research group, the promotion of others’ work, and volunteering at festivals and reporting on my travels and such make life worth living in Eugene.  Don’t worry, I still have a few things planned for next year that are pretty fabulous.  But I need to “lean out,” as they say.

So the prospect of eating from the garden is suddenly even more appealing.  And it’s culling time, so here are some ideas.

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  • Fresh oregano salad, substituting oregano for fresh parsley in any tabbouli recipe, supposedly helps young people study in the Middle East.  And who doesn’t need to sharpen up the memory?  With the tender spring leaves tempered by spring onions and a lemon and olive oil dressing, you won’t be overwhelmed by the dark, musky flavor and woody stems.
  • Common snails. Yes, escargot.  I felt my gorge rise when I realized in France our garden pests — yes, the exact same variety — were one of the species used for escargot.  But Molly Watson has published a piece in Edible San Francisco that lays out how to prepare and cook them in a rather appetizing way.  And what with the foraging all around town making its way into local bistros…new business, anyone?
  • Any basket-weavers who are pruning?  Consider a traditional grilled fish basket made of Mediterranean bay branches (above image).  We lunched on delicious salmon prepared this way on our tour of Sunset magazine a few weeks back as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference.  You might be able to do something similar with rosemary branches, if that’s your unruly hedge issue.
  • Dandelion greens can be wilted and used as a deeply flavorful green in a stirfry or potato curry, or try my fellow Oregon blogger Dr. Fugawe’s adaptation of Duguid’s Spiced Burmese New Potatoes with dandelion greens and shallot oil.

But where it’s really at is RAAB.  These are the tops of cruciferous vegetables that sweetly greenly provided iron-rich leaves all winter long, now bolting in the lovely sun.  The market gives us a bunch of them, all tasting basically the same once cooked, but some sharper, some darker when raw.  Try brussels sprouts raab or collards raab, my favorite (pictured first against tree — a very timely delivery by my beloved neighbor), or the lovely purple cabbage raab.

Easiest recipe?  Chop up a bunch of raab with its pretty yellow flowers and throw atop fried meat, like the utterly succulent chunks of bo ssam Biancalana pork shoulder I made the other day, before wrapping morsels in butter lettuce leaves.  But then there’s also

Pasta.  Try it chopped and sauteed in olive oil that has been warmed up with a little chopped garlic or culled green garlic from the garden, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes (add a little anchovy if you’re adventurous and/or wise).  Throw the cooked raab into a bowl of fresh pasta, something chunky like rotini, and grate fresh parmesano all over it.

You might also sample it steamed or fried with a little oyster sauce, just like the gai lan you see in dim sum houses.

Or little green potstickers, anyone?  Finely minced raab works especially well with ground pork as a filling.

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But best of all is this recipe for stir-fried chopped raab with pork and fermented red chili (above, photographed by the paparazzi).  It’s an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bo Bo Cai Xin, or Stir-fried Chopped Choy Sum, from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, that just came out in an American edition.  It’s a wonderful cookbook, with a big chapter on leafy greens that I’ve already explored extensively.

My palate is a bit duller than Dunlop’s so I usually use more spice and salt than she does.  You might decide on your own.  But either way, definitely use the pork if you’re a meat eater.  Although we sliced it thickly because of gluttony for Laughing Stock Farm pork and its delicious fat, I’d recommend mincing finely next time.  Another difference is that with raab, you don’t need to blanch ahead of time.  It’s much thinner and more tender than choy sum.  I also substituted my own fermented red ‘Facing Heaven’ chilis for plain red jalapenos, so the recipe reflects that.

Stir-fried Chopped Raab with Pork and Fermented Red Chili

Serves 2 with rice and Chinese pickles, but make several dishes and turn it into a party.

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 3 cups of chopped raab
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Sichuan fermented red chiles, or substitute finely chopped fresh red jalapeno or even red bell peppers
  • 1/2 pound ground pork or finely chopped pork shoulder meat, best quality
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons spring onions (good use for culled onions from garden)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil (optional)

Do all your chopping and measuring ahead of time, and set aside each ingredient in little bowls.  Heat wok to sizzling, then add a tablespoon of the peanut oil to heat, then quickly add the chopped raab and cook until bright green and still crunchy, just two minutes or so, then stir in red chiles.  Set aside in a serving dish.

Add rest of peanut oil, then add chopped or ground pork and a little salt.  As the pork loses its pink but is not yet completely cooked, add ginger and garlic.  When everything is nicely browned, add back the raab, stir to blend flavors and cook for a couple minutes more, then remove from heat, stir in sesame and chili oil, then serve with rice.

drunken botanist on the radio 3/24/13

Drunken-Botanist-high-resJust in time to celebrate the beginning of spring planting, we are so excited to have Amy Stewart, bestselling author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks, on our radio show today, Sunday, March 24, at noon.

Amy is a garden writer of renown, and her new book compiles a glossary of great herbs, plants, and trees that provide us with all the flavors that make up our liquors, cocktails, and other delicious drinks.  She promotes old-fashioned herbs like borage and new vegetables like the Mexican sour gherkin, discussing everything from suze-and-soda to roll-your-own cinnamon.  Expect some wonderful stories and a wicked charm!

We’re also pleased to host Cottage Grove grower Alice Doyle, whose Log House Plants are a continuing source of joy for so many of us in Lane County.  Alice opens her business, one of the foundations of our garden industry, to myriad local volunteer workshops; I visited her during my Master Gardener training a few years ago to practice grafting.  Little did I know she was hard at work creating the grafted tomatoes that became the nationwide stars of the 2011 garden season.  She’ll be discussing her grafted vegetables and the brand new Drunken Botanist starts collections that she developed with Amy, now available at places like Down to Earth, Gray’s, and Jerry’s.  You *must* check them out, and have a listen!  Food for Thought on KLCC Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations all across Oregon, or live on the web.