a hard nut to crack

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I’m shelling hazelnuts for next week’s Eugene Weekly column, and I’m as grumpy as can be.  Everything’s irritating me, from the grey sky to the too-umami taste of my soup to my lack of bagel to my cat short-sheeting me to my headache to not enough milk in my coffee to the endless grading I’ve been doing to the irresponsibly thin “article” on local food for Thanksgiving in this week’s Register Guard to my overfull and unreliable freezer to my crappy camera that can’t take pictures of hazelnuts worth a damn.  Why is it that other food bloggers smile dreamily into their lima beans and wax poetic about used napkins without a care in the world?  Hang it all.

So I thought I’d write about the ugly side of Thanksgiving — the week before.

The not-so-fun part: cleaning.  With the busy term, I’ve turned the cleaning largely over to my long-suffering husband, Retrogrouch.  He’s a crack ace at laundry and dishes, but he has a habit of leaving a trail of metaphorical breadcrumbs wherever he goes.  I’ll find a sock on the floor, a shirt on a doorknob, a canning jar and a plastic lid on the counter, fifty-seven cents on top of the TV, two rolls of tape on the washer, a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room, a receipt ambiguously autographed with a telephone number on the cutting board, one section of yesterday’s newspaper carefully folded and placed between two bowls on my display shelf.  (He’s going to be mad when he sees this, but my journalistic integrity obliges me to tell the truth, with only a hint of slant.)  So now, my house is bedecked with tidbits and loose ends and doodads, not to mention fear in a handful of dust.

A related task is cleaning out space in the refrigerator and freezer.  Here, I am the doodad whisperer.  A tiny bit of mustard vinaigrette in a Maille jar.  Seven containers full of still-pickling fermented green tomato pickles.  A butt end of gruyere.  A lone farm egg.  Some flat leaves of green sauerkraut awaiting stuffed cabbage experiments.  An Anderson Valley Brewing Company Christmas beer from last year.

The freezer, always stuffed, never working properly, is worse.  A single roll.  A hot dog bun.  An abandoned bag of Quorn.  Three abandoned boxes of fake bacon (and rightly so).  Four slightly freezer-burned t-bones.  A pork roast of dubious origin.  A single tiny tuna fillet.  Three containers of bacon grease.  Two more containers of sauerkraut.  Local black beans and lo! some frozen corn from last year.  Another bag of dried tomatoes.  Two bakery scones, which became my breakfast.  It’s going to be a marvelous dinner, that is, if I ever stop writing this blog post…

The fun part:  buying local foods.  I’ve been storing up winter squash from my CSA to make Squash Whip Queen of Hungary, a lovely purée inspired by medieval Queen of Hungary water (brandy, rosemary oil and sage).  Squashes are beautiful and plentiful this year, so local foodies should turn squashward.

I hope you’ve already ordered your turkey.  Wait…did I?  Oh yes, I did.  Whew.

And don’t forget those potatoes.  In a state that put the Ore in Ore-Ida, we have so many beautiful local tubers, and a variety for those allowed to experiment.  Potatoes were one of our very first white-man crops in Oregon, with records of planting dating back to 1795 near Cape Disappointment (surely named by someone on the Atkins diet) and culminating in the crowning of the “Potato King” in the Willamette Valley in the 1880s.  Can’t make this shit up.

Am I allowed to say ‘shit’ in a food blog?  Sorry.

Green beans.  Did you can or freeze yours?  It was a pretty good season for beans, as good as the corn season was poor.  I dehydrated all my green beans, in an experiment in trying to make a camping version of the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean classic green bean and tomato stew loubiyeh (sp?).  I won’t torture my guests with the results.  If you do have local frozen beans, you can cook them for about 60 seconds in a pressure cooker, and they won’t have that weird bouncy squeak to them when you eat them. A wonderfully simple way to serve them, of course, is with some sauteed local chanterelles or other specialty mushrooms, topped with fried local onions.  It’s almost like that casserole.  Almost.

Corn.  If you were able to freeze some, heat up a knob of salted butter in a frypan, brown a shallot or finely chopped slice of red onion, then add the frozen corn with no extra liquid and a bunch of freshly ground pepper.  The corn will shrivel a bit and brown in parts.  When it is heated through, pour in a glug of Noris Dairy whipping cream, stir well, and remove from the heat.

And pies.  Frozen fruit works well in pies.  I’m thinking of either using up my local boysenberries or my sour cherries.  And those hazelnuts sure would make a beautiful crust.  Then again, I have apples up the wazoo, including some local Cortlands, Empires, Rome Beauties, Melroses and a beautiful King.  Ah, choices.

It’s enough to make a girl stop complaining about being grumpy and go off to do her work!

zolotoy petushok closed

This makes me very grumpy.  My local source for Eastern European goodies, cheese, and sausage has closed.  Zolotoy Petushok, a Russian deli out in the hinterlands of W. 11th (in the mini-mall next to the KFC), was a sweet, friendly, unpretentious little place that sold jams, spices, teas, and tchotchkes along with hot meals: little mushroom dumplings, stuffed cabbage, or a steaming bowl of fish goulash.  This little deli, like the dearly departed Pomegranates Middle Eastern Market, was alone in its kind.  I bought my farmer’s cheese there.  I remember reading somewhere that the store had changed owners recently; I guess they quickly realized it wasn’t a profitable location.

if you’re tired of greens

If you’re tired of greens and you know it, salad-spin, salad-spin!

If you’re tired of greens and you know it, salad-spin, salad-spin!

If you’re tired of greens and you know it and you’re trying to be a good little locavore and the whole damn state of Oregon is stuck in perpetual spring and it won’t get warm and your beans aren’t growing and your tomatoes are rotting on the vine and you’ve eaten more lettuce than an entire army of slugs and the greens still keep coming and coming, endlessly, leafily, inexorably, cruelly…

salad-spin, salad-spin!

I’ve grown so desperate, I even altered one of my oldest, dearest recipes to use up a braising mix of chard, kale, mustard greens and spinach. And the recipe? Green potstickers. Yes, potstickers. Who knew? I’ll post about it tomorrow when I have more time.

jefferson street grill becomes billy mac’s bar and grill

Hrm. We eat at Mac’s at the Vet’s (as unpalatable as the apostrophes are*) not infrequently. Untenured professors (and a few hoity-toity elite tenured types) like to gather there because it’s a strange and unique Eugene institution: part small-town male social club watering hole with period decor, part fancy menu, part live music, part lottery machines in the back. The food is OK, but oddly (but not for Eugene, sigh) too “upscale” and pricey for the venue. But it’s quirky enough to be enjoyable, and there’s a great Wednesday burger and brew special.

Note to Chef Bill McCallum, though, before we proceed: the jo-jo potato things that you serve as french fries…please, man, for the love of god, cease and desist. Give us an honest french fry. Those things are almost inedible.

OK, sorry, off track here. As I was saying, we eat at Mac’s at the Vet’s not infrequently, so we know it’s not that bad, and certainly better than Jake’s Place, which was Chef Bill’s previous venue. Jake’s Place, a schizophrenic restaurant with a vaguely Hawaiin motif and a fancy menu, was sold and turned into Jefferson Street Grill, a place for which we had great hopes because it is in our neighborhood and the perfect venue for a neighborhood pub with light, fresh, creative food. Alas, it was not to be. They tried the more formal restaurant with a similar, inappropriate menu featuring dinosaurs like prime rib and low lighting, and it failed quickly.

I was excited to see the new sign — Billy Mac’s Bar and Grill opening in June! Then I figured out that the place was going back to its OLD vision of Jake’s Place with the same chef. I don’t have anything AGAINST Chef Bill, but for Chrissake, Eugene, give us some new blood! I’m frustrated to think that nothing’s going to change with this little place that holds so much promise.

So. Do I speak for other Eugeniuses when I say WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER BAR AND GRILL? I hope I do. Let the people speak!

Edited to add: OK, OK, one person (my husband) spoke, and he said that I haven’t even tried the place yet, so I should wait to release the hounds. Yeah, good point. So I amend my rant thusly: CHEF BILL, PLEASE SURPRISE US WITH THE BEST BAR AND GRILL IN EUGENE WITH A COMPLETELY NEW VISION!

* Mac’s is OK, as it is short for McCallum’s, I assume. Vet’s is not so kosher, as it is housed in the Veterans’ Club, not the singular, only veteran in Eugene’s establishment.

eugene needs a gelato shop…not!

I was excited to read this morning about a new retail space opening far, far away from me in North Eugene. Then I put on my curmudgeon hat. Eugene, declared the owner of one of the new establishments, needs a gelato shop!

Actually, Eugene needs a gelato shop like that old saying about a fish and a bicycle. Eugene most emphatically does not need a gelato shop. We have at least two places that sell wonderful gelato, Sweet Life Pâtisserie, one of Eugene’s greatest treasures, and the upscale Market of Choice on W. 29th. Sweet Life’s gelato bar sells another of Eugene’s treasures, Coconut Bliss, the vegan, coconut-based iced confection that is the only ice cream substitute I’ll eat. And let’s not forget that Eugene also boasts some of the best fresh ice cream in the country, Prince Pücklers, milord of the ünnecessary ümlaut.

So enough already.

We don’t need another Pan-Asian restaurant either, another promised establishment. Spare us the indignity of another Paul Fleming Chang’s. Please. In fact, we don’t need another Pan-Anything. Seriously, does any small town in American have *more* Pan-Asian and Pan-Latin restaurants than we do? (I, for one, am kind of excited that the owners of El Vaquero, Red Agave and Asado are thinking of selling — just to stop more expensive Pan-Latin restaurants from propagating.)

You want upscale? How about a great, Japanese-run, experienced Japanese-cheffed sushi bar that serves fresh sushi. Not Pan-Asian. No Pad Thai sashimi. No bulgogi miso soup with sweet-n-sour pork nuggets. I’d even suggest holding the rolled-up abominations of seven kinds of fish wrapped in fake crab, doused in sweet sauce and deep-fried that have become popular at American sushi bars, but then everyone would shush my crazy talk.

Or branch out, if you don’t think the Eugene crowd can handle sushi alone (and newsflash: they can). Mix sushi with izakeya food, if you must. Japanese bar cuisine. It’s big in places like San Francisco now and totally delicious, totally authentic (basically) and simple food: boiled dishes, grilled dishes, deep-fried dishes involving just a few ingredients.

Or how about a Szechuan restaurant? It would be the first time a chili pepper set foot in Eugene. Someone who knew how to make authentic, beautiful, simple, non-MSG-poisoned Chinese food. I mean, dudes, that Fuchsia Dunlop cookbook has been out for AGES.

Or Belgian. Honestly. We have great beer and seafood and local beef sources. Belgian bistro food. Get us out of that repetitive French mode — and this is from someone who truly loves French food, but enough already. Surely someone knows how to make simple french fries that aren’t frozen and/or soggy here. Yeah, yeah, I know you like tater tots. Deal.

I won’t even suggest Ethiopian, but damn, Eugene needs an Ethiopian restaurant. We have to drive to Portland to get it. But I think it’s just too exotic for Eugene, unfortunately. And the ingredients would be just about impossible to keep stocked. So never mind.

But Persian! REAL Persian. We have a Middle Eastern grocery store now, Pomegranates, neare the Southetowne Shoppes. I’ve never met a kebab I didn’t like. They’re simple and easy to make — even kids like them. Meat served with rice and a tomato and cucumber salad. And tons of yogurt. We have a local yogurt company, Nancy’s, for goodness sake! Please!

Or just as yogurty and even less exotic and politically charged — Greek! Roasted fish with lemon and olives, variety rotating daily. Beautiful little dips. Lamb. Soups. I’m thinking Baltimore’s The Black Olive (who catered our Baltimore wedding party, thanks again to my husband’s parents!), and their grilled fresh fish, served simply with lemon and olive oil. Oh, and the desserts. God. So. Good.

Or salad. Big, huge beautiful salads that you can buy without dodging children and hot wings. I’m thinking of Café Intermezzo in Berkeley here. It’s not that hard, really. Yes — a café that sells hand-tossed salads with simple ingredients, simple sandwiches on Metropol baguettes, and perfectly prepared coffee drinks. That’s what Eugene needs.

We’re not all suckers hungry for a theme restaurant or something that’s supposed to be classy. We want good food, a variety of options, ethnic food prepared with the intention of authenticity, at least, and simple deliciousness. We’ll pay for that.

restaurant reviews

I’m planning a few restaurant reviews. Reviewing restaurants in Eugene is just plain depressing. I don’t want to sound like a harpy or a snob or a complete whiner, but frankly, when it comes to restaurants, I am. This is a town crazy for expensive fusion, for pretentious dscf3558.jpgluxury ingredients in otherwise easy-to-prepare dishes to justify an outrageous cost. To wit: I made a simplified version of Tony Bourdain’s bouillabaisse a couple of weeks ago, using fresh seafood from the Fisherman’s Market, of our three (!) wonderful seafood markets, and the bill came to about 30 bucks for a huge pot of soup and fish. I see bouillabaisse is on the menu at the French bistro in town for $27 a bowl. Honestly, I just can’t justify going out to eat something *that expensive* I can prepare at home with plenty of leftovers. I know my situation is a bit unusual because I have cooking chops and time on my side (well, that is when I’m not slaving away on the diss) and a disproportionate palate to cash ratio, but I still feel I should register my frustrations, since this here’s an academic town and academics do like to spend their money on meals.

So anyhoo, I have a couple of crabby restaurant reviews in the works. One of the goals of this blog is to provide unsponsored, culinarily literate restaurant reviews that aren’t along the lines of “I’ve never eaten sushi before, but OMG, this is the best sushi ever!” So that’s what yer gonna git, as soon as I finish gittin’.

First up is what I’ll call the Happy Chinese New Year Eugene’s Chinese Food Massacre. Just you wait, dear friends, just you wait.

how to make a veggie tray, and other discontents

The Eugene Register-Guard, like all American newspapers, is featuring recipes for the goddamn football game in its food section this week.  I know, I know, I shouldn’t modify football with ‘goddamn’ and still call myself an American, but I’m not a football fan, and assert my American freedom in saying I am not.   In the interest of full disclosure, I am interested in the, um, outfits of football players, and the way they, um, run on the field, but that’s about it.

But I am interested in party food, and cooking for a manly man, so I accept your American fascination with football recipes in January.  In fact, being a good sport, I will post my own tomorrow, an appetizer called “deconstructed gyro-stuffed mushrooms,” or as I will rename them, “mini-footballs with creamy garlic sauce.”

But until then, I’d like to complain about the recipes in my local rag:  honestly, Eugene Register-Guard, a recipe for how to make a veggie tray?  Do you really think we’re that idiotic?