separate two eggs: weight loss and mise en place

Detail, Market Scene with Christ and the Adulteress, Pieter Aertsen, 1559, Staedel Museum, Frankfurt.
Detail, Market Scene with Christ and the Adulteress, Pieter Aertsen, 1559, Staedel Museum, Frankfurt.

I’m prepping to receive about 100 lbs. of the tastiest, juiciest, pasture-fed, local beef, so I’m desperately trying to eat down my standing freezer.  This is a bit harder as one person than two, especially one who has been battling appetite slumps and anxiety cooking jags and antisocial moods and dining out hopes and growing terror about a headlong dive into poverty.

I’m finding little gems squirreled away in corners, now that I’ve freed the chicken carcasses, the oxtail bones, and the half pig head, trotter, and jowl from their frozen prisons to make stock.  I bring you the cornucopia of my life, most of it put up in the last year:

  • two fine pieces of lasagna;
  • 4 cups of sour cherries;
  • a quart bag of home-cured posole;
  • 4 cups of ajvar;
  • 3 gallon bags stuffed full of, respectively, boysenberries, haskapberries, and cranberries;
  • 1 gallon or so of tomato paste, portioned into 2 tablespoon-sized cubes;
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini;
  • 4 cups of sauerkraut golabki, pink; consumed;
  • bag o’ pancakes (pancakes?);
  • 2 cups b’steeya filling;
  • bolete pierogi (yum);
  • 2 half-pints duck rillettes;
  • 8 or 10 pieces of injera;
  • local polenta;
  • 2 quarts corn;
  • 1 cup wild mushroom duxelles;
  • 1 quart raisins (to go with the two more gallons raisins on my shelf and other freezer);
  • 2 gallons grapes to make more damn raisins;
  • 8 cups roasted sweetmeat squash;
  • a big package of forgotten homemade sausages (yay!);
  • pancetta;
  • 1 pint pork/raisin/almond tamale filling;
  • pork skin;
  • a bag of chicken feet;
  • and the meats and stocks one might expect.

I’m not even down into the bowels of the freezer yet. Or addressing the daily-use freezer full of readymades in the house.  If I were a civilization, what would this archaeological dig say about me, other than I’ve an embarrassment of riches?

Wait, don’t answer that.

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 and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

on being unreasonable in food critiques: a tale of two hamburgers

IMG_8828I occasionally check in on a big online local food group’s discussion threads.  As they are wont to do, the discussions flare up and people get offended at others’ opinions, especially if they are seen as damaging to local establishments or exhibiting socioeconomic privilege or unacceptable politics or perceived “snobbery.”  These places provide local jobs, the outcry goes, we should support them no matter what!  Keep any negative opinions to yourself or go whisper it personally to the manager!  Not all of us eat caviar and champagne every day!


As consumers who vote with our dollars in a local economy that is still heavily dependent on word-of-mouth and habit, we should be actively and publicly and vociferously supporting the good restaurants, and actively and loudly calling out the bad ones on their badness. But to do so without namecalling or resorting to empty cheerleading for your “team” (as we do in this one-team town) is crucial.

So here’s my advice.  Be reasonable in your food critiques.

1)  Use the skills you should have learned in your college or high school English composition class: explain how and why you believe what you do, and provide evidence that supports your case.*

Without exception, the good places are places with chefs who are intimately involved with a dynamic menu and have great palates, creative and innovative spirits, and a need to be in the kitchen and serve the unwashed masses.  In almost every single case I can think of, that means supporting a local restaurant in Eugene that relies on local products, local distribution, and sustainable ethics insofar as the price point can maintain it.  And there are plenty of good ones to support.

There are also plenty of bad ones.  Yes, there are the ones meant to be lower cost, and there’s a place for that.  The portions may be huge for so-called “value,” and the food isn’t seasoned well, if it is even what you ordered.  To take one example, I ordered a burger at a mom-n-pop place the other night, and they still messed up the order after I heard no less than FIVE repetitions of what I wanted (from me twice, the server once, and the cooks on the line twice, plus it was written on the ticket).

But I was hungry and the kitchen was slammed and it was getting dark and I was on my bike, so I just said fine, I’ll scrape off the barbecue sauce and ignore the cheese and just eat this mountain of breaded-and-too-salty french fries from a freezer bag. I’m also not going to go on Yelp and whine about it, since I wasn’t expecting much and I got less but it turns out the ticket was written poorly and I chose not to have the order re-fired.  There was no safety issue and no one was out of line.  If I go again (and that’s a big if), I’ll just make sure the order is right.  I ain’t fussed.

But I am (is?) fussed when a restaurant whose soul is like the burger joint tries to pass itself off as an expensive locavore joint.  Using industrial frozen crap in a bag, not getting orders right, sacrificing local produce and quality ingredients to increase the slim profit margin, and struggling along with an absentee owner or executive chef and cooks who don’t taste the food or know what combinations work and little training for the front of the house, but still calling the menu locally sourced and fresh and the restaurant high-end.  I’ll pay $9 to suffer all that plus a high school server who is busier making eyes at the bartender than writing down an order properly, but I won’t pay $39.

And neither should you.

2)  The key for a good review is a customer who knows the difference.  Learn how to cook.  Yeah, I know you’re busy.  But education is always a sacrifice, and your body/family/farmers/planet will thank you for it.  You can choose to eat most of your meals out at cheap places if you aren’t rich.  I’d argue it’s better to save your money and use it on better places less frequently, but clearly I don’t take my own advice, as you see from the anecdote above. Nevertheless, it’s important to know the difference with your eyes and mouth between cheap, mass-produced food and good food.

Don’t patronize the places that serve you cheap food and provide cheap service for expensive prices AND, contrariwise, don’t expect places that serve you high quality food and provide good service to give you massive, gluttonous portions and act like you’re both in a chain restaurant in the mall.

And when places underwhelm you for the prices they’re charging for the quality (note again: quality not quantity since you’re not eating from a trough) of food, call them out when they do.  The reason why some of our crappy overpriced local restaurants are still in business is because (a) most people don’t know how good our fresh local food can be because they’re used to eating mass-produced products; (b) very few people who know about food say anything because they’re in the business and afraid of offending someone they may be working for someday; and (c) we live in a town where inertia helps us along and no one likes conflict or sounding too opinionated.

3)  Another thing to keep in mind is that we’re trained as Americans, as Westerners, and as Oregonians to “have it your way.”  We value individual choices so strongly it’s sometimes hard to get out of our own little bubble when we’re judging others.  So be reasonable with your tastes when you’re critiquing a local restaurant.

To return to my hamburger example, I know I am idiosyncratic with burgers.  The burger depicted above is how I like my burgers:  a crusty toasted roll, extra dill pickles dripping their dill juice into the meat, and more ketchup than burger so the whole thing is falling apart.  I even dip it in more ketchup.  Without a doubt, folks will find this completely gross and a BBQ cheeseburger far more preferable.  Where’s the special sauce?  Or Jesus, at least add some mayo and lettuce!

But no.  I just so happen to have odd tastes in burgers.  And I know this.  So you’ll rarely see me commenting on burger joints or even ordering a burger in mixed company, especially at a nice restaurant.  I know this and account for it:  I act like a 5-year-old with burgers and get surly when stuff like nasty yellow mustard or a raw onion touches my ketchuppicklefest, because my burger training was at fast food joints.  Now, of course, I make my own ketchup and pickles and eat beef ground to my specification from a local cow and form the patties myself, so I’m even worse than your average McDonald’s hamburger type.

In short, I am a hamburger douchebag.  I know this.  I protect others from the madness.  There’s probably even some residual shame in this that makes me do stuff like scrape off barbecue sauce on a misfire than insist I have my order the way I wanted it; who knows.

Do you act like a douchebag with your food tastes?  Complaining about a restaurant’s menu based on your own idiosyncratic needs is not reasonable.  If you’re gluten-free, for example, why are you in a bakery?  Can’t abide greasy food?  Get outta the pizza joint.  You only eat burgers and nothing else?  Heaven help you.  The seasonality of local ingredients, higher labor, and chef’s vision in more expensive places dictates that you can’t always have it your way.  That’s part of what you’re signing up for when you choose to go to a good restaurant.  If the menu is huge and offers concessions for every fathomable dietary restriction du jour, it’s going to come out in quality elsewhere.  So respect the genre of the restaurant you’re critiquing if you want to promote your own agenda, or better yet, be reasonable about your expectations.

One can be opinionated and reasonable.  Really.  I’ve seen it work.  I think it’s working now, actually, because in the past seven years I’ve seen drastic and wonderful changes in the Eugene dining scene, changes for the better.  And it isn’t because people blindly supported local establishments and kept their opinions to themselves.  Local restaurants are reading comments and listening to their customers.  You’ll be a respected critic if you state your opinions from an intelligent and understanding position, and back up your impressions with proof. You’ll still probably be attacked and called names, but that reflects on the commenter, not you.

* Why yes, I am an English professor by trade.  How can you tell?

butcher your own meat, poison, and razor clams: psychopathy or just another episode of food for thought?

Camas Davis. Photo nicked from Chef’s Catalog

I might say both.  It’s Ryan and me again hosting another dark and dangerous episode of food radio programming for maniacs, Food for Thought on KLCC, today at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations all across Oregon, or live on the web.

Updated:  Listen to the show’s archive here.

We’ll be chatting with Portland Meat Collective‘s Camas Davis, former food writer and butcher extraordinaire.  Isn’t she absolutely fiercely beautiful?

The PMC teaches people how to break down their own meat, an important element of understanding how the food system works and how we can relocalize and improve meat processing.  She’s raising funds for seeding meat collectives across America in a Kickstarter campaign, and will be discussing a forthcoming class or two planned for Eugene where YOU can learn the skills and take home pounds of premium meat.  You can watch a video of Davis on her Kickstarter page, listen to her on This American Life, or read the article that made her national news in the New York Times Magazine.

We’ll check in with Chef Gabriel Gil of the soon forthcoming and long-awaited Soubise restaurant, and sharing meals of the week. Mine came from an unexpected and marvelous gift of Oregon coast razor clams, one of the sweetest and most delicious shellfish around.  And get this, they’re free if you dig your own!  They can be prepared in many more ways than you will hear from the locals, including the way I ate them last night…

ethiopian spiced greens

We finally dove into our T-bone steaks from the quarter-cow share, and they were wonderful.  Let no one tell you that grass-fed beef is tough or tastes bad; ours is flavorful and perfectly juicy.  It is leaner, but the lack of marbled fat doesn’t seem to be a problem.  I’m not thrilled by the butchery, I have to admit. One of the T-bones lacked most of the pretty little tenderloin nugget that defines this cut, a condition I’m pretty sure is related to a slip of a knife (or saw?).

But I won’t go on about the wonders of the steak, marinated in whole-grain mustard and topped with Walla-walla onions and tarragon butter.  Instead, instead!  The star of the T-bone show wasn’t the T-bone at all.

It was the side of Ethiopian greens.

Retrogrouch had purchased a giant bag full of hearty greens after reading that they were good for healing broken bones.  We hadn’t been cooking them, though, so I suggested we make the Ethiopian greens that I love.  We still had some quick-frozen injera in our deep freeze, so I pulled that out and nuked it, as per the instructions from the woman who sold it to me in Portland.  (But if you like, make your own from one of my most popular posts, thanks to guest blogger Ceri — good luck!)

Candid photo of the uninvited guest at our intimate supper, courtesy of Retrogrouch

This recipe was adapted from several Ethiopian greens recipes — one a simple, non-spiced treatment for boiled kale, and another recipe using niter kibbeh, the spiced ghee or clarified butter used frequently in Ethiopian cooking, to jazz up collard greens.  It’s delicious just plain or with injera as a scoop.

By the way, if you’re looking for a fantastic appetizer that uses a similar preparation, try my Ethiopian greens bruschetta, a lovely preamble to a barbecue.

Ethiopian Spiced Greens

  • 1 lb. mixed hearty greens (I used purple and lacinato kale with some beet greens; try any kale, mustard green, collards), cleaned well
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter available in Indian markets) or regular butter
  • Spices: about 1/2 teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder, and 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin, fenugreek powder, cardamom powder
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup stock or water (I used beef bone stock)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or mix in 1/2 teaspoon dried to the spices above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

Chop and mince vegetables and herbs, as noted, and grate ginger.  Mix together spices.  Strip the leaves from the stems of the cleaned greens; discard stems.

Blanch the hearty greens by plunging them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then dropping them into a bowl of ice water.  Squeeze the water from the greens as best as possible (I grab pieces that are softball-sized and squeeze), then set aside in large bowl to be chopped.

Chop all the greens into pieces no larger than one inch square.

In a pot large enough to hold the greens, melt the butter and add spices, ginger, red onion, and garlic; cook on low heat for about 20 minutes to soften the aromatics.

Add the stock or water and bring to a boil, then add the greens, oregano, and green onions.  Mix well and taste.  Add salt as necessary, perhaps more than you think you might need.

Here is where your preference comes in.  Cook the greens until they are just right for you.  It will depend, also, on the greens you’ve chosen. The tradeoff for softer greens is a loss of nutrients.  I like mine dark green but not olive drab; others may like theirs emerald green.  Add more stock if the greens seem dry.  You don’t want them to be dripping wet, but moist is good.

Serve with injera and another dish.  Lentils is a good choice, as is (trust me) a lovely T-bone steak.

one of the best appetizers i’ve ever had: rabbit bistro

And there may even be a couple left, not sure.  Every Friday, Chef Gabriel Gil posts an appetizer and entree special on the Rabbit Bistro Facebook page.  They’re always fascinating, often mysterious, and sometimes challenging.  Separate the boys from the men, that’s what I say.  If you want to try it, relax your inhibitions a bit (might I suggest a cocktail special first?) and trust him.  I know this is contrary to the Eugene Way and the increasingly loathsome American practice of dietary eliminations and inspecting menus for their clinical traits.  So don’t go if you’re worried your needs won’t be met or you use “protein” to describe what you’re ordering for dinner.

But if you want to delight your tastebuds and widen your horizons…

How about a toothsome, cured and smoked venison carpaccio with the texture and flavor of pastrami sashimi?  It was brilliant, BRILLIANT, served with miner’s lettuce, slices of roasted rutabaga and perfect pickled tart apple, malt mayo (just a skosh too much), and iced milk that kept it cold and melted its milkiness down the mountain of cured protein, er, deer.

The picture, of course, doesn’t do it justice.  I rarely take pictures at Rabbit because the lighting doesn’t encourage it (and I’m the first to acknowledge it’s an awful habit, not to be encouraged at all), but I just had to share this one.  I wanted to lick the plate, pick it up and lick it.

We’re going to have Gabriel on Food for Thought on KLCC next Sunday, April 1, at noon, when I next co-host, so we can talk more about the culinary Renaissance in Eugene and what the Rabbit brings to the scene.  We’ll talk about ketchup, the Rabbit’s move downtown, and all manner of and creative possibilities for the future.  Tune in!  This Sunday (tomorrow), I hear that the delightful folks from Indie Pop will be there.


oxtail and colcannon: luck o’ the irish

Edited to add:  Want to hear me discuss this dish on the radio?  Listen in to today’s Food for Thought on KLCC program by downloading the archived show here.

Warning: gruesome tail image below. Vegetarians avert your eyes.  No, really.  I’m not joking.

I’ve been doing so little cooking lately that I consider my kitchen time sacred.  I miss playing with my food.  Our freezer is still 3/4 full of the 1/4 grass-fed cow we bought from a local farmer last fall, thanks to my crushing schedule and my husband’s sudden decision not to eat much meat anymore after the order was made.

St. Patrick’s Day seemed like the perfect time to change all that.  I had a package of oxtails, so thought I’d make a traditional Irish oxtail braise.  Oxtails used to be a cheap cut of meat — a leftover part for the poor.  But now that the wealthy have figured out that it’s rich and delicious, you see it on chi-chi restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic.

What better time to experiment with a wild green colcannon that wild foods expert Hank Shaw posted on his blog the other day? Colcannon is fancy mashed potatoes, usually made with spring onions and kale or cabbage, that the Irish serve with a pat of melty butter.  Hank brilliantly realized this humble side dish would be enhanced with wild greens like cow parsnip or nettles.

As for me, I used the wild onions that spring up in the grass in March in Oregon, and some arugula that had gone feral in my garden.

If I were to change anything in his recipe, I’d blanch the greens first before sauteing them in butter alone, and I’d emphasize strongly that they should be chopped very finely.  No one wants a tough tongue of limp arugula in their mashed potatoes.  And I know from personal experience.

As for the oxtail, well, it’s a good thing I’m not squeamish, because they included the whole damn tail, not just the lovely meaty chunks up higher toward the business end.  (One more chance to avert your eyes)

Holy snakes, St. Pat!  And not cutting through the thing…that was just cruel.  So into the soup bone bag in my freezer the wiggler went, and the meaty part became my braise.

When making any kind of tough, collagen-rich meat braise, you really don’t need a recipe, since they’re all basically the same.  You can’t really mess up as long as you go low and slow.  Preheat the oven to 300, then cut the meat in chunks, salt and pepper it, then sear it on all sides in vegetable oil or lard (I often save bacon fat for this task), then place it in a dutch oven. While the searing pan is still hot, sweat down chopped onions, carrots, celery and parsley, then add it to the meat in the dutch oven.  Lacking a carrot and celery, I used parsnips, rutabagas, and cutting celery instead this time.)  Add liquid and a bay leaf almost to cover the meat.  I often use half red wine and half chicken stock, but beef stock is better.  Cook for several hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. During cooking, taste for salt and pepper.

When it’s ready, remove it from the stock.  You have a couple of choices, based on time.  You can strain the juices and put them in the freezer until the fat rises to the top and you can remove it.  You can scoop the fat off the top with a spoon and then strain.  But either way, you’ll want to return the juices to the pan and cook them down and taste for seasoning.  As I do this, I whisk a couple of teaspoons of flour into the reducing sauce to thicken it and add a bit more red wine to brighten up the flavors, but that’s not necessary.  All you need to do is have a lovely, concentrated sauce to go with your braise.

And that’s it!

It’s even better the next day.  I suggest turning the leftover colcannon into colcannon latkes. As James Joyce would say, contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality!

going dutch at the verboort sausage and kraut dinner

Nothing remotely gourmet about the 77th annual Verboort Sausage and Kraut Dinner.  Held at the Visitation Catholic Church in Forest Grove, Oregon, by a Dutch-American community organization that’s been going strong since the pioneers, the dinner is part of a sausage extravaganza.  They chop, stuff, and smoke over 17 tons of pork and beef each year for the sausage, and serve it up with mashed potatoes in sausage gravy, a mild sauerkraut, homegrown well-done beans, tart and sweet Gravenstein applesauce, a dinner roll, and a curiously good oniony cole slaw with macaroni pasta salad.  It was familiar food, the stuff I grew up with, heavy on the carbs, seasoned very simply with salt and a tiny bit of pepper.  Huge portions and all you can eat!

What in the heck am I doing in Forest Grove?  I know, I know.  Retrogrouch wanted to freeze his skinny little heinie off on a 100K bike ride, the Verboort Sausage Populaire Randonneur, so I came along, thinking I’d check out the soaking pool and work in the hotel.

And buy sausage, of course.

Five bucks a pound, bulk!  And don’t forget the sauerkraut, these giant barrels filled with fermented goodness.  They put the empties just outside the sauerkraut shack.  I overheard an organizer marveling at how much more kraut they had sold that year.  By the time I got there around 12:30, there was only one barrel left.  The sequoia tree to the left, by the way, is from seeds one of the founders brought back from Californ-i-ay after the Gold Rush.

See?  Real sequoias, courtesy of my nostrils.

I also briefly stopped in at the church bazaar Ye old BAKE SHOP to chat with the old ladies selling baked goods, pickled vegetables, and candy. I really love old church ladies.  There were some textile arts, too, but that’s largely lost on me.

Also lost on me: bingo in smoky tent, sad plant sale with gourds, beer garden that only served Bud and its derivatives (in Oregon? Really?) AND you had to take a bus there because, according to a fireman, the church didn’t want alcohol on the grounds (in Oregon? Really?), polkaesque Dutch music piped from the church on an endless loop, and the damn weather.  Because a potholder just wasn’t going to keep my not-so-skinny heinie warm waiting for 100K to end, already.