best of eugene 2012

It’s that time again, when the good businesses and creative outlets of our little town beg their friends, fans, and associates to vote for them in the annual Eugene Weekly readers poll, The Best of Eugene.  This blog has been voted “Best Blog” for two years running, and I’d love to make it a triple crown, if you are willing to vote for Culinaria Eugenius again.

This year, the category is a bit confusing: “Best self-published literary item (blog, zine, etc.).” Vote here:  We’d also very much appreciate a shout-out for Food for Thought on KLCC, our radio show and labor of love.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many categories you need to vote in to make it a valid ballot, but you do have to register with an email address (that won’t be used for anything else by EW).  They have had problems in the past with ballot-stuffing.

A final caveat:  Unfortunately, EW has decided to apply headache-inducing animated sparkles to its online logo for Best of Eugene this year.  When I mentioned it might be causing damage to their readers, their response was a shouty and puerile “EW LOVES SPARKLES!” Have a little respect for your elders, Powerpuff Girls.  If you have epilepsy, I’d suggest the paper poll instead.

And thanks so much for reading.  It’s always a pleasure to bring you my honest and forthright thoughts on the local food scene — warts and all — and to share my recipes and adventures far afield.  Like those with “Velveeta” (2003) by Linda Dolack, Museum of Fine Arts, above.

fermentation basics recipes and resource links

Thanks for coming to today’s “Fermentation Basics” demo at the Fun with Fermentation festival, and a big thank you to Christina Sasser and the entire WVSFA team who worked so hard to make the festival a success!  I loved the mix of old and young people, farmers, hippies, yuppies, foodies, students, and parents. I was happy to share some of my techniques and tips for vegetable fermentation, and enjoyed talking to so many of you after the demo at the Master Food Preserver booth.

Ferments discussed in today’s demo:

Recipes with sauerkraut:

Some books and resources I trust and use often:

  • Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (classic resource for basics of preservation, updated every few years)
  • Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (includes fermentation recipes and many ethnic recipes not available in other collections)
  • Wild Fermentation by the King of Sauerkraut Sandor Katz
  • OSU Extension-Lane County’s full list of preservation publications (free .pdf downloads) – See esp. “Making Sauerkraut and Sauerkraut Recipes” and “Problems & Solutions: Sauerkraut” under the heading “Pickling”
  • My Harsch crock
  • The OSU Extension Master Food Preserver message line for class registration, preservation and food safety questions: 541-344-4885.  We no longer have a local hotline, thanks to budget cuts in Lane County, but in the summer and before the holidays there’s a 1-800 number you can call.  More information here.

of peaches and penumbras

Food for thought.  When you blog regularly, or profess, or editorialize, or report, or essay, it is hard to turn off the tap, the flow of thoughts to words that organize themselves like little labor unions, and keep you on the straight and narrow. A picture like the one above, for example, of two Christmas presents, always presents itself as an opportunity to interpret.

It’s very hard to shut off the tap. If you write regularly, you feel the words constantly mobilizing, ready to fight against any injustice you take up as a cause, or any singular item of beauty or relevance or newsworthiness.  This is good work and important.

But sometimes the tap has to shut itself off.  That’s scary.  Because there’s so much to say.  And then you have a group of picketers ready to strike.

That’s when there’s everything and nothing to say.

At year’s end, when bloggers and reporters sum up the comings and goings of whatever it is they’ve chronicled coming and going, blogging should be easy.   The year-end posts make one feel closure on the year’s work and it provides readers with sense of time passing with progress.  Accomplishment.  Quantifiable successes.  An onward march.  How did the “to do” list fare? The resolutions? How many jars did you put up, what was your best magic with a cut of beef?  How many tomatoes were picked, and how many tomato pickers suffered?

What a year for the organized march.  I want to sever myself from it, frankly.  In times of sadness and grief, there just aren’t enough  words.  For the first time in a long time, I don’t want to write.

So to my labor union of words, I say let’s approach 2011 and its sadnesses in a different way.  I’m going to be on the side of those who resist the listmaking and cataloguing of injustices for a while.  Instead of trying to accomplish even more, I aim to resist and regroup.  Dare I say it?  I plan to do less this year.  Less enumerating of who killed the pork chops and more dreaming of peaches and penumbras.  Not sure how and not sure where it will lead, but I’m willing to walk all night through the solitary streets.  Send in the scabs!

This post has been brought to you by the letters F and U, the number 2011, and

A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked
down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking
at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon
fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at
night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!
–and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?
What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you,
and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy
tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and
feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade
to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automo-
biles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America
did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a
smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of
–Berkeley, 1955

the art of losing isn’t hard to master…for some

My husband, Retrogrouch, has lost 110 lbs. in the past year.  He is training for his first half-marathon.  This is what he eats:

That’s an open-face home-canned Oregon albacore tuna salad with local vegetable garnish: tomato, red cabbage, greens and sprouts.  Not bad, eh?

I’m less of a fan of the burger.

But proud and awed nonetheless.  He doesn’t seem to think it takes that much to achieve what he did.  But it takes someone with the will of a bull and the focus of a hawk. And he did it without a single packaged meal, powdered shake, or frozen tray of slop.  In fact, he had to push rather hard against the American diet industry to do it.  But he did it.

I’ve asked him to start writing a post every so often at Culinaria Eugenius, so we can see how the other half lives.  I’m not sure he’s going to do it, but I think it would be interesting to consider the struggle so many of us Americans have with food.  So, if he decides he wants to do it, what should he write about: how he lost the weight? His recipes?  How to replace certain foods in one’s diet? How to live with a partner who can’t imagine giving up butter? How a fat person can change (see previous)? New discoveries in low-calorie food that isn’t processed or disgusting?  Struggles to moderate one’s diet and fears of backsliding?

anti-spontaneity league! baby!

Hello; my name is Eugenia, and I am not spontaneous.

Hello, Eugenia!

For a long time, I kept it relatively hidden.  I wrote lists in childhood journals à la Jay Gatsby that set out not only my plan for the day (broken into segments as minute as “say hi to the cats,” an important part of my day then and now) but my blueprints for my future house and life. I didn’t want to miss any opportunities, that was for sure.

Like Gatsby, I did force myself to do a number of things to build my social capital.  I started working at age 14 at a law firm and joined the rather unpleasant French Honor Society among a host of extracurriculars so I could get a job as an “international lawyer.” Hm.

I came out as a planner by accident.  It surprised even me.  When I was completing my wedding registry at Williams Sonoma, my future husband tapped me on the shoulder saying he was thirsty.  “I’m planning our childrens’ birthday parties,” I snapped, checking off the cake decorating kit, “you’ll just have to wait.”


But over the years, I’ve come to terms with my need for planning and I really love how much richness and productivity it lends to my life.

At its worst, a lack of spontaneity can be an irritable, chronic condition.  I get more and more grumpy when events conspire to keep the future veiled.  Not having secure employment affects me deeply as a long-range planner.  After all, I’m already planning my retirement, and not knowing where I’ll be next year makes that difficult.  (For those of you who don’t understand people like me, not knowing the future doesn’t mean letting the future just happen, it means contingency planning — setting out as many different options as possible. The wheels of change do not stop for any momentary obstruction in the road.)

Being a planner doesn’t mean I’m inherently inflexible.  In fact, adaptation is the key to any plan.   But it can be. exhausting.  I loathe last-minute invitations, since I can rarely attend them due to scheduling my evenings weeks in advance, and I’m participating less and less in thrown-together events because of the anxiety it causes.  I’m finding, too, that my pleasure in spending time with people who can’t make decisions is slowly diminishing.

So why don’t you change, Eugenia?

Why doesn’t the world change?  We could all use a little less chaos. That old saw about a messy desk being the sign of an orderly mind, or whatever?  Good god.  Spend a little less time defending your crap and a little more time cleaning it up.  Creativity has nothing to do with hoarding and bric-a-brac on your keyboard.  The whole being laid-back, it’s all good, letting go thing is vastly overrated.  Stick up my bum?  At least I don’t have shit everywhere.

And I like the idea of becoming world famous as an anti-spontaneity curmudgeon.  Anti spontaneity league! Baby!  (Note planning in action.)

So what’s the up side of a lack of spontaneity, then, if it just makes you grumpy?

I’m surprised that you even need to ask this.  But let’s return to cooking.  Some people really love baking cakes — it’s a relatively immediate gratification (I suppose you do have to wait for it to cool).  But me?  I love preservation, the opposite of immediate gratification.

As Sandor Katz has so eloquently written, preservation puts you in closer contact with the rhythms of the earth — seasonality, fertility, and decay.  Canning and the related arts are unnatural, I’ve said before, paraphrasing the Italian philosopher Massimo Montanari.  When you preserve food, you seize death by the throat and shake it until it falls back, stunned.  You stave off decay with sugar, vinegar, salt and heat. With a little planning, you can end up with a pantry and freezer full of summer bounty…in the dead of winter!  It’s alchemy and ingenuity and a testament to the human drive for life!

And it can all be yours for the simple mindset of just planning ahead, grasshopper.

Although I recognize the issues the “urban homesteading” crowd has with USDA-influenced preservation and acknowledge the safety redundancy and commercial interests that affect sugar, chemical, and salt levels in Extension-approved canning, I think we should take a moment to appreciate the spirit in which the early cookbooks and canning manuals were developed.  The home economists and domestic scientists of the early-twentieth century appreciated a good plan.  They standardized measurements and made recipes as fail-safe as possible.  This came at a cost, I’ll stress again: using inferior products for the sake of good looks (always a danger, in cooking and outside of it) and glorifying industrialization and economy led to the vilification of freshness and taste.

If you look carefully, though, you’ll see that adaptations were often encouraged and suggested, as long as they’d promote the recipe’s success and safety.  Creating an anti-spontaneous program helped generations to learn how to cook well systematically, not to mention raised the level of professionalism in the kitchen and provided women with ways to study science and business in an era in which they weren’t being educated much at all.  That’s quite a feat.

And wholly impossible without planning.

(The photos in this blog post are all from Grange exhibits at the 2011 Lane County Fair.)

fresh crab on klcc’s food for thought: new co-host!

A wise man once said:

They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice
’cause they think that it’s treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.

The voices of reason long fled for the coast, I’d advise you to listen to me, instead!  Starting September 11, I’ll be serving up sounds of local food as one of the new co-hosts on KLCC’s Food for Thought.  Today, we’ll bid a semi-goodbye to Boris Wiedenfeld, who will be semi-retiring as co-host (see his announcement on the Food for Thought Facebook page for more info).

We’ve decided to do rotating hosting duties, several of us sitting in once a month, either with Ryan or Boris.  You’ll hear not only me, but also radio veterans Anni Katz of Humble Beagle, Laura McCandlish of Corvallis food writing and radio fame, occasionally Brian Hebb of Red Agave, and possibly Leslie Hildreth of KLCC, who will be mainly focusing on produced pieces.  I’m the radio neophyte in this group, so you’re welcome to laugh at what will certainly be a series of flubs.  Everyone else is already a pro.  I’m particularly impressed that Anni and Brian are willing to donate their time, both being extremely busy restaurateurs and parents.  With so many of us participating, you’ll be sure to hear a wide range of perspectives on wining and dining in Oregon and beyond.

The radio program is on our local NPR affiliate, 89.7 FM, and is aired on Sundays from noon to 1 p.m.  I’ll be headed over to the station today to shadow Boris and Ryan and learn the trade, so maybe you’ll hear me scuttling around this afternoon, too.

And if you haven’t voted yet, please vote for my blog as Best Blog in Eugene in the annual Eugene Weekly reader poll.  Let’s make it two years running!  If you like KLCC’s Food for Thought, vote for us, too!  We could use the support during this transition, and we love bringing you local food coverage.  The station, unlike my blog, needs to cater to its audience, so letting them know you support this local program means much more than just good feelings — it allows us to continue with the show.

As I mentioned last week, to vote, you’ll need to register for free but they won’t sell your email to advertisers.  Vote in at least 10 categories for your ballot to count.  Thank you so much!

Even if you choose not to vote, I’d love to hear from you in comments here or on Facebook (Culinaria Eugenius is here, FFT on KLCC is here) or by calling in to the show at 1-800-922-3682 or 541-463-KLCC.  Do you like what we’re doing at Culinaria Eugenius or KLCC’s Food for Thought or do you have a question that might be of interest to other readers/listeners?  Interactivity is great and brings more breadth to the forum, so fire away!

much needed break

We’re taking a little summer vacay here at Culinaria Eugenius, and stepping away from the internet for a week.  Have fun without me!

Even better, take some time while I’m gone to vote on all the things you love about Eugene in the annual Eugene Weekly “Best of Eugene” voter poll.  CE won “Best Blog” in 2010, and it would be my honor to reign supreme again in 2011, so I’d appreciate it if you’d show me love if you love the coverage of local and seasonal food, preservation, and local food news and events, with some travel thrown in for good measure.  And jokes…oh lord, the jokes…

The link to vote is here.  To prevent cheating (which was a problem in past years), you’ll have to enter your name and email address, then they send you the survey link.  They won’t use your name for advertising, and it’s free, so don’t worry about that.  But do vote in 10 categories, or else your vote won’t count.

Thanks, and see you soon.

on the eugene restaurant scene

It’s been a few days now since the Iron Chef Eugene 2011 competition, and I’ve been thinking of the restaurant scene in Eugene in general. It has really improved since I’ve been here, and for that I’m thankful, but it still has a long way to go.  It seems that the Bite of Eugene was a big hit this  year, both with the crowd and the vendors, and I’m still floaty-happy with what I saw and ate, especially the dishes in the competition.  I’m still planning to write out my thoughts on the competition, but first I have to rant about restaurants I *don’t* like.

Folks who have taken my Changes to Culinaria Eugenius poll so far have overwhelmingly indicated their desire to have me write more restaurant reviews (but I must add that “keep the CE mix it is now” is a close second, thanks!).

I don’t like writing restaurant reviews for several reasons.  I will certainly share when I find a restaurant or dish I like, but I’m not out for comprehensive coverage. First, we don’t have many good restaurants here, so my reviews would be overwhelmingly negative.  Second, to write a good restaurant review takes a great deal of time and effort.  One needs to visit the place on several occasions to do the review justice. I don’t, frankly, have the stomach (or budget) for that if the restaurant cuts corners with commercial produce and meats, and charges as if it doesn’t.  I also understand that we live in a small town, and small business owners can easily be ruined by bad press, and who wants that kind of bad karma?

Plus, many people are perfectly fine with family-owned, family-oriented restaurants — or expense account restaurants, for that matter — that cater to a quintessential “American” palate.  You can read their reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon.

I’m not willing to apologize for elitist tastes, since you can eat like I do in many cities in very non-elitist places, but I’m very willing to acknowledge that my tastes are unusual.  We’re pushed to like certain kinds of food and many people don’t want to push back.  That’s fine for diabetes them.  And it would seem that many restaurateurs and chefs in Eugene don’t travel much and don’t explore different kinds of cooking, so we don’t even have a chance to broaden out our tastes in town.  Worse yet, the ethnic food in town is mostly sweetened up to American tastes so the places can stay in business.  Every Asian joint in town has to serve teriyaki to survive.  Ugh.  That’s a big downside to living here: the lack of diversity.

Robert Appelbaum posits that a restaurant is a unique place in society — it’s both public and private, individualized and generalized.  And the clash of expectations when something is private and individualized versus public and generalized offers perspective on why folks might react so strongly to dining in Eugene.  I’ve seen and heard of people actually becoming angry when confronted by a dish that isn’t familiar to them (and thus not the private, individualized experience THEY are seeking.  I use the term ‘confronted’ because that’s what people seem to feel is happening.  It’s as if any experience that doesn’t mimic one they have had at another restaurant (or, perhaps, at home) is an actual challenge to their way of life.

There seems to be a spectrum on which customers might be placed.  On one end, there are those who are seeking a familiar experience, and on the other, those who are looking to try new things that take one far out of one’s comfort zone. Every once in a while, someone will write to me and ask for a restaurant recommendation.  If they say, “I’m interested in a healthy lifestyle and we usually eat chicken breast and grilled veggies and salad at home,” I know they’re looking for the familiar.  Someone who says (often rudely) to a server, “I don’t even know that that is!” “Everyone likes hamburgers!” or “Where do they think up these things?” is also probably seeking the familiar.  These types of diners just want nourishment and not a challenge (to their eyes, tastebuds, or social milieu) while eating.  And that’s just fine, I suppose, as long as I don’t have to eat their food.

But I — we — do.  There is a very serious down side to exclusively eating familiarly, and you can see it in our growing problems with Big Ag.  Standardization means less variety.  You want a tomato that looks like a round, perfectly red tomato?  One that fits on your burger?  And all you eat is burgers, and therefore all you want to buy is that perfectly round red tomato?  Then the market will give you that and only that.

My blog is more for the person for whom “make it new” appeals, and I hope that Eugene’s dining scene continues to improve in providing for those customers.

For now, however, if you’re interested in change and culinary diversity, go forth, young people!  Stop settling for sugary meals.  Explore small, excellent, family-owned restaurants in Portland.  Better yet, go to Woodburn and try some of the Mexican places there.  There’s great, non-teriyakified Chinese food in Seattle.  At the very least, go up to lunch at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, where they serve Frank Morton’s healthy farm-bred lettuce hybrids selected for flavor, not storage capacity.  You’ll never eat commercial mesclun again.

But, if you want to know what I’d say if I were willing to write more restaurant reviews, I’d come down hard on my least favorite kinds of menus:

  1. big chain restaurants: salty, low quality meats, vaguely Asian sweet sauces, steamed vegetables, overpriced frozen seafood, achingly sweet cocktails and desserts featuring ice cream and chocolate, and mesclun salads;
  2. sandwich shops: sandwiches made of subpar cold cuts and big, dusty, sweetened wheat bread (or the alternative, tortilla “wraps,” ugh), sweet mayonnaise, and mesclun salads;
  3. hippie joints: bowls of goop, including some kind of soy product and vegetables, then drowned in a too-sweet sauce, and mesclun salads;
  4. “comfort food” places: see #1, plus an obsession with bland, white foods.  For me, comfort isn’t bland, and it certainly is not macaroni ‘n’ cheese or mesclun salads; and
  5. mesclun salads.

That encompasses about 75% of Eugene dining.  Another 20 percent is BBQ places (all with sweet sauces) and fast food (burgers and pizza).  Honestly, I’d rather eat at a fast food place where I can get dill pickles on my burger and fries without ketchup than at a place that non-consensually coats me in sugar.  Even the vegetables at these places are at best, uninteresting, and at worse, befouled with sugar.

And I just hate mesclun.  It’s the new fast food — standardized, bred for longevity, not taste, and dull.  Look at your salad.  There are several greens in there.  Why do they all taste the same?

When I go to a restaurant, I look for the dishes that have the best balance in flavors.  If anything, I tilt toward vinegar.  Strong flavors are better than bland ones.  Pickles, sour sauces, garlic, tomato, chili, sesame, lemon, mustard. I’m not a huge fan of organ meats, but I’ll take something with the slight bitterness of liver, say, than a dish that presents as five kinds of sweetness.

That’s me.  What about you?

Photos from top to bottom: dessert wines at King Estates Food Justice Conference dinner; lunch at Montana food conference; Iron Chef Eugene 2011 Heidi Tunnell’s chicken-under-a-brick and Chef Mike Meyer’s almond cake with chicken liver mousse; Tunnell’s grilled radishes.

when CE talks, people listen (yikes!)


I’ve heard feedback from local businesses that sometimes a recommendation on Culinaria Eugenius can lead to customers requesting that particular item.  Awesome!  But if that’s the case and you don’t like a recommendation, don’t let me go unchallenged.  I’d love to hear back from you, positive and negative, about things you try on CE.  I may disagree with you, but I’d like to hear your perspective.  Leave a comment, send me an email at wellsuited at gmail dotcom, or post on my Facebook page.

Do check out my Facebook page, either way, because I post little tidbits frequently over there.

I’ve got the Facebook page currently set up like a regular profile, but am thinking about switching it over to my unused fan page (where, frankly, I’d have less flexibility, so meh) where you can “like” CE and not have to “friend” CE. I rarely ever look at the CE “friends” page, so if you’re hesitant to make that connection, don’t worry too much about your privacy.  But I certainly understand.  Feedback on this?  I might even make a Google Plus page.

As it stands, CE is a rather uneven spread of recipes, local food news, and travel essays.  I’d really like to feature local food worker interviews in the future, and write more about literary food, but these things take more time.  So what is most important to you, the reader?

I’m also pondering a redesign of the site while I still have time to ponder such things — nothing too jarring, just a way to access more posts more easily, and provide more content.  Stay tuned.