gone fishin’ (and thank you)

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Red Rocks marine reserve south of Port Orford

I guess I’ve put it off long enough. My house is being sold, my cookbooks are in boxes, my black raspberries are picked for the last time, my pickle jars are washed, and my heart is struggling with goodbyes. I’m leaving you, Eugene.

I decided a couple years ago that it was time to take the hard next step in my journey to becoming a full-time writer.

But where should I base myself, thought I, and how should I do it?

Trying to answer that took me many different places. If you’ve never been hit by the thunderbolts of fate that crumble your life — divorce from a 20-year relationship, losing your job and home you loved, suffering disability from a serious car accident — you may not understand this.  Rebuilding becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Do you settle into the old patterns, especially if they are good?

Though it’s not perfect, I mused, I liked my life in academia. I teach amazing classes and am surrounded by some pretty fantastic people. Until the landslide happened, I had an extremely active research and conference travel schedule, and I was on track with my book. I pretty much stopped the academic publishing when I was laid up the first summer of the disaster with a broken leg, since Academia is an abusive, narcissistic lover that needs attention and a masochistic attachment that I just wasn’t able to devote to it. (Edited to add, since I am masochistic enough: let the record state that I did finish several articles, haha!  One on the history of how libraries handled sexual material, which was published in a groundbreaking (in the world of Porn Studies, that is) collection by Duke University Press; a review essay for Gastronomica I hilariously tried and failed to edit after my emergency surgery (thanks a zillion to Darra Goldstein for her patience); and another essay on years of research on a singular and important unknown gay writer, Samuel Steward, on the way from Ohio University Press, most likely.)

But as I convalesced, I started freelancing more and more, and really loved it.  Since I write and research and publish all the time, I figured, I could easily switch back tracks and start publishing even more pieces valued by the Academy…if I had to.  And my personal life would improve, I thought.  I had had a partner with a similar background and values to mine, and we remained friendly after our separation, so I wasn’t wholly embittered by men. I absolutely loved my garden and little cottage. I could easily see getting another professor job, preferably on the tenure track, and another man with a similar background and having a perfectly good life.  A better life. Lessons learned, personal growth, blah blah blah, etc.

But there was another option that whispered to me, then grew increasingly louder and more adamant.

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Velella velella, Florence

Or do you to ride the wave of that sea change and let the prevailing winds blow you into some new harbor? I mean, you might wash up on a beach like driftwood or a dead sea lion or velella velella, but you might actually make a difference and be even happier.

So instead of wallowing in grief or being angry at the people who took away my life (though there WAS a lot of that), I ultimately decided to let karma take its course and not to mourn the life that was taken from me.  To let the current transport me somewhere else. We really don’t have a choice anyway, I concluded, and I’m kind of lazy, so I might as well choose to go along for whatever ride the universe was planning for me.

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Newport Aquarium

Annoyingly, I didn’t get any clear signs from the universe that it actually had a plan. For a lady who is not in the least bit spontaneous and pretty much lives a few years down the line, I found this absolutely unpleasant. Rude, in fact. I was ready to move on but the universe wasn’t ready to move me. So I ignored the growing frustrations with my seeming non-action from friends and family, and choked back my own rage at failing every single day to come up with a plan, and I continued patiently casting about for possibilities. (If this sounds at all vain and accusatory, I apologize, but I was FAR MORE sick of my inaction than you were, I promise. Inaction took up all my time and energy and the light of my life for years, and it was a miserable BFF.)

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Albacore and chips at Luna Sea, Yachats
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Salal at Cape Blanco

For a long time, I thought I’d live in a small building on a farm near Portland so I could continue my writing and research on agricultural changes in the Willamette Valley, but start hanging with Portland people. I briefly flirted with moving to Scandinavia and researching the idea of “north” à la Glenn Gould, but with more food…hopefully with the save haven of a study abroad program. I had almost convinced myself that I was moving to Haarlem, a small town on the coast near Amsterdam, to study Dutch still lifes, and I toy with the idea of moving to Germany or Ireland. I briefly considered moving back to my hometown of Detroit to engage myself with urban farming. I mulled over Yachats, Tillamook, Scio, Manzanita, Clatskanie, Gaston. All of these lives would have been fun and rewarding.

But Port Orford was the only one that reached out to me with a yes, and said, “not only will I welcome you, but you have no idea how strange and wonderful I am, Jennifer Burns Bright, and I’m going work with you to make your life, and hopefully the lives of others, better!”

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I was sold. I like a guy with a can-do attitude.

Port Orford is a tiny, sleepy town on the Southern Oregon coast.  It is one of the most fascinating places I’ve been in decades of traveling all over Oregon and the world. I cannot wait to share it with you.

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The port in Port Orford from Battle Rock beach.

I discovered the town almost by accident a few months ago. As many of you know, I’ve been doing more travel writing and have done quite a few pieces on the Central and Oregon coast, but it had been many years since I ventured southward, and then, only to Bandon. So I suggested to my editor that I go check out some of the more southern towns to see what was going on, and asked friends where they stayed down there. Someone (Brendan at Belly, so blame him) suggested I stay in the cabins at Cape Blanco, so I did. I fell in love immediately with the place, and when I discovered they had some of the most beautiful and diverse beaches I’ve seen anywhere, I started looking into some of the connections I might make with writing about Oregon seafood, long an interest of mine.

Well, it turns out that the town can help me learn.  There’s the Port Orford Sustainable Seafood alliance, where fishermen are bringing local seafood and raising awareness about marine issues through a coalition of partners affiliated with an amazing non-profit, the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, who work on marine research and advocacy.  I did a couple of brief interviews of the folks there, and realized how little I – as a food writer and lover of seafood and the Oregon coast – actually knew about the coast.  Like this:

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What does it mean to catch a belt fish wild?  How is it caught?  And by whom?  And does “Product of China” mean a fish caught in China?  And how does it end up in Atlanta, where this picture was taken?  I can’t answer these questions, and I think they should be answered.

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Mouth of the Sixes River, Cape Blanco

I’ve always loved the coast, but this will give me the ability to really understand what it’s like to live and make a living on the coast in uncertain times.   The town is situated 60 miles north of the California border and 27 miles south of Bandon in the so-called State of Jefferson on a wild and remote coast, but for a travel and food writer it is a good place to learn about the relationships between states and the federal government and the industrial pressures on food systems and conservation in both California and Oregon.   My goal is to eventually specialize in coastal writing writ large, integrating environmental and commercial interests in managing the marine life and waterways that are so crucial to our country and planet.

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Fish sculpture made from found ocean debris, Washed Ashore Project, Bandon
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Rogue brewpub in Astoria

Early reviews of my decision are in. Inevitably, I’ll hear three things: “Oh, that’s my favorite beach town in Oregon!” and “Why in the heck would you move there?” and “Are you sure you can live in such a small town?” And I answer “Mine, too” and “see below” and “nope, but I won’t know ‘til I try it.”

And the rest of the story is yet to be written.

I’ll still be teaching Food Studies courses at UO next year in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Humanities Program to fund the start up of this project, so it’s not a complete break. (Yes, the commute will be difficult but I’ll be fine.)  I’m also managing the culinary events for the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival this year, as I have mentioned and will mention again and again, so you’ll be hearing from me about that.

But other than one more post to announce my new website, where I’ll be chronicling the continuing adventures of a big small town girl in an even smaller town, I’m drawing the curtains closed on this small blog.

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Judging Iron Chef Eugene 2015 with emcee Chef Clive and fellow judge Jeff Gardner, who makes delicious local pasta
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Forcing my COLT 305: New Farmers Movement cultural studies class students to do manual labor at the UO Urban Farm.

Culinaria Eugenius was the vehicle by which I learned about this town I love and its people. Almost 930 posts later, I can safely say it’s been worth it.  Eugene has changed so much, and I am so honored to have been part of the group that helped spread the word about innovations in our food system: agricultural advances and great strides ahead in our restaurant culture. There are Facebook groups and local food magazines and a much better networking system that connects local food to people who want to eat it.  I know Eugene will keep doing wonderful work and others will write all about it and I will be reading.

So it’s not really a goodbye, since Eugene is such a huge part of me (plus, I need to come here to buy weird groceries). It’s just a new adventure, and one I hope to share with you.

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express your love: oregon coast

IMG_8332IMG_8276 IMG_6045Express your love, my birthday horoscope said, it’s the key to a successful year.  So here are some images I love from my recent travels.  From top to bottom:

1)  One of several illustrations that are part of a history exhibit on the Tillamook Country Smoker at the Museum of People’s Art in Bay City, OR, an adorable little gallery devoted to celebrating Oregon’s labor that’s attached to a café and indoor produce and provisions market facing the ocean.

2)  Now defunct but still, like the Giving Tree, giving, the first Oregon Heritage Tree, a 17-foot diameter Sitka spruce at Klootchy Creek County Park in Seaside, OR.  Not only is the tree alleged to be the oldest standing thing in Oregon (estimated around 750 years old when it was partially felled by a storm a few years ago), it’s situated at the site of a grisly pioneer ptomaine poisoning in 1899 that wiped out a group of lumber scouts and their guide, the doughty Seaside entrepreneur Antoine Cloutrie. A good reminder: a storm is more than a hill o’ beans, but sometimes those beans, when canned improperly, CAN KILL.

And

3) A lone surfer girl pondering the rocks at Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park, between Cannon Beach and Manzanita, OR. Surrounded by water, drinking a glass of water, made of water.  How vitally we are of the seas that make up the majority of our planet.

 

 

culinaria eugenius on the coast: intertidal zone

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Pacific Oyster Co., Bay City.
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Lincoln City clammer.
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Cliffhanging blackberries at Oswald West State Park
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Lincoln City historic district.
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Fisherwoman at Hug Point Beach.

Like nearly every other citizen of our great state of Oregon, I made my way to the coast over the weekend.  I know this is not hyperbole, because I couldn’t find a single vacant camp site from Seaside to Florence on Saturday night.

But for the one lame child who had to stay behind while the Pied Piper pulled the rest of us all out to the cliffs, here’s what went down.

I had my fill of creamy summer local oysters, supping them raw at Shucker’s Oyster Bar in Lincoln City; raw and sandy at Pacific Oyster in Bay City; and fried and not very good in Newport upon learning the film I had been envisioning, Steamed Ginger Oysters at the Noodle Café, would be delayed due to it being the restaurant’s night off.   Oh well.

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Seaside taffy shop and Icarus, prohibited.

IMG_5259I ate gross taffy at the human zoo they call Seaside, including flavors called Molasses Mint, Black Widow (licorice and redhots), and Ocean (which stained my tongue dark blue and freshened my breath with peppermint).  Also had a good bowl of pho, surprisingly, on The Prom.  Fleeing the floaters and the sinkers, I peered in the windows like a creeper at Seaside High School, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost of James Beard, who held cooking classes there back in the day.

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Ripe salmonberries, Oswald West State Park.

On hikes, I snacked on the first blackberries of the season; salmonberries, which are like many tender young things much prettier than they taste; and thimbleberries, who do redheads proud.  Hey, and I felt kind of pleased, too, that I am finally Oregonian enough to recognize many of the edible plants that hug the waterways.

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Peace Crops Farm girly girl potatoes, Manzanita farmers market.

Fate smiled upon me because I saved a beached anchovy’s life, tossing it back into the sea.  It presented me with a couple of days in Nehalem and Manzanita, exploring the coastal communities there.  We take for granted our extensive farmers market system in Eugene, so it’s invigorating to see the vibrant buzz of a new farmers market in a small community.  I chatted with the Master Gardeners and the crepe makers at the market, making off with a pint of boysenberries, and visited the folks who own and run R-evolution Gardens, who founded said farmers market a few years ago.

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Nehalem, which is so f#%$&^ gorgeous I can’t even stand it.

R-evolution Gardens is an organic, off-grid farm in Nehalem producing lovely sound vegetables and, from what it looks like, a future herbal medicine line.  An entire drying table of calendula reminded me of little petals of the sun being preserved for winter, and in a way, it was. On the lower parcel of the farm, nestled along a clear clean river, everyone’s summer fantasy of ratatouille was ready for harvest: already lush heavy peppers, fat sweet onions popping out of the soil, monster summer squash plants, long vined tomatoes, an impossible amount of humid nightblue eggplant.

I really try not to romanticize farming, but Jesus, it is hard with this place.  Co-owner and farmer Ginger Salkowski has appeared in the Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, and seems cut from the same tough cloth as Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner Fleming, as I recall from the panel we did together a few years ago at UO’s Food Justice conference.  Co-owner Brian Schulz builds foraged and sustainable structures powered by solar electricity, including a Japanese bath house where I would have gladly spent the entire weekend and a Japanesque A-frame covered in forest that the farm rents out on airbnb.com.

Also of note was an excellent meal at Dinner at the Nehalem River Inn, a recently revivified restaurant run by a young and talented chef, Lee Vance, who uses produce from R-evolution Gardens and other farms and gardens within 10 miles of the restaurant.  Yes, a farm-to-table restaurant 5 minutes from the coast!  Standouts included a silky sweet beet soup crowned by a nasturtium, simple roasted bone marrow over toast, a lamb ragú with ricotta gnudi, and rather hearty, plump, excellent house-made ravioli filled with pork and morels, served over creamed carrot purée with English peas.  A glass of lambrusco and a chèvre cheesecake in a warmly hued, cozy dining room certainly did not hurt matters, either.  From the few menus I browsed online, it appears they almost always have a local fish and a salted chocolate pot-de-crème that I’m sad I didn’t try.  The restaurant will reopen in a fab new building on the main drag in Manzanita, Laneda Avenue, right next to the farmers market, in fall, so check it out before the crowds figure out it’s the best thing going.  Seriously.

let there be light

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Stircrazy and freezing, I escaped to the beach for the day last weekend.  It’s been really cold for Eugene, and before you get all indignant about how much colder it is where you live, understand it’s a damp, grey, depressing cold that seeps into your bones like some kind of necrotizing zombie cold.  You can’t shake it, and it tries to eat your brain.

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And there was light.  And it was good.

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And there were also crabs right off the boat at Luna Sea restaurant in Yachats.  Also good.  I ate a crab dinner and brought some extras home to share.  Last night, we had crab with linguini, red chard, and garlic, with lovely little smoked cayenne chips from Crossroads Farm sprinkled on top.  Tonight it’s Oregon crab soup.

grilled albacore tuna with rosé, ginger, and charred scallion

Oregon albacore are in range of our fishing fleets on the coast, so it’s time to get busy!  I put together a quick set of links that will help you buy, cook, and can your own.  Our albacore are not only an important part of the state’s fishing industry, they’re a fish that’s sustainably caught wild, the only type of albacore tuna and one of very few types of tuna that meet the “Best Choice” distinction in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They are caught young, so there’s no mercury build-up issues, either.

You can buy your fish at any of our local fish markets, who get them from the fleets on the coast.  Or, if you are in the neighborhood, head down to the docks where the boats are moored, and buy some on your own. You can see what catch is in, and where, in this updated guide from the Oregon Albacore Commission sent to me by a Facebook friend.

This video guide from the Oregon Sea Grant will tell you, if you’re feeling shy, how to buy off the boat.

If you’re interested in canning albacore, which will make all other canned tuna seem like  cat food, click for my tuna guide.  It’s an annotated and illustrated version of the MFP handout on canning tuna, with a load of tips.

And if you just want to grill some albacore, try this recipe, an adaptation of one of my favorite tuna recipes, tuna with ginger sauce.  In college, I received my first New York Times cookbook, and would make tuna with ginger sauce when I lost the battle to be economical at the old Berkeley Bowl. It was a gorgeous recipe invented by the chef at Huberts in New York, a man who lived the dream and left teaching English to become a chef.  It called for fresh tuna marinated in the surprising combination of ginger, red wine, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, paprika, and the surprising ingredient of scallions charred over a stove burner.  Then the fish was lightly grilled and served with a sauce that blended light versions of the ingredients in the marinade — white wine, rice vinegar, shallots — and finished with cream and butter.

But because it was just for me, and I couldn’t be bothered with a fancy sauce opening two (two!) bottles of wine, it became Tuna with a Ginger Marinade and Some of the Marinade Boiled Down with Butter to Make a Sauce.  I present an only slightly more sophisticated version here, and I apologize about the picture, which features a piece of tuna grilled a bit too long.

Tips: This is a recipe that is made to approximate, really.  I just eyeball the amounts, and I’ve even used (egads) pickled ginger instead of the real stuff.  You really want to aim for very rare in the middle for the maximum flavor and texture.  I like rosé better than the red wine called for in the original recipe, as the red wine does that purple dye thing that always looks unpleasant.  I’ve increased the marinade time considerably, which only salutes the strong, bold flesh of the albacore.  I have marinated and grilled tuna steaks, a whole loin, and little sashimi-quality medallions.  It’s foolproof.

Grilled Tuna with Rosé, Ginger, and Charred Scallions

Serves 4.

  • 1.5 to 2-lb. albacore tuna loin
  • 2 cups dry rosé on the darker side of pink (Spanish, cruder So. France are nice)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, best quality
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce, best quality (I use low-salt Japanese soy)
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • piece of fresh ginger about 2 inches square, grated with ginger grater
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 fresh scallions

Cut the loin into four pieces.  Salt and pepper the pieces, and place in a Ziploc bag.  Add the wine, vinegar, soy, sesame oil, and grated ginger.  Wash and trim the roots off the scallions.  Turn on a stove burner on high, and place the whole scallions on the burner.  Char the scallions, both green and white parts, all over; about 25% should be black.  Add scallions to marinade bag.  Place bag in a larger bowl or dish, and refrigerate.

Marinate from 12 to 24 hours, flipping the bag every so often.

When you’re ready to grill, remove the fish from the marinade and cut it carefully into medallions.  The size and number will depend on the fish, but aim to serve two medallions a person (the picture above shows that it will fall apart if you don’t cut the fish into medallions before grilling).

Preheat and oil your grill, then sear the tuna pieces over high heat for one or two minutes on each side.  Aim to serve very rare in the middle.

Prepare the sauce, if you like.  Strain the ginger and scallions from the marinade and bring to a boil on the stove.  Reduce the marinade by half.  Melt a pat of butter in a hot skillet, then strain the marinade into the butter, whisking gently.  The best way to serve it is to slice tuna into strips and arrange on the plate like a little fan, then pour sauce over tuna and serve.  I usually just serve the medallions and pour the sauce over, though.

Great with rice and rice pilaf, with a side of steamed spinach.

razor sharp: clam recipe ideas from a disgruntled shopper

PartyCart razor clam ceviche with chermoula

I went into a local fish store recently and saw a big heap of razor clams (silqua patula).  They’re the long, skinny clams that when pounded flat yield a piece of meat about as big as a nice T-bone.  I had had them recently on the coast in Yachats, pan-fried, and I wondered what other popular ways they might be served. I was thinking about a delicious abalone rice I had had in Japan, where a small abalone we procured on a boat trip in the Sea of Japan was chopped up and added to the rice water to make the most delicious, subtle rice.

So I asked the fishmonger who was helping me if he knew any other ways to cook razor clams other than pan-fried.  He said he had never had them and didn’t know, so he’d get someone else.  Fair enough.

The second person told me that they must be pan-fried. That was the only way to eat them.

Really? I asked.

Yes, he said, dismissively. The only way.

I replied, so nobody EVER eats them any other way?

Nope, he said.  Cover them in breadcrumbs and panfry them.  You just want to cook them quickly.  I WOULD NOT chop them up and put them in a chowder.  They’re too nice for that.  You’d waste them.

Naturally, I said, trying not to be annoyed.  But what about without breadcrumbs?  Maybe quickly seared and tossed with pasta, or a light sauté with butter and wine?  You’ve never heard of any other recipe from anyone else?

You ought to be on Top Chef! exclaimed the first fishmonger.

Nope, he said. There’s only one way.

Do you think anyone else here might know another way? I said.

Nope, he said.

Clearly not.

I really thought about whether I wanted to name the fish store, but I usually like them very much, so I’ll leave it to word of mouth.  If you know someone who works at a fish store that sells razor clams in Eugene, direct them to my blog, if you please.  At this place, the service can be taciturn at times, and they rarely have time to chat — but they let you know it.  This time, I was asked if I needed help the second I stepped up to the counter and then again about two minutes later, then had my order totaled up and presented to me as finished twice before I was finished choosing.  I’m not the speediest customer in the world, but I wasn’t exactly dawdling, either. But I understand how intense it gets behind the counter.  I don’t understand, though, when businesses don’t educate their staff well about the items they’re selling.  It means a lost sale.  Period.

Soooo…for those who are interested, since razor clam season is still open in Washington and Oregon, and the clams should still be around for a week or so, here are some other ways to prepare razor clams.

1) Razor clam ceviche with chermoula, an herb sauce with garlic and cumin from Morocco on a homemade pita chip.  I had the one pictured above at PartyCart.  There might still be some if you hurry down there.  There’s another recipe for razor clam ceviche with bright chili and red onions, plus the nice briny flavor of samphire (aka sea beans) here.

2) Two ideas posted in this thread of people searching like me.  The first is an impossibly long, slow braise, which makes octopus and squid tender, so I guess it works with big clams, too: “[Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant Chef Dustin] Clark sears pounded, tenderized [razor] clams in olive oil, then simmers them in an intense sauce of preserved tomato, fennel, shallot, white wine and green garlic for a long time in a slow oven. ‘I like to reduce the sauce way down because the clams will exude juice as they cook,’ Clark says. ‘The clams need to cook for an hour or two to have a chance to relax and become really, really tender.'”

3) And the second idea is rather brilliant, a PNW gravlax-style cured razor clam with conifer tips instead of fennel fronds:  “Equal parts sea salt and sugar, pinch or fresh pepper, pine needles or cedar tips. Chop the needles or cedar mix in with the rest. Coat liberally onto clams, wrap in cling film, place in flat container with weight on top of it. Wait 2 days then brush off and slice and eat on some crisp bread, or better yet, very fast, like 10 seconds on each side, sear, slice into inch long strips and place on light salad.”

4)  Thai razor clam salad with pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, fresh green mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese sawtooth cilantro (which they’re selling at Grey’s right now as a start), and fried garlic and shallot.   The recipe is complex, but I think that you could improvise and still have a wonderful offering.  I don’t know what vegetables they use, probably a pickled mustard green.  But you could quick pickle carrots or cucumber or cabbage with salt for a couple of hours on the counter (toss with a handful of salt, let sit, then rinse off the pickles and squeeze all the water out of them).  Or maybe use chopped pickled chard stems?  Not remotely authentic but DELICIOUS.  Or heck, just use chopped fresh carrots and cabbage.

I’ve also seen razor clams grilled in their shells and dressed with a vinaigrette.  Or butter.  Can’t go wrong there.  Any other ideas?  I’m open.

slugs, mollusks, and storms: culinaria eugenius in yachats

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It’s raining again, and I feel like this banana slug, who like us escaped the forest to head out to the beach over Spring Break.  You know things are bad when even the slugs abandon ship.

Unfortunately, neither of us had the sense to go to a warm beach.  Oh well. Yachats was lovely in the storm.  We stayed right on the beach and watched the furious waves.  I tried to spot whales, reportedly on their spring migration all along the central Oregon coast, but it was a fruitless endeavor in sheets of rain and whitecaps as far as the eye could sea.

The seagulls and I shared meals of mollusks — they ate mussels, and I ate panfried razor clams at The Drift-Inn, a great little place in Yachats that’s been around for decades as a dive bar but has been gentrified, to the delight of a packed house.  They play live music every night (not updated on the website, unfortunately): jaunty old-timey fiddle and guitar duo that night.  Very pleasant.  I sang along.  And the menu is endless, featuring all the expected seafood specialties one might need and more.  We started with a slightly sweet hunk of house-smoked salmon, served with grapes, hardboiled egg, red onion, Ritz crackers, and a dried-parsley rolled cream cheese ball.  I don’t even know when last I saw dried parsley, much less a cream cheese ball rolled in it, but I kind of dug it in a retro way.

We (Retrogrouch, not the seagulls, and I) also shared a cup of the not-very-smoked salmon chowder and a much better special, a delicious hedgehog mushroom soup with caramelized onions, presumably with local hedgehog mushrooms.  Retrogrouch had the crab-breaded halibut. Service was a bit haphazard, given the huge crowd on a terribly rainy night that I’d imagine was a surprise.  I kind of wish we had sat at the bar, a lovely old wood wraparound number lit by dozens of colored glass lamps.  One of these days I’m going to chronicle these old Western bars.  Really one of our regional treasures.

And I heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

We also ate at a much newer local spot, the Luna Sea Fish House, owned by a fisherman, Robert Anthony, whose boat and recent crab catches are captured on video that plays on one wall.  Much better than a football game, if you ask me.  This tiny place features Chinook salmon, albacore, and crab he brings in himself, other local fish and shellfish in season from the Oregon coast, and standards from further afield.  There’s a small fish counter that had clams, crab, and a few varieties of fish whose origins were noted on a chalk board.

As difficult as it was to avoid the fish and chips almost everyone was eating on that stormy day, I opted for some mild but tasty marinated mixed-fish tacos made from trim, served with guacamole and a vinegar fresh vegetable slaw, colorful as the buoys we saw lining a fence nearby, and seasoned fries.  Add your own hot sauce, any of several on the table.  Retrogrouch had a salad of decent lettuces (it is winter, after all) topped with delicious  Chinook salmon at an outrageously low price for fish that had been pulled out of the sea by the restaurant owner.  The slumgullion, a clam bay shrimp chowder with melty strands of white cheeses that oozed off the spoon with each bite, looked pretty darn good, too.

On our way home, we chanced into sushi in Florence, a meal that ended up being my meal of the week last week on Food for Thought. Friendly, casual, promising Aloha Sushi operates out of the kitchen at Riley’s Steakhouse, right on 101 just north of the 126 junction, and serves up the wild and often sauce-drenched fusion sushi rolls I don’t like but they take them to the level of high kitsch (the surf and turf roll I spied at another table was a particularly egregious example).  Ignore these and instead focus on the subtle Hawaiian touches Chef Christian Jakobsen (a Hawaiian by birth and training) brings to very fresh fish in the standards.  He’s young and exuberant, which accounts for some of the wild fusion impulses, but it’s clear that he has been schooled well at his chef-father’s well-known restaurant.  The sushi menu is vast, with every possible combination one can think up (including guava jelly).  Again, don’t be scared away — easy to ignore if you’re not into fusion rolls, and if you are, heaven help you, you can enjoy some fascinating possibilities.

We had the best, silky salmon belly sashimi I’ve had in a long time, draped over seaweed salad, followed quickly by the mixed fish poke (above), a colorful melange of raw fish and cephalopods, onion, green onion, sesame, and garlicky soy vinegar dressing.

And the cucumber and cabbage sunomono salad, on the menu as pickled vegetables, made even less Japanese and more Hawaiian by the inclusion of furikake, a crunchy topping of nori and sesame spices, was quite nice too.  Retrogrouch had a huge bowl of miso soup with cabbage and tofu, and I enjoyed a surprising roll of mackerel with seaweed salad and grated ginger, a combination I had never seen before…but it really worked.

One thing to keep in mind about Aloha Sushi is that Urbanspoon is not updated with its new location.  It is now in Riley’s Steakhouse at 1161 Highway 101, roughly across the street from its previous host, a small seafood shack that is a former gas station.  And I see why. So once again, here’s a link to their website. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a link to their menu on the site and hope they fix that soon.  (And more unsolicited advice: hold the mayo and rice, please, on the more classical preparations like the sashimi and poke.  We’re in it for the extremely fresh fish!  And replace the green tea immediately.  It’s wretched.)

I managed to jump out of the car to snap a shot of a patch of pretty skunk cabbage blooms, and we made it back to Eugene just as the road crews were putting up high water signs on Highway 126.  More branches had fallen in our yard.  What a mess of a spring.  Hope you’re staying warm and dry.