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.

10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras

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I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post.  I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters.  These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).

If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:

  • Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur.  It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
  • The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking.  As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
  • The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
  • James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian.  One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
  • Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast.  She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
  • Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce.  Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home.  This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook.  It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.

And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:

  • Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine.  She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone.  The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim.  The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.

And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:

  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
  • Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
  • Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.

Disclaimer:  Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it.  Doing it wrong, as usual.  But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.

 

600 years of recipes – rare books exhibit opens tuesday!

invitation gingerAll my readers are warmly invited to the opening of “Recipe: The Kitchen and Laboratory in the West, 1400-2000,” an exhibition of rare books and ephemera in the collections of the UO Special Collections and University Archives in Knight Library on the U of O campus.

The opening will take place on April 22 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. downstairs in the Browsing Room of Knight Library.  We’ll take tours up to Special Collections at 4:00 and 4:30.  There will be short presentations by Vera’s students in the Honors College, who helped craft the labels for the early part of the exhibit, a presentation by Rebecca Childers’ letterpress students, who made us an accompanying letterpress booklet inspired by botanical illustrations with botanical ink, and me, discussing the curating of the exhibit.  This event is free and open to the public.

The images below are a teaser: one shows the nutritional wheel for bread, bread, bread, and bread, and the other is a hand-colored illustration of wood sorrel, a plant still being served on wildcrafting menus– you might find it in town right now!

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The exhibit covers 600 years of documenting the practice of experimentation — ranging from extraordinary illustrated works cataloging botanical materials for medicines to photographed cakes tracking the effect of baking soda for home economists.  Prof. Vera Keller (Honors College) and I have been working on this for most of the year, and we’ve found some really amazing stuff buried in the archives. You will see a stove invented by Benjamin Franklin and stoves used in queer communes in Southern Oregon, not to mention incredibly rare volumes featuring some of the most beautiful plant images I’ve ever seen; soursop seeds; a jerboa; vegan punk johnnycakes; the infamous blue blazer cocktail; a nude lady; and the bakery that put Eugene on the map with its sanitation practices!

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We’re honored to have the sponsorship of Party Downtown, who will help us celebrate this history with recipes inspired by some of the cookbooks, and Brew Dr. Kombucha, serving Just Ginger kombucha, a brew that already has a strong relationship to the SCUA with proceeds going to the Ken Kesey collection.

Can’t make it to the opening?  The exhibit will be open to the public and free of charge during SCUA’s opening hours through June.

Images are mine, taken from two works in the exhibit: Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: J. Haddon, 1815), RB 580.1 C899, and Raymond Hertwig, “Bleached White Flour Wholesome,” Vitality Demands Energy: 109 Smart New Ways to Serve Bread (n.p.: General Mills Corp., 1934), Bernice Redington Papers, AX92.3.

 

 

next week’s dream team: food historian charlotte biltekoff visits, farmer paul atkinson chats

I’m pleased to announce the University of Oregon Center for the Study of Women in Society Food in the Field Research Interest Group Visiting Scholar Lecture for AY 13-14.  Dr. Charlotte Biltekoff, Assistant Professor, American Studies/Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis, will be speaking on her forthcoming book, Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Dietary Health, on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. in Lillis 111. The talk is free and open to all.  Yes, parking is difficult near campus; sorry.

1304_Biltekoff_flyer_WEBDr. Biltekoff’s book is an important contribution to the field; it analyzes the relationship between moral campaigns and food reform movements in American history.  Trust me, this is a fascinating topic. Our breakfast cereal industry was founded on a thoroughly American mix of sexual abstinence, fresh air exercise, and commercial crop potential.  And that’s just the beginning.

And you may be interested to note that Dr. Biltekoff has served in leadership roles in the burgeoning Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC-Davis and the Association for the Study of Food and Society, so she’s a great person to chat with about the future of the field as well as the past.

We’ll be hearing more about the upcoming talk on Food for Thought on KLCC, Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations all across Oregon, or live on the web.

img_5252And if that’s not enough to grab your attention, how about our other guest on this week’s show, farmer Paul Atkinson of Laughing Stock farm? YES!

Renowned on the West Coast for his pork (which is simply the best pork I’ve ever eaten, and everyone from Chez Panisse diners to The Atlantic’s Senior Editor Corby Kummer agrees) and famous on this blog for his work with friend Del Del Guercio making goat milk cheese and cured meats on the farm for local consumption (as in so-local-it-fell-into-my-mouth local), Farmer Paul will be in our studio!  He’ll chat about the other white meat, dairy farming, duck eggs, heritage squash, land use, curing caves, WWOOFing, and/or who knows what else with Ryan and me at noon.  This is a show that should not be missed.

niblets: red carpet edition

 

Congratulations to Chef Brendan Mahaney of Belly for his James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef Northwest!  This award is one of the biggest honors in the culinary industry.  Images above are from my very first meal at Belly, dining al fresco with Retrogrouch in July 2008.  That beet-cabbage-parsley salad with a side of crème fraîche is still one of my favorite salads ever.

But an important omission, Mr. Beard & Associates: Chef Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro, who was invited to the Beard House last year.  Boo.  You know what makes me excited, though?  Both Belly and Rabbit are moving to more spacious kitchens downtown, so the best is yet to come.  Watch out, Eugene.

Let’s not forget to congratulate fellow nominee Chef Matt Bennett of Albany’s Sybaris, here leading a round of applause for his staff at the Albany Carousel Dinner with Chef Brian Polcyn, and former Eugene bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Clyde Common in PDX for Outstanding Bar Program.

On the local front, see Chef Corey Wisun of Falling Sky Brewing in action, making cod over greens with pesto, on a relatively new and respectably produced segment, KVAL’s Tasty Tuesday.  I’m always horrified when I see food coverage on our local stations since it’s clear none of the reporters have ever been to a restaurant.  But Tony Gist seems to be clued in and articulate about food.  I hope they realize it and treat him well.

Marché’s own sous Chef Crystal Platt has been making local headlines among Those In The Know for her chicken croquettes served à la Buffalo, seasoned with hot sauce, Rogue Oregon Blue cheese, and served with a celery salad.  If you haven’t been to the pleasant new bar with the eponymous name, check it out.  Marché is serving breakfast now, too.

And speaking of new interpretations of Buffalo wings:

Yum yum, no?  Hot Mama’s Wings on 13th.  It’s really a cozy little place.  Clockwise from the top:  hot wings that taste a different than the normal Buffalo, glorious bleu cheese bacon, Thai peanut (a little gloopy for me), and sweet-hot raspberry chipotle.  (A p.s. from this perpetually grumpy correspondent to the perpetually grumpy server: a little hospitality makes everyone feel better.)

And last but not least in VIP news, spring is here.  Time to start thinking of tilling and starting seeds!  I suspect it’s going to be another distracted and travel-heavy summer for me, so no expansion planned, but will manage the usual.  If that’s not on your plate, consider a CSA this year.  You can meet potential farms and farmers at this Willamette Farm and Food Coalition event:

13th Annual – That’s My Farmer! Event
TUESDAY, MARCH 13th
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
First United Methodist Church
1376 Olive Street (Eugene)

$5-15 donation goes to subsidize CSA shares for low-income families

Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

truffles for the people: new story in register-guard

My latest article, originally titled “Truffles for the People” with a subheader “Truffles, featured at a local festival, are more affordable than expected,” is out in the Eugene Register-Guard today. You can check it out online here or see the text below (pasted because the link keeps changing).

We’ll be continuing our conversation about Western Oregon truffles on this Sunday’s Food for Thought radio show on KLCC, with special guest local truffle hunter, oil maker, writer, and photographer Tobiah Orin Moshier.

I wish the title of my article hadn’t been changed to “Truffle Trivia,” honestly.  I don’t think of truffles as trivia.  I think of them as a commodity whose prices are driven up by the reputation as a luxury good, a trend we are not bound to follow in the Willamette Valley because of our supply of wildcrafted truffles.  And I see them as an opportunity to demystify luxury in the name of the people.  It has been a difficult year for truffles in Europe and in our own forests, so expect prices to be higher than in years past.  But truffles are not a brand, and not anything magic, just a fungus.  A delicious fungus, but one that resides among us.

So don’t believe the hype.

Want more humble ways to enjoy truffles?  Well, there’s the truffle fries at Eugene’s latest burger joint, a Portland chain called Little Big Burger.  It’s located next to Market of Choice on Orchard at Franklin Blvd.  The fries blow away Five Guys and Dickie Joe’s, in my opinion, but there isn’t much truffle essence detectable in the oil they use.  But it’s a good concept, I suppose, and the price can’t be beat.

Because of the inevitable edits that take place in print journalism, we weren’t able to include all the recipes I collected for the article.  There was also the omission of all the “truffles by the people” ideas and the description of the amateur cooks who are finalists for a contest at the festival. I regret that these edits imbalance the article in favor of chefs and not regular home cooks, so here’s what was left out, with some slight emendations:

The One Big Truffle contest finalists, all veteran recipe-writers, each offered their own ideas.  Merry Graham of Newhall, California, contributed a simple, elegant potato-truffle soup, and Pam Norby, of Emery, Wisconsin, provided a one-dish truffle-brie pizza topped with vegetables and chicken.  Erika Kerekes, whose annual Trufflepaloozas are recorded on her blog, In Erika’s Kitchen, in Santa Monica, California, offered a homemade butter recipe, perfect for DIYers.

Kerekes educated me on how to get “the most truffle bang” for your buck, stating that you need to pair truffles with background foods:  “eggs, mild cheese, corn, pasta, rice, butter, cream — these are the classics.  I also like Oregon truffles paired with mushrooms, steak and fish.”

My own readers suggested shaving truffles over everything from scrambled eggs (presented in photo) and naked fettucini to a “perfectly velvety parsnip purée” to a truffled eggs Benedict.  Some folks prefered the headier whites for eggs and pasta.

Chef Rocky Maselli was kind enough to provide another recipe, a truffled crab risotto, and I’ve posted Erika Kerekes’ truffle butter recipe and Pam Norby’s truffle vegetable pizza recipe below.  I would imagine that the brie-truffle sauce would work on a pizza with just the pancetta or morels, if you don’t have all the ingredients.  For more of Erika’s truffle recipes, head over to her recipe index on In Erika’s Kitchen.

And last but not least, we couldn’t squeeze in Harold McGee and truffle funk:

Such an intriguing flavor profile doesn’t quite explain the mania people feel about truffles.  Could it be the steroids, then?  Noted food authority Harold McGee explained that truffles “contain small amounts of Androstenone, a steroid compound also found in men’s underarm sweat and secreted in the saliva of the male pig.”  This compound, to put it gently, makes the sow interested in love, and it is thought that a similar reaction happens in humans.

So why not try them out?  We need a little more cheap love in the world.

Was it my endless blathering, or just the randiness of the sentiment?  You decide.  And enjoy those truffles.

Rocky Maselli’s Dungeness Crab Risotto with Oregon White Truffle

For Crab Stock:

  • 2 whole live crabs
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 carrot peeled
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomato
  • 2 quarts water
  • Chili flakes to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 medium-sized shallot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine

For Risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ onion peeled & minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 4-5 cups crab & prawn stock
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • Salt & pepper to taste

For Garnish:

  • Dungeness crab meat
  • Oregon white truffles, shaved

For the stock: cook the crab in salted water. Clean the crab. Set the meat aside for garnishing the risotto. Coarsely chop the crab shells. In a heavy bottomed stockpot, melt the butter and sauté the shells until they start to caramelize slightly. Add vegetables, wine and water. Skim and cook for 20 minutes, season with salt and chili flakes.

This is the flavor foundation of the risotto so it needs to have good flavor, taste to be sure it is nice and strong. Strain and return the stock back to the stockpot and simmer on very low heat.

For the risotto: melt butter in a non-reactive heavy bottom pot. Add onions and cook until translucent.  Add rice and stir coating the grains with the butter over medium low heat for 4-5 minutes. Add the wine and the hot stock half a cup at a time, stirring constantly. Wait for any liquid to be completely absorbed before adding more liquid. Continue to cook, adding liquid until rice is tender. Add butter and crab meat. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Spoon risotto onto a plate and top with plenty of shaved Oregon white truffle.  Serves 4.

Erika Kerekes’ Homemade Truffle Butter

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon white or black truffle oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon truffle salt, or to taste
  • 1 fresh black summer truffle (you won’t need the whole thing)

Line a colander with a few coffee filters; rip them open and lay them in so that the colander has one layer of filter throughout, more or less. Place the colander in the sink.

Pour the cream into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. When you hear the noise change and things sound a bit sloshy, go back and look. You’ll know when it’s done – the butter solids will have separated from the buttermilk and will be clumped together. Stop the processor. You’ll probably see one big clump of butter, and then some smaller clumps drifting in the liquid.

Lift out the butter solids with your hand and squeeze a little to get some of the liquid out. Put the butter in the colander. Fish out the little bits of butter and add those to the colander. Discard the liquid.

Knead the butter a little in the colander to get some more of the liquid out. Then let the butter drain for about 30 minutes. Put a paper towel on top and press down to get the remaining liquid out. The butter will still be quite soft, which is good. Turn it into a mixing bowl.

Add the truffle oil, truffle salt, and grated truffle to the fresh butter and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s combined thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if you like your butter salty. Refrigerate the butter in a container lined with paper towels or more coffee filters. It will keep in the refrigerator about a week, and in the freezer for six months or longer.

Pam Norby’s Truffled Pizza with Meat, Vegetables, and Brie Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or dried morel mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup asparagus spears, blanched, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups left-over chicken, cooked, diced
  • 1/4 cup chives, chopped
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 7 ounces brie, rind removed, cubed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or fresh, to taste
  • 1/2 cup any truffle cheese, grated
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 package pizza dough

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add olive oil. When hot, add shallots and morels, sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic, asparagus, and pancetta, stir 1 minute. Take off heat and stir in cooked chicken, chives, walnuts, salt, and pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the brie, heavy cream, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a bare simmer and reduce 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the pizza crust on a baking sheet and top crust with brie sauce evenly. Top with the chicken mixture, then the cheeses. Bake at 425 (or according to package direction) for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.  Serves 6.

TRUFFLE TRIVIA

Chefs give us the lowdown on fungi in advance of the festival

By Jennifer Burns Levin

For The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, page D1


When I asked readers of my food blog what home cooks might do with a modest amount of white or black Oregon truffles, one reader replied: “Sell them.”

She was only half-joking.

The truffle, whose reputation of intoxicating scent and flavor is surpassed only by its expense, is seen as a decadent luxury. Dubbed “the most expensive food in the world” by “60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl, the European truffle market is tightly locked up by a few families in northwestern Italy and southern France, and this year’s shortages have driven the prices up even higher. At Dean & Deluca in New York City, the recent price for black European truffles was $2,200 per pound, or almost $138 an ounce.

But don’t plan on selling yet. Even with its signature Oregon Truffle Festival Friday through Sunday — with costly weekend packages ranging between $525 to $1,075 per person, and a sumptuous, sold-out Grand Truffle Dinner out of the reach of most people — Eugene finds ways to make truffles affordable. The festival hosts a marketplace each year with local vendors using truffles in various ways to spark the home cook’s interest. This year, it will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Hilton Eugene.

For $15 admission, attendees can taste high-quality truffle basics, or inventive creations such as Red Wagon Creamery’s Honey-Hazelnut Ice Cream Sundae, topped with bergamot-infused olive oil, truffle salt and shaved truffle.

Indeed, the truffle’s reputation as a luxury product might be a bit misleading for those living in the Willamette Valley. We have our own varieties ripening in winter, the white Tuber oregonense, and the black Leucangium carthusianum. Unlike the French black (Tuber melanosporum) that grows underground on the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, ours grow comparatively robustly and widely in the more acidic soil under young Douglas firs in tree plantations, both consumed and spread by small critters such as squirrels, whose dung carries the spores.

Western Oregonians may purchase these delicacies at relatively modest prices in local markets that have good connections with foragers, and enjoy truffles all winter long in simple, seasonal dishes. Black Oregon truffles, for example, were on sale at Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene last week for about $448 per pound, and white Oregon truffles were about $176 per pound. Although it still seems expensive, consider that a walnut-sized truffle, enough to enhance an average dinner for a family of four, weighs approximately .02 pounds, or just over 0.3 ounces, translating to $3.50 for a white truffle and about $9 for a black truffle.

But how do they taste? After learning that blacks are fruitier and deeper than whites, which could be called garlicky and more subtle, I spoke with chefs and speakers for different events at the Oregon Truffle Festival, seeking their opinions.

Chef Shane Tracey of Eugene’s Nib Modern Eatery, who will join chef Maurizio Paparo of Excelsior Inn and Ristorante in preparing truffle meals for the festival’s winery luncheons on Saturday, uses white truffles in savory applications and blacks in desserts, aiming for balance. “I often play with the caramel, chocolate, coffee tones in black truffles,” Tracey said. “I usually pair components that are the lighter, complementary flavor profiles to those three main flavors.”

Cookbook author and food writer Molly O’Neill, whose One Big Table: 800 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Home Cooks, Farmers, Pit-Masters and Chefs has spurred an ongoing project to collect American recipes, will host the Friday dinner honoring the finalists of an amateur cooking contest called the One Big Truffle Contest. She has reviewed more than 100 recipes containing Oregon truffles in her archive of 20,000.

O’Neill explained that although the Oregon truffle had its early supporters like culinary luminary and Oregon native son James Beard, it has suffered from a bad reputation.

“Growers and foragers in Oregon are pushing a Sisyphean boulder up a hill as they try to undo decades of sub-par harvesting and handling,” O’Neill said. Often harvested too early, and with tools that harmed the ecosystem instead of comparatively gentle truffle dogs that dig them out, this method created truffles with a flavor “like a potato,” she said.

Stephanie Pearl Kimmel, founding chef of Marché restaurant and Inn at the 5th, and host chef of the festival’s Grand Truffle Dinner, experienced the problems first-hand. When a forager brought one to her restaurant in the 1980s, she found them unpleasant.

They had, she said, “strong overtones of pitch, not in a sweet woodsy way, but more like turpentine. The texture was dry and crumbly, too, so I declined to use them at the restaurant and feared that there wouldn’t be much of a future for the Oregon truffle.”

She had her epiphany when an experienced truffle hunter brought a sample to Marché several years later: “These were larger, firm and moist with a dark, speckled interior and a lovely complex scent of humid earth, apples, chocolate, musk and even hazelnut,” Kimmel said.

And since then, Marché has featured Oregon truffles on its menu each winter.

For truffle fans on a tight budget, opt to make an infusion by grating your Oregon truffle treasure with a plane-style grater, then adding the shavings to a small jar full of sea salt or honey.

Truffle salt has many uses from popcorn and pumpkin seeds to pan-fried chicken and creamy pasta.

I infused some homemade celery salt with black Oregon truffle, and it created a mouthwatering umami component — a pleasant savory taste — for roasted vegetables. Black truffle honey is absolutely delightful, too, for baked goods or biscuits.

And don’t forget your homemade ice cream. Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery notes that “butterfat in milk and cream absorbs the truffle flavor so well that you really don’t need a large amount.

“Ice cream is also versatile. Be daring! You can use all sorts of truffle-flavored items, like salts or oils.”

Chef Gabriel Gil of The Rabbit Bistro & Bar takes the salt-sweet combo to another level, recommending ice cream made of buttery, fruity Pont l’Evêque cheese with white truffles grated on top.

Another option is to add white or black truffle shavings to a small amount of neutral oil like grapeseed or light olive oil, or even better, sesame or Chinese hot oil that has been gently heated on your stove. Cover the oil and use within 24 hours, or store in the refrigerator for a few days to retain all the scent and reduce the risk of microbes. Truffled olive oil is nice drizzled on a pizza or in winter squash soup. Truffled sesame and hot oils can transform mild stir-fries, or if you are so lucky, truffled pork dumplings, just prior to serving.

With ideas as delicious and reasonable as these, there could soon be a truffle shortage in the Willamette Valley.

Here are a couple of recipes from chefs participating in the festival — local chef and truffle expert Rocky Maselli, and One Big Truffle Contest finalist Merry Graham of Newhall, Calif.

Rocky Maselli’s Truffle Roasted Chicken

This recipe works best with either Oregon black or white truffles, but not both. I think you will find that the two offer distinctly different aromas and both flavors pair well with roasted chicken on their own. So, use one or the other. The recipe calls for 2 ounces of truffles but if you have them and want to use more, go for it. If you love truffles like I do, stuff as much truffle under the skin as you can without tearing it.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 ounces fresh black or white Oregon winter truffles, thinly sliced
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • 1 whole chicken (4½ to 5 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the butter, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Coarsely chop about half the truffle slices, add to the butter mixture, and stir to combine.

Separate the chicken skin from the meat by sliding your fingers underneath the skin, very carefully as not to tear it. Evenly distribute the butter mixture underneath the skin, across the breast, legs and thighs.

Carefully place reserved truffle slices under the skin. Rub salt all over chicken skin, place chicken on a plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and arrange rack in middle. Remove chicken from refrigerator and rub skin with olive oil. Season all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper and let sit at room temperature about 30 minutes.

Place chicken on a rack in a baking dish and roast for 20-30 minutes at 425 degrees then reduce the temperature to 325 until juices run clear and a thermometer inserted in inner thigh registers 165 degrees (about 1 to 1¼ hour total cooking time.)

Starting the chicken at a higher temperature will give the skin the desired color and keep it succulent. Remove from oven and let rest about 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

Merry Graham’s Potato Soup With Shaved Black Truffles

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ cup minced celery
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 black truffles, shaved

Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, potatoes and broth to pan; bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.

Cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Add celery and simmer for another few minutes.

In a blender, food processor or immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Return soup to pan and add half-and-half, salt, pepper, cheese and butter. Cook on low heat for a few minutes. Stir half of the black truffles into soup.

Season to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle. Garnish with parsley and black truffles. Serves four.