christmas cheez-its


Instead of cookies, I made Christmas cheez-its, powered by Crossroads Farm’s pasilla, esplette, and Hungarian cherry pepper powders.  They were a hit.  I may never bake cookies again.  Especially good served with smoked whitefish dip.  So my present to you is the recipe. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cheese Crackers

Yield: 2-3 dozen, depending on how thick

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices when cold
  • 2 cups white wheat flour or wheat/rye combo
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, or a cheddar/stronger cheese mix like aged gouda
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Smoked paprika or esplette or pasilla powder and sesame seeds for topping

Cut butter into pieces and let sit on counter to soften.  Grate cheese. Add an ice cube to a bowl of water to chill.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor bowl; pulse to combine. Add the butter and cheese and pulse until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the dough falls away from the sides of the bowl and can be formed into a crumbly ball, adding a little more water if necessary.

Divide the dough in two, forming it into a disk if you plan to roll it out, or a log if you’re lazy like me and just want to slice it.  Chill for 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Either roll the dough out or slice your log into pieces 1/8-inch thick (no more!).  You may need to let it warm up first on the counter a bit if you chilled overnight for easier rolling. You are aiming for thin, crisp crackers, so take care to make thickness even and consistent.

For Cheez-It-like bits, cut into 3/4-inch-wide squares and poke a hole in the center of each square with a skewer.

Place crackers on parchment-lined baking sheets and brush with egg white, then dust with paprika or the like and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake until the dough is not shiny/raw and barely golden on the bottom, about 20-22 minutes. Store completely cooled crackers in an airtight container.

*Note: I forgot to brush with egg white, so the toppings slid off for the photo.  Follow me at your peril!



but first, the tomato news

IMG_8416Tomato time.  I take advantage of cooler nights and melt down chunks of paste tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in a 225 degree oven overnight to make tomato paste.  After I mill out the skins and cook the rest of the water out, I freeze the paste in ice cube trays.  I’ll do this several times during tomato season to keep up with the harvest.  Not everything needs to be canned/preserved in big batches!

For a change of pace, try my green and red pizza sauce, cooked similarly to tomato paste but with more seasoning and green tomatoes.  You don’t need any special equipment for this one!

And later in the season, you can bet I’ll use up all the rest of the paste tomatoes in my ketchup recipe, one of the best recipes I’ve ever developed.

This year my always huge tomatoes got away from me in the dry heat, and I’m battling an even more severe blossom end rot issue than usual.  It’s clearly a calcium/fertilizer deficiency, since they grew so fast and I thought I had covered my bases with my usual treatment of dried milk and eggshells, plus even watering.  Even a calcium infusion late in the game didn’t help much.  Kind of mad at myself, since I’ve now lost about 75% of the plum tom crop, but I still have huge numbers of tomatoes, so I can’t complain about anything other than my own lack of vigilance.

What’s growing extremely well is the next generation Indigo tomatoes developed first at OSU.  I planted a grafted variety from Log House Gardens called ‘Indigo Cherry Drop’ that has proven to be blossom-end-rot (BER) bullet-proof (the only plant that emerged unscathed).  The others, not so much:

Tomatoes 2014

  • Orange Icicle and Black Icicle (both very prolific but wiped out nearly clean with BER, orange variety tastes terrific)
  • Black Ethiopian (a solid salad tom, pretty good BER resistance)
  • Indigo Cherry Drop – terrific, perfect golf ball size; actually tastes good, unlike the first gen Indigos (not great but good), and very pretty
  • Sungold
  • Amish Paste (got the big strain this year, thank goodness, and it’s stronger against the BER than expected)
  • San Marzano (grafted) – still tastes bad and full of BER
  • Jersey Devil (grafted) – another plum but same problems
  • Sunset’s Red Horizon
  • Henderson’s Winsall
  • Anna Russian – another big paste (or rather heart-shaped) that resembles Amish but seems heartier
  • Rose di Berne
  • Black Mt. Pink

And while I’m at it, just thought I should mention the peppers are doing very well.  I had to pinch off blossoms early in the season to encourage the plants to grow large enough to support the crop, so I’m just now getting some full, beautiful pepper development.

Peppers 2014

  • Corbaci (a long skinny sweet pepper, really cool and prolific, grew in pot)
  • Sweet banana
  • Carmen (x 2, not sure why i grew two of these)
  • Paradisium Alatu Sarza Szentes (yellow ribbed flat guys)
  • Jaloro (yellow jalapeno, in pot, hot)
  • Atris (F1 hybrid, huge)
  • Mulato
  • Mulato Islena
  • Padron
  • Aji Amarillo  (no flowers yet!!)
  • Negro de Valle
  • Pasilla Baijo (chilaca when fresh)

chile weather 2013

IMG_2980I don’t think I’ve ever planted cucumbers and peppers on the same day before, but call me behind the times and ahead of my time.

This year, I’m going loco and concentrating on Mexican chile varietals to play with molé. That’s me eating enchiladas molé at a restaurant in Las Vegas with some modernist studies colleagues, above.

I also bought a couple of Facing Heavens, the Sichuan chile that I use dried and fermented and chopped into a sauce.  Jeff’s Garden of Eaton has several hundred varieties of tomatoes and hot and sweet peppers, including many rare ones, so it’s always fun to go out River Road to look and pick up a few for $2 a plant.  They’re getting tall already, so you’ll want to go soon.

I am switching beds this year, so am hoping the peppers will be happy.  They grow remarkably well in the hottest, driest spot in the garden.

Here’s my lineup (clockwise from East end). What is yours?

  • Facing Heaven
  • Chiltepec
  • Sweet Pickle
  • Pimiento de Padron
  • Chile de Agua (tell your Mexican friends about this Oaxacan pepper, very rare)
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca
  • Mulato
  • Chilhuacle Negro
  • Costeno Amarillo
  • Another Facing Heaven



niblets: jack and the beanstalk edition

IMG_3223Niblets is an all-too-occasional feature on the ins and outs of the Eugene food scene. Syndicate me?  You know you want to.

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t do another of these for a while, but it’s garden season and this town is just teeming with news.  Plant all day and enjoy one of our new restaurants at night.  Perhaps a new Southeast Asian (Malaysian?) restaurant, Kopi-O, across from Midtown Marketplace at 16th and Willamette?  I kid you not.

Adaptive Seeds reports that “Our very own Andrew Still will be teaching a workshop – Seed Saving & Seed Stewardship: The Path to Locally Adapted Seed and True Food Freedom – next Sunday, May 19th from 10am – 3pm at Sunbow Farm in Corvallis.”  This is special.  Andrew is a fantastic speaker and smart as a whip.  He co-leads one of the most radical new ventures in the valley, an “open source” PNW-appropriate, internationally gleaned, organic seed company that grows and collects open-pollinated seed crops from a small network of local farmers.  And it’s at another one of the coolest progressive farms in Oregon.  Don’t miss it.

And speaking of workshops, I’ll be appearing in a short segment on the Sustainable Table on KEZI 9 TV in Eugene (that’s our ABC channel, for those with fancy things like cable) on Wednesday on the 6 p.m. news.  I made some sauerkraut for reporter Brandi Smith and we chatted about upcoming Master Food Preserver preservation classes, like the fermentation class (now full) I’m offering on May 18.

Oregon Plant Fair sale at Alton Baker Park and the Hardy Plant Sale at the Fairgrounds are happening today from 9-2.  As in right now!

Spotted at Groundworks Organics last week at the farmers market: agretti! This unusual Italian green can be used raw in salads, cooked, or pickled. I grabbed the last one and only wish I could have bought a few more. Hope there will be more today. Please enjoy the visual delights of a white pizza I made (above) with Salumi fennel salami, topped with grass clippings of agretti, oregano, and wild arugula.

Growers of tomatoes and peppers (and aren’t we all?) will be relieved to know Jeff’s Garden of Eaton is open for another year.  Jeff works extremely long hours at a classical music non-profit, so it’s hard for him to manage the extensive work of cultivating nightshades, so please do support him.  He has the best selection of anyone in town — many unusual varieties.  He says:

Just a quick message to let you know that Garden of Eaton is once again offering a wide variety of mostly heirloom tomato and pepper starts for your garden.

We’re generally open every day between noon and 6PM at 2650 Summer Lane in Santa Clara. My assistant, Carolyn, will be here to answer any questions you might have about the different varieties available this year. You can reach Carolyn during the hours we’re open by calling (541) 607-1232 [ed: or email Jeff at jaeaton at clearwire dot net].

I hope to update my website sometime this week to include descriptions of the varieties available, but for now I invite you to drop by and see for yourself!

Have fun and be careful out there! (Bees.)

halloween came early in vegas, glad to be home

It’s been an intense month, but I’ve got a bit of breathing room.  It’s been a struggle to reorganize my priorities to spend more time strengthening my leg as I learn how to get full range of motion again, but it needs to be done.  I do less in a day so I can spend more time exercising and going to the gym.  But that’s ok for now.

Walking and taking photos has been a pleasure.  Since I’m so slow, I can see a great deal.  Walking downtown has been thrilling, seeing all the new food businesses emerge (a long overdue restaurant post will come soon, I promise). I’m also really excited to have been part of a team studying some possibilities for a food studies program at University of Oregon.  We went up to OSU to meet a number of Oregon scholars interested in a food studies coalition of sorts, then hosted several eminent food studies faculty from other institutions back at home.  I hope something good comes out of it all.

I’ve been planning some events with my food research group on campus, including the visit from Sandor Katz on November 16, too.  Then I spent a half-week in Las Vegas at a literature conference last week.  I’m still haunted by the Strip, where I saw Dora the Explorer and Freddy Kruger mingling among the tourists outside the Flamingo.  And don’t even get me started about what was inside.  Halloween came early!

Creepy, no?  The talking animated tree was at the Bellagio and the talking Neptune posed between the Nike swoosh and a Cheesecake Factory logo was part of an inaudible animatronic show depicting the fall of Atlantis at Caesars Palace.  The eyebrow-raising relief of Roman soldiers raping naked women, also Caesars Palace.  Check it out and its companion piece of Roman soldiers beating men when you enter the slot machine area.  No fucking joke.

I did enjoy seeing colleagues at the conference, where I presented my work on sexual modernity and on modernist food, and the Flamingo wasn’t a bad place to stay at all.  My room was very clean and the hall was absolutely silent.  Couldn’t ask for more, especially in the middle of the decline of Western civilization.  Great meals, too, at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and Lotus of Siam, a hole in the wall place off the Strip in a mini-mall, made famous by Jonathan Gold a few years ago.  I had a noteworthy lamb leg with apples and blanched rutabaga cubes with a wonderful bottle of wine at the former, a pounded Northern Thai jackfruit and pork “dip” and a puffed rice and sausage dish at the latter.

But now I’m home sweet home, and couldn’t be happier to see my friends and neighbors and farmers at the market this weekend.  I walked around on my own for the first time in months, and it was a little hard, but I managed, even in the rain.

I skipped the zombie Thriller in Kesey plaza.  I had seen enough Halloween.  Instead, I reminded myself of how dazzling our fall produce is.  The hard winter squashes in yellows, oranges, reds, and slate blues are gorgeous, especially with the multi-hued peppers that remain, but I more stimulated by baskets of quinces and huckleberries at the gourd guy’s booth, brilliant red and gold flint corn polenta at Lonesome Whistle (their first go at flint corn!), and tiny American persimmons at Grateful Harvest alongside Concord grapes and the rest of the Italian prunes and fall strawberries. The weird weather created a stellar apple crop.  I bought some huge, delicious Pippins from Hentze farm, and drooled over Dave Biancalana’s description of his apple cider pork sausage with rosemary and apples.  There were golden raspberries and juicy Napa cabbage and new ginger (!!) at Groundworks Organics.  My favorite White Russian kale was available at Ruby & Amber’s Organic Oasis (I hope I’m remembering this one correctly). Cider from River Bend farm and roasting peppers were enticing us at the front of the market.  Someone whose name I forgot was selling local sweet potatoes, an important item of note for Thanksgiving.

As for what’s coming:  the mushrooms are sprouting up, especially golden chanterelles.  Beans and grains are being sorted and cleaned right now: expect the new crop very soon.  I’m pretty sure the hazelnut crop got swept up before the rains, too, so that means great plump filberts.  Walnuts should be here soon, and cranberries.  Time for homemade cran-vodkas, my favorite fall drink!

I love this little valley, this great state.  I’m so glad I’m here to share it with you.


With the last of my hot chiles a few weeks ago, I experimented with the smoker.  Some of the big fat green jalapenos got smoked for about two hours over a blend of fruit and other woods before putting them in a salty brine to ferment and become smoky hot sauce.  The red jalapenos became light, sweetly smoked chipotles, dried peppers that are usually left whole and smoked until a brittle dark crisp.  I liked the idea of dialing back the smoke so I could use them for a variety of purposes, so I slit them and laid them flat, and only smoked them for a 4-5 hours until they dried.  They’re so pretty; they remind me of the last warm days of our Indian summer, that beautiful bright sad light.

Stay dry and be careful out there!

a year in pickles: pickle recipe index

If there’s any specialty of this blog, it’s not gardening or sustainability or Northwest politics or seasonal cooking or local cheerleading or events or complaining a lot.  It’s pickles.  We’re not quite at that magic time of the year in Oregon yet, but I see from the hits on my blog that other places in the country have hit pickling time with a vengeance.

Suffice it to say, I always have pickles on hand, and I spend the whole year pickling.

Throughout summer and late into the fall, I put up crocks and crocks of red and white sauerkraut.  Some of the sauerkraut I can and give as gifts, and other jars I leave fresh in the refrigerator, where they last for months.

Also for winter eating, I make crocks and jars of fermented and vinegar dill pickles with giant bags of perfectly sized cucumbers I buy at a local farm and my own horseradish or grape leaves, plus full heads of garlic. I make dill relish every other year.  The fermented dill pickles have delicious juice that I use all year ’round in potato salads, as a marinade for salmon, and to deglaze pan-roasted fish or shrimp.

In autumn, I restock my tomatoes, salsa, and ketchup supplies. As it gets colder, I turn the rest of the green tomatoes into pickles or salsa.  I used to use all my sweet and hot peppers to make the pepper-eggplant spread ajvar (for freezing) but my new tradition is to put up a few half-gallon jars of hot peppers to ferment and make hot sauce after many months of fermentation.

In winter, when I see the citrus fruits at their best, I make a couple of jars of salt-preserved lemons and lemon zest vinegar (to use in a pinch when I’m out of fresh lemons), and, occasionally, marmalade.  I turn a 5-lb. bag of local dried Fellenberg or Brooks prunes into pickled prunes, to eat with winter roasts. I stew some of the sauerkraut in Pinot Gris (and save the Riesling for drinking — life’s too short to waste good Riesling) and eat it with kielbasa and other smoked meats.  If I remember, I corn a brisket for St. Patty’s day in March.  I make mustard and horseradish relish from my horseradish plant’s roots.

As soon as the spring produce starts coming in, I make refrigerator pickles: salted savoy cabbage, cucumber quick pickles, chard stem pickles.  Flavored vinegar-making also begins in spring with the little purple pompom chive blossoms and tarragon, then ends with wild blackberries, Concord grapes, and cranberries in the fall.  Starting in May, I put up the requisite asparagus pickles and dilly beans; I love giving the jars of slender, perfectly straight crisp vegetable crunchies as hostess gifts for parties throughout the year.  Cauliflower pickles are a standby, as well — the purple cauliflower makes a vibrant magenta pickle.  Each time I make a vinegar brine for canning pickles, I do a double batch, then use the excess brine for refrigerator pickles made of whatever is on hand: baby turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts…

It’s hard to believe, but we eat them all.

Here are my pickle recipes, indexed, if you’d like to try some or all of these ideas!  All of the canned pickles are produced using tested, safe recipes that are approved by the Master Food Preserver program, with which I’m a certified volunteer. The fermentation recipes are not USDA-approved, but I have made them all many times.

fermented hot pepper sauce

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, but Culinaria Eugenius put up a peck of fermented peppers!

Here’s how I started, with my fermented pepper recipe.  I packed a few half-gallon jars full of fresh hot peppers, garlic, and a salt brine.  It sat in a cool corner until the fermentation got going, rewarding me with the most delicious, spicy-sour peppers that would last through the winter.

They were so beautiful, and so bold.  After chopping up dozens of the peppers to use in my salsa, stirfries, beans, and anything else that would benefit from a burst of heat, I used up every last drop of sour brine from several large jars.

Happily, I realized I still had enough to make hot sauce from the hottest and fruitiest of the peppers.  I had one large jar in the back of the fridge, a blend that was heavy with burnished brown Ethiopian beriberi peppers.  They made me cough, they were so strong, but the mix of peppers had so much more depth than the plain jar of jalapenos or the mixed jars of jalapenos and other Central American peppers.

So I chopped the peppers roughly, added bit by bit to the blender with all the brine, and got this:

And thus, the best hot sauce in the world was born.  I can’t emphasize how delicious this stuff was after spicing up the salt brine from October to June.  And it’s all about the fermentation.  Fermentation is the secret of some commercial hot sauces; Tabasco, for example, ferments its pepper mash in oak barrels for up to three years.  But we don’t really take advantage of this at home, often just counting on the half-vinegar half-water hot peppers that we can from the Ball Blue Book.

There are reasons for avoiding fermentation with pepper sauce, including the problems keeping the mash at a cool temperature.  Peppers are a bit more finicky than cucumbers.  At first, I tried to strain off the delicious brine and keep that on the counter, but it developed a white film, so I knew it had to be refrigerated.

And even though the peppers in brine were fine for many months in the refrigerator, the blended hot sauce, after sitting in the refrigerator for a month or so, started to grow white mold on top, so I had to get rid of the rest of the jar.  I attribute this to the complete lack of vinegar in the brine.  You might try adding some vinegar as a preservative.  I definitely recommend making the hot sauce in small batches, since the peppers in brine last beautifully long in the refrigerator, but the peppers in the sauce seem to have a short refrigerated shelf life.

Hank Shaw’s hot sauce recipe, a wholly different preparation than mine, directs the cook to add spices, which would be great next time.  The recipe also includes two particularly good tips: using a growingly available binding agent called xanthan gum to prevent the sauce from separating, and letting the sauce settle to remove excess air.

For about 2 cups of finished hot sauce, he advises using 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water.  Without the xanthan gum, expect the pepper mass to float atop some briny water in your jar.  Nothing dangerous, but not the most visually appealing thing in the world.  A good stir fixes the problem.

Shaw also recommends this easy tip to battle separation:

Pour into a bowl or large jar and let this settle for 1 hour to allow all the trapped air you introduced into the sauce while blending to escape. If you skip this step your sauce will not hold together as well.

I’m going to try these steps next year for sure!  Until then, I’ll be eating this glorious sauce on barbecued pork, tacos, chicken wings, gazpacho, etc., etc., etc.

culinaria nightshade: tomatoes and peppers 2012

Hello from Cambridge, Mass!  I spied this strawberry and tomato-growing system in the Harvard Community Garden.  I’ll write more about this later, but for now, I just want to share that I’m spending a week at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, studying old cookbooks under the sage guidance of Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, culinary historian and honorary curator of the culinary collection at the library.  I can’t believe my good fortune, honestly.

I also can’t believe my good fortune in having Jeff’s Garden of Eaton back at home.  Jeff grows hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and sells them out of his home off River Road every afternoon, and at farmers markets.  As wonderful as Territorial and Log House Plants are for providing sound, delicious varieties of the nightshade family (and you shouldn’t overlook the grafted tomatoes), Jeff has them soundly beat for variety.  Last year, for example, I grew Ethiopian ‘Berebere’ peppers and Sichuan ‘Facing Heaven’ peppers from his starts.  The commercial market wouldn’t support these niche peppers, but Jeff does.

If you’re interested, you can see the tomatoes and pepper varietals I grew from Jeff’s garden in 2011 (tomatoes and peppers) and the ones I grew from Territorial in 2010, plus comments about what others were growing.

Here’s what I managed to stick in the ground this year in the week I had back home.  Hope they make it! I finally broke my Hungarian pepper obsession this year and opted for many Central American varieties to make mole.  But my tomatoes leaned Russian.  Pinkos and reds, you see.


  • Amish Paste x 3 (my go-to paste tomato; last year I had several 1-pounders)
  • Carol Chyko’s Big Paste (sounds promising as another meaty non-Roma paste)
  • Japanese Black Trifele
  • Rose de Berne (this is tragic — I snapped off the entire stem of this Swiss heirloom while transplanting and had to replace with Black Krim, thanks to a last minute run to MOC!)
  • Sungold
  • Jean’s Prize
  • Indigo Rose (the new, much-hyped purple tomato developed by Jim Myers at OSU)
  • Nyagous (Russian variety, black, cluster, crack-resistant)
  • Azoychka (3-inch, slightly flat orange-yellow tomatoes, another Russian variety)


  • Padron x 2
  • Facing Heaven (my seed from London) x 3
  • Facing Heaven (company stock seed as comparison)
  • Piquillo Pimento
  • Esplette (Basque)
  • Chilhuacle Amarillo
  • Chilcostle
  • Serrano Tempiqueno
  • Mulato Isleno
  • Tennessee Cheese
  • Negro de Valle (like Vallero)
  • Berebere Brown


I haven’t been cooking much, but what little I’ve done has prepared our house for the winter ahead. I think it helps that I live in a micro-climate that seems to be warmer than other, more open properties.  My tomato plants were still green as could be before I pulled them out yesterday, for example, and I ate my last raspberry yesterday, too.  I’ll probably still pick some bedraggled basil this week.  So it’s kind of weird to be making apple butter at the same time I’m still pickling and freezing summer.  But I am.

I made ajvar out of my own peppers and those I got from others, roasting about 10 lbs. of ripe, red ones with a couple of smallish Italian eggplants.  After removing the skins, I blended everything together with some olive oil and salt, and froze it in small containers.  It makes a great thickener for soups and layers well with bread or pasta.

The other peppers, mainly Hungarian ones from Jeff Eaton but also some Ethiopian berebere that I grew on my own and some random jalapeños left over from making pepper vinegar — were dried for several days in the dehydrator.  I was aiming for flavor over speed.  One batch (above) I roasted on the grill before drying to make smoked paprika.  Not as good as the Spanish stuff, but not bad.

Then there’s my discovery of the year, the one product I’m not sure I can live without.

Fermented Peppers

They are so unbelievably delicious, much better than pickled peppers in vinegar.  The recipe (from Linda Ziedrich‘s Joy of Pickling) is very easy.

Just fill a 3L or so jar with halved pieces of jalapeño and other hot peppers, add a brine made from 2-1/2 tablespoons of pickling salt to each quart of water, and add a weight to the top so the peppers stay submerged.  Leave on the counter for about 2-3 weeks, skimming off scum occasionally and making sure the peppers are below the liquid, then refrigerate when they are as sour as you like them.

The peppers in brine won’t bubble as much as dill pickles do, but you should see some bubbles on the surface after 2-3 days. Instead of being bleached and exhausted by the vinegar, the flavor of the peppers is enhanced and deepened.

I have been using the peppers in everything this fall — my salsas, stir-fries, pasta, eggs, greens, beans, meat marinades. Already went through a half-gallon, so I put up two more large jars with the hopes that they’ll last me through the winter.

The sour, slightly salty, spicy brine that’s left behind is delicious and full-flavored, wonderful splashed in vegetables or used to deglaze a pan.  The only thing to remember: store it in the refrigerator, or the particles in the brine will continue to ferment and create more scum growth on the top of the jar.