consider the vegetable: produce as modern art

Squash growing five feet up an elm tree; Eugene, OR
Sweet trompe l’oeil pastries shaped like bok choi mimicking jade sculpture in National Museum, Silks Palace Restaurant, Taipei

Of all the odd patterns I’ve discovered through my study of food in modern literature,  fruit and vegetables as victims of circumstance is probably the one I like best.  Meat, since Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1905), had its battleground drawn between the forces of good and evil.   But produce, it would seem, was contested land.

Red cabbage sauerkraut lacto-fermenting; Eugene, OR
Seed zucchini in the winter rain; Open Oak Farm, Sweet Home, OR

Breaking free from the cornucopia and vanitas imagery that played out in paintings over and over again from the Dutch Old Masters onward, the vegetable in particular was portrayed in new and unusual and almost unrecognizable ways, frequently being destroyed by man’s (or woman’s!) hand: decaying, tortured, forced to adapt and survive in unfriendly conditions.

Display at Food Network’s Food and Wine Festival Grand Tasting, 2011; New York, NY
Native but tropical-flavored pawpaw, first crop in seven years; The Gourd Patch, Springfield, OR
Indian drumstick vegetable (Moringa oleifera), steamed; Oakland, CA

Be a modernist.  Try it yourself. It’s winter and raining and your imagination has nothing better to do to combat the Christmas onslaught of kitschy, rehashed icons and themes. Promote, as M. F. K. Fisher did, a tonic of mixed leftover vegetable juices as a tasty treat.  She fooled no one.  Would you have better luck with an apple-paw paw-drumstick cocktail?

Or think of vegetables not as their perfectly ripe, brilliantly colored, archetypal forms, but rather in a state of decay, too big and fecund, too shrunken, cut into pieces, out of place, misshapen, a seed, growing awry, doomed…

First harvest of Belgian endive, next it goes into deep chill then darkness to grow the familiar pale yellow chicon; Sunset Lane Farm, Brownsville, OR

…or is it dormant, exceptional, whole in its fragmentation, full of promise?

spring vegetables say hello, locavore!

A pile of the first, tender spring roots in our glorious valley never ever fail to make me all daffy.  You can keep your Jesus miracles.  I like natural ones. So I captured a bunch of the beauty at the Lane County Farmers Market today (with a few thrown in from last week).  Click the thumbnails to enlarge.

Lots of radishes: elongated French breakfast, bright pink ruby, and red ones. Hey Bales is growing daikon and has bunches of little ones about 4 inches long.  They’ll make wonderful pickles.

Tiny creamy-white turnips are a fleeting treat — they all too soon grow up, oy.  Pickle them whole or braise in a slightly sweet, buttery broth.  Spring onions are garlic are beginning to give way to leeks, and raabs are on their way out.

I saw one vendor with snap peas (the Organic Rednecks).  Beets in a rainbow of reds and yellows, from tiny to large, are all over the market.  You should retain the greens for beets and turnips; steam or saute them after washing, and dress with a little butter and garlic or with dashes of soy and rice vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Many vendors are selling tomatoes and peppers.  Unless you have a greenhouse, DO NOT give in to the temptation.  Every year I get closer and closer to the old timers who don’t plant tomatoes until mid-June.  Egads, who can wait that long!  But then I watch their tomatoes grow faster and better than mine.  So. Food for thought.

I also saw the first artichokes, new potatoes, many more eggs than last year, tender zucchini, napa cabbage, dried beans and grain, and flowers galore.  Those cherry blossoms are so gorgeous.  Too bad they’re so fragile.  SLO farm (who is selling the cherry blossoms) is also selling my absolutely favorite dark purple lilacs.

Enjoy the weekend and don’t forget to listen in to Food for Thought on KLCC (89.7) tomorrow, Sunday, April 29, at noon!  We bring you urban chickens and campus food pantries.

dining niblets: hot stuff edition

I love the predicted 20-degree drop in temperatures for tomorrow.  Until then, let’s talk hot stuff.

  • Inspired by a trip to the coast and gorgeous albacore tuna troll-caught just off the Newport coast, I documented the OSU Extension tuna canning class at the beginning of the week.  I hope to have a blog post up soon that provides notes and annotations for our tested recipe.  I’m under pressure (get it?) to finish an article for school right now.
  • Or, perhaps, you’ll hear me talk about canning tuna fish on the upcoming hot new radio show, Food For Thought on KLCC (89.7 FM), our NPR affiliate.  This week’s theme is preservation, and I’ve been invited to share my experiences.  Listen from noon – 1 p.m. on Sunday, August 29.  I’d love to hear your questions and comments via phone or email!
  • New restaurant alert, and this one is almost too good to be true.  Run, don’t walk, to Noodle & Thai, 553 Main St., Springfield.  I don’t even know where to begin.  They make their own noodles — that’s a great place to start:

fresh rice noodle rolls

drunken noodles with fat slices of beef

homemade red curry over fresh thin rice noodles

And they make their own curry pastes.  Order ‘medium’ for very spicy.  The chef says he strives to shop organically and locally.  I haven’t had Thai food this good in a very, very long time.  And the prices are Springfield, not Eugene.  Right now, there’s a healthy lunch crowd, since the place is near City Hall, but they’ve only just opened for dinner.  The restaurant appears to be a remodeled diner with a semi-open kitchen, and its small storefront belies the larger, pleasantly redecorated space inside.

Since I’ve been gone for most of the summer, I’ve missed…not much in terms of produce.  Since everything’s so late, I am pleased to see all the mid-summer produce ready and willing to be put up.  Here are some of the hot finds I saw in markets this week:

  • Bodacious corn at Thistledown Farm on River Road.  I haven’t seen such a nice corn season since I’ve lived in Oregon. Boo on the California tomatoes at the farm, though. (But I understand. Not hot: too-early heirloom slicers at the farmer’s market.  Ick.  Mealy.)
  • A new blackberry variety called ‘Diamond Jim,’ or so they said (could be ‘Black Diamond’?) at Lone Pine Farm on River Road.
  • Crabapples and gorgeous Chester blackberries at Hentze Farm, a couple miles farther north on River Road.  I made pie and a long-cooked, French-style jam from the latter.  Hentze is one of my favorite farms in the area.  They have a small processing equipment facility (with machines purchased from the once-ubiquitous processing plants in our valley) so you can buy freshly cut corn and beans in bulk for canning.
  • Beans look great everywhere.  Plums and peppers are just beginning, they tell me.
  • Veteran and Suncrest peaches at River Bend Farm off Highway 58 southeast of Eugene.  Annette reports that Veterans are easy to can, being a true freestone, with skins that slip off easily.  Donna in the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver office likes to can Suncrests because of the flavor.  She says that the Elbertas also make great canning peaches, so look for them in the coming weeks.  The hottest preservation gig in town is Annette’s jam classes, by the way.  The next one is full, but you can still sign up (if you hurry) for the following:  Thursday, 9/14 from 6:30-8:30 pm, or Saturday, 9/18 from 2-4:00 pm. The classes are held at the farm, and cost $30.  For this low price, you’ll learn jam-making basics and receive 12 half-pints of assorted jams made in class.  More information through the link above.
  • Speaking of the Extension MFP office, the hotline will be leaving Lane County on Sept. 2, when the office closes.  For the rest of September, you can still use the statewide hotline, as we will be handling calls from the Douglas County Extension office.  But if you need to drop by the Lane County office with your food safety or gardening questions, do so before Sept. 2.
  • If you enjoy Marché’s monthly regional French dinners, you will be excited to hear about the regional Italian menus served by its sister restaurant, Osteria Sfizio.  The first monthly dinner will feature the foods of Puglia, and will be held on August 29.  Cost is $40.  Read more here.  Sfizio has an excellent bar menu and some enlightened options for supper, both small plates and large.  Personally, I can’t wait for the Fruili menu in November!
  • Again with the noodles!  Chef June at Café AriRang on Broadway is serving a summer special — spicy noodle and vegetable salad.  Perfect for these hot days.
  • Did you see the numbers for the canned food drive held at the Lane County Fair?  23,919 pounds of food within two hours.  Now that’s hot.  You rock, Eugene.
  • Oh, and one more thing.  Don’t forget to vote in Eugene Weekly’s annual Best of Eugene.  You need to register at this website first to help combat ballot-stuffing (don’t worry, they won’t spam you).  If you can support my blog for “best blog,” I’d appreciate it!  Vote for at least 10 categories for the ballot to count.

happy memorial day!

May your barbecues and remembrances avoid sogginess.  We’ll probably be cooped up indoors.  It’s been raining here almost every day for close to three weeks now, and we’re starting to get a little worried about the warm weather crops.  Lettuce is doing well, though, and I managed to get in my pepper crop between raindrops!

I made a salad last night out of quick-grilled baby zucchini from the farmer’s market (local but grown in a greenhouse, so they don’t taste that great).  It was simply dressed with lemon, olive oil, pine nuts and mint going wild in an unclaimed corner of my garden.  The local beef burgers with my dill relish and ketchup weren’t bad either.

spring vegetable supper menu

I think I’ve turned a corner on my academic work.  It’s taken me nine months of struggle to finish up loose ends left dangling from my dissertation exile, publish a couple of articles, invent a few new classes for the job I started immediately after finishing the Ph.D., start new work for conferences and grant proposals, make travel plans, plus a host of other teaching and administrative stuff that’s par for the course.  But I’ve done it.

I don’t want to say I’m out of the woods, but I feel that for the first time in a few years, my schedule is manageable and not subject to change at the drop of a hat, and I’m very, very much looking forward to having a little breathing room to do my research and well, you know, live.

Witness:  I dusted a lamp yesterday and felt infused with pleasure.  Because I actually had 2 minutes to dust a lamp and nothing but the immediacy of lamp-dusting on my mind.  The zen of dusting lamps.  Lame, huh?

Spring and summer are going to be quite busy here at Raccoon Tree Acres, but I only have a few deadlines.  The work I did this winter on proposals, conferences, and teaching my research subject makes them easier to meet, too.  I’ll be going to Maryland to visit the archive of a cantankerous modernist, London to read the papers of a sexologist, Prague to talk about dirty James Joyce, and Zurich to expound upon the literary fruits we know and love.  (Do I dare to eat a peach?  Why yes, I do.)  And we’ll have time to visit family and friends, too, in between.  We haven’t seen most of our family in years, so these are much-anticipated events.

I’m planning to blog the delights of food in all these places, of course.  But for now, I’m quite pleased at my lamp-dusting-local self and the drunken glee of Eugene on the sunny days in spring.  Our farmer’s market is glorious right now.  Our organic farms make the most of the plants they grow and sell the thinnings of their rows.  For the spring vegetable supper below, I bought new potatoes, big fat bunches of the sprouting tips of crucifers (kale, brussells sprouts, broccoli), tiny carrots and French radishes, turnips the size of a quarter, and the biggest bag of deep red rhubarb ever.

I’ll fess up to erring on the side of too much butter, cheese, and cream for the gratin and butter-braised vegetables.  No one complained, though.  The gratin was assembled by blanching the brussells sprout greens and boiling the potatoes, then layering both in a Pyrex dish with nutmeg, pepper, and a handful of chopped sprouting onions, leeks, and garlic that I had culled from my allium bed that afternoon.  Cream in which thyme and savory had been soaking was poured over the top, then a fontina-like Italian cheese whose name I can’t recall was grated over the whole shebang.

For the chimichurri marinade for a gorgeous piece of chinook salmon, I used the tender fronds of my caraway plant, fennel fronds, thyme, savory, lovage, celery, onion, lemon, and olive oil.  We grilled the fish on alder planks, so it was a lovely combination of fresh green and live smoke.

And the rhubarb?  Well, that was a no brainer.  I used some of my homemade granola to fancy up a crumble topping, and tossed the fat pieces with a bit of vanilla sugar and Clear gel food starch to control the juice.

I’m still full.

Spring Vegetable Supper

Fresh from the Market

To Start

Mt. Chanterelle Fern’s Edge Dairy goat cheese
Dolores’ Pickled Prunes

Rabbit Food

Green salad with nasturtium blossoms, French breakfast radishes, and young carrots with homemade lemon chive vinaigrette


Spring herb chimichurri salmon, grilled on alder planks

From the Kitchen
New potato, Brussells sprouting greens, and culled spring onion gratin
Butter-braised baby turnips and carrots with arugula flowers

From the Vine
Sweet Cheeks Rosy Cheeks
Pfeiffer Pinot Gris
Clos du Bois Pinot Noir

Sweets of Spring
Rhubarb homemade granola crumble
Noris Dairy whipped cream

dark days #18: in lieu of a local meal — a dream of summer meals

Let’s face it folks, this is the dreariest part of late winter for locavores.  We’re tired of eating local meat-laden stews, and besides, the potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash are all in their death throes.  The Months of Kale are just beginning, and that brings with it a new ennui, but for now, let me just say that I’m tired of non-green things.

I’ve been dodging rain showers and slugs to do my spring garden cleanup this week, so I thought I’d share some of my plans for future local meals in lieu of a proper winter eating Dark Days challenge post.  The garden is at its least picturesque this time of year, but I always take a few shots so I can remember that spring hopes usually come to fruition later in the summer.

Berries are the most promising this year.  I’m finally in the magic third year for my raspberries.  I should have a good crop this year. I’m not sure I have enough sun for part of the row, but all looks good for the blackcaps and Meekers in the front.  My strawberry patch is well-established now, too.  My new haskapberry (also known as honeyberry, see photo to left) hedge in the front is blooming and growing like crazy.  I’ve planted a couple of salal starts.  I have a fantasy of making a hedgerow jam just as they do in England, but mine will be blackcap raspberry-honeyberry-salal.  I also planted some red currants in the front, and I can’t wait to play with them.  Currants, like gooseberries are so hard to find here because of their fragility, so one really does need to grow them.

I planted two kinds of peas: the ubiquitous ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ and ‘Waverex.’  I’ll add some ‘Cascadia’ in a couple of weeks for variety, I think.  I’m still working on my lettuce bed.  I bought several kinds of leaf lettuce and chicories from Gathering Together Farm in Philomath last year.  (It’s a wonderful organic working farm and restaurant, and you should go for a meal.)  I’m the first person to complain about salads, but I’m much more inclined to eat them when they’re full of unusual and sturdy leaves.  So we shall see what kind of salad love I’ll be able to create. I’m still loving my arugula.

My onions and garlic starts are doing quite well, and are the herbs.  My caraway wintered over, and it’s now producing a flower head.  I’m really looking forward to having my own caraway seed.  I’ve yet to plant my ‘Mammoth’ dill seed, but the fennel is already up and running in two places in the garden.  I’m trying to decide if I need to plant more lemon thyme, or if I should just hope for the best with the scraggly old plant that was crowded out by the much more vigorous French thyme last year.

Spring artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables, but I am not sure I’ll have them this year.  I lost one of my two ‘Green Globe’ plants this winter, and the other is now hidden behind a rosemary bush that’s finally grown too high.  I planted more in the front (‘Imperial Star’) and they say they produce in the first year, but I dunno.

I’ve also put in some ‘Jersey Knight’ asparagus, a gift from my neighbor.  That’s a far-off dream.

I’m still holding out hope for my ‘January King’ cabbages that are scraggly (to the right).  The aphids seem the only species around here that is happy with their progress.  I squished a bunch for that unpopular view, hoping that Pat Patterson’s technique for releasing aphid squish scent into the air for predators would work.  Yeah, I know.  I’ll likely pull them and put in ‘Detroit’ beets. Or cucumbers.  I’m pretty much satisfied with ‘Cool Breeze’ for summer eating and pickling, so I’m going to stick with that variety.

Still trying to figure out where I’m going to put in all of the heirloom beans I bought last year and this spring, having forgotten I had some from last year.  Hutterite soup bean!  Orca!  Vermont cranberry!  Scarlet runner!  Yelloweye!  I think I only have one row for beans, too.  Hm.

I do have, however, a nice old galvanized garbage can for growing potatoes this year.  I’m rather unreasonably pleased by this development.  Will keep you updated.

And tomatoes and peppers, right?  I make dark promises about nightshades each year, and find myself in a frenzy of gluttony no matter what kinds of reasonable goals and lists I make.  So all I’m going to say is that I have a brilliant pepper bed (to the left) and two tomato beds.  I want ‘Saucey’ plums, ‘Sungold’ cherries, and a black slicer or two for tomatoes.  For peppers, I need many, many, many lovely red Hungarian peppers, jalapeños, and anaheims.  And we’ll see what else develops.  I think I’m also going to grow a Japanese or Italian eggplant, so I can make more ajvar.  The stuff I froze last year was great.

You can also see my tiny ‘Desert King’ fig tree, which sustained some frost damage this year (center) and my newly transplanted elderberry tree (upper right corner) that I’m hoping will do better in the back than it did in the front.  It’s also closer to its sister elderberry, on the opposite end of the back yard, so I’m hoping for more pollination action.

So that’s my summer vegetable and fruit forecast.  Dreams of summer meals.  What are you planning to plant?  Some of you have already commented on my Facebook page, and I’d love to hear more!

to the children of the corn…


Happy Labor Day!  May your work be as sweet as a niblet, as revelatory as a full, fat cob beneath the husk, as unerring as a row, and as fascinating as one yellow kernel.   And, well, you know, not genetically modified or taking over the fruits of small farms or chemically altered into high fructose corn syrup.  Love ya!

the bees knees


Yesterday was my birthday, and I spent the day playing with my new camera!  It’s just a simple point-and-shoot pocket camera, but a world of difference for me.  My old camera was a 2003 vintage, and almost the size and heft of a brick.  The image quality was growing poorer by the shot, too, so even my very limited perfect lighting food shots were beginning to get downright unpleasant to maneuver.

To say the whole world opened to my lens may be an exaggeration, but it didn’t feel like it.  I took hundreds and hundreds of shots of everything in the house: small details in dark rooms, long shots, shots of the insides of things, the textures of the outsides of things. I could never have taken any of these with my old camera.  I shot an exposé of my husband getting dressed, and close-ups of the cats sleeping.  Trash in the garbage bin.  An empty soda bottle from several angles.  Dust on a lamp.  My self portrait series, which I titled “The Aging Birthday Girl at Unflattering Angles First Thing in the Morning with Bird Nest Hair” is surely destined to be an award-winning piece.


Then I went outside and did a bunch of macros of garden vegetables, pictures of my house, and details of veiny leaves and fuzzy insects.  I could have hung out there all day just taking pictures of bees in the fennel — the sweet licorice smell in the heat of day, busy mumblings of the bees at work against the soundscape of summer yardwork.


Because of the fennel, I think, bees, wasps, and yellowjackets are all over my garden these days.  I’m not in the least bit afraid of them as they flit and sip and buzz.  They’re not only “beneficial,” as you hear them called, but essential for any fruiting plant’s productivity.  It thrills me to see them cross-pollinating my two tomatillo plants, and rubbing their little legs and backs in the deep, powdery pollen of my zucchini.


I didn’t do a mason bee (our tiny native pollinators) house this year for lack of time, but I have tons of them, so they’re housing somewhere near by.  My neighbor has a shelter for them on the northeast side of his house, but I think that’s too far away.  Next year in my yard!  But, even homeless, bees spend the day in my garden and made perfect macro camera fodder.  And me a perfectly happy girl.


In fact, I was so enamored of the bees and ensuing images that I forgot to take pictures of what I meant to photograph, which was details of our birthday grill.  Sorry!  It was delicious, too.  Flatiron kebabs marinated in sumac and yogurt, grilled zucchini from the garden, a Hungarian pepper, cucumber and tomato salad, also from the garden, and grilled bruschettas, rasped with a clove of my neighbor’s garlic, then piled high with more tomato and basil.  For dessert, my favorite sour cherry soup, meggy leves, made this time with local cherries from Hentze farm, a fantastic local Cabernet from Sylvan Ridge and pomegranate juice.  Oops!  You’ll have to trust me that it was excellent.


It couldn’t have been a better birthday.  Thanks, sweetie, for my new pair of eyes, my new palette, my new world.

i went to the coast and all i got was this lousy veggie garden


My relatives were visiting this week, and I did quite a bit of cooking and dining.  We had some delicious Ethiopian with the injera I bought in Portland, burgers, little hard rolls stuffed with sirloin, garlic, mint, onion and tzatziki sauce, early corn on the cob and green and wax beans slathered in local butter, local tunafish salad, etc., etc.  We also made vinegar pickles and sampled my new recipe for bright green half-sours.


Finally, seeking respite from the inland heat, we drove out to the coast.  We all enjoyed tidepooling and the lighthouse at Heceta Head, but I was far more fascinated with starfish eating mussels and the ripening salal, a dark berry that does well in the salt air of the PNW coast.


And you better believe it that my kin and kith all but deserted me when I spied the potager, the little kitchen garden outside the Heceta lightkeeper’s house, which is now a B & B.  Everyone went to go do something else and left me with my camera and dreams of such a beautiful little space.  But you wouldn’t desert me, would you?


I had no idea vegetables could grow so well in the damp chill of the coast.  Maybe it’s just that the innkeepers, both formerly executive chefs, know some vegetable magic.  True, the brassicas, lettuces, and artichokes were doing especially well, but nasturtiums, herbs, and squash were also outperforming mine by a mile.  Impressive!