Thoughts from Afar

I edited and uploaded the images for this post almost four weeks ago. In my ongoing, not always successful, effort to squeeze as much as possible out of each day, I had mis-assumed that I could complete 12 hours worth of “to do” items in 6 hours, including writing about our late summer garden. I recently returned from three weeks spent outside of Oregon, flying into Massachusetts, then out of Massachusetts and into Italy, and finally out of Italy and back to Portland (by way of Newark. I hope I never write “by way of Newark” again).

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An Eggplant Kind of Summer

Around the fifth time we dropped a few pounds of eggplant into our red market basket, we paused and took a closer look at our selection. We always buy globe eggplant (or if available, fairytale) each August for several recurring dishes. For the past three summers, a muggy August night wasn’t complete without heating up the house even more to make Frankie’s Eggplant Marinara or Ottolenghi’s corn polenta topped with stewed tomatoes and eggplant. But beyond seeking out eggplant specifically for those two dishes, we’ve rarely bought eggplant in the eager, slightly impulsive way we buy tomatoes, corn, or peaches.

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The Product Within

Clang. Clang. Thwack.

I had inadvertently placed my recorder on the same metal table on which Kristin Franger was peeling beets. Each peeled beet, gradually staining her hands a deep brick red, was tossed into a stainless steel bowl, joining a collection of other red orbs. When I listened to my recent conversation with Kristin and Colin Franger of Blue Bus Cultured Foods, the couple’s words were frequently interrupted by this insistent clang, a noise that forced me to frantically rip out my headphones each time I heard it. As Kristin peeled over twenty pounds of beets, all destined for a future beet kraut, Colin shredded cabbage by hand, salting it as he worked to draw out the water from the brassicas, an early stage in its eventual transformation into sauerkraut. Every twenty minutes or so, a train roared by their industrial kitchen space in Bingen, Washington, the “whoo whoo” of its horn punctuating Colin’s description of a root relish, one of their seasonal experiments. “We put in radish [whoooooo], carrot [whooooo], onion [whooooo], ginger and garlic [WHOO-WHOO].” It was, as Colin put it, a “nice reminder of the industrial nature of our food.”

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