Here in the greater Philadelphia area the heat wave is taking a bit of a break. My apologies to any readers who have been denied such a respite; please remember to drink plenty of fluids and check in on the elderly and unwell. And now, with that bit of summer time public service out of the way, welcome to another Monday and another installment of Eating Authors!
Our guest this week is Judson Roberts. Over the years he’s worked as a police officer, a federal agent with Naval Intelligence, a defense attorney in the Army JAG Corps, an organized crime prosecutor, and even a private investigator. With that kind of background you can easily imagine him writing police procedurals that sparkle with verisimilitude. But… no. Rather, Judson is the author of The Strongbow Saga, an epic 9th century adventure set in the world of the Vikings. No, not alternate history Vikings engaged in police procedural, real (well, fictional) Vikings. And if you’d like to know more about vikings (the nonfictional ones), he maintains an educational website with plenty of information on the topic.
LMS: Judson, thanks for making time to do this. So, tell me, what’s your most memorable meal?
JR: That’s actually a question I find a bit difficult to answer. You see, my wife, Jeanette, and I are enthusiastic foodies. We love the entire process: planning meals, shopping for the ingredients, cooking the meal together, then savoring the product of our labors. And we very recently moved to the McKenzie River Valley near Eugene, Oregon—an area that is truly a foodie’s paradise. The variety and abundance of locally grown lush, beautiful fruits and vegetables, the fresh seafood, the locally raised meats—if you love good food, if you love cooking, you’ll feel in a constant state of amazement and bliss up here.
But rambling like this does not answer what you asked. So let me pick a meal, and try to focus. Dinner, Saturday a week ago. It was simple: oyster stew, a salad, and a fresh baguette. But what made it memorable and remarkable was the freshness and quality of the ingredients, as well as the pleasure of the entire process, beginning with the expedition into town to acquire the raw materials for the meal.
Saturdays are market day in Eugene. There are several small farmers markets on other days, but from April through the end of October, in the center of downtown Eugene, an area at least four blocks square, maybe more, is filled with the Saturday Market. It’s much more than a farmers market: there’s a massive food court, numerous vendors’ booths selling art, pottery, jewelry, and other hand-made wares, and musicians—some playing on the central stage in the food court area, many others scattered at street corners or along the sidewalks. Last Saturday, for example, as we wandered through the farmers’ booths, street-corner musicians we passed included an old black man playing guitar and singing the blues, two young men—one playing the bass, the other guitar and harmonica, singing bluegrass tunes, an aging hippie (there are lots of those in Eugene) playing a sitar, and a young girl playing the violin. And last, but far from least, there are those farm vendors’ booths.
So last Saturday, after planning our week’s menu the night before, we drove into Eugene to stock up at the market. We also planned to swing by our favorite seafood market in Eugene, one that’s owned by some professional fishermen, carries beautiful, extremely fresh seafood, and is named, appropriately enough, The Fisherman’s Market.
At the farmers market we purchased, for the stew, tender new potatoes, baby carrots, and a mix of freshly harvested mushrooms: elk’s ear, morels, and maitakes. For the night’s salad—and for the salads we eat almost every night, all week—we purchased chard, a bag of mixed baby kales, radishes, a bag filled with small heads of baby romaine, baby cucumbers and squash, and a couple of bags of mixed baby lettuces and greens. All of the produce at the market is unbelievably fresh— harvested just the day before on local farms, most of which are certified organic and located within a twenty mile radius of Eugene (one we often buy from is located just down the road from our home, up along the river). Then it was on to The Fisherman’s Market, where we purchased a few pieces of fish for meals later in the week, and a one pound tub of freshly shucked Oregon oysters.
That evening, we chopped the baby carrots and sautéed them with some minced garlic in olive oil. Then we added a few spoonfuls of caramelized onions (we try to keep some on hand), a mix of sliced mushrooms, and the new potatoes, diced very small—about one quarter inch cubes. The potatoes bear special description. When that freshly dug, they’re quite different from those you buy in a grocery store. The latter have been drying out for weeks, if not longer. Potatoes dug a day earlier are much more tender, and amazingly moist when you cut them—they’re juicy, almost like a sliced apple. And being so tender, they cook more quickly, too.
When all of the vegetables were in the pot, we seasoned them with some salt, pepper, and a few shakes of Berbere powder and smoked paprika, then added liquid: a can of Mama’s Little Yella Pils beer. While the stew simmered we made salads with the various greens, radishes, baby squash and cukes, plus some sliced red onion and tomatoes, and dressed the salads with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
By then the vegetables were tender, so it was time to add the oysters to the stew. These are oysters like none I’ve ever seen before. They’re labeled “medium oysters,” but that has to be a joke. Usually a one pound tub of these shucked “mediums” contains only eight or nine, because each oyster is about the size of the palm of your hand. They’re almost like oyster steaks. You don’t eat one in a single bite—you cut it into pieces with your spoon. We dumped them, liquid and all, into the stew and simmered them just until the edges start to curl, then turned off the heat and stirred in some milk.
Dinner was rounded off with some pieces of fresh-baked baguette, also purchased at the market, and a chilled bottle of Pinot Gris from a local vineyard. All in all, a simple meal: soup, salad, bread, and wine. But it’s the freshness and quality of the ingredients, and our continuing thrill to be living in an area where such things are so abundant, that made the meal so memorable.
Judson, I’m not sure what amazes me more, you calling that a “simple meal” or you eating like that on an almost daily basis. I think it might be time to move to Oregon. Seriously.
Next Monday: Another author and another meal!
Tags: Eating Authors