Saturday, April 22, 2006

Migrating Visions of Spring

Oh, my friends, you have your asparagus, and strawberries, and bloom of short-sleeved blouses. I live vicariously through your stories and tales of feasts, and thank you for sharing the season's treats with me. And I certainly want to emphasize the Spring jubilance of the Walla Walla Sweets. No doubt, my hometown is awash with its burst of daffodils, the memory of which still evokes a joy that continues to flavour my adult celebrations to welcome the arrival of Spring. And I smile contentedly with the accounts from friends about the D.C. cherry blossoms, the Manhattan updates on the Union Square picnique tables, the fava beans in Firenze and the Seattle markets.

Such signs of Spring are, you may suspect, not so common up here. Up here, we have this:

The first sighting of birds.

Oh, friends. Different visions of the season and yet still the same result: a glee, my friends. It is a glee to be welcoming the arrival of Spring.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


One of my favorite things about living here is that the word "Feast" is a fairly common word, but it hasn't lost any of the sense of celebration and special gathering that the rarely employed word "Feast" denotes. I've quite happily embraced the privilege of using common vernacular to describe momentous moments. And even after mere months here, I find myself hesitating to resort to my prior descriptions - such as "holidays," "celebrations," "gatherings," "dinners".... they all pale in comparison to the word Feast.

So we didn't have Easter dinner. No, we had an Easter Feast.

And though I may just recently have adopted the privilege of using the word "Feast" to describe our holiday meals (see! how blase is that in comparison to the word FEAST???), I've been preparing them since childhood.

You see I come from a family that loves food and the moments of planning and preparing it. Mom likes to prepare spectacles of food. I like "tasks" and "assignments" - maybe spending the whole day trying to perfect one dish that I've never tried before. My little brother has the traditions - the foods that are the foundations to our feast - which he whips up in quadruple proportions to ensure a sufficient amount of leftovers. And both my little brother and I both like taking turns distracting mom so that we can then take turns sneak butter into the mashed potatoes.

My mom and little brother were far from our Easter table, and undoubtedly enjoying their distance from what turned out to be the Easter Blizzard of 2006 (oh, yes, my friends, we are still very much in the throes of winter up here, albeit with over 15 hours of sunlight a day).

But they were central in my thoughts, and most likely my inspiration for crafting this menu of green things from cans and frozen vegetables:

Hot-Cross Buns
Smoked Tillamook Cheddar and Reindeer Salami
Wild Salmon Dip with Dill

Course I
Malfatti in brodo (using broth from my neighbor's chicken)

Course II
Crab salad with lime zest, peas and sparkles of red pepper

Course III
Asparagus Flan (thankyou to Molly of Orangette for the recipe)

Course IV
Smoked Ham with Honey Glaze
Little Brother's Smashed Red Potatoes with Yeoman-Globs of Butter, Sour Cream and Green Onions
Curried Succotash

Course V
Green tea

Course VI
Dark chocolate buttons with cherry ice-cream

Course VII
Homemade Cordial of Willamette Valley Fruits served in wooden goblets carried back from Zimbabwe

p.s. Well, little brother. One of our guests was an old classmate of John McPhee and was out here looking for a sighting of a rare bird that can only be sought here, and in the winter. So I must confess that I felt compelled to open up the bottle of mead that I did so earnestly hide during your visit. But I know you know that a classmate of John McPhee is a rare occasion, and you'll understand. Plus, I want you to know that I made sure to conserve more than enough homemade cordial for when you come up here again. Soon! Come visit soon! This time there will be sunlight - but you'll still get all the snowmachining opportunities you could dream of. Plus, the dogs just got a bunch of new balls and other toys and I just bought myself a banjo and a book of Pete Seeger's handwritten lessons of how to play it. So there will be lots of entertainment. Plus, J. and I finally got our freezer. It's empty, which means that you'd get lots of support for any initiative to assist us in our dream of filling it with a caribou or other staples more appropriate then beef.

And - by the way - I can drive a stick-shift! I just choose not to prove it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Third Place

I mushed my first dog-sledding race and scored a third place ribbon.

For the longest time, it looked like I had locked in the second place. But as we got closer to the finish line, I could hear the "pull, pull" from the musher behind me. And then, looking to my left, I could see her lead dog siding up beside my dogs. I kicked the snow beneath the moving sled. I shouted out "good dogs, good dogs" and "pull, pull." And we pulled ahead. Oh, I don't think I'll ever forget the excitement of the dogs. How they were loving this open, exciting sprint.

But then, suddenly, my dogs veered off to the right, towards a ridge of reeds poking out from the sides of the frozen river.

I forgot whether it was "gee" or "haw" that meant "left." So I shouted out both, trying to direct the dogs back to the finish line trail. Unconsciously, I started pointing to the left, as if I could communicate by sign language.

But there was no deterrence.

So I resolved to trust the dogs and, more importantly, enjoy the last few seconds of a race that is undoubtedly one of the top ten highlights of my life so far.

So I finished third and off-the-path. I like this a lot, especially the off-the-path part. I like that I finished on a trail that I followed blind. I guess, all in all, I consider it to be a far more appropriate seat for me to be finishing third and off-the-path than second and on-the-path.

Many thanks to the friends who provided me with pictures of the day!

Saturday, April 01, 2006


That last post should be dated today.

But it's not an April Fool's joke. I really am a musher in tomorrow's "rookie" dogsledding race. And I am really adapting my whims to a budget that I voluntarily entered into.

I just lack any technological finesse and don't know how to get Blogger to let me correct the date.

And, as for addendum's, I'm quite excited to say that as soon as I log off I'll be diving into the project of seeing if I can use Mona's recipe for Chocolate - Banana Tea Bread** as a recipe for the chocolate banana cake that I intend to offer as a desert for a "soup and bread" potluck dinner party that we've been invited to tonight. My pantry is absolutely void of any wines, and unless I find room in my budget to have some some flown out from Anchorage, it appears that I'll be spending the next couple of months reciprocating generousities and saying my thank-yous with baked goods forged from the goodies that are in my pantry.

I'm already thinking about saying thank you to the local musher that is lending me his dog-team for tomorrow's race with a cast-iron skillet of sticky buns. But we'll see if time allows me to carry-out the intention.

Hope all is well!


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Employed...and Braising for Sandwiches

I am employed. Have been, in fact, for awhile. In fact, I've been employed since approximately the date of my last post.

Oh - I can draft contracts. And I can appear in front of a judge. And I'll negotiate. But I still cannot find the way to live with a work-life balance when I'm working. Inevitably something goes. Perhaps it is that I am still under the oddly symbiotic influences of years of Catholic education and my training as a young associate in an old Manhattan law firm....I attempt to redeem myself of my shortcomings (or maybe I'm seeking to masque them) by laboring to minimize their effects on others. In any event, when work cuts into my non-work interests it is always my own private interests (like updating this blog) that get tossed aside first.

I suppose that I'll learn with time how to balance my life to accomodate all my interests, including my goal of improving my communications with friends, family and the community of bloggers. I certainly feel comfortable theorizing that there could be no better place in the world for me to learn this skill than the right here and the right now. Indeed, I can show a vast improvement on balancing in the nearly two years that I've been in Alaska. But, oh yes, there are improvements still to be made. In the meantime, thank you for being patient with me while I've been wretched about keeping up this blog and returning phone calls and emails.

Things here are good. Very good. The ice is still solid and the snow still falls. But the days are long and the sunlight is bright. And direct. Oh - direct sunlight!

Tomorrow, I am in my first dogsledding race! 5 dogs. 7 miles. Down the river. A local musher asked me to race his dogs in the annual "rookie race." I am simultaneously scared to death and exhillerated to life at the prospect of it. I have no idea how to dogsled. I did it once in my life - a $300 trip around the Alyeska Resort, where I was bundled up in my Manhattan concept of what one wears in Alaska and tucked under heavy blankets in the bed of the sled while Dario, the dog-sledder, explained how he spent his summer training his dogs on a glacier. This time it will be me bundled up in the clothes that Alaskans have gifted to me out of pity for the complete insufficiency of my winter gear. And me yelling out "gee" and "haw" and doing all those other necessary, fundamental things that I don't even know what they are. It is quite exciting.

And generally, these past few weeks of non-blogging, I've been busy. The good kind of busy. The working-with-good-people, dog-walking, community volunteering, blog-reading, knitting and quilting, and braising and baking kind of busy. I've even been busy setting up a financial regime to finally sweep some stability into a series of life-changing moves and transitions that pretty much depeleted my financial resources.

Those who know me from my Manhattan days might find that hard to believe. Me - agreeing to a "financial regime"? I admit, it is hard to believe. But it's true. And also true is that I am enjoying it! We had been talking about it for awhile - about getting a handle on the chaos that inevitably follows any move. So, J. and I spent a day cleaning up our hovel on stilts. It was spectacularily clean. (And for those who have visited us, or who can appreciate how difficult it is to make a rented hovel on stilts feel clean, I'm sure you can appreciate the softly jubilant sense of accomplishment that one feels upon the conclusion of the mission.) With our dogs lounging at our feet and taking turns at nibbling on a moose shank bone, we pulled out paper and - for the first time ever in my life - came up with a budget. An actual budget.

Oddly enough, this most wretched of tasks - the formulation of a restrictive budget - produced one of my inspirational bouts of braising and cooking.

For you see, we have decided to forego the $30 a day for lunch (and mind you - that's sharing a sandwich) by making our own. And I decided to take it further by roasting and braising our own lunch meats. This isn't such a surprising move. I do love to roast and braise. And I absolutely can't tolerate paying $10 for 9 slices of lunch meat. So, we've folded this budget-saving move into our Sunday supper routine. Sunday night we have the traditional supper of roast, veg and mash. A hunk of the leftover roast and the veg is saved for hash (with a poached egg from the neighbor's coop). A hunk of the leftover roast and the mash is saved for another dinner. The gravy or jus is saved for soup. But the bulk of the leftover roast is saved for sandwiches.

So far, we've had the pork tenderloin roasted with a crust of garlic and rosemary. We've done the pot roast braised in a simple simmering onion gravy. We did the corned beef (with Molly's carmelized cabbage** - delicious!).

And last Sunday, we did a Honey and Cumin Braised Pork Shoulder. So lovely, that I must break my silence to share it!

Honey and Cumin Braised Pork Shoulder
(adapted from Jaques Pepin's recipe for Braised Pork Roast with Sweet Potatoes - simply because I didn't have any sweet potatoes and truly cannot follow a recipe for the life of me)

1 3-pound shoulder butt pork roast (boneless)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp cumin
2 large onions (diced)
6 large cloves of garlic

1. Place the pork shoulder in a cast-iron pot with a lid. (I used our 10 inch "chicken fryer.") Add 2 cups water, the soy sauce, Tabsco, vinegar, honey and cumin. Bring to a boil (uncovered).

2. Reduce the heat to very low. Cover and let it simmer for an hour.

3. Add the onions and garlic. Bring back to a boil, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.

4. Uncover and place it in the center of a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Cook for an hour, turning the meat every 15 minutes. (My goal was to get the shoulder to brown uniformly on all 4 "sides" so that it looks like a roast, even though it was braised.)

5. Pull out the roast and let it rest on the cutting board. Reduce the sauce to the desired consistency. (I prefer a roast to rest longer, serving it warm rather than hot. And because I save the jus for broth, I don't usually simmer it down. Instead I serve it as a light drizzle over the meat and potatoes that hints of gravy, but doesn't result in the post-dinner lull that generally follows dinners with gravy.)

It was a lovely Sunday dinner, served with sauteed spinach,Molly's carmelized cabbage and red potatoes smashed with buttermilk. And it has been a lovely week of sandwiches. Rather than hash, I'm anticipating that the last of the leftovers will be ground for tortellini.

I suppose that most readers are not still under the influence of ice and snow these days. Most readers probably have strong inspirations for asparagus and strawberries and other delicacies of Spring. I'll get there too, eventually. But in the meantime, a good pork roast can take one a long way in appreciating a weather pattern that gives you a few extra months to enjoy the winter delights and perfumes of a braised Sunday supper.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Crepes in the morning, Caribou before bed - Feasting Like a Tundra Queen

I continue to be broke. I could lament. I could worry. I could complain. I could get a job. Or, I could delve into the project of finding the entertainments of being broke. Not one to turn down entertainment, I’ve selected this last route. And let’s face it, my pantry was stocked for such pursuits.

I should confess that there is probably a family legacy or legend that I just might be trying to live out myself. If one were to settle down for a long chat with my mother (and, do trust me, chats with mum are rarely curt) about short finances and big hungers, my mother would revel in the opportunity to regale you with the culinary sprees and festivities of the 1970’s when my parents found much entertainment in being able to entertain crowds of buddies with the few pennies they had. College budgets that featured oysters, for example, though no one actually had any money. Widely popular dinner parties centered on the proceeds of late-Autumn and social gleanings of the fertile fields of the Willamette Valley. “Potlucks” in the sense that friends would drop off their contributions in the form of raw ingredients, and return in the evenings for the sculptured feasts that Mom would have elegantly heaped on candle-lit tables. There will be poignant examples. Mom, for example, may open up to you and talk about how she painfully struggled to come to grips with the loss of her first baby…how she made great strides in doing so by using her baby’s unusable baby formula to make a feast of pumpkin custards. Even today, she will undoubtedly tell you, Mom takes much pride and happiness in the impromptu visits of long-time friends with hefty chunks of game meat. She rarely has to buy her own meat, and her social calendar is filled with her own impromptu visits when she drops off a dinner platter featuring the gifted game at the home of the giftor.

Apples don’t fall far from the tree.

I am stretching my pennies by resorting to the grocery store for only a few daily-necessary ingredients: water, milk, butter, eggs. The rest is coming from our friends and neighbors, our pantry and our freezer. The bread – I’m kneading it here at home, and doing my cartwheels of glee as the perfume of baking bread warms up our home on those especially cold days. (As a little side note/question: it must mean that I’m becoming more and more Alaskan with each day, as temperatures above 7 degrees seem to me “especially warm.” The humour of the fact that our house is heated to 70 degrees, yet there is frost on the INSIDE of all the windows, probably extends beyond geographical boundaries.) Meat – we’re dining like kings on homemade elk sausage, moose ragu served up as a homemade lasagna baked in a large cast-iron skillet (in proportions big enough to guarantee that thicks slabs of it will be delivered to neighbors and friends the next morning), ground caribou prepared as Albondigas a’ la Rooney (i.e. mixed with parmigiano, fresh herbs, and pine nuts to form meatballs, which are then braised in tomatoes stewed with Guinness and red wine). Our weekend brunches: eggs and toast, with the elk breakfast sausages we made together and the homemade bread. The snacks that I pack up for J. when he goes snow-go’s up and down, and over and all about, or for when he goes out to one of the villages where he camps out in a school gymnasium (there being no hotels or motels) – homemade bierocks stuffed with stewed meat and vegetables. In fact, I make a point of making sure that J. always has enough stash of homemade goodies to feed 4 people stuffed into the “hotdogger.” And I send J. off to work with a little brown bag of sugared crepes, a little note to say that his girlfriend and dogs are thinking fond thoughts of him as we devise a creative dinner.

Sure – I should probably get a job sometime. I’ve so magically, and with such ease!, gone from work-focused corporate attorney to domestic overdose. And I will. I have to. But in the meantime, we feast likes king and queen of the tundra – and I’ve only spent $20 in the past 2 weeks!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pot Roast, and its progeny

Oh - this is a delinquent post. It's maybe a month old - actually, a bit more. Mea culpa. So sorry. Hopefully the entry in which I describe the events and craziness of the past few weeks won't take me so long to post. In the meantime: Congratulations to the dear friends having babies. Hugs and kisses to the dear friends who sent me lovely Christmas cards that I still haven't replied to. Thank you's and smiles of gratitudes to all who have been sending J. and I household goodies and warm clothes - especially to J's parents, who gifted me the lovely long johns that keep me warm every day and the Yak Trax that keep me standing up-right when I'm walking outside; and especially to my mother, who gifted me a ticket for my little brother to fly up and help me deal with the last - and the heaviest -- of my stuff in my old Anchorage apartment, as well as a ticket from Anchorage to here, to be our first guest, to celebrate Christmas with us, and to help J. carry that last and heaviest of stuff home from the post-office!


We had a brief warm spell. A tropical spell, actually. The temperature was up to the 30's and everyone in town was up and about, enjoying the chance to stroll about in a mere sweatshirt. But then it started to rain. And the rain, alas, churned up the snow and built ponds across the frozen lakes. And with each day of rain, the puddles and rain-ponds grew and expanded. Eventually, the temperature dipped back down again. Yesterday, for example, it was 7 below. And eventually, all those puddles and rain-ponds froze into slippery sheets of ice with alternating angles and peaks.

So, it's cold and its treachorous. Which makes it the perfect climate for comfort foods like pot-roast with a very important secondary attribute: a good pot roast will provide enough leftovers to alleviate the need to run to the grocery store.

I don't know the exact number of times I flipped past this recipe for Pot Roast. But I know it was more than several, and closer to numerous. And I know that all my reasons for so flippantly dismissing it turned out to be wrong. It is flavourful. It is not too plain. Once I had dismissed what I am now self-diagnosing as a low-grade craving for complication, I allowed myself to embark on a culinary project that reminded me of the hearty satisfaction that emanates from a cast-iron dutch oven filled with humble simplicity. Once the initial culinary project was completed, I then I embarked on a series of them, each intended to further explore that cozy art of leftovers!

Day 1: Pot Roast and Garlic Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
(a/k/a "Schultz Sunday Supper Pot Roast" in The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook)

1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a dutchoven over medium heat.

2. Season a 3 pound chunk of chuck roast with salt and pepper. When the oil is heated, place the roast in the pot and brown it on both sides (approximately 5 minutes on each side).

3. Add to the pot 1 onion (thinly slided) and 1 cup of boiling water.

4. Cover with a tight lid and let it simmer gently in a 325 degree oven for at least 2.5 hours.

5. Let the meat set before you slice it.

6. You can make gravy with the juices, but I preferred to serve the jus and onions without embellishment.

7. Around an hour before you want to eat, start roasting your potatoes. I like to parboil my potatoes and refridgerate them so that you can pull them into rustic hunks with your fingers (instead of chopping them uniformly with a knife). The pre-step of parboilling is my trick for achieving those roasted chunks of potatoes with crispy, almost carmelized, outsides and soft interiors that I used to order as my dinner at the little take-out, La Spada, near Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. Not everyone does this. But the basic recipe is fairly standard: toss potatoes (raw or parboiled, baker or reds) with olive oil, finely diced garlic, chopped fresh rosemary and salt and pepper; put on a roasting pan and place in the oven at approximately 350 degrees, and bake until done.

This truly is delicious. The onions and the water form the perfect broth. And the onions bake down into a sweet deliciousness that makes one want to eat them by themselves with a fork. Actually, I guess it bakes down into the perfect onion soup - needing only a bit of a toast and cheese topping to achieve that famous french onion soup entree.

Day 2: Grilled Beef Salad Sandwiches

When I hear "beef salad," I think of seared filet on a bed of arugala, sometimes with a hint of lemongrass. But this seems like the best name for a beef sandwich spread. Basically, I mixed together: chopped up leftover roast, very finely diced onions, diced celery, a little mayonnaise, a little Worcestire Sauce, a little tarragon, salt and pepper. Then, with just the most minimum of Special Reserve Tillamook Cheddar to keep the contents cohesive and with just the most minimum amount of Tillamook butter to give the bread slices that lovely crunch, we proceeded with making an embellished version of grilled cheese sandwiches: the grilled beef salad sandwich. Next time, we'll make sure to have some rye or pumpernickel bread! But it was delicious!

Day 3: Roasted Onions with a Braised Onion Risotto

I remember eating baked onions as I grew up, but I don't remember why I forgot about them once I had grown up enough to be solely responsible for my own meals. Jamie Oliver helped me to remember them, though he perhaps adds a few more steps than the hearty culinary traditions of the Willamette Valley (in those hearty, pre-Pinot Noir days). He boils them for 20 minutes, lets them cool, then scoops out the middle and stuffs them with a filling. Sounds good to me.

I boiled the onions. I let them cool. Then I scooped out the middle, chopped the scooped-out pieces into a fine dice, and used this (together with the risotto-standards of garlic, etc.) as the basis for the risotto. I think everyone has their own way of making a risotto, so I won't delve into the science of it. But I will add that I flavoured my risotto with the syruppy onions that had braised with the pot roast and, when the risotto was done, I tossed in some of the chopped beef, fresh parsley, and parmigiano. I filled the hollowed-out onions with the "french onion risotto", topped them with a sprinkle of cheese, and set them to bake until hot and bubbly.

Delicious. Fun. And, oh!, how lovely a hot stove is when it is so cold outside that there is frost on the INSIDE of your dilapidating hovel on stils heated to the luxurious temperature of 70 degrees!