Thursday, March 31, 2005

Purple Spelt Pilaf

I hope that there will always be days when fine inspirations lead to new creations.

Yesterday, for example, I was inspired by Oslo Foodie's blog entry about spelt bread ( to dig out from the back of a cupboard a bag of farro that I had leftover from Thanksgiving Dinner.

[Spelt in English is Farro in Italian. I'm sure that for many this is obvious. But I was an Italian major in college, lived in Italy off and on several times, taking cooking classes here and there while there, and have spent the past 8 or so years loving the nutty crunch and heartiness of farro dishes. I never realized that farro was spelt. I didn't, in fact, know that the word spelt existed. It took me a few years after discovering the word and ingredient spelt (it was discovered as the basic ingredient to a fine, fine mushroom pizza on spelt crust at a favorite pizza place just at the cusp of East Village), to realize that Farro in Italian is Spelt in English. This is the first tangent.]

In any event, I had all this farro leftover from Thanksgiving dinner, when I decided to celebrate my first Thanksgiving in Alaska AND and a chance to spend a weekend with with J. by braising a moose loin gifted to me by a colleague and served on a platter with a bed of farro stewed in a hearty winter broth of pinot noir, winter root vegetables and moose broth.

[In case there is any doubt, that it a one-pot meal made in my huge, hefty and beloved castiron dutch oven. We also roasted a turkey, glazed with spruce-tip sytrup and stuffed with a saute of homemade beer bread, wild mushrooms and reindeer sausage. J. rolled out sweet potato rolls with cardamom and dried Yakima Valley Cherries. And together we simmered Oregon cranberries in English port, smashed an entire five pounds of Alaskan red potatoes with roasted garlic, sour cream from a family owned dairy in Oregon and chives, and baked a cast-iron skillet of green bean casserole. It wasn't my first feast with J., but it was the feast that inspired a winter of cooking. J. had to borrow a suitcase for the leftovers. And that, as background, is how I first started cooking for Kodiak. Second tangent.]

In any event, distracting references to background aside....

I loved Oslo Foodie's post on spelt and I had a bag of farro in my cupboard.

So, I softly softened a chopped up onion in butter and olive oil. When it started to golden, I tossed in a bit of diced garlic to steam. Finally, I added some chopped carrots. Then I tossed in enough farro.


I got creative.

I added Forbidden Rice. Just a handful.

[You see, I was tempted by a little bag of "Forbidden Rice" in my cupboard, that I had purchased during some past ramble through New Sagaya but had never opened, to add a dash of creativity. The Forbidden Rice, is apparently, the preferred and secret rice of Chinese emperors for generations. I know. I know. There is no currently throned Chinese Emperor. But if there were, I'm sure he'd prefer Forbbiden Rice. Forbidden Rice are small, black kernels of rice. Fourth Tangent]

[For those that know me, yes - I did think of my lambada tapes and cd's when I found the bag of Forbidden Rice at New Sagaya and yes, I was also playing Lambada tapes and cd's when I decided to toss in a handful of Forbidden Rice cooking. Fourth-Plus Tangent.]

I thought the little black kernels of Forbidden Rice would add a nice contrast of color. Little black specks of curiousity, you know? Almost like wild rice.

Yes, I thought that the Forbidden Rice would cook up like Wild Rice.

So I added that handful of Forbbiden Rice, then poured in a box of vegetable broth. Salted & peppered. Stirred. Brought it back to a simmer. And then started doing some dishes, intending that the farro would just cook itself up. Little watching required with farro.

But when I turned around to give the pot a complimentary stir, I noticed it was bubbling up purple.

Little Vesuvius' of purple.

I stirred.

The purple faded, making the whole pot a little grey'ish.

Each time I returned to stir, there was more purple to mix in.

Apparently, Forbidden Rice cooks up purple.

By the end of the 40 minute stewing, it was more purple than any other color description.

And that is why J. was set to have a couple of ziploc bags full of frozen Purple Spelt Pilaf. I had some entertainment imagining him trying to figure out what crazy concoction I had attempted.

But then I had the sudden fancy idea of browning up some beef, tossing in some cans of diced tomatoes, a can or two of cannellini beans, some chili spices and a big ol' pot's worth of well-seasoned but atrociously-colored spelt.

J. has a couple of ziploc bag of frozen chili.

Monday, March 28, 2005

White Easter

I woke up Easter morning to discover that it was a White Easter in Anchorage, Alaska.

Overnight, it snowed about 4 inches. Then it continued to snow all Easter long. It is, in fact, still snowing.

It's a beautiful snowfall. It is the kind of snow that is perfect for building playful things - like snowmen and snowballs. Light and sugar-like. And I over-baked two trays of Hot Cross Buns because I apparently was too slow to persuade Puck to stop playing in the beautifully playful snow.

There is scientific proof that a good snowful can muffle sound. Today I theorize that it can also distort the perception of time. Because when I put the hot cross buns in the oven on Easter morning, I was thinking that I had 10 minutes to skip outside and throw snowballs for Puck. We played some chase. We tossed a frisbee. And to be safe, I played it short - deciding to check on the buns after what felt like a mere 5 minutes. It turned out to be 20.

So the buns were a little burnt.

Far worse things can happen.

A bunch of the other neighbors were outside too. Granted, this time they were bundled up. But they were outside - skiing their dogs around the block.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Sunny Days and Sourdough Bagels

Today could not be more beautiful in Anchorage, Alaska. The skies are blue. The sun is bright and warm, so everyone is outside walking dogs, jogging or just strolling. Without jackets. But the ground is still cold enough that everything is solid frozen, not squshy muddy or slippery slushy.

Last night, my neighbors had a big barbeque. They wore jackets, and had a fire roaring in the fire pit, but they were outside.

Summer is so close.


As for Cooking for Kodiak, I have a batch of sourdough bagels kneaded, rolled-out, shaped and rising on my counter. J's getting sworn in today. On the top of a mountain. He and the swearing in judge started their hike early this morning.

As for cooking for myself, I'm making hot cross buns for Easter tomorrow. I couldn't find sultanas at New Sagaya so I'm making do with organic California raisins and chopped dates. To add an Alaskan flair, I do contemplate adding chopped up cranberries (currently frozen, but that only makes them easier to chop).

Puck and I will be driving out to Eagle River for Easter Dinner. We were both invited to a colleague's family's reunion.

Oh - how can one not love a place where Easter Dinner is a family reunion and an open invitation to everyone and anyone and the invitations are extended with equal warm to everyone and anyone's dogs?

To make it better, how can one not love a place where social opportunities are so democratic and Life is such that one has the leisure to make his contribution personalized and from scratch?

Best Wishes and Warm Regards from Alaska for your Easter or Passover or Spring Frolics.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

$177 a month: Walking a Mile

I'm happy to report that my rant is over. It must be the full moon that's approaching or the gale of particularly complex transaction that is already hit my desk. I like to think I'm not usually such a ranter, at least I'm not usually a ranter absent a bad day. But I do apologize for yesterday.

In more timely events, I woke up early this morning (though it was already daylight!), so I treated myself to breakfast at the White Spot. Few things are as fine as eggs on toast, in a good diner, with the accompaniments of a few fine personalities for casual banter and an Anchorage Daily News for its always interesting letters to the editor.

There was an opinion column in today's fine Anchorage Daily that particularly hit home. Or rather, it inspired me. Perhaps I'll just say "challenged" and then resist opportunities to go digging for other words. In describing a culinary challenge, it inspired me to try my hand at it.

The column was titled "Take a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes."

To sum it up, it described the aims of a program called "Walk-A-Mile" which asks state lawmakers and community leaders to live for one month on a food stamp budget that was based on the size of their own families. PARDON THE PLAGIARIZING FROM THE ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS: "The program had two basic premises: Personal experience is the best way to understand an issue, and mutual respect grows from personal relationships in which individuals have the opportunity to see life from another person's point of view -- by walking a mile in their shoes. The hope was to dispel stereotypes. Grossman found that when she asked the welfare recipients to give her the first thoughts that came to their minds when they heard the word "politician" they said things like, liars, cheaters, men, lazy, etc. When lawmakers were asked the same question regarding welfare recipients, many used the same descriptive terminology -- lazy, cheats, etc. However, lawmakers often said "women" instead of 'men.'"

Sitting there at the White Spot, I decided to give myself a walk. I mean, here I am paying absurd amounts of money on a regular basis to get ingredients that may be affordable elsewhere, but not here. I'm still shopping like a New Yorker. So my grocery list requires me to pick up a chunk of real parmigiano-reggiano, and not only do I have to sleuth for awhile to find it, but I have to buy it at $30 a pound. Fennel - I bought 3 bulbs for a pork loin, I paid $12 (and that doesn't include the $12 for the loin itself, or the $15 for the cheap bottle of wine it was braised in, or the costs of the leeks and apples that had to be shipped up before they got tossed in). Steak for $10 a slab. Tomatoes at $6 a pound. And I'm watching all the food blog "events," getting inspired and planning what to make, all my attention on finding my beloved ingredients rather than practicing my take on the available ingredients.

So now I'm going to embark on my own private event and see what nature of homemade meals I can freeze up for J. on a monthly budget of $177 a month. That's the maximum amount that one eligible person living in an urban area of Alaska can recieve. According to the Alaska website, the maximum benefit food stamp for a family of two is $377. But I don't think we'd qualify as a "family" given that there is at least one large body of water (not to mention many land miles) between us.

So, my new food budget is $177 a month.

I'm going to start April 1......I need some time to prepare and do a little research. And, just for the record, I'm making the executive decision not to include Puck's hoighty-toighty Fish & Potato food in that budget (though it won't be the first time that boy's costs exceed my own).

I think the hardest challenge will be balancing the desire to keep myself to the budget so that I have a standing to confirm my suspicion (and undoubtedly to pontificate) that it is an unkeepable budget, and also wanting to continue with my committment to paying whatever premium is necessary to support the family-owned small farms and enterprises.

If anyone else is interested in seeing if they can cook for a month under their state/country's budget, I'd really love to read about your efforts/frustrations/successes/etc.!


As for Cooking for Kodiak, I made and sent to J. a batch of hazelnut chocolate chip cookies to his office. It was a first attempt, and I used the recipe on the back of the bag of ghiardelli chocolate chips (which, now that I gave myself reign to talk costs, were cheaper here in Alaska than a bag of Nestle) for chocolate chip cookies. All I did was add big dollops of Oregon hazelnut butter to the dough...and a little extra sugar and vanilla. It was too sweet. My next plan is to add chocolate chips to a peanut butter cookie recipe (that has been, of course, adapted to hazelnut butter).

I mailed the package of cookies to the wrong address. Those who know me know I'm not very good at keeping good track on addresses and phone numbers.

Fortunately, the person who recieved them gave them to J. with a note asking that he ask me to start sending my cookie packages to the right address because the City of Kodiak (where I sent it) wasn't in the business of mail delivery.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dan Savage

One of my constant surprises is that there is a simmering rivalry between Manhattan and Alaska.

We all know about Yankees vs Boston, LA Colors vs New York chic, New York vs London opportunities and adventures, New York vs that whole wide morass of red.....

But there's also the New York vs Alaska rivalry, and it goes beyond the astonishly identical yet clashing comment of "Why would anyone want to live there?" that is the instant reaction to anyone hearing about the other place.

Professionally, for example, I am now on my fifth time in the last week and a half of having my opinion be dismissed as grounds for "de-programming the New York out of me." My time in New York, and the negotiating skills I may have picked up there, at times are a point of interest, sometimes a challenge, sometimes an invitation to put me in my place and sometimes, apparantly, just a source of annoyance.

Culinarily, for example, the clerks at New Sagaya like to laugh about how there is always one thing in my basket that they've never seen before and have no idea how to ring up. My love of the obscure delicacies of the Alaskan grocery, I guess, is explainable when it comes to light that I moved here relatively sight unseen from Manhattan.

Friend-wise, for example, I think Alaskan friends love to hear me gush about how much my life has improved (it is, actually, a Life - and I'm still a corporate lawyer - knock it down as an Alaskan Miracle); New York friends are still patiently waiting for this "phase" to pass and for me to go running back.

But perhaps the greatest rivalry of all comes in the dating world.

You see it is very different. Monumentally different. And while there may be some Alaskan guys playing games, this rare occurrence is only an amateur's attempt at the standard mastery of a Manhattan guy. And the misery of the single, it's just a funny joke, an untimely delay. It's not a despair or a deep and genuine fear of growing old alone. You don't hear many Alaskan girls lament that they are getting worried that their futures will revolve around cats. (Admittedly, everyone out here seems to own dogs and its a sign of civic pride to have one's life revolve around them - but that's a matter for another post.) And maybe not all Manhattan single girls feel this stereotypical way. In fact, I know that they don't. But there are, maybe, more that do than out here. So when a guy plays a game here, walk away. When he offers you choices, but none of the choices approximates the walk away. Most of the time, though, they are brutally honest not heartbreakingly evasive or strategically ambiguous. Sometimes honest in the flattering way, sometimes honest in the "I'm going to see you and hear about you and we know everyone and everyone knows us and we're never going to have lives that are more than 1 degree separated from each other so let's be clear and avoid the melodrama of a misunderstanding" sort of way. New York dating, in contrast, thrives on the assumption that you never have to see any person again. You don't have to deal with their friends or their family. No matter how ruthless or misleading, you know the legend of the story will always pale against some other guy's worse transgression and that chances are you'll never have to deal with it again.

This is really a long way of saying that Dan Savage advocated renaming the State of Alaska to "Alaskan National Damaged Goods Refuge" in this week's weekly Village Voice.

It's not that such things aren't heard a lot. A famous saying out here is "Alaska: Where the Odds are Good and the Goods are Odd." And while I laughed and found it humerous, I do have to just pause and question the ludicrousness of a New York article flinging deragatory monikers at a state where dating still denotes a bit of dignity, the necessity of honesty, and the respect of full-disclosure.

But perhaps I just need to be de-programmed of my Manhattan dating memories.

In any event, ignore this entire post. It's just a rant. And I really have no basis for describing the Alaska scene. I met J. my second day here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Meat buns.

They have all sorts of different names. I always called them humbows. Apparently, they can also be called bierocks.

As a child, humbows were special treats. Sometimes Mom would take us to Portland and give us kids the honour of requesting the humbows from the circulating dim sum carts. Sometimes the honour would come in the San Francisco Chinatown. Later, in those sweet adult years of the immediately post-college, first fulltime job phase, I used to take a long lunch break to walk down to the Pike Place Market in Seattle and lunch from the humbow shop (with a detour through the flower stalls, then along the water, towards a preferred coffeeshop so that I could enjoy the return stroll to the office with a steaming latte).

In any event, and through all venues and eras, humbows were always, simultaneously, treat and honour.

So, yesterday, flipping through cookbooks trying to figure out how best to cook up the pork ($3.30 for a pound) and the cilantro ($.69 a bunch) that I picked up at New Sagaya, I was very pleased to stumble across the recipe for Mennonite bierocks in my Saveur America cookbook.

Admittedly, bierocks don't have the barbequed pork in plum sauce that I love so much about humbows, and the dough is a little heavier and less sweet, but the idea of the bierock is the fabulous and comforting same as the humbow: meat in a bun.

They are astonishing quick to prepare. The dough has short rising times, and the meat browns quickly. And the whole time that I was kneading and browning and assembling, I was entertained by the fun notion that J. might wake up one morning to find that the Kodiak sun is boisterously holding back the Kodiak rain clouds, and want to jump out of bed and hike to the top of a mountain and back again before the fates switch favours. Given the speed in which Kodiak fates can switch favours, I notioned that he might not even want to delay long enough to make one of his delicious salami sandwiches for the hike. So instead, in my kneading, browning and assembling notions, J was simply grabbing a bierock out of the freezer, stuffing it into his pack, and by the time he had clamoured to the top of his sunny Kodiak destination, the bierock was thawed and, as he prefers his trail sandwiches to be, slightly smushed.

If served right out of the oven, though, they are warm and filling. And after the teasing aroma of their baking, it is hard to restrain one's self from tearing into one as soon as they are pulled out of the oven.

Of course, I can't follow a recipe. So I put cardamom into the dough. And made the filling with: ground pork, carmalized onions, leeks, asiago cheese, corn, and a hefty dollop of the homemade mustard made by a colleague (also a corporate lawyer) that won last year's blue ribbon at the Alaska State Fair.

By the way, I still have that bunch of cilantro, if anyone has any ideas on what I could make with it that would survive the winter of my freezer until I see J..

On a second by the way, yesterday was the official day of other words, I am enjoying just as much daylight as everyone else everywhere else and each day that arrives will give me even more sunlight as everyone else. I don't mean to be competitive. Seriously. It's more a revelry. Most importantly, it is a revelry not just of the sunlight but also the confirmation that I survived my first Alaskan winter. There are few accomplishments I am more proud of.

Bierocks stuffed with Pork, Leeks and Blue Ribbon Mustard
(recipe to follow)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Sourdough Question

I don't think anyone reads this.

But if there is someone who reads this despite the fact that it includes descriptions of my ridiculous reaction to sunlight and Puck's ridiculous reaction to god knows what......

My sourdough pot keeps crusting over.

Is this normal?

Should I even be worried about this crust? Am I already doing the only thing I can/should do by stirring the sourdough pot every morning and every night?

I added more water, but that doesn't stop it. I added more flour, thinking that maybe it was crusting because it had run out of food, but this didn't help either.

Spring Sunlight (with Ricotta Pancakes and Plum Butter)

It is hard to believe that it once felt perpetually dark.

The return of the sun and the display of a particularly enticing bin of plums at New Sagaya, inspired me to make J. a breakfast of:

Dollar-Sized Ricotta Pancakes with Plum-Raspberry-Cranberry Butter.

I had the plum-raspberry-cranberry butter from earlier in the week. I had made a big batch of it, first adding the raspberries for the sweetness then adding the cranberries for a tart enhancement of color, earlier in the week. Some of it I used to make a savoury plum sauce (with shallots and balsamic vinegar) for a tenderloin of pork that I pot-roasted with fennel, apples and leeks. But I made so much of it, that J. will be eating plums as savoury sauces, as pancake syrups, as ice-creaming topping, etc. Fortunately, I think it's delicious enough that there won't be many complaints.

In any event, it is a particularly perfect accompaniment to ricotta pancakes.


Ricotta Pancakes (from Garden Way's Bread Book)

1. Blend 3 eggs with 1 cup of ricotta cheese until light and airy.

2. Blend in 3 tablespoons of honey and 5 tablespoons of melted butter.

3. In a separate bowl, sift together 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Add to the cheese mixture and blend together.

4. Pour about 2 tbsps of batter, at a time, onto a hot (and lightly greased) griddle.

* My little comment to J. in the note stashed into the freezer-locked ziplock bag of pancakes: Before making these (or in J's case, reheating them in the skillet), fry up some bacon. Drain out the grease, and then wipe it out with a paper towel so that there's maybe just enough grease left to keep a feather from sticking to the pan. Make the ricotta pancakes in this pan and serve with the bacon on the side. I didn't do it this way, but I have a pretty hefty certainty that there will be something about the bacon (its crunch? its saltiness?) that will bring out the subtle taste of nutmeg in the pancakes and the sweet simplicity of the barely sweetened plum butter.

Plum-Raspberry-Cranberry Butter (inspired by recipe for plum butter in Native Harvest - exact name to be added)

Skin, pit and chop a bunch of plums. Put fruit pieces in a heavy pot. Add raspberries, if you like, for sweetness. Add cranberries, if you like, for tartness and colors. Add, in fact, anything you'd like. Pour in some water. Not too much - you don't want it runny. Not too little - you don't want scalded fruit bits. Add some honey. I also added cinnamon, cloves and cardamom - but only enough to bring out the fruits' flavours, not enough to taste. Simmer softly for awhile until fruit starts to liquify and congeal - about 30 minutes. (If there are cranberries, it may need to simmer longer). The actual recipe suggested using a blender to get a uniform consistency. I like the chunks of fruit, and the delight of having each bite taste a little bit different. Truth - I'm not a big fan of uniform consistency. So I keep my fruit butters "rustic"...I think that is the currently coiffed coin of term for 'real'.

On an unculinary note.....I don't know how or why I can or would say this....but sometimes it almost feels TOO bright. There. I've confessed it. It's crazy to say that though, isn't? It is! And yet, I've had this perpetual headache for about a week. I hesitate also to call it a headache. It's more like an eye strain or something. My theory is that I...that my EYES have become dis-habituated to sunlight.

I remember, when I first moved here last June, how I was constantly surprised by the general use of shades and sheets and other sunlight blockers. When I came into the office, I thought it odd that colleagues had blocked off their amazing, million dollar views out to Cook Inlet by closing their blinds. In contrast, my post-Manhattan reaction to all this crisp, exhillerating air and perpetual sunlight was to throw open windows and shades and linger as much as possible in all of the sunrays pouring in.

Today, however, my blinds are closed.

Not because I don't appreciate the sun. I do. I'm so happy it's back. In fact, I'm exhillerated that it's back. I have loads of energy. A suddenly replenished cache of creative plots and a burgeoning chest of courageous aspirations. I even drive faster. My binds are closed because my eyes, I think, have not yet adjusted to it. They will, I'm sure. But for the moment, I fear I'm still in the opportunity to appreciate the adventure of the mole just emerging from its dark tunnels.

Though it is lovely sun, we're still in the season that is called "Break Up." In other words, the ice is starting to thaw. So things can get a little muddy. Puddles can swamp a street or a yard overnight. And it's still cold. Not cold enough to preserve the freeze, but cold enough to require mittens and a hat at times. Having said all this, it really is just a matter of weeks until my neighbors and I will drag out the picnic table from its winter perch beneath the shelter of the big spruce back to his summer throne in the middle of the yard between our houses. And therefore it is a mere matter of weeks until I'll be drinking my morning coffee and reading my Alaskan newspaper at its benches whilst Puck frolics around the yard (chewing on, more than likely, random twigs).

As for other Alaskan observations....J left me a voicemail on St. Paddy's Day that still stirs up a broad grin every time I recall it. With a wry undertone, and an understated actual tone, J. told me about how he was sitting at his desk during the lunch hour, watching the bald eagles outside his window and contemplating a particular argument asserted in a particular motion. He heard bagpipes. Coming closer. Thinking that it must be Kodiak's St. Paddy's Day Parade, he stepped outside to watch it pass. He was happy to report that all five people in the parade looked they were having a great time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Cooking for Puck

Puck is officially on a diet.

Not because he's chunky. Not because he's too lean.

Puck is on a diet because he's balding in the belly.

I've noticed the balding belly for awhile. I even mentioned it to his "after hours" vet (the doctor that usually gives him his health voucher when we fly to Kodiak because her clinic is open after work closes) and to his daycare owner. They both suggested that his balding was due to having short legs and the likelihood that his belly was rubbing on the ground.

In contrast, Dr. Hurley, his official vet immediately subjected him to several tests. He's had blood drawn. He's been fondled by multiple women simultaneously scouring his belly for signs of skin irritation or some other (read disgusting) trace of a fixable condition. But he passed all those tests.

So, the most current prognosis (as of yesterday) is that Puck is (i) allergic to wheat, (ii) allergic to red meat, (iii) allergic to the absence of the sun for the past couple of months, or (iv) allergic to castration.

Thinking that the wheat and mean allergy options would be easiest to address, Puck is now on the fish & potato diet.

And I, now, have to make his treats.

Here is the recipe for Puck's Tidbits that was given to me courtesy after Puck's $150 vet visit:

1. Scoop one can of Response Formula FP into a mixing bowl. Stir well into an even consistency.

2. On a non-stick cookie sheet, place heaping teaspoonful of Response FP (2 and 1/2 inches apart). Pat flat into a 1/2 inch cookie shape (about 1/4 inch thick).

3. Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately one hour or until cookies have dehydrated enough to make a firm snack.

4. Cool on rack. Store in plastic bags or tubs in refridgerator. Best if used within one week. Extra may be stored in freezer if sealed well.

5. One can of Response FP makes approximately two dozen Fish & Potato "Treats".

p.s. Interestingly enough, J's dog Clyde is also on the fish & potato diet after his allergy to wheat and/or red meat nearly transformed him into a scaly, rather than furry, rottweiller. Dr. Hurley, who also owns rottweillers and counsels me on how (as a small dog owner) to date a big dog owner, suggested that I go ahead and make bit batches of Puck's Tidbits for Clyde too. Apparently, it is advised to make as many as you can at once as it takes awhile for the odor of fish to disperse.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Headbanging under the Alaskan Sun (it's back!)

I get an extra 6 minutes of sunlight each day.

It doesn't seem like much, when you think of it that way. Just a few minutes extra each day. But, to put it into perspective, it feels like merely a few weeks ago that I thought the joy of driving to work at 9:30 while the sun was rising was rendering me delirious with effervescent bubbles of hope. A few weeks before that, I thought the absence of day (in fact, it was the absence of any direct sunlight whatsoever) was going to make me crazy, or at the very least, a biscuit-baking-hermit-with-atrocious-hair-roots. But, now, it's perfect. Daybreak when you get up. Sunset a couple of hours after you leave the office. Snow on the ground (enough, at least, to keep Puck from running out of the yard lest he get over his head in the adventure of it, but less than you folks Back East). Iditarod talk of stats and strategies all over town - best overheard, of course, while eating salmon hero sandwiches at my favorite lunch bar. The lakes are still frozen, so there's ice-skating just down the street and every house has ice skates dangling off the porch.

Of course, be prepared. In a mere few weeks more, it will always and only be daylight.

No doubt I'll have comments.

As for my big news, J. was in town last weekend. He was Kodiak highschool's coach for their mocktrial team. Apparently Kodiak Island just discovered Metallica, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, etc. For awhile, I got the honour of being one of the Anchorage chauffers for the Kodiak mocktrial team. Once they taught me how to use the cd player, my sassy little soccor-mom subaru (cherry red just to keep it hinting at youth and a moonroof to keep it cooool) was quickly transformed into a moveable Revival of 80's Heavy Metal, complete with a gaggle of teenagers headbanging in the back.

At least in this rendition of the 80's, I was only uncool because I was old. Not because my hair genetically refuses to be big.

I sent Josh back with a cooler full of frozen meals and a big loaf of frozen chocolate chip cookie dough. Apparently he ate the cookie dough first. Then he dove into the pappardelle al ragu. Last night he mentioned that he embellished the leftover pappardelle with a couple of the Pinot braised meatballs stuffed with Maytag Blue Cheese.

The meatballs were based off a recipe in Helen Brown's West Coast Cookbook. (recipe to be posted) She called them Oregon Meatballs, and envisioned them braised in Oregon pinot noir and stuffed with Oregon's Blue Cheese. Using Alaskan ingredients, however, they were braised in Australian shiraz and stuffed with Iowa blue cheese.

As for big news, Alaska-wise, Olive had a big adventure at the airport:

Thursday, March 03, 2005


I'm a cheechako merely nurturing a sourdough.

I look forward to being the sourdough that gets to nurture a cheechako - one of those "pay it forward" ways, I suppose, for showing my immense gratitude to all the Alaskans that help me settle into the life up here.

In any event, my actual sourdough is going to be three weeks old tomorrow. It's bubbling away in a porcelain bowl on top of my fridge. It's quite aromatic. And hungry. I read that feeding it too much sugar makes it rubbery, which would be bad. But it is so much fun to see it respond, that I can admit to perhaps being indulgent with it.

Three weeks is when, according to Ruth Allman, a sourdough can first be considered a sourdough. Of course, she mentions those that believe it takes 10 years, maybe even 50 years, perhaps 3 generations, to really achieve that status. But she wrote that in the pioneer days. Nowdays, there's more pioneering about than most other places I've lived, but there's a lot of Outside influence too. So I'm going to start considering it a sourdough tomorrow night at 9 p.m.

J. will be in town for the momentous development. He's been coaching Kodiak's highschool mocktrial team, and the competition is this weekend here in Anchorage. I'm judging. It doesn't matter that I will probably only get to see him under the chaperonage of a gaggle of highschoolers who are really most excited about the fact that their hotel is across a street from Applebees. It doesn't matter that I'll probably end up spending a significant portion of my weekend at Applebees, even though I do officially boycott that place and for the sake of decorum will be forced to refrain from my usual pontifications about the horrors of consumer spending at places that drain the community's resources with automatic cash-sweeps to out-of-state conglomerates. I'm simply so excited to see him.

I think what most excites me is that we'll both me doing interesting things, not just on the same landmass, but in the same building. Like a real couple. Doing community things, separately, but together. That there will be looks across a room, or simple waves, or maybe (tartacious me) a wink. I don't know - I guess there will lots of those humble simple moments of relationship that one doesn't ordinarily get to enjoy when the relationship is long-distance.

We're staying at a hotel, because it didn't seem....well, it just seemed inappropriate to drag him away from the reason that he's in town. So we're staying there and I can't really make him the sourdough hotcakes on Sunday morning that I thought would be fun. Instead, I'm going to bake a bunch of sourdough rolls that he can take back, frozen, to Kodiak.

Here's the recipe for sourdough starter:

Put a bunch of Alaskan red potatoes into a big pot of water. Boil and boil until they are so done that the skins are falling off. Let cool. Remove the skins from the potatoes, then mash up the skinless potatoes with the cooking water. There should be at least 3 cups of this potatoe water. The thicker the better. And clumps aren't really a problem, if you're willing to wait for the sourdough to thicken. One of the treats of sourdough seems to be that it works out any lumps itself. Put 3 cups of thick potato water into your sourdough bowl. (Use the leftover to thicken a soup.) Add 2 cups of flour and two big spoons of sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel Put in a warm place. It can be used in 3 days. Or it can be fed at the third day with a bit more sugar and some flour, and then used later.