Sunday, October 30, 2005

first snow

Breathtaking is the morning starlight of the North skies reflecting first up, off the first snowfall of the winter season, and then back down, off a drifting cloud cover.

And taking a stroll in such a sparkling landscape, before anyone else has gotten up to mar the perfection of the fresh snowfall, is quite exhillerating.

Playing catch with your dog in the perfection of a fresh snowfall - well, it's a very pleasant slice of utopia. For me as well as for Puck. He was so pleased with his ability to race around the Park Strip, off-leash and in chase of a frisbee.

It was probably a good thing, however, that Puck and I were out playing catch before anyone else was up. I had to scramble to unpack all the winter things I had packed. And I guess I wasn't too inclined to do so.

So I ended up in a rather ridiculous dog-walking attire. A smorgasboord of winter-appropriate and dog-walking ridiculous. Dress boots, ski-sweater, long-black Italian dress-coat, and stocking cap. I think what ultimately pulled the outfit together was the fact that I had finally decided to stuff my hands into a pair of Iowa wool socks that wick after several minutes of unsuccessfully looking for my gloves.

In any event, I was so inspired by the crisp beauty of this fine Alaskan morning that I made a little trip to the grocery store and purchased a pair of gloves and a roll of duct tape.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Postmodern Frolics in the Last Frontier

I took myself out on a day long date on Saturday.

I used to do this when I lived in New York. I guess, actually, I've always been doing this, wherever I'm living. Some mornings I just wake up and walk out the door, not knowing what I will be doing - only that I'll be going with the flow of events, and dining with myself, and coming across good reads, and restoring my independence, and nurturing my quirks, and probably stopping somewhere for a Hemingway'esque crisp class of white wine with oysters (ahhh, for the Seattle dates! it's so easy to sweep me off my feet in that town!) or a Dylan Thomas mid-day pint in a dark local with a band of loyal regulars (the most glorious such mid-day pints being Fiddler's Elbow in Florence or, oh!, that one[s!] in Belfast) - until I'm replinished with my necessary doses of randomness, characters, good books, flaneuring, and journal-capturing. I usually come home around midnight, brew a cup of tea and crawl into a fluffy bed to flip through one of the new cookbooks I inevitably picked up at some point during the day's events. And the next morning, waking up from a sleep of blissful contentment, I usually wax poetic about the adventures and the people I met in a group email and then set off to a grocery store to purchase the ingredients for the dishes I fell asleep contemplating.

But, it being now and it being an opportunity to sweep myself off my feet with Anchorage, here's how this girl entertained herself on one cold Saturday at the start of winter:

Brunch of dim sum at a tiny bakery in a commonly-overlooked stripmall, wearing black boots and reading Wittgenstein's Poker at a little table next to a bigger table of young men in their Alaskan khakis (i.e. carhartts), skilled in the arts of slurping noodles without interference from their mature beards and versed in the arts of comparing favorite dumplings. Bustling hum of Asian languages and the clatter of a kitchen spilling out to a room packed with a spicy cross-section of Alaskans, mixed with the chirping queries of toddlers learning the dexterity of chopsticks, and teenagers feigning disinterest in the lively conversation with their parents, and cross-dressers exchanging Friday night stories, and tables of women wearing boots and pearls (with coiffed hair and brazen wit). Strangers leaning over to inquire as to the name of particularly intriguing dish.

Coffee at a little shop in another, albeit more popular stripmall, with brick walls, mis-matched tables and chairs and a clientele of loyal locals that is nurturing the next generation with "freshly flown-in" gelato. Alaska's roaster since 1975.

Tour of Title Wave - a bookstore with the glorious gift of offering the books that Alaskans have traded in. Lots of second-hand insights into how to build a cabin. Lots of dog-eared tips on homesteading. Cookbooks with hints written into the margin. A poetry aisle that exudes the warmth of a winter stove. And, of course, the constant memory of having watched and listened to John Haines, himself, reading his poetry here last Spring.

Tour of the Alaskan-authored books at Cook Inlet Books, which has recently been restored from tourist throngs to local customers supporting homegrown writers. They just got a new shipment of the most requested book, so I understand that there is no longer a waiting list for Amanda Brannon's homegrown treatise on rhubarb.

Contemplate a glass of wine at Club Paris, but decide that it is to dark there to read my newest acquisition (The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood) and this might be the perfect chance to finally try out Taste of Russia and sup on a bowl of butter-brothed pelmeni, with fresh dill and sour cream.

Opening night of Kafka Dances at Cyrano's Eccentric Theatre Company, attended by the freshly-imported Australian playwright, opened by a band of highschoolers playing traditional bar mitzvah music on a quartet of wind-instruments, and audienced by a diverse crowd of enthusiastic patrons. Some dressed with fashionable attention. Some in jeans. Some in flannels. Some in eye-catching flairs. Of course, there were the requisite young men with mature beards, and older man with trimmed ones. Cyrano's offers Pacific Northwestern wines by the glass, which you can drink throughout the show and replace with a refreshed glass at the pre-order table during intermission. Like attending the opera, or the symphony, your glass at the pre-order table is marked simply by a slip of paper with your first name. No matter how big the event, in the year and so of living here, I've never heard of a pre-ordered drink being lost. And the audience is close and animated, checking in with each other on their new projects and exchanging updates on their kids in New York, Chicago, London, San Francisco.

Last-hour dash to Barnes & Noble to buy the soundtrack for Fiddler on the Roof and The Man of La Mancha - because I can't be in a hometown theatre company that thrives on local committment without thinking of my father, which of course leads me to buy the Broadway soundtracks for the musicals that he once years ago produced with a bunch of fellow New England accents in the Willamette Valley of the 1970's. To dream, the impossible dream....

And, home, to end my adventure with the dolce of a long, latenight phonecall to J comparing and relaying our days' bounties of tales and characters.

[as a side note, my cookbooks and my pans are all packed in boxes (except, of course, for the skillet in which I am making my daily dinner of poached eggs) - some still in Anchorage, but some already shipped out - so there was no new cookbook nor any morning foray to purchase the ingredients for a new recipe. soon, though. soon. soon, my belongings will be unpacked all in one place, and i'll be able to cook and post.]

Monday, October 10, 2005

a dash of clarification

I was a bit misleading in my last post about the approach of winter's darkness.

Re-reading it, I realized that I make it sound sudden or ominous. It's actually more of a gradual process. In the Spring, each day is marked by the number of minutes of daylight gained; in the fall, the number of minutes lost. It's a part of the early morning news, as well as the weather. And therefore it's a part of my morning ritual of caffeination and NPR. Throughout the year, there is a daily update about what time the sun will rise, what time the sun will set, how many hours and minutes of daylight there will be total, and how many minutes of daylight will be lost/gained from the day before.

The loss of daylight is gradual - just a matter of minutes each day. One would think it would be a matter of adjustment, not shock. But shock is how I seem to register it. First, comes the shock (sometime around August) that it gets dark at all. Then, comes the sound of the geese leaving again. Then comes the realization that it gets dark by 11 p.m., then by 10 p.m., then by 9 p.m., then by 8 p.m., ..... And sometime, around December, the sun will start setting around 3 p.m. It was right about that point that I started to wonder whether it would come back before I permanantly became a biscuit-baking herit with bad hair roots.

But, at that same point, others are rejoicing. I have a good friend whose mood becomes giddy and gleeful with the return of the dark. After the months of sunshine and dourness, the cold and the dark bring back her jovial, playful and mischievious nature to the forefront. I have to assume this cause-and-effect is not unique to her. Maybe it's the extra personal space after all the tourists have departed. Maybe it's the chance to catch up on sleep after the months without nightfall. Maybe its the upcoming holidays.

But there's just too much joviality, playfulness and mischief in these days of frost and sparkling stars for me to make insinuations of ominous darkness.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Start of a Winter and My New Love of the Softly Scrambled

If it was just a matter of identifying that new chill in the air, or trying to explain this sudden urge to embrace it with caramel colored sweaters, I'd tell you that it is Fall in Anchorage.

But the ground is definitely much too cool to be walking barefoot, even over those parts of the lawn that get the day's brightest beams of sun. The ground is cold - ice cold. Gloves and hats are a standard accroutement for mornings and nights, and I suppose even a lot of the days. Tour busses have disappeared. Bars have been restored to their core of regulars. Stores are restocking shelves with goods that are more likely to entice locals than thrill tourists. The price of everything is just a little bit cheaper. My neighbor has mowed his lawn for the last time this year. The picnique table has been moved back to its seasonal perch under the overhanging protection of a big Spruce tree.

But even more than that - it can't just be Fall because there's also the realization that we are well into that time of the year when we are waking up in the dark. We know that in a matter of time, we'll also be spending most of our waking hours in the dark too.

Some say that this is the toughest part of living up here - the dark. Part of me agrees. It is tough to wake up and drag yourself to work and know that the 3 hours of sunlight will be long gone before you get to go anywhere near home. It makes you tired. It makes me addicted to bacon. I'll be honest - it's a bit worse than a mere addiction to bacon. There was a time in the depth of my first winter that I was really scared that the sun would never return and that I might permanantly remain a biscuit-baking hermit with bad hair roots. But part of me loves the dark season - and the chance it gives you to slow down, and breathe, and engage in hobbies, and hone one's wit and read your books, and cook big simmering castiron pots of stews, and write long entries in journals. It's a period of nesting, I guess. Building up the reserves of independence and personality.

And, of course, another part of me sort of realizes that the dark makes everyone just a bit crazy, and it's nice to have that kind of license.

Maybe it's the chill. Maybe it's the dark. But it's definitely the start of winter and it's inevitable craving for warm and substantial foods.

This morning I brightened up my pre-sunrise hours with milky tea, Vogue, and two eggs on toasted Alaskan sourdoug - softly scrambled eggs, with a gentle fold-in of my neighbor's last harvest of parsley, fresh pepper, and romano cheese.

It was a very simple breakfast. Eggs on toast. But these were "softly scrambled", in accordance with a trick I read last night in French Food at Home by Laura Calder: lowest possible heat and stirring in the milk (Oregon organic) and a dollop of Tillamook butter just as the eggs were about to set.

One would think that this mid-set addition of milk wouldn't make such a difference from my habit of adding the milk to the eggs before I pour them in the pan. But it did. Such a difference. I also added some of my neighbor's last-harvest-of-the-year parsley. Laura Calder suggested that the heat be so low that it takes 20 minutes of stirring for the eggs to set. And I was enjoying the Vogue so much that I hoped it would take 20 minutes of patiently stirring and eagerly reading. It took a little less, which I suppose is a good thing as it allowed me plenty of time to properly relish the eating part of this morning.

And with my belly warmed up with a new and improved favorite winter traditions of the "softly scrambled" egg on toast, I was delighted to then discover on my way to work that the neighbors have already started turning on their Christmas lights.

[P.S. Note the language - up here, it's a matter of "turning on" the Christmas lights. The neighbors don't take them down in the summer months of perpetual daylight, they simply turn them off until we go back into the majority months of escalating darkness when its the "fairy lights" (I love the British term) that are perpetual.]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

And the Fox Jumped Over the Divider

"Commuting" in Alaska is never dull.

This is so despite the fact that there are very few roads over which one could commute, as well as the fact that all of these few roads will always end up either (a) nowhere - they just stop, or (b) back where you started - they just go around in circles.

On my commute to work today, for example, a red fox jumped over a divider and past the South-bound traffic on Minnesota. Just as happened a few months ago when a moose and her calf ambled over that same divider on their way from the lake on the one side to the lagoon on the other, traffic respectfully stopped both ways until they passed. He was such a deep red color, with a big bushy tail. And a deep, rusty-red color. And he was quick and smooth as he bounded away.

On my commute to work a few weeks ago - on the first day of my first trial, in fact - J. and I had to maneouver around the parking lot of my skyscraper office building to avoid the moose that appeared to suspect that my little subaru was getting too close to her twin calves. Trust me - it is not easy to dodge an irritated mama moose in reverse, especially when the baby moose[s] that she is trying to protect are nibbling on the decorative shrubs next to each potential escape route. Fortunately, J. was driving!

And a few months ago - on my 31st birthday, in fact - J. and I had to emergency-maneouver ourselves and our two dogs into his pickup truck when we were surprised to find a Kodiak Brown Bear ambling towards us. We had "commuted" down a gravelled Kodiak road to a swimming spot for our dogs. (Are there enough words to profess the kind of love that a girl feels for the man who so patiently endeavours to teach a lapdog who dodges puddles how to swim in rivers of glacier melt?) On our "return" commute, we pulled over to the side of the road and watched another Kodiak Brown Bear diving for salmon in the fishing hole from which he had just chased off a bunch of fisher-girls. The chased-off girls weren't angry, just a little wet and muddy. When the bear took over their hole, they just scrambled up a bank and joined us as we admired his underwater fishing skills from the back of J.'s pick-up.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Oh, dear friends, don't give up faith on me.

I am alive. I am intending to keep on writing. I do have plans for those 50 pound bags of beans and rice. I'm just a little slow on the type-up and a little too inundated with practicalities for the fanciful flourishings of words.

But I did get to spend a week working remotely. And while there, I did have moments to craft leftover cornbread into a bread pudding with blueberries and carmalized bananas and a ragout of pork braised in milk and rosemary.*And I did get to send J. off to work in the mornings with some old family favorites: hot cornbread, peanutbutter and jam crepe roll-ups, and omelette sandwiches. I welcomed him home with hot "Irish soup" (potatoes, broccoli and onion). I spent a day simmering a bolognese sauce, and we spent a Friday night rolling out pasta dough and baking a lasagne. We spent Saturday night trying to teach ourselves through trial and error how to make a chicken fried steak.

The fete of these moments is that we did so with very little kitchen equpment. J's suff is still "on the barge" and mine is still in Anchorage. So each of our meals were prepared with only a hunter's knife, a $1.50 dollar skillet, a very flimsy pot**, and a box of plastic spoons.

While there, I attended a local art auction - where an entire table was set out with platters of smoked wild salmon. Free and as much as you could eat. But coffee, cookies and slices of cake cost $1 to $5 each.

I went to a poker tournament among friends at a house that overlooked a wide and open vista of tundra - oh, the tundra at fall is an exceptional feast of colors.

And I doubt that the miracle of watching our road be "plowed" will ever stale. The road is a path of mud. Maybe it was once paved. But now it is a wide, pot-holed swathe of traversible mud. Once a week, a tractor drives down to plow it up. Then it turns around and goes back over it to smooth it down. No more potholes....for at least a day.

* No fresh herbs to be had. And only a few to be had dried.

** "Flimsy" is not an understatement. I would have added to the list of meals a blueberry cornbread crumble, but the pan split as I was pulling it out of the oven. A sad end to a dessert I had looked forward to. But I doubt I will be forgetting anytime soon the mad rush of happiness and laughter as blueberries had to be wiped off every wall and counter space in our little kitchen.