Thinking About Berries – Wild Alaskan Blueberry Turnovers

A few years ago, something happened. Was it the weather, the climate? Did something happen to the soil? Or just a part of a greater normal cycle? That year there were very few berries growing around the Lake. We were worried. Was that the end of our precious little fruit? There’s nothing like a year of berry paucity to make a person like me anxious every year to see how the wild berry crop will be. Not only are berries a favorite fruit, we rely on them through the winter as a means to keep fresh fruit regularly in our diet. Of course, picking our own berries is much more practical than ordering berries to be flown out to our remote locale – from a freshness and a financial perspective. Blueberries are the only berry that will ship out here without rotting on the way. And interestingly, studies have shown that our wild little berries pack more nutritional punch than the farmed variety most people see in grocery stores. The long, light-filled days of summer have a farther-reaching positive effect than meets the eye.

Every year, since that berry drought year, we make it a habit to hike around to our favorite picking spots early in the season to check on the flowers. A nasty rainstorm at just the right (wrong) time can knock all the flowers or young berries down, so just seeing buds doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. But it is a worthwhile and enjoyable task to go out and check. A few days ago, we finished our round of exploratory hikes. Those walks revealed flowers. So many flowers! The salmonberry flowers are already turning to fruit. And the berry bogs are loaded with buds. It’s looking like it will be a banner year for berries. I can already taste all my favorite creations – syrups, jams, jellies, fruit butters, and IQF (individually quick frozen), which makes up the majority of our kept berries.

Inspired by the upcoming picking season, I dug into our freezer to see exactly how many berries remained from last summer. My search revealed several bags of IQF blueberries and IQF salmonberries. Hurrah! There were enough to whip up a taste of summer to tide me over before picking season. And it happened that friends invited us to dinner, which gave me a ready excuse to get baking.

I have created many recipes featuring berries. For this dinner, I wanted to bring something that really highlighted the berries. I also wanted something I could carry easily without bringing a dish or pie pan to deal with later. Blueberry hand pies, or turnovers, would be perfect. I could pack them with fruit and they would be easy to carry over in a little box.

And they were extremely easy to whip up. Pie dough, berries, sugar, lemon juice, clear gel, vanilla and Done! They are perfect as is. But to add an aesthetic Wow factor, I drizzled icing made with powdered sugar and lemon juice on the cooled pastries. That did the trick. My friends oohed and aahed and requested the recipe (a true sign that a dessert hit the mark).

So, friends, here’s the recipe for Wild Blueberry Turnovers.

Wild Alaskan Blueberry Turnovers

Ingredients

  • 1 small egg
  • 1 ¼ cup wild Alaskan blueberries, frozen or fresh (other berries can be substituted)
  • 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp clear gel (corn starch will work)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste (vanilla extract would work)
  • Single pie crust

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk egg with a teaspoon of water in a small bowl for an egg wash. Set aside.
  4. In a bowl, gently mix blueberries, sugar, clear gel, lemon juice and vanilla.
  5. Divide pie crust into 4 portions.
  6. Shape pie crust sections into circles, about 1/8” thick (3mm).
  7. Place crusts on prepared baking sheet.
  8. Divide blueberry filling evenly onto pie crust circles.
  9. Brush edges of the crust with egg wash.
  10. Fold dough over, creating ½ circle-shaped turnovers.
  11. Crimp edges with the tines of a fork.
  12. Cut slits on the top of the turnovers to allow steam to escape.
  13. Brush with remaining egg wash.
  14. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Pastries will be golden brown when they’re done.
  15. Let cool on wire rack.
  16. Serve as is, or drizzled with lemon icing, or with your favorite vanilla ice cream.

Our Favorite Halibut Recipe: Panko Crusted Halibut with Bleu Cheese

Perfectly browned panko gives it crunch. The bleu cheese and bacon adds… bleu cheese and bacon.

Although halibut can be caught any time of the year, I think of them as summertime fish. The images that come to mind are of calm seas and sunshine and Gillie drifting in a light breeze over a bottom of reasonable depth, something around 5 to 20 fathoms. We look for “chickens,” the young 20 to 40 pound flatties that eagerly hit jigs, aren’t too much trouble in the boat, and fillet into firm white pieces perfect for the kitchen. Fired, baked, broiled or served as sashimi or in a soup, halibut are as versatile as any fish that swims. The thick fillets are just right for stuffing with shrimp, crab or, in this case a classic accompaniment, bleu cheese. Halibut cooked just right flakes beautifully. To achieve those moist flakes, avoid overcooking it. The meat is very rich. Barbra and I typically share a six to eight ounce fillet.

This is our favorite halibut recipe. In the photo, it is served on sautéed parsnips and saffron rice, but this works well as a sandwich, too. You don’t have to marinate the fillet… but you’ll be happy you did.

Panko Crusted Halibut with Bleu Cheese (for a 6 to 8 ounce fillet)

Ingredients:

  • 6 to 8 ounce halibut fillet, skin on, patted dry
  • 1 heaping tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten, with a dollop each of soy sauce and Cholula mixed in 
  • panko in a shallow dish 
  • equal portions extra virgin olive oil and butter (about ⅛ inch in frying pan)

For the marinade: In a dish just large enough to hold the fillet, or in a small sealable plastic bag, mix together…

  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ tablespoon Chulula 
  • juice from ½ lime (about 1 tablespoon or more)
  • mesquite (for the smokiness) to taste
  • a chipotle-type dry seasoning to taste
  • ½ tablespoon brown sugar
  • cold water (sufficient to completely cover fillet)

For the filling: Mix together while bacon is still warm…

  • 1 strip thick-cut bacon, fried soft and cut into small pieces
  • crumbled bleu cheese
  • tarragon (just a hint)

Directions

  1. Use a very sharp knife to cut a pocket into the fillet, taking care not to cut all the way through the other side.
  2. Marinate the fillet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes up to about 2 hours. Remove and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. In a small frying pan, melt the butter into the olive oil over medium heat.
  4. Fill the fillet pocket with bleu cheese mixture. 
  5. Spread the flour on a cutting board and roll the fillet so all sides are covered.
  6. Dip the fillet in the egg mixture to evenly coat.
  7. Roll the fillet in panko to thoroughly coat.
  8. The cooking oil is ready when a panko crumb placed into it bubbles and sizzles. Place the fillet in the frying pan skin side up. Make sure the fillet is sizzling, but that the oil is not so hot that the panko burns. Cover, reduce the heat a little, and cook for three minutes. Covering the fillet at this point helps ensure that the fish is properly cooked through. You might want to take a quick peak a couple of minutes into the cooking to make sure the panko is browning up properly.
  9. Remove lid and continue cooking for one minute. (Four minutes total per side).
  10. Carefully turn over the fillet so that it is now skin side down, presentation side up. Do not cover. Cook for four minutes. Adjust temperature as necessary to ensure panko is browning, not burning. Periodically spoon some of the oil-butter mixture onto the top of the fillet. Don’t worry if some of the filling melts out; it’s an indication that the fillet is cooked through. During the final minute of cooking, you may want to use tongs to hold the fillet so that the edges are properly browned. 
  11. When serving, you can spoon a little of the oil-butter mixture onto the fillet and offer lemon wedges.

Each fillet serves one hearty appetite or can be cut into two portions. This dish pairs well with Chardonnay or a cold, crisp lager. 

Breakfast Panna Cotta – Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary

A breakfast fit for a celebration – now where’s my champagne?

As it happens sometimes, we received a random box of ingredients, this time thanks to the Farmers to Families program. The box included a variety of items that someone defined as household staples. Included were roasted chicken quarters, hot dogs, potatoes, apples, milk, and yogurt. Jack quickly turned out a delicious soup with the chicken, potatoes, and other veggies we had in our fridge. My challenge was the yogurt. I usually make our own yogurt, so we already had more than enough for our regular menu. 

Living in a small village, we often gift extra food amongst our neighbors. For example, if someone gets an extra order of canned pumpkin or tahini (real examples), we share. When that happens, the resulting cooking challenge always strikes me as our own episode of Chopped. We don’t like to let anything go to waste. So the puzzle of the yogurt needed to be attended to right away.

I had just finished re-reading The Tutka Bay Lodge Cookbook and was in the middle of another pastry chef cookbook when the box arrived. I already had Panna Cotta on the brain. I wondered if Panna Cotta could be made with yogurt instead of cream. Panna Cotta is a wonderful gelatinized dessert that can become a delicious canvas for a variety of fruit. The name is derived from Italian and means “cooked cream.” In my experiment, it would be cooked yogurt. So, yes, this is not a true Panna Cotta. My version has the same vanilla bean canvas and the same structure. That’s where the similarity ended.

I tested different dishes and glasses for serving the Panna Cotta including wine glasses and ramekins. I think they all worked beautifully. My breakfast Panna Cotta definitely tasted like a rich vanilla yogurt. But it made for a gorgeous and delicious breakfast presentation – layers of crunchy granola, chewy dried fruit, zippy tart berries, and a drizzle of last summer’s wineberry syrup. The same visual layers can be accomplished in any clear glass if ramekins are not available. With just a bit of chilling time and not too much effort, you too can turn ordinary into extraordinary.

Breakfast Panna Cotta

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin (1 package)
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • granola
  • dried fruit
  • frozen or fresh berries
  • berry syrup

Directions

  1. Place gelatin in a small bowl. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the milk into the gelatin and mix. Let set for about 5 minutes.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the remainder of the milk, yogurt, vanilla and sugar.
  3. Place about 1/2 cup of the yogurt mixture into a small pot. Warm mixture while stirring constantly.
  4. Add gelatin mixture to pot.
  5. Whisk mixture until gelatin is dissolved. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  6. Pour gelatin mixture back into the original yogurt mixture in the medium bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Divide the panna cotta into 6 ramekins or glasses. 
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
  9. To serve, layer on granola, dried fruit, berries and berry syrup of your choosing.
  10. Alternatively, run a knife around the edge of the ramekin, dip the ramekin in hot water and unmold onto a serving plate prepared with a bottom layer of granola. Top panna cotta decoratively with remaining ingredients.

Dungeness Crab Cakes

Sweet Dungeness Crab – all you’ll want is a spritz of lemon.

For as long as I can remember I’ve ordered crab cakes in restaurants. They are, I think, the most difficult seafood fritter, patty or cake to get right. The best I’ve had were served at McCormick’s in Portland some years ago. They came with hollandaise sauce and I used to have them for breakfast with a cup of black coffee or a glass of Pinot Gris, after which I’d walk up the street to Powell’s to look at books or to write.

Thanks to the Dungeness in our freezer, I’ve been experimenting. Crab is difficult because it’s more important to get the seasonings right than with other seafood and then you’ve got to cook the cakes just so. If the cakes are very good, lemon is all you’ll want.

Dungeness Crab Cakes

Ingredients

  • ½ pound cooked Dungeness or Blue Crab meat. If it seems too wet, it is. Squeeze the excess moisture out with paper towel or through a strainer. Take extra care to make sure there is no shell.
  • seasonings: Crab is very sweet. It needs something. I use a blend of dried powdered peppers such as Aleppo, Ancho, Cayenne, Chipotle. The idea is that you want to balance the sweetness of the crab with something that pulls your pallet in a different direction. This actually serves to underscore the sweetness of crab, its signature trait. In addition to the above types of spice, smoked paprika, nutmeg and tarragon can also be added. Dill or fennel? I wouldn’t. I seldom spice anything exactly the same twice. The key here is the spicy pepper.
  • soy sauce: as desired
  • 1 or 2 shallots, diced fine, sautéed till soft in olive oil, removed from pan and set aside to cool
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper, diced, sautéed in olive oil, removed from pan and set aside to cool
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little soy sauce whisked in. Provided you don’t add too much spice to the cakes themselves, you can also add a couple shakes of Cholula here.
  • panko: approximately the same amount in volume as the crab meat. Start by mixing in about half the volume. That won’t feel like enough, so add more till it seems about right – not to wet, not too dry.
  • Olive oil and Butter

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the crab, seasonings, shallots, bell peppers, soy sauce and egg. Hands work best for this. Then mix in the panko. Shape the cakes into patties. Keep them fairly small so that they are easy to turn and they stay together.
  2. In a frying pan on medium heat, add enough olive oil and butter in equal parts to shallow-fry the cakes. When the oil is hot, set the timer for 4 minutes and add the cakes. Cover the pan and cook for 1 minute, then lower the temperature to a little below medium. It is important to check the cakes periodically to make sure the bottom side is browning the way you want.
  3. At 4 minutes, gently turn the cakes over and continue cooking uncovered. Occasionally spoon some of the oil-butter mixture on top of the cakes.

These are the best crab cakes I’ve ever had. All I ever want with them is a spritz of lemon. When Barbra and I pick a whole crab and dip it in herbed lemon-butter, we almost always go for a buttery, oaked Chardonnay. But these cakes want something lighter and more fruit forward, so Pinot Gris or similar pairs well.

Don’t Discard the Discard Sourdough Crackers

Delightfully crispy and packed with flavor: cheese-like tang, garlic, onion, with a hit of salt. You’ll never discard your discard starter again.

One day, I noticed a friend had posted on a community webpage that she had extra sourdough starter if anyone wanted it. It made me wonder about extra starter – a problem I don’t seem to encounter. Due to a combination of where we live and our predisposition to avoid waste, we generally don’t have “extra.” Of course, shortly after coming to the conclusion that we’d never have extra starter, I had a week where I skipped making sourdough loaves and wound up with “extra starter.” One of my recipe books recommended discarding the extra. What?! I decided to taste it, to see if the flavor would inspire a recipe. Tasting raw starter was a bad idea. Yuck! 

After a bit of research, I decided to tinker with a cracker recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour website. My first batch came out wonderfully flavored, but too soft. The problem was the thickness. My rolling pin and I could not get the dough thin enough. The solution came to me after rolling lasagna noodles – the pasta machine! If you’ve only ever thought of your pasta machine as a noodle machine, think again. Besides wonderfully flavored and textured linguini and spaghetti, I’ve also cranked out perfect bowties, ravioli and even wonton wrappers. This seemingly single-purposed machine helps perfectly roll sourdough to make satisfyingly crunchy crackers.

If you don’t have a pasta machine, I highly recommend the Atlas model we have. It is a heavy beast, but it is a kitchen tool that’s made the cut every time we’ve had to pack up and move. If you don’t want to add another item to your cupboards, a rolling pin will still work with this recipe. Be patient and aim to roll a thickness of about 1/16”.

The finished crackers have a tangy cheese-like flavor from the sourdough starter. This in combination with a mixture of onion and garlic and a hit of grey sea salt make these crackers very addicting. Serve with the complementary topping of your choice. Or enjoy their flavor unadorned, as I usually do.

Don’t Discard the Discard Sourdough Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp granulated shallots (onion powder would work, too)
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • olive oil for brushing
  • coarse salt for sprinkling on top (I like grey sea salt)

Directions

  1. Mix first 6 ingredients to form a smooth dough.
  2. Tightly cover in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I often refrigerate for several days.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or reusable liner.
  5. Cut off 1/4th of refrigerated dough and roll until it’s about 1/16” thick. I roll it like it is pasta on the pasta machine down to the 5th setting.
  6. Placed rolled dough on prepared baking sheet.
  7. Using a knife, or pastry roller, cut dough into cracker shapes. There is no need to move the crackers apart.
  8. Brush dough with olive oil.
  9. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
  10. Bake for 9 minutes.
  11. Crackers will be lightly browned when done.
  12. Let cool on wire rack. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container at room temperature.
  13. Repeat with remaining dough.

Lingonberry Flaugnarde Pour Deux

Flaugnarde is a lovely French name for a baked dessert which has fruit baked into a batter. The flaugnarde process creates a lightly crisped crust and a thick custard-like middle. Topped with ice cream, you’ll have a grand slam last course to any meal.

Lingonberries, known around here as low bush cranberries, are the last berry we forage for before we tuck in for winter. Collectors of these sour, flavorful gems are advised to wait until after the first frost for the best berries. We’ve learned that as long as the berries are fully red, the freezer also seems to do the same trick of enhancing their subtle sweetness.

Last year we found a killer spot for lingonberries across the lake. Looking back on the calendar where we kept noteworthy events, I noted that our several gallons of lingonberries in the freezer were collected in only two picking sessions. Now that’s a great spot!

Lingonberries can be used for cranberry recipes and vice versa. We’ve made lingonberry relish to go with roast turkey or moose, lingonberry breads to accompany poached egg breakfasts, and lingonberry juice for a hot spiced drink to warm up with on cold winter nights.

One of the tastiest recipes I’ve made with lingonberries is a version of Cranberry Chess Pie. It’s creamy filling packs a cranberry-orange, sweet-sour flavor punch inside a beautiful flaky pastry dough crust. This is the recipe I was channeling when I came up with a crustless version, which was supposed to be a little lighter on the calories. I can’t say I was successful with the calorie reduction. But I can say, it was incredibly delicious. I told Jack that I wished I could record his mmmming and ooohhing while he was eating this dessert. That would have been worth a thousand words.

Although this dessert is perfectly delicious on its own, I highly recommend serving it while it’s still warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. The dish will come out of the oven with a beautifully browned dome top. While it’s cooling, the flaugnarde will fall, creating a hollow perfectly shaped for a scoop of ice cream.

Lingonberry Flaugnarde

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 extra large egg or 2 small eggs
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups lingonberries

Directions

  1. Grease two 8 oz ramekins. Set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F (190C).
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar, butter, and salt. Mix together.
  4. Mix in eggs.
  5. Mix in flour.
  6. Mix in yogurt and almond extract.
  7. Mix well.
  8. Stir in lingonberries.
  9. Divide mixture into the prepared ramekins.
  10. Bake until top is golden brown and filling is firm, about 50 minutes.
  11. Cool ramekins on wire rack.
  12. Top warm flaugnarde with scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. Devour immediately.

Salmonberry Sour Cream Crumble Cake for Four (Or two. Or one.)

Salmonberry crumb cake

Springtime in Mongolia meant every kind of weather. Recently, this similarity to Chignik Lake has seemed to be especially true. A few days ago the lunchtime thermometer read 42 degrees under sunny skies and only a few patches of a deep snow that had blanked the landscape remained. We were inspired to go for a Honda ride to look for whatever new growth we might find. That was a few days ago…

Yesterday, we awoke to drizzly rain that morphed into melty, wet snow. Next thing we knew, we were immersed in a blizzard that blanketed us in again in a winter wonderland. This morning, the new day greeted us with broken skies, gusts of wind, a thermometer registering a chilly 16°, and new skim ice near the shoreline.

The warmth streaming in through our windows a few days ago prompted thoughts of summer – fishing, berry picking, mushroom hunting, boating, and the like. But the honda ride confirmed that even though the warmth of the sun is returning, the land is still in a deep wintery slumber. The blizzard kept me indoors, antsy – I really wanted a taste of summer, even though I know it is still months away. There is nothing more evocative of Alaskan summers than berries. Last year, we picked gallons of wild berries and carefully preserved them in our freezer – blueberries, raspberries, salmonberries, wineberries and lingonberries. Lately, I’ve been favoring the blueberries to top my oatmeal or to mix in with homemade yogurt. But to satisfy my craving for a  summer creation, I found myself drawn to the beautiful, multi-colored gems that are salmonberries. They have a tangy, sweet-sour flavor that pairs perfectly with almond – an ingredient I wanted to feature.

I was very happy with how this cake turned out. The diminutive dessert was just right for the two of us to share. The berries baked into the batter, retaining their jewel-like beauty. The cake was delectably moist. The flavors incorporated the lovely balance of natural sweet and sour. Each bite was complimented by the crumbly sweet almond topping. Full disclosure – it was intended for two desserts. We managed to finish the whole thing off in one delicious fell swoop.

Salmonberry Sour Cream Crumble Cake for Four (Or two. Or one.)

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Cake

  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 extra large egg (1 1/2 large eggs)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups salmonberries (if frozen, let thaw and drain off extra liquid)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180C).
  2. Line bottom of 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the sides of the pan with butter. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
  4. For the cake, in another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix together eggs, sour cream and almond extract.
  6. Add flour mixture for cake into the egg mixture. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan.
  8. Top with salmonberries.
  9. Sprinkle crumble mixture evenly over berry layer.
  10. Bake until topping is golden brown the the center is cooked, about 40 minutes. Test this with a toothpick. It should come out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.
  11. Let cake cool on wire rack in the pan for 20 minutes before removing springform sides.
  12. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Chignik Lake in 29 Photos: High Tide

Chignik River boat landing winter high tide
High Tide

From the bumpy dirt strip where small aircraft land and take off, about three-and-a-half miles of even bumpier dirt and gravel road threads through the village of Chignik Lake. This photograph was taken at the road’s terminus, the boat landing about four miles up the river from the ocean estuary and about two miles downriver from the village. Nine, 10 and even 11-foot tides push enough water up the river that we sometimes see ice and other objects flowing backwards up the lake.

Tides aren’t something we’re accustomed to thinking of on rivers, but we quickly learned that you’ve got to be mindful when it comes to parking your skiff: a rising tide will snatch away an unsecured boat; a falling tide can leave a skiff high and dry. Relaunching is no fun if the vessel has much weight to it. And you’ve got to be careful running the Chignik on a low tide. “Million Dollar River,” it’s been called for all the props and lower units it’s claimed over the years.

Fairly large boats are able to navigate the river on the big tides. Barges deliver building supplies, personal vehicles, heavy equipment and fuel to the landing – stuff that won’t fit on a small bush plane but that is necessary for building and maintaining a semi-wilderness village. Without these flood tides, there wouldn’t be a village here. You’ve got to watch where you park your truck though. (I bumped up the ISO on this hand-held shot. January 14, 2018. Nikon D800, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/200 @ f/8, ISO 1000, 70mm.)

Chignik Lake in 29 Photos: Swan Barque

Found art ice Chignik Lake
Swan Barque

In the first month of 2017, temperatures dropped into the single digits and stayed there. Coinciding with this, the Chignik’s infamous winds abated for a few days. Skim ice began forming on January 16. The following morning we woke to find the lake frozen solid.

Scattered around the lake close to shore, we found a few of these exquisite ice sculptures. Intricately crafted by natural forces, they looked to us like fine crystal. Upwelling – subsurface springs – may have played a role in their formation. Beyond that, they were mysteries.

They didn’t last long. Eventually the wind came up and piece by delicate piece they were dismantled. We never again found such beautifully detailed arrangements, and so I’m glad to have made a few photographs. The ice in the photo suggested to us a swan on a placid lake, or a sailing vessel. (Nikon D5, 105mm f/2.8, 1/125 @ f/14, ISO 125)

Chignik Lake in 29 Photos: Post Office Creek

Chignik Lake Post Office Creek in Snow
Post Office Creek

Barbra and I call the stream in the above photo Post Office Creek for its proximity to the former post office here in Chignik Lake. The post office has since relocated, but during the first three years we lived here, we regularly crossed this creek on foot as we traveled back and forth. Although our home sits just 60 paces from a lake full of water, this tiny creek holds an especial appeal and anytime I am near it, I find myself drawn to it, approaching stealthily for a careful look into its deeper pools.

From mid-spring through fall, there are char and sometimes salmon parr and one year a pair of Pink Salmon spawned in a riffle below the culvert where the road crosses. The char are wary, but by approaching quietly and giving one’s eyes a few moments to adjust, fish a foot long and even larger might be found. A cottonwood overlooking the mouth is a favorite perch for kingfishers, and when salmon are in the lake eagles can also be found there. Loons and mergansers regularly hunt the lake’s waters outside the creek mouth and yellowlegs can often be found wading and catching small fish along the shore.

During wintertime, there generally isn’t much evidence of life in the creek’s clear waters, but it’s there – char eggs waiting to hatch, caddis larvae along with mayfly and stonefly nymphs clinging to the undersides of rocks, a visiting heron catching small fish where the creek enters the lake, fresh otter and mink tracks at the mouth some mornings.

In summertime snipe nest in a marsh that seeps into the creek, and bears use it as a thoroughfare so that even in the village, you’re wise to carry bear spray if you’re walking that way. The dense thickets of willow and alder near its banks are a good place to look for warblers and thrushes. In fall Coho gather just below the creek’s mouth, resting before traveling to larger tributaries further up the lake. As Roderick Haig-Brown observed, a river never sleeps. Nor does Post Office Creek. I made this picture on January 13, 2021. (Nikon D850, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/50 @ f/22, ISO 400, 24mm)