About Jack & Barbra Donachy

Writers, photographers, food lovers, anglers, travelers and students of poetry

Subsistence Salmon Beach Seining on Chignik Lake

This short video shows a group of Chignik Lake residents beach seining for Sockeye Salmon along the shores of Chignik Lake. The salmon thus harvested were later distributed to village members.

I didn’t have the lenses I might have preferred to have with me, and I have just barely begun the journey into videography, but on a recent hike up the lake to the mouth of Clarks River, an opportunity presented itself. Jake and Jamie pulled up to the beach in Jamie’s skiff and in a few minutes were joined by several other friends and neighbors who had traveled upcountry by honda. The plan was to do some beach seining along the lakeshore for Sockeye (Red) Salmon, with the request that since I was there, would I take some photos? 

I’d made the hike in hopes of finding interesting macro shots, or perhaps a moose or bear in a landscape setting. The 105mm prime lens attached to my camera wasn’t ideal for the shoot at hand, but it was the lens in hand – neither long enough to adequately capture the bear that was fishing at the mouth of Clarks when I first arrived, nor wide enough to capture the sweeping landscape the netting operation was set against. 

Nonetheless, I really got into recording this event, which has been occurring here in the Chigniks in one form or another for thousands of years. In fact, if you look closely along lake and river beaches where salmon harvesting has long occurred, you might get lucky and find stone artifacts such as the ones in the photo below.

From upper left, counterclockwise: The notched ends in the first three stones indicate that they were used as weights along the lead line – the bottom line – of a fishing net. The oblong object in the upper right is an ulu-like knife that would have been used to split salmon carcasses before they were hung to dry. It is still quite sharp. The two center pieces are arrowheads. 

Most of the time in most places, salmon spawn over clean gravel or small rocks in clear-flowing rivers and streams. Sockeye Salmon, however, often spawn along lake shorelines where upwelling in the form of small underwater springs is present. There doesn’t have to be a stream as long as enough water is seeping up through lakebed gravel in water a few feet deep. There the female Sockeye will scrape out her nest, her redd, with her tail, deposit her eggs which a male at her side will fertilize, and then push gravel back over the eggs to protect them while they incubate. Shortly after they’ve spawned, all the adult salmon will die. Their decaying carcasses provide a vital source of nutrition for the various zooplankton and small insects upon which their young will feed until they’ve matured sufficiently to migrate out to sea.

This past season, beginning in late May or early June, over half a million Red Salmon ascended the Chignik River. While many spawn in the lake itself, many others spawn in the Chignik River as well as in several tributary streams and rivers. These salmon, along with the Pink, Chum, Coho and Chinook that also run the Chignik, are foundational to life here. They provide food for our abundant bears, eagles, otters, seals and other wildlife, provide a nutrient base for the lakes and rivers, and, with the help of Brown Bears, become fertilizer for berry flats, wildflowers and other vegetation which, in turn, feed everything from mushrooms to mice to caterpillars to songbirds. It would be no exaggeration to say that every living thing along the Chignik is connected to salmon. That includes the 50-some residents of Chignik Lake, among which Barbra and I are two.

Absolute Perfect Peace (or Lingonberry Banana Breakfast Gems)

Warm rolls stuffed with cranberry banana jam, a fried egg and a freshly brewed cuppa joe – what a great way to start a day!

August through early September see the peak of the berry picking season here at Chignik Lake. We start with salmonberries, move into blueberries, wineberries (aka nagoon berries), and crowberries (aka blackberries) and finish up with lingonberries (aka lowbush cranberries). Somewhere in the middle of all that, we can find porcini (aka bolete) mushrooms. But, those aren’t a berry, are they?

Berry picking has always been a joy for me. Something about finding little sweet edible treasures is pleasurable, but it’s more than the happiness of the find alone that I love. A couple of weekends ago, we went across the lake to pick cranberries. The berries grow by the bucketloads on little hillocks in and around boggy areas where blueberries and mushrooms also thrive. The air was sweet and pure, the breeze was soft. Sitting on the little hillocks, you can grab small handfuls at a time of the small red gems. At their varying stages of growth, they range in color from candy apple to a deep merlot. Their sizes, too, vary – with lunkers attaining the size of a large pea. Some people like to use a rake-like scoop (that works a lot like a bear claw) to pick the little berries. I enjoy picking them by hand. I find it is more satisfying to pick this way and it produces a cleaner haul.

The hike to the bog that day was beautiful, the trail colored up with the fiery reds and oranges of fireweed and wild geranium leaves, and the yellows, golds and browns of fall willows and grasses. Sometimes we pick together and talk quietly. On this day we were in sight of each other, but enjoying our immersive experience separately. I got so engrossed in my task, I didn’t notice the others who had joined us in the picking until movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. About a football field away was a mama bear and her two fat cubs. The big babies were tussling about while mama raked up berries with her long claws and feasted. I looked over at Jack, who was also a football field away from me in a different direction to see if he noticed. Sure enough, he and his camera were capturing the scene. The mama bear sniffed in our direction to ensure her babies were safe. Having detected no need for concern, the little family grazed for a while longer and then ambled on their way. What a place we live in, where we can safely berry pick alongside these great beings. The only other sound the entire time we picked was that of the breeze rustling through the vegetation and a few late sparrows chirping from the hillside.

When we got home, I rinsed and dried the berries and then popped them into the freezer for later use. Today’s recipe is made with one of my favorite jams, banana lingonberry. The recipe comes from a publication put out by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It might seem like a strange combination of fruits as both bananas and lingonberries both have strong flavors. However, together they are quite complementary. Of course, the breakfast roll recipe can be made with any flavor of jam. These lingonberry gems were made in honor of the beautiful outing picking berries.

Wild Berry Jam Breakfast Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ tbsp yeast
  • 1 ½ tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk powder (can use whole, nonfat, buttermilk)
  • Generous pinch salt
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 2 ½ tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 tbsp wild berry jam

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine ½ cup all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, yeast, sugar, milk powder and salt.
  2. Mix in water and butter.
  3. Beat in remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, until dough pulls away from sides of bowl.
  4. Switch to dough hook and knead for a couple of minutes. Dough should be smooth, soft, and springy.
  5. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 60 minutes.
  6. Grease an 8-inch cake pan or a 9-inch pie plate.
  7. Cut dough into 8 pieces.
  8. Roll dough into balls and place into prepared pan with space around them.
  9. Using your thumb, make a depression in the center of each dough ball.
  10. Cover pan with a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  11. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.
  12. Divide jam evenly into each depression in the rolls.
  13. Place the pan in a cold oven and turn the heat to 350°F.
  14. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Rolls will be golden brown when done.
  15. Let cool slightly on a wire rack.
  16. Serve warm from oven as is, or drizzle with powdered sugar glaze, or dust with powdered sugar.

Kita the Kitten: Welcome to a Life of Adventure, Chapter I

We’d been considering adding to our family for quite awhile, but the timing and the situation never seemed quite right. After having Buster in our life, we felt the urge even more strongly. He was such a great dog – an eager hiker, a terrific optimist and a joy to be around. We could easily imagine going on hikes and trips with a dog just like him. So, we began watching dog training videos. But when it came to envisioning how a dog might fit into our sometimes unpredictable lives, we had to conclude that now was not the right time.

Then there was the idea of a cat. We loved having Franny in our life back when we lived in Sacramento. She loved chatting, playing and being part of our lives. Her mischief was confined to unrolling toilet paper and pulling socks (only mine) out of drawers. Her lone drawback was that she hated being in a car. And so, her adventures were confined to our home.

Out of curiosity, I began doing some internet searches on pet adoption in Anchorage. There are a surplus of dogs and cats needing forever homes. I suppose this is true of most cities. Jack and I would “aww” over all sorts of pictures, all the while becoming more and more serious about adding a new family member. The more pictures we looked at, the more honed in we became on what sort of pet would fit into our family. This furry friend would need to be friendly, communicative, and happy to go on adventures.

After much deliberation, we decided a cat would make for the best fit. We thought we could find a kitten that we could leash train and also one that could be taught to understand that car noises are not scary. The hope is that one day she would be on the road with us, traveling around the country in our camper. Once our search began in earnest, as often is the case, things quickly fell into place.

There are several organizations in Anchorage that adopt out cats and kittens. My internet searches kept bringing me back to the Alaska Cat Adoption Team’s (ACAT) website. There was a picture of this one kitten… how can a picture tug at heartstrings, I’ll never know. But it did. I showed Jack. Same reaction. Love at first sight. In our conversations, we had already named her Kita, which means North in Japanese.

I contacted Kita’s foster care person, Terri, to see what the process was. Terri, of course, turned out to be a big-hearted lady with a commitment to helping the growing feral cat population in Anchorage. She told me stories of her recent rescues and about the kittens she was currently fostering. Then she broke the news that someone was coming to look at Kita that very day.

Oh no! ACAT has a strict policy about rehoming. They require the prospective owner to come and visit the adoptee in person to make sure there is a positive connection. ACAT is trying to ensure that their cats get placed in a forever home. Disappointed, I gave Terri my contact information and asked her to let me know if Kita’s adoption didn’t go through. Meanwhile, Terri offered to help me find another cat that might fit, so we left off our conversation on a positive note.

A few days later, I got a call from Terri. They guy who was going to adopt Kita kept missing his appointments, leaving her unsure that adoption was going to happen. Jack and I pounced on the opportunity. We were ready to happily commit to Kita’s adoption. We paid a reservation fee and I began organizing a trip to Anchorage. In the meanwhile, Terri called or emailed almost daily with reports and photos of our new little friend playing with her foster siblings, snoozing in different place, and generally being cute.

Kita is now in her new home, having survived her first adventure with her new family. I couldn’t tell the story as well as she can, so I’ll let her tell it.

Well, it’s been quite a couple of days! First, I went with my new owner to a hotel. It was a cool and strange scene. The place was almost devoid of smells and was humming with funny sounds. There were these curious glass panels with kittens behind them that looked just like me! By the time I was finished sussing out the place, night had fallen. I climbed up on a gigantic bed, nestled into a hundred pillows and proceeded to fall asleep. Then, all of a sudden, there were terrifying creaking sounds like the building was going to break. Fearing the worst and not knowing what to do, I jumped up and hid under the bed. A few minutes later a ringing sound made Barbra turn on the light and talk into a little machine. I heard her say “8.2 magnitude? Are you ok? I’m relieved to hear that.” She seemed worried for a bit. Finally, she quieted down, I climbed back onto the bed and we both fell asleep. A short time later, a loud alarm went off and scared both of us awake. Turns out it was a false alarm, maybe triggered by the earlier earthquake. At that point, both of us were too amped up to sleep. We turned our attention to playing games with the feather toy Barbra had brought for me.

Soon it was time to snuggle into my travel crate. I cuddled in with a blanket and a soft shirt that smelled just like Barbra. After a sleepy car ride, we waited in a warm building where kind people curiously peeked in at me. After a time, I noticed strange smells and some weird noises coming from other crates that looked kind of like mine but were much bigger. My crate was set atop these others and I was wheeled outside. One after another, we were loaded onto a plane. First the geese, then the pig, then a box of ducklings, and finally me. The smells coming from those crates were quite intense! I watched Barbra take a seat, the engine roared and we ascended into the air! When the plane stopped, all the smelly animals were disembarked and I got to sit right next to my friend, Barbra. This was much better.

The next time we landed, I met Jack. He put me into the truck cab and the three of us drove to my new home. Jack’s a very busy guy who likes to make noise in the kitchen. I could tell he loved me right away because he played with me and petted me very nicely. He even spoke to me in Japanese, which I couldn’t understand, but then he gave me some delicious salmon!

Let me tell you about my new home. It’s big and has very different noises than my foster home. I get all the attention from my two people. They love to play with me. They even made me some new toys. I love to sit on the windowsill and watch the birds at the window feeders. If I get tired, there are soft blankets for me to nap on. At nighttime, I get to share a bed with my new warm family. I think I’m going to have a great life with many fun adventures with these two.

Peach Melba Reimagined as Summertime Salmonberry Peach Muffins

Summertime around here is almost indescribable. At this time of the year, hundreds of thousands of salmon are ascending our river. Many shades of green have raced to the tops of the surrounding hillsides and to the highest points of all but the very tallest peaks. From riverbanks to the edges of mountaintop snow patches, there are flowers popping open in every imaginable color. And now the first berries of summer are starting to ripen – salmonberries. It is a well-documented fact that Alaska’s wild berries have an astonishing amount of health benefits due to our long sunlit days. But that’s not really why we pick them and eat them. They are beautiful and luscious.

The rainbow of colors that adorn ripe salmonberries is bewitching. They can be found in alluring golds, bright oranges, and deep reds. They can be as small as raspberries or as big as what I like to call lunkers, berries as big as a yellow school bus. I have a strong affection for all berries, but salmonberries in my opinion are the most beautiful.

This muffin recipe is inspired by the classic dessert – Peach Melba. This dessert showcases the complementary flavors of poached peaches and fresh tart raspberries. I’m sure this muffin recipe could be improved with the substitution of fresh peaches in place of canned. But thousands of miles from a fresh peach, canned sufficed in my remote Alaskan kitchen. What makes these muffins work so well is the technique of tucking the berries into the middle – a lovely surprise for diners.

These muffins taste like a celebration of summer. We enjoyed ours this morning with a big cup of French Roast coffee, a fried egg and a thick slice of our friend Michelle’s homemade bacon. Now we’re fueled up and ready to go for a hike up one of those beautiful green-sloped mountains.

Salmonberry Peach Muffins

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ of 15 oz. can peaches in light syrup, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen salmonberries

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Grease 6-muffin tin (I use a silicone pan without the butter).
  3. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, egg, butter, and milk.
  4. Stir flour, baking powder and salt into the mixture.
  5. Carefully stir in chopped peaches.
  6. Evenly divide ½ of the batter into each muffin cup.
  7. Evenly divide salmonberries on top of batter.
  8. Cover salmonberries with remaining batter.
  9. Bake muffins until golden and springy to the touch, about 25 minutes.
  10. Let cool in pan on rack for about 5 minutes before removing muffins.
  11. Serve warm as part of a delicious summertime brunch.

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.