Abundance

Alaska subsistence gathering natural abundance

Freshly picked wild blueberries, wineberries, and a perfect King Bolete mushroom…

Mid-August in The Chigniks. The river and its spawning tributaries are filled with hundreds of thousands of salmon, its shores thickly blanketed in shades of green rivaling and perhaps surpassing images of Emerald Isles elsewhere. In meadows and bogs a profusion of wildflowers continues to bloom, progressing with the seasons from the irises, chocolate lilies, violets and lupine of spring to the fireweed, cotton grass, goldenrod and yarrow of late summer, yellow paintbrush and wild geranium overlapping the seasons. Salmonberries, their orange and red hues evoking the colors of spawning Sockeyes and Chinook, are nearly over now, gallons carefully vacuum-packed and tucked away in the freezer for the coming winter. Meanwhile, the skies are filled with birds. Our finches – redpolls, siskins and Pine Grosbeaks – apparently had a banner nesting season as did The Chignik’s Golden-crowned and Fox Sparrows. They’ve recently been joined by flocks of canary-colored yellow warblers in the midst of their annual late-summer migration through the Chigniks.

Coho are beginning to trickle into the river. They’ll begin arriving in force later this month, just as the feral raspberries and red currants around the village are ripening. Startlingly brightly colored Red-backed Voles seem to be everywhere, their abundance a boon to the Rough-legged Hawks which nest on a riverside cliff and managed to successfully rear and fledge four chicks this year. Bears continue to amble along the river and lakeshore, but most have moved upstream toward the headwaters of salmon-rich spawning grounds. There are even a few caribou around, moose, and the other evening we watched a porcupine meander up the lakeshore. Now and then a Harbor Seal or River Otter pops its head above the water’s surface to check out whomever might be strolling the shore. Families of teal and wigeons have been taking advantage of thick patches or water crowfoot growing and blooming in the cove near our home. Yesterday morning we were startled awake by the cry of a loon out on the lake.

Blueberries now. A skiff ride across the lake, a short hike along a disappearing trail, now nearly overgrown in salmonberry stalks, fireweed, cow parsnip and willows. We crest a hill carpeted with lowbush cranberries and descend into a wide, open area – a remnant of the boggy tundra that not so very long ago predominated this ever-changing landscape. The bushes are low, only inches above thick, spongy mats of lichen we kneel in as we pick. The berries out here on the Alaska Peninsula are not large – no “lunkers” of the size we picked last year in Newhalen. But lots. And lots. Mushrooms, too. Good ones. They and a few coveted wineberries are added to the gathering. Though we are not far from the village, the only sounds are berries making satisfying plunks in our containers, birds chattering and calling, and, yes, the occasional whine of mosquitoes. In the quiet of the natural world, our minds drift into zen-like states. As we fall asleep that night, blueberries will play on our eyelids like a movie on a screen.

Picking finished for the day, hiking back out, backpack of berries, our skiff anchored along a rocky beach we come to a surprised halt when we see a family of three Sandhill Cranes there – mom and dad in rich, russet-colored feathers, their nearly grown chick in drabber gray. Perhaps they are working the shoreline for caddis larvae. We hate disturbing them, but it’s time to go. As we draw near to the skiff, we see our owls perched in alder and cottonwood snags on the bluff near Otter Creek. All four, the adults and their two offspring whiling away the day till nighttime. The young are still in creamy-white down, their “ear” tufts barely emerging, but they are fully fledged now and capable of strong flight. Again, we hated to bother them. They flew off a short distance and watched us load our skiff, start the engine and cruise home.

Slices of boletes sautéed in butter and garlic on zucchini pizza for dinner, a game of Scrabble, a favorite TV show downloaded from the Internet, twilight and outside our windows the nearby whistling cries of hungry Great-horned Owls siblings waiting for a vole or two from their parents.

 

 

Hot off the Grill: Two-Cheese Alaska Salmon Burgers

Wild Alaska Salmon on pan toasted homemade English muffins, wild Alaska blueberries and a big mug of coffee – a wild way to start the weekend.

This is easy. Take a wild salmon fillet, remove the skin, chop up the fillet and put it in a bowl. Add equal parts grated mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese. Sprinkle in a spicy seasoning – something with smoked chipotle is especially nice. No salt needed as the cheese should be salty enough. That’s it. Now shape the mixture into burgers and fry in olive oil, flipping once.

Served on English muffins that have been pan toasted in olive oil, these make for a terrific weekend brunch. Or put the burgers in traditional hamburger buns. Try them with a little Dijon mustard. Bon appétit!

Nobu West Comes North: Paper-Thin Salad with Wild Alaska Sockeye Tataki

Crisp, paper thin vegetables and a tangy, spicy jalapeño dressing accent flash fried Sockeye salmon in this fusion salad from chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards. 

For the first time this summer, yesterday was downright cool. We rode our Hondas 25 miles over a combination of paved road and then ever narrowing dirt and gravel to see the falls on the Tazimina River, northeast of Newhalen. Our jackets were zipped against the fall-like chill in the air. With most of the fireweed going to seed, the Sockeye run long over and Barbra due to begin her school year later this week, I wanted to prepare a dish that might capture a sense of summer’s fleeting final days in a land where autumn comes early. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc was already chilling in the refrigerator.

I found what I was looking for in the cookbook Nobu West, a joint effort between Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards. The key to this salad is to use a mandolin to slice the vegetables as thin as possible and then to soak them in ice water to make them as crisp.

Salmon Tataki with Paper-Thin Salad (from Nobu West, by Nobu Matsuhisa & Mark Edwards)

Ingredients

Vegetables

  • small red beet
  • carrot
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • red radish
  • cucumber
  • other vegetables as desired

Jalapeño Dressing

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, diced fine
  • 6½ tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp garlic chopped fine
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup grape seed oil (or extra virgin olive oil, etc.)

Salmon Tataki

  • sashimi grade salmon fillet(s), skin removed, seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper
  • bowl of ice water
  • stainless steel or cast iron pan and cooking oil with a high smoking point (such as avocado oil)

Directions

1.  Vegetables: Prepare two bowls of ice water. Use a mandolin to slice vegetables lengthwise as thin as possible. Immerse slices in ice water for an hour to make the vegetables crisp. Do the beets separately, using a separate bowl, to keep them from coloring the other vegetables. (You might want to wear nitrile gloves to keep the beets from staining your fingers.)

2. Jalapeño Dressing: You will need a stick blender or food processor for this.
– Place diced jalapeño, vinegar, garlic and sea salt in food processor (or in a narrow container suitable to a stick blender). Purée ingredients.
– Continuing to process ingredients, slowly drizzle in olive oil. (If the ingredients separate, whisk together just before serving.)

3.  Salmon Tataki:
– Place cooking oil in a frying pan and heat on medium-high.
– When oil is ready to sizzle, sear salmon fillet, frying for about 5 seconds on each side. Outside of salmon should be white where cooked.
– Plunge seared salmon into ice water to stop cooking and to firm up flesh. Pat dry with paper towels and refrigerate till ready for use.
– Just before serving , cut salmon fillet into thin strips, about ¼ inch thick. Do this at the last moment so that the salmon remains flavorful.

4. Serving the salad:
– Pour jalapeño dressing on serving plates so that it covers the plates.
– Arrange salmon strips on plates.
– Place vegetables on salmon to form a mound.

Serve immediately while vegetables and salmon are still chilled.

 

 

Wild About Wild Mushrooms – Lentil and Wild Porcini Pâté

Wild Alaskan porcini mushrooms star in this pâté recipe – the perfect snack or appetizer served on rice crackers, summer squash or zucchini. 

Many years ago, Jack and I took a mushroom foraging class from a park ranger in Oregon. With the help of our instructor, we learned about local mushrooms and actually found one King Bolete mushroom. At the end of that experience, I had more fear of “false mushrooms” that could make me sick or even kill me than anything else. Since then, I’ve been on countless hikes and found countless mushrooms I wouldn’t dare eat – even though they look perfectly safe. When we moved to Newhalen and began fishing and foraging for berries, we began noticing mushrooms the color of browned bread. Big ones. As usual, Jack and I wondered if they were edible. After one quick wondering, we resigned ourselves to knowing our mushrooms would come from a store and went back to the task at hand.

We were delighted to learn that one of the locals here in Newhalen is an expert on mushrooms. She volunteered to take a few of us out a couple of weeks ago and teach us about Newhalen fungi. Turns out, all those big mushrooms we had been seeing are types of boletes (otherwise known as porcini) and are not just edible, but are delicious!

Many people dry these mushrooms. We also heard that they can be frozen. After a bit of experimenting, we decided to vacuum-pack them and freeze them for the winter. Of course, we’ve kept out a few for now. Many have already starred in our recent evening meals – sautéed with garlic in olive oil to serve over pasta and atop Swiss mushroom burgers. Mmmm. Both of us are alive and kicking and now armed with confidence to continue foraging for these delicious beauties on our local hikes.

I came up with this mushroom pâté recipe a couple of years ago with store-bought ingredients. It was created with an intent to mimic one of my favorite Jewish foods – chopped chicken liver. This recipe not only tastes surprisingly like the delicious spread from my memory, but it brings it into the category of good for you, not just tasty. Traditional chopped chicken liver recipes are loaded with flavorful, but not so healthy fats. The chicken liver itself is low in fat but is high in cholesterol. You can use store-bought crimini, button, or shiitake mushrooms. But if you have access to wild porcini or other wild mushrooms, they will up the flavor of this pâté. Also, don’t save this recipe for a special occasion. This scrumptious mushroom and lentil spread is packed with flavor, is low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber and protein, which makes it a go-to for a pre-run snack or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Nutrition Info Lentil Wild Porcini Pâté

Wild Porcini Mushroom and Lentil Pâté

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked lentils, any color
  • 2 cups chopped wild porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp honey
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • extra olive oil, needed

Directions

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat 4 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook until they are soft and cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, lemon juice, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, sage, honey, and cayenne.
  6. Stir in mushroom mixture.
  7. Using a stick blender (or food processor), purée the mixture.
  8. Add in cooked lentils.
  9. Purée the mixture until smooth.
  10. If the mixture feels too thick, thin it with additional olive oil.
  11. Salt to taste.

Cedar Planked Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Salmon, Blueberries and Goat Cheese

Cedar planks on the grill infuse salmon and mushroom caps with an irresistibly smokey flavor, and the indirect heat ensures for a deliciously moist, perfectly cooked bite.

With enough freshly caught, silver-bright Sockeye Salmon vacuum packed and in the freezer, we’ve lately turned our attention to gathering wild blueberries (while waiting for Coho Salmon – the stars of the fly-fishing season – to begin running). This recipe is a snap, and although grilling over charcoal on cedar requires a bit of extra effort, you’ll be glad you took the trouble.

Cedar Planked Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Salmon, Blueberries and Goat Cheese

Ingredients: You will need one or more untreated cedar planks soaked in water for at least a couple of hours

  • Crimini or Portobella mushroom caps (stems removed and set aside and a shallow depression cut into each cap’s center)
  • Mushroom stems, chopped coarse
  • Fillet of wild-caught Pacific Salmon seasoned with Italian herbs (or your own favorites) and broiled, grilled or pan fried till just cooked through. (Should flake easily). This step will remove some of the liquid from the fillets and result in a firmer dish.
  • Goat cheese, crumbled or cut into bean-sized pieces
  • Blueberries
  • Garlic chopped fine
  • Soy sauce
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Additional herbs and spices to taste
  • Sherry or dry white wine

Directions

  1. Fire up the grill.
  2. Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl and gently fold together. Fingers work best for this. Take care not to overwork the mixture.
  3. Stuff each mushroom cap and place on a cedar plank that has been well soaked in water.
  4. Place plank with stuffed mushrooms over hot charcoal. Cover grill with vented lid to ensure for high temperature.
  5. Depending on how hot the grill is, allow for 10 to 20 minutes cooking time. Mushrooms should be completely cooked through.
  6. Serve warm.

The Bounty of Newhalen, Alaska

Start with greens from a friend’s garden. Layer on chopped summer squash, zucchini and roasted beets from the Farm Lodge. Add slices of tomato and avocado from same-day-Costco-delivery. Sprinkle with feta cheese and squirts of lemon from Fred Meyer mail order. Top off the salad with local hand-picked blueberries and cedar-plank grilled wild sockeye salmon from the Newhalen River. Serve with homemade onion focaccia and a glass of lightly chilled, deliciously buttery chardonnay. Now that’s a meal!

Jack and I have moved a few times. Well, many times compared to the average American. According to a quick search, several articles agree that the average American moves just over 11 times in their lifetime after the age of one. Defining moving as leaving one residence and occupying another for over three months, our most recent move puts Jack’s count at 21 and my count at 18. It’s a good thing that, generally speaking, we both enjoy moving.

As for our moves together – eight in all, we’ve always looked forward to figuring out where to relocate, learning about unfamiliar places and embracing the opportunities that come with new. This last move was different though. This time moving wasn’t a choice. That put a huge damper on our normal excitement. In fact, it was the most difficult move we have experienced together. We didn’t want to leave Chignik Lake. I didn’t want to leave my students or my school. They are a terrific group of kids supported by a wonderful group of parents and a great community. We didn’t want to leave the little wilderness village surrounded by stunning mountains. We didn’t want to leave the lake and the adjoining river that serves as the main highway – by skiff – in a mostly roadless landscape. We didn’t want to leave the salmon, the birds we were documenting, and the charismatic megafauna like wolverine, wolves, foxes, moose, otters and brown bears that were regular parts of our lives there.

Last spring, when the school enrollment was hanging steady at two fewer than the state-required ten, the school board voted to close the school and move me to another site. The site with said opening was in Newhalen, Alaska. (See Where in the world is Newhalen, Alaska?) Last April, I had a chance to come visit Newhalen and scope it out. It was during that trip that this lovely village began courting me. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful flight from Chignik Lake to Newhalen. The sky was clear and blue. The portion of the flight over Lake Iliamna was stunning – imagine a huge multi-hued blue lake rimmed by snow-capped mountains. “Wow!” I mouthed to myself as we landed in nearby Iliamna. It wasn’t Chignik Lake, but it sure was beautiful. During my visit, I learned several appealing things about the Newhalen area that made the location very attractive. It would be easy to bring our truck and fishing boat over. I found out that there were many nearby places to hike and boat. All the people I met were very welcoming and seemed happy we would be joining the community.

Back home in Chignik Lake, as the process of packing and shipping continued and the cloud of leaving our home hovered, the memory of the blue-hued lake faded along with all the appealing details.

Then, in June, we moved. As we began settling into our new home, Newhalen took up courting where she had left off back in April. As promised, Sockeye salmon began their run in earnest up the Newhalen River in July. In a matter of a few easy outings, armed with flies we had tied, Jack and I filled our freezer with our goal of 100 pounds of filets. Those days were mostly sunny, clear and warm. The scenery at the new fishing hole at the Newhalen Rapids was astoundingly beautiful.

As the salmon finished their run, it became time for berry picking. We’ve lived in the bush long enough to know not to ask where to pick berries. People always have their secret spots and obviously are not keen to share that specific knowledge. Turns out the best spot to pick blueberries in Newhalen is Anywhere! I had heard that there were lots of berries, but brother, lots of berries is an understatement. Oh, Newhalen, you are really working your magic.

The bounty of Newhalen is not just about what naturally occurs in this locale. Many people garden around here. We have already been lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of fresh strawberries and salad greens straight from the garden onto our plates! We were happy to learn that the Farm Lodge will regularly deliver its greenhouse fare to us in Newhalen, as it did to Chignik Lake. The icing on the cake turned out to be same-day delivery of produce (and anything else we need) from Costco in Anchorage. Did you read that? Same. Day.

As bonafide foodies, we are now officially in hog heaven. Newhalen continues to do her magic. We will always have an abiding love for Chignik Lake. But if you can’t be with the one you love, love the place you’re in. 😉

Where in the World is Newhalen, Alaska?

The red star (just right of center) marks Newhalen, Alaska – our new home at the mouth of the Newhalen River on the shores of Lake Iliamna. Temporarily up in the air this past spring with the closing of the school in Chignik Lake, we’ve landed in the heart of some of the best trout and salmon fishing in Alaska – and hence in the world. 

On June 21st, we said our goodbye-for-nows to friends in Chignik Lake, boarded a small bush plane, and bid farewell to the tiny village in the Alaska wilderness that had been our home for the past three years. Our summer has been something of a whirlwind since.

A parting view of our wonderful village on Chignik Lake. The red dot (near center) marks our home there. The good news is that in late July, a family with children moved to The Lake, so the school is restored to the minimum enrollment necessary to open this fall. 

From The Lake, we flew straight to Newhalen and began familiarizing ourselves with our new community. The house we were to move into was still occupied, so we quickly tucked ourselves into a nearby apartment, boarded another plane, and flew across Cook Inlet (the large body of water on the right side of the above map) to Homer where our truck, camper, C-Dory fishing boat and canoe have been in storage. The scramble was on.

It’s hard to believe this photo of Gillie was taken over 10 years ago in Cordova, Alaska. She’ll be happy to be exploring Lake Iliamna and other nearby waters near our new home.

Six days later, we’d made the drive to Anchorage to take care of errands, appointments and catching up with friends, drove back to Homer (450 miles round trip), delivered the truck, canoe and boat to a transportation company to be barged across Cook Inlet, driven on a haul road to Lake Iliamna, then barged across the lake to our home, returned the camper to storage in Homer, then flew back to Newhalen. Two weeks later, our house-to-be opened up and we began moving in. Since then, we’ve been engaged in daily projects large and small, turning this house into our home.

Meanwhile, we’ve been sandwiching in regular runs in preparation for the half-marathon we’ve signed up for in October, tying flies, catching salmon and putting away 100 pounds of beautiful Newhalen River Sockeye in our freezer, squeezing in a little guitar practice, picking blueberries (gotta have berry security for the coming months) and managing to still have time for our traditional evening games of Scrabble or chess. We’ve barely touched photography and writing during this time.

A thick mattress of soft lichen makes sitting or kneeling to pick blueberries quite comfortable. There is also an abundance of lingonberry (low bush cranberry) along with crowberries and, here and there, cloudberries.

We have begun to get the lay of the land. For about three weeks in mid-July, a nearly steady stream of tens of thousands of salmon ascended the Newhalen River. The fish get temporarily bottlenecked at The Rapids – a spectacular piece of unnavigable white water that forces the salmon close to the banks were anglers (such as ourselves) attempt to get a fly into their mouths. Where there are salmon there are bears, and although we haven’t seen any yet, there are signs of their presence. We have seen a couple of foxes, a set of moose tracks, and a number of interesting birds including ospreys, merlins and loons. The landscape is a mix of tundra with berry patches everywhere (and I mean everywhere) and taiga forest predominated by black spruce and some white spruce. The horizon is shaped by mountains.

With very limited roads, Hondas (ATVs/quads) are a great way to get out and explore. There are extensive trail systems lacing through the area.

With only a few miles of road and no practical way in or out of the village except by plane, this is till the Alaska bush. But coming from truly remote Arctic villages such as Shishmaref and Point Hope as well as Chignik Lake nearly 300 miles down the Alaska Peninsula, Newhalen and its sister village five miles up the road, Iliamna, are like no bush village we’ve lived in. Some of the roads here are paved! This is a hub for commercial fishermen, sport anglers and eco-tourists, and as such, the area has a decidedly cosmopolitan feel about it. Fairly large planes fly in and out, there is a modern, fully-staffed health clinic, a small grocer and a slightly larger, exceptionally well-stocked general store that carries everything from food to hardware to clothing with even a little fishing tackle in the mix. And get this: we can now get same-day delivery from Costco. It almost feels like cheating. “Cush Bush,” we’ve heard it called. Or “Bush Lite.”

Iconic Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park is just 90 miles – a short bush flight – from Newhalen. (Photo Credit: NPS/Michael Fitz – https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/view.htm?id=76833AAD-1DD8-B71B-0B3BA028DA419061)

At the same time, there are only about 300 residents between the two villages. During our three to five mile morning runs along the main road, we’ve never seen more than a handful vehicles. And the people here are super friendly. New friends at the airport call us when we have freight, and folks at the post office are happy to do the same when we’re expecting something important. Whether we’re on our bicycles, running, or driving our pickup, virtually everyone waves as they drive by. And it’s quiet. Not Chignik Lake quiet, but aside from an occasional plane, once we’re beyond the edge of town all we can usually hear is birds chattering and the distant roar of the Newhalen River. Inside our home, we hear almost nothing from outside. There are no police officers, virtually no litter, and most people don’t bother locking their doors.

Coho Salmon will be arriving in the river soon. A few miles beyond the village the Tazimina River is renowned for trophy-sized grayling and rainbow trout over 20 inches. Fly fishermen catch rainbows that large and larger at the mouth of the Newhalen, a 15 minute walk from our home. We’re a short bush plane ride from Katmai National Park, famous for the Brooks Falls where massive brown bears gather to intercept migrating salmon. As part of the Bristol Bay watershed, rivers that fill with salmon, not to mention trout and char of huge proportions, lie in just about every direction.

When I was a young boy, sometimes my grandfather Donachy would let me have his old issues of Sports Afield, Outdoor Life and Field and Stream. I’d pore over those magazines, reading them cover to cover and then reading my favorite articles again and again. That’s where I first learned of Lake Iliamna, this massive body of water fed by streams and rivers filled with fish, its shores patrolled by wolves, bears and moose, a few isolated Indian villages dotting the landscape, bush planes the only way in… It was the stuff to make a young boy dream.

Well. Here we are.

Fireweed flowers are near their finish, but here and there harebell is in full bloom. We’ve finally got our cameras out and are beginning to really dig in and explore this exciting part of Alaska, so stay tuned!

 

Thank You Molly! Cloudberry Sorbet Recipe

Thanks Molly! Here’s the recipe for cloudberry sorbet. It’s one of our favorites! We sure do miss picking cloudberries. (But, we think we found a “secret patch” for next year!)

Years ago, we were introduced to cloudberries in Point Hope. I was immediately smitten. Looking back over our blog recipes, I could see how my imagination was fired up with these fragile salmon-colored beauties. I turned out cloudberry jams, syrups, cakes, cookies, scones and our very favorite – cloudberry sorbet.

In the late summer, we would pick these jewels out on the Arctic tundra. They grew in soggy marsh atop small, rounded knolls. North of the Arctic Circle, berry picking was always wet and cold and sometimes mosquito-infested. Looking across the tundra, I would first see the dark plants hugging the ground on bumps of land. As soon as my eyes adjusted, bright orange berries seem to magically appear. In spite of the cold or the thrum of mosquitoes, I loved berry season and the stillness and quiet of the open tundra toward summer’s end. And I loved dreaming up ways to use these berries. My berry picking method? One, two and three for the bucket and one to sample for inspiration. Repeat until container is filled.

Our first cloudberry-picking session was the inspiration for this recipe. We had gone out on a frost-chilled morning. As we were sampling the cloudberries, Jack remarked that the berries tasted just like sorbet. I agreed and was determined to make that morning’s catch into just that, sorbet.

We had heard rumors that cloudberries grow somewhere around our new home by the shores of Lake Iliamna. As we’re getting to know our surroundings here, we’ve been on the lookout for these little treasures. The good news is that we’ve come across quite a few plants. The bad news is that we missed them this year. But maybe we found a place… It’s something to look forward to next year!

Cloudberry Sorbet

Ingredients

  • cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 cups fresh cleaned cloudberries

Directions

  1. Mix water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved to make a simple syrup.
  2. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Add cloudberries to the simple syrup.
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth.
  5. Strain half of the mixture through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove the seeds.
  6. Discard seeds.
  7. Repeat with the second half of berry mixture.
  8. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
  9. Using an ice cream maker, pour chilled mixture into frozen freezer bowl. Turn machine on and let it do its magic. It will take about 20 minutes to thicken. Sorbet will be soft and creamy.
  10. To store, transfer sorbet to an airtight container and keep in the freezer.
  11. To serve, allow sorbet to thaw for about 15 minutes before scooping and enjoying.

All Quiet at The Lake

Dawn, late February, Chignik Lake, Alaska

It has been a winter unlike our previous two at Chignik Lake – quiet, even by the quiet standards we’ve become accustomed to. Pine Siskins, dozens of them, have taken over the White Spruce Grove. A raucous lot, it may be that they’ve driven off most other birds. In any event, the Dark-eyed Juncos and other sparrows of past years have been all but absent, and we’ve not seen a sign of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Redpolls or wrens. There’ve been fewer, far fewer, ducks on the lake this year as well. Perhaps this unusually warm Alaskan winter has given waterfowl other open water to choose from. And while we did spot our first ever winter-white Short-tailed Ermine as well as a pure white Collared Lemming awhile back, otherwise wildlife has been scarce, a very occasional fox, otter or seal notwithstanding.

A friend has been setting a net and catching a few Sockeyes. Mirror bright, free of sea lice and small at just 22 inches or so, they are almost undoubtedly representatives of a resident lacustrine population – kokanees that never migrate out to sea but spend their lifecycle in the lake. One such fish is on the dinner menu for this evening. I will poach it whole in a broth of clam juice, lemon and saffron. The broth in turn will serve as the base for a salmon bisque.

As quiet as it has been, Barbra and I remain as busy as ever. There are unending lists of new recipes and baking, many thousands of photographs from previous adventures to edit, Barbra’s duties as a teacher to attend to, literature to read and study and future adventures to plan for. We’re looking forward to slightly warmer weather when we can more comfortably work on our fly-casting. We’re both on pace to be in shape to run a half-marathon this summer – our first in 10 years. Meanwhile, I’ve been putting in full days and then some between putting together articles for magazines and my new interest, learning to play an acoustic steel string guitar. The quiet provides a pleasant backdrop for these activities.

Only three months till Sockeyes begin returning to the Chignik River. Biologists are forecasting a strong run. It’s raining on the Lake this morning, but there’s new snow on the mountains. A neighbor reports hearing our owls make “strange noises” lately. Spring is coming.

 

 

When Evergreens are too Precious to Cut, Why not Craft Your Own Christmas Tree?

A beaver obliged by stripping the bark from the trunk of this hand-crafted holiday tree. A drill and a few Alder branches were the only other materials required. With almost all of our Christmas ornaments in storage in Sacramento, California, we had fun hanging items on hand here in Chignik Lake. 

The few White Spruce trees around Chignik Lake are not native to the area. They were brought from Kodiak Island and are too valuable for what they add to the landscape and as refuges for birds (they love the dense cover and the cone seeds) to even contemplate cutting for use as Christmas trees. So we crafted our own tree using abundant Alders as branches and a section of a beaver-gnawed stick we’d found while out hiking.

When we lived in Shishmaref and Point Hope, we had a tree we’d crafted from driftwood from the beaches of Sarichef Island where Shishmaref is located. It was nice, but we like our new tree even better. With all the decorations from that first tree carefully packed away and put in storage when we moved to Mongolia for two years, we didn’t have much on hand when it came to decorating our Alder tree. So we used our imaginations.

An assortment of seashells, brass bells (presented to us for good luck), tiny decorative birds and carved wooden trout we’d collected on our recent bike trek in Hokkaido were rounded out with some of our more colorful salmon fishing flies. We placed our collection of Japanese glass fishing floats beneath the boughs along with a decorative lamp made from recycled glass we also sent back from Hokkaido. Two strings of fairy lights competed the decorations.

Lights on we stepped back…

…and had to agree that of all the trees we’ve put up over the years, this is our favorite.