Lovely rich texture of ground almonds brightened by fresh, tart raspberry jam. Yes, sir, I’ll have another!
Linzertorte is not a new creation. I read that the first published recipes for this lovely dessert appeared in the early 1700’s. Sidestepping a culinary history lesson, I can happily report that you we love this torte. What makes ours a bit different is freezer jam – which is a magical concoction made from a mix of fresh berries, pectin and sugar without using heat. The result is a fresh, bright flavor, featuring the sweet, tart Pow of right-off-the-bushes raspberry taste. Click here to read more about freezer jam.
Freezer Jam Linzertorte
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups raspberry freezer jam
Whisk together flour, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
In a food processor, process almonds with confectioner’s sugar. Almonds should be finely ground.
Pour butter into almond mixture and mix well.
Add in egg yolks. Mix well.
Add flour mixture to almond mixture and mix well.
Separate about 1/3 of the dough. Flatten it into a disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
Take remaining dough and press it into a greased, fluted tart pan. I used a springform pan and that worked well, too.
Spread dough with jam. Place this part of torte into refrigerator.
Take chilled dough and roll out into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.
Using a fluted roller, cut the rolled dough into 6 strips.
Criss-cross strips on top of torte.
Press edges together to seal.
Place torte in refrigerator while preheating oven.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
Bake torte until crust is browned and jam is bubbling, about 45 minutes.
Let cool on wire rack until torte is just warm. Remove torte from pan and move it to a serving plate.
Dust top of Linzertorte with confectioners’ sugar to serve.
See below for recipes for salmon roe, lox and buckwheat blinis.
Upon arriving in Chignik Lake last summer, one of our first orders of business was to stock our freezers with enough salmon to see us through the coming months. Fortunately, catching plenty of Reds and Silvers was no problem as hundreds of thousands of wild salmon ascend the Chignik River from summer through fall. Although the Sockeye (Red Salmon) roe is somewhat smaller than that of other species, it nonetheless cures into a beautifully translucent ikura that tastes as good as it looks. Coho fillets (Silver Salmon) are our favorites for making lox. Separated by a slice of cream cheese, garnished with a wisp of nori and arranged on a savory buckwheat blini, these appetizers are perfect as Super Bowl party snacks or as a pre-dinner hors d’œuvre complimented with champagne or fine sake (酒).
A wonderful marriage – home brewed dark amber beer by brewmeister Barbra and razor clam fritters by chef Jack. See the fritter recipe below.
Jack has been making razor clam fritters for year. He has culinary ties to the delicious shellfish from his life on the Oregon Coast. When we first visited Alaska, we dug the biggest razor clams either one of us had ever seen and promptly turned them into soups, pasta sauces, sashimi and fried dishes. These delicious beauties are something we try to stock in our pantry every year… we dig them ourselves or pick them up at our Anchorage Costco. The following recipe is tried and true. It’s been with us for years. We may change the seasoning up a bit, otherwise, we stick to the original, which has proved hard to improve upon.
To accompany our delicious fritters, we opted for our amber home-brew. It was only a matter of time before my yeastly attentions turned from bread to brew. Now that we live in a “damp” community, we are free to experiment with adult libations. Thanks to a company called Mr. Beer, I’ve been able to experiment with beer-making with great success. In addition to the amber beer (pictured above), we also are enjoying a slightly more complicated kit which yielded a robust, slightly-citrusy hefeweizen. We currently have a nut brown ale and a Mexican style lager fermenting. The beer we’re turning out would stand up nicely against any of the favorites we typically order in restaurants or buy at the package store. Brewing beer seems a natural addition to our kitchen. It certainly has been a tasty and satisfying compliment to our cuisine!
Clam Fritters: serves 4
1 cup chopped clams
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped tarragon (or substitute dry tarragon or marjoram)
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup flour
1/4 cup clam juice
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
couple dashes cayenne pepper (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
oil for frying
Chop clams on a cutting board. Not too fine. Place them in a mixing bowl.
Add the egg, lemon juice, tarragon, cayenne, black pepper, baking soda and flour and lightly stir together.
Blend the clam juice and milk. Add gradually to the clam mixture along with the butter, continuing to stir. Do not make the batter too runny and do not over-stir.
Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a frying pan.
Drop batter in the hot oil – about 2 tablespoons per fritter. (They’ll cook better if they’re fairly small.)
Turn when the bottom is browned, as you would for pancakes.
Finish cooking till golden-brown. Serve with a side of slaw and a favorite ale or lager.
The look and smell of December – warm, spicy gingerbread cookies straight from the oven, or let them cool and frost them for a more traditional treat.
‘Tis the season for hot toddies and gingerbread cookies. Out in the Alaskan bush, we have to plan ahead for any special ingredients. Ginger, yes. Cloves, yes. Molasses? When stocking up our pantry, I was on the fence when it came to molasses. I really don’t like molasses. It’s not a flavor I would normally add to any of my creations. But it is very traditional in a couple of bread and cookie recipes. In Point Hope, we kept it as a pantry item and only used it once over three years. So, I opted against stocking it again here at “the Lake.”
Here it is December, and I have a hankering for gingerbread cookies, but I have no molasses… Throwing molasses to the wind, I altered a gingerbread cookie recipe by upping the ginger and using a combination of honey and pure maple syrup instead of the traditional molasses. The result? A flavorful, spicy cookie with enough “brownness” to satisfy the eye and a flavor to satisfy my December craving. After frosting these little babies and bringing them to my students, I was met with many compliments and requests for more. Who says elementary student palates don’t know what’s good? The adults who sampled the cookies concurred with my young tasters. I patted myself on the back for improving a long-standing recipe and also for avoiding an expedited shipment of molasses from the nearest grocery store – nearly 500 air miles away!
Improved Gingerbread Cookies
1/2 cut unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Royal icing (optional)
Mix butter and sugars.
Mix in honey and maple syrup.
Mix in egg.
Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a large bowl.
Stir butter mixture into flour mixture.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two large disks.
Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Cover baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll out dough of one disk between two sheets of waxed paper. Dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.
Using cookie cutters, cut out figures. Use an offset spatula to move cookies to prepared baking sheet.
Repeat with remaining dough.
Gather up scraps and roll out and cut as with original dough.
Bake cookies until lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
Let the cookies cool on sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to finish cooling.
Every village should have a fox. Chignik Lake’s resident representative of Vulpus vulpus recently found himself on thin ice… very thin ice.
This handsome fellow had been trotting up the lakeshore, pausing occasionally to have a look at me or to stick his nose into the snow for a better whiff of whatever happened to catch his attention. And then something drew him out onto the slushy ice covering a protected cove. Rather cat-like he repeatedly tested the chilly water at the edge of the ice with his paw, lured by something I couldn’t quite make out.
Surely aware of his somewhat tenuous position, now and then he looked over his shoulder across the ice back to shore. Perhaps he was calculating escape routes. Perhaps he was marveling at his own bravery… or questioning his own judgment.
Ah… the object of desire. Left behind by an eagle, the remains of a salmon head after gulls and magpies had also had a go at it. Well, a cold winter’s day is no time to be choosy. But those few feet of freezing water separating him from his prize, what a bother.
At regular intervals while jogging up the shore as well as while out on the ice, he looked at me. Behind my camera and tripod I was stationary and posed no threat. So after a glance to assure himself that such was the case, he’d turn back to his work. But this look was different. It’s easy to ascribe human thoughts to wild creatures, and who knows? Some of those attributions might contain truth. The expression on his face appears downright beseeching, as though were I to offer help in solving his dilemma, it wouldn’t necessarily be turned down.
And then, assuming a “now or never” attitude, he tentatively stretched forward and gingerly placed his forepaws on a shelf of ice extending beneath the water. Unfortunately, the shelf broke free, though it still supported his weight. If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where you had one foot on a dock while the other foot remained in a boat that hadn’t been secured and was slowly drifting away, you can guess what happened next.
With a little splash and a look of dismay, he tumbled in. Paddling toward the coveted salmon head was of no avail, as he succeeded only in pushing it further away. Things were not going as hoped.
There was nothing for it but to climb out, bedraggled and still hungry, water sheeting off his beautiful red coat. From that point on, he didn’t make eye contact with me again.
Nonetheless, ever resilient (one of the characteristics I admire most about foxes), he gave himself a good shake…
…and bounded across the ice and up the hillside along a familiar trail. Perhaps his inclination to run was a form of displacement behavior, the equivalent of a cat licking its paws after it has missed a mouse. Or perhaps he was compelled by some instinct to give his wet coat a good airing out. Or, maybe, he felt some fox equivalent of embarrassment over the recent events.
I should add that it’s not entirely true, as stated above, that after he pulled himself out of the lake’s icy waters he didn’t look at me again. In fact, about half-way up the hill he abruptly turned around, ran straight back to the place the above photo was taken, sat down for a moment and briefly fixed me in his gaze. Rather than snap a photograph, I found myself moving slightly away from the camera to meet his gaze.
And then he turned and disappeared for good into a thicket of alders and a world of squeaky little voles, secretive woods sparrows and timid snowshoe hares.
That evening I removed three plump salmon heads from our freezer to thaw for the next night’s dinner – one each for Barbra and myself. Broiled with a little salt and pepper, they are wonderful. The third I gathered up along with a headlamp and in the winter dark walked along the lakeshore to where I’d last seen my friend. I placed the salmon head under low alder branches where magpies would be less likely to find it but where any sharp-nosed village fox might easily sniff it out.
These sweet little cookies are common at Hanukkah, but filled with pecans and cranberries they will be welcomed at any Thanksgiving, Christmas or fall festivities table.
If you’ve been following our life off the beaten path, you know Jack and I love to read. The chilly, rainy days that encourage us to be inside only fuel our fires for reading. We read together almost every morning and most nights as well. We are in the midst of a tome of poetry for our morning sessions. The Top 500 Poems edited by William Harmon has been taking us on a poetic journey through the ages from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Ginsberg and Plath. In the evening, we are currently enjoying Truman Capote’s timeless classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In addition to our joint reading adventures, each of us is immersed in yet another read. My current book is excruciatingly nerdy – The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg. It contains details and procedures for doing things only a baking nerd would love to do – like making marzipan from scratch, for example. And, yes, that is on my goal list now.
‘Tis the season for making pies, so I’ve delved into the section on infallible pie crusts. The author didn’t claim infallibility, but I am certainly trying to find one that never fails. I would like to be known as “The Pope of Pie Crusts.” The author did say that “a mastery of dough making is critical to the success of a professional pastry kitchen.” My kitchen is not professional, but I would like my crusts to have the taste and texture like those of the professionals. One pie crust which caught my eye includes cream cheese as part of the primary fat.
However, before I take on the intimidating world of pie crust perfection, I thought I would inch toward it with a cookie called rugelach that uses a similar cream cheese dough. The cookie dough spirals around a tasty filling. They are lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat!
Bo uses apricots and walnuts as her filling. I adapted her published recipe to make the directions simpler, and I also swapped her choice of fruit and nuts for what I had in my Alaska pantry. The resulting cookie recipe makes it easy to substitute any dried fruit and nut for the cranberries and pecans I used.
Pecan Cranberry Rugelach
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup Craisins
1 cup pecans, chopped coarse
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
Beat 2 sticks butter and cream cheese together with mixer.
Add in flour by 1/2 cups.
Divide dough into thirds. Form 3 discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Rehydrate Craisins. Place Craisins in pan with enough water to cover. Bring water to boil, then remove pan from heat and let Craisins cool.
Combine pecans, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll dough into 10-inch circles.
Paint circles with melted butter.
Sprinkle dough with pecan mixture.
Evenly sprinkle with Craisins.
With a pizza wheel, cut each circle into 12 even wedges.
Roll the wedges from edge to center. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet.
Paint all the cookies with beaten egg.
Bake for 15 minutes. Finished rugelach will be golden when finished.
“Of all the wild creatures which still persist in the land, despite settlement and civilization, the Loon seems best to typify the untamed savagery of the wilderness.”
So wrote Edward Howe Forbush in Game Birds, Wild-Fowl and Shore Birds, 1912. Click below to hear the loon’s haunting tremolo call. (courtesy Wikipedia)
Four common loons, Gavia immer, occupied our lake this summer. Normally laying but two large eggs ranging in color from deep amber to brown to greenish-gray, our loons may have comprised two mated pairs or a mated pair and their adult offspring. Common Loons are reported mainly as a spring and summer bird in the Chignik system. On his list compiled during summers from 1960 – 1963, David Narver reported this species as “uncommon.”
With huge, webbed feet positioned far back on bulky bodies, loons are excellent swimmers but struggle on land. Therefore, they select nesting sites close to the water’s edge, preferably where an abrupt bank allows them to swim undetected below the surface right up to the nest. At reservoirs, where fluctuating water levels may leave nests either inundated with water or too far from it, loons will sometimes take advantage of artificial nesting islands. Their precocious chicks are able to dive just a couple of days after hatching, though the downy balls of animated fluff quickly bob back to the surface where they might hitch a ride on their mother’s back.
Loons are generally quite shy, as was generally the case with this foursome. Perhaps the caution common to this species was always so, or perhaps it is a vestige of the days when the millinery trade prompted hunters to wipe out any loon that wasn’t sufficiently wary. Mostly staying well off shore, on one particularly calm, clear morning as we hiked a few miles up the lake, the group swam toward us from a good distance out. The event made having lugged along several pounds of camera equipment worth the effort.
Loons are frequently seen, though less frequently identified, while in flight. Characterized by as many as 250 wingbeats per minute or more, their flight pattern is much like that of a duck or goose. A stiletto-shaped bill and large feet hanging astern like a rudder – along with the fact that they are most often encountered alone or in pairs rather than in flocks – distinguish them.
While the loons of summer left Chignik Lake back in mid-September, beginning toward the end of that month on nearly a daily basis we have been seeing one and sometimes two of the birds in the photo above. Usually sticking to the safety of open water, this one came close enough to shore for a passible photograph during the flood that hit Chignik Lake in mid-October.
Loons are dedicated fish-eaters and exceptional at their work. It’s reported that a family of four can take as much as a thousand pounds of fish out of a lake in a 15-week period. The above bird came up from dives swallowing its catch (probably sockeye salmon parr) time after time. Although Red-throated Loons are reported to be more common than Common Loons on the lake, based on the above bird’s jagged neck markings, thick bill and the tell-tale white ring around it’s eye, I believe it to be a juvenile Common Loon.
In Walden, Thoreau described the loon’s evocative cry as “…perhaps the wildest sound that is ever heard…” in his native Massachusetts of the mid-1800s. Celebrated in literature, art, popular culture and even on Canadian currency, Common Loons aren’t as common as they used to be. Acid rain, mercury toxicity from coal-burning plants and other sources, lead poisoning from fishing sinkers and hunting ammunition, and increasing scarcity of the isolated, quiet nesting sites they prefer has resulted in their disappearance from some lakes. If you have loons in a lake near you, count yourself fortunate: it likely that the water quality is clean.
The Canadian one-dollar “loonie.” (Wikipedia)
Know as Divers in Europe, the origination of the North American term “Loon” is uncertain. Speculation is that it derives from the bird’s awkward movements on land. These are large birds. With wingspans of up to five feet and a bill-to-tail-feather length of about three feet, they’re roughly the size of a Canada Goose. Except during winters, when they may show up on almost any of North America’s coastal waters, Common Loons are birds of the North. Their breeding range begins just south of the U.S.-Canadian boarder and extends to all but the most northerly parts of Alaska and Canada. Their habitat overlaps with Pacific, Red-throated and, in the west and far north, Yellow-billed loons.
A slender bill, light gray nape and distinctive white lines tracing down the neck mark this as a Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica). Thisphoto was taken a few years in August on a tundra pond near Point Hope, Alaska.
The royalty of the lake. Hopefully our loons have had a safe fall migration and are enjoying an abundance of fish on their winter waters. With luck, they’ll be back on Chignik Lake this spring, ready to raise a new pair of chicks. A common loon tagged in Wisconsin was reported to have reached the ripe old age of at least 25 years, so the loons of Chignik Lake and their offspring could be around for many summers to come.
If you’re lucky enough to encounter loons, observe them from a respectful distance. A bird disrupted from feeding is a hungry bird, an effect multiplied if they have young, are migrating, or trying to fend off the cold. As with so many species around the world, the chief threat to loons is human encroachment and development of the wild habitat which they need in order to successfully nest and thrive. Many states and provinces have loon conservation programs where you can learn more. See for example the Biodiversity Research Institute’s Center for Loon Conservation page or Google “Loon Conservation” in your region.