Full Moon over Frozen Lake: Chignik Lake, Alaska

Full Moon over Frozen Lake – Chignik Lake,6:56 PM January 30, 2018

Twilight, that sliver of light between the day’s last direct sunlight and darkness, is often the prettiest light of the day. I was happy that Fred has his lights on. This shot was taken from the beach in front of our house. (Snowing here this morning, May 6.)

Sometimes it’s the Little Things: Farm Fresh Vegetables in Bush Alaska

Courtesy of The Farm in Port Alsworth, a newly-arrived box of fresh vegetables fit to inspire any food-lover.

Once a week flown in a little bush airplane, a box shows up packed with freshly picked vegetables. It’s like having a birthday each week!

We’ve written a number articles about how we get food out to the tiny, remote Alaskan bush villages where we live. There’s a story about carefully packing a year’s worth of food from Costco into durable Rubbermaid tubs. More recently, we’ve been ordering much of our food from the Fred Meyer grocery store on Debarr Road in Anchorage. The people there take great care getting our groceries out to us, sending us impeccably wrapped and packed goods usually within about four days of the request. Amazon’s grocery store is another great way to get groceries, although sometimes that involves a wait of several weeks. When we lived in Point Hope we discovered a company in Washington called Full Circle, which mails farm fresh gourmet vegetables to select communities in Alaska. We would get multi-colored carrots and Swiss chard, yellow beets, and pink haricots verts. These premium veggies came at a premium price, but I will admit that after eating frozen vegetables our first year in the bush, we threw our budget to the wind in the name of fresher, tastier fare. Besides, it was fun to experiment in our cooking with colorful and interesting ingredients.

When we moved to Chignik Lake, we heard about “The Farm” in Port Alsworth. It was almost spoken as a whisper – a secret to be kept tight within an inner circle. The scoop was that they would sync orders with local flights and ship boxes filled with vegetables picked that very morning. Freshly picked veggies? Right to our door? The same day they’re picked? Our response – “What’s the phone number?” In the same secretive way we’d first heard about this magical place, we were handed a phone number. Imagine a folded slip of paper passed from one to another during a knowing handshake. When I looked up The Farm in Port Alsworth on the internet, I was surprised to discover that there was no evidence of such a place. I took out the note with the scrawled number and called.

“Hello?” an informal voice came through the receiver. Oh, dear. I must have a wrong number, I remember thinking. They should have answered the phone with a jaunty, “The Farm!” Right?

Tentatively I asked, “Is this The Farm?”

“Yes!” came the cheerful reply. Sometimes things in Alaska don’t come about the way one might imagine.

“The Farm” is actually “The Farm Lodge.” Located in Port Alsworth on beautiful Lake Clark, the lodge is operated by the same company that runs Lake Clark Air, which we regularly fly with. The lodge features a picturesque greenhouse, inviting grounds and accommodations for guests who travel to Port Alsworth for nature viewing, hunting and fishing expeditions. In addition to world class salmon fishing and wildlife photo opportunities, the lodge boasts excellent home cooked meals featuring, of course, their garden fresh vegetables. Since Chignik Lake is a regular stop for Lake Clark Air, we benefit from the surfeit of fresh produce grown in their greenhouse.

They may not have multi-colored beets or artisan green beans, but they nonetheless offer wonderful produce. We’ve received many of the crisp favorites one might find in a typical garden – cucumbers, green-leaf lettuce, tomatoes, chard, beets, radishes, bell peppers and sugar snap peas. With long hours of summertime daylight, Alaska is famous for the truly humongous size certain vegetables attain up here. The cabbage that came in our box last week was as big as a large mixing bowl – and yet it turned out to be only half the original head!

The only downside to The Farm’s service is that the growing season ends in October. But until then, we have all the fresh vegetables we can eat to go with meals of the equally fresh salmon we catch in the river in front of our house!

If you are in our area and would like to participate in The Farm Lodge’s special deliveries, here is the secret phone number (907) 310-7630.

Out of Chocolate! Now What? Chewy Almond Thins to the Rescue

chewy-almond-crisps-n

These candy-like cookies are ridiculous. Chewy and flavorful – a cure for a terminal sweet tooth.

At the end of most evening meals, Jack and I enjoy a piece of dark chocolate or a little something sweet with a cup of tea. I have a terrible sweet tooth that seems to be sated by this little habit. Thinking that I would bake more than I have been, we didn’t send out very much chocolate for our après dinner tradition. Now our chocolate is all gone – at least till the next Amazon order arrives via bush plane.

In these kinds of emergencies, my Williams-Sonoma Baking book always seems to save the day. It is a solid baking book with a number of foundational recipes that can be followed directly or easily adapted. I remembered a quick cookie recipe loaded with almonds that I hoped would do the trick. The authors of the recipe called these cookies Almond Crisps. Mine turned out beautifully flat and a bit lacy. They were pleasantly chewy, like a really satisfying caramel. I think this is due to the combination of sugar and brown sugar. Delicious. I adorned these cookies with a chocolate drizzle made from a few semi-sweet chips I had stashed in my pantry.

Our problem now is that three dozen of these cookies have up and disappeared!

Chewy Almond Thins

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup finely chopped almonds

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter.
  2. Add sugar and continue to beat until sugar and butter are well mixed.
  3. Add egg and vanilla into mixture. Mix on low speed until well mixed.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  5. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture.
  6. Stir in almonds.
  7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Drop teaspoonfuls of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Space cookies about 2 inches apart. They will spread.
  10. Bake 5 minutes. Edges will be golden brown, but cookies will still be soft.
  11. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for exactly 5 minutes. Then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.

Where all the Raspberries are as Big as Your Thumb

“Pick me! Pick me!”

Anyone who knows Jack knows that he is a fisherman through and through. Moving to a village where the salmon are running so thick we can see them finning up the river and into the lake is beyond Jack’s wildest expectations. This is not his dream. This is our reality. He’s spent time every day walking the shore, sometimes with fishing rod in hand, other times just watching and listening to the music of river current and salmon jumping, splashing, sloshing their way upstream.

And so it’s understandable that it was left to me to spot the patch of raspberries Jack had walked right past on his way to the river. And such raspberries! The patch isn’t large, but this has been an exceptional year for berries and the vines are heavy with tart, sweet, jem-like fruit.

raspberries in bowl chignik n

And with green berries still growing in more shaded parts of the patch, we should be able to pick all we need. Jam, pies, syrups, fresh with morning cereal… How about a raspberry-chipotle sauce to go with fresh-caught salmon?

“Bigger than store-bought,” as Jack says. Tastier, too. I don’t know about them being as big as your thumb, but they’re the biggest we’ve ever seen. Can you believe he was so intent on the salmon that he walked right past the whole patch without even noticing?!

Cloudberry Country

In northern latitudes where they grow, cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus) are prized as a delicacy. 

Sept 1, Point Hope, Alaska: It has rained for at least part of each day ever since we came back to Point Hope on August 11 – twenty-two consecutive days. Yesterday, the sun finally broke free, and after an energizing breakfast of French toast, smoked salmon, honeydew mellon, orange juice and coffee, we borrowed one of the school’s vehicles and four of us drove out Seven-mile road (which is actually only five miles) to pick some of the last of this year’s aqpik – the Inupiat word for cloudberries.

Cloudberries like wet tundra, but can also be found in meadows. The boggy fields near Point Hope necessitate Muck Boots or similar footwear. 

We’re glad we don’t have to choose a favorite fruit, but a good way to think of fruit is in terms of where they are best served. If I could have a freshly-picked, perfectly juicy, slightly tart ruby red grapefruit every morning for breakfast, I’d seldom want any other fruit with my morning meal. Peaches shine when grilled to caramelize some of their sugar and served with mascarpone cheese or goat cheese. And I occasionally have dreams about the elderberry pies my grandmother used to bake for me made from the dark purple fruit I picked near my boyhood home in Pennsylvania.

Snowy owls, ground squirrels, foxes, caribou and occasionally brown bears are visitors and residents of the tundra where, in addition to cloudberries, stunted willows grows. 

Soft, juicy, and slightly creamy, cloudberries make a sorbet that is sublime, and they are excellent in ice cream as well. They are delicious as freezer jam, and this year we made syrup from the juice of some of the berries. Recently Barbra made a delicious cloudberry bread which was perfect with our peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Cloudberry liqueur is popular, and apparently there is a Canadian-brewed beer that features them.

The last of the cloudberries signal the end of summer here in Point Hope. The salmon and char are nearing the ends of their runs, and we’ve already had a little sleet. 

Click on the links below for additional cloudberry recipes, and stay tuned for recipes on cloudberry syrup and spicy cloudberry chipotle sauce for poultry, pork and fish.

Cloudberry Freezer Jam                                                               Cloudberry Sorbet

Cloudberry Upside-Down Cake                                                  Cloudberry Syrup

Laying in a Year’s Worth of Supplies Part II: The Well-Stocked Kitchen

Penzeys spices have earned a prominent place in our well-stocked kitchen. We recently received an order of items we wanted to make sure we have on hand when we return to Point Hope at the end of the summer. From left to right in the foreground: arbol peppers, star anise and chipotle peppers. 

As I write this, I’m surrounded by several stacks of Rubbermaid totes. Each stack has four to seven nested totes duck taped together, ready to be mailed to Anchorage where they’ll be filled with dry goods and mailed back up here for the next school year. We’re down to the tail end of most of our groceries, which is the way it should be with only 10 days remaining before we fly down to south-central Alaska for the summer.

Planning out a well-stocked kitchen, experimenting with new dishes and baked goods, and writing this blog make the extra effort and expense of laying in everything we need for our kitchen worth it. In addition to mail-ordering spices to supplement what we already have on hand, we’ve prepared a five-page Excel spreadsheet shopping list we’ll take care of in Anchorage. And, of course, there are the ice chests we mailed down earlier, waiting to be filled with some of the world’s best seafood – the salmon, halibut and rockfish we catch and package ourselves. Come late summer when we return to the village, our kitchen will be ready!

Various types of salt, cooking oils and a full compliment of herbs and spices inspire an eclectic approach to cooking and baking, and allow us to create many of our own rubs and grilling sauces.

Although the theme of our summer posts will shift to fishing, hiking, boating and sailing, we’ll continue to write about the cooking we do for ourselves and our guests. And during the summer, we’ll finally be able to enjoy wine and beer with our meals!

Click here to see A Year’s Worth of Food: Provisioning for the Alaska Bush, Part I

Summer Blueberry Picking on the Arctic Tundra

Friends from Shishmaref after an afternoon of blueberry picking. Gathering a cupful or two of these small, tart berries growing in scattered clumps across the tundra was work… the fun kind. The following morning, we celebrated with a stack of blueberry waffles.

Accustomed to the six and seven-foot tall blueberry bushes of Oregon where Barbra and I had picked berries by the bucketful when I lived in Astoria, we were surprised to learn that blueberries were growing right under our feet on our walks through the tundra near Shishmaref. “There’s lots,” one of my students told us. “We’re going to go tomorrow. You guys can follow.”

“Follow” is the village English way of saying “come along.” And sure enough, once we learned to key in on the unmistakable Autumn-red of the bushes (if ground-hugging plants that top out at six-inches can properly be called bushes), we began finding an abundance of small, perfectly ripe, deliciously tart berries. The comparatively thick, woody stems of some of these bushes suggested that they had weathered quite a few seasons near the Arctic Circle. Growing among the blueberries were crowberries (locally called blackberries) and low bush cranberries. Elsewhere in the far north, including in Europe, there are cloudberries, perhaps the most delicious berry on earth.

We walked along in the late summer sun, finding patches of berries here and there, crouching and kneeling to pick, and then moving on to find another patch of tell-tale red. Birds were out sharing the bounty – or maybe the insects associated wtih the fruit: lapland longspurs, white-crowned sparrows, savanah sparrows, and other small birds.

The pause that refreshes. A berry-picker gazes across the open tundra on Sarichef Island where Shishmaref is located, snacking on a bag of berries that probably aren’t going to make it all the way home. The red leaves near her feet? Yep. Blueberries!