This summer, one of my goals was to reignite my writing spark. To that end, I signed up for a couple of writing workshops. First stop, Tutka Bay, Alaska.
Several years ago, I acquired the Tutka Bay Lodge Cookbook. It has become one of my two absolute favorite culinary resources. Through the book, I became acquainted with people whom I thought would be kindred spirits. The chefs sought to sustainably use and showcase what they could forage from the lodge’s nearby wilderness. The lodge’s location seemed idyllic – a fjord only accessible by boat surrounded by forest. The cookbook is filled with culinary wonders featuring harvested beach greens, foraged berries and mushrooms, and wild caught fish. When I first read the cookbook, I learned that a cooking school is held on site. I began dreaming of a visit. As with most lodge visits in Alaska, a stay there is expensive. So, it remained a dream – I would say a recurring dream. But I visited the lodge virtually and fueled this dream by regularly adapting the cookbook’s many recipes to create dishes and meals with items we forage and gather here at the Lake.
During this same time, Jack contributed writing and photos to a lovely “local” magazine called Edible Alaska. The magazine features food-related stories from all over our beautiful state. Earlier this past Spring, the Edible magazine people organized a culinary writing retreat at Tutka Bay Lodge. We were lucky to be invited to this retreat along with what turned out to be an intimate group of fourteen enthusiastic foodies.
What was a day in the life of an Alaskan culinary writers’ retreat like? As Tutka Bay Lodge is noted for being a dining destination, the days were filled with delicious food. Days started with spruce tip sprinkled breads, house-made lox, fluffy scrambled eggs infused with the lodge’s greenhouse herbs, and bacon sourced from a farm across Kachemak Bay. One of our lunches featured a fresh tossed raw vegetable dish with a grilled open-faced halibut salad sandwich accompanied by a bowl of cream of celery root soup topped with julienned Granny Smith apples. Each dinner began with appetizers paired with wines. Among other starters was a beautiful cold charcuterie lain out along with fresh pretzel bites doused in butter and a Moroccan eggplant tagine. Family-style dinners followed with menu offerings such as king crab infused mashed potatoes, a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin, tossed salads, and herbed biscuits. The most memorable dessert was a Spanish-style baked cheesecake topped with a caramel sauce made from foraged beach kelp.
Due to the workshop atmosphere, there were plenty of opportunities to learn about local foods. Across Kachemak Bay in the town of Homer, we went on guided tours of Stoked Beekeeping Company, Blood, Sweat and Food farm, and Synergy organic vegetable farm. At a dinner hosted by Synergy Farm, we tasted and learned about mead from Sweetgale Wines. Back at the lodge, we foraged the beach at low tide with naturalist guides. Tutka Bay Chefs taught classes on Moroccan spices, salmon preparation and sushi-making. A local oyster farmer taught us about her business followed by an oyster tasting session. I came home loaded with culinary ideas and goals for the summer. I am more inspired than ever to make bull kelp pickles and to find goose tongue and other beach greens from our nearby ocean beaches.
As writers, we were happy for the opportunity to work with Kirsten Dixon, author and lodge owner. She led us through a writing workshop, connecting modern and ancient stories to Tutka Bay. She shared some of her personal writing as well as other writing that inspired her. Kirsten suggested some writing themes and encouraged participants to share their work at the end of the retreat. The lodge features a cozy writer’s loft which Jack and I found to be ideal as we composed our thoughts surrounded by beautiful views and birdsong.
I departed our retreat inspired to write more regularly. But that wasn’t what left the biggest impression. One of the participants I met on the first day confided that she hadn’t been around people in two months. She seemed particularly uncomfortable in social setting settings that were part of life at the lodge. The funny thing is that as she shared this with me, I realized that I felt similarly. For all of us, this retreat was the first time since Covid began that we had been in an intimate setting with new people. A warm feeling was growing in the group. What was it? One person articulated it well. “This experience has been like coming out of a fog” she said. It felt freeing to be in place that invited the sharing of ideas and thoughts, a lovely counter to feelings of suspicion and worry that seemed to pervade social gatherings these past two years.
It was a wonderful visit with newly made friends. I now have a new group I can share culinary ideas with. I have more inspiration to gather and create. I have new ideas to draw writing from. I feel like my fog, too, has lifted.
In honor of this feeling and inspired by my new friends and my new cookbook, Living Within the Wild, I give you a small batch of “Coming Out of the Fog Cookies.”
In Kirsten Dixon and Mandy Dixon’s new cookbook, they shared a recipe for berry chocolate chip cookies. The idea is to take a great chocolate chip cookie and embed a surprise of berry jelly in the center. With this recipe bouncing around my head for a few days, I came up with my own version of this cookie. My idea is to take the best part of a monster cookie and stuff it with a complementary jam surprise. This batch is small. (Two people should only eat eight cookies between them, right?) Of course, this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if need be.
I invite you to join me in coming out of the fog.
Coming Out of the Fog Cookies
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp creamy peanut butter
- 8 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 6 tbsp quick oats
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- Pinch salt
- 8 tsp jam
- Preheat oven to 325° F (160° C).
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix together first 6 ingredients.
- Stir in flour, oats, baking soda, and salt.
- Chill dough for about 15 minutes.
- Divide dough into 8 pieces and roll into balls.
- Flatten balls.
- Place 1 tsp of jam in center of flattened dough.
- Close dough around jam. *
- Place stuffed cookies, smooth side up, on prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and finish cooling on wire rack.
- Enjoy slightly warm or room temperature with a glass of freshly brewed ice tea.
*If your dough is too sticky, butter your hands to work with the dough.