Whether you are getting ready to get on the treadmill, go for a hike or maybe just need a little sweet, these are the cookies – a satisfying bite packed with flavor! Good-bye chocolate chip cookies, hello packed oat cookies!
There is something quite inspiring in completing a major fitness challenge. Jack and I returned home from our 1,300 mile bike trek in Hokkaido revved and looking ahead to The Next Big Thing. With roads outside often treacherously icy and the fact that wild animals in these parts make the whole village nervous if anyone is seen going for a run, we’ve pieced together a gym in our living room. (By the way, all ice is definitely not created equal. Chignik Lake has the slickest ice we’ve ever experienced).
Our gym which is comprised of a treadmill, a stationary spinning cycle, a set of Powerblock dumbbells, and a TRX resistance band. These four pieces of equipment take up very little space and gives us plenty of variety with which to accomplish our fitness goals. Plus, a spin on a bike or a run on a treadmill goes by fairly painlessly with a view of the lake out the window. (Yesterday a group of river otters was playing and fishing on the ice.)
Of course, when we work out, we have to eat – a golden opportunity to get in the kitchen and bake something. In Point Hope, I baked us batches of homemade granola bars to fuel us. During our bike training last year, I made little bites of tahini fudge speckled with coconut and chocolate chips. This time, I wanted to try a granola type creation that would be more like a cookie. These two-bite cookies are packed with oats, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and almonds -and no processed sugar. They have the texture of a soft cookie and tons of flavor. Better still, they are easy and super quick to make. I’ve been making batches and keeping them in the freezer. After they thaw, they have the same texture and flavor as when they’ve cooled out of the oven. Perfect!
Chocolate Cranberry Almond Oat Bites
- 1 cup quick oats
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- pinch salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup coarse-chopped almonds
- Preheat oven to 325° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Whisk together oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, vanilla and maple syrup.
- Pour maple syrup mixture into oat mixture. Stir until combined.
- Fold in cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds.
- Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop out dough and place balls on prepared baking sheet. The cookies will not spread much. Slightly flatten cookies.
- Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring them to wire cooling rack.
- Store cookies in airtight container for a few days. Cookies will freeze well.
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.
This dish features a classic summertime herb along with garden vegetables and our favorite Autumn fish for a recipe to hold off winter for at least one more evening. While a California Chardonnay would pair well with the rich cream and Coho Salmon, we went with a Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, a lighter wine that let the dill shine.
Dill, dill, dill. What to do with dill? It’s not a seasoning I often use, but thanks to our friends up the Alaska Peninsula at The Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth, we found ourselves with an abundance of this pleasantly aromatic herb blooming in a glass jar on a windowsill. How about using it in a cream sauce to bring together fillets of freshly caught Chignik River Silver Salmon, farfalle pasta, and some of the last zucchini and summer squash we’re likely to see for awhile?
Salmon with Creamy Fresh Dill Sauce for Two
- 2 fresh wild salmon fillets, skin on, pin bones removed, rinsed and patted dry
- 2 cups farfalle pasta
- 1 cup or a little more diced fresh tomato
- 2 leaves of kale, cut away from the stem and cut into smaller pieces
- 1 cup or more yellow summer squash, sliced into circles and then cut into smaller pieces
- 1 cup or more zucchini, sliced into circles and cut into smaller pieces
- 1/2 cup carrot sliced julienne style
- other fresh vegetables, as desired/available
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, sliced julienne style
- 1 shallot, sliced thin to make about 3/4 cup
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp butter
- olive oil
- sea salt
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- a loose 1/2 cup of dill leaves and flowers (or use a smaller quantity of dried dill)
- sherry (or white wine)
- black pepper
- 1 cup or more deepwater Alaska shrimp shelled, deveined and patted dry (optional)
- 1 tbsp corn starch mixed into 2 tbsp cold water
- Prepare pasta.
Directions for the salmon
- Turn on oven broiler and preheat heavy broiling pan on middle rack for the salmon. Nothing works better for this than seasoned cast iron.
- Sprinkle the salmon with sea salt. Our favorite is large grain gray sea salt.
- When the broiling pan is sizzling hot, pour on a little olive oil, place the salmon skin side down on the oil and broil for about 9 minutes.
- Remove salmon from broiler, place on cutting board or plate and cover loosely with a bowl or foil to rest.
Directions for the cream sauce
- Put some olive oil in a fairly large skillet or sauteuse pan over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add kale, a little sea salt, and a tablespoon or two of sherry. Stir and sauté until kale just begins to wilt. Next, place in zucchini, summer squash and julienne carrots, which will not take as long to cook. Add a little more salt and sherry, stir and sauté until vegetables just begin to soften. At this point, add the cream and mix together.
- Meanwhile, place butter in a separate skillet. When it’s hot, add shallots, a sprinkle of salt, and cook till they’re soft. Add garlic and a healthy splash of sherry, stir and cook till garlic begins to release its odor and soften. If you’re including shrimp, add them and a sprinkle of salt when you add the garlic. It takes only about 2 minutes to cook shrimp through.
- Add the shallot mixture to the vegetables, a few grinds of black pepper, the lemon juice, mix together and taste. To thicken the cream sauce, slowly stir in the corn starch mixture. Serve immediately.
Place the pasta on large plates or in pasta bowls. Spoon on the vegetable cream sauce. Place the salmon on top, add a little more cream sauce and another grind of two of pepper. Garnish with fresh dill and pair with a chilled Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.
For us, late summer in Alaska means harvest time. This is the time of year for berry picking and fishing for Sockeyes and Silver Salmon in the Chignik River system. Only a short walk away from our home, there is a lovely patch of feral raspberries with plenty of ripe berries. And not so far away in the other direction is a place we call the blueberry bog, where, as you’ve already guessed, we can pick low bush blueberries to our hearts’ content.
Now that I’ve finally mastered the Buttery Flaky Pie Crust (a culinary goal checked off last winter), I am confident when Jack requests pie for dessert. Today’s request – Alaskan Wild Blueberry Pie. Jack and our houseguest Isabel knew what they had to do while I was busy teaching my students. Armed with bear spray and berry collecting containers, they hiked the mile or so to the bog. Their efforts were rewarded with fresh slices of pie topped with scoops of extra rich homemade vanilla ice cream.
Alaska Wild Blueberry Skillet Pies
(Makes 2 6-inch skillet pies)
- 1 double pie crust
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 5 cups fresh blueberries, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water until smooth. Add 3 cups blueberries. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.
- Remove from the heat. Add butter, lemon juice and remaining berries; stir until butter is melted. Cool.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cut four circles out of of pie dough. Each dough circle should be about 1/2 inch larger than the mini skillet you’re using as your guide. Place the dough circle into the skillet, being careful not to stretch the dough. With a knife trim off any excess dough.
- Ball up all of the extra dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Cut out four more circles large enough to cover the top of a mini skillet.
- Next, evenly divide the blueberry filling among the skillets. Top each with approximately 1/2 tablespoon of cubed, cold butter.
- Cover each skillet with a piece of dough. Using your fingers, crimp the edge of dough all the way around to seal. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place skillets onto a cookie sheet for baking.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden and the filling is bubbly. (If the top crust starts to get brown before the inside is hot, cover with aluminum foil.)
- Cool before serving. Top with ice cream.
Ocean-bright and full of fight, Barbra’s 12-pound Coho today is the first and only salmon we’ve put on the bank this year… so far.
In each our previous six years in Alaska, our fish for the coming months were long ago caught, cleaned, freezer-packed or smoked and canned and put away.
Not this year.
Like a lot of salmon runs around Alaska, here on the Chignik River its been a mere trickle of fish compared to other years. In fact, for a few weeks in July fishing was closed altogether. Still, we were confident upon returning from our bike trek in Hokkaido that we’d be able to get the couple of dozen or so fish we need.
That was nearly a month ago. Admittedly, it’s not like we’ve been hitting the water every day. But the few times we’ve been out, it’s been discouraging. When lots of salmon are around, so are bears, eagles and seals, and we can generally see lots of jumpers – salmon fresh from the sea and full of energy spontaneously leaping for whatever reasons salmon spontaneously leap. But it’s been eerily quiet; the usual eagle roosts have been empty.
Even in this down year, hundreds of thousands of Sockeyes ascended the river, and there will undoubtedly be thousands of Coho as well. It felt great to finally get one. Pasta with fresh salmon is on the menu tonight.
Sixty-six days on a bike, 1,300 miles pedaled, more miles walked, hiked, climbed, and canoed. Before we knew it, we were back home with thousands of photos and a lifetime of stories to prepare for publication. What better way to transition back from the world of bicycle trekking to our home in Chignik Lake than baking? I can’t think of one.
I arrived back home to my patiently waiting, full, lovely pantry. Translucent jars of raspberry jam caught my eye on from the shelf where they’d been stored. With this year’s fruit quickly ripening, it’s time to use up last year’s stores. What a great excuse to bake with one of my favorite flavors – raspberry. Jack “I-don’t-have-a-sweet-tooth” Donachy’s secret weakness is custard desserts. For no better reason than pure love (of custard and raspberry), this little baby was created. Wait… I’m not saying that little baby Jack was created just to eat custard. I’m saying that this dessert… never mind.
A crust infused with almonds. Then a creamy vanilla custard topped with a smooth, delicious layer of homemade jam – I prefer raspberry. I set it out to photograph, and it was gone in a flash.
For those of you following along, we will have plenty of photos and stories coming from our bicycle trek around Hokkaido. Jack is up to is elbows in the sorting and editing process as well as catching the last of Chignik Lake’s migratory birds before they head south. Stay tuned. For now, sit back and enjoy a slice, or two, of this delicious tart.
Raspberry Vanilla Custard Tart
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tbsp cold water
- generous pinch salt
- 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, almonds, and sugar.
- In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and water.
- Grate butter into flour mixture. Toss butter so that it is fully coated. Use two sharp knives (I used steak knives) to chop the butter into smaller pea-sized pieces.
- Pour egg mixture into flour mixture. Stir with fork until dough comes together. It should be shaggy looking. If it’s too dry add tiny amounts of cold water until it comes together.
- Turn dough out into a 9-inch springform pan or tart pan with removable bottom.
- Press dough into bottom of pan and up the sides of pan (about 1 inch) with fingertips.
- Prick dough with fork. Freeze for 20 – 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bake crust for 35 minutes. It will be golden brown when finished.
- Let cool completely. You can store the crust at room temperature if it’s tightly wrapped in plastic.
Vanilla Custard Filling and Raspberry Topping
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- pinch salt
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup homemade raspberry jam (here’s a good recipe for quick jam)
- Bring milk and vanilla to a simmer in a medium pot. Remove from heat.
- While heating milk mixture, thoroughly whisk together egg, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.
- Slowly, while whisking, pour milk mixture into egg mixture.
- Pour custard back into the medium pot.
- Continue whisking mixture over medium heat. Mixture should begin to bubble and become thick. Remove from heat.
- Whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time.
- Transfer back to medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so that wrap is against surface of custard.
- Cool completely in refrigerator.
- To assemble, whisk cooled custard until smooth.
- Pour custard into cooled crust.
- Spread jam evenly on top of custard.
- Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine.
Gray Heron, (aosagi), Abishiri campground, Hokkaido, Japan.
One of the reasons we chose Hokkaido for our first bicycle trek were the reports that wildlife viewing on this northern Japanese island can be quite good. We’ve not been disappointed. Almost every morning we’ve woken to the songs and calls of birds, and our rides this summer have taken us through mile upon mile of gently rolling farmland, forested hills, river valleys and along coastlines. To date we’ve identified over 60 species of birds and have encountered bears, deer, foxes, mink, seals, porpoises and small whales. Some of the highlights have included:
- 9 Brown Bears
- over 20 Red Foxes
- Dozens of Ezo Deer
- 32 Red-crowned Cranes
- Over 20 White-tailed Eagles
- 2 Blakiston’s Fish Owls (and nighttime voices of other species of owls)
- the world’s largest breeding colony of Rhinoceros Auklets
- 3 species of cuckoo
- 4 species of woodpecker
- 2 species of snakes
- Ezo Red Squirrels (and Siberian Chipmunks)
- Peregrine Falcons
- Dall’s Porpoises
- over 100 seals
- more butterflies and moths – and more different kinds of butterflies and moths – than we’ve ever before seen anywhere
Wildflower viewing as well has been fantastic. When we return to Alaska, we’ll post more detailed articles about Hokkaido wildlife.