Polar Numbing Stinging Cold

It’s cold in Point Hope.

Better words for cold according to the thesaurus –Siberian, algid, arctic, below freezing, below zero, benumbing, biting, bitter, blasting, bleak, boreal, brisk, brumal, chill, chilled, cool, crisp, cutting, frigid, frore, frosty, frozen, gelid, glacial, having goose bumps, hawkish, hiemal, hyperborean, icebox, iced, icy, inclement,intense, keen, nipping, nippy, numbed, numbing, one-dog night, penetrating, piercing, polar, raw, rimy, severe, sharp, shivery, sleety, snappy, snowy, stinging, two-dog night, wintry

We were warned when we left Shishmaref – “It’s cold up there.” We thought a few degrees colder would not make too much of a difference. Hmmmm…. I’ve been comparing Shishmaref to Point Hope. It’s true, it is only a few degrees colder here. But this week the “real feel” temperatures have been hovering around minus 40! When the high says 4 degrees, it’s likely that we may hit the high at 3 o’clock in the morning, not mid-day as you might guess. The sun does peek over the horizon, but not enough to warm anything yet. So, we are relying on wind currents to bring us some warmer air flows.

Last year, Jack bought a wolf ruff for my parka. One of our Shishmaref friends finished it and attached it to my coat. It makes a huge difference in blocking the wind. I have polar fleece pants with a wind-blocker lining. I have thick neoprene “muck” boots. I often wear two hats–one with a face blocker. For me, all these are necessities, even for the relatively short walks to school, the post office, or to the store.  One of my students walked home from the school last Saturday without a hat and got frostbite on her ear!

I can feel every crack in my armor.  If my mitten exposes my wrist, it hurts. The slit between my hat and the face blocker stings with cold.

The words in the thesaurus don’t do justice to the cold up here.

Arctic Sunset

At 2:21 p.m. on December 6, 2011 the sun will set in Point Hope. Of course, in most places, the sun will rise again the next day. This is not the case here. The sun will not rise again until 1:56 p.m. on January 7, 2012.

This afternoon, I could see the most beautiful pink and orange reflection out my kitchen window. The sunset and the ocean called to me. It was 12 degrees out with just a light wind, tolerable with my down jacket, mittens, face mask, and snow boots. The colors in the sky were magical. Swatches of blues and pinks hovered above the icy sea washed with an electric orange glow. The snow leading to the beach was pristine except for scattered caribou prints. Seven foot cliffs of packed snow loomed over the eroded beach. The edge of the ocean was covered in undulating sheets of ice showing only patches of open sea. The frozen crust lifted and fell slowly as the ocean below it was beginning its winter slumber.

In California, I used to visit the coast in order to replenish my energy. The foaming and crashing sea along the West Coast always rejuvenated me, especially when my spirits were low. The Arctic Ocean imbues a person with a sense of calm and peace. As I looked to my left and right up and down the icy beach, others, too, were taking in the view.

Alaskan Clam Chowder

New England Style Clam Chowder garnished with a slice of lemon and salmon berry blossoms. All fruit blossoms are edible, and in addition to being beautiful, some are downright tasty.

These days, there seems to be a trend toward making New England Style Clam Chowders thicker and thicker. Unfortunately, to our taste, the thickness is achieved by adding lots of flour, resulting in a somewhat pasty if not downright bland bowl of soup. Our favorite chowders put clams and potatoes up front and emphasize flavor over thickness. We make both New England Style and Manhattan Style Clam Chowders in large pots, freezing the finished product in smaller containers and pulling them out on cold nights throughout the winter. While this is a great way to put to use all the razor clams we used to dig in Oregon and now dig in Alaska, it works well with other kinds of clams, too, as well as with canned clams such as the big, 51 ounce (3 pounds, 3 ounces) cans of SeaWatch chopped clams sold at Costco and other stores. The recipe is never the same twice. The one below is a recent version. One of the keys is to use not more than twice the potatoes, by weight, as clams.

Up here in bush Alaska, many of the communities are “dry” and I can’t use one of my favorite ingredients–sherry. If I could, I would add about a 1/4 cup of a quality dry sherry such as Dry Sack.

Ingredients: (We cook with dairy products from grass-fed cows, which research increasingly is showing is a significantly more healthful choice than dairy from cows fed on grain and processed feed.)

  • 3 pounds razor clams, chopped coarse (This is the weight of clams after they have been drained. But save and set aside their juice.)
  • clam juice you’ve set aside. The more, the better.
  • 4 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold or yellow potatoes. (These cook up creamier than than Russets)
  • 2 sweet onions, chopped coarse
  • 1/2 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
  • water (as needed to cover potatoes while cooking)
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning (The Spice Hunter’s Italian blend is excellent)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (either black or rainbow)
  • 1 teaspoon dry tarragon, crushed (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 5 – 7 very thin slices of lemon

1. Wash potatoes and remove any eyes, but do not remove the skins. Cut into ½ inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Set aside.

2. Fry the bacon pieces till tender. Do not crisp. Drain the grease and set aside.

3. In a large pot, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add onions, stirring frequently for about five minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Add garlic and stir again.

4. Add flour and stir in thoroughly. Add two tablespoons of butter (or more olive oil) if necessary to completely mix in the flour.

5. Immediately add clam juice and milk. Stir.

6. Add potatoes, seasonings and salt and enough water to cover all. Slowly bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes become tender, stirring occasionally. About 45 – 60 minutes.

7. Add cream and lemon slices and return to just under a simmer or barely simmering.

8. Add the clams and the remaining butter and turn heat to low. On a propane stove, you may need a flame tamer. Continue cooking for 10 minutes.

Serve with a big hunk of toasted sourdough bread and a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, or a good ale.

Chili Done Large

The end of summer and early fall are a time to cook big pots of winter food: chowders, soups, stews and chili to be canned or frozen and pulled out as needed over the coming months. We have a four-gallon, heavy-gauge stainless steel pot that is ideal for this kind of cooking. Three-and-a-half gallons equates to 56 cups, enough one-cup servings for 28 meals for the two of us.

No two pots of chili are ever the same. One year I might have three different kinds of beans to start with. Another year I might have only one kind. When we lived in California, I used fiery hot chili peppers we purchased at the Asian farmer’s market to give the chili a real kick. Other years, like this year, I’ve gone with a more mellow, savory blend of spices. There’s nothing like a hot bowl of chili and a hunk of fresh-baked cornbread slathered in butter when it’s negative 40 outside and the wind is howling.

*****Chili Done Large*****

  • 12 cups dry beans (equal parts pinto and black work well)
  • 3 1/2 pounds tri-tip steak cut into pieces that are approximately  1/2″ square and about 1/4″ thick.
  • 1/2 lb thick-cut bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 6 pounds diced tomatoes (with their liquid). Canned or fresh
  • 24 ounces tomato paste
  • 4 cups sweet corn
  • 4 cups water (approximately)
  • 10 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 4 sweet onions (such as Mayan, Walla Walla or Vidalia) chopped coarse
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (to mix with the tri-tip)
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin (to add to pot while cooking)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for mixing in with the tri-tip and cumin)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for pan-frying the tri-tip)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (for sautéing the onions & garlic)
  • 1 tablespoon dry, crushed oregano
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon smoked sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (find this in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  1. Soak the dry beans in a large pot. A good way to do this is to add about 3 times as much water as beans and bring the beans to a boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 6 to 8 hours. There’s nothing wrong with the thick, dark colored water this produces, but I pour it off to get a cleaner chili.
  2. Combine the tri-tip, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon cumin in a large mixing bowl, mix thoroughly
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the tri-tip mixture. Stir frequently until meat is cooked through. Pour the mixture back into the mixing bowl and set aside.
  4. Fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat, just until done. (They should be tender, not crisp.) Remove from heat and drain on paper towel and set aside.
  5. In a glass (non-reactive) bowl, mix together the tomato paste and about 3 cups of water and set aside
  6. In a large, heavy-gauge pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions. Stir frequently until onions just begin to turn translucent and stir in the garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  7. Stir in the diced tomatoes and the tomato paste with the onions and garlic in the large pot.
  8. Stir in the beans and all the spices and seasonings. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour on low heat.
  9. Stir in the bacon, the tri-tip and the sweet corn. Add a cup of water if the chili is too thick. Bring back to a simmer and give the chili a taste.
  10. Add additional seasonings as desired. Additional tomato paste will thicken the chili.

Chili is always better if you let it sit for a few hours or even a day or two before digging in. Ladle into bowls, top with shredded cheddar cheese, and serve with corn bread, sourdough bread, or crackers. Bring on the winter!

Murder Weapons?

I think it was Agatha Christie who stumped me with a story of a body which had been found lying by a puddle of water with no murder weapon to be found. Though I puzzled over this, I couldn’t figure it out.

Today as we walked around our village, we heard a loud crash, almost like thick glass shattering. We turned to see fragments of a large icicle smashed on the ground next to the school.  Looking up, we saw clear, sharply pointed, pendant masses hanging menacingly. These icicles were substantial–their girth the size of pop cans. Hung next to each other, they resembled monstrous fangs ready to devastate.

Ice Lace

The sun is shining most days. The sun now barely stretches into the sky as we walk to school. It sets well after our bedtime. Somedays we have a taste of “spring.” Drips of melting snow and ice begin to trickle and drop from eaves. Then the temperature falls again. Minus 17 this morning. This step into spring and back creates interesting icicles. The snow drifts are still up against buildings allowing the children easy access to harvest these icy treasures. The icicles have been pouring down our eaves and also have been left as small presents by our young visitors. Sweet.


It is gloriously beautiful these days. The sun shines so bright. It beckons you outside. I feel the sun on my face and wait to feel the warmth. I guess I will need to wait longer. Even though the sun is brilliant, -17 is too cold to feel the suns rays on my face!

Catching Caught Snow

The view from my school window is not very interesting. My view is of a blank wall of a next door portable. There is enough space between the two buildings to see falling snow or blowing wind. My students and I use the window to hang “art” instead of viewing the outdoors. We almost don’t notice the window unless really dramatic weather happens.

Yesterday, we had a snow storm. Up here, a snow storm could mean many different types of weather. Yesterday, it meant beautiful, medium-sized snowflurries that gently drifted down from the sky. The flurries were wet enough to stick everywhere. Walls and windows were covered with fluffy drifts. I happened to look out my window and for some reason was drawn to look down the alley way between the main building and the portables. I noticed a little chain link fence filled with flurries. The fence had been shaped by winters of heavy snow and bent by heavy ice. Now its bends and curves were draped with all the soft flurries.

I went back today to see if I could climb back through the snow and take a closer shot. Alas, the snow had been blown out by the wind. I’m glad I was able to capture what I did. It was another reminder to always have my camera with me.

Grocery Shopping

(The current mode of transportation for us is a snowmachine towing a sled. Cool, huh?)

Last summer, we shipped up 30 rubbermaid tubs full of provisions for the year. We calculated out how much rice, beans, pasta, flour, canned products, tea, coffee, etc. that we thought we would need. We spent a full day shopping, packing, and shipping our groceries. From Anchorage, it cost about $.75 per pound to ship the containers to Shishmaref. In addition to the mailed tubs, we stuffed three coolers full of frozen goods (meat, juice, veggies) and hand carried those out here. We actually saved all of our lists and have them analyzed and ready to use again this coming summer.

We estimated as best we could what we thought we would need for a school year. I’m impressed how well we have done. We have supplemented our initial shopping with items from the two stores in Shishmaref. The stores have quite a bit of ready-to-eat processed food. We were surprised at how much was available at the stores. We are careful. Sometimes the products are outdated. Our grocery shopping at the stores is usually eggs and fresh fruit or veggies. The eggs run about $8 per 18. Because eggs are too hard to ship ourselves, we rely on the stores up here.

People up here take opportunities to go to Anchorage to do fill-in shopping. Otherwise, we can “bush order” groceries through the mail from Fred Meyer or a couple of other companies. Most companies will charge a packing fee, the cost of the groceries, and the cost of the shipping. Besides flying in and out of here, groceries are our biggest expense.

We had an opportunity to go to our district office last weekend. The picture above is the last of the grocery shopping for the year from the village store at Unalakleet. We bought frozen vegetables, apples, butter, onions, gum, and other items. After spending $212, hopping a 10-seater bush plane, and being toted behind a snow machine on a sled,  our groceries are home and we are stocked up for the last part of the school year.

Frozen Paradise

It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The snow had stopped and the clouds broke. The slanted sun rays kissed the freshly fallen snow. The sky was painted with pinks and oranges. The sunshine looked…warm. But don’t let the sun rays fool you. The village thermometer read 12 degrees at the end of our walk. A couple of hours later, the village thermometer fallen to 6 degrees. I think I’m finally getting the winter weather I’ve been asking for.