Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wealthy in Good Living

I never made it out to pick cranberries this summer. I wanted to. I was even determined to. But I never did. I picked a lot of blueberries. But by the time the cranberries were ready, it seemed too wet. And cold. And, oh, how it rained - day, after day, for weeks. I guess I was lazy. Spoiled.

And I was kicking myself for my shortcomings - or, more specifically, about how my laziness was going to cost us a winter without wild cranberries - when I happened upon a 5 gallon bucket of them for sale! Oh, such treasure!

I bought it before anyone else had a chance to even glance at it!

I brought my bounty home, and promptly set aside a whole Friday night to clean and sort them!

Oh, it was fun! If one were to rank it, I think the evening would go right up there with the Saturday night last Spring that Hoppi and I cleaned smelt in her living room, whilst watching foreign movies, until 4 in the morning.

Ahhh, yes, my friends. There is something wonderful about a quiet weekend night immersed in chores that glow with such humble magnitude.

And here is Puck. He doesn't care much about the berries, but he's loving the snow-games that the neighborhood kids set up when it warms up to 10 above!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Trip to Town (many months ago)

Months ago (and I do mean months), we went to a town....actually, we went to Girdwood - a little town outside of "town." Because Girdwood is on the road system, and that road system allows you to go from Girdwood to Anchorage within an hour, I call it part of "town."

In any event, I took a lot of pictures (and I do mean lots) during this trip. Oh, you wouldn't believe what good intentions I had to share them with you too! It was going to be good. But when I arrived back at home (a few hundred air miles from that road system I describe above), laden with the couple hundred of pictures I had taken, I learned a very valuable lesson: namely, classy cameras produce pictures that do not upload easily via dial-up internet service via [Russian?] satellite. Blogger and I waged a few mighty battles. And I sat at my laptop, waiting 2 or 3 hours for one picture to upload - only to have it suddenly time-out. Multiple times. (I can be stubborn that way.)

I was ready to give up. But then, a few months later, I was sent back to town. And this time I had the bright idea of packing my laptop and uploading the pictures whilst hooked-up to my hotel's fast-speed internet. It was a wonderful idea. And I'm sure it is one that I will try again. But it needs work....namely, I need to find the willpower to stay at the hotel, uploading pictures via the hotel's fast-speed internet, and not be completely and utterly distracted by all the opportunities to hang out with friends, and shop, and go to restaurants, and get my hair done, and all those other things I do when I go to town.

Suffice it to say, I didn't upload as many pictures as I had originally planned. But I did manage to upload a few. And I guess sharing them is as good a way of breaking my months of silence as any.


Here is the local airport - decorated by the sons and daughters of the local National Guard members who had just returned from a tour in Iraq the day before.

Here is the place we stayed:

Here is the scenery during one of my hikes whilst my significant attended a conference at the place we stayed:

Here is a picture I took whilst attempting to be artistic during my hike:

I drove into town a couple of times while we were staying at Girdwood. Anchorage, for me, represents a blend of breathtaking beauty and sprawl, and of tradition and chaos. I snapped the next few photos as part of my amateur efforts to try and capture some of that.

Here's a picture I snapped at the corner of Northern Lights and New Seward:

This picture is for Sonya - here's a picture of the coffeeshop from which I called and emailed you about going to dinner with the Vagabonds.

Here's a few more amateur effort to capture that Anchorage puzzle of grandeur and ordinary:

I took a little detour during my town antics for a little stroll around my old stomping grounds. Before I moved out here, I lived in Anchorage for about a year and a half. Here's the park where Puck and I did our daily walks - 3 times a day:

Here's a picture of the house that we'd pass during each of our walks - and that is, without a doubt, my dream house. Sadly enough, there is a movement abreast to replace it with condos. I hope that doesn't happen.

Friday, November 02, 2007


My friends, I have returned from the postoffice with another brown box filled with another bounty of surprise!

A box mailed all the way from Tennessee!

A box carrying a well-wrapped jam jar of Chocolate Covered Strawberry Jam made by April of Abby Sweets. There was also a very sweet note from April. It all left me just a bit giddy - ok, I was giddy like a school girl! It's just so much fun to get gifts in the mail! And so much fun to swap homemade goodies with folks in far places. Ahhh, assured, dear April, there are two excited people out in rural Alaska eagerly anticipating this weekend's opportunity to celebrate your Chocolate Covered Strawberry Jam with some homemade biscuits! I'm actually off, as soon as I finish this post, to see if the good ole AC has some fresh buttermilk for us.

I shouldn't have been surprised to find April's gift. But I was. Several weeks ago, I signed up for a "Jam Exchange" hosted by Molly, an Alaskan with a beautiful food and sights blog. (I have a secret suspicion that her moose stew post might just be my secret trick for persuading Christine to visit the Great White North!) And I even learned with whom I would be exchanging jams. But the times, you know how they go, they go changin'. Winter took hold. (A post will be written to further describe that.) I signed up for a watercolor painting class, and have been a little desperate trying to persuade my (lack of) talent to keep up with all the talented people in the class. (Just to embarass myself, I may just post some pictures of the portfolio I'm supposed to hand in on Monday.) There was a local arts auction to raise funds for a pre-school. And then there was a local talent show called Just Desserts. Then suddenly we were leaving for a week in Girdwood. (Yep, a post is being written to describe that further.) And the time just passed faster than I had comprehended. So, truth be told, when I picked-up the box at the post-office, I had absolutely no idea what it could be. For although I knew that my to-do list included the selection and mailing off of my own jams, I had - GASP - forgotten that I would be receiving a gift of someone else's.

Suffice it to say, you know life is good when you are reminded of reality by a jar of homemade Tennessee Chocolate Covered Strawberry Jam!

Thank you, April!

p.s. Winter is here. And with it comes the dark....approximately (round about) 5 to 7 minutes more of it a day. While it is true that our little hovel has radiated at times with the hefty brightness of la vita dolce, it is also true [sigh] that it does not have much natural light. Even at the summer solstice, when one must stretch the imagination to recognize a sunset, our little hovel remains in shadows. And today, rather than muddle my enthusiasm for April's gift with the inevitable haziness of a picture taken from inside our home, I decided to take the gift of Chocolate Covered Strawberry Jam outide and photograph it under the natural light of the river bank. So J. and I packed up the camera and the jam, herded up the hounds, and headed up for a stroll along the river. Would I be too repetitive if I said that a post is being written to further describe that stroll? If so, forgive me. If not, stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2007

A little Brother, a Box of Cheese, and a Cast-Iron Skillet of Ginger-Glazed Goodness

My little brother is not little. He is over 6’5. His shoes are big enough that he is lucky to find them even in specialty stores. He is, I’d guess, the human equivalent of a sequoia. Tall. Strong. Awesome. Sometimes though, I admit, I find myself fondly recalling his childhood years. Those adorable, dimpled, giggling years, when I could cajole him into being the “baby” while my friends and I played house. Oh, frivolous me, I once even persuaded an aunt to let me dress him up in girl clothes so that I could pretend I had a baby sister. (This occurred, I should caveat, during his newborn infancy and long before he had a voice with which to protest my antics. It hasn’t happened since. But I do, like any big sister would, have pictures of those short-lived times.)

Despite all this nostalgia for his younger days, my little brother has been - for years - the “man” in our family. He is the person that my mother and I call when a car might need a repair. He is the first person I call when I think the oil-change guy is ripping me off. He is the one I call when something big needs to be lifted, or a complex project needs to be overseen. Usually he has foreseen the need, and carries the big things and oversees the complex projects before I even realize it. I often call him simply to avail myself of his treasure trove of “how-to” – such as the first time I found myself faced with the task of cleaning a fish. He is the one I call when my heart breaks, or the world seems suddenly antagonistic. I call him when I need to borrow a dose of courage, or when I find myself keenly missing the father I didn’t get a proper chance to know. Likewise, I call him when I am keenly happy, when life is being deliriously kind and the Fates generously benevolent. He always has good advice. And, somehow to my great fortune, I accept, without struggle or ego, his opinions and advice. Indeed, over the years, my little brother has grown from that dimply giggle into a man I greatly admire. His opinion is precious to me. It is fair to say that he has become the man against whom I gauge and judge every other man. He is the man that will be walking me down the aisle at our wedding next year, and “giving me away.” (A task - he likes to remind me – that he’s been waiting years to accomplish and would be more than willing to do even sooner…the punk.) He is also wonderfully independent, and stubborn, and kind and compassionate and all those other stalwart, human qualities that indicate the wisdom of maturity and the experience of age. But I still – and shall - insist on calling him my little brother.

And today I write about him because J. returned from the post office with a big brown box.

We opened it and found a cheesemaking kit (!!!) – a gift to us from the man that is my little brother, complete with a reminder note that “cheese is the food of the gods.”

It is hard – nay! impossible(!) – to imagine a more perfect gift. And I thought a little childhood context about the gift-giver would be appropriate for this announcement that there is a little hovel on stilts stuffed with his family, their books and the various debris from his sister’s attempts to simultaneously learn watercolor painting and photography, taken-over by canine hooligans and apple-butter preserving equipment, and located at least 500 airmiles from the nearest store-bought options for real cheese, that is brimming – literally humming – with all sorts of excitement, and ideas, and culinary anticipations, the requisite cartwheels of glee, and just plain, old-fashioned, humble, utter gratitude.

Thank you, dear Bobby! We love the cheesemaking kit!

In commemoration of his generosity, I thought I’d highlight a recipe that we discovered this summer: Ginger-Braised Corn with Carrots. This may seem incongruous. My brother sends us a cheesemaking kit, and I counter with a corn and carrot recipe….It makes sense, however, because my little brother was the one that actually introduced us to the concept of cooking vegetables with ginger. He lived up here for a few months last winter. I didn’t think I could enjoy any memory more than the memory of dressing Bobby up as a little sister, but there is no sibling memory I treasure more than that winter of cooking and feasting together. I was amazed by all his culinary ideas and suggestions – how similar, and yet so distinctly different, his approach was to mine. I was especially impressed by his cooking tricks with ginger. Broccoli. Carrots. Mushrooms. He has a whole repertoire of gingered veggie recipes. After a few winter months with us, he moved back to the Lower 48. When I miss him, I find myself whipping up gingered veggie recipes…..Suffice it to say, we eat gingered veggie dishes pretty regularly.

And this summer, we did a long-distance toast to my brother with a particularly delicious and ginger-based concoction that we called Ginger-Glazed Corn with Carrots.

Please trust me - this dish is beautiful.
Much more beautiful than it may look in this picture. Indeed, I could even confess to signing-up for a watercolor painting class just to be able to better display its vibrant colors.

Ginger-Glazed Corn with Carrots

The introduction to the concept of this recipe came from my little brother. But the nuts and bolts basis for this particular gingered recipe came from my favorite cookbook, the Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook by Sharon Kramis and her daughter, Julie Kramis Hearne. I love this cookbook. I think everyone should own a copy of it. I’m doing my best to bring about such a state of affairs. The official recipe in the Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook is actually called Ginger-Glazed Carrots. It doesn’t contain corn. Only carrots. And I’m sure it would be delicious just so. But I have a hard time following a recipe verbatim. And ever since I discovered the incredibly good good-living of Iowa, I tend to add corn to everything. Maybe, perhaps, my tendency to add corn to everything is a bit like my brother adding ginger to everything. In any event, this combination of ginger and corn makes for a fine family tradition.

1.5 pounds of carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup water

1/4 cup salted butter
1-inch piece fresh giner, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
A handful of corn (fresh off the cob or frozen)
Chopped fresh parsley

Plate the carrots, water, butter, ginger, and sugar in a cast iron skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, simmer and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occassionally until the carrots are tender and a butter sauce has developed. Toss in the corn and continue to cook and stir for at least 2 more minutes, but ultimately until the corn and carrots are cooked (but still retain a crunch). Season with sea salt, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Glance at the Life: Good Friends and the Winter Project 2008

It does not go unnoticed by me that I owe any and all ability to post a picture to this blog to my friends. More particularly, to two friends: Carolyn and Genevieve.

Carolyn (unpictured....for now) was my college roommate. Currently, she is my generous and witty and quick and just entirely-too-much-fun-to-be-around buddy in Anchorage. She is also the reason that I live in Alaska instead of 2 blocks from the Union Square Greenmarket. It was, you see, her wedding in Girdwood that brought me to Alaska for the first time. And when I couldn't stay away, and less than a month later I was back for more, it was the trip to her family’s cabin at Whiskey Lake that confirmed I would move mountains to be able to live here myself. About two years ago, Carolyn gave me my very first digital camera. (A year before that, she also set me up with pillows and a futon and even – I swear - a car, and gave me my first and only DVD player, but these are topics – and gushes of appreciation – for another time. Suffice it to say, Carolyn made moving to Alaska much, much easier and fun than it could have been. Carolyn, my friends, is simply talented in fun.)

It was generous. And I was so excited to finally be able to send pictures to the people that I've been earnestly attempting to persuade into visiting. But, I’ll admit it, the camera scared me. It took me a long while to learn how to turn it on. It took, in fact, importing my little brother up to Bush Alaska to set it all up for me. He installed a memory card (gifted also by Carolyn) into the camera, and installed software into the laptop. With the smugness that only one’s little brother can demonstrate towards a technologically inept big sister, he even tried to tutor me towards using it. Luckily, I finally learned. I even learned how to take a picture with it, and to upload the picture, and to email the picture, and – obviously – how to post a picture here. But, I never quite mastered it. And, oh, it was bad at one of those several times where I found myself lamenting (for weeks) that I had broken it only to be slammed by an epiphany that perhaps I simply need to put in new batteries. And it has “modes” and “menus” - and these cause me such consternation that I never even really try to understand them. I never even sampled them. I turned it on, and shot, and it took pictures, and I could upload them. And life was good, and easy and – from time to time when I remembered to update the batteries - recorded.

Slowly, with time, came comfort. Confidence with digital photography. And gumption. So much gumption, in fact, that a few months ago I whirled and whimmed myself into buying a new, complicated, and big camera. A Nikon D-80.

It arrived. I was so excited! I started to take it out of the box. But it had so many pieces. So many manuals. So many different languages and plugs and contraptions and stuff like that…..oh, I get breathless with angst all over again just thinking about it. It required, my friends, assembly. It was all too much. Assembly! Ugh. I promptly put everything right back in the box, and carried the box right up to the spare room, and set it right up in the middle of a pile of stuff, and decided that it would be best to ease into it. Months passed. Occasionally I’d go up and look at the box and contemplate trying again. But then I’d remember all the pieces and all the programming and all that other stuff, and I’d just turn around and leave.

Fast forward a few months, and this email popped into my inbox:

any plans for next thursday and friday? i'm thinking of dropping in for a

"G" is my friend Genevieve. She is a witty, adventurous, berry-picking, baking, renaissance-worthy island-dweller out in Unalaska. Genevieve, in fact, is diversely talented. Leonardo da Vinci would have definitely invited her to his table. Think it would be fun to learn how to play an Irish tin whistle? She already knows how to! Think it would be fun to pick up 12 ungutted silver salmons! She’ll come over with 5 minutes notice, and set up a cleaning station, and bring a Food Saver, and patiently – oh! so patiently! try to show you how to fillet them. She won’t laugh at your attempts. Think it would be fun to buy 5 gallons of already fermenting cloudberries? But then realize you have absolutely no idea what to do with all those berries? The answer – call Genevieve. Similar tales could be told about sleuthing town for the one remaining cucumber, and cutting down sugar in jams, and finding berry patches, and crawling over, and under, and around pipes to take short-cuts to the Cultural Center. Genevieve, my friends, is the guide you want on your tundra island. It was a very sad day when she left it.

So imagine my glee, my joy, my celebratory cartwheels when I got an email saying that Genevieve was coming to town! Now, my friends, let’s be honest here. I don’t live in a place where one can just “drop in.” And Genevieve, in Unalaska, doesn’t live in a place that permits her to just drop by. She lives in the middle of the Aleutian Chain. She lives on an island – a real one - in the middle of the Aleutian Chain. But in addition to all the talents described above, Genevieve is also an Alaskan Airlines guru. A traveling wonder. A multi-mile millionaire, I suspect. Most definitely a deal spotter. One of those real kinds of deal spotters. One of those kinds of traveling wonder deal spotters that cut their teeth traveling around the Caucasions and Central America.

With such a plethora of talents, is it a surprise to anyone that, while in town, Genevieve put together my new camera? She came to town for 48 hours last week and assembled my camera for me. She even read the manual for me. (Yes, there does seem to be a pattern of me putting guests to work. I shall introspect on that at another time, though.) She could have gone to the A.C. to see who was buying $15 gallons of orange juice. She could have gone to Swanson’s to see if they ever got another shipment of ramekins. She could have walked along the river and looked for glimpses of Tom’s John Deere Green boat. But she is kind, and generous – and she spent her time gifting me with an assembled camera and distilled suggestions for operating it. I'm indebted.

In sum, it is a direct result of Carolyn and Genevieve, and their generosities and patience with me and my technological waywardness, that I have started taking pictures with a Nikon D-80. Sure, it has menus and modes enough to send me crawling under the covers. But I think I found a solution. I 'm making digital photography my Winter Project 2008. Let the cold come. Let the dark return and the whipping winds of below zero flay. I shall be safe, and warm and utterly enraptured with my Winter Project, photography. Now I don’t promise anything fancy here. I don’t even promise anything interesting. And we all know I’d be courting something stinky if I promised anything talented. But I do promise Pamela that there will be a lot more pictures of the dogs.

Here are a few pictures from the start of this project:

Here is Paxson grinning at his proximity to Puck's tail.

Here is Puck realizing Paxon's proximity to his tail.

Here is Puck attempting to hide his tail. It didn't work.

But before you feel sorry for Puck........

Here is Puck moping after Genevieve and Paxson left - and it wasn't just because
there were no longer stray cheerios to nibble on.

And here is Clyde.......ahhh, Clyde! So handsome!

With the first camera,
here is a glimpse of Paxon's state of awe when he first saw Clyde.

And here are some snapshots of Paxson (clearly the son of his parents) going from awe to adventure -

it's amazing how quick of a crawler he is!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Marion Cunningham's Beet Marmalade

Last winter, when the blizzard hit and the radio told us to stay where we were, I was at home. On my lunch hour. And because the town closed the road due to the blizzard, I was forced to stay there. I made a mug of milky tea and set about to make Marion Cunningham's Cream Biscuits. They were deliciously easy to prepare, and abundantly warm and lovely. I have never more enjoyed a tundra blizzard.

In February, when the light was returning but doing so slowly (oh so slowly) and arm-in-arm with a bone-breaking cold, I made her Baked Rice Pudding. Such delicious anticipation. While the stove warmed up our home with heat and the perfume of rice pudding's humble goodness, we listened to the town council on the radio and tossed balls for our dogs. Forgive me for the lack of modesty, but I do believe our little hovel radiated with good living that cold February night of the Baked Rice Pudding.

In May, when the internet was literally chirping with pictures of daffodils and fresh asparagus but our river was still frozen solid and Winter lingered, I made her Lemon Curd. Literally skipping with the glee of a Spring to come, we took a jar of Marion Cunningham's bright, gold Lemon Curd to a friend's house. Our friend ate the lemon curd on Wheat-thins, and fed us her homemade salmon liver pate and shee-fish chowder. It was hard not to love our lives with such bounty.

On a leisurely Sunday morning in July, while J's mother was visiting but J. was at his office prepping for 9 trials in a row, I made us a breakfast featuring Marion Cunningham's Yellow Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes. I added some blueberries to celebrate the special occassion, and confessed to J's mom that cornmeal pancakes remind me of her father, R.C. I never actually ate cornmeal pancakes with R.C., but he was a cornseed farmer. And a tractor-pull champion. And a wit. A great wit. I have no doubt that eating cornmeal pancakes with R.C. would be a witty adventure of good living. And that July morning, we two ladies spent a few hours at the sticky table, eating Marion Cunningham's cornmeal pancakes with blueberries (which I have further personalized and named "R.C. Cakes") and chatting about R.C. We actually talked about many things. But I especially loved talking about R.C. and how he once drove a Model-T across the country, fed a pancake to a bear, and drove back. I don't know if there is a cookbook more appropriate for a leisurely Sunday morning in rural Alaska with one's visiting future mother-in-law than Marion Cunningham's cookbook, The Breakfast Book. I doubt that there is a finer breakfast than Marion Cunningham's R.C. Cakes.

Well, those Dutch Babies are pretty good too.....On August 5th, for Sunday breakfast with just J., I made Marion Cunningham's recipe for Dutch Babies. I baked them in two castiron skillets and served them with homemade blueberry lime syrup, powdered sugar and bacon. They were delicious. We were loving our life, though this shouldn't be too surprising. It is not hard to love one's life when one is looking at their own cast-iron skillet of dutch baby, and tarting it up with homemade blueberry-lime syrup. I made a silent shout of thanks to Marion Cunningham for, again, adding to the perfect meal moment.

And on August 28th, for no reason other than I had picked up two bunches of the Meyer family beets at the Saturday Market, I made her Beet Marmalade. I served it with slices of cold pot roast and hot, creamed mushrooms. It was delicious! We loved it so much, in fact, that I immediately went around distributing the remaining jars of this surprising treat to our neighbors. Life - can you see the pattern? - was loved.

Even though I have never met Marion Cunningham, she has certainly has made quite a contribution to the life we're building up here. I wish I could meet her in a person. I'm sure I'd stammer and stutter. Just how is one supposed to be cool and calm in front of someone to whom they owe such a grace of good living? But even with this likelihood that I'd make a complete and utter fool of myself, I still hope that someday, maybe, hopefully, I might bump into Marion Cunningham whilst perusing the new shipment of eggplants at the A.C. Who knows? Maybe it can happen...? In the meantime, I should probably be proactive and write her a letter, thanking her for all the moments of humble magnitude that her recipes and cookbooks have led us to. I should do that. Or maybe Marion Cunningham googles her name every now and then, and maybe up will pop up this little itemization of the "simple, easy, flexible meal[s] marked by the intimacy of family or friends" that she has inspired up here on this little tundra island. You just never know what can happen, aye?

In any event, here is Marion Cunningham's recipe for Beet Marmelade. I could lose my voice in an effort to describe its perfection. It's surprisingly easy to prepare, yet startingly beautiful. I gave a jar of it to Tom, who also thought it was pretty. "It looks like salmon eggs," he explained. It is also delicious. An intriguing burst of flavours. Refreshing, but complex. It is a bit like cranberry sauce, though it has the peppery bite of a chutney rather than a tang of a jelly. Partnered with pot roast, it is divine.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.


Beet Marmalade
(copied from Marion Cunningham's The Supper Book, page 168)

4 medium-large beets, boiled** and peeled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large lemon
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger

Put the beets in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped, or mash the beets by hand. Transfer the beets to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir in the sugar.

Cut, seed, and quarter the lemon. Put the pieces and the giner into the food processor and process until finely chopped, or chop by hand. Add the lemon and ginger to the beet mixture and stir to blend. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the marmalade has thickened a little. This takes about 2 minutes - remember that the marmalade will get even thicker as it cools.

Put the hot marmalade into clean jars, cover and refrigerate when cool. This will keep for a month. For longer preserving, fill sterilized jars with the hot mixture, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Put on the lids and tighten, and process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes.

** Instructions for boiling the beets are on page 11. They are pretty standard. But in the interest of sharing as much Marion Cunningham wisdom as I can, I'll summarize them here. Basically, she advises that you cut off all but an inch of the beet tops and drop the beetings into boiling water for 30 minutes to an hour. Don't trim, pare or otherwise remove the roots. When they are cooked, drain and cool them down in cold water. When you can, slip off the skins.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Glance At Our Life: the Sand Plough

This is the sand plough that periodically restores traversability to our road.

Our road is not paved. It is made of sand. Compacted sand, perhaps. But, still, sand. Unlike most sand, the sand of which our road is made is a type of sand that becomes gloppy mud with a bit of water. Even a little shower of rain can transform our sand road into our mud trap. And if our road suffers a few days of rain - oh! it can get bad. Rain wreaks massive mischief on the traversability of our road. So does the sun. Yes, if it gets too dry our road can become an eye-blinding whirl of blowing sand. And if the weather is such that it is both dry and wet, well, we get potholes. Bad potholes. Potholes that stretch to gigantic proportions. Potholes that can eat a truck. Ok. So that is an exaggeration (...most of the time -I have seen at least one SUV in the grip of a desperate struggle with our road). In any event, you get the idea. Right? I suppose it doesn't need to be said, but snow and ice can also impact the traversability of our road, though it does make for a firmer surface.

Sorry if I'm being verbosely redudant here. I could probably have condensed that entire paragraph into this one sentence: it is not rare that J. puts the truck into 4 Wheel Drive to get home and every now and then the sand plough comes through to temporarily fix that. But I wanted to share all those weather and seasonal details so that you, dear readers, could better understand just how exciting it is to see the sand/snow plough in our neighborhood. I wish we saw it more. It is so exhillerating to travel along a traversable road. But I won't be ungrateful for when we do.

These are pictures from the last time the plough visited our neighborhood. I took it the day before leaving for Sonya's wedding in Seattle. In fact, I made J. stop the truck so that I could hop out and take these pictures. I'm not sure who was more surprised by my camera - J. or the plough driver. But here you go. Here is a very real glance at our lives: the plough that periodically restores traversability to our road.

It looks, doesn't it, like a snow plough? But no, it is a sand plough. Even when we freeze up, and no longer deal with sand or mud because everything has been frozen more solid than cement or asphalt, I still call it the sand plough. I do so, probably, because we rarely see it in the winter.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Uncle Nate's Corn Cake

There is a recipe, below, for this easy-to-prepare corn cake. It isn’t a “cake” made with corn like a corn cake analogous to carrot cake would be. Nor is it like cornbread. It is a corn cake that is fashioned out of corn and eggs and a mere teaspoon of flour. It is delicious.

Before I describe it any further or give you the recipe, I can't resist…..well, perhaps more honestly, I don't want to resist……. but really, seriously - regardless of the specificity of the vernacular – I won’t resist talking, just a bit more, about the corn - those 45 pounds of Iowa corn that Nate carried over to Alaska in a black duffel bag. Just a tiny bit more, I promise. (Admittedly, I’m going to define”bit” and “tiny” in accordance with the Alaskan perspectives of one who lives amidst the vast, immense, seemingly infinite tundra. But you couldn’t expect me to do any less in my attempt to sufficiently describe a gift of corn that brought such a carnival of glee into our home, could you?)

I’d like to segue, just a bit mind you, into all our options with that corn. Quite frankly, once we had it, I didn’t know what we were going to do with it all. I think I was so caught up in the excitement that we could get so much corn, that I hadn’t actually sat down and thought out a plan for what we would do with it if we did. The three of us tossed around ideas. Actually, I think I probably tossed out ideas. Those two Iowa boys were already contemplating the buttery goodness of simple corn on the cob. I could see it their eyes. They were just entertaining me, tolerating my bombardment of time-consuming options with their typical good-naturedness. Undoubtedly to simplify things a bit, Nate suggested “putting it up” and promptly googled a straight-forward way for doing so. In the face of such a solid, achievable plan, I countered with chaos. Start a sweet corn soughdough starter? Can a case of chowchow? Peach-corn-buttermilk sherbet? Corn vinegar?……

I know. These are some unique ideas. But that's exactly why I loved them so! Please don't think, however, that my creativity created them. No. They are the ideas of Betty Fussell. I lifted every last one of them from her every-cook-should-have-a-copy cookbook titled Crazy for Corn. As soon as I saw the bounty of the duffel bag, I went straight for the bookshelves to pull it out. I don’t know Betty Fussell personally, of course, but I’d do quite a cartwheel of glee if I could. She's brilliant and she writes those lovely kind of cookbooks that keep. Seriously. They exist outside of fads and trends. They are, in fact, timeless mini-treatises on accessible subjects, emphasizing the culinary heritage of generally familiar ingredients, regions, traditions, etc.. Her emphasis is eloquent and engaging. And it would not be strange that one could think they will steal just a few minutes to simply glance through a few pages of one of her books, maybe a quote or two, only to find that an entire afternoon has passed, and the sun is setting, and the mug of milk tea has long grown cold, and the book is now covered with post-it notes and other indications of recipes that one must, simply must, make some day soon. I can confess to one or two narcissistic moments since I first discovered Betty Fussell’s cookbooks, when I was convinced that she writes them just for me! Just for me, she fills them with all sorts of lovely quotes. Just for me, she prints them on these lovely fibrous pages with wide margins that so eagerly accept all my own hand-written notations. Just for me….ok, just for us, she wrote Crazy for Corn - a simple, hearty cookbook that can – as you can see from the maelstrom of my brainstorm - instigate all sorts of culinary adventures.

Sadly, on that particular first night of Nate’s visit, we were too tired to really embark on any of Betty Fussell’s adventures. All three of us. J. and had just returned from his 22 hour journey from Seattle to home. I had just returned from my own 16 hour journey from Seattle to home. And Nate, poor Nate, had just finished his very, very long journey from Iowa to Alaska. Although it was such fun to glimpse through Betty Fussell’s research the world of opportunities that lay in that duffel bag filled with corn, we eventually settled (I say “settled” facestiously) for a simple dinner (I say “simple” facestiously too) of steaks and corn on the cob. J. prepared the steaks using the Brazilian churrasco method he learned from Sonya's new husband, Rodrigo, down in Seattle. Simply salt and a grill. Divine. And we pulled out 6 ears of corn from the bag and handed them to Nate, our resident corn expert. He shucked and boiled the corn. Sublime. Seriously. Sublime.

Nothing like putting your fiance and houseguest to work while you slap post-it notes on every other page of a Betty Fussell cookbook, aye?

My fingers numb from busily post-it-noting all those pages, my mind exhausted from the travel, and my belly full of some of summer’s finest luxuries, I finally had to concede that the sourdough starter, vinegar, chowchow and peach-corn-buttermilk ice cream would have to wait. I did manage to clear out a third of our refridgerator space before crawling to bed, and Nate kindly carried the bag of corn over to fill it. I suspect we had just enough energy to accomplish this simple act of corn preservation.

The next morning, J. and Nate got up and “put up” the 45 pounds of corn. I'm guessing from the photos on the camera, they made big pots of coffee and sat at the table to clean all the corn.

Then, they boiled, chilled, cobbed and bagged the corn. It looks like quite a production.

By the time I got home from work and took possession of the camera, they were putting the last of the corn into ziploc bags and were - I swear - giddy with all the success of it.

We ate corn that night too. Alas, I can’t remember exactly how we ate it. Isn’t it funny how, in wealth, we can so easily forget the details of our joy? Wealthy in corn, I can’t for the life of me remember how we ate it that night. A salad? Buttered? I just don’t remember. Fortunately, I do remember feeling a sense of wellbeing knowing that I was in Alaska eating straight-from-the-Iowa-cornfield corn with two Iowa-born guys and that there was a winter’s worth of similar goodness enriching our freezer.

The next morning, it was my turn to play with our cache of Iowa gold. I woke up early and used some of the unfrozen corn to make “the boys” Corn Cake for breakfast. The recipe came from the cookbook Savouring Desserts, a handy if not as hyperbole-inspiring kitchen resource. It is a little odd that after all the brainstorming two nights before, I didn’t use a recipe from Crazy for Corn. But I had marked this particular recipe for just this kind of occasion. In fact, I bought Savouring Desserts just to possess this recipe for just this kind of occasion. I felt a little compelled to try it. I’m sure Betty would understand.

And now, full circle, we come back to the description and recipe for Uncle Nate's Corn Cake.

If you find yourself with some fresh corn, definitely try this “cake.” It’s simple. Quick. Delicious. Quite perfect, actually. But please know that it’s not really a cake. It’s more of a corn clafouti, I suppose. And it’s not really a dessert. Oh, it could be dessert if you so wanted it to be. It did come, after all, from a book comprised solely of dessert recipes. But I think it makes a finer breakfast. It is sweet. Oh, goodness. There is no denying that. But it's just not a dessert kind of sweet. I find it maybe too rich and buttery, really, for a rustic dessert. Yet its particular sweetness seems too homey, too nostalgic, for a celebratory dessert. All in all, I’d say that its sweetness is one of familiarity and comfort that is more appropriate for starting, rather than ending, the day. There is also this: I personally find it too rich for a summer dessert. Admittedly, I could just be partial to desserting on fruits during this season of fresh corn. But one should also be aware of this fact of summer relevancy: it has to bake awhile. While we don’t have to worry too much up here about turning on the stove during the summer (only occassionally does it get that hot) old habits do die hard, and my own personal habit of avoiding hot stoves in the summer is one of those more persistant kind of death-defying habits. If you make it for breakfast, you get the advantage of the old summer tradition of doing all a day’s baking in the morning. And let’s be honest here, it is fun to do the summer baking in slippers whilst there is just enough chill in the air to lend a hearty appreciation for that day’s first coffee but not enough to require a cardigan.

A final reason to consider this as a breakfast option is that it is an ideal kind of breakfast to make for a weekday houseguest. You can do the prep-work in your pyjamas. While it bakes, you can shower and get ready for work and even set the table for your guest to wake-up to. But don’t forget to make your guest a pot of coffee too. That hot coffee – preferably a stoic black - with this cake, is a fine combination indeed. Indeed, I'd do cartwheels of glee to make it for a mid-morning coffee with Betty Fussell, should she ever pass through this little portion of vast, immense tundra and feel inclined to rest a bit at our kitchen table.....and, maybe, just maybe, assist me a bit in compiling a list of ways to make use of all that wild chamomile that pops up all over the dusty driveway out front.

Uncle Nate’s Corn Cake
(Slightly abbreviated version of the one in Savoring Desserts, p. 19)

Aside from minor substitutions to accommodate what I had handy (salted butter for unsalted, etc.) and doubling the baking time and switching from a fry-pan to my absolute favorite pie plate, I followed the recipe below verbatim. But that’s where my fairly faithful act of culinary obedience ends. I followed the recipe, but I am changing the name. In Savouring Desserts, it is called simply “Corn Cake” (in English) and "Pan de Elote" (in Spanish). In our home, however, it shall henceforth be called “Uncle Nate’s Corn Cake.” Not that we are expecting children at this moment, mind you. But if we do, someday, in the future, maybe, hopefully….well, I see no problem with celebrating today how lucky those little hooligans will be to have an uncle like Nate. In the meantime, there are two adoring canine hooligans that don’t mind claiming a familial connection to the Iowan whose departure they still mourn. So, yes. In our hovel on stilts, this lovely little cake-of-sorts shall be called “Uncle Nate’s Corn Cake” and will go on the shelf of favorites right next to Amelia’s Rhubarb Pie.

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tbsp
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh corn kernels
4 eggs
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp corn oil

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
  • With an electric mixer, beat together the 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup sugar until creamy.
  • Grind the corn kernels in a food processor, stopping while the corn still has some texture.
  • Add the ground corn to the butter miture and mix well. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and beat until combined.
  • Put the 2 tablespoons of butter and the oil in a 9-inch ovenproof frying pan and heat in the oven until the butter is melted. Add the creamed corn mixture and bake until set. A tootpick inserted into the middle should come out clean, and there should be no liquid visible if you shake or tilt the pan. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.


First Postscript: To serve, I set the table with Bernie’s homemade cloudberry jam, my homemade apple butter, CarolAnn’s homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam and A.C. purchased maple syrup, just in case anyone wanted to doctor up their slice of Uncle Nate’s Corn Cake like a pancake or cornbread. I even put out some powdered sugar, just in case anyone wanted to doctor it up like a dutch baby or french toast. But the consensus seems to be that all such doctorings are unnecessary. This cake can stand – indeeds merits from such standing – on its own. But, then again, who would expect anything less from a recipe named after Nate?

Second Postscript: This postcript is for Pamela, who I’m guessing would be particularly interested in our hooligans’ initial reaction to the carnival smells of 45 pounds of Iowa corn. They may have smelled freshly flown-in corn before. I don’t know. They could have. But it wouldn’t have been like this. Not straight from an Iowa cornfield! Oh no. This was their first exposure to such treasure. They liked it! Admittedly, they were a little hesitant at first. But after that, it was all excitement.

So excited were they, that little Puck decided to test a nibble. We put a stop to that, of course, though I did wait to do so until after I had secured – for you - a picture of his adorable audacity.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

La Vita Dolce

How quickly these days have passed. Fourteen friend-filled, family-emphasized, antic-encouraged, and life-affirming days have passed since my last post. They have been, in the most sincere way, wonderful. Alas, I don't know how to describe them. I don't know where to start, or even how to edit them away from a rambling meander of details and gushing hyperbole. Quite frankly, I do not possess the skill to describe the magnitude of their simple goodness.

Please, dear readers, please, bare with me. With the insufficient words I do have, and the limited skills I urge myself to fumble with, I am trying to describe to you the joy, the glee, the sheer and utter and immense contentment of four glorious friend-and-family-and-food-and-dancing-and-humble-yet-magificent-wit-that-college-friends-best-epitomize days in Seattle celebrating the marriage of a lifetime friend to a wonderful man, and returning to our home in Alaska just in time to enjoy five full days of adventures with the man I’m going to marry, his hilarious brother, and the 45 pounds of Iowa corn he carried across the continent in a black duffel bag for us.

(Let's pretend that italics do not indicate hyperbole, shall we?)

As an extra dollop of joy, while I was down in Seattle and immersed in all the emotions and antics of a remarkably fun PacificNW/Brazilian wedding, I was nominated by the very kind and eloquent Amanda (who, I've noticed, does possess an admirable talent for describing beauty and good-living, as well as dishes that pretty much inspire my grocery shopping lists whenever I go Outside) as a "Rockin' Girl Blogger." Such a fine compliment! I blush with the honor of it and then dive into contemplating all the new cartwheels of glee that her nomination inspires.

And to top it all off, after our return to the tundra island, J. went to the post-office to pick up our mail, only to discover that my future father-in-law sent us a book self-published in 1972 with the history of the little chapel in the foothills of the Cascades where my parent were married and where we too will be married. Such treasure! This book is titled Holy Rosary Mission: 1892 to 1972. It is signed by the author, Patricia Keegan Schonbachler. And it contains a quote that I suspect I've spent my lifetime looking for……

"The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future."

Those more eloquent than me, and those that can better wield words to capture the sentiment of extreme gratitude, could do better. But me. With what I have, I can only ramble out a surface description of my appreciation for our current string of glee: Weddings! And family! And friends! And the potential and adventures that only 45 pounds of Iowa sweet corn can unleash upon our little kitchen on our massive tundra island! Compliments! Appreciation for the life we are building in Alaska! Encouragement for the vows we'll exchange in Oregon!

In light of such bounty, I’m sure you can see now how hard…nay, impossible! it is to describe these days with general terms, polite nonchalance or even mere understatement. These days are the kind of days one builds a life upon – and days that give you tangible proof that the life you have built is just right. Sometimes I think of these kind of days – and all these precious moments that form their architecture – as “snapshot moments”…..moments that immediately assume the poignancy and relevance of an adored photo with dog-ears and creases and all the other evidence of being carried around during travels to show new friends where you come from. Yes. These have been fourteen days full of Snapshot Moments.

Looking back, I can see that much of the excitement and joy and emotions of these days has also been a harvesting of our heritage, of sorts. A harvesting and a very excited approach towards our future.

P.S. - There will be more to follow. More details. More stories, with recipes and all. I promise. They're all percolating in my mind. But, for now, I'm going to linger just a bit longer in the gratitude for it all. My thanks to Sonya and Rodrigo - for finding each other, and making each other so happy, and for hosting a beautiful wedding that samba'd its way into the chronicle of my most treasured lifetime moments. To Nella, for knowing me so well - and still being such a solid friend - and for leading me to the most perfect place to enjoy urban dining and for agreeing to park in a garage in your own town so that I could get more time drinking wine in public and eating charcuterie, and cheese, and pate', and plum financiers, and lamb sausage. Oh goodness. Thank you so much for such a delightful afternoon. To Karri, for keeping me in a constant state of chuckle. To her mother, for those jars of pickled asparagus. Yum! To Christine and Steve, for one of the best late-night conversations I've ever had, and for having it in your beautiful house whilst your handsome baby slept and we ate tomatoes picked from your garden. To JMay and Will, for all that fun and for reminding me how much joy there is to be had by topping a great evening with a Dick's burger, fries and shake. To Amy - indeed, all the Funkhousers, for managing the details with such grace and warmth of welcome. To the Rochas and Pintos, for being so gracious in the face of the damage that seventeen years has wreaked upon my ability to speak in Portuguese and for not once laughing that what I do manage to speak in Portuguese is uttered in an accent best described as the equivalent of a thirty-something Texan woman brazenly speaking in a drawling version Valley Girl Talk as if it was perfectly normal and that fad had never phased out. To Nate, for gracing our hovel on stilts with your wit, insight and drawer-fixing engineering prowess.....and for preparing our freezer for the incoming Alaskan winter with 45 pounds of Iowa corn! I suspect that I may grow old and be permanantly perched in a rocking chair in front of my rhubarb patch, grandkids sporting about and canine hooligans wreaking all sorts of good-living mischief, but the story of those 45 pounds of Iowa corn that you carried to Alaska in the Summer of 2007 shall still guarantee to bring me to a smile. To Pamela, for inspiring Nate's visit. And to Dave, for getting us even more excited about our wedding. There is no doubt in my mind that Cecilia is doing jigs of joy that you sent to us such a fine, fine reminder to remember, cherish, and build our lives upon all the people, places, adventures and heritage that have contributed to who we are and how we define la dolce vita.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Glance At Our Life: Our Neighborhood

I love our neighborhood. Loooooove it.

Our neighborhood stretches along the river.

Our neighborhood has a lake.

What really makes our neighborhood so special, though, are our neighbors. I have fine neighbors. Tom, for example, is a fine neighbor in our fun neighborhood. Tom moved here 'round and 'bout the same time that we did. He is a district attorney. He doesn't eat chicken. Or eggs. He likes to put capers in his quesadillas. I took care of Tom's dog, Kusko, when Tom went to Paris. Kusko and Puck get along really well, though they can get a bit overwhelming. I won't use the word disturbing, this being public and all. Kusko makes really horrible, awful noises when she wants something you won't give her. There were times that I thought that passing persons might hear and shudder at the noise. I was expecting visits from public officials. As a thankyou for taking care of Kusko, Tom gave Puck a wizard costume for Halloween (Kusko was costumed like a devil and yes - it was all so cute) and gave me a gift that quickly became one of my prized possessions: this cutting board sculptured like a cheese with a cheese knife forged into a mouse shape.

In the winter, it is fun to see Tom snow-machine by our house because he always has a different fur hat on. For awhile, his snowmachine didn't have proper runners on his ski's. And so it was also fun (albeit a bit scary) to see him slipping and sliding every time he attempted to make a turn when he snow-machined by our house in his fur hats. Tom made those fur hats that he wears while snow-machining. In fact, Tom specializes in skin-sewing. With the fur scraps from making his own beaver hats and mittens, Tom has sewn a fur wardrobe for Kusko. When Kusko competed against my dog, Puck, at the local dog show last winter for the "Most Adorable" trophy - I will confess, here and now and with approximately 7 months to prepare for the next local dog show - I was nervous that Kusko's hand-sewn beaver collar and/or Kusko's fur cape with a big, cross-stiched-by-hand-through-a-beaver-pelt letter 'K' (competition was fierce enough that he wouldn't tell me which he was going to use) would trump Puck's big eyes and floppy ears. In the end, however, both Kusko's beaver-fur wardrobe and Puck's natural beauty were trumped by an even smaller dog with a blue feather boa. It kind of hurt – for both of us and the neighborhood. But I think we've all moved along nicely.

Back to my neighbor Tom.

Tom first lived in the one room cabin that he rented from Hoppi. Now he lives in the yellow house that he bought from Hoppi. It's known as "the yellow house." When he has parties, he distributes flyers with directions on how to get there. The directions say "the yellow house." As far as I know, no one has gotten lost yet. He once threw a Halloween party, but his plane got held in Anchorage. Dressed to the hilt of my Carharrt work overalls, I went over to the yellow house a few hours before the party, opened it up and turned on all the lights, built the fire to heat it up (too bad he missed all the entertainment of watching me attempt that!), gave-away some of his capers to the tricker-treaters, and ordered a pizza. By the time Tom's plane finally made it to Bethel, he was throwing one of my favorite Halloween parties......if I don't say so myself.

Tom has a wood stove in his yellow house. He gathers and cuts his own firewood. He has a chainsaw. I won't post pictures of it. But others have. Tom has a set of John Deere silverware. I covet that silverware. Tom also has a John-Deere-green-and-white dirt bike and a John-Deere-green-and-orange boat. I was so impressed the first time I walked by and saw all that John Deere green, I took the dogs on two walks…. and I brought my camera along for that second walk.

Here's a snapshot of Tom's yellow house and his green-and-orange boat and dirt bike:

Clearly that picture is less than sufficient. Clearly I need to remember to open the shutter all the way when I take a picture. Suffice it to say, I was pretty disappointed with it. I was even more disappointed when I tried to go back and take a better photo, only to discover that Tom had put his boat into the water for the summer. Resigned, I was ready to wait until the winter to re-stage this picture that I flubbed so badly. So imagine my excitement when, during one of the dogs' daily constitutionals last week, Tom boated by in his John-Deere-green-boat with orange trim. Actually, it was Tom and my Unalaska friends' Anchorage-based brother, Regan, in the boat. It was a great chance to retake the picture!

First, I waved. Then, I grabbed my camera and (after double-checking to make sure the shutter was fully open) I took this picture:

Clearly, it wasn't a sufficient picture. So, I raced up the trail, and took this picture of Tom as he hooked his John-Deere-green-with-orange-trim boat up to the sea wall just down the hill from his yellow house. I tried to take the picture while Clyde was leaning over the sea wall to watch the activity in the boat below. But my camera is rather slow. So, instead, I got a picture of Tom peeking over the sea wall while Clyde went off in pursuit of discarded salmon heads or the other tasty little tidbits that he has a honed (and stinky) talent for discovering along the sea wall.

Then, I snapped two more pictures of Tom and Regan as they showed us the salmon and the firewood that they had caught.

Then, for reasons I don't really know except to say that I would like to someday have a picture of Puck and Clyde traversing through a meadow of tundra cotton, I took this picture of the tundra cotton that is growing in the ditch outside Tom's yellow house.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cucumbers, Tundra-grown and Home-pickled

I haven’t been so remiss since I waited months to tell you all about Puck’s appearance at the local dog show. I should be ashamed. Oh, dear friends, I’ve been sitting on wonderful epiphanies. I’ve meant to share them. I have. But I, sadly, have not. Until now. And so you should chastise me. Be tough. This is a lesson I want to learn. And learn well. I want to know that the next time I learn that there is a local, organic farm growing the sweetest of produce out on the tundra of Southwest Alaska, I’ll be clamoring as soon as I can to the top of the nearest rooftop to shout out the good news as far as I can.

Yes. Bethel has its own local, organic vegetable farm! Actually, Tim and his family have a local, organic vegetable farm – and the town of Bethel is lucky that they share its bounty.

I heard rumours about it. One person cancelled her weekly green'flighted box of organic vegetables from the Lower 48 because she liked the day-to-day interaction with Tim – the farmer - on her way home from work. She mentioned that it was an incredible operation. I even heard stories about the farm on our one radio station. Interviews! There were flyers around town announcing the expected dates of readiness for the various vegetables. A neighbor told me that a firefighter is living on the farm in exchange for help with the crops. I loved that story. But I never just leapt up to see it myself. I may have been shy or something. Not sure how to introduce myself. The bottom line is that it took me a month to get out there myself to see, in person, just how wonderful it is.

What was it, you ask, that finally overtook my well-honed talent of procrastination? How did I finally get around to learning that this mythological farm referenced on the radio was real….and better than I could have dreamed of? It was pickles, my friend. Pickles. I wanted to make pickles. And I wanted these pickles to be ready in time for an upcoming visit from J’s brother, Nate. It will be Nate’s first visit to this area. In 12 days, he’ll be here for 5 days. Rumour has it that he’s coming with a duffel bag full of sweet Iowa corn. I got this news (see, just like that, rumour can become news if you wish hard enough) and I swooned. Oh, yes. Full, giddy swoon. My mind filled with ideas for all that corn! For putting up corn relish. For freezing some corn. For corn puddings. For corn in the middle of winter. For making the corn ice cream I loved so when I lived in Brazil so many lives ago. Caught in a waltz of nostalgia, I thought back to the three particularly delicious jars of homemade salsa with fresh corn we brought back from an Iowa family reunion last summer. I could order some tomatoes and try to make that! I could make all of these wonderful things because Nate was coming to visit us with a whole duffel bag of Iowa corn! And then, with a sudden mental shift that makes sense (I hope) once you get to know me, I decided that I had to make sure that there would be homemade dill pickles waiting for Nate when he arrived. And ever since I’ve been searching for pickle'able cucumbers.

As of this morning, Full Circle Farms hasn’t shipped us out any such cucumbers. To the best of my knowledge, pickle'able cucumbers haven’t been one of the offered options. As of a few days ago, none had appeared at the A.C. On Saturday, with a whim and a prayer, we decided to see if maybe – just maybe – there would be something pickle’able at the summer craft fair at the Cultural Center.

And wouldn’t you know it – but there were the cucumbers I needed. Showcased at the Cultural Center; grown and raised and sold by Tim Meyers and his family on the other end of town. Such treasure! I bought them all. All the pickle’able cucumbers that they had. Yes, folks. I didn’t leave a single pickle’able cucumber behind. I loaded my treasured cache of 12 pickle’able cucmbers into a plastic bag, and with the excitement of a little girl who discovers both an E.T. doll and a Member’s Only coat under a Christmas tree, I raced home to scour my cookbooks for the perfect dill pickle recipe. I found that too. And feeling so lucky and loved by the Fates, I decided to see if I couldn’t find more pickle’able cucumbers. And that’s how - two days after buying out all the ones sold at the Cultural Center, I found myself making a personal appearance at the Meyers’ farm. And, lo and behold, it worked! There were more pickle’able cucumbers to be had! We bought 6 more pickle’able pickles – as well as some cauliflower, broccoli and turnips – all snipped from the plants or pulled out of the ground as we stood there watching.

Yes, folks. Our local, organic farm harvests as you order!

In all honesty, can life get much better than that? I was doing cartwheels of glee! Even J. – this grounded man - was giddy with the extreme freshness and fortune of it all. Maybe it wasn't as giddy as if he'd just seen a grizzly, or just netted a king, or was planning all sorts of adventures for his little brother's first visit to our tundra island. But it was definitely a glee of noticeable proportions.

I made the pickles yesterday. Clearly, I procrastinated a bit. And, of course it will take at least 2 weeks for the flavours to ripen. But, if all goes well and the Fates keep sponsoring the endeavour, there shall be ready-to-eat, tundra-grown and home-pickled dill pickles when Nate arrives with his duffel bag full of fresh-picked Iowa sweet corn.

Wrap me in duct tape and label me a character, but I’m pretty confident that life doesn’t get much better than this. Except, maybe, for Puck. He wasn't quite ready to accept that the pickles were intended for Nate, not him.

Dill Pickles
Recipe is from Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Café: Recipes and Stories from Brother Juniper’s Café, by Br. Peter Reinhart

  • Pickling cucumbers (there are many types), picked small or medium, not bruised or cut, and weighed

  • Pickling spice blend (1 tablespoon per pound of cucumbers): equal parts whole coriander seed, whole mustard seed, whole peppercorns, and whole dill seed

  • Fresh dill (1 cup, loosely packed, per 20 pounds of cucumbers)

  • Whole fresh cloves garlic (10 cloves per 20 pounds of cucumbers)

  • Whole bay leaves (10 per 20 pounds of cucumbers)

  • Salt (1 cup per gallon of water)

  • Water, at room temperature

  • Wash the cucumbers in cold water. Be careful not to bruise or cut the skins. Remove any dirt or extraneous matter. Fill the container(s) almost full (2 inches from the top) with cucumbers, packing tightly but not forcing. Add the spice blend, dill, bay leaves, and garlic. The amount depends on the weight of the cucumbers (see ingredients above). Mix the salt in the water until it dissolves. Cover the cucumbers and spices with the salt solution, filling the tubs until the brine is 2 inches from the top of the container. Allow the cucumbers to ferment for 2 to 4 weeks. Every day or two check to be sure no pickles are exposed to the air. After a few days a whitish scum will form on the surface. Skim this off and discard; if removed regularly, it will not harm the flavor. Add plain water, if necessary, to replace evaporated brine. Taste the brine periodically. The saltiness should give way to a sour flavor within 2 to 4 weeks, but it can happen earlier or later depending on the temperature and other conditions. If any pickles are exposed to the air for a few days they may begin to mold or rot. If so, discard the offenders immediately. When the brine begins to taste pickled, try one of the cucumbers. When the flavor is how you like it, jar up the pickles with enough brine to cover them, and refrigerate. These should keep for a few months with only a gradual change: Remember, the brine is still active so there will continue to be slow fermentation, even in the fridge.


    p.s. Despite all my intentions, I still haven't managed to pickle even one jam jar's worth of green beans. I haven’t entirely given up on the idea, but I am a little perplexed as to how best to overcome this rather frustrating bout of procrastination. Giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I ordered more. And I am therefore expecting 2 pounds of yellow wax beans in this week’s Green’flighted box of veggies from Full Circle Farms. I assure you I have only the best of intentions to pickle them before the weekend….or, well, maybe during the weekend. As one final side note: you should definitely try the turnips that grow under the midnight sun! Sweet as apples! No peeling required. Marion Cunningham has a recipe for turnip slaw that I can't wait to try. I would have already tried it, but I didn't do my research in time. I used our Bethel turnips in a bisque with carmelized shallots. Not bad, I suppose. But I couldn't help but notice that it wasn't all those turnips could have been. I'm pretty certain that Alaskan turnips as sweet as apples would be better in Marion Cunningham's turnip slaw.