Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Come Over to My Canoe, Big Fish"

This is my first one. Last year, due to construction at the highschool, the Cama-i festival was reduced to a one-day Day of Dance. It was wonderful, and an experience that I would never forget and haven't stopped talking about since. (Someday I'll write about the First Catch tradition we participated in at that Day of Dance, and all the hopes and gratitudes it has since inspired.) But yesterday I went to the actual, unabridged, full-out Cama-i Festival. And, well, it's all that it was described as, and more!

The picture above is of the Tsimshians, a Southeast dance group with different dance traditions that came in for the festival, doing their "Come Over to My Canoe, Big Fish" dance.

As a Cama-i volunteer, my task was to arrange transportation to and from the airports for out-of-town dance groups that come in for the festival. (I'll save for another posts my introduction by sink-or-swim to Cama-i village travel, and the lessons I learned about how I could better carry out my task next time - it might be a tad too long for this post.) The Tsimshians, with a keen expectation of the chaos that was to greet the fully packed 3 p.m. arrival of the Alaskan Airlines flight yesterday, disembarked from the jet wearing matching, eye-catching, and distinguishable woven hats. Alas, I didn't get any pictures - of the hats or the scene - but I was most certainly grateful for the courtesy of helping us to easily identify their group.

As for their first impression of my town: Suffice it to say, I didn't know that the local airport could hold so many people. For the hour it took to get groups sorted with rides, and baggage matched with passengers, volunteer drivers tasked with destinations, and solutions forged for the unexpected twists and surprises, I'm quite confident that my little slice of the bush was the most exotic, diverse and happening place of Alaska. And I have to laugh at my original hope of greeting the dancers, and thanking the volunteers, with homemade cookies. I couldn't have baked enough cookies if I had an entire weekend!

The Tsimshians did their first song off-stage, from behind a curtain. The dance leader explained that they did this to honour Bethel and to thank them for the invitation to dance in their land. I can confess to be quite moved by the dignity and breadth of that courtesy. I guess I was moved by their entire performance. Their dances incorporated masks and stories, and almost every one in some way honored non-Tsimshians. For example, one dance was a family dance. The leader explained that there are clans - the Bear Clan, Wolf Clan, Eagle Clan, Raven Clan. Each clan was given a spotlight opportunity to dance. Non-Tsimshians were given the opportunity to dance for the Butterflies - which symbolizes the clan of Non-Tsimshians.
In another dance, which I miserably failed to photograph (so thoroughly engrossed was I in the dance iteself), they asked what had become an incredibly packed highschool gym for 4 adult volunteers. It must have been hard to identify the hands raised by adult volunteers from the sea of eager, hopping children with both hands raised. But they did, and they brought the four relatively adult volunteers to the center of the stage to form a tight circle with their backs faced to each other. Then they did the "Cockle-Squirt Dance," with a camera capturing the facial expressions of each volunteer as they were squirted in the face by a bright orange, mischevious mask-clad figure in a long red cape. At the end of the dance, the Tsimshians thanked the volunteers with gift bags of hooligans.
All in all, and more to be told later - I haven't even started to find the words for describing the local dance groups (a picture of the local response to which is to the side), one evening of Cama-i confirmed that I wouldn't want to live any other place than where I am currently living.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chocolate Banana Jam...Chocolate Banana Clafouti

Yes, you read that title correctly.

I had 5 pounds of bananas, a 9 oz block of Scharffen Berger chocolate, and definitive plans at home for the evening of March 15th.

5 pounds of bananas! And it only cost me $1.99. Yes, that's right folks. The grand old A.C. had a sale on bananas a Sunday or two ago. I was one of the lucky few that scored.

Of course, there was a reason that those bananas were so cheap on the Sunday that I bought them. And that reason kept accruing relevancy as each subsequent day passed. But I was busy. There was an Iditarod completing, after all. There were cookies to bake for a boyfriend travelling to a village. All these things that distracted me from deciding upon the perfect, new, novel, never before done by me or blogged by others use of 5 pounds of bananas. So I put off using the bananas. And, finally, when procrastination threatened to tip the very bargain of my purchase into waste, I decided the time had come to take a stand and make my blogging name with them.

Will you think me a nerd if I tell you that, once that time had finally come, I spent an entire day eagerly anticipating the joy of coming home and making Christine Ferber's Banana with Bittersweet Chocolate Jam? Before you say anything, please consider that - in these plans - I was going to go all Bush Alaskan Haute. Seriously, haute. Nerds aren't haute. Upon contemplation, maybe it was more "quaint." "Haute" is too French for a town that is located 500 airmiles from the nearest opportunity to purchase wine or brie cheese. No, it wasn't quaint either. Life is too real here to be quaint. Rustic, that's what I was contemplating. Oh, it doesn't matter. Whatever it was, I was going for a design. The only problem is that I'm not much for design. I like it, and all, but I have no instinct for it.

But - despite this - I had all these design plans to seal my chocolate and banana bounty in little quaint jam jars adorned with brown paper labels of "Confit de Banane au Chocolat." I was going to cut little quaint strips of duct tape, rugged perhaps in that every strip would probably be of a different width, to seal the labels to the jars. I even thought about asking my dear, dear friend Dickey to work with me to make my dream seal - the Northern Star, in wax.

Yes. That was my plan.

But, alas, life intervened. There were dogs to be walked. There were college friends planning weddings to touch base with, and college roommates to catch up with. There was a gaggle of best buddies watching the Gonzaga game, with phones intentionally left on in order to recieve calls from a nouveau Alaskan buddy who refuses to purchase television reception but still wants to be in the know. There was a neighbor who stopped by to talk to me about his plan to take devilled eggs with green yolks to work for St. Paddy's Day at the local courthouse. There was a good buddy in Unalaska who leaves comments that inspire me to wage quixotic battles with technology. (I lost those battles, but know I'll win the war. Someday.)

There was, indeed, so much going on, that I can't be blamed, can I?, for so ridiculously skipping past one of the key, crucial ingredients of the recipe and not realizing it until all was said and done and past repair........

Here's what I did. I forgot to add 3 3/4 cups sugar to the banana, water and lemon juice concoction that was to be mixed in with the chocolate. Thus, though tasty and visually intriguing, my jam will probably not set. And I will probably be re-mail ordering another precious shipment of Scharffen Berger Bittersweet Chocolate, and going back to the grocery store to pay full-price for more bananas.

Fortunately, it was still delicious. Just not in the way I had planned for. Because this recipe was still so delicious, despite my own mishap, that I feel it is my civic duty not only to try it again, but also to blog about it here.

Banana with Bittersweet Chocolate
(excerpted from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber)

21/4 pounds bananas, or 11/2 pounds of peeled and sliced bananas
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
9 ounces of extra bittersweet chocolate (I've been hoarding a special-ordered bar of Scharffen Berger 70% cacao for just this purpose), melted (mind you - this is a bear of a chore!)
7 ounces water
Juice of 1 small lemon

1. Peel the bananas and cut them into rounds a little less than 1/2 inch thick. In a preserving pan, combine the banana slices, water, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Pour into a ceramic bowl Add the chocolate, grated, and mix until it is melted. Cover the fruit with a sheet of parchment paper and refridgerate overnight.

2. Next day, pour this preparation into a preserving pan. Bring it to a boil, stirring continuously. Skim. Mix very gently. Continue cooking on low heat for about 5 minutes, still stirring. Skim again if need be. Return to a boil. Check the set. Put the jam into jars immediately and seal.

a postscript: Delicious, my chocolate banana mix was - but sort of in that way of indicating that it could be so much more so if I had only read and followed Christine Ferber's recipe for chocolate banana jam. [sigh] It did make a great hot fudge sauce. Oh yes, it did make that. Once that potential was identified, we strolled to Video World to rent the movie Gandhi, popped into A.C. on the way back to buy a tub of vanilla ice cream, came home with our bounty and, in a wonderful state of weekend post-trial bliss, sat around, watched movies and ate some very delicious, very easy banana-split-hot-fudge sundaes. I could recommend Christine Ferber's recipe for Chocolate Banana Jam, if only for the opportunity to repeat my mistake and so indulge in its repercussions.

But a couple can only eat a finite number of banana-split-hot-fudge sundaes. So I was very pleased to discover that one can toss a couple ladles of this un-set sauce into the bowl of a Kitchenaid mixer, together with a 1/2 cup of melted butter, a dash of salt, 5 eggs, some smashed up walnuts out of the pantry (which, in the future, I would first toast in the oven) and a cup of flour, pour it into a buttered pie plate, toss it into a 350 degree oven until set (I did wonder if 450 degrees might make it come out puffier) and come out with a simple, quick chocolate banana clafouti that makes my boyfriend a happy internet surfer.

Monday, March 26, 2007

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Poor Clyde, his buddy is locked up in a kennel. Very little playing going on.

Poor Puck, he's been diagnosed with a bad back (a slipped disc, more precisely), prescribed (via tele-vet'icine) what must seem like an eternity of Kennel Rest (which is actually just until the vet comes to town in a week), and suffered through what must have been excruciatingly amateur (read: painful) attempts (by me) to diagnose him without a vet (or, for that matter, any idea of what I was doing).

Poor Dr. Haggy. I've never met him in person. But he was filling in for our local vet (Dr. Bob, who comes to town for one week a month), and ended up getting my frantic messages. I didn't start off frantic. At least, I started off with control over that franticness. Kind of. But just imagine your little one, clearly in pain, with no way to explain where it hurts. He was shaking. Tremors. Oh, it was awful. And he'd whimper when I moved him, his eyes locked onto mine as if italicize the message. Broke my heart. And then imagine being unable to take him to a vet, because there isn't one. I couldn't even get a vet on the phone. I started sobbing. And that's when I decided to call Alaska Airlines, but that just led me to a very emotional debate about whether to spend the $1000 on the next flight out of town.

Poor local dog mushers - I started calling them when I couldn't find a vet. I begged them to come look at Puck. I'm sure it was an objectively reasonable thing to do. Get a second opinion, and all. Nonetheless, I suspect I'll be blushing every time I run into one of them, every time I go to the grocery store, post-office, local concerts, etc. [Sigh.] But, again, good people for taking my calls in the first place and helping to put me in contact with people that could put me in contact with a vet. Very good people.

Oh, just thinking about it puts me back in the horror of the moment: all that embarrassment from knowing that I could very easily be overreacting, intertwined with all that fear that something preventable could happen to him if I failed to react enough. In any event, that's the state I was in when Dr. Haggy called me back. Fortunately, I was much control of my emotions by the time we hung up. I owe that change to Dr. Haggy. It takes a great vet - and an incredible person - to find a hysterical dog owner in such a state (one that he has never met in person), elicit from her enough coherent responses and observations to form a diagnosis, and provide her with sufficient peace of mind that her mind stops flailing around in worst-case-scenarios.

I'm glad to say that the crisis has passed. I still limit all his activities, and I still watch him hawk-eyed for any sign of paralysis or weakness, but Dr. Haggy's prescription of Kennel Rest appears to be working, Puck is recovering quickly and the experience seems to be translating from fear to good story. I'm not sure if I have recovered enough to tell it, but I'm trying.

As for Clyde, he's still protesting what he perceives to be the unwarranted caging of the playmate he adores being annoyed by.
If only I could protest so thoroughly those things that I'm finding unjust and unconscionable!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In like a lion, out like a lamb......

Oh goodness! I want to stand on my tin-roof and fiddle a tune all about Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries.

What does that mean, you ask. Do I play the fiddle? Isn't the roof all icy? All of these are very good questions. (And no, I don't play the fiddle - though I wish I did; and yes, the roof is icy. But, my dad played the fiddler in a local playhouse production of Fiddler on the Roof, and all these years later, the tune for "If I were a rich man" can still wrap me up in the warmth of childhood memories.) As for what I mean - the simple version is like this: I discovered Nigel Slater's recipe for "Slow-Roasted Lamb with Mashed Chickepeas," which he described in his kitchen diary entry for February 21 ("A slow roast for a snowy night"). But it's more, really, than simply discovering this new recipe. It's about discovering something new, that arrived with the impromptu packaging of a new tradition. It's a bit about discovering it whilst embracing a family tradition. And it's about the most excellent evening of leftovers - a cold, snowy Sunday evening with a bubbling shepherd's pie. A shepherd's pie so perfect for the moment, in fact, that I was able to persuade my boyfriend to keep me company while I watched a complete, utter, [sigh], chick flick.

I'm sure Mr. Slater would have comment about some random, Alaskan newcomer gushing like a schoolgirl because she was able to reduce his recipe to leftovers so meat-and-potato-esque that a girl could actually persuade a coma-induced boy to watch The Holiday, but it really was that good! I mean, Mr. Slater's incredibly simple recipe is that good. And, oh, so are the lovely leftovers! In any event, I'll take my daily [symbolic] cartwheel of glee as it's gifted, even in the form of British judgment or the too often disdained concept of leftovers!

Quite a few months ago, I bought a leg of lamb and stuck it in my freezer for a good cause that was not then determined. Please understand that, around these parts, one can’t just go to the local store and buy a leg of lamb. No, the local grocery stores don't tend to carry lamb. Not any cut of lamb, actually. Rather, one has to anticipate – and plan accordingly- that some day, in some future, one might develop a hunger for lamb (probably studded with garlic and perfumed with rosemary – purchased and stored in the freezer for similar reasons, for I had never dreamed of lamb served without the accompaniment of rosemary).

This particular leg of lamb was purchased last year in Anchorage on some trip or other. It was carried back here (together with a pork tenderloin, some cuts of beef, several containers of orange juice, a precious cargo of cheese, a bounty of fresh herbs, etc., etc., etc.) in my new favorite suitcase.

Look at this suitcase! Isn’t it perfect? I love it so.

[Ugh. I bet I’ve probably turned off many. After all, this was a frozen leg of lamb. Not fresh. Not from any great butcher. Nope none of that. What kind of food blogger can she be? And she goes off so about a plastic cooler on wheels! Is she seriously saying it is her favorite suitcase? Must she really refer to herself in the third person? Will she next start listing all the things that one can make out of duct tape? I know. I know. You must be wondering why am I going on so…so ecstactic about this stuff. But if you are still reading…… ]

I certainly never imagined that I would be preparing it for St. Paddy’s Day. No – for such a holiday, I would expect to make the traditional and true: my Auntie Donna’s Boiled Corned Beef and Cabbage. This year, however, after a survey of town that led to nothing but artificial-and pink-glop-imbued, plastic-encased pre-corned beef (I couldn’t even find a plain old brisket to corn myself!!), I adjusted my expectations. I decided to stage a protest against the artificial-flavoured, artificial-coloured and mass-marketed, and to celebrate this very important family holiday – instead - with a roast leg of lamb. Leg of lamb was, after all, my Irish grandmother’s favorite dish. So it seemed like a very good kind of adjustment, and I took it out of the freezer and started the thawing process.

But my heart wasn't really in it. I tried, I did, to find enthusiasm for the change, imagining the cannellini beans I could soak, the green beans that could be saut√©ed with the recent shipment of fresh ginger, and all the other side dishes that could be made to go with a leg of lamb. Maybe there might even be a recent shipment of asparagus at the store. Grandma always insisted on asparagus with her lamb. She loved it too much to be bothered with any fuss over whether or not it was in season. In the end, my friends, I couldn’t seem to reconcile myself to this bend of tradition. And, so, when I was at the store to buy cabbage (because I knew at least one side-dish had to be traditional, but which, “coincidentally”, had gone up $1 a pound in the last few days before St. Paddy’s), I decided I wanted corned beef, even if it was all artificial. Without any foresight beyond this sudden need to hold firmly to a tradition connecting to extended family in connection with this particular holiday, I grabbed one of those plastic packages of corned glop (this is the melting into resigned spontaneity part), purchased it, made it, ate it, and then made and ate some delicious corned beef sandwiches for lunch, and then it was all gone. It had been good. It more than exceeded expectations. St. Paddy’s Day, and its leftovers, were done. Auntie Donna was, as always, toasted.

And when the last of the leftovers were stuffed into the last of the sandwiches, my eyes turned to the lamb. As you can imagine, it was thawed by this point. So I roasted it.

I started after work. The recipe is quite simple. Gloriously so. Just before rushing off to a Camai Committee planning meeting to discuss various logistics for our upcoming festival, I gave my boyfriend quick but pleading instructions to re-baste it every 30 minutes during its 3 hour roasting session. And two hours later, after a windy, cold walk (with not nearly enough layers of mittens, though my ears stayed warm thanks to my boyfriend’s gift of a malakaik), I was welcomed home by (among other things, such as two canine hooligans) the most lovely perfume of….of home: a kitchen’s warmth having perfumed my house with the production of a simple meal.

Served atop my new favorite recipe for mashed chickpeas (jeweled with caramelized red onions as these chickpeas were) and under the roasting juices (all spiked with cumin and mellowed with roasted-garlic-basted-in-butter as these juices were) – well, folks, Nigel Slater’s Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb, nary a hint of rosemary about it, was most certainly the source of that day’s daily [symbolic] cartwheel of glee.

Plus, it turns out (though it was not planned) that this dinner ended up being made on the cusp of the Vernal Equinox (i.e. the last official night of winter before the first official day of spring). I do think there is a new tradition in the works here: a winter braise of a spring delicacy on the night that borders both seasons. Yes. There is most certainly a new tradition here.

And then - that shepherd's pie! So simple. Simply carmelizing an onion, tossing in for a saute some carrots, celery and garlic, tipping in a spoon of flour to cook for awhile, deglazing with some [boxed] red wine, dashing in a bit of [dried] thyme (unlike my good friend who suddenly has access to grocery stores that service fishing boats that stop along the Aleutian Chain, I have no access to the fresh kind), combining it the pan juices and chunks of lamb, pouring the aromatic concoction into the handmade ceramic pot that by boyfriend's father gave us for Christmas, and letting the potential stew for a good long, homey Sunday afternoon before being topped with buttermilk-soothed smashed red potatoes and being baked until hot and bubbly. Served, with a side of simple steamed peas, and ground pepper - sublime.

Yes, sublime! The whole experience - from dish to leftover!

Going back to my original hyperbole - why do I want to fiddle on roofs about all this? I do because I know that at least once before the next St. Paddy’s Day/Vernal Equinox, I shall be taking my “suitcase” back to town and making sure it comes back with a leg of lamb and a brisket amidst its hoarde of frozen pantry items. Next year, I shall anticipate, and plan accordingly, having Auntie Donna’s corned beef and Nigel Slater’s Slow Roasted Lamb. And I won't waste any time or effort trying to choose between the two. I'll simply take both - hence, my new tradition of 2 Roast Week. Where before I had only the traditions of St. Paddy’s Day, I now have also the tradition of bridging the seasons with a leg of lamb. Traditions are lovely, aren't they? So can be their expansions.

And, let's be honest here. Recipes, discoveries, and all the like - they're great. But, I’ve always loved fiddles and admired those who dare their balance to play them from rooftops.

Slow-Roasted Lamb with Mashed Chickpeas
(blatantly, and affectionately, plagiarized from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, p.60)

a leg of lamb, about 5lbs

For the spice rub:
garlic - 2 cloves
sea salt flakes - a generous tablespoon
a pinch of sweet paprika
cumin seeds - a generous tablespoon
fresh thyme leaves - 2 generous tablespoons [I, of course, used dried - sue my grocery store!]
olive oil - 2 generous tablespoons
butter - a thick slice

Set the oven at 325F. Make the spice rub: peel the garlic cloves, then lightly crush them with the salt, using a pestle and mortar. Mix in the sweet paprika, cumin seeds and thyme leaves. Gradually add the olive oil so that you end up with a thicken paste. Melt the butter in a pan and stir it into the spice paste.

Put the lamb into a casserole or roasting tin and rub it all over the spice paste, either with the back of a spoon or with your hands. [Can you guess which option I used?] Put it in the oven and leave for thirty-five minutes. Pour in 1 cup of water and bste the lamb with the liquid, then continue roasting for three hours, basting the meat every hour with the juices that have collected in the bottom of the pan.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour off the top layer of oil, leaving the cloudy, hewrbal sediment in place. [Ok. I had no patience for that. I simply put the castiron pot outside for 5 minutes, it being negative fifteen degrees and all, and then scraped out the fat until only the "healthy" bits were left.] Cover the pan with a lid and set aside for ten minutes or so.

Carve the lamb, serving with the mashed chickpeas below, spooning the pan juices over both as you go.

Chickpea mash:
chickpeas - two 14 oz cans [I used one - we were only 2 after all]
a small onion
olive oil - 4 tablespoons
hot paprika

Drain the chickpeas and put them into a pan of lightly salted water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a light simmer. You are doing this to warm the chickpeas rather than cook them any further. Peel and finely slice the onion, then let it soften with the olive oil in a pan over a moderate heat. This will seem like too much oil, but bear with me. Let the onion color a little, then stir in a pinch of hot paprika. Drain the chickpeas, then either mash them with a potato masher or, better I think [as did I], in a food processor. Mix in enough olive oil from the cookied onion to give a smooth and luxurious puree. [I also added just a bit of heavy cream to smooth the taste- I know - bad, but it's still winter here - fifteen below - I'm ok with taking my comforts where I can.] Stir in the onion and serve the roast lamb above.

The recipe now printed, I’ll return for just a wee bit more of hyperbole: Take some of my favorite comfort foods, and present them to me with a few subtle twists and with an ease I hadn’t contemplated – that seems to be this book. It revels in the actual actions of cooking: the epiphanies of hunger and whim, the meandering and shopping, the harking reminders of a pantry and the enticing calls of market sirens, the logistics of time, and the convening for eating. He does so cleanly, with few words and none of the hyperbole with which I describe him. He doesn’t pontificate or elevate himself to stylized perfection. He doesn’t make you resent your limited work space or lack of direct sunlight, rather he leaves one almost glad for the creativity that hindrances inspire. The spark of this book – what has me fiddling on roofs about it - is not necessarily in what Nigel Slater did, or plated, or the traditions or the twists of the recipes, but rather his eloquent, yet curt and casual, love for the environment of cooking. The culture of it. The tradition of it. The conversation about it!

Truth be told, I probably love it because this is how I learned to cook. Before the world discovered Oregon and the Willamette Valley, before it became a destination, this is the kind of cooking I learned by being raised with daily interactions with stoic farmers and field-gleaning hippies. This is how my decidedly non-hippie Grandpa made a legacy out of a humble adoration of breakfast. This is how my mother, certainly not a hippie herself but definitely enamoured with the idea, raised a family that finds our greatest moments emerging in kitchens and our greatest conversations being the stories involving ingredients and recipe adventures. I love this book because it presents that manner in which I want my own kitchen to be remembered, a reflection of how I want to be remembered in my kitchen. Kitchen Diaries is, I guess, an example of what I deem to be “humble magnitude.”

p.s. If you’d like a picture, an inspiring one, flip to p. 65 of The Kitchen Diaries. He has stylists and light and cameras with lenses and stuff like that. I can’t compete. I wouldn’t even try. I’m thankful, however, that he did.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"What do you usually do for St. Paddy's?"

Before the sun had risen (it still hasn't), even before the dogs were released for their morning stroll along the Kuskokwim River (they still haven't been), I stood in my dimly lit kitchen heating the teapot and pondering this question that was asked before I came downstairs.

It seemed like such an easy question to answer. St. Paddy's Day isn't complicated, right? But an actual answer, one that felt accurate and complete was evading my pre-caffeinated mind.

My first thought was Irish bars, and the college combination of empty wallet and wealth of time: go early, stay late. The trick was to get in before the start of lines and cover-charges. Then I thought of the St. Paddy's Days in New York, and the young professional's combination of salary and luxury: a coveted reservation at a restaurant and an epicurian nod to matury's effect on one's sense of a "good time." I chuckled at the memory of how - no matter how epicurian the dinner would be on St. Paddy's - I always made a point, afterwards, of stopping at my neighborhood regular before calling it a night. It didn't have to be an Irish regular. But it had to have pints. After that chuckle, my mind meandered back to the St. Paddy's days of my childhood - to the daffodils that would pop up all around my house, to the simmering anticipation of Oregon strawberries and the arrival of Walla Walla Sweets, to that mischievious glee of finding someone - anyone - unfortunate enough to have forgotten to don at least one green item of wardrobe.

Oh, yes. One can love a morning that is decorated with such a random assortment of treasured memories that all seem to compliment each other.

While the water heated for my tea, my mind thought back to last year - my first St. Paddy's Day in this Alaskan smalltown 500 airmiles from the nearest Irish bar and uncountable number of airmiles from the culinary Taj Mahals of my Manhattan days and the daffodils of my childhood ones.

I can't remember what we actually did on that actual day last year. But I remember well that at some point, on or around that date, I made Orangette's recipe of Braised Green Cabbage. Yes, I remember well that recipe! (Such a fine, humble dish that rather embodies for me my dreams of an Alaskan example, of sorts, of an Alaskan Ambrosia.) And I remember that I made it my heavy cast-iron skillet and loved the simmering perfume of it so much, that I felt compelled to share it. It must have been cold last year (as compared to today's mere 5 below), because I remember being all bundled up in many layers of borrowed winter gear. And I remember my boyfriend and I, on the snowmachine, crossing Mission Lake on the trip to Alligator Acres for an evening of Texas Hold 'Em. And I remember having one-arm wrapped around my boyfriend's stomach, and the other arm carefully laden with a burning-hot, cast-iron skillet of braised cabbage (wrapped in towels to avoid melting my carharrt work bibs) and a jar of pennies. I remember how earnestly I tried to read my boyfriend's body so that I could anticipate turns or bumps and balance my treasures accordingly. Suffice it to say, we arrived with no loss of precious cabbage or of pennies.

Now, here, sitting at my table with a sunrise about to overcome the day and such a fine assortment of memories complimenting my steaming mug of milky tea, my mind tries to find the common thread of all these years of St. Paddy's Day.....the "usual" part.

What do I "usually" do for St. Paddy's?

And it suddenly dawns on me that the answer to this question - the commonality among all the ways I have celebrated St. Paddy's Days over my years and epochs - is this: I call my grandma.

Happy St. Paddy's Day, Grandma.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sunlight and a Banana Cookie

See that sun? Ok. You can't see the actual sun. But do you see all that daylight? See that blue sky? See that dust in the road, poking out from the ice cover and just waiting to thaw out into mud?

Oh, yes, it is Spring!

The geese and ducks aren't here yet. That's how Spring arrived last year. But there are some signs in the grocery store of the asparagus and strawberries that are stirring up such Spring restlessness down in the Lower 48. And, oh to my glee, there is sun. Direct. Strong. Long. Daylight for over 11 hours a day. Jubilation!

So, the sun is here, but my boyfriend is not. He is working out-of-town. Travel out here is less predictable. Weather could change. Flights could suddenly be full. Or mysteriously cancelled. Or sometimes so late, that it just kind of blends into the next regularly scheduled flight. You don't know if he'll be stuck at an airport. Or if the restaurants in this out-of-town town, if any, will be closed when he gets there. You don't know if he'll be too tired to find them. So I try to pack him food when he goes on these trips. (Ok. I'll be honest. I look for any opportunity to try out a new recipe. But so it goes.)

For this trip, I set aside a pile of goodies (an assortment of what I find "goody" and what he does) for him to stuff into his backpack. There was a mini-salami. (My kind of treat.) There were two cans of Spaghetti-O's. (His.) There was a peanut-butter sandwich with a swathe of the cloudberry and tundra blueberry jam that a bunch of us made last summer. (Both of us agree: non-perishable staple.) There was some trail-mix. (I think that was more of his kind of goody.) And there were Banana Oatmeal Cookies.

At least that's what I call them when I want the kudos of having prepared something healthy and sustaining for my boyfriend. Tish Boyle, who shared the recipe in her great book the good cookie, calls them Banana-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. Regardless of what you call them, they are good. Very good. Maybe not exciting. I wouldn't take them to a party. But for home, as a context to late night packing and last-minute plots to finish laundering all the clothes that you would like to pack, they are perfect for perfuming the wait for each load. And as a safety-measure for village travel, they are ideal. Hearty. Faintly sweet, embracingly comfortable. Tasty little morsels of home, that travel well and sustain without begging for compliments. And the best part - they taste even better the next day!

[On a side note, they were the cookies that I was baking while Lance Mackey was celebrating his first-place arrival in Nome. Lance Mackey is the Champion of the 35th Iditarod. If I knew how to link to the story, I would. [I learned!] There would be so much I would link to about this Last Great Race. But I don't know how to link yet. So I'll just say that it was exciting and wonderful, that I am very excited for the Mackie family and the Comback Kennel, and that I encourage you to do a google search to see what all the excitement is about!]

Banana-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
(an almost-verbatim reprint of p. 68 of Tish Boyle's the good cookie)

1 3/4 quick-cooking rolled oats
1 1/2 culs all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened (she specifies unsalted; I use what I can find)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels
1 medium-sized ripe but firm banana (peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars at medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended. At low speed, add the flour mixture one-third at a time, mixing until just blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the semisweet morsels, banna, and pecans (it's all right if the banana pieces get a little mashed).

4. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls on the prepared sheets, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart. Moisten your palm to prefent sticking, and flatten the mounds of dough slightly. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 11 to 13 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.
P.S. Here's the attempt to take a picture that prompted me to quickly run outside and snap the one above. I keep reading that the secret to food photography is natural light. I just need to read something about how to get good food photos whilst living in a rather light-less apartment and flitting about with a hand-me-down camera. I guess until I figure it out, I'll be running outside for a quick snap under the Midnight Sun before putting the food on the table! I'll leave for later the conundrum of what to do when the winter darkness is on its way back in........

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Town Dog Show

I am remiss.

Puck had a public debut. And I am tardy in writing about it.

So, let's go back to February 11th. Puck made his public debut at the Second Annual Dog Show. It was much fun. And cultural, it being held at the local Cultural Center and all.

Competition was fierce. Dogs of all sizes, many breeds (and even more mixes thereof) and all kinds of skills and tricks. My neighborhood made a fine showing, though I think we should have planned better. I think there were probably 4 or 5 of us, and we were all entered in the "Most Adorable" competition. Alas, Puck didn't win Most Adorable, or any of the other shiny happy trophies. But he did have some prime spotlight time as a finalist for both "Best Tail Wag" and "Most Adorable." I know he is a dog and all. But I know he was basquing in all the potential of a trophy. In any event, he made the cover of the local newspaper.

I was so excited, I bought 5 copies of it.

And where was Clyde, you may ask? Well, let's just say that Clyde was more than happy to be the one home enjoying the peace and quiet of Puck's absence, the toy box - finally and at long last - all to himself. Not even the potential of a trophy could top that opportunity!