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.

    pp.ss. 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.