Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weather and Beans (and Truculence)

I am going to interrupt myself.

Rather than delve into my anticipated topic (that being Cousin Deirdre and the ever fabulous Mike snowmaching over Mission Lake, and across Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway, to Pat's house in Alligator Acres to meet Hugh Neff's dog team), I'm going to talk about the weather. And beans. And truculence. Why, you may be asking, would I interrupt the photographic tale of two Massachusett's kids coming all the way out to our little hovel on stilts to talk about weather and beans and truculence? I suppose there is no better answer to that very reasonable question than to simply say because the weather is crazy these days and the beans are delicious. (I'll let you mosey-on down to the bottom of this post, if you'd like an explanation for the truculence part.)

Seriously (and aren't I always serious?). It's been a crazy roller-coaster of weather out here. A string of craziness. Go back a few weeks - even just 2 - and we were stuck in a seriously cold snap - weeks of it - at 30 below. Indeed, it felt like months at 30 below, and it was so stubbornly and persistantly below 30 that our truck finally refused to turn over. The ultimate temper tantrum. It refused to run. It didn't give up the ghost, mind you. Rather, it refused to turn on until the weather warmed up. We waited a week for things to warm-up naturally. But such easy solutions did not come. The temperature remained below 30. Our patience was tested. Our optimism wilted. Forgive us - there are only so many times that you wanted to be walking to and from the A.C., in the 30 below, to bring home the necessary gallons of drinking water.

Eventually, we had to resort to diesel means. This is a picture taken of dramatic - and successful! - efforts initated by our neighbor to thaw-out our pick-up two Sundays ago:

As only the Fates would have it, within a few days of all that effort, the temperature suddenly spirited up to the 20 Aboves. Snow started falling. All the wires and poles and shrubs around town were sparkling with a thick overlay of snow clinging to the white frost that originally covered them. Folks were giddy with the beauty of it all, and exuberant about the warmth. And I, myself, was even giddier with the thought that Cousin Deirdre and Mike were going to go back telling all my cousins that J. and I live in a veritable winter wonderland populated with ebulliently happy people. But it wasn't just perfect for my ulterior motives of persuading those cousins to come out and visit. We were also looking at perfect trail conditions for the K300.

If only we could have frozen still that temperature.

The temperature started increasing the day of the race start. Even so, the snow remained relatively solid, if not a bit more packed down into itself and less fluffy. We even had a flurry of snow as the mushers were making their way to the starting chute. (Why yes, I do have some pictures of Cousin Deirdre and the Ever Fabulous Mike, under the falling snow, at the starting chute, that I could post.......) There was no foreshadowing, at least to me, of what would come. But it kept getting warmer, until - finally - it rested at what I can only call a tropical blast. We were in the High 30 Aboves. Ominously, we occassionally tipped up towards the 40 Aboves. The snow started to get punchy. Then it just started to melt. The tundra started draining onto the frozen river. By late Saturday night (and growing worse with each minute into the wee hours of Sunday morning), the K300 trail conditions deteriorated, leaving us with puddles the size of Lower 48 lakes. I don't know this personally, of course. I was here in town. On the river, but in town. But I heard about it. If your curious for a first-hand description, you should click here for an audio clip in which the 2008 K300 champion gives a pretty good description of the chaos that a sudden 60 degree increase in temperature can inflict on trail conditions.

Suffice it to say, the 2008 Kuskokwim-300 will be going down in the annuals of history as the Kusko-Swim.

By Wednesday, however, we were back to Below 30's. The lakes atop the frozen river began freezing-up. And, since Thursday, we've been in blizzard conditions. I might go so far as to say that we've gained over a foot of snow this weekend.

I'm sure it says something about me, though I haven't had much time to thoroughly introspect it: I greeted the Below 30 temperature with more glee and exuberance, and sheer relief, than ever I thanked the Fates for a 30 Above. For many reasons. And then, as I mentioned above, we entered into a week of blizzard conditions. Frozen again. Covered, again, with snow. All in all, perfect conditions for scenic dog walks.

To truly ensure a bucolic dog walk in blizzard conditions, I made sure to have a pot of my favorite (delicious!) bean stew waiting for me when we returned:

Cannellini, Butternut, Kale and Kalamat Stew
adapted from epicurious

I discovered this recipe over a decade ago, while living in Seattle and struggling with the financial realities of one's first formal job after college. For those who knew me during those days(or may still hold me accountable for that time that I'd do such things as lame myself by walking across Seattle in Italian boots with 3 inch heels in pursuit of farm fresh, organic chicken eggs, or nearly getting my roommate and I evicted from our Magnolia apartment for getting the scent of a tropical brewery stuck in the building's air-system as a result of my decision to try my hand at making a Peep's Poptart Porter....) I promise - it is more aromatically-pleasing than my experiments with Peeps Poptart Porter, much easier to shop for than a true crema inglese, and much easier to clean-up than a pasta-making party. To all, I promise that it will feed a surprised-to-be-so-happy crowd. And it's even better the day after.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 large onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 3 1/4- to 3 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
3 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups canned chicken broth
1 1/2 large bunches of available winter greens (kale, chard, etc.- the important thing is that you cut the leaves crosswise into 2-inch strips; I tend not to add the ribs)
1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
5 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted, halved
Freshly grated Romano cheese (if you have it - I didn't)

Heat oil in heavy large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add squash; sauté Add bell peppers and stir to coat with onion mixture. Add broth. Cover and simmer until squash is just tender, about 10 minutes.

Mix the winter greens and sage into stew. Cover and cook until the greens wilt, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add beans and olives and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer stew to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle generously with cheese.

Postscript: As for talking about "truculence", I must confess that this subject in this post is a bald excuse to share with you this picture of Puck cuddling-up with me while I - settled into a luxuriously leisurely post-K300 Sunday morning - flipped open the ever-used American Heritage to research a word found in Profiles in Courage:

In case you are curious, truculence has the following meaning in the American Heritage Dictionary: A disposition or apparent disposition to fight, especially fiercely; Ferociously cruel actions or behavior.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Cousin Deirdre and Mike, On Snowmachines, and Traipsing Across the Kuskokwim River

Just how did we manage to get a baker and an accoustic engineer, both from Massachusetts, skating across the Kuskokwim River?

Cousin Deirdre and Mike arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. (Travelling with them on the afternoon jet were Jeff King and five other mushers, as well as their respective dog teams - oh! how I love the K-300 times!) It was a long trip for them - all the way from Massachusetts, with a few days layover in Seattle. They should have been tired. I should have been a good hostess, and offered them showers or naps. But, no....rather, J. took us home (and then returned to the airport to help Jeff King get his dog teams to his host family's residence) and I stood around rather helplessly as our dogs enthusiastically jumped in and squelched any chance they might have had for peace & quiet. (Puck, it seems, is madly infatuated with Deirdre and his own personal utopia undoubtedly includes endless opportunities to cuddle up on her lap; Clyde has tagged her as the best back-scratcher ev-ah.)

After a few hours of tossing balls for them, we took them out for a stroll along the river. And then we were jumping back in the pick-up (the truck-bed of which was filled with enough frozen lasagnas and cheesecakes to feed a crowd of 400 at the Musher's Banquet on Monday night), and rushing off to the Cultural Center to watch the much anticipated K-300 Benefit Concert: Kevin Morgan opened, followed by former Bethel resident Martha (Scott) Stey and her husband Jim, and highlighted by the arrival of Elias Venes on the stage.

And then, dear Cousin Deirdre and Mike, stayed around after the concert, standing by me as I handed out frozen lasagnas to all the gracious bakers that volunteered to bake them for the Musher's Banquet.

Suffice it to say, we were home late....and exhausted.

And though anyone would think they would be so exhausted from it all, I have to say that Cousin Deirdre and Mike were up before sunrise! I was in awe. We loaded up on coffee. We ate some toasted bread with apple butter and the blueberry jam that Genevieve and I made during her breeze through town at the end of summer. We bundled up. We warmed up the snowmachines.
And then we were out and about!

And that's how Cousin Deirdre and Mike came to be fearlessly traipsing back and forth across the frozen Kuskokwim River!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cousin Deirdre's First Alaskan Adventure

Had I the technological wherewithall to do so, I would italicize the word "First" in that title above and thereby emphasize my commitment to persuading her to return.

But I don't.

Instead, I'm settling in for a long evening of Blogger Battle to see if I can't get it to let me post a few of the pictures from Deirdre and Mike's visit to our little perch in Western Alaska. Maybe, if I'm lucky, it will even let me post a bit of commentary! And, thus, shall I endeavour to persuade my dear cousin to return for a Second Alaskan Adventure......or [red rover, red rover] send Billy, Judi, Joyce or Sweet Pea right over.

In the meantime, here's one of my favorite photos of Cousin Deirdre in the Great White North.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cousin Deirdre Has Arrived .....

and, oh!, is it fun to have her on the tundra island!

We've been putting Deirdre and Mike to work. The other night they were handing out frozen lasagnas in preparation for a musher banquet on Monday. This morning Mike pulled a car out of a ditch. The grateful driver (who wasn't wearing mittens and kept dodging my maternal instincts to give him a pair) offered Mike a free pizza. And Clyde and Puck have been showing them how they like to take their daily constitutionals along the river, and how they like their balls tossed at home. Clyde's managed to show Deirdre how he would like her to massage his back. (Tonight, he emphasized his preferences by sitting on her....with that Dee accent, she tried to remind him that he is not a lap dog.)

It's tomorrow, though, that the K-300 races - and their real work - starts.......

If ever I do it, I do hope that I manage to live up to this here promise to post pictures of Mike and Deirdre doing truck support and starting line support for Hugh Neff!