Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ptarmigan Broth

The camera woes continue. Fortunately, such woes don't interfere with my ability to make broth with J's first ptarmigan catch. That isn't to say, however, that I had an easy go with the making of ptarmigan broth. I didn't seem to have a handy way to remove the feet. Remembering my childhood awe in dim sum restaurants, when a cart would present chicken feet, I finally concluded that these stubbornly atttached feet could only add flavor to my ptarmigan soup. And so I made the broth with ptarmigan feet attached. If this is wrong, please let me know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 22, 2008

I wish I could buy pork from Sugar Creek Farms in Osage, Iowa.

Sadly, I haven't found a worry-free way to get all the meat back to Alaska. Maybe someday I'll find a way to do so. Until then, I'll keep reading of the adventures and aspirations of Sugar Creek Farm and day-dreaming that our trip to Iowa this summer will permit an opportunity to swing by and see this farm that I love reading about. In addition, I'll consider myself "tagged" for a meme posted on their blog, and - in reply - post one picture of the view from my front door, and one picture of the view from my back window. (The meme actually requires that one post a picture from one's back door, rather than window. But I'm hoping that you all will let me overlook the fact that there is no back door to the hovel on stilts.)

Here is the view of our front "yard" from our arctic entry:

And here is the view from our back window:

And, as a completely gratuitous gift, here is the view from down the street:

an unrelated postcript: Friends, I'm having camera issues. Whenever I'm inside, the flash on my Nikon D-80 insists on going off so brightly that the pictures come out as bright blasts of light. And when I'm outside, the pictures all come out over-exposed like this. Even the auto-focus has become a nightmare and simply refuses to to let me take a picture. Sometimes it taunts me too, weaving in and out of focus, again and again, before I realize that no matter what it does, it's not going to let me snap the picture. I fear that I broke my camera when I dropped it [twice....sigh] at the Portland airport, but I'm still open to any advice from any kind someone who knows a way to fix this Nikon D-80 by simply pushing a button or changing a program or something else like that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It is amazing ....

how amazingly luxurious it is to read a Sunday newspaper on a Sunday morning. Especially, when that Sunday newspaper correlates to that actual Sunday! Oh, my friends it is bliss.

Sure, I wish the Anchorage Daily News was the newspaper it once was. And I wish we could get the New York Times. And I miss the days when I was going over to Hoppi's and reading her week-old Sunday New York Times and eating eggs fresh from her chicken coop. But a current Anchorage Daily News, even in its current patheticness, available first thing in the morning, and read while we are relaxing on our plywood couch, giddy with the assurance that the dogs have been walked and sipping our first coffees of the day.......

It's a veritable slice of utopia.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pear Pie with Almond Cake Topping

My mother was the one that taught me how to take a dreaded task, and transform it into a process you can enjoy. I can distictly remember the lesson.

It was several years ago. Sadly enough, it was decades ago. (Oh, friends, how can the time pass so quickly?) I was a freshman at college, and needed to submit a Financial Aid Form, by a date certain, in order to receive financial aid during my second year. The deadline was days away, but the form was far from being done. I needed my mother's tax information. And calculators. And paperwork. And all sorts of other things that were far, far too practical for my collegiate state of mind, not to mention beyond the realms of my family's state of organization. It all just seemed so thoroughly impossible.

I was about to give up hope and accept the fact that my family could not meet deadlines, and that I would be unable to get the financial aid package I needed to return for a sophomore year, when my mother hit upon the perfect solution: she took me out to dinner. Not just to any dinner. But to a dress-up dinner. We got all dressed up, packed up all the papers and calculators we would need, and went out to a fancy restaurant for a fancy dinner. And whilst supping, and laughing, and genuinely enjoying the moment, we finally managed to complete this dreaded task. Miraculously, we filled out that Financial Aid Form. Gratefully, we had enjoyed the process. We actually had fun accomplishing a dreaded task. It really was quite an impressive solution that my mother found.

And that is why it was hardly surprising that I turned to that same strategy to assist me in preparing and filing my taxes.

Well, to be honest, it was a similar strategy. We don't really have a fancy restaurant up here, and I don't really have any fancy clothes left. And, well, it's cold out there (it being a mere 27 below zero). I had little inclination to "treat" myself by going out into it. So, rather than go out for dinner to do our taxes, we stayed home, baked a Pear Pie with Almond Cake Topping, and worked on our taxes. Aside from this little technicality, it was the same idea: enjoying the process, rather than dreading the task!

All in all, it made for a fine weekend with a delicious pie. Indeed, what a fine and productive pie it was. It even inspired us to work on the guest list.

Pear Pie with Almond Cake Topping
(adapted from Pie, by Ken Haedrich)

I really can't praise this pie enough. It's delicious. And unique. But I will confess that the title of the recipe, and the ingredients, didn't inspire me much. I made it because I had the ingredients on hand. It was definitely a fortuitious circumstance. Sometimes the Fates can be kind that way. Perhaps others have better vision than me, but I don't believe that the title or the recipe properly indicate just how good this pie really is! I suppose the best way to describe it is "half pie, and half almond cake," but then I find myself guilty of the same complaint. I think this pie deserves more celebration than such a boring description. Trust me. It's a keeper - an example of decadence and humble magnitude. J., a man of little hyperbole, says it could just be his favorite pie so far. Trust him.

1 single crust, flaky pie crust (unbaked)

5-1/2 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced firm pears
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Big pinch of cardamom

1 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. Roll out the pastry dough, and invert it into a deep-dish pie pan. Sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge, and freeze for 15 minutes.

2. Combine the pears, 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Set aside for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, and cardamom in a small bowl, and then stir this mixture into the pears. Scrape the filling into the chipped pie shell, and bake on teh center rack for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375(F), and bake for 10 minutes more.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the almond cake topping. Put the almonds, sugar, flour, coconut, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Scatter the butter over the top and pulse until it is well incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. Whist the egg, vanilla and almond extra together in a small bowl, and add to the processor. Pulse again, just until the mixture starts to gather around the blade.

5. Remove the pie from the oven. Using a soup spoon, dollop the cake batter more or less evenly over the fruit. (It will settle during baking.) Return the pie to the oven, and continue to bake until the top is a rich golden brown and the batter is cooked through. (This recipe calls for 20 to 22 minutes, but with my unpredictable stove it took 30 minutes.)

6. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Super Cyber Sleuthing

My brother is many things. Witty, yet often stoic. Adventurous, yet calm. Strong, yet laid-back. I could go on. Indeed, I have. I've talked about my brother, and his incredible traits, before. If you knew my little brother, and then read all that I write about my little brother, however, you'd probably conclude that he is an amazing guy that eludes my ability to give proper description. And I'd agree.

But with all my attempts at description, I have never mentioned that he is a super cyber sleuth, and yet intensely private. It is hard to take a good picture of the guy, and even harder to get it posted.

That's why it was much fun to stumble upon this: CLICK HERE.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Good living

It's been a cold week.

I do love our neighborhood.

(Fortunately for me, the morning it was 27 below zero fell on one of J's mornings of the week to walk the hounds.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More Oregon

J. and I were down in Oregon for Easter, and for a mandatory marriage preparation retreat weekend.

I think this picture pretty much sums up the first impression this rural Alaskan made at her mandatory marriage preparation:

Rest assured, I made certain to explain - at the first presented opportunity - how Alaska's local option laws required me to travel around with that big, shocking "ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE" sticker. It was fun, however, to hear all the assumptions that had been drawn before I delivered my explanation.

I'm still not sure exactly what I had been expecting from our mandatory marriage preparation weekend retreat, but it turned out to be a wonderful weekend. We learned some good things about each other, and about marriage. We met some really good and fun people, and caught up the times with childhood friends I hadn't seen in over twenty years. I had fun sleeping in the dormitory that used to be my parents' college dormitory and taking "classes" in a building where they once took their college classes. And I loved being able to go with J. to Tiny's Tavern, my father's college local so many decades ago, and be able to plug "Hey, Hey Good Looking" into the jukebox.

All in all, it was wonderful to be back in a childhood stomping ground to find so much - and yet nothing at all - had changed.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Oregon....oh, I adore you so!

This is a picture of Holy Rosary Chapel on Crooked Finger Road, where J. and I will be married.....and where, 38 years and 3 days earlier, my parents were married.

I know that, from such a view amidst trees, it is hard to see the Holy Rosary Mission. But I couldn't resist sharing the photo of those trees that leave this tundra-dweller in a perpetual state of swoon. It is a breathtaking place.

I took this picture last week, while J., my brother and I were exploring the woods that surround the chapel. They are quite amazing to explore. One can see mountains, and white barns, and rolling foothills. And yet it feels incredibly private. So little traffic.

In addition to its beauty and privacy, the Holy Rosary Chapel has a lot of family significance. According to family legend, my father and his best friend first saw the Holy Rosary Mission whilst driving around the back, back roads of Oregon in my dad's VW van. He too, it is told, thought it beautiful. And it was my dad that suggested to my mother that they be married there. I have it on good authority that this is what my father would have seen at his first glimpse back in 1970:

Just about what J. and I saw at our first glimpse!

Our reception, guest accomodations, and several preceding events are being planned at Silver Falls State Park.

This is the dining lodge, at the park, where we are having our reception:

We are especially excited about all the potential offered by this firepit outside the dining hall:

There is also a lot of excitement about the Old Ranch House, where we are having a Hog Roast the night before the wedding and reception. The Old Ranch House is a big, historical bunkhouse inside the park that can sleep up to 76 people. The ceiling is made out of timber, and the bunk beds are all made of solid wood. The Old Ranch is surrounded by a big meadow, which is edged by more woods.

Add in a few haybales for extra seating, the Tallboys from Seattle, some lawn games for the kids, and lots of Oregon-fresh vegetarian side dishes for those that may not want a hunk of roasted hog, and we are quite certain that there is no better place - or way - to celebrate a bit of Iowa (J's home state) in Oregon (my home state).

The Old Ranch House also has a firepit. A big one. An indoor one.

Another great feature of the Old Ranch House is that those doors, like an old barn, open wide.

But I suppose the greatest excitement comes from the combination of all these excitements: that after a fun and delicious Hog Roast and an evening of great old-time string music, J. and I will be enjoying late-night conversations with brothers, cousins, buddies and other assorted hooligans (that we don't get to see nearly enough!) around a roaring firepit, with the barn doors wide open.

We are so excited about spending three nights with our friends and families at Silver Falls State Park, that we took the liberty of reserving all of the cabins and lodges at the surrounding Silver Falls Conference Center for three nights. And then, testing our luck, we allocated the best cabins (that look like the picture below and have private bathrooms and showers) to Aunt Margaret, Auntie Donna, and Eli and Bernie. Not that we want to pressure these dear folks into making the trip Out West, of course. We just want to ensure that every persuasion that could be made towards that end is made. Here is a picture of their accomodations:

In addition to these cabins, the Silver Falls Conference Center also offers several group lodges. We hope that many of our family and friends with children could be persuaded to stay here:

And this is a picture of the telephone option at our wedding reception:

OK. I'll admit it. I'm giddy. So giddy, in fact, I plead (in advance) you to forgive me if my next couple of posts seem Oregon-focused! But I just can't restrain myself from showing you the Old Ranch House, where we are having our night-before-the-wedding Hog Roast. Or the pictures of the lodges and cabins that we've reserved in the park for family and friends. Oh! And you certainly don't want me to restrain myself from showing pictures of all the fire pits and fire places at the lodges, cabins, ranch houses, and dining halls, around which smores will be roasted and popcorn you? Of course not!

It is fun to be so giddy.