Friday, January 25, 2013

Last Frontier Food

A question that sometimes comes up is, what do Alaskans eat? For the most part, we eat like the rest of the USA. We get most of the same national brands that can be found in the lower 48. Kraft Mac N Cheese is big. Lunch meat and canned tuna. Fresh produce is available, but can often cost double to triple of what someone in Arizona will pay for it. However, we do have some unique foods available as near as Costco. King crab legs, reindeer sausage, and smoked salmon to name a few. Jams and jellies made from local berries go great with that jar of Jif you picked up last week. And because there are people hunt and fish with the intent of filling their super-sized freezer, school lunches can look at little different than the kids in Boulder are eating.

Tuna salad sandwiches? Forget it. My nephews took salmon salad sandwiches to school because my brother loved to fish all summer. Other folks I know eat moose burger instead of beef. Moose roast cooks up quite well in the crockpot. Some friends swear by bear pepperoni. Uck. Then again, a while back Boone Brux posted a recipe for Whale Stew. Makes enough to feed the entire village, and then some.

So what is my favorite Alaska dish? You can keep the salmon. I’ll gladly accept some moose burger if you have some to spare. I can buy reindeer sausage at Costco. I’ll never turn down crab, shrimp or scallops. But if you have some fresh halibut to spare, well, you’ve found my favorite.

There are two ways I like best to fix it. One is to deep fry it in beer or tempura batter. Messy and time consuming, but oh-so-yummy! Serve with tartar sauce and fries for excellent fish and chips. But the easiest is simply to bake it. This probably isn’t what your doctor would recommend for healthy eating, but the following recipe always gets me raves.

The O'Reilly guys and some fish. Not all were theirs,
but they brought home a nice pile of 'buts.
  •  Halibut filet
  •  Lemon, sliced thin into half rounds
  •  Stick of butter, sliced into thin pats
  •  Mayonnaise
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degF.
  2. Start with a halibut filet or two. The thicker the better. I like to remove the skin, but it’s not necessary. I think it tastes better. Wash with cool water and pat dry.
  3. With a sharp knife cut into the meat, stopping before cutting all the way through. Make several cuts, about one inch apart. Place in baking pan.
  4. Rub the filet with mayonnaise, getting down into the cuts. Stuff the cuts with slices of lemon and pats of butter.
  5. Bake until halibut is opaque and flakes with a fork, about 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet. Remove the lemon slices and serve with sides of choice. Garnish with fresh lemon slices if desired.

I haven’t made this dish in quite some time, so I’m sad to say I don’t have any photos. Now if you’re really feeling adventurous, you could top off that meal with some Eskimo ice cream. Or, a blueberry pie made from the wild blueberries picked last August. Since I don’t have any blueberries on hand, I’ll be making brownies for my dinner guests coming over next week.

Have a question about food to be found? Toss it out! I have cook books galore from this church or that bazaar. I’ll see what I can find.

Oh, and gratuitous cute puppy pictures, because, well, that's what I'm doing these days, playing puppy mom. Meet Neo the wonder pup! Now two days shy of ten weeks.

Neo's idea of a moose meal.


Morgan Q. O'Reilly
Romance for All Your Moods

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Want To Go Home...

In 1988, I lived in Las Vegas with husband Don, daughter Sue Ann, two dogs, two cats and two hamsters.

We’d just built a house, enrolled Sue Ann in a wonderful private school and I’d started a new job working with Fortune 500 company, EG&G. Life seemed settled and solid. Sometimes I felt as if Vegas might not be the best place in the world to raise a child, but we were a good twenty miles from the Strip. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

Don was retired Air Force and we’d lived all over the place, moving as much after he retired as when he was active duty. When you’re young and you have a family to support—and not any real aversion to moving around—you go where the jobs are.

One of our attempts to ‘go where the jobs are’ landed Don in remote Indian Mountain, Alaska, where he worked for RCA for over two years, coming home every three or four months to see Sue Ann and me (living in Ohio at the time). After deciding we’d had enough of being apart, he’d quit RCA and we’d made the move to Vegas (for the second time, in fact) because of—what else?—jobs.

Four years later we had good jobs, a new house, our daughter was happy and well-adjusted . . . and Don came home from work and said, “I got a job offer today.”

“Oh, yeah?” I was, of course, curious. Don wouldn’t have said anything if this job offer amounted to nothing.

“It’s in Alaska—”

And I immediately interrupted him. “You’re not going back to Alaska.”

“It’s not like that, it’s not remote. This job is in Fairbanks. We can all be together.”

Well, that was the beginning of discussion, arguments, Sue Ann’s wails that she didn’t want to move again, my resistance to leaving our wonderful new house behind, you name it.

Bottom line: Don wanted to take the job, I didn’t want to leave Vegas even though I knew it wasn’t the best place to raise our daughter, and what on earth would we do with two dogs, two cats and two hamsters?

It took a few months, but Don wore me down. I knew if we didn’t go, I’d kind of never hear the end of it (especially if life for any reason went sour in Vegas). And I have the kind of marriage that demands if one of us can make the other happy, even if it’s (kind of) not what we might want to do, we’ll do it anyway, because that’s what marital compromise is all about.

So we went. Sold the house, packed up the animals, rented a huge Ryder truck, and drove it all up to Fairbanks. It took us nine days and along the way I worried about what life had in store for us.

Yes, it was an adventure, and I was always up for one of those. But this was different. This was Alaska, The Last Frontier, so very far away from everyone we knew, both friends and family.

“Don’t worry,” Don said. “We’ll only stay a few years.”

I didn’t know what to expect.
After life in the desert, it seemed as though we’d traded one extreme for another.
I was sick with bronchitis that first winter, when temps dropped to sixty below for weeks on end and one of the heating zones went out in our rented house.
I didn’t like my job.
It drove me nuts to see snow in May.
It worried me that now we couldn’t jump in our car and drive to West Virginia or Ohio whenever we wanted to, and visit our family.

Dumb things to worry about within the bigger picture, which I couldn’t yet see:
Living in an amazing state that gives back to its residents in so many ways. Beauty all around me in a place where Sue Ann was safe, did great in school and dealt with winter far better than I. And Don was happy, loving Alaska. Before I knew it, we’d bought a house; a three-bedroom Victorian replica that reminded me of the houses in my Upstate New York home town.

Two years stretched into three, five, ten. And suddenly fifteen years had gone by since we moved. Sue Ann, now grown into a lovely young woman, met and married a wonderful Fairbanks guy. I had a job I liked and yet, I was homesick for family left behind in Upstate. I wanted to go back.

I won’t get into more detail except to say that we went back. In 2004 we moved to New York and settled on a farm not far from my home town. And it was good for a while, as I reconnected with the family I hadn’t seen in so many years. Don and I started a few small businesses. I planted a garden each spring and canned veggies all summer long.

But a funny thing happened as the years advanced: it didn’t take long for me to realize what Don had known all along: how much Alaska had grown on me, how many times during the day I’d remember small things. Like the way the summer sun would shine on my face at four in the morning as I slept with the blinds wide open. How clear the sky, how fresh the air, how quiet, how serene the world around me, be it June or January.

Most of all, how much I missed our daughter, still living in Fairbanks, happily married but missing her mother and father, too. Phone calls several times a week just didn’t cut it.

Sporadic visits definitely left a lot to be desired.

A fellow Fairbanksian friend of ours once told us you can’t leave Alaska without immediately wanting to go back; that once you’ve lived there, you won’t be satisfied living anywhere else. He’d left, too . . . and moved back, three years later. At the time I think I gave him an indulgent smile.

Now, I know what he means.

Because I want to go home.
--- Char Chaffin

Char Chaffin is a displaced Alaskan who currently plots a return to Fairbanks, in between writing contemporary romances and acquiring and editing manuscripts for Soul Mate Publishing. Her latest novel, Unsafe Haven, is set in Southwestern Alaska and is available through Soul Mate Publishing, Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, January 11, 2013

PFD application time again!

 What is the PFD?

 In 1976, we passed the constitutional amendment to create the Permanent Fund, like a savings account for the State of Alaska. The state gets royalties from the oil companies for the privilege of taking oil from our state lands, and they are deposited in the Permanent Fund. Governor Jay Hammond and others promoted the idea of a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), when each Alaskan resident gets a slice of the Permanent Fund to spend as he or she chooses, to share some of the wealth directly. (There are a few requirements: to qualify, one must be a resident for at least one year, live in Alaska the majority of the year, etc.) The first dividend was sent out in 1982, and each year the dividend amount varies because of the royalties earned, how the fund’s investments, did etc. Last year, the dividend amount was $878. Many Alaskans use it for day-to-day expenses or save it up for big purchases, and others use it for fun things like travel or fourwheelers. PFD money contributes a lot to our local economies, and you’ll see “PFD specials” ads every fall, to encourage folks to spend their money there.

 What’s happening this time of year?

 Alaska residents send in their PFD applications January 1st through March 31st, so this is the time of year when everyone is asking each other, “Did you apply for the PFD yet?” and nonprofits advertise the Pick.Click.Give. program.

The Pick.Click.Give. program allows Alaskans to contribute part of their dividend to organizations of their choice. In 2012, 23,169 Alaskans donated $2.2 million to more than 400 nonprofit groups. It’s easy to pick from the list, click how much you want to give, and then when the dividends are distributed next October, the groups will receive their donations as we’re getting our checks or deposits. Last year, I picked the Food Bank of Alaska and the Anchorage Library Foundation; I’m thinking of adding Cook Inletkeeper this year, a group that does research and advocacy to keep our Cook Inlet waters clean.

The PFD and Pick.Click.Give. are strictly Alaskan, but I bet other locations have easy ways to contribute to organizations they care about. The United Way campaigns come to mind. Proactive communities are always looking for ways to help people get involved.

 So, did you Alaskans apply yet? Did you Pick.Click.Give.? If you’re not from Alaska, what group(s) would you choose for Pick.Click.Give. or other donations?

--- Lynn Lovegreen

Friday, January 4, 2013

Junior Nordic Skiing in Alaska

I keep my skis and poles in my car ready to go.

To most Alaskans skiing means Nordic skiing, also called cross-country skiing. I just call it skiing. Three times a week I coach Jr. Nordic.

I get to run around on skis, mostly in the dark, making sure kids have fun. The trails are lighted but we like to bushwhack through the shortcuts and howl like wolves.

Jr. Nordic is a kid's ski program which meets at three locations in Anchorage.

I believe there are about 500 kids involved, give or take some younger siblings and parents along to help out.

We divide the kids up by ability: Polar Cubs, Otters, Wolverines, and Hawks. The Hawks are the fastest. I ski with the Polar Cubs.

Last Saturday, high winds were forecast, so I called the Jr. Nordic hotline to make sure we were skiing. The wind didn't pick up until the precise moment I opened the hatch of my car. Whoa Nellie!
About 200 kids were gathering in the snowy soccer stadium, checking in with coaches and waxing skies. Dogs are barking with excitement. I found my kids.

My group is quite fast for Polar Cubs, but I tell them to wait for the Cookie Tour to becoming Otters. The Cookie Tour is a race of sorts so we can figure out who is a Hawk and who is a Polar Cub. The kids who can't yet stand on skies forgo skiing the loop but still get a cookie.
Only two of my kids showed up on Saturday.
I usually ski with five.

The wind was roaring through the trees, and the snow was melting with pine needles mixed in, but the trails were was still skiable. We got up Heart Attack Hill which is a steep herring-bone uphill. Oh dear, I'm using too much jargon.

Cross-country skiing has two categories of technique, one is skate or freestyle and the other is classic. Skate skiing is like ice skating, while classic skiing is like running.

We teach classic skiing first, but I mix techniques shamelessly. I'm not a purist.

Classic skiing uses herring bone--also called duck walk--to get up steep hills. To duck walk, angle the ski tips outward so that the skis make a wedge with the wide part in front, tip the inside edges of the skis into the snow for traction, and walk. It helps to keep ski poles moving behind you, ready to keep you from slipping backward. The truly classic way to do it is at a run. It's quite a workout.

At the top of Heart Attack Hill, we stopped for snacks. We debated going back to play tag games in the soccer field, but I get bored with tag, especially with only three people. Instead we skied the Service Loop with a few short cuts. We even had time for rainbow tag.

Well, I'd best go get ready for skiing tonight. The snow is icy, so we're going to be at Kincaid Park. I need to stop by the grocery store for more Oreos and apple juice.

--- Lizzie Newell