Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sour Cream Cranberry Rye Bread

This turned out pretty yum! We put some of R.'s pluot jam on the bread and ate it with the last of the king crab Bob brought back from Nome in July. The rye-cranberry combo is very similar to a lingonberry bread we found at Ikea this summer. The ground cranberries are subtle and only add a perfumey taste to the rye. The recipe says make two loaves. I made three and let it rise on our soapstone wood stove while we were out skiing.

1 c. warm water
2 pkgs. (2 scant tbsp.) dry yeast
1 c. sour cream
1 tbsp. salt (!!! I used 1 teaspoon)
1/2 c. molasses
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
2 c. fresh cranberries, ground
3 c. rye flour
4 1/2 to 5 c. unbleached flour

In a large mixer bowl dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sour cream, salt, molasses, sugar, allspice, cloves, cranberries and rye flour. Blend together on low speed, then beat at medium speed for 5 minutes. Add enough bread flour to make a soft dough.

Knead for 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl; cover; let rise until double in bulk. Punch down. Divide into 2 equal parts and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Grease 2 (9 x 5 inch) loaf pans. Shape each piece of dough into a loaf and place in pan; cover and let rise until double in size.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until deep golden brown. If loaves become too brown, cover loosely with foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. Brush with butter while still warm, if desired. Makes 2 loaves.


Well this Bonasa umbellus of the Galliformes order came traipsing across our yard today. Bob's first impulse was to shoot her, as he went hunting unsuccessfully for these little birds earlier this fall. I did a split second calculation about not wanting to figure out how to clean it and decided to shoot it with my Nikon instead. These grouse are related to ptarmigan and prairie chickens. Big, low flying, and slow.

For future reference I found (of course) an Alaskan website on grouse cleaning. This is NFV (not for vegans) but shows some good AK color.

Lady Chainsaws

Me and some girls from work had a ladies' night out a couple of weeks ago. This was pretty fun. The cast of characters included A. from Mexico via Chicago and California notable for her *licensed* Noguchi lamp collection, O. from Hawaii/Nebraska who spent her teen years living in her parents RV and now rides a badass motorcycle, M. who is also a former Nebraskan and the alternate state climatologist (there is a longtime debate about the official one living in Anchorage and some kind of illegitimate usurpation of that crown), and O. who is a German linguist who studies dying Athabaskan languages on the upper Tanana River. Great bunch of gals.

You really know you are in Alaska when the topic turns to chopping fallen trees for firewood and your lady friends offer you their lady chainsaws. Uhhh, I had no idea there was such a thing as a lady chainsaw. When one searches the internet for "women's chainsaw" one finds the following convo:

From: Brushcuttingirl

"Hi all. Does anyone have any suggestions for a good chainsaw for a woman to use? We have several different makes and models and I can run the smaller to medium ones but my biggest problem is getting them started! I just can't seem to yank hard enough. I've been thinking about buying an electric but have heard that they don't have that much power. I read the discussion on electrics on board and it only reinforced my decision to go electric. Mostly what I'll be using it for would be to clean up the woods around the house. Not the back 40 mind you, just around the yard!

Thanks in advance for any advice (appreciated) and comments."

Response from: Phorester

"Sounds like you will be using the saw well away from an electrical outlet, and don't want to drag around a couple hundred feet of extension cord?

On the high end gas saws you can get one with a decompression switch. This reduces the amount of strength needed to pull the starter cord by quite a lot. Your local dealer will know about this.

Also, how are you attempting to start the saw? Setting it on the ground and putting your foot through the back handle while holding down on the front handle with your other hand should anchor it pretty well to pull the cord.

But my wife had the same problem. We could only solve it by letting me use the saw, she used the splitting maul."

Uhhh. Yeah.

P.S. Here's Jill's solution to the problem.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Anchorage Underworld

Well, this post is coming to you from Alaska's seedy center, Anchorage USA. Since I seem to only have time for reading on airplanes, let me tell you about this gem I found at the airport. Kim Rich wrote this memoir about her rearing by a gangster and a stripper in high-flying 1960s Anchorage. Pretty sordid stories, but it's a really captivating book that breaks out of the Alaska literary mold. That's Jello not fungi.

These days the underworld pretty much mingles with the overworld. One need only to stand at the central bus station for a few minutes to witness this. Last year Bob and I watched a station attendant roll a sleeping man over long enough to wipe up the small pool of blood under him, then he just rolled the guy back. Downtown is a regular lineup of cheap ivory shops, drunks, and hookers. And a stolid 6-foot tall blond woman selling reindeer sausage out of her minivan.

I had breakfast at the adorable Snow City Cafe. A real bright spot on the downtown landscape. As some of you know, most of downtown Anchorage was destroyed in the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, the largest recorded in North American History at 9.2 on the Moment scale. My impression from Rich's book of Anchorage before the earthquake is a mix of northern slum and glitzy nightlife. Well it was rebuilt so that every building looks like the Mutual of Omaha headquarters, which is to say not pretty. Tragic considering the gorgeous ocean inlet and neighboring snow-covered mountains. Now a canyon of brown tinted glass and stained stucco.

Of course, Anchorage people don't see it that way and they have plenty of criticism for Fairbanks. Though I'm spending most of the week with oil barons, I did get to meet up with R., with whom I went to college. She hosts one of my favorite Alaska-based radio shows. And she lived in Iowa City and is hitched to a Nebraskan. So we've lived in many of the same places, just in a different order. R. brought along a friend, H. who is a pilot for a well-known aerial photography company and has seen many corners of the state. We all had a fun time comparing our AK experiences. After a beer under a deafening broadcast of Law and Order, we paused in the hotel lobby to soak up an 50 person strong ukulele jam-and-sing. There is a convention for Hawaiian diaspora here this week and the consensus is that folks in the 49th state could learn a lot from those in the 50th. These people were having a blast.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Enjoying the Last Gasp of Sunshine

Our tomatoes are really turning out scrumptious. Considering we started them in March, that's 7 months in the making for these little babies. Think cherry- and strawberry-sized. But they taste pretty darn good. Certainly better than what rolls off the truck at the grocery store this time of year.

The carrots were unbelievably sweet. Also, only about two inches long, but these we planted directly in the garden, so they only represent 5 months of work.

Bob and I have also been experimenting with Greek cuisine. The Greek restaurant in Fairbanks burned down a couple of years ago, but recently we noticed a replacement has risen like a Phoenix in the ashes downtown. It's just not open yet. So for the time being, here's a giant spanikopita I made from the last of the garden's kale and collards. I boiled the winter greens for a couple of minutes, then mixed them with diced zucchini, feta, dill, olives, and onion. Mmm. Then put everything into this filo duvet. Deeee-lish.

Winter is here

Well, it seemed to happen pretty fast. Despite what the normal climatology says--snow is likely as early as mid-September--I wasn't mentally prepared. One day it got chilly. Then, there was a clear night and heat simply radiated away. The next day it was cooler. It snowed. It was clear again that night. More heat radiated away. And now the white surface reflects the incoming sun rays. That's it. Autumn is toast. Here Bob is busy putting on our snow tires and breaking the jack.

I realize that some of you still have your AC cranked high...strange weather all over the lower 48 this fall. Meanwhile the snow may be covering our canoe, but we have plans for a little tropical paradise come January. I'm not sure we'll survive otherwise. Here are the climate normals from Weather Underground.