Feb 232014

One of the Alaska traditions I adopted early on was that of keeping a sourdough pot. Practically speaking, being able to make sourdough pancakes, waffles, and bread is nice. It’s yummy, healthy stuff, easier to digest than commercial bread, with nutrients that are more readily absorbed.

I also tend to think of it as a sort of pet—I call it my “sourdough pet” instead of “sourdough pot”—a living thing that needs care and provides satisfaction and food in return. And a tough little critter it is: It can live on the counter or in the fridge, and it survives lengthy periods of neglect without complaint.

I don’t put any stock in claims of hundred-year-old sourdough. The way we continually add flour and water while using sponge means the contents turn over regularly. Hundred-year-old, shmundred-year-old. And as taste goes, I can’t tell a difference between one-month-old sourdough, one-year-old sourdough, and that which claims to be a hundred years old.

It’s been a while, but I started a sourdough pet recently. Today we had fresh homemade sourdough English muffins.

Homemade sourdough English muffins

Fresh off the griddle, homemade sourdough English muffins.

Hot off the griddle, we don’t toast them. We split them and top them will the usual toppings: butter, peanut butter, honey, jam, garlic butter, etc. They’re chewy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Tomorrow, they’ll make great toast.

My favorite sourdough recipes and instructions come from Garden Way Publishing’s Bread Book : A Baker’s Almanac by Ellen Foscue Johnson. I have a first edition copy (the yellow one), which, of course, is no longer in print, though there are used copies available. If a recipe calls for additional commercial yeast, I’m likely to skip it, unless my pet is recovering from neglect.

The 1994 edition, The Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac has the same 1970s photos and the same great advice and recipes.

Reading the bread-baking basics in the front of this book greatly improved my results; I haven’t baked a brick since receiving it as a gift from my sister-in-law. Beating the first blending of flour, oil, salt, and yeast “at least 200 strokes” is, I think, the best tip I’ve ever gotten.

The recipes are outstanding—ethnically diverse and utilizing a variety of grains and other ingredients. In addition to the sourdough recipes, I love chappatis, North African coriander bread, lacy corn cakes, brown rice bread, wedding bread from Crete, and oh-so-many more. Last week I made rhubarb bread for the first time. Mmmm!

January Thaw

 Posted by  Alaska
Jan 252014

While you in the Lower 48 are freezing and getting snow, we’re having spring in January.

Car thermometer showing the temperature

In Palmer, on 1/24/2014 it was 47 degrees and sunny.

This is in Palmer yesterday. It got as high as 49 in Anchorage, but I didn’t think to take a picture then.

We’re colder here at home, but it’s above freezing.

Dec 202013

After posting about our short days and limited direct sunlight, friends sent their sympathy and reminders that the days will soon get longer.

Alas, friends, I am grateful for your concern and support, but your sympathy is misplaced: I love this time of year! I’m in no rush for longer days.

Colored lights on the ceiling, candle lights and candle in the window, beaded snowflake on the window.

These aren’t up for just the holiday; these are up for winter.

I adore getting up in the dark and having several hours of quiet, cozy time to read and write. Colored lights on the ceiling, fragrant candles, warm tea, the heater by my side, and time to think and create—what’s not to like? It’s not uncommon for me to sneak out of bed at 4 a.m. to get a jump on the morning’s writing or to sneak off to bed at 8 p.m. for some extra reading. Only when it’s this dark and cold is this permissible.

That’s not to say I don’t like summertime. I love summer equally. But summer is different. It’s light all the time, and I’m outside early and late, and writing and reading and creating take a backseat to growing and harvesting.

Aurora borealis--northern lights

Let’s not forget these winter lights. When the sun’s here all the time, we don’t get to see these.

One of the things I like about Alaska is the dramatic difference between the seasons, of which I tend to think there are two: summer and winter. Spring and fall last about a week each. The change in conditions and activities results in a nicely balanced cycle that makes me aware of the passage of time.

I know many people dread the snow, cold, and dark days of winter. I’m not one of them. Welcome, winter! I’m glad you’re here.

Sunslide, Sunslip

 Posted by  Alaska
Dec 172013

Sunslide, sunslip. Swiftly flow the days…

So how swiftly do the days flow in Alaska just now, on December 17, 2013? We have about six hours of daylight, from roughly 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Because of our location on the north side of the Chugach Mountains, our direct sunlight during this time of year is significantly less.

Sunslide: 1:49 p.m.
Sunslip: 2:15 p.m.

I can’t bring myself to call it “sunrise” and “sunset” because that implies some sort of vertical movement, and that is not what we have. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains. Rather, it slides into view from behind one mountain and soon slips behind another.


Alaska sunrise: the slides out from behind a mountain


Alaska sunset: the sun slips behind a mountain

That’s all there is.

Moose Munch

 Posted by  Alaska, Gardening
Dec 162013

Moose tracks in the snow and munched raspberry stalks

Every winter, a moose stops by to prune the raspberry stalks.

Raspberries pruned: check.

Moose: Quality, dependable service, year after year.

I used to dread this and wish we had a real fence around the raspberries and strawberries, but this year, I don’t care. You see, I had a lesson in Growing Raspberries and was advised to cut back the first-year stalks at the end of the season. I’ve never done that, and thanks to our dependable moose, I don’t have to.

Our moose-munched and scrawny raspberries produced better than ever this year, so I’ve stopped worrying about winter moose pruning. I will still make an effort to keep them out of the berry bed during the summer and fall, but they seem far less interested then anyway, what with the abundance of yummy willows and fireweed.

This gardening-with-moose situation is working out all right.

Moose in snow, munching on branches

In December, raspberries are better than aspens.

Oct 302013

Since I’m not decorating my home for Halloween, I’ll decorate my blog. I did, after all, make the effort to grow a Great Pumpkin. This was my first attempt at pumpkins.

It began like this:

Pumpkin vine

My own Audrey II creeps out of its bed.

I planted two pumpkin plants, telling myself I’d pinch off the weaker one once they got established. Of course, when pinching time came, I couldn’t do it. I hate killing plants, especially the weaker ones that are making such a good effort. Grow little pumpkin plant, grow!

And it did. The pumpkins were in a warm bed (covered with plastic) shared with green beans, zucchinis, and second-string collards that filled holes or replaced plants that had died.

I forgot that pumpkins like to wander, but I’m not sure I would have done anything differently had I remembered. All my garden plants are welcome to wander. Ask the green onions.

Tiny green pumpkin

Well, what do you know: A baby pumpkin arrives!

Pumpkins were a long shot. Maybe somewhere between zucs and cantaloupe, perhaps? Besides needing some heat, they take a long time, and I got a late start due to spring caretaking.

Well, we got heat this summer. Take a look at my cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe plant with two flowers

It’s a cantaloupe, and it flowered!

I’ve never gotten a cantaloupe this far! It actually flowered, and at the end of the season, I had a cantaloupe about a quarter inch in diameter. Way to go, cantaloupe!

I took good care of my baby pumpkin and its two siblings. I even asked Mike to pinch off the other flowers so the plants would give all their energy to the growing pumpkins. I was pretty excited to have pumpkins; I think I could have pinched those other flowers if Mike had not been home to do it. Uh-huh. It’s so easy to say that now.

Growing pumpkin

It grows!

It was actually hard for Mike to pinch the flowers, too, but for different reasons, I think. He wants maximum production, but is never fully convinced whether that comes from concentrating energy into fewer fruits or allowing the maximum number of fruits. And he was probably concerned about my feelings regarding the brutal killing. Nevertheless, he pinched flowers, and I was mostly glad he did.

All three pumpkins grew. These pics are of the middle-sized pumpkin. When the first frost hit, both the larger and smaller pumpkins showed some damage, but this fellow stuck it out. It was just starting to turn orange-ish, while the others were still green. I picked all three and brought them inside, not really sure if they’d continue to turn orange or not.

They hadn’t gotten all that far when I left to come here to the lodge. As much as I wanted to watch what would happen, it seemed kind of ridiculous to pack three pumpkins and bring them out to the lodge. I mean, I limit clothing in order to “pack light.”

So I packed just the middle pumpkin.

My ripe pumpkin

It ripened!

Mike wanted to carve it, but looking at his schedule over the next two weeks, I don’t image that will happen. I think I’ll make pumpkin soup with it. Other than pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, we’ve not had good luck with pumpkin recipes, but we had delicious pumpkin soup at a restaurant not quite a million years ago, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

Did I mention that my Great Pumpkin is just under five inches in diameter? It will be a small pot of soup.