Thursday, April 30, 2009

weather cynicism


It's been sunny and warm and perfect since Sunday. I have a skirt and a t shirt on and wore sandals to work. I know! This is the best time of year: sunshine, snow on the mountains, no bugs, no tourists! (I know tourists bring in money but really, folks should know how to use crosswalks. They're the same here as in whereverthehecktheycamefrom, America . It's not Disneyland people. Some of us have errands to run at lunch.)

However, everyone has this deep sense of dread if the good weather lasts too long. It's like there is only a finite number of nice days per year. We don't want to use them up all at once and risk having it puke down rain for the rest of the summer. Everyone I know has a healthy dread about when the weather will go back to normal. It doesn't pay to get hopeful--at least that's the attitude.

Did you know that stores close early on sunny, nice days so employees could get out an enjoy the weather? They do. Unfortunately, the US Government grinds on no matter the weather. Rain or shine we are bureaucratizing the crap out things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Foraging for Fiddleheads

It's spring so that means lots of little things peeking out from under the winter detritus of twigs and alder leaves. Just this week it seems like everything has come to life. Just look at this skunk cabbage springing forth.

Yes, spring is in the air. It was 44 degrees this morning. I walked to work in a skirt without long underwear. All this leads me to talking about Fiddleheads! Those little curly pre-fern treats. I haven't ever gathered them before, but I've snacked on them while working on the woods. Last Sunday I took my new galvanized pail to the woods to forage. It was ok, the snow had only recently melted so many of the plants haven't heard it's spring yet.

It was a small take, but totally worth it. Larousse said fiddleheads are a Quebecois treat and are usually blanched first. So I blanched them.

After they tasted like a cross between asparagus and chard. The Dirty Fisherman said they tasted like a vegetable (and not hot buttered ass, as his tone implied). Success!

The Tlingit folks ate fiddleheads with grease. What more do you need? My grease was bacon fat since seal is off the menu here.

I planned on just sauteing them in some fat and garlic, but then I found a shallot so that got added. (Really, I don't know why I let something as transcendent as a shallot linger in my root cellar/bucket.)

They were surprisingly good. Or it wasn't really surprising since they were fried in the trifecta of perfection. This went nicely with the chimichurri venison backstrap and roast potatoes.

four simple (cheap) ingredients.

Sauteing garlic and shallots in the pan.

Shallots absorb a lot of bacon fat. If I weren't so heart conscious (snort) I'd add more.

Adding the blanched fiddleheads to the garlic and shallots

Done and in a fantastic '50's pyrex bowl (the red one).

So here is my recipe:

1-2 cups fiddleheads (or other green veggie item)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, sliced
2 tablespoons bacon grease (or butter or olive oil, you health nut)

Blanch the fiddleheads for about 1 minute. Drain and let cool in a colander or sieve.

Melt the fat in a pan, saute garlic until just before it turns brows. Add the shallot, cooking until translucent. Add the blanched fiddleheads and cook for about 3 minutes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

moderate failure

My name is Muskeg Harpy. I am a reforming pack rat. To wit: I had at least 4 full boxes of old magazines that I had "saved" through 5 moves. These boxes weighed at least 27 pounds each and managed to soak up at least that weight in water vapor. Some of them mildewed.

I went through all of my stuff and got rid of a bunch of crap. My magazines too. See, I had kept them because they had recipes or some little project I wanted to do. I went through each and every old Saveur, Readymade, Bon Appetite, and Martha Stewart Living and tore out everything that looked good/fun.

These are now in thematic piles on a table. When a recipe is a winner, I glue it into my special book where I obsessively write down all my recipes. It's about as close to scrap booking as I get. The recipes were sucessful for the most part, until this weekend. Sage short bread from Bon Appetite did me in.

I wanted herbed short bread. It sounded fun plus I got to use my new oven(!!!) and my recently unearthed Cuisinart. I should have known that 1 tsp of coarse kosher salt would be too much for 2 c flour, 1 c butter and 1/2 c sugar.

Wierd is just about the nicest thing I can say for them. They are not a delightful cookie to eat while watching a marathon of Ballykissangel from the library. They would have been good as an amuse bouche with some smoked salmon.

This one is not getting glued into my recipe book.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn

Imagine that done a la The Tick. It's better that way. Also, welcome to my head. Please ignore the backward talking little man in the suit. He only confuses people.

So. What did I do this weekend while the old man was a millin? I dumped a truck load of herring eggs and kelp on my little garden bed. I also turned over the beds, weeded and swore at the %$@# deer that delicately snipped the tops of my tulips.

I digress. I'm going to tell you about at least one of the Alaskan Tradition uses of herring eggs. A person could eat them. Many people sink hemlock branches in hopes of the swarms of herring spawning on them. The eggs are little and salty, that crunch and pop in your mouth. It's like that flying fish roe you get on sushi. Weird but not unpleasant. During the spawn, huge oblong white shapes appear in the water indicate that there is a ball of reproducing herring.

I use the eggs for my garden. They are the best fertilizer and soil structure builder. The micronutrients from the salts are especially lacking in our rain-leached soil, so we don't really have pH problems from adding salty bits to the garden.

This is Halibut Point Recreational beach. That fuzzy yellow stuff is all herring eggs. It was sunny that day. This is about an hour and a half before the low tide.

Here's an intense close up of the eggs. Most of them are stuck to little bits of kelp and other sea vegetables. These eggs don't really stink at this point. They are fresh from the sea and sort of pickled in salt water. The eggs wash up in between the rocks on the beach, sometimes in rafts up to 3 inches thick.

I lied about doing it myself. Here is tDF stuffing a bunch of eggs into a bucket. Do you know what's super great? 5-gallon buckets. This is day 2 of our gathering extravaganza. The day before we filled 8 buckets, to the current day's 4. This beach is actually an estuary where Granite Creek flows into salt water.

You get kelp and sand with the eggs as a totally awesome bonus.

Then you drive home, cackling at your good fortune. Because you totally won at herring egg gathering. Dumping the salty gold on your beds is pretty fun too. Because then it's time to use a shovel and you know how I feel about shovels.
The light stuff is the herring eggs. I mixed and turned and dug and trenched and scattered. Don't you just love how your shoulders feel after turning over your beds? After mixing, I spread a harvest guard over the beds. This allows the herring eggs and kelp to marinate with out disturbance from felines. It will also let my bulbs get to a reasonable height before the deer stop by again.
Walking into work today I caught a whiff of the bed. It smells like fertility!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Milling is Awesome

When we moved up here, we didn't know what the Dirty Fisherman was going to do. He's an accomplished carpenter and all around handy guy. It was assumed that he would fish. And he did when we lived in Wrangell. He could have found a deck position after we moved to Sitka, but he would have been gone for longer periods than he would have liked. Plus we sort of hitched our wagon to a behemoth on the hill. There is a silver lining, though, he's found out that he likes to mill.

tDF is a wood snob of the highest order. The man will pick through every pile of lumber at the yard until he finds the clearest, straightest, truest boards. I appreciate the effort but it's sooo frustrating. The solution is for him to make his own lumber. We bought an Alaska Mill for $5 at a garage sale. Yes, you can mill wood with a $5 doo-hickey...attached to a $1,200 chainsaw.




It's a jig that attaches at the powerhead and the tip of a chainsaw. The top rides along the top of the log while holding the bar level to rip through at a specified depth. The saw is an older Husqvarna 2101XP. It is only one of our four (4) chainsaws.




You can see our other Husky, there are two Stihls on the left. As you can see, we are not chainsaw purists. (For those who do not know, there are two types of people Stihl users and Husqvarna/Husky users. It's like the Ford vs. Chevy of the chainsaw world.) We are using the largest saw to rip through the Alaska Yellow Cedar logs.

There are a few other tools that make milling a fun, rewarding, and not at all a dirty experience:






A hatchet for whacking off lumps on the log. We also use the hatchet for peeling the bark off. Here, the DF is cleaning up the ends of the log.






A person could also use a draw knife for cleaning up the edge. It's important to get as much of the dirt off the log before milling. Dirt really dulls a chain. A sharp chain reduces kickback and generally makes the cutting go much faster.

A spud bar and a peavey. The peavey has a hook that let you roll a log in place. Both of these tools (along with the Ford you see in some of the next pictures) are used to move the logs into place.



Finally you're ready to get started. For the first pass it's really important to make sure the mill has a smooth surface to run along, this ensures a flat, even cut. We use a ladder and a board. The vibration from the saw rattle the aluminum ladder something fierce, but it's a light and resilient surface.

That Ford is are ground-based yarder. Yay Ford. So then begins the 20-30 minutes that tDF trucks through a log. You have to keep your hand down on the throttle and make sure the saw doesn't bog down in your cut.

So I bet you're wondering what is that yellow thing that looks like a mustard bottle taped to the mill. It's a mustard bottle taped to the mill. It's full of bar oil that is used to lubricate the tip of the saw. The chain pulls the oil into the cut reducing the heat and friction of the chain through the wood.







It's my job to squeeze oil onto the bar tip. I'm a good oiler.










After moving through the log, squirting a bunch of oil, and swearing here's what you get:
A very happy husband. Oh, and a clear 12+ inch slab of Alaska Yellow Cedar.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I have counters

I wrote awhile back about my total crap kitchen. (it really was super awesome, but only to me with my rose-colored glasses of lollipops and unicorns.) The dirty fisherman and I spent the last weekend installing counters! Do you know how much fun it was? Not much at all!

There was much yelling.

We had to cut long miters on a length of pre-formed laminate counter on a saw that was too small for the job. My task was to hold the end of the counter so the DF could cut it. I am so bad at holding things. I always want to wiggle and "help" in other ways. I am a very bad clamp or sawhorse or whatever.

At one point I donned my headlamp and crawled inside a cabinet behind a lazy susan to ratchet down the corner. There was mixing of stank glue. Particle board is terrible stuff, so heavy yet so fragile.

After about 8 hours at this task we got them in. I have pictures, but they're at home on my camera (our house is in more of a disarray than usual). I'll post some so there can be a before and after. It is amazing to have a cook book right next to your cutting board and a bowl next to that. Whoa.

We ordered our faucet yesterday. It's this one--
I loooove it. It's stainless steel with a side sprayer (not shown). It will be way better than the chromed plastic one we have now. It was also on sale. We also have these cool screw-type drains that actually will hold water in the sink. (except for when they were leaking due to the "fiber" gasket that was a sheet of cereal box cardboard.)

The first dinnerI made included cider-brined pork chops, roast potatos, and greens. I cannot wait to bake this weekend.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Casseroles to battle Fascism

As I'm sure I mentioned, I live in an island-bound remote community. There are certain perks to the remoteness and certain downfalls. The perk of today's topic is Garage Sales. Now, there are garage sales everywhere and not all of them are good here. Every once in awhile you'll stumble on one where they're selling yarn, chainsaws, lamps, crab pots and cookbooks from 1943. I am a sucker for kitchy cookbooks from 1943. Especially if they're called Cook it in a Casserole. And especially if the forward explains how we can fight Hitler with hot dish (pronounced haht deesh like they do in Wisconsin). And double extra special if there is more than one recipe using Tongue.

Thank you, Florence Brobeck for writing this tome.

I simply must document this letter to Florence from Hendrick Willem Van Loon on the importance of casserole:

Dear Florence,

I am delighted about your casserole book. People sometimes ask me whether there are absolutely no mitigating circumstances fro Adolf Hitler and i invariably answer, "No, not a single one!" and everyday there is new proof of my contention that for absolute inhumanity, the little Corporal stands alone and is a very bad edition of the unspeakable Gengis Kahn.

But now I am beginning to have my doubts. The Nazi leader, without in the least knowing what he was doing, is bestowing one blessing up on the people of the United States. He is forcing us to return to the oldest and most satisfactory mode of cooking. He has brought us back to revere and respect the casserole--that earthen jar which from now in is to be the mainstay of the American family's intention to live well and feed itself in an interesting and amusing fashion until the scourge of Hitlerism shall once more have been removed from the face of a rejoicing globe. And by then, we as a nation shall have so thoroughly learned the lesson of cooking in the casserole-fashion that we shall never ask for anything else because there is not anything else that is better.

Therefore good luck to your little book--and I have hit upon something composed of beets, mashed potatoes, ham leftovers, celery and spices which I will let you taste the nest time you visit us.

As ever yours,
Hendrick Willem Van Loon
It's easy to make fun of the awful menus, the incredibly dated recipes, or the time saving hints to the women who must work in the war effort. Once the easy jokes are out of the way and you get to read a bit of the book you find a wealth of information from the time before Campbell's cream of mushroom nonsense. Oh, and a time of butter-loveliness.
Let's make fun of a little bit first. Yum! Liver and eggplant casserole. Take the batch of recipes second from the top:
Braised Calf's Liver
Hot Cheese Biscuits and Butter
Artichoke Hearts and Tomato Salad
Berry Loaf and Cream
Coffee

That's not totally awful, except for the main dish. Liver and other organ meats are a big no-no for me. Also, the berry loaf may be tasty but Loaf foods are approached with caution.

My favorite named dish is Scalloped Oysters and Scallops. And the entry on Curry anything:
It can be found under the chapter on Chafing Dish Cookery. Chafing dishes, at least to me, were always fancy and at wedding buffets. To think that I could Chaf something of my own with some sterno, well, say no more. Except do not let me make Frizzled Beef a la King, no matter how funny it sounds. Oh, you make curry anything by adding 1 tablespoon of curry powder to a white sauce. And, it provides a helpful way to replace Bombay Duck with crackers and anchovy paste. Bombay duck is a lizard fish.

In the interest of the new can-do spirit of America under this new admistration, I think we should fight all totalitarian governments with food. Who's with me?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hobo Mondays: Salmon in Parchment

This whole shebang is inspired by hobo/cheap ass Mondays at thursdaynightsmackdown.com Feeding the two of us for $5 or less is helpful, now that we spend an unreal amount on a radiant heat system.

I reckon I have little different view on eating cheap. We get most of our meat-based protein from things we catch/harvest ourselves. So this dinner clocks in at about $5 for the two of us, but that's because we put up a ton of fish in the summer. No, it's not free because gas was $5 a gallon last summer, but whatever. I get to make up for this by a) never having a farmers market in town b) regularly paying $4 per pound for tomatoes and c) enduring 120 inches of rain per year.

I'll write more about the fish processing that goes on in our world this summer when I'm in the thicky, stinky, mess of it. We're building a cleaning station in our garage specifically for processing the huge amount of fish and deer we use. I can tell you that processing 12 sockeye into smoked treats, cans, and frozen fillets is rewarding but you have to smell like fish for about 2 weeks. And canning fish make your walls sweat fish ick.

Let's face it, I live on Mars. Shops will carry only 1 part of a 2 part epoxy and wonder why you would want the second part. Soft cheese only come in terrible flavors--Mushroom Brie and mango Stilton? Blah. Unbruised, never-been-frozen-on-the-barge-trip produce, for a reasonable amount is pretty close to a religious experience. Anytime I can find a good deal I jump on it and it becomes dinner, thus the asparagus here.

Asparagus is normally close to $5 per pound it was on sale for $1.87. How they manage to get Asparagus from Mexico to Southeast Alaska for $1.87 per pound is a mystery. I went back to the store and now it's on sale for $1.25 so I feel ripped off. Again, Mars.It's a little blurry, but look how cute it is on the counter. All skinny and from Mexico. (that's my view. The whales are back in the sound eating the crap out of the herring.)

I never have all the ingredients on hand for actual book recipes, so I make do. I adapted a recipe from one of the 20 million magazines I went through this weekend. It's a salmon-potato-spinach recipe but it was Monday so there wasn't any spinach in town. (The food barge comes on Tuesday so the best produce to be had is out on Wednesday.)

I used 1/2 side of salmon--from what I think is Coho but the Dirty Fisherman thinks is King. He's wrong, of course. We usually freeze a coho in four parts. I cut it in half lengthwise then cut the tail section off to stack on the meatier center portion. This made a pretty even hunk of meat. (I'm learning when to take pictures for bliggity blogging, I see that a picture of how to cut up the fish would be pretty helpful here.) 1 russet potato, sliced into 1/8 in thick rounds--Thinner would work better, I think. 1/2 onion, sliced thin. The recipe called for shallots but I didn't have any. 1 lemon, sliced into 1/8 in thick rounds. 4 T butter --this is a half of a stick, for a more heart healthy recipe use 2 T oil in place of the butter. 2T Capers, drained and chopped from a giant jar from Costco. 3T or to taste chopped Italian Parsley.

cost about $2.10--parchment could add another $.40--for $2.50

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to preheat it. This step is really helpful in ensuring that the potatos finish cooking at the same time as the salmon. I didn't believe it at first but it worked.

Mash the butter, capers, and parsley in a bowl. You could add whatever else you want but this combo is really nice over salmon.
All of that gets layered on a sheet of parchment. First place the potatos in a layer, sprinkle with pepper. scatter some onions over the top, dot 1/4 of the butter mixture over the onions and potatos. Place the salmon on the onions, top with more onions, sliced lemons and another 1/4 of the butter mixture.

Wrap this parchment up to make a little package.
As you can see it's pretty tall, so you need about 2 feet of parchment for each package. I start at one side and kind of fold and wrap until I get a half moon. Bake for 20 minutes or until the parchment puffs. It took about 20 minutes for this size salmon fillets. Any more and it gets over cooked and fishy. I usually salt food after from one of my 5 types of salt. I'm like a collector of salts. I used a red sea salt from Hawaii here, but a palm salt or an alder smoked salt would be really good.

I can't take credit for the Asparagus, I got a recipe from my Bon Appetite cookbook. I made a saffron Aioli--with honey, red wine vinegar, and a pinch of saffron. After that boiled it got mixed with some Mayonaise. It turned out ok, I may try to avoid the mayo next time and make a real Aioli. Week days I'm not so picky.

I sauteed the Asparagus in cast iron pans. It would have been better on a grill but I don't have one so I made do.

Some accounting: $2.50 for the salmon + $1.75 for the asparagus + misc herbs and staples and gas for the boat = $ 5 (about)
This was declared a winner. I liked how easy it was and how the potatoes absorbed all the moisture from the salmon, lemons and onions. It could be an all in one meal if you actually live in a place where you can get spinach. I think using Shallots instead of the onion would be terrific, but I don't always have shallots and those at the store are only shallots in the academic sense.

I'm still refining my food writing, so forgive the rough nature of this. Also, I'll take pointers if you got them.

Recipe

2 Salmon filets
1 Russet potato, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 Onion sliced (or shallots, you would need 3)
1 Lemon sliced into thin rounds
4T Butter
2T Capers, drained and chopped
3T Italian Parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to warm up. Mix the butter, capers and parseley in a bowl.

Divide the potatoes between two pieces of parchment, layer them so they are a little wider than the salmon fillets. Sprinkle onions over the top and a little pepper. Dot with some of the butter mixture. Place the layers of salmon over the onions. Sprinkle the rest of the onions over the top, place the lemon slices and dot with the rest of the butter mixture.

Fold into the parchment--they should look like half moons. Place on pre heated baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until they puff. Try not to over cook these, over cooked fish gets more fishy tasting.

Season with salt to taste

Monday, April 6, 2009

In like Flint, out like Claude

For a long time I thought we all said, "In like Flint" because of the awesome James Coburn is a spy movie. In reality it was because Errol Flynn was a complete ho-bag and managed to seduce many a young thing back in the day. The correct saying is "In like Flynn." Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge.

In Like Flint is quite a romp. It is the sequel to "Our Man Flint." Many people have written about these James Bond spoofs. I really don't have anything new to add. Except:

I love how the women are trying to take over the world but still need men to do it for them. (Seriously, if they can replace the Russian cosmonauts with lady spies, why not rally the secretaries or other strategically placed women in Government.) Also, using the salon dryers to brain wash all the women of America is sort of genius/hilarious.

James Coburn rides across the gentlest sea ever, standing up on the front of a Zodiac.

The furniture is amazing and perfect and I want it.

The only flight from Russia to get to south America was a direct Moscow-Havana flight and James Coburn had to dress like like Castro--complete with olive fatigues and a beard.

(Google image searching In like Flint gives you the Yul Brenner Cookbook. Who knew?)

Also this is pretty much the movie.Lots of women. James Coburn.
This one's multicultural! He get's women by not competing with them = actual line from the movie.

I should sum this up by saying it doesn't matter what dreck Mr. Coburn in in. He was in "The Great Escape" thereby earning him a lifetime pass from me.

Ponzu! Ah, yeah

Know what I bought today? That's right. Ponzu. It's some sort of elixir of the Yuzu. (That's is just about what all of our produce looks like, bruised and hung up wet). I can't wait to dump it on something delicious. I am a sucker for condiments. Mostly I bought it because our local, family-owned grocery store with an amazing array of Asian food items was recently purchased by conglomo-mega-super-corporate-mart. I can buy green papayas at this store and all sorts of wierd sodas and snacks. (FYI, there is a Pocky for Men. It is not the strawberry kind. That's for Hello Kitty.)