Thursday, November 19, 2015

Life at 20 below

It seems too early in the winter for these temperatures, feels more like December or January. Life at minus 20*F moves slowly, everything takes at least twice as long. Luckily we don't have to be anywhere in any kind of a hurry so we can enjoy indoor projects and catch up with books by the fire, and time for blogging...

This thermometer is on the outhouse, so it's a pretty accurate reading. It came with the place when Tom bought it and we love the caption at the bottom "If you don't think hell freezes over, you've never been to Alaska". Looks like it's 25 below today.

If you want to go anywhere in the truck you better plug it in  for at least 45 minutes to heat up the oil pan (if the cord bends enough to uncoil), then start the engine, then wait another 15 minutes before you go - oh yes, we're late already, again. And the seats are hard as rock and don't imagine it's warm inside the cab yet.

Icicles are opaque in this temp

My eyelashes freeze, my eyes water and lets not even talk about runny noses!

We become good wood-stackers. It's important to pile as much wood as possible close to the fire, the last thing you want is to run out to the woodshed first thing in the morning while you're still in your jammies.

There's plenty of time to observe the subtleties of life below zero. It's very still, the birds are quiet, neighborhood dogs are curled up indoors, nobody is out whooping it up on a snow machine, the strings of prayer flags droop low, ice on the lake makes an occasional boom as it thickens, the snow is dry and squeaky making it hard to sneak up on anyone. The kettle is always on the stove and we drink gallons of peppermint tea and Bengal Spice tea, the constant steam helps to keep our skin from cracking, there's a chapstick in every pocket too. It doesn't matter if there's ice on the bedroom windows, we have great big fluffy down comforters and soft flannel sheets to snuggle up in and my favorite teddybear hot water bottle to warm up my feet. In fact, that's a good idea, let's just go to bed!

                                          The good news is that you can use the kitchen floor as a fridge!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sunshine in every jar

Brrr, it's too cold to go outside so it's time to catch up!

At 20 below we need some remembrance of summers gone by and a reminder that warm seasons may come again.
A treasure hunting trip to the root cellar rewards us with an abundance of home grown goodness to choose from.

Chances are good that we'll grab a jar of some kind of rhubarb concoction, it's not just for pies you know! Rhubarb salsa is my favorite, then we've got jams and marmalades, drunken rhubarb in vodka and a beer jam that wasn't a great experiment (better to just drink the beer!). My Grandma's recipe for Piccalilli is down there too, bringing traditions across the seas to unsuspecting palates.

Rhubarb Salsa
I love putting food in jars, especially if I can incorporate something from the garden or the woods. It's been fun thinking up new recipes for our guests, we often put out my jams on the breakfast table at Fireweed Station. The requests for another piece of toast to try a different flavor are a good sign that I'm doing something right! The Friday Fairview farmers market has also been a good outlet for my creativity, high-bush cranberry & strawberry jam is a top seller. I'm looking forward to the first edibles next spring, any volunteers for spruce tip jelly?

As the song says, when you pop a lid in the deep dark winter, it's like a little bit of sunshine in every jar.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


So what's all the fuss about this old stinky blob on the kitchen counter?

Sourdough is said to have arrived in Alaska with the Klondike gold miners coming from San Francisco. It's a hardy combination of wild yeast and lactobacillus culture, far superior for bread-making than commercial "instant" yeast, and much more fun to have as a pet.

It's pretty hard to kill it so don't be intimidated by all the complicated information out there, although this particular strain doesn't enjoy palm trees and long walks on the beach. Tom started this batch in the mid 1980's from a friend's old starter. The second most common question in Alaska, after "so, how long have you lived here?" is "how old is your starter?". Trying to determine whether one is an "old sourdough" or just a "cheechako" is the state sport. Well, our old sourdough is still spry enough to come bursting out of the crock so we stopped telling it's age before it decides to turn into an old grump.

It's time to start training the starter for the next busy summer season. Tom makes the most wonderful waffles with it at our B&B and the sourdough regularly finds it's way into pancakes, bread and sometimes chocolate cake. It's a joy to use once it's bubbling nicely. We feed ours with water and white flour and let it ferment at room temperature so it's ready for any incarnation.  When we're not in the mood we tuck it into the fridge for another time. It doesn't mind spending time alone but is ready to eat after a few weeks of fasting. We warm it up and feed it gradually and it rewards us with spongy bubbles and a fresh, vinegar/beer aroma.

Tom's sourdough waffle magic
Happy sourdough bread

Just for once I'll let you have a recipe. You'll have to come to Fireweed Station for Tom's waffles because he won't give out the recipe, so as a conciliation how about some pancakes in your own home? Oh, I suppose you'll have to come stay with us for a blob of our starter to take home with you too...

Alaskan Sourdough Pancakes

1/4 Cup Cornmeal
½ Cup All purpose Flour
½ Cup Whole Wheat Flour
2T Flax Meal mixed with 6T water.
1t Salt
1 ½ t Baking Soda
½ t Baking Powder
¼ Cup Apple Sauce
3/4 Cup soy milk & 1 Cup Sourdough.  

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Mix all wet ingredients together.  Preheat griddle.  Add wet to dry and mix briefly.  Pour ladlefuls onto oiled hot griddle. Ask me if you really need to know more on how to cook pancakes.

Makes about 8 pancakes.

(This recipe can be halved, but not doubled very successfully.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chaga Mania

The hype surrounding these medicinal mushrooms is turning into "Chaga Mania" in these north woods. There are 2 chagas in this picture, are they calling your name? One is too small to harvest so leave it to grow for another 3 years. We have some beautiful birch forests around Fireweed Station so looking after the trees is a big concern. The snowshoeing is superb right now, there's a crust so you can go just about anywhere. I love being able to wonder aimlessly, staring at birches in the morning light.

You can carefully harvest Chaga without damaging the tree if you're not greedy. I just pop them off with my trusty hatchet and don't dig further into the tree trunk. More mushroom will grow back and may eventually kill the tree, but I'm happy to let the natural cycle tick along without my help.

There's plenty of reasons to collect Chaga for health benefits. One quick google and you'll think that it's a miracle cure-all and wonder why you're the last one to catch the bandwagon. I'm always looking for wild edibles and free medicine so this is just my cup of tea. It does seem to have powerful antioxidants, immune boosting properties, anti-aging compounds and generally stimulates the body to heal itself.

Here's a great link for facts without the hype:

Hopefully I have enough to last the winter and pass some on to friends who could use a boost. I've found it helps to let it thaw before trying to grate it, some say to use the blender but I'd rather thrash my 50 cent grater than the pricey Vitamix. I'll dry it and then enjoy the "tea" whenever I need a power surge. I'm looking forward to making some with the new spring birch sap in May.

Use the magic snail for extra joy in your cup.

Oh yes, and watch out for hippie chicks carrying hatchets in the woods!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Veggie Dreams

 Oh yes, the seed catalogues have begun to sprout! There are dog-eared glossies all over the house. I love dreaming about the gardens while it's snowing outside, a reminder that this too shall pass.
I've been gardening in Alaska for almost 20 years now so I have a good idea of what varieties work for our climate. Some of my stand-out, no-fail favorites are Belstar Broccoli, Scarlet Nantes Carrot, Snowball Cauli, Sugar Snap Peas, Mei Qing Pac Choi, Pacific Beauty Calendula and of course the amazing Veronica Romanesco.

Romanesco - aka cauliflower on acid!
We used to own a nursery business here so I still have notes from when I used to start millions of seeds for spring garden starts and hanging baskets. Wholesale seed catalogues are full of great growing information and I used to spend hours comparing different seed houses for number of seeds per ounce, color trends, prices, packaging, shipping etc. The catalogues I get now are a breeze, it's a joy to have only 30 different kinds of lettuce to choose from!  It was fun to be able to experiment with new varieties and colors for the customers, on the other hand I am greatly relieved I won't have to spend hours transplanting tiny Lobelia ever again. (75,000 Lobelia seeds to an ounce).

This year I'm on the look-out for beauty as well as function. The Talkeetna Farmers Market germinated last year and I had so much fun selling some of my extra veggies that this year I've got my eye out for what looks like it will sell well at the market. I'll grow more French Breakfast Radishes, Bright Lights Chard, Zephyr Zucchini, purple Kohlrabi, trying to have more types of veggies that you don't see in the store around here.

Last year Tom renovated my greenhouse into a thing of beauty, my tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs did so well! This year I'm feeling confident, so a couple of heirloom tomatoes will make the list and of course the English Cucumbers to vine up the gable end.

All this really comes down to is that I'm missing eating fresh veggies from the garden.  I'm growing some sprouts in the kitchen for a quick green boost but nothing replaces grazing in the rows or biting into a warm tomato while watering the greenhouse. Meals at Fireweed Station are always a good time to share the joy of gardening, whether it's edible flowers and fresh peas in the summertime or rhubarb salsa from the root cellar in winter. It all starts in the pages of the seed catalogues, my garden notebook and a healthy imagination.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Celebrate the Season

Hope you get to celebrate the season with the warmest of friends and family.

We wil hunker down and consider the great gifts that surround us - family and friends, our warm home, good health, ample food on our table, the wild beauty of another Alaskan winter. 

Warmest wishes to you all for a joyful season and a peaceful New Year!