The RV Eater: Local in Alaska.

Kelp pickles. Kachemak Bay Sea Salt. Haskap Jam. Halibut. Sliced sourdough.

These are just a few of the local foods I scavenged and savored on a recent RV trip to Alaska. While traveling from Anchorage to Seward and then down to Homer, I poked around shops, farmers markets, bakeries, restaurants and harbors to hunt down these off the grid goodies made by small local and dedicated artisans.

My husband and I have been camping for decades now and one of my side shows while doing so has been to hunt down local specialty items while we are out on the highways and byways. For many years I had a mobile kitchen in our family travel trailer which took our family of five far and wide through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. This week we had a fully equipped kitchen in a Minnie Winnie which we rented from Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage.

While cruising through the Land of the Midnight Sun this week, I stocked my pantry with a spontaneous array of local goods. It was a delightful way to bring the flavors of Alaska to the Dixie plates on the campground dinner table.

The kelp pickles, made in Sitka from local seaweed and seasoned with the iconic bread and butter pickling spices, were ridiculously good. Pickle rings were added to smoked cheese bratwurst carted up from Seattle. They were also tucked on smoked salmon canapés, resulting in a very Scandinavian inspired hors d’oeuvre.

The sliced sourdough was from The Bakery in Girdwood and sadly didn’t last long in my mobile kitchen. Light and flavorful, the bread made great sandwiches and was enhanced even further with sunflower sprouts from the Saturday Homer Farmers Market. It was the bread of choice for breakfast and lunch.

The Alder smoked Kachemak Bay Sea Salt also from the Homer farmers market added a lively touch sprinkled over the evening salad.

Haskap Jam from Alaska Berries was scored at the visitor center in scenic town of Kenai. No one at the center could tell me much about the blue jam but back at the Heritage RV Park it was great on my morning granola with yogurt and berries. Eaten seaside while being warmed by the sun was simplicity at its best.

Seattle’s Pike Place Market-A Living Entity

Peonies. Prince William Sound Salmon. Cruise Ships. Tourists. Sunshine. Sea Breezes.

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Local peonies are stealing the show at the Pike Place Market right now!

The Pike Place Market I visited today is much different than the one I visited last January. Of course, TECHNICALLY and structurally it’s the same as it was back in January but this morning. the market wasn’t tenuously navigating Seattle’s unpredictable January weather.

Today, the market was strutting her seasonal stuff and loving it! Once again, I had to be downtown very early so after I “checked the box” on an errand well before 7:30 AM, I decided to stroll down the hill and head to the market. It was bright and sunny, and I figured it would be a great time to beat the crowds and see what’s coming in locally.

Alas, when I arrived I again found quiet streets and walkways. My first destination? The flower vendors who were clipping and arranging thousands of local peonies. One of my favorite flowers, the incredible array made me swoon. As much as I love to garden and have success with many things, my attempts to grow peonies have failed repeatedly.  These bodacious pink orbs, frankly, made me green with envy! I didn’t buy any simply because I didn’t want to cart them all over. That being said, they were a bargain and the prices ranged from $10 a bunch to $20. Local. Seasonal. Gorgeous beyond compare.

PWS King
On Ice: The King of all Salmon. This one from Alaska’s Prince William Sound

Next stop? The fish stalls. All the guys were sporting their waterproof orange pants, spraying the walkways, scooping crushed ice onto displays and answering questions from early birds like me. At Pike Place Fish Market they didn’t have any Copper River King or Sockeye because it’s been a rough season up there this far. They did have a massive 25 pound Prince William Sound king in a huge bin filled with ice. The adjacent tabletop display of Prince William Sound sockeye nearby also impressed.

Pike Place June 2018
Anticipating the Cruise Ship Crowds and Taking a Breather!

After that, I was ready for a breather so I traipsed over to the nearby park to do a little people watching and eyeball the massive cruise ship docked nearby. As I examined that Norwegian behemoth from afar, I knew the crowds from within would be emerging and heading towards the market so I beelined to breakfast at nearby Seatown, one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. The Fried Egg sandwich with avocado, Bavarian Meats bacon and a side of crispy hash browns was just what I needed before trekking back UP the hill to catch my bus.

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Seatown English Muffin Egg Sandwich with a Side of Bavarian Meats Bacon

While schlepping up to Third, I realized that the Market is indeed a living entity that shifts with each Seattle season.

 

 

Instant Pot Anxiety? Make Yogurt

On February 1, The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Instant Pot Anxiety? ‘I said a Prayer and Stayed the Hell Away.'”

In the piece, the author,  Ellen Byron,  interviewed various pot owners who had mishaps and struggled with operating the all in one appliance. I chuckled at some of the stories but admittedly the author was on to something. Every day when I peruse the Instant Pot Facebook feed, I see photos of Instant Pots in sealed boxes and cries for help and advice on how to take that first step to use the appliance. The posts weave into an interactive digital therapy session where fellow Instant Potters exclaim, “You can do it.”  “Just start.”  “My favorite easiest recipe is….” “Wear goggles and keep the kids outta the kitchen.”

As for me, I love my two Instant pots (6-quart duo and 3-quart mini) and use them daily without fail. Personally, I have never had pressure cooker anxiety because I started using the Kuhn Rikon stove top pressure cookers over twenty years ago. That being said, I can understand why some people hesitate. There are lots of buttons, The manual isn’t great. And, once you lock and load, commit to pressure and things start to rumble. there’s no turning back and you can’t open the lid and check the contents. It is indeed a leap of faith.

My solution for those folks who fret? Take the Instant pot out of the box, run the simple water test per the manufacturer’s instructions and make YOGURT!

Both of my machines have yogurt buttons and this cycle does NOT require putting anything under pressure. It simply creates a low heat that incubates your milk and starter and turns it into the rich luscious yogurt over the course of 8 hours. A miracle cycle in my mind!

I’ve tried various yogurt recipes but my favorites have come from This Old Gal and the only recipe I use now is her Instant Pot No Boil Yogurt Recipe which uses the whole Fairlife Milk found in many mainstream grocery stores such as Target, Safeway, QFC, and Winco. This particular milk does not require any preheating before making the yogurt so all I have to do is pour my half a gallon of whole milk into my 3 quart Instant Pot and whisk in two packets of YoGourmet starter. I then put on the lid, press the Yogurt Cycle and leave it alone for 8 hours.  There is no pressure. No noise. No steam. No wiggles or jiggles. Just a quiet incubation on the counter.

At the end of the cycle, the mixture has transformed into thick luscious creaminess. I then put my all natural yogurt, still in the Instant Pot’s inner container, into my fridge, covered and let it sit, undisturbed, overnight.

I use my yogurt on everything from granola and citrus segments to baked potatoes and kale salads. And, I’ve discovered that it makes a great tartar sauce to dollop on Alaska halibut or salmon.

So, if you want to buy an Instant Pot but are feeling, well, pressured…skip “manual” button and go for Yogurt.

Even if you never make anything else, the savings from making your own yogurt will pay for the pot in no time.

 

Defrost at the 2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival!

Spring fever in January is never a good thing, especially out here in Seattle where it is still a bleak, cold, dark, sometimes frosty, and always rainy.

For me, the best medicine has been a hefty dose of garden therapy. Of course, it’s too early to start digging and planting in my urban backyard or P-Patch, but one thing I look forward to every year is the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Held at the Washington State Convention Center from February 7-11, this annual garden show has always defrosted my green thumb.

This year the show, which is the second largest in the nation, celebrates a legacy of 30 years. The theme will be “Garden Party.”   Trends in organic and urban gardening, sustainability, and variety of culinary experiences will be embraced and the twenty magnificent and elaborate Show Gardens will reflect the theme. The show will also have a spectacular lineup of seminars led by experts in the field as well as daily DIY competitions with experts.  As usual, the massive shopping Marketplace will be chock full of vendors and will offer a great opportunity for gardeners, both experienced and beginner, to get answers, explore new varieties, ask growers specific questions, and stock up on favorites for the season ahead.

So, if you are itching for spring, check your calendar and plan accordingly.  If you need a little inspiration, check out these photos taken last year:

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2017 Northwest Flower and Garden Festival Show Garden

Lemony Dill Halibut Salad: A Scandinavian Refresh

I created this halibut salad this weekend after we had some friends over for dinner. My husband had cooked about three huge pieces of halibut from our June trip to Alaska and we had about a pound of cooked halibut leftover. While cleaning up on Saturday, I put it in the fridge. On Sunday I decided to do something with it to avoid waste.

My taste buds steered me towards a lemony Scandinavian flavor profile that day…I had attended the Nordic Culinary Conference here in Seattle back in May and I think it was those thrifty creative chefs—Claus Meyer, Sasu Laukonnen, and Titti Qvanstrom—  who inspired my path that afternoon.  At the conference, the chefs discussed how they avoid waste, use local ingredients, and employ simple techniques to ramp up inherent flavors and achieve impressive dishes.

So…while staring at a Pyrex dish full of flaky white fish,  I challenged myself to make a fresh and appealing salad with the leftover. Rather than just mix it up with some mayo which is the  traditional route to go for those who do employ leftover fish in their kitchens…I decided to ramp up the flavors.

Leftover fish can be a tough sell.  I wanted a “refresh”.

So, I looked in the fridge and the garden and pulled my Cuisinart forth on the counter. My food processor is crucial for challenges like this. It speeds the process and makes fish tidier to work with.  From the garden, I gathered a handful of dill, and a rummage through the fridge yielded some decent celery and a big voluptuous lemon.  With that, I had a game plan!

The key to my Halibut Refresh? I added lemon juice BUT I added it at a critical point.

I didn’t want to dilute that burst of sunshine.  I wanted to make sure it played a key role so I sprinkled the juice directly on the halibut and processed the halibut, celery and lemon BEFORE I added the mayonnaise.  I am convinced that this simple sequence in steps made an enormous difference in my end result because the lemon got mixed into the fish and the fish absorbed it, becoming light, sunny, and citrusy in the process. I then added the dill and the mayonnaise.

Here’s the recipe. A ridiculously appealing Alaska Halibut salad with definite Scandinavian tilt. I enjoyed it on piece of Larsen’s Bakery Light Finnish Rye. A match made in heaven.

Lemon and Dill Halibut Salad

3 celery stalks, cut into big chunks

8 to 10 ounces cooked halibut (poached, grilled or baked is fine), broken up into chunks

1 large lemon, rolled on the counter and then juiced*

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh dill

2 to 3 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise,  or to taste

Salt to taste

To Serve:

For serving: slices of lightly toasted rye bread and fresh Bibb lettuce leaves

For garnish: citrus zest, thinly sliced red onion, extra dill

 

Put the metal blade in the food processor, add the celery chunks and process the celery with three or four pulses to chop it. Put the halibut in the food processor, drizzle the lemon juice directly over the cooked halibut. Pulse once or twice to mix and incorporate the lemon juice. Add the fresh dill and the mayonnaise and pulse three or four times just to mix. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.

To create an open faced sandwich: Serve the salad on lightly toasted rye with a piece of lettuce and garnished with zest, extra dill, and thinly sliced onion if desired.

*Lemon Tip: To extract the most juice from a lemon, roll it on a counter before you juice it. You can also prick a couple holes the lemon, zap it in the microwave for twenty seconds, roll it on the counter and then juice it. These little techniques go a long way towards extracting all that sunshine from a lemon!

 

 

 

The Cooking School at Tutka Bay Lodge!

The visuals from my journey to the cooking school at Alaska’s remote and serene Tutka Bay Lodge last week.

Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.

I am still working on the full write up from the class, but in the mean time here’s some eye candy…

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Circa 1995, A Tip from Mom: Eat More Salmon

Funny how a simple phone call from mom can chart a new course.

Back in 1995 my mom called me. I was living in Seattle and was a new mother. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table at home on Long Island. She didn’t beat around the bush. She got right to the point and told me I needed to eat more salmon. Huh?

Mom had read an article in The New York Times that morning and it was based on research coming out of Seattle’s University of Washington. Published on November 1, 1995 and entitled “Study Finds Anew a Benefit in Eating Fish,” the article presented findings from a six -year King County study that clearly showed how eating even moderately sized servings of seafood rich in omega three fatty acids held promising health benefits.

I soon received that hand clipped article as well as others addressing Vitamin D, darkness, breast cancer risk and more.  They all mentioned the benefits of eating oily rich fish such as salmon. I took it to heart.

After all, beautiful wild salmon was readily available at the seafood counters and in the local waters all over Seattle and frankly I found it to be a restorative and positive way to take action on a brutal reality that wasn’t fun, pleasant or even remotely palatable.

You see, my mom was 2800 miles away suffering through metastatic breast cancer and would soon undergo a bone marrow transplant with a tragic outcome. My older sister, who was 36 years old had just conquered breast cancer and intensive chemotherapy. As for me, I was only 30 years old and was faced with a tsunami of risk heading my way.

Back then I was actively participating in the High Risk Breast Clinic at the University of Washington. When I moved to Seattle, the specialists at NY’s Memorial Sloan Kettering had told me to go to the UW. So, I heeded their advice, and every six months I showed up at the University of Washington Medical Center for a check-up.

Although I dreaded those darn appointments, being a journalist, I always took solace in the “news” that my docs shared each time. It seemed like research was breaking new ground daily. My wonderful doctors, who faithfully followed me for the next ten years, educated me and encouraged me to participate in the new technology and warned me that “false readings” were possible but part of the research.  Hmm. Okay. And, indeed, when they were learning how to administer and read MRIs for breast cancer screening, I was on the table. I was injected. I was zoomed in and out of the MRI machine and I was often called back when some minuscule spot looked odd and they wanted to “dig further.” Dig they did.

To make a long story short, after a decade with UWMC, I was diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 39. It was early but the docs, like mom, didn’t tread lightly. I was told: “double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.”  No chemo or radiation would be necessary because it was so early. With little waffling, I agreed and had the surgery.

I’ve never looked back and have been grateful to have nipped that nasty beast in the bud so early.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Seafood Month, I was recently inspired to donate to Sea A Cure, a fundraiser bridging the seafood industry and the cutting edge research being done at  City of Hope.  The fundraiser popped up on my Facebook page and it resonated instantly.

For me, it was the amazing doctors and researchers, both here and in NYC, who dedicated their careers to finding solutions and better detection methods but it was also that simple no nonsense call from mom that cold rainy day in 1995.

Since then, I’ve known that I can’t always fix exactly what might ail me but I sure can take the helm and dish up a hefty dose of prevention right in my own little kitchen. That’s why over the years, wild salmon, as well as many other types of seafood, have played a big role in my every day cooking, writing and recipe development.  It’s quick, easy, delicious, versatile, widely available and ridiculously good for you. What’s not to love? Clearly mom was on to a good thing!

If you want to see some of my salmon articles and recipes, click here and here.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Sea A Cure Friends of the Seafood Industry fundraiser click here. For more about City of Hope, check out these informative links.