Thursday, December 30, 2010

Skiing into gray-scale

This picture was taken in color, I swear.
It finally snowed here yesterday- Lovely fluffy stuff that is just wet enough to stick to trees. After a lazy day yesterday, I got out pretty early for a long cross-country ski in the woods. It was so quiet in our neighborhood- everyone has tucked in for the storm.

My tracks were the first on our little lane today
It's still threatening to snow, and so the light was really flat under the gray sky. The world looked like a black and white photo, save for a couple spots of color.

There were these red huskies who followed me and howled... Until I barked back at them. Then, they just looked confused.

I skied along the Lowe River, which runs along the back of our subdivision. It has finally frozen over for the winter- the -10 degree weather we had last week helped it along- and the ice is robin's egg blue in some places.

The blue Lowe River

Then, I turned into the forest. Snowy forests remind me of building forts when I was a kid. Rather, everything was a fort back then.

Feeling very small
I meandered home, warmed by the colors that greeted me when I walked in the door.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What we come home to

Last night, we drove home from a long holiday weekend in the Anchorage area. It's a long drive, despite the fact that Anchorage and Valdez are only about 110 miles apart as the crow flies. To avoid the Chugach mountains, the route takes us into the interior of Alaska before making a Southwest turn back towards the coast. Usually, that means watching the thermometer slowly fall as we get near Glenallen, and then rise again as we get closer and closer to the coast. But last night, even though it was getting slightly warmer as we pulled away from Glenallen, all of the sudden, the temperature took a nosedive as we came over the pass, warming up only slightly at our cabin to -8. This morning, our thermometer claims it's 1 degree, but I think it lies.

I swear it's colder.

 Anyway, while I was in town, many friends inquired to what our cabin looks like on the inside. Apparently the money shot of the bed wasn't enough. So, without further ado:

From the door
The woodstove is hiding behind the ladder up to the loft. Excuse the slightly off-kilter prints on the walls. 

From the couch in the corner
 It can definitely be a little tight, but mostly it feels cozy and warm. And one day soon, those cabinets will be gone. Mark. My. Words.

Friday, December 24, 2010

7 year-old Kate's favorite

The angel, of course. I loved her straw-colored hair and heart-shaped mouth. 

I cried a little when I put it up, because it's been at the top of my family's tree for nearly 25 years. This is also my first Christmas away from my family, and the fact that they shared this with me was a little overwhelming. Merry Christmas to Mama, Dad, Amelia and Gran. I'll be reading Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening tonight.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The bread rising nook

This festive schiacciata gets the perfect boost of warm air below the woodstove. Even when it's cranking on a day like today, underneath is the perfect place to let dough rise for a couple hours. Not too hot, not too cold!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A seal-bird

The Alaska Federation of Natives has a huge convention every year. The convention itself is really special, but I would be lying if I didn't say that the craft fair alone makes the bi-annual trip to Fairbanks worth it. I stock up on kuspuks, jewelry and Christmas ornaments to send to family. Last year, I remembered to buy an extra one for us. It's made of seal fur and is completely adorable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Party tart

I'm guessing this might be a social week for folks. It is for us- our little neighborhood is a-hopping. We had a dinner party on Saturday night, one tonight for the solstice, and one tomorrow night as well. I'm going to be doing a lot of baking this week, that's for sure, but one of the things I have to keep in mind is water.

Big, complicated recipes that create a bunch of dishes are doable, but overwhelming when you have to melt snow for water. Plus I like simple dishes that show off one or two ingredients. This recipe couldn't be easier- I hesitate to even call it a recipe- and shows off two fine (and common) ingredients: apples and butter. It calls to mind the lovely apple tarts in boulangerie windows.


1 batch of pie dough. (I use Julia Child's food processor recipe, but store bought is fine)
3 apples
2 tbs sugar  

Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll out dough to a long rectangular shape, 8x18ish. Slice apples very thinly. Arrange them overlapping in three long rows leaving 1 in around the edges, sprinkle with sugar, fold over edges. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream and port.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Dory

Another special ornament from the New England coast. I love the handpainted Portsmouth skyline.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A whale wreath

My grandmother gave my sister and me a pewter ornament from Exeter Fine Crafts every year, and my mother continues the tradition in her place. They are simple and lovely, and I am lucky to have 6 on my tree this year. The peace wreaths are my favorite.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Enchilada Soup

Sigh. Another recipe, another lack of photos. Thought I'd give my camera a try again, but it failed. Oh well, maybe Santa will leave me a new data card in my stocking!

Exercising in below-zero weather can be tricky. If you don't go fast enough, you get cold. Today, the thermometer barely rose above -5, and it almost felt like full time work just to keep the wood stove going. Frankly, I can't imagine what my Fairbanks brethren go through- I hear it was -45 up there today. Brrr!

So, even though it was cold, Tory managed to motivate me for a cross-country ski in the woods this afternoon. It was gorgeous- another stunning moonrise- and quiet, but it wasn't fast. By the home stretch I was shivering. It took me about 3 hours- and several bowls of this soup- to warm up. 

It's an easy enough recipe, though longish, and a crowdpleaser. Who doesn't like chicken? Tory, actually. He also doesn't like stewed meat. It's a testament to the tastiness of the soup that he wolfed down three bowls before I got to my second. Or maybe it was 3 hours of chopping wood? Regardless, he loved it, and named it.

PS. Can we talk about the sad discovery of tasting real sour cream after one has been eating plain yogurt as "a perfectly good substitute" for years? God, it was nearly revelatory. Like the time I put half and half in my coffee after years of drinking it with skim milk. It's been 3 years and I haven't gone back to skim.


2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1 jalapeño, diced
1 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. whiskey
2 c chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes
3 tbs tomato paste
1 lb of chicken breasts/thighs
1 can of beer (Budweiser is fine)

Sauté onion, garlic, carrot, and jalapeño in olive oil over medium high heat. Sprinkle cumin and cayenne over pan and cook til onion is transparent, about 3-5 minutes. Add whiskey, chicken stock, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and beer. Bring to simmer and add chicken, making sure it's completely submerged. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. 

With tongs or a slotted spoon remove the chicken. Turn burner to medium high and reduce by 1/3. Shred chicken with fingers or two forks. With a stick blender, or a regular blender in batches, blend the poaching stock til creamy. Stir in shredded chicken and serve with cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips.

Friday, December 17, 2010

All spruced up

Yesterday, I suited up and ventured outside for the first time in a couple days to find a Christmas tree. It's been gorgeous and clear here, but hella windy and frigid. I put on many, many layers, laced up my snowshoes and tromped down the trail to find a tree. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and just as the moon was coming up over the pass, I found a little spruce that was just perfect. It was 3 feet tall, and a little straggly, but symmetrical. I cut it down, and turned homeward. Then I tripped on an alder, and snapped the tree in half. Sigh. But I found another, slightly larger, tree nearby, and hauled it back to the cabin.

I was putting the last ornament when it hit me; I've never put up my own Christmas tree. It should have hit me before then, as I was struggling with how to prop it up without an actual tree stand. (Let's not talk about all the glass and ceramic vessels I broke before finally settling on a pie plate... And kitchen twine. Certainly not dignified, but it works.) So this spruce, small, slightly lopsided and light-less, is my very first Christmas tree. I think I'm in love. 



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The best place in the house

No, I'm not being inappropriate. Our bed is the warmest place in the house, thanks to a double helping of down (comforter and featherbed) and flannel sheets. We can look up out of the window and see stars if it's clear. And then, there's this:

That sign has been with me through all um, 20 of my moves since I was 18. It's an original sign from Virginia Beach that I found at an antique store when I was a sophomore in high school. My mom bought it for me. Thanks, mom!

Monday, December 13, 2010

When I talk about living in a dry cabin

Let's talk about water for a moment.

It's something most people, me included, take for granted. But here at the snowy cabin, we don't have a well. When we first started talking about this move, this was what I was most worried about. Hauling water for a couple days or a week isn't a problem. Most of us have done it at some point. But hauling water for the long haul- no pun intended- spooked me.

In the end, because of a rather ingenious set up that Tory built, it's not that big of a deal. In the winter, we melt snow.

Here's our snow melting tote. We shovel snow into it (probably 2 times a day)it slowly melts. Because it's on the floor, and heat rises, it doesn't get too hot next to the stove.  Just above the tote to the right and screwed into the wall is our water pump. It's electric. We just put the short hose in the melted snow, plug in the pump and the water gets pumped into our 55 gallon cistern:

Here, it's available when ever we turn the tap on. Just like a real faucet! Except it's cold. But that's okay. We have a nice big pot of hot water on the wood stove. Perfect for doing dishes, pouring on snow to get the melting started, and pouring on a wash cloth for the evening face wash. 

We're not going to do this forever. I know Tory could, but I love regular baths too much to give them up for more than a year or two. But I'm doing it now, and it's not really that much of a big deal. Makes me feel like a wild woman, sometimes, that's for sure!

Friday, December 10, 2010


You'll have to excuse the lack of pictures- my camera cord isn't working right now, but as soon as it starts working again, or I get a card reader, I'll post the related photos!

Part of my cabin plan is to have homemade bread on hand at all times. It's not hard, mainly because I have copious amounts of time and flour. But frankly, I don't usually need all that much time because I stick to the the high-moisture/no-knead breads made popular by The New York Times/Jim Lahey article a few years ago. 

My favorite play on this type of bread is from the fabulous (like Christmas gift fabulous) book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. The overall idea is mixing up a big batch of high moisture dough, letting it rise, and then leaving the dough in the fridge, cutting off balls of dough for small loafs as needed. I find it's perfect for two people, to bake bread in the evening for dinner, and then there are (usually) left overs for breakfast the next morning. 

So, back to my failure. I think I'm a pretty good breadmaker. Maybe my loaves aren't the highest you've ever seen, but they're usually attractive and tasty, and if I use my le Creuset- the most glorious crust you've ever seen this side of Paris. I made an awesome loaf of rye for a friend the day before. The golden crust audibly crackled, in part because I had the idea to pour 1/4 cup of water over the loaf about 20 minutes into the baking time. 

But alas, perfection rarely repeats, and when I made a second loaf yesterday, I misjudged my timing on the water pour (10 minutes too early, I think) and because the dough wasn't hard enough yet, the water deflated the loaf the moment I poured it over. The sad sighing sound it made actually brought tears to my eyes.

Was it still tasty? Well, the parts where the water didn't soak the dough (even after another 20 minutes in the oven, there were puddles of water on top of the loaf!) But it definitely sunk my confidence for a day or so, and I keep hearing that sad deflating sigh.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I love living in the forest. Even though I get yelled at by squirrels every time I step outside. The forest is quiet and calm. At night, I can hear the winds rip through Thompson Pass 1200 feet above me. But the forest protects us from the wind. It's very still here.

My favorite time in the forest is when the sun comes out after it snows. The forest sparkles. The forest rain glitter. The only sounds is drips of melting snow off the trees, and... the rather violent sound of snow sliding off the roof.

But the sparkles! It even makes the outhouse look glamorous.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A small indulgence

This is hardly original, but I love the holiday season. This year, it seems a little extra special, because we're in a house (okay, cabin) that's ours. In the last 6 years, I've moved no less than 10 times, and all that schlepping hasn't been conducive to holiday decorations. All that stops now.

I'm starting small, though. I have an advent calendar that I have schlepped around for the past few years, I have a wreath, and this week I bought two strands of lights. I put them up Friday, and it makes the cabin seem magical. This time of year, if it's not completely dark, it's dusk or dawn. The lights twinkle, or glow under a couple inches of snow and it looks so. freaking. cool.

I'm still not sure about a Christmas tree. I have 5 ornaments- is that enough?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mountain Fondue

One of my fondest memories from college was an evening with my cousin Hannah, who lives in the French Alps. One night she came home from work with a literal mountain of local cheese to make fondue. After her kids had gone to bed, we stayed up eating fondue, drinking wine and talking til pretty late. Before then, I hadn't really developed a taste for swiss cheese. I'd thought it too... sour. Not creamy enough- I was a triple cream kind of girl. But that evening marked my conversion to the dark arts of melted cheese.

Fondue is easy. And really really really good when it's cold out. It's been cold here at the cabin- barely above 0 most of the day. Even though I don't have access to a mountain of handmade local cheese, I made perfectly tasty fondue with the stuff at Fred Meyers. It's actually more cost effective to buy the cheese at Costco, but then you have So. Much. Cheese. Which requires more fondue than I'll allow myself to eat.

A note: This fondue isn't super gooey- you won't be twirling strings a cheese around your bread, because I like to taste the tartness of the the wine. If you want gooey, just reduce the wine to 1/2 bottle.

Mountain Fondue
       Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers
1 1/2 pounds of swiss cheese. I use three: Emmenthaler, Appenzeller and Gruyere
2 Tbs flour
2/3 a bottle of decent chardonnay
2 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed.
freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp cherry brandy/Kirsch*

*optional, but damn good 

Grate cheese, and toss with flour. Rub heavy-bottomed pot with garlic, and leave in pot. Pour in white wine, and bring up to a gentle simmer. Let garlic simmer in wine for 10 minutes, then fish out. Wisk in flour-dredged cheese, and turn up heat to med-high. If it looks a little funny- don't worry keep whisking. Once it's melted, add nutmeg, salt, pepper and Kirsch.

Serve with whatever you feel like dipping in cheese! This includes, but is not limited to:

Cubed bread
Boiled/roasted potatoes
Apple slices
Cherry tomatoes
Pear Slices

Last night, I'd roasted some butternut squash along with the potatoes- it was delicious! Leftovers can just go in the fridge in the pot. Reheat, adding a little more wine to thin if needed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A turquoise scarf

 "Can you knit me a scarf please? Turquoise."

And so this project began. I had the turquoise yarn, but didn't want to do a straight-forward scarf. I wanted to knit something a little special: girly, pretty, and frilly. I leafed through my knitting patterns, searched on the web, but just didn't find anything that fit the picture in my head.

So I came up with something on my own. I think it turned out well. And lucky for you, I did all the ripping out and redoing when I decided it needed one more row of increases to frill the way I wanted it to!

It's a quick knit- though when you're casting off all 500 stitches, it doesn't feel that way. A good Christmas present for a girl, or a girl-at-heart.

A Turquoise scarf


2 balls of Nashua Handknits Paradise (Wool/Alpaca blend) (15X22 stitch square should be 10 cm X 10cm)
Size 7 circulars 36 in.
Patience- we're going to knit this lengthwise!

Cast on 200. Knit in stockinette until the piece measures 2 inches. 

Frill Row 1: Starting on a knit row K1, increase in next stitch to end. You should now have 300 stiches.
Frill Row 2: Purl.

Knit the following: Frill row 1, Frill Row 2, Frill Row 1. You should have 500 stiches. 

Cast off knitwise on the purl side. 

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