Getting My Laura Ingalls On!

(First of all, I want to say, yes, I know this blog is ugly right now.  Once in Barrow, I’ll fork over the $30 to customize my CSS style sheets.  Right now, though, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water with the move, my teaching, and all that’s going on in my life. So this will get prettified in a few months.  Promise.)

Yesterday I down the mountain and into the valley – Boulder, to be specific – to do my weekly errands:  library (I ❤ the Boulder Public Library), Target, McGuckins (a very cool hardware store that has cooking stuff and camping stuff and gardening stuff – for Alaskan readers, it’s like a Fred Meyers sans grocery),  a nice food break where I whipped out my printed novel draft and edited two chapters, and then off to Whole Foods, the Mt. Olympus of grocery stores.

Yes, I prefer farmers’ markets – heck, my novel is ABOUT a farmers’ market in Alaska – but it’s February in Colorado, and the market won’t open again til spring.  I’m rereading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma right now, and he has a whole section on the “supermarket pastoral,” which is the narrative food marketers write for consumers (like me) who want to live off the land, but live in Boulder or LA or Chicago.  The supermarket pastoral makes us feel good about our purchases, although the gritty reality is that buying organic at a place such as Whole Foods usually means participating in the ugly underbelly of the industrial food chain, with all of its fossil fuel waste, and in the case of meat and dairy, factory farming.  The reality of “big organics” is not what we want, but it’s definitely what we’re getting. Small family farms can’t get contracts with grocery stores because how could they ever keep the shelves filled with tomatoes year long?  And we need our tomatoes year long, right?  Small farms don’t practice monoculture.  That’s what the industrial organic farms due, though, so while it’s true the pesticide levels in the ground (and therefore groundwater) are reduced, the soil quality is also reduced since they don’t rotate crops. That’s not efficient, the favorite word of anyone interested in making a buck, which is what this all comes down to in the end.

Despite the picture of cows grazing in big pastures on your milk carton, the truth is that in order to supply big grocery chains that sell organics (Whole Foods, Walmart), sellers need to go the industrial route, so while your organic milk is indeed free from antibiotics and the producing animal was fed organic corn, making it “organic,” the cow was factory farmed, milked too many times a day, and was not living that happy life we imagined and hoped, due in no small part to the misleading pics of pastoral bliss on the carton.  Same with your bagged lettuce, your mini carrots, your yogurt.  It’s better for the earth in terms of the reduction of pesiticides, and believe it’s better for my health because it makes sense to me that these pesticides bioaccumulate in our bodies, causing sickness (of course, not many studies have been done on this because studies are funded by companies and organizations that don’t want you thinking ’bout that, yo!). But “better” doesn’t make it “good.”

If you buy local, then you’re getting your pastoral fix in truth – the milk cow most likely did spend its days grazing on a big pasture and ate clover and bluegrass and much more than organic corn and soybeans, but you’re probably not going to see the organic seal of approval on anything local, as the term “organic” has come to mean something really different than what it once meant.  Getting the organic label is usually not something affordable for small scale farmers. Ever hear the phrase “know your farmer”?  This is why.

Your local farms very likely might be more organic in their practices than the big Earthbound farms  -check the sticker next time you’re in Safeway.  If it’s grown in the US and it’s organic and at a Safeway, it probably says “Earthbound Farms” on it – but there’s no way of knowing if they used pesticides or GMOs or antibiotics or rGBH without asking them.  I’m teaching a class in food politics next fall (“Food: The Politics, Safety, and Science of What We Eat”.  It’s actually a sophomore comp class with a focus), and Pollan’s fascinating read is going to be one of my two texts.

Moving to Barrow, Alaska, a place where Inupiats have subsisted on caribou, whale meat and seal oil since they settled there, is going to be a harrowing experience for this mostly vegetarian.  I say “mostly” because – full disclosure – when marathon training, I will eat Alaska wild salmon once or twice a week.  Salmon helps my body recover faster, the AK fisheries are in good condition, and yeah.  Master of rationalization that I am, I will tweak my ethics to fulfill my dietary needs.  But I won’t eat caribou or muktuk or seal oil, and because I would rather eat big organic produce that are free from pesticides versus conventionally-grown produce dripping in them, food in Barrow is going to be an issue for me.

The 2 small groceries in Barrow do not carry organic anything, and the prices for the wilted-looking Romaine they do have is exponentially higher than what one expects a bag of lettuce to be, due to the high costs of refrigerated shipping.  In addition to subscribing to Full Circle, a CSA out of Washington that actually ships to Barrow, I’m going to need to get educated in indoor growing.

Yesterday at McGuckins, I spoke with several people in the gardening department about my idea for creating a living wall.  They were trying to turn me on to an Aerogarden, but when I explained what I’m facing, they understood that it wasn’t economically feasible, nor did it match the scale of what I’m hoping to produce.  We talked about hydroponics vs sub-irrigated planting systems, and I’m leading toward the latter due to low start-up costs, though shipping organic dirt will be no cheap feat, either.  Hydroponics means a bigger investment up front, and SIPs will have the continual cost of shipping up quality soil.  However, I think SIPs are more straight-forward and harder to screw up.  I always have an outdoor veg and flower garden, but if my indoor plants could talk… well, they can’t cuz I got them deaded.  It’s my understanding that much can go wrong with hydroponics.  I kind of like the DIY approach of SIPs, too, and it goes with my whole theme of getting my Laura Ingalls on – you know, the pioneer spirit and all that jazz.

I’d like something like this, but I’d settle for something like this.  🙂

Anyway, I’m getting educated about indoor gardening. The move might be in early April now versus May if my partner scores us a quonset hut this week.  Yep, I’m rooting for a quonset hut.  Just like when I moved to Fairbanks from Chicago in the early 90s and wanted a cabin with no running water, a la Northern Exposure, in Barrow, I want a quonset hut.

If you’re going to do something, then just do it all the way.

In the kitchen this week, I’ve got a few experiments ready:

1)I’m going to see how my food-processor does with sweet potatoes.  If it can slice nice rounds, I’m going to make some sweet potato chips with paprika and sea salt.  Once I get a dehydrator, I will be using it like gangbusters to make dried fruit and veggie snacks.  Can’t wait.

2) Fruit roll-ups.  I bought 3C of frozen mango and raspberries yesterday at Whole Foods, and I’m going to puree them and try some fruit roll-ups in the oven at 170F.  It should take 8 hours, so that will be great if that works.  A cheap and easy snack.

3) Take 2 on the Flatiron Foodies Bee Bar that I fell in love with in January but can’t afford unless I find a pirate’s treasure.  I got some more of the ingredients I need – the flavor I’m attempting is the curried cocoa pistachio.  I bought a real one, too, so I can do a taste test.

I’ll post pics of my experiments as I make them.  And now I’m off to spend a couple hours putting things in boxes.


Cook It and They Will Come

So back around the end of the holidays, I sat down as I do each dark December and scroll out a list of New Years Resolutions.

I know, I know.  Most people are anti-resolution.  Just get on with it and start today! Don’t wait for Jan 1, an Oprah-phyte might say.

However, this system works for me.  And I don’t just make 1 or 2.  I make a fothermucking list.

In 2011, I made an even 100, and I kept 75 of them.  Not bad.  The other 25 were ridiculous anyway.

This year, feeling sort of confused and discombobulated by the upcoming move to the North, and really not feeling as if making too many long-term plans was the greatest idea (ya gotta let it flow, brotha), I settled on 44.

One of the fun ones was #6:  Make a new recipe at least every two weeks or twice a month.  This has been a riot.

I’m a big fan of Jillian Michaels’ podcasts on iTunes, and one of the things she says when is chastising the overweight for not counting calories is, “How hard is it?  We all basically live on the same 15 meals.  We have 5 go-to breakfasts.  Five go-to lunches. And five go-to dinners.  That’s nothing.  Just count the calories of those once and you’re all set.”

As horrifying as it sounded to me, I quickly calculated in my head, and wow.  JM was right.  Except I didn’t even have 5 breakfasts. Oatmeal or a berry smoothie or cereal or frozen waffles.  That’s it.  I topped out the most important meal of the day with just 4 options.

Reeling from the disdain of this sad fact of my life, Resolution #6 was born. It was egged on by my brother-in-law, Brian, a great cook from deep in the heart of Texas, who, when I excitedly told him about my resolution, seemed non-plus.

“I never make the same thing twice. Never.”

Moving up to a Barrow, a place where it’s mostly full-on winter or stages of winter year round, a place where there are no trees, a place where one’s life is lived almost fully inside because the polar bears don’t know how to open doors, I need more than a handful of go-to meals.  There are no coffee shops, there are a handful of very expensive restaurants, and there are no bars, theaters, or bowling alleys.  Sounds like that it’s not going to be much of a social life. If life at the top of the world is not going to offer me a ton of stimulation, then I need to make sure that our kitchen is a place of flash and pizazz and good eats. Cuz if it is, then people will show up, wanting to share a great meal, and voila, I’ve got my social life.  I’m going to rock that “build it and they will come,” Field of Dreams attitude, but with a culinary slant. R’s co-workers and friends are as of yet unaware of my dastardly plan.  So is R, I think.

Anyway, I’ve been working at this res since the start of the year, getting back into reading my food blogs that I used to voraciously read all the time, plus I’ve been very active collecting recipes on Pinterest as well as Punchfork.

I’ve made a lentil bean curried soup from scratch with no recipe – a mad disaster because while it tasted delicious, the color, which looked like bathroom grout, made me vomit in my mouth a little when I went to reheat it, so that got dumped.

I’ve tried recreating an uber-pricey but oh-so-delicious pistachio curried cocoa bee energy bar I discovered when the local company, Flatiron Foodies, out of Boulder was giving away samples at Whole Foods.  It’s so yummy that I’d buy and eat one daily if only I had a large treasure chest of gold bars under the bed.  My virgin attempt worked acceptably, as the ingredients are listed on the label, but I think it will take me a few more batches to get the proportions just right.

I tried a new beet/arugula/walnut/gorgonzola salad my brother makes, and I recreated a really yummy green salad with carmelized peaches that I had at California Pizza Kitchen for lunch in January.

I tried an awesome potato side dish a friend from grad school concocted and posted on her blog,  Tart Little Piggy.

So I’m on track and kicking this resolution’s butt. Last night, I made a recipe from Serious Eats (though I first found it on  Spicy Peanut Noodles.  Delish.

Yep. Food on my mixer. I would freak out if someone else did this.

I changed up a few things.  The recipe called for Chinese noodles, and I had linguine.  What the heck?  Why not?  It worked. I didn’t have basil or cilantro.  I subbed Veri Veri Teriyaki (my fave condiment on this blue marble) for the sugar/honey, garlic, and soy sauce.  I skipped the hot peppers entirely as I didn’t have any in the house.   Also, I had no clue what they meant by cutting the scallions on a severe bias.  I did my best to interpret that, but I’m not sure – and I can’t tell from their pic – if I did it right.  It tasted great, though, and I’ll make it again.  I’ve made a variation before, one that called for whole wheat pasta, no hot sauce, and grated ginger.  They were similar, but this one was spicier.  That one I topped with toasted sesame seeds instead of the crushed peanuts.  Both are great, but I like how this one has all the extra veggies.  Three cheers for fiber, right?

This is a dish I’ll be recreating in the tundra for sure.

My new 13-C Kitchen Aid food processor arrived this week, and I unpacked it today.  I’m dying to try it, but I need to drive to the valley tomorrow and get food.  There’s a vegan chili recipe in one of the Moosewood cookbooks that I adore – the base is bulgar, which gives the chili the same texture as ground beef for my omnivorous partner.  However, it takes HOURS to prepare due to all the chopping that needs to be done: carrots, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, garlic.  Ugh.  It takes forevah.  Now with my new Kitchen-Aid, it will go SO much more quickly.

Still to be bought for my Barrow kitchen:

1) KPEX attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  I keep checking on the site, but they are out of them, currently.

2) A new rolling pin for all the gluten-free bread I’ll be making!  The one really awful thing about living in the Rockies is I never found any good adjustments for baking at altitude.  All the high altitude cookbooks are for people who live in Denver – the lowlands, imho.  They’re a meager mile high, and I’m at 9000 feet, so those recipes don’t work up ’round these here parts.  I’ll be glad to be at sea-level, and reconvene my Sunday baking ritual that I started in Fairbanks (sea level), continued in Portland, Maine, (sea level) and the Caribbean (definitely sea level), but have now abandoned here in the mountains.  I’d make the bread for the week.  It was a thing.  A day. A meditation.  An event.  I loved it.  Happiness is a house that smells like warm bread.

3) A dehydrator.  I’ll be signing up for Full Circle’s CSA out of Seattle. They deliver to Barrow – crazy, right?  Yes, crazy and wonderful.  However, in the event that I get too much of one thing, I need a ways to preserve stuff.

4) Canner.  Reason?  See #3.

5) Grain mill.  I’m not really sure if I need this, as my Omega juicer might handle the job, but I do need to investigate it a bit more.

Those are my current kitchen fantasies.  Budget is an issue, of course, as I also need a sewing machine as well as a road bike and trainer so I can train for IronMan Madison in fall of 2013.  And I need to somehow get me, 3 dogs, 1 cat, at least 1 of 2 cars, and all of our stuff from the top of the mountain to the top of the world.

Well, I’m not going to worry about all that today.  Let’s just be happy about the new food processor.


Making Plans

As I’ve been a bit of gypsy over the past few years, it maybe comes as no surprise to many that I’m moving back to Alaska this May. However, this time, it will be straight to the top – Barrow, a small coastal Inupiaq village of about 5000 people who subsist primarily on whale and seal meat.

It will be quite the adventure for this vegetarian.

The plan so far is join the Full Circle CSA and have twice-monthly deliveries of organic fresh fruit and veggies from the Seattle area. I’m not thrilled about the great amount of fossil fuels used to get me my produce, but I don’t know of any more sustainable options.

I do know that I’ll be learning to make cheese, I’ll need to become a good indoor gardener of herbs, and I’m going to being making all of our breads and pastas from gluten-free flour that I mill myself.

The learning curve will be steep, and here’s where I’ll document my trials and tribulations as well as my amazing feasts!