Howdy, Ruskie neighbors!


Back home, in Colorado, where you can climb a snowy mountain without the need for a hat, and the Whole Foods is just 45 minutes away, and also no grizzly bears are trying to have you for snack

The military has been giving me a headache lately. As of July 1, 2010 (which is 212 days away) I will no longer be living in Texas. Joy unbounded, right? Well, yes. But also no. Because I have absolutely no idea where we’re going to be stationed next.

I’d really, really like to go back home to Colorado. I’ve been banking on it pretty heavily, using the thought of places like Boulder, Colorado to get me through some dark, conservative, hot Texas hours. And up until recently, I was sure we were a shoo-in (I just had to google how to spell “shoo-in.”) But then the allergist who is currently stationed in Colorado failed to receive a promotion, meaning he isn’t compelled to leave Colorado, AND he was given the responsibility of deciding where each allergist out of Chris’s group will be stationed next. The guy has all of the power, and an obvious conflict of interest, given that he, too, would like to be stationed in Colorado. Which is bullshit, right?

So our chances feel pretty threatened. We need to get home to our families, but guess who doesn’t care about that whatsoever–yes! The government!

What’s more, they’ve been bandying about the names of possible bases that are opening up. Chris has subspecialized himself so intricately that there are only a handful of bases in the world who keep a full-time allergist/immunologist. As it turns out, many of these bases suck ass.

In order to distract myself from my new hobby of bitching and crying fits, I’ve decided to share the burden with you, my patient readers.

Remember how, back when the political leaders of Iran and North Korea were being assholes (hahahahaha–joke’s on us! They’re still assholes!)? And how I did a series of posts where I made a special dish from each of the countries who were pissing me off? Well, I’m going to do the same thing with the possible bases who carry full-time allergists.

Each day, I will feature a single base. I will note the pros and cons of living in each area, I will evaluate the major “gourmet” grocery stores in the area, the housing situation, the food scene, and I will make a signature dish from each region. You’ll get the recipe, and a broader understanding of both the local cuisine, and my own personal misery.

Maybe in my intellectual travels, I’ll find a hidden gem. More likely, we’ll all have a good laugh at my expense.

So, with great flourish, I bring you: ALASKA!

That’s right. Alaska. And when you’ve all finished urinating out of sheer mirth, you’ll realize that I am sadly not joking. It seems the military has seen fit to provide allergic and immunologic support to the fucking tundra.

Which is just super, because God only knows the SCORES of troops who are allergic to lichen and penguins. And it’s just common sense to send asthmatics to frigid, oxygen-poor environments.

The only part of this that I see making sense is that if some kid was born with an immunological deficiency, you’d want to send him or her to a place where they aren’t exposed to…people. They’re at a much higher risk of getting ass-to-mouth (or whatever kids are contracting these days) from a moose.

As for the food, well, excuse me for a moment while I brush hot tears from my eyes. Elmendorf Air Force Base is located, and I quote, “near Anchorage.” Not even IN a city, but, you know, vaguely near one. I looked at a map, and the way you get to the base is to drive to the outskirts of the “city” of Anchorage, and then follow a long road called “Arctic Warrior” until you reach the fortress. No doubt dodging icebergs and abominable snowmen on your way. Arctic Warrior. OMG.

Now, as for the vibrant food scene, prepare to be impressed.

Anchorage doesn’t have a Whole Foods, but it DOES have two (count ’em TWO) gourmet grocery stores. One of them touts its versatile gourmet selection of smoked salmon and salmon jerky. And the other has pictures of “party platters” that appear to be sliced pepperoni and cheddar cheese cubes with thousands of toothpicks sticking out, all willy-nilly. So, I guess my party planning needs are totally taken care of. Score!

The restaurant scene seems to be booming, with such Michelin-starred restaurants as “Humpy’s Ale House” and “Sacks Cafe” coming up at the top of the Google list for nice restaurants in Anchorage. When I get hungry, I get a solid craving for humping and sacks. It’s good to know that my favorites will be within my reach!

Housing options include log cabins, mountain shanties, and a smattering of regular homes. $400,000 will buy you any one of the number of 4 bedroom, 3 bedroom houses listed online, none of which have any pictures of the kitchen. Am I suspicious? A touch. Because salmon tartare and warm-from-the-kill whale blubber would be so much better if I could bake a potato to accompany them. I’m assuming much of the cooking is done on a Coleman propane stove in an igloo somewhere.

Food specialties abound in Alaska, with everything from smoked salmon, to salmon jerky, to salmon eggs, to salmon pie, to salmon sushi. It’s WILD (ha! get it?!) The Alaska folk (Inuit?) take their salmon very seriously. They also take their game meat very seriously. Which is extra-awesome because I would rather eat the dashboard of an ’87 Chevy owned by a greasy, ex-con smoker than game meat or salmon. They also have an abundance of fresh produce including squash, other kinds of squash, interestingly-shaped squash, and things you thought were possibly rocks but are actually just rustic-looking squash. Mmmmmm…squaaaash.

They also have berries, which is awesome because I ACTUALLY like berries quite a bit. So when summer hits, I’d likely spend the entire 2 week period of sunshine and warmth actively hunting fresh berries, befriending grizzlies and mountain goats who are competing for the very same fresh berries. If there’s one thing we can agree on about hungry grizzlies, it’s got to be their sense of friendly competition for food resources, am I right?

I’d be so thin in Alaska!

A bizarre Alaskan specialty, and the very one I’m sharing with you today, is Alaskan sourdough bread. I read online that Alaskans are so famous for their sourdough bread, that “old prospectors came to be called ‘sourdoughs!” Special. I also read that Alaskans are said to take their sourdough starters to bed when it gets too cold outside. Where I come from, yeast in the bedroom is actually considered a hygienic faux pas, but who am I to judge?

Anyway, while I can’t teach you to make Alaskan sourdough, which requires Alaskan yeast cultures, which requires being in Alaska, I can teach you to throw together a badass sourdough of your very own.

I’ve had the same sourdough starter since we moved to Texas. It’s a bit of a touch to start, but then keeps beautifully in the refrigerator. I take it out to feed and to bake about once every few weeks, but have gone as long as 2 months without using it.

First, either make or buy a starter. Sourdough starter is the “sludge” that consists of flour, water, lactic acid, and yeast. The following recipe is a combination of methods from King Arthur Flour and The Culinary Institute of America.

To make a starter:

Combine 1 C flour, 1 C water, and 1/2 of a raw, organic potato, grated in a plastic or glass bowl. Make sure the bowl is large enough to allow the mixture to triple in volume. Cover with cheesecloth and set aside at room temperature. In 24 hours, add 1 C flour and 1 C water and stir. Do this again every 24 hours for another two days. You can throw away some of the starter before adding more water and flour, if the bowl gets too full. You can continue to do this as long as you like, because every extra day of feeding and sitting makes the sourdough more flavorful.

After several days, you should have a bubbly-looking mixture that smells yeasty and sour, but doesn’t have any mold or rotted look to it. You can store your starter in the refrigerator indefinitely, using a glass or plastic jar with a lid. Be sure to keep the lid loose enough to allow gas to escape for the first 12 hours its in the refrigerator. Then tighten it up to seal.

To make bread from your starter, you must first make it a “fed starter.” This means you pull it out of the refrigerator, add 1/2 C flour, and 1/2 C water, stir, and allow to sit for 8-12 hours. It will begin to bubble again. When you pull it from the refrigerator, you will likely notice a brown fluid floating above the thick floury mixture. This is called “hooch” and is basically liquor that results from the fermentation process. Don’t worry, just stir it back together. It will bake off when it’s heated. Much of the sourdough flavor comes from the “hooch.”

Once your starter is fed, you can throw together some easy sourdough bread.

Ingredients:

1 C “fed” starter
1/2 t active dry yeast
1/2 C warm water
4 C flour, more or less as needed
3 T sugar
1 t salt

Method:

In a bread maker or stand mixer, layer the ingredients as listed. Knead together on the basic dough setting, or until the dough becomes a semi-slack dough that is soft and elastic, but not sticky. Add more flour or water as needed to achieve this consistency.

Allow to rise for 1.5 hours, or until doubled. This takes longer in Alaska. Punch it down.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Form an oval shape out of each. They should be far enough apart to allow for some spreading. Cover loosely and allow to rise for another hour, or until fairly puffy. Spritz with lukewarm water, slash two shallow, diagonal cuts on the top of each loaf to allow the loaf to grow in the oven. A sharp bread knife works well for this.

Bake at 425 F until the loaves are a deep golden brown. Remove and allow to cool before slicing. Serve with salted, organic butter and honey.

The smell that comes off of these loaves is incredible, and the flavor is assertive but mellow. You can wrap one in foil and freeze it, if you’re worried you won’t eat it quickly enough. The crumb is big and beautiful, but it’s just dense enough to hold its own as a panini or sandwich bread.

Now that you’ve got a basic grasp on the culinary traditions of Alaska, let’s go through a brief list of pros and cons to being stationed there.

Pro: There is delicious sourdough bread and fresh berries
Con: There is ONLY delicious sourdough bread and fresh berries, and lots of canned food and blubber.

Pro: I can spend weekends picking fist fights with Sarah Palin and probably Todd.
Con: Despite her fervent protests, I canNOT see Russia from my house.

Pro: Polar bears are super cute and look playful.
Con: Despite their look, they are decidedly NOT playful, and would likely result in my death.

Pro: As some have suggested, I can write a blog about my time in Alaska.
Con: It is so cold that my fingers would snap off, leaving me to type by holding a discarded caribou antler with my teeth. They would nickname me “Old Stumpy.”

Pro: I look really cute in my furry boots and eskimo jacket.
Con: I will have to gain 30 lbs of blubber to stay warm, and thus not fit into my furry boots and eskimo jacket.

Pro: Gaining 30 lbs of blubber would be hella fun.
Con: Not by eating salmon and twigs, it wouldn’t be. Also, looking like a sea mammal is NOT fun.

Pro: Alaska is absolutely gorgeous.
Con: It’s too cold to go outside and enjoy it.

Pro: I could participate in the Iditarod.
Con: My dog, Willie, would not appreciate that sport very much, and would get icicles in his beautiful, clydesdale-like paw fur.

Pro: Awesome wildlife
Con: Awesome wildlife that will kill and eat you.

Pro: I think you can still homestead land.
Con: The houses up there are spectacularly crappy.

Pro: Snow sports
Con: Your pee freezes into little peesicles before it can hit the snow.

And so you see, I cannot live in Alaska. What could be worse, you ask? Ohhhh, baby. Just wait until tomorrow.

14 thoughts on “Howdy, Ruskie neighbors!”

  1. FYI, anything on a road in the interior is "near Anchorage" up here. Other pros about Alaska: CSA/organic produce from the Mat-su valley (near Anchorage). Incredible trail systems for thru-hiking/skiing. The drinking section at hockey games. AND the PFD or entitlement check for a free trip away from Alaska!

  2. Love hiking. LOVE. Alaska is gorgeous. And CSA would be great, though I'm curious as to what type of produce they're able to provide. My guess is there won't be a ton of tomatoes and peppers and the like.

    What I will say, and I say this with all the love in my heart, is that I went to your blog and enjoyed it thoroughly, but was particularly amused that (in the last 3 months, at least) all of your meat has been game or salmon.

    Only because I like being right, especially when I think I'm exaggerating. Sigh.

  3. yeah…aren't polar bears the only type of bear that's been proven to actively hunt humans?

    Not that I wouldn't love to go to alaska…

    Besides, you can always start a calendar (I'm think along the lines of those lovely chocolate advent variety)

  4. Not to cause further anxiety about Alaska but this reminds me of a funny story. Victor's mom refuses to eat eggs and…crap, I can't remember the other thing, maybe mayonnaise… Anyway, she grew up in Alaska and there was a huge earthquake and for 6 months those are literally the only two food items they could get up there. Also, I'm pretty sure the CSA is probably a pretty short season there, considering the one in Colorado is only 3 months.

    But I'm sure you'll get somewhere way more glamorous, like St.Lois. My neighbor is former ATF from there. He's told us some fun gangsta stories.

  5. you're making it difficult for us to wish you luck, you know. your misfortune will no doubt provide more enjoyable reading for us. if you wind up in an enviable location, we'll only wind up hating you for being talented AND lucky. you gotta give us something :)
    have you named your starter? i've never met one with a female name. i think it's because starters are rather beer-y smelling. mine is named Sir Toby.

  6. Ha! Yes, you are right about meat/fish. Although–up north (where I do not live) there are several small farms raising actual meat animals so you don't have to shoot them. Ouch, the PFD thing. sorry.

    The CSAs are limited, admittedly. But I don't have one here so I'm unbelievably jealous of the possibility of one.

    (Thanks for reading my blog. I write about meat/fish because that is something I do differently that the foodblog world. It forces creativity)

  7. Scene 1: My father immigrated to Canada when he was about 7. Lebanese food uses a lot of yoghurt and my Tata brought over a starter that had been in her family for generations. My father, when he married my mother, was given some of that starter and he used it to make his yoghurt since they got married 36 years ago.

    Scene 2: My mother doesn't really cook, but she'll go through phases. One such phase was a sourdough phase where she bought 4 cookbooks on what to do with sourdough starter (verdict: 50% awesome, 50% why did you even try?), made her own starter, adopted another starter from a friend, and ordered 2 starters online. All of these starters were, of course, kept in the fridge.

    Scene 3: My father's yoghurt started to taste…tangy. I mean, it was always flavorful with some tang, but this was different.

    Scene 4: My father's yoghurt becomes so sour that it is virtually inedible.

    Scene 5: The culprit is traced…. sneaky folk from my mom's starters jumped ship and traveled across to my father's yoghurt, infecting it and changing the bacterial content. This from the 'sealed' containers, indeed!!! My fathers yoghurt, with the starter which was brought from Lebanon to Canada 52 years ago, had to be discarded.

    Scene 6: My father has to start anew with something. The best we can find locally is Activia. God bless Canadian grocery stores. I swear to god, my ancestors are rolling over in their graves.

  8. Yo, I just sent you an email that was forwarded to me at work. I find it comical. but it does say something about JC in the title. Do not be alarmed. This is supposed to happen.

  9. 1. Moosemeat rocks. Like, amazingly.
    2. You have not eaten salmon until you've eaten it in Alaska. Seriously.
    3. There are no polar bears in Anchorage. I promise.
    4. Whale blubber is supposed to be eaten frozen.
    5. Don't confuse Anchorage with, say, the North Slope. It's surprisingly civilized.
    6. Tomatoes and peppers tend to be grown hydroponically, but they do exist.

  10. Pro: In alaska they pay their residents to live there. Look up their stipend the give sometime around the beginning of fall (aug/sep) time – its a healthy $1000-2000 per person each year just because Alaska is rich as state and poor in population. If you have babies they get a check each as well.
    Con: Im pretty sure in order to obtain residency in Alaska you are required to create a caribou sanctuary in your backyard and have sex in the snow.

  11. I have it on good authority from an Alaska Native that whale blubber tastes better frozen. The Natives eat it while hunting. I had it warm, however, and it was gross, oily and fishy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *