Fish ON!

Some summers in SE Alaska are jewels, and jewel-toned in color. The sky is blue, the water is a deeper blue, and the rain forest vegetation is a lush green.

 

But all that takes a back seat to the draw that brings so many tourists to this area. With the salmon capital of the world right here, what else could it be?

That’s right…fish! Salmon and halibut are king, but there are other fish in these waters, and when you’re out for the day, or you’ve come up for a few days of high-priced guided fishing, you want to take something home. Most people coming up to fish have a target, either salmon or halibut. Non-fisher that I am, before I lived here I wouldn’t have really known much about the variables in guiding for different types of fish. But fishing is an art, like any other skill. It’s also a hobby, sport, industry, and a way of life for so many in SE Alaska.

 

As with any hobby/sport/industry, you can outfit yourself with a lot of tools, gadgets, must-have and nice-to-have equipment. For professional guides, the challenge is not just having equipment for yourself or your family; you have to have enough gear to supply the guests you take out. And a boat.

 

There’s a reason fresh-caught fish is expensive, and when you spend some time around these fishermen, you quickly realize to be successful in the fishing industry requires a hefty investment of time, money, and effort, to say nothing of skill, and knowing these waters. I listen to fishing guides talk, and it’s a different language with its own idiom, terms that I can only hazily interpret the meaning, and stories that are fish-sized.

 

Another factor that impacts this industry is the seasonality, whether you’re fishing commercially, as a guide, or even as an individual. You have to have the right type of license, know where to fish, know when to fish, and then be prepared to fish while the fishing’s good. There are “openings” for different types of commercial fishing, at different points in the season, and the state regulates the limits that can be caught. Fishing lodges are seasonal as well. The short summer here means lodges have to make their money in a compressed time frame. In the peak of the season, communities that draw fishing tourists are hopping. Then almost overnight, things change. The season ends, the crowds fly away, and the sleepy little towns go back to their off-season norm. Lodges close, the seasonal workers leave, and the locals breathe a sigh of relief.

 

Some years the fishing’s amazing, and the commercial industry makes fantastic amounts of money. And other years, it just doesn’t happen. This year I hear the water wasn’t right for the salmon. Too warm maybe? Seems hard to believe (I’ve dipped a toe in these Pacific waters, and it’s chilly to me!) but these fish know their water, and if it’s not right, the industry numbers reflect that. So the next time you’re buying fish in the market, or eating it at a restaurant, just know…there’s a reason it’s pricey. But it’s also delicious, and good for you, so maybe that will make it easier to pay the bill, as you reflect on your heart-healthy fish entree.

 

We like fish, and we like to fish, but we don’t get out often…sometimes once a season, or maybe a couple of times if we’re lucky. I sometimes fish, sometimes just go along to bring food, take photos, and enjoy a few hours on the water.

 

This time I fished. I bought an annual fishing license, and good thing I did! We were out with a couple of locals on Prince of Wales, and we caught our limit of halibut, plus a few cod and snapper. No salmon this time.

 

The day was glorious, the fish were biting enough to give us a nice catch, and we got to spend a day on the water…and that always beats a day in the office!

 

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Summer’s here! (Today anyway)

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We’ll be back to rain soon, as early as tomorrow, but the past few days have been beautiful, warm, amazing for mid-May.

We went out fishing…didn’t catch anything, but we had a perfect after-work hour on the water.

We went to Anchorage on Tuesday for meetings, flew the “milk run,” Alaska Airlines’ trip that originates in Seattle, then stops in Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and finally Anchorage. Flight seeing all the way!

We got on in Ketchikan. These were scenes on the way up:

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That’s a glacier carving it’s way to the ocean.

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This is the photo for the phrase, “pure as snow,” it’s blinding white. The snow and the clouds blend together.

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Look at the time the sun is setting in Anchorage tonight. (You can see the sunrise/sunset times in the screenshot of my phone weather profile above.) Makes for long days and restless nights. That’s the way I sleep this time of year, restlessly. Somehow your body registers the light and doesn’t settle. I think it’s the elongated days that don’t give you the normal cues to begin shutting down and prepping for the darkness. Just a geographical hazard of being this far north.

We saw a moose in the marshlands. Fortunately it was too busy eating to notice us. Moose are sometimes aggressive, but this one wasn’t a threat. We were clearly less interesting to him than he was to us, and he couldn’t be bothered to turn around for a really good portrait, so I had to make do with a profile shot.

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This is a view from the road heading south out of town toward Seward. Mountains and water are everywhere.

Today, on the way back down, I got this shot of Juneau’s famous glacier:

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Finally, back to Ketchikan, and a beautiful sunny afternoon. We actually ate lunch on the patio of the restaurant we chose. I didn’t even know they had a patio until today…it’s not often you can enjoy outdoor dining here!

And this is what I got in the mail:

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It’s the proof copy of my book. So fun to open and find a real book, not just a digital file, which is all I’ve seen until today. Now it will list on Amazon, and the Kindle version will be up in a couple of weeks. Ahhhh…I started this last July! Hard to believe it took this long to finish, but then, it wasn’t always a linear project. And I’ve learned, some things are best not rushed.

It’s not quite the beginning of summer, by the calendar. But in the north, where some years summer appears on a Tuesday and is gone by Thursday, and you often find yourself wearing jackets more than sunscreen, whatever the calendar says, an early start is a good thing!

A friend just called to say he’s dropping off some fresh salmon. Looks like we’re grilling out for dinner tomorrow!

Last of summer

I’m traveling to Seattle tonight, going to turn in my summer sandals and bag. Time to switch to shoes with toes, pull out my turtlenecks, get ready for the October rains. I know they’re headed my way!

But first, a break, and some time with the littles, and a road trip. Aahhh!

And here’s the last of summer photos from a week ago. I’m never tempted to swim in  Alaska waters. Too cold for me. But the views are amazing!

Here’s to the end of summer, and to the coming fall…hello pumpkin! 🙂

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Gift of summer

This season has been a gift, in every way.

Family, friends, travel, work, play…everything has flowed, cooperated, come together just so.

Aaahhh….

This weekend was another example. We went fishing Saturday, one of the many beautiful summer days we’ve enjoyed this year. We caught three coho salmon, had a dinner of sushi and seared salmon fillet last night (couldn’t decide which taste we preferred, so we had both). Our luck is holding!

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That’s a whale’s fin in this photo!

Catch of the day:

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Hello September!

I know the official start to fall is still ahead of us, but for me, that’s always been the first day of September, so here we are again: in the season of falling leaves and pumpkins and apple crisps and cozy soups. These are a few of my favorite things.

Normally I would be pulling out autumn decor, moving my summer season look to the back of the cupboard and putting out the accents that hint at chill in the air and the smell of wood fires. But at the moment all of that stuff is boxed and I can’t bring myself to unearth it just yet.

I countered the offer I got last week and should have an answer by Wednesday. If the counter offer is rejected, that’ll be soon enough to pull out a few things to bring some fall color to the rooms. After all, the house will still be on the market, and selling is about staging, right? So it will be worth doing a little work to set the right tone. The goal is to have anyone who sees the house imagine themselves living here. And how could anyone do that in September without a little fall foliage to add some color?

In best September form, the sun is warm and strong today, the light lingering and offering hope that the fall rains won’t begin until October. Of course, no month in Ketchikan is free from rainfall. But some years September is an extension of summer, and others it feels like November.

I’m always tempted to look at school supplies in the fall, though I don’t have kids at home now. I look at the school lists in the stores and remember how many years we did that, stocking up and getting ready for the first big day of the new grades. Must run in the family. I know my mom and my daughter are school supply lovers too…just something about a pristine new notebook or box of crayons that have all their tips intact.

I think the calendar year should begin in September instead of January. It would take so much pressure off that month, and the holiday season in general. Maybe we should sign a petition?

Here’s hoping for good weather, a house sold, and the magic of fall, all coming together this week. I could really get excited about that. And it would be a small miracle, especially the house piece. But I’m open to that.

Fall bouquet

Fall bouquet

 

 

Visits and birthdays, the good stuff

It’s a busy month for us. Stephanie, Riley, and Jack are up for a summer visit, so we’ve temporarily gone into kid-land. All the breakables and anything that looks likely to become a missile in the hands of 18 month old Jack have been moved to higher ground. He’s a climber, but there are still a few spaces out of his reach. Yesterday he disappeared into the kitchen for a minute. When I walked in, he was sitting in the middle of the breakfast table, and as soon as he saw me walking toward him, he stood up, quite proud of himself and reaching out his little arms for a lift down. Gave me a mini heart attack, but didn’t phase him at all. He’s fearless and fast, and a boy…always a dangerous combination! But he’s so stinking cute, we forgive him all the rest and just follow him around to protect him from himself.

 

Fearless Jack!

Fearless Jack!

Riley is in one of the golden ages of childhood. Four year olds are old enough to do a lot, still young enough to be funny without knowing why (endlessly amusing to the adults :). Her speech is clear as a bell, but she has a few Riley-isms that we can’t bear to correct…she’ll grow out of them soon enough. Princess doll gloves are “glubs,” and she asks if I “memember” something that happened yesterday.  Sometimes she notices that we’re laughing at her, which we always deny immediately, but can’t help. She’s just too funny, in the sweet little-kid way of being funny-when-serious.

Riley the First-born

Riley the First-born

She’s a talker. With her gene pool, she could hardly escape that. We have long and interesting conversations that are wide-ranging. We discuss everything from princess fashions to the dangers of zombie attack (thanks, older kid at day care, for introducing her to the concept) to playdough creations. She’s learning to write the alphabet, gearing up for pre-school in the fall. She’s also standard issue first-born, bossing Jack around and clearly expecting to be in charge of life. But the other side to her personality is sensitive and affectionate, so just when you think she’s verging on teenager, she’s a sweet little girl again, charming and disarming.

I never really stood a chance. The grands have planted their flag.

It’s also a month of birthdays. I counted up, and between immediate and extended family, we have seven people celebrating in June. Today is Alex’s birthday, number 27. We sent several gifts his way already. I wish we had the gift of his presence so we could enjoy a birthday dinner together. But not to be this year. Still, it’s a moment to mark and remember. In his honor we’ll eat some bacon (his favorite) and have a family pass-the-phone-around conversation tonight. I’m always fantasizing that we’ll spend more of our big days together, and maybe someday we’ll be able to do that again. But for today, we’ll have to content ourselves with a digital connection.

Alex, happy 27!

Alex, happy 27!

Alaska is cooperating with some beautiful weather. The water is so blue when the sun is shining on it, and such a gun-metal gray when skies are overcast. We watched cruise ships yesterday, and float planes, kayakers, small boats, and fishing vessels, all from the front windows of the house. The Tongass Narrows is bustling this time of year, and my only complaint is the float planes start buzzing waaay too early in the morning. They’re out by 5:00 am, taking advantage of the extra hours of daylight this time of year. (Sunrise today was at 4:04, sunset tonight will be 9:31, with twilight lingering a little beyond.) And while float planes are noisy any time of day, they are particularly noticeable and obnoxious before coffee. That’s really my only complaint of summer here. Well, that, and the days that are summer on the calendar and fall by thermometer. But hey, as long as my heat isn’t kicking on, that’s a good day 🙂 (Not many places that statement defines a good summer day!)

Blue water!

Blue water and Ketchikan

Pacific Airways

Pacific Airways, local transport

 

So, off to play, and rescue small people from high places, and feed, and strap into car seats, and make photos….lots of photos! We’re looking for bears, and fish, and a souvenir or two…because what kid ever visited grandparents and didn’t go home with a little something to show for it? Here’s hoping for blue water and clear skies!

 

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. 🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me 🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

Goodbye white shoes, I hardly wore you

September, Labor Day weekend, and my Southern upbringing has kicked in. I wouldn’t be caught dead from now until next Memorial Day in white shoes. Just.not.done. At least for my generation. (Maybe this is more about my age than where I was raised…or both? I’ll have to get back to you on that.)

Mind you, I have no idea where this fashion dictum came from, or how it became so firmly impressed on my young self. All I know is that to violate this rule was taboo in my youth, and whether or not it matters to the fashion police now (if it ever did), I’m obligated to live with this for the rest of my life. You’d think it was important or something. But if it is, I don’t know why.

But not knowing didn’t stop me from passing the white shoes rule on to my daughter. Really I expand this to summer clothes in general…the only possible exception being a tropical location where it’s always acceptable to wear white, whatever the season. (And who decided that? Another fashion mystery!)

Perhaps it’s fortunate for me that I live in a climate that actually encourages me to return to my September-to-May uniform of turtlenecks and heeled pumps. The summer slides are put away. They didn’t get too much wear-time this year anyway. Miserable summer season here. But the weather, at this point, is not the point: I couldn’t violate the calendar. Just can’t do it. My roots are showing!

There are things you leave behind when you move from one side of the country to another: regional produce, local customs, favorite eateries. Without any effort on my part, my Southern accent has mostly faded away from long years of disuse (although it revives a bit when I go back for a visit). But some things…the white shoes rule, for instance…follow me about from place to place, a passenger in my head, mostly forgotten, but somehow silently monitoring the calendar, and then, ca-ching, like my oven timer, a bell goes off internally to remind me of The Rule. The same thing will happen Memorial Day…my Southern self will wake up, reminding me, nudging me. Change of seasons, change of shoes.

Summer? Did I miss it?

Well, well, August 19th, and another cool rainy weekend in the forecast. I’ve definitely had the “summer was on a Tuesday” experience this year. I remember one of the summers we lived in Michigan was like that. You kept telling yourself, believing, that any day now, the full force of sun and warmth would arrive and the glorious summer weather would bring all things good…outdoor cookouts, trips to the park, bike riding, ball games. But no, nothing, it just fizzled before it ever got off the ground. Like this one.

Oh sure, you try to keep up appearances. Can’t tell you how many days in the past few months I’ve worn something more suited to Arizona, complete with a sweater or windbreaker or jean jacket…whatever COAT was best paired with my summer garb. I couldn’t face going through the summer months wearing turtlenecks. But with only a few exceptions, I could have done it and been very comfortable during June, July, and now August. I’m hoping for a bit of an Indian summer season in September. But who am I kidding? I might as well be unpacking my corduroys and wool right now.

20110819-062943.jpg With the exception of a few days spent in California and Arizona (alright, that was a bit warm, even for me), we’ve sailed right past spring and into October. Honestly, some of the rains we’ve had have been wicked! Thank goodness my leak in the bathroom appears to be fixed. (You know the repair has been successful when you forget to check each time it rains.) Many days the temps hover in the 50s. Twice in the next week we’re supposed to hit 60! And this is August!

Raspberries have been impacted by all the wet, or cool, or something. All I know is that the other summers we’ve lived here we’ve had lots of berries on the vines behind the house. This year, there was a dismal, one-cup crop. Yesterday I noticed a few leaves already turning.

Ok, I know for anyone outside Alaska reading this, it sounds petty. I’ve seen the news about the heat wave and the dry spell much of the lower 48 has been living through, and I know my frustration must seem un-imaginable to many. But trust me, if you heard your heat kick on in August, or decided to put your electric blanket back on the bed before Labor Day, you’d be complaining too.

Most days this cruise season, I’ve felt sorry for the poor tourists, trying to have a good time in a downpour. I’ve hardly had a chance to run the AC in my car. I have brats in the fridge. But I need the right atmosphere. I can’t enjoy grilling out when all I want to do is go inside to warm up.

So that’s my lament for late August. What happened to summer? If you find it, please send it my way. It’s not too late.

Ah, Sedona!

Snoopy Rock

This is beautiful red rock country, mountainous, with elevations ranging 4,800 and above. This is also a mecca for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. The communities of this area…Sedona, Oak Creek, and Jerome, are all a bit different, as you would expect, and each capitalizes on the sun, Native American art, pioneer spirit, the magnificent scenery, and shopping, shopping, shopping!

Sunday afternoon we went to a state park just out of town called “Slide Rock,” and joined others who were out for a cool and natural version of a water park. Slide Rock has natural rock formations in a shallow creek that allow you to slide through the water, just like you would at a water park. Only this slide has surroundings of beautiful red rock cliffs and rock formations all around it. It’s a popular kid destination, and a lot of families were there for the day with coolers, water floats, and assorted members of multi-generations gathered to enjoy a sunny Arizona afternoon.

Stephanie, Matt & Riley at Slide Rock

Sedona has a plethora of spiritual and psychic centers, and there are “vortex” points where there is a concentration of energy. You can seek counsel or guidance if that’s your interest, and with the variety of places offering these services in town, you shouldn’t have to stand in line too long.

There are “Pink Jeep” tours that take you on different sight-seeing rounds, looking at the rock formations that have inspired names like “Snoopy Rock” or “Coffee-Pot” or “Castle Rock.” You can rent bikes if you don’t have your own, go on horseback rides, or do it the old-fashioned way and hike the canyons.

Yesterday we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up some info on bike trails, and a gully-washer rain, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before, came down while we were inside. So we waited it out, watching as huge drops of rain and hail beat down, and literally created a white-out so that the magnificent views were obliterated. Let me tell you, Ketchikan rain has nothing on a true Arizona monsoon storm! Fortunately we weren’t prisoners too long. These storms are short and sweet, and keep the temps in a manageable range of low 90s…not bad for August in the high desert.

Tomorrow we’re going on a bike ride. We’ve hauled bikes all over this country, and I’m sorry to say don’t use them as much as we should. But in such a setting as this, it seems essential to get out and see nature in a more personal way.

Ah, vacation…the time of slow pace, discovery, adventure…the sweet life!