Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.
Friday, August 31, 2007
I've been jamming my heart out. I've made red currant jelly, strawberry rhubarb jam, and fireweed jelly. I've made so much of it, my kids think that we are going to survive on nothing but jelly and jam all winter! They swear I make it every other day.
To my delighted surprise, I learned that rhubarb can not only be grown in Alaska, but it thrives here! My friend across the street had a backyard patch full of it, and offered it to me. I took armloads full, literally. I've got so much rhubarb that the whole entire bottom shelf of my fridge has been dedicated to rhubarb storage. Some of the stalks are 2 1/2 feet long and about 2 inches wide! No, I'm NOT exaggerating!
The berry picking has been tedious, especially for blueberries. I've made it up Arctic Valley several times, but it has taken hours and hours just to harvest 2 quarts of blueberries. I recently read that berries grow best on southwest facing slopes, so my new goal is to take my gps and find some southwest facing slopes before the weather turns cold. Though the blueberries may be sparse, the crowberries are plentiful. I changed my gathering goal from blueberries to crowberries last weekend and gathered 2 quarts of crowberries up Arctic Valley. I also found a great crowberry pie recipe, and have several crowberry jam and jelly recipes that I'll be using my stash of berries in. Won't my kids be delighted!
We hiked Winner Creek trail last weekend with the MEETinANCHORAGE group. A friend and I decided to hike the path from the hand tram over Glacier Creek (just past the Winner Creek Gorge Bridge) to Crow Creek Road. On our hike, we found bushes and bushes full of blue huckleberries. Blue huckleberries look and smell an awful lot like blueberries, but they don't taste as sweet. Caitlin collected enough to make a blueberry (huckleberry, in this case) buckle out of them! We also found patches of salmonberries and I introduced her to the delights of watermelon berries (her new favorite, she says).
Out of the blueberries I collected at Arctic Valley last Sunday, I made the family a wonderful Blueberry Cobbler. My daughter said it was wonderful, but not worth the 5 hours of work it took to get the berries. I have to agree. Five hours for only 2 quarts of berries was a lot of work! Last year, we got that many berries in less than an hour up Arctic Valley. And, the berries this year that we managed to find are an odd oval shape, not the traditional round, plump, juicy berries we've found in the past.
I'm not giving up though! I still have a few other spots I'm going to check out. Since Monday is a holiday, I am devoting my "Labor Day" to the "laboring" of picking berries. I've discovered that the Internet is a wonderful place to find recipes for all kinds of "berry good" recipes. Woman can not live on jamming alone!
Next weekend, Angie and I are going camping again. More about that in a later post. And, the weekend of the 15th, the family is off to Denali Park for the road lottery winning drive on the 16th! I'm so excited about that!
Live is wonderful! I've said it before, I'll say it again.... I LOVE Alaska!
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I reserved a camping space at Riley Camp Ground right inside the park entrance. We have reservations for Saturday, September 15 and Sunday, September 16. Last year, Angie went and left early in the morning from Anchorage. She said the experience was wonderful, but the day was long and she was totally exhausted when she finally got home. We'd like to avoid the exhaustion. The drive into the park itself will still take an estimated 10 hours or so on Sunday, especially if we see wildlife along the way and stop to watch it in its natural habitat.
I'll know more when we receive the package for permit pick-up. The name that won was actually my sister's name! I entered for me, my daughter, my nieces and my sister. My sister's name is the only name that was chosen out of the 10 entries we made for the lottery. I guess I should contact her and thank her for being my sister!
I'll make sure to post LOTS of pictures on my Flickr account after we return. Until then, I'll be learning all I can about Denali, its history and legends. I am also reading a book about the first woman who ever climbed Denali. The book is called The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mount McKinley, by Barbara Washburn. I've got a little less than a month to find out all I can. I find it shocking and a little sad when I tell people that I won a ticket and they tell me they've lived here for 10+ years and NEVER gone to the park. I fall more in love with Alaska every day, and don't understand why some poeple who live here take living her so much for granted.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Alex and I entered the drawing this year for Denali road access. We also entered for our kids. We are hoping to win access for at least one day. If we won access for two consecutive days, that would be ideal. We'd camp in one of the camping grounds near the park, and spend the two days driving the unpaved road, hoping to see at least one of the big 5 (bear, moose, caribou, dall sheep and wolf) animals in the park. It would be an amazing experience to win a ticket and be able to experience the park like few are ever able.
Wish us luck!
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Out of curiosity, I map quested how far it is from Homer to Fairbanks, Alaska. For those of you that don't know, Alaska may be the largest state in the Union (YES, we are a part of the United States and not Canada), but we don't have many road systems here. Most villages like Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and just about everywhere off the main highway system isn't accessible by road. Homer is the southernmost point on a major highway that can be reached, and Fairbanks is the northernmost point on a major highway that can be reached. Anyway, from Homer to Fairbanks it's 579.54 miles. That's only 9.54 miles more than those folks are walking on their Fat March.
I've decided to do my own little Fat March and see if I can't walk the distance from Homer to Fairbanks. I'm going to shoot for doing it in 10 weeks, which means I would complete the mileage by my birthday on the 24th of October, by starting tomorrow. I've been wearing a pedometer to determine how many steps I take a day, and I've been attempting to get to 10,000, though I rarely do. Alex is wearing one too, and we've got a little contest going to see who walks the most steps. Activity outside of walking also has a step equivalent that he's got a chart for. Walking 579.54 miles in 10 weeks would be 57.95 miles per week, and about 11.59 miles a day if I walk 5 days a week (9.6 miles a day for 6 days a week; 8.28 miles a day for 7 days a week). I can walk. I can get up in the morning and walk at the gym or in the neighborhood. I can walk at lunch downtown or along the Coastal Trail or at the gym that's only a few blocks from my workplace. I can walk after work at the gym or in the neighborhood or on the myriad of hiking trails in Eagle River. The show encouraged me that I don't need to spend all day in the gym, or eat snail food, or kill myself with intense workouts. Nor do I need to live in a mansion and have trainers yell at me to run up a hill, do 200 more sit ups or cry on camera in front of a whole nation.
I'd like to lose 30 pounds in the next 10 weeks. I know that it's advisable to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, but I'm convinced that is for skinny chicks who want to lose 10 pounds in order to fit into their size 2 jeans instead of their size 5s. I haven't seen a size 5 since I was 5. I've got a lot to lose, and 30 pounds would get me into my snow pants with room to spare, help me snowshoe without getting terribly winded, allow me to buy lower weight rated snowshoes and XC skis, and really get me motivated to lose the rest of what I need to lose by next summer. Plus, we are planning on going to Hawaii the end of December for a winter vacation. I'm not going to have people trying to harpoon me on the beach in Hawaii! Other goals I have will only be helped by losing the weight: running the mayor's half marathon in Anchorage next June; running the Nike half marathon in San Francisco next October; biking the Sonoma wine country next summer; biking from Eagle River to Seward next summer; camping and hiking and biking my hiney off next summer and fall.
No one ever intends to become overweight. I didn't hit my teens and think, "WOW, now I can get a fat ass and wide hips!" Life handed me food on a silver platter, and I ate every bit of it and asked for seconds. But, I know I don't have to stay like this, so I'm not going to.
If those 12 folks on Fat March can do it in front of a nation, all of us seeing their rolls, tears, attitudes and accomplishments, I can do it here in Alaska. I'm not doing it for 1/12 of 1.2 million dollars, but I'll feel like a million bucks when I'm done! And, as I've said before, being fat sucks. I don't like it any more now than I did when I first posted that.
Wish me luck.... the fat march begins! I've created another blog and attached it to this page. It's called My Alaska Fat March... read my progress, pitfalls, pity parties and panderings about it there!
Monday, August 13, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007
There is, however, a lot of fireweed up near Alpenglow: thick, long, flower-filled stocks of fireweed in bloom. Seeing them, I decided to change my jelly strategy and go for the fireweed instead of the non plentiful berries. I'd taken my scissors to trim the fireweed to place in bags to take home where I picked the petals off. I stuffed two grocery bags full of fireweed stems and headed home to petal pull. From the two bags of stalks I'd cut, I pulled off 2 quarts of flowers. Since most of the recipes I've found for fireweed jelly call for 8 cups of petals, I got exactly the right amount.
I've never made fireweed jelly, honey or ice cream, but I've tasted all three. Most of the fireweed jelly recipes I found were exactly the same. Here are the jelly, honey and ice cream recipes I am going to try:
8 Cups fireweed blossoms
Boil hard for 1 minute. Pour into hot clean jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Put in clean canning jars and water bath process for 10 min.
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 1/2 Cups fireweed petals only, no stems, no stamen
2 large eggs
3/4 Cup fine sugar
2 tsp. honey
1 cup milk
Put the cream, milk, and petals in a saucepan and bring to just below the boil***. Remove from heat, cover and leave to infuse for 25 minutes until cool. Whisk egg yolks in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Whisk the sugar and honey a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended. Strain the rose-infused milk into the egg mixture and return to the sauce pan or a double-broiler. Cook very gently until slightly thickened, but do not let it boil. Chill this mixture (custard now) and then freeze or process in an ice cream maker. Store in the freezer.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
I had a friend pick berries up Arctic Valley this past weekend and she let me know that in one hour, they picked enough crowberries to make 4 batches of jelly. That's 48 jelly jars full, folks. I'm berry, berry jealous!
I'm heading up Arctic Valley myself tonight to hike Rendevous Peak and scope out the berry crop. The berries I'm most likely to find are bog blueberries, or bilberries. Bog blueberries are closely related to both the blueberry and the huckleberry. Bog blueberries grow on small branched shrubs, with wiry angular branches, that are very rarely over a foot high. They can be distinguised easily from Alaska blueberries by the height of the bush they grow on and the location where they grow. Alaska blueberries grow on taller shrubs near water or near the treeline in partial shade, the bog blueberry on the shorter shrub above the treeline in full sun. The fruit of the bog blueberry is also different from the Alaska blueberry in that it produces single or pairs of berries on the bush instead of clusters like the Alaska blueberry. Another way to distinguish them is that while Alaska blueberry fruit meat is light green, the bog blueberry fruit meat is red or purple. The most commonly cultivated is the bog blueberry, but I've found Alaska blueberry bushes near treelines as I've hiked up to clear treeless areas where the bog blueberries are. Both types of blueberries taste the best a few days after they turn a complete dusty blue and can be removed off of the plant easily. The berries should be firm, and the skins undamaged. Wash them just before using. To freeze, lay them out on a cookie sheet or in a pie pan/cake pan in a single layer and freeze, then place in freezer containers. When they are frozen this way, they keep their shape and are less likely to get mushy and bleed. You can also use them in muffins by tossing them in the batter still frozen and they won't bleed that way or get mush when cooked.
Highbush and lowbush cranberries (lingonberries), bog cranberries and crowberries are best picked after the first frost. These berries can still be found on the plants even after the first snowfalls and into winter. Highbush cranberries should be put through a food mill before using in jams, as they have a large pit in the middle. Highbush cranberries aren't actually a cranberry at all, but are members of the honeysuckle family. That fact doesn't make them any less tasty though! Lowbush cranberries (lingonberries) are not true cranberries, and are actually related to both the blueberry and the cranberry. They taste very similar to true cranberries, however, much like the highbush cranberries. They can be found on small evergreen shrubs in the same locations as bog cranberries, bog blueberries and crowberries. Bog Cranberries, or true cranberries, can be found among the bog blueberries and the crowberries on trailing plants, sometimes the berries can be found just above moss. The vines look so fragile it's strange to see such heavy berries on them. Crowberries can be found on small "pine looking" plants above the treeline in tundra sections. Crowberries can be "force frosted" by picking them when they are the desired deep purple/black color and placed into the freezer. This has the same effect as the first frost would.
Currants are ripe when they become a beautiful red and can be removed from the plant easily. When you hold them up and look at them in the light, they are almost translucent, and the seeds can easily be seen.
Raspberries are ripe when they are the recognizable dark red color and are easily removed from the plant with the center "core" staying behind so that the berry itself is hollow after you remove it from the plant.
As I've said before, make sure you know what you are picking. There are poisonous berries in Alaska that include baneberries. Never eat any berries that are white, also. I don't claim to be the berry expert. I've done a lot of research and own a lot of books. If you don't know what you are picking, don't eat it. I certainly don't. Once you do pick berries though and have enough to make something with, there are plenty of recipes online, and the books I've mentioned in my other postings have wonderful recipes in them also.
Make sure you remain bear aware when picking berries. Just as people enjoy berries, so do the bears, and we pick berries where they live. When I was picking currants last weekend, I had my boy be my bear watch. He didn't do such a hot job, as he pulled his jacket up and over his face and head to escape the mosquitos. I had found a large pile of bear scat and remained very aware that I was not alone where I was. Just as we were leaving, a couple passed us with their dogs and told us that they'd just seen a brown bear about 100 yards down the trail. That was our signal to leave the area.
I really do enjoy learning about all the plants, animals and berries in Alaska. Call me a nerd, but it makes me feel like I'm a part of everything around me when I look around me and know the names of the things I see. It's like knowing the names of old friends.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Berries ripen at different times and are best picked when they are ripe. This past weekend, I found many berries of different types. Alaska Trekker has a great guide that describes when to pick berries and a few different types found in Alaska. If you haven't already gotten it, I'd also recommend the book Alaska’s Wild Berries and Berry Like Fruits to correctly identify what it is that you are picking. Not every berry in Alaska is edible, and those that are edible aren't always very tasty. When I went berry picking last, I not only found watermelon berries, raspberries, highbush cranberries, lowbush cranberries, blueberries, soap berries (not edible), and currants, but I found both colors of bane berries. Bane berries are very poisonous, and ingesting just a few can kill. Through researching other online blogs, state online sites, hiking sites, recipe sites and information concerning different "berry" topics, here's a list of locations that I'm planning to check out. Maybe I'll see you at 1 or 20 of them:
* Eklutna Lake Trails: Take the Glenn Highway to the Eklutna exit and follow the Eklutna Lake Road for 10 miles to the Chugach State Park campground. There is a fee for parking, unless you have a pass. There are several trail from the parking lot, and there is quite a hike to get to the Alpine area for blueberries, but highbush cranberries can be found in the woods. The hike starts in the parking lot and is 5 miles on foot or by mountain bike. Check specific day restrictions if you are going to be taking an ATV on the path, they aren't allowed every day. From the parking lot, cross the Twin Peaks Creek bridge and take a right onto the Lakeside Trail. This trail is rated as easy. It's a 13 mile trail. Bold Ridge Overlook Trail starts at mile 5 of the Lakeside Trail. This 3.5 mile trail (plus the 5 miles it takes to get to this trail, remember) is rated moderate to difficult. It's a hike of a mile and a half to the basin where the berries are. Twin Peaks Trail begins at the parking lot, crosses the Twin Peaks Creek bridge and continues to the alpine tundra. This trail is rated moderate to difficult also because of the steepness in some places. The trail is 3.5 miles. There are highbush & lowbush cranberries, currants, raspberries and watermelon berries along the lower trails, and blueberries, bearberries, crowberries and cranberries at the higher trails and the basin.
* Wolverine Peak Trail: Rated moderately strenuous. Drive about 6.5 miles south of Anchorage along the new Seward Highway and exit east on O'Malley Road. Go about 4 miles to a sharp left curve, and follow the curve to the immediate right. Turn onto Upper O'Malley Road. At the "T" intersection, turn left onto Prospect Drive. Another mile up, bear left where Prospect Drive intersects Sidorof Lane and continue .1 miles to the Prospect Heights parking area. From the Prospect Heights trailhead, mile 2 near Point Trail.
* Flattop Mountain Trail: just above the Flattop trail parking lot on the mountainside above Glen Alps on the Anchorage Hillside. Go back along the Powerline Pass Trail into the South Fork of Campbell Creek.
* Rendezvous Peak Trail: short, easy trail at the end of the Arctic Valley Road next to the Alpenglow Ski Area. Take the Glenn Highway towards Eagle River to the Arctic Valley exit and follow the road about seven miles to the parking lot. There is a fee for parking. This place may be crowded, but there are blueberries, mossberries, crowberries and cranberries enough for everyone.
* Peters Creek Trail: Take the Peters Creek exit off the Glenn Highway and turn right onto Ski Road. Go up about a mile, and go right on Whaley. It turns into Chugach Park Road. Go left on Kullberg, and then right onto Malcolm Drive. Parking is a quarter mile ahead, parking is limited. Use the cleared parking spaces along the right of the road near the trail marker. The trail leads to the slopes of the Mount Eklutna and Bear Mountain above Peters Creek. You have to hike in several miles from the trail head to get to the alpine berry patches.
* Mount Baldy Trail (up the backside, not the face) in Eagle River. Take the Hiland Drive exit. Pass through the light at Hiland, go up the hill. Pass through the light at the Walmart. On your right up about a 1/2 a mile will be Skyline Drive. Take Skyline Drive all the way to the end. The road changes names several times. At the end of the road is parking on the left. The trailhead actually goes through the gated section at the end of the parking lot and up around to your right. The face section is straight up from the parking lot, avoid that section.
* South Fork Eagle River Valley Trail: Drive up the Glenn Highway towards Eagle River. Take the Eagle River Loop/Hiland Drive exit. At the light, turn right onto Hiland Drive. Take the road up and over the South Fork of Eagle River. Just after the South Fork Bridge, take a right onto South Creek and follow it to West River Drive. Take a right and park on the left in the lot. No parking fee. You will have to hike a while to get out of the trees and into the alpine for low bush blueberries. Take either the Hanging Valley Trail or the South Fork Trail.
* Lazy Mountain Trail: This is a steep trail. Take the Glenn Highway north to Palmer. Follow West Arctic Avenue (the Old Glenn Highway) through town and across the Matanuska River Bridge to Clark-Wolverine Road. Turn east and go less than a mile to Huntley Road. Turn right on Huntley and follow the signs to the Lazy Mountain Recreation Area. Take the narrow footpath, NOT Morgan Horse Trail (which will be obvious because it's a wide trail), on the uphill side of the far end of the lot. Bear right, keep bearing right at the fork in the path a half-mile up the trail. The trail climbs for about a mile and a half, but at an elevation of 2500 feet, there's a picnic table and the trail moderates. This is where the berries are.
There are a few other Wild Berry Picking Spots I plan to check out that others have told me about, such as a few off of Abbot Road on the hillside, the Eagle River Nature Center trails, the rest stops along the New Seward Highway, a few camping sights along the New Seward Highway close to Seward, Hatcher Pass near Palmer, and a few near the Kennicott Mine in McCarthy when I head up there next weekend. Now, all I need to do is figure out exactly what I'm going to do with all the berries I get!