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Monday, January 31, 2011

Smoked Black Cod

How did I get so old before discovering smoked black cod? It has an exquisite buttery texture and a rich smokey taste that is sublime. At parties, guests race to consume everything but the skin. Even up against smoked salmon (which is almost a state dish), the black cod will win out. Most people love it at first bite. My husband is one of the few holdouts. Because cod (or sablefish) lives in very deep water, it is an oily fish. That reminds me that people have taken cod liver oil for decades for health: I wonder if eating smoked black cod daily could be considered a daily vitamin supplement? It does make me feel good to eat it...  There must be some kind of biological mechanism related to craving oil in cold weather. I know I do eat more of it in winter.

A close friend who introduced it to me makes a simple dish by mixing it with wild and brown rice. Despite its simplicity, or maybe because of it, this dish is delicious and a perfect "10" when it comes to satisfying.

A few weeks ago, I talked to a gentleman who has worked in the meat and fish industry for a long time here in Juneau. He said that 20 years ago, his company produced 300-400 lbs. a year of smoked black cod. That was the market for it then. Now, he said, they produce that much every month! For a town of 32,000.

It didn't take long for this smoked black cod to disappear. It turning cold so it's time for me to support my local smoked black cod industry again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We Have Plenty of Room in Alaska

Alaska is vast. But it is only at certain times that you realize it. With a total area of 591,004 square miles of land and water, and almost 700,000 residents, that works out to 1.1 person per square mile. Contrast that with the entire United States, where there are 79.6 people per square mile. That is something to ponder.  And ponder it I did last week when I flew on a small plane to Kake, a village about an hour south of Juneau. Here is what I saw during that hour.

What I didn't see was any sign of human habitation: no curls of woodsmoke rising upward, no roads, no boats bobbing on the whitecaps. That doesn't mean it is untouched wilderness. When we came closer to Kake at a lower elevation, I did see clearcuts and logging roads. It is true that the closer you get to the ground, the more you see where people have been. Erin McKittrick and her husband, Hig Higman, found that out when from June 2007 to June 2008, they traveled 4000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands solely by human power. See their story here. They found plenty of evidence that people had been there before them. Plastic lasts forever. 

But from the air, flying south from Juneau, you can see forever - until you get to Kake, a community of fewer than 500 residents on the northwest coast of Kupreanof Island. Most places in Alaska have no road access, and Kake is no exception. It is a tiny jewel. 

After more than 40 years in Alaska, I still am stunned by the beauty everywhere. I think most people are. But with all of this magnificent landscape, people here can still get complacent about taking care of it because there is just so darn much of it. We have to continue to remind ourselves that despite its size, it is precious and rare.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ski Tracks

When the weather turns cold enough to freeze the lakes around Juneau, classic skiers and skate skiers alike head for Mendenhall Lake. Blue icebergs from the Mendenhall Glacier that calved earlier in the year are frozen in the ice and the Nordic Club lays a beautiful track that loops around the huge lake. As long as you stay in the tracks, skiing is smooth and fast. Every person who uses the tracks packs it down a little more and it gets faster and faster. Your rhythm gets regular and strong and sometimes you feel as if you are flying on the tracks. Once you leave the tracks, however, the snow is uneven and you have to pay more attention and the glide isn't as long. On the other hand, when you wander away from the pack, it gets very quiet and you have the thrill of setting your own track. But when you step out of the track where others have gone before, you have to be vigilant about where you ski. Even though in most places the ice is very thick, every year someone miscalculates and breaks through into the icy water. It happened just the other night. He was lucky enough to get out and rescuers took him to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia. No matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, no matter how old we are, we will always have choices presented to us. And lessons to learn. This is particularly true in Alaska where nature is always the teacher.