Over the weekend we not only had a great showing of the Northern Lights, we also indulged in all kinds of yummy food. And we stumbled on one of our new favorites: cod fritters. This recipe came from Alaska Dispatch, an online newspaper that is dedicated to everything Alaskan. It is cod fishing season in Alaska, so the recipe is especially timely, and tasty!
What I like best about the fritters is the crispy outside that breaks into the almost creamy inside. It is an explosion of taste with interesting texture. And I happen to be a person that finds texture very important. Hence the reason I want nothing to do with bananas. But that is whole other story. The point here is: these little babies are awesome. They are deep fried (sigh) so not something we will make often, but they are a great treat, and well worth the effort to make and clean up after.
What You Need:
3-4 red potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, minced
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 cup milk
1 pound boneless, skinless cod
Salt and pepper to taste
Several pinches of nutmeg
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, washed and minced or several shakes of dry parsley
1 cup flour
1 cup panko
Oil for deep fryer
Wash and quarter potatoes. Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until they are tender. Drain and place in a medium bowl.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep sauté pan. Add the garlic, green onions, and yellow onion. Sauté over low heat until the onion is soft and translucent. Add milk. Bring to a low simmer. Cut the fish into pan-sized pieces and add to the milk mixture. Poach for 5-7 minutes.
After fish is poached, lift it (scoop some of the onions too) out of the milk mixture and add it in with the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, a few light shakes of nutmeg, lemon juice, and parsley. Lightly mix so batter is a little chunky. Add one egg and lightly mix again. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Then, using three small bowls, create an assembly line. One bowl with flour. The second with a lightly beaten egg. And the third with panko.
Shape cooled fish batter into 1-once round balls. Dip the ball into the flour, then the egg, and finally the panko. Repeat. Makes about 14.
Test one fish ball in the oil. It should take about 2-3 minutes to turn a light golden brown. Repeat.
The last two nights we have seen the most spectacular showing of the Northern Lights. One word: amazing.
We have seen the lights several times before, but this was full-sky, hot-green, no-words cool. There is a huge open basin about five minutes from our new apartment, and it is the new go-to place for us to watch the sky. We park in a small turn off and then follow snow machine tracks out into the sparse black spruce woods. Even though we are only a few minutes from the road, it feels like we are watching the lights alone. Us and the lights. I can’t say cool enough times. So, so cool.
Important update from North Pole, Alaska. It’s warm! Okay, not warm like we live in Florida warm, but it has been above zero for the last week. Above zero!! This weekend, it was actually warmer here than it was in Chicago. Talk about crazy.
It seems sort of like spring, and everyone is wondering when, inevitably, it will get cold again. But I’m saying, fingers crossed, the coldest cold is behind us. Honestly, I think the real reason for the break in weather is because we moved, and now, miracle upon miracle, we have a heated garage. Go figure.
A little over a week ago, we moved into a new a apartment about ten minutes from town. It is tucked back in the woods down a snowy little road pocketed with moose footprints. It isn’t exactly wild, but we are feeling a little more Alaskan. The place is quirky. As is our landlord, the former resident of our new home. He didn’t exactly have all his things moved out when we showed up to move in, so we spent a lot of time cleaning and helping him pack up. A strange and dusty experience. But to the point. Here is what our move was like in a nut shell.
Picture this: Lucas and I have been cleaning for at least two hours. I have dust and muck under my fingernails so thick it looks like thin, black half-moons. I have uncovered a whole cabinet of women’s clothing in the laundry room from our landlord’s old girlfriend (they broke up five years ago), which I promptly tossed into trash bags, his chosen suitcases. It was that kind of morning. It’s time to tackle the kitchen. I open the first small drawer at the corner of the kitchen counter. Inside, I find tiny bottles of whiskey and bullets. Whiskey and bullets. Yep.
Lucas is mad I didn’t take a picture. I should have. The caption could read: welcome to your new home…cheers…bang!
Alaska has been full of surprises. But really, we are settling in, and I think our new places is going to work out nicely. Now if we can just remember what drawer I put the napkins in, I think we will be okay. Moving every five months certainly keeps you on your toes.
Last weekend, after viewing the start of the Yukon Quest (the mushers are half way- Dawson City!), we set off on another adventure: Stiles Creek Cabin. The cabin is located in the hills of the upper Chena River Valley, about 35 miles outside Fairbanks. Tucked on the side of a snowy, black spruce covered hill, the cabin looks out over the valley offering sweeping views, that are especially dramatic at sunset and sunrise. It was our prefect winter weekend cabin getaway.
I should explain perfect. It was perfect for us. The cabin is primitive: wood stove you start yourself upon arrival, plywood sleeping platform and loft, wooden picnic table, and outhouse. It is shelter, not luxury. But I loved the rustic, sparse, outdoor feeling it provided. And it was way warmer than a tent!
Getting to, and back from, the cabin was one of the best parts. And within our group, we certainly covered a wide range of winter transportation methods. I snowshoed with a friend, Lucas and another friend drove the snowmachines (and hauled our gear!), and our final group member skijored. What is skijoring you might be thinking? Skijoring is cross country skiing with sled dogs attached to you by a harness. Think dog sledding without the sled and add cross country skis. Super cool. And now, of course, I can’t wait to try it.
The trail to the cabin was about eight miles long and offered good views and steep inclines. We definitely got our workout while snowshoeing! We also cheated a little bit and got a lift on the snowmachines for the last two miles since it was getting dark. Nothing like snuggling up behind my husband on the snowmachine as the sun is going down 🙂 And bonus, when we got back to the cabin they already had the fire going and our gear unloaded. I’m a lucky girl.
But what I always love most about being outside in the winter, especially here in Alaska, is the quiet, white world that seems to make everyday life seem so far away. We were like a little expedition party setting off into the woods for the weekend. No cell phone or computers or things to think about. Just winter and us.
Okay, as promised, here is a look at the Yukon Quest, a 1,000 mile dog sled race that starts in Fairbanks, Alaska and ends in Whitehorse, Yukon. The race, which started in 1984, usually takes 10-16 days. It ends when the last musher crosses the finish line. I like a good adventure (maybe that is how we ended up in Alaska!), but I can’t even begin to imagine spending that many days outside running a dog team. Talk about cold. I have so much respect for the men and women that can not only survive, but compete, in that kind of landscape.
So on Saturday, we headed into town to watch the teams begin their journey towards Whitehorse. It was warmer, around -15, and we parked and walked down to the river, the official start for the Yukon Quest.
The dogs were excited, ready to run, and the mushers looked just as happy to get on the road.We took a ton of pictures, of course. Enjoy.
P.S. One more fun fact to share. The race is big news here. Every morning I get to hear how the teams are doing on the radio, and the paper offers the equivalent of a play-by-play. Love it!
Winter in Alaska is an experience, and I have to say, there are days I love it, and then on other days, not so much. Sometimes, you can’t help but think, dang, it really is cold and dark, with emphasis on cold. But today was not one of those days. Today was a perfect. Light, fluffy flakes of snow drifting out of the sky like glitter and smiling, happy sled dogs.
I have been working/volunteering at the dog mushing kennel for almost a month now, crazy. And I am settling into the groove. I love that the dogs, particularly my team, know me. When I walk up in the morning they go nuts: barking, jumping, running in circles. It makes me feel a little like a celebrity, until I remember they put on the same show for food, having the snow cleaned off the top of their house, and really, just about anything that peaks their interest.
But my lead dogs, Nugget and M&M, continue to watch me as I move around the yard. They are vigilant. It is their way of saying, I want to run, today, right now, in case you didn’t already know that. And Batman, the newest addition to my team, gets so excited he jumps straight into the air when I start pulling out my little, green sled. He’s a pain, but he is so cute and enthusiastic, that I don’t even get mad when he won’t sit still while I try and put on his harness. (He once gave someone a black eye when they were trying to put on his harness, because he was jumping around so much.) And the puppies … the puppies start drooling when they see me, because they know two lucky winners will get to go for a walk that day. A puppy romp in the snow.
Maybe it’s weird, but I have started talking about the dogs like I used to talk about the kids in the after school programs that I ran in Pittsburgh, PA. Loveable little personalities. Lucas laughs and smiles and laughs again when I come home from a day with the dogs and tell him that Batman was so eager to pull that he, literally, ran over M&M during our start out of the lot. It was a tangle of ropes and dog legs. Or that now all of the puppies have figured out how to pop out the bowl on the top of their houses, making room for their heads. They are following Tanana’s lead, our little puppy ring leader. With the bowl gone, their heads stick out of the little wooden houses like a submarine scope. It is beyond cute.
I know I shouldn’t say this, but Tanana is my favorite. I should love them all equally, but I don’t. That little girl has got me hooked. See the picture below, how can you not love that face?
Beyond my dog-obsessed love, I also continue to learn new, practical, things. On Wednesday, I learned how to make (out of nylon rope) gang lines and neck lines that connect the dogs to the sleds. I have learned how to extend and shorten the main line on the sled, allowing me to add or take away the number of dogs on my team. And then the basics: I am faster at chores and I know where things are and what needs to be done. It is a good feeling. It feels like I fit.
What I am most excited about, (with the addition of Batman) I now drive a five dog team. I take to the trails by myself, for the most part not getting lost. And as wild and chaotic as the dog lot can be, as soon as we are on the trail it is like a whole new world has just opened up. A quite world of white.
When we are running, the dogs are silent and focused. Little engines. Driving a sled I sometimes feel like I’m in a dream. The world slowly, smoothly, drifting around me. The only reminder of the real world, crisp air on my cheeks. It is the same kind of feeling I get when I am running (when I am in shape and not huffing for air). Or after hiking up a mountain and looking out at the view. The moments when you stop thinking about laundry or shopping lists or what you need to do in five minutes or five hours. I wish I could make my brain quite like this more often. And being pulled on a sled by a team of loveable dogs is certainly an enjoyable way to make the world around me feel so peaceful.
Happy Friday, and I hope your day was as good as mine!
Oh, PS. Tomorrow is the Yukon Quest. A 1,000 mile dog sled race that starts in Fairbanks, Alaska and finishes in Whitehorse, Yukon. Mushers around here say it is often tougher than the Iditarod, because it is run through more rugged terrain and during a colder month. Regardless, I think both are pretty hardcore! You can check out the website here. Hopefully, I will have some pictures to post next week from the race start. I feel a little like a dog sledding cheerleader, but it is pretty awesome, so why not?