Tag Archives: Alaska diet

8 Early Greens You Will Never Have to Plant Again

IMG_9458After a long, cold winter of eating from the cold storage and the freezer, nothing tastes better than a fresh salad.  Greens are my tonic, giving me energy and vitality.  I eat salads lunch and dinner and throw greens into quesadillas, soups, eggs, and more.

I always plant an early crop of hearty greens. The beauty is that these greens can withstand freezing so you do not need to wait until the danger of frost has passed.  This year due to the lack of snow I planted some greens on the south side of the house in March.  The ground was still frozen underneath, but the hearty greens and the lettuce still came up.  I also planted some greens in flats in the greenhouse which came up a little faster and were ready to eat sooner.

The busier my life gets, the more I appreciate plants that I don’t have to sow.  I have several varieties of perennial greens as well as some self-seeding annuals.  These are brilliant because they come up whenever they are ready.  You don’t have to stress about planting them at the right time, or at all. They just take care of themselves.  You probably already have some of these in your garden, and right now is the perfect time to plant the ones you don’t have.

IMG_25761. Orach: Red, purple or green, orach is a relative of spinach and self-seeds readily in the garden.   It has a very mild flavor and can be eaten fresh or cooked.  The purple variety looks awesome in salads, and the green variety can be used as a straight-up substitute for spinach.  I have a patch of both.

2. Lamb’s-quarters: A relative of orach, you most likely already have this green in your garden. Also known as goosefoot or fat hen, this green has been eaten since the time of hunter-gatherers.  Although often discarded to the compost, it is high in phytonutrients, fights viruses and bacteria, and has been shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer.

2. Sorrel: Sorrel is a perennial that has a lemony flavor and can be used to add pizzaz to salads or cooked.  It also self-seeds in the garden which can be useful since it does experience occasional die-back.  Because it is perennial and has a lot of energy in the root, it is often one of the first greens to emerge in the spring.

IMG_94464. Dandelion: Another perennial you almost surely already have, dandelion greens are at their best in the spring before they flower. Compared to spinach, dandelion greens have eight times more antioxidants, two times more calcium, three times more vitamin A, and five more times vitamin K and vitamin E. Iceberg lettuce has 1/40th the bionutrients as dandelions(Jo Robinson, Eating on the Wild Side).  If you don’t like how bitter dandelion is (this is actually a sign of the phytonutrients) you can temper it with fat (avocado or olive oil) or honey.

5. Arugula: Another self-seeder, arugula is notoriously difficult to grow during Alaska summers because our long daylight hours encourage it to bolt.  But you can get a few cuttings of it in the early spring.  Arugula has a delicious peppery flavor and is full of glucosinates, cancer fighting compounds.

IMG_26086. Good King Henry: Another spinach relative, GKH is a perennial and self-seeder that is a great multi-purpose plant.  The shoots can be eaten as asparagus, the buds like broccoli, and the seeds like quinoa.

IMG_25727. Asparagus: While not exactly a “green,” asparagus is a tasty perennial spring vegetable!  Asparagus is on the edge of its zone here in Anchorage so put it in your warmest spot.  We ate our first asparagus this year and it was well worth the 5 year wait!

8. Chives:  Another delicious perennial, chives are up early in the spring and pep up salads, dips, eggs, soups, salmon and more.  We threw some on the grill the other night and they were excellent.

We ate our first salad this year on May 3rd.  With fresh garden greens every salad is different.  I never get tired of enjoying the healthy and flavorful bounty from the garden.  Plant now to enjoy your bounty this year and extra early next year!

Winter Food Stores, 2014

Chard

Chard

One of our goals with our garden is to provide as much of our food year-round as possible.  During the Alaska Food Challenge in 2011-2, we had no idea how much food to put away.  I put away way too much kale and shredded zucchini.  We now have a better idea of how much food to put away, although each year the exact composition depends on what did well in the garden that year.  Last year we had a ridiculous overabundance of winter squash (I still have some under the bed), and this year we only got 8.  This year we did really well with tomatoes and tomatillos while the potatoes and peas, two reliable producers, struggled.

This year we froze about 48 pounds of vegetables and 13 gallons of berries.  Most vegetables are frozen in 1/2 pound packages which I have found to be a good portion for us and the recipes we use.  The major player here are: romanesco (6#), broccoli (8#), beans (3.5#), kale (5.5#), zucchini (6#), celery (8#), leeks (6#).  Berries are frozen whole on sheet pans and then put in gallon ziplocks.

Parsnips

Parsnips

In our root cellar we have approximately 7 gallons of carrots, 8 gallons of potatoes, 3 gallons of beets, 3 gallons Jerusalem artichokes, 4 gallons parsnips, and 4 gallons of apples. We have 4 cases of sauerkraut, 3 cases of fermented tomatillo salsa, as well as a few jars of pickles. We canned 3 cases of tomatoes and 2 cases of applesauce.

In the house we have 8 winter squash, two gallon ziplocks with dried herbs, and herbs frozen into ice cubes.  We also have 2 gallons of honey from our bees and a (somewhat) steady supply of eggs. All this is from our 9,000 square foot city lot.

Additionally, we put away about 100 pounds of pork products, almost 100 pounds of salmon and salmon products (sausage and smoked), and 70 pounds of caribou.  We canned two cases of crabapple sauce from our neighbor’s tree.  We dried a quart of bolete mushrooms.  And we picked 2 gallons of blueberries.

Every year we get better at getting ready for winter.  I’ve learned to put things away throughout the summer instead of all at the end.  I’m faster at blanching and I have my systems for packaging salmon and caribou down.  It isn’t this big, exhausting unknown thing anymore.  It has become a part of our routine, what we do in our daily lives.  And I have to say, it is a really rewarding way to live!

tomatoes

tomatoes

Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Everyone kept asking, ” What are you going to do with all that kale?”  I didn’t mean to plant so much… some of it was left from my spring greens mix and everything else had bolted except the kale.  And some of that kale wasn’t really kale, it was sprouting broccoli or broccoli rabe that never sprouted.  So I’m left with eating the leaves which is kind of like kale.  And then there was the extra 2 kale plants I stuck in the corner because I had extras.  Oh, and the black or dinosaur kale I planted under the apple tree.  It is excellent in salads but the leaves are so skinny that there is not much leaf on there and they are more work for freezing.

I have already brought 2 large loads of kale over to the MIssion soup kitchen, but the main patch was still left.  I had a couple friends help me harvest it on Monday and we had a huge bucket full in less than 5 minutes.  I sent them home with some, but the bucket was still overflowing.

IMG_1818Tuesday I got all set up to freeze it.  I have my system down.  I get the water steaming on the stove while I strip the leaves off the stem and throw them in the wash water in the left sink.  As the first batch is steaming I fill the right sink with ice water and get out a large towel for drying.  Three minutes for each batch in the steamer, them I throw it in the ice water, fish it out, and squeeze it dry.  It gets packed into ziplocks in 1/2 pound packages and labeled and into the freezer.

After about 10 batches I had barely put a dent in the bucket.   I started having flashbacks from our Alaska Food Challenge year.  I froze WAY too much kale and we got a little sick of it.  Matt has been a little anti frozen kale since then.  There was no way we were going to use all of this kale this winter.  Besides, I already had beet greens and chard put away.  I texted my friend, “Help!  Too much kale!  Save me!”

Kale and Celery Salad with apples and green onion

  • 1 large bunch dinosaur kale, stemmed and cut into thin strips
  • 4 stalks celery, with tender leaves, chopped
  • 1 tart apple, sliced thin
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine kale with vinegar and salt and mix very well.  Let sit 20 minutes.  Add olive oil and toss again, then add the rest of the ingredients.

 

Butchering

IMG_1642As I stared at the caribou leg in front of me and tried to figure out how to get the meat off the bone, I suddenly remembered how I would hide in my room when my dad and brothers came home with their catch.  It seemed kind of gross and I just wasn’t interested.

Now I am fascinated by how the muscles wrap around the bone, layer upon layer.  It is a puzzle to unwrap it and remove the tough tendons and gauzy connective tissue.  It is a lot of work for a few hamburgers-worth of meat.  I can see why some hunters might leave this behind, but our ethics will not let us waste anything useable.

My dad grew up in Palmer and hunting was a huge part of his life.  He has many epic tales that occasionally come out when you can get him to talk.  My grandparents were not farmers so they relied on wild game as a big part of their diet.  For us it was the same.  There were four of us kids and my mother didn’t work, so money was tight. There was the occasional holiday ham, but other than that it was mostly caribou or moose.  Sometimes there was hares or dall sheep, and one time we got some black bear from a family friend.  We were thankful for what we had because some years we didn’t get anything.

Occasionally my mom would drag me downstairs to help grind the burger.  After getting over the gross-factor, I enjoyed working together with my family to get the job done.  Everyone was in a good mood and there was a comradery in the kitchen that didn’t exist at other times. Our normal sibling bickering temporarily ceased and for a while there was just good-natured teasing.

When I went away to college my mom warned me not to become a vegetarian.  She was concerned the liberal school I had chosen would corrupt me.  My first semester I took an ethics class where we discussed animal rights and I learned about the cruelty of slaughter houses.  I stopped eating factory farmed meat but would still eat wild game when I went home.  This seemed to be semi-acceptable to my mom as she didn’t have to make too many concessions with her cooking.  But while I was away from Alaska I didn’t have access to wild game and ate vegetarian.

Four years ago, Matt went on his first Alaskan hunt and brought home a spring black bear.  We awkwardly butchered it and put it in the freezer. Although black bear is not known for being good-tasting, we thought it was wonderful and were hooked on having our own meat.

When Matt got a caribou the following fall we had my parents help us butcher so we could learn from them.  Over 60 years of butchering knowledge passed on to us.  We learned the names of all the cuts and which ones made the best stew.  We learned how to package it safely and effectively.

IMG_1658Today Matt and I are working efficiently together.  My mom is watching the kids and it is eerily quiet in the house.  We have developed our own, slightly different practices that suit our cooking styles.  Matt breaks down the large muscles while I work on the smaller stuff and package everything for the freezer.  We will grind the meat when we use it.  Later we will make stock from all of the bones for use in soups, stews and sauces.

Having a freezer full of meat now seems like such an important part of our lives that I have a hard time believing I ate vegetarian for so many years.  My eating habits have come full circle now, returning to a simple place-based diet similar to what I grew up with.

Ye Old Grain Mill

June 21st, the start of our Alaska Food challenge, is a long way off, but somehow the nightly conversation always comes back to it.  “So… what are we going to do about ….x?” After all, eating is a big part of our lives.  A major piece of the puzzle is grain.  Alaska isn’t exactly known for its grain industry, and I don’t know of any local flour mills.  Can we live without the flour products we have all become so accustomed to in our culture?  What to do without pizza, bread, tortillas, cake, and cookies?

So far we’ve learned that hull-less barley is available.  One member of the food challenge group bought a 50 lb sack from a farmer in Delta Junction and shared some with us. But what to do with it?  How much barley soup can we eat?  We heard that some farmers might also grow wheat.  It is more risky than barley, as it doesn’t always mature in our short summers.  And once we get it, we have to figure out how to grind it into flour.

So, Matt and I decided we needed a grain mill.  We thought carefully about this, as we are opposed to kitchen gadgets, but it became apparent to us that this was a tool that would be extremely useful for our eat-local year, as well as for many years to come.  Purchasing whole grains and milling them into fresh flour is not only cheaper, but also much more nutritious.

We bought a Country Living Mill, which is a hand-crank cast steel mill with no aluminum in the plates.  They assemble and test each mill in the factory, so it came with a flour sample of wheat ground in our mill.  It should last at least 100 years, so hopefully our great-grandchildren will enjoy milling flour!

Neither Matt or I had ground flour before, much less used barley four in our cooking, and we were anxious to try.  Our first experiment was to make barley pasta.  A cup of flour, pinch of salt, a couple of eggs and a touch of oil.  It seemed grainy when I mixed it together, but I let it rest, and when I rolled it out, I got long, thin, brown speckled linguini.  I made a sauce with lentils and root vegetables, which seemed like a perfect winter meal, and it was.  Rich, but not too heavy, the barley pasta added a light, nutty flavor, and complimented the earthy vegetables perfectly.

We also tried making a blueberry coffee cake (great!) and pizza dough (not so great.)  It seems that barley can actually replace a good portion of the wheat flour we are accustomed to using, but not all.  With some wheat flour, we can make just about anything using all-Alaskan grains.

Luckily, James, who lives downstairs, found a farmer in Delta who is growing wheat and many other experimental things you aren’t supposed to be able to grow in Alaska.  This is just the kind of guy we like to make friends with!  We have to buy it by the ton, so James made a spreadsheet to see how much wheat or other grains people would be interested in purchasing this year.  In just a few days, 25 people signed up, wanting to buy 2300 lbs of wheat, and over 4000 lbs of other grains!!  Talk about demand!!

It seems like the Alaska Food Challenge is already fulfilling its intended purpose of creating demand for local products and connecting producers and consumers, even before it begins!

 

Winter Comfort Food

I step into the arctic entry of the Williams Street Farmhouse, where we are keeping our tubs of garden harvest.  I check the thermometer on the wall… 40 degrees…perfect.  I grab a couple plump potatoes, brush some sand of of some beets, a handful of carrots, and a parsnip or two.  I scrub them in a bowl of cool water, my hands numbing.  Oven on to 400, chop, chop, the  chunks pile up in the bowl.  I toss them with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of dried thyme from the garden.  I spread them on a cookie sheet, the red, orange, and white pieces forming a beautiful mosaic.

I am making one of my favorite winter meals.  One that feeds my soul and keeps me going through the dark, cold winter.  Salmon, sauerkraut, and roasted root vegetables.  Simple and delicious.  Sweet and earthy, the root vegetables are grounding.  Tangy and warming, the crisp sauerkraut carries the reminder of summer’s sun.  Tender and moist, the red salmon carries me protein from the riches of the sea.

As I work I am struck by overwhelming gratitude for my little garden and the surrounding nature that feeds me throughout the year.  Here we are in the dead of winter, tucked into our cozy warm house, and eating like royalty. We don’t need to go to the grocery store, worry about the pesticides in our food, or rely on cheap oil to grow it and get it to us.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone could grow at least some of their own food?  It is possible.  In New York City during World War II, residents grew 25% of their food on rooftops.  Imagine what could be grown in suburban America?  And what about the rest of the world?  If we can help people garden with nature on small intensive plots with trees and diverse crops, we can alleviate world hunger and reverse the effects of climate chaos.

Matt and I decided to spend a significant portion of our holiday budget on gifts through Heifer International.  On this website you can buy a hive of bees, a trio of rabbits, a goat, or other animals that Heifer International will donate to a needy family with the necessary training. The animals provide food, income, and fertilizer for their gardens, helping them to become more self-sufficient and food secure.  Each gift multiplies because every family agrees to pass on one or more of their animal’s offspring and knowledge to another family in need.

I finish out our meal by popping open a jar of sauerkraut from the pantry and pouring it into a pan on the stove to simmer.  Then I cut open the food saver bag and gently take out the salmon filet.  I pat it dry with a paper towel, brush it with oil from a warming frying pan, dust it with salt and pepper, and put it in the pan.  I flip it over after a few minutes, and call Matt out of the office for dinner.  Bon Appetit! 

The Alaska Diet

Ten friends gathered around the Thanksgiving table at the Williams Street Farmhouse on Thursday to share delicious food, hearty laughter, and stimulating conversation.  Matt and I don’t eat factory farmed meat, so we pulled the chickens out of the freezer that met their demise last spring in the jaws of Maya, Craig and Anna’s yellow lab.  Luckily, Maya didn’t eat too much, and there was plenty left for us.  Matt stuffed the yard birds with wild rice and I added sides of roasted beets and carrots, squash gratin, and celery salad.

Yard Birds, ready for the oven

As we each shared what we were thankful for at the beginning of the meal, I was overwhelmed by how special it is to share the bounty of our very own garden with our dear friends.  In fact, it has become a bit of a joke among our friends that everything we serve must have come from our garden.

“Oh, I bet you grew these olives too,” they exclaim in mockery. Or, “Where’s the lime tree?” Actually, it’s in the sunroom, but it hasn’t started to produce limes yet, give me a break!

And yet, Matt and I continue to be more aware of where the food we are eating is coming from, and trying to become more and more self-sufficient.  We are learning to cook with, and love things like turnips and kohlrabi.  We are getting more creative with our frozen zucchini and experimenting with lacto-fermented chard stems.  We make cheese and yogurt from the goat milk we get from the valley.  We’ve stopped depending on things like chips and salsa, canned tomatoes, and bananas.

All of this has me thinking about what a local diet would look like.  What if everything we ate came from Alaska?  I took a look in my pantry to check out the global offerings it contained.  Jars of beans and grains, cane sugar, chocolate, and dried fruit, mushrooms and seaweed.  We have local barley, honey, and I’ve been meaning to learn more about harvesting our own locally abundant mushrooms and seaweed.  Why do I rely on these shipped in from China, that may be contaminated, and certainly took a lot of energy to pack and ship?

I talked with some like-minded friends.  What if, as a group, we made a commitment to eat primarily Alaskan food for one year. We could share resources, recipes, and support.  We could prove to the naysayers that it can be done, not just by one person but by many.  We could split a local pig or elk, and could actually help create markets for things like locally grown barley for human consumption, which doesn’t really exist yet.  We could break our last dependencies on processed foods, and perhaps even other bad habits like coffee and cane sugar.

The more we talked about it, the more excited we became.  We would really be walking our talk and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.  We also decided we needed more time to prepare, find resources, recipes, and clear our pantries of their global fare. We will begin this spring, as the first greens are springing from the earth.

If you are also inspired to help find and follow the Alaska diet, we welcome you to join us.  Or, you can just follow this blog as we chronicle our adventures!