EdWeek:On the Snowy Tundra, Alaska Students Bridge Differences and Eat Moose Snout

Alaska, Education, food, News, Online, Print, Uncategorized

This story was originally published in Education Week, as part of the 2019 Gregory M. Chronister Journalism Fellowship.

Outside of Alaska’s few urban pockets, a constellation of tiny communities, scattered across a rugged landscape, is home to more than half of the state’s residents. Alaska is among the nation’s most rural states—99 percent of its land mass is considered so. Resource extraction, transportation, food insecurity, and climate change have strained and complicated relationships between the state’s first inhabitants—members of 229 Alaska Native Villages—and non-Natives who, for the last three centuries, have come from all over the world to seek opportunity on one of the continent’s last frontiers.

Many familiar with that history see education as a powerful means for defusing tensions among the geographic and cultural groups. That’s what programs like Alaska’s Sister School Exchange aim to do, enlisting middle and high school students to build bridges, by offering them the chance to visit one another’s communities. Founded in 2001 by the Alaska Humanities Forum, the program was initially funded through Congress and a private foundation. Since 2007, the U.S. Department of Education Alaska Native Education program has fully funded the exchange. As of this year, more than 2,000 students have traveled to 88 communities across the state to participate in the free, weeklong exchanges.

Seven years ago, I was one of those students who left her comfortable, urban home in Anchorage to fly 300 miles to New Stuyahok to participate in the exchange. I was a shy high school junior and fourth-generation Alaskan with my own set of misconceptions about my rural neighbors.

The exchange gave me the chance to understand the challenges of life in rural Alaska—like the feeling of being completely isolated and the pressures of subsistence living in an ever-changing natural environment—while also showing me what it’s like to be part of a tight-knit, culturally rich community where I made friends for life.

This April, I made the trip again, this time with an Education Week photographer and four Anchorage students and their teacher to get a sense of the kinds of academic and cultural lessons the program might offer to communities across the country with different needs and lifestyles.

Prepping for the Adventure

The program begins each year long before the travel takes place. To participate, teachers must apply and then spend several months with their students, preparing for the visit. The exchange program provides a cross-cultural learning curriculum designed by educators, both Native and non-Native, where students study their own community and family histories as a step toward understanding their exchange-program peers. The curriculum becomes primarily experiential once the students and their teacher arrive at their sister schools in early spring when students shadow their peers from class to class.

Our two-hour trip this year covered more than 500 miles. Two planes and several snowmobiles were required to reach the destination: Scammon Bay—an isolated Native Village of 500 people, nestled on a mountain a mile or so from the Bering Sea Coast in the southwestern part of the state.

The East Anchorage High School students—Genavieve Beans, Starlyn Phillips, Jonathan Gates, and Nuulau Alaelua—and their math teacher, Ellen Piekarski, each had their own reasons for wanting to make the trip. Genavieve and Starlyn, who are both sophomores, are Alaska Native and wanted to see what life would’ve been like if they had grown up in a Native Village.

Jonathan, also a sophomore, was looking to escape the bustle of Anchorage and connect with his foster and adoptive brothers at home who are of Native heritage. Twelfth grader Nuulau, whose parents are from a rural part of the Independent State of Samoa, sought a way to connect to her own background.

“My parents, they came [to Alaska] and kind of really did struggle, and it’s like they had to fit into society. So I really didn’t learn much about my own culture,” she said. “This program gives me an opportunity to learn about my roots and other people’s roots, too.”

Their teacher, Piekarski, grew up in a military family before settling in Texas and eventually moving to Alaska. She wanted the opportunity not only to visit rural Alaska, but to see what teaching in a rural classroom would be like.

World of White

On the gravel strip that is Scammon Bay Airport, we climbed out of the nine-passenger airplane. Outside, everything was white, except a handful of colorful buildings and the navy-blue squiggle of the nearby Kun River. A thick, white fog hovered overhead, making it nearly impossible to tell where the snowy tundra dissolved into bleached sky. The whoosh of the wind and the buzz of the snowmobiles—the local mode of transportation—replaced the familiar sounds of Anchorage’s busy streets.

We were greeted by a handful of students from Scammon Bay School. The only school in the village, it serves about 200 K-12 students, all of whom are Alaska Natives. The temperature was about 20 degrees, and our student hosts wore their school sweatshirts, sweatpants, and sneakers—puffy weather gear and heavy boots covered us.

Jeremy Brink, a charismatic high school senior who plans to pursue a career in teaching, led the tour through his village. Despite his ease and connection with the community, Jeremy hasn’t lived in Scammon Bay long. He left his hometown of Bethel, a nearby hub, last year to seek a change of scenery and a deeper connection to his Yup’ik culture.

As we trudged through the snow, Jeremy took us inside the health clinic where he explained, to the surprise of the Anchorage students, how the village doesn’t have doctors or nurses. Health aides, whose only medical training is a 12-to-16-week program, are the community’s only source of health care. He explained how a storm last winter prevented planes from landing for a week, endangering patients in need of advanced medical attention—a stark contrast to Anchorage, where the big hospitals serve patients from across the state. Scammon Bay also has no police force. The community’s sole crime deterrents are village public safety officers—who receive 18 weeks of training and are hired by a consortium of tribal leaders from 56 Native Villages with oversight from Alaska State Troopers.

At the only general store, the students were shocked by high prices. They oohed and aahed at a small bottle of ranch dressing, no more than 12 ounces, which cost nearly $6. This, despite having learned about the high cost of rural living in their pre-visit prep—perhaps further proof that there is no substitute for first-hand experience. (In 2012, I felt the same shock when we spent $80 on ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on my exchange trip to New Stuyahok.)

Jeremy’s 45-minute tour ended in the center of the village, at the local stream or carvaq, as it is called in the locals’ native Yup’ik. He invited us to pack our water there, just as the community does. (For residents of the Lower 48, that means to haul water for home use.) That’s something none of us would dare try at Ship Creek, the stream that cuts through downtown Anchorage.

Jonathan stayed with Scammon Bay Principal Melissa Rivers and her family in district-owned housing adjacent to the school. The rest of us, including Genavieve and Starlyn, Nuulau, and Piekarski, occupied a district-owned apartment.

Hands-On Learning

In science teacher Mary Cox’s class, the students got a hands-on lesson from two visiting scientists—Lauren Bien and Chris Iannazzone from the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova, about 650 miles southeast of Scammon Bay. The scientists used an inflatable pool, several mystery liquids, some animal furs and feathers, and a handful of cleaning supplies to show the students how oil leaks from tankers and pipelines affect marine ecosystems. Then they let students experiment with potential clean up methods.

“Things that educate that aren’t really book or paper—we try to do as much hands-on as we have available or invite people in,” said Cox, an Arkansas transplant who’s been teaching at Scammon Bay for five years. She said she incorporates hands-on lessons herself by incubating salmon eggs in the classroom to teach about the life cycles of salmon.

Over the next few days, the Anchorage students engaged in other activities reflective of life in the bush. They learned to comb a musk ox pelt for wool or qiviut, skin an otter, and clean, inflate, dry, and cut seal intestines into sheets to sew together into a traditional Yup’ik raincoat. For the final task, students held opposite ends of a pale, slimy strip of seal gut, while blowing into it to inflate the pink, rubbery tube for drying.

At a potluck organized by principal Rivers and members of the community, the students sampled local foods like beluga, seal, herring eggs, smelt fish, and smoked salmon. Moose snout, a local delicacy, was prepared by the school’s chemistry teacher, Kristian Nattinger, who was in his last semester with the school after two years. Together, the students held up their oily, cream-colored, pieces of moose snout cartilage. In unison, they each bit a piece of the meat off the thin layer of hairy snout skin.

“It tasted like chicken,” Starlyn reported.

The locals’ deep knowledge of subsistence food-gathering practices impressed the Anchorage students.

“When you think about people in the bush you think, ‘Oh, they just hunt, they might not know much,’ but in reality, they know a lot more than we do, and they can do a lot more than we can,” Nuulau said. “It made me realize how I need to value things more.”

Macy Rivers, a softspoken 11th grader from Scammon Bay, appreciated the chance to share her life with her urban peers.

“It is important for them to see how we live out here because they could know who we are and how we live and just to see how we grow up and see how different it is living in a village than a city,” she said. “There are no cars, no highways. You know everyone.”

One-Way Exchange

The Anchorage and Scammon Bay students were already sharing Snapchat usernames and bonding over similar music tastes when they learned the rural students wouldn’t be visiting their homes in Anchorage this year. The reason: Conflicting activities prevented the Scammon Bay students from completing the required preparatory curriculum.

The news disappointed students from both communities. “They are frustrated now that they’ve met the students in the community. They’re like, ‘Can’t they just come?’” Piekarski said of her Anchorage students.

But she and other participating educators later said the curriculum is essential to a smooth experience for students, with its emphasis on first understanding one’s own culture, learning different communication styles and how to share cultural differences without offending, and developing an openness to new foods and experiences.

“I wasn’t worried about my students feeling comfortable in the community,” Piekarski said. “Now I see it helped them be prepared.”

“I would absolutely love it if every high school student could do these activities,” she said. “I think it would be an amazing way to improve relations with people from different communities.”

On her last day in the village, Genavieve said four days wasn’t enough. The Good Friday holiday cut their weeklong visit to four days. “I feel like I got cheated out of the experience.”

Nuulau said her time in Scammon Bay has motivated her to visit villages in her parents’ Samoan homeland.

“I learned to not judge and assume a lot of things because even I thought I knew everything before coming [to Scammon Bay],” she said. “When I heard about the trip, I thought, ‘Is it really worth coming here?’ Now, I wish we had more time because it’s just so great. I know why people are here and stay here.”

When I returned to my Anchorage high school in 2012 from my visit to New Stuyahok, I felt both more connected and knowledgeable about my home and neighbors, while also more aware that I had barely scratched the surface of what Alaska has to offer—which only propelled me to discover more of my state.

Leaving Old Perceptions Behind

And I shed some misconceptions about life in Alaska’s rural Native Villages. Like many of my peers, I had believed people in rural Alaska were to blame for the state’s high rate of drug and alcohol abuse and violent crimes. Alcohol-induced mortality rates are more than double in Alaska than for the United States as a whole, with 23 people per 100,000 citizens in Alaska compared to a nationwide average of 9.5, according to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control. For Alaska Natives, that rate is more than seven times the national average, with 81.7 people dying per 100,000 residents. What I didn’t understand then was that resources for health care, mental-health services, and addiction treatment are scarce beyond Alaska’s urban areas.

These mindset changes are not uncommon. Program statistics show that 90 percent of participants showed a change in perception following their travels, said Kari Lovett, the SSE coordinator.

For Piekarski, the added benefit was that she got to try her hand at substitute teaching in a math class at Scammon Bay. She found that while the technology and instructional resources there were more limited than in Anchorage, “you can still teach and impart wisdom.”

East High, which draws students from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups, is already one of the nation’s most culturally diverse high schools. But Piekarski said her experience in Scammon Bay further honed her sensitivity to students’ different cultural backgrounds back in Anchorage.

“This experience is definitely going to change how I teach, particularly with my students that are Native Alaskan, and I’ll have some of them that, you know, grew up in a village and then came to Anchorage,” she said. “A lot of the things that students do that used to bug me, I realize, hey, that’s part of their culture.”

Vol. 38, Issue 37, Pages 1, 14-16

New chef brings fresh menu to Cooper Landing

Alaska, food, News, Online, Print, Uncategorized

This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

Chef Katherine O’Leary-Cole has only been in Alaska for two months, and her ambitious menu offers something fresh for diners at Cooper Landing’s Kingfisher Roadhouse.

Nearly half of the food is vegetarian, with one whole side of the menu offering plant-based options, most of which could also be considered vegan or gluten-free. She was offered the job, her first chef de cuisine position, in January and spent every spare second she had planning out her menu. Her yearslong cooking career and love of plant-based foods influenced the menu.

“My long history of being interested in plant-based foods started the moment in clicked in my 8-year-old brain that shrimp have a poop line, because they were animals,” she said. “That’s it, I love animals. No meat, ever.”

Her stance on eating meat has since relaxed — she used to refuse things like chicken stock and marshmallows — but now will occasionally indulge in a meat delicacy such as sashimi or foie gras. “I gravitate towards plant-based meals, but will definitely eat a chicken entrée I mistakenly cooked for a wrong ticket pickup or eat a beef stew if my grandmother cooks it for Christmas,” she said.

O’Leary-Cole didn’t go to culinary school, but she’s spent years in the kitchen. She previously worked at a restaurant in Arkansas, called Tusk and Trotter. She spent time teaching an Italian-themed wine pairing and vegetarian four-course dinner class at a culinary store in Arkansas. She planned a series of vegetarian open-fire dinners as a pop-up restaurant that took place at her cabin. She traveled around to different cities working in the best restaurants she could find. She also volunteered to cook a vegetarian dinner for 300 guests to support her local culinary school.

When plans in Arkansas fell through, O’Leary-Cole had no obligations, and sought a new adventure in Alaska.

“I was trying to think ‘what is the coolest thing I could do with job, my life, my work’ and I thought ‘I’m going to go to Alaska,’” she said. “I had heard tidbits here and there from people who’d come up for seasonal jobs and how beautiful it was.”

The very first Alaska job ad she found was Dominic Bauer’s, owner of Kingfisher, which has been in Cooper Landing for over 20 years.

Offering as many vegetarian options on a menu in Alaska as O’Leary-Cole has comes with its challenges. At the restaurant she was working at in Arkansas, which she says was in a somewhat rural area, she said she got food deliveries every day of the week, and several grocery stores to choose from if something was needed last minute. In Cooper Landing, her closest fully stocked grocery store is an hour away and produce orders come only once a week.

“When that produce gets here, often it has traveled thousands of miles, resulting in much higher food costs, lower quality produce and lower environmental sustainability,” she said. “As a chef committed to the idea of offering a diverse plant-based menu alongside traditional roadhouse fare such as burgers, pot pies and brownies with ice cream, these produce challenges simply mean that it’s time to get creative.”

She’s also challenged herself with creating vegetarian dishes meat eaters will be interested in.

“While only a small portion of the population may consider themselves strictly vegetarian, there are many more people that consider their health and the health of the environment when they make their dining choices,” she said. “It’s time for mainstream restaurants and chefs to move past hummus, salads and portabella mushrooms as the only choice for those looking for an alternative to meat.”

She said she’s been surprised how those plant-based options are being received. She said close to half of customers order off the vegetable-based menu.

O’Leary-Cole also pulls some inspiration for her menu from her southern heritage, like her cornbread with bacon jam.

Kingfisher is only open for the season and come September, the restaurant will shut their doors and O’Leary-Cole will return to the Lower 48, where she’ll pick up her van in Seattle and drive cross-country. She said she’s planning to return next summer.

Sourdough stories

Alaska, food, Online, Print

This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

Sourdough starters — which are used to make bread, pancakes and more — is a quintessential Alaska food. A sourdough refers to both old, hearty Alaskans, and to the starters nearly every early settler brought with them on their trek north. Sourdough starters — a fermented mixture of flour, water and a little sugar — were relied on to leaven bread before commercial baking powder and yeast were available in the Last Frontier.

The use of sourdough dates much further back than Alaska’s early Klondike gold-seekers and adventurers. It’s the oldest form of leavened bread in existence and is believed to have been used as far back as ancient Egypt.

Once a starter is made, a short fermentation process is required before it’s ready. But, once it’s ready, the starter can be maintained. Families have been replenishing their starters with equal parts of water and flour every couple weeks, keeping the starter alive, literally, for years to come. As the starter ages, it can take on new flavors and tang. Some starters have been around for several generations, like the one being used at Addie Camp Train Car Eatery and Wine Bar in Soldotna.

The starter comes from one of the restaurant’s cooks, Kiel Nichols, who received the starter from his mom, who got it from a friend of hers, who knew a homesteader named Dick Proenneke from Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park. Proenneke was born in 1916, and lived alone for more than 30 years in his cabin on the shores of Twin Lakes. Proenneke’s homestead has since been preserved as a museum and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. His experience has been adapted into a book and into a movie, both titled “Alone in the Wilderness.”

“(Proenneke) … walked out and built his own cabin, built all his own tools,” Nichols said. “My mom ended up with it from her friend that knew him and now it’s passed down to me, and now (Addie Camp).”

The sourdough starter, which is believed to be at least 50 years old, is used to make a German apple pancake and toast featured on the restaurant’s brunch menu.

Lucy’s Market in Soldotna is getting ready to launch a bread program at the end of May when they move to their new location. Of course, sourdough bread will be incorporated into that program. Owner, Kelsey Shields said her sourdough starter was given to her by “a kind, 80-something-year-old German lady named Marlis.”

“She lived in Anchorage and was renting out her basement to the guy I was dating,” Shields said. “Anytime I was in town visiting, Marlis would stop to chat if she saw me. She brought many things with her when she moved to Alaska: a keen eye for real estate, expertise as a dance teacher, and a sourdough starter that supposedly began its life in Germany over 250 years ago.”

Shields said the market is excited to have sourdough on their menu.

“Long-fermented sourdoughs are easier for our bodies to digest, as the wild yeast and bacteria in the sourdough have already begun to pre-digest the wheat for us, releasing nutrients along the way,” Shields said. “We love the tradition behind sourdough, the flavor, the texture, and even the challenge of getting to know your starter and how to keep it healthy and productive.”

Some sourdough starters are a little younger.

“His name is Kevin, and he was born last year,” Jesse Hughes, one of the owners of Three Peaks Mercantile, a local food-centric pop-up shop, said.

Hughes was inspired to create her own starter, in the traditional way, as a way to get to the root understanding of how bread is made.

“I really wanted to try sourdough and really traditional sourdough,” Hughes said. “Not like the sourdough you buy at the store. I wanted to see what the main difference is and how hard it actually was.”

Hughes said Kevin has a personality all his own.

“It’s definitely finicky,” she said. “He definitely has to be fed. When I don’t use him or when I don’t feed him, he’ll act like he’s super hungry.”

A local sourdough enthusiast, Lacy Ledahl’s sourdough starter traveled all the way from Europe as well. After falling in love with the science of sourdough, she decided to visit the Sourdough School in England, a center for sourdough education and research. While she was there, she learned all about the process of sourdough. The school even let her take home some of the institution’s starter, which Ledahl said was over a century old.

“I had to take it with me on a train from (the village of Northamptonshire) to a hotel in London,” Ledahl said. “The next morning I had to fly to Seattle, and then fly to Anchorage and then to Kenai. Along the way, I was feeding it and keeping it alive.”

Ledahl said she carried the starter in a small, portable vile. When she got home, she married the well-traveled starter with the starter she already had made at home. She calls her new, unique starter Holly.

“Thankfully customs didn’t take it,” Ledahl said. “I got to make bread the next day.”Ledahl decided to come back and share that knowledge, and starter with the community. Last Saturday, Ledahl, and fellow sourdough enthusiasts Maria Nalos and Elizabeth Cox hosted a sourdough class at Maggie’s General Store in Kenai. The class discussed the benefits of sourdough, the basics of making a starter and how to incorporate the ingredient into cooking. Class attendees had samples to try and were able to take some of Ledahl’s starter home with them.

A sourdough loaf made from Kevin, Jesse Hughes’ sourdough starter waits to be bought at the Three Peaks Mercantile Pop-up shop at Artzy Junkin, Friday, April 12, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)A sourdough loaf made from Kevin, Jesse Hughes’ sourdough starter waits to be bought at the Three Peaks Mercantile Pop-up shop at Artzy Junkin, Friday, April 12, 2019, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Ninilchik man competes on Food Network’s ‘Worst Cooks in America’

Alaska, food, Uncategorized

Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion

Ninilchik’s Charles Oakley is one of the Worst Cooks in America. Oakley is the first Alaskan to compete on the Food Network reality TV show, which takes a number of contestants with little skill in the kitchen through a culinary boot camp where they compete to win a cash prize of $25,000 and a Food Network cooking set by presenting the best three-course meal to several food critics.

Oakley’s wife, Melissa, has always had a rule in the house when Charles was cooking: the fire extinguisher must be close by.

“I am the only person in history that has started a gas fire on an electric stove,” Oakley said.

Since competing in season 15 of the Food Network show, Oakley said his wife has loosened the fire extinguisher rule.

While Oakley said he cannot disclose if he won the competition, he said his time on the show exceeded his expectations.

“It was one of the most positive experiences of my life,” Oakley said. “I made friends for life that I talk to on a regular basis. The way I was treated on the show was like family. It was so warm and welcoming.”

Both Oakley and his wife, Melissa, are major fans of Food Network, and it was Melissa who originally suggested that Oakley apply to be on “Worst Cooks in America.”

“She recommended I apply for the safety of our home,” Oakley joked.

Raised on his family’s homestead near Ninilchik, Oakley said his experience with food and cooking was very localized. He said the family rarely traveled to the grocery store, as it was an 80-mile round-trip journey to Soldotna.

“Growing up, we either grew it, hunted it, fished it or raised it,” Oakley said.

Oakley and his family live in Anchorage now, but his dad still maintains the family homestead.

Alaskans may recognize Oakley’s name. He’s a professional artist, with pieces in more than 180 galleries around the state. For those who visit the Alaska State Fair, Oakley is known for his spray-paint art. He said growing up on the Kenai Peninsula has inspired him artistically.

Until competing on the show, Oakley said he never related art and cooking. Now, cooking and art are synonymous.

“Cooking is just like doing artwork — you’ve got processes and materials,” Oakley said. “Once I started thinking of it as art, I (cook) for entertainment now.”

Changing his outlook on the process of cooking was Oakley’s biggest hurdle on the show, he said.

“My biggest challenge was finding the willingness to learn and overcome fears,” Oakley said.

His biggest joy was meeting and working with hosts and chefs, Anne Burrell and Tyler Florence.

“They are two of the finest chefs in America,” Oakley said. “They are artists in their own right.”

Oakley said he’s excited to cook more at home and provide for his family.

“If I have a recipe, I can make anything,” Oakley said. “Sky’s the limit.”

Catch Oakley on Season 15 of “Worst Cooks in America,” which premieres 9 p.m. Eastern time, on Jan. 6 on Food Network.

Addie Camp Train Car Eatery and Wine Bar has grand opening

Alaska, food, Uncategorized

Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion

Soldotna’s newest restaurant, Addie Camp Train Car Eatery and Wine Bar, is having its grand opening today.

Local cookbook author Maya Wilson is the restaurant’s chef. Elements from her popular cookbook, Alaska from Scratch, can be seen throughout the menu, whether it’s the black cod, udon noodle soup or the butterscotch bread pudding.

Wilson said she wanted to develop all-new recipes for the restaurant, but wanted to give a nod to fans of her cookbook.

“There are a couple of familiar things for fans of mine,” Wilson said. “I do adapt them a bit and make them a little chef-ier, a little more upscale from the cookbook, even if they are basically drawn from there.”

For diners who are new to Wilson’s cookbook, signed copies are for sale at the restaurant.

To prepare for the grand opening, the restaurant hosted three soft openings, which Wilson said went great.

“There’s always things that you need to adjust or you discover once you get in the swing of things that aren’t going to work,” Wilson said, “Overall, the reception has been really positive and it’s been very exciting to finally be able to open the doors.”

The menu isn’t set in stone. Wilson said as local food becomes in season and more available, the menu will change to reflect what’s most fresh. Wilson tries to incorporate some element of local food in her menu items, especially the greens and herbs grown in the restaurant’s hydroponic farm, Fresh 365.

“The menu will change seasonally,” Wilson said. “In the summer (local food) will increase because the farms will be open. We’ll also have halibut and salmon and stuff like that.”6076564_web1_49140274_616779722091469_4218080084252164096_n-1200x800.jpg

The sweetest gift

Alaska, food, Uncategorized

Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion

It’s probably the sweetest gift there is. Honey has been a symbolic offering for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, beekeepers would gather honey to prevent diseases and heal wounds. The Greeks gifted honey to their Gods as a sacrificial offering.

Even in the Bible, the term “milk and honey” is described to the Israelites as the bounty of the promised land in Canaan, Exodus 3:8.

The sweetness of honey has slipped into holiday traditions around the world. During the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, apples are dipped into honey and honey cake is eaten to welcome the new year. Challah bread, an eggy sweet bread eaten during the Jewish holidays is typically sweetened with honey. During the Madhu Purnima, which was celebrated in September this year by Buddhist in India and Bangladesh, it is traditional to gift honey to Buddhist monks during the festival. In Greece, special Christmas cookies called melomakarona are dipped in honey and covered in chopped walnuts. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims enjoy honey-drenched dishes, like the bite-sized honey puffs called loukoumades.

With thousands of species of bees and varying flora across the globe, no jar of honey is the same. Besides supporting the local economy, there can be other benefits to buying your honey products locally.

James Reid along with his sister Ana, run Stoked Beekeeping Company in Homer. He said eating locally harvested honey connects you to the land and flora around you.

They harvest honey and sell it raw, and also use the beeswax to make specialty, food-safe cloth wraps. James Reid said honey is made using local pollen and nectar. He said eating their byproducts can help acclimate a body to the pollen of local flora, which in turn can help with seasonal allergies.

To get the community more involved with local honey, the Reids offer tours of their hives every summer.

Sarah Souders of Sarah’s Alaska Honey has been harvesting honey for 18 years. She said honey harvested on the Kenai Peninsula is special because of the pollen taken from vast fields of fireweed.

“Alaska honey is unique and light in flavor,” she said.

She said local honey makes a great gift, and her stock usually runs out after Christmas time.

“It’s much more personal than something from Wal-Mart,” Souders said.

It’s not just Alaskans who seek out Kenai Peninsula honey. Souders said she has people from all over the world call her to order honey.

“Someone from Qatar has been calling me all week trying to order our fireweed honey,” she said.

She said she limits her sale of honey online to try to focus on selling to locals first.

Souders will be hosting a beekeeping class next month. Information for the class can be found on Sarah’s Alaska Honey Facebook page.

To find Sarah’s honey, give her a call at 907-252-5132. James Reid said his honey can be found at the Homer Salmon Sisters Shop or by calling him at 424-558-1015, or emailing him at stokedbeekeeping@gmail.com.

Farm to food bank: Equipment rental leads to community benefit

Alaska, food, News, Print, Uncategorized

This story published in the Peninsula Clarion and picked up by the Associated Press.

Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District are expanding their catalog of affordable agricultural rental equipment through a charitable project that benefits both farmers and the community.

Three pieces of equipment, which includes a potato digger, a potato washer and a potato planter, were purchased with the assistance of grants from the Kenai Peninsula Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation and Western SARE. The equipment can be rented to small-scale farmers for $25 day, plus a donation of 25 pounds of potatoes to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. It’s a small price to pay for equipment that could cost a single farmer thousands.

“I couldn’t afford to buy a new potato digger,” Abby Ala, owner of Ridgeway Farms, said.

The equipment works on a single row of potatoes, or another root crop, and is “infinitely faster” than the old fashioned way, Ala said.

“I would harvest on my hands and knees,” Ala said. “I’m 71 years old. It would take me an hour to go halfway down one row.”

Many small-scale farmers don’t have the funds to invest in such expensive equipment. Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District is trying to make small-scale agriculture easier and more accessible.

It took three years to get the potato digger, washer and planter equipment.

“We’ve been hearing from small-scale potato farmers for years that a single row potato digger would make life so much easier,” Chay said. “I first spotted the equipment at an expo in Michigan and said ‘we could really use those.’”

Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District rent out farm equipment of all kinds.

“They have more than just the potato digger,” Ala said. “They have everything a farmer might need. It is too expensive for every farmer in the area to buy this and buy that. I’m really impressed with soil and water for doing that.”

Chay said five farms have shown initial interest. Ala at Ridgeway Farms was among the first to try out the potato digger. The potato planter will be used in the spring.

Chay said Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District and the farms are excited about the new equipment.

“One farmer told me that he’s never digging a row of potatoes by hand again,” Chay said.

Food on the go: Trucks help local chefs make restaurants a reality

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

The peninsula food scene Joe Spady grew up with is much different than the food scene in the area now. The 30-year-old, who opened Joe’s Meatball Shoppe in Soldotna earlier this summer, said he’s seeing more local food, different kinds of food and an increase in the number of food trucks in his hometown.

“The food scene is growing amazingly,” Spady said. “It was a different food scene than I grew up in, which was just the same four identical restaurants.”

Spady recalls area restaurants selling ubiquitous fare, like burgers, fries, tacos and pizza, but not much else. It didn’t seem people were craving much else, Spady said.

“It’s neat to see the shift in people really wanting more,” Spady said. “It’s not that we simply didn’t have it, it’s that people weren’t asking for it.”

These days, peninsula palates are hungry for something new. Wanna Kane lives in Nikiski. Last June, she opened up her food truck, Tuk Tuk Express where she sells Thai-style street food. There are only a handful of restaurants in Nikiski, and Tuk Tuk Express offers something less typical than what’s found in the area. Kane was able to find a spot to park near her home, where she is open Monday through Friday, and has partnered with local brewery, Kassik’s, to provide sustenance for beer-drinkers on Friday nights. Kane said even in the short time she’s been in business, she’s seen her business grow and the community welcome her.

“When I first opened it was slow, but very steady,” Kane said. “People are used to us being here now. It is just a different variety for Nikiski. People seem to like the quick, pick-up-and-go (style) of a food truck. We don’t see many food trucks out in Nikiski. Most are in Kenai and Soldotna, but I’ve seen growth, even in the short time I have been in business.”

When trying to come up with the concept of his food truck, Spady brainstormed food not readily available in the area.

“We don’t have a meatball shop,” Spady said. “In New York, there’s a pretty popular shop called ‘The Meatball Shop.’ I loved that place when I lived in New York. So I was thinking, what if I do that and kind of just transition all my sandwiches into meatball form… it’s fun to be a specific niche, while still doing what I’m passionate about.”

Once he created his menu and brand, Spady was ready for business. For many, the cost of a food truck is often what holds aspiring cooks back from their mobile eatery dreams. The Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District offers an affordable way for new business ventures to feel the industry out through the rental of a small trailer equipped with a kitchen: the ideal starter food truck.

“I was originally going to get a booth and rent a kitchen, but the opportunity to have it all in one was so nice,” Spady said. “It’s crazy affordable. So many people are like ‘oh you’re starting a food truck. How fun. I’ve always dreamt of starting a food truck.’ That’s when I’m like, ‘our state is so good for small business and with this opportunity, literally $100 and you can start your food truck this week.’”

Heidi Chay, district manager of Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, said the trailer, which was acquired in 2007, was originally set up as a test kitchen and a small business incubator. The Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District rents out other equipment that can help small businesses, especially farmers. The trailer is used at the Kenai Peninsula Fair for the 4-H barbecue, fundraisers and small businesses who want to test new products. Since Spady started Joe’s Meatball Shop, Chay said she’s received several inquiries for the trailer from people interested in developing their small business ideas.

“Turns out a lot of people have this food truck dream,” Chay said. “This has been the turnaround year because Joe is so generous about telling people about us.”

Andy Heuiser is the events and program director at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. He’s been working closely with food vendors through events put on by the chamber, including the Wednesday market, which sees perhaps the largest concentration of food trucks in the area. He said the food vendor scene really took off around 2014, just around the time Music in the Park was starting.

“When Music in the Park started, I think it really helped those food vendors quite a bit,” Heuiser said. ”They have a good customer base with the lunch rush and then with the evening rush.”

Originally, Spady was hoping to set up Joe’s Meatball Shop at the Wednesday Market, only to find there was a waitlist for food trucks.

“Professionally, I’m (upset), but personally, I’m so excited for our community,” Spady said. “What a wonderful problem to have. There’s so much variety. The variety of food trucks we have is way bigger than the variety of restaurants we have in town, which is so cool.”

To accommodate this new type of eatery, the city of Soldotna had to modify its regulations in 2015 to make it simpler for mobile food vendors to do business. Director of Economic Development and Planning for the City of Soldotna, John Czarnezki said he thinks the updated codes have been well-received by businesses.

“I can’t say whether the code changes have promoted small business — we have no way to measure,” Czarnezki said. “But, anecdotally we have noticed a large number and variety of food trucks in the area.”

Czarnezki said there are many factors that can influence food truck growth, like the number and type of events and venues where they can operate, the status of brick and mortar restaurants, and the health of the local economy.

In Kenai, where Tammy Olson runs Double O food truck, there are far fewer food trucks operating. Olson said this is because of ordinances maintained by the city that make it difficult to run a food truck.

“Kenai needs to change its ordinances,” Olson said. “They are not food truck friendly.”

Double O started in April of 2015. The food truck moved its business into the airport in 2016. The business left the airport restaurant location this year, and continues to operate out of the Double O trailer, where Olson said they make triple the business compared to the airport.

“It seems people enjoy food trucks more than a restaurant,” Olson said.

Elsewhere on the peninsula, food trucks have appeared in even the smallest of communities. In Cooper Landing, David Bond opened up Blue Yeti in 2015 in front of the grocery store. When Bond first opened, two other trucks also opened in the area. One truck went out of business, and the other is Libby’s Bites on the Fly, which sits near Wildman’s.

“I thought that I had a great idea, only to find out two more trucks were opening at the same time,” Bond said.

He said he had his fair share of challenges starting his truck in Cooper Landing. Finding a spot to park that had visibility, a power source, a restroom nearby and parking with the ability to turn around was difficult for Bond. Blue Yeti is also a solo project for him.

“My biggest challenge is working alone,” Bond said. “I do the planning, purchasing, preparation, order taking, cooking and all the washing by myself. It’s a one-man show, but that may be some of the appeal.”

Despite these challenges Bond says the experience is a blast.

“I get to sit in the center of town and visit with many of my customers, who are good friends as well,” Bond said. “The opportunity to do quality, small-batch cooking is also fun for me. I like to pass the goodness onto others.”

Spady said he’s learned a lot since starting Joe’s Meatball Shop, and that it’s been challenging due to space. He said he plans to be open through the end of summer and then will most likely move Joe’s Meatball Shop into its own brick and mortar this winter.

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.


Ionia: Born and bound by food

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

On Tuesday at noon, the lunch bell rings in Ionia, a health-conscious community near Kasilof.

Over 50 servings of brown rice with pumpkin seeds and sesame salt, baby daikon radish, sauerkraut and split-pea soup make their way out of the large kitchen in the Community Center and into the bellies of the residents of the community. After lunch, a group will plant 50 crabapple trees near their berry patch. Food and the process of creating food are sacred in Ionia.

In 1986, five families who share an appreciation for the macrobiotic tradition gathered together to create a community where they could practice a culture rooted in whole food and its effects on mental health.

Eliza Eller, an Ionia resident who has been there since the beginning, said that they were seeking balance.

The macrobiotic diet consists of whole grains and plant-based foods, like whole grain bread and pasta, millet, couscous, beans, seeds, root vegetables, leafy vegetables, sea vegetables and more. A grain and a vegetable are the minimum for a meal, but then several vegetable dishes like beans or pickles may become added side dishes.

“Food is a big part for us,” Eller said. “It’s personal — what you eat every day is like your personal relationship with nature, you know?”

Ionia is now in its third generation of families, many coming from the original founders. Roughly 50 people call it home, Eller said, with an influx of volunteers in the summer.

“Sometimes in the summer we’re feeding 80 or 90 people,” Eller said.

The first five acres were purchased for $300 down and then $300 per month. The group lived in teepees for the first winter before the families pooled together their Permanent Fund Dividend checks to create a building fund that they used to create open-concept cabins for each family. Every year, the community tries to expand its land. Ionia Inc. is a nonprofit that can receive grants and fundraise for new projects, like the ongoing current barn project, which will provide a small folk school and different shops that will make it easier for families to build housing, which Ionia is currently short on.

Majority of the cooking is done in the home, where kitchens are built with extra space. The community will have group feeds for many lunches and holidays, which are every full moon, Thanksgiving, solstice or Christmas depending on the year and the Fourth of July. On Sept. 15, Ionia will celebrate the harvest moon with a local food festival that features healthy food vendors and a farmers market at Soldotna Creek Park.

The food in Ionia is sourced locally as much as possible through foraging, gardening and partnerships with local farmers. Brown rice and other grains are imported in bulk.

Eller said the garden is her happy place and it produces thousands of pounds of food like kale, radishes, lettuce, garlic and more.

Because of the short growing season in Alaska, pickling and fermenting produce is a way to enjoy plant-based products all year long. Miso, a Japanese soybean ferment that is used as a seasoning, and tempeh, an Indonesian fermented soybean product used as a meat alternative, are Ionia favorites.

“Because food is so important to us, we spend a lot of our time preparing food, fermenting food, pickling food,” Eller said. “We’re all about the food here. It’s very time-consuming.”

Animal products of any sort, including honey, and concentrated sugar will never be found in an Ionia kitchen.

“Everyone thinks we’re crazy because we don’t eat fish here,” Eller said. “We’re not restrictive about what people eat, we’re like, ‘Eat whatever you need to eat, just not on the property’, and that seems to work well. Slowly the environment wins and you adjust.”

Despite no honey or concentrated sugar, Ionia is not without sweet treats. Eller said they eat desserts like berry and fruit pies, crisps and cookies, about three times a week. Desserts are made using a gentle sweetener like like brown rice syrup, and occasionally maple syrup.

Eller said the benefits from eating this way go beyond physical health.

“There’s just a tremendous appreciation with how food can affect our emotions and help us think clearly,” Eller said. “Everyone knows it’s good for your heart and it’s good for your weight and diabetes and all these things that are physically based, but there isn’t quite as much awareness in the medical field around food and mental health.”

Everyone cooks and rotates on a schedule, and Eller said almost everyone wants to be in the kitchen. Food is more than just fuel — it’s an art and a way for community members to express themselves, she added.

“Embedded in macrobiotics is a real love of cooking,” Eller said. “Cooking became an art and a skill that is very revered, and there’s a lot of respect for the cook in the household. Everybody grows up cooking and everyone knows it’s one of the things everyone needs to do and share and it’s not looked at as a burden, but as an opportunity to be creative.”

Menu planning is intuitive and season-based, with warming soups and stews for the winter months and salads and blanched vegetables for the summer.

The gastronomically inclined can get a taste of Ionia cuisine at the at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 14, at the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market as part of the Chef at the Market series. Ionia residents Ally Bril and Emma Becherer will be making samples for the public.

“We’re going to do vegan bruschetta, and keep passing them through there so people can have tasters and see what we’re doing and all about,” Bril said.

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.

Upcoming Soldotna restaurant chooses ‘Alaska from Scratch’ author as new chef

Alaska, food, News, Print, Uncategorized

This story was originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

For Maya Wilson, anything worth doing has been terrifying at first. Her newest endeavor on Whistle Hill is no exception.

Wilson, who launched her first cookbook “Alaska from Scratch” earlier this year, announced this week that she will be the head chef at the upcoming Soldotna restaurant Addie Camp Dining Car eatery and wine bar.

Wilson’s popular blog, Alaska From Scratch, began in 2011. She previously worked at The Flats Bistro in Kenai. Wilson said she thinks the new eatery is a great addition to the Soldotna food community.

“The vision for the restaurant was to do it as locally sourced as possible. To support local farmers, support our local vendors. I’m really pumped about that because that’s exactly what the food community needs and what Alaska needs,” Wilson said. “What I want, what I’ve always wanted, is for people to be well-fed and nourished, and this is just an extension of that.”

Peninsula residents may have seen the former train car jutting out from a building under construction atop a hill along the Sterling Highway on the way out of Soldotna toward Sterling. The train car and the building will be opening up as the new restaurant later this year.

The restaurant, owned by the Mary and Henry Krull, who opened Brew@602 in a neighboring former train car last year, will be offering dinner service and Sunday brunch.

The two-story building features large picture windows with views of Soldotna and the Kenai Mountains, two outdoor decks, a bar and plenty of inspiration from the railroad industry, including rail tie siding from the Alaska Railroad, and of course, the train car that will accommodate a more intimate dining experience.

The 1913 rail car, named Addie Camp, came from Addie Mine in Hill City, South Dakota. Wilson said the owners plan to preserve as much of the car’s original detail as possible. The Krulls rode in the car many times over the years before it was taken out of service in 2008. It was part of a tourist excursion in South Dakota. For Mary Krull, creating a restaurant came down to her and her husband’s love of good food.

“We like all things fresh and local,” she said. “We wanted to give Soldotna another option.”

The restaurant will also have its own hydroponic grow operation that will provide greens year-round, adding freshness to their dishes, even in the dead of winter.

Wilson has already started to meet with local farmers and vendors to partner with. She has begun to conceptualize the menu and said it will change with the seasons. Vegan and gluten-free options will also be available.

“It’s not fussy, it’s approachable. I really do try to focus on Alaska’s ingredients. I feel like that will be received well by the locals and the tourists, and I’m hopeful I will bridge that gap a little bit,” Wilson said.

Currently, the owners are working on acquiring a beer and wine license. The application process requires signatures from residents, 21 and older, in a one-mile radius of Addie Camp Dining Car eatery and wine bar. When open, the restaurant hopes to serve local beers on tap and fine wine.

“We need the community’s help to be the eatery and wine bar that we hope to be,” Wilson said.

Krull said they hope to open the restaurant this October.

“It’s a huge undertaking. It’s so exciting, and terrifying too. I’m most excited about for when we finally open and we get that food on the table,” Wilson said.

AK: The sweet traditions of Russian Orthodox Easter

Alaska, Audio, food, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media

Scraping the sides of the bowl, Abby Slater is forming a dough of milk, sugar, yeast and flour. It’s Slater’s first time making Easter bread. She’s observed and helped her Aleut family make it many times before though.

“My earliest memory of Easter bread was actually later in life because we didn’t reconnect with my aunt until I was a little bit older,” Slater said. “She was the one who had the recipe for the Easter bread. My grandma died before I was born, my native grandma, my kukax. So she didn’t get to pass that along to us grandkids,”

The recipe her aunt uses is the same the family has been using for generations. Originally from Kashega, a small village near Dutch Harbor, Slater’s family traditionally used dried berries and candied fruits in their Easter bread.

“It’s interesting hearing all the different variations of it because at the end of the day, it’s just a bread recipe, right? We talk about things about how some people put berries in it, or candied fruit,” Slater said. “That’s the version I grew up with. And other people are like ‘that’s not how you make it.’ And other people frost it, and in my mind I’m like ‘that’s not how you make it.’ But that is how people make it, it’s just not what I grew up with, you know?”

St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church in Anchorage. (Photo by Victoria Petersen, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Diane Chris says that the Easter bread in Prince William Sound is elaborately decorated. She’s a Matushka — priest’s wife — at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox church in Anchorage.

“On Easter, when you’re in a church, I’ve been in the churches, they’re small in the Sound. I’ve been there, and you’re fasting, and all you can smell is this sweet kulich, and the frostings and it’s just amazing,” Chris said. “Normally they put a candle on the top of them, and it’s lit for the blessing. It’s very festive.”

Easter bread, also known as kulich, is a decadent, egg-rich, dairy-rich, yeast-risen bread. Mother Capitolina, the only nun at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox church in Anchorage, says the bread symbolizes Easter.

“We’re doing everything we have fasted from: butter, eggs. Now it’s the resurrection,” Mother Capitolina said.

Chris helps make food for a bake sale the church is having. She says the bread is baked in coffee tins, representing the tomb Jesus resurrected from.

Traditionally, Easter bread is made by women and is a skill mothers pass down to daughters.

Every year, St. Innocent church has an annual bake sale where church members bake Easter bread, fry bread, piroshkis, pirok and other traditional foods. The money from the sale goes to their church and is open to the public.

“We have lots of people throughout the state that have grown up with the bread, from the villages,” Chris said. “They have different types of breads that they’re used to, so we have a variety here that are baked by the ladies of the church.”

It’s not just the Alaska Russian Orthodox population that enjoys the tradition of Easter Bread. Chris says that St. Innocent’s annual bake sale is always the Saturday before unorthodox Easter.

“We try to do it prior to everybody else’s Easter, because they like it for their Easter,” Chris said. “It’s become a tradition for a lot of people who aren’t necessarily orthodox.”

There are over 50,000 followers of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska, and 49 parishes set up across the state. The first Russian Orthodox Church established in Alaska was on Kodiak Island in 1795. Many of these Russian Orthodox churches are baking Easter bread in mass quantities; some are even shipping it.

St. Tikhon, another Russian Orthodox Church in Anchorage, also sells Easter bread. Via their Facebook page, St. Tikhon takes orders for Easter bread and sometimes ships to villages across Alaska.

The bread is blessed on Easter Sunday by members of the Russian Orthodox church and then shared with the congregation. Easter bread is only eaten by the Russian Orthodox between Easter and Pentecost, which is 49 days after Easter.

Slater isn’t Russian Orthodox, but the making of Easter bread ties her to her Alaska Native family.

“I feel really connected, I guess,” Slater said. “Maybe that sounds silly ‘cause it’s just bread. But I feel like I’m participating in something– It’s kind of the way that I feel when I cook anything that’s an old recipe. You just feel like you’re part of something that’s older than you, and bigger than you.”

The bread pudding grandpa never got

Alaska, college cookbook, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

He slept in, ate his breakfast, read the paper and drank his coffee a year ago. He didn’t have trouble speaking, breathing, chewing or walking then. He wasn’t on oxygen or jaundiced or in pain. Grandpa was fine.

Last Christmas, I found myself struggling financially and decided to give the gift of homemade meals and treats to my grandparents — a rather humble gift, considering they had been letting me live with them rent-free for over a year and a half. Two envelopes were opened at my aunt Laura’s house, one for my grandma and one for grandpa. Inside was a coupon for their favorite dish. My grandma’s coupon was for soup and my grandpa’s for bread pudding.

His mom used to make it for him as a kid. My grandpa suffered from dementia and I thought that making him something that tasted like his childhood, like memories, would help him feel better.

Sometimes we would look out the window in the kitchen on the land his parents homesteaded as morning snow fell and he would be sure as hell we were in California. One time he thought I was his cousin. He never forgot my name, though.

My grandpa never redeemed his coupon. I would tell him I would make it this weekend or next week. “Just let me know when you want it.” He never asked and I never went to the store to get the ingredients. Social, school and work lives came before bread pudding.

This fall, after I finished my job working 15-hour shifts on the train for the summer, I tried to make time for bread pudding. Several ambulances, emergency room visits and tests later confirmed my grandpa’s deterioration wasn’t temporary. First, he was given a walker. He didn’t like to use it. Then came oxygen and then came a liquid diet. Problems chewing is a symptom of late-stage dementia. Smoothies, protein shakes and mashed potatoes for grandpa. Now he couldn’t eat bread pudding, even if he wanted to, even if I actually made time to make it.He was in the hospital for weeks. He wouldn’t eat much. He wouldn’t talk much. He wasn’t awake much. His eyes were hardly open, his breathing was labored and his skin was yellow the last time I saw him in October. I held his hand and told him to feel better and that I would see him later. I wouldn’t: he died the next morning.

It’s too late now, but I’m still going to make time for bread pudding, posthumously, for grandpa.

I couldn’t find his mom’s recipe, but grandma said the Betty Crocker recipe was just fine. I’m not adding raisins because we don’t have any, but you could add raisins and serve with whipped cream if you so desire.

Bread pudding
Serves 8

2 cups milk

1/4 cup butter

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 cups soft bread, cubed (about 6 slices bread)

1/2 cup raisins, if desired

Whipped cream, if desired

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, heat milk and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted.

In a bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the bread and milk mixture. Stir together and pour into a pan.

3. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a knife or fork inserted 1 inch from the edge comes out clean. Serve warm with whipped cream. Adapted from bettycrocker.com.


Meet the teens running a Midtown Anchorage bakery

Alaska, food, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Anchorage Daily News

When 18-year-old Alisa Louangaphay took ownership of the Midtown Anchorage bakery A Pie Stop in March, she wanted to surround herself with people who were as passionate about baking as she was. So she hired three other teenagers.

“It does sound a bit scary. (But) we aren’t a bunch of delinquents. We all do extracurriculars. We all work hard in school. We all do our best. We try really hard to make sure every customer that leaves here is satisfied,” Louangaphay said.

Newly graduated Lily Rodriguez, 18, and her 16-year-old sister Carolyna are bakers in the shop. Christian Bowers, an 18-year-old senior at Polaris K-12 School, is the bakery’s barista. Louangaphay assists in the baking and, with the help of her grandfather, handles all the business aspects of running A Pie Stop, all while she finishes up her senior year at SAVE High School.


Together, the crew turns out 27 different kinds of pies, plus fruit turnovers, cookies, cinnamon rolls, cheesecakes, brownies, quiches and espresso. Cornish pasties – a hard-to-find meat hand pie – are a popular item, typically selling out around 2 p.m. daily. Gluten-free pies are also available by special order.

Louangaphay may still be a teenager, but she’s been baking for most of her life. She was first introduced to it by her grandfather, Steve Satterlee. When she was very young, she would help him bake at the Chokecherry Inn, a bed-and-breakfast their family owned in Fairbanks.

“She started baking pies with me when she was just 4 years old. She always wanted to help me. That’s all she’s ever wanted to be, is a baker,” Satterlee said.


Louangaphay studied at the King Career Center culinary arts program in 2016. She attended the University of Alaska Anchorage Bakery Boot Camp for several summers in a row and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Business Week, where high-school students learn about entrepreneurship.

Last spring, she spent a semester at A Pie Stop under its previous owners as part of a culinary internship. She had been working there about four months when her grandfather proposed purchasing the bakery for her.

“I was eating (at A Pie Stop) when I overheard a conversation that the shop was for sale. I made the decision to cash out some of my retirement money to make Alisa’s dream come true,” Satterlee said.

Satterlee bought the bakery in March. Both Satterlee and Louangaphay worked for two months with previous owners Dawn Kauffman and Fanny Miller, Amish and Mennonite bakers who taught Louangaphay and Satterlee their recipes. Many of those recipes are still on the menu, including whoopie pies, a traditional Amish dessert. Amish butter shipped from Ohio is also available for purchase at the bakery.

“I’ve always had that dream. I’ve always been set on this path … I wanted to prepare myself for when I got older, for when I actually got to run my dream. I didn’t think it’d happen so soon,” Louangaphay said.

It was through the King Career Center culinary program that Louangaphay met with Bowers and Lily Rodriguez.


“It’s fun working here. It’s a bunch of kids here, so we’re just baking and having fun,” said Rodriguez, who completed a year at the King Career Center culinary program and graduated from Service High School in 2017.

Rodriguez has been the shop’s head baker since August and recruited her younger sister Carolyna, a home-schooled student, to work at A Pie Stop with her in October.

“People are usually surprised to see me working here, like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a 16-year-old work at a bakery.’ And yeah, because that really doesn’t happen that much because people don’t want to give them a chance. I got lucky,” Carolyna Rodriguez said.

Carolyna Rodriguez, Louangaphay and Bowers are all receiving school credit for their work in the bakery.

A learning curve

Starting as a new business, Satterlee says they’ve had some stumbles. Whether it’s locking down the perfect recipe for pie crust, removing or adding items to the menu or figuring out how to be efficient during the holiday rush, running the bakery how Louangaphay envisions it has been a learning experience.

“After the previous owners left, business went down. Anytime a business changes ownership, you lose some of those old, loyal customers. We have had to build a new customer base,” said Satterlee, who’s in charge of the bakery’s finances. Before Satterlee retired three years ago, he worked as a purchasing agent for Alyeska Pipeline.


But since then, Satterlee says, they’ve been able to grow their customer base with strategies like radio advertising and contests for free pies.

A recent partnership with The Magpie has also increased business. Since November, The Magpie, which operates a food truck in the summer, has rented kitchen space in A Pie Stop.


Customers can now order breakfast and lunch from The Magpie at the same counter where they get pies and pastries. Plus, Magpie owner, Amanda Cash, is an on-site mentor to the young bakers.

“Amanda is great because, you know, we haven’t been in the culinary field for very long, and if we have any questions about anything we can just ask her,” Carolyna Rodriguez said


In addition to running The Magpie, Cash spent two years as a chef in Denali and served as the executive chef of a restaurant in her home state of Indiana. She also spent several years as a cooking instructor.

Cash has some creative ideas for 2018, including a pie-of-the-month club, creating an area for live music and having pies available to take and bake at home.


As for Louangaphay, once she graduates from high school, she plans to increase her hours and dedicate more of her time to growing her young business.

A Pie Stop

Hours: 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday

Location: 3020 Minnesota Drive, Suite 1

Contact: 907-677-PIES (7437) and apiestop.com

Roadside caribou, ramen and wild celery: It’s what’s for dinner

Alaska, food, Online, Uncategorized

Sourcing food, cooking and eating at the end of the Aleutian chain.

Tom Spitner’s dinner plate probably looks like a significantly less elegant dish coming out of the wildly popular Danish restaurant Noma. Fresh fish and foraged flora made the two-michelin star restaurant famous. Spitner has the same idea when he creates meals for his family, but does it virtually for free.

“I like to cook and read about cooking. I like to go out to nice restaurants, I was based in Los Angeles for a long time and I like to cook all kinds of stuff,” Spitner said. “There’s times it would be nice to go to the store and be able to get that stuff, but it makes you be more creative. You read about that Norwegian/Icelandic food craze, that’s just sort of like fish with locally sourced greens. You end up doing things that would probably end up on a restaurant plate for $55 if they knew about it.”

The way people shop, eat and cook here is different than the way of most Americans. Located near the end of the Aleutian chain, 1,200 miles from Anchorage and just over 700 miles from the Russian mainland sits Adak island. There is no real grocery store, no farms and no way off the island five days out of the week. Annual Costco trips stock the pantries of Adak’s residents, while an open year-round hunting season and no bag limit for caribou cows keep their freezers full. Foraged food, CSA boxes coming from thousands of miles away and pet chickens help supply fresh food to some of the island’s residents. Sharing recipes and cuisine is an essential part of the town’s social life and local food economy.

The town of Adak and the Pacific Ocean beyond as seen from White Alice, a Cold War era sattelite site. 

The town of Adak and the Pacific Ocean beyond as seen from White Alice, a Cold War era sattelite site.

The island of Adak was inhabited by the Unanga people, more commonly known as the Aleuts, who abandoned the island around the 19th century to follow the Russian fur trade. The island was still used as an important place to fish for Aleut’s living nearby. After World War II began, American forces created a military base at Adak. Strategically placed, Adak became the American offensive against the Japanese-held Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska.

Post World War II the island was developed into a Naval air station and a submarine surveillance center during the Cold War. At Adak’s peak, the island was home to over 6,000 military personnel and their families, a college, a McDonald’s, a roller skating rink, a ski lodge and an $18 million hospital was built in 1990. The base was closed in the spring of 1997 for unknown reasons and the island along with its facilities were sold to Aleut Corporation. The hospital, schools, and the island’s restaurants closed along with the Naval base. The city of Adak was incorporated in 2001 and was home to only about 300 residents at the time, according to the U.S. year 2000 census. Today, there’s only around 100 year-round residents.

Spitner, the mayor of Adak and the only person in town who was born on the island, grew up on the island where his dad worked as a contractor at the military base before it ceased operations altogether in 1997. Spitner has no problem cooking for his family. His wife, a biologist, helps track down Adak’s edible bounty. Wild rice, wild celery, bull kelp and strawberries are just some of what Spitner’s family forages from the island. Their family also has a garden that they use to grow apple trees and potatoes in.

Mayor Tom Spitner with his chickens. 

Mayor Tom Spitner with his chickens.

“It’s nice because we can just go out and about and there’s quite a bit to eat. There’s quite a bit of foraging. I have friends that pickle kelp,” Spitner said. “Our family doesn’t find it hard to eat out here.”

Spitner’s family receives a box from Full Circle every week. The CSA boxes come from an organic farm in North Bend, Washington, nearly 2,500 miles away, to the island every Thursday filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Prices for these CSA boxes range from $48-$87 a week, depending on the size box you want.

“We are one of two people on the island that get Full Circle. It used to be more, but it is a little expensive. Every week we get our thing on Thursday that’s full of fresh vegetables,” Spitner said. “I’ve probably eaten more kale in the last five years than I ever have before. I’ve grown to really like it.”

In addition to their garden and foraging, Spitner has a large chicken coop that yields about 8-9 eggs a day. The chickens are a special Icelandic species that are bred to live in a more extreme climate, such as Adak. The chickens came from residents who left the island six years ago, and Spitner’s family has since shared his chickens with the community, helping another family grow their own coop.

“I don’t think there’s a big savings, but you know I’ve got dogs, cats, a rabbit and probably sitting out here with the chickens is my favorite,” Spitner said. “It’s not any harder than having a dog. They need food and a place to run and pee.”

Fresh eggs from Turnbull's chickens.

Fresh eggs from Turnbull’s chickens.

Mik Turnbull, the other Adak resident who has chickens, keeps them in a coop that appears to have been a NOAA scientific research pod of sorts in another life. Turnbull has since recycled this to be her chicken’s home. Arguably the thriftiest woman on the island, Turnbull’s home is filled with furniture, art and equipment that she has pulled from Adak’s abandoned buildings and facilities. Turnbull finds herself “scavenging,” as she calls it, for abandoned things she can find purpose for. Residents have to be creative in all aspects of life, not just in the way they eat.

Today Adak is home to one year-round restaurant, The Blue Bird Cafe. Operating in the home of Michael Rainey and his wife Imelda Cleary, the eatery serves up traditional American fare along with Filipino favorites.

The Blue Bird Cafe.
The Special of the day.

The Special of the day.

Imelda, who is from the Philippines, has introduced her cuisine to the residents of Adak who have fallen in love with her lumpia and pancit dishes, among others. People in the community eat here regularly, sometimes once or twice a week and sometimes for every single meal.

The interior of the Blue Bird Cafe.

The interior of the Blue Bird Cafe.

Imelda isn’t the only person on the island who has had the opportunity to share her culture’s cuisine with the community. Krystle Penitani shares traditional Samoan food with the community through town-wide barbecues and pig roasts. Penitani’s job at Alaska Airline’s offers flight perks that allow her to leave to Anchorage once a month to pick up food for her large family. Penitani doesn’t stress about dinner time because she buys in bulk and six months in advance. There is always something to eat in the Penitani household. Penitani has been living and raising her six kids in Adak for the last eight years. She says the quietness, lack of traffic and lack of crime make Adak a great place to raise children.

Samoan food prepared by Penitani for a community birthday party for her daughter. 

Samoan food prepared by Penitani for a community birthday party for her daughter.

“All the time we fix what we like to eat at home, all the time. We eat a lot of curries, soy sauce, and we always use Hawaiian salt, it makes a difference,” Penitani said. “I buy bulk. I buy stuff big so I don’t have to worry about it. If I run out of fresh vegetables or fresh fruit we just go to the can. We make do with what we have. If I don’t have it we don’t eat it.”

Penitani helping her daughter blow out the candle on her birthday cake. 

Penitani helping her daughter blow out the candle on her birthday cake.

You’ll also likely find a meal in Adak’s “Little Tijuana” neighborhood, as it’s affectionately called by the locals. A single winding road near the North side of town is home to majority of Adak’s Hispanic population- roughly five families call this road home. One “Little Tijuana” resident, George Lopez, who just finished smoking a whole hog in his homemade smoker the day of this interview, has been living, working and eating in Adak for ten years. Lopez works at the fish plant and opens his home and his kitchen to migrant workers coming to the island to work at the fish plant. Lopez takes it upon himself to feed the workers home cooked meals. Lopez used to have a restaurant in town called the Cold Rock Cafe, but had to close it due to high maintenance costs.

Roast pork made by George Lopez. 

Roast pork made by George Lopez.

“I have eight beds in my house and I just started having the crew. I’ll start feeding them .I like cooking. It’s good,” Lopez said. “My house gets crowded, but It’s fine I have my own room.”

Many residents who like to cook are forced to be creative. Makani Zaima came to Adak to be with her dad, who works at the fish plant. Zaima, a health aide in training at the island’s clinic, enjoys finding recipes on Pinterest, but often finds it difficult to gather all the ingredients to make the things she finds.

Makani Zaima waiting for her lunch at the Blue Bird Cafe. 

Makani Zaima waiting for her lunch at the Blue Bird Cafe.

“I always wanna try new stuff, but it’s hard. I have Pinterest, that’s my favorite. If I see something that I really wanna try and make I’ll see if someone I know is coming out on the next flight and be like ‘hey can you pick this up for me at the store?’ and have them bring it out,” Zaima said. “That seems to work.”

At home Zaima cooks between once and twice a week, focusing on Hawaiian and Asian dishes.

“My favorite thing to cook is stir-fry, just because there’s a lot of vegetables. It’s hard to get veggies out here,” Zaima said. “Everytime I leave the island the first thing I do is order a big salad or a big bowl of fruit. I crave vegetables all the time.”

Zaima, who went to high school in Anchorage, never appreciated easily accessible produce until she came to live in Adak.

“I took fresh vegetables for granted when I lived in Anchorage,” Zaima said. “I never really noticed how much I wanted them until I came out here and couldn’t just go to the store and buy an apple.”

This year Zaima cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal for her family, which is not an easy feat in Adak. Zaima shared her meal with the town, who gets together to celebrate big holidays.

“My boss sent us a turkey. I had to get everything else shipped in. I did all the basics, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the stuffing. I also made this little vegetable bake that I found on Pinterest,” Zaima said.

Adak has one convenience store where residents can buy food and drinks if they need to. The prices are high and the food is cheap. Spam, cake mix, soda pop and candy fill the abandoned elementary school that now acts as the 100 knot store.

“There’s a store here, but you’d see that the prices are pretty extreme and that they sell a lot of sugar and carbs,” Zaima said. “I just went to the store yesterday and bought a thing of cranberry juice, a case of top ramen and a couple other things and it was like $100.”

Residents who order meat place bush orders from Mr. Prime Beef, Mike’s Quality Meats and other south central Alaskan butchers who offer deals to residents of rural communities. Besides fish, locally sourced meat can come from ptarmigan or from the island’s overpopulated caribou herd. The caribou on Adak, brought in the 1950s by the military, have no natural predators and are known to be bigger and heavier than other Alaskan caribou. A year-round open season on caribou cows make it easy for residents to get fresh meat from the island.

“During the winter the caribou come up and you can drive up the back roads and pretty much shoot them from your car.” Zaima said.

Locally sourced greens, meat and fish combined with Adak’s cultural diversity make eating at the end of the world seem more like eating at the center of the world- where food and cuisines intermingle to create a unique food culture.


Makani’s Adak stir fry.

“You can use top ramen for anything. We like to do Japanese style noodle soups, Or if we don’t have regular noodles we use them for stir-fry noodles.” Zaima said.


1 large boneless chicken breast or beef (cubes)

Ramen noodle package

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons of peanut oil

Stir fry vegetables

– carrots


-green onion


Oyster sauce, soy sauce and sriracha to taste,


1. Throw the meat into pan and sauté for 10-15 minutes on medium heat or thoroughly cooked.

2. Next, cook ramen noodles as normal without adding the sauce mix or packets packets, drain the noodles when done

3. Chop 1 onion & fresh garlic cloves.

4. In a large frying pan, heat peanut oil and frozen or fresh veggies on medium high for 10 minutes

5. Toss the noodles and chicken into the pan and mix together. Continue cooking until the veggies are cooked all the way

6. Add oyster sauce to taste and soy sauce, top with sriracha if you like. Dish up & enjoy!

For ADN- At Lucky Kitchen, a sampling of Filipino comfort food

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Dispatch News

After staying in the Philippines for a month in 2014, I’ve had a craving for classic Filipino dishes, like ube, adobo and lumpia — and you’d think it’d be easy to find them at a good Filipino restaurant in Anchorage.

After all, there’s a big Filipino population here — about half of Asian-Americans in Alaska trace their heritage back to the Philippines, according to 2014 statistics from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Yet the food of the Philippines has remained largely under the radar in Anchorage’s dining scene.

Then, through several of my Filipino friends, I heard about Lucky Kitchen. It’s a small, cafeteria-style restaurant attached to Lucky Market on the corner of International Airport Road and Arctic Boulevard, and I decided to give it a chance to curb my cravings.

For a restaurant that’s part of a grocery store, it’s surprisingly spacious, with comfortable seating for about 30 people. It was clean and well lit, and on a recent visit the smell of freshly made adobo filled the room. Lucky Kitchen features a mix of buffet-style Filipino, Thai and Chinese food, as well as made-to-order options.

On my first visit I brought three friends, one whom was familiar with Filipino cuisine. We ordered a two-entree combo, which comes with fried rice or lo mein, two main dishes and either a vegetable egg roll or a longanisa sausage ($9.49). We also ordered a whole pompano fish ($6.99), longanisa sausage (89 cents each) and lechon (deep-fried side pork, $11.99 a pound).

The combo was a pretty good deal, considering it was enough for two people. Ours consisted of fried rice, sesame chicken, pork adobo and a longanisa sausage. The sesame chicken was fine, basically the typical Chinese-American style of the dish. The pork adobo, on the other hand, propelled me straight back to Cebu City.

The two entree combo included steamed rice, longanisa sausage, pork adobo and sesame chicken. 

The two entree combo included steamed rice, longanisa sausage, pork adobo and sesame chicken.

Adobo, the national dish of the Philippines, is typically pork or chicken cooked with vinegar and soy sauce. The dish should be sweet, sour and salty, with none of the flavors overpowering the others. That was how it tasted at Lucky Kitchen, and the peppercorns, my favorite part, were abundant and gave the saucy pork dish a punch of sharp flavor.

The pompano fish was fried and served whole, with just about everything but the eyes. A small fish, the pompano looks similar to tilapia and barely filled the Styrofoam plate we were eating on. Peeling back the skin of the fish revealed a surprising amount of white meat. With our plastic forks, we pulled the meat from the bones and ate the whole thing very carefully. The flavor of the fish was buttery and mild like cod, but slightly fishier.

Pompano fish, tilapia, longanisa sausage and lechon are just few of the grab-and-go items you can get at Lucky Kitchen.

Pompano fish, tilapia, longanisa sausage and lechon are just few of the grab-and-go items you can get at Lucky Kitchen.

Everyone ordered a small longanisa sausage to try. Longanisa is a good representation of Spanish influence in the Philippines; it’s a sausage similar to chorizo, but sweeter and can be made with chicken, beef or even tuna. The sausage varies from region to region, but at Lucky Kitchen it tasted like pork sausage and was more sweet than spicy. My lunch dates fell in love with the tiny sausages.

For a snack to share we got an order of lechon from the buffet table. Chopped into bite-sized pieces, the fried outer layer of this dish is extremely crunchy at first and then gives way to juicy, fatty pork. Lechon should ideally be eaten piping hot and accompanied with a dipping sauce of some sort — this lechon, unfortunately, was not hot enough. However, on a follow-up visit I got it made-to-order, and it came out just right. So for the optimal lechon experience at Lucky Kitchen, make sure to ask for sweet and sour sauce and order it made fresh.

Lechon, or deep fried side pork.

Lechon, or deep fried side pork.

Other Filipino dishes Lucky Kitchen brings to the table are pinakbet (a mix of vegetables steamed in fish or shrimp sauce), ginisang upo (bottle gourd sauteed in garlic, onions and tomatoes with pork), ginataang kalabasa (shrimp and vegetable dish cooked in coconut milk) and ginisang ampalaya (sauteed bitter melon). All were $11.99 for a large entree portion.

The most convenient thing about Lucky Kitchen is that if you find something you love in the deli, you can walk next door to Lucky Market and buy what you need to make it at home. For a Philippines-inspired meal or snack, visit the market for a package of longanisa sausage, calamansi juice or even ube cake.

Lucky Kitchen

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 12 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Location: 5011 Arctic Blvd. Suite B.



Contact: 907-929-2229 or look on Facebook for “Lucky Kitchen”

For Edible Alaska: Made in Alaska – Ranch Dressing

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Edible Alaska

Invented by plumber-turned-entrepreneur Steve Henson, ranch dressing can trace its origins all the way to rural Alaska. Fulfilling their own version of manifest destiny, Henson and his wife, Gayle, moved from Nebraska to the last frontier in 1949, where he found himself working as a plumbing contractor in the Alaska bush. Because of the remote location, Henson pulled double duty as a cook in order to feed his crew. In an effort to get them to enjoy the salads they were being served, he made an experimental dressing with ingredients he had on hand: buttermilk, mayonnaise, and a handful of herbs and spices. Sure enough, the workers ate their vegetables.

“It’s tough to feed men up in those bush jobs. If they don’t like something, they’re as likely to throw it at the cook as they are to walk out cursing. I had to come up with something to keep them happy,” Henson told Los Angeles Times’ Sergio Ortiz in a 1999 interview about the conception and history of ranch dressing. “And it was then, in Alaska, that what’s now known as ranch dressing came into being.”

Today this quintessentially American condiment that is equal parts creamy and tangy has been used on salads, as dips, and even on pizzas, for nearly 50 years.

Henson and his wife lived and worked in Alaska for three years before moving on to California, where they purchased Sweetwater Ranch in 1954. Changing the name to Hidden Valley, the dude ranch became a popular gathering place where the Hensons served food accompanied by Steve’s crew-pleasing, dairy-rich concoction. The condiment grew so popular at Hidden Valley that Steve and Gayle began charging 75 cents for powdered ranch-mix envelopes that were in high demand all across the country.

Today Hidden Valley Ranch, whose commercials depict a sort of promised land where children frolic in fields of green and eat their vegetables with enthusiasm, is owned by Clorox.  But there’s no doubt the utopian ideal that Hidden Valley has created is still alive for some children who can’t get enough of the gooey, dairy-packed dressing. Henson sold the brand and product for $8 million in 1973 and the dressing was made shelf-friendly, allowing it to be sold in stores across the country and become an American staple.

Ranch dressing, as American as white picket fences and baseball, is America’s go-to for all things dipped and smothered. As the number one dressing shipped to U.S. food service outlets, ranch flavor nearly doubles the volume of the runner up (blue cheese), according to a report published in 2014 by The NPD Group, a leading global consumer market research firm.

Of course ranch dressing(along with seemingly just about everything else these days) has a day dedicated to it. If you’re looking to celebrate, March 10 is the day to indulge by smothering your spring greens in the creamy, piquant, and thick Alaskan-born creation that is ranch.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

It’s easy to create your own tangy and creamy ranch dressing. Perfect for topping fresh greens and spring salads. Fresh herbs and good-quality dairy products enhance this recipe, giving you a more refined and sophisticated take on America’s favorite salad dressing.


  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh minced dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk


  1. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients except for buttermilk.
  2. Once ingredients are mixed well, slowly add in buttermilk. Stir until all buttermilk has been added and all ingredients are combined.
  3. Refrigerate for approximately two hours, then taste and adjust seasonings as necessary before serving. Seal and refrigerate for up to one week.

For ADN: Kassik’s earns unprecedented double win at Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Dispatch News

Nikiski’s Kassik’s Brewery beat out competitors from across the nation to win first place in both the beer and barleywine categories at the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival, a first in the 23-year history of the event.

Photo courtesy of Kassik's for Alaska Dispatch News.

Photo courtesy of Kassik’s for Alaska Dispatch News.

Kassik’s 2016 Buffalo Head barleywine came out ahead of 30 other entries — it also won first place at last year’s festival. Kassik’s barrel-aged Statny Statny won the winter seasonal category (there was no second or third place).

San Diego brewery Ballast Point won second place with their Three Sheets barleywine. Third place was taken by Alaska’s 49th State Brewery Outlander barleywine.

Barleywine is made from grain but typically has a higher alcohol content than normal beer — around 8-12 percent by volume, similar to that of wine.

To decide the winners, two rounds of judges analyzed beers for their alcohol content, color, clarity, aroma, flavor and overall impression.

Jim “Dr. Fermento” Roberts, a longtime Anchorage beer columnist and former executive director of Brewers Guild of Alaska, helped judge the first round and best of show round for both competitions.

A barleywine will have a unique essence and aroma, Roberts said.

“Barleywines are usually a dark, heady and potent style of beer. Think leather, tobacco, caramel, chocolate, notes of toffee, coffee, those types of things,” Roberts said. “None of these things should be overwhelming. They would all be in concert with each other. It’s a balancing act and Kassik’s hit it out of the park.”

The Buffalo Head barleywine is barrel-aged and has 13.5 percent alcohol content. “This a strong beer, with big bold flavors and a hop bitterness at the end,” Kassik said.

The winter warmer competition guidelines are broad and loosely defined. It was created to let brewers know what it is the judges are looking for when it comes to the ideal seasonal beer.

“Early in the competition we struggled to define what that meant,” Roberts said. “Think of this: You just got done skiing, you skied all day and your legs are sore. You come in and there’s a big roaring fire and you’re tired and you just want to kick back. What beer would be most pleasing in front of that fire? Think about Christmas in front of the fireplace. You’re gonna have a little snifter of something that’s warming, maybe rich, maybe robust. What would be that style of beer?”

Kassik’s Statny Statny is an imperial stout that’s barrel-aged at 10.5 percent alcohol content and made with licorice root and molasses.

“In my search for beer names I found that the Czech word statny means stout and statny twice comes out to mean ‘musty stout,’ ” Frank Kassik, head brewer of Kassik’s brewery, said.

Kassik said microbreweries have an advantage when making award-winning beer.

“We brew small batches and with these smaller batches we can produce some top-quality ales consistently,” Kassik said.

With 22-ounce bottles available in most liquor stores around the state, Kassik’s is releasing 12-ounce bottles in six packs that are being shipped out across Southcentral Alaska and Fairbanks this week.

“In addition to being in the liquor stores, you can also find us in restaurants and bars across the state. Get us from F Street Station to Suite 100 to Longhorn Saloon; we are everywhere,” Kassik said.

For Great British Chefs in partnership with Celebrity Cruises: TASTEscape: Alaska

Alaska, food, Online, Uncategorized

Originally published on Great British Chefs

Travelling through Alaska’s narrow inside passage can be a whole trip in itself. Destinations become an afterthought when whales, glaciers, mountains and more are to be seen on the journey.

Sandwiched between the Gastineau Channel and the Coast Mountains, the remote capital of Alaska offers visitors a sense of the state’s remoteness. With no roads leading out of town, Juneau can only be reached by air or sea. Those who make the journey to Juneau are treated to a bounty of locally-made delights and natural marvels.

History buff? Transport yourself back in time to the glory days of the Klondike gold rush in Skagway, which by the end of the nineteenth century was the largest city in the territory. Providing provisions to gold miners and dreamers before they made the 500-mile excursion into the Klondike goldfields, Skagway became an important port for the state. Today visitors can explore the restored buildings downtown or travel further on the historic White Pass Yukon Railroad, Alaska’s only narrow-gauge railway.

Taste Juneau

Beer, coffee and dumplings – there’s not much to dislike about the food and drink on offer in Juneau. Seek out these local producers and get a taste of the Alaskan capital.

Enjoy local beers at the Alaskan Brewing Company

The first brewery in Juneau since prohibition, Alaskan Brewing Company specialises in making beer quintessentially Alaskan. Whether they are brewing their signature spruce tip ales or using locally sourced glacial water, the homegrown business sticks to its roots in Juneau. The craft brewery has expanded its distribution to over eighteen states and is spearheading a local craft brewery movement in the heart of Alaska. Located in the same building since they opened in 1986, Alaskan Brewing Co. has a gift shop and on-site tasting room for beer lovers to come and try their latest brews.

Perk up with exciting blends at Alaska’s favourite coffee house

Being one of the most caffeinated states in the nation, it’s no surprise that Alaska boasts many local coffee roasters. Heritage Coffee Roasting Company uses a vintage roaster and supplies wholesale coffee to some of the state’s most remote locales. Continuing to operate cafés in Juneau, the company provides patrons with homemade gelato as well as fresh roasted coffee, which has been voted Juneau’s favourite for over twenty-five years in a row.

Try the dumplings at Pel’meni’s

With no menu and an enduring local following, Pel’meni’s sells the local delicacy of homemade Russian dumplings. Filled with either beef or potato, the dumplings are spiced with curry and garnished with coriander. The small eatery, which is decorated floor to ceiling with vinyl records and a turntable playing softly in the background, stays open extra late on the weekends to feed the late-night bar hoppers.

Natural wonders

It’s hard to put into words just how beautiful Alaska is, with its dramatic glaciers, vast lakes and sprawling forests. Make sure you put some time aside to appreciate the beauty of nature, which can be found in every corner of the state.

Take in the beauty of Mendenhall Glacier

Located in the Tongass National Forest, America’s largest national forest, is Mendenhall Glacier, spanning over thirteen miles. Well-maintained paths lead to picturesque views of the glacier and the lake, and if you sit still you can hear the glacier creak and croak as the ice shifts. Lucky visitors may even get a chance to see the glacier ‘calve’ (when large chunks of ice break off into the water). Originally called ‘Sitaantaago’, meaning ‘The Glacier Behind the Town’ by the indigenous Tlingit people of the area, the glacier was renamed in 1891 to commemorate Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, an American physicist and meteorologist. Visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre to make the most of your trip.

Get a bird’s eye view of the state capital

The only aerial tramway in southeast Alaska, the Mt Roberts Tramway offers visitors an excellent way to get their bearings on the landscape around them as well as excellent photo opportunities. Beginning at the cruise ship dock, cars rise 1,800 feet through rainforest and end at the Mountain House, where visitors can get panoramic views of Juneau.

Visit a cabin older than Alaska itself

Rustic architecture and visible spruce logs enhance the Chapel by the Lake, a cabin-turned-Presbyterian-church built years before Alaska became a state. Enjoy peaceful views of Auke Lake (with Mendenhall Glacier in the distance) and take in the beauty of Alaska’s landscape.

Skagway culture

Walking around the town of Skagway is like going back in time – the old shopfronts and relaxed way of life make it a fascinating place to see. Be sure to venture into the surrounding countryside for some spectacular sights.

Hitch a ride on the White Pass Yukon Railroad

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass Yukon Railroad survives today to take visitors through some of Alaska and Canada’s most beautiful countryside. Don’t forget your camera; the train travels over historic trestles and alongside waterfalls, gorges and glaciers. One of the only railroads in the state of Alaska, the White Pass Yukon Railroad is a narrow-gauge railroad and runs multiple scenic excursions as well as services for hikers traveling the Chilkoot Trail.

Appreciate art at the Skagway Sculpture Garden

Take a break from historic dates and Klondike antiquity and enjoy Skagway’s modern art at the Skagway Sculpture Garden. Filled with Alaskan-inspired art and local flora, this is the perfect place to come and take a relaxing stroll between more adventurous excursions. The garden is home to a gift shop full of original art by local artists; the perfect place to grab a souvenir.

Transport yourself back to the 1890s at the Red Onion Saloon

Established in 1897 and restored to its original aesthetic, the Red Onion Saloon is a favourite with both locals and visitors. It’s also home to a brothel museum that commemorates the saloon’s more scandalous history. Some even say the Red Onion Saloon is haunted – a blog run by the saloon records the paranormal experiences of guests and patrons. With a bar and restaurant on site, enjoy a bite to eat in the heart of historic downtown Skagway.

Still have time to spare?

– Close to the cruise ship dock, Yakutania Point is a part of Skagway’s scenic shoreline. Humpback whales, orca whales and seals are often seen in the distance, and the walk to the overlook and back is less than a mile and very accessible. The footbridge crosses the Skagway River, and there’s a picnic area at the end that’s perfect for a late afternoon lunch.

– The first stone building in Alaska, the grandiose city hall is home to the Skagway Museum and Archives. Here visitors can peruse artefacts from the indigenous people of the area, including a Tlingit canoe and Bering Sea kayaks. Other artefacts include tools, supplies and paraphernalia of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

– Juneau’s St Nicholas Church was established in 1893 by the indigenous Tlingit people of the area. Members of the Tlingit visited nearby Sitka, where they were met with the Russian Orthodox religion and subsequently baptized. These members came back to their home in the Juneau area and established the church, which is made of local timber and remains the oldest Orthodox structure in continuous use in southeast Alaska. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a popular place for visitors to learn about Alaska’s historical ties with Russia.

For TNL: Urban indoor farm to provide fresh produce to Anchorage

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

In the land of the midnight sun, the endless sunshine can raise monster 130 pound cabbages, 1,200 pound pumpkins and 35 pound broccoli from the fertile soils of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. We flock to farmers markets to reap the rewards of valley farmers and savor the flavors of our Alaskan-grown produce. As the frost begins to settle and the season ends, Alaskans grow nostalgic for freshness in anything. Jason Smith, a UAA alumni who graduated with an undergraduate degree in geomatics and a master’s degree in business administration, is bridging the fresh food gap in Anchorage.

Residing inside the old Matanuska Maid building in Spenard, Alaska Natural Organics is Smith’s hydroponic vertical farm, where he harvests produce for restaurants and the Anchorage community.

Alaska Natural Organics was approved for funding in 2014 and provides fresh, locally grown produce to many local Alaskan restaurants including 49th State Brewing Company, Midnight Sun Brewing Company, Hearth, Bear Tooth Theatrepup, Romano’s, Ginger, Rush Espresso, Sacks Cafe, Snow City Cafe, Spenard Roadhouse, South Restaurant + Coffee House and Pangea. Beyond local restaurants, Alaska Natural Organics also sells their basil through Carrs and Fred Meyer. Marketing their Alaska grown produce has come with its own unique set of challenges.

“One of the challenges we have is that everyone says they want to buy local, but there’s people down in the southern California working for a whole lot cheaper, and it brings the price way down. That’s been a hurdle,” Smith said.

Locally grown produce may be worth the extra money. With higher nutritional value and the potential to improve the local economy, buying local could help Alaskans invest in their community.

“On the one hand, local means higher nutrition value. The nutritional value of produce degrades very quickly days after harvest, so you’ll increase the nutrition if you buy it as fresh as possible,” Smith said. “It helps our economy, it stabilizes jobs in the state and it gives us a bit more independence from outside sources. We got one road and a port to bring our food here. It’s a perpetual task so our food can come into the state.”

Bear Tooth, one of Anchorage’s local restaurants make use of what Alaska Natural Organics has to offer, and is even looking into buying basil from the vertical farm all year round. The popular Spenard restaurant uses an average of 15 pounds of basil a week, mostly being used in pesto sauces.

“We are working to get [basil] from Alaska Natural Organics, we are getting some from them currently. He’s someone who can produce for us in a way where we can use year round. Our goal is to be able to go all out with them,” Stephanie Johnson, general manager at Bear Tooth said.

Bear Tooth who uses a myriad of Alaska grown and made products from around the state, seeks out local products to showcase in their restaurant.

“It’s always ideal for us whenever possible because you lose a lot of flavor the farther away something is. Everything being fresher is ideal. When you work with locally grown food, people are far more willing to work with you. The Bears Tooth had a pretty strong commitment [to local products], prior to me being here. It’s something I’ve been doing at other places as well, so I brought my enthusiasm for it,” Natalie Janicka, Executive chef at Bear Tooth said.

With more awareness for locally grown produce and items in Alaska, awareness is growing and farmers and consumers alike are taking advantage.

“I think years and years ago when we first wanted to start carrying Alaskan grown products there were far less distributors. It was a lot of going to the same three produce distributors. At one point, the only thing that you could get was lettuce, that made sense for us at least. It was super challenging,” Johnson said. “It’s getting easier all the time. There’s such a culture of local food now.”

Options for local food when the winter chill begins to settle over the state are more abundant than previously thought. With Alaska Natural Organics providing fresh greens year round, one can taste the fresh and nutritional bounty of a local grower in the comfort of their favorite restaurant or bought from Carrs or Fred Meyer.

Fresh basil from Alaska Natural organics can be bought at Carrs and Fred Meyer. Other options for locally grown and made products is the Center Market, Alaska’s only year round farmers market located in the Sears mall. The market operates in the mornings and afternoons on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the year.

For TNL: Homemade fettuccine in the Widgeon II

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

I just got home from spending the weekend at Tutka Bay Lodge, a remote lodge in Kachemak Bay. The lodge is home to a remote cooking school. The Widgeon II is a historic boat that went from a World War II vessel to a crabbing boat, and was drug up on to the beach of the remote lodge and transformed into the cooking school it is today. Unique and rustic, the cooking school is without running water and an oven. I was sponsored by UAA’s Department of Journalism to attend a food writing retreat hosted by Alaska’s own Julia O’Malley and New York Times Food editor Sam Sifton at the lodge. We ate, cooked, and wrote the weekend away. Here’s the homemade fettuccine recipe I derived  from this weekend.

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Homemade fettuccine

Hearing the word homemade followed by something you’ve only ever thought ywould buy can be daunting. I’ve made homemade pasta once in my life as part of a ‘culinary boot camp’ my parents put me in one summer as a kid. In the class we learned knife skills and basic cooking repertoire. Of all the things we did that week making pasta seemed to be the most time consuming and tedious task of them all. Flash forward a decade later in the Widgeon II, a remote cooking school in Kachemak Bay, I’m assembled with a small team consisting of a fellow writer and a gifted cook. Tasked to work with the ingredients at hand, we are inspired to make pesto, and the idea of pasta soon follows. Investigating to see if fettuccine was available, we were greeted without pasta, but with a clunky metal machine that I spent numerous afternoons avoiding as a kid. The ominous crank wasn’t enough to deter my hunger. I turned the crank and helped to feed the pasta through. Shocked at how little time it took to make such a small amount of flour go so far, I was having a revelation. Maybe making pasta isn’t as annoying as I thought? Maybe everything seems to take hours as an 11 year old? When the water was boiled and the pasta was done I tasted for doneness and it clicked. The kneading, feeding, and cranking was worth it for the delicate, melt-in-your-mouth, almost buttery consistency of the pasta. Create a taste you can’t buy from a store.


2 ½ Cups of All-purpose flour

½ Tablespoon of kosher salt

6 Egg yolks

1 Egg

1 Tablespoon olive oil



1.       In a large mixing bowl incorporate 2 cups of flour and salt. Create a well in the center of the flour.

2.       Place the olive oil, egg yolks and the egg into the well and with two fingers whisk the eggs into the flour until a tacky dough is formed.

3.       Knead the dough  for about 7 – 10 minutes. Set aside and cover with plastic. Allow to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes.

4.       While dough is resting set up pasta roller and cutter per manufacturer’s instructions.

5.       After the dough has rested cut into even thirds. Set the excess two aside, keeping them covered, and work with the first third by flattening the leading edge until it reaches about ½ inch in thickness.

6.       Feed the flattened dough through the pasta roller on the widest setting. Once the dough has been fed through, take the stretched dough and fold into thirds. Dust the pasta dough with flour if tacky.

7.       Repeat step 6 ten times, folding the pasta into thirds each time, creating layers.

8.       Once the layers are created, proceed to thinning and stretching the pasta dough. Reducing the width of the rollers each pass through until you have reduced the width 8 times. Dust the dough with flour as needed.

9.       Add the pasta cutter attachment to the pasta making machine per manufacturer’s instructions. With the widest pasta cutter setting or the fettuccine setting, feed the pasta sheet through the cutter. Once pasta has been cut dust liberally with flour and form the pasta into a small nest, set aside and cover with plastic.

10.   Follow steps 5 – 9 with the other two pasta dough thirds.


Directions to cook pasta:

1.       Fill a large deep pot with 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil.

2.       Once the water has been brought to a boil, toss in 3 – 4 tablespoons of salt.

3.       Shake the remaining flour off the pasta before placing the pasta into the boiling water.  Sir the pasta until the water has returned to a boil, and allow to cook until desired doneness, approximately 2 – 4 minutes.

4.       Once pasta has reached desired doneness, reserve a cup of the cooking water for later. Drain the water and serve.

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 – 8 servings