Monday, January 31, 2011

Vegetable Adventures

Since moving to Alaska, Adam & I have embarked on our very own vegetable adventures! It started when we were visiting the Farmers Market once a week and got to see all the mounds of fresh produce. One week we caught a glimpse of a vegetable we'd never seen before - Romanesco.
A close-up of our Romanesco.

It looked like something from another planet, or from the ocean floor. We couldn't help staring and when the farmer noticed she explained to us that it was a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower. It's fractal nature reminded me of coral and when I investigated further I found that it is sometimes called coral broccoli, but then again it's also called summer cauliflower. It seems as if this unusual vegetable defies categorization. It was almost too pretty to eat, but not quite! We steamed the Romanesco, much like you would steam broccoli, but I have since found recipes that suggest roasting with oil and others for Romanesco & Parmesan puree. If we find it again, we will definitely try out some more recipes!

Root vegetable medley.
Our next vegetable adventures were root vegetables - Rainbow Carrots, Candy Cane Beets, Turnips and Parsnips. The rainbow carrots were really pretty, but once peeled they lost their bright colors and were mostly orange. The candy cane beets were small, but really fun looking when sliced. They indeed looked like they had peppermint stripes. The parsnip and turnip don't look very exciting but make up for that in taste. We chopped all our vegetables, tossed them in olive oil and fresh rosemary and roasted them. It made a fun and healthy side dish.

After the Farmers Market closed, we had more limited access to fresh local produce so Adam and I decided to focus on those vegetables we could get in the supermarket. We both love mushrooms and went on a Cremini mushroom binge. This reminded Adam of how much he wants to be able to harvest wild mushrooms. There are a number of mushrooms native to Alaska - gilled mushrooms, shelf mushrooms, teeth mushrooms, coral mushrooms, puffballs, morels, and false morels. Lucky for Adam, Santa brought him a book on how to identify mushrooms in the wild!

Mussels, clams and shallots in a white wine sauce.
Lately we've transitioned from using onions in our recipes, which I like when sauteed but Adam does not, to using shallots. Although they are a variety of onion, they have a much more interesting flavor. They are sweeter and not as strong tasting as onions. We've used them in preparing moose roast as well as in a seafood dish. It's nice to find a delicious 'compromise' vegetable.

It's nice to have a partner who's open to trying new things! We've enjoyed these epicurean adventures and I know we'll have many more.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Year, New Posts!

It's time I dusted off the blog and got back on track! There are so many things on my 'to blog' list, be prepared for a barrage of posts over the next month. So here goes...

Today, in particular, I am reminded of how dependent Alaskans are on air travel. Unless you're on of the brave ones, like Adam, most people who come to Alaska do so via airplane. In addition, the size of the state is staggering and getting around within the state itself often requires flying. Brandon reminded us the other day that the state, technically, should have four time zones within itself. Driving to Anchorage for our Christmas flights took us over 360 miles of beautiful terrain, but it is a long way to drive to get to the only city in Alaska. It's easy to see why so many people take small planes to get around this big, wonderful state.

A plane lands on the runway of Hearst Road, North Pole.
Welcome to Bush Flying! Bush flying is flying that is done in remote areas. Bush planes can reach almost every part of the state. Lakes freeze so solidly that large, multi-engine planes can land on them. There are seaplanes, planes with large tundra tires and planes on skis that can land everywhere from ridge tops to glaciers to rivers and lakes. Although many times these pilots land on unimproved airfields, there are many personal airfields scattered throughout Fairbanks and North Pole. Right around our apartment there are several grassy airfields and at least one water runway.

Small planes are always buzzing around - Cessnas, Pipers, Beeches, DeHavillands. The planes are such an important part of Alaskan life that the former governor even named one of her children after one of these planes. Even now, there is a new television show about Alaskan pilots! These pilots (and their planes) are integral to Alaska. Many stores offer 'air drop' services since Alaska's small population (of about 700,000) is spread out of such an immense area. Alaska has about one registered pilot for every 58 residents, six times as many pilots per capita, and 14 times as many airplanes per capita as the rest of the United States.

This, unfortunately, also translates to higher numbers of accidents. Just this summer, one of these crashes claimed the life of beloved state Senator Ted Stevens and four others. Alaska is a challenge - on the ground and in the air. Harsh weather and rough terrain make it one of the more treacherous states to fly in. Single engine planes (with no back up engine) and remote landing areas make crashes even more dangerous. It's even been said that the National Transportation Safety Board has noted a cavalier attitude among pilots in Alaska, commonly called "bush syndrome."

Perhaps I am also suffering from 'bush syndrome', but I find the concept of bush piloting very romantic. Maybe I've watched Out of Africa too many times or maybe I listened to Skitch talk about Tiger Moths too intently, but it seems like a wonderful way to get from place to place. Alaska doesn't make things easy, it's still one of the raw places left in the world and to think that I live in a location that requires such fortitude makes me just a little bit...proud.