I’m pretty much drowning in firewood wood from all the free trees we got recently. Matt has wood at our place because he was maxed out his space. But when I saw free firewood on Craigslist yesterday. Well, free wood is free wood. I didn’t need more. Matt was down south. Erik had soccer with Jack and not much room anyway. Jeff didn’t want it. So what to do with it. I was first on the list so of course I said I’d be out to get it. Then I remembered. My neighbor KJ, who I split wood for because his doctor said after his shoulder surgery he could split no more. Maybe he’d want it. “Sure!” he said. So off to the valley to collect it. The wood was mainly spruce. Some unsplit 2 inch diameter stuff and some ready to burn larger split stuff, along with some old cottonwood rounds I’d keep for smoking. It took every inch of the truck bed up to the canopy top to fit it all in in one load, but I made it. The old 250 diesel hardly knew it was there. KJ looked like he’d opened a Christmas present when I pulled down the truck tailgate. Now he’s set for wood and my splitting for him taken care of. At least most of it. Maybe he can take another load, but not much.
The blueberries are in their prime right now at the cabin. I picked 30 lbs Sat/Sun and Sara helped me vac pack 19 packs of 4 cups each packages when I got home. My sciatica hurt so much when I started picking this morning I didn’t think I’d get a day in. But I came back to the cabin, popped some ibuprofen, drank some water, and rested for a spell. Then back out for more and then another rest. Finally, it let go and I was good for the rest of the day. It was perfect weather. 60 degrees and although lots of people over for the holiday, I didn’t see a soul.
The blue berries take nearly twice as long to process as the salmon berries. I use a berry rake to pick, so that collects quite a few leaves and green berries that have to be picked out. Plus it leaves lots of stems, but I learned I don’t have to worry about getting all the stems because they soften up and you don’t know they’re there if you are cooking the berries. Then the berries have to go into water to make any worms inside come out. Then it’s taking the berries handful by handful into a colander a from the water to remove any berries or stems and the worms. This part takes nearly as long as the picking. It was 8 hours for 15 lbs today, and I think it’s maybe 5 for salmon berries. In any event, we’ve got lots of berries now in for the year. There were a pair of wrens hanging around the porch of the cabin where I was processing the berries like they had a nest nearby but I could not find it. Ravens squawking up a storm like they were fighting over some kind of food, too. After the berries were done, I made blueberry pancakes and had a hearty lunch as it was my first meal of the day. The blueberries were nice. Then I packed things up and headed for the boat. I got to the boat about 6 pm and it was tided. Called Sara because I didn’t see my tide book. She said the tide was going out for another hour, so I headed back to the cabin. I ate some leftover cured Yukon chum salmon leftover from John Cox’s dinner. I fried it in some canola oil and salt and it was excellent. Although almost anything you cook at the cabin tastes good. After puttering around the cabin for an hour, I got back to the boat about 815 and it was dry but the tide flooding. I got on the bow as the tide floated the boat, waiting for it to float. There were oodles of little hermit crab and other crabs that looked like spiders that came out in the blue mussels as the beach turned to ocean. The kids would love that.
The boat finally floated. I idled out, got on step and came around the spit where I was surprised to see some 30 people on the beach for the 4th of July. Never heard them even though I was just on the other side of the spit. Funny. A great weekend at the cabin.
So, here we are 4 days after the fact, and I and I think others are still riding the high of the perhaps once in a lifetime dinner we had last Sunday.
One of Sara’s former students from her earliest days of teaching came up this past week with a chef friend of hers, John Cox, from Monterrey. I think she met him when he came in to her shop for coffee. He’s interested in local wild foods, so Hanni said “I’ve got a freezer to show you”. John opened our freezers and Sara told him what was what in there. John said – “there’s nothing bought from the store in here, is there”. Sara said – yes – the 2 Costco pizzas and a sleeve of bagels”. John showed me how the cambium layer – the layer between the bark and woody part- of devil’s club is edible- and it’s actually good. Tastes like licorice/anise. So he and Hanni and Sara put together a menu and supply list and I just did what they told me and took care of Hanni’s 14 month old son, Ames, who was quickly dubbed Ames America because Ames sounds close to Haines. John collected some yarrow and Labrador Tea and got some fresh beach asparagus and morel mushrooms from Rainbow Foods. I think that’s all we bought. Hanni had me collecting blueberry and salmon berry stems, had me cut a small crooked branch off a tree at the cabin, and other similar duties for her decoration of the event, as that’s what she does. I was literally hung over today. Even though as the designated driver I didn’t have any alcohol. It was like a Thanksgiving meal hangover. I realized today John cooked us a meal even the wealthiest can’t get – at least not easily. Anyone can get the wild king and chum salmon – both of those are commercially harvested.
The wild black tail deer and moose are meats that can’t be legally sold so can’t be bought in trade – doesn’t matter how much money you have. The appetizers were king salmon tartar, cured chum salmon strips, chum salmon roe, smoked salmon brined in salmon berry juice (I did that one), black cod butter and some spruce infused salt with some nice thin slices of tasted bread from the good Wild Oven bakery here in Juneau. If you didn’t know, tartar is raw salmon. The king salmon was the fish I’d caught in Craig a few weeks ago. It was incredible. When seconds came around, everyone dove in. Forgetting we had multiple course to go. And so it went. Next, bowls were set before us with crab meat in them. Then John came around with this cool pitcher of Saras and poured dungeness crab bisque on the crab meat. “Oh my gosh this is good” was murmured and murmured. When John came around with seconds, everybody held their bowl out. Next, John and Hanni served up deer and moose. The deer was back strap that he’d marinated in some Birch Syrup we had from the days we used it for our smoked salmon pouches. He grilled it on the outside to sort of braise it, then sliced it pretty thin, and put it in the oven. The middle of it looked almost raw, but when you sliced it with the butter knife, it easily parted. And, he topped it with a compote made of red huckleberries and Labrador tea. Incredible. More seconds. Next was biscuits and gravy. The biscuits had cheese in them I think, and were real thin. The gravy was moose burger and morel mushrooms. More incredible. More seconds. He also had a vegetable of kale, squash and potato. Great. Then came the flan topped with cherries from Roy and Brenda’s cherry trees in Haines, America. What a finisher. The rest had an apartief of burbon and other stuff but like I said, I didn’t drink anything so I could be the driver.
It was, by far, the best meal I’ve ever had. And almost all from our freezer and cupboards. How does someone put it together to taste like that. We all felt like this was something we might never experience again and how lucky were we that we got to eat it. I told Sara’s sister and her husband, who were responsible for much of the meal in one way or the other: “I figured it would be good. But in no way did I know it would be this good because it’s the best food I’ve ever had. Had I known, we’d have flown them up her for the dinner”. It was that good. Some people have a gift. One of those is John Cox. Another is Hanni Lilidahl. Boo Yeah.
For some reason, slugs are one of the creatures that makes my stomach turn. I used to work out in Sand Point- located in the Shumagin Islands – where there’s a monster salmon berry patch behind the boat harbor. Slugs actually were inside the berry, so everyone you picked, you had to check inside first before putting it in the bucket. Here, I’ve rarely seen them inside a berry, but they are on the bushes and occasionally fall into my bucket with the berries. I noticed them more on Douglas than on the Juneau side of the channel, especially the last time I picked at Sandy Beach. Yesterday, I saw rain was coming after several dry days, so went over and picked before the rain. With the bushes bone dry, I didn’t see one slug. So that’s what I learned yesterday. I only picked for a couple hours before I called it quits. I put the berries in colanders in a bowl overnight to drain off the juice and got 15 cups of berries and 6 cups of juice. That puts the berry and juice total to about 70 lbs for the year and I might call that good and move on to blueberries. I picked 4 cups around the back deck two nights ago and they are coming on. The huckleberries don’t seem to be on at all yet.
My co-worker and her kids gave me a tip today on a berry spot I’d not tried before. It’s right in the middle of everything in Juneau. I picked for almost 4 hours, and filled all 9 Costco nut jars I had, and didn’t scratch the surface. I’m guessing I got 20 to 25 lbs. Berries will rot on the vine there. Right in the middle of town. And easy picking, too, compared to other places I’ve been. What a country.
Sunny and mid-60’s today. Went garage saling with Jeff and Sara. We needed a weedeater as Sara’s had just died. The first sale we went to was an all-free sale, pretty much. I stayed in the Yukon as Sara and Jeff went in. I thought there wasn’t going to be anything I’d want at a free sale. When they were still in there 15 minutes later, I thought I’d better see what was there. I climbed about 50 stairs and then around the house to the garage. Not a whole lot there. As we left, I saw 2 weedeaters in the corner. I pointed them out to Sara. She asked the seller. The seller said “take ’em”. A gas and an electric weedeater. Both worked when we got home. We garage saled til about 1030 am. After testing the weedeaters, Sara wanted to get the recyling out, so I got that together, along with all the scrap metal, and headed out to offload those. I also stopped at Home Depot to get a primer bulb for the gas weedeater. I then went berry picking. Got 3 hours of picking in in beautiful weather and not another soul out picking. Wow. Back to the house, and cleaned the berries and put them in colanders to drain the juice out over night and will vac pack them tomorrow. This batch makes about 40 lbs of salmon berries in so far for the year. I put a piece of frozen king salmon on the grill, and called Paul to see what he thinks about the NBA game 7. Cleveland came back from 3-1 to tie it 3-3 with Golden State. He’s betting on Golden State. He also has a “bucket list” trip he’s planning with his daughters to fly into a place they hiked to 40 years ago. Then he said “if we don’t do it this year, we’ll do it next year.” On Sunday, we had Samuel for the day. He helped me put wheels on a table, then we went to cut firewood. He was chopping wood with an axe, whiffed on the log, and hit his shin. No cut. I told him if he ever wanted to touch the axe again, it would be a good idea if he didn’t tell Aunt Sara about it. Samuel’s pant legs are at the tops of his ankles and hoodie only comes down to his belly button. The boy is growing. He mowed through smoked salmon and lunch like a hungry dog. We were going to turn him loose with the weedeater we got on Saturday, but both decided he’d never stop at the weeds and we’d be out of flowers, bushes, everything. He helped me make a barbecue for his dad for Fathers Day. We made king salmon and venison and a salad.