Dinner Adventure

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.

Sara's Menu

Sara’s Amazing Retirement Dinner

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.

Slug Free Wednesday

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. 

New Berry Grounds

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. 

Good weekend

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.   

Berry Time

Went on my first salmon berry pick after work.  Picked for about 3 hours and got a gallon or two I’m guessing.  Seems like the yellows are bigger than most of the reds, although there were some trophy reds.  Also, yellows clustered in places with lots of berries on a bush but the reds much more sparse on the bushes.   And lots of spruce needles in the berries near spruce trees from the spruce aphids.  Berries smaller and fewer than last year but maybe it’s just because I’m out a little earlier than last year, I think.  Nice sunny evening and good exercise.

Fish Emergency

My brother in law called on Sunday and said they had a family emergency.  There were too many king salmon and not enough people on his boat.  Sara had been talking about getting her classroom cleared out and doing a garage sale.  I told her the news, then said let’s go get her boxes from her classroom.  We go the boxes, set up tables in the garage for her to sort for a garage sale, and she was happy and ready to send me south on Monday.  My boss, who grew up where I was going, said “go”.   I flew down to Ketchikan on Monday and caught the ferry.   The ferry load was surprisingly light.  When we go over during deer season, every table is occupied in the cafe onboard. Today, not so much. I rode to my inlaws with a deckhand from the ferry who was the mother of a good friend  my nieces’.  When we go to Craig, a nice buck in velvet walked across the road between the high school and the little hospital.  When we turned up the road to my inlaws, we saw a black bear near our lot.   Salmon berries were coming full on.  Yellows and reds.  Thimbleberries were in full bloom. We arrived to a big feed for a bunch of birthdays.  Crab.  King salmon.   Some incredible banana cake.  It’s good to be back and feels more and more like home.  I was told I should get a derby ticket for the local hatchery in case we catch a big one, so I drove out to Black Bear store in Klawock.  On the way home, there was another black bear in the road right near out lot. I was up early and we headed out in 2 boats.  Brian and I picked up a new resident across the bay who is a dentist in Nevada.  We headed about an hour ride to the outer coast.   Howard and was with George on his boat and they were trolling with downriggers.  We mooched.    It wasn’t long till the dentist got the first fish on, and we could see action on the other boat.  At one piont, Brian thought he saw a king salmon jump near the boat.  Next thing I see is a tiny baby seal swimming right next to the boat.  We could have leaned over and caught it by hand.  Smallest seal I’ve ever seen. We each caught a king salmon and Brian caught 2, along with several rock fish.   The other boat got 6 for the day.  Not bad.  We saw humpbacks feeding right up on the beach at Black Rock on the way home.  We ate salmon salad sandwiches for lunch.  Ellen filleted and I wrapped fish. The next day we left at 5 am.  Kevin, Ellen, Brian and I.  We saw orcas near the outer coast.  We were the only ones on the spot for an hour or two.  We trolled with the downriggers after little action mooching.  That was the ticket.  We stacked 2 lines on each downrigger, but started getting fish only on the deeper line so we just went to two lines.  We had steady action till noon.  Caught 8 keepers and lost or shook that many small fish.  Plus I got a nice halibut.  I bled, cleaned and iced the fish king salmon as we caught them.  We headed home at noon. One of the outboards started overheating on the way home.  We nursed it to the dock.  Then hooked up a trailer to the truck, and I took the trailer to the dock while Brian ran the boat over, and we loaded the boat onto the trailer so Brian could get it to Chet, his high schoolmate, to do an oil change and to look at the overheating.  Brian pulled up to the top of the ramp and the trailer popped off the ball.   The 3 ball hitch was on the wrong ball for the 3 axle trailer hitch.  Yikes.  Luckily, Brian had tied the boat bow to the trailer and put the safety chains to the truck or that would have been an expensive error.  We got things right and took the boat the block up to Chet’s shop.   Chet was in a surly mood.  You could tell the season had kicked off as Chet was pretty animated with early season “dumb ass”  stories.  We parked the trailer and Chet said he’d call when it was done and to come get it soon after as he had boats that needed service stacked up and more on the way.  Chet is a lifeline to the charter operators in town, and from growing up in Wrangell, he knows that the outboards are the powerhouse that have to be running for the guidinging operators to make their living during the summer season.    We got all the fish butchered and packed and then had dinner of party leftovers.  Crab.  King salmon. And fresh greens from Ellen’s greenhouse.  Good stuff. I originally planned to fish Tue-Thur, but I had a year’s supply of fish as I got all our our catch as the others already had their king salmon.  I decided to leave early the next day on the ferry.  I got up early and packed all the fish and Brian, Howard and I headed to Hollis.  Along the way we saw a doe with a tiny, tiny fawn.  The size you could transport in your shirt.  The size of a puppy.  It was the first spotted blacktail fawn I’d ever seen. When I got to the airport, they have a handy scale to pre-weigh your bags.  I had right at about 150 lbs of fish in my 3 bags – nearly all king salmon.  That will do us for a year.  Now it’s on to the salmon berries here which should be coming on pertty good now.