Bixler has a doppelganger in town. For the past month or so we had heard of another curly-haired individual cruising around Seward. A few weeks ago we were at the post office (the hubbub of activity in Seward since we don’t have house-to-house mail delivery) and the curly haired individual walked passed us. We did a double take and as we stood in line to get our new snowshoes in the mail, the doppelganger came up to us and said, “Are you Bixler? Everyone says I must meet you.” The post office worker laughed (he knows us as well). We chatted briefly and found out that he and his Krystin-like girlfriend live on a boat near ours. That weekend as we headed out to Grant Lake,we saw them sporting guns and skis off the highway. We flipped a u-turn, talked some more, found out they enjoy adventuring as much as we do, and thus a friendship was formed.
First there was Packrafting
Among the vast conversations with our new friends, we talked heavily about packrafting. Krystin, as a birthday present to herself (the Big 30), purchased an Alpacka Packraft, the Denali Llama size to fit her freakishly long legs and the potential for carrying big game. Bixler, of course, got the same raft, only in yellow, but had to wait for it to be constructed. In the meantime, we took Krystin’s for a spin on Resurrection River, which was open, but running at slightly low water.
After that amazing initial paddle, we started planning a longer trip. As usual we dive in head first to many activities, but are always willing to get some help (when warranted – this does not include unsolicited male-to-female hunting, fishing, or boat repair advice). Turns out our doppelgangers are quite into packrafting and had just purchased new Alpackas themselves. They had never floated the upper reaches of the Kenai River from Cooper Landing to Russian River Ferry. The weather was looking to be stellar for the weekend with warm temperatures. And thus a plan was formed.
And then there was Fly Fishing
The Kenai River is famous for its roadside accessibility and massive runs of salmon and tourists in the summer months. Like a plague, we’ve avoided fishing the Kenai River, preferring to fish some of our freshwater secret spots and ocean fishing. However, we learned that it is possible to fish the Kenai during the winter months for trout who follow the salmon upriver during the spawning season to feast on the eggs and flesh. With the warming weather, the trout were starting to wake up and few fly fishermen willing to brace the cold waters dotted the riverbank near the outlet of Kenai Lake.
We had heard about winter fishing and seen people do it, but didn’t expect to fish at all on our upper Kenai packraft trip. Turns out our new friends are really into fly fishing and wanted to give us instruction on how to fly fish. Before we launched our rafts in Cooper Landing, we learned a basic overhead cast, then boarded our packrafts for a float downstream.
We stopped a bit downstream where we witnessed rises in the river. The water was still deep, but starting to move. We beached our packrafts and grabbed the fly rods.
With three rods for four people, we had to sub out occasionally to give the resting person a chance. It was hard to do because fly fishing is awesome. The tranquility of passing the fly overhead and having it touch the water like a fallen leaf is far superior to the drop-the-shiny-thing-and-see-what-bites method of Alaskan ocean fishing.
Krystin, despite her lack of coordination skills, was able to pick up fly fishing after a few hundred practice casts. As she stood on the riverbank admiring the scenery, the slightest tug of the line indicated a fish was on. Using the line to pull the fish in and backing up along the shore (and being careful to not slip on the ice), she pulled in a beautiful 22-inch wild rainbow trout. It was dark in color and a bit sluggish from the cold water, but still put up a decent fight.
She returned the trout to the water and took a break. Bixler was now determined to catch a trout, but instead hooked up to a giant king salmon that he lost and a spawned-out silver that he landed.
We continued downriver learning how to read rapids and rocks, and stopped to fish a few more times without any luck. We hauled out at Russian River Ferry (closed this time of year, naturally) and headed to Wildman’s in Cooper Landing for ice cream. Our friends warned us about Wildman’s. Don’t order the double scoop. Their “single scoop” is not the dainty little single scoop you get from Baskin-Robbins. It is a small mountain packed expertly into a cone, with alternating layers of flavor.
And thus, it was the best ending to a perfect day.
You know what makes a great conversation piece? The internal components of a jet engine sitting on a coffee table. We don’t have room for that right now, but instead how about mittens made from the paws of a real life black bear?
Ironically finished just in time for Fur Rondy, Krystin designed and sewed up mittens from the front paws of her black bear she shot two summers ago. So far, the remnants of the hide from the taxidermist that didn’t make it into the shoulder mount have gone into a tasteful black bear pillow. The mittens have been a long-forthcoming project because of the difficulty in designing and constructing them. In the end, this was about an 85% successful project. The mittens look cool as a window display in our place and have a tacky black bear print in the palms and an even tackier moose-and-bear flannel as the liners. The downside: the upper hand portion is a bit big and the thumbs too small, even for someone with freakishly small hands like Krystin. Much of the mitten was hand-sewn because of the difficulty dealing with the black bear fingers. Hand sewing is still a work in progress and did not come out nearly as clean as the sewing done with the Sailrite LSZ-1. Regardless, they are warm, mostly comfortable, and quite the Alaskan fashion statement!
You know what’s on the Internet? Everything. Do you know what’s missing? An adequate pattern for making mittens. Krystin tried a pattern she found online and quickly discovered that it was just plain wrong. It turns out that making a mitten pattern from scratch is way more difficult than it seems. She went through about three iterations of the mitten pattern before finding on that somewhat worked. Can she recreate it? Probably not.
The mittens are constructed in two pieces with the flannel liner sewn to the mitten as the last step. By constructing the liner first, you can see if you pattern is going to work. Krystin modified the pattern after constructing the liners because with just the paper patterns out in front, it is difficult to visualize how the pieces fit together.
Working with the hide is the same as normal fabrics, except hairier. Black bear hide is thick, so you need a machine that will be able to punch through it. Also, hides do not come in squares like you find at your local sewing store; they have arms, holes, claws, and other odd features (like hairless armpits!). The front paws of this black bear weren’t wide enough to fit the pattern, so additional pieces were hand sewn on to avoid having a seam along the fingers. The entire finished product was then cut to shape. If you plan on sewing hides by hand, get a sailor’s palm and pliers.
The palms of the mittens have a thin cotton fabric that is actually backed with cushion bottom material left over from reupholstering Carpe Ventos. Most people who work with furs usually make the palms with leather or another durable material. Since these are “show” mittens, a nice tacky black bear print was used instead – with a durable backing.
Lastly, the fingers and claws are cool concept, but they are hard to deal with sewing-wise. You must sew the palm on by hand because you can’t flip the mittens around and sew the inside due to the fingers.
In the end, it was an interesting project. The mittens will be great at Halloween to hand out candy to unknowing young children and watch their eyes grow wide as they realize you have a set of bear paws on your hands. Until then, what a great conversation piece!
In the 1890′s, scores of eager miners flocked to the Kenai Peninsula in search of gold. Trails were cut and building were built, and when the price of gold crashed, all those buildings and trails began to return to the wilderness. Most of our favorite hiking trails are rooted in Alaska’s gold mining past as trails to access claims and mines. Even today as you drive along the Seward Highway, you see old, overgrown roads leading up to once-producing mines.
Our Sunday trek took us to one of these old mines. Just outside of Moose Pass lies Grant Lake, a large lonely lake once home to the Case Mine. Turns out the road to the former mine still exists. The Internet did little to locate the start of the unmarked trail, but a quick glance at Google Earth showed us a general route. With snowshoes on and a beautiful sunny day, we set out to Grant Lake.
The trail headed up and over a small hill before dropping steeply down to the lake. Grant Lake has an “L” shape, so we could only see part of the lake at a time from the trail. Regardless, the views were spectacular.
Once the trail reaches the lake, it enters a mining claim and forks. Though this is all public land, people are allowed to stake mining claims to notify the government that they will be mining the area.
Off to the left we found remnants of what looked like a water pump on wheels and another rusted machine.
To the right we found several old cabins and a newish outhouse. We spent ample time exploring the area before trudging back up and over the hill to Moose Pass.
Perhaps we will squat in the old cabin in the near future…
…but the wood stove needs some work!
Our winter is back with a vengeance. Right now it is snowing and blowing in Seward, but last weekend the skies opened up to a series of bluebird days. Clear skies are beautiful and wonderful, but also really damn cold. Seward stays warmer due to the ocean water, but in the interior of the Kenai Peninsula, the temperature hovered around -5F (-21C) the entire weekend. The fresh dusting of snow made for some excellent photography moments and world-class ptarmigan hunting. Krystin tried out her new bird strap from Filson while Bixler mastered wing shooting with our 12-gauge shotgun. Lugging the gun up the mountain several miles was worth its weight in birds!
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a Vietnamese soup dish that we were first introduced to while living in Hawaii. We would drive to shopping center in Kailua where a restaurant called Saigon Noodle House would serve us delicious troughs of pho – savory soup with noodles, beef tendon balls, tripe, thin-sliced beef, ample mix-ins – and Vietnamese iced coffees that would shoot us to the moon. Walking out ten pounds heavier, we didn’t realize how much we would miss this dish when we moved to Alaska. Sure, Anchorage has some pho places, but they are just terrible (like a disproportionally high number of restaurants in Alaska’s biggest city). So we resorted to making our own pho.
Pho is usually made overnight with a slow simmer of spices and beef bones. Not wanting to tend to such a long simmer (and stinking up our place), we thought, “what about a crockpot?” Surely enough, the Internet produced a crockpot pho recipe. And instead of using thinly sliced beef, we’ve used caribou in the past and mountain goat in the most recent rendition of the recipe.
A few things before we start:
Where can I find some of the special ingredients?
Not at a small-town grocery store without a significant Asian population. A specialty store carrying a variety of Asian products will produce the necessary ingredients. Don’t substitute your basic basil for Thai basil. For us, we only produce this dish after an Anchorage run because we cannot find essential ingredients at home. Many of the ingredients we can’t pronounce, but the original recipe page for this dish has some nice pictures of what to look for.
Where can I find beef bones?
Most grocery stores will have beef bones, just not on display. If your store has an in-house butcher you can ask the butcher. Otherwise, a butcher shop is the way to go.
Where can I find the spices?
Most grocery stores will carry these spices and it is a bit of an investment the first time you make this dish. If you can’t find whole spices, it is okay to use them in ground form, just be sure not to use too much. You also don’t need all of them to make the dish taste delicious.
Vietnamese Crockpot Pho With Mountain Goat
- 4 lbs beef bones
- 1/2 onion
- 4-inch section of ginger, sliced
- Pho spices: 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 tsp whole coriander, 1 tsp fennel, 3 whole star anise, 3 whole cloves, 1 cardamom pod
- 9 cups of water
- 2 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 16 oz dried rice noodles
- 1/2 lb goat brisket, cleaned of fat and thinly sliced
- 11 oz Vietnamese beef tendon balls, cut in half
- 1-2 limes, cut in wedges
- Fresh herbs: cilantro, Thai basil, mint
- 2-3 jalapenos or other hot pepper, sliced
- 2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha hot sauce
- In a large stockpot over high heat, vigorously boil the beef bones. While this is boiling, add spices to a frying pan over medium-low heat. Toast until fragrant. Dump spices in crockpot. Add oil back to pan and, over medium-high heat, add ginger slices and onion. Cook until browned and add to crockpot.
- After bones have finished boiling, discard water and rinse bones to clean them. Add bones to crockpot and add water until 1-1/2 inches below the surface of crockpot. Add fish sauce and sugar. Cover and set on low for 8 hours. Add more fish sauce to taste if needed.
- When the crockpot is almost done, begin preparing bowl and mix-ins. Bring a pot of water to boil and heat beef tendon balls, about 2 minutes. Remove balls, keep water boiling and add noodles. Follow packaged instructions. Drain and set aside.
- In the crockpot, drain the stock of solids and discard solids. Return to stock to crockpot.
- To serve, first add noodles, beef tendon balls, and thin goat slices to bowl. Cover with hot stock. This will cook the goat. Add in variety of mix-ins. The longer the mix-ins steep, the more complex the pho flavor. Serve with Hue Beer straight from Vietnam!
If there is a subject that Alaskans love to talk about it’s the weather. We laugh when the Lower 48 receives a few inches of snow and the world shuts down. However, we cringe and complain when our weather just doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, the entire month of January went through all four seasons: snow, breakup (spring), a day of summer where the temperature hit 58 degrees F (14 C) in Seward, and refreeze (fall). Now we await a future snowfall (winter).
After nearly a month of rain, the weather cleared to blue skies and we celebrated by doing some local hikes. Our first stop – the bench trail at Mount Marathon. Krystin did a scouting hike to see what the conditions were like and was surprised by her findings. The trail looks like spring after the snow has melted, but without the new greenery shooting up from the ground.
A few times, Krystin hiked her snowshoes up attempting to find some deep, soft snow. Apparently, it had rained at many of these higher elevations resulting in a nice crust that formed over the deeper portions and ice at lower elevations. No more snowshoes. We moved on to ice cleats.
As Krystin investigated the rest of the trail, Bixler called from city level and mentioned he saw a bear on the side of the mountain.
A bear?! In January?!
Traveling slightly off-piste, Krystin encountered a single track in a snow patch that looked an awful lot like a bear track.
In fact, this was not the only bear sign we encountered. We trekked on a few other trails over the weekend and saw everything from refrozen bear tracks in once-slushy snow to cub tracks to bear scat on one trail.
Hopefully the refreeze will send them back into their dens, otherwise we might be in for a surprise on future hikes!
Last week a massive storm hit Alaska raising temperatures above freezing and causing downpours of rain. This cold-weather monsoon has forced us a bit more indoors than we like, so we decided to celebrate with one of our favorite Indian dishes, Rogan Josh. Rogan Josh, or (roughly) “red heat” is traditionally made with lamb and is of Persian descent from India’s Kashmir region. Of course the real thing is probably amazing using a variety of hard-to-find-in-America spices, but this recipe is delicious regardless – especially with the addition of our wild mountain goat.
We also baked up some naan with this dish. Naan is a type of flat bread found throughout Indian and Southeast Asia with a delicious chewy texture. We highly recommend you give this a try because it adds to the overall dish. Here’s the recipe for naan first. You need to start this about four hours before the rogan josh and you can cook the naan while the dish is cooking on the stove. We also recommend you get some basmati rice and make that along side, too.
- 2 tbsp warm water
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 (0.25 oz) package dry active yeast
- 1/4 cup warm milk
- 1/4 plain yogurt, room temperature (we use our homemade yogurt)
- 4 tbsp melted butter or ghee
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Combine warm water, yeast, and sugar in a bowl. Set aside until it foams, about 5 – 10 minutes.
- Blend in warm milk, yogurt, and melted butter or ghee to yeast mixture. In a separate large bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking powder. Add in yeast mixture. Mix and add water or flour until the dough doesn’t stick to the bowl.
- Knead until smooth and elastic. Coat dough in oil and place in lightly oiled bowl. Allow to rise for 4ish hours.
- While the dough is rising, you can begin prep on the rogan josh dish described below. It should time out that you preheat the oven while the dish is simmering on the stove. So, preheat the oven to its highest setting (ours goes to 500 degrees F). Also find a big cookie sheet or make sure you have a pizza stone already in the oven for this.
- Punch dough down and kneed it briefly then divide into six pieces and shape into balls. Oil them and let them rest for about 10 to 15 minutes. Roll and stretch them into artisan naan shapes. If you have limited ovenware, you can shape them to cook a few at once.
- Coat pizza stone and/or cookie sheet with oil. Place naan on pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until bread is puffy with brown spots. Remove all cooked naans from oven. Turn up to broil and broil each naan until charcoal spots appear. Voila, done!
This dish is relatively easy to prepare but may contain some spices not readily available in your area. If you live in a big city, not a problem. If you live out in the sticks like us, you will need to be creative. We’ve recommended some substitutions if you can’t find the exact spices.
Mountain Goat Rogan Josh
- 1/4 cup canola oil, butter, or ghee
- About 2 lbs of goat, any cut. We used trimmings and delicious backstrap…mmmm
- 1 small head of cauliflower, chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Madras curry powder. We couldn’t find Madras curry here, so we used a blend of red and yellow curry powders
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 14-oz can tomato puree
- 1 cup plain yogurt (we used homemade)
- 2 cups of water
- 1 tsp garam masala. This is a spice blend that has been hard to find for us, but it is essentially black pepper, mace, cardamom, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. If you have most of these, add a pinch to the pot when appropriate
- Cilantro for garnish
- Basmati rice and naan, for serving
- In a dutch oven, heat oil, butter, or ghee. Season the goat with salt and cook over high heat until browned, about 12 minutes. When browned, remove with slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.
- Add onions to the dutch oven and cook over medium heat until browned, about 4 minutes. Add ginger, curry, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, cauliflower, and bay leaves and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato, yogurt, and water and bring to a boil. Add more salt.
- Return goat to dutch oven along with any juices. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until goat is tender, about 1 hour. Stir in garam masala (or spice mixture) and cook for 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice and naan.