4.26.2014

The Big Thaw

It's warm enough (and not buggy enough) now for me to strip down to my chef pants and do some barefoot yoga on the back porch during lunch break. I tried riding the kitchen bike today and got stuck in muck. Friends of a chef buddy of mine at da Toolik kitchen are dog sledding and bow hunting caribou. He keeps me up to date on how many they got and what the sledding conditions are like. The last I heard, it's mushy and they are starting to head back. If all goes well we may get our paws on a fresh hide and he's all for showing me how to salt, stretch and preserve the hide. Already dreaming up mittens and moccasins for my little one. It's nice to see gravel on the ground. I've been through three 'extreme' cold winters in three different parts of North America since January when I left Hawaii. I really didn't foresee following grandfather winter this far north, but eh, after the full year in Hawaii I assume this is a way of getting the seasons back into my blood. Here's to spring-time #3 of 2014. 

Luckily, the boys that took off on a snow machine expedition to gather lake and ice core samples last week made it back in one piece. Any much longer out in the wild and they may have gotten stuck. Here's a link from the Fairbanks newspaper discussing their project 

http://www.newsminer.com/features/sundays/alaska_science_forum/riding-the-bumps-of-the-far-northern-trail/article_522bf1fc-c764-11e3-a3df-0017a43b2370.html



With spring-time comes flowers, fruits and squirrels. The little kitchen nursery is doing better. I replanted some celery tops today.


The Alaskan potatoes are having fun. 


Been tossing in some Hawaiian flare here and there. Decadent macaroons. 


Alaskan blueberry dessert pizza.


Maple walnut scones.


Caramelized tomatoes.


Home Skillet J used to manage KFC, he showed me the tricks of the Colonel... here's his JFC. It's rather simple. Dip chicken in water, strain and toss in seasoned flour and straight to the deep fryer. All these years I've been doing the egg dip method. Always something new to learn.


Billie's teriyaki steak.


This is a topic that pertains to many kitchens around the globe and it's the wave of the future, unfortunately. 50% of the food in the food service industry is now processed and in many cases individually packaged. All the plastic that goes into this processing must be astonishing. The whole idea of 'scratch' cooking is being lost. I remember when I was a grill chef at a hockey arena in Canada and everything came out of a box pre-seasoned and went into/onto the fryer, grill or oven. No adulteration allowed. I felt like I was a professional box opener and not a cook. All of this is done to make things go quick and to eliminate food borne illnesses, but argg, where's the creativity at? And why is salmonella now being found on ready-to-eat foods that it never once was found on? The food stuff you see below we can at least season and cook however we want, but in terms of quality.. it is no where near the color and flavor of a fresh caught Ahi filet straight off the bone. Having witnessed the behind the scenes food creation on a farm I am second guessing the future of my chef career, in fact, I can firmly say that this is my last bout in this sort of cooking. If it isn't straight from the land or water and to the table, then I don't want or need it. I trust in nature that it has all we need to eat well. I'm going back to the land, baby.


On the flip side, we do get some local food stuff, like amazing potatoes and giant leeks. I wish that we could offer locally hunted caribou and moose, but once again, the food quality control laws say we can only serve food from an approved vendor. Meaning, if we want to serve fresh Alaskan salmon, the salmon we serve has to go to Seattle, Washington to be processed and analyzed, then certified and sent back up. Do we take into account the fuel costs of all this food processing and shipping when putting a price tag on food? To serve wild meats we would have to buy from a caribou farmer that has a certified processing facility. So, one solution is create more farms and educate children to learn how to raise their own meals. Another solution is to educate consumers and the importance of buying locally and organic if possible.


In the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed I meander on the back porch with a dark coffee and hairbrush. The sky is always different. The land is ever changing, too. A week ago I saw the first squirrel, three days ago I saw the first fly and yesterday I was bit by the first mosquito. Only a matter of time before the mass of vampires arise from their waterbeds.



The Brooks range is lit up orange at sunrise.


One couple's idea of an Alaskan tundra paradise hotel.


The German's were out a few days ago filming squirrels coming out from beneath the snow. A couple guys from the BBC are also here doing the same thing. At breakfast we ask them what today brings and they go, oh nothing much just watching squirrels again. Wow, that is one cool job.


Another project going on here is with the Team Squirrel gang. They catch and tag squirrels and monitor them throughout the many years of their lives. One squirrel I met today was 12 years old. Some ideas I've come up with are: how do blood sucking insects like ticks and fleas, and stomach bacteria, react to the 'special' proteins in the blood that these squirrels have in order to freeze over winter and thaw? Does the long dormancy of squirrel life over winter promote a longer lifespan? My thought there was that if humans were frozen asleep for half of each year, would we double our life expectancy?




After a day of supporting all the science that goes in the Arctic everyone takes a break on a Saturday night to sweep some ball into the net under the midnight sun.



First thing tomorrow morning for me is to put the monster cinnamon rolls out with the cheese and fruit platters, do laundry and start packing for my trip back to Ontario :)

4.22.2014

Rosemary No-Knead Sour Dough Bread Recipe

I've played with sour dough starters for years and when I came across a no-knead sour dough recipe online last year I was blown away. The simplicity of this recipe is what gets me and the bread is tubular. Today a French scientist came up to me saying that he knows REAL bread and that the bread I make is the real thing, identical to what they often serve in his country. With that acknowledgement I decided to break open the vault and share this recipe for all to try at home. This recipe is documented and engineered to work in a dry climate and with as few steps as possible, and doesn't call for a dutch oven like most no-knead recipes do. Here's the recipe from the Toolik bakery by yours truly :) 

Ingredients 
4 cups bread flour 
Semolina flour, corn meal or other flour as needed for dusting only 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 
2 cups warm water (~80 F) 
1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary 

Equipment
1 heavy metal pizza pan or sheet pan 
1 medium sized metal oven proof salad bowl 
1 wooden spoon 
Oven 
Bread proofer - if no have, I will explain your situation later. No worries. 
Cloth
Sunshine 




1. Mix all the ingredients in the metal bowl with a wooden spoon. 


Don't overwork yourself, 20-30 strokes is plenty. The few clumps here and there will add texture down the road.


2. Cover the bowl loosely with a towel or plastic wrap. Put in proofer at 80-82 F for 6 hours with enough humidity to turn the polar climate into something a bit more wet. I turn the humidity dial to 2. If you don't have a proofer and the top of your fridge is that warm, then that's perfect. Another option is to set it at room temperature (65-72 F) for 12 hours. Or, let it sit out at room temp. for three hours after mixing then put it in the fridge overnight and in the morning pull it out and let rest at room temp. for another three hours. Whatever works. The best quality so far has been using the overnight method.


3. Watch it grow and give it a name.


4. While waiting make an Alaskan blueberry cheesecake. 


After the long wait it should look something like this. Remember, so far all you've done is mixed the ingredients in a bowl and put it in warm place to grow. 


5. Dust an old wood table (or whatever table you like) with a nice helping of flour of some sort. I like to use semolina. Dump the heaping of bubbling matter gently onto the floured surface and gently shape it into a ball. This creates even rising. The goal is to not work the dough at all, e.g., punch it down, only direct the living dough into a bread-like shape. Cover with a floured towel and let rest for two hours total.


It should look something like this.


6. Crank the oven up to 450 with no high fan and put the heavy duty pizza or sheet pan in middle rack of the oven.  Since the oven takes a half hour at most to heat up it's best turn it on after the dough has risen for a hour and half, that way, right when the oven has been on for a half hour the bread would be at it's two hour rising mark.


7. Carefully, pull the pizza pan out of the oven and invert the dough, seam side up, onto the hot pan. Quickly cover with the metal bowl. Note: be sure to clean the bowl before doing this step.



8. Put it in the oven at 450 F for a half hour. You can splash a half cup of water on the bottom of the oven to bring a little extra moisture to the party. After a half hour, take the upside bowl out and continue cooking for about 10-15 minutes more until the bread crust is foxy brown.


This is foxy brown...



and darn good. If you have any questions email me. Aloha!


4.16.2014

The Seasonal Opening of Toolik


Opening day at Toolik and two scientists arrive with video cameras to shoot the day the squirrels arise from their slumber and thaw out. It's 45 degrees out, sunny, a slight breeze. Perfect tanning weather. A good day to do some shoveling. Before you open any door you have to first shovel away what's in front of it, and in this case, it's snow.

On a mental-heart-spiritual level I've shoveled away the sadness and stress of being away from my wife and baby in order to open myself up. A few nights ago I almost tossed the towel in and thought of starting all over again just to be next to girls, physically, but reached above for guidance in a last attempt to make a go of this. I was reminded that I am me and this cloud around is 'I against I'. I must take care of my needs on all levels before I can engage in my families. But, first I had to find what it was I was needing. For one, I have only a few hundred bucks in the bank and that's not a whole lot to support a family. Two, the hardships of giving up a dream job in Hawaii and returning to the city world to rethink life over, then getting tossed up in no man's land Alaska to cook for 150... has taken a toll on my body and mind. Adaptation to the new environments requires complete openness of the human being, and I have been closed in, too focused on the future and past to know who I am, right here, right now.

To sum it up, I just faced the pits of culture shock. Thankfully, my past experiences with traveling the globe and facing death have given me a rock to stand strong on. This jab of culture shock only last a week and took a few nights of tears and letter writing. It's okay to cry guys, it's a good release and can make things come to baseline much quicker versus holding it in. Try cutting an onion ;)

I've kicked off this blog again to keep up writing and photography, and am looking at the caribou antlers in the tundra and wondering what sort of jewelry I can make wit them. Art.

Get this gunk out of the depth of my soul I tell ya! It started with a shovel, sunshine and headphones. I dug away at all the doors for hours each day rocking out to dub tunes mixed in with old school hardcore rock n' roll that I used to listen to university. It gets the testosterone pumping. The sun provides good juice, too. I also made a commitment to myself for this summer to eat the most healthiest I ever have, that means no desserts, no extra sugars in anything, little salt, no bad fats, no chips, no soda, no juice, a small amount of fruit (fruits have sugar and if you want vitamin C eat a potato), no condiments except those that are simple like the hot sauces that have only four basic ingredients and no excess sugar or salt, and no alcohol since that has lots of sugar in it. Riding a spike in blood sugar levels causes the body and brain to seek out a routine of ups and downs, cravings and pleasures. Enough of that. I want smooth sailing and clear thinking. My diet so far has been lots of kale, spinach, lettuce, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, plain granola, unsweetened yogurt, salmon, steak, chicken, potatoes, rice, fruit smoothie and the occasional egg. The perfect 'from the land' diet to prepare for when the time comes when I can farm again. This diet plus at least a half hour of yoga and stretching, plus an hour of exercise and over 10 hours of dancing in the kitchen, plus at least a steady 7 hours of sleep... is it. Feels like it's been a decade since I've hit this level of physical being. I'm burning off the stress belly fat, my skin is looking healthier and I have endless stamina. Now that the body is on a good path my emotions, hormones and thoughts are starting to balance out.

Here's some of the work... shoveling out the doorways to the weatherport tents that the kids will sleep in.


They gave me a room in the Atco.... oooohhhh, aahhhh... but, I like the tent because you can hear the ptarmigans and ravens.


I'm trying to create a pineapple nursery in my room. No luck so far.


Jump on a bike sled and let's head to the main station. 


This is the gateway to the Toolik headquarters. 


Inside is the dining room. 


Looking out the dining room windows. I notice they built decks onto the dining hall, good call, except what about the mosquitoes? 


This is the hangout room next to the main dining room that T and I hang out in. We talk about my friend Pat who was here last year and gossip about the basics of life. Sometimes I catch my wife online at the same time as me during lunch break and it takes my mind off the kitchen and really chills me out. It's the best time of day. 


At the headquarters entry there is a board with everyone's face and name on station. Right now I think there's 10 of us. Next week it will be 30 and only up from there. 


We have only two scientists, the squirrel people.


The kitchen is fun. Good guys and gals. I think I'm 20 years younger than everyone else in there, but eh, what's age matter? Chef cooked up these cheesy kale chips today. Amazing.


I have a bathroom locker in the building next to the headquarters. Just like high school.


Here is a Q & A on the back of the bathroom door for the newbies. Check out the last question.



Elsewhere around Toolik there's still lots of work to be done to get this puppy ready.



I helped dig out the entries to the main labs and went inside, curiously, like a cat, to see what scientists do.




Fresh boxes of supplies, ready to be opened and used by the users.


Lots of stuff that I have no clue does what, goes where, or why?


Why?


Someone left a furry duct tape bra on the mason jar rack... why?


Bones, rocks, speakers, knives, chemicals, sunglasses, rubber bands... oh the life of science.










Here I am. Somewhere.


Toolik Lake, still frozen and waiting to cracked open and penetrated by scientists.