Carrying sourdough to Alaska


Alaskans call themselves “sourdoughs” in tribute to the prospectors who settled much of America’s last frontier in the late 19th century.

Among the miners’ most treasured staples in those days before powdered yeast became commonplace was a crock of sourdough starter to leaven their bread, biscuits and pancakes. The starter – a mixture of flour and water allowed to ferment with wild yeast in the air – was so central to their diets that they called anyone who survived a hard winter in the gold fields a “sourdough.”

So it seemed only fitting that I should bring a jar of starter with me on my camping tour of Alaska. What better way to start the day in the shadow of the rugged Alaskan Range than with a stack of sourdough pancakes swimming in maple syrup?

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Salmon in Alaska


The sapphire waters of the Inland Passage are the lifeblood of Southeast Alaska.  Winding through a magnificent landscape of dense forests, deep fjords and glacier-carved peaks mantled in snow, the icy seas teem with marine life that has sustained the native Tlingit people and fed the bears, bald eagles and migrating whales for millennia.

Today, the maze of inlets, channels and sounds serves as a watery highway to the outside world for fishing camps and towns hugging its shores for the more than 200 miles from Ketchikan to Juneau. The waters support a vast commercial fishing industry.  They’re a primary draw, too, for throngs of tourists, who sail in aboard cruise ships and ferries throughout the summer, hoping for a glimpse of wild life that lives off the ocean’s bounty.

Lucky me, I’ve arrived during the King salmon season, when it seems every fishing crew is racing to get its share of the lucrative catch. Fishermen sell whole fish off boats in the harbors and local papers publish notices of salmon fishing derbies.

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Glorious rhubarb


Before I left for Alaska two weeks ago, I wrapped up a piece on glorious spring rhubarb that was published today in the San Jose Mercury News.

The dish that pleased me most was this homey rhubarb clafoutis. A riff on the simple French cake frequently made with cherries, it’s at once tart, sweet and creamy.  The bright, tangy flavor of rhubarb plays deliciously against the custard-like cake.  The secret to its luscious texture is to not bake it too long.  The finished cake should still be a little soft in the center when you take it out of the oven.

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Peanut butter cookies for the road


I’m heading north – to Alaska, no less. It’s the ultimate road trip, more than 3,000 miles of asphalt one-way through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world. We’ve been fantasizing about it for years and making preparations since January.

Before we left,  I baked a batch of these extra nutty peanut butter cookies for the drive.  You never know when you’re going to find yourself starving, miles from the nearest grocery store or restaurant. And I like to rationalize that there’s at least some protein in these big, crunchy cookies to tide us through a long day on the road. Continue reading Peanut butter cookies for the road