Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Anton Who?

A few weeks ago we took a drive to an area of Kodiak called Anton Larsen Bay, which is about a half an hour drive from the base.  And because I always veer toward the nerdy side, I feel compelled to let you know that Anton Larsen was a Norwegian explorer and immigrant who settled in Kodiak in 1887, and married a creole Alutiiq Alaskan native named Olga Naumaf.  Their descendents still live in the area, which I thought was kind of interesting. 

A lot of the mountains around here are named after people who settled the area, too.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who wonders about where things like street and town names originate - or in the case here, mountains - but I'm probably in the minority with actually looking the info. up to find out.  Like I said, I veer toward the nerdy side.  Okay, you can come back to me now.  No more forced Kodiak history lessons. 

Point A is our house, and point B is the trail head at Anton Larsen Bay

The drive down Anton Larsen Bay Road is mostly an unpaved, winding route through the mountains and wilderness.  It's not exactly a well maintained road, so it's a little on the rough side.  Some of the pot holes look like they could swallow you up if you're not paying attention, but the payoff once you make it to the bay is worth the bumps and creative swerving around the rugged "road."  Four wheel drive is a good idea for this trip.

Once we made it out to the bay, one of the first things we saw was a sea otter. - Just chilling out in the water, doing his otter-y backstroke.  He was adorable, and I was so glad I had my binoculars to get a better look at him.  The zoom lens on my camera is a little rinky-dink, so there's no way I would have been able to grab a picture of him because of how far away we were, but the otter sighting was a little peek into what an incredible day we had ahead of us.  I've said it before, but I'm telling you, it's like the God damn Discovery Channel living up here.

Most of Kodiak Island is considered a coastal temperate rainforest, which basically translates to having the most unbelievably mossy forest floors I've ever seen in person.  I've written about the mossy forests here before, and this hike was another incredible experience exploring them.

I swear I can still hear the ripples of that water. - I love how the moss spills over the side of the bank into the river 

It's hard to even describe it.  It's one of those experiences you have to see and smell and hear in person.  The air is so crisp and has this subtle and pleasant earthy quality to it.  And other than the sounds of the birds cheeping, it's so quiet and still.  It all adds up to be truly extraordinary.  I know I sound a little dramatic, but it really is something to see.  It's like being in another world.  All that and it's only a walk in the woods.

Look at all that green!

When you step on to that mossy blanket of green, it's so spongy and deep - you sink at least a few inches in to it.  It's like nature's version of a fluffy shag carpet.  Minus the 70's disco.  I remember the first time we stepped in to one of these mossy areas.  No exaggeration, my mouth fell open in disbelief as I looked around.  Because the moss not only covers the floor, but it crawls its way up the trees and any other surface that touches the ground. - Rocks, fallen branches, tree stumps, everything.  It's otherworldly.  

We were hiking along the trail next to a little river when we came upon this tree.  It was higher up along the trail, and we had to scramble up the root system to get up to the top where the trail kept going.  We kind of had to use the tree roots as a natural staircase.  A very crooked and asymmetrical staircase.

It was on the steep side climbing up the roots, but the view at the top was remarkable because it was right on the edge.  Once we were at the top, we were looking almost straight down the side of the incline, and the river was a good 30-40 feet below.  It was a little unnerving if you even thought for one second about losing your footing.  Which of course I thought about as soon as I saw how far up we climbed.  I did that a few times during our hike that day!  Some parts of the trail were so narrow that you were just teetering along the side of a substantial drop off as you made your way along.  No guard rails here!  It definitely made me say wow to myself more than once during the day.  Okay, it made me say, "wow" and "watch your freaking step, Peg!"

Cheety getting his hike on.  I think he would try and climb a tree if he thought he could do it

Just a little thirst quencher
And of course, Cheety the adventure dog had no qualms whatsoever climbing up tree roots & rocks, charging up the hills and down into the river for a dip and a drink.

He absolutely loves going hiking with us.  He's so alert when we're out on the trail. - He cocks his little head to the side and listens to all the birds and wildlife, I'm sure thinking about how he would chase them if he could see them!
I swear, he was meant to be a cold weather mountain dog! 
Another unbelievable tree we saw - I'm loving this picture!

I was worried about him not being able to swim as much up here as he was used to doing in Florida, but he seems to like the hiking just as much.  And of course, I can't wait to see his reaction to seeing snow for the first time.

Just when I think we've seen the most beautiful, scenic parts of Kodiak, we explore an area that we haven't been to yet and I prove myself wrong again.

And almost every time we venture out to somewhere new, I'm totally awed by the natural landscape.

I think this quote that I couldn't find an author for sums it up perfectly:   "The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man."

Amen!  Although, I wouldn't oppose a guard rail or two on the "oh shit" parts of the trail.

Ta-ta for now.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Harvest Cocktails? YES.

I've made a decision.  Out of necessity and because there's no point in resisting the inevitable.  It's time to embrace the cold weather.  I'm officially leaving behind the warmth of Florida and jumping in to this looming Alaska winter with two feet.  I know, it's about time, right?  Long overdue, considering we're staring down the barrel of November & the temps are in the 40's during the day and the 30's at night.  Plus, there's this outside my backyard window:

Snow on the mountain tops...soon to be outside the front door!
A nice little perk to living in cooler temperatures is that you can really get into those cold weather comfort foods that never quite work very well in the tropics.  You know, those hearty beef stews and chicken pot pies that are the staples of winter comfort foods.  In Key West we avoided using the oven for about 6 months out of the year because it would heat up the house so much. - It's been nice not having to think about that when we cook here.

Aaaaaannd.....not only can you appreciate the winter comfort foods, but it's also the autumn harvest season, which is a conveniently fantastic excuse to start experimenting with harvesty cocktails.  Can you feel my attempts at being Sally freaking Sunshine about the cold weather?  I have to latch on to as many positives as I can about living at the fifty-seven degree latitude line.  Yes, yes, it's beautiful and rugged and unique and all that.  But it's also very.....north.

One of those positives is most definitely winter cocktails!  I was looking for a relatively simple cocktail with a harvesty-type feel, but I found that most of what I read about called for obscure or very specific liquors.  I kind of wanted a simple recipe that didn't require wacky ingredients, when I discovered a recipe for a pumpkin pie martini that looked promising.  I just had to give it a try.  I got it from a blog I stumbled upon called We Are Not Martha.  It's a combo food/lifestyle blog with all sorts of interesting information, recipes, links, tips, you name it.  And you've got to love their name.  Too bad the pumpkin pie martini was a total waste of time!

I was so disappointed with the end result.  It was just.....BAD.  It wasn't even a little bit good.  I took two sips and had to chuck it.  I guess they really aren't Martha.  So, my eyes have been wandering.  I've found myself lured by the variety and fun-factor of apple cider cocktails.  Specifically some sort of Spiked Hot Apple Cider.  And possibly pear cocktails.  What a tempting idea for a chilly Kodiak weekend evening.  No more pumpkin - Ew.  Unless it's in a pie.  So, I decided to give this other harvesty cocktail that I found a whirl in the wake of the pumpkin pie martini debacle.

It was from the same blog, so it crossed my mind that maybe I was being a glutton for punishment.  I was pleasantly surprised though, and as far as I'm concerned the ladies over at We Are Not Martha have redeemed themselves.  The cocktail I tried my hand at is called a Habanero Ginger Apple Cider Cocktail.  I couldn't read that name and not need to give it a shot, despite the very sad results of my first harvesty cocktail attempt.  C'mon, she describes it as autumn in a glass.  Yes, please. The only complicated part (which isn't even really complicated) is making the simple syrup.  For a detailed step-by-step to make this cocktail, check out the recipe HERE.

Ginger & habanero gettin' happy
I followed the recipe from the link above and used two habaneros, but I think next time I would only use one.  This is not a cocktail for sissies as far as the spiciness goes.  I wasn't expecting it to be as spicy as it turned out.  Seriously, two habaneros = YOWZAH in the spice department.  Don't get me wrong, it's definitely good, but I think I'll tone down the spice in my next batch.  If you don't like a lot of spice, I would recommend only using one habanero.  Or you could omit the habaneros altogether if you don't want it spicy at all, but I haven't tried it that way yet so I'm not sure how it tastes. 

I realized after the fact that this recipe is meant for two servings, so if you want you can split it into two glasses.  Worked just fine for me as one serving - but  I can be little on the boozy side, so whatever works for you.

I love how the ginger adds a slight lemony flavor, and I dig the spiciness.  We used Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum, so that made it pretty yummy as well. She's right. - Autumn in a glass.

I'll count this one as a success in my tip-toeing into harvesty and winter cocktail experimentation.  If you give it a try, let me know what you think in the comments. - As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Stay tuned for some more cocktail experimentation as we creep out of autumn and into the winter I'm refusing to dread.  Sally Sunshine, remember?

Ta-ta for now.

Habanero Ginger Apple Cider Cocktail.  Spicy, Autumn-y Deliciousness.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's That Time Again, Part 2

Halloween crafts, part deux!  I finally got the burlap I ordered from my new BFF Amazon so I could finish my second Halloween project.  I found a fun burlap wreath how-to online last year, but I didn't get around to doing it last Halloween.  I'll give you a little rundown of what I did, and you can check out the tutorial that inspired me here.

I kind of made my own version of it by making a different Trick or Treat sign and using some whimsical Halloween ornaments I already had instead of the crow from the sample wreath.  The Halloween ornaments are from Pier 1, and I just love busting them out every October.  How can those pseudo-scary faces not make you happy?  I'm a little bit of a Pier 1 junkie.  Well, I guess I used to be when I had easy access to the store & didn't have to worry about outrageous shipping costs.  Lower Forty-Eight:  1.  Alaska:  0.

Anyway, for the wreath form, I used foam plumbing pipe liner from the hardware store.  You could also use a pool noodle, but since Kodiak is a little short on pool supply stores, I opted for the plumbing foam.  Just cut it to the size you want and tape it together with some duct tape and you're ready to go.  You could also use a pre-made wreath form, but this worked better for me since the materials were easier to get.

Once you have your wreath form ready, you'll want to cut the burlap into strips, about 1 inch by 18 inches, give or take a few inches.  Then tie each strip around the foam until you fill the length of the wreath.  You may want more or longer burlap strips for a fuller wreath, and you can adjust it as you go.  Just a little FYI:  when you're working with burlap, it tends to shed a little bit.  So, don't be surprised if you have little pieces of black lint to vacuum up after you're done.

When I first started working on this project, I didn't realize I would need so much burlap.  Like I mentioned earlier, I ran out when I was about halfway around the wreath and had to order more online. - Because apparently people in Kodiak don't need to have easy access to burlap on the island.  Lower Forty-Eight:  2.   Alaska:  0.

After the wreath was all filled in, I hung the sign & attached the ornaments to finish it off.  For the sign, I just cut a cardboard box into the shape I wanted, & I glued a print out of "Trick or Treat" onto the cardboard backing.  I used for the lettering.  If you're into unique fonts, I recommend checking it out.  Most of the fonts are free, and there are lots of designs to choose from - it's a terrific resource.  The pumpkin and bat pictures are just clip art from google images.

I also put a coat of Mod Podge on the sign to seal it, and used some black string I already had to create the border.  I almost wish I made the sign with wood instead of cardboard so it would be more durable, but I think it'll work fine for now.  I love how the finished product turned out! 

I realized after I finished why a more rigid wreath form would be a better choice for this project.  It's kind of sagging a little bit, and I think it would maintain its round shape better with a more rigid frame.  Maybe next time I'll use wire or flexible PVC pipe on the inside of the foam to give it the stability and structure it needs.  Oh well - hindsight is 20/20, right?  Hopefully it lasts through Halloween!

It's hard to pick because I love all of them, but I think my favorite little guy might be the mummy.  Or the vampire.  Or maybe the devil.  Oh fine, they're all my favorite.  Between mini-vampire pumpkins and a burlap wreath, I think I can call it a wrap on crafty Halloween decorating for this year. - Hope you get inspired to try something Halloweeny yourself!

Ta-ta for now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hiking in Kodiak: Summer vs. Fall

I've mentioned this before, but Kodiak is nicknamed "Alaska's Emerald Isle" because of how green the landscape is during the summer.  Aptly named, no doubt.  But, now that the summer is over and we're smack in the middle of autumn, the landscape has changed pretty noticeably.  And little hints of winter are creeping into the air.  You know that crisp, frosty feel that comes around this time of year?  (If you don't live in Florida, that is)  It's totally here.

We took a hike up Pillar Mountain last weekend, and the difference in the scenery was striking.  Check out these two pictures.  The first one I took in July, and the second one I took in October.  Same spot, but wow! - What a difference.

Pillar Mountain - July, 2013

Pillar Mountain - October, 2013

It's so vibrantly green in the summer that the color change to all these shades of amber seems so drastic.  The grasses have started to dry out and get crunchy when you walk on them, and the wildflowers are long gone.

There are still some patches of reds & greens around, and they really stand out since they're surrounded by so many muted yellows, tans, and browns.  There are also some mossy spots that still have their bright green colors, but mostly the landscape has transformed into shades of saffron and gold.  What a dramatic change from the lush green of summer!

Cheety in disguise

And I noticed that Cheety is now completely camouflaged in the grasses.  It's pretty funny.  He's almost exactly the same tan color as some of the open fields we were walking through.  If the grasses were any taller, he'd disappear right into them.  Cheety in the bush!

I'd love to take a hike up Pillar in the winter and take another picture in that same spot as the first two shots.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the mountains will look in, say, January compared to now.  Besides the obvious fact that they'll be covered in snow.  (For all you smart-asses that I just know are thinking, "snowy" like only a good smart-ass would)

I'm sure it'll be just as dramatic of a transformation in winter as it is seeing the colors change from summer to fall.  It's definitely still beautiful, but in a different way than the greens of summer.  It's funny, because as I read this over, it sounds like I've never seen the seasons change.  But really, it's just been a long time since I've lived somewhere that has any dramatic differences between each season, so I guess it's become novel again.  Plus, I'm still enthralled with the mountains.  I've never lived around mountains before, so I'm pretty sure I'll be marveling at them no matter what season it is.  Because really - who doesn't love a good marveling?

Hubby and the Pugbull

I've never been snow-shoeing before, so I'm looking forward to giving that a try this winter, too.  I bet I'll be able to get some nice, snowy landscape pictures when we attempt it!  Lord knows I'll have plenty of winter hats to choose from for our winter outdoor activities:

Hat intervention, perhaps?  I joked that winter hats and socks would replace my flip flop collection, but it looks like I'm on my way to doing exactly that!  Ridiculous as it sounds, I don't think I'm done yet.  I still have my eye on a few cute ones I've seen.  Apparently six winter hats isn't enough.  What can I say?  I've never pretended to make any sense whatsoever.

I guess it's time to say goodbye to Alaska's Emerald Isle until next summer. Bring on winter.....I guess?  At least I know my hats won't go to waste. 
Ta-ta for now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's That Time Again...

Time for Halloween crafts!  I'm in love with this adorable pumpkin craft I did the other day - it's so damn cute.  I got it from the undisputed queen.  That would be Martha.  I'll give you a little rundown of what I did, and you can also get step-by-step directions here.  I wanted to try it last Halloween, but I never got around to it, so I made sure to get the supplies I needed this year so I could make it happen.

Amazon Prime to the rescue again.  Kodiak is pretty limited as far as shopping goes, so not surprisingly, there's no craft store here.  I was so sad when I learned that bit of knowledge.  I used to love strolling around Ben Franklin, Michael's, or Joanne's for inspiration.  I guess I'll have to "stroll" around the internet for inspiration now.  Thankfully, so far I've been able to get everything I've wanted for craft projects through Amazon, including the vampire teeth I used for the pumpkins. 

It's not a difficult project, and the end result is Halloween-tastic.  First, you'll want to draw an outline on the pumpkin of what size mouth you want to cut, using the vampire teeth to sort of estimate the size you'd like.  The next obvious step is to cut out the mouth.  It's probably a lot easier to use one of those little saws that come in pumpkin carving kits, but I lost mine somewhere between here and there.  That's our go to answer whenever something goes missing.  It's somewhere between here and there. 

So, I used a paring knife to cut the mouth by sort of rocking it back and forth once I pierced through the outer part of the skin.  Kind of tedious, but it gets the job done if you're saw-less.  Once you've cut the mouth out, you'll need to scrape all the lovely pumpkin seeds and guts out.  I was pretty thorough with scraping out all the gunk because the pumpkins will be outside on the table in front of the house and I don't want to attract any Magpies.

A nice little bonus to this project is that you can rinse and toast the pumpkin seeds you scoop out for a delicious, savory snack.  An easy recipe for that is here.  I like to (of course) sprinkle a little parmigiano-reggiano on them along with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  It's a yummy high fiber & high protein snack to munch on while you craft it up!

Once the inside is all scraped out, position the teeth into the mouth.  For the eyes, I sacrificed one of my red plastic bead necklaces.  Between living in the Tampa area and celebrating Gasparilla and living in Key West and celebrating Fantasy Fest, we have our fair share of plastic beads.  I carved out a tiny hole for each of the eyes so they would be a little recessed, and used hot glue to secure the eyes in place.  VoilĂ !  All done.

I must confess - It's late and I'm a few glasses of wine in.
And yes, I'm cracking up laughing in this picture.
Apparently, the wine told me it's wildly hilarious
to take selfies with vampire teeth.  ;)
I love the way they turned out!  I'm working on another Halloween project that I wanted to include in this blog post along with the vampire pumpkins, but I unexpectedly ran out of one of the essential materials in the middle of working on it.

Since I had to re-order more on Amazon, I'll have to wait until it comes in the mail to finish it.  I also have plans for the bigger pumpkin, but I wasn't able to get it done before this post. So, be prepared for another Halloween crafting post in the next few weeks.  Let's hear it for Martha.  Now, go get some pumpkins!

Ta-ta for now.