Friday, November 29, 2013

Wining with Santa

I've gotten involved with a very fun and Christmasy volunteer group over the last few weeks that's been stoking the whole "let's get into the Christmas spirit" vibe very nicely.  Although, the snow and chilly weather definitely helps in that department, too.  In Florida, it was always kind of a challenge to feel like the holidays were rolling around because the weather just didn't coincide with the holiday season in the traditional way.  And by traditional, I mean winter in New York!

It's time for the inevitable history portion of the post.  It's interesting, I swear!  The Kodiak archipeligo is a pretty large group of islands about 30 miles from the Alaska Peninsula and 158 miles across the Gulf of Alaska from Homer, Alaska.  The island chain is about 177 miles long and encompasses nearly 5,000 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Crazy, right?  I thought so.  See?  Interesting!  Somewhat.  :)
Within the island chain are maybe a half a dozen or so remote villages that aren't accessible by car.  They have indigenous names like Afognak Island, Ouzinkie, and Akhiok, and are home mostly to Alaska's Native People, called the Alutiiq.  (Ah-Loo-Tick)  The population of the villages can range anywhere from 30 to 300 people, and you can get to some of them by boat or ferry. - But, most are only accessible by float plane.  Talk about remote.  No running down to the 7-11 for them! 

I'm getting to the point, I promise.  The Coast Guard Spouses' Association of Kodiak (SAK) has facilitated a community outreach program that serves the remote villages called Santa to the Villages.  This is the 40th year of the program.  Being the good little joiner that I am, I joined the Spouses Association when we first got here & learned about this and several other volunteer programs sponsored by SAK.  I've met some really nice people that I would never have met if I hadn't branched out and made it a priority to get involved. 

Volunteer "elves" Carrie, Delores & Lindsey wrapping away
In a nutshell, Santa to the Villages volunteers work year round by coordinating with the rural schools, the community of Kodiak, USCG Air Station Kodiak, USCG Base Kodiak, USCG Cutter SPAR, and supporters throughout the United States to raise funds, and collect donations to coordinate the delivery of toys, Christmas stockings, hand-knitted hats/scarves/mittens, and books to the children of the remote villages.  And yes, I pretty much lifted that description directly from the Santa to the Villages page!

Presents ready to be wrapped
for the village of Port Lions
So for the last month or so, I've been spending time helping to organize toys and books, taking inventory of santa and elf costumes, and wrapping presents that will be delivered to the kids in the remote villages.  The presents are delivered via Coast Guard helicopter by volunteers dressed as Santa & his elf helpers.  Fun!  Can you imagine being a kid in one of those villages and seeing Santa hop off a Coast Guard helicopter to give you presents?  It's like the remote Alaskan version of seeing Santa ride by on a fire truck in your town's Christmas parade.  Only he has gifts for you!

More importantly    :)
Recently, we had a wine wrapping party, where a bunch of us got together one evening and wrapped presents.  While enjoying some wine and cookies.  Christmas music?  Check.  It was a fun night, and we knocked out all the present wrapping for one of the villages and a good chunk of another.

I discovered when we lived in Key West how truly fulfilling and personally satisfying it is to volunteer.  It's such a great way to get out and meet like-minded people and a really nice way to do something outside of your own world that matters and makes a difference for someone else.  It's cliche, but it feels really good doing things to help other people in a concrete way.  Plus, it gets you focused on something other than your own thoughts and worries.  Which, as we all know, can sometimes be consuming.

"Elf" Wendy wrapping like a boss
We have a designated "elf house" on base which acts as the headquarters and center of operations for organizing and wrapping. - It's located just down the hill from our house, so I was able to walk down to the wine wrapping party.

On my way back home, I was treated to one of the clearest, most impressive night skies I've ever seen.  It was truly remarkable, and I stopped and just stared up at the sky at least 3 or 4 times on my walk home.  I could almost see the Milky Way galaxy, and could easily make out the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Seven Sisters, North Star, and Orion.  That's about the extent of my identification skills go, astronomy-wise.  There were so many constellations visible & it was unbelievably clear, bright and beautiful.

The only thing that could have made it better would have been an aurora borealis sighting!  I've been on the hunt for the northern lights, but haven't seen it yet.  That's most definitely on my Alaska bucket list.  You can bet I'll blog about that when I see it!

So, Santa to the Villages has been a fun charitable group to be involved with for the holidays this year.  I can't wait to see the pictures they take of the present deliveries. - Especially the reaction of the kids.  I thought this was a fun shot from last year's Santa to the Villages:

Photo Credit:  The Kodiak Daily Mirror

It's time to get this holiday season rolling!  Bring on the bourbon balls (hubby makes a mean bourbon ball), festive decorations, and 24 hour rotations of A Christmas Story.  Raaaaalph-iieee!!

Ta-ta for now.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pardon Me While We Revert to the 1970's...

I don't know about you, but I was a first-timer the other day when I bought pearl onions at the store.  Yes, pearl onions.  In my mind pearl onions are seventies-tastic.  Right up there with lava lamps and shag carpet.  I feel like they should be served on avocado green plates along with a Gimlet cocktail.  So the question is, what led me to purchase said pearl onions?

Well, I found a recipe on the smitten kitchen (a fun cooking blog you should check out if you're so inclined) for a vegetarian version of Beef Bourguignon using portobello mushrooms that called for the little mini-onions.  It was pretty tasty.  I have a really hard time saying bourguignon.  It's boor-ghee-nyon for those of you who are like me and are a little remedial in the pronunciation department.  Incredibly difficult for me to say - I think because I never took French and it's just an alien way to move my mouth.  That and Gruyère.  SO. HARD. TO. SAY.  (It's Grew-yehr, by the way - but I'll stumble over it every time)  Again with the French thing.  Whatever, I took Spanish in high school.  I'm more of a mantequilla - cuchillo - comida kind of gal.  (Butter, knife, food.  FYI)  Feel free to add your own go-to Spanish word to the mix.  I always liked mantequilla.  And lápiz.  That means pencil.  Let's hear it for a distracted, romance language tangent!

Simmering away
Anyway, the Mushroom Bourguignon. - I'm not a vegetarian, but I'm also not opposed to the meatless Monday.  Or meatless any other day of the week, for that matter.  And considering the hubby is all "meat stuffed with meat, wrapped with meat, with a side of meat" on most days, meatless Monday isn't a bad idea. - And this recipe wasn't missing anything in the flavor department.

You can get the recipe HERE, if you're interested in giving it a go.  The only thing I would do differently, is I would brown the pearl onions up front along with the mushrooms.  Adding them at the end and simmering for 10 minutes equaled a pretty intense onion flavor in those tiny nuggets.  They were like little onion bombs.  Small, but too intense.  I think some caramelizing on the front end of the cooking would mellow them out a little bit.  Other than that, it was really tasty.  I used beef broth, but you could easily substitute vegetable broth to make it a legit vegetarian dish.  Let me know if you give it a try. -  I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  But, I know no one will post a damn thing in the comments.  That's fine.  I'm not bitter.  Much.

Here's my final plated dish of the lovely Mushroom Bourguignon over egg noodles from the smitten kitchen:

Gotta love those meaty portobellos. 

Not too shabby for a hearty, healthy-ish winter dish.  Another one to add to my rotation, I'm thinking.  Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to go put on my mood ring and listen to some Bee Gees.

Ta-ta for now.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Monashka Bay Hike - Check.

Cheety checking out Monashka Bay

A few weeks ago, we went on a hike to an area I hadn't been to yet called Monashka Bay.  Hubby hiked the mountain part of the area a month or so ago as part of a challenge he was doing called Seven Summits, but it was my first time there.

It's about a 40 minute drive north of the base, and it was another unforgettable hiking day.  The weather wasn't ideal, but one of the things we decided pretty early on after our move was that it was time to reevaluate our definition of good weather. 

We settled on, "If it's not raining, it's good weather."  That sounds a little sad when I reread it, but if you stay inside when it's a little misty or overcast out in Kodiak, you'll never leave the house.  Also kind of sad when I reread it.  What are ya going to do, right?  This is our weather reality, just like 80% humidity in October was a reality in Key West.  (which isn't that much fun, either)  I've actually started to acclimate to the cooler temperatures.  It was 65 degrees in the house the other day and I didn't even need a fleece.  Go me. 

Of course, you know I had to see if I could find any information out on the interwebs about the origin of the name Monashka, but all I came across was that it's Russian in origin.  (I also didn't look very hard)  Not really a huge shock considering the Russian factor is a bit high in these parts. (Kodiak was settled by Russians before the U.S bought it in 1867)  So that translates to lots of Russian Orthodox churches, street names like Shelikof and Melnitsa, and hotels like the Russian River Lodge.  Not to mention museums and festivals celebrating the Russian heritage of Kodiak.  Aaaaand now the history portion of this post is over.  Hey, at least you know you might learn something new when you read my ramblings, right?  This was the trail head at the start of our hike:
Hubby & the pug dog with the ever-present, vibrant green moss in the forests
I really can't say enough about how much I love the hiking here.  It's so unique and fun to get out and explore all these new places.  I don't think I'll ever get over how gorgeous it can be.

I'm always awed by how fat the moss can get on the tree branches.  Unbelievable.

Even though it was misty and overcast out that day, it was still a beautiful and memorable hike.  I love that there are so many other mountains, beaches, hikes, and experiences we'll get to undertake for the first time while we're here.  It's no doubt one of the best things about getting to live in a new place.  Especially a place like Kodiak.  Unique doesn't even begin to cover it.

But, I do have to be honest, I miss my old life.  We've only been here for four months, but it feels like much, much longer than that.  Whenever I have those fleeting thoughts, I remind myself of all of the one-of-a-kind things we'll get to experience while we have the privilege of living here.  I also have to remind myself that four months is still early on in the whole "let's get adjusted" game.  I try to tweak those less than positive thoughts whenever they creep in by reminding myself how exceptional it is that we get to be here.

 And it certainly doesn't hurt to have a day like our Monashka hike - where we get outside, get some exercise and fresh air, and lay eyes on some of the most unforgettable natural landscapes I've ever seen.  Makes it easy to focus on all the raw beauty we're surrounded by instead of what I miss.

The hubby laughed at me when I told him I thought it would be fun to go for a swim at the little beach on the far side of the picture below.  I mean, he does have a point about how cold the water will be - even in the middle of summer, but it looks like a fun little alcove to play in.  Maybe we'll just go for a wade into the water instead of a swim!  I don't know if I'll ever get quite that acclimated!

I was loving the swirls of green in the water here & how obscured the top of the mountain was by the low clouds.

That little beach looks nice and private, and I'm a sucker for the black sand.  Monashka Bay also seemed like it might be a good spot to go kayaking.  More fun things to look forward to doing in this new home that doesn't quite feel like home yet.  I'll get there.  In the meantime, I'll celebrate not having to bundle up in fuzzy blankets and fleece jackets when the temps dip below sixty-eight degrees.  It's the little things, really.

Ta-ta for now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ever Heard of an Egg in a Hole?

Since our PCS to lovely and remote Kodiak, Alaska, I've been in that inevitable post-moving unpredictable transitional time.  Also known as unemployed.  Isn't that a nice little euphemism for unemployed? Unpredictable Transitional Time.  And I made that up all on my own - Has a nice ring to it, no?  Ha.

It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.  The whole frequently getting uprooted factor - from friends, to your routine, to your job, to your favorite haunts you'll leave behind - it's probably the most difficult part of being a military spouse.  It's challenging to let go sometimes, but also part of the fun & somewhat erratic nature of this kind of lifestyle.  Grand Adventure, right?  Wheeeeee!  A relevant job and regular income will come in time like it always does, and I'll find new routines, friends and favorite spots. If I've learned anything so far, it's that!  With that little tid-bit off my chest, I'm sure at this point you're wondering what any of this has to do with an egg in a hole.

Well, being my hopefully short-term unemployed self these days, I've become even more of Food Network whore than I was before.  Alright, maybe that's a little harsh.  I've always loved The Food Network, but I've discovered a gold mine of Food Network shows I never knew existed.  Alright fine, gold mine is a little much, too.  Maybe I'm channeling the dramatic again today.

The point is - The Pioneer Woman!  It's this hokey show I've been tuning in to on Food Network.  It's about this gal named Ree Drummond, who lives on a working cattle ranch with her husband and kids somewhere out in the country.  It's funny, she doesn't specify exactly where it's located, she just says it's "out in the middle of nowhere."  On one of the episodes I caught, she made an egg in a hole for breakfast.  I wasn't at all familiar with what an egg in a hole was, and I'm a sucker for eggs, (especially the soft, yolky kind) so I had to give it a try myself when I saw what it was all about.  Hubby has a tendency to call soft egg yolk recipes elephant snot.  Gross, right?  I blame his dad for that lovely turn of phrase.  :)  And I can actually hear my father-in-law saying it in my mind as I'm writing this.  Once I tried my hand at making an egg in a hole, I'm pretty sure I made it for breakfast twice a week or more for a few weeks!  It's really good.  You can get the recipe HERE.

Gettin' toasty!
Granted, the butter factor is a tad high on this one, but it's oh-so-delicious.  Probably not something you want to eat every week, but maybe a little splurge every so often. Kind of like my take on eating biscuits with sausage gravy.  I only let myself indulge in that evilness once a year.  I usually end up caving before the end of January because it's too damn good and I know I've waited patiently all year long.  You probably don't have to be that strict with egg in a hole, though.  It's not quite as heart attack and cellulite inducing as biscuits and sausage gravy!

So, I guess little things like whipping up a simple, flavorful breakfast can be that needed boost when you have those less than stellar moments during the process of adjusting to a new home.  Or anytime you're going through difficulties, really.  The whole cooking process, from methodically chopping vegetables and prepping, to the enticing scents that fill the house, to the delicious end result of a hot meal is most definitely cathartic for me.

I forgot how BIG her ears were!
Food is and will always be comforting.  I remember on the day I found out it was time to put my 11 year, old 75 lb Shepherd mix Sammi to sleep because her kidneys were failing - I didn't know what to do with myself, so I cooked a big pot of meatballs.  Food = comfort.  Throw in a glass of red and I'm in heaven!  Well, except with breakfast.  That obviously calls for Mimosas or Bloody Marys.

But ya gotta limit those biscuits and sausage gravy - once a year, I tell ya!  Which reminds me.....I only have two more months until I can pull that trigger again.  Let the sausage gravy countdown begin!

Ta-ta for now. 

Ta-da!  Delicious Egg in a Hole