Sunday, August 30, 2015

What's For Dinner?

My sister shared this recipe with me not too long ago and it's most definitely a keeper.  Great flavor combinations and healthy to boot.  Plus it features my favorite kind of olives:  Kalamata!

It's easy to pull together and I can't say enough about how much I love the texture of spaghetti squash.  It really can substitute for pasta.  Well, unless pasta is an absolute must.  Which if we're being real, is completely reasonable.

Sometimes pasta is just what you need and no substitute will do.  Okay fine, nothing can replace pasta.  Like how I did a 180 there?  I can't help it.  My love of pasta & bread is serious business.  But I'll stand by spaghetti squash as a nice alternative if you're not in that "pasta and pasta only" mind-set, and you feel like you need to shake things up.  This is what you'll need to make this deliciousness happen:
(For the complete recipe, scroll to the bottom.)

The first step is to roast the squash in the oven at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes.  All you need to do is slice the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and smother it with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Place the squash cut side up on a baking sheet and just let it roast away.

Once you're at about 10 minutes until the squash is done, you'll want to get your veggies prepped & cooked.  Spaghetti squash has such a mild flavor on its own, so the bold taste of the olives and feta really work in this dish.

Once your veggies and feta are all bubbly and happy, you'll want to spaghetti-up the squash.  Its easy, you just have to drag a fork across the surface of the squash and it does its thing.

Try not to be distracted by my grody, well-used baking tray!

All that's left to do now is to plate it up.  Scoop out the squash and spoon your sauce on top of each serving, adding a little bit of parsley for a pop of color.  (I omitted the fresh basil in mine.  Just because I was lazy.)

This one's a tasty, light meal that you can't go wrong with - especially if you're a fan of feta and Kalamata olives. You know what?  I bet it would be even better with pasta.  And a side of bread.

Ta-ta for now.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Coming Around

Photo credit:  Giuseppe Crespi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Don't think about it - just answer.  Favorite reading genre?  What was the first answer that popped into your mind?  I can tell you that for me, it wasn't historical fiction.  But a handful of books over the last few years have gradually changed my thoughts about it.

Until recently, I just didn't gravitate toward historical fiction.  But despite not being drawn toward it, over the last couple of years I've started to appreciate it more.

The shift happened gradually, and the reason was because of a select few books that fell into my lap.  Novels that stuck with me and subtly nudged me toward choosing more books that fall into that historical fiction category.  Maybe you'll find a new favorite.  Cause ya know I love to suggest good reads!

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
I loved this book.  I couldn't get enough of the fresh off the boat scrappy Irish girl making her way in the big city story line.  I can't deny the initial draw was the title (I was born in Brooklyn) and the fact that the main character is Irish.  Brooklyn in the early 1950's and a young, working class Irish woman taking her first steps toward independence and adulthood?  Throw in a love triangle with a young Italian and the Irish boy from back home? Yes and yes. Oh - and it's been made into a movie that looks pretty good.  Comes out in November, 2015.

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
There's only one word to describe this monster of a book.  Epic!  It spans about 50 years, takes place in the Middle Ages & is almost a thousand pages, but man what a terrific read.  It follows the life and experiences of a medieval architect in England and his life long goal of building a cathedral.  It's a hefty one, but I'll recommend it to those brave souls who aren't intimidated by a book that can double as a doorstop.

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
My favorite part about this one was the total transformation of the main character.  Readers meet her in the beginning of the book as a closed minded, Temperance movement, not immediately likable, early twenties woman.  But by the end?  It's a fabulous transformation to an open, compassionate, evolved woman who bravely followed her desire for happiness and love despite the restrictions & expectations of the rigid society she lived in.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom
This one has been compared to The Help by Kathryn Stockett - which I haven't read yet.  The story and the characters in The Kitchen House get under your skin and stay with you.  The time period and unflinching look into the heartbreaking reality of plantation slavery in the time before the Civil War make it unavoidably heavy, but don't let that deter you from checking this one out.  It's a must-read for sure.

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
I'm a sucker for the "old woman looking back on her youth" narrator that this one's got going on.  It takes place via flashbacks of the main character - 98 year old Grace Bradley.  She tells the story of her time as a housemaid in the early 1920's at a grand English country house, Riverton Manor.  It's a mystery, a love story, and a terrific account of a time that's so far removed from anything close to my reality, that it sucked me in almost immediately. 

I can't leave out a little nod to one of my all time favorites, The Color Purple.  Now there's a top-notch historical fiction novel. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to watching the movie.

The book I'm reading now easily falls into this category of opening my mind toward historical fiction.  You may have heard of it, since it won the Pulitzer for fiction this year:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  It's the story of a blind girl in WWII France.  I'm digging it.

I have to say, these books have really helped me to give historical fiction more than just a passing glance.  It might just be a front runner in my book picks now.  Because truthfully, it's too damn hard to pick a favorite genre.  I heart them all.  Anyone want to join me in branching out?

Ta-ta for now.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Hallelujah!  Two things I've been impatiently waiting for & looking forward to for as long as we've lived here finally happened.  First, we had our first (and probably only) visitors.  And not just any visitors.  We're talking top-notch, bang-up visitors.  Hey, don't be jealous cause I have an exceptional family. 

My brother and one of my sisters were on the short list of people I  thought would actually come and see us.  I've been eagerly anticipating their arrival & was beyond thrilled that two of my favorites took the leap and traveled the not exactly short or easy trip to Kodiak from New York.  What a great week we had together.

See, here's the thing.  When the word on the street was that we would be living in Alaska for a few years, we heard lots of folks chime in that they'd love to come and visit.  But the reality is that nobody ever pulled the trigger. Which I totally get.  Alaska is far away, not easy to get to, and expensive.

But my brother and sister made it happen.  Which made me happier than they probably realize!  I joked that I'd believe they would visit when they were standing in my living room.  They proved my skepticism wrong...well, when they were standing in my living room.

So, kudos to them for staying true to their word.  I'm so glad they came to see us, and we had such a fun week showing them some of the unique and memorable things Kodiak has to offer.

Mossy Sitka Spruce

Only-in-Kodiak craft beers at Kodiak Island Brewery

Spectacular mountains at Fort Abercrombie State Park

Which brings me to my second reason for calling this post "Finally!"  After two damn years, I finally went salmon fishing.  I've wanted to go for as long as we've been here, but since I know just about zero about fishing and even less about how to catch salmon, I needed someone to go with who had more of a clue than I did. Enter the hubby.

Gotta love the waders

Turned out to be super fun!  We headed out the road to the Olds River for the day.  I caught one, but we had to throw it back because I inadvertently hooked it in the eye.  I guess the big shots at Alaska Fish & Game frown upon hooking them anywhere that isn't the mouth, so we had to throw him back.  Apparently it's called snagging.

See what I mean?  I had no idea that was a rule. - I would have happily trotted away with my illegal catch had I been on my own!  Or perhaps I would have done a little research to educate myself before going.  Let's go with that.

Between the three of us, we managed to catch exactly zero salmon.  And no, it wasn't because of the beers.  Ha.  We all had a few throw backs, (again - talking about the salmon, not the beer) and we each hooked more than a few that got away, but we still had a fun day.

Thankfully, the hubby managed to catch one, and we were able to grill it up for dinner that night.  I was hoping they would get to experience catching one in the morning and eating it the same night.  Because that really is the best it gets.

Get it, Mick!

Some of the die-hard Alaskans turn their noses up at even eating pinks, which is what we were fishing for that day.  But it was a damn good meal.

Apparently pinks are on the smaller side, and are mostly used for canning or smoking.  They sort of have a bad rep.  As far as I'm concerned, as long as it's fresh - and you can't do better than swimming in the river a few hours before grilling - it's going to be a good meal.  

Our favorite way to grill salmon is on a cedar plank with a mustard ginger glaze.  It's first rate.  Even if it was a pink.  Salmon snobs be damned!

I'm curious if a king salmon really tastes remarkably better than a pink.  Hopefully I'll get to catch and try a king before we leave!  Says the lady who couldn't even hook one of the smallest species.

When we first got here, keeping track of the five different species of Pacific Salmon was confusing at best because they all have nicknames.  King salmon is also chinook and coho is known as silver and a pink is also a goes on and on.

This little info page should help if anyone's interested, and this article in Smithsonian Magazine goes into it a little more.  I've got it down now!

Pinks are running now, and come September it'll be silvers, AKA Coho.  I'm looking forward to getting back out there to see if I can muscle one in - they're stronger than you think!

Strong little muthers!

Humpies.  Pinks.  Silvers.  Chinook.  I'll just call them all good eats.  I'm glad I was able to knock off an "Alaskan first" with some of my family.  Bang-up family for sure!  And that comes with a legit double thumbs up and a wink.  Wish it could have been all of us.

Ta-ta for now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Puffin Stalking

My afternoon of puffin stalking paid off.  No, not with puffin stew!  It paid off with exactly the kinds of wildlife pictures I've been trying to capture over the last two years.

I spent the entire afternoon last Saturday bobbing along in my kayak on Anton Larsen Bay, patiently waiting for my beloved puffins to make an appearance.  And then I spotted a nesting area.  Which I immediately took a beeline towards.

As I was floating along, four puffin came shooting out of the trees by the cliffside.  They were so close to me - it was awesome.  I actually laughed out loud after they sped by.  They're fast little mothers.  They can fly up to 55 miles per hour, so getting an in air picture is challenging.  This was the best I could do for an action shot:

Not too bad

I thought it was pretty cool that the splashes from his wings came out too.  After gawking at  them as they whizzed past, I watched them circle around and around before they decided to land.  And then my afternoon of puffin creeping began.

I've decided that the quality that has to be paramount for professional wildlife photographers is patience. You just have to wait for nature to show itself to you and hope you get the shot you want.  I think I did pretty good for an amateur.

How damn cute are these birds?  I totally see why they're called the clown of the sea.  Between that colorful beak and their dopey behavior, they're my favorite northern bird.  I caught them making their way toward the hubby while he fished from his kayak.

They're comin' for him!

He didn't catch anything, but the whole time we were out, the salmon were mocking him by vaulting out of the water all around us.  They wanted nothing to do with what he was selling that day.  He did end up catching a little rockfish, but he threw it back.  So, I spent the day tracking puffin, while he hunted salmon.  I won.

I also captured a few decent pictures of other shore birds.  Two black oystercatchers & some terns.  Let me tell you, they let you know when you get too close.  This one was downright obnoxious when I entered his comfort zone:

Can't you hear him?  He's telling me to get the hell out of his space.  And not very subtly!

Such vibrant beaks & beautiful coloring

I don't even know how I captured this black oystercatcher action shot.  It was a complete accident:

And these two were nice enough to pose for me on the rocks.  Of course they also warned me with little cheeps when I got too close.  Not nearly as obnoxious as the tern.

This was a perfect kayaking day.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if the hubby caught a salmon or two.  It was another gorgeous, Kodiak at its best summer day.  I love Kodiak on days like this.

I took quite a few puffin misses picture-wise, but I took so many that there were a handful of keepers.  This next one is my favorite.  It was as crisp and clear as I was hoping, even though the colors of the water are a little washed out & on the dull side.  It's still my favorite:

Kodiak really is one of a kind. It was one of those days when the sunshine, temperate weather, nature, and wildlife all coincided beautifully & can only be described one way.  Synergy!

Ta-ta for now.