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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eating Fish Three Times a Week

Last February there was a lot of buzz about some new findings about following a Mediterranean Diet. This is a diet that is high in olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, lean meats and fish. The results of a 5 year study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and showed that the risk of heart attack could be reduced by 30% when following this diet. Most telling to me was that the study was ended early so that the control groups could benefit from the diet.
The problem for some of us living in land locked states is getting good fresh seafood that is affordable. Fresh and affordable trumps sustainable, mercury levels or country of origin, sadly. One fish that I have consistently found to be readily available, inexpensive and reasonably local is trout. I can often find it in the markdown displays at our local grocery store allowing for around $1 per fish. Although it does not meet the guidelines for fatty fish it is still a good alternative to canned tuna.
Here is a favorite recipe for Roast Trout With Bacon and Herbs  from the New York Times posted on March 8, 2013 by Florence Fabricant.

The recipe does call for bacon which is to be avoided when you are strictly following the heart healthy Mediterranean Diet. You omit the bacon and still have a delicious, heart healthy dish since the olive oil provides plenty of fat. Substituting 1/4 cup slivered almonds provides a nice crunch since trout and almonds are a traditional pairing. Sprinkle the almonds on as you would the bacon slivers in step 2.

Serve this with rice being sure to drizzle some of the yummy pan juices over the rice. Accompanied by fresh or frozen green beans picked in your garden and a green salad made from garden greens dressed with an olive oil vinaigrette and you have a wonderful Mediterranean style meal that is affordable and available even in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cooking with the computer

I have a new computer and I have to say it hasn’t done much to improve my culinary skills. Since Friday I have managed to burn, boil over, scorch or even melt just about every meal.  The latest casualty was a new recipe from Lilikoi Joy called SpicyTomato & Quinoa Soup. Even though it required emergency rescue when I turned the heat to high instead of off for the last 10 minutes, the great flavor and texture shown through. I have supplied the links to the original recipe which I made with few changes. The only substitutions were to use the recipe ingredients that were available locally or from a freezer well-stocked with last year’s harvest.  
Just a little background.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that is traditionally grown at very high altitudes by Andean farmers. I get organic quinoa from Costco but it is available almost everywhere now. The original recipe for this soup calls for soaking the quinoa in vinegar before cooking but I believe that improved processing makes this step unnecessary. That may vary depending on the brand of quinoa you buy so some trial and error may be required here. Rinsing is recommended.

I start with dry white beans because that is what we have available locally. Cannellini beans are hard to come by so I substitute navy beans. I notice they can take a little longer than cannellini beans but that could have more to do with the age of the beans than the type.  If you cook your own dry beans you can control the amount of salt in the beans. I do not add salt when I am cooking. Depending on the recipe I add salt to taste at the very end or I just provide a salt shaker and let everyone salt to their own taste. I have found that you use a lot less salt this way. Here is a quick soak method for cooking dry beans:
2 cups of dry beans equals one pound of beans generally. Place beans in a heavy saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow beans to sit for 1-2 hours depending on the type and age of beans. Most of the liquid should be absorbed. Add more water to cover and cook until tender. Adding herbs or smoked pork at this stage will add flavor. 2 cups of dry white beans produced more than enough beans for this recipe. I have enough left over to make another white bean dish later this week.
I used 6 large frozen tomatoes from my garden last year. By running them under hot water I was able to slip the skins off and remove the stem. They are much easier to chop while they are still frozen.  6 large tomatoes equaled roughly the same as 2 14.5 ounce cans of tomatoes.
I used 3 frozen roasted poblano peppers and omitted the jalapeno. The soup didn’t lack for fire so we didn’t miss the jalapeno.
Here is the resulting soup.

Spicy Tomato and Quinoa Soup ala Ms. BeeHaven
 One last note: A great way to get scorched soup off of the bottom of your good stainless steel pans. Scrape out as much of the scorched food as you can. Add about an inch of hot water and sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the pan and let it sit overnight and scrub with a sponge. Alternatively, use vinegar in place of the vinegar. I am not sure if it works better but it is more exciting.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Basque Style Chevon

Today was the day I was supposed to plant lettuce and spinach and peas in the garden. That has proven to be a challenge since my garden is buried under about 10 inches of snow and surrounded by huge snowbanks  piled up after the road plowing was finished. So no gardening today. Well, maybe a few melons in the basement.
Instead I decided to work on a new recipe using Chevon.   We recently had a goat butchered and I have been looking for some good, easy, Mediterranean style recipes. I often adapt lamb recipes and that is the case here. I used about half the meat called for in the original recipe and added chickpeas since we are trying to eat more legumes and less meat. I also used my own homemade white wine vinegar instead of  dry white wine in the marinade.This is a good time of year to be using up all the delicious things you stashed in the freezer last summer so I used frozen roasted Sweet Italian Peppers and Tomatoes. I have included a link to the original recipe from a site I like called Simply Recipes.
The Basque live on the border between Spain and France and according to Encyclopedia Britannica raise sheep, cattle and apples. I am not sure how truly Basque this recipe is.

Basque Style Chevon
 1 lb goat shoulder, cut into 1 inch pieces
For the marinade:
3 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary, or more to taste, chopped
1/4 cup artisan white wine vinegar (do not use commercial vinegar which has too strong a flavor)

Combine the lamb and the marinade ingredients in a medium glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Drain, discard the marinade, and pat the meat dry with a paper towel so it will brown well.

2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 T sweet paprika
3 Fire Roasted Sweet Italian Peppers (frozen)
1 large ripe tomato (frozen), peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas with cooking liquid (optional)
2 T chopped fresh parsley (I some I froze last summer)
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry, full bodied red wine
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, over medium-high heat. Brown the meat on all sides being careful not to crowd the pan, about 10 minutes.

Remove the meat from the pan and add the onions to the pan. Saute, scraping the pan, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Return meat to pan and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered until meat is tender, about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Enjoy with a crusty loaf of bread and a rich red wine.

Adapted from Basque Lamb Stew

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lessons and Mistakes

I forgot to let the dog in last night. It wasn't intentional, really and before you condemn me for neglect let me assure you the story ends well. The dog survived his ordeal warmly wrapped in his outdoor kennel. It's not really even that I want to write about, its about how life can get ahead of you.
Everyone I know seems to be living lives that are full to overflowing. Many of my friends are raising children and starting businesses at the same time. Others are helping older children get their start and helping older parents find their finish. Every day in our house seems to end with tasks unfinished and energy exhausted. Each day starts with refreshed to-do lists and new challenges.
Is this a reflection on our organization skills? Did our ancestors live lives so filled with activities? I often wonder about those pioneers who came before. This area is filled with reminders of the hardy stock we spring from. Those restless souls who traded everything for a chance at a little bit of land to call their own. Almost every family living here can point out where their family first settled. The sun rises and sets on landmarks that were the watchtowers for the wanderers. The land has changed very little once you leave the cultivated fields and highways behind.
I have to think that their days were as full as ours. Cooking, farming, milking the cows, feeding the chickens/pigs/cows, laundry, gardening, and on and on.  Perhaps the difference was one of focus, volume and speed. If Mr. and Mrs. Pioneer did not complete their required tasks they might face starvation or loosing their homes. That would sharpen your focus on your tasks. One of the problems our society seems to be struggling with is multitasking. If you are shaving, eating, updating your profile, and emailing your boss all while driving to work, chances are one or more tasks will not be completed correctly. Like the pioneers this can end in disaster. I recently read an interesting online article about the pomodoro technique the basic premise of which is that once you start a task you must focus on only that task for at least 25 minutes before taking a break or moving on to another task. Simple, right? Can you resist answering the phone? Checking your email/facebook/text? I found it took a bit of training and practice (I still haven't mastered it maybe because I don't have the cute tomato timer) but just the reminder to stay on task helps. Do you remember the little ditty that was embroidered on tea towels? Monday-Laundry, Tuesday-Ironing, Wednesday-something else... One day and one task ( I am sure that was not the only thing accomplished on that day). You can't stop milking a cow in the middle because you remembered something else you wanted to do.
Not that I am complaining about modern technology. I love my smartphone. I can be in the car driving to pick up supplies, texting my best friend, planning an event online, getting directions and paying the bills (relax everybody, the husband is in the driver's seat). What a wonderful convenience! Women of my grandmother's generation thought the washing machine was great. Washing machines now know more about your clothes than you do. I am certainly not advocating a return to the "olden days". I would be the first person to be lining up to get back in the time machine, trust me on that. I'm just suggesting that maybe our smartphones have overbooked us. Maybe it really is time to hang up and drive.
Volume is another challenge to our daily lives. Not volume as in LOUD but volume as in an overflowing laundry basket. If I decide I am going to make pumpkin bread from the pumpkins in my garden the first thing I do is Google "Pumpkin Bread from Fresh pumpkins" and more than 10 pages of results show up. I could spend the rest of the day researching pumpkin bread and then wonder why I didn't have time to get it made! We have such a wonderful array of information right at our fingertips. Much better than asking a neighbor or friend what their recipe is, or learning how from your mother, right? Again, the world is at our fingertips but accessing it can be a real time vampire ( a little Halloween metaphor).
And lastly the topic of speed. Since I have filled my day with surfing, browsing and chatting, I am now pressed for time to complete the one main task I set for myself today. Harvesting pie pumpkins, baking them,  and using them in Pumpkin Bread for this week's Fall Festival. Gotta run.

Here is the recipe compliments of Mindy's Mouthful blog ;
 Pumpkin Puree

1. Cut the pumpkin in half.
2. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.
3. Place the halves face done on a baking sheet. Or if you have smaller pieces, place them flesh-down and lightly cover the exposed flesh with foil.
4. Bake the pumpkin in a 400F oven until soft, about 30-90 minutes depending on how thick the pumpkin is.
5. Scoop the flesh from the pumpkin. Place the flesh in a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and let sit overnight in the fridge (if the pumpkin seems overly watery).
6. Mash with a fork or put in a food processor and process until smooth.
Pumpkin Bread

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree or 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans or a bundt pan.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan(s).

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. The time varies depending on the size of pan(s) you use.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ms. BeeHaven's Simple Green Salad

The Simple Green Salad
I think one of the hardest things about trying new foods is knowing what to do with them. Things that look and sound really yummy in a store or restaurant can sit in your refrigerator taunting you with unknown possibilities. Kale is a good example of this. There have been numerous scholarly articles written about the health benefits of kale and stores like Whole Foods always have interesting salads and side dishes making kale seem appetizing. Then you get it home and it languishes in the refrigerator until you throw it out or you make something with it that doesn’t bring out its best qualities (which in the case of kale can be illusive) and you throw that out. In theory then, kale should be on everyone’s dinner plate, the practice however is a different story.
Lettuce, kale’s more widely recognized step-sister, is a familiar favorite in many meal plans. It is very user friendly and we feel comfortable in the knowledge that lettuce plus ranch dressing equals something edible. However, there is more to a good green salad than iceberg and mayo, in fact there are certain rules that need to be followed. You’ve heard of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi? Well here is the salad equivalent.
Gather the following ingredients and tools. Do not start assembling the salad until you have read the complete instructions!
1.     A good salad bowl is required. Wooden is preferred but nice decorative pottery is acceptable although the flavors will not blend, meld and age as well in pottery or glass.
2.    Good oil, it can be a fruity olive oil, a walnut oil or avocado oil but it must be fresh and flavorful. Walnut oil spoils easily so it needs to be kept in the refrigerator. Take it out and allow it to warm slightly before using.
3.    Fresh garlic, no not the canned stuff or garlic powder or (seriously now?) garlic salt. You will need to crush the garlic cloves using the flat side of a large kitchen knife, no need to peel beforehand. After crushing the peel will slip right off.
4.    Sea salt or kosher salt (but no one will know if you use ordinary salt) to be used carefully and to taste.
5.    Good fresh, organic, lettuce. Varieties like red and green leaf, butter lettuce, romaine and mesculun mixes are acceptable. Leafy vegetables like spinach and kale or arugula are also quite nice and add flavor and body. Wash it and dry it using a salad spinner or by wrapping it in paper towels. Treat it gently but make sure you get all the dirt off the leaves. This is especially true of organic farm raised lettuce. It needs to be as dry as possible so the oil can adhere to it. That is the glue that will hold your salad together. I have heard of people using their dishwashers set on cold to do this step but I have never tried it so I cannot endorse this method.
6.    Add ins; tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, sliced mushrooms, olives, anything that tickles your fancy. Don’t forget treats like sliced almonds, toasted pine nuts, pecans or dried fruit like cherries and craisins. Try to pick ingredients that go together well like dried cherries and almond, or mandarin oranges and mushrooms.
7.    Cheeses: these are optional and varied. Good sharp blue cheese or feta makes a nice counterpart to sweet fruit or strong spinach or green leaf lettuce. Grated Pecorino adds a little sophisticated flavor without overwhelming the greens. I often check the remainder or mark down section of the cheese aisle and see what new flavors I can try.
8.    Vinegar or lemon juice. Avoid using the white or cider household vinegar. It is very strongly flavored and has a high acidity, we even use it as a weed-killer. Use instead a white or red wine vinegar that has a more developed flavor but less acid.
9.    One last note: it is possible to put too much into your salad. You can overwhelm both your taste buds and the flavors by mixing too much in. Tossed salad refers to the method of mixing the salad not the action of “tossing” everything in the vegetable bin into the bowl. Think carefully about the flavors of each ingredient and how they will impact the others. You can always save something for tomorrow’s salad.
Assembly instructions:
Step 1: Using the flat side of your large kitchen knife, crush the garlic cloves. This will release the skin which you can simply pull away from the clove. Depending on how garlicky you like your salad, one or two cloves is sufficient. Rub the cloves around the inside of the bowl, coating the bowl well.
Step 2: Add the washed and dried lettuce and any other leafy green vegetables. Drizzle with 2-3T of oil, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well so that the lettuce is coated with oil. It should be shiny but not dripping. Set aside about 5-10 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
Step 3: Add the remaining ingredients making sure not to overwhelm the salad. The add-ins should not be more than 1/3 the entire volume of the salad. Toss again. Top with cheese and drizzle with about 1T vinegar or lemon juice more or less depending on your taste. Toss again and allow to rest about 5 minutes allowing the flavors to blend. Serve with good crusty bread, perfectly grilled steak and a glass of your favorite wine. Enjoy!  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Go Ask Vonda at the Dairy Queen

    I have learned many interesting things since moving to Nebraska in June. In fact, some would say our learning curve has been as steep as an Everest climb.Some new knowledge is useful but not life changing but some of it will stay in our hearts forever. Things like don't put one eyeliner before you go out to fix the irrigation system or you'll wind up looking like a depressed raccoon probably should have already been filed away somewhere but had to be relearned the hard way. There was totally new knowledge like learning to bale hay. Watch the twine or it will get all wound up in some dohickey and your bales will look like something from a horror-flick bleeding out in the field. Or if you have a 4 month old puppy standing hip high at the shoulder and named for the god of chaos and you hang your clothes out on the line-chances are they will end up festooning the yard. There was old knowledge that was vital to survival in rural Nebraska. Strategic Air Conditioning, for example, which is the process of opening and closing the drapes and windows during the course of the day to keep the house cool. This is very similar to the 4/40 car air conditioning of our youth. Or just when you think the wind can't blow any harder it steps it up a notch.
     The most important lessons we have learned though are the ones closest to our hearts. We have learned that old friends are the best friends, time with your children is the most precious commodity in the world, and that my mother was right, it is better to be born lucky than rich. We learned that starting your own business is a lot like having a new baby. You invest more money, time, and energy than you ever thought possible. Every week brings new challenges but I'm told, on good authority, that through perseverance and hard work you can create something of which to be proud. I only have only to look at our three children to know this to be the truth.
     We have learned that help can come from some pretty unexpected places. When I called a refrigeration repair shop in Scottsbluff looking for a cooler curtain for our deli cooler the receptionist cheerfully offered to call around to their suppliers. When she called back however her solution to my problem was a surprise. You don't want to buy 300 feet of cooler plastic, that's too much. Call Vonda at the Dairy Queen. She just bought a roll and she don't need all that. I'll bet she'll sell you some. Tentatively I called the Dairy Queen and explained my problem expecting a brush off at best and a cursing at worst. She listened and said Sure, I can do that. How much do you need? Can you get here soon? Surprised, I asked if she was the only Dairy Queen in town. You're not from around here. are you? This is a lesson we learn every day here. People we meet are kind and generous, helpful and encouraging (that's not to say they don't go home and tell their friends about Crazy Coloradoans). Even foreigners like us-You're not from around here, are you?- are given a warm , if cautious, welcome.  I am told that it takes about three years before people accept the fact that you're here to stay.
     This is a land that is lost in time. In town the noon whistle still blows, shops still close, and people still go home for lunch. Older women still introduce themselves as Mrs.Husbandsname.  Kindness and consideration for others is still a virtue. And Vonda at the Dairy Queen is still willing to help a stranger.

     I have also learned a lesson that has been repeated every sunrise and sunset this week. Even in the midst of disaster there is still beauty.

Smokey Sunset Fire Roasted Beets   
Preheat charcoal or gas grill

2lbs Fresh Whole Beets, tops and hairy root ends removed, leaving about 1 inch of tops.
Olive oil, about 2 T
Flaked salt
Herbed Red Wine Vinegar, about 1 T, to taste
Crumbled Feta

On a sheet of aluminum foil about 12 inches long, place the cleaned and prepared beets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold foil around beets forming a packet, sealing both ends and top. Place on grill for 20 minutes on each side. Remove from grill, open the packet and allow to cool until safe to handle. Peel beets and remove remaining top and root. Cut into quarters. Toss with vinegar. Serve resting on a bed of freshly torn lettuce and garnished with crumbled feta.


Monday, June 25, 2012

The Sourdough Ambassador
I am fascinated by living foods. I love yeast, vinegar, yogurt and wine, but most of all, sourdough. My sourdough starter has wild spores of yeast going as far back as Chengiz Khan . They were gathered on the steppes of Mongolia by my brother-in-law, the Sourdough Ambassador. Mixed in with Chengiz is some starter from the San Francisco Gold Rush and also the Alaskan Gold Rush. Everywhere he traveled in the world he carried sourdough with him in a small plastic peanut butter jar.  It is truly sourdough with a world class pedigree.  Best of all, where the Sourdough Ambassador took some starter he also left some starter; Sourdough Diplomacy.
          Whenever the Ambassador is in town, Sourdough pancakes are on the menu. So light they float off the griddle, usually accompanied by outer space sound effects, smothered with maple syrup and butter they are pure delight.  I have heard that these pancakes are truly the breakfast of champions and that many a basketball game has been decided by which team was fueled by sourdough.
          Sourdough is an ancient food. It is created by capturing wild yeast spores from the air, feeding them and allowing them to ferment. This is the natural, “free range” leavening agent used in many breads in many parts of the world. Once you have captured the spores in your starter you must feed them and give them water regularly. The yeast consumes the carbohydrates and “exhales” carbon dioxide. This is trapped by the strands of gluten in the dough creating bubbles causing the dough or batter to rise.
          The best way to get starter is to find someone who already has a crock of sourdough bubbling on their counter. Most people are happy to share. You only need about a ¼ cup (57g) to begin but there are some strict rules and guidelines you must follow in order to achieve success.
1.     Never mix or store your sourdough in a metal container. Use only glass or pottery.
2.    Never use metal utensils to stir the sourdough. The metal will react with the starter causing a metallic taste and spoiling your starter forever.
3.    Never use the entire starter, always hold back at least ¼ cup as the start for your next batch of sourdough.
4.    Never give up on your sourdough, it is amazingly resilient. Even if you forget it at the back of the refrigerator and it grows an evil smelling dark liquid at the top, pour it off, hold back about a ¼ to 1 cup and start the feeding process again. It might take a few “refreshments” before it is usable but it will recover with time.
Refreshment or the care and feeding of your new sourdough:
          Place the starter in a small jar, crock, or non metallic bowl and mix in about ¾ cup (198g) of warm water (85 -90 F) and 1 ¼ c. all purpose flour.  Stir carefully and cover with a damp cloth and/or plastic wrap and set in a warm place for about 8 hours. For morning pancakes you will need to feed your starter the night before. After 8 hours the starter should be bubbly and alive. This is referred to as having “worked”.  It should have a sour, fruity, but not unpleasant smell. If it has not doubled in size after eight hours do not give up, simply repeat the process with using 1 cup of the starter. Sometimes sourdough that has not been used regularly requires several refreshments before it becomes active.
Using sourdough:
REMEMBER! NEVER COOK YOUR STARTER! After refreshment always take back at least ¼ cup of the sourdough to use as starter for your next batch. Once you have added eggs or milk to your sourdough it will be unusable as a starter for your next recipe.  Keep your starter in a small non-metallic container and refresh it regularly. If you won’t be using it for a while store it in the refrigerator, otherwise it can live quite happily on your counter. The starter can also be dried and frozen for later use.
I have attached the history of the Sourdough Ambassador’s Starter in his own words which makes pretty entertaining reading.

Sourdough Ambassador Pancakes (in his own words).
The night before you want to make pancakes, add enough flour to your starter to make enough sourdough for the number of people you plan to feed. Usually about 1 1/4 to 2 cups will feed a family of four. When the starter has “worked” it will be light and buoyant with bubbles on the top and throughout the mix. Take back 1 cup of starter and place it in the refrigerator for next time.          
To the remainder add:
            1t. salt
            2T. sugar
            1 room temperature egg
            1 t. cooking oil
Add enough evaporated milk to bring the mix to the desired batter consistency.
            The last step is to mix in one teaspoon of baking soda.
Allow to stand 3-4 minutes to allow soda to “work”. The soda reacts with the lactic acid in the sourdough starter. This reaction is fueled by the sugar that was added and gives off carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide forms bubbles and you can actually see the mix rise in the mixing container. When the mix has “ worked” you are ready to cook.
            Cook on a hot, lightly greased griddle making 3-5 inch diameter cakes. This allows for quick rise and cooking all the way through with no raw dough in the center.

I have included the history of my sourdough starter written by the Sourdough Ambassador himself:

The History of My Sourdough Starter
Clay Alderson aka The Sourdough Ambassador

It must have been about the summer of 1965 when I was working on the trail crew in Grand Teton National Park.  I was strolling along the boardwalk in Jackson, Wyoming and passed a familiar book shop just off the town square and went inside to take a look at the day’s offerings.  The proprietor was a good friend and perusing the books was a favorite Saturday activity.  It was here that I took my first step on the road to sourdough cookery.  I purchased a book called “Sourdough Jack’s Cookery:  Authentic Sourdough Cookery from his Country Kitchen” by Jack Mabee.  It was a small paper backed book with a comb binding but in the back was an envelope containing genuine dehydrated sourdough starter.  The story in the book attributed the origin of this starter to the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849.  I bought the book.

It was late in the summer and my seasonal work in the park was about to terminate.  I didn’t get a chance to activate the starter so it traveled with us back to Kansas where it remained in a box with other books and things for a period of several years.  One day in about 1970, while living in Meriden, Kansas, I was digging through some things from the Grand Teton days and I found this book with it’s envelope of sourdough starter.  I sat down and read the book and then read the instructions for activating the starter.  All it amounted to was adding water and letting it stand in a warm place for a day or two and that was all there was to it.

There were some details that had to be adhered to however.  You were never to mix sourdough in a metal bowl.  You were not even allowed to mix sourdough with a metal spoon and allow the spoon to remain in the sourdough overnight.  The mix would take on a metallic taste and it would set your teeth on edge and your mix would never be edible after that.  The other caution was to never fail to remove some of the sourdough before cooking because if you did you were out of business.  Even if you caught yourself before cooking up all of the starter you would already have added eggs and milk and that would spoil and ruin the sourdough.  So I put the powder into a crockery bowl and added water.  It made and sticky goo that I covered with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out in the warm Kansas weather.  Then I put it on top of the refrigerator to activate.

In a couple of days the mixture had increased to double its original volume and bubbles had formed on the surface.  When I stirred it with a wooden spoon it revealed that the mix had transformed into a sweet smelling mass of frothy bubbles.  I couldn’t wait until the weekend so I could try my new-found culinary delight on the family.  Now this was not the first time that I had exposed the family to what some of the Teton Trail Crew called my “farmer food”.  I had introduced them to bowls of hot Lipton Noodle Soup for breakfast on cold mornings, and on hot summer days ice cream was a good eye opener.  I considered Spam a delicacy and, with a honey mustard glaze, suitable for serving guests on holidays, and a menu was seldom complete without Jell-O on the table.  My idea of a good green salad is lime Jell-O with fruit in it and maybe a little whipped cream on the top.  To this day I fail to see anything strange about this although my, now adult, children roll their eyes on those rare occasions when the come to visit and find green Jell-O in their salad bowls.

But the sourdough; that was the one acceptable gastronomic family inheritance that was embraced by all and for all time.  That first morning when I cooked up that sourdough into flat golden discs that floated off the griddle and on to their plates was what made dad an acceptable occupant of the kitchen.  To that initial success I added some personal touches.  I made green pancakes for St. Patrick’s Day and pink heart shaped pancakes for Valentines.  I could make pancakes in the shape of letters and each child got cakes in the shape of their initials.  I added vanilla and chocolate for special occasions and sometimes a little mint.  But the favorite remained setting out the basic flour and water mix overnight, then adding eggs and milk with a little sugar and salt and enough soda to make them rise.  The soda was dissolved in a small bowl with water and added at the last moment.  Once the soda hit the mix it reacted to the lactic acid in the fermented starter.  Using the sugar as fuel it formed carbon dioxide and the mix began to swirl and bubble.  It was like magic and the kids begged to be the one to put in the “magic potion”.  I was never sure if the magic was in the mix or the production.  I sometimes would walk around the kitchen with a cake on my flipper pretending to be straining to hold it from floating up to the ceiling on its way to an empty plate.

The family grew up on sourdough and my work took me from Kansas to new parts of the country until finally I ended up in Skagway, Alaska.  This was the point of entry into the frozen north that in 1898 brought hundreds of thousands of gold hungry stampeders into the southeastern panhandle of Alaska on their way to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush.  The term “sourdough” was synonymous with being a seasoned northerner.

My cousin, Neva McKittrick, had come to Alaska many years before me to teach school in Valdez.  She had married the owner of a local grocery store and enjoyed a colorful life in the “Last Frontier”.  Her husband was Bill Egan who was active in territorial politics and served as the first governor of Alaska from 1959 to 1966.  He was also the forth governor of Alaska serving from 1970 to 1974 and remains the only Alaska Governor to have been born in the state.

Bill passed away in 1984 and Neva was living in Anchorage when I arrived in Alaska in 1982.  Business trips frequently took me to Anchorage and I always made it a point to stop and visit Neva on those trips.  On one of my visits I mentioned my exploits in sourdough cookery and she said she had a starter that originated in Nome during the gold rush of 1909.  We reasoned that it probably had come up the Inside Passage to Skagway and over the Chilkoot Trail and down the Yukon River during the rush to the Klondike.  Many of the Klondike stampeders ended up in Nome when that gold rush took place.  So she gave me a bottle of her precious Nome sourdough starter and when I returned to Skagway I added this to my San Francisco Gold Rush starter.  Now I had sourdough with two gold rushes in its pedigree.

I continued to make sourdough pancakes for family and friends in Skagway most every Saturday morning.  In fact some of our breakfasts lasted most of the day.  I branched out to make breads and rolls but nothing was quite a successful as the pancakes.  I even started cooking breakfast for local events including large groups of over a hundred people.  I would start a couple of weeks before the event and begin with a couple of cups of sourdough starter in the bottom of a five gallon bucket.  Every day I would add enough flour and water to make a little more sourdough until I had a five gallon bucket filled, sometimes to overflowing.  If you misjudged the amount of flour and water or if the room temperature gets a little warm the sourdough will become so active that it grows right over the top of the rim of the bucket and nothing is harder to clean-up than sourdough dried into the living room carpet.

I have had some funny experiences with the sourdough that added to its mystique.  Once I forgot about a bucket of sourdough that I had set in the garage and one day I noticed a caustic odor emanating from behind the work bench.  There was the sourdough bucket containing about a gallon of green fuzzy mold that smelled a lot like paint thinner.  It was winter so I took the bucket out in the yard and distributed it in a large circle on top of the snow.  The next spring the snow melted and the grass in the yard started to green up and grow; everywhere but in the circle where I had dumped that sourdough.  It took about three years before grass would grow in that circle.

By the time we moved from Utah to Alaska my oldest son Benjamin was married and was living in Virginia.  He came home to pick up some things that he had left stored in our house along with an old Datsun pick-up truck he wanted and was surplus to our Alaskan needs.  He loaded all his stuff into the back of the truck and as he got ready to head east he said that he would like a sourdough start to take with him.  I fixed him up a crock of sourdough and he added that to the things in the back of the truck.  When he got to Denver the truck gave out on him and he had to do some major repairs in order to continue the trip to Virginia.  He is pretty handy with fixing things but in the process of getting tools out of the back of the truck he knocked the crock of sourdough off the tailgate and it broke all over the top of an old school desk that he was transporting.  He reported with some sadness that he had lost his sourdough starter.

Several months later I was talking to him on the phone and he said that he had cooked up a batch of sourdough pancakes for his family that morning.  I told him that I thought he had broken his sourdough crock and lost his starter.  He said that all that was true but when he got home to Virginia he threw the school desk out in the back yard with some of the sourdough still stuck to it.  One morning he got hungry for sourdough and went out and scraped some of the dried sourdough off the top of the desk and after a few days of adding flour and water and allowing it to stand in a warm place he was able to make pancakes and had his starter back.  It was somewhat like what I had done many years earlier with the powder supplied by Sourdough Jack in the little folder in the back of his book.

The final component in the pedigree of this sourdough comes from half way around the world.  In 1999-2001 our travels took us to Mongolia to help the Government of Mongolia develop a management program for their newly established system of National Parks and public lands.  In the little town of Hatgal in north central Mongolia where we lived there was a bakery that supplied the town with bread.  When we returned to Hatgal in 2006 for a visit we went to the bakery to purchase bread.  I noticed there was a plastic pail of bubbling batter standing in the middle of the room.  Through our interpreter I asked about the mix and learned that it was the leavening that they added to the mix to make the bread rise. One sniff told me that it was sourdough.  I got a small container of their sourdough and carried it all the way back to Alaska and added it to my sourdough crock.

My sourdough mix is complete now.  I have strains of starter from San Francisco, Nome, and Hatgal.  It is an energetic mix of flour and water with just the right amount of active spores to make it active, tasty, and sweet smelling.  I have kept the original starter going nearly 40 years and have never used a metal utensil to store or mix the starter.  I have been careful to not cook up the basic starter so there is always plenty of starter to add to next time we want some pancakes.  I have shared my starter with hundreds of people throughout the land.  I think Sourdough Jack would be proud.