Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cardamom Bread


1 1/2 Tbsp instant yeast
4 cups flour
1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm milk  (about 115 degrees)
3/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom

Egg Wash:
1 tsp Cardamom
1 tbsp. heavy cream
1 egg yolk

Sugar for garnish


Mix flour, yeast, and cardamom in a large bowl and stir until foamy.  Set aside.

Heat milk, remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved.  Add to the flour mixture. Add 1/2 cup melted butter and mix on low (if you are using a mixer)  or by hand with a wooden spoon until a nice sticky dough forms.

Change out the mixer blade and use a dough hook. Knead for a few minutes and then stop. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes with a light cover over it (I use a plate and just stick it over the top of the mixing bowl).  This is basically your breads "afternoon nap" during which the gluten relaxes and absorbs moisture.

When the twenty minutes is up, knead again, adding in salt, with the hook or by hand on a lightly floured board until the dough is smooth to the touch and elastic.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into three dough balls.  Let rise for 40 minutes. Roll each chunk of dough  into ropes and braid them on the greased baking pan. Tuck the ends of the braid under.

Mix ingredients for egg wash and brush on loaf and sprinkle it with sugar. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown (about 30 minutes).

Sunday, September 28, 2008


and GRAVY. Not that nasty stuff out of a can or a pouch. But the real thing. With milk and lots of pepper and some little bits of sausage added in after it's creamy.


The term sourdough originated during the Klondike Gold Rush when settlers began to flood into Alaska. Due to the limited availability of leavening in the remote bush of Alaska, settlers made their bread using a sourdough starter which uses flour, water, and sugar to naturally collect yeast from the air. The use and consumption of this bread was so widespread that these settlers began to be known as "sourdoughs."

The history of sourdough, however, begins long before miners came to Alaska. Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened bread and was used at least as early as ancient Egypt. It was probably discovered by accident when bread dough was left out and good microorganisms -- wild yeast -- drifted into the mix. The resulting bread had a lighter texture and better taste.

All sourdough recipes begin with a starter -- a mixture of flour, water and a little sugar. Sitting at room temperature, wild yeasts in the air and on the grain settle into the mix. The fermentation that occurs after a few days gives the starter its sour smell. Then it's ready to use, for years if treated with respect.

A starter, or "sponge" as the pioneers called it, feeds many families over many years. Starters have always been passed through families and from friend to friend. I have kept my last starter alive for 10 years and there are stories of starters that are much older. There is one starter from a famous bakery in San Francisco that started back in 1849 and is known as the "Mother Dough".

Starters can be kept thriving simply by adding equal parts of water and flour to a portion of the starter every couple of weeks. Replenish it, keep it stored in the refrigerator, and it will last indefinitely, acquiring more personality as the years go by. The extra tanginess that comes with age is highly prized, and is why older starters become treasured members of the family for sourdough junkies.

So for the start of your sourdough adventure . . . a tale from Home on the Range.

Sourdough Starter & The Mad Trapper Of Rat River.

Nobody knew much about Albert Johnson. He arrived in Fort MacPherson, July 9th 1931 on the southern edge of the Mackenzie delta (67 degrees N latitude) non eventfully, descending into the town on the idle wind with a lot of cash in his pocket. He was by all accounts, in his mid to late thirties, with a rugged build, icy blue eyes and a tactiturn disposition, keeping to himself. These physical characteristics in men that trapped for a living in the north were nothing out of the ordinary and he quietly melted into the landscape.

What the locals noted as strange was this young man had pockets of money and build a large cabin with a good view on three sides in the prime trapping area of the Rat River, but did not obtain the requisite trapping license. He didn't invite questions, and shunned visitors.

When the trapping season went into full swing, something changed. The traps in the area were disrupted. Smashed, bait tossed about. Meat ruined. Indian trappers complained that someone was interfering with their work. In this region trapping was the only source of food and livelihood for many,settler and native alike, and interfering with it was the most serious of crimes. Several pointed fingers at the hermit like Mr. Johnson. The Indians said he "was mad". So one cold day Constable Alfred 'Buns' King and Special Constable Joe Bernard, each of whom had considerable northern experience, decided to call on Johnson to investigate. When they approached his cabin they noticed smoke billowing up from the chimney, wrapping around the house like a fortress. After numerous attempts to strike up a conversation in 40 below temperatures, about as productive as arguing with a Democrat, and getting nowhere with a man holed up with a gun, they decided to return to Aklavik to get reinforcements.

They returned with 2 more Mounties plus one civilian. Steam came from edges of the cabin door as if it was warm inside. Men and beast moving only slowly in the incredible cold, white fog brightened only by a shortened sun, the cold air gusting around the men, heightening the sense of urgency. A simple knock on the door and without warning, a shot rang out, three bullets splintering the wood and smashing into Constable King's chest. McDowell did not wait. He dragged his friend to their sledge and cracked his snake whip as loud as Hermit Johnson's rifle. Tongues out, the husky dogs plunged forward, racing back through the night, fueled by hunger and the smell of blood. They made the 100 miles back to Aklavik in 20 hours. It was a record that saved Constable King's life.

Ten days later a new patrol mushed out to Rat River to avenge Constable King. Albert Johnson had used the interval to turn his hut into a blockhouse. He had dug the dirt floor out to a depth of four feet, cut loopholes at the floor level. For 15 hours Albert Johnson held off the Mounties. Hand grenades blew the roof off his hut. Albert Johnson retired, like an angry woodchuck, entrenched in his dugout, willing to fight to the death. The police retired, thwarted again.

For the third time, a police patrol set out from Aklavik, but this time Albert Johnson had fled from Rat River, trying to beat his way through the arctic winter to Alaska and safety. What followed was the north country's greatest man hunt. Trappers rushed their wives to trading posts for safety, then joined the posse. They were loosely organized, but realized as we still do today that is is the spirit of the law, and not the form of it that keeps justice alive, and they were willing to leave all behind to ensure justice for an officer taken down simply trying to preserve a man's work and the fruit of their sweat.

Thirty miles further in the this posse finally tracked where Mad Albert had built a fort of ice and snow. There was another battle. In it, Constable E. Millen died. Police ammunition ran out and the posse withdrew for supplies, leaving three men to watch the fort. In the middle of the night Mad Albert Johnson slipped away again in a blizzard that covered his snowshoe tracks, winds wailing a hymn of mourning for another fallen officer.

They called in Capt. W. R. ("Wop") May, a survivor of the epic battle which ended in the death of Germany's famed Baron Manfred von Richthofen. "Wop" May was at Fort McMurray, Alberta, 1,100 miles away, when Constable Millen was shot.

Flying in that day was slow, it was risky and it was low to the hard earth. There were no instruments to guide you in bad weather, no controllers to help you find our way. All you had were wings and courage. Articulate honor in the face of death. Men like Captain May, those that earn their names, know what risk is, and they elect to it anyway. With winter weather making the sky a time bomb of ice, May took their frantic call for help and took off in an Army monoplane, headlong into the swirling snows of the pursuit, armed with nothing more than a craft about as maneuverable as a Brinks Truck equipped with a single bomb rack.
Even flight in a blizzard couldn't hide Albert Johnson from the eyes of Capt. May. Days later May reported that Albert Johnson had crossed the Yukon River, was tracking west from Pierre House trading post, only 175 miles from the Alaska border. The man hunt resumed, full cry.

On Jan 30th he was confronted once more. After a short shootout, Constable 'Spike' Millen lay dead - shot through the heart. Johnson made his escape by climbing a sheer cliff in the dead of night. The Mounties reputation was on the line, their ability to take down one lone man reduced to a whisper of cold promise left in prints of a snowshoe.

Albert Johnson seemed to be no average trapper. The Mounties said of him to be capable of great feats and was crafty beyond belief. The local Inuit said at one point in the chase that Johnson could snowshoe 2 miles for every 1 mile a dog team had to break trail. The cold was brutal, pulling the air from your lungs, as the hairs in your nose froze to Brillo pads that blocked the little breathe you could take in. Yet Johnson was able to flee, and at a pace faster than the best of the best, so many times they thought they had him, when his departed form split the night like artillery, breaking the lie of silence.

He took down one other officer before being felled in one crashing volley.On February 17, 1932 May directed the Mounties to a hairpin turn in the middle section of the Eagle River where a gun battle eventually brought Johnson down. It took 9 bullets to Johnson's body to finally end this weeks long order. The fallen officer, Sargent Hersey was rushed back for aid in May's airplane. The Mad Trapper, Albert Johnson came back on a police sledge, dead, frozen stiff. No one ever claimed his body. No on in Alaska or the trapping fields had head of him. No one had ever heard him utter a single word. Yet he had the modern day cash equivalent of the cost of a new home in his pockets. His identify was never known, quietly buried, a DB Cooper of the Wild North.

To end his rampage, and ensure the reputation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police it took seven weeks, a dozen straining dog teams, the life of a good Constable, the wounding of two others and a fighter ace. And it took sourdough.

For a particular sourdough starter was carried along on that famous hunt for Albert Johnson. As the mounties and their posse stayed on the trail of Johnson for several months, the men had to prepare food on the trail in the harshest of conditions. The mix helped keep the posse fed throughout much of the manhunt.

As summer cools to Fall it's a good time to make a sourdough starter, flip pancakes, bake bread or roll out tasty biscuits. If the only "sourdough" you've had has been packaged, preservative laden bread from the store you are missing out on something truly spectacular. Light fragrant, tangy, it makes white bread hide in the closet in shame. Add homemade gravy and sausage to it and it's absolutely addicting. -

Throw in some home cooked gravy and you have a filling breakfast that won't weigh you down for a manhunt or simply provide you nourishment for your soul on a the day of rest. I think Captain May and the Mounties would have approved.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What is it about Alaska?

There is just something about Alaska. For many people it's on the list of places they want to visit before they die. For others it's a journey ending with roots taking hold deep into the tundra. I was one of the former. Not wanting to wait until I got older, retired, had an empty nest or lost those 10 pounds, I just went. Why miss out because of "waiting". You could miss on the journey of a lifetime, or the love or your life. You never know. Missed. Gone.

It's long been a beacon for dreamers and misfits, people who think somehow the unsullied vastness of the wild will fill in those gaps in the windows of their lives, where the cold slips in. But Alaska is an unforgiving place, that has nothing but disregard for your dreams and your longings, and if you go, you need to go prepared. There's a movie called "Into the Wild" about a young man that left an affluent life and family that loved him and went to the wilds of Alaska, only to (I can't spoil the ending, but it's not pretty). The book on which it was based was a great read and brings to mind these very concepts of nature as a harsh reality. For there's places that if your plane goes down they won't find you for decades, if ever. The mosquitoes will eat you alive if given the invite for dinner and you are definitely on the bottom of the food chain. It's a place you need to live with both your heart and your eyes wide open.

The people that inhabit that great state are unique. Probably as much like the folks of Idaho and Montana I grew up around, and perhaps why I felt so at home up there. These are people that survive everything. Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods and they only take root deeper, growing stronger. They have found that handling such things is a lighter load than remorse.

But once you go there it will lure you back. I will probably always be the occasional lone wanderer of the wilderness. I have always been slightly unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live perhaps not as an adventurer, but certainly more richly. And I experienced that up there and learned from it how to live that way even once I came home The beauty of the country becomes part of you. You will feel connected yet distant from the life you left behind and more reflective and calm. It's the closest thing I've experienced to the detached peacefulness of sitting in a tree blind as the sun comes up, or sailing along the edge of the clouds in a Piper as the sun goes down.

I first went up on a flight into Fairbanks to visit a pilot friend and ended up staying for a week. My longest visit was 8 weeks, where I rented a plane and wandered around. I thought I would be bored in that length of time, and lonely. But I wasn't. I never tired of it, and I grew to really enjoy the beauty and the vagrant life I lead during those weeks of wonder. I grew to prefer the obscure and difficult trail to any highway, and the deep peace of a stand of ancient pine trees to the discontent bred by living in a habitat of highways and noise. I missed talking with others, but I had been through so many years where I couldn't share these things that mean so much to me that I had learned to contain myself. It was enough then to simply be surrounded by the land.

I told few I was going, an emergency contact of course, my folks simply thought I was working, as that often took me around the world and when I called they didn't ask too much other than was I OK and happy. It was nice, I'd never been away from work or school or anything for that long of time and I felt like a little toddler learning to walk and explore all over again. There was no one around, family or people whose opinions mattered that I had to explain myself to. I was able to simply commit myself to something absolute, life or truth or beauty, and be ruled by it rather than the rules of the past, surrendering to it more unreservedly than I had ever been able to in life in the past. It was a truly frightening and liberating feeling and when I came home still the same person, yet I was somehow stronger, self-confident and full of peace.

I met some interesting along the way. A retired Baptist minister who ran a trading post and made sure I had enough Diet Pepsi and Beef Jerky. And there was the time I offered a ride in my airplane to two French tourists who had come up for their idea of adventure, paying probably $10,000 for the privilege of camping out alone for a few days, then a carefully orchestrated raft or hunting trip they could go home and brag about. They had missed their pilot who was to drop them at their camp. Since I was taking my plane up that way to check out an eagles nest I'd seen from the air, I told them I'd drop them off close to where they were going to camp as I was going there anyway. I'd like to say that they were gracious, joyous people and we had a wonderful experience, but they were the rudest, nastiest couple I'd ever met in my life. It got to the point I gave up being polite and started to burp and pretend to nod off at the controls muttering the phrase "boy I wish I hadn't drunk that bottle of cough syrup".

In any event, as I left them, I reminded them that if they had any problems, ANYTHING, to put an X on the sandbar or hang out a flag and someone would check on them. They weren't far from town and I, or others would pass over as I frequented the area, and I'm sure the guide service would as well. Well they lit into me and screamed and yelled that they wanted to be ALONE in the wilderness and if they saw a plane they'd ^&#*@ sue everyone for everything they owned. . etc. etc. So I didn't stop, nor did anyone else. When they were picked up days later in the float plane they were a sight. They didn't put their food up in a tree like directed, and slept where they cooked. The first night in camp a bear tore it to pieces. Ate all the food (apparently Mr. Bear didn't like French food or they might have been dinner) and destroyed everything else. They spent the next 2 nights being gnawed on by mosquitoes, wet, cold and munching on some bitter berries. They were a bit nicer on the flight back I imagine.

I landed at one lake on which there was a beautiful cabin. There were no roads to it,you could only fly in and the nearest place was 20 miles away by dog team or snowmobile. A widow lived there, the wife of a Alaska Airlines pilot, she'd never been to the state until she fell in love with a resident and moved. She offered me some gas and coffee and I ended up staying for two days, sharing stories of life in the wild, and learning just how deep love will lead you into the wilderness of your heart.

Don't wait until you retire to grab life's dream, be it a fresh start as you leave heartache for promise, a career change no matter how late in life, or simply a grand vacation. If Alaska is on your "list", find the time somewhere in your life to go.

Haven't you ever dreamed of soaring in a float plane over white-blue mountains untouched by man, to cast a line into pristine rivers for your dinner, the hush of a thousand acres enveloping you as the fire crackles outside your tent? No adventuresome adult with any of the juices of their youth in them has moved beyond that dream. Make the choice to follow it. What you gain for that choice will be more than a few photos and a empty bank account. The true harvest of your dream will always be as intangible and indescribable as the tints of an Arctic sky. It will be a landscape of magic, a segment of the Northern lights which you have reached out and held on to, if only for a moment in time.