Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Big Fish

Salmon was this year's whipping boy in the health food wars, taking the heat off caffeine, eggs and hooch.

Scientists tantalized us with findings -- the omega-3 fatty acids swimming around in fish's vibrant flesh can protect  against cancer, amp up  brain power and protect against its decline, make hair shine and skin glow, fight depression and lube aching joints. They may even, as one study of prisoners who became less aggressive when feasting on the pink fish might be spun to suggest, have a role in world peace. To reap these benefits, diners were encouraged to imbibe in fatty fish such as salmon, halibut or tuna twice weekly.

But other studies show levels of PCBs, dieldrin and toxaphene (fire-retarding chemicals and pesticides now banned but still residual in our marine environment) are higher in farmed salmon, which last year was 69 percent of market, due to their diet of  fish meal and fish oil.  Scientists concluded that eating farmed salmon more than once a month potentially increased risk of cancer along with other risks (to the neurological and immune systems). Groceries hastened to label their fish "farmed" or "wild" -- but many still do not know the fishes chain of custody, or who actually caught the fish.

Good fad gone bad?

A 110-lb halibut caught by a sport fisherman from Virginia Beach, Va

Pelican harbor
Enter small fishermen and entrepreneurs like Deb Spencer, who has built a traveling fish processing plant hubbed in the tiny fishing village of Pelican, Alaska, population 80. The main drag of Pelican is a boardwalk built on a cliff above the tide line, which rises and falls up to 24 feet twice a day.

Eli and Kimber pick
Kids wear life jackets when they leave the house for school or play; they readily show visitors how to find the tasty wild salmonberry. The town's only automated vehicles are mules. The dock that hosts their fishing fleet and the occasional visiting vessel is also the airport, from which visitors (many sport fishermen who charter from the port) and the mail fly to Juneau.

Spencer and her husband, Keith, spend the summer fishing with a small crew (all women!) in the Gulf of Alaska. They process their fish and that which they purchase from others in Pelican, cleaning and flash-freezing for shipping right on their barge.

In an e-mail from Deb, she details how to order from them:

"I don’t really have an order form – something to do… Basically we have king and coho salmon, fresh and frozen. Fresh fish come dressed (whole and gutted) with or without heads. Frozen fish are vacuum sealed and can be custom packaged from 6 to 8 oz. portions to whole fillets. My standard package is 1 to 1.5 pounds and is perfect for 2-3 people with leftovers for lunch the next day. It is most cost-effective to order a minimum of 40 pounds to get a better freight rate.

King salmon is fattier and the biggest of the 5 types of Pacific salmon; they range in color from white (marketed as Ivory) to deep red. Coho is the second largest and is a deep reddish orange; it is milder in flavor than king salmon.

Prices vary with the dock price (amount paid to fishermen). We only have king available now and they are a bit pricier than normal. Coho fishing will open in July.

Here’s a ballpark price list:

Fresh king:  $15/lb for head off/delivered/40-lb minimum
Fresh coho:  $9/50/lb for head on/delivered/40-lb minimum
Frozen king fillets or portions:  $19/lb/delivered/40-lb minimum
Frozen coho fillets or portions:  $13/lb/delivered/40-lb minimum"

Contact Deb Spencer  at crosssoundseafoods@hughes.net. We'll have a package coming to Virginia soon and will report...


Cross Sound Fisheries barge

Thursday, July 15, 2010


After a night in Shag Cove, we (or, rather, the Captain and my husband, while the rest of us dozed to the white noise of the engine) pulled anchor early and used the tide that previously postponed our entry into Glacier Bay to coast out, doubling our speed with the current's push.

We reached Inian Cove, where the natives had put up a welcome sign. and my husband immediately set about catching supper. But after about an hour, our resident 5-year-old called it as it was, chanting "No fish, no crabs, no luck."

 The day was gray, and the fishing was unimpressive. My husband's determination did attract one odd creature, which we suspect was a rosy-lipped sculpin. He earned his freedom immediately.

 The snacks, however, were to die for. I found this recipe in an old Sunset magazine recipe booklet, which was brought aboard for its sheer minuteness. With a small tweak, these macaroons were ready for prime time. That is to say, the otters were interested.


Chocolate Macaroons
adapted from Sunset

1 cup whole almonds
1 cup semi sweet chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grind chocolate and set aside. Grind almonds, sugar, cinnamon and salt in food processor. Add egg, egg white and almond extract, process then stir in cinnamon. Moisten hands and roll into 1 inch balls, place on buttered cookie sheets and flatten with the back of a spatula. Sprinkle with chili powder.

Bake until the tops are puffy and the centers are chewy, about 12 minutes.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Glacier Quiche

Sleeping on a boat can be heaven. The slow rocking motion seems to slow down your blood and focus your breathing, while the incessant rhythm of waves hitting the steel hull lulls your brain. It is loud enough to occupy your mind, pushing out all unwanted minutia, but soft and even enough to become part of the night.

And so in Fingers Bay we all slept, late late late, oblivious to the eagles' shrieking overhead like demented fishwives. When I woke, the first mate had taken over breakfast duty, creating a quiche with such fluffy insides and crispy outsides I had to share the recipe.

Crustless Quiche

5 eggs
1/8 cup melted butter
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 chopped jalapeno (optional but recommended)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients in a bowl. Pour into a greased pie plate and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Fortified for what must be one of the most unique and beautiful sights in all the world we motored up Reid Inlet to the glacier, which hovered over the bay in the sunlight. It was so immense a trawler next to it looked like an ant on a watermelon. (Way down in the lower right corner...)

We shed layers and bask in the sun, as if we are the glacier's court, though its dirty, melting exterior and lack of icebergs in the water concern us, as King Henry's gout must have troubled his subjects. Is it something that we do to our world that causes these weary glaciers to recede? Can we stop it? In this vast landscape, one feels so unimportant, and yet so potent, at the same time. It is why we travel, to take us out of our lives and illuminate our essence. To remind us we are not our trappings, which are, for the most part, small and unremarkable. It is for our families, and our environment, our world, that we endeavor; those alone will endure.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?

My husband makes lovely anniversary plans -- usually at the bucolic local Ashby Inn, in Paris, Virginia, and once, even, in Paris, France. This year trumped: an evening in Glacier Bay National Park, anchored in the South arm of Fingers Bay. We had gotten to the park rather later than we hoped, as the tide flowing out of the strait was so strong we would have used more fuel to putt against the current than prudent. So we hung out on the south side of Lesmeseurier Island, where some humpbacks graced us with a little show, and the otters watched too.

After a brief stop at the ranger station, where we availed ourselves of a fine lunch (salmon cakes, halibut chowder and sweet potato fries, yummmmm) at the beautiful cedar lodge, hiking through the rich, moist forest under the tall hemlock canopy.

Back aboard, we charted a course up to a safe anchorage from which to make our way further into the park, in hopes of making it to a glacier in the morning. The park is vast, and with only 25 pleasure boats given permits to be in at a time, rather empty. We see the occasional tour boat, or research vessel, but mostly, intrepid kayakers, as we sit in our cozy pilot house with cameras and binoculars and charts.

After anchoring, we crack champagne for the occasion -- both getting to Glacier Bay and another year of marriage -- in a bay rimmed with snow-frosted peaks. On shore an adolescent grizzly bear, oblivious to our fete, poked around on the beach looking for an easy meal. For our dinner, I gave a couple of exhausted looking eggplants a curry bath, and they perked up rather nicely.

Eggplant Curry

2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1" rounds. layer in colander, salting each layer, and set aside
1/2 red onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 rib celery
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
2 Roma tomatos
2 teaspoons curry powder (McCormick's is fine, a mellow spice is perfect for this dish)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Peel slice and salt eggplants, and set aside.

Mince onion, garlic, celery, ginger and tomatos, assemble ingredients.

Rinse and pat dry eggplant, then cube to 1 inch cubes. Sautee onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil, cook until soft but not browning, add celery, ginger and stir to combine. Add spices and cook 3 inutes more so spices release their flavor.

Add eggplant and stir to coat with spice mixture, cook five minutes more. Combine tomatoes then add water and chicken broth. Simmer 40 minutes until eggplant is soft.

Serve over rice with chopped cilantro. (We only had frozen cubes of cilantro, which I stirred in at the last minute, still perfect. Sprinkle with feta if you like. Choose a light red or a rose if you care for wine, not too chilled.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Humpback sighting

The first sign of a pod of whales  is generally spouts of water, shooting from the sea. Expelled forcefully, they punctuate the landscape, one here, another there, maybe three, or four, a tell-tale count of the number of whales swimming below the surface. If you are close enough you can hear them, a breathy, expectant whoosh.

 If you watch closely, you may see the rounded back and smooth fin turning over in the water, a dark tale, or fluke, as the whale dives down again. They are playful acrobats, light in the water, diving, slapping their tail, or fluke, repeatedly and even breaching, or throwing their entire body above the water and back in again.

It is possible to watch them for hours at a time, waiting for one to show himself again, scanning the landscape to see where they may pop up next. Their flukes are like fingerprints; each whale's is different, be it white markings, the shaping of the pectoral fins, or gauges made by the bangs and bonks which are unavoidable if you are a migrating 79,000 pound whale.

The sea creatures in Alaska were quite obliging with entertainment for most meals -- otters floating by on their backs, cracking clams in their paws and looking to see what we were eating, porpoises dancing across the bow after lunch, daring us to go faster, whales cavorting at anchorage, just when we were enjoying a new cocktail. And so we named it in their honor.

The Humpback

Simple syrup
1/2 part citrus juice (lemon and/or lime)
1/2 part water
1 part sugar
3 inch knob of ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced

For each drink:
1 shot simple syrup
1/2 shot Drambuie
3 shot Mount Gay rum
1 shot lime juice
mint for garnish
ground ginger
sea salt

For the simple syrup: mix ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 15 minutes; off the heat and let cool. Puree in a blender then strain through cheesecloth; cool until use.

For the drink: Put ice in a cocktail shaker and pour liquid ingredients in. Take a tumbler and wet the rim with a slice of lime. Mix ground ginger and salt in a saucer, dip tumbler in to rim with the salt and ginger. Pour drink over ice and garnish with mint.