Friday, March 30, 2012

A View From the Top


For some reason I seem to be unusually long winded this month. This is the eighth post for March. I've never written so much in one month on a blog. I'm not real sure what I'm writing about now. I was up at the dump the other day getting rid of some of the bits of rotten wood and other debris from the boat and happened to have my camera with me. When I first moved to Hoonah the dump was located just a few blocks from town. It was actually a popular place to check out for folks from the farm. I found several really good items that had relatively little wrong with them- a recliner with a rip in the fabric, an expensive wool  jacket with a  broken zipper and a vacuum cleaner whose only discrepancy was a clogged hose. Now the dump is located several miles up the mountain overlooking the Spasski Valley. The view is much nicer, but there is less good stuff to get anymore.  They burn most of trash and the area is caged in-supposedly to keep bears out of the garbage, but it also serves to keep pickers like myself from rummaging. I do still occasionally find something of value there in the section where metals are dumped for later salvage. I've pulled old copper pipe and aluminum roofing from the scrap pile. Why let someone else sell it when I can make the money myself? Before anyone looks too far down their nose at me, keep in mind that there is a popular television show on the History channel called American Pickers, which documents two fellows running all over the country searching though old buildings for all manner of things that most of us would consider junk. They buy it cheap and sell it for a handsome profit. When I was working at the L. Kane Store, I actually purchased aluminum from various people around town and resold it down south for a profit. On the one hand it was kind of gross- some of the cans that came in had been sitting alongside the road in water-filled drainages and smelled pretty bad. With seven kids to feed and keep entertained though, we did what we had to do. One year we went out and collected Spruce cones for a company that was sending them overseas- I think to Norway. They provided the burlap bags and we filled them for $10.00 a bag. It was actually a lot of fun. I've always liked finding things. Jan is constantly losing her keys or glasses. Perhaps I could charge her $10.00 every time I found something she's lost. I should run it by her. Then, later, I could start work on my new book, Things you should never suggest to your spouse. Obviously, not all my ideas are profitable.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Potato Soup

As I get older, I find myself unable to pull words out of my head that I know are in there. It's like my brain is constipated or some such thing. Try not to give that mental image too much thought. Another problem that I have involves not being able to remember what I've mentioned before- thus I may end up telling the same humorous story (or what I think is humorous) to the same people more than once. It's not so bad if they are getting older like me and can't remember if I told it before or not, then they just laugh and forget about it until I tell the same story a month or two later. I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that I can't remember if I've done a blog post on potato soup or not. I've done corn chowder, Mexican Quiche, blueberries and cream muffins and corn flakes vs clown flakes. The bottom line is, I've done over 150 posts in the past few years and there's a good chance I may blog about the same thing more than once. If I do, I hope it at least comes out being entertaining and not just a clone of a previous blog. If, however, it fails to entertain, send me a stamped,self addressed envelope with the words "Money Back" on the outside, and I'll promptly refund any and all cash you may have sent me.
 Several days ago I got a desire to whip up a batch of potato soup. Not just any potato soup, this was the Absolutely Ultimate Potato Soup recipe that I picked up from the Internet years ago when I was in the home-ec class at the high school. It comes from the allrecipes.com  website. I have to admit, it's the best potato soup I've ever had. I shared some with the shipwright and his daughter and got a two thumbs up. It would be hard not  to like it - you use a whole pound of bacon to make it. Also three tablespoons of butter and a cup of heavy cream. I suppose it could also be called Cardiac  Arrest Soup. It's not something that should be eaten more than once or twice a year I would venture to say. I kind of wanted to throw in a little info on potatoes so that if a family member asks you what you're reading you don't get yelled at for wasting valuable time entertaining yourself with my blog when you could be doing something useful. I did a little research and found that potatoes originated in South America somewhere around the 1400's. The Spanish Conquistadors brought them back to Europe where they took hold and became a staple in places like Ireland. The Spanish called them Patatas. By the time the English got ahold of them the name had changed  to potato.I then looked up the Irish Potato Famine on a site called The History Place and got a whole lot more than I bargained for. It was an eye-opening look into human nature covering everything from the foolishness of counting on one resource to support you to religious persecution, greed, indifference to human suffering and good old fashioned politics. I hope if you are so inclined you will check out that web site. It's a bit of history that goes a long way in explaining what caused the famine and the far reaching effects that have helped to shape not just England and Ireland but the North American continent as well. Now on to less serious subjects- like me. I mentioned to a friend in an email that if I ever had a restaurant, I would only serve two items every day. Like chicken breast sandwiches with melted mozzarella and sauteed green peppers and onions on a sesame hoagie roll and maybe Cha Cha potatoes....mmmm...Cha Cha's. Then I started thinking, I could just serve soup- just like the Soup Nazi on the Seinfeld episode. I could offer several indescribably delicious soups like the aforementioned Ultimate Potato Soup, or my fabulous SpicyVegetable with Venison roast or possibly CornChowder. So far, those are the only soups I've made, but I'm sure I could expand my horizons. I might even do like the Soup Nazi did and offer a tasty bread to go with the soup, but be forewarned, one complaint and "No soup for you!"
At the expense of making this post so long you fall asleep mid-way through, I'm going to include the soup recipe for anyone interested. It was submitted to allrecipes.com by someone named Karena. Thanks Karena- if I die from a heart attack with a mouth full of this soup, at least I'll die happy.

 Absolutely Ultimate Potato Soup
Ingredients
1 pound bacon, chopped       3 tablespoons butter
2 stalks celery                       1/4 cup all- purpose flour
1 onion chopped                   1 cup heavy cream
3 cloves garlic, minced          1 teaspoon dried tarragon  ( I skip this)
8 potatoes, peeled & cubed  3teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped
4 cups chicken stock, or enough to cover potatoes

Directions
1. In a Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until done. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside. Drain off all but 1/4 cup of bacon grease

2.In the bacon grease remaining in the pan, saute the celery and onion until the onion begins to turn clear. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Return the bacon to the pan and add enough chicken stock to just cover the potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender. 

3. In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium heat.Whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the heavy cream, (tarragon if you use it) and the cilantro. Bring the cream mixture to a boil and cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Stir the cream mixture int the potato mixture. Puree about 1/2 the soup and return to the pan. Adjust seasonings to taste.

As Julia Child would say..."Bon Appetite!" 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Heads, Breads and Hides

I do some contract labor for the US Forest Service, so several times a week I find myself inside the office building. The employees spend quite a bit  of time out in the surrounding woods and rivers and because they cover so much area in their  travels, they frequently come across things of interest, which they bring back to the office. Amongst the items which are commonly found are a fungus which grows on the trees, which most folks here call bear breads. I've also heard them called bear crackers.I don't know how they came to be called by that name, to the best of my knowledge, bears don't eat them. I spoke to my friend Chris Budke, long time forestry technician about them, and he informed me that they only grow on trees that are in some way damaged, due to a defect or rot or illness. Spores come off the bottom of the fungus and drift in the wind or are picked up by birds or other forest animals and are deposited on trees that are suitable for the bear breads to grow. He explained that some only grow on Spruce trees and others only grow on Hemlock. They are a parasite and need a host tree to thrive, gradually sucking the life out of the host. In that respect they remind me of the government, but that's an avenue I don't want to pursue at this time. Chris said that another fungus that grows much like the bear bread is a mushroom named the Chicken of the Woods. They grow horizontally up the tree, kind of like in layers, one upon another and are bright orange on top with a brilliant yellow underside. I don't know if any animals eat them or not, but people do. I ate them once when I was living on the farm. The texture and flavor reminded me of meat and I remember liking them at the time. Of course I liked most any kind of food back then, with the exception of rutabagas and cooked turnips- I'm not sure how I would feel about them now. The larger bear breads are sometimes painted. One local artist, Jim Carey, used to make delightful Alaskan scenes on them, sometimes using octopus ink that the fishermen would bring to him.
   The skulls on display are some that Chris found out in the woods. One of them was partially buried and had been there for quite a long time- roots were growing from one of the cavities. Though you can't tell from the picture, one of the skulls was huge.The teeth were ground down from years of use, so he probably died of old age. Brown bears don't have any natural predators that I know of, aside from humans, although as I've mentioned previously, the males will kill the cubs to make the sows go into heat. One of the local bear guides, Fagan Skafelstad, mentioned being anchored in Neka Bay one evening and hearing a terrible ruckus up in the woods that went on for hours.Apparently two large boars were fighting.When Fagan went up to check it out in the morning,  he found a large area all torn up and one of the bears dead and partially buried. I guess the winner was going to come back later for a snack. The loser was quite large, so it was frightening to think about how big the conqueror was. The skull with the face attached is Chris. He kind of tried to hide, but one of the disadvantages of being tall is that hiding places are few and far between. Out in the foyer of the office is the hide of a hungry brown bear.I understand it made off with one of the dogs that belonged to a fellow named Ken. He has some property on the outskirts of town that borders a muskeg and a pretty good stretch of woods. I guess the bear came back for the other dog and Ken put an end to his plans. I'm not sure how large this one is. My son  Brian shot one that measured eight and a half feet a few years ago that hangs off of both ends of the bed where it's stored.This one doesn't look that large, but I could be mistaken- everything is relative. While I was visiting Chris  he showed me some of the other items he and other employees have found in the forest. One of these times I'll do a post on them. Meanwhile, I've got work to do on the boat and I told Chris I'd bake some blueberry muffins for dessert tonight, so I'll bid you all a fond farewell for now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chicken Bras

I'm at a bit of a standstill on the boat right now. I have one project that requires me to lay on the frozen ground that I have been delaying, but other than that there isn't a whole lot that I can do at the moment.Since I was home anyway, and the place looked like I'd thrown a party for twenty wild dogs, I decided to clean up a little bit. I threw in a load of laundry and put some dishes in the dishwasher and started into my office where countless papers were littering every flat surface. I was tossing stuff madly into the trash when I came across the words-chicken bras scratched on a slip of paper.I had read that when writing, one should write down ideas, even in the middle of the night. If you can't use them now, they may come in handy later.I can't remember if I was in the middle of some erotic, Salvadore Dahli type dream or what, but for some unknown reason, the thought of chicken bras came to mind sometime in my past, so I wrote it down. We eat a fair amount of chicken- usually breast meat. Whenever I go to Costco I usually buy one or two multi-packs.Sometimes the breasts are unusually large- which may be why the thought of constraining them came to mind, I honestly don't know. Before anyone gets any strange ideas about me, believe me, I have no desire to see a Rhode Island Red prancing down the runway modeling the latest in chicken lingerie at a Victoria's Secret show. Much like the idea of the Dog-Mote, I felt like the chicken bra idea needed to be put out there to see if I've got a money making scheme or if I should put it back in the- not ready for prime time file. I didn't want to be totally unprepared to write this post, so I did a MINOR amount of research on the bra.Honestly. I don't  think Jan would appreciate my spending hours researching all the intimate details of ladies undergarments, regardless of how scientific the study might be. I did discover that a lady named Mary Phelps Jacob is credited with making the first bra. Apparently the corset she had didn't work with her fancy gown, so she sewed a few handkerchiefs together with some silk ribbon and there you go, the bra was born. I understand that Minoan women used some semblance of a bra back in 2500 BC, but fashion designs changed and modern women didn't care to have their breasts exposed, so it didn't take off here. It was probably warmer there anyway.  I remember watching a Seinfeld episode where George's father took off his shirt in front of Cramer and the bra for men was invented. They were having an argument as to whether it should be named the Manzierre or the Bro. I've known a few guys who could benefit from a garment like that. I hope I don't find myself in need some day. It could be hard to live-down in the locker room, trying to explain why you needed the extra support.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Do You Think She'll Float?

I hope I don't try the reader's patience by showing a few more photos of the boat. I told my son Ben I would update him on the status of the Bonnie J when he called today. As you can see, the original plan to replace the bow stem and a few planks, has grown into a monumental project that would make Noah nod in appreciation. While I was aware that some serious work needed to be done, I had no idea the damage was as extensive as it is. John told me yesterday that we had to stop taking planks off- there was just not enough time or materials to do all that needs done. I have some serious work that needs done on several planks that are amidships, but it just can't be dealt with at this time, so I'll have to try and dry out the planks and resort to the old standby, Bondo, a body filler that they use in cars after they've been in a wreck or start rusting out. You can see the contrast in the color of the wood planks versus the bow stem. The planks are yellow cedar and the stem is Douglas Fir. I wish I  had a trailer full of that fir- it's beautiful and tougher than the cedar. It is what it is though. Because we live in a small town where entertainment is at a premium, an event like  having your boat hauled out and re-planked is a major attraction. Yesterday, multitudes of vehicles drove by to inspect the handi-work. I've heard from a number of people just how lucky I am to have John Kveum doing the work. It's obvious that he's a pro and he enjoys what he's doing. We both wish he could make a living at it. Unfortunately, working on boats is kind of like the fishing- on years when the fishermen make money they can afford to have the work done. In lean years the fishermen and the shipwrights starve. It's unfortunate though. I'm afraid that one day us wooden boat owners won't be able to find anyone competent and qualified to do the work. Hopefully I'll be done fishing by then.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lights Out

My wife, Jan, loves candles. We have a whole drawer in the kitchen devoted to them- and not a small drawer either. It used to be that you only brought out the candles for special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas.They were white or maybe  red or green; holiday colors.  Sometimes during thunder storms back in Ohio they made an appearance if a tree blew a line down somewhere. Everyone had a few candles on hand for emergencies. Last week the power went out in town, and the whole city was thrust into darkness. It's kind of eerie- no street lamps or anything. On the one hand it's kind of neat if the stars are out- you can really see them unimpeded by the town lights. On the other hand, it just so happened that it was Thursday evening, the only night that I really care to watch TV. My two favorite shows were on, both of which I missed. The power was out for over four hours and since we don't  have an alternate source of heat, aside from Rigby the dog, it got a little chilly in the house. Surprisingly it didn't get as cold as I expected it to though. Jan waltzed over to the candle drawer and proceeded to light mass quantities of the waxy gems. Not only were we able to see enough to keep from tripping over slippers and other paraphernalia that had been left on the floor, but the combined heat of all the candles actually kept the room temp from falling below 59degrees. I know that doesn't sound exactly toasty, but considering how cold it was outside, it was ok. As you can see, candles now come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. She has some that look like apples, some that are round, square, tapered and squat in a multitude of colors. We may even have a candle that you light and hold over your ear to melt ear wax- I'm not kidding. Knowing my luck I would drip the candle wax into my ear canal and have to go to the hospital and explain how it got there. The only person in recorded history with second degree burns on his eardrum. I'm sure the doctor would look at me like I was kid who shoved frozen peas up my nose or something. Nowadays there seems to be a market for like designer candles or some such thing. They aren't cheap. At one time if you were invited to a Christmas get together you might run down to the Dollar Store and grab up something green or red in a glass with a sticker on the bottom that declared the scent was Holley or Evergreen or some other exotic smell. Now candles are like a work of art and are priced accordingly. They have scents like Mountain Blueberry or Sandalwood or Ocean Delight. I'd kind like to buy a candle with a name like Ocean Delight. I like the smell of fish- when it's fresh that is. It probably wouldn't make for a very romantic dinner if you were to light a candle that smelled like a dead Carp though. My daughter Jen has apparently taken after her mom in her love for candles. A family friend drove past her house the night the lights went out and declared it to be lit up like the Vegas strip. No doubt it was plenty warm in there. In any event, candles have come a long way since the days when a string was dipped in tallow and left to harden. If the power goes out again, I hope you  have a few standing by. If you don't, you know where you can borrow some.

Monday, March 5, 2012

In Like a Lion


I was down at the harbor the other day looking for something interesting to photograph. It was a drop dead beautiful day, flat calm out on the water and as you can see the sun was out. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, thinking that maybe spring was on the way. I don't know why I allow myself these delusions. The next day, March 1, the weather had turned; we had about an inch of snow and the wind was howling. When I was a kid there was a saying about March- In like a lion out like a lamb. You never hear those old sayings any more- probably because they aren't true, or maybe people aren't as gullible as they were when I was growing up. Anyway, it hasn't been very accurate since I've been in Alaska. Usually March comes in like a lion and goes out like a bear, with the time in between kind of like a rabid fox. I'm especially unhappy with the weather right now because of the boat being out of the water. I have some work to do on it that requires that I lay on the ground, which is frozen and lumpy. I don't like lumpy anytime that I have to lay on it, but especially not when it's frozen. I don't know which is worse, laying on frozen lumpy ground or laying on lumpy wet ground, which of course is what I'll get when it warms up. It's kind of like being offered the choice between getting hit in the head with a hammer or getting hit in the head with a lead pipe- either way you're going to get hit in the head and it's not going to be fun. How come the options aren't ever like- catching huge numbers of large red king salmon and making big bucks or catching huge numbers of giant halibut and making big bucks? Ahh well...
  As you can see from the top picture, I have once again managed to sneak a shot of my favorite mountain. It just looks so majestic. It's the one regret that I have- that I never climbed to the top of it. At this stage of my life I don't think it will ever happen. Maybe someday if I have untold numbers of bucks with nothing better to do I'll charter a helicopter and have them drop me off up there- of course then I'd have to get down which would present  a challenge all of it's own.
  The king crab season ended a week or so ago, so all the boats unloaded their pots for storage- you can see them on the dock in the bottom picture. I never did hear how the season went, but it didn't last very long so I assume it went well. I wanted to go on one of the boats and try to get a picture of some of the crabs, but by the time I thought of it, they were all untied and pulling away from the dock. Great timing huh? Maybe next year. Those pots are really heavy- six or seven hundred pounds. Twice I've been fishing in the bay and snagged one. Once the fluke of my halibut anchor got caught right in the corner of the pot where the lid fastens down. I couldn't have done that on purpose if I'd tried for a year, but somehow, fishing in fourty fathoms of water with no idea of what was on the bottom,I managed to snag a seven hundred pound pot that someone had lost years ago. That's like someone trying to thread a needle blindfolded using a remote control arm while you're in another room. I ended up losing the anchor- the pot was just to  heavy to deal with. What are the odds of that happening though? I've mentioned before, if you ever see me in Vegas and I'm like at the roulette wheel, if I bet on the black, be sure to bet on the red. It's a guaranteed win for you.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Guys Named Bob

Yesterday was February 29th. It only happens once every four years when there is a leap year. I was going to look into it, but I didn't, so this is what you get instead- a picture of my pickup truck. I happened to buy it from a fellow named Bob, so since I'm writing about Bob's, I felt that it was appropriate. I was out fishing last year,and as is typical for me during the long droughts between strikes, my mind wanders. I started thinking about how many people I know who are named Bob. There's my friend, Bob Pinard whom I wrote about in the last post- the guy who's missing his lucky hair thanks to his wife. It may not grow back; then what will he do? How can you possibly win at gin rummy if you're missing your lucky hair? Pinard was on the farm at the same time as several other Bobs. Bob Clark, who still lives at Game Creek. He's one of those guys who is good at just about anything. Mechanic, fisherman, hunter, tree-feller, and guitar and banjo player are just a few of the things that come to mind. Game Creek wouldn't have survived the early days if Bob Clark hadn't been there to lean on for so much wisdom.Big Bob Thompson was on the farm then too. He worked at the sawmill or in the fields or wherever he was needed. He used to go out with several of the other men to fell trees up the bay for our sawmill. They stayed in a yurt on the beach- it was like a wooden tent as I understand it. For entertainment they would capture voles in a bucket of water. We were hard up for entertainment in those days, and if you weren't married,  there weren't a lot of options to break up the monotony. Buffalo Bob Holden was and is still a good friend. We call each other every few months or so to check in- make sure the other guy is still alive and well. We compare books that we've read and catch up on who's doing what. He was a hippie for years and traveled to every state in the union except Hawaii and Florida. He's always been incredibly thrifty and able to live on the most meager of rations. He bought a whole bunch of sardines at Hoonah Seafoods years ago for ten cents each. We sat down in the tabernacle and ate sardines and crackers. It was my first experience with sardines. I was so hungry I enjoyed them- something that hasn't happened since. Bobby Lail was an unwilling resident of the farm then also. He was a very handsome young man and he and one of the young ladies were constantly getting called before the elders because they couldn't stay away from each other. It was a desperate situation.One of the reasons I happened to dwell on the name Bob, was that another friend of mine, Bob Hutton, had a birthday yesterday. I'm not sure how that works to only have a birthday once every four years. What do you do the other three years when there is no February 29th? Mr. Hutton was the music teacher here at Hoonah City Schools for a number of years. He managed to turn every class into real musicians by the time they graduated. I always appreciated his professional manner. I never saw him come to class without a nice shirt and tie. He expected a lot from his students and always gave one hundred and ten percent himself. Then there's Spasski Bob- Bob Hanson. He showed up on the scene some years back in a fifty foot fiberglass boat that he built himself after he retired. Even though he was power trolling and could run four gurdies and conceivably fish forty leaders, he only fishes two gurdies and the most gear he ever runs is five leaders on each side. He still out fishes me. I don't know how he does it. I better not forget my father-in- law, Bob Somerlot. I spent many an hour at his kitchen table bumming cigarettes and talking to him. He had a glass eye, thanks to an accident when he was a kid, involving a bow and arrow. ( Imagine that) He used to kind of freak me out because he could wipe a handkerchief across it without blinking. I used to get confused at which one was the good one so that I could stare at it so he wouldn't think some creep was dating his daughter. He worked as a parts man for a John Deer implements store and knew every farmer for several counties around. I used to eat dinner at his house on occasion and would enjoy the fruits of his friendship with those farmers. They were always bringing him fresh corn or tomatoes in season. Finally, I want to mention Bob Ferguson, the Bob I've known the longest. He and his family lived down the street from me when I was a kid. In the summer he would step outside on his front porch and whistle for his son Mark. I always wanted to whistle like that, but I never learned how. His son Mark used to sit several seats back from his dad whenever they went to the movies because Bob had such a loud, unabashed laugh, that Mark would get embarrassed.  People would be laughing at his dad more than whatever was on the movie screen. The last time I spoke to Mom about him, she said he's still getting around at the ripe ol' age of eighty nine. When I stopped to think about each of these men, I realized that they've all done their name proud. Each one has worked hard and been successful in their endeavors. I don't know what the name Bob means or where it comes from. Maybe I'll do some research some day on it. Maybe find out how the name Robert shortens to Bob. In any event, my life has been blessed because I've had each of these men in it. Thanks Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob and Bob.