Category Archives: Alaska

Salmon with Cilantro Pesto

Every July my family heads to the Kenai River with our nets to dip salmon. As a family of four, we are allowed to keep 55 salmon – mostly reds – which weigh in at around 7 or 8 pounds. Add to that up to 10 flounder, and that’s a lot of fish to clean all at once! But honestly, we don’t eat that many fish, so we generally limit ourselves to 25 salmon and 1 flounder if we happen upon one large enough to bother with.

We smoke about half, and freeze or can the rest to enjoy all winter long. Here’s one of our favorite salmon recipes!

Salmon with Cilantro Pesto

In a food processor or blender, pulse together until smooth:
3/4 to 1 cup fresh cilantro
3 T. olive oil
1 T. white wine vinegar
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
1 T. slivered almonds
1 garlic clove
1/8 t. salt

Prepare about five 6oz salmon filet portions by sprinkling with salt and pepper. Spray a large skillet with non-stick cooking spray and heat over medium high heat. Place salmon filets, skin side up, in the skillet and cook four to five minutes or until golden. Flip and cook another five to ten minutes until the fish is almost opaque (do not overcook – the salmon will continue to cook slightly even off heat.) Remove fish to serving plates, leaving the skin behind (some people eat it, but we don’t care for it) and dollop each filet with the cilantro pesto. Serve immediately. Great with hot cooked rice or noodles and a side salad.

Butchering the Backyard Chicken

set-up for butcheringSome time in July, between netting salmon and harvesting cucumbers, the time arrives for the chickens to transition from the yard to the freezer. These little gems are between six and eight weeks old when I butcher. I buy day-old Cornish-Rock cross birds (actually, I get them in the mail – my post office is great about calling me the morning the birds arrive.) I’m not going to go into the details of raising them here. If you are interested, I will create another post on that topic.

Slaughtering a chicken

Insert the tip of the knife to the right of the neck bone with the blade facing out. Slide along the bone toward the front of the bird and pull the blade out to sever the muscle and buried artery.

This is an old traffic cone I nailed to a board. The cone hugs the bird’s limbs so it doesn’t break a leg or wing and it allows me to humanely sever the artery in the neck. The chicken barely makes a sound as the blood drains into a bucket below, and eventually just “goes to sleep,” as the neighborhood kids like to say. (I seem to always have an audience, but then, I am in my front yard, so what do I expect?)

Removing limbs

Once the bird is dead, remove the neck, legs, and wing tips. If you pluck, you may want to keep the wing tips, but I prefer skinless chicken, and there’s not much meat on the tips, anyway.


Carefully slide a thin knife up the breastbone between the meat and the skin, then pull it back to expose the meat.

breast exposed

off like a sweater

Pull the skin down the back and off the “arms” like removing a sweater, then the same with the legs until the skin comes off. Cut off the tail.

body cavity

Now that the skin is removed, it is time to open the body cavity. Be careful not to nick any internal organs as you slice the thin muscle just below the breastbone.


Pull out the innards. Don’t forget to scoop out the lungs, which nestle between the ribs. If you want to save the liver, heart, and gizzard, put them aside.

Then dig your finger on either side of the backbone to remove the kidneys.kidney

Dig your finger on either side of the backbone to remove the kidneys.

hose it out

To really get the last bits of kidney removed, I jet out the inside with the hose.

Check for any bits of stuff you wouldn’t want to eat, paying particular attention to the neck area and the crevasses between the body and thigh.

I don’t recommend eating poultry immediately after butchering because rigor mortis makes the meat tough. I place the birds in a big cooler with ice water (well water here is around 38˚ F. If you need to use ice, do it.) Let them soak 24 hours, which allows the muscles to relax and removes extra blood. Then cut them up and freeze them according to your preferences.

cold waterLet me know what you think of my method! I’m always open to suggestions.

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Top 10 Vegetable Seeds for High North Gardens

zf Davy's cabbage

52 pound cabbage

Alaska – where long hours of daylight grow record breaking cabbages, but cause watermelon vines to only produce male flowers. Cool summer temperatures allow us to harvest peas in July and August, but ripen mealy and unpalatable tomatoes (if they bother to turn red at all.) Fruit trees which can survive -40˚F in Minnesota begin flowing sap during sunny April days, then freeze and burst when nighttime temperatures drop into single digits or lower.

I’ve been a Certified Alaskan Master Gardener for 14 years, and gardening for … well, let’s just say longer than that. I experiment with a few new seed varieties every year, but have largely settled into a reliable list of cultivars which I consider my go-to vegetables. I start almost everything inside and transplant after the last frost date.

Tomatoes – Siletz.

100_2929A few years back we had a summer where I don’t believe we had a single daytime temperature over 65˚F, and this tomato produced delicious fruit without a hiccup. I grow the bulk of my tomatoes in an unheated greenhouse, but also grow two pots of Siletz on my south-facing front porch every year with great success. Siletz is a slicing tomato, and in personal flavor tests, it beat other early ripening varieties hands down, with a tender skin and nearly seedless fruit. The flowers set fruit even when nighttime temperatures dip into the 40’s. Determinate plants are easy to grow in pots with support. Start seeds indoors in mid to late March.

Cucumbers – Cool Breeze.100_2867a

Cukes are iffy this far north, even in a greenhouse, but I always harvest enough from a couple of vines if I grow Cool Breeze. The plants are nearly all female, and they set fruit without pollination, a must-have trait for greenhouse growing. The dark green fruits have fine spines, almost like fuzz rather than spines, are seedless, and they pickle beautifully. They are also great fresh in salads or munched for a treat while gardening. Start seeds indoors in early May for transplanting in the greenhouse in mid May. Be very delicate with the roots when transplanting or the vine will refuse to grow.

Artichokes – Imperial Star.

Artichoke These plants are grown as annuals in Alaska. I average three jumbo chokes per plant with several smaller side chokes. While the plant takes up quite a bit of space, it is also ornamental for those of us who have gardens in the front yard. Start plants indoors in late February, and plant more than you need. Cull the scraggly looking seedlings because they will not produce well (believe me, you cannot baby them into fruition. Cull them.) The key to bud production is to trick the plants into thinking they are two years old. I do this by placing the seedlings in the greenhouse in late April and exposing them to temperatures below 50˚F but above freezing. They need a couple of weeks in these low temperatures, and you will enjoy the sweet, succulent taste of your own artichoke hearts.

Zucchini – Partenon or Cavili.

Zucchini in wall o water

Zucchini in Wallo’ Water

Alaskan summers are so cool, bees and other pollinators often stay under cover when flowering plants like zucchini need their attention. The result? Tiny, bitter fruits that rot at the blossom end. Rather than trudge out to the zucchini hill every day with a small paintbrush to play worker bee (usually in the rain, I might add) why not choose a variety that sets fruit without pollination? Partenon is a dark green, traditional zucchini squash, while Cavili is a lime-green variety with a fantastic, nutty flavor. Both produce loads of fruit, no matter the weather. Start seedlings indoors in mid May and transplant with extra care to the roots to prevent transplant shock. You can get an earlier jump on things if you use a Wallo’ Water as a mini greenhouse starting out.

Pumpkin, Pie – Baby Bear.

Baby Pam PumpkinThese vines ripen 2 pound fruits even in less than ideal weather. I’ve grown them successfully in the ground, but my favorite place to grow them is on top of my compost pile right after I turn it in the spring. I warm the pile with some clear plastic for a couple of weeks, and then transplant right through the plastic in early June. Start seeds indoors mid May and be extra gentle on those roots when transplanting or the vines will sulk and refuse to grow. If bees are reluctant in your area, take the time to go tickle the flowers; better pollination creates more and larger pumpkins. The little beauties make the best pie.

Tango celeryCelery – Tango.

Celery seeds, like carrots, take a while to germinate. Start them indoors in mid February and be patient while the spindly babies develop their root systems. Celery enjoys our cool season, and with plenty of nutrients and moisture, will grow into tall, succulent stalks. I harvest from the outside of the plant all season, as needed for cooking, and then bring the rest of the plants in for munching and cooking at the end of August.

Kohlrabi – Eder or Winner.

KohlrabiIf you haven’t heard of this vegetable gem, you should give it a try. The stem of the plant forms a bulb which, in our cool weather, can reach the size of a softball before becoming woody. Some people compare the texture and flavor to a nutty apple, or the inside of a sweet broccoli stem, but I say try it for yourself to decide. I love it fresh, chopped into salsa, or lightly steamed. You can also eat the tender leaves like salad greens or kale. Kohlrabi requires plenty of steady moisture to bulb without splitting, and because the edible portion of the plant grows above ground, it won’t be damaged by root maggots if those are a problem in your area.

Cauliflower – Cheddar or Bishop.

Like the name implies, this cauliflower isn’t white, its orange. My kids say it looks like its already covered in cheese. Cheddar resists turning purple, and makes nice sized heads if given steady moisture and nutrition. Break a few leaves to shade the head from the sun once it begins developing. If you prefer white cauliflower, Bishop is a good variety because it is less picky than other types and self-blanches to help keep the head white. Watch for slugs, which will climb over the top of the ripening heads and leave you with a slimy mess.

Onion – Copra.

IMG_2514The long hours of daylight this far north make long day onions a must. Copra stores well, which is a requirement for me. I grow onions from seed because seeds are cheap and I don’t run the risk of introducing new pests or diseases from infected plant starts. Sprinkle seeds in a 3″ pot in mid February and keep them watered. Fertilize with a weak fish emulsion every couple of weeks. When it is time to plant in May, split the root ball and tease the individual stalks apart to transplant. Onions do not tolerate weed competition, especially early on, so I cover the bed in about an inch of good compost and anchor 6 sheets of newspaper over the top, watering well. To plant, I poke holes every 4-6 inches and tamp the seedling in. The paper prevents chickweed and other weed seeds from taking hold.

Peas – Maestro or Serge.

100_2892One might think peas would do well up here, no matter the variety, but our long daylight causes some varieties to outgrow support fencing, reaching well over 8 feet, so I try to choose bush types. Maestro and Serge are supposed to reach about 2 feet, but usually top out at around 4 feet. Maestro is easy to tell when ripe, because the pods do not fatten until the peas fill them out (useful if you have young garden helpers) and Serge is a nearly leafless variety that makes seeing pods much easier during harvest.

Other vegetables which grow well up here are Broccoli, Cabbage, Lettuce, Carrots, Potatoes, Swiss Chard, and Beets. For these, I choose whatever seed suits my fancy from year to year, although I am partial to Nantes type carrots because they are so sweet. Bolero is a great storage carrot and we are usually eating the last of our fresh carrots from the garden in March or April. Potatoes grown up here will also be Bolero carrotsunusually sweet because of our cool soil. My Yukon Gold potatoes were monsters last year.

A special note on beans. In Alaska, they say there are lean years and there are bean years. I’ve had seasons where I harvested enough green beans to can a few. But I’ve had many more seasons where the handful I got were not worth the time and the garden space. If you want to try your hand at beans in the High North, Provider is a good start. Include some season extending techniques like row tunnels or IRT mulch. The same advice goes for corn, which I have grown successfully, but which is a gamble from year to year.

If you’ve had a different experience with these crops, or something of your own to recommend, I’d love to hear from you!

Seed packets

Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Select Seeds, and Seeds of Change

Amended 1/30: Rhonda mentioned she’s been growing watermelon successfully for a few years in Tok, so you might want to check out Blacktail Mountain watermelon seeds, available from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. I plan on trying them this year!

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Romance Writers at Alaska Book Week

In celebration of Alaska Book Week, I attended an author panel discussion with fellow romance authors Jackie Ivie, Jennifer Bernard, Lizbeth Selvig, and Boone Brux. We had a wonderful time, and the panel was produced into a podcast. Yep, this is your chance to hear our voices. 🙂 Click here to visit the link. Have a wonderful week!

The UAA newspaper, The Northern Light, also did an article on the panel. Read it here.

Storytelling – The Owl, The Cat, and The Hornet Nest

My stepdad is a storyteller. At least he thinks he is. He’ll tell a tale that goes something like this:

So, out on the property, there’s this owl, see. Biggest owl I ever saw. Keeps the rabbits out of the strawberry patch real good. Damn rabbits and voles were eating all my berries. So when my friend Roger comes to visit, he brings his orange cat. The cat’s a-scared to go outside, but he’s a real good mouser. After a few days, he goes outside hunting. But when Roger packs to leave, the cat’s nowhere to be found. We go looking for the cat all over. I spot this strange shape down in the woods, and I go to investigate. Turns out it’s a hornet nest big as my head! I nearly stepped on it afore I realized. You know I’m allergic to stings. We found the cat under the trailer, and Roger got to leave in time, which is good ‘cause he had to catch a flight.

The end.

Really? Are you satisfied? Didn’t think so.

My stepdad’s tale began fine. The owl hunts rabbits, so we assume a cat might also be on the menu. And the cat is a pet we can easily root for. Listeners are drawn in and ready to find out what happens. But after that, nothing is related to the implied story question; did the owl attack the cat and what happened?

Many manuscripts I critique also start well, ramble along, then the author wraps things up by getting the hero and heroine together. The problem is that “getting there” isn’t satisfying. Sometimes the journey is downright frustrating. For instance, consider the hornet’s nest; the scene had nothing to do with the owl or the cat. Every element in my stepdad’s story should ratchet up the tension about finding the cat before the owl does. If he’d spotted the cat on the other side of the hornet clearing, near the owl’s roost as night was falling, but he had to turn back because of the hornet nest, then the scene might work. But the hornets are unrelated event. The middle of a story is like the filling in a sandwich – if I get a slice of bologna with a slather of peanut butter, I’m not going to be happy. To encourage readers to take more than one bite, make sure the sandwich makings belong together.

Now consider the ending of my stepdad’s story. He found the cat, so he wrapped it up, right? Not really. The owl – the threat which drew us into the story in the first place – never appeared again. Listeners expected the cat and the owl to face off. Maybe the cat is attacked and narrowly escapes with its life. Maybe the cat takes out the owl. Maybe they fall in love and make lovely owl-kittens. But we feel dissatisfied because we never find out. A happily ever after isn’t enough.

Have you encountered a story that left you unsatisfied? Can you pinpoint why?

The Book Boost

I wanted to let everyone know I am a guest blogger at The Book Boost today, so stop on over and say hi! You may even win a copy of Botanicaust 🙂

I’ll be on the road to Fairbanks, AK much of the day, so if I don’t get back to comments right away, pray I’m not broken down somewhere in Denali. (Really. Our truck has 212K miles on it. And we’re hauling a 4-wheeler to go moose hunting.) I’ll log on and respond as soon as we have Internet again.

Oh, and if you are in the Fairbanks area on Thursday, don’t forget I’ll be at Gulliver’s Books from 6-8pm!

Hope everyone is having a fantastic day!

School has Begun – Time to Write

SeptemberNotice the new look? I’m generally not a fan of white letters on dark background, but I thought this looked pretty good. I need to figure out how to put those small button icons for Facebook and Twitter and email follows in my sidebar, so they take up less room. I might move into a premium WordPress theme to make this website look the way I envision.

I’ve been working on promotion the entire month of August – hope you’re not sick of me yet. I have a guest post with The Book Boost September 10th, a book signing at Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks (the northernmost, full service bookstore in America!)Location of Fairbanks, Alaska September 13th, plans to participate in Alaska Book Week October 6-13, and a blog tour set up to begin October 23rd. I have been contacting reviewers to read Botanicaust, with several takers already. I entered one Indie author contest with plans to enter another, plus I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter.

The need to actually write is beginning to really itch.

So I’ve joined the September Writemotivation challenge. This month I had to include some real life items on the list, because, hey, it’s September, and we only have a few days of “work outside” weather left.

1. Write 15K words on next manuscript by month’s end. This is by far the most important item on the list. One reviewer is already looking forward to the sequel to Botanicaust, so I need to get cracking.

2. Contact 5 (minimum) review sites to ask for reviews of Botanicaust.  If you have a review blog or paper, feel free to contact me and we’ll work out a complimentary copy of the book.

3. Harvest the garden and shut it down for winter. Why am I so gung-ho in spring, but in autumn I barely want to look at the garden? Oh, yeah – that ugly word “cleaning” is involved. That must be it.

4. Read and critique 4 (minimum) stories on I have developed some wonderful author relationships via this website and I’d like to maintain the relationships.

5. Hunt moose (1 week.) Like I said – it’s September.

6. Read and critique CP partner’s manuscript. My local critique group keeps me sane.

7. Butcher pigs 1 week. By October, we’ll be working in snow, which sucks for butchering.

8. Post a blog a week (minimum.) ‘Nuf said.

9. Eat lots of #writemotivation cookies. *big smile* If you would like to join us, use the hashtag #writemotivation on Twitter.

Which of these items are you most interested in being updated about? I’d like to know. That way I won’t bore you with promotion.

#Writemotivation Update

What I’ve been harvesting:

Well, the Kenai dipnetting trip was a success – 32 salmon in a few hours, then home to clean, freeze, can, and smoke them. You’ll have to take my word for it – as usual, I was too busy to take photos. I did manage to snap a photo of the wonderful lake we camped at along the way.

The chickens are all butchered, the garden is watered (thank you Mother Nature!) and the broccoli has been harvested.

What I’ve been writing:

Maybe some of you noticed the slight change in my website. I swapped out themes to allow me to have multiple columns. Let me know what you think. I know many of you enjoyed the aesthetics of the old theme, and I tried to maintain the look.

My list for #writemotivation in July is almost all checked off!

1. Finish edits on Botanicaust and send it for proofreading. I hit send to my editor a few minutes ago. We’re on the home stretch!
2. Complete my gluten free cookbook and format for self-publishing. Ta-da! All done! That feels good to cross off.
3. Publish GF cookbook, You Can Eat This! on Amazon. Check! Woo hoo!
4. Finalize cover for Botanicaust. I’ve decided I need a tagline on the front. Working on it.
5. Finalize book trailer for Botanicaust I will have to do this while I’m in Anaheim at the RWA National Conference, I think.
6. Create Amazon Author Page. Done! Come visit!

I also created a Tam Linsey Goodreads Author Page, on the advice of my friend, Susan Cartwright. Her book, Wolf Dawn, is free on Amazon July 23-27, 2012.

I now need to make my list to pack for RWA Nationals. Anyone else out there going? I’d love to meet up and say howdy!

What I’ve been crocheting:

While I listened to my computer read my final edit on Botanicaust (horrible computer voice, but you’d be surprised at how many issues I catch listening which my editing eyes missed,) I worked on the blouse from the cover of Austentatious Crochet. The book was a gift from my dear writer friend, Morgan O’Reilly. I’m making the blouse with blue crochet thread rather than purple, and the gauge is a little thinner, so it will be more lacy looking, but hopefully it will be as lovely as the one in the book.

Until next time!

Party Time! A Gift for You!

I did it! I published my first book. You Can Eat This! 22 Gluten Free Comfort Recipes.

You thought I write fiction? Yes, I do. This cookbook is my way of “getting my feet wet.” Hopefully the mistakes I’ve made on this book won’t be repeated when I publish Botanicaust next month.

Creating this book was so much fun. I not only came up with the recipes (years of baking experience,) but also took the photographs, formatted the book, designed the cover, and published it on Smashwords and Amazon. Not to mention all the baking I did to take the photographs. The family has gained a thousand pounds, I think.

And you, dear readers, may have the book for free! Just use the coupon code UA95Q on Smashwords before August 12th, 2012. If you feel inclined to leave a review either there on on Amazon, I wouldn’t complain.

So where does this put my July #writemotivation goals?

1. Finish edits on Botanicaust and send it for proofreading Still chugging away at this. I’m about 3/4 through the edits.
2. Complete my gluten free cookbook and format for self-publishing. Ta-da! All done! That feels good to cross off.
3. Publish GF cookbook on Amazon. Check! Woo hoo!
4. Finalize cover for Botanicaust This is nearly done – I’m playing around with color saturation. Keep watching!
5. Finalize book trailer for Botanicaust No progress
6. Create Amazon Author Page This really ought to go up next.

I won’t post an update Monday because we are headed down to the Kenai River today to dipnet for our yearly supply of salmon. I’ll post more on that next week (if I remember to take photos.)

Until then, bake something gluten free!

Living in the Real World

As a writer, it is all too easy to get lost in my own head. Especially when I’ve set myself goals like I have for this month. But on Saturday, I got out into the real world — 4-wheeling in the mountains behind Gunsight Mountain. Yep, that’s me, getting muddy. We had a blast and rode a total of 21 miles up hills and through the muck and crossing streams. The wide expanses make me appreciate Alaska, but the trails themselves were surprisingly busy. We passed or were passed by several other groups enjoying the same area.

Here it is Monday, and I’m back into the writing groove. For those of you following my Writemotivation for July, I am continuing edits on Botanicaust, which feels like it will never end. I am also almost ready to release my Gluten Free Cookbook. The title is You Can Eat This! — look for a post later this week.

For now, I’m still savoring the scent of the outdoors. I guess in that way I’m back to living in my own head. Except I have the muddy clothes to prove it was real.