Category Archives: The Lost Arts

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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Gluten Free Italian Recipes

You Can Eat This Gluten Free Italian RecipesI’m pleased to announce the release of my latest gluten free cookbook — You Can Eat This! Gluten Free Italian Recipes. It’s stuffed with full-color photos and step-by-step instructions for each recipe. If looking at these photos doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will.

I’ve made most of these dishes for years, and the real challenge was writing down the actual measurements (I often eyeball quantities when cooking at home.) The second challenge was the photography, mostly because I had to work fast to get the photos taken before my house gremlins (aka family) swooped in to take bites out of my finely arranged meals.

I don’t have a formal test kitchen for developing recipes. These are true, home-cooked recipes made in a real kitchen with easily acquired tools and utensils. Taste testing is my family’s favorite part of the process, of course, but besides feeding my family, I cook for guests, take food to test kitchenpotlucks, and share beloved recipes with friends who want to cook.

I hope you give my gluten free recipes a try! You Can Eat This! Gluten Free Italian Recipes is available online everywhere, but here are a few links to make it easy for you. From my family to yours — Buon appetito!

Kindle,   iTunes,   Nook,   Kobo, and apparently Amazon has already discounted the paperback, plus it qualifies for free super-saver shipping! Get your copy today!   Paperback

Pizza, Biscotti, Ravioli, Calzone – you can eat it all with these gluten free Italian recipes.

51 recipes with full color photos and step by step instructions.

Appetizers, like Tomatoes Parmesan and Fried Mozzarella Bites. Fresh, homemade pasta, including five different kinds of ravioli. Meat Dishes from Parmesan Crusted Halibut to Chicken Saltimbocca. A wide array of sauces for use on pasta, meat and vegetables. Breads ranging from Self-Rising Pizza Crust to chewy Focaccia Bread. For those with a sweet tooth, try baking Florentines or get more creative with homemade Cannoli or gluten free Tiramisu.

Grandma’s Cooking

My grandma was my inspiration for cooking and baking. She was always creating new recipes, some for people with allergies, some with new food items she’d discovered, and always with a discerning palette. Several of the recipes in my cookbook originated from recipes she developed.

Grandma no longer cooks. She lives in a single room in a retirement community where her meals are provided. But I was delighted to receive this photo of her reading my cookbook.

Grandma reading You Can Eat ThisThank you, Grandma, for your love, support, and encouragement!

Do you have someone who inspires you to cook?

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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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.

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!

Salmon Dip Recipes

I realized it has been a while since I posted something. Summer in Alaska doesn’t leave much time to slow down. Next week we begin butchering chickens. In three weeks we hit the river for dipnetting salmon. In between it all is weeding and watering the garden.

On busy days like this, when the sun is out and stays up forever, dinner is not much more than a bowl of salmon dip in the refrigerator to which people can help themselves. I’ve been asked no less than three times in the last few weeks for my recipes, so I thought I’d share (since I’m writing them down to email them, anyway!)

Mexican Style Salmon Dip

  • 1 pint jar canned salmon, drained
  • 2-3 T. sour cream
  • 2-3 T. mayonnaise
  • 1 T. Penzey’s Adobo Seasoning (I don’t get kickback from them. They are just my favorite spice company.)
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 2 T. chopped fresh cilantro
  • cayenne pepper to taste

Mix it all together and enjoy with tortilla chips or other crackers. Also great with thinly sliced jicama or kohlrabi.

Horseradish Salmon Dip

  • 1 pint jar smoked, canned salmon, drained
  • 2-3 T. sour cream
  • 2-3 T. mayonnaise
  • 2 T. chopped sweet onion
  • 1-2 t. ground horseradish (or to taste)

Mix together and enjoy with crackers, veggies, or as a sandwich filling. Delicious with a selection of cheeses as an hors d’oeuvres plate.

Time to hit the garden again! Enjoy!

Planting by the Moon – Science or Myth?

It may seem unscientific to plant by the moon. But there is some logic to the practice. Several years back, I did a test planting with tomatoes, and was impressed enough by the results to swear I’d always pay attention to the moon when gardening. The test plot was small, but the comparative vigor of each set of plants was drastic.

I planted the first set of seeds in sterile, commercial growing medium during the fourth quarter. They took over a week to sprout and some seeds never germinated at all.

About ten days later, during the second quarter, I planted another set of the same seeds in medium from the same bag. The first seedling appeared in three days, and almost every seed had sprouted within five days.

After another three weeks of growth, with both flats of seedlings sharing the same light source, temperatures, and watering care, there was still an obvious difference in vigor. The seedlings planted earlier had weaker stems and smaller leaves than those planted on the later date.

The question was, why?

Not only does the moon add a tiny amount of extra light for plants to grow by when it is full, it also affects gravity here on earth. And gravity affects the flow of water – think of the ebb and flow of the tides. During and just after a full moon, the pull on the earth’s water increases, resulting in the highest tides. According to other research, it also means water in the soil is pulled upward and is more available to germinating seeds. So by planting my tomatoes in the second quarter, just before a full moon, they sprouted just in time to have the best possible access to water in the soil during a critical stage of their growth. Those I planted in the first quarter had just the opposite, with soil moisture at its lowest.

So next time you decide to plant a few seeds, it might just benefit you to look at the night sky. It certainly can’t hurt!

Deutsch: Der Vollmond, fotografiert in Hamois ...If you like articles like this, sign up for my monthly newsletter!

How to Make Strawberry Liqueur

Here in Alaska, it is still deep winter, with hip-high snow over the strawberry beds and temperatures well below freezing. Every summer, when the harvest gets too hectic to handle, I might get to picking berries, but not processing them. So I throw them in the freezer in a gallon ziplock.

The wonderful thing about this, is that now, when I really need a taste of summer, I can pull out a bag. The frozen berries work great for smoothies, or to create a quick sauce for a cheesecake or pancakes. Or I can whip up a batch of preserves if we have run out.

But today I’m needing something stronger.

So, here’s my recipe for strawberry liqueur. It takes a few months to a year to be ready to drink, but believe me, it is well worth the wait.

Mash 6 cups of strawberries in a glass jar or a crock with an air-tight lid (this will yield about 3 cups of mashed berries.) If using frozen berries, allow them to thaw a little before mashing. Do this by hand, careful not to crush the seeds, or the drink will be bitter.

Pour 3 cups of Everclear (I like liqueur with a kick – you can use vodka if you prefer a less potent liqueur.) over the berries and mix. Seal the lid and store it in a cool DARK place for a minimum of two months. Any light reaching the berries will leach them of color. Check the mixture a few time and shake or stir to make sure all the fruit pulp is covered with alcohol.

After two months, it is time to strain the fruit. Make a sugar syrup by combining 1 1/2 cups of sugar or honey with 1 1/2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Stirring to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom, boil until the sugar dissolves. Allow it  to cool, then add it to the berries.

Run the liqueur through a jelly bag. DO NOT SQUEEZE the bag. If you do, the liqueur will be cloudy. You MAY however, eat the berries and pulp – it is great over ice cream.

The difference through a second filter

If you want crystal clear liqueur, strain it a second time through a coffee filter set in a mesh colander. You may need to change out filters a few times as they clog with fine particles.

If you want the liqueur sweeter, add more sugar syrup (granular sugar does not dissolve well in alcohol) to taste. Bottle it and age another month or two.

If not exposed to light or air, the liqueur will keep a long time. Don’t ask me how long, because it tends to disappear pretty fast around here.

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© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

My Kindle Ate My Homework

In spite of my desire to be self-sufficient in the food department, I like technology.


Betamax (Photo credit: Leonardo Rizzi)

Love it, actually. Can’t always afford it, but I love it. While growing up, my mom was always on the forefront of entertainment technology. We were the first family in the neighborhood to get a Betamax video recorder, and I had friends over every day to watch recordings of late night movies. When we got an Atari, my siblings and I spent hours fighting over who got to play Frogger next. In high school, my mom and I sat for hours in front of the Commodore 64 computer playing what passed for interactive games in those days; not graphics, just a story where you typed what to do next, and the words would turn red, or shake, or a gong would sound, and the story would go on. Jack the Ripper. Zork. I can’t remember the others.

I wish this was my tub.

As an adult, I haven’t been able to afford to step into new technology the moment it becomes available. I pick and choose, and wait for the playing field to level out before investing in something. This Christmas, I finally got my first e-reader, the Kindle Fire. I love it. I don’t have to hold pages open to read while I do something else with my hands or try to walk on the treadmill. It is light and easy to read in the bathtub (yes, I take it in the bath with me.) It has a multitude of other diversionary functions like Suduko and Solitaire. I can transport my documents and make notes on them on the go. There are a ton of free books available, or inexpensive new authors to try.

But already I’ve had a reminder why hard-copy books will never be obsolete. I purchased John Truby’s Anatomy of Story, which I am reading as further education for my writing craft, and I wanted it for my Kindle so I could read in the tub (yes, I work in the tub.) While I was taking notes, the book suddenly went blank. I could see the cover page, but every page thereafter was blank.

I was devastated.

After trying everything recommended online, I called Amazon. They have great customer service, by the way. But the technician couldn’t help me. He told me it was a problem they were having with some publishers, and to give it a few days to resolve itself.

I went back to reading my hard-copy of the book, which I was grateful to own. Once again, I resorted to a highlighter, pen, notepad, and sticky notes. As I searched for the sticky note pad that had fallen into the crevasse of the sofa, I missed the ease of my Kindle.

But I was glad I had a “real” book.

So if you love a book, make sure you own it in multiple formats. You never know when technology might fail you. And speaking from experience, a “real” book is still readable if you drop it in the bathtub.

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

P.S. I called Amazon again, and this time the tech had me do a factory reset of my kindle. I lost all my music and my personal documents. But I did get the book back. Good thing it’s a book I will read several times. I’m still glad to have it on paper.