By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
I had been mashing the potatoes for 30 minutes and they were still lumpy. It seemed ridiculous that this kind of strenuous mashing would not result in smooth potatoes. I picked up the phone and called the friend whose recipe I had followed. “My potatoes will not mash,” I said.
“Did you boil them first?” she asked. She knew my skill level so I wasn’t offended that she considered it possible for me to forget that step.
Yes, I peeled them. I boiled them. I drained them. I added the other stuff. Now I was mashing them with a masher and they were not turning into rich, fluffy delightfulness. “They don’t look like yours,” I said. “They look like cottage cheese.”
She didn’t know what to tell me except to keep mashing.
Days later it was brought to my attention that my masher implement was actually a meat tenderizer. It was unclear to me then which of my housewarming gifts belonged in the kitchen vs. the toolshed. Either way, I didn’t know what these things were called or what they did. If someone walked me into a room with various small tool and cooking instruments laid out on a table, I would probably think I was about to be tortured.
Back then, I had never been fishing before. I’d never been duck hunting. I’d never been cooking. I’d never been baking. My state of complete ignorance about food was not without creative enterprise. What I lacked in formal training I made up for in innovation. The waffle iron was my major cooking appliance for years. I made waffles, cake and even hamburgers in it. Nothing I made tasted good, but that’s why a lot of artists starve. They don’t hunt or fish or cook.
But times have really changed for me. Now people ask me how to cook duck and ptarmigan. They think I would know. Sometimes I pretend like it’s really very simple. It probably is to the naturally gifted cooks of the world. They are always saying “dash of this” and “sprig of that.” On top of being food illiterate, I’m too literal of a person to follow these kinds of directions. The other day the instructions on the back of a box of macaroni stumped me. It said cover and stir often. How was I supposed to stir something that was covered?
If I were on death row and had a choice of a last meal it would be white-tailed ptarmigan over long grain wild rice. There are two reasons for this. The first is that white-tailed ptarmigan are usually the best-eating bird because they are found above tree line and feed on alpine berries and leaves. The second is that this choice might buy me a few extra hours on earth because it would be very difficult for the correctional officers to obtain this particular wild bird from the mountaintop.
My favorite duck to eat is teal. After white-tailed ptarmigan, it is my second favorite meal. After that is early season spruce grouse. I like them all pan fried in olive oil sprinkled with steak seasoning and served over long grain wild rice. I don’t soak them in milk first. I don’t roll them in batter. I don’t put dashes or sprigs of anything on them. Maybe there’s a way to cook them that is phenomenally better that I don’t know about.
If you are in jail, as the joke goes, a good friend will visit, a better friend will bail you out and an even better friend will be sitting beside you. The best friend, in my case, will be going up into the mountains to hunt my last meal. I’m probably in jail for a food-related crime anyway.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing in January 2013. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.