Daily Archives: August 12, 2015

Ripe for the brain picking — Berry walkers harvest abundant knowledge

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna, points out low-bush lingonberries, pictured below,  to a crowd of participants in a berry identification walk Monday afternoon at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna. The event was held as part of the Harvest Moon Local Food Festival, ongoing through Saturday.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna, points out low-bush lingonberries, pictured below, to a crowd of participants in a berry identification walk Monday afternoon at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna. The event was held as part of the Harvest Moon Local Food Festival, ongoing through Saturday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Thirty-four people combed the forest floor Monday afternoon, eyes peeled, attention piqued, senses alert. Their quarry was stationary and abundant but the hunt still held challenges. Not so much in the finding, but in telling one specimen from the wide variety of others.

“What’s this?” “Here’s some red ones!” “Are these any good?”

Variations of those comments formed a background of chatter for the hour-and-a-half walk on Tsalteshi Trails, ebbing and flowing like waves on a shoreline, quieting as the hunters became engrossed in their task and crescendoing when someone found something new, exciting and hopefully delicious — or at least safely edible.

“Alaska is blessed with many varieties of berries that are good to eat and very few that are berries lingonberriesbad for you,” said Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna.

Chumley served as guide for the berry walk, one of a slate of talks, workshops and other activities offered as part of Harvest Moon Local Food Festival. The 26 adults and eight kids who participated Monday did so to expand their knowledge of local edibles, or start to build it from scratch.

“I’m a Native from Arizona and I relocated here and I was very active in my community, which is the Sonoran desert, because our survival in all the hundreds of years depended on that we knew — the plants and the system and what we could eat and what we couldn’t — and so I’m going to do that here in my new home,” said Elizabeth Spinasanto.

She was looking forward to harvesting berries to use in healthy breakfasts — smoothies or with homemade yogurt, which she had learned about in a previous Harvest Moon workshop.

Elizabeth Spinasanto compares a photo she took with her cellphone to a printout Chumley brought along. The convenience of camera phones make them a great tool for berry identification.

Elizabeth Spinasanto compares a photo she took with her cellphone to a printout Chumley brought along. The convenience of camera phones make them a great tool for berry identification.

“I’m taking the fermentation class, as well. I have not missed any of the classes. I’m kind of excited about it,” she said.

Prior to the walk in the woods, the group met at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank for a quick course on berry processing with Linda Tannehill, health, home and family agent with the Cooperative Extension Service. Processing doesn’t need to be time-intensive, she said. Berries are usually good to eat straight off the plant — the key word being “usually.”

“You don’t have to wash them depending on where you pick,” she said. “But if it’s a place where there is a lot of dogs or traffic, you might want to rinse them off.”

Pick as cleanly as possible to save work later, but removing detrius from most berries is generally a simple affair. Some people pour their harvest from one bowl to another on a windy day or in front of a fan to blow off any leaves, stems and other debris. Tannehill prefers more control in her cleaning method. She rubber-bands a terrycloth towel onto a cutting board, rolling the edges to form a channel down the middle of board, then holds the board at an incline and pours the berries down it and into a baking pan with raised edges. The knap of the towel grabs the litter while the berries roll down into the pan — and hopefully no farther.

“I have to have bumpers,” she said. “I’ve chased blueberries across the floor and my dogs get there first. And so I’ve learned to put bumpers on my towel here.”

Sometimes berries contain insects. They aren’t harmful, but soaking firm berries in a solution of salt water can draw out any creatures that might be lurking inside.

“If you’re grossed out by bugs then maybe you want to soak them. It’s all your own comfort level,” Chumley said.

Frozen berries keep for a few years, especially when vacuum-packed in a good-quality bag with a good seal. But freeze the berries first to avoid a squished mess, spreading them in a baking pan and putting them in the freezer for a few hours.

“Do not try to vacuum-package berries unfrozen. There’s no problem if they’re frozen. It’s a big problem if they’re not frozen,” Tannehill said.

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Filed under community, Food, food bank, outdoors, Tsalteshi Trails

View from Out West: Bad conditions ripe for good stories — Lack of control leads to lack of limitations

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler fishes for lake trout on the western end of Nishlik Lake in the Wood-Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler fishes for lake trout on the western end of Nishlik Lake in the Wood-Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

If I had the power to command all aspects of an outdoor adventure — ensure my safety and good weather and avoid biting insects and unwanted surprises — I doubt I’d use it. It’d be tempting, sure, but adventures wouldn’t be very adventurous if I wielded full control. Spontaneity would vanish, as would conflicts, which would be too bad. After all, uncertainty is part of the allure.

Besides, conflict gives survivors a story to tell.

Some of my best outdoor stories involve lousy weather, poor judgments and bad luck — from hiking 60 miles on a sprained ankle in western Canada to trying to outrun a lightning storm in the Mystery Hills east of Sterling.

In fact, the time I joined the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club for a February slog in a

This blizzard march, during an unfortunate Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club trip to Portage Lake in February 2012, spawned the Portage Scale.

This blizzard march, during an unfortunate Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club trip to Portage Lake in February 2012, spawned the Portage Scale.

blizzard across the overflow on Portage Lake, in a vain attempt to locate the glacier, became the measuring stick by which I now calculate the level of all outdoor misery. We called that hypothermic death march a 10 on the Portage Scale, and we’ve been out in nothing worse than an eight since.

Fortunately, I am not a masochist — I do not require misery to have fun. Not all conflicts require tragedies, and good stories sometimes emanate from good fortune. Also, I am pleased to say that I have rarely allowed irrational fear to dissuade me from opportunities, even some that I originally believed had major Portage Scale potential. Usually, the actual experiences turned out far more pleasant than they had appeared in my imagination.

And it was my imagination, mainly, that nearly caused me to back out of an eight-day outing with Yvonne Leutwyler into the northernmost reaches of the massive Wood-Tikchik State Park, near Dillingham.

The plan called for us to be flown on July 27 to the western end of Nishlik Lake, to camp, fish, hike and paddle our way eastward down six miles of shoreline to the headwaters of the Tikchik River, and then to float that 60-mile stream to its terminus at Tikchik Lake, where we’d be picked up Aug. 3 and flown home.

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Out and all about it: Nurture kids’ love of all nature

Photo by Joseph Robertia. This black bear was seen on the appropriately named Bear Mountain Trail in the Skilak area.

Photo by Joseph Robertia. This black bear was seen on the appropriately named Bear Mountain Trail in the Skilak area.

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

Bears and butterflies carry exactly the same weight in my daughter’s estimation. I learned of this equality on a family outing this spring in the Skilak Wildlife Recreational Area.

My wife, 2-year-old Lynx and I had been canoeing Hidden Lake in the morning, getting up at dawn to beat the heat and breezes that come up as the day waxes on. By midday, the cloudless sky stretched in a spacious canvas of blue, and the sun hung at its zenith. A breeze as soft as a first kiss caressed our still winter-white skin, but it offered little relief to the three of us not yet used to temperatures topping out at 70 degrees.

With our watercraft securely tethered to the top of our car, we set the compass for home, but before we had even dusted our way a few miles down the gravel road my wife grabbed a fistful of my shirtsleeve and shouted, “Stop the car!”

Like most husbands in that situation, I stomped the brake hard enough to nearly put a hole in the floorboard. The car slid to a grating halt on the loose gravel surface, while I — wide-eyed and with adrenaline spiking — machine-gunned at her all the obvious questions: “What? What is it? What’s wrong? What’d I hit?”

Never turning to face me, she switched to a hushed tone and said three of my favorite words to hear while in the wilderness, “Look, a bear.”

We were at the aptly named Bear Mountain Trail. The bruin, black as midnight, seemed completely unconcerned by our presence and swaggered through the parking area and started up the hiking trail. We stared for a few seconds before it rounded a bend and went out of view.

We wanted — we needed — more.

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Cast iron chefs show their cooking mettle

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ray Wall, of Anchorage, visits with a spectator at the Soldotna Progress Days Dutch Over Cookoff on July 25 at Soldotna Creek Park.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ray Wall, of Anchorage, visits with a spectator at the Soldotna Progress Days Dutch Over Cookoff on July 25 at Soldotna Creek Park.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Olive rosemary asiago cheese rolls, paella with saffron rice, caramel pecan cinnamon buns and three varieties of tenderloin, stuffed with everything from asparagus and spinach, to pine nuts and lemon zest or feta cheese and prosciutto.

It sounds like the menu from a fussy, five-star establishment. That wasn’t quite the case July 25. Picture, instead, the breeze shooing off mosquitos in Soldotna Creek Park, gingham-patterned plastic drapes over picnic tables and disposable utensils.

As for the setup to produce such fine cuisine? No state-of-the-art kitchen with all the latest gadgets here. In fact, only one gadget was used, and it’s been in roughly the same state since its invention in the last 1700s. Enter the humble, but honored Dutch oven.

Wall checks the pork roast he planned to serve with sushi for his team’s main course.

Wall checks the pork roast he planned to serve with sushi for his team’s main course.

“Anything you can cook in a kitchen, on a range or a regular oven you can cook in Dutch oven,” said Rod Hutchings, of Anchorage, who, along with Ray Wall, was one of five teams competing in Soldotna’s annual Progress Days Dutch Oven Cooking Competition.

Wall recently submitted paperwork to start a new Dutch oven cooking chapter in Anchorage, and was half of a team representing Alaska at the International Dutch Oven Society World Championship Cookoff in Utah last year. In regional competitions, as in the state-level event at the Alaska State Fair and the world cookoff, each team makes a bread, a dessert and a main dish, and everything has to be prepared and served to the judges in a Dutch oven or on its lid.

“In this particular case I’m looking for 17 on the top and seven on the bottom, which will hopefully get me about 350 degrees. It’s very particular. (Counts to 15.) So I’m two short,” Hutchings said.

It’s part exact science, and part best guess.

“It’s fairly predicable but it depends on the wind. Like right now the wind’s picked up so that’s probably blowing a lot of our heat off,” said Stefanie Ferguson. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Expose yourself to RAW files for best outdoor photos

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

To unfold and blossom, your photographs of intense fireweed require not only proper focus and good depth of field but also optimum exposure. That’s our topic this week.

  • Before we proceed, though, don’t forget to enter the Redoubt Reporter’s two summer 2015 photo contests, with cash prizes for each of the two summer photo contests totaling $350, publication in the Redoubt Reporter, and later exhibition opportunities. There’s no fee but the Aug. 21 deadline is fast approaching. Go to www.artspaceak.org for complete details and entry forms.

Finding that optimum exposure can be a bit tricky. The intended final appearance of your photos should guide how you make your exposures. Although it’s a cliche that every situation is different, requiring a tailored exposure for best results, it’s literally true. Finally, how your camera meters and sets its automatic exposure varies more than your might realize.

This might seem complicated, but it’s really not. With a bit of experience and thought, these apparent limitations can become useful tools enabling you to make consistently better photos and save photos that initially seem beyond redemption. The three keys to predictably successful exposure are the typically unused “exposure compensation” feature found on nearly all cameras, using a camera with a wide dynamic range and saving your photo files in an RAW file format wherever possible.

Saving your images in an RAW-plus-JPEG file format is the simplest of the three, and thus the best place to start. Using RAW-plus-JPEG usually requires only a single change to your settings and post-processing of the RAW image in the program of your choice, should you need higher quality than available with out-of-camera JPEG files.

Most better cameras allow you to choose the RAW-plus-JPEG option. You’ll have both a JPEG image for immediate use, if the initial, out-of-camera image is acceptable for your needs, as well as an RAW file should you require a higher-quality result later.

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Filed under photography, Plugged in