Saturday, December 4, 2010

Things We Never Thought We'd Do: Adopt a Village Mutt

I had some very good reasons for not liking dogs:

-my mom's dog nipped at my heels every time I walked into my parents' bedroom

-my sister Mandy always forced herself to gag at the sight of dog food, resulting in me feeding the dog WAY MORE than my fair share (Hey Mandy! I haven't forgotten about this!)

-doggie doo patrol was a regular part of of "being a family" (or so my mom said)

Puppy Edited Iphoto

But, on Easter 2010 I was walking from house to house visiting my favorite babies, when I came across this pretty thing. It embarrasses me to to say this, but have you ever seen a more gorgeous puppy?

I thought about her the rest of the day. And when it was nighttime, I went searching for her and brought her home.


She made herself comfortable, and after searching for her real owner and the exchange of some cash, she was ours. We named her Sadie.

(Note to readers: The name Sadie was on our short-list of names for any potential daughters we may have in the future. I insist that using the name for a dog REMOVES the name from the potential baby list. Steve insists otherwise. It's still a point of debate around our house.)


Sadie was willing to take time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

View from the North: What did you do all day as a puppy?

Sadie Alston: Steve and Angie tried barricading me in the kitchen. But, in addition to looking absolutely pitiful, I was a little escape artist. They eventually got a generously-sized kennel for me to stay in.


VFN: Wow, being cooped up in a cage doesn't sound very fun.

SA: It wasn't. That's why I whined a lot the first few days.

VFN: Did they leave you in there all the time?

SA: No, they took me on walks.


VFN: In the snow?

SA: I think they liked it.


VFN: How did Steve and Angie adjust to being puppy parents?

SA: They did all right. They were obsessed with keeping me clean. Steve said something about me smelling funny. Unfortunately, Steve didn't know that I'm absolutely terrified of water. That was a fun surprise.


VFN: Did they have all of the equipment necessary to take care of a dog.

SA: Ha! They had nothing! My first toys were pieces of rope tied in knots and soaked in beef bullion.

Screen shot 2010-12-03 at 2.35.37 PM

VFN: That sounds rough.

SA: Angie overcompensated by buying me designer stuff. Steve was absolutely appalled, and Angie has since decided that kind of shopping is unnecessary. It was good while it lasted.

Angie With Her Puppy!

VFN: Who do you like better, Angie or Steve?

SA: Angie is nicer to me, but I like Steve better.


VFN: Did you have any friends in Shishmaref?

SA: There were a few neighbor dogs I ran around with, but I was a little young for permanent attachments. There's nobody I keep in touch with.


VFN: What did you do for the summer?

SA: I was going to stay in Alaska, but Grandma Alston insisted on meeting me. She said I wasn't quite as good as Steve and Angie having a baby but almost. I split my time between both sets of grandparents.

VFN: Don't Angie's parents have two ridiculously spoiled wiener dogs? How did you get along?

SA: Grandma and Grandpa Busch were afraid that I would use the tiny one as a chew toy, but I just ignored her because she yipped at me a lot (man, that was annoying!). The medium-sized one and I were great friends. She even shared her bed with me.


VFN: What about the rest of the family?

SA: They were nice. Uncle Joe was a little weird, but I hear there's one in every family.


VFN: Did you pick up any strange habits while visiting the Busch House?

SA: Grandma Busch helped me discover that I like to eat watermelon rinds. She would save them for me.


VFN: What was your least favorite part of the summer?

SA: Well, there was one extremely invasive surgery. Also, Steve tried to teach me to be unafraid of water.

VFN: I didn't know Steve was a swimming instructor.

SA: He's not. His lessons basically consisted of repeatedly tossing me in the St. Joe River and making me swim to shore.


VFN: How did you like the move to Brevig Mission?

SA: There are a lot more places to walk in Brevig Mission. Angie used to take me on walks every day.


VFN: Used to? What happened?

SA: It got icy. I thought the ice beautifully reflected the sunsets, but Angie has this fear of falling.

VFN: Isn't that fear sort of well-founded?

SA: Definitely, given her history. Although, I personally think she's a little whiny.

VFN: Isn't it also really dark now?

SA: Yeah, Angie promises the walks will start up again once it gets lighter out. I'll believe it when I see it.


VFN would like to apologize for degenerating into the kind of blog that spends an entire post on a dog. It was never VFN's intention to blog about a dog, let alone adopt one. Please consider continuing to read this blog. Thank you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Love-Hate Relationship With Snow

I used to love snow. I associated it with Christmas, sledding, hot chocolate, and all sorts of happy memories. Now I have a whole different set of associations: a stinging face and close calls with frostbite, puddles in my house that get my socks wet, and walking to and from school in the dark.

I could enjoy snow for about two weeks. Unfortunately, it arrives in October and stays through May.

Mendenhall Glacier

Snow does, on occasion, make for some beautiful scenery. (Disclaimer: this is not a local photo. It was taken in Juneau. And since you were wondering, it's Mendenhall Glacier.)

Ice Crystals

There is even beautiful local scenery.

Winter's Bounty

And yummy local scenery.

My Skiers

Then there was coaching cross country skiing. That was fun. And snow is a relatively imperative aspect of the sport...

Skiing at the Edge of the World

Wandering around Purposefully conditioning with the ski team allowed access to some pretty striking views.


And when ski practice takes place during sunset. Boy howdy, that's beautiful!


Cold weather brings out the most adorable cold weather gear. Seriously, could this little guy BE any cuter?

Cutie Pie

And there's something about Eskimo cheeks that look even more compelling when bundled in fleece...


Of course, there are also less than cute cold-weather outfits.

But my main beef against snow is the accompanying slipperiness. Packed snow that has been repeatedly trod upon is very slippery. So is ice. One Inupiaq word that I've become very familiar with over the last five and a half years is "kataq." It means to slip or fall.


This picture was taken after one of my early kataqs. I was on skis. I fell flat on my back. I was surrounded by laughing children. It wasn't one of my proudest moments.

In addition to leaving me sprawled across the ground, my kataqs have caused: trips to the clinic, prescriptions for heavy-duty pain medication, and physical therapy. For reals.


This winter, I’m trying to take a stand against the slipperiness by religiously wearing YakTrax. I haven’t had a single fall since I started wearing them (although there was one close call involving a metal grate that I don't really want to talk about.)

(By the way, do you love my boots? I inherited them from the teacher before me. Hey Sandy! Thanks for leaving your boots in Brevig!)

Who knows, maybe the YakTrax will change how I feel about snow. Maybe.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creative Cooking: Zucchini Cake


It started with these... We got some zucchini in our CSA box. Being as I'd already dabbled in savory zucchini delicacies, I decided to try something sweet. I turned to my buddy the Amateur Gourmet to figure out what to do with it. Olive oil cake sounded a little strange, but Adam has rarely led me astray.

Note to readers: Only one zucchini chunk was harmed in the shooting of this photo. (I considered picking the chunk up and using it anyway, but I haven't mopped my floor in a while.)

Update: Since beginning this post, I have mopped my floor. You're welcome.


The recipe called for grated zucchini, but I put the zucchini in my food processor (believe the reviews, this baby is as LOUD as a jet engine). I think I overdid it on the processing thing, but subtlety has never been one of my strengths.

Note to Readers: I do not in any way consider myself qualified to give useful recommendations about household appliances, but I want to say a few things about my blender/food processor. I don't love it, but it gets the job done. I only bought it because I couldn't justify one of these. Actually, I had no trouble justifying the aforementioned blender of bliss. I just knew that Steve would retaliate by buying one of these. Then I would be forced to buy this. The whole thing could spiral out of control very quickly.


The recipe called for toasted walnuts.


They also ended up in the food processor. And got over-processed. (I think they were supposed to end up walnut chunks, not dust...)

I have a problem.


My mood improved dramatically when I got to use my sifter on the flour and spices.


I had a moral dilemma when I looked at the ingredients list of my shortening tub. WARNING: SOAP BOX AHEAD I just finished reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. A lot of what Pollan said really resonated with me, and I've been making an effort to be more mindful of the things I eat. I needed to grease the bundt pan, but the shortening had all kinds of multi-syllabic ingredients that I only vaguely recognized.


Butter was much more sensible. Ingredients: cream (milk), salt.

But butter is expensive. And I only needed to grease the pan. And is it even worth debating the health of individual ingredients when making a cake? That you will probably eat mostly by yourself?

If I had been thinking, I would have used olive oil. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but the reason I didn't is because I was afraid it would make the cake taste funny. It seems I temporarily forgot that the name of this cake was OLIVE OIL Zuchinni. Duh.

I ended up using the butter. I expect to reach food nirvana sometime tomorrow afternoon.


After wrestling with my culinary conscience about the greasing of the pan, I mixed up the ingredients into a moderately thick batter...


And baked it in my bundt pan.

Note to Readers: This is the third time I've used the bundt pan this school year.

Note to Steve: It was still totally worth it.


The glaze consisted of lemon juice, sugar, and powdered sugar. I didn't even bother contemplating the nutritional value.


The finished cake showed no signs of the inner turmoil it generated.


In fact, it will probably be made again.

Full disclosure: I am not making any money from any of the links in this post. I was just in a facetious mood and felt like over-linking. It happens.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pro: Funny Kids

I'm sure there are funny kids everywhere. But I happen to think there are a higher concentration of them in Shishmaref.


This book was made by a student that used to be in Steve's class. He's in sixth grade now. He delivered this book to me after school.

Note to readers: I think the title is supposed to read "The Appreciation of Steve and Angie Alston: The Disaster Sequence"

Additional Note to readers: I am totally impressed by the use of the colon in the above title. And the fact that Alfred nailed Steve's goatee.

Additional-al Note to Readers: Does anybody else think that the phrase "The Disaster Sequence" is especially clever?


This is Alfred's perception of how I would react if Steve ever forgot our anniversary. It's surprisingly accurate. (For the record, Steve has never forgotten our anniversary. I think it's partly because I quiz him on the date about every ten days.)

Note to Readers: While the Angie to Steve height ratio is a little skewed (I'm not typically twice as tall as Mr. A), my svelte figure is eerily realistic (yeah right).


Apparently, Alfred thinks that Steve and I settle our disputes in the boxing ring. (For maximum enjoyment, notice the peace sign Steve's cartoon is making in the upper left hand corner.

Note to Readers: Monday Night Raw is an actual wrestling program (or used to be), but I didn't know that until I looked it up on Wikipedia.

Informational Note to Readers: K.O. stands for knockout. And I knew that without Wikipedia because sometimes I play nerdy comic book character Superhero Battle Simulation Games with Steve.

Note to My Students: Wikipedia is NOT an appropriate source for a research paper.


(Sorry for the fact that I have no skills and can't seem to size the above photo correctly. My speaking bubble reads, "I am tired of u being lazy and playing games.")

Cartoon Angie was dissatisfied with the results of the boxing match, so she decided to hit Steve where it hurts. I admit that I have threatened to smash Steve's X-box before, but I was only semi-serious.

For maximum enjoyment, notice the angry eyes on my cartoon.

Note to Readers: This panel was kind of traumatic for Steve because when he was a little boy, his Star Wars X-Wing was smashed by a hammer as a punishment for some type of inappropriate behavior. The man wielding the hammer was Steve's dad. The one who ordered the wielding of the hammer was Steve's mom.

Note to Brave Readers: Steve's mom gets really embarrassed if this story is mentioned (which pretty much happens every time we're in town).


"You never gave me a love card." Ha! This is what I am now going to say every time I am unhappy. I'm serious.

Maximum Enjoyment Tip: Notice the authentically-shaped 360 controller.


Cartoon Angie has managed to find a club that's either moving very quickly or has large flexible spikes. She wields it on the unsuspecting Steve (who has somehow reparied the X-box) but ends up falling prey to the call of Steve's games.

And that is how we know this is a work of fiction. But I think I proved my original point. Kids in Shishmaref are funny.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Creative Cooking: Bread in Five Minutes a Day

No-knead bread started showing up on several of my favorite food blogs quite a while ago. I've also been meaning to read this book (unfortunately, I'm a complete cheapskate, so the book has not been purchased).

I really loved the five-minutes-a-day idea because sometimes I can be kind of lazy when it comes to cooking (this is a problem because my husband thinks that tater-tot casserole, chili mac, and meatloaf count as "meals" (Hey Mom Alston! Sorry you haven't won me over to the meatloaf loving way of life! I still hate it but appreciate your conversion efforts!). The basic premise of this philosophy is that you make a big batch of dough and use it daily/almost daily over the course of two weeks. I settled on trying this recipe, which was recommended as a good starting place. (You can also just have at it with a simple ratio, but I was lazy wasn't confident enough.)


You begin by throwing all of the ingredients together. (I use my KitchenAid because I heart it.) I doubled the recipe because I wanted enough for eight loaves instead of four.


The dough will seem pretty runny, but that's okay.

When you realize that you got confused and tripled the amount of salt, baking soda, and yeast, you need to go back and add more water and flour, thus making enough dough for twelve loaves.


The dough needs to sit on the counter for a couple of hours. If you want to be able to use your Kitchen Aid during the resting time, you should probably transfer the dough to another container. If you had a momentary brain lapse and tripled the recipe because you were too lazy to use ratios, you will probably need to let the dough rest in two bowls...


But, you should make sure that they are both big bowls. Otherwise you will have an overflowing mess after two hours.


Feel free to use quick thinking and put some of the overflowed dough in a series of ziploc bags to freeze for use later.


The rest of the dough can go in the fridge until your ready to use it. Make sure the container isn't airtight.

Note to readers: Accidentally tripling a recipe and trying to force dough into containers that are too small can result in continued expansion in the fridge. Be ready for it.

When you're ready to bake your bread, just pull off a chunk of the dough.

The recipe calls for a baking stone. I do own a baking stone, but it's in storage in Seattle, along with all of my other real dishes, kitchen equipment, etc. My wise colleague Denise (who functions as my pseudo-maternal advisor in Shishmaref- "Um, Denise, if I bring this oil over, will you smell it and tell me if it's gone rancid? And then not judge me if it is?") suggested that I use a nice baking dish that would hold the heat evenly.


I do own a nice baking dish. I bought it in Paraguay. Steve made fun of me for carrying it all the way back into the U.S. and up to Alaska.

Note to readers: A small baking dish is nothing (in size or inconvenience) compared to the berimbau he brought back.


For those of you kitchen snobs, it is a Le Creuset baking dish. It is the only Le Creuset piece I own at this time. Steve has been warned that someday I intend to own a lot more.


I greased the dish with shortening.

Note to readers: this shot is completely staged. It turns out that I'm too uncoordinated to operate my camera or grease a pan with my left hand. I had to settle for holding-the-paper-towel-with-shortening-on-it with my left hand and operating my camera with the right.


Shape the dough into a ball and tuck all the edges underneath so that the top is smoothish. (This ball of dough will magically grow in the next few shots. Do not be alarmed. It is just a different batch of bread. VFN's Creative Cooking shows are not always shot in real time...)

Apparently, you can also shape the dough into sandwich loaves, but that technique hasn't been botched tried in VFN's test kitchens.


Let the dough sit for forty minutes. Preheat the oven at 450 sometime during this resting period.


Sprinkle the loaf, or boule, with flour...


and slice any design that makes your heart happy.

If you're really brave, you can bake the bread over a dish of water. Maybe you can avoid using a glass dish.


The final product has been greatly enjoyed in the Alaska Alston household.