Saturday, August 30, 2008

How To Survive: Take Advantage of Fresh Stuff

I hadn't been to the store for a while, so I thought I'd take a walk over and see what was available. Imagine my surprise when I was BOMBARDED with fresh stuff! Wahoo! Needless to say, I exercised no restraint and bought it all. Now I have some very big plans. Here's what I scored:


Butter. Real butter. I went to the store hoping to find this so that I can make Steve some from-scratch chocolate cake. It turns out that my recent baking escapades have only involved my favorite types of desserts (mainly centered around caramel). I had been selfishly ignoring Steve's preferences (it happens sometimes).

one pound of butter = $5.15


I postponed my chocolate cake plans when I discovered these apples. They weren't the firmest apples around, but they were free from mold, rottenness, and oozing juices, which makes them outstanding village apples. I will use them to make an apple pie. Lucky Steve...

four apples = $5.65


Peppers! Green peppers! Steve didn't like peppers when we got married. Now he loves them. I consider that one of my finest achievements. Some of these beauties are destined for fajitas with homemade tortillas, but tonight I will use two of them in stuffed peppers. It was going to be a surprise for Steve, but as soon as he woke up from his nap, I told him.

five green peppers = $6.25


Onions make pretty regular appearances at the store, but I'm still grateful for them. Mostly I'm grateful that when I put my hand in the onion bin I didn't touch anything soft and squishy.

Four yellow onions = $3.92


These are my babies. I heart tomatoes. I used to eat them like apples when I didn't live at the edge of the earth. The tomatoes that make it to Shishmaref are usually mushy, but these look pretty good. Of course, it helps that I dumped out the little green basket and filled it with only the firmest red spheres. I felt a little guilty, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

pint of cherry tomatoes = $2.29 (I was so jazzed when the cashier said that price that I hollered, "Wahoo!!!" Right in the store. In front of people.)


Since I bought the tomatoes, I had to buy cream cheese so I could make garlic stuffed tomatoes. I'm a little bit ashamed to admit how excited I am to eat the tomatoes stuffed with the cream cheese. My fixation on them has reached the "unhealthy" stage.

sixteen ounces of cream cheese = $8.55


Eggs. Always a good idea, especially if Steve is overcome with a desire to make me breakfast in bed.

one dozen eggs = $3.49


This last purchase was purely a token of love for Steve-o. He likes to make pizza. I want him to be able to do things that he likes. I also want to encourage him to cook as often as possible. :)

thirty slices of pepperoni = $3.15

Grand total (with tax) = $39.22

Major excitement and staving off food boredom for another week = priceless.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dirty Jobs: Shishmaref Style

Back in March I introduced VFN reader to our unique plumbing situation. Today I learned a little bit more about how our non-plumbing works.

My fourth hour class was out taking pictures for an Alaska History assignment (they're going to learn the corresponding Inupiaq words tomorrow). They came back with images of typical Shishmaref life, including some of the finer points of Shishmaref plumbing.


These are the waste bins. No big deal. You saw these in the last blog post about plumbing.


Here are the anuq men in action. They use the hose to suck up the waste from the bins.


Here's another view. This one nicely highlights the waste tank.


This wide angle shot shows the anuq vacuum attached to a truck. The vacuum attaches to the truck via a regular trailer hitch.

Nice, huh? Now you know for a fact that these guys actually use a gigantic vacuum cleaner to remove the waste from the bins. I wasn't exaggerating.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Creative Cooking: Spaghetti Carbonara

Food boredom has already set in out on the Alaska Frontier, so I had turn to my trusty friend. Amateur Gourmet. His spaghetti carbonara seemed reasonable and (more importantly) was compatible with the contents of my pantry, so I decided to give it a shot.

(Warning: for some reason today I completely forgot how to focus my camera. The pictures looked fine in the viewfinder, but they ended up blurry. Maybe I should have put my contacts in before shooting... My sincerest apologies, and please don't sue me for eyestrain. I probably can't afford it.)


Alaskan cooking is always in adventure in substitutions, and this recipe was no different. In fact, the only ingredients in this recipe I didn't substitute were spaghetti noodles and olive oil...


I was supposed to add pancetta to the olive oil. I don't usually keep pancetta around the house, so I had to settle for a handful of bacon bits (at least they were the real bacon bacon bits).


I looked at the bacon/olive oil mixture in the frying pan and decided I needed to add more oil. Due to the fact that the olive oil had the above pictured pour top (also due to the fact that I am a moron), I ended up putting way too much in the pan. I briefly considered trying to pour it back in the bottle, but I decided that if I'd used real pancetta the whole thing would be full of fat anyway. (If Steve dies of a heart attack this week, it's my fault. I sincerely apologize to his family and friends.)


Fresh garlic turned into garlic powder. I'm usually a throw-however-much-looks-good-into-the-pan kind of chef. But, I recently had a very bad experience with some garlic mashed potatoes, so I busted out the old measuring spoon for this addition.


I fried this all up, and it smelled great!


I was supposed to add white wine, but I was fresh out (if only the recipe had called for red wine*), so I used chicken broth and lemon juice. Stop laughing. The sages at said it was okay.


I added the "white wine" to the wannabe pancetta mixture, and it boiled down to a nice sauce.


Meanwhile, I did have parmesan cheese in the refrigerator, although I'm not sure it's what Amateur Gourmet had in mind when he said "fresh grated parmesan."


I mixed the high quality parmesan with a couple of eggs. The resulting substance looked, but did not, I repeat: DID NOT, taste like corn muffin batter.


I stirred the noodles in the egg mixture like crazy. I was terrified that I wouldn't stir fast enough, causing disgusting egg chunks to develop. Luckily, the disgusting chunks were evaded. Pppphhhhhheeeeeewww!


After mixing in the faux pancetta, I had the finished product. Ta-da!!! I know, I know, it's a little anti-climatic. Please excuse the poor presentation. I lacked the fresh parsley to use as garnish, and I didn't think dried chives or oregano would have the same effect. Don't judge this recipe based on the poor picture above. Look at Amateur Gourmet's picture in order to be inspired to prepare this recipe.

Despite its homely appearance, the Spaghetti Carbonara was delicious. I was thrilled to be able to serve it to my well-deserving husband who said, "This was a lot better than the chili mac I was going to have for lunch."

Sigh. Oh well. At least he didn't put ketchup on it.

*That was a joke. The Alston household is one hundred percent free of both red and white wines. Thank you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Social Studies Rocks: Burying Our Chicken Mummies

Because I have no children, pets, or cable TV, my social studies classes consume my life. So, I thought I would create a new feature here at VFN to share some of the fun things we do in class.

My apologies to anyone who is bored with the following post. I am only a teacher in an isolated place. I don't have a lot else to offer the blog world. :)

Last year my last hour social studies class did a unit on Ancient Egypt. The culminating project was mummifying chickens (okay, actually they were cornish game hens). They dehydrated the carcasses in salt, designed and constructed sarcophagai, oiled and spiced the dehydrated carcasses, wrapped the spiced hen bodies in athletic bandages, made amulets, and everything.

It was a very involved project. Someday I'll blog about it, but not right now (If you're absolutely dying for the details, you can go to our school district wiki page and check out the pictures here).

Unfortunately, by the time our chicken mummies were ready, it was winter, and the ground was too frozen for us to bury them. I promised the kids we would bury the chickens when I came back after the summer. Today I kept my promise.


They were totally engaged in the burial process by the time I caught up with them. (I'll admit it: I'm slow. I like to meander. And chat. And take pictures.)


The most efficient means of digging turned out to be jumping on the shovel.


One group chose a really tough spot to dig. I suggested that they move to an alternate location, but they ignored me because I am obviously an idiot that doesn't know anything.


They kept trying to break the ground...


and trying.


Some of the kids got bored while their classmates were busy trying to dig up Sarichef Island's most impossible piece of ground. They started throwing chunks of earth at each other.


Because I'm such a good teacher, I took pictures instead of stopping them.

Alaska's Bounty

Other kids picked blackberries. Notice that these are Alaskan blackberries, not the electric kind or the kind that look like black raspberries. I ate a couple of these berries. Then my kids pointed out that they wouldn't be ready for another couple of weeks. That explained the extremely bitter taste and the fact that I spit them out after chewing.


Here is a picture of the blackberries in their natural habitat. Notice that they don't grow on bushes of the traditional variety. They grow really close to the ground.


Finally, the kids decided that I was right (whouda thunk?) and they needed to switch locations. The chicken mummy was transported with the utmost care. (BTW, I majorly heart this kid. He is the cutest funniest little guy. He's the one that convinced me to coach cross country skiing last year. If he asked me for $100, and I happened to have a Benjamin Franklin in my pocket, I'd probably just give it to him. He's irresistible.)


I just have to show this sarcophagus off for a minute. Isn't it adorable? It's products like this that make me think I might not be a complete failure as a teacher. This sarcophagus was, obviously, created by a pair of girls. The boys thought they were done painting after about 2.3 seconds.


Eventually, the kids managed to dig some pretty respectable holes.


Then my little honeys put the mummies into the holes...


and buried them.


We had talked about the fact that the Ancient Egyptians built pyramids as tombs, so they made little sand pyramids on top of their buried mummies.


One group decided their mummy needed a weed instead of a pyramid. Don't ask me. I was just the white lady supervising them. (Incidentally, this was the same group that ignored my suggestions about proper burial locations.)


On our way back to school, we got a little distracted. We HAD to stop at the basketball hoop so that I could take pictures of the kids trying to dunk the ball.


This was lots of fun and made for some very cool shots. Unfortunately, it made us late getting back. When we got back to the school, the next class had already started. The principal had my sixth hour kids in the library, and I had to write tardy excuses for all of my chicken buriers. Oops.


I didn't get fired, which was cool. Plus, the kids and I had a lot of fun. Nobody got outrageously hurt. I only got sand in my mouth once. I pretty much consider this a very successful day of social studies.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why I am Glad to Be Back in Alaska

After three months of gallivanting around Southeast Asia and bouncing between Washington, Idaho, and Utah, I am glad to be back in Alaska for the following reasons.

-I don't have to live out of a suitcase anymore. In Asia I lived out of a 35L backpack. In the states I lived out of a carry-on sized suitcase. My clothes were perpetually wrinkled, and I wore the same ones over and over and over and over.

-I now have Internet access twenty-four hours a day. This summer I sometimes had to go DAYS without getting on the Internet. My youngest sister said it best, "You and the Internet are, like, one." I am an Internet junkie. Why spend time looking for a phone book when you can google the phone number? Why walk upstairs and ask my mom how to cut pineapple when I can get an illustrated step-by-step guide in 0.63 seconds? I feel unstable if I can't check my bloglines and headlines. I feel much better now that I am connected.

-I get to sleep in my own bed. Those of you VFN readers that don't own a memory foam mattress pad and a down comforter need to buy one right now. I'm serious. If you can't afford one, start saving your pennies. I am so in love with my bed. Best money we've spent since getting married.

I am back. Life is good. More witty commentary to come soon.