Friday, December 30, 2011

View from the baking table- 10:30 am 12/29/12

A moment of sun between the storms!
Sunrises and Sunsets, when we get to see them, are a highlight of these dark days. 
Bearing witness from our warm bakery with this view out our window, we feel especially lucky. 
And as the sun sets on an old year and rises on a New Year, 
We wish everyone a peaceful 2012 that is full of Love and Light!

"In the depth of winter I found within me an invincible summer"
-Albert Camus

Friday, December 23, 2011

Spreading Holiday Joy

Nothing brightens up these dark winter days so much as the smiles we see everyday when people stumble in out of the wind and cold into our warm and bright bakery with it's amazing smells and colorful array of festive treats. It is one of the times of year we are especially grateful for our job and the satisfaction that it brings. The family of people who have been using our services to round out their celebrations is very loyal, we have been around long enough to become a part of their own family traditions, it is a responsibility we have learned to take very seriously. As in any small town, when things don't go so well, even if folks don't directly call the store to complain, for certain it will come up the next time we are in line at the grocery store! To stem these embarrassing moments, we have become quite good at assessing our limits and working within them at as high a level possible. We count and recount the orders, like Santa checking his list...we must be extra sure we have what we need and then try to make a little extra just in case. That method has seemed to work pretty well in recent years, and as long as I remember to put sugar in the pumpkin pie...we are good to go! Once, about 10 years ago, I had the most amazing homer grown pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies...I roasted them to golden perfection, pulled out the slimy seeds and mixed the golden flesh into a rich spicy filling. the pies were truly beautiful and I sent each and every one of them off with pride. The friday after, I went to work still basking in the glow of a job well done when a man walks in with a bakery box and all but throws it at me across the counter. "This is the worst pie I have ever ruined our holiday dinner!" All the blood drained from my face as I'm certain he got the response he was looking for. My head was swimming, what could have gone wrong? I gave him a fast refund with a bewildered, but sincere apology and turned my attention to the pie...the minute it hit my tongue I knew what I had done. In my excitement over the great pumpkin I completely forgot the sugar! It wasn't horrible, like he was spicy and custardy but definitely not sweet. I immediately ran down the list of who had bought those pies and contacted each one apologizing and arranging refunds...I swallowed a huge portion of my pride that day, it took quite a while to digest! Now, I've learned my lesson and I take a little taste of every single thing I make. I think that makes me a better cook, or at least a more consistent one.
 Which is very important when your job is spreading joy. 

Have a wonderful Holiday!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holiday Cookies 2011 and the answer to the question: "Mommy, where do cookies come from?"

After such a traumatic fall we are all ready to focus on something a little more fun and with the winter holiday season upon us, cookie making is just the ticket. It's hard to be sad looking at the smiles of the little kids that come through the shop, pressing their face to the glass display case with all the beautiful cookies lined up.
Most of us have, tucked into that warm cozy place in our minds, a happy memory attached to holiday cookies, whether it's standing on a chair, curling our tongue around the spines of the beater from the mixer as our grandmother bakes them or we are leaving the cookies and milk out for Santa. Cookies gives us that immediate sweet satisfaction while connecting us to a time, a place, an emotion. Little do we realize when we are gathered together making cookies to share for the holidays that we are expanding on a tradition that is more than 600 years old. Cookies themselves have been around as long as people have manipulated their food. Beginning, no doubt, as a type of cracker pressed together, made to travel. And travel they did, on through time, eventually sweetened and refined with more advanced milling technology which produced finer flours and sugars.
The earliest decorated holiday cookie can be traced back to the 1400's. The swiss made 'springerle' was a dry buttery dough that was pressed into molds or rolled with intricately carved rolling pins to produce beautifully detailed imprints on the cookies. These fancy treats moved quickly into the heart of European holiday celebrations, in Latvia in the year 1510 the 1st Christmas tree was believed to have been decorated with cookies. Because cookies traveled so well, they became quite well traveled, stacked in tins, wrapped in brown paper boxes clutched under arms or tucked into baskets, a perfect gift of food from one home to another. Through these edible gifts, they shared a bit of their lives. There were cookies in the duffels of those first immigrants coming across the sea to settle the wild new world. Their recipes for those cookies scribbled into tattered journals or burned on their brains.

gingerbread man!
Holiday cookies hit the shores of north america in the 1600, thanks to the Dutch who called their little treats 'koekje'...which was morphed into 'cookie' by the relatively new americans. And while that innocent little cookie may look like a simple sweet confection, it's production over the years has been fraught with politics and controversy.
On through the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, baking as a profession was very strictly regulated through official guilds. As with any trade, it took long hard years working through the ranks of apprentice, journeyman and master baker, each level documented and recorded by the bakers guild. What they were allowed to make and the supplies they were allotted were also tightly controlled. With the finest ingredients saved for royalty and the rich.  Many bakers fled to the new world to escape those rigid laws, bringing with them their rich holiday baking traditions. Still they were hemmed in by available ingredients and had to adapt their formulas to work in the 'new world'.
Another big influence on the American cookie scene came about when importing laws changed in the 1800's, along with more efficient shipping routes this led to a flooding of the US market of, among other things, cookie cutters. German made metal cutters with their fancy designs suddenly transformed the American tradition of holiday cookie making to what has become a national obsession.

green tea shortbread dipped in white chocolate
 And obsessed we are! Well, here at the bakery anyway. We clear the top rack of the big display case and line up trays and trays of delicious colorful cookies. 

It is a bit overwhelming, both for the purchaser ("Oh I just can't decide! Maybe I should get another pound.") and the producer ("what do you mean we need more coconut macaroons...I just made those yesterday!"), but overall it is a frenzy we are all embracing. The promise of delight that each of these sweet treats provides brightens even the dreariest day. And here there is something for everyone...soft and elegant chocolate-almond kisses, refined lavender or green tea shortbread and, yes coconut macaroons for those with a serious sweet tooth.
Look for some of our favorite holiday cookie recipes over on the recipe blog
If you need even more cookie inspiration, my friend Emilia over at wrote a great post where she shares some family memories and a couple of special cookie recipes.

the most popular of all: coconut macaroons!
Want to buy some of our cookies? Come on down to the bakery (...sorry, no mail orders)
Cookies are $10 a pound and our selection includes about 20 different kinds. The official list is over at  Call (907)235-2280 to order ahead

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A time to be thankful for time....

Abbey and Ryan look so happy in this photo.
RIP Ryan, we wish we had gotten to meet you!
I was 12 on November 10th 1975 when the Edmond Fitzgerald sank in the frigid waters of Lake Superior. When the song came out the following year I became obsessed with the wreck. Living in Michigan and making regular trips 'up north' gave it all such an element of tragic excitement. These were the waters that took those men and standing on the shore as the waves crashed on the rocks, you felt the power and the smallness of yourself all at the same time. Driving by the mariners church in Detroit where they rang the bell 29 times for each of the men on the ship, I remember welling up with tears at the thought of their loved ones listening to those bells. Now that I am grown up, living in a place that rivals the fierce majesty of that great lake and being married to a fisherman who has had to be out in stormy weather, let's just say I don't talk about shipwrecks very much anymore. When the November wind blows, we hunker down. Light the fire a little earlier in the big oven and thank our lucky stars to be working in such a warm cozy place and hope against hope that our friends and loved ones out on the water stay safe.
Dancing around the edges of loss makes you hyper aware of how fragile our time here can be. We go through the days conjuring joy, but always aware that the next tragedy is just around the corner. Such a moment occurred two weeks ago when our dear baker Abbey received the news her little brother was killed suddenly. Rachael and Jill immediately ran to her side, and everyone pitched in to cover shifts making us glad for the tight knit nature of our crew. We put out a jar for donations to help ease her travel. It was full when we poured the crumpled bills and hastily written notes from friends into her pockets and then Jill put her ever so carefully on the plane to her family in New Mexico. They will have a long road of recovery in the days ahead and we wish them all the love in the world to help get through it. As all those who have suffered loss in such a tragic way know, time is the only salve for such deep, deep sorrow. All the while we struggle to find words to sooth, to somehow make it right again. As it would happen, my friend Tom Bodett performed in Burlington, Vermont recently and his excellent personal story sheds a little light on our struggles with family, loss and what it's like to die. (Listen to it here click on the download is the featured on The Moth.)

So we go into this holiday season with wounded hearts but grateful for the tasks at hand to keep us busy. The one constant in our lives is there is always bread to knead, people to feed, and today especially, pies to bake.  To our friends and family near and far we encourage you all to celebrate the one thing we should all be thankful for...time.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Scary Treats and good eats!

Things got a little spooky around here this past week. You could find yourself dipping a severed finger into your tea or sucking on an eyeball along with that chocolate mousse. 
Things have settled down a bit and we are getting some spots of sun in along with all the snow that came our way on Halloween. Even a tray of mushrooms is elevated to high art in this light. 

Once they are chopped up they are transformed into another work of art. 

Rockfish Pasta with roasted mushrooms and kale with capers in a mustard cream sauce tossed with housemade pasta. Now THAT'S what's for dinner.
(Dinners run Wednesday thru Saturday 6-9 pm)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lucky Peach

I love it when something comes along that is such a breath of fresh air it completely re-energizes you. I heard about David Chang's magazine Lucky Peach when it first came out earlier this year, but for some reason I resisted. All I can think of is I was wicked busy, or high on crack...because this is best thing I've seen in a long time....Chocked full of your favorite swear words, rich with the voice of Chang along with a smattering of Bourdain and a thoughtful explanation on noodles by Harold McGee, it even has recipes. I must warn you, though...the alkaline noodle formula has a fatal be sure to go online and get the correction before trying them for the first time. And certainly don't try to make them the first time right before service...I was less than happy with mr chang when my first attempt came out like a risen pile of mini funnel cakes before they are fried. Good times! If only I hadn't already put them on the menu...(yeah I'm smart like that) A quick internet search found the correction posted by McSweeny's on their website and the second batch came out perfect, just in the nick of time. This is a magazine for people 'in the biz' if the civilians want to play along, that's fine, but be's not for the faint at heart.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

A whale of a Fish Sauce Story...

Every once in a while, you enter a vortex. A place where things seem to hover together in ways seemingly random, yet oddly contrived. There is this force in your life that will not go away, refuses to say the long goodbye. It can be a thing, a person...sometimes even a radio station. In one of our prep cook's case this past winter, it was fish sauce. Shay had been working for us since the spring before, we watched as he and his love got married (she worked at the bakery as well, so as you can imagine we were all quite involved) and tried to teach him what we could about cooking and life. Alas, part of that education was dished out by practical joker chef Ryan, who one day watched while Shay caught a whiff of fish sauce and wrinkled his nose in disgust. Seeing the chink in his armor, Ryan went in for the kill. When Shay got to work every day, Ryan would take a little fish sauce onto his fingers and pat Shay on the shoulder, "Hey, How you doin' man? Having a good day?" rubbing the sauce into his shirt. He would smell that smell all day and wonder where the hell it came from. We all got a good laugh and eventually Shay figured it out. Could it be why he took his girl and moved away? We'll never know for certain, but I couldn't help being reminded of that joke when fish sauce reentered my world recently in just about the oddest way possible. Nothing at all to do with asian cooking sadly, because it truly is one great condiment. No this time it was as the punch line to a joke played on me. My old friend Tom Bodett and his lively, lovely family came up to Homer for a visit this summer. The radio show Tom is involved in, Wait, Wait, Don't tell me, was in Alaska to record a show in Fairbanks, so they came down here to say hey to their Homer homies and romp around on the beach for a few days. We got a bunch of Tom's old gang together,  had a party and just generally yucked it up. It was a short couple of days, barely enough time to catch up. Lucky for us, it turns out my daughter is going to a little college very close to where the Bodett's live, giving us even more of a reason to keep in touch. In that light, it wasn't unusual to see an email from Tom in my inbox when I got home from work a few weeks back. What was a surprise was the subject line which read: "I hope your not mad!"
Then Tom goes on to say;
"I had an opportunity to use you and John in my bluff for this week's show. I needed someone I knew were good sports, and that would be you. Of course now 4 million people will they know something about your love life.  Sorry about that part!"

 Intrigued, I read the bluff:

When Carri Thurman first met her husband of 20 years, commercial fisherman John Rohr, it was love at first smell.  "he'd just returned from a 10 day cod trip.  His fingernails were jammed with bait fish, his hair was crusted in slime and, I don't know, it made me so hot.  I grew up in an observant, almost orthodox, Norwegian family where there was a lot of love and a LOT of fish - lutefisk, pickled herring, smoked cod.  Seriously, the phrase "something smells fishy around here" is a Scandanavian pick-up line".  Carrie and John's happy long marriage was rekindled every time John returned from another fishing trip.  So it"s no surprise that John's recent retirement from fishing took some of the bloom off that old marital rose.   "we were starting to wonder what to do about it when we stumbled on the answer at a Thai Restaurant in Anchorage -- fish sauce.   I swear, John dipped his spring roll and I almost took him down right there at the table".   It turns out that Thai Fish Sauce has exactly the right pheromonal chemistry to simulate a mixture of cod slime, bait herring and bilge water.  "It's like catnip for a Norwegian or a Swede" says a beaming John who's Internet sales of fish sauce repackaged as Return to Port, Cologne for Men have topped ten thousand units.

Suffice it to say, I haven't laughed that hard in a long time, but what didn't really hit me until later was that, as Tom said, a million other people were going to hear this! Little did I know the vortex I was entering. Unknown to Tom, my NPR momentum had begun weeks before when the news picked up on a local story about the Homer Chamber of Commerce giving up their affiliation with the national organization due, in part to a conversation I had with the new director of the chamber. We had stopped being members a few years back because Sharon and I felt that the national chamber had gone too far with it's lobbying for big business and Homer's association with them made us uncomfortable. I had the opportunity to share my thoughts at an informal meeting with incoming director Monte Davis, having no idea they would have any effect at all, let alone the desired result. Well, the story was picked up by the Associated Press, they came and took my picture and interviewed me and the article ran in papers across the country...I was amazed at the interest...a lengthy exchange in the comments section of the Anchorage Daily News had me wondering if this was all such a good idea. A week went by in relative quiet and then just about the time I thought the whole silly thing had gone away, I received a call from NPR. Actually, the call came from our local KBBI news guy saying he'd been asked by NPR to do an interview for a news story to air on their program Morning Edition. He came down and talked to me, recording busy bakery sounds along the way. We were still kind of busy, so I put the interview in the back of my mind and when it didn't air that week, I assumed it had really truly died for good. I couldn't have been more wrong. The morning after getting the email from Tom, I awoke to texts and emails from friends and family on the east coast who had heard the NPR story. I quickly cued it up on the their website and sure enough, there we were, the bakery and I on national radio. I got to work just after it hit the air here and we all laughed at what a crazy small world it is. Then I shared the news of the Wait, Wait 'appearance'. The world just got even smaller! That show aired two days later and I can't help but wonder if that contestant they were trying to bluff hadn't been wondering in the back of his mind; "Now wait, wait... Carri Thurman, where have I heard that name before?"

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

1st Pint!!!

Finally, the keg cooler is in! Poor little appliance had to spend the summer in storage on the porch and then when we finally got it in place, the sucker didn't want to work. Snap. A call to our refer man (go Andy) and a leak discovered and repaired...we are finally in business!  Our local Homer Brewing Company already sells all the beer they can make (boy do we understand how that feels...we've turned down more wholesale accounts than you could shake a rolling pin at).  So we decided to get the next best thing. Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, besides being one of my personal favorite dining places in town, also has one of the best IPAs in the state. That, along with their Blonde Ale (pictured above) make up our humble, yet pretty darn fabulous tap beer selection (that we have tap beer at all is pretty fabulous...don't you think?) A big thanks to Darren and The Odom Corp for giving us the cooler to use and setting us up so nicely...they ROCK.

A little reminder, we are closed for dinners this week as the chef has run off for a quick vacation. 
(those chefs can be soo demanding... Oh wait, that's me!)
We'll be back next week with our fall menu in full swing and some awesome specials inspired by my travels. Expect something a little tropical...mmm.

And on another, completely unrelated note:
Some people put pictures of their kids or inspiring quotes up at their work station.
Me, I like to gaze up at vegetables that look human.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cooking with fire

steamer clams open in 7 minutes at 700 degrees!
 The oven's day begins when the morning bakers take off the door at 3 am. Smoldering coals spark to life any remnants of wood left from the night before. If the temp reads too cool, it is necessary throw on a couple of logs...looking to top out at about 650 degrees. As the fire dies down, the bakers are mixing their bread doughs and prepping pastries to proof and bake for the morning rush. As soon as the coals are spent, they will clean the oven with the long stick that has a wire brush attached to one end. They pull the debris forward and it falls into the ash drop at the front of the oven. The brick is swabbed with a wet cloth and is ready for baking. The temp is 500 degrees or so when the first breads go in and as it cools, we can roast veggies for sandwiches, bake off cookies and even cakes and cupcakes. At about 3 in the afternoon, the oven is re-fired for dinner. We load it with birch and alder and ignite it using up empty flour bags and other paper trash from around the bakery. As it burns, the wood has an almost perfume-like aroma. The kitchen starts to heat up, I open the window and hope for an offshore breeze to cool down my station. In writing the dinner menu I try to make things to utilize the oven as much as possible (you would think that has to include pizza, but there are already two other places to get wood fired pies in our neighborhood, if you can believe that!), though that means that The Fire must be just right. Too hot and every thing burns and too cool, it takes too long and the line bogs down. The perfect temperature is an eyebrow singeing...650-700 degrees. The fire gets pushed 2/3 of the way back and if I've got it right, there is just enough wood to maintain the temp without heating things up too much. It's a fine line to face while the heat sears my face and the sizzle pans occasionally graze my forearms which are now criss-crossed with long thin scars. (who needs tattoos...I'm into branding) The collaboration of Anthony Bourdain and Morcheeba on the song 'Lisa' always makes me feel a little  better about them. It's a small price to pay to do what you love in a place with such amazing abundance.  Burning a quick growing, locally harvested wood in an oven we made ourselves, cooking food grown and gathered here and serving it to the most entertaining and appreciative guests...when people ask me if I enjoy cooking dinners, I think about my kitchen window looking out over the ocean, the salty smell of the sea mingling with the wood smoke and savory smells and tell them I couldn't imagine doing anything else. 

This week we'll be roasting clams and mussels from Prince William Sound, Oysters from Kachemak Bay, Rockfish, Scallops and Salmon from Kodiak...go on over to the menu page for the full rundown. Then call and make your reservations (907-235-2280), 'cause baby...I'm on fire!'

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Photo of the day: June 29, 2011

When I got to work today to cook the new menu
I found a sign of the divine next to my stash in the freezer.
I knew right then, it was going to be a good day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sweet Summer!

It's a sunny summer morning as I park my car and make my way up the driveway. I can hear the waves crashing on the beach, a leftover from the winds that blew the day before. The air smells like the sea and I breathe deep as I slip in the back door. I'm overtaken by warmth tinged with the scent of fresh bread and roasting garlic. It must be Thursday, garlic ciabatta day.

Soon people will be coming around to the oven side, peering over the wall that separates us and them. "Is the bread out, yet?" Sharon turns from the brick oven and gives them a satisfied smile, her apron, smudged with a mix of flour and soot, shows the signs of her busy morning. "It's just coming out of the oven." and she turns, wraps a loaf in paper and hands it over. "Be careful it's wicked, you can pay the gal at the register, Thanks, have a great day." She turns to greet me as I wash my hands and put on my apron. "Red had to go shopping three times yesterday and we are already out of everything!" Time to get rolling, turn Natalia on to the shopping list, write up the Country Foods order and get cracking on magically producing some soup from our limited pantry. Sharon has gone from bread to cakes while Ben whips out the sandwiches...3 dozen turkey focaccia, 2 dozen veg. and as many BLT's as he can make. I'll follow up with cupcakes and more goodies for the case and he'll move onto cookies after that. The baristas dance around us passing out sticky buns and basically putting a bright spin on everything they serve. The prep bakers, Annie and Sabrina... bless their dough rolling hearts, are the unsung heroes of this operation hand rolling ham danishes by the hundreds. "Another tray of Hammies, please!" Jill yells, and I am startled as I look up from my table to see the lines of customers are winding their way out both doors. Oh, it's summer all right...time to chop a little faster!

Spring and now solstice have come and gone in a whirlwind of new staff, broken equipment, wild retail days and dinners going 4 days a week. As you have guessed, we have barely been able to catch our breath, let alone update our blog. My apologies for the longtime gone...but, hey here we are with a new July menu for you to drool over. Click here to check out the new menu blog, which puts them all up in one place, even allowing for comments. (be nice, people!) I'll be working over the summer to get it linked together from all the sites, so be's gonna be great, you'll see! Speaking of great, our new porch enclosure has given us a whole new lease on life in the dining area. The big beautiful windows and welcoming colors and artwork are a total delight. I get goosebumps when I check on customers sitting out there, basking in the evening sun, enjoying the very best our kitchen has to offer. It is a dream spot and we are all working hard to do it justice. With our expanded hours, we have had to say no a lot, unfortunately. Cooking dinners has cut out my time to work on wedding cakes, so we are no longer offering that service except in a very limited capacity. It was hard choice after 18 years of bride whispering, but I was ready to pass the torch. (good luck, Amy!) So it also goes with offsite catering, a big thanks to Maura's Catering and Vagabond Cafe for picking up our slack.
I suppose that means if you want to enjoy our food, you'll have to come join us here...the porch is waiting for you!
So are the snacks:
Sweet Potato Falafel lettuce wraps are a crunchy addition to the new July menu! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Road Tripping...NYC

I had always heard that spring is one of the best seasons to visit New York City. The flowers are abundant and the tourists not so much. This spring with daughter #1 graduating from high school and looking at colleges on the east coast, the girls and I decided it was time. And we were right on, the flowers were amazing. 

In fact everything we saw was amazing.

even the do not disturb sign from our hotel.
(Speaking of our hotel, their Cafe Gitane completely stole my heart)

We checked out a few places we had only read about in books: 

what a delicious storfront Amy's has!
Took in a concert, Cake, at Terminal 5, then grabbed a cab across town to Momofuku Milk Bar for late night steamed pork buns and birthday cake truffles...(That David Chang totally has it going on) Scored tickets to Robin Williams' play 'Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo' on Broadway and all of us were moved to tears and laughter all at the same time.
We even managed to get side tracked in a bookstore or two...The Strand has had more than one lost literary casualty who never wants to leave, I was certain my girl would not be the first. I purchased a copy of Patti Smith's 'Just Kids' not knowing her last 'regular' job was at the legendary bookstore. Reading it brought NYC alive again on the trip home...

                          But wait,  my personal favorite was Easter Sunday Brunch at Balthazar

Which also happened to be my present. ever.

Thanks to Moni, the most fabulous sister in law in the world for joining us and her daughter Kayte for coming along and keeping things lively...we had so much fun! 
Next Stop: Burlington Vermont and Marlboro College...put your epic boots on!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Dinners Until May!

We are taking a quick break from dinners while Carri goes on vacation with Maya to the East Coast.  We are all living vicariously through her, as her trip will doubtless inspire some great food journeys for us all when she returns.  When we begin dinners again on May 6th, we also hope to have our beer and wine license completed and be ready to serve you!  We will keep you posted.
Thank you, everyone who has already joined us for dinner, and if you haven't yet, we hope to see you here soon!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Drinking at my station: Pernod

Every cook has their consumate culinary experience. The time they can remember not only tasting their food, but absorbing it, being completely raptured in a way that you will never forget that one moment. For me it happened 26 years ago this spring, I came to Homer that year. A wayfaring soul, not sure where I belonged, I had bought a ride up the Alcan with a gold miner heading to his stake north of fairbanks. I was living in Driggs, Idaho at the time, trying to be a ski bum. One of my coworkers heard me lament that I had no direction to head the following summer. He looked at me and said; "You should go to Homer, Alaska...You can camp on the spit, get a job at Land's End. It's perfect for you, you will love it!" I secured my passage and off I went. We ended up caravanning with a group of climber friends headed to summit Mt. Lucania in the Kluane Range of the Canadian Rockies. We celebrated my 22nd birthday with marguaritas at a mexican restaurant in Banf, Alberta, where the mountains soar to the sky right from the roadside. Completely enraptured by the changing scenery, I slept outside as often as I could, only jumping in the back of the truck under cover when the weather turned cold as we approached Whitehorse, Canada. There we left our climbers, my ride got me to Fairbanks and I caught a flight south. I landed at Homer's tiny airport and found a cab to take me to the spit. On the way out I asked the driver where to camp and he dropped me off right across the road from the Salty Dawg Saloon, pointed out the newly built public bathrooms and wished me luck. I'm quite sure he took one look at my gear and thought, oh yeah, she'll last a week. It was early May in Homer and for those who know, it's a little early to be camping on the beach in Alaska. My first morning I awoke to fresh snow on the rocks surrounding my tent and thinking to myself, what the hell have I done? I had $50 to my name and here I was, in the middle of the ocean... Literally speaking, as the spit is a 5 mile long stretch of land, just wide enough for a road in most places, that jets out from the town of Homer. My tent was parked almost at the end. One thing arriving so early afforded me was street cred amongst my fellow spit-rats (as we were so affectionately called). Many of them returned from previous seasons, but none as early as me. They were mostly cannery workers or charter boat deckhands. I was still trying to get that job at Land's End, but being here so early, they didn't need me (yet) I scavenged work as I could, cocktailing at the Dawg and where ever else I could get in. The evenings were spent around the campfire, sharing whatever we each had scavenged for food along the way that day. One night, one of the charter deckhands showed up with fresh oysters along with his nightly haul of halibut cheeks. I was a little reluctant at first, but being so eager to show these people that I belonged made me slurp that first one down. I don't know if I was just super hungry, or if it was the fact that I was on this amazing beach with the waves curling around my toes and snow capped mountains glowing in the evening sunset, but that was the best thing I had ever eaten up to that moment in my life. It was as though the waves at my feet were crashing in my mouth. I knew right then it was going to be very hard to leave this place. Thankfully, the job I was hoping for finally came through, and it was there I was introduced to the dish that would forever change how I looked at restaurant food. Oysters Rockefeller was one of the most popular appetizers we served in those days, and the kitchen under the hardworking and talented Sean Maryott turned out a very upscale version, topped off with a real hollandaise that just made the whole dish sing. I ate a lot of Rockies that summer. Eventually I learned to 'rock' them out myself as a prep cook in Sean's kitchen. In my mind they have become that dish that represents all that I love about good food. Quality ingredients, deceptively simple preparation and luxurious results. An important thing I figured out was when you don't have a lot of ingredients in a dish, those you do have need to be the best they can be. One of the keys to authentic oysters rockefeller is the addition of Pernod. This anise based liquor has been around since the days they outlawed absynthe, which is about the time this dish was created in New Orleans by the chef at Antoine's. Apparently even the random Homerite knows that. When I was in line at my favorite local liquor store, the guy behind me looked at my bottle and said, "Hey, making Rockies?" I proudly answered... Why yes, Sir, yes I am!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lavender Cured Pancetta

I was inspired to begin making my own bacon a couple of summers ago. Since then I have cured at least a dozen pork bellies, handing out little slabs of cured goodness to anyone who seemed even remotely interested, all the while extolling the virtues of preserving your own meat. (One of my friends recently told me I was her go to 'meat girl'...I blushed with pride and handed her a little slab of delicious) As a little girl, my family would buy an entire cow or pig and split it amongst everyone. We'd spend a weekend with uncles, aunts and cousins at the grandparents farm processing the meat into a variety of sausages and packaging special cuts. I learned to not look into large pots on the stove during this time if I wanted to avoid the horror of a pig face staring up at me as it was rendered down for head cheese. (seriously? head cheese?) A full larder, I knew even then, was a very, very good thing. (can you guess I was a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan?) 

The family that makes sausage together...well, you know the rest. 

When I left home I toyed for a while with vegetarianism, but my heart wasn't truly in it. I think now that I was rejecting the mass production of it all, no longer did I know where my meat was coming from. Plus buying it in the grocery store is expensive. I longed for those familiar packages wrapped in white butcher paper with the contents scrawled in black magic marker. (I never did open that one that said head cheese) Once I moved to Alaska, being a vegetarian was no longer an option for me. There was too much fresh fish and excellent wild game available to not embrace my new home, culinarily speaking. I love the hunter-gatherer culture that exists here. Way before it was fashionable to eat locally these people have done so because they have to. Getting goods from 'outside', while easier now, is still costly and problematic and all for an inferior product. You can definitely tell how many miles that grocery store tomato has traveled. This especially applies to meats and specifically cured meats. There is a strong culture of drying and storing proteins for long term. This area is still host to many native communities and their traditions of putting food by have seeped into the transplanted local population, helping us make the most of this life in the north. Smoked salmon is a mainstay at any party and everyone has their special version or technique. I have so many friends that smoke fish that I don't. Smoking has always freaked me out a little. However, I do love my bacon. (in my period impersonating a vegetarian, if I cheated it was with bacon) So that summer when I read this post about curing bacon at home, that you could make pancetta and not have to smoke it at all, as you can guess I was completely enamored. And as I said earlier, I have been making it for my family and friends ever since. This year I also had a big lavender plant that thrived on my porch all summer and brought into my kitchen to winter over, is still sending out little shoots. When it came time to cure my next round of belly I was out of thyme, literally. No fresh to be had in town, either. (Ah, grocery stores in winter in alaska...) I looked over and saw that lavender plant and genius struck like a bald eagle on a chihuahua. I clipped a big handful of lavender and tucked it into the bag with the cure. I did add a little more sugar as well, but that was it. When I opened the bags after a week, the smell of lavender was still very strong. I rinsed the meat and dried it as usual. John and I could hardly wait to cook it up. We both wondered if the lavender, which tastes like it smells, would transfer to the flesh. As we fried those first pieces, the room filled with the familiar flowery scent, only baconized. Then we tasted it and while not full frontal in lavender flavor itself, the essence of it was present in every crisp, sweet and juicy bite.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

What the Pho?

I hate people with tans. It's not a malicious hate, more of an envious one. I know, I know...who can blame them, these people escaping the cold and dark. I forgive them, they do it because THEY CAN. I've been one of those people. My first 5 years of calling Homer 'home' I worked at a local resort hotel that closed in the winter. It was a natural thing to go to the warmth of Hawaii and work the high season there, get some sun and return to town when things started to get fired up again. The first time I came back, all tan and fit and enthusiastic, I was met with a little animosity, even hostility, from some of the longtime locals. (Oh, is it that time of year already?, the snowbirds are returning, they'd say with a wry smile) The next time I learned to hang back a little, let the tan fade before rubbing it in these poor people's faces. The cold and the dark are great and all, but everyone of us wishes we could get on a plane and go collect our fair share of vitamin D in a sunny place closer to the equator than here. Those times when the stars don't align in our favor to go south, (read: Alaska Airlines permanent fund deals did not include Hawaii or Mexico) we'll do almost anything to make the best of it. I remember one winter when my kids were quite small and we weren't going anywhere, there was a tropical themed fundraiser in town. The decorations, made by local artists, included a palm tree made out of paper mache and crepe paper. We put that tree in the corner of our tiny bakery and it lifted our spirits all winter long. Other years we travel through food. This winter I became obsessed with Pho (fuh). A vietnamese broth and noodle dish that is traditionally made with beef (pho bo). Having the need to make one that could serve both meat eaters and veggie heads alike drove me to create this mushroom version (pho chay) that can be poured over beef or mushrooms. The spicy ginger infused broth with the crunchy fresh condiments make you feel like you've just taken a quick trip somewhere exotic, and I don't mean visiting your grandma in Kansas.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yes, Aunt Sherry, I corned my own beef.

When I was a kid, our family regularly went to visit my aunt Sherry and I remember her often making corned beef and cabbage. Luckily, she threw some potatoes in there, or I would've starved. It was not my favorite dish. Even as a grown up, it's not put high on the list of foods I like to eat. However, I love a challenge. Who else opens a bakery one month before she gives birth, because she thought it could be a good learning experience? Crazy to think that that happened almost 18 years ago. While it continues to challenge me in ways that always suprise, it has also made me a little addicted to trying new things. You know, stretching my boundaries to the point of 'what the heck was I thinking?'. Now that my kids and the bakery are both bigger and seem to need me less and less, I have enjoyed exploring different culinary challenges whenever they come my way. Many of those I have fallen into online.
The world of food has exploded on the internet in the last 5 years since I first logged on. I am continually amazed by the wealth of information and great people sharing it right there on the computer screen in front of me.  Living as we do in a remote corner of the northern hemisphere, sometimes, it is as though we aren't a part of american culture. Alaska is often not included on maps of the US on television and in books. If it is, it's small and in a box on the side, floating...attached to nothing. But we are here and, yes, thanks to the internet, we are becoming more and more connected to what we like to refer to as the 'Outside'. I happened upon the Charcutepalooza challenge through my friend Michael Ruhlman's blog. He is the one who inspired me to cure my own bacon (I have now cured at least a half dozen whole pork bellies, we never buy bacon at my house anymore) and has overall gotten me to stretch my boundaries, both in cooking and writing. And while it sounded fun, I hesitated because thought it would just be more than I could do, with the summer coming on, I'm sure to fall apart. But then all of a sudden, I figured, why not at least try. (Aunt Sherry would like that.) I realize I'm a little late to the game, but I'll do my best to catch up.
So what does all this have to do with corned beef? It's the march challenge for Charcutepalooza (i love/hate typing that word) that's why! Well, brining meat is and I am very grateful to both Mrs. Wheelbarrow and Yummy Mummy for putting this on, and to Punk Domestics for providing a place to share our posts. Not much of a chance for me to attend any of the events (unless there are any other alaskans out there who want to join me in one here!) but I can share my experience and see how everyone else did too.

I decided to go to my butcher to see what he had before I choose what cut to brine. I found a couple of nice pieces of Angus beef brisket raised a ways up north of here in the town of Delta.  The spices for the pickling liquid were a little more of a challenge with my somewhat limited local resources. Since this was an impulse move, there was no time to order from my peeps at The Spice House. The pickling spice available had no weird ingredients and contained everything I was looking for. I bumped it up by adding some of my own brown mustard seed and more black peppercorns.

Stirred and cooked together, the brine is set outside to chill...the cold, snowy weather making it a quick process. I then put the brine into into a plastic container and submerged the brisket, weighing it down with a small plate. 
it looks like a beautiful abstract painting 
I covered the container loosely and put in the back of the fridge.
For 5 days...ok maybe it was 6, but I got busy.
On my next day off I finally pulled it from the brine and rinsed of the beef. I put it into a pot, covered it with water, added a handful of my enhanced pickling spice and cooked on medium low heat for bout 2 hours, until it was fork tender, but not falling apart. I wanted to be able to chill and slice it for sandwiches. I had guests for dinner that night, so the brisket had to head right outside to cool and get out of the way. I wasn't until two days later that I came back to it, pulled it out of the cooking liquid and wrapped it up, tucking it into my bag as I ran off to work, hoping there would be some good light for photographing my little slabs of corned goodness.

 Lucky for me, it was a friday and Sharon had some of her fantastic rye loaves in the case and Ryan's chipotle slaw was already made to go with the pulled pork sandwich special of the day. Even luckier still, part way through the afternoon, the bakery quieted down and the sun came out, so I set up shop to make and photograph my very first, from scratch, corned beef sandwich. 

this definitely ain't my aunts corned beef and cabbage!
The big flavor of the dark rye bread and the spicy sweet of the slaw were perfect with the beef. I just added a little dijon mustard for moisture and a little extra bite. In the middle of a busy bakery day, it was a perfect lunch, though most of my break was spent taking photos, I actually ate it slowly, snatching bites between cake baking and all the other things that filled up my work day. The process of making the beef was so easy, I started to fantasize about brining our own at the bakery...and then I looked into our already packed refrigerators. Reality sucks sometimes...maybe someday we'll get a walk-in.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nothing says love like Angel Brownies

Valentines Day is coming but you don't have to wait to give that special someone a gift that will tell them exactly how you feel. Such as how much you like their pants! 
Angel Brownies available now and through Feb 14th. a deal at $2.50 each. 
(not exactly free speech, but very tasty)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let the wild rumpus begin!

We quietly opened for real last night to a few reservations on the books and my kids as the first table. It was a poignant scene for me as I had left the restaurant world and began the bakery when I started having kids. Now that they are so big, I get to revisit that dream. With such a talented and fun staff to help me and an amazing place like this to work in, it is all I could have ever asked for!
Last friday we had a practice night where we invited friends and a few loyal customers to help us 'play restaurant'. It allowed us to try out the menu and figure out how to transform the bakery into a bistro for the evenings. Sharon brought her family in and Irene's came, too. Even my husband John joined friends for a lovely evening of amazing food and dreams come true. It was such a huge success we decided to open in earnest this weekend. To keep it from getting too crazy, we let it go 'round by word of mouth for this week, so as to not be overwhelmed. It was a perfect mix of walk-ins and reservations giving everyone a little practice with time to breathe in between. We'll do it again tonight and, with luck, be ready when the ads hit the papers and the radio this week...let the wild rumpus begin!
I'll post a pic of the menu when I get to work today. This week it's beef shanks and fresh cod. Next week cuban style ribs that'll spice up your February!
Hours are Friday and Saturday 6 - 9 pm. Reservations encouraged. phone (907)235-2280.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You can't have a light without a dark to stick it in...

This quote by Arlo Guthrie always inspires me (I got to make Mr. Guthrie a latte and watch him enjoy it in the bakery yard a few years back, truly a highlight of bakery life!),  especially now as the light is slowly returning to our cosmic hamlet by the sea but the grip of winter is still firm. Which can mean anything, really. We have had snow and rain, cold temps and warm ones, high winds and icy roads. Baker Abbey had to take a cab to work in the wee morning hours yesterday and even with their four wheel drive and studded tires ended up in the ditch in front of the bakery. She went on with her morning to make these amazing jalapeno cheddar buns, though....Go Abbey!
one of these will spice up your day!

This is the time of year that tests the hardiest of souls. The dark is waning, but it is still pretty dark. Winter will not be gone for 4 more months... there is no fresh produce at the grocery store and people walk around with pale faces and blank stares. (though a new tanning salon just opened up in town, woo-hoo!) When there's no snow, you have to work pretty hard at staying entertained, especially difficult to do without stretching your vices, or pocketbook to the limit. When we opened the bakery 18 years ago, it was in response to the need that Homer had, or so I thought, for a little bright spot that was open during those dark times, not just for the summer when things are bright and bustling. Turns out I was right and we have carved out a merry and loyal following who keep us opening the doors every day no matter what the weather. If we do close it's because we are concerned for our employees safety in getting home, or to take a few days  to scrub the walls and slap on a fresh coat of paint. I'l admit, last winter we actually closed on sundays for a while to give our staff (and me!) a little breather. Not this year, though, instead of cutting back, we are adding more ways than one! The new enclosed porch is done and to celebrate all this new space we are opening for dinners starting in February. It will just be friday and saturday nights for now as we collect signatures (only 600 more to go!) for a beer and wine license and get this whole dinner thing figured out. By spring we hope to be open 5 nights a week and to be able to serve you a refreshing locally brewed beverage with that.  It will be a bright and busy couple of months for us, so if things start looking a little too dark in your neck of the woods, come by and see what's up, or, as my friend Tom Bodett likes to say: "We'll leave the light on for ya..."

Thursday, January 20, 2011


We've received many favorable comments as well as questions about our new cups featuring our logo. Homer coffee connoisseurs have probably seen custom logo cups all over town and the peninsula as they flit from watering hole to watering hole. We have the inside story about these cups and thought it would be appropriate to write about it here.
About 12 years ago, we first inquired about what it would take to get our logo on our paper cups from our new paper products distributor (and future husband to Sharon) Dale Banks, with Loopy Lupine Recycled Products. At the time, two really large corporations controlled most of the production of coffee cups, and we would have had to buy about 100,000 cups at a time in order to get our name in lights, like the big coffee shops. Our tiny supply closet barely held any backstock, requiring us to constantly call Dale to heroically rescue us from our suddenly running out of cups in the middle of a lunch rush ("oh, Da-ale!!"); actually buying a gazillion cups in advance AND finding a place to store them was obviously out of the question (and may have proven detrimental to a budding romance...).
Fast forward 12 years and a lot of research: Loopy Lupine Distribution is all about the LOOPYCUP! Available in 12, 16 and 20 oz., Dale prints and forms thousand of cups for local coffee shops. The paper is sourced from Forest Stewardship Council certified paper stock, which is coated in a biodegradable plant-based plastic. The printing utilizes water-based inks, and the waste is recycled after being played in by our children.
In case you think this is just child's play, we should mention that the production space is solar heated, and is a straw bale design utilizing local wood and recycled materials.
We are sorry that not everyone has time to sit in our shop and drink coffee out of a nice mug. But if ever you forget your travel cup and you still want to make a better environmental choice while drinking coffee or soup on the go, have no fear - LoopyCups are here!

Baker boys rolling in the sunshine!

This time of year, the sun shines in low below the roof, giving us amazing light to work by...

Ben Gerhards rolls the pastry dough.

and Shea Babich is all up in the ham danishes...(or ham jobs as we like to call them)

Oh, Yeah...the new enclosed porch opened for seating this week...look for dinners on the weekend by the beginning of February! (and better pics as soon as the sun comes out again)