Thursday, June 18, 2015

Whiskey Wednesday

Suite 100, in South Anchorage, is the place to be on a Wednesday afternoon. Starting at 5:00 and running through to 7:00 each week they have what is called Whiskey Wednesday.

How cool is that? I get to sit and read my book while enjoying a bowl of seafood chowder and tasting some excellent whiskey each week.

This week’s featured whiskey was a Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10-year Bourbon. According to the handout the sales rep gave me “Only a handful of barrels are selected in small batches from the middle section or “center cut” of the rickhouse by Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell and his son, Associate Master Distiller, Eddie Russell. The whiskey ages for a minimum of 10 years in the deepest no.4 char, or alligator charred, barrels for a richer color and deeper flavor.”

The whiskey was okay. Bourbon is not my favorite, exactly, so I don’t think I’ll run out and buy a case of it or anything; but it sure did taste good in the drink they created just for the occasion - a Bourbon Lemon Drop. I’m not sure why they called it a Lemon Drop since it tasted like orange, and even had some Cointreau in it with a slice of orange as a garnish. But – it was in the Lemon Drop glass, and it did have a rim of sugar around it. Regardless, it was good.

The sales lady was nice, and talked to me for a bit about the whiskey. She said she plans to do the Whiskey Wednesday each week all summer long.


Monday, June 15, 2015

You Just Have To Be Flexible

I had such plans for the weekend’s hike – but you have to roll with the flow, as they say.

Bryan was to have met me at my house at 7:15 but he forgot to set his alarm clock (I did not know that until later that evening) so I went on to the trail head by myself since I was supposed to meet somebody else there at 8:00 and didn’t want to be late. However, when I pulled in to the parking lot there was nobody there. It looked like I was on my own for the hike.

That’s when I noticed the pile of bear scat in the middle of the parking lot. I went over to inspect it and saw that it was a few hours old. “It’s probably safe enough; that bear is long gone by now.” I said to myself. 

Then I went over to the trail head to read the notices posted there – and found another pile of bear scat. When I inspected this one, I found that it was much fresher. Like, only maybe half an hour old. This one had me a little bit concerned (a lot) but I really wanted to go hiking… so I made myself a compromise: if I see one more pile of scat, I’ll turn around.

Sure enough, not 20 feet in was another pile.

That’s when I decided that maybe I didn’t really want to hike this trail after all, and maybe a drive down the coast was a better idea.

And what a pretty day it was! I pulled over at several scenic overlooks, walked along a few trails by the ocean, and just generally had a nice day out.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Okay, For Real This Time

What I did on my summer vacation!

My flights for this expedition took me from Anchorage to Seattle for a small layover and then on to London for a longer layover where I got to meet up with my friends Jan and Crispin. I had not seen either of them since I was in Africa back in 2009 so I was very happy they were each able to meet me for dinner that night.

The next day I headed on over to Frankfurt where I got to meet up with a long-lost cousin of mine whom I had never met before. We had a wonderful afternoon walking around the old part of town and enjoying a scrumptious late lunch. Both Lis and her partner Bruno were very nice: I’m so happy I got to meet them both.

Finally the next day I made my way to Lanzarote, with a brief layover in Madrid, where I met up with 3 of my fellow Earthwatch volunteers on the same flight I was on. We ended up sharing a taxi to the hotel since we were all going to the same place. Which reminds me: I think I still owe somebody for my share of that cost!

Our official rendezvous was in the Hotel lobby that next morning and that’s where I met the other 3 Earthwatch volunteers. We all gathered together with our gear and waited until Dr. Chris Stevenson and his assistant Ivana Adzic showed up. We had so much gear, however, that they had to make two trips to get us all to the site where we would stay for the next two weeks.

Our home away from home was La Casa de la Caldera, a 250 year old beautifully restored building that combined traditional Canarian architecture with modern facilities. We roomed together two to a suite, each suite having two bedrooms and a kitchen/dining area. There was a courtyard in the center where we gathered for our meals, and a pool out in the back to cool off after a hard day’s work. Our meals were provided for us by a real-live French Gourmet Chef and were quite scrumptious.

The work consisted mainly of mapping out the valley where Chris proposed to base his work. This meant measuring all the “features” we could find: length, width, height, rock content, and GPS location. Ivana and Chris would then enter all that date onto an aerial view of the valley once we got back to the casa each night.

Since we were the first team to work on this project, we encountered a fair amount of obstacles along the way. The logistics of getting down into the valley was just one of them: it took several days before the car rental place could find us a vehicle that could handle the goat trail they call a road, which meant we had to hike in and out each time until then. By the time Team 2 showed up, after our Team 1 had gone home, they had all the problems worked out and it was smooth sailing.

The biggest obstacle, however, was the weather. With temps as high as 110 one day (the hottest on record for that area in over 30 years) and very strong gusts of wind the next (Ivana’s sunglasses actually got blown off her face!) we just had no way of knowing how the work would progress on any given day. I’m told that Team 2 did not encounter the heat problems, but did have their fair share of wind.

I got to have a few days to myself after the expedition ended so did a few touristy type things around the island. My journey home took me from Lanzarote to London to Amsterdam to Minneapolis and finally home.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I’m not sure how I’m going to write anything about those 3 weeks I had on vacation last month. How do you verbalize an experience that was indescribable? What words exist that can contain all the emotions felt and lessons learned? I shall have to try, however, as people keep asking “When will you have something up on your blog?” or “How soon will your website be updated so I can see the pictures?”

Thankfully for me – although not so good for anybody else – my website won’t be updated until fall. My brother is my “Computer Geek” and is the one who creates all those fantastic pages for me; but he works all summer long and cannot get to it until construction season comes to an end. This gives me plenty of time to come up with a plan, however: I will have all summer to sift through all 1,480 photos to choose just the right ones and then (somehow) articulate the events corresponding to the pictures. Until then, I get to create both my photo book (to match the photo books I have on all my other Earthwatch Expeditions) as well as a Power-Point Presentation on it.

I haven’t decided if I’ll create my photo book first or my power-point presentation first: either one will help the other, so it doesn’t really matter on that account. I should do the power-point first because I’ll be needing it soon for a presentation that I’m currently scheduling – but I have so much fun creating the book, I might just do it first anyway.

ShutterFly is the program I use for making my photo books. They do a good job and are fairly easy to work with. I’m hoping that my fellow Earthwatch volunteers will let me use a few of their photos for the book, since I don’t have any of myself. People keep telling me I should include myself in my books/presentations/webpages – but I never remember to actually take a picture of myself until after the event is over.

And see there: I’ve managed to write a post about my vacation without having actually said ANYTHING about the vacation! Is that talent, or what?

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Boreal Herbal Workshop

Taking a 3-day workshop not two days after returning home from vacation was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had. The Canary Islands are 9 hours ahead of us, so I was completely jet-lagged and kept crashing half-way through each day. But it was such a good class, and one that I had been waiting for; I just didn’t factor in the sleep deprivation and time change.

Beverley Gray was awesome, though. She is from Whitehorse and has an herbal shop there called Aroma Borealis. She is “an Herbalist, an Aromatherapist, a Natural-Health Practitioner, a Journalist, and an Award-Winning Natural Health-Product Formulator” At least, that’s what the back of her book says. The book is called The Boreal Herbal and it’s packed full of all kinds of good information. You can buy it online at, if you like – I’ve even found it at Titlewave here in Anchorage.

The workshop started with a lecture on Friday after work. She had a power-point presentation to show some of the different plants she uses as well as some of the actual plants that she had harvested not 30 minutes prior to the talk. She passed those around so we could all taste them (who knew you could eat spruce tips right off the tree?) and talked about all their different uses.

Saturday & Sunday she took us out into the forests for some hands-on lessons where we learned about the plants right there. We harvested a few of them and then headed on in to the classroom to learn how to make medicines with them.

The first thing we made was an infused oil using yarrow, horsetail and fireweed. The oil she used was a grapeseed oil, but you can use a nice olive oil as well. She heated it all up in a double boiler and then bottled it into little vials so that we each got to take one home.

The next thing she made was a salve, again using the grapeseed oil but this time simmering it with some spruce tips. Once it was done she added in some vitamin E oil and the bees wax, then poured it in to tiny little jars so we could each take one home.

On the next day we again went out into the forest for some more hands-on training and harvesting, then headed on back in to the classroom to continue “cooking” starting off with a cream. She used a grapeseed oil that had been infused with devil’s club this time, to which she added rose petals and some usnea (a lichen that grows on spruce trees) and sweetgrass. This all got blended together with the beeswax and vitamin E oil to create the smoothest, most luxurious cream. It was really fascinating to watch happen! Again she poured it in to tiny little jars so we could each take one home.

The final concoction for the workshop was a syrup made with honey, birch syrup, elder flower and brandy. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to use mine for – but it sure does smell good. I’m sure I’ll find a use at some point.

There was over 50 people in the workshop so there were a lot of questions. We all certainly got our money’s worth out because Beverley was more than happy to share all of her knowledge with us.

Bryan and I decided to each of us pick two recipes out of the book to make this summer, so I picked a tincture made with willow, aspen, birch, gentian, high bush cranberry, mint, red clover,  and wild chamomile (to see if that helps my headaches) and a dandelion petal mustard. Bryan wants to make Dandelion Wine and Pine Bark Crackers.

I’ll let you know how it goes!


Whiskey Tasting

Bryan and I went to a Scotch Tasting event last night.

It was held at a local hotel that sits right on Lake Hood, one of the biggest float plane airports in the world. We got to watch float planes take off and land all throughout the event, which was really cool. The lake is a pretty one, too, with lots of water birds. There is a trail that wanders around the lake with lots people walking their dogs or hauling gear to/from their planes.

Our host for the event was Dr. Tom Turner who believes it’s his mission in life to guide people towards their own personal discovery and understanding of the spirit. With over a decade in the industry, he enjoys all types of spirits but his heart belongs to whiskey, which is why he considers his role as Master of Whiskey for Diageo ( the pinnacle of his career.

The event itself was a sit-down affair with 5 different Distiller’s Edition Whiskeys, each paired with a delectable appetizer.

The first course consisted of a cheese plate with a tiny slice of both brie and gouda, some chocolate covered blueberries, and some roasted pecans drizzled with honey; the whiskey was a smooth Glenkinchi.

The second course was a small dollop of Alaskan smoked halibut & salmon pate with shallots, lemon juice, sour cream, and cucumber on a bed of mixed greens; the whiskey was a deep smoky Lagavulin.

The third course offered up two jumbo shrimp with a roasted lemon and a spicy brandy cocktail sauce; the whiskey this time was a nice mellow Dalwhinnie.

The fourth course gave us some garlic hummus with onions, avocado, tomato, and herbs all wrapped up in iceberg lettuce leaves drizzled with chipotle aioli; the whiskey was Oban.

The final course of the evening (the fifth, in case you were keeping track) was a wonderful chocolate mousse with fresh Alaskan berries (strawberries, blueberries and blackberries); the final whiskey was a Talisker.

Tom was a very pleasant host, and very knowledgeable about “his” whiskey. He told stories of each one’s place of origin: how it was made and about the people who inspired it. It seemed to me that he had been to each distillery and had personally met each person who had a hand in the making of them, so his stories were quite entertaining as well as educational.

On our way back to the truck once it was over, I asked Bryan which one would he buy for himself (I had to clarify it was for HIM and not for ME): he chose the Oban. For myself, I think I would buy the Lagavulin.