Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alaska; a dissertation...


I was reminiscing with an Antarctic friend of mine this week about how amazed we are that people mix up Alaska and Antarctica. Is it because they both start with A? Is it because they are both cold? Because they are both rather far away? Alaska is up. Antarctica is down. Ant, anti, a latin prefix with negative (southern, downward) connotations. To me, the differences are immense and very clear. But I have lived in both places. I have never been to Ghana. Or Uzbekistan. Or Norway. But I can point to them on a map. So why, why, why, is it so hard to differentiate between the two?

Keith: "I work in Antarctica."
Other: "Wow. Must be cold up there."


Perhaps I expect too much. Who knows. Anyway, I am currently in ALASKA taking much needed time off from my job in ANTARCTICA. Alaska in itself, is a wild place. It has always drawn a certain kind of person, whether that person is trying to run and hide from something, or trying to experience a different kind of place. Personally, I came here for the first time in May of 2002. I graduated NYU's film department. Graduation was at Rockafeller Center on 69th St. Less than 24 hours later I was standing in the middle of Anchorage waiting for a shuttle to bring me up to the park. My then kitchen manager, Eric Peterson, ushered me to my new home and I almost shit myself...

I had just come from a nice top floor apartment in Greenpoint Brooklyn, and now I was expected to live in a trailer? I'm pretty sure I stood in the middle of the trailer for a while (I stay stood when what I actually mean is lean because it is not big enough for me to stand up in) and all I could think of was, "What the f*%k have I gotten myself into?"

This is me in 2008 sporting my inner redneck look. Gross.

Anyway, Alaska is a strange state. The 49th state. A red state, almost always. At it's heart, this place is God and guns filled with plenty of people who think a good time is strapping guns to the back of their ATV's or shooting wolves from helicopters. However, I have never met a greater concentration of intelligent people who care greatly for the environment and their communities. The hearts of the people that I have met up here are huge. So happy, so inviting, so welcoming. If I didn't have aspirations for international travel and world domination, I would already have my own property and my own house up here. The bartenders in the few bars know you by name and drink, the people you see at the fire pit on Friday night are the same people you buy gas from, or order beers from, and if you see someone hitchhiking on the side of the highway, you more than likely know them, or at least have a mutual friend.

I digress, again.

This past weekend, Tootie and I took off to Talkeetna to meet up with our friend Dave and to spend some time in a place with open stores and bars with kegs. I wish I had some pictures of our drive down there but I don't. We took off a the tale end of a snow storm. The Denali State Park (about 50 miles south of us and a 100 mile drive) got dumped on and all the news reports recommended that we stay indoors. We ignored them. Fortunately the visibility was great. If it wasn't we would have turned back.

We arrived to Talkeetna a little late in the day. It was Bachelor's Weekend which is a yearly event put on by a society of men. There is a Wilderness Women competition during the day and a Bachelor auction at night where the men of Talkeetna are auctioned off. It's all pretty fun. The Wilderness Women competition includes hauling water, snowshoeing, climbing ladders, shooting balloons with a beebee gun, fishing with a tennis ball for velcro fish and 'shooting moose,' as seen below. They also have a sandwich competition where the women have to make a sandwich and serve it to their man with a beer.

On Saturday night the auction takes place. Only women are allowed and the men strut their stuff on the stage. Now, before all you hippie dirtbag femi-nazis get your panties in a bunch (as if any of those actually read this stuff) all the proceeds go to local organizations put in place to help battered women and their children. So it may seem a little sexist, but it's fun and the money goes to help people. So shut your stupid mouths.

After watching a Steeler's game, and fixing a broken Volvo, a day and a half later we made our way back to Denali. On the way north we were treated to some awesome views of the mountain.

This is Denali. The big mountain on the right. Denali in Athabaskan means "The High One," or "The Great One." It is the tallest peak in the America's and, the mountain with the most vertical rise. Meaning that, while Mt Everest and others are taller mountains (their peaks are farther away from sea level) Denali is the highest climb in the world. You must ascend many thousands more feet to reach the summit of Denali than you do Everest.

There's a story I heard once (I do not vouch for its truth) that President McKinley came up here long ago. When he saw Denali, he pointed at it and said, "That's Mt. McKinley." I have also heard that it was named for McKinley to support him in his presidential campaign in the late 1800's. Who knows. Up here, however, it's Denali. There's no debate.

Here is another view of Denali from the road. Yes, that "road" you see is the George Parks Highway. One of three northbound highways in the Alaskan interior. And this is good! Like I said, I wish I had a photo of the road several days before. It was nothing but snow. Thank goodness for winter tires! This is the south face of the mountain. Quite amazing. It is very rare to see Denali with this much clarity. People spend thousands of dollars and wait their entire lives to come up to Alaska to see the mountain and sometimes, it never shows its face. So we soak it in while we can.

I'll leave you with my favorite picture of Denali. This is one that I took years ago while on a trip out into Denali National Park...


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Cantwell-style!

So when people talk about Thanksgiving and feelings surrounding it, three pretty strong view points peak out there heads..

1. Thanksgiving is a religious holiday meant to give thanks to (insert deity here) for the years blessings.
2. Thanksgiving is a sham in which we are celebrating the persecution and virtual annihilation of a native people.
3. Thanksgiving is a day when said persecution stopped and, just for a moment in time, there was sharing between hosts and travelers.

Now, I don't know much about any of this. I understand the anglo participants in the first thanksgiving brought their God and religion with them and felt the existing residents of 'the new world' needed to hear about it. I can buy that, perhaps, even after a bad harvest year and tensions among the English and the Americans, there was a sit down and a momentary peace and respect. But what I do know for a fact is that, Thanksgiving should be everyday. If you are blessed enough to have peace, love and happiness in your life and good friends to share it with, being thankful for what you have should happen everyday. Not on some stupid holiday. I have grand memories of Thanksgivings during my youth. The whole family went to Grandpa and Grandma Reimink's house and stayed the night. We woke up to a huge pancake breakfast at their church, then went home to have Melty Meat. I think it was pot roast but we called it Melty Meat because we didn't know what pot roast was back then. And bacon bits. I remember salad with bacon bits.

Anywho, below is a list of things Keith is thankful for...

-four limbs
-a sane mind that makes sane decisions
-things that he does not understand but respects (the guitar, foreign languages)
-the FREEDOM to do what I want (also the FREEDOM to NOT do things I don't want, ie voting if I feel it's unjust)
-being as far away from the states as much as I can
-the tendency to not be duped

Blahblahblah. Here are some pics of Thanksgiving Cantwell-style!!!

We went down to the village of Cantwell, about 30 miles south of where Tootie and I live. We have a bunch of friends that live in the Jack River Nation and we were graciously invited to share a meal with them.

We prepared some things for the feast. I made my infamous (self proclaimed infamy) Bleu Cheese Coleslaw, and we made a Sweet Potato Pecan dish.

Cleaned and cut sweet potatoes tossed with....

...toasted pecans and brown sugar.

But the highlight of the night was inarguably Jilly's Pork stuffed Pork! Jill and her sister Lynn are known between Talkeetna and Fairbanks as some of the best cooks on the market. And they never disappoint. This is Jill searing the pork.

And the pork as it sits on the roasting rack.

While we waited on the pork to slow roast to perfect awesomeness, we helped Tardy patch his down coat.

And Carl played with Kitty.

When the food was done we loaded up a van and the sled and took off to the end of the Nation and had a great meal. This was our transportation to Thanksgiving dinner. Yup, that's Tootie on the back of a dog sled.

But we didn't have dogs. We had Carl and Jill's snowmachine. Awesome.

The spread was amazing!!! And the company was just as good. Got to meet some great people that I hope we can hang out with again very soon.

Check out the three different forms of cheesecake!!! Damn!

And in a retraction from last week, the airfield which I said "nobody uses in the winter," is actually a place some people with ski planes can land. It doesn't happen often but it is why the trail is on the side of the airstrip. Grooves in the snow can harm the plane and/or the pilot when landing. So any skiing at the airstrip must be done in designated places.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Palmerite...Off-ICE

Hey, it's me! Back for more.

So I wasn't great at posting on this thing while I was working. And, honestly, I probably won't be much better at posting on it while not working. But I might as well try it. I have some more time on my hands now, so let's see what happens. I haven't given much thought to what this might be if it's not an Antarctica blog.

I'm living peacefully in Denali Park Alaska now. Going from winter to winter hasn't been that bad. I had two weeks of sunny weather when I stopped off in Michigan and that was enough to recharge my batteries. We are kind of sitting here waiting to get slammed by an ice storm that has Fairbanks and the surrounding area shut down. Apparently it is raining in Healy, only about 30 miles north of us. But here, perched on little Karma Ridge, it is a gorgeous +35 degree day.

I am renting a house here with my girlfriend Blair. It is my first attempt at domesticity since leaving New York City back in 2002. And even that wasn't very domestic. A three bedroom apartment in Washington Heights with two college friends, a couple cats, a bunch of cigarette butts, and a shitty job. This is different. I'm living with a girl for the first time. At 32 years old, one would think this might not be a big deal. But it's new! And exciting. This was a decision Blair and I made last year after only seeing each other on various weekends when one of us could get a car or hop a train. Kind of a stupid way to build a relationship. So were moving it into high gear and seeing how we deal with each other. It's been a leap for sure. From biweekly phone calls to living together. But things are great! We put plastic on our windows yesterday, we make good food, we drive to Fairbanks when we need groceries, and we sit and read while drinking red wine.

Almost too sophisticated.

So, like I mentioned earlier, I don't know what this is going to be. Perhaps just a place for me to post pictures of Alaska. Don't know if people are interested in that or not. I'm sure I won't keep a routine or a schedule with this thing. I'll probably just write some shit when I feel like it. Maybe this could be a vehicle for my opinions like everyone else out there. Isn't what these things are used for? To write pretentious crap that nobody really wants to hear? Well, I have opinion too! And perhaps I'll unload a few of them on ya.

Anywho, here are some Alaska pics!

This is our little house hanging out in the middle of nowhere. Pretty cool. Actually renting it from a friend who is down on the ICE right now. Timing works out great.

Tootie (Blair) standing in our living room. We call her Tootie because of "The Facts of Life." I've never seen this show. But I guess it has something to do with there being a Blair on the show. So when my Blair showed up here in AK back in 2006, we decided to call her Tootie, because Tootie was the non-annoying one on the show. Whatever. It stuck and she's still Tootie.

Part of the driveway on which we live. The road itself is probably a mile.5 winding up the hill. Houses are scattered everywhere, some populated, some not. This hill is pretty fun to ski down.

Tootie skis with Lefty. We dog sat the other day because Lefty needed some chaperoning. She just had surgery but she was ready to get out and ski with us. I do alot of skiing on the airstrip. Obviously it's not used during the winter, so it's a great flat strip of land a couple hundred yards long. Perfect.

The Alaskan sunrise from our kitchen window...

...from our living room window. Pretty sweet.

So that's it for now. We're going to an awesome dinner on Thursday so I'm sure I'll have something to say about that.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Snowboarding in Antarctica!!!!

Yes, Keith is lazy in life. That's ok. I'm motivated in work! HA! So it has been a while since I've posted anything. For no reason other than it takes tons of time and I don't want to do anything that takes tons of time on my day off. It is precious to me...

So a lots been happening I guess. Certain things are mundane. We are in the last week of winter. By this time next week I will be chopping up fresh green salads and real onions. Not to mention fruit, crispy red peppers. Yum. Don't take that shit for granted! I'm learning to appreciate the good stuff. So below is a smattering of pics that perhaps might best describe the last month or so between postings.

Gorgeous sunsets and sunrises are the norm here at Palmer. When it is clear enough to see the sun. I would say that it is about 50/50 good weather and bad weather. But I don't understand the advice I received when I arrive. "Take advantage of the good weather cause there won't be alot of it." Liars. There was just as much awesome weather as bad. Don't be fooled.

This photo doesn't capture it but this was one of the windiest days I have experienced. I was standing at a 45degree angle to take this photo...

...this one is through my UV glasses.

Mountain creeping up over the glacier.

Took another boat ride. We got checked out by a leopard seal. Pretty cool.

One of the many freestanding icebergs that have calved off the glacier behind us. We can hear them calving all the time but I have yet to see a chunk fall off. That would be sweet.

Looking back at my tracks as I truck up the glacier...

These are some awesome nacreous clouds that greeted me upon walking out of my building one morning. Super cool.

I made some chocolate biscotti...

..and a Turkey Pot Pie with a hidden message. Can you guess what it is?

This was probably the coolest day I've had in a while. Snowboarding in Antarctica. I have heard tales but have never done it. We drove the snowmachine about half way up the glacier and strapped the boards on...

...again through the UV goggles.

Before my first run on the glacier. I have to brag, I'm sure we have the best hill in the world to snowboard. On a glacier, overlooking the ocean. Suck it Colorado!

Captn Dave Bardun gets ready for a run. Dave's from Colorado so he certainly has an edge over me.

So I still can't figure out which foot to put forward. I guess it's a toss up. Whatever you feel comfortable with. I went down three times with my non-dominant foot forward. Then a fourth time reversing that. Didn't seem much difference. I have snowboarded before in Michigan and once at Vail and am not very good. I don't like to go fast. I don't have health insurance and my job demands that I stand up. I'd be screwed if my leg got busted. So I take it easy.

But I think that if I was given the chance, like a week on a snowboard, it would be something I could pick up pretty easily.

Dave, of course, makes it down the hill every time. Bastard.

That's it for now! Hopefully not forever. I'm sure there will be some stuff to talk about when the boat gets here. Handing over to another cook, saying good by to friends. I'll be here till October 18th and the departure of the second boat of summer. Later!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mid Winter Dinner!!! (A month late...)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mid Winter was a month ago. But it's still cool! And the food is something I'm really proud of. So the first pic is our Mid Winter Greeting. This is something that all the stations around the continent participate in. We get together, take a photo, write a poem or some simple words of good wishes, and send it out all over the continent. It's pretty cool to know your not alone out there. Captn Dave Bardun took this photo of us in front of the Cape Renard and the Graham Coast area. Yes, that is the mainland. The actual continent.

Below is the Mid Winter Menu. I know that most have seen this already or at least knew what was on it. But it was fun to create! Most Mid Winter menus I've seen and worked with are very flashy. Lots of fancy designs with telescopes and Poles and fish and blahblahblah. We made this one simple. Dave stained it with tea water and baked them for about ten minutes. It turned out smelling great and crispy! But not tough enough to roll. We tied a bow to each of them and had them on all the place settings when people arrived.

This is the Palmer dining room and the way the tables were set up for service. It was a great idea by all the people that helped out. We were all able to sit and eat in the round as a big family. It gave the meal a real fancy feel with out being snooty or pretentious. Thanks to all who helped set it up.

This is me getting things ready. Everything went out in courses. L. Trot, or Lisa our Station Manager, volunteered to help out by serving. So I would plate all the courses and she would deliver them to the tables. So that the others on station could relax and have food served to them. Always a treat down here. This is the first and only time I have/will worn/wear the Palmer Chef coat. I like my tee shirts better.

This is just one of the hors d'oeuvres that we had out. The bacon wrapped scallops were a hit. Along with the Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Canapes. I was able to save some baby tomatoes and freeze them for two months so we could thaw them and have them for Mid Winter. We were well out of freshies at this point so the appearance of tomatoes was great!

Apparently I forgot to turn the hood fan on whilest frying up the bacon. And, since we have a very sensitive fire system, L. Trot was able to spring into action and cover the detector. We don't want a fire alarm in the middle of our festivities. Especially once caused by the cook. Yikes.

Here, Sean and Dave are ordering from the menu. People could pick whatever they wanted and it was prepared for them. Just like in a fancy restaurant. As you can see, Lisa underwent several garment changes throughout the evening...

Cory likes the soup! I think? I don't know what the hell this face means...

Here I am preparing the soup. Ok, these pictures are out of order. But I hate computers and don't care enough to waste my time fiddling with them. Cream of Pumpkin and Garam Masala. Awesome soup! Thanks to James Brown for the suggestion! Yeah dawg!

Neal and Drew like the tossed salad! HA! Iceberg lettuce tossed with the last remaining fresh vegetables and a roasted garlic vinaigrette. The lettuce tasted a bit bitter but I don't think anyone cared. It had been a month since we had fresh salad greens.

Lisa dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow delivering the entrees.

Finished Pumpkin Soup. Garnished with Roasted Pumpkin Seed, Creme Fraiche and Fresh Mint.

Finished Meat Plate! Stuffed Tenderloin wrapped in bacon stuffed with spinach, bleu cheese and roasted red peppers. Served with roasted root veg medley, spinach orzo and garnished with tomatoes.

Apple Dumpling Dessert!

Lisa's final serving outfit. I believe the conversation went as follows...
Keith: Who's that cow running around the dining room?
Lisa: That's the only time you can call me a cow and get away with it!


Sorry this was so late. I'll try to do better at keeping up with this. But the reality is...I probably won't.