Thursday, March 20, 2014

Honey Mama's Homemade Yogurt

Culinary arts is the process of breaking prepared food down to its most basic components, down to the science of food, in order to learn how to master the preparation of a dish from the core ingredients up.  

I was drawn to culinary arts as a profession while sitting under a canopy of birch trees at our family cabin, nestled in a tiny “home” between the roots of the old birch tree tire swing that still stands, swing in tact, at our family cabin. I had a kitchen and prepared meals for my invisible restaurant patrons.  Drawn outside and drawn within, surrounded by the protected land of Denali State Park, learning how to be outside.  

Maya Summer 2013: The Cabin Tire Swing 

An only child wandering and exploring in nature I approached the woods as though they were my culinary canvas.  I used to create “food” masterpieces using a small hibachi grill my dad would fill with hot coals from the fire and my mishmash mess kit: a coffee can to boil water, an old cast iron skillet to fry things in, and a small sauce pot.  My mom would save random things, left over breadcrumbs, old flour, etc. and she gave them to me, to use outside in my culinary creations.  The rest of the ingredients came from the land.  Local. Organic. Wild. Simple. Nature.

February 2007: Denali from The Cabin
Being here has given me time to slow down and appreciate the simple in life.  Lured by the promises of simplicity I set out to learn how to make my own yogurt at home which I thought had to be more complicated than it seemed with a high risk of failure, otherwise why wouldn’t everyone make yogurt at home?

I set about researching the numerous ways one can go about preparing homemade yogurt.  Hot pad. Wood stove. Gas oven, left with the light on.  An $89 cuisinart automatic yogurt maker.  A $40 insulated cooler peddled as a yogurt maker.  Skeptical, I continued with my research and tested various appliances (oven and hot pad) for warmth and regularity. In the end the solution turned out to be a picnic sized ice chest which didn’t cost a penny, and the jars actually came with the house.  Win.

Supply list - Check:

  • Three quart sized canning jars with lids
  • Ice Chest
  • Candy Thermometer
  • Instaread Thermometer
  • Pot
  • Water
  • Milk, whole or 2% 
  • Yogurt Starter or Yogurt  
The convenience of food in our modern age makes us forget the simple process of fermentation and the impact it has on a wide variety of foods we enjoy and the digestion process.  Slow food.  Good food takes time and cannot be hurried along. Making homemade yogurt reminds you of this and rewards you in the end.  

Using a spoon or spatula mix yogurt and milk, then:

From start to finish the process took 27 hours, plus an additional 6 hours to chill the yogurt; about a day and a half of minimal supervision and low-effort (the ability to use and read a thermometer and change water over).  

The method I followed was in line with the “Specific Carbohydrate Diet” recipe for homemade yogurt which takes 24 hours of fermentation vs. 6 hours and reduces the amount of remaining lactose in the yogurt making it easier for digestion.  Anything beyond 6 hours is a matter of personal preference.  

My homemade yogurt turned out thick, rich, and creamy.  I made two separated batches (6 quarts) over the course of a week experimenting with 2% and whole milk, and Mountain High plain yogurt and Nancy’s honey whole milk yogurt as starters while I wait for my SCD “legal” cultures to arrive in the mail from Cultures for Health.  

The whole milk yogurt would be perfect for making homemade frozen yogurt and as a substitute for sour cream and could be turned into a yogurt cheese.  The 2% is a good eating yogurt and can be used in smoothies.  I strain off the excess liquid when I open a container of liquid and reserve it to be blended later into my (new) favorite recovery smoothie:

Honey Mama’s Tropical Recovery Smoothie

Combine the following in a blender:

1/2 C  yogurt liquid and/or yogurt
1/2 C  coconut water 
1/2 C  fresh squeezed orange juice (cara cara)
1 ea    banana 
Dash  Redmond Real Salt 

Blend until smooth.  I like to serve it over a few frozen yogurt cubes I make in ice cube trays in the freezer. I use plain yogurt and as the drink thaws it becomes a soft-serve like cream blended with the sweetness of the smoothie it creates the perfect balance of sweet and tart, naturally.


July 2013: Under a canopy of birch trees at The Cabin.
 "Real culture is here to be found. First of all, we can begin by cultivating taste, rather than impoverishing it, by stimulating progress, by encouraging international exchange programs, by endorsing worthwhile projects, by advocating historical food culture and by
 defending old-fashioned food traditions." - Excerpt Slow Food Manifesto 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Born to Run

"We’re told of the importance of listening to our body and the messages it sends us, and it’s true—the answers present themselves if you dedicate yourself to seeking them out, but sometimes you have to play the role of firm and loving parent and tell your body to suck it up, stop whining, and keep moving. My heart was racing, my lungs ached as I sucked in the frozen night air, my legs were on fire, all of my body’s internal alarms were going off simultaneously and for the first time in my life I dismissed them. As I ran the streets that night I realized if this was going to kill me, so be it, I would die trying to feel; to feel something real, to experience the pain I’d silenced, to meet my deepest fears head on and to grieve the losses I held tightly within the chambers of my heart. I would do it one step at a time, one mile at a time, one day at a time. Moving forward." 

HM Wild 

To read the full essay, go to Alaska Pacific University: Turnagain Currents, Spring 2014:

"You could carry your burdens lightly or with great effort.  You could imagine horrible fates or garland filled tomorrows.  None of it mattered as long as you moved, as long as you did something. Asking why was fine, but it wasn't action. Sometimes you just do things.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Howl: Running with the Wolves


I roll over in bed, adjusting my eyes to the darkness and the contrast of silvery moonbeams that dance across the OSB plywood floor, lying under my dense Unique quilt, 20 or so bandanas sewn together, memories that keep me warm in the darkness. 2:36 AM. 


Nudging my husband laying in bed next to me, another <howl> followed by the sounds of footsteps in the snow on the back porch.  “What’s that noise?” I whisper with a shaky, uncertain, half-awake voice, to my mostly asleep husband. 


The last howl sent chills down my spine and I suddenly find myself on my feet. Horizontal to vertical in about a second flat.  By the time my feet hit the floor Parke was already halfway downstairs to explore the source of the howling and shuffling footsteps in the snow.  

“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.” 
Farley Mowat, Never Cry Wolf

I ran to the bathroom window that looks out toward the barn and in the darkness I see two pointy ears, a big bushy tail, and thick dark coat saunter across the open field in front of the barn with the light of the moon illuminating the path.  


Blinking a few times to put the scene in perspective, as the creature made its way past a burn barrel I realized this animal is too big to be a wolf. Too big to be a wolf.  Then feelings of relief surface when I connect the dots in my sleepy brain. 


Our neighbor’s 150# Alaskan Malamute Mix Husky dog, Cody.  He’s a social guy who likes to come by and say hello from time to time.  The next morning at the end of our driveway at the bus stop I chatted with the bus driver, Cody’s owner, about our nighttime visitor.  Later that day a dozen beautiful mixed chicken eggs were delivered on the afternoon bus, and that is how we started to get fresh, as local as it gets, eggs delivered to our house on the school bus.  An introduction to rural life, one night, one day, one moment at a time. 

“A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf.” 
George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

One morning a few weeks after we first saw The Moose Lodge, my mom called me first thing in the morning, frantic over a dream she had about me the night before. Me and The Wolves.  I’d been run down in the driveway by a pack of wolves, dressed in my running gear that was torn and bloody.  Dead.  That night my best friend had a similar dream. Each called me and told me their dream.  Both dreams hit me hard and deep; I didn’t know how to interpret them.  Literal death? Figurative death?  A sign?  A reflection? A warning about running with the wolves?

“To run with the wolf was to run in the shadows, the dark ray of life, survival and instinct. A fierceness that was both proud and lonely, a tearing, a howling, a hunger and thirst. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst. A strength that would die fighting, kicking, screaming, that wouldn't stop until the last breath had been wrung from its body. The will to take one's place in the world. To say 'I am here.' To say 'I am.” 
O.R. Melling

Friday night found me and Parke out on our back porch gazing at the moon, watching the wisps of clouds float effortlessly across the face of the moon, filtering out the light, creating a hazy glow in the darkness.  I whisper to Parke “It just makes me want to howl at the moon!”, then he howled, a long, lone wolf howl that punctuated the darkness and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The Wolfman. My husband.  

“Those are the voices of my brothers, darling; I love the company of wolves.” 
Angela Carter


A lone call of a wolf replies to my husband’s call, we both erupt in smiles and laughter at the awesomeness of living here, at The Moose Lodge, talking to the wolves.  Then the sled dogs chimed in, followed by a pack of yipping coyotes, and then the wolf.  In our cul-de-sac bound life in Los Anchorage standing on your porch in Labrador Circleville, howling at the moon while standing on your back porch simply would not be tolerated. Period.  The polarity of life at Labrador Circle and life here at The Moose Lodge is still hard to comprehend. Each place a chapter in our lives, but each chapter so completely different. Defining the journey we are on here in The Wild isn’t easy and as the months go on the questions mount and the answers lie in wait.  They will only be uncovered one piece at a time.  Until then, I’m just living the questions and finding my way in this wild, unexpected chapter of our lives.  

“That we can never know," answered the wolf angrily. "That's for the future. But what we can know is the importance of what we owe to the present. Here and now, and nowhere else. For nothing else exists, except in our minds. What we owe to ourselves, and to those we're bound to. And we can at least hope to make a better future, for everything.” 
David Clement-Davies

Seven months ago today we left Anchorage behind, headed North, then East, deep into the interior to the edge of a wide, winding river, framed in by mountains in every direction and sunsets that slip across the sky, stretching rays of golden light out across the tips of the dense taiga forest, kissing the wide open spaces with light, tantalizing and teasing the eyes with sheer light as it dances across the mountaintops bringing light to the dark corners of the landscape, before extinguishing giving way to the darkness, the quiet, the night. 


“There is no better way to know us than as two wolves, come separately to a wood.” 
Ted Hughes

Running with the wolves.
It's time for us to go.

Left all our clothes.
With the car left by the road.

And we were running.
For a reason.
For the burning, in our veins.
And we were running.
For a reason.
We just need to get away.

Running with the wolves.
We're screaming at the stars.
Left all we own.
In a hole in our backyard.

And we were running.
For a reason.
Left our cubicles in little flaming piles.
And we were running.
For a reason.

I need to feel something different for just a little while.

I'm not coming home.
I'm staying with the wolves.

They can burn all my mail.
And disconnect my phone.

Tell my mom I'm sorry, sorry for leaving.
But I'm staying.

Now we're running to find meaning.
We're gone, and we're never coming back.

“Sometimes the one who is running from the Life/Death/Life nature insists on thinking of love as a boon only. Yet love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings- all in the same relationship.” 

Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Honey Bucket

It’s all fun and games until you’re out of water, then shit gets real -- real fast.  At the top of my list of “required services” for Moose Lodge Livin’ is:

#1 Water 
#2 Hot Water 

The joy water brings into my life cannot be underestimated.  Regular triathlon training, a passion for cooking, two-dozen house plants and the daily water usage needs of four people and three dogs adds up to a lot of water.  A lot of water.  

Last week I e-mailed a friend to give an update about life at The Moose Lodge.  The phrase that summed it up at that moment is “Life is Good”.  While it is still “good”, without water I struggle to remain optomistic and find the “good”.  Then I remember that this is all part of living the dream that “this is what you came for” (S. Jurek).  

I had planned a “quick trip” (famous last words) to “Town” this week with George for a BIG Costco and Fred Meyer trip.  We departed on Monday morning as the sun rose above the Mentasta Mountains. Lighting our way to town as we drove the long and winding road, through the mountain passes, over rivers and through dense stands of spruce and frozen tundra swamps.  We arrived in Anchorage that afternoon after enjoying a relatively easy, beautiful drive.  

Caribou about 30 mi. from The Moose Lodge on the way "To Town"
I woke up the next morning with a violent stomach bug and spent the day making trips between my childhood bedroom and the bathroom where I wretched my brains out until I ran out of strength and cried.  I woke up the next morning feeling some distress in my stomach, but my symptoms had improved.  Then I looked outside at the thick snowflakes falling to the “just above freezing” ground, making a slick layer of water and ice across the road, bringing traffic on the Glenn Highway to a standstill.  We headed out with hopes of making it onto the highway, but our efforts were a lost cause, traffic wasn’t going anywhere.  We headed back to my parents house and waited a few hours, then set out again and made our slow, white knuckle drive into Anchorage.   

When we moved to The Moose Lodge I told myself “Anchorage will always be there”.  Meaning, if we chose to come back, we could, it wasn’t going anywhere.  What I didn’t anticipate was how my feelings about town would change and how my biological responses to things like traffic, bad roads, and people with bad attitudes would shift.  While it’s true that Anchorage is still there, I don’t feel the same way about being “in town” and spend most of my time in traffic, in line, or on the road busily trying to cram in every single errand I’ve noted on my master list, knowing full well that I will only accomplish 60-80% of what is on my list (if I am lucky).  This trip to town was no different and in the end I returned home with supplies that make life out here feel comfortable, even without running water.  

My drive home was peppered with several emergency road side stops and bouts with nausea and intestinal distress.  Did I mention all the roadside outhouses are closed for the season?  I was proud of myself in that during the drive I never once broke down and sobbed, though that “place” never felt very far off in the distance.  Instead, I soldiered on and made my way home, mile by mile, all 240.6 of them.  

Sun, fog, snow and ice about 3 hrs from
The Moose Lodge on the drive home
Prior to returning home I “knew” about the water situation, so that wasn’t a surprise, but the reality of not having water didn’t hit me until I skated across the ice rink that is our driveway, powered by the strong gusts of wind of the Mentasta Mountains.  The slightly above zero temps instantly became unbearable with the “wind chill factor” and I was cursing wildly before I even stepped into the house.  I slipped my key into the door and stepped into a life without running water.  I put a show tv on George to distract him while I took a few minutes to strategize, which is to say I went upstairs and paced while I chanted every swear word my brain could muster.  It helped.  Once I got the wood stove going (with the small amount of less-than-perfect wood that we have left), I felt a little more hopeful and somewhat “in control”, at least of my mouth, which is a pretty good start.  

 Last weekend found us in Tok, purchasing supplies to hook up our oil tank to our wood/oil combination furnace.  We knew from the beginning that we would not have enough wood to make it through the whole winter, so it hasn’t been an unexpected surprise, but adds another level of complexity none the less.  Out of firewood. No running water. No hot showers.  What to do now?  

Back upstairs I covered the dirty dishes with towels under the “out of sight, out of mind” principle which is, for the most part, working quite well.  I vacuumed the floors and straightened the couch pillows.  Anything to “feel” like I have some sense of control over a situation that just “is” for the time being a really giant pain in the ass. 

The status of our kitchen without water
The next step was to maneuvering my car around a tight spot in the driveway, between our snow machines, on a perfectly windswept, sun-kissed patch of ice that makes me nervous just looking at it.  My snowmachine “needs work” and if it hasn’t been started and warmed-up, there is virtually “no hope” that I will be able to get it started.  My husband’s machine is a beast, but I could have started it, if I had been able to find the key. Instead I slipped on my studded running shoes, zipped up my down skirt and coat, buckled on my mad bomber hat and work gloves and stepped back outside.  

While the wind blew wildly, I unloaded all the frozen items from my Yakima box, tossing them into the back seat one item at a time.  During the unloading process I caught a glance of myself in my car window.  My reflection staring back at me, no longer the polished, neat, orderly person I was just six short months ago.  Covered in dog hair, a few stray feathers poking out of my coat, my hair pulled back into a nest secured loosely, my face looking tired, serious, slightly vacant.  I began to question my sanity and choice to live here, in this place, this Moose Lodge existence that called out to us.  Back inside the house I glanced out the window at the crystal clear skies and snow capped peaks that erupt from the landscape in every direction and realized “this is why” and remembered that “this is what you came for.”.  So, here were are, we’re “doing it”, as we often say.  Figuring it out, no longer “bird by bird”, but instead “feather by feather”.  

By Friday afternoon I found myself in the barn looking for a plywood box that has a toilet seat secured upon it and holds a 5 gallon bucket.  A “honey bucket”.  Personally I cannot think of a worse name for such an object and I find it disturbing to make any connection between a potty bucket and my much loved honey, but I digress. As I stepped out the front door I made my way off the porch and onto the ice when out of the corner of my eye I saw something VERY large and black charging at me.  Petzl and Honey were next to me, so I knew it wasn’t a flash of one of our dogs.  I instinctivley screamed, not once, but twice, like a little girl, then broke into a wide thankful smile when I realized it was our neighbor’s 150# Alaskan Malemute Mix Husky.  Relief. 

Cody our neighbor's (friendly) 150# dog
I found the box and lugged it up to the house, step by icy, arduous step and brought it inside to get it ready for use as a back up now that our well line is frozen and if we do not pre-heat our water to use for flushing the toilet, we run the risk of freezing up or septic system, then we will really be having fun.  

Figuring out solutions to basic household chores is my new full-time occupation  Parke returned to work full-time about six weeks ago and since his return to work I’ve been tasked with holding down the fort and literally keeping the home fires burning.  Something about those “home fires” and being “at home” to do the laundry, dishes, and flush the toilets; keep the well line from freezing on count of regular use.  By the first night when I’d left to town (Monday) things began to fall apart on the home front, little things.  A door handle that snapped under pressure, check!  Cold basement, check!   Followed up by:  No water, check! Lack of decent firewood, check!  Currently “unoperable” oil heat system, check!  Are we having fun yet?  

My calls home this week were hard for both of us:  

Me: “How are things going?”  

Parke: “The house is cold, we don’t have water, the door handle is busted and I have a stye in my eye.”

Me: “I’ve been throwing up for the past three hours and at times I have not only seen the “white light”, I’ve been tempted by it.”

I sat in our main floor bathroom this morning on the honey bucket and quickly became disoriented, confused, and yes, amused.  How is it that we went from this perfect and polished spa-like bathroom, to a honey bucket in a bathroom with fake sunflowers woven in the water lines to give an illusion of something “fresh” to compliment the bright yellow painted extruded foam board tacked onto the walls.  

Main Floor Bathroom at The Moose Lodge
Where am I? Who am I? What does it all mean?  Not having running water makes me question my existence and reevaluate what I define as my “basic human rights”, or “what I need to be happy”.  An interesting fact I uncovered about indoor plumbing is that only .5% of Americans live without indoor plumbing; however easily 30-40% of the population in the surrounding area does not have indoor plumbing.  What do you really need to survive? To thrive?  According to the Delta Faucet Company The White House got indoor plumbing in 1833, so basically living at The Moose Lodge is a little like living at The White House in 1832.  1832!  Eighteen-thirty-freaking-two! One hundred and thirty two years. Wow.  

Our Main Floor Bath at
The Labrador House
Our Main Floor Bath at
The Labrador House
Our Master Bath Suite at The Labrador House
After I had the chance to take the first few glorious sips of my Saturday Morning Coffee, I decided it was time to start heating water for dishes.  They haven’t been washed since Sunday night and while we have kept them to a minimum, we create an incredible amount of dishes due to our lack of experience on managing a household without running water.  Parke suggested I wait, pray for a miracle, and see if he is able to get the water working today.  With help on the way I sat down for a moment and paused to give thanks for this experience, to declare my faith in this being my path, and acceptance.  We may not have our regular plumbing system up and running until June.  Breathing. It’s all going to be okay.

The sound of water trickling snapped me out of my prayer-like trance, then I dismissed it under the idea that Parke must have just flushed the toilet and emptied the last of the water from the toilet tank.  I called my mom to check in and give her a status update.  Less than 30 seconds later I was serenaded by my joyful husband:  WATER!

Back in October our community generator burned to the ground and we lost power.  Our generator was able to power the bare essentials but wasn’t enough to power the water pump, so we were without running water. It was the first time I had to face this “idea” and the “reality” of living without what most Americans consider “basic services”.  Out here my whining about not having water is almost comical, in that many of our friends and neighbors DO NOT have indoor plumbing.  For some it’s a matter of choice, for others they might like to have indoor plumbing but have adapted to life without it and find they can live quite comfortably.  I wrote about this experience in “What Would Laura Do?”, if you enjoyed this piece you might also be interested in reading about the wake of the community generator fire.  

Now I have to get back to working my way through the mountain of dishes and tonight I have a hot shower to look forward to.  Balance has been restored. Life is good in 2014.