You can’t get to Cordova, Alaska, over land. You can’t go there on a whim, at the last minute, turning south onto the road that heads to town, because there is no road that will take you there. You choose to go there, by boat or by plane. And that one little hiccup in the ease of transportation eliminates the throngs of cruise tourists that seem to dominate so many of Alaska’s summer destinations. It changes the tone of the town completely. It makes it feel likes its own place, a living and breathing community built largely around the fishing industry, and especially around salmon fishing. For that sense of place that wasn’t built around tourism, and for the good luck of getting to know the town a little more intimately than the average tourist, Cordova won my heart.
Plenty of folks do make the effort to get to Cordova, most of them groups of men: fathers and sons and uncles and cousins and friends, heading in for a week or two on annual fishing trips. The intimacy and rhythm of this yearly ritual made for a warm, relaxed tone on the plane. Men boasting numbers around fish size, years there, locals known, but only the most good-natured of boasting. There were very few women on the plane.
Cordova is a place that’s defined by the presence of water in so many forms: the frequent strings of wet, drizzly days, the mountains and the valleys forged over millennia by glaciers and rivers, and the grand mud flats, braided rivers, and meandering tributaries of the Copper River Delta. Not to mention the sea.
We spent an incredibly soggy first morning fishing along the Eyak river. No waterproof gear was immune to the insidious power of the rain. We waded into the water to our thighs; a few of us wrangled salmon. I wrangled something at the end of the line a number of times, but lacked the finesse to reel those wily biters in.
In the afternoon we went foraging for mushrooms and berries. Alaska’s wild food abundance is ridiculous. And it’s because of all that rain. I have never witnessed more berries, or more varieties of berries, anywhere: blueberries, huckleberries, high bush cranberries, raspberries, crowberries, nagoonberries, and on! Cordova is at the edge of a temperate rainforest. It’s brilliantly green, damp, mossy, ferny, and ripe.
Langdon Cook discovered a rare black chanterelle.
Our group was composed of chef Stephen Beaumier, his partner Katy Oursler, who’s been deeply involved with Outstanding in the Field since its inception almost a decade ago, and author, educator, and forager extraordinaire Langdon Cook. I was really happy to be in such company; they all brought their own expertise and rich life experience to the week and it was totally inspiring to hang out with them.
We toured the docks. A busy place of net-mending, gear-gathering, and general prep for the next opener – the next day that the US Fish and Game gave the go-ahead for a 12, 24, or 36 hour stretch of fishing for Cordova’s commercial fleet. We were there towards the end of the season, but at the season’s peak, the boats often stay out fishing for unbelievably long stretches of time. Fishing is regulated for sustainability, ensuring that the salmon aren’t overfished.
Happening alongside our Coho Tour was a weekend mushroom festival. Stephen and Katy were prepping the feast for the event, incorporating as many local and foraged foods as they could gather, including some of the yellow chanterelles pictured above, lots of berries, and of course, some unbelievably fresh Coho salmon.
Above, Stephen removes some steaming hot cedar planks with salmon from the grill, in a serious downpour.
The evening was amazing. It was a community coming together to socialize and celebrate around the things that they hold dear. It was also a fundraiser for the Copper River Watershed Project. And it was a tremendous feast, with a salad of nasturtium leaves and flowers, that amazing salmon, and a slew of delicious vegetables.
The next morning we went in a small floatplane for an aerial tour of the delta. It was amazing. I love the topography of the delta, with its many serpentine waterways, diluvial mud flats, braided rivers, and, higher up, the glaciers that feed them. That amazing turquoise cast to the water is from glacial flour, fine sediment ground from glaciers and suspended in the water. It only sparkles that color on a sunny day.
At the last minute, I decided to extend my trip by a couple days so that I could get on a commercial fishing boat – the openers aren’t determined ahead of time, so there was no way of predicting that over the course of our 5 days there, none would be able to go out. And I really wanted to get out on a boat. Ashton, above, was awesome enough to let me tag along for a 12 hour run. We left a little before 5, and he was in place and ready to cast his net by 6 AM, the official start time of the opener.
It was a slow day. The end of the season was approaching quickly, and Coho don’t run in such impressive numbers as the sockeye that peak in the middle of summer.
The sea is a place full of easy, rich mythology. I loved being out on the water all day; not a whiff of seasickness on the boat, just a serious case of sea legs on solid land when we returned in the evening.
Michael and Austin prep some fillets for making into salmon jerky.
A huge thank you to the delightful Nelly Hand for inviting me out – it was a dream trip. And to Blair Hensen; the two of them worked their butts off to accommodate us and it was no small feat. Thanks to the Copper River Marketing Association for building such a tremendous trip into their budget; we are so lucky to be able to participate. And thanks to Ashton for taking me out on his boat, the fishing community for welcoming us, and to the great company of Langdon, Katy, and Stephen while there. Copper River Marketing covered the costs for the trip but the writing and photography are entirely my own.
It wasn’t my plan to step away from this site for so long, but doing so honestly felt really good. I marvel at how my foray into blogging was the antidote to what I was doing at the time (which I loved, but needed a break from.) And now, it’s being off the internet, and ideally out in the woods or dining with friends, that is the antidote. Really, it’s just being present in the world in a way that engages all of my senses.
Summer is, more than any other season, best off the internet. Best outside. I wasn’t completely offline, far from it. But that bold missive by Patton Oswalt at the beginning of the summer – Summer is upon us, and I’ve got a bad case of the spurts – never left me.
Anyway, the season is shifting and I’m back, home from an epic trip to Alaska, with a whole bunch of exciting new projects lined up, and my face against a screen. There are a few more Bay Area book dates too:
This Sunday, September 14th, in conversation with Erin Scott at Book Passage in Corte Madera.
Thursday, September 18th, at Books Inc in San Francisco.
Saturday, September 20th, 2pm, a demo at Macy’s in Union Square, San Francisco.
I love September’s clash of summer glory and autumn quiet. It’s such a great time of year for produce. These tacos embrace the middle place that is so very September. It doesn’t have to be corn, cauliflower and tomatoes. The spirit of these tacos is in celebrating the transition from summer to fall. Delicata squash, brussels sprouts, and heirloom peppers would be equally perfect.
Makes about 6
inspired by The Forest Feast
A couple months ago, Erin Gleeson and I collaborated on a dinner. She made some awesome tacos from her cookbook, The Forest Feast. I think that that’s part of the magic of Erin’s book: it is so delightfully simple, in the best possible, most dynamic way. I followed that simplicity as a jumping off point, and added some Sungold cherry tomatoes, because we need lots of those while they’re around, and some cilantro, because a taco feels incomplete to me without cilantro. (Cilantro haters of the world will disagree, no doubt.)
1 small head cauliflower, diced
2 ears fresh, sweet corn, kernels removed from cob
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Tabasco smoked chipotle pepper sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Tabasco jalapeño green pepper sauce
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Toss the cauliflower and corn with the chipotle pepper sauce, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast for 15-20 minutes, mixing once or twice, until golden brown and cooked through.
While the veg roasts, warm the corn tortillas, either directly over a low flame on the stove, or wrapped in foil in a toaster oven.
To serve, spoon some of the corn and cauliflower mixture into a warmed tortilla. Add a dollop of yogurt, some cherry tomatoes, the feta and cilantro, and finish with the green pepper sauce.
*This post is made as part of the Tabasco Tastemakers series, following my amazing visit to Tabasco headquarters in March of this year.
PORTLAND, OREGON! I’m heading your way. I love summers in the Pacific Northwest and I’m so excited to be there. I’ll be demoing 2 vibrant summer recipes from my book: Green Rice Salad with Nectarines and Corn (pictured, above), and Sweet Corn Fritters with Avocado Crema (below.) All that, plus a taste of the Rhubarb Ginger Fizz, for the price of the book! It’s a total steal, and it’s gonna be tons of fun, and it’s my only event in Portland, so please do come out! Tickets for the event can be found here.
And! Speaking of good and great times, here are a few photos from the collaborative dinner that Erin and I hosted last week at 18 Reasons. Such a fun night!
(Check out our unintentionally coordinated footwear! Worishofers ftw.)
First off: LOS ANGELES! I’ll be in Pasadena tomorrow evening (Wednesday) at Vroman’s Bookstore, 7 PM. Please come and say hi and ask me weird, unexpected questions about vegetables and color and blogging and photography and other things! It’ll make me so happy to see you.
Also. I had a launch party for Vibrant Food. It was all friends and family, and it kinda blew my mind to have all of these folks coming together from so many different arenas of my life. My family flew up from San Diego. My dad became BFFs with everyone. It was a splendid shitshow pulling it all together. But nobody noticed that, which is amazing. With the tremendous help of my friends Emily and Jason, we served some dishes from my book: Summer Squash Pasta with Green Goddess Dressing, Red Beet Risotto, and Summer Berry Peach Crisp. I am so deeply indebted to my friends and family for all of their support. More on that when I have a moment to breathe. Meanwhile. Eat some crisp, enjoy summer. Happy 4th!
(Originally, I put lemon verbena in this crisp, which is what the green flecks are in the image above. If you’re feeling adventurous, try it! It’s lovely either way.)
Check out Megan’s version of this crisp. And Shanna’s!
And check out Adrianna’s version of the Summer Squash Pasta with Green Goddess Dressing!
This is all perfect 4th of July eating.
(Pictured throughout are outtakes of the Summer Berry Peach Crisp for Vibrant Food.)
With a summer of road trips ahead on my book tour, I’m gathering ideas for recipes and snacks that are ideal for travel. The Eating Well on the Road series is one of my favorites – perhaps because the anticipation and joy of travel is built into planning snacks and meals for the road. Thinking about food on the road means thinking about all the places I’ll be visiting.
Some quick news:
Speaking of that book tour, I’ve added a bunch of dates! A dinner at 18 Reasons, some solid Portland events, and more bay area events. Go check that out.
I’m having a small book launch party on Friday, June 20th in San Francisco! There are a few tickets still available! Use the code VIBRANT to gain access to the RSVP page.
The price of Vibrant Food will go up when it’s released – 6 days from now! – so now’s the time to jump on that pre-order if you’d like to secure the lowest price.
Things are crazy around here, and I’ve got my nose solidly to the grind for the next two weeks. I hope to have a big blowout post next week celebrating the book process and sharing some outtakes. The countdown is on, and despite being really tired, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s totally unreal.
CHERRY GINGER CACAO GRANOLA BITES
Yield: 18-20 bites
inspired by Bike Camp Cook
A couple months ago, I received an email about a cookbook that piqued my interest. It was a self-published book about a couple’s round-the-world journey by bike and the food that author Tara Alan prepared while they traveled. It’s filled with great ideas for using what you find locally, and making the most of what you have, and which ingredients to keep on hand when space and weight are precious. Being on the other side of a book now, I have a ton of respect for the amount of work that went into this project. The book is great for all kinds of travel eating and cooking inspiration. And this recipe is a great starting point for improvising – use your favorite dried fruit, nuts, and other crunchy tidbits, keeping the ratio roughly the same, and you’ll be a happy camper this summer. These are perfect for any kind of summer travel: a plane ride, long trips in the car, an epic backpack, or a stroll in the woods.
1 1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
2 generous tablespoons cacao nibs
2 generous tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons almond butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, cherries, almonds, coconut, caao nibs, and crystallized ginger and set aside. In a medium pot, combine the honey, almond butter, coconut oil, sea salt and cinnamon. Warm over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot. Pour in the dry ingredients, turn off the heat, and stir to thoroughly combine everything. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Use a tablespoon to make round balls. Press them together very firmly to help them hold their shape. Store in the fridge. They may become a little soft if taken along on a very hot day. But they’ll still taste good!