Monday, August 18, 2014

Alaska – July 2014
I have always wanted to experience Alaska so decided that 2014 was to be the year.  I am not a cruise person so booked a rental car in Anchorage and drove up to Denali and down into the Kenai for two weeks.  It was glorious!!!

The flight from LAX to ANC was a bit long as it stopped in Chicago instead of San Francisco which added two hours to the time.  I took a “people mover” from the airport to the bus station which cost $1 instead of the $20 taxi fare and walked to my adorable b&b Arctic Fox Inn (  on 2nd court and Cordova.  Breakfast in the morning was delicious – Carol made these incredible banana nut muffins and there were piles of fresh fruit.  I walked to the visitor’s center and took a free shuttle to the Anchorage Heritage Center a bit out of town.  When I arrived a dance performance was just beginning which included two men and three women, all from different tribes.  They were wearing simple traditional dress, boots and gloves and the men played drums made out of seal skin.  The dances were gentle with gloved hands swaying and the songs were rich.  Afterwards I visited the traditional houses outside set around the lake, each representing a different tribe with its own way of life.  There were clothes made out of seal skin, kayaks, spears, etc. depending upon what each tribe hunted or caught.  Really fascinating.

I took the shuttle back to the Anchorage Museum and had lunch at Muse, a café owned by Marx Bros., an excellent restaurant in town.  I had some thin flatbread topped with roasted garlic, apricot jam and cambazola cheese.  The museum was superb.  There were great exhibits on the 1964 earthquake, how Alaska became a state, discovery of gold in the Klondike, etc.  The best one was the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center’s main exhibit entitled “Living Our Cultures, Sharing our heritage: the first peoples of Alaska” containing over 600 objects.

Afterwards I walked along the Tony Knowles Coastal trail for a couple hours wandering along the coast and through forests away from the bustle of downtown.  For dinner I walked down to Jen’s which took longer than expected.  There was a bus which ran down C Street but I didn’t realize it until later!!  I had grilled rockfish with romesco sauce and grilled corn and a wonderful chocolate decadence chocolate cake for dessert.  The food was good but the menu was rather dull compared to what I encountered later in my travels!!!  Took a taxi back to the hotel as my legs were pretty tired!!!

Toast and fruit for breakfast and then a walking tour of Anchorage, passing by historical buildings, art galleries, totem poles, little cottages, etc.  Ended at Oscar Anderson’s home for a very interesting tour.  The guide spoke about the many people who came to Alaska in 1915 to build the railroad and they lived in a tent city until parcels of land were distributed.  Oscar was from Sweden and opened a butcher shop.  He did quite well for himself apparently.  Lunch at Ginger, three little wonton shells filled with cubes of tuna, avocado and chili sauce and a warm chocolate decadence cake.  Took a bus to the Heritage Museum in the Wells Fargo Bank which turned out to be quite a fantastic little museum filled with seal skin jackets, spears, kayak, harpoons, baskets, dolls and even a large tusk from a wooley mamouth.  Dinner at Marx Bros., a cute little house turned into a restaurant.  Delicious special shrimp appetizer with black beans and salmon caviar, chocolate pecan torte for dessert.

Took a nice walk along the creek behind the b&b and watched the fishermen.  Breakfast and then dollar rent a car picked me up and I rented my little Toyoto Corolla and headed to Denali National Park. I stopped in the cute little town of Talkeenta for blackberry/rhubarb pie and ice cream at the Roadhouse, picked up some cranberry bread and swiss cheese quiche to eat during my long trip into the park tomorrow and drove on up to the Denali Wilderness Center to pick up my pass and find out where I would meet the shuttle in the morning.  On to Healy where I checked into Parks Edge, a cute little cabin “in the woods”.  It had started to rain but that’s Alaska so I continued with my plans!!!  Drove to 229 Park for a fantastic dinner and by the time I got there the rain had stopped.  I had a delicious layered radicchio and little gems salad with blue cheese and candied walnuts, Alaskan crab cakes with large chunks of crab and a key lime tart dusted with lime zest.  Returned to Healy just as it started to rain again!!!

In the morning I arrived at the wilderness center about 7:00 a.m., ate my little cranberry bread and coffee and boarded the 7:30 a.m. ranger shuttle bound for Kantishna, i.e. all the way into the park.  Along the way we say grizzly bears and cubs, caribou, large moose with enormous antlers, etc.  Stopped about halfway in Eielson, named after Ben Eielson, a famous bush pilot who was the first to fly from North America to Europe and died young in a plane crash.  Watched a great film on climbing Mt. Mckinley (20,230 feet) which we didn’t see that day as it was rather foggy.  On to Wonder Lake where we got off to learn about the gold mining in Kantishna.  Saw reflection pond where Ansel Adams had photographed Mt. Mckinley’s reflection in it.  All the while George, our terrific guide and driver filled us in on the history, pointed out wild life, etc.  Arrived back about 6 p.m. and I headed back to Healy, stopping at the 49th State Brewery for some freshly grilled salmon with sauteed spinach.  Hot shower felt good and it was warm, quiet and cozy in my little cabin – a good choice.

Stopped at the Black Bear Coffee House for banana bread and strong coffee before taking a couple very nice walks, i.e. horseshoe lake trail and the meadow trail which started from the Visitor’s Center in Denali.  Cold but no rain so it felt good to walk through the trees and wild flowers for a few hours.  Back to Talkeenta for another piece of blackberry/rhubarb pie and ice cream and this time I walked down to the lake and was able to get a glimpse of the top of Mt. McKinley.  Also took a self guided walking tour of some of the old historical homes, buildings, etc. where the miner’s had lived.  On my way to Palmer I drove through the gorgeous Hatcher Pass which takes about an hour and most of the road is gravel.  However, the hills, beautiful rushing creeks, mountains and vistas were incredible as the day was sunny and warm.  Arrived in Palmer about 8 p.m., checked into the Alaska Harvest b&b and drove into town for blackened chicken tacos at the Palmer Ale House.

After zucchini walnut bread for breakfast at the Vagabond Café in town I checked out the enormous cabbages and other giant vegetables which Palmer is famous for in one of their gardens.  On to Potter’s Marsh for a walk along the boardwalks to search for birds and then to Girdwood for lunch at the Bake House.  Had a delicious salad with raw zucchini, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce and parmesan cheese and a giant peanut butter cookie!  As the day was gorgeous I was encouraged to take the 3:00 P.M. Potage Glacier tour.  First I visited the visitor’s center to learn about the glaciers, animals, etc. and then took the hour long cruise to the retreating potage glacier which had a beautiful blue tinge to it.  Our boat got very close to it so we could watch some “calving”, i.e. when some of the glacier slips into the water.  Stopped by the wild life center on my way back to Girdwood which was very interesting.  Orphaned or hurt animals are adopted and spend their lives here, i.e. moose, elk, eagles and even a black bear.  They have a lot of space and very few animals to share it with so it was not like living in a zoo.  Checked into the Glacier view b&b and then drove to the Alyeska Hotel to take the tram up to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant where I had a beautiful table with a view of the glaciers and a delicious dinner, i.e. king crab cakes with apple/fennel slaw and a wonderful “almond joy bar” for dessert with salted caramel sauce. 

In the morning I walked around Timberlane street to the waterfall nearby, had some nut bread and a delicious peach for breakfast and then drove to Whittier.  There is a very long tunnel which passes into Whittier but only opens one way per hour, i.e. 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. towards Whittier, 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. towards Girdwood.  I made the 10:30 a.m. tunnel and then just walked around the “town” until it was time to board the ship for the Phillips Cruises & Tour’s 26 glacial tour.  It was a beautiful day so we saw sea otters, bald eagles and even a few pods of orca killer whales.  Lunch was served, i.e. crisp fish and cole slaw which was just fine.  I spent the whole 5 hours on the deck as we came close to so many beautiful glaciers and the “ranger” explained so much about them which made the trip very interesting.  Got back in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. tunnel back to Girdwood which worked out well!!  Cleaned up at the b&b and then had a wonderful dinner at Jack Sprat Restaurant nearby.  First the house salad with baby kale, sunflower seeds, edamme, carrot slivers and greens followed by the summer rolls filled with noodles and vegetables and a peanut sauce to dip them in.  Dessert was the most delicious panne cotta I have ever had as it was topped with blueberry coulis which dipped into every
bite – a first rate restaurant.

Walked the Winner’s Creek path near the Alyeska Resort to the hand tram which was a lovely walk.    Breakfast at the Bake Shop, i.e. carrot walnut bread and coffee before heading out.  Stopped near Seward at the Exit Glacier and just walked up to see the lower part.  You can also do the harding ice field trail which goes all the way to the top or take a tour who allows you to don crampons and walk on the glacier.  We walked on the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina some years ago so I didn’t feel I needed to do that again.  It was impressive.  Stopped at the Harbor View Bakery for a quick cranberry crumb bar before checking into my charming Ballaine House b&b conveniently located on Third Street.  Took a walk down Fourth Street to get a feel for the little town and then took a nice walk along the water and back.  Drove back out to Exit road and had dinner at the Salmon Bake which seems to be rather an institution and a must do!!  Had delicious salmon, baked potato and corn in the Alaskan roadhouse and it was fun to be there.

In the morning I had a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, fresh fruit and coffee.  Took a beautiful walk up to the waterfall.  The day was gorgeous and the hills were green and filled with wild flowers.  Stopped by the Seward Museum housed in the library which had a very interesting video of the 1964 earthquake that all but destroyed Seward.  There were also many exhibits about the way people lived and about the iditorod trail dogsled race from anchorage to Nome.  Had a delicious lunch at Seward Brewery Co., i.e. watermelon salad with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and cucumber “noodles”.  Dessert was four little churros dusted with cinnamon and served with caramel sauce and ice cream – heavenly.

Walked to the end of Fourth and found the Wild Life Conservation Center where I spent a couple hours.  There was an enormous octopus, many exhibits about the different kinds of salmon and a ranger spoke about the native Americans and their life styles.  I walked the two lakes trail but found it a bit confusing and was glad when I finally made it out!  Back to the Seward Brewery Co. for crispy rockfish tacos and those delicious churros for dinner.

Bri made some delicious blueberry pancakes for breakfast and after a walk around the lake I headed for Copper Landing.  I stopped by the Alaska River Rafting Company to book a rafting trip at 2:00 p.m. and then had pie and ice cream for lunch at Sackett’s Kenai Grill, a fun little roadhouse nearby.  It had started to rain (so what else is new!!) and was a bit cold so I put on some very warm clothes and the 6 of us were given some raingear to wear which covered us very well and protected us from the rain.  The trip took about 3 hours and we rafted down the Kenai River.  We saw a few bald eagles and their enormous nests and a few stray birds, but it was the rafting through all that beauty that was the most fun even in the rain!!!  Afterwards I checked into Gwin’s where I was staying in a nice cabin and turned on the heater to get warm.  After a hot shower I drove back over to Sackett’s Kenai Grill which was only 5 minutes away and had some pulled pork tacos which were delicious and I loved the casual environment as everyone shared the communal tables but kept their own space – nice!

Had a cinnamon roll in the morning at Sackett’s bakery which opens at 7:30 a.m. but the restaurant itself doesn’t open until 12:00 p.m.  I sat at the counter and enjoyed my breakfast and thought about my day.  Drove to the river and took the hand ferry across the river to watch the fly fishermen.  Good fishing this time of year so there were many of them.  Drove down shilak road which has access to many trails and took the hidden creek trail.  There had been a fire here not long ago which was evident from all the burned trees so it wasn’t that pleasant of a hike and this was a first time I had encountered so many mosquitos!!!  Drove on to Soldotna which is nothing special, had some apple pie and ice cream which was also nothing special and then found the museum near the visitors center which was excellent.  There were many old cabins claimed by veterans, some old fishing boats and even an old guide who remembered “back in the day” so gave a nice window into how it was.  On to Kenai and to the Alaska Log Cabin Inn which was a very friendly place to stay.  Walked down K Beach Street where I had a wonderful dinner at Flat’s Bistro.  Recently opened Flat’s is a friendly, open-air bistro with an ecletic menu.  I had a duck confit salad with apples and pine nuts and a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla cream and berry compote which reminded me of the bittersweet chocolate cake I make – yummy!!

I took a nice walk in the morning and then had some delicious sourdough blueberry pancakes for breakfast with lots of fresh fruit.  Drove to the wild life center where they had some nice exhibits about the birds and animals in Alaska.  On to downtown Kenai but all was closed.   Decided to return to Veronica’s Café when I pass through again as it looked really cute.   Stopped by the Visitor’s Center where they had a great video about how the animals prepare themselves for winter.  Had a quick tuna sandwich at Olie’s (the only place open) near the airport and then headed for Homer, stopping in Ninilchik to visit the Transfiguration of our lord Russian orthodox church and cemetery which were charming.  Stopped in Kasilof and visited a very informative historical museum about the fur trappers.  Arrived in Homer and checked into the Alaska Beach House.  Even though it was raining a bit I took a walk along the ocean and it was beautiful especially since it stays light so late.  As it was Sunday evening, Cups and Wasabi, both excellent restaurants I was told, were closed so I drove up to Homestead which I had also heard good things about.  I had a nice apple, dried cherry, candied pecans and blue cheese salad, followed by a “mezza” platter with eggplant, roasted peppers, pickled onions, olives and grilled foccacia slices.  A very dense chocolate decadence cake was a nice finish.  The restaurant is a bit old-fashioned but quiet and peaceful inside.

Many of the b&b’s in Alaska seem to just leave rolls, fruit and the makings for coffee and tea in your room so you can prepare your own breakfast but that doesn’t appeal to me.  So instead, after a nice walk along the beach, I drove into town for a delicious sticky pecan roll and coffee at Two Sisters Bakery.  Wandered the main street of Pioneer Road and then spent a couple hours in the Pratt Museum nearby.  Filled with so much information about the wildlife and tribes in Alaska it is well worth a visit.  Had a delicious slice of Swiss cheese/arugula quiche and a cup of basil tomato soup at Maura’s and then drove to Homer Spit for a quick look around.  Homer Spit is a pier filled with restaurants and shops and is very quaint and picturesque.  Afterwards I took the 5:00 p.m. Danny J “ferry”, a classic wooden boat, across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove.  As it was raining pretty hard we were given ample rain gear so we could enjoy sitting outside as it wasn’t cold only wet!!!  I booked a 6:00 p.m. dinner at Saltry, the acclaimed waterfront restaurant, as had read it is best to eat first and then wander around the art galleries as the boat returns at 9:00 p.m. Had a delicious salmon three ways dinner, i.e. smoked, “hash” with sweet potatoes and sauteed king with kale.  Finished with their celebrated chocolate cheesecake which didn’t disappoint!!!  Had a nice 1-1/2 hours to walk along the boardwalk and experienced the galleries, one of which was the studio of the late Diana Tillian known for her subtle octopus-ink watercolors.  A very nice evening!

Checked out and had a cinnamon roll and berries at Two Sisters Bakery.  Took the Bishop Beach walk for a couple hours and it was beautiful as the day was sunny and warm.  Stopped by the Wild Life Center and watched a video about the Aleutian Islands and how a boat filled with experts checks on the wild life to make sure birds are not becoming extinct, etc.  Foxes and rats had appeared in abundance at one time which ate many of the birds so they are trying to rid the islands of foxes and large animals to save the birds.  Stopped for lunch at Veronica’s in Kenai as planned and it was really cute.  Had a delicious piece of apple pie and ice cream but there were wraps and sandwiches which also looked enticing.  Returned to Copper Landing but this time stayed at Hutch B&B which is less expensive.  Took a walk to check out Kingfisher Roadhouse but although the view of the river was magnificent the menu didn’t really appear to me…  Also drove by the princess lodge which people have said had a great restaurant but the ambiance didn’t work for me!!!  Soooo I ended up at Sackett’s Kenai Grill for a delicious pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and it was just right!

Stopped by Sackett’s bakery for a cinnamon roll and asked about nice trails to take.  The Russian River Trail was suggested so I drove to the self parking area, and walked to the trailhead and along the river.  It was a lovely walk and a beautiful day.  Checked out of the b&b and headed back to Anchorage.  Stopped in Hope, a cute little mining town where gold was discovered in 1897.  Great museum with household items from the gold rush in Turnagain Arms, old cabins where the miners lived, etc.  Walked down main street and to the river and it was like going back in time.  There were a couple of cute cafes but I decided to push on to Girdwood.  Had a delicious salad and chocolate espresso cookie at the Bake Shop in Girdwood and then returned the car in Anchorage.  Quick shuttle back to Arctic Fox where I stayed one more night.  Later I walked into town and met Rod Perry, one of the first mushers to run the iditarod trail dog sled races in 1973.  So interesting to hear how it was then!!!  Had a fabulous dinner at Haute Quarter Grill ( – one of the best meals I had in my entire trip!!!  Started with duck confit/fig apricot chutney, pesto and cambazola cheese, followed by lightly seared pepper crusted tuna w/ponzu and wasabi and finished with molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream– could it get any better than that!!!

Carol made those delicious banana nut muffins for breakfast again and there is always an abundance of fruit as well.  Took the nice walk in the back along the creek to watch the fishermen one last time.  Packed up and walked into town for lunch at Sack’s.  Had two delicious blackened fish tacos with kale and greens and a chocolate crème brulee – not bad for a last meal in Alaska.  Taxi to the airport and then we boarded the plane but there were “issues” so we sat for two and a half hours waiting for everything to be fixed.  Arrived in San Francisco too late to make a connection so they put me up at the Embassy Suite near the airport which was just fine.  Had a nice buffet breakfast in the morning, quick shuttle to the airport and this time we left on time and I was even able to fly into orange county instead of LAX!!!  Even though I saw just a tiny bit of Alaska I truly enjoyed what I saw and felt I saw it well!!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Chicken Paillards with pistachio pesto
6 chicken breast halves, pounded 1/8-inch thick
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2C chicken stock

pistachio pesto
1/2C pistachio nuts, toasted
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1C Italian parsley leaves, packed
1C basil leaves, packed
1/3 – 1/2C olive oil
1/2C parmesan cheese, finely grated
freshly ground pepper

For the pesto:  Place the nuts, garlic, Italian parsley and basil in a food processor and pulse to chop.  With the machine running add the oil in a stream.  Pulse in the cheese.  Season to taste with pepper.  Set aside.

Heat a sauté pan to medium heat; add the oil and butter and heat.  Salt and pepper to chicken paillards.  Heat the sauté pan to high and add the chicken.  Sauté two minutes per side or until slightly golden.  Remove the chicken to a plate.  Add the chicken stock to the pan and reduce to 1/4C.  Turn off the heat and whisk in ¾ of the pesto.  Divide the chicken among 6 plates and spoon the pesto sauce over.  Serve the remaining pesto on the side.

MAKES:  6 servings

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Baby Spinach and Mache salad with plums
4C baby spinach or arugula
2C mache lettuce
3 endives, cut into thin strips
3 plums, seeded and cut into thin slices
1 Asian pears, peeled and cut into thin slices
1/2C dark grapes, cut in half
1/2C macona almonds with rosemary
1/2C ricotta salata or crumbled feta cheese

2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
2 tsp. honey mustard
6 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and shake well.

In a small bowl toss the plum and Asian pear slices together with a little of the vinaigrette.  In a salad bowl toss the spinach, mache and endives together with vinaigrette to coat.  Toss in the fruit, almonds and cheese.  Divide among plates and serve.

MAKES:  6 servings