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Friday, July 29, 2011

Homemade Fireweed Jelly, Anyone??

In keeping with my goal of living simply and sustainably, I decided to have a go at making fireweed jelly.  Fireweed grows rampant in Alaska, and I was already in canning mode.  Fireweed is aptly named because it grows wonderfully in areas ravaged by forest fires and is often one of the first plants to pop to life.

The first step in making fireweed jelly is collecting your fireweed - we only had to go as far as the backyard!  Once we gathered a pile of stems, we went to work pulling off each individual bloom.

You don't want any green (stems or leaves) because your jelly may end up bitter.  This was like a never ending game of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.  I'll go with He Loves Me, because Karl was a trooper and helped with the whole thing!

Once you've gathered eight cups of blossoms, rinse them really well and boil them with 5 cups of water and 1/4 cup of lemon juice until the blooms lose their color.  The water will turn a lovely purple!

Strain through a paper towel and cool to lukewarm.  Once you're ready to cook your jelly, combine the fireweed water with two boxes of Sure-Jell pectin and bring to a boil.  Then add 5 cups of sugar and bring to a boil again for one minute.  Spoon into your jelly jars with 1/4 inch headspace and process in your boiling water bath for ten minutes.

Fireweed jelly tastes a bit like cranberries to me, and is wonderfully sweet, fragrant, and smooth.  This batch made eight 8 oz jars, with a bit left over to toss in the fridge for tomorrow!  I am looking forward to toast for breakfast!

Recipe courtesy of  My recipe included a bit of extra water to make up for what was lost with the paper towels.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

And what do you do with 73 red salmon?

Why lots of things, of course!

First, you fillet the fish and and get rid of all the parts you don't want.  For example, this fish had a chunk missing because a seal tried to eat it.  We did not want to eat the same part.

Then you end up multiple coolers full of beautiful looking fillets.

At this point, you can give them a final cleaning and rinsing and put them in vacuum bags so they will store nicely in the freezer until you cook them up for dinner.  We did this with probably two thirds of the fish.

We also took about ten fish and made it into smoked salmon.  This is one of the more labor intensive options, as you need to cut the skin off as well as cut it into strips.  We then brined the salmon for two days in a mixture of brown sugar, salt, and soy sauce.  Then it went into the smoker for two more days.  Delicious!!

The last chunk of salmon was pressure canned by yours truly.  I had never used a pressure canner so it was quite the learning experience.  I've made jam using boiling water bath canning numerous times, but the two methods have some pretty distinct differences.  Pressure canning is the only safe way to can all meat and other low acid foods (like veggies) because boiling water won't get hot enough to kill potential germies.  This pressure canner will allow temperatures to reach 240 degrees.

To pressure can foods, you start by sterilizing your jars in the same way you would for boiling water bath canning.  Follow the directions of your pressure canner for how much water you need, but it's only a few inches.  Don't expect it to cover the jars!  You're harnessing the power of steam in this method.  Once you have everything in the canner, put on the heat and get your water to boiling.  The venting of the canner before you put the weight on is VERY important.  By venting the steam for at least ten minutes (follow your directions), you're forcing all of air out of your canner and leaving only the steam.  If you don't vent long enough, you're pressure won't go up once the weight is on.  Once you're properly vented, put your weight on and start watching the pressure go up.  For salmon, you want to cook at 11 psi for 100 minutes.  This means watching your pressure gauge the whole time and adjusting the heat on the stove up and down, and up and down, and up and down.  You definitely don't want it to drop below 11 psi or you will have to start your timer over!

I put all sorts of different things in with the salmon: garlic, lemon pepper, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, habanero peppers, creole seasoning, bread and butter pickles, and pineapple.  We'll see what turns out good, and what won't make the final cut.  I'm told that canned salmon goes well with crackers, or mixed with mayo to make a tuna salad type dish.

And my favorite thing to do with the piles of fresh salmon - have your boyfriend cook you dinner!

For those of you that know Karl, I swear this is a real and true photo.  We've been together for almost 7 years, and not once has he cooked me dinner beyond a frozen pizza.  We move to Alaska, catch some fish, and bam! he's my personal chef!  He put some butter and lemon pepper all over these fillets, wrapped them in foil, and threw them on the grill.  Yummy!  I never liked fish, and Karl told me all these years that fresh fish is nothing like the garbage in the grocery store.  I didn't fully believe him, but he was right.  I may be a fish eater after all!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Our second drive back from Kenai was rainy, rainy, rainy.  However, the constant drizzle gave us the opportunity to see some of the most killer rainbows every time the sun peaked out between the clouds.  Every photo is a different rainbow - I couldn't believe how many I saw!  
Can you see the double rainbow???  Look close!

Check out this giveaway!

Sarah's Soak Shoppe has been featured in another giveaway!  This one is hosted by my awesome cousin, Laura, over at L to the Third in honor of breaking 400 blog posts.  Laura's blog was the inspiration for mine, so go on over and show her some love and enter to win a gift certificate for some yummy soaps!

Sarah's Soak Shoppe is also offering 25% off with the coupon code ILoveAlaska in honor of my move!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Journey To Alaska - Day Five (Video!)

Here's the video for day five - finally!

Journey to Alaska - Day Seven (Video!!)

Better late than never!  Here's Day Seven!

Gone Fishin'

We took a trip down to the Kenai Peninsula (one of my favorite places in Alaska) to go dipnetting in the Kasilof River.

Mount Augustine - across the inlet
Dipnetting is a type of fishing that uses a five foot diameter net to catch the salmon as they swim upstream.  The best place to fish is right at the mouth of the river, as the salmon start to die as soon as they hit fresh water.

Karl and his dad fishing at sunrise
Our first day of fishing was pretty unsuccessful, as the morning and evening tides only netted us 8 fish.  The next morning more than made up for it, and we got 18 more red and pink salmon.  
Isn't Karl fashionable?
We planned to stay another day or two to hit our limit of 60 salmon, but we decided to head home for a couple of days and get this salmon processed.  We're heading back later today to meet Jake and Marcella and fish for another couple of days.

Things I did not know about salmon before this trip:
1. You have to beat the salmon in the head to kill them once they're out of the water.  This offended my sensibilities, but I felt a little better once Karl reminded me that these fish were going to die in a few weeks anyhow.  The state is very aggressive in monitoring the amount of fish that are making it upstream to ensure that the bears get enough to eat and that enough survive to lay their eggs.
2.  Salmon are awfully bloody, and it kind of looked like a mass murder after they were filleted. 

3. You save the eggs from the female salmon, coat them in strawberry jello, and use them as fishing bait to catch more salmon or basically any other fish.
Willows first trip to the beach!
There are hundreds of seagulls everywhere, because many people gut their fish right on the beach.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Journey to Alaska - Day Nine

Day Nine was a much shorter day compared to the previous eight!  We had a few hundred miles to get to Karl's dad's house, and even the numerous construction stops didn't slow us down.  We stopped for lunch at the Eureka Lodge, which is really in the middle of nowhere at the top of a mountain pass.  We were sitting down for less than a minute when Karl's two cousins pulled in for lunch as well!  Karl was really happy to see family so soon into the trip and really exemplifies why he wanted to come back to Alaska.  Not many pictures from today - it was a short drive and it was pouring down rain the entire day so you could hardly seen the scenery.  Here's one photo from near the mountain pass - these poles are there to mark the road for snow removal crews because it gets so much snow here!

Journey to Alaska - Day Eight

On day eight, we made to to Alaska!!  We got up from our campsite and traveled to Tok, Alaska, which is about 90 miles from the border.  The Alaska Highway is an interesting stretch of road, and got progressively worse the closer you got to Alaska.  Lots of gravel patches and road construction, but we made really great time considering we had a LOT of distance to cover to make it over the border.  Here's some photos!
Outside Whitehorse, YT

The gravel parts of the road kicked up some serious dust - this isn't even too much compared to some.

The Alaska Highway 
This water was as blue as the Caribbean

Feel like you're on a beautiful island?

The pup

And we're in Alaska!!

Journey to Alaska - Day Seven

Giving up on videos for the time being... The internet at Karl's dad's reminds me of 1997 dial up...

Day Seven marked our journey from Smithers, BC to Mile Marker 638 in the Yukon on the Alaska Highway.  There is no town there, just the Rancheria Lodge.  It looked a bit shady from the road, but it was our last campground for many miles and we were exhausted.  Turned out to be one of the best campgrounds ever!  They had free hot showers, and our campsite was right next to the river.  The restaurant at the lodge served up delicious eggs and bacon for breakfast, and were actually reasonably priced for being in the middle of nowhere.

We drove the entire Cassiar Highway (450 miles) today and while it had some serious gravel stretches, the scenery was awesome!  I saw TEN black bears, including a momma bear and her babies!  They were all on the side of the road as we were traveling, so we were definitely safe.  I also saw a little fox that ran out in front of our car several times.  Willow went absolutely berserk over the fox - I guess because it looks like a little dog.

Here's the video and a few photos!

Moricetown, BC

Karl and Sarah


The pup

Awesome gravel on the Cassiar - this went on for MILES

We passed a HUGE area that had been burned by a forest fire the previous summer.  It burned for several weeks and covered almost 50,000 acres.  It seemed like we were driving through this forver... So sad.

A fox!  Sorry it's blurry!
Black bears!

Karl and Willow at our awesome campsite.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Youtube = FAIL

I have been trying so hard to get my last videos up for you guys, but Youtube is driving me absolutely insane!  It's taking 8-9 hours to get a video uploaded, then they're failing at 98%.  Any thoughts?  I really want to share them but I'm considering giving up...

In any case, we've been in Alaska since Thursday night and we're staying at Karl's dad's house.  I'm telling you, it doesn't take long to get tired of living in someone else's house once you're an adult.  Once we get our own place, whenever that may be, it just might be better than Christmas morning!  We're looking around at some houses for rent and hoping that we can find one that may be inexpensive enough that we won't both have to be working just to move in.  I'm grateful that we're able to stay here as long as needed so we can see what's out there work-wise.

We haven't even been here a week, so it's hard to say how well I'm adjusting.  I've had my moments (like finding out that Karl's ex girlfriend is apparently living with his best friend so she'll be around ALL. THE. TIME) when I've wanted to run back to Pittsburgh, but I'm generally still excited to be here and explore the state.  If Karl and his dad ever come back from whatever errand they've run, we're going down to the Kasilof River to go dipnetting for salmon.  I'm super excited, although I realize that my wardrobe is not particularly suited to fishing in cold weather.  Looks like a trip to a REI or Sportman's Warehouse might move to the top of the priority list!

I also promise that I'll have some photos of Wasilla up here soon, but it has been completely rainy and cloudy since we got here, so you can barely even see the mountains!  Cross your fingers that the sun will come back out soon!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Journey to Alaska - Day Six (Video!)

Sorry for the videos being out of order!  I wanted to get this one up for you guys because I might not have internet again until I get to Alaska (probably on Thursday).  Day Six covered our trip from Jasper, BC to Smithers, BC.  We finished up our tour of the Icefields Parkway, including a stop at Athabasca Falls, and continued on through British Columbia.  It rained off and on all day, so we decided to find a hotel for the night.  Smithers is the most precious little town and I could definitely be convinced to stay forever!  It has the cutest little craft shops and is in the shadows of gorgeous mountains all around.  I hope I can find a similar little town in Alaska to set up a homestead!

Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway

Rainbow over Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

Karl and I - doesn't he look happy?

Journey to Alaska - Day Five

We made it to Canada on Day Five!  Karl's dad was really concerned about them letting him cross the border (I guess he got into with a border control guy last time he went to Canada), so I was stressed that Karl and I would have to go the next couple thousand miles alone!  Luckily, all went well and we went from Great Falls, MT to Jasper, BC.  Youtube is having some issues with the video, and I'm we'll be leaving the hotel here soon, so here's some photos!

Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway

Athabasca Glacier

Willow goes camping
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