Good news, Fairbanks! You’re getting a Great Harvest Bread Co.

24 Aug

It’s been a few months since I left Fairbanks and I’m not nearly as tied into the food scene there as I used to be, but this is big.

Great Harvest Bread Co. is opening today.

It might be a chain, but this is one worth checking out. Mostly because it’s delicious, but second, there’s really no bakery in Fairbanks, amiright? Finally, some freedom from the Fred Meyer and Safeway bakeries.

If you’ve lived in Fairbanks for a while, you might not be familiar. That’s OK. Basically when you walk in, whether you buy bread or not, they give you a huge slice of bread. Fo’ free.

In college, I used to go there to get coffee in the morning. $1.50 for a cup of drip and huge slice. Way better on spending $3 on a crummy coffee house scone.

Also, they have the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had from a store. If they could just add a little more love, the cookies could be on track to be even better than my mom’s (although we all know that moms put the most love into a cookie, so good luck GH.)

My favorite bread? Cinnamon chip. Although the jalapeno cornmeal isn’t anything to scoff at.

And when they have cinnamon chip scones, you buy them. Trust me on this. I don’t know what a cinnamon chip is, but I want them all.

I find it interesting that as the Fairbanks shop opens up, the one in Anchorage seems to have undergone a major expansion. It’s like a legit cafe now. If I start smelling like baked bread, it’s probably because they’re basically asking me to hang out there all the time.

Awesome.

Finding local

22 Aug

I’ve had a problem, friends. I can’t find any local food.

Oh, how spoiled was I living in Fairbanks. Farmer’s Markets on every corner. CSAs! HomeGrown Market! It was a field of food dreams, and I lived right in the middle of it.

Enter Anchorage. Potatoes are pretty easy to find, but those are chump-change in the local food scene. Alaska potatoes are a big deal, both in and out of state. Idaho spuds these are not, but the USDA keeps track of how many potatoes are grown each year, separate from other crops.

Other than that, I’ve been lost. I couldn’t even find a local butcher. I felt like I was drowning in my Costco tub of baby greens.

At least until last weekend.

The Spenard Farmer’s Market finally had vendors with veggies besides greens. I wasn’t too surprised after writing about how the cold season was affecting crops. Still, vendors had some pretty packed tables and I walked away with a bag of broccoli, onions and zucs.

On my way home I drove past the Central Market. It’s a lot smaller in terms of overall size, but has eggs and meat. Duane Clark, who I talked to for my last story, gave me the rundown on his operation while I purchased two pounds of ground pork and beef.

(Side note: Produce at this market is a good deal cheaper than Spenard, and the quality is about the same if not better. Down side, these guys don’t have any food vendors — which is half the fun when visiting the market.)

Clark was all out of chicken eggs, but instead had duck ones. I passed, but if anyone knows about duck eggs being good, let me know. Apparently Wednesday is the day for chicken eggs. He said last week he sold 47 dozen.

I’ll be back, probably again and again, too. The Central Market stays open during the winter (moving the operation into the Sears Mall). Crops are pretty limited then, but meat is still an option.

If you didn’t think this pretentious enough of me, consider this: I went to La Bodega across the street and bought a handful of local beers to try, including one from Kenai River Brewing Company.

Some of you might think this is all sounds overblown and whatnot. Fair enough. But I’m a big proponent of the locavore movement. The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a life changer for me. I’d rather eat high-quality fresh food. I’d rather spend my money supporting local businesses. I’d rather eat food that’s produced with fewer chemicals, toxins or cruelty.

If that makes me a hipster or something, whatever.

I’m still worried about what to do this winter. However, worried is a loose term. I don’t see going to the grocery store as a sin. We all have to eat. I don’t have the time or resources to grow a big garden. Besides whatever fish I catch (or whatever my dad decides to give me) I won’t be storing much.

What I would like to do is get a few bags of locally grown onions, like the ones I used to buy from Rosie Creek Farm in Fairbanks, and store them for the winter. Same with a few bags of potatoes. I’m not sure where I’ll find them down here, though. I might just have Matt buy me a bunch and bring them down.

Until then, I’m keeping an eye out, and utilizing this fabulous resource, Eat Local Alaska. Wish me luck! And please, please, please pass along any tips on how to eat local in Anchorage.

Doing work in Alaska’s largest city

15 Aug

Hey friends!

I know, I am the worst blogger. In my defense, I’ve been busy. In the last two months I’ve done the following:

  • Spent two amazing weeks with my Oregon family
  • Moved 350 miles from dear, sweet Fairbanks to the big, hopping city of Anchorage
  • Started a new job at Alaska Dispatch, a 4-year-old, online-only news organization
  • Wrecked my car :-(
  • Bought a new car :-)

Oh, and ate at a bunch of great restaurants in places like Bend, Ore., Portland, Palmer, Homer and Talkeetna.

It’s all a lot to take in, but I manage it pretty well most days. Here are a couple food stories I’ve worked on recently at Dispatch:

A quick profile on the super chefs’ behind Anchorage’s latest food truck, Urban Bamboo.

Food security in Alaska is actually pretty crummy. Also, cold weather in Southcentral Alaska has Mat-Su valley crops weeks behind schedule.

I’ve also covered (off and on) the battle between sport and commercial fishermen in sharing the burden of king salmon conservation on the Kenai River.

That’s it for now. I’m not going to say I’ll be a better blogger, because that’s just setting me up for failure. But soon, right?

(Also, if you see any food issues you think I should cover, shoot me a message!)

 

 

 

Top 5 cheap eats in Interior Alaska

26 May

In just a few days, my time as a permanent resident in Interior Alaska is coming to end. I’m headed back to the big city to start a new job at news organization in Anchorage.

I’m excited to head back to the city where I learned how to be an adult. But it’s with sadness that I leave the Interior behind.

I’ve learned so much as an eater and a cook. Fairbanks is a tough place to live. It teaches you to be resourceful. You’ll never find everything you need for a recipe, but you’ll find enough. And maybe not finding everything is a good thing. The biggest thing I’ve learned here is that a recipe is a guide. Getting off the beaten path can lead to some disappointments, but also some great surprises.

So here’s a list of my top five favorite meals under $10 in Fairbanks. This is what I ate 90 percent of the time I went out, which has been a lot.

5. Halibut tacos, Miguel’s: Why they only serve this taco on one corn tortilla is beyond me. This gets knocked down the list simply for that. As soon as the taco gets put in front of you, pick it up and start munching. You only have a moment before that perfectly cooked filet of haibut — covered in some sort of tangy, tartar sauce and topped with cabbage — starts falling into your hands. But it’s delicious and worth it (I totally wouldn’t judge you for licking your hands.) At $4.75 for one taco, this is a little spendy. You can get two, but it might not be enough to fill you up unless your order chips or a tamale to go with it. Of note, Miguel’s is easily the best Mexican in Fairbanks.

4. Biscuits and gravy, Alaska Coffee Roasting Company: Biscuits and gravy are a personal favorite. At $4.95 for one biscuit, split and covered with a creamy pork sausage gravy, it’s worth every penny. Add a swirl of Sriracha, and oh boy. Unfortunately, they only serve it on the weekends. But add a friend, cup of coffee and good conversation, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a chilly winter weekend in Fairbanks.

3. Italian sub, Gambardella’s Pasta Bella: Downtown Fairbanks is really disappointing. There’s no real shopping, art galleries, parks or even that many restaurants. If I didn’t work downtown I don’t think I’d spend much time there. But I did, and in the process checked out the lunch options at most restaurants. One of the best deals is this hearty sandwich from Gambardella’s. It’s loaded with salami, cooked onions, peppers and some ungodly good sharp Italian cheeses, all served on a homemade roll. You more than get your money’s worth for $8.95. It’s enormous and I’ve never been able to eat a whole one.

2. Pita falafel, Pita Place: Summer in Fairbanks tastes like pita falafel. This is the closest thing Fairbanks has to street food and it’s stupid good. There’s nothing complicated about it — garlicky falafel balls, stuffed in a pita with sauces, pickled cabbage, tomatoes, onions and cucumber. But it’s divine. A whole one is only $8, will fill you until it hurts. And make you want to convince the owners that they should follow you around all day.

1. Anything off the Thai House lunch menu: Notably, the Yellow Curry curry, Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles and Pad Kra Proa (Chicken/beef/pork with spicy garlic sauce, peppers, onion and basil.) Fairbanks secret time: Go to a Thai restaurant. Really, any of them, but especially Lemongrass, Bahn Thai and Thai House. Then order anything. Presto! The best meal you can have in Fairbanks. The quality and service will always be a step above anywhere else. Thai House is my personal favorite and the restaurant always take visitors to. I tend to eat here for lunch most often because the menu is mostly the same, but significantly cheaper. Every entree is about $10, more or less. At dinner the same meal (larger portion) would be $15 and you’d have to pay for rice on top of that. It’s still just as delicious, and worth eating, but I’m poor and would rather pay less.

Side note on expensive eateries: Every “nice” meal I’ve had here is always slightly disappointing. Lavelle’s does great pseudo-French bistro food, and it’s tasty, but not creative and the bar atmosphere is appalling considering you’ll probably pay around $70 per person for a whole meal.

Silver Gulch is not worth your time. After spending the previous four years prior to Fairbanks at Mooses/Bears Tooth probably once a week, it’s easy to say that Pub food is my favorite. While some of the menu is appealing (the beer cheese soup will knock your socks off) the shoddy service is not worth it. Maybe you’ll have a competent server, maybe you won’t. Frankly, the 20-mile roundtrip drive ain’t worth it for a cold entree and empty water glass.

I know my dining days in Fairbanks aren’t over, but I’m excited to check out what Anchorage has to offer. I never really explored the dining options in Anchorage. I didn’t have the time, money or really the desire. Now I do (sort of) and I can’t wait to hop in to it all with an open mind and hungry belly.

Frozen yogurt in the frozen north

16 Mar

You guys, I finally found mochi in Fairbanks. In place I never would have expected it.

Today I felt like going to Barnes and Noble to get Melissa Clark’s newish cookbook, “Cook This Now!” They didn’t have it, which was a bummer, but I still walked out with a copy of “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite” that I’m totally stoked over. If you haven’t checked out Melissa’s NYTs column, do it. She’s adorable, and the recipes are fantastic to boot.

Anyway, as I was driving I noticed a sign for a place called Honey Dew in between the new AT&T and Alaska Pizza Company over in the box store district (I know it probably has a better name than that, but Alaskans are a literal bunch of people and that’s what we call it.)

Dermot Cole had written that a new FroYo shop was going to open in a new building going up in the parking lot (urban planning at its finest.) I watched the building go up, but never saw the FroYo shop open. At least until today.

Coconut frozen yogurt with mochi, mango and blueberries.

I’ve only had FroYo once before. It was good, but not life changing, just a random place in Portland my boyfriend’s brother likes. This was about the same as that. Only a few yogurt options (others, besides typical vanilla and chocolate, included toffee, lemon and cappuccino) and a nice variety of toppings.

But they had little chunks of mochi you could sprinkle on top. I’ve always, always loved mochi, especially in ice cream. I used to go to the Korean market in Anchorage with my dad and get the little mochi balls with beans on the inside. I hated the beans, but I’d just eat around them. The chewy, sweet texture and paired with scrumptious-looking pastel colors was everything I could ever want in life.

Next time I check out Honey Dew (which has late hours, open until 10:30 p.m. every night except Saturday, when it’s open until 11) I seriously might just get a bowl of mochi.

Seriously.

Pulled pork, two ways, or, my Food Network addiction

16 Dec

It is no secret that I’m a bad reality TV aficionado. When talking about it, I really don’t know where to start. First, there’s 19 Kids and Counting. I love those crazy, crazy Duggars. Things that make them awesome: A commercial kitchen (which seems insane but realistic once you think about feeding 21 people at least three times a day,) no dancing and this recipe for tater tot casserole.

Other shows I dig: Hoarders (although less lately, since it’s just really sad), Dirty Jobs, Sister Wives, Project Runway and any and all weird medical/science documentaries.

It got so bad that I intentionally didn’t have cable for two years, to cut myself off cold turkey. Well, things have changed. My roommate Dan loves ESPN and we a cable box/DVR in the house I’m back to my old ways. My main drug of choice? Food network.

Don’t get me wrong, I live for Wednesday nights, when Top Chef: Texas airs on Bravo. But in terms of total pleasure per week, Food Network is at the top.

Where to start? I’ll watch anything. Literally, even the show with the annoying guy with the honkin’ nose and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with mega-douche Guy Fieri. But my real favorites? Chopped, Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef.

The latter three have basically the same premise: Get secret ingredients/basket and make some tasty, creative food.

I usually sit there and drool and think about what I would make with stuff like quince paste, marshmallows and wild boar. None of this is realistic, and despite the food looking great, I have no interest in making most of it. Either the techniques are too complicated or the ingredients too far flung. Perfect for really awesome TV.

However, the other day I put my culinary competition watching to good use: Pulled pork, two ways.

This is, of course, the quickest way to screw yourself on a cooking competition. More opportunities to mess up, they always say. However, this does not stop nearly every other chef from doing it.

Lucky for me, a no husky bald guy was judging my food. (Just kidding, Tom Colicchio! Love you!)

Using the Dutch oven Matt got me as an anniversary present, I slow cooked the hell out of a pork shoulder using a variation of a Paula Deen recipe. Fitting, right y’all?

Instead of just doing sandwiches, like the recipe suggests, I decided to do pulled pork tacos as well. Not to brag, but if pork shoulder had been in my Chopped basket, I would have owned it. I mixed up a rub, slathered it all over that bad boy and stuck it in the Dutch oven with a slew of liquids and popped it in the oven where I didn’t touch it for a few hours (time I wouldn’t be afforded in Chopped, FYI.) In the meantime I prepped some potato buns, cut some cheese and veggies, warmed up tortillas and got out the salsa and barbecue sauce.

Matt was my sous chef, shredding that pork like it was nobody’s business. Seriously, he’s pro.

Pulled pork master.

The combination may not have been traditional, but it was delicious and hearty and between the whole house we managed to eat most everything.

It also made me feel like an Iron Chef, minus Kitchen Stadium. Probably a good thing because honestly, who likes Alton Brown? He weirds me out.

PS: In case anyone wants to know, I’m totally rooting for Chef Falkner on Next Iron Chef. She made bagel ice cream! Come on, that’s creativity. Not sure who gets my vote on Top Chef: Texas. There’s still like 10 left. All I know is I feel this way about Heather.

Wonderful people

14 Dec

ImageIt’s so true that food brings people together, but maybe the unsaid truth is that it keeps us together.

Today I got a care package from my cousins in Seattle. It was filled with tea, chocolate, gorgeous potatoes and even some red quinoa, which I am very excited to try.

This comes just days after Matt’s family sent our Christmas present, an amazing KitchenAid standing mixer that I’ve already made three loaves of bread and a batch of cookies with.

It’s funny how food is such a huge part of my life in ways that I don’t even realize. I love it, but I sometimes think it’s a me and me alone kind of deal. I ramble on this blog, or to Matt, or to any of my friends that will listen, but it seems sort of solitary in the end.

But when I think about it, it’s not. My dad always loads me up with moose, salmon and all of his latest concoctions (last time it was dried fruits and moose sticks) whenever I visit. My mom always bakes something wonderful and sends it along with me. Matt’s mom, Jeanie, sent me quinoa with a package of winter gear for Matt.

I am so, so, so, so thankful for all of it! I can’t believe how lucky I am to have all of you in my life.

In the end, I miss you all in an insane kind of way and love you even more. Everyone has different reasons for not liking Fairbanks, but mine is being so far from family, even the “close” ones that are just six hours away in the Valley.

Hopefully I can hug you all soon. Until then, we’ll always have food. So expect some cookies in the near future!

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