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Alaskan Wonders

I've said it before, food is reflective of where you are. Alaska is a place that eats off the land (or sea) and does it's best to stock up (and fill the freezers) when food is plentiful. It is a land that is vast, diverse, and full of surprises. Most people I talk to that are not from Alaska ask me if it is a dark, snowy tundra, that is desolate and barren, yet full of polar bears and moose? It makes me smile. In the winter, yes, it is generally cold, it is often dark, God willing there is snow (because who wants just cold and dark for months) and there isn't much growing in terms of vegetation. It is however full of life, with people playing hockey and skiing (especially cross country {otherwise known as Nordic} skiing), back country ice skating (imagine strapping on some ice skates on a frozen river out in the wilderness that you snow shoed to get to), snow machining, and even some indoor activities like playing basketball. In the summer, it is warm (shorts and t-shirt warm), sunny, and some of the best gardening you can possibly imagine (there is often 20+ hours of daylight every day)! It is also full of life, with people fishing and hunting, swimming in the lakes, hiking and taking advantage of the long warm days. People often gather for community events or local get togethers, and food is always shared at these events.

There are a few foods that people always associate with Alaska. Crab legs and salmon probably being the two most famous. These are famous for good reason, they are both delicious. Fish, and seafood in general, are a big part of the food scene in all of Alaska. One of my favorite local fish to eat is halibut. It is a very large white fish, flakey and mild in flavor, dense in texture, and delicious in your mouth!

Another type of seafood found in the cold waters off the Alaskan coast are scallops. These are not only found in Alaska, but they are popular among seafood lovers. They are a good size, roughly the size of golf ball, and when prepared well, they melt in your mouth!

Often times, all of these seafoods are combined to make a soup or stew. It is a windfall of seafood abundance that make up a bowl, and often served at gatherings of several people. Not only is it warm and hearty on a cold day, but it hugs your soul from the inside with it's delectable flavors and textures.

One of my favorite, and maybe my actual favorite seafood treats, that come from the cold Alaskan waters though, are oysters. I have had oysters in several countries (I really do love these little tasty nuggets from the sea), and have to say, the ones I've had from Alaska may be my favorite! They aren't always the largest, nor the smallest, but they have the cleanest, most fresh sea taste I've ever had. Maybe it's because the water is so cold. Maybe it is because they are so far north of the equator. Maybe it's all in my head, but I'm telling you, if you like oysters, even a little bit, these should be on your food bucket list. I will eat them plain, or in this case, with a little squeeze of lemon and a light sauce we made up for a little kick (this sauce is a mix of rice vinegar and sambal sauce, with a touch of salt), that doesn't overpower, but just compliments the delicious taste of the sea that blesses your tastebuds with these scrumptious delights.

Alaska is not only about the seafood. Caribou is a very popular meat, that many people stock their freezers with. This can be served as steak, sausage (affectionately known as reindeer sausage), ground, or most any other way one might prepare a similar animal (like an elk or deer). It is a very lean meat. One of my favorite ways I've eaten this was a piece of back strap, that was cut into cubes, sautéed in brown butter and garlic. Talk about mouth watering. The butter gave it a bit of fat, and it was so flavorful!

Moose is another meat that is eaten in this most northern state of America. It is a bit gamey, and in my personal opinion, an acquired taste. I find it is also not quite as common a dish in the big cities like Anchorage or Fairbanks. If you are lucky enough to go out to one of the villages in this beautiful state, you will find indigenous people that are kind and have also learned to be opportunistic in their diet. Many of the coastal communities will eat whale (one single whale may feed an entire village, for a year), seal and other sea animals. While I have not had the pleasure of trying some of these more exotic delicacies, I have talked with those that have. Some of these are most definitely local dishes, and can be...somewhat of an acquired taste for new taste buds. One of the things I found most interesting while talking to a native Alaskan, was how they use all the parts of these animals. They are able to preserve many different foods, including berries and other produce that they harvest in the warmer summer months, in the fat that they get from some of these animals. They also cook with this fat. They make coats, gloves, hats, shoes, and other things with the hides and pelts from the animals. It is truly remarkable.

There are several berries that grow natively in Alaska. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, a type of cranberry, and a few others. These can be picked by the gallon in the summer, and frozen to last through the winter. People aren't the only ones who love these berries, bears are big fans too!

If you ever get the chance to come to Alaska, I highly recommend it. It is a beautiful place. Full sun and warm weather in the summer, with green everywhere, mountains, lakes and streams, and views that will impress even the toughest critic. The winter brings cold weather perfect to cozy up next to a fire with, snow covered mountain peaks and more than occasional sightings of moose meandering through the streets leaving hoof prints in the snow. Your eyes will always have something to look at and your mouth able to try some new and amazing cuisine that will leave even the pickiest foodie begging for more.

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