Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Solstice cookies

The end of June is a bittersweet time in Fairbanks.  While we're basking it the midnight sun, we've already crested the solstice and have begun losing a bit of daylight each day.  It's currently only a loss of a few seconds to a minute or two a day, but the downward slope has begun and before we know it, it will be September already and we'll be losing 7 minutes a day as we plunge into winter and darkness.  

But today is June 25th with 21:43 hours of daylight, and it's still weeks until we'll have to turn our car headlights on, and we don't have to bother to bring our headlamps when we go out camping.

So I decided to make some solstice cookies to capture the sunlight in edible form... It's a GF sugar cookie with Key lime frosting and topped with a candied wild rose petal.

The wild roses seemed especially abundant this year.


The wild rose, Rosa acicularis, blooms begin to appear in the end of May and start to become scarce towards the end of June (though I do sometimes find an out-of-sync blooming roses as late as August). So there's a short window when you can make candied rose petals.

I head out to the woods around my cabin and harvest a bowl full of petals.

To make candied rose petals, you can use egg white, but I prefer to use meringue powder instead.  While I've eaten enough cookie dough in my life that I must be immune to salmonella, I don't assume that everyone else has the same comfort level with raw eggs.  Meringue powder is found in the cake decorating sections of stores like Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabrics. 

Candied Rose Petals

wild rose petals
meringue power
white sugar

mortar and pestle


Begin by rinsing your rose petals and blotting them dry.

Mix about 1 Tbsp of meringue powder with some water to make a mixture probably about the consistency of re-hydrated powdered milk.  Then use the mortar and pestle to grind the sugar into a finer powder.

Dip a rose petal into the meringue powder solution, allow excess liquid to drip of the petal, and then place in the sugar.

Make sure to coat both sides otherwise the areas not coated in sugar will turn brown if the candied petals aren't used immediately.

Let the petal dry; it's helpful to let them dry on wax or parchment paper in case you need to peel them off after they're dried.

Store the petals in an airtight container between layers of parchment paper and they should last a few weeks.

GF Sugar cookie

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
2 1/4 cups gluten free flour (I used half pre-mixed flour and half white rice flour)


Mix the butter with the sugar; add in the two egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract, and xanthan gum.

Mix in the flour.

Refrigerate the dough for an hour before rolling it out.


Roll the dough out to 1/4 of an inch thick and use cookie cutters to form cookies.

Bake at 350 degrees F for ~9 minutes (until the edges turn brown) and then allow to cool completely.

 Key lime frosting

~1.5 to 2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp butter
~1 Tbsp Key lime juice

Frosting has never been an exact recipe for me-- I usually just mix a bit of butter, powdered sugar and some sort of liquid flavoring-- adding in a little more of whatever is needed to balance out the frosting for consistency, texture, and flavor.

 I start with blending soft butter with powdered sugar.

Then slowly mix in Key Lime juice, stirring to get smooth texture (if it begins to get too acidic, substitute a bit of water instead of lime juice).

Finally, frost the cookies once they are cool.

and add a candied rose petal on top of each cookie.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Let go of that which is most precious...

As most of you probably already know, last week I lost what was most precious to me in all of Alaska-- my best friend and canine companion Oban. 

Saying that he was an awesome dog is a grave understatement.  We had so many fun adventure together.
Sled-joring on the trail out of Tolovana Hot Springs

At the top of Donnelly Dome

What we originally thought was epilepsy turned out to be something much more serious, and his rapid and severe decline has left me blindsided. 

So, in surrendering to the reality that I really don't have control over things that I wish I did and in honor and memory of Oban, I've decided to let go of the one recipe that I've always kept secret-- Fudgie Wudgies.

Fudgie Wudgies on the Fudgie Wudgie plate I made 
specific to serve them on (with alternating oat and fudge
motifs around the rim)

I've always held this recipe secret so I can bake them as a birthday present or thank you gift for friends or use them as a trade.  And for certain friends, I've always felt like I've been hold the recipe back from them for their own good so they don't overdose on them.

I got this recipe during summer of 2000 when I was working at Toolik Lake a remote research camp on the North Slope.  I started my master's degree of thinking I wanted to be a plant community ecologist and spent the summer, as my sister described, watching the grass grow and quantifying it (though to be accurate, one of the main species we were monitoring Eriophorum angustifolim-- aka cottongrass-- is actually a sedge and not a grass).

As it turned out, what I'm really more interested in is ecosystem services-- so in fall of 2000, after spending 3 months at Toolik, I refocused my research to look at birch sap harvest. This has shaped much of my life since then.  Switching my research to birch was in line with one of my favorite quotes:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite 
absolute, final way.  What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, 
will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, 
what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, 
whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy 
and gratitude.  Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
--Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ

I had the opportunity to go back to Toolik last summer, 11 years later, to bring a group of high school student from the Rural Alaska Honors Institute on a field course.  It was neat to see how Toolik had changed and what was still the same.

When making this recipe, it's easy to switch out the flour for gluten-free flour (such as the Bob's Red Mill GF flour).  I always use real butter and not margarine, and often I use walnuts instead of pecans.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wild berry & wild rice muffins

Now that it's finally summer, my mind turns to incorporating more wild and local food into my diet.  I'm also thinking about using up anything that I have left in my freezer from last summer-- including my berries that I've hoarded away all winter.

I LOVE berry picking at the end of the summer-- whether it's an outing with friends or just sneaking away for a half hour to my secret neighborhood berry picking spot.  Alaska's berries are totally topnotch.

The wild blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum, is a small and tart berry full of flavor. 

Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, (also called lowbush cranberry) has antioxidant levels off the charts.

My favorite memory of berry picking was a trip I did with a few friends out to the Granite Tors trail in August of 2008.  It wasn't a good berry year around Fairbanks, but I had heard that there were some good berries out on the Granite Tors trail, so four of us-- Karen, Cara, Jon, and I-- headed out for the afternoon.  It must have been about a two hour hike to get up to the spot, so we started picking when we above treeline and found some berries.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating with us and soon it started raining.  After hiking all that way and dismall prospects of finding other berry patches to pick, I was not ready to give up.  My poor, fair-weather friend of a dog Oban just looked at me pathetically wanting to know when we would be finished.  He did the best that he could to hide under a bush to stay dry, but it was to no avail.  Once the rain started pelting us, we headed back down the trail.  Afterwords, we went up the road a few miles to Chena Hot Springs to warm up.  We grabbed dinner at the restaurant-- burgers and fries.  Somewhat delirious from being wet and cold and also slightly obsessed with the Summer Olympics that were going on at the time, I devised a new game-- the French Fry Olympics.  Some of the french fries I had on my plate were super longer, so I made everyone pull out their longest french fry and measure them up.  Sure enough, I might not have gotten a lot of berries that day, but I took home the Gold Medal.

I adapted this muffin recipe from something I saw in the a newsletter from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission where my friends Sara and Lauren work.  The newsletter with the original recipe also had articles about how awesome they are (Sara is a wildlife toxicologist and Lauren does law enforcement).  The original recipe wasn't for gluten-free flour and only called for blueberries, but I like how the blueberries and lingonberries compliment each other when mixed.

Wild berry & wild rice muffins


1 cup cooked wild rice
2 eggs
5 tbsp oil
1 cup milk
1 1/4 flour (I use a premixed gluten free flour and usually use ~1/4 cup of whole oats mixed in with it)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup wild berries (I use 1/2 Alaska wild blueberries and 1/2 lingonberries)
extra sugar to sprinkle on top


The first thing to do for making these muffins is to cook up the wild rice.  I use a rice cooker and throw in 1 cup of rice with 3 cups of water.  This will yield more rice than you'll need, but leftover wild rice is not a problem (and my sister taught me that cooked wild rice freezes well if you can't get around to eating it within a couple of days).

Next, mix together the dry ingredients.

Add in the eggs, oil, and milk.

Fold in the berries.

I try not to stir it too much after adding the berries since it turns the batter a purply-pink from the juice of the berries.

I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to spoon the batter into muffin tin.  Definite use paper liners since these muffins are hard to get out of the tin without them.  Even then I usually have to gnaw part of the muffin off of the paper liners anyways...

I usually sprinkle a little sugar on top because I like the texture it gives to the muffin.  The sugar I used was a bit too fine of a grain-- demerara sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) works best.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

These muffins are best serve fresh.  After a day or two, the wild rice starts to get crunchier, so find some friends right away to serve these muffins to!