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Pioneer Potluck: About saunas and cold Alaskan winters

Posted: December 28, 2011 - 10:56am  |  Updated: December 28, 2011 - 10:59am

Saunas are for the young, old, daring and the bored in the middle of the winter. It feels so good to get warm in zero and below temperatures, with 10 to 12 feet of snow and more slowly falling out of the sky. It's time to fire up the sauna. In our case in our younger years, we had a sauna cabin that had to be fired up (Bob's job) about two hours before you could shed all our clothes and enter into the steaming good smelling cedar room. There was a small one-man Jacuzzi tub in the corner.

Lots of cold winter days were passed with the thought of the nice warm sauna at the end of a very boring day. There were times when a big jug of wine was shared and there was the time the jug of wine ran out before our bones got warm. So it was once again Bob's job to go get more wine out of the refrigerator in the house. Bob in his entire nothing, headed out the sauna door, to run to our little house, to get more wine. He bailed out the door, ran barefooted across the yard in a big cloud of steam. All of the sudden he stopped, backed up, looked and took off running around the other side of the house. A none-to-happy momma-moose stopped in her tracks, not giving in on her territory, or as Bob said, "I think she was as shocked to see me as I was her!" He ran up the steps to the house, grabbed the jug of wine and retraced his steps around the back side of the house, across the yard and into the sauna, all of which took about 3 minutes.

I am sure the momma moose was wondering what that big steam cloud with feet was. It took Bob a long time to warm up, the wine helped!

About two weeks later, sitting so comfortable in the warm steam of the sauna, Bob said, "Oh man! We are running out of wood!"

We were just getting the bones warmed and telling each other "I could just stay in here all night -- this feels so good." Again the temperature had not moved above the zero mark.

Bob always built great fires in the old log eating woodstove in the corner of the sauna. It took lots of wood to heat, get warm and stay warm. A slight miss-calculation and you could cut yourself short of the very thing you built the fire for. We loved just to sit in the sauna for a long time and get the winter blues and blahs and sore spots soaked out.

My statement "I could sit in here all night" was taken seriously by Bob. Beside we had some wine left! Things were not ending evenly matched (like too much gravy and not enough biscuits). All of a sudden Bob disappeared out the sauna door in his nothing. Not paying to much attention I sat totally relaxed, thinking any time the fire would die down and we have to leave this little warm hacienda in the middle of the woods.

I was shook to reality when I heard a big thud, then a little shake, then another big thud, and another little shake of the sauna. I jumped up and before I could get through the sauna door and grab a big towel, there was the third thud and a shutter. I opened the main door of the sauna cabin and there was Bob in his entire nothing, with an axe in hand, chopping up the steps to the sauna!

It took some convincing that the steps were not fire wood and beside I was ready to go to the house, "so put the axe down please." We went back into the cooling sauna, dried off and headed for our little house before the fire completely died out.

Do you think maybe wine had anything to do with the non-calculation of the firewood and the chopping of the sauna steps? Those steps bore the big hash-chop marks for many years. I always smiled as I was going up those steps to get my bones warm.

Egg Drop Soup with Chicken & Noodles

4 cups chicken broth
3 tblsp soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger - I think this made it bitter, so I use 1 tblsp fresh grated
4 oz rice noodles or Pad Thai noodles, broken in 3 " pieces (I used regular noodles)
2 tblsp cornstarch
2 eggs beaten
1 1/2 cups cooked shredded chicken
3 scallions, thin sliced
Bring broth and 1 1/2 cups water, soy sauce, garlic and ginger to boil.  Reduce and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove garlic and add noodles.  Cook until tender.
Stir cornstarch and 2 tblsp water together and whisk into hot broth.  Cook 1 minute.
Stir soup so it is moving in circular motion.  Pour the beaten eggs in a slow steady stream.  Stir in chicken and serve with scallions.  
Serves 6.

Chicken and Wild Rice Salad

There are a lot of former Minnesotans who settled on homesteads all over Alaska.
They brought their love of wild rice with them.

3 cups of cold cooked wild rice
1 8oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained
3/4 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup milk
3 tea lemon juice
1/2 tea garlic salt
1/4 tea tarragon
1/8 tea black pepper
1/2 cup green onion and tops sliced
1 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup seedless grapes (op)
1/4 to 1/2 cup salted cashew pieces
3 cups cold cubed chicken breasts.
Toss all ingredients except oranges, cashews and grapes in large bowl and cover and chill for 2 hours.  To serve toss with oranges and grapes, place in lettuce lined serving platter and sprinkle cashews over top.  
Pass warm bread sticks to make this meal complete.  

Cheese Crab Casserole

This is a do-ahead casserole.  
Make the night before or about 12 hours before you serve it

Butter a 9 x 9 casserole dish.
 5 English muffins split
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
8 oz or about 1 1/2 cups imitation crab, coarsely chopped
2 tblps lemon juice
2 cups of shredded Cheddar cheese OR shredded Monterey Jack
6 eggs
1/2  cup half and half (I used canned milk) and 1 cup 2% milk (making 1 1/2 cups milk)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese OR Monterey or Cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely diced sweet red bell pepper - divided
1/2 cup finely diced sweet yellow bell pepper - divided
1/2 cup finely diced green bell pepper - divided
1/2 cup finely diced onion
Chop all the vegetables and set aside.
In the buttered 9 x 9 dish, place the bottom half of the muffins, cutting the 5th muffin into pieces and fitting between the muffin bottoms. Spread with the Dijon mustard.
Top with crab, lemon juice.  Sprinkle with half the sweet peppers and green onion.  Sprinkle with the Cheddar cheese.  Top with the top muffin.  Set aside.
 In a bowl, whisk the eggs and milk, mayonnaise, garlic salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Pour over muffins.  Place the remainder of the sweet peppers and onion on top and sprinkle with the Swiss or Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese and then the Parmesan cheese.   
 Cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours.  
 Remove from Refrigerator about 30 minutes before you bake it.
Set your oven at 375 degrees  and bake, placing the dish on a cookie sheet, for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 20 t o25 minutes longer until set and lightly browned.  
Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes.  
Cut in 12 squares.  
So good - so rich.  Enjoy!!

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