Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Holy Earthquake, Batman - Magnitude 6.9

Yeah, we felt that one.

(Screen shot from USGS)

6.9 33km S of Tanaga Volcano, Alaska51.583°N178.200°W40.5

The devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake was a 7.0-- not much more than this one. It went on for at least 30 seconds. The whole house was shaking, drawers were rattling, and you could hear and see the earth moving outside. I'm listening for the tsunami siren, but not hearing anything. Everything is built to be very seismically safe; as far as I can tell, there was no damage. Does seem that the phones are out, though the internet is chugging along just fine.

The island is a pretty seismic place-- ring of fire and all that. There are minor (< 3.0) earthquakes almost daily, and we had a 4.3 the other day that was definitely noticeable. The screenshot above (from the Alaska Earthquake Information Center) shows that one, and also how seismic Alaska is in general. Just another part of life out here in the Aleutians.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Our gifts to each other this first year were cumulative. They were airplane tickets and employment contracts, letters of resignation, social security forms, and hours spent at the DMV.  They were patience and understanding and seven months of loneliness. They were worth it.

Our ketubah sits thousands of miles away, stored and ready to be hung when we have found a permanent (physical) home. We have already found our permanent home.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Q & A

We’ve had visitors from all around the world— the US, Canada, Ecuador, Australia, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam, South Korea, India, Ethiopia, and Iraq. Surely some of you must have questions! Please ask away in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.

Our first round of questions comes from some young friends in Germany. Without further ado:

Do they play basketball there?

Yes! Basketball is really big in rural Alaska because it can be played indoors, and it’s fun to play even without a lot of people. There aren’t enough kids at the school to have a team, but kids play basketball in PE and there’s open gym for the whole community twice a week.  

In addition to the basketball court at the school / clinic / city hall building, there are a lot of abandoned basketball courts in old military facilities. There are also lots of bowling alleys!

How do they heat the houses?

We have baseboard heating that is powered by heating oil. Each group of houses has a big tank. I really hope that ours is full for the winter! Someday, the island might find a way to harness the significant hydropower potential, in which case I imagine the hearing might switch over to electric.

How many kids are there on the island?

There are 18 students at the school (from kindergarten through 10th grade). There are also about three younger kids who aren’t quite old enough for school yet—the youngest is six months old. 

Overall, the population is around 150, but it really varies week to week. There are probably 100 permanent residents who are consistently on the island.

Do the kids come and watch the plane land every week?

There are always lots of people down at the airport, including kids. Plane day is exciting because of the new people, packages, and mail! Even though the Post Office is technically not open, usually if you hang around at the right time you can get your packages right away. So far it’s taken about two weeks to receive packages we’ve ordered from Amazon Prime—where we used to live in DC, we’d often receive those packages overnight.

Do they have cold or hot bath water?          

We have hot bath water! I’m not sure we (or at least I) would be living here if we had no hot water.

The water comes from sources on the island, and it tastes very good—like fancy bottled water. However, we have to filter it because there are toxins and pollutants on the island, and because the water processing plant doesn’t always run consistently. So far, we haven’t gotten sick—so either our filter is working well or the water is pretty pure to begin with.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Full Circle Farm Review

Every Thursday, we eagerly await a box of organic fruits and vegetables from Full Circle Farm.

We get the “Garden” size box, which contains 30-40 servings, and is intended to serve a family of 3-5. Since this is our primary source of vegetables and fruits, we opted for a bigger box—and are even considering the “Harvest” box, with 45-55 servings and a greater variety. For now, though, we are able to supplement the box with canned fruits and vegetables, and vegetable-rich foods such as tomato sauce and salsa. 

Organic, but not “Local”

Full Circle is not a traditional CSA, in that it sources from a variety of organic farms in Washington, the West Coast, and Latin America. This allows for a wide variety of items available year-round. Although it would be nice, 100% local eating is obviously not feasible here, especially since there are issues with groundwater contamination.

There has recently been some doubt in the scientific community over the relative advantages of organic produce, but I’m glad that Full Circle is an organic source. Among other things, organic produce just tastes better. Placebo effect? Maybe. But a powerful one.

Selection, Customization, and Add-Ons

One thing I really like about Full Circle is how much control you have over what you get in the box. Obviously, there’s some seasonality, though not as much as you would get with a traditional CSA, given the geographic diversity of Full Circle’s supply network. But every week, there’s a list of substitutions, and you can go through and change out items in your order. Theoretically, you could get a box of just cucumbers or whatever else struck your fancy.

You can also set permanent exemptions, making sure you never receive beets or cabbage or whatever else. Thus far, I’ve not set any, because I customize the box every week, and it’s also good to branch out. For instance, cabbage isn’t something I really would have bought before, but I opted to get a red cabbage and discovered a great recipe for cole slaw. My motto when shopping and ordering is variety is king. No matter what, we’ll have a lot of repetition, but small tweaks can keep things interesting.

In that spirit, I occasionally order add-ons, such as extra fruits and vegetables, eggs, and cheese. Our first order of eggs arrived safe and sound! 

The extras add to the cost, but I think it’s worth it every now and then for variety and nutrition. Speaking of costs…

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stream to Table

On Saturday, we went for a rainy drive to explore a part of the island we hadn’t yet seen. We headed out towards Finger Bay, past the fish plant and the small boat harbor, climbing up until we reached the bluffs above the bay (and the long abandoned cabin that once stood watch over the submarine slips below).

From the cabin, we drove down to the water, stopping to wonder at the sparkling clear jellies and deep blue mussel shells on the stony beach.

Driving further along the stream, we saw movement in the water, and watchful birds along the banks. Salmon! Lacking fishing gear, we turned towards home.

And came back Sunday with waders and a net. The river was thick with Pinks, also known as Humpies for the distinctive hump developed by spawning males.

So thick, in fact, that Ivan got our first within about 30 seconds of wading in. And then we brushed up on our field dressing skills. (More, er, involved pictures after the jump.)

Ivan is the fisherman, but there was blood on my boots too. I took part in the dressing with a surprising amount of bravery, mostly driven by fascination with icthyoid anatomy. However, I will admit to screaming like a little girl and nearly dropping the (very dead, headless) fish when it gave a surprise wiggle while we were cleaning the kidney—which is in very close proximity to the spinal column.
Note the XtraTufs. Requirement for Alaskans?

Bogs are the ladies version.

We took three large male Pinks and cleaned them at the river, bringing them home to fillet.

The salmon considers the fillet knife.
We got a good number of fillets (enough for a dozen dinners) and I will roast the leftover bits and pieces to pick over and use for salmon salad or salmon cakes. We kept one head, which I simmered with an onion to make an unbelievably fragrant fish broth. As soon as we get this week’s CSA box*, which promises potatoes, we will enjoy fish chowder.

We had our first fillets, prepared in our traditional style by Ivan, who is the master of salmon and sourdough in this house. It involves an acid (lemon or lime juice), seasoning, and a seasoned sour cream topping.

The peas may have been from a can, the potatoes from a box… but the salmon was fresh as could be, only separated by a few hours from the cold waters of the Aleutians. 

More pictures after the jump. Warning: some are a bit gory!

*Next post! Fresh Fruit and Vegetables 1200 Miles from Town

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Westernmost Mezuzah in the United States, a Fish Club, and a Surprise

You're looking at the westernmost mezuzah in the United States-- unless an airman on Shemya has one, which is pretty unlikely. It's already helping the house feel more like our home.

We're a little short on tools out here, so we had to find a hammer substitute. As sure as I am that our mezuzah is the westernmost, I am 1000x surer that it is the only mezuzah to ever be mounted with the aid of a fish club.

An hour or so after we mounted the mezuzah, we heard a knock on the door....

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Plane Day

Sundays and Thursdays are plane days here on the island. Plane days mean people coming and going, mail, and packages, all of which is pretty exciting when you live on an island with about 150 people (no one really seems to know an exact number, and it varies a lot) and one retail establishment, where a half gallon of milk costs $9.56.

I'm a little obsessed with milk these days. Sadly, there's none coming this plane day or anytime soon. But there could be, which is a comfort. Both the husband and I are avid milk drinkers-- odd for adults, but there you have it. While some might have ensured that a case or two of beer was among their chilled goods, we each packed two half-gallons of fresh milk. His is already long gone, and he's moved on the Hershey's Shelf-Stable (which you might have caught a glimpse of here). Unfortunately, it doesn't come in lactose free, a requirement for this life-long lactose intolerant. So I am carefully rationing my last 6 ounces or so.

Thus far milk is the only physical thing I really miss and desire, though I'm sure that there are many cravings and longings to come. By December, I'll definitely be desperate for a haircut, Starbucks, a Chop't salad, and the sun. In the meantime, it's good to learn to live with less, and to exercise patience, waiting for plane day and the USPS.

Long live Alaska Airlines!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

45-Minute Apple Crumble (or, What to Make When the Community Potluck is in an Hour)*

*But is later canceled for unknown reasons. More cobbler for us!


For the apples
6-8 large apples
4 tablespoons cinnamon (approximately)
½ cup sugar (ish)
3-4 cups of water

For the crumble topping        
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
1 1/3  cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
1 tbsp cinnamon

Preset the oven to 325. Cored and slice the apples (no need to peel—you’re in a rush here!) Check for stickers and seeds, and toss into a large saucepan. Add sugar and about 4 tablespoons cinnamon and toss to coat. Add water and set heat on high; stir occasionally.  Pluck out errant apple stickers as needed. The kitchen / house / surrounding area should start to smell amazing.

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir well. Cut in the butter—a pastry cutter would be ideal, but in a pinch you can do it with your clean hands. We were in a pinch since our kitchen is very oddly equipped, and is missing things like cutting boards and mixing bowls. Combine until the mixture has a sandy texture, and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes at 325, checking for burning and stirring occasionally.

By this point, the apples should be soft and fragrant with cinnamon, and most of the water should have boiled away. Take them off the heat and allow the remaining liquid to set up into a (delicious, sticky-sweet, apple cinnamon) sauce.

Add apples to container and top with crisp. Ideally, serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Non-ideally, drive in the pouring rain to a random community building, carry the dish around for a while looking for the potluck, give up, drive home, and then eat it anyway.

Island Exploration

Yesterday, we took a drive up to the northern part of the island, which juts out into the Bering Sea. We're trying to take advantage of good weather when we get it, and the day was perfect-- sunny and warm. Today we were back to rain and wind.

The drive took us past lakes, the island's sole stand of trees (now missing the sign that once read "Ad ak National Forest") and a gorgeous lagoon known for its wildlife. The lagoon didn't disappoint; we saw sea otters, too many birds to count, including an eagle, and a harbor seal. If you look very closely, you can spot each animal in one of the photos below. The seal is a particular challenge!

We also explored some abandoned military facilities. More on that (and lots of pictures) to follow later this week.

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