Northern Lights Pumpkin Pie: A new twist to a classic recipe

It’s almost Thanksgiving and your assignment is to bring dessert. Eee-gads, what can you create that’s different, but something that even cranky Uncle Ralph will like? Allow me to share my favorite holiday pie recipe: Northern Lights Pumpkin Pie.

Pumpkin pie, recipe, crust, almonds, berries, Thanksgiving, dinner, dessert, pie, pumpkin

Northern Lights Pumpkin Pie (Graphic by Marion Owen)

Like the aurora borealis that we enjoy here in Kodiak, Alaska, you have to see this pie to believe it. You’re creating magic: Before you pour the custard filling into the crust, you line the crust with a few ingredients to create an amazing layered effect. Each slice looks like the northern lights in the night sky.

Okay, so maybe the visual description is a stretch, but I promise you’ll love this pie. Though I’ve dabbled with this recipe over 20 years, I have no attachment to it, so I encourage you to play with the recipe…

Northern Lights Pumpkin Pie

2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar (or 1/8 cup molasses, plus 1/4 cup honey)
1-1/2 cup low fat evaporated milk
1-1/2 cup canned or cooked pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup raspberry, red currant, rhubarb or strawberry jam or 1/2 cup berries
1 teaspoon diced candied ginger

Line a pie pan with pie dough, or a ginger snap or graham cracker crust. Spread jam or berries evenly over the crust. Sprinkle with chopped almonds. Set the pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Beat eggs, sugar and evaporated milk together. Add pumpkin and spices. Mix thoroughly and pour into the chilled crust. Bake the pie in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and cook another 40-60 minutes or until the filling sets up and the top is golden brown. A wooden toothpick poked in the center should come out clean. To serve, top your pie with chopped candied ginger and add a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla yogurt.

Last November, I shared how to build a better waffle: Healthy, cheap and gluten free. I hope you enjoy this recipe as well.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

By the way…

Have you every wondered what’s really in canned pumpkin? Well, some canned pumpkin puree is actually made from one or more types of winter squash, such as butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, and Golden Delicious. Turns out these squash varieties can be less stringy and richer in sweetness and color than pumpkin.

Apparently the USDA is pretty lenient with its distinction between pumpkin and squash. Here’s their take on the contents of canned puree: “The canned product prepared from clean, sound, properly matured, golden fleshed, firm shelled, sweet varieties of either pumpkins and squashes by washing, stemming, cutting, steaming and reducing to a pulp.”

Does that sound yummy? Hmm.


Posted in Food and recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feeling hugged in Edmonds, Washington: A photo essay

Have you ever arrived in a community and felt hugged? That was my first impression about Edmonds, Washington, my sister’s town. As we sipped coffee, sampled toasted cheese sandwiches, and strolled along the high tide mark looking for beach glass, I thought, “Wow, this is one of the most picturesque waterfront communities around.” So yes, even though it’s connected at the hip with Seattle, 11 miles to the south, Edmonds has a small-town feel to it. But rather than babble away, I’ll let the photos do the talking…

murals, art, street, Edmonds, travel

Having a little fun with murals…

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. First we had to fly to Seattle from Alaska…

Alaska Airlines, Kodiak, Alaska, travel

Departing Kodiak, Alaska on a beautiful, September morning.

Edmonds, travel, flowers, business, restaurant, coffee

Edmonds pride: downtown planted areas adopted and maintained by local businesses.

fountain, edmonds, Washington, travel

Downtown Edmonds is a haven for walkers. This fountain serves as a roundabout hub.

Edmonds, Washington, flowers, eat, shop, travel

Water feature in a garden “square” of restaurants and shops.

Edmonds, art, travel

Even the sidewalks are a treat for the eyes, and feet.

Soup, Cheese Monger, Edmonds

The Cheese Monger has the best tomato soup and cheese sandwiches which go hand in hand.

Edmonds, gardens, food, travel

Edmonds is pro-active in supporting recycling, the arts, clean beaches, local food and gardens.

Photos, Edmonds, diving

A colorful arrangement of scuba diving tanks caught my creative eye.

library, books

Who can’t love lending libraries?

Crystal ball, photos

I like to travel with a clear, crystal ball. Fun stuff for photos…

Edmonds, statue, travel, ferry, beach

We stopped by this statue while watching the ferry boats go by. I hope these gulls don’t poop on my head…

Alas, it was time to say goodbye. I’ll miss the views of the Olympics and Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountains. And good coffee. I wanted to stick around for the scarecrow contest, but we were off to Italy. But that’s another story…

Thanks for stopping by, er, visiting…

Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The journey began in 2005 with a Christmas gift…

As I sipped my coffee, a large BC Ferry made its way through the narrow, granite-lined channel in front of the bed and breakfast we were staying in on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. It was October 11, a soft, overcast day; the day before Canada’s Thanksgiving. Our hosts who lived upstairs, had loaded the fridge with a do-it-yourself breakfast: Berry muffins from a local bakery, strawberries, blueberries and the best yogurt I’d ever tasted.

BC ferry, salt spring island, canada

Watching the BC ferry go by…

We were spending time, or killing time I should say, before heading off to Italy. Our original plans were to travel around the American Southwest, but we flipped our agenda when temps continued to hover around 100 degrees F in Zion National Park.

Okay, I was the one who chose Salt Spring. A purely selfish move on my part after being inspired some 10 years ago by a book written by Michael Ableman, a farmer-author who lives there. “Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It,” was a

Fields of Plenty, by Michael Ableman

Fields of Plenty, by Michael Ableman

Christmas gift ten years ago. When I unwrapped the package on Christmas morning and started reading, I didn’t put the book down until dinnertime.

Fields of Plenty is a hopeful memoir, a travelogue, of the journey he and his son took from British Columbia across the U.S. in search of innovative and passionate farmers who were making a difference in what how we experience food. For me–in the face of fast-food nations, corporate controlled food, and global food security issues–the book’s collection of stories and photographs was music to my soul.

So there we were, my husband Marty and I, on Salt Spring Island, a beautiful ferry ride between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Salt Spring, by the way, is the largest, most populous and the most frequently visited of the southern Gulf Islands–but please, don’t let that scare you off from visiting.

BC ferry, gulf island, travel, Canada, vancouver

Ferry routes around the southern Gulf Islands

Originally settled by the Salish First Nations people, today Salt Spring (or Saltspring) is a cornucopia of artists, farmers, chefs, mechanics, romantics, writers, and retirees who consider the island as one of the world’s best places to visit, work and play. The New York Times calls is “one of the prettiest artist towns in North America.” Believe me, I had fun taking pictures.

After breakfast, Marty and I hopped in the car and headed out on our quest to find Michael Ableman’s Foxglove Farm. We stopped at the visitor center, where a young man gave us a photocopy of a map showing the location of all the local, organic farms. There were so many, the original map-maker probably had to reduce the text to a font size of 2 to fit them all in.

Fall colors brighten a vineyard on Salt Spring Island, BC

Fall colors brighten a vineyard on Salt Spring Island, BC

As we make our way along winding, 2-lane roads, we passed vineyards, signs for yoga centers and pottery studios, trailheads and orchard after orchard. “You can find 300 kinds of apples on this island,” a coffee shop barista in Ganges, the largest village on the island, told us.

Salt spring island, apples, orchard, Canada, BC

Salt Spring Island holds an apple festival every fall.

Turning off the main road, we drove through a stand of tall cedars and stopped at a gate decorated with a welcome sign, map and description of the 120-acre farm, located on one of the island’s original homesteads.

“Foxglove Farm is home to the Centre for Arts, Ecology & Agriculture,” said one poster. “The Centre was established to demonstrate and interpret the vital connections between farming, land stewardship, food, the arts, and community well being. Public programs, classes, and events are offered throughout the summer and fall.”

Another sign reminded us to close the gate after we entered…

As a side note: In January 2014, the New York Times ran an article called, The Elders of Organic Farming, about a weeklong conference that took place at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. In attendance were two dozen organic farmers from the United States and Canada to share decades’ worth of stories, secrets and anxieties. One of the overriding concerns of these agrarian rock stars was how will they be able to retire and how will they pass their knowledge to the next generation?

Michael Ableman, one of the event’s organizers, said the concerns were part of a much larger issue, a “national emergency,” he called it. According to the Census Bureau, farmers are aging.

The average age of the American farmer is 57, and the fastest-growing age group for farmers is 65 and over.

We parked the car near what looked like the farm’s main house. We knocked on the front door. No reply. We peaked inside. A basket of apples, several pairs of boots and a warm glow from the woodstove greeted us. We decided to walk the property in search of someone, anyone.


Quince, ready for picking.

apple orchard, organic

Branches draped with apple “ornaments”

We wandered past log cabins, hoophouses of tomatoes, orchards of yellow quince and apples, and carefully tended plots of asparagus and greens. We heard voices in the distance, so we took off in their direction. A dog greeted us as we found Michael, dressed in gray jeans, a blue work shirt and a gray knit hat, tugging at a long sheet of plastic laying on the ground at the base of hoophouse supports.

Crop sowing, winter cover crop,

My husband Marty helps out by tying up the hoophouse’s plastic cover while Michael and son sow crop seed.

“We just harvested the melons from here, and then last night’s wind took the plastic down.” Marty helped him secure the plastic cover at the base of each support with scraps of twine, we chatted a bit, introducing ourselves and asking about his future projects.

“I’m working on a book about the harvest, but I’m a year behind,” Michael said. Then he hopped on a tractor with his son. “I need to sow a cover crop of legumes and winter wheat before the rains come.” He finished in about ten minutes, then together we walked around the farm, shared stories and chatted with guests staying at the retreat.

carrot, organic, garden

Michael munches on a carrot while making his way through the family garden

We learned something else about Michael: One of his current passions is Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver, BC, one of the most densely populated cities in North America. Founded in 2008 by Michael and Seann Dory, Sole Food’s mission is to provide low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside with jobs, agricultural training, and inclusion in a supportive community of farmers and food lovers (farmer’s markets, local restaurants and CSA Community Supported Agriculture) ]subscribers. (Click here to support Sole Food Street Farms).

“We envision a future where small farms thrive in every neighborhood, where good food is accessible to all, and where everyone participates in the process. Sole Food is helping to fulfill this vision by marrying innovative farming methods with concrete social goals.” — Michael Ableman | Co-Founder/Director

The concept is a brilliant one and should be implemented in cities around the world. Here’s how it works:

Sole Food transforms urban land into farms and orchards. The sites are leased to them by the city or landowners on a temporary year-to-year basis. As you can imagine, the soil at these sites is contaminated and not suitable for growing crops. So crops are planted in raised, moveable planters which keep them separate from the soil or concrete and allows them to be moved with a forklift on short notice should the land be developed.

Sole Food, Vancouver

Sole Food plots in Vancouver, BC

In the process, Sole Food provides jobs to residents in the downtown Eastside of Vancouver who are working through the challenges of material poverty, addiction, and mental illness while generating large quantities of food.

Wow. Hold the phone. Real solutions here.

As we made our way back to the main house, Michael handed us some purple, orange and red carrots, tied together with string. “Glad you both stopped by. And thanks for your help. You never know, we just might come to Kodiak,” he said.

That, my friend, would be an honor.

And to think our journey to Salt Spring Island all started back in 2005 with a Christmas gift…

Carrots, color, organically grown

A gift of carrots…

Posted in Essays and inspirations, Life coming full circle, Organic gardening, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When you don’t need words

I was photographing at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC recently, bedazzled by the amazing display of dahlias. I was having a lot of fun composing the sea anemone-like shapes, textures and Life-Savers candy colors. After a little while, I pulled out the small crystal ball I keep in my camera bag. As I held it in front of my lens and took a few photos, several photographers from Japan peered over my shoulder, fascinated with the special effects I was getting.

flowers, dahlia, photography, crystal ball, Butchart Gardens

Before I knew it, a middle-aged man in the group turned to me, pointed to the glass ball and lifted his eyebrows with a pleading look. I nodded my head and placed the crystal ball in his hand. For several minutes, he and his friends went from flower to flower, photographing and chatting with great excitement. I couldn’t understand a word they said but, as Jakob Smirnoff said, “Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection.”

Thanks for visiting. But before you go, here’s a quotation about laughter by Anne Lammott that I want to share with you:

“Laughter is carbonated holiness.”

 dahlia, flowers, photography, Butchart Gardens, Victoria

Posted in Essays and inspirations, Our world, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How to bake love: A photo essay

Perhaps more than anything, LIFE magazine and National Geographic influenced my love for photography. Even before I could read the captions, I found the sequential and stand-alone images mesmerizing. The black-and-white photographs, whether published by themselves or in a series to illustrate an article, were story photos that taught me volumes about powerful compositions.

This series of four simple images was taken while my brother Henry made bread during a rare gathering of us siblings. His stage: The granite topped “island” in my sister’s kitchen.

You gotta feel it

“Making French bread is not about the ingredients,” he said. “That’s just flour, salt, water and yeast. It’s the feel of the dough.”

Bread, French, how to make bread, knead, kneading, baking, flour, homemade, baguette

I got it.

Years ago, I worked on a research ship which employed a baker, Ralph Naughton, as part of the galley crew. “How do you know how much flour to knead into the dough?” I asked during a midnight to 4 AM shift. Ralph a quiet man who lost an eye during a bar fight somewhere in Alaska, reached over to the giant bowl sitting in a warm spot near the galley oven and pinched a little dough between his thumb and forefinger. Then he reached up with his other hand and grabbed his ear lobe and gave it a squeeze.

“That’s how you know,” he said, smiling with his eyes.

Henry spun the ball of dough and pulled it over on itself as if performing a dough-ball. I could almost hear the melody. “Many recipes say to add flour until the dough can’t take any more,” he said. “But that makes for a dry, stiff bread.”

Lifting the ball of dough in his hand, he shared a tip I’d never come across. “The dough should sag a little between your fingers.”

Bread, French, how to make bread, knead, kneading, baking, flour, homemade, baguette

The proof is in the proofing

After proofing the dough and punching it down (no magic amount of time here; we simply went for a walk), he pinched–not cut–the dough into four blobs.

Bread, French, how to make bread, knead, kneading, baking, flour, homemade, baguette

Blobs are beautiful

Then he took each blob and shaped it into a lumpy, artsy loaf, rolled it in cornmeal and gently settled it into baguette pans, like a mother would lay a baby into its blanket-lined crib.

“Let it rise a bit, then bake it in a 400 or 450-degree oven for 30 or 40 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf, humidity, or crunch factor you’re looking for.”

Me, I’m looking for a platform for butter!

Bread, French, how to make bread, knead, kneading, baking, flour, homemade, baguette

My brother Henry is a civil engineer; not a professional baker. He lives in Spokane, Washington. I live in Kodiak, Alaska. We see each other oh, once or twice a year. He makes bread as a hobby and a gift. It’s a way of saying, “I love you. It’s good to see you.”

Thank you for stopping by. That’s a gift, too.

Posted in Essays and inspirations, Food and recipes, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My garden, my teacher.

My humblest inspirations seem to occur in the autumn when I’m putting the garden to bed.

It’s fall and the garden says, “I am growing old.” The potato vines are limp and the tubers huddle underground in their rough, weather-proof skins, waiting to be dug. Is there any greater treasure hunt than digging for potatoes with your hands? The calendula flowers have withered, transitioning to seeds faster than I can snip them off. So I let them have their way.

bumblebee, bee, pollinator, Kodiak, Alaska, garden, flowers

Meet the white-tailed bumblebee, one of a dozen or so wild bees that frequent Alaska’s skies and flowers. This is a female bee. You can tell by the number of segments (12) on her antennae. Males have 13. Marion Owen photo

A large spray of mustard greens, tipped with bright yellow flowers that tower over me, continues to lure pollinators in for the last supper. It’s no accident that a few plants are going to seed. Every year I purposefully pass over a few broccoli and kale plants and allow them to mature. It’s my gift to late foraging bumblebees and flies, and selfishly, I’m able to stretch my opportunities to photograph them.

So these days, I tend to lug my camera out to the garden more frequently, hoping to capture the last bee, the last fly, the last bug. I watch for White Butt, a fuzzy, white-tailed bumblebee adorned with a white band on its behind.

In the high tunnel, I yank out the last vining tomatoes and I’m reminded of the tenacity of plants and their relentless urge to grow. Hidden behind the vertical cucumbers that have climbed up blue and red strings, I find clumps of tomato seedlings. They look like miniature forests. Time-elapsed photography would have revealed a ripe cherry tomato smashing on the ground and spilling seeds on welcoming soil.

I think of a time in the late 1980s when I was hired by Alaska magazine to do a story about Juneau gardeners. At one of the gardens I visited, a trellis, covered by honeysuckle vines, greeted me at the garden gate, their pink and white flowers stopped me with their sweet fragrance.

“Would you like a cutting?” asked my host. “I can put it in a plastic bag for you.”

When I got home, I planted the sprig behind the golden chain tree. And there it suffered in the dappled shade, ignored and forgotten for almost seven years Then one day, while weeding next to the house, I came across some out-of-place, but vaguely familiar leaves. “Oh my God. I don’t believe it.”

I dug up the shoot and gave it a spot in the sun, where it flourishes to this day.

poppies, blue poppies, Himalayan poppies

A top-of-the-world plant that thrives in cold climates, blue poppies are one of my favorite flowers. As such, I admit to growing them in locations around the garden that provide the best camera angles! Marion Owen photo (reprints available)

And sometimes I can only apologize to a plant when I lop a branch off accidentally. “Sorry,” I whisper, “I just did one of those stupid human things,” and it continues to grow, in spite of my foibles.

The garden is one of my teachers and I can’t help but nod my head to Luther Burbank’s wisdom. Here was a man who, as a botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science, developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants (including the Shasta daisy and the russet Burbank potato ) over his 55-year career. He regularly meditated and baffled fellow scientists by shirking traditional scientific research methods, preferring to follow his intuition and keep scant notes on napkins and scraps of paper.

“There is no other door to knowledge,” he said, “than the door Nature opens; and there is no truth except the truths we discover in Nature.”

Speaking of discovery, we’re entering the season when we can look forward to the planning of next year’s raised beds, containers, hoophouses and hanging baskets. A little wiser from another year of experience, I think it’s one of the most pleasant occupations in the gardening calendar.

Vita Sackville-West, English poet, novelist and garden designer (1892-1962) said of fall garden tasks:

“This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect.”

“People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth.”

Miracles happen in that bare, brown earth. Take cuttings, for example. Propagating plants by cuttings is nothing short of miraculous. Beverley Nichols, author of “Down the Garden Path,” one of the world’s best-loved and most-quoted gardening books, was also amazed by the miracle of starting new plants from severed twigs.

He described it in human terms, perhaps to jolt us into appreciating the plant kingdom.

“It is exactly as though you were to cut off your wife’s leg, stick it in the lawn, and be greeted on the following day by an entirely new woman, sprung from the leg, advancing across the lawn to meet you.”

“Surely you would be surprised if, having snipped off your little finger, and pushed it into a flower pot, you were to find a miniature edition of yourself in the flower pot a day later?”

At times I’m humbled and surprised by how much my own yearly plans revolve around plants. Maybe not quite to the extent though of what’s described in “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” Journalist Michael Pollan presents case studies that mirror four types of human desires that are reflected in the way that we selectively grow, breed, and genetically engineer our plants: The tulip beauty, marijuana intoxication, the apple sweetness and the potato control.

For me, it’s much simpler. Oh sure, I admit to maximizing photography opportunities by moving blue poppy plants into a position which ensure a simple, un-busy background and I plant nasturtiums in pots right outside the front door so I can grab six blossoms as I dash to the boat for the evening’s Galley Gourmet dinner cruise. They decorate desserts (we encourage guests to eat them like an ice cream cone, packed with a morsel of cake and whip cream).

And today, rejoice! I spotted a female, white-tailed bumblebee diving headfirst into a yellow mustard flower. By this time, gentle reader, you may have guessed that my favorite insect is the bumblebee. And what of my favorite fertilizer? Compost. My favorite garden tools? My hands. And my favorite lesson? Thou are the grower, not I.

Thank you, so very much, for visiting.

seasons, fireweed, Alaska, Kodiak, sunrise

Red fireweed is another sign that winter is approaching. You can see the City of Kodiak and adjacent harbors below the rising sun … Photo by Marion Owen (Reprints available)


Posted in Essays and inspirations, Kodiak Island, Alaska, Organic gardening, Our world, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Summer eagles of Kodiak: A feathered photo essay

Eagles around Kodiak are plentiful as crows during the winter. Perched shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow raptors, they haggle over fish scraps, those leftover bits that fall below seafood processor radars. In summer though, these large birds of prey embrace a parental role by taking up residence in lofty nests to raise chicks.

It’s this parental role that we witnessed as rare scenes of eagles in action. From June through August, I documented their lifestyles during photo walks and from the deck of our boat during dinner cruises and wildlife viewing trips. Now it’s almost September, and I can finally enjoy some free time to process photographs. I selected a few images to share with you here:

Eagle baby food

In early July, I picked up vanilla latte at Java Flats and drove out the road with several photo friends to Pasagshak (puh-SAG-shak), a large U-shaped bay about 50 minutes south of town (Kodiak) to check on this nest. Lo and behold, the parents were actively feeding their only child. We set up our tripods and watched the adults shred portions of mystery meat and carefully present it to the eager chick.

bald, eagle, nest, Alaska, Kodiak, chick, immature, raptor, Haliaeetus leucocephalusFor me, the act of feeding the young bird was special to see, but I was drawn to the adults’ talons and how deftly he/she maneuvered the prey on the floor of the nest to get just the proper morsel for junior.

I thought about my father-in-law, who graduated from Kodiak High School in the 1940s. He, like many Alaska residents in the day, profited from the territory’s bounty program: Since bald eagles fed on salmon, they were considered a menace, and so for each pair of talons brought in, you were paid $1.50; big money back then.

Got coffee?

One morning in July, this female eagle (females are about 25 percent larger than males) flew in a circle and then perched on a tree limb above the beach in plain view of our deck. Our B&B guests were delighted. We sipped coffee and listened to this disgruntled eagle scream at the world. She looked, angry, as if crying, “Where’s my coffee?”

bald, eagle, Alaska, Kodiak, raptor, Haliaeetus leucocephalus

When eagles become ducks

I’ve photographed bald eagles in many scenarios: Feeding on garbage in a landfill and yanking bits of fish from a net on the back of a fishing boat. But diving in the water and then swimming to shore?

We spotted this eagle from the boat, swimming–no, rowing– toward the shore. We assumed he’d nabbed a salmon, which is normal.  Now bald eagles are the second largest North American bird of prey, (next to the California Condor), and carry a 6-foot-plus wingspan. It wasn’t until he scrambled up the rocks and turned around to look at us, that we noticed he was clutching a young Common Murre.

See the feathers around the head and along the leggings? They look more like carved wax.

bald, eagle, prey, bird, Alaska, Kodiak, murre, raptor, Haliaeetus leucocephalus

A week later, we observed an entire strike-and-kill sequence. An adult eagle swooped down from a rocky outcropping and plunged, talons first, into a patch of kelp. Then he started making his way toward the beach, scooping his wings and swinging them forward, like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke.

bald, eagle, Alaska, Kodiak, murre, raptor, Haliaeetus leucocephalus



Suddenly, a long, slender black beak popped up behind the eagle. A murre! As the eagle jerked itself toward the shore–a good 100 feet away–the murre fought for his life. He flailed, poked at his captor, and yanked his upper body side to side in an effort to free itself from the talons’ grip.

Once on the beach, the eagle dragged the murre onto the rocks and clamped its beak across the murre’s head. Finished. It was hard to watch it all unfold, though we realized it was an extraordinary event to witness. We started backing up the boat as the eagle pulled and spit out feathers…

How do you eat this thing?

Touring around the bay at low tide one morning, Marty and I saw the white, “golf ball” head of an eagle bobbing up and down on a stretch of beach. It was feeding on something but we couldn’t make out what it was. So we maneuvered the boat closer…

Amazing. Here was an eagle trying to eat an octopus. This was certainly a first for us. Perhaps for the eagle, too. The Giant Pacific octopus by the way, (named by ancient Greeks meaning “eight foot”) is the word’s largest octopus species, a challenge for the eagle.

bald, eagle, Alaska, Kodiak, feeding, octopus, raptor, Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Grab. Pull. Stretch. Repeat. It was almost comical. The eagle would lift up part of the mantle, let go, and then try for an arm. (Funny, eagles aren’t even listed as a predator). Alas, the tide was going out, so we had to leave, but I’ll never forget the look on the eagle’s face.

Flying the coop

For the last photo in this essay, I though I’d leave you with a chick update. In June, in one of the nests we monitored on our almost daily boat tour, we spotted three chicks, a high number, according to Cornell Lab or Ornithology’s fabulous online directory, The Birds of North America. Bald eagles often have two, sometimes three, but rarely four chicks. By mid-August, all three birdlettes had fledged and were still alive.

The other day, while returning to the boat harbor, we spotted one of the chicks in front of the “No Wake” sign at the breakwater entrance. I caught myself feeling a little motherly. “My, how you’ve grown,” I thought.

Maybe the eagle’s gourmet diet had something to do with it.

bald, eagle, Alaska, Kodiak, immature, raptor, Haliaeetus leucocephalus


Posted in Kodiak Island, Alaska, Our world, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This fudge cake recipe disguises three veggies

Okay, this photo of cake batter might look scary and unappetizing, but trust me, the finished product makes the best fudge cake that’s ever tiptoed across your tastebuds.

cake, recipe, fudge, vegetables, instant, pudding, chocolate

Are you a ‘sneaky nutrition’ cook? This recipe is the epitome of hiding healthy food–in this case, three vegetables–for unsuspecting eaters.

Best of all, it’s easy to make. It must be easy, since I serve it on our Galley Gourmet dinner cruises here in Kodiak, Alaska. True, I make a special effort to prepare most of the menu items from scratch (and use as many veggies, herbs and flowers as possible from the garden ), but not desserts. Frankly, I don’t have time. Well, unless it’s a rhubarb cobbler. So without further adieu, here’s the recipe:

Three Veggie Fudge Cake

1 package Devils’ Food cake mix
1 package (3.4 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup grated beets
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil (soybean, canola, etc.)
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
Zest from one orange

Place cake mix, instant pudding, spices and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Add grated carrots, zucchini, and beets. Toss with a fork to coat veggies with dry ingredients. Add orange juice, oil, eggs and zest. Stir by hand using a wooden spoon for about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a spatula and then mix for another 30 seconds. (You might find it odd that I don’t follow the instructions on the box and blend with an electric mixer. In my experience, directions on boxed cake mixes result in flat, dense cakes. I’m certainly open to suggestions). Bake in oiled pans at 350 degrees F. for the following times (times are approximate. Do the toothpick test: Done when it comes out clean):

  • 9×13-inch pan: 45 minutes
  • Two 9-inch pans: 35 minutes
  • Bundt pan: 55 minutes
  • 24 cupcakes (1/2 to 2/3 full): 25 minutes

carrots, zucchini, beets

I hope you enjoy the cake. It’s so fun to fool fussy eaters. Experiment with other combinations, such as spice cake mix (use vanilla pudding mix, 3 cups of grated carrots, or diced rhubarb, 1/2 cup raisins and more cinnamon).


Posted in Food and recipes, Kodiak Island, Alaska | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Get in the pink with rhubarb pickles

Just when you think you’ve tried all the rhubarb recipes on the planet, then comes…

Rhubarb pickles

It’s a blast to play with new recipes. Oh, sure, you can find rhubarb pickle recipes on the web, but I found most of them to be impractical, with silly ingredients and silly instructions. My motto is to keep it simple, tasty, healthy and quick, which I tried to accomplish in my last recipe, First Rhubarb: My excuse to dream up a new recipe where I make rhubarb muffins, starting with a homemade, multi-purpose, whole wheat muffin mix.

Rhubarb pickles

There’s life beyond rhubarb pie. (Marion Owen photo)

Back to the pickles > We put up many quart jars of rhubarb pickles and serve them on our Galley Gourmet dinner cruises in Kodiak, Alaska. We top salads and bake fresh salmon stuffed with the sweet and sour chunks. Guests are pretty surprised at the idea of eating pickled “pie fruit.”

Either way you serve ’em, rhubarb pickles are not only rosy-pink beautiful, they’re inspiring, prodding you to try new things. Once you get your creative [pickled] juices flowing, you’ll discover all kinds of ways to add them to dishes. They’re a pickle lover’s pickle, and you can re-use the liquid, too.

Here’s the recipe. Please share, experiment, and let me know what you think. I bet they’d be great sliced thin and packed on a hamburger! (Any takers?)

Rhubarb Pickles

2 cups vinegar (cider or white)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pickling spices
1 piece (1-1/2 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Peel from 1 orange
3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

In a non-aluminum medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, pickling spices. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Slice orange peel into strips and add with ginger to the pan. Cool liquid cool to room temp. Spoon rhubarb into glass jar(s). Ladle in the cooled brine mixture. Cover and refrigerate pickles for one week before eating. They will keep refrigerated for several months.

How to eat a rhubarb pickle

Let the fun begin! You can add dices and slivers to coleslaws, fruit salads and tossed greens; soups, stews and tuna salad. Slice them up for sandwiches and decorate your favorite chicken and seafood dishes (pack a salmon with sliced pickles before baking or grilling). When all the pickled bits are gone, use the leftover vinegar for an awesome salad dressing base.

Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy!

Kodiak, Alaska garden

The Alaska Marine Highway’s ocean-going ferry, the Tustumena passes by our garden in early June–rhubarb harvest time.

Posted in Food and recipes, Kodiak Island, Alaska | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

First Rhubarb: My excuse to dream up a new recipe

In coastal Alaska, it’s traditional to celebrate the season’s First Salmon, usually around May 15. Well, we live in coastal Alaska (and love salmon), but we celebrate another  “first”: The First Rhubarb. And such a momentous occasion deserves a new recipe, don’t you think?

Red rhubarb stalks

First Rhubarb! A cause for celebration.

It just so happens that for this season’s “first pick,” we had rhubarb-loving, B&B guests from the Carolinas staying with us. They told us a story about how a future daughter-in-law loved rhubarb and that the best way to make a good impression was to make a rhubarb custard pie.

“We hit every store in the area, dozens of them. No luck. We finally settled on a package of frozen rhubarb. It was better than nothing.

“The pie turned out okay, but there’s nothing like the real thing.”

In my opinion it’s unfortunate that anyone should live in a part of the world where you can’t grow rhubarb.

For this year’s celebration, we decided to share the first pick with our Carolina friends, by creating a new recipe: Whole wheat muffins with rhubarb, apples, fresh grated ginger, and teff. (More on teff later). As you’ll see, it’s actually two recipes: The first is a multi-purpose muffin mix and the second one is a variation on the theme.

Whole Wheat Muffin Mix

This is a fabulous mix–a kitchen staple–that I depend on for most of my muffin (sweet or savory) and quick bread recipes.

Rhubarb muffins in a muffin tin

A new recipe in an old muffin tin. Love it!

4 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup baking powder
1 Tbl salt
1-1/2 cups butter or shortening

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Then using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter or shortening until the mixture is crumbly like coarse cornmeal. (Tip: It’s easier to cut shortening into half the amount of dry ingredients. Once the mixture is crumbly, add the rest of the dry stuff). Store mix in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Makes about 14 cups.

TO USE: Measure 4-1/2 cups mix into a bowl. Add 1-1/4 cups water and a beaten egg. For sweet muffins, add 4 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Makes 14-18 muffins.

To make Rhubarb-Apple Muffins: Add 4 tablespoons sugar to the batter then fold in 2 cups chopped rhubarb, 1 cup chopped apple (don’t bother peeling), and a healthy tablespoon of orange zest. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before baking.

Rainbow appears over Kodiak, Alaska garden

Rainbow over the  garden in Kodiak, Alaska.

By the way, if you don’t know what teff is, make friends with it. As the traditional grain of Ethiopia, it’s gluten free, has a mild, nutty flavor and very nutritious. It’s great added to oatmeal, stews, pilaf or baked goods. Cooked whole grain teff is great on its own. You can add teff to veggie (and regular) burgers, cakes, rice, muffins, cookies and breads. Toasted, sprinkle it on yogurt and custard.

Thanks for visiting, and Happy rhubarbing!

Posted in Food and recipes, Kodiak Island, Alaska | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments