Heading off to Mexico

Before my next Alaska post, I have a quickie cruise to Mexico that I’ll be posting about. Look out for Instagram photos!
It’s a Royal Caribbean Cruise on Empress of the Seas to Cozumel and Costa Maya.

See you soon,

Zita

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Happy in Homer

I’m now about half way through my Alaska cruise and the next stop is the quaint town of Homer. This pretty place is located on the Katchemak Bay and is noted for an area called “The Spit”, a 4 mile or so strip of land that was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago and now is the main location for Homer’s best restaurants and shops.

Before heading to the Spit though I have a date at Tutka Bay Lodge, a wilderness img_7209.jpgretreat about 25 minutes across the bay from Homer. The scenery surrounding us as we motor on over there is breathtaking. The lodge is on an 11 acre stretch of land with all types of relaxing and luxurious amenities plus, the reason I am visiting, a popular cooking school inside a repurposed crabbing boat, the Widgeon, they fondly call “the ark.”

Before any cooking happens, I am taken by the Chef, Charles and nature guide, Karen to forage for ingredients Charles will want to use for my dish. We head down to the rocky beach and before long our basket is filled with all types of odd looking greens and flowers. I’m given a brief explanation of each one. There’s one called  bladder wrack and it’s particularly strange looking but Karen assures me is delicious in soups and stews.IMG_7243

Back at the ark, Charles sets up a cooking area and proceeds to grill up beautiful looking salmon filets that will be garnished with a salad of our just picked greens. How much fresher can you get than this?

After boating back to Homer, I head to the Spit to meet with Chef Mandy Dixon at her popular La Baleine Café. She tells me she serves a lot of the local fishermen so her portions are quite hefty. To my  surprise, I was served a bowl of ramen noodles (with salmon), a dish I definitely would never have thought would be on a menu here. It was outrageously good. Along side that I had a crab melt that was rich and delicious and more of what I’d expect. What a terrific little spot this was.

77ENow heading off the Spit and into town we make a quick stop at Homer’s local brewery where the owner, Steve McCasland, guides me through a flight of all their brews.

Although there’s very little time left before my cruise ship leaves Homer, I have one final cooking date with Anna at Homer Stay & Play, a bed & breakfast place with spectacular views over the bay and glaciers. Anna and her husband Byron have prepared an incredible spread of food for us and I feel so bad that we have to rush through this visit. We still manage to whip up some tasty purple potatoes with goat cheese and “nesto” a pesto made with nettles and have a few bites of their delicious display.20170613_163953

It’s back onboard the MS Amsterdam and on to Kodiak with a full and satisfied belly and some wonderful new friends.

Cheers,

Zita

Anchorage Adventures

Anchorage is the next stop on this 2 week inside passage cruise. Since I had such great food experiences in Juneau, I am now quite eager to see what Alaska’s biggest city has to offer. Having over 40% of Alaska’s population, Anchorage is popular for fishing, hiking and I am certainly hoping, for eating.

I made a plan to meet  Jack from Visit Anchorage who has made a few dining arrangements for me. We hop into his mini van and drive to the “south side” of town and  stop at what looks like an out of business strip mall.  There’s not another car in site and while I’m a bit confused about this location, Jack gets out and walks to one of the doors and assures me that the Southside Bistro is one of Anchorage’s neighborhood gems. A uniformed Chef greets us and brings us inside. What a surprise to find a 20170612_105541.jpgbeautifully decorated and inviting space with an open kitchen and 2 warm and comfortable dining areas. I’m told they have one of the best wine and beer lists in the city too.  The restaurant is noted for its fresh and fun food and Chef Travis creates different specials on a daily basis. Today, he wants to  make a salmon with cherries and lentil dish and has a gorgeous 20 pound king salmon already waiting to be prepared.  He does all the hard work and then we sit down with a glass of pinot noir and this amazing dish. The wine and the salmon are just a perfect pairing and I’m feeling more excited with what’s yet to come.

We drive back into “town” and the main street of Anchorage where there are numerous vendors behind hot dog carts selling their popular reindeer hotdogs. Of course, I have to try one so Jack brings me to his favorite. It seems these are eaten all over town, even for breakfast, and I love mine loaded with spices and this vendor’s very own, special sauce called “the boss.” I loved it!

So now we go from street side hot dog stand to elegant, upscale dining just around the corner at Marx Brothers Café. This restaurant is an unquestionable treasure in the Anchorage dining scene located in a pretty little house with only 14 tables. They are known for some of the most innovative contemporary food in Alaska and I find this out for myself as Chef Jack promptly brings out 3 outrageously gorgeous looking dishes. There’s a king salmon with sorrel sauce and mashed purple potatoes, a macademia crusted halibut with coconut curry, mango chutney forbidden rice and grilled Japanese eggplant and  neopolitan seafood mousse with smoked salmon, smoked halibut, and maine lobster with brioche toast points and caviar. Yes, all that for me!  The Chef explains that he loves when opposing flavors can come together on a plate. He also said this is Alaska so you can’t get too crazy with ingredients and ideas. We finished with his special birch syrup butter pecan ice cream. This meal was as extraordinary as it sounds.

We have one more place to go in one of Anchorage’s oldest neighborhoods. This time it’s for scones at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. I have to work for my scone as Rachel shows me the process in creating these multi berried beauties. Needless to say I was a bit too full to eat a whole one but thankfully,  Rachel let me take some with me.

There’s still a little time left before I had to get back to the ship. I certainly couldn’t eat any more so Jack drives to one of his favorite spots, Chugach State Park.  The views are simply breathtaking and while I didn’t see any moose or other wildlife so prevalent there, I  was able to take in some of the natural beauty surrounding this part of Alaska and even managed to hike around a bit and work off some of that food.

Anchorage might be the biggest city in Alaska, but it definitely has small town charm and I’m happy to say, the nicest people and extraordinarily good eating.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

 

 

An Authentic Alaskan Day in Icy Strait Point

Back to Alaska!
IMG_6926We cruise about 30 miles west from Juneau to Icy Strait Point located on Chichagof Island. This port is unusual in that it was literally created for cruise ships as a place for passengers to learn about the native Tlingit culture. It’s owned and operated by the natives of Hoonah, the only town here. All profits help support the community and this largest Tlingit village that has been around for thousands of years.

I have to admit that I was quite skeptical about this stop. I mean, it all sounded so IMG_6835organized and touristy that I really didn’t expect much. Fortunately, I met Tyler, one of the local guides who understood that my travels are mainly all about the food.

Our first stop was to the Cookhouse Restaurant where Tyler told me the old salmon cannery workers used to eat. This historic place serves amazing seafood and local beer plus one amazing tasting reindeer burger!  While I munched and drank, Tyler told me about the salmon cannery that began here in 1912. It operated until the 1950’s and then was used as a storage facility until the 1990’s. The Huna Totem Company then bought it and turned it into a museum showing some of the original machinery used.

My next stop was to meet Joanna Dybdahl  a local Tlingit woman who was going to demonstrate her salmon smoking techniques. According to Tyler, she has the best smoked salmon on earth and I was ready to find out for myself. We set up out on the deck of  the Duck Point Smokehouse with the beautiful glacier scenery behind us. Joanna sliced up a gorgeous looking silver salmon into strips that are then put in a brine of salt, sugar and soy sauce. After the brining, the strips are hung and smoked for about 6 hours in their special smokehouse. I get to try a finished product and it really and without a doubt was the best I ever had.

After that delectable stop, it’s time for more salmon at Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen where local fisherwoman, Dodi Lunda, hosts hands on cooking demonstrations and tastings. I get my own lesson in salmon dip made from canned sockeye salmon. She takes juice of a lemon, cream cheese, mayonnaise, green onions, cilantro and liquid smoke and just mixes it all up and there you have it. Simple, quick and tasty. The one can made quite a bit and Dodi said it will last for 5 days in the fridge. It’s a great appetizer that you can serve with crackers or vegetables.

On the way back to the ship we passed by a stand called the Crab Station where another Tlingit woman, Minnie was preparing and selling the Alaskan Crabby Marys. As you IMG_6912would guess, this is a Bloody Mary with crab! I had to try it. It was basically a meal in a cup with a huge plump shrimp and king crab leg plus a whole lot more crab mixed inside. It was quite the finish for this unexpectedly fun day.

I left that port feeling gratified and satisfied and with a new knowledge of a culture I had known very little about.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Hiatus

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Hello! So sorry for not continuing to blog about my Alaskan adventure. As I live in South Florida, I had to prepare and then evacuate for Hurricane Irma. Fortunately for us all here, we were spared the devastation that so many suffered in the Caribbean.  But, still, we have some damage and have needed to address the water intrusion that occurred. I’ve not had access to many things in my home and also have been helping other family members with their damage as well so have been away from the computer and my blog until now. So, look out over the next day or so as we travel on to Icy Strait Point, Alaska!

Cheers, thank you and all the best,

Zita

 

From Crab to Gin in Juneau

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My ship arrives in Juneau, Alaska the state’s capital city and accessible only by boat or plane. There are roads  through the city that take you to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier and Tongass National  Forest but, otherwise, most sites are in the downtown area.

I was surprised to find out that Juneau has a thriving and growing food scene, and I, of course, am ready to sink my teeth into some delicious food. Who better to do that with than one of Juneau’s best and most passionate food tour guides, Kelly (aka, Midgi) Moore.

I meet Midgi at the dock and we take a very short walk down the pier  to the first and most known spot, Tracy’s Crab Shack where owner, Tracy LaBarge is there to meet us.  While we sit and wait for our order to come, Tracy explains that it took many years (15 or so) to make her dream of having the “best legs in town” a reality. Now, she owns the shack as well as 2 other amazing restaurants in town, Salt (that I’ll be going to) and Saffron.  A bucket of huge crab legs are put down but there’s also crab bisque and cole slaw, rolls with butter and just a whole lot of food. I started with the bisque that was thick and crabby before attacking the legs. Forget the rolls although both Midgi and Tracy told me they’re great.

Further down the pier, we stop at Deckhand Dave’s Fish Taco Truck. Dave McCasland is a former commercial fisherman who cooked for his crew and developed a passion for opening up his own restaurant. For now, he has his funky food truck where he whips IMG_6760up the most delectable fish tacos as well as fish and chips. He gave me a sampler of beer battered halibut, blackened rockfish and panko salmon with a thirst quenching Alaskan beer that certainly hit the spot.

After all that, it’s a short walk further into town  for some unique Alaskan cuisine in the modern, stylish restaurant, IMG_6764Salt.  Chef Lionel Uddipa is there and takes me into his kitchen where he has me help him make his special king crab rissotto. Being a 3rd generation cook, he has developed his own incredible style and recipes and this rissotto includes ingredients like spruce and chive flowers. It was absolutely fabulous and I’m not surprised that Chef Lionel has since won the top award of King of Seafood at the Great American Seafood Cookoff. Well done Chef!

As Juneau is said to be one of the most beautiful capitals, I want  to see some of that beauty. Although I don’t have enough time to go to the well known Mendenhall Glacier,  I am taken to the very picturesque Glacier Gardens rainforest within the Tongass National  Forest.  This is a 50 acre botanical garden with unusual flower tower structures and diverse plants and has a great view over Juneau too.

It’s one last stop before heading back to the ship and what could be better than Juneau’s first distillery where they make their very own gin and call it Juneauper? In fact, Midgi explains they make their own tonic too and so a cocktail to toast and say thank you seems a very appropriate way to finish off this visit.

 

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

(more to come from Alaskan cruise on Holland America Line, MS Amsterdam)