Three days after my 19th birthday, in the beginning days of January, I had decided to put college on the back burner, pack my suitcase and head up north. WAY up north, to Anchorage, Alaska to be exact. Even with all the time changes my plane didn't touch down to the frozen state until almost 2am. I was nervous, starved (I've always hated airline food) and judging by the people on the plane, wondered what I had gotten myself into...
The flight from Seattle to Anchorage seemed to have lasted a million years. It was dark, there were storms and everyone else on board was sleeping like a baby. Except one man who looked Aleutian in ethnic descent. He was wide eyed, sitting at the back of the plane and in the back of my mind, he was ready to put me in a stew pot with baby seals and start some traditional dance number. I was 19 and with very little cultural experience, all I had to rely on was stereotypes that I had been shown. He was probably the nicest man in the world, but my juvenile self who was on this grand adventure all by herself, was completely paranoid.
This is where I apologize for my completely sheltered (up until this point), Midwestern upbringing where the most exposure I had to the outside world and different ethnicities was reading National Geographic in the bathroom, oh and the "exotic" places MacGyver went on TV.
I had started this grand adventure for a boy (like most "out on a limb ideas" women have), who was soon out of the picture, but the memories I made, starting the moment I stepped off the plane, are as clear and delightful as if they happened yesterday.
I arrived in the early morning to the Anchorage airport where I was greeted with a 10' polar bear. My Alaskan friends who had crossed their hearts and promised to not be late, naturally were. While waiting for my bags to come out of the carousel, Mr. Crazy eyes came and stood a few feet away from me. I could almost hear the native drumming in my head, as I gathered my bags and headed for a cab, before I ended up like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker hanging from a pole, being dragged across the Endor forest.
Once outside I was thankful for my new warm winter coat and looked up at the stars. They were the same ones I saw back home, but were 500 times brighter than I had ever seen them before. My tummy growled a most ferocious growl as my cab pulled up to the curb. I was excited to begin my journey and most of all EAT!
I asked the cabbie to take me to his favorite place to grab a bite. Considering the late hour I figured it was easier to ask and he dropped me off at a small dive a few minutes away. The parking lot was full of trucks, snowmobiles and inside I found men in plaid drinking mass quantities of beer! (totally just like the movies) I phoned my ride, ordered a burrito (I figured it was safe) and kicked back and read some flyers and local newspapers left in the entryway.
*Not the actual burrito. I was too busy eating at the time.
That night I ate one of the tastiest and unexpectedly peculiar foods. I later learned it to be a big game burrito. The owners brother owned a local butcher shop and many different types of wild game we're always on the menu. Some nights it was moose, some nights it was reindeer, others elk or even goat. It was warm and comforting in a cold state that seemed so far away from my previous home. My friends arrived and my journeys began.
I was too timid to relish all the amazingly fresh and pure seafood that was all around me. Having grown up in a land locked state, my seafood usually came fried or in stick form and I was totally oblivious to the lap of luxury that was my new home. Someday I'll return with my wits and grown up tastes in tow and devour all that the ocean has to offer.
This pumpkin weighed in over 1,000lbs and could be mistaken for
Jabba The Hutt's younger brother.
Once the winter passed I spent the majority of my time in The Matanuska Valley, near the cities of Wasilla and Palmer (yes where Sarah Palin is from and no I didn't know her). As the growing season got underway, the backyard gardens started to produce amazing things. In this particular area of Alaska, where a few cities are nestled between tall mountain tops, an area perfect for farming had been created. Their seasons were mild, void of scorching temperature, full of rain and because the sun never sets, there is no down time. Things just grow, and grow and grow!
First seen at the State Fair, these oversized garden treasures just blew my mind. If you're looking for some fun, try searching Flickr for "Alaska state fair vegetables" or a specific vegetable and see what comes up. There are hundreds of images that look like a horror movie in the making, When Veggies Attack! I was lucky enough to know several of the prize winning farmers and was able to partake in their haul. They tasted, fresh and fabulous, just like they should. Amongst other fair food, you can find a mighty tasty sausage, which although there were many a Rudolph on a bun jokes, would win hands down against some of the finest meats I've ever eaten!
A crisp juicy carrot or burrito will occasionally take me back to my days spent exploring the wilderness and hiking until my legs were numb, exploring all the state had to show me. A time when life seemed so much bigger and without so many responsibilities. Here's to the great times we have exploring new places and eating fabulous food!
*Edited 7.22.09 - When I was wasn't busy eating my way through the frozen state and hiking up a storm, I supported myself working for the Aleutian community as a photographer. Many are good friends still to this day and it was a pleasure to spend my time with people who have such an amazing history to tell. My journey to Alaska was an eye opening experience to all things, food, cultures, diversity (although men still out number women 2-1!), tradition and way of life and I was so ever blessed to be able to have such an adventure.