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Cooking: The Post-Project

Cooking, for me, is one domain that has managed to move beyond project stage and into the realm of lifestyle.  This is probably true for many people, since after all, there is a fundamental physiological need to eat.  Even so, I remember when cooking was a project: baking cookies as a kid, attempting Eggs Benedict in high school, preparing a $2 lobster that I bought at the Asian farmer’s market under the freeway in college.

My last big cooking project happened two years ago when I came home with Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso.  It didn’t take long before I was sold and, with that, cooking made its final transformation from string-of-projects into lifestyle.  (I don’t want to waste any effort trying to convince anyone to eat the way I eat; either you’re interested or you’re not.  But I think it’s worth mentioning, as an aside, that today, at almost five months pregnant, all of my pre-Paleo clothes fit great, and my husband doesn’t complain about headaches any longer.  Unless he has pizza.  Or beer.)  Again, necessity plays a role.  Food doesn’t come out of a box in my kitchen, which means if I want to eat, I generally have to turn on the stove or take out a knife.  Fortunately, I really like to cook.  I’m certainly not a chef, but I can follow a recipe and get creative with flavors on my own.

Even though cooking as a whole is part of my day to day living, I can still make sub-projects out of it.  I’m expecting, and hoping, that Alaska will present a host of new culinary experiences.  On the wishlist is an afternoon spent skiing under the Northern Lights, then coming home to grill up a pile of moose hamburgers and enjoying salmon sashimi with a side of wild-picked blackberries after a day on the river.  I know there are much more exotic and daring cooking opportunities awaiting me, much like that lobster from under the freeway.

Currently, my cooking looks as follows:


Lamb Burgers with Cucumber & Mint Yogurt Sauce

Bacon and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Dressing



Chicken Liver Paté

I’ll admit, I considered this a project.  It turned out pretty well, seeing as I have developed no taste for liver.  I used the recipe from Balanced Bites and ate it on sliced cucumber, bell peppers, and grass-fed cheese.


Orange Salmon on White Rice – I tweaked the recipe found at The CrossFit Way by adding more orange juice to make it saucier.

Green Beans with Cashews


Dry Rubbed, Slow Cooked Pork Ribs

Homemade BBQ Sauce – I used Sarah Fragoso’s recipe in Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook.

Steamed Broccoli and Cauliflower with Grass-Fed Butter


Veggie, Sausage, and Egg Stack


Grilled Turkey Burgers with Mustard on Coleslaw (cabbage, carrot, celery, apple, pecan, cucumber, red bell pepper, and dressed with homemade mayo whisked with apple juice)


Alaskan Idealism

I love a good project. I love to learn what tools, skills, and materials I need to start and finish the project, be it making, building, or learning something new.  I love to marvel at how my life will be improved upon completion of the project.  

 “I’ll never have to buy eggs again after I build a chicken coop!”

 “My feet will always be warm after I knit this sock pattern!”

 “My life will be complete when I learn to churn my own butter!”

 The only problem lies in the disconnect between the idea of the project and the actual completion of the project, which is best expressed by this illustration from Dirk’s Big Bunny Blog:


Most of my projects live out their lives in the realm of my perpetual thought bubble.  Fortunately, I know this situation is not hopeless.  I have many projects that have come to fruition over the years, it’s just that my ratio of planned to completed is not very good.  Alaska, though, seems like the perfect venue for improving that ratio and honing my follow-thru skills.  I expect that exceptionally well developed DIY skills could be quite the boon in Alaska.  Hungry?  Go catch a fish.  Chilly?  Knit up some mittens.  Bored?  Play some guitar, make some soap, or put a new addition on the house.

 In true “me” style, I already have quite the list of Alaska projects living and thriving in my thought bubble.  


Knitting is one area where I’ve, at least, already acquired some essential skills.  At several points, I’ve even sold some of my projects.  Most of my knitting has consisted of small projects, mainly hats and beanies.  I’m particularly proud of an almost-finished sweater.  I followed the Central Park Hoodie pattern, and used the exact yarn from the model photo because I loved it so much.  The only hang-up with this sweater is that I started it back in March…of 2010.  I’m now publicly committing to completing it before crossing the border into Alaska.


So close. 

It appears that other knitters have been able to finish the same sweater in a few weeks to a month.  I’m hoping the finished product will give me the confidence and drive to start having my knitting turn over as quickly.  I’ve been on Ravelry an unhealthy amount of time lately, and my knitting queue now has 20 different projects, including more sweaters, a few baby things, and couple choices for my holy grail of knitting projects: a man sweater that will actually be worn.  If long Alaskan winter nights are any assistance to my knitting ambitions, churning out one per month seems reasonable, and gives me almost two years of happily busy fingers.  My current rate of 3+ years per item puts me knitting into the grave.  The former option sounds much more pleasant.

 Playing Guitar

I’ve ambitiously owned a guitar, an antique that belonged to my grandmother, for 13 years.  Once I was able to recognizably strum out the first few bars of “Under the Bridge”, but that’s about it.  The aforementioned Alaskan winter nights, ideally, will prompt a quicker ascent on my learning curve, particularly since we’ve decided to not turn on cable.   


Decorative wallhanging no more.

General Homesteading

Even though we’re, truth be told, probably going to be living in the ‘burbs, I still can’t shake the image of Alaskan frontier living.  Canning, soap making, eating seasonally, tending chickens and pigs, milking my own goat, and ample hunting and fishing to stock the freezer are all fairly essential elements to my Alaskan dream.  My experience in those areas ranges from “Some” to “Zero”, but I’m working on it bit by bit.  Yesterday I whipped up a fabulous batch of mayo, and Sunday I’m planning on butchering a chicken.  I make no prediction on the outcome of the chicken; it might walk away unscathed.  However, I do feel it’s a certain rite of passage in omnivore-hood.  I’m hoping that certain conditions in Alaska will make my homesteading plans morph from whimsy to mandatory.  If tomatoes in January cost $12 a pound, all the better.




One of my most pivotal ideas that became victimized by project-block was running a marathon.  I had at least three false starts, where I picked a race, started a training plan, and then completely derailed after a couple weeks.  I can’t pinpoint the cause of those failures, because I was indeed finally successful in running 26.2 miles when I raced in a 50k, which is over 30 miles.  After that, I ran a marathon a few months later “just for fun”.


I suppose the ideal running conditions that come with living in San Diego at the time had plenty to do with it, as well as being a bit older, somewhat more disciplined, and having actual responsibilities that were a pleasure to get away from for just a little while.  Regardless, running long is in me now, but I know year-round living in Alaska will certainly present some challenges.  I will likely have to invest in both a treadmill (the horror!) and these beauties to keep up with 50k’s, move on to 50 milers, 100k’s, and beyond, in what promises to be the most amazing terrain and trails I can imagine. 

 Last Thoughts on Thought Bubbles

I realize that my particular situation in Alaska will not mandate that I actually complete any of these.  I’m certainly not, in the near future, going to starve without a self-caught and filleted salmon, or freeze without a homemade quilt.  But Alaskan living adds a certain quality to self-sufficiency.  Day to day responsibilities, having a job, taking care of a family, and not a small sprinkling of flat out procrastination have made the back burners of my life much more crowded than the front.  The time is now to address all of those pots, add seasoning, and bring them to a boil.

Dirty Socks

John is already gone, but that’s how we do things.  For our first major move, over 5 years ago, we were able to go together and at the same time.  But at that time, I had just finished student teaching and just finished almost dying of pneumonia, so I didn’t really have a schedule to keep.  Ever since then, I’ve been working as a teacher, so I have maintained a pretty definite work season.  John, as a landscaper, has had a less defined, but certainly prime, work season.  When you apply the field of landscaping to the backdrop of Alaska, some definition starts to take shape. 

 All of that adds up to our moving ability being not quite aligned.  From Reno to San Diego, John left over three months ahead of me.  From San Diego to Yreka, he stayed behind to finish his season and I moved to start mine.  There was almost a two month gap.  For this move, he’ll have been soaking up 20+ hours of daylight for only six weeks before we make the final push to get our life northward.


John’s advanced view.

Our lag time in starting our Alaskan life together presents some problems, because moving to Alaska presents some problems.  Primarily, John took three bags with him when he left in May, which leaves me to pack up the rest of the house.  I am not the person you want to leave behind to pack up the house.  Secondly, we have one shot to get what we need north.  There were several trips involved when we transitioned to Yreka.  To Anchorage, there will be one, and one only.  So prepping must be planned, pointed, and succinct.  I am also not particularly good at planned, pointed, and succinct.  

Fortunately, I recently heard a talk that gave me a very useful lens for viewing my current situation and task.  The speaker was talking about dirty socks.  Imagine that you somehow got it in your head that dirty socks, as in nasty, sweaty, stinky, post-workout socks, were extremely valuable.  More valuable than gold.  You would roam around collecting socks, in all their reeking putrescence, until you had a bag so large and cumbersome, you couldn’t hold anything else.  This would continue, until something caused you to enter a moment of clarity where you saw your treasure for what it really was: just dirty socks.  My goal now is to shed my dirty socks.  Old magazines?  Dirty socks.  Easily replaceable furniture?  Dirty socks.  Clothes I haven’t worn in years?  Dirty socks.  Cheap knick-knacks, chipped dishes, old bottle of face cream?  Dirty socks.


Bad dirty socks.

Ultimately, it all must go.  Whether sold, given away, or trashed, we’ll be down to bare essentials.  I’ll admit, I already cheated a little.  I packed up a couple, well, several, boxes of books to store at my dad’s house.  Actually, it was nine boxes.  I suppose I haven’t completely given up my addiction to dirty socks.  Or maybe it’s just an imperfect analogy.  I realized that one thing that is not a dirty sock for me is…well…my dirty socks.  I do love my Injinjis.  They are all coming.


Good dirty socks.

John sent me confirmation yesterday that he’ll be flying back to the lower 48 on July 1st.  That gives me a little over two weeks to purge over eight years of accumulation, then neatly assemble what remains.  At that point, we’ll begin our long caravan, with him towing our trailer, and me pulling our recently traded-for boat (which has been confirmed several times over as an essential item for AK).  The drive will not be brief, but it’s expected to be our most epic camping trip to date.  And, with my eye focused on our dirty socks, it should be a pretty light load.  



The Prelude

Call it what you like.  Wanderlust.  Grass-is-always-greener syndrome.  Unrelenting sense of adventure.  Pie-in-the-sky expectations.  Commitment-phobic.  Optimistic.  

We don’t go on many vacations, but we make up for it by moving.  In over eight years, we’ve spent a full two years in the same house exactly…well…never.  In our record holding shortest stay, we were in at Halloween and out at Christmas.  But that place had some serious issues.  It wasn’t just us.  Really.  But our habits are still revealing.  This will be our third lease in a row where we cut out early.  Even a year is too confining.

There is always something a little sad about leaving any place.  At this Northern California house, I was finally able to have a mini-farm: a few chickens and a couple pigs.  Family lived close, rent was cheap, there was no traffic.


Memories of San Diego from our previous stopover have been a particular challenge to shake from my psyche.  It’s hard to argue with amazing and beautiful year-round weather.  Warm stretches of beach, beautiful deserts, and wild mountains, all within an easy drive, have never drummed up complaints that I’ve heard.


And there’s Reno.  Well, there’s not much I miss about Reno.  There was extreme hot, extreme cold, and extreme wind.  It’s close to Tahoe, but I didn’t ski once while we were there.  Not one time.


But the sadness of leaving behind is always the minor emotion compared to the excitement, anticipation, and suspense of what’s to come.  And our current what’s-to-come carries a particular weight that no other destination can dare compare with. 


A name alone that hangs heavy with dreams, images, and emotions.  The mere mention evokes thoughts of mystery in a land that is both ancient and new, but also wild and unsettled.  Among those thoughts there is, undoubtably, unrealistic romanticism.  But even unrealized ideals house the possibility of exceeding the expectations. 

Alaska really needs no introduction.  Every other show on the Discovery Channel is about it.  People are curious.  They want to know more.  To see it.  To feel it.  To be part of it.  It is far enough away to exude the foreign appeal, but close enough to be realistic, if not practical.  But still, only some actually go.  Is it the distance?  Anxiety about the unknown?  The majority of general responses to our decision has been resounding and enthusiastic support.  Maybe most people, for themselves, come to settle on the conclusion, “But why?”  

I doubt that our foray north will fizzle, as our other forays have, into just another broken lease and a few loose ends left untied.  This time it’s different.  This time it’s special.  Because this time, we don’t have a practical list of answers to the question, “But why?”  We just have absolutely no answer to the question, “Why not?”