This is the last installment of the Kalifornsky Kitchen column.
I started this column just over a year ago, the same mid-March week everything shut down and everything changed. While I’d like to think I offered simple recipes that inspired people to cook or try new things — while highlighting ingredients that are accessible to the sometimes bare grocery shelves of the Kenai Peninsula — I feel like the column might have been more for me than it was for readers.
Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another over the last year. For me, the pandemic first meant having to leave the peninsula and move back home to Anchorage, where I was able to get a new job at a TV station, and a six-month magazine internship.
After the TV station sold and my internship ended, I freelanced full time, taking on gigs at trade magazines, local newspapers and I even helped build a website for a political campaign. I was also able to take two classes in grant writing and editing this winter.
Among the chaos and uncertainty 2020 and 2021 brought me, this column was one of the only consistent things I had in my life. Every week, I thought about what I wanted to make and write about, and the column became a time for me to stop what I was doing and focus on something joyful.
I’d like to thank all of the folks that took the time to read any of my columns, and even more thanks if you decided to try a recipe out. For those that sent feedback, please know that it meant so much to me.
I’m letting go of my column responsibilities to focus on a grant-funded feature story that will publish in the Peninsula Clarion in June. Then, later this summer, I’ll be moving to New York City. I’ll be embarking on a yearlong reporting fellowship with The New York Times food section. I anticipate I’ll be back home in Alaska after that, ready for whatever my next adventure is.
I’m passing the column off to a new person. She’s a trained chef living in Nikiski. She’s resourceful, talented and loves sharing recipes and helping people make delicious food. You’ll see her work next week, in a column under a new name, so look out for that.
But, I have one more recipe for you all. I went back and forth a lot thinking about what exactly I was going to make this week. I thought about making English muffins from scratch because it’s something I have always wanted to try. I thought about making rhubarb crumble because I have last year’s rhubarb in the freezer ready to be eaten up before fresh stuff comes back.
I ultimately decided on homemade lemonade because I bought way too many lemons when we went to Costco last week, because it’s basically summer now and because it also feels like the perfect metaphor for the last year and for how I’ve treated this column.
During the last 13 months, I’ve tried to make the best with what I’ve been given. There were many days during this brutal winter where I could not bring myself to cook, let alone eat. But I always tried to find new ways to enjoy the process of this column, use it as an opportunity to be creative and a time to be thoughtful and grateful.
I ran a lot of lemonade stands when I was a kid, but we mostly used Crystal Light packages. This lemonade is decidedly more work and more delicious than pouring powder into water. You’ll be squeezing juice out of a lot of lemons — like, six of them or so. I like my lemonade more sour than sweet, but if you like it different just adjust the sugar to your tastes. This recipe only makes about a pitcher’s worth of juice (approximately 8 cups) so make it for a special occasion or if you want to treat yourself.
Adding pureed rhubarb or berries to the lemonade would make for a tasty and refreshing beverage, and a great base for cocktails. Adding some seltzer can bring a bubbly element to your beverage, too.
This recipe has you make an easy simple syrup with white granulated sugar to add as the sweetener. If you don’t like it too sweet, only add some of the simple syrup to your lemon juice mixture. This recipe also calls for a pinch of salt, to really bring out the sour and sweet flavors. If that sounds weird to you, it’s totally fine to omit it, but it might be fun to try?
A tip for getting the most juice out of your citrus is to push on it and roll it around on your counter, like your kneading dough. The pressure you put on the citrus will help bring out the juice. I have also heard you can microwave citrus for a few seconds, and that helps bring the juiciness up as well (I haven’t tried this method, though).
I used a handheld manual juicer, but any method or equipment you have on hand can work for this. Don’t worry too much about the seeds, we’ll strain those out the best we can, but no need to obsessively try and pick them all out (this is supposed to be fun).
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, from about 4 to 6 lemons or a dozen limes (reserve the rinds and pulp for later)
1 teaspoon of salt
1. Make the simple syrup. In a small saucepan, cook the sugar and one cup of water over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and set aside.
2. Make lemonade base. Bring a pot of 6 cups of water to a boil, then remove from heat. Steep all the lemon peels, pith and pulp in the water for about 10 minutes. Strain the water into a pitcher.
3. Add the lemon juice to the pitcher, along with simple syrup and salt to taste. If adding any other flavor additions, stir them into the pitcher now. Serve over ice on sip on it on a sunny summer day.