Pioneer Potluck: About summer, sunshine and long, long Alaska Days

Recipes: Mexican crab enchiladas, crab-stuffed mushrooms, crab-stuffed chili relleno casserole

  • Tuesday, June 4, 2019 10:35pm
  • Life

We are like all other persons in Alaska, trying to cram in as much as possible in the sunshine and take a nap when it rains — or in my case, do a catchup in the house cleaning, cooking or washing. Not enough time in the day is not the case in Alaska. We have somewhere near 19 hours of sunlight and if it’s not cloudy we do not have complete darkness. This means there’s enough daylight to still plant flowers, mow lawns, weed-eat and complete a construction project and have a picnic or bonfire.

In the earlier years of our life we had bonfires by the lake every night with whoever dropped by to share potluck and stories, way into the wee hours. We sang along with a couple guitar-players, who sometimes could not catch up or just plan strummed along and everyone was out of tune most of the time.

Great conversation and long tales of past experiences were the norm. The hoot owl sitting in a tree joined in, not too far from our fun. And once in a while a moose would quietly stroll down to the lake and get his late-night drink.

We cherish those days and the mostly “orphan-guys” that participated. They usually were unmarried men who had jobs in the oil field and on their weeks off had no family in Alaska to share Alaska summer nights with. They became part of our family and friends forever. Some have gone on to other lives and some have married. Some have moved back “home” and some have died way too soon. Those people are part of our memories we will never forget.

Times when son David would came home from a big commercial fishing trips with baskets and buckets of clams, crab and shrimp will be forever remembered. We would build a big bonfire, put on a big huge kettle of water and cook clams, crab and shrimp in the front yard. We spilled them out on a round “spool” table (don’t all Alaskans’s have a spool table?) covered with newspaper or brown paper sacks.

The feast was one fit for the King! It was shared by whoever dropped by and by the fellows that David fished with. The parties lasted all night with satisfied tummies and smiles on the faces of all.

Mornings I found leftover sleepy hangers-on, asleep in a chairs up close to the fire. I put on big pots of coffee and shared it with them. The mornings around a bonfire are just as wonderful. I scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and homemade bread toast for a late breakfast, before we all scattered in different directions for the rest of the day. By the time 7 or 8 rolled around in the evening, with the sun still hanging on the horizon, they would be back by the bonfire for another night of friendship and fun. Sometimes they would show up with a salmon or two to be baked and shared, or just potluck with whatever they could find in the one grocery store, M&M Market in Nikiski, as a contribution to another night of friends and fun.

I kept busy baking bread, cookies by the thousands and seeing that everyone did not go away hungry. I loved every minute of it. Bob supplied the wood for the fires with his constant cleanup of the cabin we had moved into. The woods had grown up around it and he made it look like a park by the end of the summer. We planted grass and flowers and made a walkway down to the firepit close to the lake. Our way of life was plain and simple and full of new friends, old friends and passersby who wanted to just fit in for the night.

We moved from those cabins after five years and Bob built our little house we now live in with the help of friend J.T. Bob continued the bonfires and we started to include on Memorial Day and Labor Day a big, big get together of friends and neighbors who brought their special pot luck dishes. We did this in the winter time also. The best winter bonfire was St. Patrick’s Day. Some years there was little or no snow and one year is was 20 below and 12 feet of snow. Bob just built a bigger bonfire! It was fun to guess who was bundled up standing in front of the roaring fire, turning once in a while to get the “other” side warm.

We have stopped having the big bonfires as we have gotten older and the friends who did not have families have their own families and friends now. So they have splintered off to their way of life as we continue ours with family get-togethers and picnics and birthday parties here at the Ricks Ranch.

They continue to be in our memories and forever friends.

This Sunday we went to daughter Susan and Porter’s house in Kenai and had a lasagna picnic with grandson Michael, who is here visiting from Washington and grandson Joe who lives close by. It was sunny and bright and fun setting around a round table — not a spool, but a round water tank turned upside down. The centerpiece was a big red basket of petunias from the Fireweed Greenhouse.

Things are different now and for the better in many cases, but you can never change the memories we have!

In Bob’s and my case this year, after trying to get gardening and lawn help, Bob has been mowing lawns, weed-eating, sometimes taking two days to finish. I have flowers and raspberries and strawberries to plant and with Bob’s help we will get them in the ground. We have a beautiful current bush and I finally got my rhubarb planted in a great spot to receive the sunshine it needs. We started gooseberry bushes last year and hope to see them grow and produce, thanks to John and Marty Ragan.

The hanging baskets and the other pretty flowers from Susan’s magic fingers at Fireweed Greenhouse we have planted around this place. It looks amazing again this year. We are so lucky to know the most talented flower-planter in the world. Her plants are awesome and we are the recipients of the beauty.

Most of the plants that come up every year are back this year and getting ready to bloom. A far cry from the day we walked through devil’s club, Pushka and tangles of weeds, vines and downed trees, with Bob leading the way, telling me, “This is where we need to build our house.”

Our house has been built, grass has been planted, the trees trimmed and trees planted. The chokecherry tree Shirley De Vault gave us is huge round and beautiful and getting ready to bloom. A big Canadian Red Leaf that Porter hauled out here in the back of his pickup was planted in our backyard is now at least 20 feet tall, and supplies a backdrop for our yard with strawberries, rose bushes, raspberries and flowers. I have a bench I can sit on under that tree so I can watch the ducks and loons on the lake. It took a long time to get to this point, but OH how we enjoy it!

Our house that Bob planned so well, 32 years ago, is in need of small repairs. He made it all one level with no stairs, foreseeing the day we would be older and not able to climb too many stairs. We say almost every day how lucky we are to live where we want, be happy where we live and have flowers, trees and friends and neighbors everywhere. God is good! And so are memories.

I attended the Memorial for Skipper Cowgill Saturday. His memory will live on in the building of Friendship Mission and the great contribution he and Mary Anne made to this community. It is an honor to have known him and we appreciate the work they both have done. Our community and our family is a better place! Thank you Skipper, you will be missed. Our love to Mary Ann.

MEXICAN CRAB ENCHILADAS

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese

1 envelope of dry ranch dressing mix

3 tablespoons milk

Stir until smooth and take out 3/4 cup and set aside for topping.

In a skillet sauté 1 tablespoon butter:

1 diced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 pound imitation crab, cut up and shredded

Stir in:

2 cans of sliced black olives, drained

1 4-ounce can green diced chilies

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Take off heat and fold in:

1 1/2 cup half shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Fold in the remaining cream cheese mixture.

Warm 8 tortillas (8-inch)

Spoon 2/3 cup crab-cheese down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam down in a well-oiled 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

In the 3/4 cup of reserved cream cheese mixture, add and stir in 1/4 cup milk. Pour over rolled tortillas.

Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese — Monterey Jack is excellent

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes until top is browned. Serve with sliced green onions, diced tomatoes, lettuce and sour cream.

CRAB STUFFED MUSHROOMS

12 fresh large mushroom, wipe clean and pull out stems

1/2 onion diced fine

1 cup chopped and shredded imitation crab meat.

1 cup fine brad crumbs

4 drops hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt.

Sauté onion in 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Add rest of ingredients except the mushroom caps.

Stir to heat. Add:

1/2 of an 8-ounce package of cream cheese. Stir to blend.

Dip mushrooms in olive oil.

Spoon filling into each. Top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Place in cookie sheet and bake 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes until bubbly and browned.

Enjoy! Add chopped jalapenos if you like.

CRAB STUFFED CHILE RELLENO CASSEROLE

Read through recipe and assemble ingredients. Great potluck dish.

1 large can whole chilies

Drain and place on paper towel. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine:

1 package imitation crab, chopped and shredded

1/2 onion, chopped finely

1/2 red or green pepper, chopped

2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. Set aside.

In a skillet add:

1/2 chopped onion

1/2 chopped bell pepper, red or green

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sauté to soften. Add:

3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

1 tablespoon flour

Stir into oil, onion and pepper until blended and bubbling — about 2 minutes.

Whisk in gradually:

1 cup milk

Stir with whisk or fork until smooth and thick.

Add:

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Take off heat and add:

1 can drained whole corn

Separate 4 eggs from yolks. Set WHITES aside and Stir YOLKS into white sauce. Transfer to bowl and chill.

You are going to blend in whites when you assemble pie.

Stuff chilies with crab cheese mixture.

Layer in oiled 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish, making just one layer.

Beat egg whites stiff.

Fold into chilled white sauce.

Pour white sauce over chilies.

Generously sprinkle cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese over top.

Sprinkle with cracked pepper and lightly sprinkle with garlic salt.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes until top is set and cheese is browned and bubbles.

NOTE: If you do not feel like taking the time to make sauce here is a shortcut:

2 cans cream of chicken or mushroom soup

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup milk or sour cream or combination

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1 can drained corn

NO EGGS.

Pour over top of green chilies in dish and top with grated cheese.

Bake as recommended in original recipe

We love this. I do not make it enough. It is NOT diet or calorie friendly! All of the above recipes came from my cookbook, “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters.”


• By ANN “GRANNIE ANNIE” BERG, For the Peninsula Clarion


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