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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Termination Point

By Zoya Saltonstall
Published in Kodiak Daily Mirror on October 8th, 2015

The fogs and rains have descended once again on Kodiak. Fall is in full swing and the rain is welcomed by many. The water reservoir levels were low and some salmon were still high and dry waiting for the rains. This weather gives us silent permission to retreat indoors for baking, canning, quilting and perhaps more TV shows as well.

It’s been two years since we’ve had a “real” winter with any significant snow at sea level. With the recent rain and increasing darkness, my thoughts  turn to winter and how good it is for the soul to continue to get outside during these darker, wetter months.

Kodiak is blessed with good sea-level hiking for the winter months including Abercrombie, Near Island, Boy Scout Lake trails. All these places are just a short drive away from town and hold hours of discoveries and adventures.

 Termination Point is one of these very magical spots. At the very end of Monashka Bay Road, to the East of White Sands Beach, the Lesnoi-owned Termination Point land is a getaway like no other on Kodiak.

When the winds are gusting 60 and the rain is coming down in the Kodiak-sideways fashion, Termination Point is a shelter from the storm.

When the days are sunny and calm, the hike along the steep cliffs look over the deep blue sea and aqua reefs below. The clear water and reflections leave one breathless. When the rain is coming down in sheets, Termination Point is a protected canopy of spruce trees.

The explosion of greens fill up any low spirits. Mother Nature’s spectacular canvass.

The actual  “Termination Point” at the turnaround of the hike is a grassy flat, exposed overlook looking out over Spruce Island. It is an ocean overlook that never fails to awe those who make the trek out. I’ve sat there numbers of times munching on a snack, feeling grateful to live in Kodiak.

The borough assembly will vote on Thursday whether to proceed with negotiations to assume management of a conservation easement on the Lesnoi land. This will ensure protection of the land for generations more to enjoy and appreciate. It will also ensure habitat protection for the birds and other animals of Kodiak.

 We know how good fresh air is, or a majestic overlook is for the soul. Termination Point is always an adventure waiting and soul food at its very best.

The appreciation of those crashing waves, or the majestic spruce trees, or the vibrant green moss or the steep cliffs or the animals in their habitat-experiencing that harmony in nature leads us to healthier, more mindful versions of ourselves.

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

Summer's Gone And Times a Slippin'

Zoya and Bethany go camping - May 

Last night I looked through my photos from the last 1/2 year or so, and saw a bunch that never made our blog.  It reminded me about how fast time flies.  It seems like just yesterday it was April and the land was turning green - skiing was at its peak on Pyramid.  Then there were the hectic and green, green salad days of summer.  Now it is all brown again, hunting season is almost over, and we are waiting for the snow.  Pretty soon it will be ski season!  Patrick

Stuey in the St Mary's dance troup - late April

Checking out a site on North Afognak - Early June

Girl Scouts on Old Womens - Early August

Sisters and cousins hike the 3 Pilar Point Trail - late August

Final deer of the year  (Don's proxy deer) - Early October

Summer is most definitely OVER

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Elephant Bunkers Oh My!

It was pitch dark in the elephant bunker and I used the camera's flashlight

On Saturday we took the dogs for a family exploring trip behind Boy Scout Lake and Buskin Beach.  A co-worker had told me about some elephant bunkers in good shape, and I thought it would be good fun to try and find them.

The fun part was that I only had a general idea of where the bunkers are located and we had to find them on our own.  All the old roads were over grown with brush and I had to use my 'archaeologist-on-survey' eyes to find the old elephant bunkers.

The bunkers are in very good shape and still contain some of the original furniture.  It looks like they were used as living areas in the 1970's but have seen little to no visitation since then.  All the old beer and soda cans etc seem like stuff that was in style in the 1970s.  Very cool and spooky to visit a military installation 70 years after it was abandoned.

Talking to my co-worker on Monday I discovered that we did not find some old gun mounts that are located very close to the bunkers, and even a much older gun emplacement near the ready ammunition bunker.  I guess we still have some exploring to do!


This 'spotting and plotting' pillbox looks like it was someone's living room in the 1970's

Nora by the 'spotting and plotting' table and window

Original pillbox door

Exploring the old roads

Fern color

Stuey in an old 'ready ammunition' bunker

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Red Neck Sous-Vide Deer Roast

Lately a lot of my friends have been experimenting with the 'sous-vide' method of cooking meat.  Basically it involves vacuum sealing a roast and cooking it in carefully regulated, low temperature water baths.  You set the water temperature to 130 degrees, or whatever, and that is the temperature the roast soaking in the water eventually achieves. No over-cooking, no loss of moisture, just perfectly cooked meat - pink all the way through without constant monitoring of the meat temperature.  The long cooking times at low temperature also break up muscle fibers and make the resulting roast more tender.  However, there is the downside that if done too long (like over 12 hours) the roast can end up 'mushy' or 'bubble-gummy' (more on this later).

I've always been an advocate of cooking roasts at relatively low heat (click here to see my old roast recipe).  I've always believed that cooking temperatures below boiling at 212 degrees help meat retain moisture.  And I must admit the 'sous-vide' technique caught my interest - especially after a friend cooked up a particularly memorable Thanksgiving elk roast using this method. However, the technique seemed a little gear intensive what with vacuum sealers, pressure cookers full of water, and 'on-off' temperature switches etc.  Why couldn't I just adapt my usual oven-roasting methods to achieve the same results?

So with my roasts I went longer and cooler in the oven.  I set the temperature to the lowest setting (170 degrees in my oven) and then TURNED the oven OFF.  And turned it on for a bit later - on and off but mostly off.  I did use a meat thermometer in the roast and monitored it while the temperature slowly rose.  I pulled it out at 128 degrees and then flash fried it in a hot frying pan to brown the outside.  The results were stupendous - moist, pink and tender meat without the 'gummyness' or excessive clutter of sous vide.  The meat was moist and perfectly cooked, and better yet it still retained texture.

Here is my recipe for a Red Neck Sous Vide Deer Roast (Red Neck = KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid - no water baths or high tech clutter needed).

Ingredients needed:

1 nice deer, elk, reindeer, or mountain goat roast - I prefer the 'flat roasts' from the back quarter
1 onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 Tbs of beef broth extract
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary and/or thyme
Ground Pepper
Lots and Lots of Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 handfulls of flour (and maybe some seasoned bread crumbs)
1/4 cup of beef lard (best) or some sort of oil


1) Thaw the roast out slowly in the fridge and then on the morning prior to cooking up the roast take it out and bring to room temperature on the kitchen counter. While doing this cover it in kosher salt to achieve a 'table top' brine.

2) For a 2 pound roast I start the cooking process 3 hours or so before eating.  I like my meat with gravy so the first step is to cut up an onion in the cooking pan mixed with the oil and/or lard.  I then brown the onions at 350 degrees for a 1/2 hours or so.

3) I also create a beef broth for the gravy.  I use 1 heaping tbs of beef extract in a pot of water and add a cup  or so of chopped parsley.  Then I let it simmer away adding a little bit of water to the pot occasionally.

4)  While the onions brown in the oven I cut up the garlic cloves and push garlic wedges down into the roast.  To do this I cut each clove into 2 or 3 pieces along the the long axis and then put each one into a hole I poke into the roast.  When I am done I sprinkle thyme, rosemary, ground pepper and a little dribble of oil onto the outside of the roast.

5) I stick a meat thermometer into the roast so that the tip is in the exact middle.

6) I remove the roasting pan and browned onions from the oven, turn off the oven, place the roast on a rack on top of the onions and return the pan to the oven.  I then monitor the meat thermometer temperature.  Basically I leave the oven off, but occasionally I turn it back on at its lowest setting for a short while at a time.  But the cool thing is that if the oven is off there is no real need for close monitoring.  I have even driven out to the airport to pick up guests at this stage of the game.  It is long and slow after all.

6a) If the roast seems to be cooking too quickly keep the oven off and maybe briefly open the oven door.  This method does require more monitoring than 'real' sous vide - so a meat thermometer that you can read outside the oven is a must have.  There is nothing wrong with having the meat temperature plateau and stay at say 125 degrees for a long time.  This is exactly what one does with 'real' sous vide.

7) When the meat gets up into the 120s (degrees Fahrenheit) it is time to heat up a cast iron frying pan.  I add a little oil just before I put the roast (once it hits 128 degrees) in to brown it.  I cook it maybe a minute 30 seconds on each side but at high heat to achieve a nice sear.

8) I put the browned roast aside on a cutting board to rest and create the gravy in the roasting pan.  To start I add 2 handfuls of flour (and sometimes some seasoned bread crumbs) to the browned onion and oil mix in the bottom of the roasting pan, and stir.

9) Once the flour has browned I slowly add the celery flavored broth to the pan.  I stir it all up and add more broth a little at a time until the gravy has the right consistency.  Then I pour it into a gravy boat.

10) Cut the roast thinly across the grain and serve with gravy!

This technique is not sous vide - it is better than sous vide!

As a hunter does your gender matter?

As a hunter does your gender matter - how important to success is your size, strength and the ability to carry enormous packs full of meat? It is an interesting question, and after hunting with a few women in the last few years I think it matters a lot less than people think.  

First of all, I do not think overall strength and body size matter all that much.  Hunting is more of a mind game - endurance, technique, perseverance, backwoods 'savy', and the ability to deal with adversity are far more important attributes to be a successful backcountry hunter.

I'd much rather have a savy hunting partner who while they could only carry 80 pounds tops could deal with bushwhacking and would keep their sleeping bag dry, rather than a huge guy who could carry 160 pounds but would burst out crying in a salmonberry thicket and end up getting hypothermic because he did not know how to take care of his gear.


Flats Scenics

Last week on the Ayakulik the foliage was in full fall colors.  The fireweed and ferns are red while the willows, birch and cottonwoods yellow.  The alders were still green.  The colorful vistas were stunning.  Patrick

Friday, October 02, 2015

Camping on the go

After camp is set up it is time to saw and chop wood

On our trip to the South End we camped as usual in a teepee and woodstove.  A big part of each campsite was gathering wood for the woodstove.  We found that dead alder with no bark on it, and a particular species of willow that had a reddish color and looked like cedar made the best firewood.  When we broke camp we often took the best pieces of wood along with us to the next camp.  At the last camp we had to set up in the rain and the dry, pre-collected wood was a Godsend.

On the first night when we set up the teepee we could not find a section of the center pole.  The situation had disaster written all over it.  We ended up using a section of the meat tent pole for the first night, and the next day I carved a replacement section out of black birch (look closely at the bottom section in the photos below).  

What's funny is that on the last night when we set up the teepee for the final time we found the missing pole section tucked inside one of the others.  I swear we had looked inside each one the first night during our desperate and intense initial search. How had we missed it?  Patrick

Mike and Ray have been busy - that's a monster pile of wood

Note the short sleeves - ahhhh time by the stove

Frosty camp on a cold morning

Arriving at our pick up point

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bringing home the bacon

A view inside the meat shelter where we kept our meat dry

An important aspect of our trip to the South End of Kodiak was to bring back meat.  Ray, in particular, wanted meat for his family in Anchorage.  As it turned out finding animals to harvest was not a problem.  However, keeping the meat we did harvest clean, cool, and dry did require a high degree of diligence.

We brought along an extra tent especially for meat care, and after bringing meat back to camp we would spread it out to dry and cool in the tent.  We rotated out clean game backs and turned the meat frequently.  We also washed used game bags and dried them over the woodstove in the teepee for re use.  Then when we moved camp we put the meat in dry game bags and packed it in sealed, watertight barrels.  I am happy to report that our meat - all 350 pounds of it (unprocessed) - made it back to Kodiak in excellent shape.

While down there we harvested 2 deer and 2 reindeer.  And funnily enough all the animals were about the same size.  Generally reindeer are supposed to be bigger than deer, but we harvested big bucks and average sized female reindeer.  Back in Kodiak we had a difficult time telling the difference between the deer and reindeer quarters.  One of the reindeer quarters even got processed and labelled as 'deer' by mistake.  Patrick

Ray's wide guy

My 4 point

One raider in waders (with reindeer)

Another raider in waders (with another reindeer)

A full pack of meat to carry back to camp

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

First Snow

Yesterday while we were cutting meat it started to snow pretty hard.  It got to the point where you could barely see the far shore of Mill Bay and the lawn turned white.  After it stopped snowing it melted off the lawn pretty quickly, but then it happened again in the evening.

This morning I drove in to work and admired all the snow covered mountains.  I even put the skis in the car.  But by the time I left work it even looked a little too thin on the mountains to warrant the drive to and hike up from the pass to go skiing.

Let's just hope it continues to snow!


A trip to the South End

Fall colors in the Refugium

On Sunday Ray, Mike and I returned from a hunting trip to the South End of Kodiak.  We brought home a lot of meat and spent the last 2 days cutting and packaging the fruits of our labor.  We almost ran out of freezer space!

Our hunting trip was to the Ayakulik Flats region of Southwest Kodiak.  This area is part of the 'Refugium' - an area of Kodiak that remained ice free during the last episode of glaciation.  At that time there was a glacier in Shelikof Strait and it acted as a dam and created a gigantic lake that covered the entire area where we were hunting.  Today the former lake bottom is a broad swampy area with a river running through it.  We joked that it was the swamp that the hobbits had to cross on their way to the Land of Morder in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

This area is also where Kodiak's reindeer herd hangs out.  Reindeer are domesticated caribou and were brought to Kodiak in the 1920's to provide an economic opportunity to the Alutiiq people living in the village of Akhiok.  In the 1950s there was a big fire near Akhiok that burned the corrals and all the reindeer escaped to the North and went feral.  At one time there were thousands of reindeer living in the Southwest corner of Kodiak, but the population crashed and today, the last I heard, they number around 400 or so.

One of the goals of our trip was to bring home a reindeer.  We also expected to see some spectacular sights, enjoy some 'teepee time' camaraderie, and have an adventure.  The Flats did not disappoint.  Patrick

Camp bear at the Bare Creek Campground

Reindeer by the river on the Ayakulik Flats

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Stuey's First Hunt

Stuey negotiates the 'Hellawe' brush

Last weekend after I went hunting with Zoya it became apparent that Stuey too really, REALLY wanted to go hunting.  So this past Saturday I took him hunting (another Proxy tag).

We hiked up through the brush and during our hike saw 8 deer.  We saw a couple of spikes on a hillside across a ravine, and they were in range for a long shot.  So I asked Stuey what he thought we should do.  And he said, 'No daddy, that's a bad shot because those deer are on top of a cliff'.  He was right, and I was very proud of his restraint.

So we came home with no deer, but Stuey got to glass deer with the binos - looking for 'horns'.  He learned to be quiet, and to note which way the wind was blowing.  The deer smell you if the wind is wrong.  He also got a taste for bushwhacking and climbing steep hillsides with a minimal trail.  He's got in his first hunt.  Patrick

Stuey points to where we saw some deer (2 fawns and a doe)

The alpine bowl where we turned around