Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Things We've Learned, Weeks Five and Six

1) Steve McQueen is a legend.
As the story goes, Steve McQueen came to Anchorage back in '72, when the town had a few more rough edges than it does now. Back then, 4th Avenue was the main strip through town and was made up of bars, saloons, hookers and other sorts of mayhem. According to stories, McQueen got drunker than a skunk, got behind the wheel of his rented Oldsmobile and started racing up and down 4th Ave and doing donuts (or "brodies" as they're called here) on the ice, over and over and over, having a grand old time. The cops finally got him to pull over; when they tried to give him a sobriety test, he simply started doing somersaults down the white line. He was arrested, had a mug shot taken, and spent the night in the local slammer. The next morning, he made bail and immediately took the next flight back to California. A warrant remained out for Steve McQueen's arrest in the state of Alaska until the day he died. (Here's a photo of his mugshot, complete with inebriated peace-sign goodness: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/mcqueenmug1.html)

2a) Your kid can put herself through pre-school by cocktailing.

A Saturday Afternoon, sitting in a noisy, boozy sports bar in Alaska filled with fans doing shots, drinking giant pitchers of beer, screaming loudly at the 23 televisions all tuned to football, hockey and (upon request) Washington Basketball.
CNH & MTF: Fun! We love this bar! We love watching the Wizards! We love watching Texas Tech beat UT! Let's drink a beer!
(Tug on CNH's pant leg. It's a blonde-haired, angelic 4-year-old girl in pigtails.)
CNH: Oh! Wow, it's a kid. Um, hi, child. Can I help you?
LITTLE KID: Hi. My Mommy says she needs to see your ID.
CNH (visibly startled): Wait, what?
LITTLE KID, hands on hips: My MOMMY says she NEEDS TO SEE YOUR ID!
(CNH fumbles in wallet, hands ID over to tiny child who toddles it over to the cocktail waitress by the bar.)
MTF: Oh my god. You just got carded by a pre-schooler.

2b) Babies in Alaska love bars.
Looking around the sports bar, we realized that babies love to hang out and watch the game, too. There's one in a car seat under the table while her mommy shoots Jaegermeister and cheers for Texas Tech! Here's one in a carryseat on the bar by the Miller Lite tap while her daddy pays for his next pitcher! Watch out! That little boy in the Spiderman® costume is about to spill your Car Bomb!

3) People wish for warm, cozy snow.
When it's 8 degrees outside, people actually say, "Man, I wish it would snow already and warm things up around here."

4a) When guns are legal, you don't have to bother with pesky metal detectors.

In line to see Legends Of Hip Hop 2 (starring Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, of course), we automatically started opening our coats, unzipping my purse, getting ready to get "wanded" and patted by security. Instead, the "security" simply took our tickets and told us where to find our seats and we realized there's no point to checking people for guns when it's legal to conceal and carry and, in fact, most people were probably packing.

4b) The "no metal detectors because everyone is armed already" thing isn't as cool when a fight breaks out.
A few nights later, we were at the same venue for Election Results. The supporters for Ethan Berkowitz, the Democrat running for the House, arrived first. Parade-style and candidate in tow, they marched through the headquarters with big campaign signs, cheering and chanting "E-THAN! E-THAN! E-THAN!" A few short minutes after they arrived, the rivals showed up, also with signs and candidate, parading around and shouting, "DON YOUNG! DON YOUNG! DON YOUNG!" The two groups ended up meeting, rumble-style, in the middle of the room, shaking their signs at each other, trying to shout louder, shoving, getting increasingly hostile. It was fantastic fun to watch ("when you're a Jet!") until we remembered, wow, these people have guns, at which point it became fantastic fun but vaguely terrifying.

5) Eavesdropping is a lot more fun than you might initially think.

I spend most of my working life now sitting in any of the various coffee shops around town that offer free Wi-Fi. If you're working on a computer, people assume you've also become deaf or are concentrating too hard to pay attention to them, when in fact, you've tuned into them like they're your own personal soap opera. Some of the "shows" I've followed this week:
-- The knock-down drag-out fight among the members of the team putting together an upcoming charity concert at a local high school, over whether or not they could serve booze at intermission. "I can't imagine a world in which music couldn't be properly enjoyed with a glass of wine." "It's at a HIGH SCHOOL, LARRY!"
-- The sad, hard-working father who brought his 26-year-old son out for coffee to tell him that it was time for him to finally move out of the family house since he refused to get a job. "You're breaking your mother's heart. You're breaking my heart. We'll always love you son, but you leave us no choice." (Hard not to cry at that one, but that would have blown my cover entirely.)
-- The teen girl who'd lied about her age to her new boyfriend. She'd agreed to get the tickets to the R-Rated movie that night but a) didn't have a credit card and couldn't get them on Fandango, b) the movie theater that didn't card was sold-out and c) the other movie theater wouldn't sell tickets to a minor. The girl and her friend were making a panicked list of all of the 18 year olds they could text to buy tickets for her. Oddly, confessing to her boyfriend that she was only 15 never really came up as an option.

6) Video stores still reign supreme.
Video stores have all but gone the way of the dinosaur in the Lower 48. People here, however, have yet to catch on to the magic of Netflix, Hulu and On-Demand. (And since it gets dark at 4:30PM and feels warm when the temps get up to 18 degrees, people spend a lot of time inside watching movies.) There are video stores on every corner, you can rent movies at the gym and at the grocery store. It's a little like what we were all used to in, say, 1988.

7) In fact, everything is a little like 1988 here.
Things that are popular in Alaska today that we remember fondly from 1988.
-- Video stores (see #5 above)
-- Stone-washed jeans (HUGE in Alaskan fashion)
-- Spiral perms
-- Hanging out at the mall
-- Twist-A-Bead necklaces
-- The songs "Let's Hear It For The Boy" from the Footloose soundtrack, "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, anything by Phil Collins, Mister Mister.

8) You really can feel the difference between 10 degrees and 20 degrees much more acutely than you can the difference between 20 degrees and 40 degrees.
Here's the trick: 20 degrees and above, your nose is cold. Below 20 degrees, your teeth feel frozen. Below 10 degrees, it feels like someone is blow-torching your legs through your jeans.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Things We've Learned, Weeks Three And Four

Things I’ve Learned By Living In Alaska, Weeks 3 & 4

1) It’s going to snow so much that it will cover the fire hydrants. Frequently.
Driving through town the other day, we realized all of the fire hydrants had 5-foot-tall lengths of bright orange PVC pipe sticking straight out of the tops. We realized it’s so firemen can find the hydrants even when it snows so much that the hydrants are hidden. I like it because the pipes look like festive streamers, so it’s easy to pretend there’s going to be a fun street party.

2) Hippies are impervious to cold.
On Wednesdays I like to work out of a hippie coffee shop. Everyone has tattoos of peace symbols, the smoothies are all “vegan,” and there are incredibly mean signs by the stack of napkins reminding you that every time you wipe your mouth you’re killing a tree (or something like that.) The front door has recently broken, however, so when people come in, it doesn’t automatically shut behind them. The wind comes howling into the shop, blowing the precious napkins around, the snow blows into your coffee, your fingers get too numb to feel the computer keyboard. The first time it happened, I was furthest from the door, so I waited for someone to get up to latch the door. For 15 minutes. Finally, blue, I got up and shut it. It happened 5 minutes later, so I got up and shut it again. Someone walked in while I was returning to my chair, so I thought, someone else will give me a break and get the door….but nothin’. The hippies continued to sit and talk about capitalism or hackysack or “Two And A Half Men” or whatever hippies talk about and, although they were shivering, no one would stand up to close the door. As I got up again to shut it, I realized, maybe it’s not that hippies can’t feel cold. Maybe it’s just that they’re really smart and know I’ll eventually get the door for them. I couldn’t decide whether to weep, set my table on fire for warmth or become a Republican.

3) Glaciers actually do look exactly like Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude.”
It’s awesome.

4) When you hear the wolves, the hike is over.
MTF and I took a long, leisurely, 30-minute hike out onto the middle of the Matanuska Glacier. When we were about halfway out, we kept hearing a strange noise. “What is that?” “I have no idea…what is it?” … “Wait. Good, it’s getting louder. Can you tell what it is?” … “Hang on, let me take off my hat to liste…oh, dude. Yeah, that’s wolves.” We got back to base camp in 4 minutes flat.

5) If a moose wants to cross the road, the moose is going to cross the road and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Think about it. If you’re driving down the highway and a car starts to veer into your path, you can a) swerve, knowing the other car probably won’t swerve with you; b) get the driver’s attention by honking; c) give the finger (not me, of course, Mom, but you know, some people.) If you’re driving down the highway and a moose starts to walk into your path, none of the above applies. Actually, at first you think it might work, and you honk and yell and shake your fist out of the window all while swerving wildly around the road to try to miss it, then you feel pretty stupid when you realize the moose not only didn’t care, he didn’t even look at you.

6) Graffiti in Alaska is really pretty.
Like any highway, driving along the curving mountain roads, you see a lot of “Karen >Hearts< Steve” or “Jim Was Here” graffiti along the side of the road. But since the side of the road is a steep wall of dirt that turns into a rocky mountain, people write their messages by spelling it out with the smooth white rocks you see everywhere instead of spray paint.

7) Don’t leave your drink in the car for “later.”
It turns out when it’s 14 degrees outside, that half-bottle of Gatorade you left in the cupholder has turned into a solid green popsicle. (We are very glad we learned this lesson with a half-bottle of Gatorade and not an unopened Coke, by the way.)

8) You don’t have to go right home after the grocery store, even if you have ice cream.
“Wanna go out for brunch after we go grocery shopping?”
“Yeah, but we need to go home first. We have chicken, ice cream.”
“…Babe? It’s nine out. It’s warmer in the freezer.”
“Ha! Awesome. Rooty Tooty Fresh And Fruity, here we come!”

9) It’s fun to live where clothes don’t matter.
I was so used to wondering if my boot heels were the proper height this season or worrying that the snotty intern was going to ask again why I never wore “Seven”-brand jeans that it’s actually a relief to live somewhere where people could not be less interested in your clothes. (And quite lucky, too, since our stuff still hasn’t arrived and I’m living out of the same small suitcase I packed back on September 8.) I like to amuse myself by thinking about the fact that my entire outfit today cost $1.76, thanks to the buy-one-get-one-for-88-cents sale at JC Penny’s last weekend.

10) People love telling you how long they thought they were going to live in Alaska.
It’s a state-wide tic. Tell someone you’ve just moved to Alaska and they immediately tell you a) how long they meant to stay when they moved here then b) how many decades they stayed. There’s no variation here. “Hi. My name is Christy and we just moved to Alaska three weeks ago.” “Three weeks, huh? When I moved to Alaska, I meant to stay for two years. That was THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO! HA HA HA HA!” Every. Single. Person. The winner was Rabah, the owner of the Middle Eastern restaurant we found. According to Rabah, he came to Anchorage from Manhattan Beach, CA, for a 10-day vacation … and hasn’t been back in 17 years.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things We've Made: Chicken Parm

1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon each, salt/pepper
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter, fat-free margarine, whatever

1) Mix the bread crumbs, cheese, seasonings in a pie plate (or lid from old Italian take-out or something)
2) Smear the chicken chunks with the mustard
3) Roll them in the crumbly stuff
4) On medium heat, melt the oil and butter together in a skillet. Cook the chicken for 5-6 minutes each side.

Bad - Hard to keep the chicken coating from turning black before the inside of the chicken was cooked through. Next time, thinner chunks.
Good - it's only 169 cals for every 4 oz of chunks. Throw it in with some whole-wheat pasta and stewed diced tomatoes and it's like chicken parm without the soul-crushing guilt.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Things I've Made: Bread

From Mark Bittman, The New York Times

November 8, 2006
Recipe: No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot(cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess,but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes,until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Bad News - In my brilliant move to cook the bread in my crockpot liner, I never stopped to consider that the plastic lid handle might melt into a molten pool of marshmallow-like plastic when put into a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Good News - I'm never buying store bread again. This was awesome and made the house smell like some rogue housewife had broken in and taken over the place for some guerrilla baking.


Things I've Learned, Week Two

a) Reindeer Sausage is a delicious treat that tastes exactly like Hickory Farms Meat Stick that you get at Christmas, only not as greasy.

b) The Alaska DMV is a beautiful and happy place filled with pleasant clerks who don't go on break in the middle of helping you. I went to get my new ID this morning and brought a sudoku puzzle, the latest issue of The Economist magazine, the newspaper and a novel. I was in and out, new ID in hand, in under 18 minutes, and that includes the time i spent after getting my ID walking around and telling everyone who helped me how much I loved them.

c) Daddy Moose are much bigger and scarier that Momma and Baby Moose. We were pulling out of our parking spot this morning when we realized that right next to us was the Momma Moose and the Baby eating from the fireweed trees. We pulled right up to them and rolled down the windows to take photos with our cell phones - we were as close to them as you are to a toll booth operator. Then we pulled out of the gate and, standing right at the top of the road was The Dad. We'd never seen him before. He was HUGE and had an enormous set of antlers. We rolled up the windows, locked the doors and got the heck out of there - scary!

d) It's possible to have snow in October. They say we got the equiv. of about 10 inches, but it's just on the brink of cold, so every afternoon it gets up to 38 or 40 degrees and it all melts.

e) It's possible to exist owning nothing more than two pairs of pants, three sweaters, three hoodies and a coat. The movers *still* haven't come!