Monday, June 30, 2014

Moose and Porcupine while Hiking Denali National Park on a Rainy Day

Unfortunately, we had cold and rainy weather the day we visited Denali National Park. It's the Alaskan happens. We needed a new plan for our day at the park.
First stop, the visitor center where Rob, Amy, Seth and I loaded up on maps, advice from rangers and dioramas.
Spotted a sleepy porcupine hiding from the rain up in a tree outside the visitor center.
We drove in 15 miles to Savage River Loop for a 4 mile hike.
It was in the mid 40's - requiring some creative outfitting. I had on two pairs of black leggings, a purple Nike turtleneck, black down jacket, lime rain jacket and a pair of purple and lime ski socks that just happened to pull together the whole ensemble! Très chic.
The terrain of the hike quickly reminded us that we were further north than Scotland. So rugged and misty.
Seth and Amy hid under the rocks in their own improvised rain gear while I hunted wildflowers.
Rob and Seth hiked over the mountain while Amy and I drove the RV over to Savage Cabin to wait for them. Quick break for tea when they returned. We spotted a moose feeding by the side of the road on our way back to the park entrance. We had just dried off, time to park for our second hike!
We bundled up to walk the short trail down to Horseshoe Lake by the park entrance. It's a quick walk down to the small lake, with a giant beaver damn running on one side.

Rob found a smaller trail under construction that took us out to the river - raging thanks to 24-hours of straight rain. Across the water, a lovely moose with a small calf having their supper.
Although our timing with the weather was unfortunate, it could have been much worse. The next day - after another night of hard rain - they had to close the park and airlift out dozens of the visitors. All this rain we've seen in Alaska and in Croatia...and not a drop for our poor dry California home.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Taste of Local Life in Denali in Healy, Alaska

After adorable Talkeetna, we drove up north to spend a day at Denali National Park. Just when we arrived in the evening, the weather turned from clear with a few clouds to ominous gray skies. A big storm was coming!
We parked at McKinley RV Park in Healy, the "interior" town between Denali and Fairbanks where the local workers seem to live during busy summer season.
The husky puppy in the RV next door was my new best friend. So adorable! I may have shared a small piece of smoked salmon skin (or two) with him.
McKinley RV park has a gas station, a small market with a good selection of produce and a great selection of german sausages. The same owners also run 49th State Brewery next door. It's well branded - which I love as a marketer. They have different theme events every night, an outdoor beer garden with lawn games and a cozy fire to sit by inside.
We ordered a couple rounds of their microbrews while regaling old tales of Rob and Seth's days as rock climbers in Yosemite.
Rob bought a stainless steel growler full of IPA at the brewery and has been refilling it with local brews in each new Alaskan town. A fantastic souvenir.
Tasty bar food including an authentic German pretzel with beer cheese and hops mustard. The green bus at the top of this post is parked in the beer garden at 49th for all kinds of fun photo opportunities.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catch a Glimpse of Denali from Talkeetna, Alaska

{Note: Alaska has a bounty of many things: trees, moose, smoked meats...but fast and reliable internet is not one of those things. The furthest outposts of Croatia had way better connectivity than the Yukon. Updates may be spotty for the next two weeks}

Talkeetna is an adorable mix of mountaineers, hippies and cruise ship passengers on the inland railroad extension of their Alaskan voyages. 
We spent a night in this tiny town on our way between Anchorage and Denali in the RV. It's also a big outpost for taking seaplane tours and fishing expeditions.
There are scenic tiny log cabins...
...and scenic tiny restaurants selling microbrewed beers, fresh baked bread, reindeer sausage and ice cream.
The whole thing is straight out of Northern Exposure, which I heartily appreciate. Beyond the adorable town is the real attraction, though: Talkeetna translates to "place where three rivers meet" and from that spot, you can get an incredible view of Denali. Also known as Mt. Mickinley, this is North America's tallest mountain at just over 20,000 feet.
The photos don't really do justice to how massively this mountain looms in the distance.
It was now getting to be close to 10pm, so we walked over the railroad bridge north of town for a bit of an exploration before heading home to the RV.

Goodnight Talkeetna!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wildflower Walk outside of Willow, Alaska

My relationship with wildlife is 2% enchantment, 98% terror. The prospect of running across a moose, beaver or whale while in Alaska is not personally thrilling, not to even consider bears. We went for our first hike today along Montana Creek outside Willow, armed with bear mace and my low-grade panic.

It helps to focus on the wildflowers, and there are plenty! This is miniature dogwood, with flowers about the size of a silver dollar that grow low to the ground.
These blue flowers are called "chiming bells" - very charming.
Sitka valerian, I believe.
Wild prickly roses grow everywhere.
Wild geranium?
Wild celery with massive, dinner-plate-sized blossoms.
Big white daisies like to grow along the road.
Regular clover with a sweet fragrance, but a bit larger than usual - like all things in Alaska.
Success...we didn't see a single animal on the hike ;)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Welcome to Alaska: 24 Hours in Anchorage

Rob and I flew in to Anchorage on Saturday morning after taking a pre-dawn taxi to San Francisco airport. Seth and Amy landed a few hours later and we were all picked up in an ancient blue van by the RV company. While the others spent that unavoidably long paperwork-signing hour with the RV man, I took an embarrassingly-public catnap in a pleather recliner. Finally, the adventure began! We walked down to the center of Anchorage to explore. The Saturday street market was just closing up but the reindeer sausage stands were still going strong.
Hot and mild reindeer sausages sampled from competing carts for our dinner. The vendor Rob and I chose grilled their onions in cola. The vendor Seth and Amy picked topped their sausages with a special sweet and spicy sauce. They were all equally tasty.
After our sausages, we walked over to Humpy's Alehouse for drinks and dessert. The famous berry cobbler was good, the whiskey bread pudding was divine.
Now getting close to 10:00 pm and the sun still blazing, we left the locals and visiting marathoners to walk back to the RV for the night. With 22 hours of daylight, sleep masks are a must for summer in Alaska in a bright RV.
The next morning, the boys went for a long bike ride on the 32 mile trail around Anchorage while we girls hit the "city."  First stop, the Anchorage Museum with nicely done exhibits on plastic in the oceans, landscape and native arts.
So many beautiful native arts and crafts from around Alaska on display.
We made a brief stop at the small planetarium in the back of the museum to watch a very cheesy short film on the water cycle that ended with an extensive rap about evaporation. The museum gift shop was lovely, but we were ready for lunch! Amy and I walked across town to Snow City.
We tucked in to counter stools. Our blue-haired, wildflower-tattooed waitress was super fast in delivering a fried egg sandwich with bacon, cheese and herb mayonnaise and a plate of eggs benedict, one with a crab cake and the other with a salmon cake. It was all delicious, with the crab egg benedict the ultimate winner.
After lunch, we walked around the little local boutiques and art galleries for a while. An antique store was loaded up with old guns, baskets, ivory carvings and Russian Orthodox icons.
We stopped at the federal building visitor center, where they had a fun collection of Alaskan stereograms.
I loved the tiny Quilted Raven store full of Alaskan-themed fabrics, hand-dyed yarns, elk horn buttons and other trimmings. I'm not a quilter or a knitter, but was very tempted to learn both.
We all met up in the afternoon to make a grocery run for the RV. For dinner, Rob and I were invited out by an 89-year old family friend to Sullivan's Steakhouse. We had a big meal with a good bottle of wine and hilarious stories of San Francisco in the 1950's and traveling through Tangiers. Seth and Amy raved about their dinner with reindeer pizza and local beer at Glacier Brewhouse. After dinner, we left Anchorage and drove North toward Denali, stopping in Montana Creek for the...I was going to say night, but is it really night when the sun is out at 11pm?

Friday, June 20, 2014

What to Pack: Summer in Alaska

Our adventure in Alaska starts tomorrow. We're meeting our friends in Anchorage to kick off the RV trip. The weather in Alaska in June looks similar to San Francisco, just a little bit colder, a lot rainier and with way more mosquitos.

Not pictured:  Basic long and short-sleeved t-shirts for layering. Workout pants. A cute rain jacket option from Free People that folds up into a small pouch. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Victory! No. 1 Champion Picnic Team, 2014 Mountain Play

It's official: our Hawaiian-themed picnic for South Pacific has been awarded the grand prize! After shamefully taking only second place with our picnic for Music Man in 2012, we regrouped and kept our eye on the prize. Now, let's see if the streak can continue with next year's Peter Pan performance. So far, I've decided we'll all come dressed in pajamas....

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A South Pacific-Themed Hawaiian Picnic at Mt. Play

Our 6th year at Mountain Play in Marin and our best picnic yet! The performance this year is one of my favorite musicals: South Pacific by Rodgers & Hammerstein. A perfect chance to produce a spread of polynesian recipes, exotic flowers and tropical fruits. 

The Guests
16 people made the trek up 2,500 feet to the top of Mount Tam, dressed in an A+ mix of military and hawaiian costumes. I provided the sailor hats, leis and flower hair clips.
My picnic basket is tricked out with tin plates in Turkish Garden from Mottahedeh. I've also upgraded the plastic glassware and added plastic "cabbage" bowls and blue paper stripe straws.  Thermarest camping mattresses make it more comfortable to sit on the rock amphitheater. Those were covered with tropical sarongs and tablecloths. I brought a small camp table that stands only 2 feet tall. Tropical flowers and orchids from the wholesale flower mart.

I only made the first two dishes here. We had a amazing group of chefs in our group!

  • Hawaiian sliders made with teeny rolls from Acme Bread, kalua pork, grilled teriyaki spam and pineapple - all served in carved out pineapples, of course!
  • "Corny as Kansas in August" salad made with white corn, mango, jicama, black beans, ginger and cilantro
  • Spicy quinoa and cashew salad served wrapped in red cabbage rolls
  • Rainbow tropical fruit skewers
  • Tomato pasta salad
  • Hawaiian sweet onion potato chips
  • Mango salsa and chips


  • Eric made mango creme brulee and brought a full sized blow torch to caramelize the tops at intermission. Amazing!
  • Salted caramel and coconut rice krispie treats
  • "Normal as" blueberry pie

The Show
The actor playing Emile had an excellent voice for all those romantic songs. Lots of singing and dancing. Full-size vintage military trucks driving around and even a fly-over of period military planes at the finale! A very nicely done show.
Thankfully it wasn't as hot as usually on top of the mountain. We served hydrating wine spritzers with pineapple, mango and POG juice.
The Verdict
Picnic contest winners are usually announced at the end, along with next year's play (Peter Pan!) but they forgot this year. I'm on the edge of the seat waiting for a call to hear if our tropical picnic was good enough to bring home gold. (Update: We won!)
Happy summer picnic-ing!