cocktails, fishing, monkey hats and more!

 

This is where I’ve been…

alaska

…that, my friends, is Alaska.

I’ve wanted to go to there my whole long life {although that doesn’t count the years that I thought Wisconsin was the entire world. Imagine my 8-yr-old surprise when the bombshell dropped that people actually lived other places?}. My grandpa spent years living in Circle Hot Springs, various aunts and uncles from both sides have either lived there in the past or are there still, and my cousin Pete has been a fishing guide at the Alagnak Lodge (on the Alagnak River) since forever. Even my sister moved to Anchorage just last year! Years ago – I must have been about 11 or 12? – my grandpa panned for gold there, actually found some and had it hammered into a pendant for me:

pendant

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) invited me to attend their first ever Culinary Retreat in Sitka! I’ve been working with ASMI for a couple of years now and have long been a fan of their efforts to get the word out about sustainability (or, as Larry from ASMI likes to call it, Responsible Fisheries Management…but we’ll get to all that later). The idea behind the retreat was to show a handful of food writers first-hand what’s behind the curtain in terms of how they fish, who can fish, what can be fished and when they can fish it (spoiler alert! the answer is that there actually is no curtain. Everything they do is completely transparent).

I had plans to be in Portland the week before the trip, so I started there then spent a few days with my sis in Anchorage before the retreat began. Portland was amazing – the food! the cocktails! – and it’s now one of my top foodie cities. I can’t wait to get back there. I was there to attend IFBC on behalf of Barhyte Foods, although it was sooo much fun that I really can’t call it “work”. Especially when I love the Barhyte family so much (and I suspect it was simply a ruse on their part so we could all hang out again ;) The night before the conference began I went to a party at the Barhyte home with a handful of other food bloggers. Those classy Barhyte folks crazy kids rented a pimped-out bus to take us to and from the party:

barhyte foods party bus

That’s Colette, who works for Barhyte, and Kelly, their PR gal. You can just call them “those fun chicks” if you want. Seriously, they’ll answer to it. And here I am with the fabulous Suzie Barhyte, who I adore to no end:

suzie barhyte

 

Heard of VooDoo donuts? We enjoyed some of those at the party, too!

voodoo donuts

The conference itself was a blast and it went by in a blur. I made a lot of fun new friends, connections and gained invaluable information. I always enjoy attending IFBC and this year didn’t disappoint, especially since we got to party in cool monkey hats!

mail chimp

My last day in Portland I hung out with Kelly and she took me to a couple of her favorite spots. We ate at Andina (highly recommend it, it was outstanding) where I enjoyed this drink:

Sacsayhuamán from Andina

It’s called the “Sacsayhuamán” and it is quite possibly the best cocktail I’ve ever had. Habanero infused vodka with passion fruit puree, a smidge of simple syrup and a touch of cilantro. (Yes, I’m already infusing my vodka and have ordered the puree, recipe will arrive in your inbox shortly!) After Andina we went to Vault and had, ahem, another cocktail (we shopped in between, all right? this is a judge-free blog ;) This time I had a margarita with thai pepper infused tequila and a blood orange puree. I’m still dreaming about it…

kelly mooney

Kelly and I had the nicest day together. She’s become one of my dearest friends! Who says PR/blogger relations can’t be something special?

The next morning it was up early to hop the rail to take the plane to the city of Anchorage where my sister was waiting for me. This is what greeted our plane as it arrived in Alaska:

anchorage from plane

And that was just the tip of the Alaskan iceberg. Kelly took me exploring, where we had views like this one:

lake in anchorage

Just after we hiked past that lake we arrived at the inlet where we saw (from a distance) a pod of Beluga whales arriving with the tide. There was wildlife everywhere – from whales to bald eagles to the bear that you just knew were there but mercifully stayed hidden from view. Even the patio at Kelly’s house had its own bit of wildlife action:

steller's jay

That’s a Steller’s Jay that hangs around and waits for Kelly to feed it peanuts. She’s been working on getting it to eat out of her hand.

steller's jay

On a completely random and unrelated side note…Kelly got me hooked on the show “Downton Abbey” while I was there. Does anyone else watch this? And, if so, how could you keep this delicious entertainment from me for so long? Good lord it’s an addiction!

After Anchorage it was finally time for Sitka, the last leg of my trip. ASMI did a stellar job (thanks, Bertram!) of putting together our retreat. We stayed at the Talon Lodge, an upscale fishing lodge on a private 8-acre island. I shared a house with Bertram (PR for ASMI) and Helen Rosner from Saveur magazine. {Fun fact: Not quite sure how to say “Saveur”? According to Helen, it should rhyme with “cat fur”!}. The scenery on the island was as stunning as you would expect, but the lodge itself was much more that I’d expected. The outside bar was my favorite spot (shocking, I know), and here you can see why:

talon lodge alaska

ASMI also flew in two chefs to prepare our dinner with freshly-caught Alaskan seafood (some that we’d caught ourselves!). The outside bar area is also where the chefs gave us demonstrations with the seafood. They covered topics such as how to identify different species, the best way to prepare it and how the flavor and textures vary widely, even within the different species of salmon.

talon lodge alaska

Our two chefs were Patrick Hoogerhyde of The Bridge (Anchorage) and Dan Enos of The Oceanaire Seafood Room, (Boston). Both chefs are incredibly talented, have a vast knowledge about Alaskan seafood and are charming to boot. And that’s to say nothing of the absolutely amazing food they prepared for us!

the bridge anchorage

 

the oceanaire room boston

Did I mention that we caught some of that seafood ourselves?

kristy bernardo

That’s me holding my first catch of the trip, a black rockfish! And here I am getting the crab pots ready for dropping:

crab pots alaska

We toured a commercial fishing boat during our stay and heard first-hand what it’s really like to be out there on the open sea for days at a time. The docks in Sitka were filled with much of the same:

sitka harbor

boat in sitka harbor

Ready for another random and slightly unrelated side note? I loved that harbor so much that I threw caution my iPhone to the wind and watched as it landed in the icy Alaskan waters and floated* to the bottom, where it still lies to this day. (Real story: we all stopped to take a photo of a super cool shark that some fisherman had just brought in on one of the boats. My iPhone was a sad casualty in my quest to bring you that exciting photo…sob.)

*Per my mouthy cousin Pete, iPhones cannot “float” to the bottom. A revised version of that statement is in the comments below.

All kidding aside, I’m so thankful to ASMI for sharing their expertise and giving me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Alaska and get a good look into their fishing industry. It’s really opened my eyes to what it means to be a fisherman in Alaska and the hardships they sometimes face. I now know that commercial fishing, for them, isn’t a job but a lifestyle that they pass from generation to generation. It’s a way of life and a culture that I’m privileged to have been part of for even just a few short days.

By the end of the trip, I was missing Alan and the girls tremendously. As my mom always says, “It’s good to go, but even better to come home”. When Alan picked me up from the airport, I was greeted with these and immediately knew that mom is always right:

welcome home flowers

More details, recipes & loads of information to come! And be sure to visit the other bloggers who were with me on my Alaskan journey: