Friday, August 22, 2014

Zip-lining in Talkeetna

I've wanted to try zip-lining for quite awhile. As luck would have it, there is a very good zip-lining experience to be had just a few hours away from my house in the charming little town of Talkeetna. Talkeetna is the "Gateway to Denali" as it's where the climbers take off to get to the largest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley. My husband, daughter, and I took the scenic drive from Palmer to Talkeetna (about an hour and a half)and then the staff at Denali Zipline Tours took it from there. It was a perfect first experience and the instructors were amazing! ~Patti
What: Zipline experience
Where: Talkeetna, Alaska
Duration: 3 hours
How Many Zip Rides: 9, + 2 aerial suspension bridges, 1 rappel  
 Difficulty Level: Not recommended for people with back or knee issues or who can't lift their arms above their head.
What to Wear: Comfortable clothing, closed-toe shoes. No special attire required but wear layers appropriate for the weather. You go rain or shine, so a lightweight rain jacket is good. You are in a harness, so don't wear bulky clothes.
What to Bring: Nothing but your camera/phone(if it can be safely zipped into your clothing)
Cost: $149 adult, $119 ages 10-14. Tip if you like to zip! 
Best time to go: Year round, but summer, spring, fall are best
Children: Yes, but must weigh at least 90 pounds
What they provide: All the gear you need which is a harness, helmet and gloves. 
Pet Friendly: um, no… :)
Other Restrictions: Participants must not weigh more than 270 pounds. Must not be pregnant. Also must sign a waiver. 

Directions on how to get there from Anchorage at the end of this post. 

When you arrive into Talkeetna, you will see this little cabin on your left before you hit the center of town. Pull in here to check in and catch the shuttle bus. The bus ride is about 3 miles down a very bumpy, but scenic, dirt road. 

When you get to the zip base, the guides make sure you are in your harness correctly and explain what the different parts of the gear are for. Very organized. The harnesses were surprisingly comfortable (relatively speaking) and you soon forgot you even had one on. 

Groups are small, we had 7 in ours, which was nice. Prior to starting the zip, there is a short ground school so everyone gets a chance to ask questions, get instructions, and try out the gear on a small zipline ...and it is only about 3 feet off the ground :) The tallest platform is 53 feet off the ground!

Ready for my first zip. I have to say I was not scared at all since AJ, one our guides, had us so well harnessed. After practicing at ground school and having my concerns addressed, I was just excited to go! 

When you climb up to the platform, you are hooked securely to a tethering zip. Then one at a time, you take off! There are 2 instructors - one to send you off the platform, and the other to guide you to the platform you are zipping to. Only one person at a time zips. It takes no effort to 'fly' through the air, you just let gravity do the work and use your breaking glove to slow down. The zips get progressively longer and higher as you go.

The first of two aerial bridges (120 ft.) we crossed. They sway a bit, so you need to pay attention and hold on, but it's not dangerous - you are still hooked up to a safety cable. Beautiful views of the boreal forest!

From this platform we did a 17 foot rappel. I have to say that this was the only thing I was (unnecessarily) nervous about. You are harnessed and under complete control of the guides, but stepping off backward into thin air made my stomach flop :) Once I took that first step, though, I felt silly for having worried - it's all about trust.

My daughter Spencer and husband, Scott - just hangin' around...

The last zip goes over Reflection Pond...about 600 feet of flying!

A shot of downtown Talkeetna. The West Rib restaurant is known for monster burgers, prompting the Travel Channel's Man v. Food to film an episode there! This is a charming town - be sure to leave some time to explore!

Stopped here for a post-zip coffee and yummy black bean brownie - trust me, they are delicious! The rosemary shortbread cookies were scrumptious as well. This gem of a bakery is several miles before you get to Talkeetna, after you take the turn off from the Glenn Highway. On the right, cannot miss it!

View of the great one, Denali.

To book your reservation for a really cool Alaska zipline experience go to their website: Denali Zipline Tours

Note: The guides take pics throughout the zip, so you have the option to purchase them at the end for $8 per person. They are emailed to you and are very high quality. The photos in this post with their logo in the lower right corner are the pics I purchased of our zip-lining experience.

DirectionsFrom Anchorage - Travel north toward Wasilla on the Glenn Hwy. (AK-3). Continue through Wasilla to milepost 98.7 on the George Parks Highway and turn right on the Talkeetna Spur Road - there are signs. Talkeetna is at the end of this long, straight and might I say very well-maintained road (about 14 miles). The Denali Zipline Tour office is on your left, in a small cabin, across from the Talkeetna airport. There is plenty of signage.  Allow 2.5 to 3 hours drive time from Anchorage.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Perfect Little Zucchini Cookies

These are soft, moist cookies. Simple to make, few ingredients and a nice flavor with hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. Perfect with tea or coffee, not too sweet and very habit-forming. Watch out! ~Patti
1-1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup grated zucchini
1-3/4 cups oats

Makes: 3 dozen cookies

Sift all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in the butter. Beat in egg. Add zucchini, oats and beat until evenly mixed together. The batter seems strange at first, kind of dry, but it gets moist as you stir it. I find mixing it with my hands is the best way to distribute everything evenly.

Spoon cookie dough on parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. Should be soft and only slightly golden. Let cool a few minutes on cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling rack.

Whoever thinks zucchini is yucky should try it in a cookie :)

My daughter, Spencer, enjoying Perfect Little Zucchini Cookies while they are still warm...soooo good!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mayan Zucchini Brownies

I consider these brownies a 'little gift' from Alaska Famers Market Cookbook by Heidi Radar, because they are just so good! Audrey came across the recipe and sent it my way to try out. While there is no real discernible taste from the zucchini, it adds the necessary moistness and is great way to use this abundant summer squash. The cayenne adds a nice kick of heat to the chocolate, always a nice pairing. The finished brownie is quite thick but cooks perfectly - not gooey in the center at all. You can eliminate 1 egg if you want them a bit less cake-like, but I think they are heavenly as is! ~Patti
1/2 cup butter, melted then cooled 
1 cup brown sugar 
3/4 cup baking cocoa powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
3 eggs 
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1-1/2 cups grated zucchini 
1 cup flour 
1 cup dark chocolate chips
Gather ingredients and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the butter, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, eggs, cayenne pepper, baking powder and zucchini. Then add the flour and dark chocolate chips.

Pour mixture into a 9 x 9 inch greased baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Patti getting some zucchini, literally picked fresh this morning, from the Palmer Friday Fling Farmer's Market.

The newest member of our family "Turbo" guarding the bag of zucchini on the drive home :)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blueberry + Raspberry Chia Jam

This is a recipe I adapted from Bob's Red Mill. I love making chia jam because it's way easier to make than regular jam, has less sugar and the chia seeds are loaded with Omega 3's, protein, fiber and antioxidants. Plus, it gives me an outlet to use all the blueberries I pick this time of year. I'm kind of a blueberry junkie :) I love this jam with plain Greek yogurt. It's a little bit of heaven in a bowl. ~Audrey
1 cup blueberries
2 cups raspberries
1/4 cup 100% pure maple syrup
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Makes 1 pint

Blueberries in the Alaska Interior are big due to our long hot summer days and nights. I like to call them Alaskan grapes.

Combine berries and maple syrup in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until berries begin to soften and burst, about 5 minutes.

Add chia seeds and lemon zest, cook until very thick, about 15 minutes. Stir often or it will start sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat and add vanilla extract. Let cool for about 10 minutes then pour into a pint jar. I like to leave it on my kitchen counter to cool for another half hour or so before I put the lid on.

Store in refrigerator for up to 7 days...but it probably won't last that long :)

I love combining my chia jam with plain Greek yogurt. It's soooo good and good for you. Of course it's also nice the old fashioned way, on buttered toast.

Beautiful blueberries.

Raspberries from my friend's garden. 

My favorite "secret" blueberry spot, north of Fairbanks, Alaska. There was a forest fire here about 7 years ago - that's why the spruce trees are charred. The ash from the fire created perfect conditions for blueberries to grow here. As always, Mother Nature knows best.

The basic chia jam recipe is on the back of the bag.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rhubarb Almond Cake with Orange Zest

Rhubarb takes center stage in this delicious cake. The orange pairs really nicely with all the flavors and the almond meal gives it moistness and a nutty, rich texture. It's dense and heavy, but in a good way. Another great way to showcase one of Alaska's most bountiful veggies (or fruits...depending on who you ask!) ~Patti
1 pound rhubarb, cleaned and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1-1/4 cups caster sugar *
1 cup almond meal
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks) softened
finely grated orange zest and juice from 1 orange
2 cups AP flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
3 medium eggs
Handful sliced almonds
Powdered (confectioner's) sugar for dusting

Caster sugar is the British term for super fine granulated sugar. It dissolves very quickly because it's so fine. Perfect for certain recipes. I was able to find it at the local grocery store no problem - it is usually called "superfine" and not to be confused with confectioner's sugar, which is a powder.

Slice rhubarb and grate and juice your orange. You should get about a 1/4 cup juice from the orange.

Pour 1/4 cup sugar over rhubarb, stir, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the juices.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line your pan (springform) with parchment and lightly grease with non stick spray or a bit of veggie or canola oil. In a large bowl, beat the rest of the sugar, butter, orange zest and orange juice with an electric mixer. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, almond meal and beat again until smooth. Fold in the rhubarb with any juices using a spoon or spatula.

 Pour (or scoop) batter (it will be very thick) into prepared pan and sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes until the cake is golden and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I found I needed to cover with foil about 20 minutes into baking to prevent cake from getting too brown on top. Be sure to check it and cover if necessary.

Leave cake in pan for 15 minutes to cool when done, then remove from pan (this is where the springform comes in handy!) and remove parchment. Let cool completely on wire rack and dust with powdered sugar. YUM!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb Glaze

How pretty is this? Simple to make, too. Slightly tart rhubarb is a perfect way to offset the richness of this decadent chocolate treat. Flourless chocolate cake can be baked in a water bath or with whipped eggs whites and is more like an aerated custard - this is a quicker version, more like a 'fallen' cake. It is not quite as smooth on the surface, but still dense, creamy and delicious on the inside. Only 6 ingredients, and perfect for those who are gluten-free. ~Patti
1.5 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups rhubarb, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 scant tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-1/2 tablespoons water

 Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In the top of the double boiler (or your version of one - I just use a larger pot on the bottom) melt chocolate and butter over simmering water. When melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs and vanilla. Mix well, batter should be pretty smooth and glossy.

Lightly grease an 8-inch cake pan and dust with cocoa powder. Pour batter into prepared pan. 
Bake for 30 minutes - toothpick inserted in center should come out clean - careful not to overcook. This cake will be a rather soft and the center can sink a little bit when you take it out of the oven - that's OK.  Let it cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen around the edges with a knife, remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. 

While the cake is in the oven, prepare the rhubarb glaze. 
Combine sliced rhubarb, sugar, 1/3 cup water and lemon juice in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer about 8-10 minutes until the rhubarb is soft. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, getting as much of the juice as possible (about 3/4 cup). Discard solids and put the liquid back into the pot and bring to a simmer. Mix cornstarch with 1.5 tablespoons of water and add to pot. Whisk until mixture thickens, 3-5 minutes. Chill glaze in fridge until ready to use with cake. When ready to serve, drizzle glaze on plate, put a slice of cake on top and dust with powdered sugar.

Note - your glaze can come out in a variety of pink to red shades Try using just the red stalks (don't peel them) and you will get a more vibrant red glaze.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hiking the Savage Alpine Trail in Denali National Park & Preserve

Since I live only 2 hours away from Denali National Park & Preserve, it's an easy option for me when a nice day trip along with some hiking and wildlife viewing are in order. On this beautiful July day, my friend Margaret and I decided to drive 15 miles into the park to the Savage River to hike the newly completed Savage Alpine Trail. This is an easy, safe trail to hike if you're in relatively good shape. It's pretty steep but it's nicely groomed and you'll pass quite a few other day hikers so it's not like you're out in the boonies by yourself. Trust me, if you make it all the way to Denali National Park, this hike is a must - even if you're not a hiker. As you can see I wore jeans and my Teva sandals and had a great time! ~Audrey
What: Savage Alpine Trail
How Long: 4 miles
 Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate.
Where: Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
What to Wear: Comfortable walking/hiking clothes and shoes. No special attire required but wear layers.
What to Bring: Small day pack, water,and a camera.
Cost: $10 park entrance fee
Best time to go: May through September  
Children: Yes
Duration: 1.5 - 2 hours total (we took our time)
Pet Friendly: No, dogs are not allowed on this trail.

We stopped for a late breakfast at Black Bear Coffee House (my favorite little coffee house when I'm in Denali). It's located right off the Parks Highway on the main strip nestled between gift shops and restaurants right outside Denali National Park. The berry oat bars and buckwheat brownies are to die for :) 

Entrance into the Park is at milepost 237 on the Parks Highway.

Once you turn onto Park Road, it's about a 15 mile drive to the Savage River. It's a nice paved road with lots of pullouts for photo opportunities. Along the way you may get lucky and see some wildlife. We saw a couple moose the day we went. You'll most likely pass some of the tour buses. If they are stopped and everyone is pointing their cameras out the window you can almost be certain they are viewing wildlife.

Once you reach the Savage River, there's a small parking lot, restrooms and maps of the surrounding area. This is the farthest you can drive into the park in a private vehicle. If you want to go beyond this point you have to take a tour or shuttle bus that will take you 92 miles into the Park all the way to Kantishna. The Denali National Park website is a great resource when planning your trip. 

If the parking lot is full, you can drive across the bridge and park in the overflow lot.

There are three trails to choose from at the Savage River.

This is looking up the Savage Alpine Trail at Savage Rock from the parking lot.

Since it's a fairly steep trail, you immediately start getting some great views of the river, canyon and surrounding mountains.

The trail has recently been completed (as of 2013) and has nice walking paths and stone steps. A lot of hard work went into this trail over the years and you can tell.

There are lots of different flowers and plants along the way.

Me standing right above Savage Rock with Savage Canyon behind me.

Looking down at Savage Rock. We continued up the trail to the top of the ridge (Healy Ridge) to get even better views.

Some parts of the trail are narrow with steep drop offs but nothing dangerous if you take your time and stay aware of other hikers.

View from the top of Healy Ridge. This is looking at the "braided" Savage River and the Alaska Range. The Savage River is called a braided river because it was carved out by glaciers. The mountains send down silt, rocks and other debris which choke off the river's course forcing the water to cut new paths and channels as it weaves it's way downstream.

Mt. McKinley is out there (about right of center) but was covered by clouds on this day.

Once you reach the top of the Ridge it's pretty windy and pretty amazing. We enjoyed the views and appreciated the breeze. On a sunny day, you can get a little hot climbing the trail. It ascends about a 1,250 feet.  

The trail continues on to the Mountain Vista Rest Area, another 2.5 miles or so. We decided that we were more than pleased with our little adventure so we decided to go back down the way we came. There's always another day to hike the entire trail :)

If you choose to hike the entire 4 mile trail, you can take the free Savage River Shuttle back to your car.