For High Country News: A Gambell teenager took a whale, now he’s haunted by death threats from across the world 

This is a truly Alaskan sort of food story because in Alaska’s rural places, subsistence foods mean far more than dinner on the table, it’s about culture, values and community. I’m very grateful photographer Ash Adams and I had the opportunity to travel to Gambell for High Country News to hear the story of a teenage whaler, Chris Apassingok, who became a target of online harassment after he took his first bowhead whale.

Here is a meal we shared with his family:

Here is how the story begins:

Gambell, Alaska — Before his story made the Anchorage paper, before the first death threat arrived from across the world, before his elders began to worry and his mother cried over the things she read on Facebook, Chris Apassingok, age 16, caught a whale.

It happened at the end of April, which for generations has been whaling season in the Siberian Yupik village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island on the northwest edge of Alaska. More than 30 crews from the community of 700 were trawling the sea for bowhead whales, cetaceans that can grow over 50 feet long, weigh over 50 tons and live more than 100 years. A few animals taken each year bring thousands of pounds of meat to the village, offsetting the impossibly high cost of imported store-bought food.

A hundred years ago — even 20 years ago, when Gambell was an isolated point on the map, protected part of the year by a wall of sea ice — catching the whale would have been a dream accomplishment for a teenage hunter, a sign of Chris’ passage into adulthood and a story that people would tell until he was old. But today, in a world shrunk by social media, where fragments of stories travel like light and there is no protection from anonymous outrage, his achievement has been eclipsed by an endless wave of online harassment. Six weeks after his epic hunt, his mood was dark. He’d quit going to school. His parents, his siblings, everybody worried about him.

Read the rest here


For the Washington Post: Alaska pragmatic on N. Korean Missile Threat (Bonus: story mention on Colbert!)

Had a good time talking to Alaskans with photographer Ash Adams last week for a Washington Post story about whether we’re worried about a threat from North Korea

Here’s how the story begins:

There have been times in Alaska’s history when people have had deep anxiety about foreign threats. The state was bombed and two of its islands were occupied by the Japanese in World War II. And it is, after all, the closest anyone can get to Russia and still be on American soil.

But nobody here seems all that worried right now.

With North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile last week, the news has been filled with speculation that a nuclear warhead could reach the Last Frontier and that Anchorage could be the most realistic U.S. target for destruction. But people here have been talking about the possibility of missile strikes for decades, and Alaskans tend to focus on more tangible hazards, like avalanches covering the highway, bear maulings at campgrounds, boating accidents and earthquakes.

“I’m worried about moose, not missiles,” quipped Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. “Bears, not bombs.”

Read the rest of the story here.

And, hilariously, the story wound up on Colbert, watch it here.




Come write with me on Yukon Island!

You know what sounds fun? Writing for hours with a totally friendly, no-pressure group of women on a beautiful Alaska island in the summer time without my children. Throw in delicious home-cooked food, some walks, maybe some art-making or a little yoga, too. I’m in! Are you?

This is a no-judgement, no-homework, nonfiction workshop focused on techniques that stoke creativity, build writing fluency, hone listening/editing skills and develop revision strategies. This workshop is well suited for creative thinkers who write or edit for work as well as creative writers and journalists looking for new ways to get started or reboot. Our work together is meant to help you think more clearly about your audience, better say what you mean, and find the most resonant parts of the story you are trying to tell. My big thing this year is having fun. LET’S HAVE FUN. Life is too damn serious.

It will be held at the glorious Yukon Island Retreat Center a short boat ride out of Homer. (Here is a slideshow.)

And, I have two discounted openings for women who want to share skills, looking in particular for someone who might want to teach basic yoga and someone else who’d like to teach an art or craft related subject. For skill sharers the cost of two days of food, accommodations, writing instruction, and water taxi is $375. Regular rate is $435.


To reserve a spot, send me an email with dietary restrictions (and, if you want one, your t-shirt size) and pay by PayPal. (Find me at It’s first come, first served, but I’m happy to make a plan to pay half by July 4, and half at workshop time if you want.

Let’s do this!

There are worse places to be.

Quick Rhubarb Pastry

Could anything symbolize the impending abundance of our Alaska summers right now more than the ginormous rhubarb plants sprouting on the edges of our lawns? Heretofore begins the parade of rhubarb crisps, followed very soon by the parade of grilled red salmon filets. Salmon, grilled veg, salad, crisp/crumble with its sweet oatmeal topping. It is my little black dress of casual summer dining.


But, maybe, tonight, you want to mix things up. Maybe you want to make a dessert with all that rhubarb that is just as easy as the traditional crisp, goes great with ice cream, but breaks the routine (and isn’t too sweet, either).  Here, my friends, is your recipe. It requires only a little planning. You have to pick up a pastry sheet. (Oddly, my favorite ones are at Walmart in Anchorage, next to the canned crescent rolls.) If you have a frozen one, you need to remember thaw it, which takes a day on the counter. (Look, I totally didn’t make that piece of buttery dough down there. Nope, not homemade, Pinterest. )


And, you have to let the rhubarb soak for at least a half hour in the orange juice.


If you do all that, the actual assembly of this dish might be a tad faster that crisp. The result is great AND it doesn’t require a truck load of sugar. This makes a wonderful brunch dish as well . Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

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Quick Rhubarb Pastry


1 cup fresh orange juice

3/4 cup sugar

1 and 1/2 pounds (Roughly 2 1/2 cups) chopped rhubarb. ( Sliced pretty thin. Cutting it diagonal looks prettiest. A mandolin set to 1/8 works great for this.)

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

Ice cream or whipped cream (optional)


At least 30 minutes ahead, stir the sugar into the orange juice and soak the rhubarb in the mixture. (If you’re using previously frozen rhubarb, just soak it for 10 minutes.)

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Strain the rhubarb, catching the liquid in a saucepan. Set that on the stove on medium heat.

On a parchment-covered sheet pan, unroll pastry sheet. Arrange the rhubarb slices in a thin layer on the pastry sheet, leaving a border all the way around the edge. Slide in the oven and bake for 28-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, simmer the soaking liquid, stirring occasionally, reducing to a thin syrup. Pull the pastry out. (It should be a rich golden color around the edges.) Generously brush the whole thing with the syrup a couple of times. Sprinkle with orange zest. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.



From trafficked to trafficker: youth homelessness and sexual exploitation in Alaska (For The Guardian)

(This story is part of a larger project by The Guardian that looks at homelessness in the western United States. Ash Adams made the photos. )

Heidi Ross was a senior in high school when she hitchhiked from the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River into the city, leaving a dark childhood behind.

“I didn’t have anywhere to go,” she said of that day, around 20 years ago. “I had the clothes on my back.”

After she arrived, without a way to pay rent, she soon found herself trading sex for a place to stay. Next she traded sex for drugs. Using sex to get things she needed made her feel powerful, she said. At 21, she went to work for a pimp who promised to take care of her.

“It felt strange at first, because I was so used to taking care of myself,” she said. “It felt good. It felt like a piece was missing and it had finally come back.”

Ross said sex work became her “lifestyle”. Eventually, however, she would be the one exploiting young men and women as adrift as she was on that ride into Anchorage.

Sexual exploitation has been an undercurrent of the state’s male-dominated frontier culture since Russian explorers first came to the region, and men flocked to the state during the Gold Rush. Law enforcement, prosecutors and victim advocates have long suspected the state has a high rate of sex trafficking, but the problem has been largely unstudied. Recently, though, a small study of trafficking among homeless youth offered some data to support these suspicions.

Read the rest here.

ANCHORAGE, ALAKSA – MAY 6, 2017: “I’ve never had a tattoo done professionally,” Heidi Ross says. They were all done on the streets or in prison, she explains. This one, which reads “For the Love of It” with two money symbols, was done partially on the street and partially in prison. It references both the love of money but also the love of life as a sex worker. Ross got the first part of the tattoo when she was 24 and running her own escort service, and then the dollar signs while in prison. Ross was trafficked at a young age and then eventually ran her own trafficking business, but after almost 2 decades and 36 arrests, she says she’s done, changing her name, and going to school, ready to start a new life with her 7-year-old son./ASH ADAMS

Sunday Night Spaghetti Sauce

I am part Italian but the meat sauce recipe I’m about to share was not ferried from the mother country by my ancestors.

It is not my Nonna’s recipe, which I suspect was doctored Prego.

It is not my dad’s recipe. He’s Irish Catholic, one of nine children and excels at meat sauce with lots of wine, no garlic and mushrooms that feeds a crowd.

And it is not Sara’s dad Tony’s recipe, with its roots in a 200-year-old Pennsylvania steel town settled by Italian immigrants, which uses tomato sauce, hamburger and one peeled carrot.

This recipe carries shares DNA  with of all those recipes, but it is my own, developed over a thousand Sunday night, big-pot family dinners.


We are also all Alaskans, so this sauce has evolved as a way to use wild game. It is great with ground musk ox, venison, or moose. Absent that, I like bison. You can of course also use ground beef, turkey, veal or pork. The key is to mix leaner meat with Italian sausage, the best quality you can find. But this is Alaska, and we all know that sometimes you go to the supermarket on a Sunday and its like a hurricane is in the forecast and you can’t find half the things you need because the shelves are partly empty.

So, if you can’t get Italian sausage, you can cheat. Use a higher fat ground meat and 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, extra salt and a great big pinch of red pepper flakes.


A note on the canned tomatoes: San Marzano tomatoes are, for reasons unknown, usually on the bottom shelf in the tomato aisle. They are a really delicious variety and not too acidic. When I see them, I buy a couple and stick them in my cupboard. But, of course, sometimes you can’t find those. In that case, use regular crushed tomatoes (not tomato sauce). Look at the salt content and go as low as you can find. And, to temper the acidity a little, peel and finely chop a great big carrot and toss it in when you saute the onions and garlic.


A note on pasta: there really is something to cooking pasta correctly. Salt that water! And the pasta should be boiling pretty hard as it cooks. Set a timer. Cook the pasta for the exact minimum time recommended on the box. If you need GF pasta, go with Barilla. Who knows what’s in it, but if you cook it according to the box, it should be acceptable to everybody.

A note on texture: What makes this sauce awesome is texture. It is very uniform and that might be the most Italian thing about it. To do it, you have to use the favorite appliance of all my Italian relatives: the hand blender. It takes 60 seconds and it makes your sauce fantastic. Do it right in the pot. Absent a hand blender, you could use a good quality blender or food processor.

(We’re letting them watch Lion Guard while they eat. Don’t judge.)


Sunday Night Spaghetti Sauce

Serves 8 -10 (or serves 4 and makes a second meal for the freezer)


Olive oil

1 pound ground bison. (You can go with just about any ground meat here. Wild game is great, musk ox, moose venison have all worked well for me.)

1 pound Italian sausage (casings removed)

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 onions, finely chopped

2 28-ounce cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes

3/4 cup red wine (this is a great way to use, say, $7 cabernet)

1/4 cup finely chopped basil

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley


Splash some olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed pot. Brown the meat on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Pour in the canned tomatoes and the wine. Turn heat down so the sauce is gently simmering. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Now, key moment: use the hand blender to blend the sauce and make it a uniform consistency. Taste it and adjust the salt. If it’s too sweet, add a little more wine. If it’s too acidic, add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of baking soda. If it’s too thick, add water mixed with wine. Stir in the chopped herbs and simmer on very low for 30 more minutes. Serve with very hot spaghetti and parmesan cheese.


And later:


Live from the henhouse with KTUU!

Spent the day yesterday talking urban chickens with Blake Essig and Dave Brooks from KTUU Channel 2, who were filming segment for their “Road tripping” feature. (And we cooked dinner: this awesome recipe from the “Jerusalem” cookbook with harissa, yogurt, lemon and a fried egg on top.) Check out the hen’s 15 minutes of fame here.  (That’s Barbara-Lyra, our bantam, there in Blake’s jacket, milking him for sympathy).

Write with NYT’s Kim Severson at Tutka Bay Lodge this summer!

Spend a long weekend writing about food this summer with New York Times food writer Kim Severson in the rustic luxury of Alaska’s Tutka Bay Lodge .

All you need is a recipe.

Kim will guide us as we use personally meaningful recipes as promptScreen Shot 2016-07-28 at 1.22.50 PMs to craft short food memoir essays with potential for publication. We will also consider salmon, a food that is deeply evocative for Alaskans, and its connection to family, community and place.

Writers will work alongside chef and food writer Kirsten Dixon aboard The Widgeon II, Tutka Bay Lodge’s re-purposed crabbing boat turned cooking school.

Aside from writing, participants will enjoy cooking demonstrations, foraging and a seafood-related Kachemak Bay boat tour. Hiking and yoga optional.

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Inside the Widgeon II



About Kim:

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.02.04 AMKim Severson is a New York Times domestic correspondent covering food trends and news across the United States. She was previously the New York Times Atlanta bureau chief and, before that, a staff writer for the Dining section of The Times. Since she arrived at the Times in 2004, she has pushed the food beat in interesting directions and onto Page One. She previously wrote about cooking and the culture of food for the San Francisco Chronicle, after a seven-year stint as an editor and reporter at the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska.

Ms. Severson has won several regional and national awards for news and feature writing, including the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for her work on childhood obesity in 2002 and four James Beard awards for food writing.

She has written four books, “The Trans Fat Solution,” “The New Alaska Cookbook,” a memoir called “Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life,” and, in 2012, “Cook Fight!” a collaborative cookbook with fellow New York Times food writer Julia Moskin.

About Tutka Bay Lodge: 

One of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, Tutka Bay Lodge is located at the end of a 7-mile fjord off the southwest coast of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula near the seaside community of Homer.

The main lodge and six guest cabins are set on a piece of remote coastline and connected by a wooden boardwalk raised above the beach and ocean. Guests feel completely immersed in the Alaska wilderness, yet they have all the comforts of home around them and five-star service in addition to the thrilling soft adventures of Alaska (fishing, kayaking, hiking, bear viewing and more). Tutka Bay Lodge is owned by Within the Wild Adventure Company, run in partnership by Carl and Kirsten Dixon and their daughters, Carly Potgieter and Mandy Dixon.

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Workshop dates are July 21-23. Cost for food, lodging and instruction is $875 and includes water taxi transportation to and from Homer.

Rooms are double-occupancy. Payment in full is required at time of registration and is refundable up to 30 days prior. To reserve a spot or ask questions, email me.

There are two subsidized spots available for enrolled, degree-seeking university students. To apply for one of these, please send an email with a bio, a writing sample and a paragraph that describes your recipe and why it is meaningful to you by May 15.

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For Edible Alaska: Alaska Sprouts keeps growing

If you take a look, you’ll find the latest issue of Edible Alaska out now. For the spring issue, photographer Ash Adams went deep on the SJ Klein’s cool urban micro-farm. (His thai basil, at Natural Pantry right now, is perfect for this awesome salad recipe.) He’s just opened a retail location with Wild Scoops and Alaska Pasta Company in Fairview at 15th Avenue and Ingra Street.

Here’s how the story starts:

Snow may still be melting in Anchorage, but in SJ Klein’s world right now, delicate green shoots spiral out of seeds, split into tender leaves, and reach toward the pull of white light.

This springtime process plays out every few weeks year-round in the controlled environment of Klein’s hydroponic microgreen farm. He has been operating an urban sprout farm for eight years and his business, Alaska Sprouts, now supplies most of the restaurants in Anchorage. Klein’s greens turn up in sushi rolls, sub sandwiches, bowls of pho, and atop seafood specials at high-end bistros.

“I guess we feed Anchorage. It’s not a deep niche, but it’s a big enough niche so we can do it,” he said.

The soilless indoor growing process of hydroponics relies on nutrient-rich water and artificial light. It is resource intensive, in particular because of the cost of electricity. It takes certain market conditions to make an operation pencil out, Klein stated. In Anchorage, a combination of the distance from outside producers, loyal local food enthusiasts, and a growing Asian demographic make it possible.

According to Klein, Alaska Sprouts has an edge over outside producers because of quality. Sprouts are delicate and shipping can damage or freeze them. He’s worked hard to develop a reputation of having a product that is reliably fresh and available.

“If you can supply people with what they need consistently, you’re going to grow,” Klein said. Alaska Sprouts grows 10 to 15 percent each year, he adds.

Read the rest here.