silent meals in the alaskan wilderness

photo by candace faber

i have so many stories, images and recipes i want to share with you all from this past month. every time i sat down to write a blog post though, it felt too overwhelming. i can't possibly retell every story from my time in alaska, or share every image here. so a few memorable moments and one particular recipe will have to suffice. 

to me, meals should be a social experience - opportunities for conversations to flow freely, for friends or family to laugh and share stories. even if the food is incredible, i always judge the success of a diner party based on the conversation. so i was a bit nervous heading off to cook for a kayaking and meditation retreat where the majority of the meals would be in silence. on the first night of the retreat, we couldn't stop chatting. ten strangers, all wanting to know about each other and the reasons we had decided to join this particular retreat for young "change makers." we grilled some incredible local sockeye salmon and shared a few bottles of wine and settled into familiar, social conversations while we enjoyed our first meal together. but after the conversation ended, we settled into a noble silence that carried through to the morning rituals all the way to the end of breakfast. 

that first morning together, i served homemade olive oil & maple granola. a few guests had foraged an incredible amount of wild elderberries and blueberries the night before that i turned into a simple berry compote to serve along with the granola and plain yogurt. it was a simple, yet special breakfast. i was anxious to see how our interactions would be during silent meals. i assumed it would be sort of boring and dull. but that morning, one of the guests caught my eye as she was filling up her breakfast bowl and gave me a heartfelt smile that needed no verbal translation. it was a smile so filled with gratitude, that it flooded me with joy. as time went on and the group grew closer, and comfortable and goofy around each other, there were many more silent smiles and many less-than-silent moans of delight "mmmmm." there were even some non-silent meals in which the food itself simply left the group speechless and fully absorbed by the flavors of the meal. those were my most proud moments. 

olive oil & maple granola ~ makes about 5 cups 
adapted from whole grain mornings

3 cups thick rolled oat or rye flakes (gluten free if sensitive)
1 cup kasha (toasted buckwheat groats)
1/2 cup raw hulled sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups chopped, dry roasted almonds - or other nut/seed
1-2 cups chopped dried fruit like raisins, dates or apricots *optional

preheat oven to 300 degrees. mix oats, kasha, sesame seeds, salt and spices together in a big bowl. add wet ingredients and stir to coat. spread mixture out in a thin layer on one large or two smaller baking sheets lined with parchment paper. bake for 30 minutes or so, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until oats are lightly golden in color. let cool completely and then add any toasted nuts or dried fruits you prefer. store in airtight container for up to 3-4 weeks.

serve with plain yogurt, or homemade almond milk, topped with fresh fruit or a homemade berry compote!

in addition to foraged berries, we also enjoyed some ginormous edible "chicken of the woods" mushrooms, tons of foraged seaweed (my paddle partner happened to be a seaweed foraging expert!), freshly caught sockeye salmon and tons of dungeness crab from the last catch of the season. i was thrilled to have so many foraged ingredients to work with, especially when i failed to put the giant dry bag of fresh produce into a kayak for a two-night camping trip. whoops. we had to discuss as a group whether or not we had enough food to stay the full two nights. i expressed my concern for letting all the produce go to waste sitting in that dry bag on the porch of the retreat house. but kurt, our leader, told us he was more concerned about wasting the opportunity to stay an extra night in such an incredible, wild place... after that brilliant comment, we were in full agreement to stay. our group persevered with our giant bucket of cooked crab, rice, oats, lentils, beans, candied smoked salmon and foraged wild edibles collected from the remote little island where we camped. it's true what they say... you'd have to be an idiot to starve on the pacific coast.

i want to tell you more about the time my chef knife unknowingly took a tumble into the ocean and spent 24 hours before my paddle partner pulled it from the silty sands of low tide like king arthur. about splashing our xtratuf boots in the phosphorescent waters under the milky way and shooting stars. and about the wonderful conversations i had with some of the most brilliant minds of my generation. but the depth of memories is endless. i'll let some of these lingering stories come to the surface in my future posts. i'll simply end this post with an image of sunset, taken from the beach of castle islands in duncan canal, where we spent two nights camped out in the alaskan coastal wilderness. 

photo by candace faber