Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ak in AK (and Pancakes)

I just got back from a week of adventure in the last frontier––Alaska. 

Well, sort of. I mean, it was a week of adventure, but not the kind you might associate with Alaska. It was less "Into the Wild," and more "Titanic"… minus the sinking part. We spent half of our time on the high seas, aboard the Golden Princess cruise ship, and the other half in adorable little touristy port-towns on the inside passage of southeast Alaska. We did see plenty of bald eagles and seals, and even kayaked up a stream of spawning salmon, but the most rugged parts of the trip were the mornings after drinking too many martinis and glasses of champagne at cruise formal nights. If you haven't  noticed, I'm quite outdoorsy. 

A huge group of us went on the cruise for my parents' 30th anniversary. Our group had 12 people––me, Evan, Amanda, Amanda's bff Becky, Becky's husband Deric and her mom Sue, my parents, my dad's cousin Kathy, my mom's friend Tina, and the parents of my mom's friend Shelly. We had the time of our lives. A cruise ship is pretty much a floating version of Kellerman's, the resort camp from Dirty Dancing. It has all the same activities…and people. There were the dance people, who taught lessons, then made appearances at the dance club at night, and there was even a woman that we could have sworn was old Mrs. Schumacher. When we weren't singing the Dirty Dancing soundtrack or running around like maniacs looking for clues to our Golden Princess scavenger hunt (which we won), Amanda, Becky and I were playing bingo and trivia, and learning to waltz, salsa, and line dance. We were also becoming best friends with all of the ship's bartenders and activities staff. We were quite popular by the end of the trip. We were also the youngest people on the ship, which may have had something to do with it. 

In Alaska, we cruised through breathtaking Glacier Bay National Park, and made stops in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, and we stopped at Victoria, BC on the way home. In Juneau, we kayaked and ate amazing smoked salmon clam chowder. In Skagway, we rode a train up the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, build in 1898 during the Klondike gold rush. 

In Ketchikan––by far my favorite town we visited––we watched a lumberjack show and fantasized about spending a week roaming the town's charming streets. We also went in a lot of tourist shops at each stop. I did love seeing so many things that said "I love AK" (my initials), but after that trip, I never want to see a jewelry store again. Why do cruise ship passengers love buying diamonds in Alaska so much? The majority of the tchotchkes we came across weren't even made in Alaska. We were, however, able to get off the beaten path here and there, and find a few special treats. I came home with smoked salmon, an ulu, and a bottle of birch tree syrup. 

Birch syrup is thin and smooth like real maple syrup, but tastes kind of like molasses, with that slightly bittersweet flavor, almost like burnt caramel. If burley lumberjacks or gold miners ate pancakes, they'd use birch syrup. They'd also be eating hearty pancakes that could hold up to a syrup like that. None of those fluffy, light as air, perfectly white cakes for this syrup. 

So, upon returning home, I whipped up a batch of rugged, burley pancakes––full of blueberries and oats. The kind you'd expect to find in the last frontier. 

Whole Wheat Sour Cream Pancakes with Blueberries and Oats
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Makes 6-8 medium sized pancakes
7 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/ 2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream 
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, don't thaw first)
Birch syrup (or, if you can't make it up to Alaska, try whisking together molasses and pure maple syrup)

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat.
Stir together flour, oats, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the sour cream and gently mix until incorporated, don't over mix. Whisk eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl and combine with the sour cream mixture, until a smooth batter forms (again, don't over mix). 
Coat skillet with butter. For each pancake, scoop a 1/4 cup of batter into skillet at a time and plop in 5-6 blueberries. Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, or until bubbles appear. Flip and cook for another minute, or until done. Repeat with remaining batter.
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