Set the Net

Recipes and snapshots of life in Bristol Bay, AK



The slow and misty mornings this time of year seem to stretch half the day with the sun not cresting the horizon until nearly 9am, and it’s only going to get darker as we creep through the season. Spruce grouse are most visible at dawn and dusk and the belated changing of the light offers them security to come down from the trees to peck in the underbrush later & later in the day. Making them the perfect wild game for ambling walks with our children.


These birds are relatively small and do not spook very easily allowing one time to get very close to observe them. We have had in our neighborhood lately a very demonstrative male strutting about flaring his plumage and showing off to the gaggle of females that linger around him. Bronwyn enjoys watching the birds dance around each other, pecking at gravel and jostling for the best position.



One of our favorite ways to enjoy spruce grouse is to go out in the early morning to hunt in order to breast them, dredge the meat, thinly sliced through a salt and pepper spiced flour blend, and fry with over-easy eggs. In order to sop it all up with buttery toast at breakfast.



When hunting is good and we get 4 or 5 from a few different flocks in a morning, we like instead to save them and to cook them up for dinner in this rich, meaty Spruce Grouse & Stout Pie.


When Bronson and I first started dating I had a few outdoors woman tricks up my sleeve that were new to him, including one my Dad had taught my brother, Ian and I, as kids growing up in the Valley. He didn’t believe me the first time I told him I could clean a grouse in less than a minute and if I remember correctly I won a beer for this little skill!


Over the years I have taught this trick countless times and thought I’d share it here. Be sure to tuck it in your cap, for who knows when you may have the opportunity to win the stout needed for making this pie on a fortunate bet.


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Hiking, baking & berrypicking are near the top of my favorite activities list, and when they are done with family it only enhances the pleasure. This past Monday, we caught a few rays of sun and found some very late harvest plump wild blueberries on a hike up China Cap here in Dillingham. China Cap is the biggest view for the shortest mountain hike in town and Bronwyn calls it a hike that is “just her size”.

Berrypicking on China Cap .jpg

Last school year Bronwyn attended a local preschool for a few days a week, for her as a social butterfly school was a positive, but our values and expectations were not met regarding outdoor play and curriculum. So this winter, at 4 1/2, we have decided not send her to preschool. Instead she spends her days with us when we do not have nursing class obligations and with a good friend, her kids, & Gretchen when we do. In making this choice I feel firmly it was the right decision for us. That being said I want her to still be learning and expanding her knowledge through outdoor exploration, play, and helping us with household and subsistence activities.


Helping pick berries and baking them into all sorts of goodies is an excellent way to promote fine motor skill development, delayed gratification, learn basic math skills, and play. There can be teaching in every activity without your conducting formal lessons, and I believe this type of learning is the most effective for almost all children.


Of course eating the muffins and berries is never an activity that is frowned upon in our house by any child, and you could of course teach table manners… whatever those are…


Letting preschoolers help with baking is a task that at times makes me really have to scale back my Type A tendencies and allow for mess, a few missteps and occasional failures. This recipe is a pretty durable choice for getting your feet wet with your little one, for easy knife skills I like to make these mint chocolate chunk cookies with Bronwyn.


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IMG_7029.jpgMoose hunting season came and passed for us without success. This last semester of  nursing school is all consuming currently and quite honestly our efforts were halfhearted at best knowing we have an abundance of fish in the freezer. But then the culture here of sharing brought us a front quarter from a good friend who took a bull, with his bow, in a hunt upriver. So between studying, we spent last weekend canning, vacuum sealing, jerky making, bone broth making and embarking on a massive chili endeavor. IMG_6753.JPGOver the summer some fishing friends, who winter in Texas, brought us a huge bag of dried ancho and guajillo chilies, the perfect gift for red chili making. If you don’t have such friends, most Spanish/Mexican markets,, and all have dried chilies. I love the smoky flavor roasted dried chilies impart to the dish, with pinto beans and small tender chunks of moose meat in each bite. When I get chili making, for me it’s go big or go home so this recipe is enough to feed a small army! Perfect for large Fall get togethers.IMG_6781.JPGAnd for me Fall to me is a time of settling in and enjoying the cold nipping at us in the night, dark cool foggy mornings and industrious enterprises. We are getting excited for the coming winter, dreams of cozying up with my knitting, a good book, a lap full of candle lit little girl snuggles, your breath freezing in the air. Too often, Fall is seen as a closure of a season but for me it is the precursor of the earth being wrapped in a winter blanket and slumbering to rejuvenate. And of course it means the coming of ski season, snow ball fights, big long dinners with friends, I could go on forever. Embracing each season is the only way to engender happiness in the present instead of always waiting for the next. And this chili is a damn good way to embrace Fall I’d say! IMG_6807.JPG

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img_6646I can hardly believe September is halfway through and that the first frosts are already chilling our nights. I, like many Alaskan berry pickers, like to wait until after the first freeze to harvest Lingonberries known locally as Lowbush Cranberries. Some believe they are sweeter for eating if picked after that frost, but honestly I end up waiting because I try to eek out as many blueberries as I can first, knowing the cranberries can wait.


With the cold weather settling in,  I am back in bread baking swing and having a bowl of fresh cranberries in the fridge I thought we needed some fall spice in the air. This crusty, berry-dotted loaf is made from a no-knead French bread dough, with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, & cardamom sugar swirled in. It’s perfect for having with tea, toasted, French toasted, or even made into a breakfast bread pudding. Though we can hardly ever wait for it to fully cool, Bea is often seen eagerly tearing off chunks piping hot from the oven. I did not include nuts in this recipe though we often add chopped pecans for a little crunch.

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This sandwich is as delicious as it is pretty, filled with Bristol Bay catches, bold, simple flavors, and fresh market goodies. Canned salmon and Deckhand Seafoods Togiak Smoked Herring are the flavor base on a crusty baguette.

Traditionally this nicçoise salad sandwich features anchovies and tuna but in Bristol Bay where jarred salmon lines my pantry shelves and smoked herring is a treat to be savoured, this version tastes like French cuisine come home. The key to making it something special is using good quality ingredients especially the bread, mustard, and fish. 

Salmon is what Bristol Bay is known for when it comes to commercial catch but beyond that we have a large herring fishery, a small boat CDQ longline halibut fleet, as well as many offshore large boat fleets targeting cod and pollock. Herring, namely Togiak herring, come inshore to spawn each spring and while that fishery is prosecuted right outside our doorstep, accessing it is nearly impossible for the average resident of Bristol Bay. This fishery is targeting the herring for their roe which is bound for Japanese markets with the meat only as an after thought. Not by Deckhand Seafoods though, whose small batch smoking and canning of this underrated fish is hoping to put Togiak herring on the map or at least on your plate. Warner Lew, who by day is our commercial salmon fishery fleet manager, is in his off time Deckhand Seafoods owner and operator. This summer he gave me a few cans of his herring while in town and I have been scheming since then regarding the best way to employ them… these sandwiches could not have been better served! 
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As I write this, it’s just after supper, it turned out so yummy and simply I needed to sit down and tell you about it.

Ramen, particularly this ramen, is somewhat of a staple around our house. It is a bowl of possibilities that is full of that umami flavor and satisfying warmth. Pack it full of canned salmon (or leftover fish that needs a purpose), fresh veggies, noodles, and you have yourself a dinner fit for guests or a ravenous family in less than 30 minutes! 

Wild Alaska Canned Salmon Miso Ramen 

serves 4, less than 30 minutes

You’ll need: 

  • 1 pint jar or can of wild Alaska salmon, drained
  • 1/4 cup red miso paste
  • 1/8 cup white miso paste 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 8 cups water 
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of Doenjang (fermented soybean paste) 
  • 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped or broken up
  • 12 ounces ramen noodles, cooked and drained 
  • Wasabi powder to taste (optional) 
  • 4 eggs, soft boiled (directions to follow)
  • Fresh baby spinach 
  • Snow peas, chopped in pod
  • Green onions, diced 
  • Furikake 

To make:

In a large heavy bottomed pot combine the water, miso pastes, soy sauce, Doenjang paste, garlic, & mushrooms. Bring to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer while you prepare the eggs, noodles, and bowls for serving. 

To make the eggs: in a small saucepan bring enough water to boil that will cover the eggs. Once boiling carefully place eggs into pot and boil for 6 minutes. I strongly recommend timing this to achieve the correct “done-ness”. (is that a word… who cares, basically this will get you perfectly soft boiled yolks a little creamy runny but not at all raw, and fully done whites… Perfection.) When eggs have cooked for 6 minutes remove with a spoon to ice cold water and toss your ramen noodles into the boiling water. Peel eggs one cool enough to touch and cook noodles according to package directions.

Drain & divide noodles into four bowls, top each with a generous handful of spinach, chopped snow peas, and the diced onions. Divide the can of salmon between the bowls, ladle miso broth over the bowls contents until they are submerged, and finish each bowl with a halved egg, a generous amount of furikake, and wasabi powder if you want a little heat in your dish. 


For several months now I have had an obsession of the cheesecake variety. I wanted a rich, creamy, not overly sweet, decadent cheesecake. I wanted it mini, I wanted it to stand up to a variety of toppings, and I wanted it easy… but real.


Now I don’t think this too much to ask of a cheesecake but every recipe I tried just wasn’t quite there. They were too sweet, not thick enough, not cream cheese-y enough and just well, not right. So I took the aspects of the recipes I did like, combined and tweaked and with no complaint in this household, I made them enough times to be sure they will work for you each and every time. Because really at the end of the day if you are making cheesecake it’d better be worth it!

The kids also got really into this project, crumbling crackers and carefully measuring. Of course they all taste tested and gave their approval. It helps when dessert is already an individual portion, no one is arguing who got a bigger piece. Except after the kids go to bed and you eat two more because one isn’t cutting it, and for good measure you have another for breakfast because god forbid you leave an odd number in the pan.


I couldn’t decide which I liked best as far as toppings go so you’re getting the how to for all three. You’re Welcome.

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