September 09, 2015
A gourmet culinary experience is totally unexpected at the end of the 90-mile Denali Park road, and 350 miles away from Anchorage.
Our guests are not in pursuit of a unique and memorable eating experience when they book a stay at our lodges, but that is exactly what they get. Over 60 years since our founding, the availability of good ingredients has expanded, as have the expectations of our palates. Long gone are the days of freeze-dried green beans and corned beef from a can. Today, the plates of delicious food served up in our kitchens represent the best flavors and ingredients available to us, and our commitment to source from suppliers dedicated to organic and sustainable production. We pride ourselves in making your dining experience a featured part of a stay at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge.
The level of detail found in our kitchens includes even the smallest of products: spices. The curry powder in our “Curried Cauliflower Soup” comes from The Spice House, a family owned company dedicated to highest quality and freshest spices. This delicious dish is perfect for an Alaskan climate, where a hardy vegetable like cauliflower thrives. Starting in July, we receive heads of Alaska cauliflower, ranging from creamy off-white to bright yellow and sometimes (when we’re lucky!) a shocking purple. The creaminess of this soup is unique, derived from pureed cashews and coconut milk. It has a rich flavor without any dairy, and is also vegan.
The recipe comes from health food guru, Dr. Andrew Weil.
1) Put the cashews in a blender and blend until finely ground. Add 3/4 cup of water and blend for 2 minutes. Strain and set this mixture aside.
2) In a large pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the diced onions and sauté until golden. Add the cauliflower, coconut milk, cashew mixture, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes.
3) Blend the soup with an immersion blender or standing blender until the desired consistency is reached. If using a standing blender, allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes before blending. Blend until the soup is smooth.
4) Garnish, if desired, with caramelized onions. Sauté the thinly sliced onion in the canola oil over low heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add a couple pinches of sugar and a pinch of salt to complete the caramelizing.
July 31, 2015
How do you capture the bigness of tundra? The shiver of suddenly spotting a grizzly bear in what, seconds before, seemed merely “landscape?” The helium-balloon-in-your-chest feeling of being out in a wild place, a place where wildlife holds all privilege, both legally and practically?
One of the traditions I love at Camp Denali and the North Face Lodge is the evening story hour. The time during dinner when we all take a few moments to share something from the day. Each hiking group chooses a speaker—some are comedians, others serious; some detailed and dramatic, others succinct—and that person stands up and tells the rest of us what they experienced when they were out and about.
For me, this moment is one of attention (a hush in the room, ears perked), excitement (what will they say?), and sometimes envy (a wolverine?!! phalaropes on a pond??!!). More, though, this tradition connects us to the web of our time in this place together. We were all out, were all surprised by something. To hear others’ stories made our short time in Denali richer, more nuanced and expansive.
On the walks I shared with other travelers, we made collaborative haiku. What seemed most amazing? We asked ourselves. At what point did time stop and every color become a bit brighter? It was a treat to sit and scrawl the responses, each of us counting out syllables on our berry-stained fingers. We wrote one haiku about the contents of our lunch (so amazingly delicious after a couple hours of walking). Another about all the poisonous, beautiful plants (bog rosemary, monkshood, death camas). Most days, one haiku was not enough. There were too many facets, too many amazing moments to consider.
One of the hikes included a quartet of travelers from Tokyo, and they taught us the words for bear (kuma), for scat (unchi), and—my favorite—bushwhacking (yabukogi). They said it really translated as “bush swimming” or “bush rowing.” What a word! Together, after a ramble that included bouncing through spongy tundra, air spiced with Labrador tea, and a discussion of the amazing strangeness of lichen we wrote:
How do you translate place? Experience? Understanding? How do you share what it’s like to listen to water fall from the scooped palms of a bull moose’s antlers? In the end, it might be impossible, but trying is fun. We laughed. We nodded when someone captured the spirit of it. And somehow, the smallness of haiku seemed an appropriate answer to the vast sweep of Denali’s tundra and sky.
It’s even possible that we experienced bits of our walks more acutely from the attention we tried to pay them as we counted and re-counted and pared down words to what felt essential and right.
—Elizabeth Bradfield is a naturalist and poet whose newest collection of poems is Once Removed (Persea, 2015). She is the editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, lives on Cape Cod, and teaches in the MFA program for the University of Alaska Anchorage. www.ebradfield.com
June 21, 2015
Our season here at the lodges in Denali National Park has been in full swing for about three weeks. The amount of sunlight is almost at its summer maximum, almost 21 hours of daylight, and summer is at full speed. The flowers have been blooming early this season, coloring the tundra in sweeps of yellow Arnica, pink Moss Campion, and blue Forget-Me-Nots. Temperatures even soared into the 80’s the past several days, making this an unusually warm spring, following a mild winter.
The simple pleasures of summer have not been lost to us, however. Swimming dips in Moose Creek or Nugget Pond, a bottle of iced tea nestled in your sack lunch, and the chance to lay out on the tundra for lunch without bundling up have been welcome summer delights. Not every piece of the warm weather has been easy, however. Several fires currently burn across the state, one, the Sockeye Fire, even closed the George Parks Highway for a spell, causing several of our guests to need to reroute and re-plan their arrivals. Last year we experienced heavy rains in a short period of time, which washed out part of the Denali Park Road. Each season brings its challenge!
Of course, the warm weather is not likely to continue without end. Only two weeks ago we had a cold snap come through that deposited 6” of snow at the Eielson Visitor Center and other areas of the Park over 3,000 feet in elevation. Two days later, the temperatures soared into the 70’s. On one of my hikes this season we started out in t-shirts and shorts, only to be quickly pelted by a small hailstorm midway through the day.
Overall, we would classify this season as unusually warm. The idea of “normal” weather is perhaps an anomaly in Denali, regardless. As previously mentioned, we are only 30 miles away from the largest mountain in North America, so unpredictable is the typical forecast for the day! This warm spell has begun to cause us to bite our nails a bit, however. The tundra is very dry, and I worry about the amount of available water for the root systems of our vegetation, for the insect life, and for birds.
Last evening, thunder cracked across the sky above the mountain range, a few bolts of lighting struck across the tundra, and localized rain squalls pelted parts of the Denali Park Road. CDNFL staff camping on Turtle Hill even witnessed lightning ignite a small tundra fire to our west. Wildfire smoke from the western and southern parts of the state has rolled into our area, creating a bit of a hazy view looking out toward Denali.
We look forward to some more rain spells to alleviate these dry, hot conditions. Until then, we will continue to have fun dunking ourselves in Nugget Pond and Moose Creek to cool off from the warmth.
It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.