Three weeks of alaska, so far

I will not be able to start baking again next week to be back at Knockvicar on 16 January as planned, so far we are pretty much iced in with no running water. Everything has to be carried up the toboggan slide that is our hair-pin track, more-than-weekly provisions, solid fuel, borrowed water. Three weeks today since this crazy weather started. Beautiful and dry, but bitterly cold, although after three days of waking up with temperatures well below minus 5ºC it is above zero today, ‘they’ say it may go on for another ten days and that snow is coming. Like a lot of people around the world, but only temporarily, we walk with containers to the nearest water point, but luckily for us it is not too far, a neighbour who is on the public water scheme 1km away and does not live atop a hill. It is remarkable how little water you can survive with when you have to. As an emergency we used the water from last night’s hot water bottles and boiled it for tea and porridge this morning. (I really try to avoid hot plastic in contact with food in normal circumstances but hopefully hot rubber will be all right this once.) We pile snow and ice in the bath tub, to melt and be able to flush the toilet. I dream of a very hot and very leisurely bath when it all thaws. We are lucky, we are sheltered and warm and we know that we will have water again at the turn of a tap. Hopefully, this will not be taken for granted again.

My Great Porridge

The freshest water available (or milk, if you are so inclined, in that case rinse the pot with water before adding the milk to avoid difficult cleaning later, see below), brought to the boil, quantities I know not as you need to work out how liquidy you would like the end product to be. Err on the side of too little, you can always add boiling water when you come back.

Jumbo oatflakes, three handful per person (I use ballybrado organic)

Quinoa flakes, a few handfuls (I use organic fair trade)

Add flakes to water, stir, cover with lid, go and attend to animals or whatever jobs need to be done before breakfast.

Return, the porridge is ready and should not require any reheating.

I like it sweetish, I add fresh cream and a little maple or agave syrup. The beauty of this method, apart from using very little energy, is that you do not have to remember to soak your oats before you go to sleep in order to get them to plump up for you, and also, if you are making your porridge with milk, you do minimum stirring and do not end up with a plastering of porridge goo burned on the bottom of the pot that will require soaking in cold water for the rest of the day).

Beautiful and dry, but bitterly cold, I have had my yearly compliment of chilblains on both feet, my hands have been spared so far. People with poor circulation are more prone to them, they tend to occur when the extremities are left to freeze until near numbness and are then applied to a source of heat. I had them first when I lived in a flat in Dublin without heating and kept warm working at the computer by keeping a hot water bottle on my tummy. When I had typed for a while and was beginning to lose feeling in my fingers, I’d warm them on the bottle. A few of the fingers started to turn red, they swelled up and became itchy, when touched they were extremely sore. This killer combination of itchiness and soreness is a sure sign of chilblains.

Chilblains remedy

Cut up a celeriac into cubes, with the leaves if they are left on, boil for 10 minutes.

Take off the stove and let cool until you can bear to submerge your affected bits in. Keep them in for as long as you can bear it.

Keep the whole stew in the pot, bring it up to heat a few times a day and repeat the operation.

When you are cured, the chickens will eat it all up for you and say thank you very much no doubt.

If you have no celeriac, urine (your own) is supposed to be a miracle cure, I have not tried it but it’s good to know if you are out camping in the snow on a very high mountain, if you can get to a health-food shop/chemist Nelson’s has a topical cream.

Beautiful and dry, but bitterly cold, I quite enjoy this enforced hibernation, feeling lucky to have a warm house, and wonderful scenery to walk through on the way to the far field where the animals are kept. The wild birds are fed with melted fat (taken from the cats’ stew) mixed with the flour scraped from table tops after bread baking. We fill half coconut shells, with a hole drilled at the bottom through which we stick the top of a bamboo or willow stuck into the ground. Safe from aforementioned belled cats (see above in action). The nets from fruit or veg are saved and filled with nuts and suspended in trees. What a show. We are doing little building jobs in daylight and organizing the house. Baking new cakes, funny breads to experiment, great hot meals, chutney and mince meat for next xmas’ mince pies, is this the miracle time to get on top of things and a little ahead of ourselves in terms of things-to-be-done, 2010, when it decides to thaw will be an amazing year, let’s work on this.

One thought on “Three weeks of alaska, so far

  1. Just reading this reminded me of bitterly cold last winter was. I was lucky in that pipes remained unfrozen. I sprinkled ash from the stove on my hilly driveway in order to access the outside world!

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