Saturday, March 10, 2012

Talkeetna ("Where Food Is Stored Near The River")

If you can remember where you stored it!

I've lived in Anchorage now for about nine months.  I've traveled to several other places in the state for work and even to some places on my own nickle for fun.  For the most part, I feel as though I am on a very long, extended vacation.  I can't say whether that's due to my feeling somewhat itinerant in general and not knowing exactly where to call home, or to all the traveling I do from my so-called home base.  I stay in a lot of hotels, motels, B&Bs, take too many flights, rent and drive a variety of vehicles over all kinds of terrain, eat in so many restaurants that I've almost forgotten how to cook for myself and even coming home often feels like a new adventure.  Most of the places I go seem to be tourist destinations, as well, making it seem even more like touring than working when I go there.  I guess that's part of the nature of Alaska.   

I just returned from a third trip to Talkeetna, which is only about three hours drive from Anchorage,  and I think it's probably my favorite place to visit in Alaska, which fact sort of surprises me.  It's a little bit of a cliche, a little "too-too," if you will, and you know how I don't much go for things just because they are popularly cool, or worse, "hip."  One thing that makes Talkeetna so "hip and cool," besides its proximity to Denali, is its food, like the Greek Pizza at Mountain Pizza, and a huge hamburger at Westrib Pub featured on Man vs Food television show, etc.   Take, for instance, this little bakery cafe,

where I ate twice in one day. In the middle of the morning I had a scone with pears and dates and some kind of tea that tasted a little like campfire ashes. In a good way, though. It was supposed to be "smoky" and it was and I liked it. Then for lunch I ordered a  waldorf chicken salad sandwich on ciabata bread that was decent. But mostly, I just liked all the lights hanging around.

The Talkeetna Roadhouse is famous for its culinary specialities and I do recommend their soft and chewey molasses ginger cookies, Granny's chocolate potato cake and their quiches aren't horrible, but on this trip I mostly just had hot tea at the Roadhouse, trying to feel better from a head cold.
I stayed a couple of nights in a B&B owned by a woman who works down the road in Sunshine (which is up the road from Willow--you might not be surprised that Talkeetna also houses an Alaska Folk School, too)  where I sometimes work when I'm out that way.  The woman had just recently fallen off a ladder and was recuperating at home and it wouldn't have been any trouble for me to stay somewhere else, but she insisted and actually made me think she wanted me there.  And not just for my money, either, because she offered to let me stay without charging me.  I could not do that, especially as she was so incapacitated at the time.  But, where she had originally planned to house me downstairs, she had to make other arrangements.  Her own apartment was upstairs, but until her bones heal, she can't go up and down the stairs. 

There were a couple of guest rooms upstairs, as well. So, I went upstairs...these stairs, now that you ask, 

with my luggage and vertigo well in hand, while she and a friend who was visiting stayed downstairs.  We didn't do breakfast at the Bed and Breakfast, which is very fine with me as I'm not much of a breakfaster, but she invited me to dinner with her and her friend the first night, and then with her and her friend and her brother and her sister-in-law the next evening.  Family style. We had moose steaks, cooked freezer peas and instant mashed potatoes.  The next night we had corned beef and sourdough bread I bought at the Roadhouse down the street. And Girl Scout cookies I had brought with me.

I realize that this whole story sounds quite mundane, but I have more to tell.  The woman's friend and I talked in the living room while our host was frying onions in butter for the moose steaks.  She wouldn't even let us hold her crutches for her while she cooked!  The friend kept pausing in her conversation trying to remember things like the name of the place where she lives.  The host would call out the names and otherwise fill in the holes from the kitchen for her.  It happened quite a few times and I realized that the woman I was conversing with had some real issues with her memory.  She knew she did and she was grateful for the assistance from her friend.

Over the next few hours, while we tried in vain to get the DVD player to work so we could watch Doc Martin, I found out that these two women had been friends for many, many years having lived in Talkeetna for most of them.  The friend had since moved away and was living with her daughter in the lower 48.  The host was relying on the friend this week to step-n-fetch for her which the friend did willingly and cheerfully.  The woman was very explicit in her directions when she sent her friend up the stairs to the apartment for various things she needed downstairs.  It seemed to be a smoothly choreographed relationship and worked very well.  There were a couple of Jack Russels, one of them deaf, thrown in the mix, too.

Although they didn't sit me down and explain that the friend was dealing with the beginning stages of Alzeimer's, it was discussed in certain incidental and casual ways and everyone seemed fine with the way life was turning out for them all. 

The evening that the brother and sister-in-law had come for dinner, the woman without the memory problem who cooked for us said, "I really love corned beef and cabbage!" 

Her sister-in-law offered, "It's even good without the cabbage."  And the cook stopped dead in her tracks having just realized that she had forgotten to take the cabbage out of the fridge and cook it all those hours with the beef. 

Laughter was part of the whole visit, but at this point, it was the star.