I WILL GLADLY pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
- J. Wellington Wimpy
There is nothing quite like a good burger, but a good burger can be shockingly difficult to find. We are lucky to have a few local burger joints who still pat out their burgers from ground beef, but so many burgers are just "wimpy" little mystery-meat discs that have been stamped out by machines and frozen for convenience. I like to make a burger patty that I hope would make that famous cartoon connoisseur proud (and is a little healthier). Here is a basic recipe, but you can add other ingredients for variety. We sometimes add a couple of tablespoons of blue cheese crumbles, for example. You may substitute ground turkey for the beef, but it will be drier and will burn more easily on the grill, so watch it carefully.
Set the beef and egg out of the refrigerator about 1/2 hour before you are ready to work with them so that you are not putting cold burgers on the grill. This way they will cook more evenly. When they have warmed some, put the meat, the egg and the spices (minus the salt - that comes later) in a large bowl and squish the ingredients together with your hands and mix thoroughly.
Divide the mixture into four equal amounts. To make the patties, begin with a nice round ball on a flat surface such as a large plate. Gently flatten out the ball, shaping the sides as you go, until you have a round patty that is about 1 inch thick. These patties can be cooked on the grill, in the oven or in a skillet.
They need medium-high heat and should be turned every 2-3 minutes until they feel moderately firm in the middle. Do not press down on the patties with the spatula as it squishes out the juices. After they have been cooked, sprinkle a little salt over them. I learned that it is best to salt meat after it has been cooked because salt draws out the moisture, making the meat drier and tougher.
When your patties are done (cooked to at least medium for food safety with ground meat), you can add a slice of cheese and any other toppings of choice and serve it on a nice toasted bun. Enjoy!
NEWSFLASH: IN CASE you missed this week’s Kids These Days! broadcast of Inside the Teenage Brain: Teens take risks! Yes, parents, grandparents, and guardians of anyone age 12 to 18, you’ll need this nugget of information while on vacation.
I’m thrilled to finally receive validation confirming the teenage brain is wired to do crazy stuff. In fact, I learned it aches to do stuff; wild, crazy and overly nutty stuff, especially while in the company of other brains with equal settings.
No wonder parents hear the whining, witness the iPod tune-out, and see the rolling of eyes while teens are pushed and prodded through museum after historical site after interstate road trip. Here’s the irony of traveling with teens - young people need to feel a bit out of control to be in control; of emotions, bodies, and other people, we adults included. A teenager, I’ve discovered, is happiest when barreling down a mountain on a bike so fast the wheels are practically on fire, even if mom or dad is standing at the bottom of the hill shielding eyes from certain inevitable calamity. A teenage traveler wants to feel the rush of adrenaline as much as a parent wants to feel none, and I can’t think of a better state in which to offer such experiences to a growing adolescent body and brain.
Alaska is perfect for teenagers. Enough mental and physical challenges are available no matter where a family decides to begin their travels. Below are a few excellent options that just might rate a “that’s cool!” statement when completed. Do double check age, weight, and ability requirements, however, before booking any challenging activity for your son or daughter.
Mountain biking. Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau offer summertime mountain biking around the area’s slopes. Between the cool chairlift ride up and the screaming fast trip down, kids will feel the thrill of independence coupled with the knowledge that everyone is watching from the lodge and hitting “update status” on their Facebook app. For a longer, touring-type approach, try Sockeye Cycles in Skagway or Haines, offering multi-day trips as far as the Canadian border, all gear and bikes provided.
Zzzzzzziiipppping through Alaska's forests
Ziplining. Really, what could be more in tune with a teenager’s zen than a series of zips 100 feet in the air? From Ketchikan to Talkeetna, ziplining is fast becoming the activity of choice among the adventure-loving set. In southeast Alaska, try Alaska Canopy Adventures and their 11-zip trip set high among the hemlock and spruce trees. Talkeetna is the latest community to jump on the zipline bandwagon, with Denali Zipline Tours, slated to begin zipping through the trees sometime in July, 2012. Note: Most ziplining companies require participants to weigh between 90 and 270 pounds, for safety reasons. “Zippers” must also be able to understand and fulfill self starting/stopping procedures along the course.
Mountain adventures. Alaska possesses more glacial ice and rock than many other states in the Union, and much of it lies within easy access of the state’s largest community of Anchorage. Ascending Path guiding service leads day and overnight trips to remote areas of Alaska, with a ton of learning along the way. Want to climb a glacier? No problem, the Spencer Whistle Stop Rail and Ice Climbing trip combines a great trip aboard the Alaska Railroad with a little moraine exploration on the flanks of Spencer Glacier.
Teenagers want to show us they can, indeed, be “all that.” Give them the opportunity and see where it takes them, and you.
Erin Kirkland is the mother of two boys; one teen, one wanna-be-teen. Follow her crew’s Alaska adventures at AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel resources.
TRANSITIONS ARE CHALLENGING. And having just returned from vacation to real life once again I'm reminded of the fact that while experiencing transitions is useful, making the shift is never easy.
Four (sometimes short) years ago I was transitioning from family of two to family of three, adding an infant to my partner’s and my relationship. This was and still is the biggest challenge of my life. In the first months of this arrangement I sometimes became the caretaker of two humans and the needs of the family seemed endless.
Ten months into our first son joined us it was time for my partner to return to work full-time and for him to begin day care. The separation from our son and placing him in the care of someone else took trust and faith that this arrangement would be comfortable for him. This transition was much harder for my partner than it was for me. As a parent I know that any transition affects the a member of the family also affects me.
The fam visiting Pike Place Market in Seattle
About the time I was beginning to feel comfortable and semi-secure in my skin as a dad the Terrific Twos arrived in our home. We were very fortunate at the time that this phase and transition of life did not live up to the hype. Even though the age of two did not arrive with the vengeance we had anticipated it was still a transition time with changes in our son’s wants and needs. How to constructively deal with daily transitions from activity to activity was still a sizeable challenge – and when he turned three there seemed to be even more passion and outburst for independence.
And demands for awesome t-shirts
Preparing for and bringing another child into our family was another sizeable challenge in all of our lives. We took some birth refresher classes, prepared our home, and most importantly prepared the soon-to-be-big-brother for the changes that would be occurring in our family life. True to his nature our first son has taken a long time to accept, understand, and embrace his younger sibling. He is slowly coming around to accepting this transition but it has been challenging for every member of the family.
So, this week we are all dealing with a minor transition that will hopefully pass quickly: the transition of 2 ½ weeks of being together on vacation back to our normal and robust daily schedule. All I can think about is our next family vacation and my motivation level is low. My partner is maxed at her workplace with catch up. Our boys are unsure about getting back into their routine, although we know how important it is to them. This is a very minor transition but annoying.
Ahh, vacation, why can't you last forever?
My workplace is relatively slow but I did return with some issues to address and projects that needed attention. My volunteerism commitments are demanding my attention with no less than four meetings this week and involved list of things I must do. The every-other-year-event of Alaskan Native Celebration is happening this week, we have received an invitation to a birthday party, and the opportunity to participate in a whale-watch has presented itself. Yes there are many good opportunities for our family and more than enough daylight to enjoy Alaska outdoor life but I’d still rather be on vacation!
OVER THE PAST 18 years, I've been told (and have told myself) that I have the strictest parents out of anyone I know. Of course now I have that wonderful thing called perspective, I know they were acting in my best interests. I may not have been able to do everything my friends did, but now I know that most of those things weren't as cool as they seemed.
The discipline started from as early as I could remember. In elementary school, we didn't have an "English Tele" (my and my brother's word for cable TV). All of my friends had cable, but my parents, acting like a very good PSA for standing up to peer pressure, didn't cave. Looking back, I kind of wish they hadn't ever relented, because 95% of the things I watch now are a waste of time.
Strangely enough, I was only ever really grounded once - but that lasted for the better part of four whole months. What'd I do? Well, I was caught not five minutes after I snuck out of the house in August, and I didn't get my privileges back until after Christmas. That swift and unyielding response showed me that the four hours I was planning to spend out of my house wasn't worth the treat that was waiting for me when I got home. My parents didn't mess around.
I remember my mom telling me the importance of structure in a kid's life, and I'm exhibit A. I can't remember a time where I was punished for something I didn't know was wrong. Everything was always clear punishment wise - this is why you're being punished - I just did it anyway.
From what I've thought about parenting, it seems to me that their main job (besides letting us live another day) is not letting us kids get ahead of ourselves. We want to stay up later, drink before it's legal, and do countless other things before common sense and science says we're ready. It's the parents' job to keep them from trying to act like an adult in 7th grade, because that wouldn't be pretty. I'm really glad to say my parents did a good job, even though at the time I wished they wouldn't be such good parents.
MY FAMILY LOVES to camp. We go out into Alaska's beautiful wilderness nearly every weekend from spring to autumn. Of course we often roast weenies (well, sausages) on a stick, but that does get old pretty quickly, so I have looked for ways to keep the menu exciting and to get some vegetables cooking over the fire. One dish that we all particularly enjoy is yellow (sometimes called summer) squash with onions.
Below, I am giving instructions for cooking the squash over a campfire, but they could easily be cooked in the same foil pouches on the grill or in a skillet on the stove. I usually prepare the pouches at home as I'm packing up the cooler so they are ready to cook at camp when we get the campfire hot and ready. The squash and onion can be prepared up to one day in advance if they can be kept cool. This recipe feeds 3-4 people.
Campfire Squash Packets
Cut the foil into approximately 18" pieces. I use about 1 piece per 2 squash. If you put too much squash and onion in each pouch, it will not cook evenly, and I prefer not to make a pouch for each serving because it uses so much foil. Wash the onion and squash slice onion thinly. I use a v-slicer, or mandolin, almost daily. It makes lovely even slices, is very easy to clean, stores away neatly and saves me time.
Once you have the onion sliced, trim the ends from the squash and slice it in slightly thicker pieces (about 1/4"). The squash cooks more quickly than the onion, so it is important to slice it more thickly or it will get mushy before the onion is done. Lay out the foil pieces, folding each in half and unfolding to mark the middle. On one side of each piece, sprinkle about 1 tsp of olive oil and spread the onion slices over the oil. Lay the slices of squash over the onion and sprinkle salt and a dash more oil over each one. Make sure you get a fairly even amount of each of the ingredients into the pouches so they will cook at the same rate. If you like, you may garnish with couple slices of green pepper. I don't always add the pepper, but I had some in the refrigerator that needed to be used this time.
Fold the foil carefully over and roll each of the edges, turning each for at least two rolls so they will not leak. You will want to cook these over a fairly even heat, so wait until your fire has made a bed of coals and is not flaming up so much. Place the foil pouches over the fire onion side down first.
As the pouches get hot, steam should build and make them puff up like pillows. Once they puff, turn the pouches every 3 minutes or so and allow them to cook for about 10 minutes. Serve immediately and enjoy!
ARE YOU AND your partner suddenly presented with a few hours (or even a few days) of uninterrupted adult time? Perhaps, instead of immediately calling your favorite fancy restaurant and delicately sampling the latest pop-culture cuisine while sipping a colorful cocktail, consider something decidedly Alaskan.
Fresh air, exercise, and even the opportunity for some learning - that’s what parents in the 49th state can look forward to on date night. Nothing fancy is required, no specific equipment or expansive knowledge, just a willingness to participate with your beloved.
While the majority of outdoor recreation ideas that I generally offer include the kids, many of them also work for spousal dating bliss. A great place to begin is at your local visitor bureau, where everything from campgrounds to science centers are listed. Take a few moments to revel in the opportunity to find information and ask questions without your usual cadre of little helpers - what a feeling, yes?
During my exhaustive research for this post, I asked a few readers about their favorite dating expedition in Alaska. Below are some responses, all of which merit a thumbs-up from me.
1. Camping. Fortunately for we Alaskans, camping is easy to manage, thanks to a gazillion acres of federal, state, and local land, and myriad both public and private campgrounds within easy striking distance of just about any community in the state. A great place to find a suitable campsite is through the Alaska Public Lands Information Center(s), located in Anchorage, Ketchikan, Fairbanks, and Tok. Each center, besides offering incredible exhibits about our state, provides listings for hundreds of campgrounds, parks, and public lands available for overnight stays.
2. Berry picking. What could be a finer opportunity for uninterrupted conversation while at the same time providing sustenance for your family? Berry picking rated high among the responses, and rightly so. Hiking to a remote (or local) berry patch, plunking brightly-colored berries in the pail, sharing a picnic, and taking your time to chat about whatever comes to mind. There’s just something about working on a project together that promotes meaningful dialogue. Our personal favorite spot is high above Anchorage at Arctic Valley, just a short drive from home, but with stunning views, easy access to berries, and great hiking trails, too.
3. Riding the rails. A perfect day or overnight journey for couples is the Anchorage to Talkeetna route. This four-hour journey to the heart of Alaskana is full of interesting sights, great service, and opportunities for more talking time, reading, and dining in the Alaska Railroad’s lush passenger cars. Why not splurge and take the Goldstar class, where you’ll receive primo service in your own dome car? Stay overnight in Talkeetna if you wish, at the historic and charming Talkeetna Roadhouse, where owner Trisha Costello’s fresh baked goods and enormous sourdough hotcakes will make you stand up and cheer. Rock for a while on the front porch, wander along the quaint streets, and visit the Talkeetna Museum, a great place for a history lesson about the town itself, and the rugged mountaineering individuals who climb mighty Mt. McKinley.
Ready? Summer’s not going to last long, better get out while you can!
Erin Kirkland is the publisher of AKontheGO.com, an Alaska family travel resource. Listen below to an audio excerpt from this week's KTD radio program in which Erin offers even more ideas for dating your Alaskan partner.
I GREW UP where I could walk across the road and pick corn for dinner. I do miss that corn because it was as sweet as candy. As soon as corn is picked, its sugars begin to convert into starches, so the longer it has been since it was picked, the more the flavor is compromised. There has been quite a lot of corn available at the local supermarket lately, and while it isn't as good as fresh-picked, it has been tasty. This weekend, we put some on the grill, and I served it with spiced butter.
For grilled corn, place the corn (shucks on) in warm water to soak for at least an hour, turning it occasionally to make sure all the shucks are soaked. It's important the the corn has enough time to soak so that the shucks are thoroughly wet; if not, the shucks will burn off, leaving the kernels to burn.
The corn will need a hot, but not too hot, grill for cooking, so we usually put it on after the meat has cooked and the coals have cooled some and use the lid to make the heating more even. Place the corn on the grill and give it a quarter turn about every two minutes or so. It will need to cook for about 10 minutes.
Set it aside for about 3-5 minutes so that the shucks can cool enough be handled. Remove the shucks and silks and serve immediately.
For the spiced butter, I set a stick of salted butter out on the counter a couple of hours before I was ready to make it so the butter could soften.
Place the soft butter in a medium bowl and add:
Using a fork, mash the butter and spices together until they are thoroughly mixed. Put the spiced butter into a smaller, serving dish and serve it room temperature with the corn fresh off the grill. Enjoy!
WE ARE ON a family vacation! My partner and I have a passion for travel. We value how it teaches so many valuable lessons, puts stereotypes to rest, and broadens a person’s perspective on the world. We prioritize passing these values of travel on to our sons. It has been 1½ years since we have taken a vacation together, too long.
Pools and popsicles, always a favorite summer combo
One of the definitions of vacation from Webster’s dictionary is: a respite or a time of respite from something. Yes we are seeking a time of respite and we know what that something is. It's four specific somethings: the daily routine, our workplace demands, other commitments, and the unpredictable weather of Southeast Alaska.
Beach boys in San Diego
We are escaping the daily routine by leaving our home and our beloved animals in the care of a friend and leaving our town. I feel fortunate to have paid time off from work so that I can put my workplace responsibilities on hold and make this experience possible. I informed contacts with my other commitments to expect delays in me responding to emails and that I do not plan on attending teleconference meetings. After glorious weather in April, May has been cold, wet and the snow level has crept near sea level. The sunshine has been elusive and warm sunshine seems like a fantasy. We need to escape this place for rejuvenation, reset and high quality time together as a family just having fun!
Getting up close and personal with the wildlife at the San Diego Zoo
Yes, flying out of Southeast Alaska to go anywhere is undeniably a financial commitment, but it’s our reality and we relish the opportunity to see other parts of the world and discover new experiences as a family so to us it's priceless. So we do our best to be savvy about costs and get the best deals possible because these days shared traveling moments are worth every penny. We are confident that this investment of time away and money spent will lead to lifelong memories and connections for our sons. Even though we are only 4 years into our parenting journey I feel like the opportunities to be together as a family are fading already and I want to enjoy these respites as a family to the fullest while we still can.
I STARTED "DATING" in the 7th grade. A few people had started earlier, but the onset of middle school brought with it an increased interest of the opposite gender. But it wasn't really dating. For the most part, "going out with" someone (as was the slang for the time) consisted of holding hands at school, awkwardly trying to make conversation on the phone occasionally, and most importantly, changing your Myspace to "in a relationship". I'm sickened when somebody says "It's not official until it's Facebook Official," but the almighty Facebook status is taken as law within my generation, whether I like it or not.
In high school, things started to change. With more freedom, couples could go out to lunch (if one of their friends had a car), or even go to movies if their parents let them. The parents are the ultimate arbiter in their kids' dating experience. With my parents, they barely let me do anything until high school. I thought this was the cruelest thing ever, since some of my friends practically had chauffeurs as parents. But in the end it didn't really matter because I realized it wasn't all that great to have free reign.
The tipping point where dating goes from immature to mature is when kids start getting cars, and more importantly the ability to drive other people in those cars. Then, high school dating becomes changes to like real dating-dating - you know, lunch/dinner and a movie, or mini-golf or even skydiving.
Moving forward into college, I can't see it changing that much. Of course I won't have a car to drive my princess around in, but maybe I could pay off a strapping young man to give us rickshaw rides for the night. Now I'm glad my parents limited me when I was younger, because there's more important things to do when you're 14 than spend 5 days a week at Skateland "dating".
WITH SUMMER VACATION in full swing, many parents are a wee bit reluctant to allow their youngsters to loaf away these next three months; sleeping in until noon, eating ice cream for breakfast, and allowing valuable brain cells to deteriorate. Thankfully, the scope of family vacations has swung toward teachable moments, summer break or no, and many tourism outlets are responding with more hands-on activities than ever before.
Or, "hands under" as the case may be...
Opportunities run the gamut from extreme marine science to self-guided tours expressly designed for younger visitors, each offering a unique Alaska perspective combined with some awesome entertainment.
Our best bets include organizations who offer not just an exciting few hours of Alaska fun, but a healthy dose of stewardship, history, and environmental awareness as well. Some attractions are geared toward the whole family, some place an intense focus on kids only, giving grownups a little time to pursue their own recreational bliss.
Below are some favorite indoor and outdoor options around the state:
• Southcentral Alaska, with its diversity of culture and environment, provides a wealth of opportunities. We like the Center For Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, with close-in and more remote sites for wilderness and marine science. Try the Wynn Nature Center on Skyline Drive, up above Homer, with kid-friendly trails, weekly nature programs, and a self-guided tour of this historic plot of land. Near the ocean, families can take a short boat ride across Kachemak Bay to the Peterson Bay Field Station, an on-site marine camp with incredible tide-pooling, hands-on science, and great hikes. You can even stay overnight in the yurt and look for otters, whales, and puffins from the front porch. Bliss. If you can’t swing a trip across the bay, check the center’s Classroom Yurt on the Homer Spit for summertime classes and opportunities for a little up-close viewing of the area’s creatures and plants.
See sea shells down by the (Homer) seashore...
• Interior Alaska has the benefit of the University of Fairbanks’ programs and events, geared toward all things Arctic. The Museum of the North features a new slate of exhibits that outline the history of our Arctic landscape, mammals, birds, and geologic formations, and engage school age kids, in particular, with a self-guided scavenger hunt and activity sheet. Ask about their periodic special events, too, when scientists from UAF are on hand to provide specific activities and answer questions. Teenagers and parents may enjoy the awe-inspiring Place You Go To Listen, a dramatic, real-time recording of Earth’s magnetic sounds that are almost impossible to describe with words. Don’t forget to walk the grounds outside, either, and savor that awesome view!
Exploring the Sitka Sound Science Center in southeast
• Southeast Alaska places a heavy emphasis on marine science, and understandably so, with so much of the area’s industry relying upon a healthy and sustainable oceanic atmosphere. Our family stumbled upon the Sitka Sound Science Center last summer, and were thrilled with this little powerhouse of marine ecology and education. Still undergoing growth but featuring a touch tank, interns, and outside hatchery ponds, you can find the center right across the street from the Sheldon Jackson Museum, overlooking the beautiful and salmon-rich sound. During our visit, staff and a host of young volunteers were in the process of putting together a complete whale skeleton to hang from the rafters, and we hear it’s complete and ready for exhibition. The Science Center is destined to be a community winner, and deserves support from visitors, so do check it out if you’re in Sitka this summer.
Parents, remember that all of these organizations provide classes, lectures, and updates for adults, too. Check websites for family camps, volunteer opportunities, and special events that involve everyone in the family!
Erin Kirkland is the author of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family-friendly travel and recreation in Alaska.