Last year, my husband Carl and I bought a small piece of property across a pretty little lagoon from our house in Tutka Bay, on the south side of Kachemak Bay. The previous owner had towed a derelict crabbing boat onto the property and moored it to the shore during an exceptionally high tide. The boat is called the Widgeon II. It has a history of rebirth, having once been a World War II troop carrier and then fitted into an Alaska crabbing boat.
The previous owner built, by hand, a two-story wooden structure onto the deck of the Widgeon. It looks a little bit like a kooky wooden ark but it was designed more with a Viking hall in mind. When someone, shortly after our purchase, asked me what I might do with an old beached crabbing boat, I didn’t hesitate. I thought to turn it into a cooking school, of course. That’s what you can do in Alaska. You can have a crazy idea and then just do it.
I’m fairly new to Kachemak Bay and I want to learn everything there is about the maritime culture here. I’ve been trying my hand at harvesting and drying small amounts of seaweed, dehydrating seawater to make our own sea salt, and preparing halibut and cod in different ways. I’ve stared an octopus in the eye. I’ve played around with making kelp pickles and I’ve developed a serious taste for Kachemak Bay oysters. There’s an oyster farm just a few coves away where I can go to get fresh appetizers for the evening. I’ve fallen in love with those collectible Japanese glass floats sold all over Homer. I like going up the deep fjord of Tutka Bay and checking on the crab pot I got for my birthday. There are eagles everywhere.
Today is the first cooking class of the season. There’s a nip in the air and plenty of snow on the ridge but I wanted to participate in the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival this year so we opened the lodge a little early. Although I’m too busy to take in any of the bay tours or lectures, I get the chance to meet a few birders.
One of the greatest things about owning a cooking school is having the creative opportunity (and excuse) to learn new dishes and styles of cooking. Today’s class is all about the fresh fish we catch here in Kachemak Bay but I’ve decided to make little Venezuelan corncakes called “arepas” to go along with our menu. Arepas are small cakes that are grilled and often split and filled. They are almost like corn-only English muffins. The first time I had an arepa was in Napa, of all places. A small colorful food stand was serving them stuffed with all sorts of cheese and grilled meats.
- 1 cup white pre-cooked fine cornmeal
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup fresh corn kernels
- ¼ cup medium diced spring onion
- ½ cup flaked hot-smoked (kippered) salmon
- 3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
- Put the cornmeal into a large bowl with the salt and cheese -- you can use other cheese besides Cheddar. I particularly like mozzarella with arepas as well.
- Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat and add in the butter.
- Pour the hot liquid over the cornmeal. Stir the mixture until a batter forms.
- Add in the corn, onion, and smoked salmon. Stick the batter into the fridge for about 15 minutes or until it firms up.
- Wet your hands with water to help the batter from sticking to them and form 3 to 4-inch balls. Flatten the balls to make small disks about three inches in diameter.
- Heat the grill or sauté pan to medium high heat. Brush on or add in some oil just to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Cook the arepas, in batches, until they are golden brown, about three to five minutes per side, flipping them once during cooking.
- You can split the arepas and fill them with dressed greens or more cheese if you like.
- We served ours with a small springtime salad in our cooking class.