Last month, we packed our bags for Alaska for our food writers retreat and LongHouse Food Revival at Tutka Bay Lodge near Homer, Alaska. Breathtaking mountains followed us around every corner. Bald eagles and sea otters became our new companions. For meals, there was salmon, oysters and king crab galore! And though 20 hours of daylight took some adjusting to, Alaska was one of our best adventures yet!
Our own Molly O’Neill was joined by award-winning poet Carolyn Forché to lead our participants in in-depth workshops, readings and craft talks on food and memoir writing for our week-long food writers retreat. Our participants continued work on ongoing memoirs, honed their tone and voice for personal blog posts and tried their hand at various writing exercises from morning till night. Kathy Gunst, “resident chef” on NPR’s Here & Now, joined us for the retreat while recording interviews for a piece on Alaskan seafood. Writer Lynda Blaslev of the blog Taste Food got a chance to use her camera to take some stunning shots of the surroundings while she also finalized a cookbook proposal with the group. And Simona Carini of the blog Briciole, Annelies Zijderveld of The Food Poet, and Cathy Brancioli of Delaware Girl Eats all developed their blogs while also sharpening their memoir skills. Now that’s a writing retreat!
We were all staying at Tutka Bay Lodge, owned and operated by Kirsten Dixon, Alaskan chef extraordinaire and cookbook author, along with her husband Carl. We were lucky enough to have Kirsten sit in on some of our workshops and offer her first-hand perspective on the Alaskan kitchen — and let us tell you, Kirsten knows her way around an Alaskan kitchen. She also led us in a cooking class along with Chef Christie Maggi and made us all feel at home at her luxury wilderness lodge. We took foraging walks with the staff naturalist, met with Clem Tillion, the Alaskan Speaker of the House who save the Alaskan fishing industry, kayaked with baby sea otters, and ate the best Alaska has to offer three times a day.
Our LongHouse Food Revival — Seafood and Poetry Under the Alaskan Stars — brought together a band of fisher poets, Revivalists from near and far (as close as the next island over and as far as South Carolina), and, you guessed it, more seafood (thanks to our friends at the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute) for an unforgettable celebration. Gathered at one big table on the Tutka Bay Lodge deck, Molly O’Neill and Kathy Gunst welcomed our happy crowd of food lovers and poetry enthusiasts.
Fisher poets Erin Fristad and Meezie Hermansen read original poems along with retreat leader Carolyn Forché. In between bites of whole roasted halibut, oysters direct from the waters below the deck and platters filled with smoked and grilled wild Alaskan red salmon we savored every word the poets had to offer. A larger-than-life seafood paella — a grand-finale of epic proportions — was stocked high with Alaskan oysters and shrimp when the readings came to a close. And with the mountains behind us, this night of food, poetry and great conversation around the table left us revived, reenergized and ready for more in the land of the midnight sun!
Back in New York, nothing seems quite as grand as the towering Alaskan mountains, nothing quite as satisfying as a piece of fish for dinner (the variety that was swimming that afternoon). And if it were up to us, we’d be packing our bags to head back to Alaska on the next flight!
Top photo credit: Lynda Blaslev