Spring is the season to see the most amazing skyscapes and sunsets in Interior Alaska. The “big sky” concept in Fairbanks puts Montana to shame. I swear if I could write a love letter to the Alaska sky, I would in a heartbeat, and it would probably be the most fervent letter I’ve ever written.
10:30 last Thursday, I was winding down for the night and getting my ducks in a row for the following day. I walked outside to lock the chickens away for the night, and I peered through the tall, white, staggered trunks of the birch forest by my cabin and noticed the brightest red glow along the horizon. Without giving it another thought, I ran inside the house, grabbed my camera and Izzy, and we went to chase the sunset. We didn’t have to go too far, up a short hill and a quarter mile down a dirt road. When we reached a good vantage point, I stared in wonder at the backdrop of the Alaskan sky, overlooking the rolling hills of the Goldstream Valley. I don’t know that I’ll ever be lucky enough to see a sky so beautiful again.
Despite the warmth and the breathtaking views, I always get a little homesick for North Carolina this time of year. I miss sitting out on the porch listening to songbirds by day, katydids by night, and enjoying the southern outdoors without the stifling heat and humidity. Sure, we have songbirds here and we can sit outside at this point, but the South is different. There’s a chorus of birds and a culture surrounds front-porch-sitting.
I remember one of the first times Chris visited North Carolina (from the Pacific Northwest); an entire day was devoted to sitting on my parent’s front porch overlooking the Pamlico River. After a couple Bloody Marys and four hours of talking and rocking, he asked if there was anything else that needed to be done that day. When I told him we were doing exactly what was on the agenda, I could tell he didn’t quite know what to think but he eventually fell into the rhythm of rocking and waving to people who walked by or shouting across the street to the neighbors who were doing exactly as we were.
Since I’ve been missing home, I dug in my pantry (such that it is in a tiny cabin) to round up some southern food. Fortunately, I have a lot of people who love me back home who send me care packages with nabs, grits, country ham, pickled okra, and fig preserves, all which serve as mortar between my southern bones.
I rounded up some country ham and stone ground grits and started working from there. If you don’t know, country ham is salt cured (often smoked) ham, cured so for the same reason bacon is cured: for preservation. It’s really salty and flavorful without a lot of fat. In the south, you can buy whole hams, but for the sake of shipping, my folks send small packages to me.
If I can say so myself, this dish was absolutely amazing. It was salty and sweet, and the textures were paired perfectly. It’s great for Sunday brunch on the front porch (Bloody Mary is optional).
- 10 oz. country ham, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 leek, chopped, white part only
- 2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in ½ inch cubes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ head kale, chopped
- 1 cup black coffee, divided
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- 4-6 eggs for the top
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ham to the skillet, stirring occasionally, until browned on both sides. Remove and place in a bowl.
- Do not skim ham fat because this is necessary for flavor. Add butter to the skillet.
- Add chopped leek and stir until covered in butter.
- Throw in the cubed sweet potatoes, stir to coat with butter, and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ½ cup of the black coffee and let simmer for 7 more minutes, or until potatoes are almost done. You'll want there to be a little crunch left in the potatoes because there's a little more cooking time.
- While the potatoes are cooking, mix remaining coffee and maple syrup in a bowl. Set aside.
- Add kale and minced garlic to the skillet. Cook until kale has just wilted. Add ham to skillet.
- Pour coffee and maple mixture over the ingredients.
- Make 4-6 wells in the hash and drop an egg in each. Cover with a lid or a piece of aluminum foil until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
- Once eggs are cooked, add fresh ground black pepper to taste.