Reading the North

Dena'inaq' Huch'ulyeshi: The Dena'ina Way of Living

Editors Suzi Jones, James A. Fall, Aaron Leggett (University of Alaska Press, $35)

The blurb: The Dena'ina people of Southcentral Alaska have occupied their subarctic homeland for at least 1,000 years, yet their culture has largely been overlooked. (This book) is an ambitious project that finally brings their culture to light.

Excerpt: The traditional Dena'ina world was populated by a diverse array of spirits that could take a form or simply be a presence. Some were powerful and feared, others were friendly but mischievous. Spirits could be encountered anywhere, so one was never truly alone, no matter how far from the village one might be. Spirits reflected the primary concerns of Dena'ina life, such as interacting with a willful nature, the character of good and bad, the cause of mysterious events or an unexpected death that could not be attributed to any obvious cause. ...

One of the most significant spirits was Gujun, a powerful mountain spirit (dghili dnayi) who is portrayed in several stories as the "Father of the Animals." He and his wife, K'unkda Jelen, appear in "The Mouse Story" (Kalifornsky 1991: 154-159), a seminal Dena'ina story depicting interaction with nature. In the story, a lazy man helps a little mouse over a windfall. Winter comes and starvation afflicts his village. The man then undertakes spiritual walking towards the mountains ... In the foothills he comes to the house of Gunun and K'unkda Jelen, where because of his proper attitude toward the mouse, the giant spirits help him help his people by transforming down feathers into food.

Dog of the Afterworld

Leon Unruh (Birch Bark Press, $15)

The blurb: Nikolai Fyodorov, a young Russian assassin on a mission to punish a turncoat in Alaska's largest city, is instead humiliated by a mysterious gunman. Nikolai is given one chance to redeem himself with a new assignment that will shape the U.S. Senate -- and to do it he must go to the windy, hot plains of Kansas.

Excerpt: Nick woke up in the dark. He checked his watch. Two hours of sleep. Why did he wake up?

Were those footsteps? It wasn't a dream.

He listened hard. Someone was walking lightly on dry grass. There was a scrape of a flimsy metal door opening.

He got out of bed and crept barefoot from window to window. No one was on the right side outside his trailer or the trailer on that side. Clara had said no one else lived in these trailers. Had someone come for him?

There wasn't time to get the rifle, and he doubted he could do it quietly, so he picked up the paring knife. He slowly opened his trailer's door and stepped onto the pallet porch, shutting the door gently. He paused, heard nothing. Wait ... a creak came from behind him, on the other side of his trailer.

Let's Cook Alaska: Back to Basics Cookbook

Josie McKinney (McKinney Press, $20)

The blurb: Let's Cook Alaska is a cooking school located in Anchorage. The author wrote, "We teach all ages and abilities and have had thousands of students from Alaska and around the world cook with us. Our first goal is to teach a love of cooking. I always say, 'Cooking isn't a chore but an adventure.' Right here in our kitchen, we travel with a world of food. From India to Thailand, from Morocco to Ireland, and from France right back to our own door again, our food adventures take us on a culinary journey."

Excerpt: Layered Potato Casserole (4-6 servings)

4 large or 6 small potatoes, sliced into thin disks (I like the peel on)

1/2 of a yellow onion, thinly sliced or diced

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, parsley and paprika

1 cup of good chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle a little olive oil in bottom of the casserole dish. Fan out a layer of potatoes, then sprinkle onion over them. Drizzle on olive oil and then season the layer using all seasonings listed. Add a layer of potatoes over them and repeat the process until you have used up your potatoes. Finish by pouring your stock into the dish. Bake 30-40 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.