Reading the North

The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton
Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews

The Wind Is Not a River

Brian Payton (HarperCollins Publishers, $26.99; Kindle edition, $12.29)

The blurb: Struggling with the loss of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley leaves behind his beloved wife Helen and heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. While accompanying a crew on a bombing run, John's plane is shot down over Attu. One of two survivors, he must battle the elements, starvation and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese. Meanwhile, alone in their home 3,000 miles to the south, a headstrong Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.

Excerpt: In three years of marriage, John had told Helen he loved her perhaps a half-dozen times. On each occasion, the noise in her head would suddenly cease, leaving her profoundly centered and serene. Before he left, hearing those words seemed more important to her than anything else. More important than those things he took such care in providing: a home, companionship, security, a future they could build and share. These were the ways he spoke to her. She had not yet learned to hear him.

And then his brother died.

Following the news of Warren's death, John's silence was the sinkhole that appeared at the corner of their lives. She tried her best to pretend it wasn't there. His selfish, self-destructive grief. It ended up cracking the foundation, threatening to pull everything down. Work took him away for weeks on end, and he was distant when he returned. He let his sorrow consume them.

The wind kicked up the night he left; the house creaked like an old ship at sea. They were on the couch, covered in an old wool blanket when he announced that he'd be leaving again. It felt like she was falling. She fought the urge to reach out and hold on to him. He had no choice, he said, only duty. He must document some part of the war that claimed his brother, the part that seemed to have fallen into his lap. If someone isn't there to observe and record, capture it on the page, it will be as if it never happened. The sacrifices made on our behalf must be known before they can be remembered, he said. She replied that his family had already given enough. His duty was not to his dead brother, but to the living -- to her and their life together. In a desperate attempt to make him understand, she said the words for which she continues to pay.

If you leave now, don't bother coming back. Because I won't be here if you do.

He put his finger to her lips.

Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America

Owen Matthews (Bloomsbury, $28; Kindle edition, $9.99)

The blurb: At a time when John Jacob Astor was amassing his own fortune in the fur trade, Rezanov envisioned transforming fur-hunting stations on the Alaska coast into the hub of a Pacific empire stretching from Siberia to California. The distances were vast -- thousands of miles overland across the endless Russian steppes, thousands more by sea to Alaska and down to San Francisco Bay. His men were unreliable -- disorderly, dissolute, disease-ridden -- and the dangers ever-present. Yet Rezanov persisted, and for a few tantalizing years, it seemed that Russia could sucessfully colonize America, with incalculable consequences for both.

Excerpt: The emperor's emissary for such an important mission would obviously have to be a nobleman, a native Russian, a courtier, preferably a man with a stake in the success of the mission. To Rumianstev and the Emperor, if not yet to Rezanov himself, it was clear there was only one man for the job. In April 1803 (Tsar) Alexander summoned the unsuspecting Rezanov to Tsarskoye Selo for a private audience.

"The Emperor kindly sympathized with my grief and at first advised me to do something to distract myself," Rezanov wrote to Dmitriev. "At last His Majesty offered me a voyage and then, gently leading me to agreement, announced to me His will that I should take upon myself the Embassy to Japan." The offer, judging from Rezanov's letter, came as an unpleasant shock. The expedition would be at sea for at least three years, and Rezanov would be forced to leave his two motherless infant children behind. Nonetheless, one did not refuse the Tsar...Whether he liked it or not, Rezanov was now launched on a new career as a diplomat and inspector of the Russian American colonies. He would be exchanging the world of court for one of the remotest wildernesses on earth.

Rumiantsev rushed to back up the Tsar's offer with assurances of the embassy's success...Rezanov would be in overall command of the expedition, Rumiantsev promised, and indeed the instruction the Emperor issued to Rezanov in July clearly stated in its first paragraph that the chamberlain was "in command of all the officers" -- including, by implication, the captain himself.

The Alaska Distillery Cookbook

Mark J. Bly (The Flying Chef, LLC, $14.95; Kindle edition, $8.99)

The blurb: You've not really been to Alaska until you've tasted Alaska. Come along and complete your Alaska adventure through the dozens of uniquely flavorful recipes for everything from shrimp to salad to desserts. The common thread with this collection is the use of the handcrafted vodka products from The Alaska Distillery. Feeling bold and brave? Dive into dishes made with smoked-salmon vodka or even brownies that feature hemp-seed vodka.

Excerpt: Halibut Martini Egg Rolls

4 cups peanut oil for frying

1 1/2 cups cooked shredded halibut

4 ounces Alaska Distillery Bristol Bay Gin

1 taro root

1 egg, beaten

1 egg white

1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced

1/2 carrot, julienned

1 celery stalk, julienned

4 ounces shredded bamboo shoots

1 tablespoon fresh lime leaves, stemmed and minced

2 teaspoons soy sauce

A pinch of sugar

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

A small jar shredded pickled ginger

1 package egg roll wrappers

Peel the taro root. Boil for about 15 minutes or until soft. Drain and cool. Cut into chunks and add to the food processor. Mix until it turns into a paste. Add Bristol Bay Gin and mix until the liquid is absorbed. Cover and set aside.

In a large skillet or wok over medium heat, add the tablespoon of vegetable oil. Stir-fry the cabbage, carrots, lime leaves and celery until wilted. Then add bamboo, salt, soy sauce, sugar and celery salt. Cook until all is softened, then add the egg and mix. Add the halibut and mix. Remove from the heat. Spread out on a sheet or pan to cool. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Pour the egg white into a small bowl. On a clean surface, lay out a couple of egg roll wrappers at a time. Make sure one corner of the wrapper is facing you.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of the taro gin mixture onto each egg roll wrapper toward the bottom third of the wrap. Spread 2 tablespoons of the halibut vegetable mixture over the taro paste. Top with the shredded pickled ginger. Brush egg white onto the top edges of the wrapper.

Roll the wrap firmly about halfway up. Fold the left and right sides of the egg roll over the roll and continue firmly until the top corners of the roll meet the egg wash and seal.

Heat the peanut oil in a pan or wok. You are looking for a depth of about 6 inches for the oil. Your target temperature is 375 degrees.

Heat the rolls 3 or 4 at a time and blot on paper towels.

Easy Lox

2 salmon fillets, bones removed

4 tablespoons coarse sea salt

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon pepper

1 bunch fresh dill, chopped

1/2 cup Alaska Distillery Permafrost Vodka

Drape a plastic wrap over a glass baking dish. Place one fillet in the dish, skin-side down. Mix together salt, brown sugar and pepper. Sprinkle half of mixture over the salmon in the dish, cover with the chopped dill, and pour the vodka over the whole mixture.

Sprinkle the remaining salt mixture over the remaining half of the salmon. Place over the salmon in the dish, skin-side up. Fold the plastic wrap snugly over the entire salmon. Place a board over the fish and weigh it down with a heavy object.

Refrigerate the fish for 24 to 36 hours, turning every 12 hours. To serve, separate the filets, and carefully brush off the salt, sugar and dill. Cut into very thin slices with a sharp knife.

Keep refrigerated.

-- Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News