Ask any kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the kid almost always has a quick answer. This is not something they need to think about, they just know… with certainty. I still remember what my answer was. I wanted to make pizza and sell it out of a truck. So, like an ice cream truck, but for pizza. I also thought I could make a fortune selling chocolate chip cookies using my Grandmother’s recipe — she makes really good cookies! Somehow as I grew up, I forgot about my aspirations. One thing lead to another, and I studied art all the way through college, and now I work as an artist — a dream job for many kids, I bet. Maria says she wanted to be a candy salesperson. So, what did you want to be, and what did you end up becoming?
There were many days this summer when Maria would go hiking, or biking with friends, and I would spend the day at the studio, weekends included, working on the big 1% for Art project for Gladys Wood Elementary. We installed the paintings this week, and yesterday I touched up all the spots where screws were visible, and mounted the plaques, so the project is officially done! The whole process took over a year, but a lot of that time was spent waiting for paperwork to get processed, designs to be approved, contractors to be available after the earthquake, etc. The actual work took about 7 months, but I did spend a few weeks at the cabin in McCarthy, and went on a ski trip in March. I also managed to have an art show at Midnight Sun Brewing, and complete all the commissioned paintings that were ordered during that time. Now that the big project is over, I need to regroup and set a course for the next few months. The first thing I did was clean my studio, now that the panels weren’t completely overtaking it. That really set my mind at ease. So, what’s next?
Well, first we’re flying to Arizona, and meeting a couple of Maria’s relatives from Germany, and going to Las Vegas with them, and then Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks! When I get back, I’ll start working on my next public art project (Maria is really good at keeping me busy), which is a 12ft x 6ft oil painting on canvas for the new clinic in Bethel. I will also continue working on my beer-themed coloring book. So far I’ve completed 26 pages, and my goal is 50.
I will also start getting ready for my next art shows at Enlighten Alaska in November, and Midnight Sun Brewing in January, and the Makers Market in December. We can start having First Fridays at our studio again, and the next one will be in December, which will be the Real Art Is Better holiday party. Other than that, I’m available for commissions, graphic design, and sticker orders. Life is pretty much back to normal, maybe I’ll even go mountain biking tomorrow with Maria!
Alaska has had a dry and hot summer, and that’s a recipe for wild forest fires, which have made the air smoky for most of the summer. So we decided, we might as well start smoking meat! I smoked salmon in my Big Chief electric smoker this year, which keeps the temperature colder than a Texas-style BBQ, making it more suitable for fish. Although, I suggest barbecuing some pork — it is my current favorite! What could pair better than an ice cold brewski with a pile of delicious BBQ?
A couple of years ago I was over at my friend’s house and he had just pulled a brisket off his Traeger smoker. I was amazed at how delicious this otherwise nearly-impossible-to-cook piece of meat was, and he told me how he slowly smoked it for over 12 hours in the pellet smoker. Since then, I have been obsessed with real BBQ. I can tell you what it is not: steaks, sausages, burgers, salmon, chicken, or anything else that is cooked over high heat. That would be grilling. A hot grill is the antitheses to BBQ. Now there is nothing wrong with grilling, it’s a good way to cook the meat fast and produces delicious outdoor cooked treats, but it ain’t BBQ. Grilling happens at 400 – 600 degrees and sears the meat. BBQ needs to be done slowly and at low heat. It involves cooking less desirable cuts of meat for several hours, which then makes them highly desirable.
The word barbecue comes from the Caribbean native people Taino’s word Barbacoa and refers to the process of burying meat in a pit oven wrapped in agave leaves. Texas-style BBQ is a bit more complicated, and needs a specific tool to achieve the desired effect. Whether it be a computer-controlled Traeger smoker, or a stick smoker, you need a way to produce smoky heat that can be kept at an even 200 – 250 degrees for many hours. Ribs and roasts are normally preferable, but you can BBQ a suckling pig or larger cuts of meat.
I have a stick smoker in McCarthy where I prepare my BBQ. It has a lower compartment for burning the fire, and a larger chamber above where the smoke filters through and exits through a smokestack chimney. I use oak lump charcoal to keep my fire going and I use chunks of wood to produce the smoke. I prefer mesquite for that real authentic Texas flavor. It takes about an hour per pound of meat, so a 3lb boneless pork shoulder takes about 6 hours to BBQ. The smoker is big enough to handle larger cuts of meat, so you can either make two at once, or smoke for a lot longer with bigger cuts of meat like that brisket I mentioned earlier. Since you are cooking the meat at low temperatures for a long time, that breaks down all the proteins and makes what would be a tough grilled meat a tender smoked delicacy. The meat looks blackened and it is the black part, referred to as the bark, that is really good. Make sure you get to try a piece with some BBQ bark — it has the most smoky flavor that is sooo good. I like to wait an hour after pulling the meat from the heat, and I use a meat thermometer to make sure it hits 180 degrees — the perfect time to pull the meat. I like to have some fresh buns ready to make pork sandwiches. You will probably need some BBQ sauce. Don’t buy the BBQ sauce with liquid smoke in it. You only need some sweet tangy sauce to add to your already smoked meat. Oh, and don’t forget to pair your meat with your favorite beer! The only beer I wouldn’t use to pair with perfect BBQ is a smoked beer. There is already enough smoke in the meat! I would go for a tasty fruity sour ale, or a killer hoppy IPA, but there ain’t nothing wrong with a Euro or American pale lager either.
Cheers to BBQ! Meat and beer are really, really tasty!
~ by Maria Benner
At the beginning of this summer Scott and I had a great trip to our cabin in McCarthy, and he wrote about it in an e-mail to his subscribers. His story described how much he loves being at the cabin in the woods in Alaska’s wilderness, and maybe even inspired some people to get out of the city and get closer to nature. Well, there’s another side to that story, and this latest trip to the cabin will give you a more accurate account of what life in remote Alaska is really like. Sometimes the simple life becomes really complicated due to the fact that you’re many miles away from civilization, and all your stuff just breaks in one week. That’s what happened on this last trip.
First, the most traumatic incident occurred (or so we thought at the time) when Scott’s iPhone X suddenly turned off, and just died. We used my phone to Google how to bring it back to life, but nothing worked. Unfortunately, the Apple store in Anchorage is about 300 miles away, so Scott had to live without his beloved phone for a whole week. Turns out his logic board had fried, and $549 later, Scott has a new iPhone X from the Apple store.
Then, only an hour later, I did something really stupid that could have resulted in awful consequences, but I got lucky. We started building an Arctic entry, otherwise known as a mud room. The plan is to use this addition for a shower, a small washing machine, dry wood storage closer to the cabin, and to store muddy boots and bulky coats. Well, the first step was to remove the wooden ramp that we’ve been using for years to get into the cabin. Scott told me he removed it. Then I had to make a phone call, but needed a receipt from the truck, and as I was dialing the number while looking at my phone, I opened the door and stepped onto… nothing. Right down to the ground about three feet at full speed, and onto a rock. My ankle did not like all that force, and I felt strong pain. My first reaction was to deny that it may be broken, and to keep walking on it, while repeating the phrase, “It’s not broken, it’s not broken!” Then I started to panic, because if it was broken, Scott would have to drive me for three hours one way to the nearest clinic in Glennallen. So I felt nauseous and got all sweaty, and had to lie down on the ground while Scott ran and got me some ice. Luckily we brought a small fridge to the cabin on this trip that is powered by our solar panels, so we actually had ice! Turned out that I have pretty strong ankles, and it was just sprained. So I taped it, and gently walked on it, and managed to finish my building project that day. Phew! That was a close call. I’m going to call our insurance company to confirm that we have coverage for a Guardian or LifeMed flight out, and if not, we’re buying that insurance ASAP!
The next day, we noticed that a weld had broken on our little trailer that was holding the wheel cover on. The McCarthy Road is rough, and nothing survives multiple trips without some damage. We decided we need to buy a welder in Anchorage, and bring it to the cabin on the next trip. We have a running list going on my phone of all the things we need to bring to the cabin from Anchorage.
Then we started smelling a funky odor inside the cabin, and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, until Scott opened the trap door under the house to access our extra stash of beverages, and saw that they were sitting in a soapy pool of dirty water. Last year I installed a French drain next to the house, and pipes leading from the sink into the ground to drain water, so that we could get rid of the slop bucket. Well, apparently, a pipe connection had come apart for some reason (maybe the log cabin shifted slightly), and all the dish water was just going under the house. Gross! Since I was the one who completed that project, I got to be the one to clean up the mess and fix the pipe.
A couple days later we noticed the smell of propane occasionally, and finally decided that the only possible source was the gas range, so we shut off the propane tank, and went to bed. In the morning we had to figure out what was happening. So we moved the counters out of the way to access the back of the stove, and inspected all the connections. Everything seemed tight. The instruction manual to the stove wasn’t helpful — it just told me to call the local fire department. McCarthy has a VFD, but the Fire Chief encourages self-reliance. So I made a soapy water solution, and brushed it where I thought the gas could be coming from, and sure enough, I found a leak right were the yellow propane hose connects to the first nut. The hose had failed, because we installed it at a sharp angle. Since the closest Home Depot is about 300 miles away, we couldn’t fix this problem until we can bring a new hose on the next trip. So we just didn’t have a stove, or an oven for four days. Luckily, we have an outdoor propane two-burner that we could use to cook food, so we cooked outside for the remainder of the trip.
So, if you have been dreaming of building a cabin in remote Alaska to get away from all your problems, just be prepared to handle a whole different set of challenges. Living in the wild does have many benefits, and some amazing things happen right outside our door, like a mama moose and a baby suddenly showing up, or a bunny coming over to nibble on some grass, and the mountains and the sky are so big and majestic. The silence is also nice — we sleep so well out here, not to mention the fresh air. But it all comes at a cost, like so many things in life. Everything seems to always work out, but when stuff goes wrong, it seems like a bigger deal out here when you have to be self-sufficient.
In 2014 I was really into craft beer, well I guess I should be honest — I am still really into craft beer. I might just know more now about it than I did five years ago, which means I realize how much more there is to learn! Anyway, in 2014 I was releasing a new beer painting every day, and so 2014 was the “Year of Beer” for us. We entered a giveaway on Twitter for a uKeg pressurized growler by a new company called GrowlerWerks in Portland, OR, and actually won! We were really excited, and I remember telling everybody about it. Well, the uKeg didn’t show up in 2014. In 2015 we contacted GrowlerWerks inquiring about the contest, but apparently the company was struggling with production delays, so it didn’t arrive in 2015. A few months ago I started seeing these things all over the place: the local home-brew shop (Arctic Brewing Supply), Zymurgy Magazine, and at the homebrew club meetings as well. So we decided to ask whatever happened to our uKeg one more time. Well, we received a very nice and apologetic reply from GrowlerWerks, and a few days later, the uKeg, along with a bonus insulated steel pint cup arrived!!! Better late than never.
A uKeg is a fancy insulated stainless steel growler with a cap that houses a CO2 cartridge. It has a pressure gauge, a sight glass, and a mini-tap allowing beer to be poured without the beer oxidizing. I have had a draft system in our house since 2006, and I’ve enjoyed home brewing for quite a bit longer than that. A 5 gallon keg can be a bit much (the 2014 me would be shocked to hear me say that), and I’ve lately been making 1 gallon batches — part of my house yeast and coolship project. I brewed two one-gallon batches this week and now I can use the uKeg to dispense my homebrew. I wanted to test the system so I made a trip to my favorite beer store here in Anchorage, Alaska — La Bodega. It has many draft beers available for sale, and when I asked if I could fill the 128oz uKeg they said, “Of course!”
I had it filled with an exclusive IPA brewed by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. for a restaurant called The Potato, located in McCarthy and also Valdez. The beer is called Hop Potato IPA, brewed with (no, not potatoes) Idaho 7 hops. This is a one batch beer at this time, so you can only get it at The Potato restaurants in Valdez, or McCarthy, but there is also only one keg at La Bodega because the owner is friends with owners of The Potato. I enjoyed this beer greatly two weeks ago at the release party in McCarthy, so naturally I filled the uKeg with this IPA. So my house might be the only place in Anchorage to get a draft pint of Hop Potato from a CO2-charged dispensing growler keg, thanks to my uKeg!
Using the system is pretty easy. I first cleaned and sanitized the uKeg with just an iodine rinse and a second rinse with plain water. Then the fill at the growler bar. Put the cap together with the CO2 cartridge, adjust the pressure and pour away! There is a cute little button to lock the tap closed so it won’t pour out while in transit. The gooseneck on the faucet swivels in order to fit better in a backpack. The people at GrowlerWerks really designed this product well! It holds two growlers, so expect to pay double, but you won’t have to feel obligated to finish the beer in one session, since it will stay fresh in the uKeg.
Cheers to GrowlerWerks for inventing the uKeg and bringing draft beers to the nano scale!
~ by Maria Benner
The name of our business is Real Art Is Better, and people often ask, “What is real art?” Although there is no widely-accepted definition, generally people know it when they see it. Right after buying one of Scott’s original oil paintings, customers often exclaim, “This is my first piece of real art!” But simply put, when speaking about wall art, real art is original paintings that an artist actually created by hand. They can be oil, acrylic, pastel, water colors, etc. The reason I’m writing this post, is because I’ve noticed that often people have a difficult time differentiating between real works, and reproductions. And that’s largely due to the way art reproductions are often presented by artists and galleries to look like “real art”.
Reproductions of art come in many forms, and often they are hung on walls of galleries without a proper explanation, masquerading as real art, when in fact, the piece is a reproduction. So, pay close attention if you’re about to buy a piece, to be sure that you’re getting an original, if that’s what you want. There’s nothing wrong with buying, or selling reproductions, just as long as the customer is aware that he/she is not getting the real thing. The best way to tell the difference is by reading the details on the price tag.
Giclée – a high quality reproduction using an inkjet printer. These are often printed on canvas, and look almost like the real thing. Pay attention to the price tag, it should tell you whether the piece is a giclée, often also referred to as a “print on canvas”. Often they are framed to make them look even more like originals.
Prints – these reproductions are easier to recognize, because they are printed on paper most of the time, but can also be printed on canvas, metal, wood, you name it. Sometimes these are framed as well. The price tag should say “print”. Some prints are limited-edition, which means there’s a number under the image like 112/500. This means that only 500 copies will be produced, and you’re looking at copy #112. Sometimes prints are signed by the artist. The smaller the number of total prints produced, the more valuable the print.
So, next time you’re perusing art at a gallery, pay close attention to the price tags to see how art is labeled. If the tag says “oil on panel” or “acrylic on canvas” then you know you’re buying real art. Sometimes artists will paint a few strokes onto a canvas print, which is a nice touch, and makes the painting look more like an original. In this case, the tag should say “painted giclée”, or “painted canvas print”, or something similar.
Scott sells original oil paintings and limited-edition, signed prints. You can differentiate easily between his prints and originals. At an art show, or at the studio, the art hanging on the walls is real. Each piece is an oil painting on panel, framed in a natural wood frame. There is only one in all of existence, and the value of it will increase over time. Limited-edition, signed prints are in the black print bins. They are printed on paper with archival ink by an inkjet printer in our studio, signed by Scott, and numbered. Prints can also increase in value, but not as much as originals. We chose to make prints, because we realized that some people don’t have a budget for originals, but still love the images, and we want them to be able to enjoy them.
To see the latest Clendaniel originals and prints, I invite you to attend Scott’s art opening on June 7th at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Anchorage. He will kick off the art show at 5pm by tapping a firkin of Sloth Belgian-style stout barrel aged in bourbon barrels and cask-conditioned with tart cherries soaked in Cabernet! Scott’s paintings and prints will be on display at the brewery and available for sale until July 4th. If you’re on Facebook, here’s a link to the FB event.
Solid Gold — ice cold! I don’t know if I can call this the holy grail of beers, that distinction is reserved for barrel aged brews with an ABV over 10%. The Solid Gold Premium Lager by Founders Brewing Co. in Michigan is way better than any other beer you can buy at this price point. When I get done doing yard work here at our log cabin in McCarthy, Alaska, I don’t want a whale of a beer to quench my thirst and ice my aching hands. I‘m looking for a traditional American premium lager, something that is thirst-quenching and not too strong for the after workday libation. The first one goes down in about 10 minutes and that’s if I try to sip and savor. If I were to start with something stronger, I might have a good time, but won’t be good for much, except rolling around in the moss giggling to myself. This lager tastes as good as any premium Mexican lager, but at a much lower price point.
Founders opened its doors in 1997 right about the time craft beer was still called microbrew, and discerning Americans were still drinking wine. In 1997 ice beer was all the rage, and thank the heavens that Founders started to show the world that beer can be classy, should be drank from a glass, and should be valued rather than looked down upon. I say if you are a macro domestic lager fan and are tired of supporting the Clydesdale of brewing, give Solid Gold a try. A win-win — stay a bit less drunk and keep some extra money in your pocket. Your friends will thank you at the next backyard bbq, when you show up with a case of the SG when they can still drive home after dominating the corn hole pitch. A perfect brew for pong or any game that requires dexterity. Try new beers, but keep drinking this premium lager as new brews are silver but this one is Solid Gold!
This original oil painting, and limited-edition prints are available at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.