By Cal Orey
My trip to Anchorage, Alaska is still on my mind. I confess my fantasies of "America's Last Frontier" went south somewhere in between the hurricane-force winds and lack of northern lights (aurora borealis). Little did I know that grub would be for carnivore’s only. Sadly, I was clueless to the fact that fresh food is scarce in December.
One afternoon I thought, “A hot sandwich would make it all better.” I headed to a nice restaurant in the hotel. The order went something like this. “I’d like a grilled cheese on whole grain bread, baby spinach, and fresh tomatoes. What type of cheeses do you have?” The rugged-looking local server looked at me like I was from Mars. He said, “We have potato bread.” I nodded. “And cheese?” “We have cheddar.” Okay. No lettuce or tomatoes. I had the nerve to ask, “Can you cut the sandwich diagonally?” A pregnant pause but words followed: “How would you like your burger cooked?” I was spooked and out of my comfort zone. So, I passed and escaped to my room on the 17th floor with no view because of the fog. I brewed myself a cup of chamomile tea. (I brought a lot of bags in my carry-on for chillaxing’s sake) and turned on the weather channel.
Once back home to the south shore I cooked up a fresh and meatless Shepherd’s Pie. No reindeer in this garden-fresh puppy. I’m talking real vegetables and fresh herbs. I cut the baked pie into nice horizontal slices—the way I like it. And yep, I was in Tahoe heaven because we have real wholesome food in the colder months. No frozen taters or veggies and dried herbs for this recipe, inspired by my trek up north.
3 large russet potatoes
¼ cup 2% low-fat milk
2 tablespoons European style butter
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
½ cup lentils (optional)
1 cup fresh cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, chopped
2 sprigs thyme and 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾-1 cup tomatoes, chopped
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup Monterey Jack, shredded
Ground black pepper to taste
In a large pot, fill with water and place washed potatoes. Boil until tender and rinse under cold water; peel skins. (Or you can nuke them in the microwave and leave skins on.) Put potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add milk, and butter. Fold in garlic, vegetables, thyme, and nutmeg. Mash until smooth. Or keep it chunky if preferred for a rustic dish. Set aside. Sauté vegetables in olive oil or butter or nuke in a bowl of water until tender. Spread vegetables into a medium size round baking dish. Top with potato herbal mixture and tomatoes. Sprinkle cheeses on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes or till cheese bubbles and top is slightly golden. Cool before slicing. Sprinkle with pepper and parsley. Serves 4 to 6.
After the first bite to the last of this Shepherd’s pie you may have an “aha” moment as I did. As a vegetarian/vegan I could not enjoy living in a land with no fresh vegetables and herbs. This dish slices up nicely like a veggie pizza. True, I didn’t see the green-blue awecome northern lights or a moose. But savoring fresh food, seeing our bears day or night, rainbows, and stars without cloud cover is as good as it gets. You don’t have to travel to Alaska to fill up on plant-based eats. We’ve got it all here.