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Cover Image of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi published by Random House
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Wine & Book Group Pick For Jan-Feb '09

abstract:The International Dateline sits in the Bering Straight. William L Iggiagruk Hensley was raised just north of the Arctic Circle on the shores of Kotzebue Sound in a sod house with an ice floor in the tradition of his people&emdash;the Inupiat. Just like Sarah Palin, he can probably see Russia from his house on a clear day. Let us not be embarrassed to say that it is because of Sarah Palin people are sensitized to know more about this frozen frontier, and the perfect book to bring you there is an autobiography called, Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) It is the epic story of Alaska told through the eyes of an Inupiat elder. Hensley is to Alaska what Joseph Boyden is to Canada (only the latter writes fiction, while the former writes nonfiction-but you get my gist). In this first-person history lesson witness a people going from a virtual icy stone age to the current petrostate with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, awarding 44 million acres of land and nearly $1 billion to the first Alaskans. making them shareholders in a series of regional corporations, some of which became Fortune 500 companies worth billions of dollars. Can you imagine that? As the Wine & Book winter selection, we've selected some delicious ice wines. So purchase this book online, gather your group beside a cozy fire while you sip the sweet elixir of the late-harvest vines, and together you will be transported to the land of the midnight sun.

article:

January 01, 2009

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  • WILLIAM L. IGGIAGRUK HENSLEY is nationally revered for his tireless crusade for Native peoples’ rights. Hensley worked for twenty years with the Inuit-owned NANA Regional Corporation, and is chair of the First Alaskans Institute. He was educated at a Baptist College in Eastern Tennessee and then post grad in Washington, DC. There are two interviews with the author on Macmillan, the publisher's website. Check out the NPR one first.

    The Reviews
    Mr. Hensley’s account of what it’s like to grow up in the far north, 50 miles from the International Date Line, is rarely less than gripping.” —The New York Times

    “Illuminating. . . ‘Fifty Miles from Tomorrow’ is an entertaining and affecting portrait of a man and his extraordinary milieu.” —The Washington Post

    “On one level, this strongly written and evocative book is the story of a man, his people—the Iñupiat, or ‘the real people’—and their world and culture. On another, it’s the story of the politics of land use and energy development.” —The Washington Times

    Excerpt

    Prologue

    On Saturday, December 18, 1971, everything changed It was warmer than usual in Anchorage at that time of year; it was a bit above freezing. But as always during the long winter months in the Far North, the hours of daylight were excruciatingly short. The sun did not rise until just after nine o’clock in the morning, and it set well before three in the afternoon, hours before the start of the big event. As the sky darkened, people began streaming toward the center of Alaska Methodist University, now known as Alaska Pacific University. There were Iñupiat and Yupiat, Aleut and Athapascan, Tlingit and Haida, students and elders, tribal and village leaders, politicians, businessmen, and ordinary citizens.

    They had come to watch history in the making. At last the long, tempestuous process of turning Alaska into a real state was about to be completed. The grand poohbahs of Big Oil were poised to start tapping the 10 billion barrels of petroleum discovered three years earlier at Prudhoe Bay. Big Labor could hardly wait for the construction jobs that would be required to build the $8 billion, 800-mile-long pipeline needed to funnel the black gold to market. And the environmentalists had their sights on the 150 million acres that were promised as protected wilderness areas, parks, and fish and wildlife sanctuaries.

    But I think it is fair to say that no group was more anxious that day than Alaska’s Native peoples. There were tensions in that room. After all, a centuries-long saga of warfare, treachery, apartheid, betrayal, and hopelessness was coming to an official end. For more than a hundred years, Native Alaskans had waited for clarification of their rights to ancient homelands. And finally, after considerable disagreement, a settlement was about to be announced. The United States Congress had agreed to set aside 44 million acres and earmark nearly $1 billion for Alaska’s Natives.

    The hundreds assembled stood motionless as the evening’s business began. A familiar voice echoed through the room, piped in from Washington, D.C. "I want you to be among the first to know that I have just signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act," said President Richard Milhous Nixon. The new law, he declared, was "a milestone in Alaska’s history and in the way our government deals with Native and Indian peoples."

    I was there. For five years I had battled to secure our traditional lands. As an unknown graduate student, I had helped to organize Alaska Natives, explaining to all who would listen that we were in urgent danger of losing the lands that had sustained our forefathers for thousands of years. I had run for state office and won, then painstakingly learned the ways of politics. More than a hundred times I had traveled across the continent between my home state and Washington, D.C., where Congress would decide the fate of Native claims. And I had faced the wrath of officials and business interests who wanted to crush those claims.

    "Take Our Land, Take Our Life." That was our motto, a phrase I repeated over and over as I made speech after speech on the floor of the state legislature, or lobbied at conventions and church meetings. Our demands were reasonable and just, I argued; people of goodwill must recognize that we deserved a fair settlement.Alaska has a way of enveloping souls in its vast, icy embrace. For some, the inescapable attraction lies in its pristine rivers, lakes, forests, and glaciers, and in its unbelievable expanses —365 million acres, more than twice the size of Texas. Others are drawn by its enormous resources, the unthinkably rich stores of zinc, gold, timber, wildlife, fish, and oil. For me, Alaska is my identity, my home, and my cause. I was there, after all, before Gore-Tex replaced muskrat and wolf skin in parkas, before moon boots replaced mukluks, before the gas drill replaced the age-old tuuq we used to dig through five feet of ice to fish. I was there before the snow machine, back when the huskies howled their eagerness to pull the sled. I was there before the outboard motor showed up, when the qayaq and umiaq glided silently across the water, and I was there when the candle and the Coleman lamp provided all the light we needed. I was there when two feet of sod and a dirt floor protected us from the winter elements and the thin walls of a tent permitted the lapping waves, loons, and seagulls to lull us to sleep in the summer. There, before the telephone, when we could speak only face-to-face, person-toperson about our lives and dreams; before television intruded upon the telling and retelling of family chronicles and legends.

    Timothy Egan writes in his review of "Fifty Miles" in the NYT.

    Ice Wines Disovered

    Inniskskilin Winery has the perfect climate for producing ice wines: hot summers to ripen the grapes and cold winters to provide the natural freezing on the vine required to concentrate and preserve the grape's juices before late harvest. It's a fascinating process. Here is an online store to purchase a sampling of three Inniskilin ice wines with no shipping costs for a total of Cdn$117.70 Checkout what wikipedia has to say about icewines:

    Ice wine (or icewine, as one word, or in German, Eiswein) is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. Unlike the grapes from which other dessert wines, such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Trockenbeerenauslese, are made, ice wine grapes should not be affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot, at least not to any great degree. Only healthy grapes keep in good shape until the opportunity arises for an ice wine harvest, which in extreme cases can occur after the New Year, on a northern hemisphere calendar. This gives ice wine its characteristic refreshing sweetness balanced by high acidity. When the grapes are free of Botrytis, they are said to come in "clean". Due to the labour-intense and risky production process resulting in relatively small amounts of wine, ice wines are generally quite expensive.

    What do you serve with ice wines? Food & Wine website recommends various dishes that echo the citrous nature of the wine, like this delicious sounding Shrimp Gazpacho Soup:

    INGREDIENTS
    1 small loaf country-style white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
    2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
    1 1/2 cups water, more if needed
    3 cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and chopped
    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 teaspoons sliced almonds
    2 cloves garlic
    2 cups seedless green grapes
    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 pound shrimp, shelled and halved lengthwise

    DIRECTIONS
    1. In a medium glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine 3 cups of the bread cubes with the vinegar. Add the water; set aside 5 minutes to soften.
    2.In a blender, combine the cucumbers, onion, almonds, 1 clove of the garlic, and 1 cup of the grapes. Add the soaked bread, the 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Puree until smooth. Put the soup in the refrigerator to chill for about 20 minutes, or up to several hours.
    In a medium glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine 3 cups of the bread cubes with the vinegar. Add the water; set aside 5 minutes to soften.
    3.In a blender, combine the cucumbers, onion, almonds, 1 clove of the garlic, and 1 cup of the grapes. Add the soaked bread, the 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Puree until smooth. Put the soup in the refrigerator to chill for about 20 minutes, or up to several hours.
    4.Meanwhile, in a large nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over moderately high heat. Add the shrimp and the remaining 1 clove garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are just done, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon.
    5.Reduce the heat to moderate and add the remaining 3 cups of bread cubes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bread is crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Cut the remaining grapes in half. In a small bowl, stir together the halved grapes, the shrimp, and the croutons. Serve the gazpacho (thinned with a small amount of water if it's thicker than you like) topped with the warm or room-temperature shrimp-and-grape mixture.
    6.Meanwhile, in a large nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over moderately high heat. Add the shrimp and the remaining 1 clove garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are just done, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon.
    7.Reduce the heat to moderate and add the remaining 3 cups of bread cubes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bread is crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Cut the remaining grapes in half. In a small bowl, stir together the halved grapes, the shrimp, and the croutons. Serve the gazpacho (thinned with a small amount of water if it's thicker than you like) topped with the warm or room-temperature shrimp-and-grape mixture.
    8.In a blender, combine the cucumbers, onion, almonds, 1 clove of the garlic, and 1 cup of the grapes. Add the soaked bread, the 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Puree until smooth. Put the soup in the refrigerator to chill for about 20 minutes, or up to several hours.
    9.Meanwhile, in a large nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over moderately high heat. Add the shrimp and the remaining 1 clove garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are just done, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon.
    10.Reduce the heat to moderate and add the remaining 3 cups of bread cubes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bread is crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Cut the remaining grapes in half. In a small bowl, stir together the halved grapes, the shrimp, and the croutons. Serve the gazpacho (thinned with a small amount of water if it's thicker than you like) topped with the warm or room-temperature shrimp-and-grape mixture.

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