Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nicole Stellon O'Donnell's Steam Laundry

My bookclub met here last night.  We'd read Steam Laundry.  I can't recall a book quite like it.
Based on letters and other documents the author found in archives, it tells the story of a woman who, with her two sons, follows her husband to the gold fields of Dawson City in 1898.  The story is told in poems mostly with a letter or two and other documents, like a doctor's prescription.

I want here only to alert you to this wonderful, unique book.  I was skeptical when others described it, but the pages went by too fast.  It's short and can be read in several hours, though it deserves more than one reading.  It's the kind of book that reminds me how much beauty and feeling can be captured in words if one takes the time and has the talent.

Let me direct you to the author's website to learn more.

Our book club hosts (me last night) try to serve some refreshments that directly relate to the book. There wasn't much literal food in these poems.  They were living in the wilderness through the winter.  Potatoes are mentioned.  Caribou strips.  And then there was this:

"In the stewpot
chunks of moose, an onion
with the rot peeled away, the last
of the summer’s potatoes
bubble, and steam soaks the lifted lid,
a perfect moon, dripping
round and hopeful"

I remembered a hunter friend over the weekend and asked if I might be able to get a small amount of moose or caribou.  He had caribou [moose] at 10th & M (a place that butchers and stores the meat of hunters).  So he was only able to get it to me Monday morning.  Two pounds.  I thawed it, cubed it, browned it, then added other ingredients from a recipe I found online.

I understand better now why some hunters hunt.  The meat was dark read, cut easily, and delicious.  We tend not to eat meat, but make exceptions on special occasions.  This was one.  Loussac Library has lots of copies, or better yet, go buy one.  You'll want to savor the words and images.


  1. Steve, thank you. In my morning ritual reading news round the world, I needed to find a moment to throw on a blanket and pause. You've touched memory: my Alaska upbringing was in a hunting, fishing, boating family (I was even learning to fly). We were rarely without caribou, moose, rabbit, bird, salmon, shrimp, crab and other animals that had the misfortune of becoming our food.

    I learned butchering game to cuts, making hamburger, even loading our own ammunition (of all things for a later-in-life Quaker!) and lots of target practice -- but I wouldn’t hunt. I left that to my brothers and dad as I was a Bambi’s mother-shot-in-the-field, no-kill resistor (who still ate meat, oops).

    I largely eat veg now, even some vegan substitutes, but I do love milk, cheese and eggs. I’ll forgive myself, for now. I’m grateful I know about food of the land in Alaska. Because of this, I'm ready and able to defend the choice to hunt among those who never knew it, but choose to condemn it.

    Food memories are cherished; your caribou stew is my memory. Maybe I’ll read the book.

    1. Whoops. It should have been moose that he had. I'll fix it, but that shouldn't affect your memories. Thanks for letting me know.

    2. Not a problem at all. We enjoyed moose as well (and depending on the particular meat, moose might be said to be a bit better to most folk).


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