Story last updated at 3/5/2014 - 2:01 pm
This is my first winter back in Alaska after 14 years away for college and the beginning of a career teaching high school in California, so my Alaskanization is in full force.
I now divide my year according to steelhead, salmon and deer seasons. Chopping firewood is a chore, not a novelty summer activity, and my skin is turning the powdery shade it was when I went to high school in Klawock.
What hasn't changed much is the dinner table. Every summer I came home to stock up on fish (and if I was lucky, venison) for those vicious 45-degree California winters.
I had friends in the Golden State who loved having - but not necessarily eating - fish, as if saving it in the freezer meant it was going to appreciate at an annual rate of 4.5 percent.
Their cooking ignorance ruined plenty of fillets, so after a while I wouldn't give them any. If they felt like eating salmon, I'd take some over with me and prepare it for them. I'm realizing now that sounds like I was bribing people for friendship, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case.
My status as the culinary expert is impressive considering I once raided the condiments at the student union in college to make pasta sauce. All you need is some red and some Italy, right? I grabbed ketchup for the red part of the sauce, Italian dressing for the Italy part, some pepper and salt because that goes on everything - and presto! My simplistic, economical approach was an obvious failure because there are some things for which there is no substitute - marinara sauce being one. At least I wasn't cooking for a date. Anyway, my favorite way to prepare deer is in a similar thread - throw it in with a good red sauce then pour it on some pasta. Deer meat is versatile, and ground deer can replace ground beef in any situation.
Since pasta with meat sauce is page one of a single-man's guide to cooking, or the married man's guide to tasty, but easy family dishes adding the word "venison" is to sprinkle the act of consuming the evening fare with sophistication and class. Plus, venison is high in protein, iron, exceptionally lean and - since it's hip to buy free-range or organic meat - it also makes you hip and cool to eat a deer that ate alpine plants with no fences in sight - as long as you're okay with the first step in the process.
Browning deer on the stove with some olive oil, salt, garlic and onion just feels natural. If you close your eyes, between the sizzle and the popping cedar in the wood stove, you feel like you're a character in a Jack London piece - hopefully not "To Build a Fire."
Once the meat is lightly cooked, adding the pasta sauce will provide most of the other spices needed for the meat and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between blacktail and beef. If you can, and you don't mind, you're still a winner.
Part of the reason why I think I like pasta with deer-meat sauce is a reminder of how far I've come.
Browning meat and adding pre-made sauce wouldn't get me into the parking lot at an Iron Chef competition, but it is incredibly good, easy, requires hardly any planning, and is a simple way to get people who might not like the taste of deer to enjoy it.
For Southeast Alaskans, the fact that the pursuit of it provides not only a mode of exercise, bucolic photo opportunities as well as food, it is no wonder deer season is so anticipated. In fact, as I poke a chunk with my fork and wrap spaghetti noodles around it, I'm already drooling for next August.
Jeff Lund lives in Klawock and writes about the outdoors life for the Capital City Weekly. You can reach him at email@example.com.