Starting off on the right foot . . .

When we did our first degree Reiki training, the Reiki Master told us that 2 side effects of working with Reiki are 1) what she called "dog breath" and 2) that electronics, especially computers, can get a bit "squirrely" on you. I can say from personal experience that both these things are true for me. I tried to post this about an hour and a half after finishing this morning's session, and this Mac was decidedly uncooperative. I opted to leave it alone and to take care of some errands away from the house for a few hours, and hope that now the computer has worked through its Reiki issues . . .

Beach at Kaena Point, Oahu, Hawaii
I hope everyone is feeling warmed and at peace. Thank you to each and every person who responded to this gift of Reiki. I am so happy I could end this year and begin the next with you on such a wonderful note.

My warm up exercises began this morning at 4, and Reiki about 30 minutes later. It was a very unusual session for me. I was aware of three distinct phenomena I had not experienced before. The most profound was the change in energy when I transitioned from healing for those on my regular healing list to those on our special New Year’s Eve list. The energy “ball” that I sense and in which I hold the folks to whom healing is sent usually pulses outward strongly and rhythmically, but this shifted quite dramatically to a very gentle, wave-like sensation. It grew in strength but remained wave-like in its rhythm for the entire 45 minutes it lasted on its own. The session ended just before 6:30, and I was surprised how much time had passed once I looked at the clock!

For everyone across the Dateline, I know you are already well into the New Year, and as all the rest of us join you “in the future” I want to wish you all good health, laughter around great meals with your family and friends, and love:

Rowena, Dario, Pammie, Stephanie, Olga, Lyssa, Lorraine, Ate Belinda, Uncle Moj, Anne, Kat, Mom and Dad Cruz, Seth, Sophie, Andy, Dhivya, Laurie, Diane, Alison, Troy, Cynthia, Leonardo, Lauren, Vanessa, Gladys, Stephen, Jeff, Tracy, Vicki, Cath, Bhavana, Darlene, PJ, Ron, June, Robert, Maia, Manisha, Nicola, Patrick, Jennifer, Nicolette, Nicolas, Flore, Joyce, Elizabeth, James, William, Jessica, Jennifer, Stacey, Amanda, Kendra, Jeff, Angela, Victor, Masato, Debi, Carla, Leesa, Victoria, Andreas, Paula, Kit, Vann, Malinda, Alysa, Craig, Ruth, Debi, Ulrike, Ditmar, Izzy, Jen, Ken, Louie, Ernest, Ruth, Ron, Cathy, Barbara, Peter, Daniel, Andrew, Jo, Robert, Medha and Divyesh . . .

Happy New Year 2008!

UPDATE: Resources if you would like to explore more about Reiki here.


You might be a Public Radio Geek if:

Radio with Vision

. . . the first programmed station on your car radio is your local NPR station
(you’re DEFINITELY a public radio geek if the second programmed station is also tuned to NPR)
. . . you can tell what time of the day it is by what NPR show is currently on the radio
. . . you know the difference between NPR and PRI
. . . you want Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering machine
. . . you think Derrick Malama is talking to you when he says Aloha in the mornings (Hawaii only)
. . . you wake up to public radio
. . . you could pick out Ira Glass’ voice in a crowded room, but wouldn’t recognize him if he was standing on your big toe
. . . you have stood in line to get tickets for a live taping of
A Prairie Home Companion and still saw the movie of the same name
. . . you are a member of your local public radio station
. . . you know the difference between Terry Gross and Liane Hansen
. . . you listen to ancient episodes of British radio game shows that your friends in the U.K. can’t believe are still on the air in the U.S.
. . . you think listening to commercial radio when public radio is off the air (e.g., during national disasters) is a painful experience
. . . the first thing you do when you rent a car in a strange city is turn the dial all the way to the left to look for a station
. . . you know who all these people are just by their first names: Derrick, Noe, Kayla, Lillian, Ray, Wayne, Cedric, Beth-Ann (Hawaii only)
. . . you think Ray and Tom Magliozzi are funny

I'm a public radio geek. And proud of it, too. T and I have been members of public radio wherever we've lived, but especially so here. Hawaii is one of the rare places in the world where geeks such as myself have not one, but two, public radio stations to choose from each and every day. Hawaii public radio provides not only the diverse national and international news programming one can’t find in other media streams, but also insightful and in-depth local news during the day. It also has the only Hawaiian language news cast on radio.

But it’s not just news. If you’d like to hear and learn more about contemporary Hawaiian music, you will find 3 hours of listening pleasure on
Kanikapila Sunday and Music of Hawai’i every Sunday afternoon (1-4pm HST). Or you can hear short stories written by local authors and read aloud by local actors on Aloha Shorts every Tuesday evening at 6:30. The actors’ readings fully bring to life the humor, pathos, and wisdom in these stories, especially capturing Hawaii's distinctive pidgin. (This is one show I hope will soon be made available as podcasts, too.)

If you live beyond Hawaii’s airwaves, you can still listen to these and most of Hawaii public radio’s original broadcasts in a live audio stream
here. For a complete program guide for KIPO, the news, talk and contemporary music station, check here; and for sister station KHPR, the classical music and news venue, click here.

I’ve been a supporter and fan of public radio since it first came to Guam in 1994. I was a free-loading listener for a year, then decided to step up and become a member, too. When I stopped by the studio one evening to drop off my check, I was solicited to also become a volunteer. I agreed, thinking I was going to stuff envelopes or man a fundraising phone line. Instead I was asked to take a radio control board for 3 hours every Wednesday evening. Hmmm, I’m pretty "mechanically challenged." But I was told I would be trained well by the operator whose shift I was taking over. The trainer I met on the appointed day was very patient, if a little bemused by my dearth of competency on the control board (I put Post-its with numbers and arrows on each sliding control button I had to use). But since all the programming was pre-taped, it left us with 3 hours to talk, in between half-hourly station announcements. So talk we did. We talked again the next week, and the next, before he flew off for a month to Thailand. And we still talk
about music and politics, books and computers, poetry and food. Every day, just as we did that first evening twelve years ago this day.

Are you a fan of public radio? Tell us what do you love about your public radio station!

A Gift for . . . You

Hawaii: The Rainbow State indeed!
I've thought about this for a couple of weeks. And I hesitated only because I can still see vividly the skeptical looks of my own friends and family the first time I tell them about this. It's that "Oka-a-a-ay, what crazy thing are you talking about now" look. (Deep breath) Okay, here goes.

I am offering to every person who comes across this post the gift of Reiki healing this New Year's Eve. On that day I will include in my daily Reiki distance healing session, every person who requests a healing by [sending an email] below. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, for over two years I have been a Reiki practitioner in the second-degree, which just means that I can offer healing to persons who are not physically present in front of me
you can be in the next room or on the other side of the planet, and receive healing. I practice daily self-healing with Reiki, and usually end with a distance healing session for close friends and family who have accepted Reiki to heal physical, emotional and spiritual hurt.

A quick recap: "Reiki is a form a energy healing and balancing that was developed and named by Japanese researcher and teacher, Usui Mikao, in the late 19th century. Dr. Usui studied many ancient healing arts in Asia, including India. He distilled what he learned into the practice he called, Reiki
a term coined from the Japanese words, Rei, meaning “universal” and Ki, meaning “life energy.” . . . [In] Reiki, the healer does not direct or in any way control the energy — she is only a conduit; instead, it is the patient’s responsibility to accept the energy, which flows always where it is needed most. "

Some important things to know about Reiki to assist you in your decision whether you want to accept this gift.

Reiki is not based on any religion or faith practice
there is no calling to any god, saint or other personification. Personally, I am a Roman Catholic, and when I practice Reiki I only pray that I may be empty of any bias or need to control the outcome. When done in person, the healer lays her hands above the recipient's body in different positions, moving from head to feet or directed in a place where healing is desired (a particular backache, for instance). In distance healing, the healer simply thinks on the person requesting healing at an agreed time and place.

Reiki does not require that the recipient believe in Reiki or know anything about it. Only two things are required. First, and most important, the recipient must want to be healed and must ACCEPT HELP. This may sound self-evident, but I know from my own experience that some people find it hard to accept help, any kind of help. I do. The first time I experienced healing in my first Reiki course I had all kinds of barriers that blocked the energy flow. I
thought I wanted healing, I thought I was receptive to it. But it wasn't until my teacher pointed out that I was resisting the healing and said, "it's okay to receive help, you know" that I took a deep breath, then began to feel the energy she and the other students were sending. If you're a caregiver or nurturer by nature, it's important that you give yourself permission to accept help.

The second requirement is that the recipient take responsibility for their healing. This is demonstrated by returning the energy value of the healing received. Among friends and family, exchange of energy value between the healer and the recipient is part of the give-and-take of a close relationship. But with those who are strangers to the healer, the recipient most often demonstrates the value of the healing received with a monetary payment. I'm not asking for anything like that. The value I ask for is a personal kindness to someone who is a total stranger to you. This does not have to cost money, but it does have to be personal (person to person), and it does have to cost something whether it's personal discomfort from looking a homeless person in the face and greeting her warmly, or taking time from the holiday frolicking to visit a hospice or elder care home, or finding something kind to say to the harried retail clerk at the mall. How do I get value from something you do for someone who is a total stranger to us both?? Trust me, I just do.

Reiki does not provide an instant cure. It is healing that is part of a process of correcting imbalance. Normally, Reiki practitioners will work with a client for several sessions lasting a half-hour to an hour, depending on the need. Many healthy people enjoy the warmth and deep relaxation they receive during Reiki and will seek healing as a way to keep their energy flow in check and themselves healthy (maybe that's you, too).

The most common side effect of Reiki healing is falling into deep sleep during or the evening after a session. I'm not kidding.
Even Haiku takes a moment for quiet

So you're not sick. There's nothing wrong with you. Why would you want to do this? Energy imbalance causes all kinds of mess. This knowledge is at the heart of the great traditional medicine practices in the world -- Traditional Chinese Medicine, Indian Ayurvedic, Japanese Kampo, and so many others. We're seeing this on a global scale, too, ecologically, politically, socially. Many of the aches and ills we experience daily (sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, back aches, cramps) and even great ills (cancer, heart disease) are caused by energy imbalances to which we are completely blind. But our bodies know what is out of whack and given a chance, the body will begin to heal itself. I'm offering this healing on this particular day so we can all participate in correcting an energy imbalance in ourselves (maybe) and in the world (definitely). You will have taken a brave step and spent energy in a kindness to a stranger, and now a gift of energy healing will come back to you. See how that flow works?

How to take advantage of this offer? Simple. Please leave a comment with 1) your full name (first and last), 2) the city and country you will be in on Dec. 31st, and 3) this statement: I would like Reiki healing. That's it!

Only your first name and the city/country you are from will appear in the comments that the public sees -- I moderate and will remove any identifying information before publication. But your name and location are necessary for me to include you in the healing. If you are a blogger who writes anonymously under a "nom de web" (as I do), just leave the URL field in the comment form blank so there's no connection between your real name and your blog.

I don't need to know anything about why or for what the healing is intended. Reiki healers do not guide or direct healing in any way, the energy goes where it is needed.

The final thing is that if you would like healing for other people in your life, please have them leave a comment themselves. We need to establish a connection as healer and recipient, and they must take responsibility for and accept the healing personally.

On New Year's Eve day, I will start my normal Reiki session at 0430 Hawaii Standard Time (1430 UTC/GMT), and this normally lasts an hour. Depending on how many folks participate, this could go longer. You do not need to remember the hour or even be aware (or awake!) during the session, I mention the time only as general information. I will check comments and include all who have asked for healing up to the time I start.

I hope you will do me the honor of accepting this gift. Thank you for hearing me out and reading this far into a non-food related post! If you have any questions, any at all, about Reiki or about this gift, please don't be shy. Your interest is valued and your question is welcome.

UPDATE: Resources if you would like to explore more about Reiki

Gift for the Chef: Easy Sweet & Spicy Prawns

As you all can attest, time is really at a premium right now. Anything that will get dinner on the table quickly and with delicious results (does that go without saying by now?) is a gift and a joy. Well, since I had some extra Sweet & Spicy Nuts from the last post, and all the ingredients to whip together the sauce for the Sweet & Spicy Prawns that we put in a recipe kit for friends (same post), I went with the easy meal and made the prawns for us last night. The shiitake mushrooms were a last minute addition, only because I already had some re-hydrated from the previous evening's preparations. As it's still flu and cold season, the shiitake are an added boost for our immune systems, along with the heavy dose of ginger in the sauce.

The local ginger available here in the Islands is so fresh, it can be quite tender (no woody filaments), with a papery-thin skin that will peel off with a firm rub with one's bare hands. When it is this fresh, I thinly sliced the ginger instead of grating it as the recipe suggests. The tender spiced ginger can be consumed as part of the dish, similar in texture to bamboo shoots. From opening the fridge to decide on something for dinner to setting the table, this meal was done in 35 minutes. We actually had to wait for the rice to finish cooking and steaming after the shrimp was already done. (Anyway, it was a chance to snap a few photos!)

1 lb./455g raw prawns, boneless chicken or firm tofu
1 egg white
3 TBL. cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBL. sake or water
Marinate prawns for 20 minutes in egg white, cornstarch, salt, water. If using chicken, cube, then marinate. For tofu, press dry, then cut in large (2 in./5cm) cubes, and either deep-fry, or pan-fry to brown all sides. Do not marinate tofu.

2 TBL. ketchup
1 TBL. sambal oelek or garlic-chili sauce
1-½ TBL. sugar
1-½ TBL. rice wine or apple juice
1 TBL. cornstarch stirred in 2 TBL. water
Mix together ketchup, sambal/chili-garlic sauce, sugar, rice wine and cornstarch mixture. Set aside.

Heat 3 cups oil in a pan or wok to smoking point. Fry half of the prawns, chicken or tofu. Remove when meat or tofu is evenly browned and floats to surface of oil, drain well on paper toweling. Re-heat oil, then fry second batch. Meanwhile, prepare sauce.

5 TBL. oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBL. grated fresh ginger (or thinly sliced if very fresh)
1 1/2 cup water or broth
6 medium shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated, squeezed dry and quartered (not traditional, optional)

1 bunch scallions, washed and chopped finely
1/2-3/4 cup (60-90g) Sweet & Spicy Nuts (chopped)

In another pan or wok put 5 tablespoons of oil and fry garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. When fragrant, add mushrooms, if using. Add Sauce and water or broth, cook together for about 1 minute. Add cooked prawns, chicken or tofu, and stir to coat with sauce.

Remove from pan and garnish with chopped scallions and Sweet & Spicy Nuts. Serve with hot rice and your choice of vegetables.

Blog-Event XXX: Ingwer

This recipe has been submitted to the Ginger Event sponsored by the unstoppable zorra at 1x umrühren bitte.

Gift It: Sweet & Spicy Nuts

(The lead photo is entered in the CLICK! Photo Event sponsored by Bee and Jai at Jugalbandi -- a chance for amateur photographers to play with a food theme and get some feedback. December's theme is, of course, Nuts!
Is this droolworthy??)

It's the season for gifting and remembering not just family and friends, but colleagues and teachers, veterinarians and mechanics all those who touch our lives on a regular basis. A gift from the kitchen, like all hand-made gifts, is a gift of love. But many folks are wary of sweet treats at this time of year when so many sweet temptations are swirling and calling ("Taste me" . . . "I only come around once a year")

With this in mind, I opted to make Sweet and Spicy Nuts, instead of our usual Dark Chocolate Merlot Truffles. Tree nuts, such as the almonds, walnuts and pecans used here, provide a healthy dose of unsaturated fats
which can reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol in one's blood and lower the risk of heart disease. (A) In fact, since 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration has recommended daily consumption of 1.5 ounces of tree nuts as part of a low saturated fat and cholesterol diet to reduce the risk of heart disease. Tree nuts are also an excellent source of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals. Although the FDA does warn against sweetened nuts because of the higher calories, these nuts are much less sweet than commercially sweetened nuts, and they're on offer as a healthier alternative to my beloved chocolate truffles.

This easy recipe coats the the nuts in egg white and spiced sugar mix, then they are baked for until the coating hardens. The recipe is incredibly versatile
change up the nuts, or the spiced sugar mix to suit your taste (try cumin, cinnamon, chipotle or Aleppo peppers, Chinese five spice, quatre epices, pumpkin pie spice, whatever your imagination conjures up!).

The final bonus is that you can dress up these nuts for the harried gourmets in your life as part of a Recipe Kit. Include the nuts, and your pre-made sauce or salad dressing, and a recipe card to put it all together in a snap. This year I tried to re-create the wonderful flavor of a sweet and spicy shrimp with candied walnuts dish we had in a downtown restaurant: the pre-mixed sauce and a cup of spiced nuts will allow the recipient of this package to add his or her own chicken or shrimp, and have a gourmet Chinese meal on the dinner table in in the time it takes to cook a pot of rice. But maybe you have a chicken salad recipe, or a stir-fried noodle dish, anything you think your recipient will enjoy to which these nuts will add that "je ne sais qua" touch.

1 cup sugar
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large egg white
6 cups unsalted nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, natural almonds and/or cashews

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease two 101/2” x 151/2” jelly-roll pans. (Or do in batches)

In small bowl, stir sugar, salt, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne.

In large bowl, beat egg white to soft peaks. Stir nuts into egg white. Sprinkle sugar mixture; toss well until nuts are completely coated.

Spread nuts evenly in pans, no overlapping. Bake nuts 25 minutes, or until golden brown and dry, stir twice during baking. Quickly transfer nuts to waxed paper, and spread in single layer to cool until hard. Package as desired in tightly covered container and store at room temperature up to a month.

Gifting tip: These beautiful heavy cut-glass tumblers made perfect vessels for the nuts before wrapping. After nibbling their heart-healthy treats, the recipients can use the glasses as a candy dish, votive candle holder, or a drinking cup (what a novel idea) in lieu of disposable cups at the office. Thrift stores and flea markets often carry vintage glass, and even crystal, alternatives to expensive but cheaply-made "partyware." Don't be afraid to re-use and recycle!

(A) Read more about the health benefits of tree nuts in this
WebMD article: The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Nuts

More Holiday Gift Ideas:
Green Tea Shortbread, Nut Horns, Cocoa Cherry Biscotti


Cook It Quick: Fish Tacos

Fresh fish, fast. And easy. That's what comes to mind when I think of fish tacos. As the myriad holiday and end-of-the-year preparations are underway, it's the kind of quick and healthy meal every busy cook has tucked in her or his sleeve. The fish tacos I first fell in love with over 10 years ago had lightly battered and deep-fried fillets; but more than anything, it was the garlic sauce that put it over the top for me -- very distinctive, the perfect binding agent between the sweet fish and the crunchy but bland cabbage. I've since adapted the dish of my memories to one using flaked grilled fish, to save on both calories and time. Fresh or frozen fillets work equally well -- choose any flaky white meat fish. The key is the fresh garlic sauce.

Purchased tortillas and pre-shredded coleslaw mix means dinner can be on the table in 30 minutes, and everyone can have some fun putting together their own tacos as they eat. But these also dress up well
we've included them with beef and chicken fajitas as part of a festive dinner cooked at the table with friends. (See last month's post on How-to-do Tabletop Cooking) For a fajita-style presentation, or for tabletop cooking in general, slice the fish against the grain before marinating, and cut marination time to 15 minutes.

for 4 persons

2 1lb. fillets of skinned white-meat fish, such as ahi or snapper
Juice of 1 large lemon, about 3
1 tsp. cumin
TBL. oil

Combine lemon juice, cumin and oil. Place fish in glass or other non-reactive dish, pour marinade over fillets and coat all sides. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Garlic Sauce
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
tsp. salt
1 cup mayonnaise
TBL. milk (optional)

Place garlic and salt in mortar and grind to make a smooth paste. Combine with mayo and milk, if using, to reach desired consistency. Set aside to serve.

To assemble:
1 medium head of cabbage, finely shredded
2 limes, quartered
20-30 fresh corn tortillas, warmed and kept covered
sliced pickled jalapenos (not traditional)
homemade or bottled salsa (not traditional)

Remove fish from marinade and lightly pat dry. Season with
sea salt and ground black pepper. Grill or broil for 5 minutes on each side, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Immediately dress with fresh squeezed lime juice, and flake meat with fork.

Place warmed tortillas, cabbage, garlic sauce and other optional garnishes at the table with flaked fish. Let each person make their own tacos as they eat. Can be served with rice and beans, too.

Go Home, Cook Rice: Laulau Uncovered

Ehrr, what were Santa and the Mrs. tucking in to in the Honolulu City Lights display two days ago laulau? Looks very exotic and strange. Kinda scary, too, all wrapped up in one leaf! Well, do you like smoked pork? How about slow-cooked greens? Yeah?! You'll love laulau! Smoky pull-apart pork shoulder or butt are wrapped in meltingly tender greens (taro leaves, to be exact) and encased in non-edible ti leaves for steaming and presentation. A tiny piece of salted butterfish is included for seasoning, but does not impart a fish taste or smell to the meat or greens. Untie and remove the ti leaves to reveal a delicious ready-made meal.

Here in the islands, almost every supermarket carries vacuum-packed pre-cooked packages of laulau (3 in a pack) in the chilled section that need only a 30-minute steam or a shorter ride in the microwave-go-round. Cook a pot of rice, or pick up a bag or tub of poi (also in the chilled counter), and you have a nutritious instant meal (we have both poi and rice -- it's all about the starch . . .). We keep laulau in the freezer for those REALLY lazy days when even chopping onions or washing salad greens is too laborious, and T takes them to work for lunch too. (Separate the laulau into individual quart-size freezer bags unless you plan to cook 3 at a time).

If you're visiting the islands, many local drive-inns and the bento counters of the supermarkets will have hot, ready-to-eat laulau. On the Mainland, I've seen laulau both at the bento counter and in the frozen section at the Uwajimaya chain of Japanese/Asian groceries in the Northwest. I'd love to know if other Mainland markets, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, carry laulau, too. (You can leave a comment below or email me thanks!) There is also a local fast-food chain, L&L Drive-inn, that has locations along the West Coast I haven't tried them outside of Hawaii, but they might carry laulau as well.

What did you think of laulau the first time you tried it? Would you try it if you saw it after reading this?

Christmas in Honolulu: Trees Display

Having had your photo op on the lawn of Honolulu Hale (pronounced HAH-leh) with the over-sized North Pole denizens vacationing in Hawaii (last post), it's time to see what's happening inside. Once through the doors of the Hale (City Hall) and after your eyes adjust from the bright sun to the softer natural light of the the Hale atrium you are met with a charming Christmas tree display organized and decorated by city and county employees. Each tree is sponsored by a department agency and sports a theme (recycling, protecting wildlife, family tradition, etc.). The first photo of the atrium is actually from last year's display because I forgot to take one this year, but this gives you an idea of the effect.

The blue Christmas palm tree is one of my favorites this year because it envisions a foxtail palm as a Christmas tree, which seems more practical in the tropics — and has lauhala (coconut woven) fish as decorations. It looks blurry because it's actually spinning, to simulate the fish swimming underwater (I think).

Santa goes local with an aloha shirt and grass skirt; an elf chef sports an aloha shirt and apron.

These little miniature houses represent a few of the many cultures at home in Hawaii: Chinese, Hawaiian, Japanese and Portuguese (click on photo to enlarge)

All these last photos are from the same tree display hosted by the customer service department -- it's theme was protecting Hawaii's native species and using recycled materials to build "homes" for them.
At the foot of the tree are a mynah and a couple of mongoose; as well as a band of gecko fans plugging for the UH-Warriors in the Sugar Bowl.

These mice seem to be playing petanque (aka bocce) in front of their exquisitely constructed straw and wood house. The detail in the doors, lanai, and windows is inspired. As is this bird house cleverly recycled from a Zippy's chili tub and plastic eating utensils!

As you step back, the full effect of this creatively imagined and beautifully realized tree can be enjoyed. An endangered white fairy tern alights at the tree's top.

If you head through the atrium and to the right, then left just before the exit, you'll find a wreath display. Several dozen wreaths were made by schools and individuals for an annual island competition. They are all well-crafted, but here are four that really captured my attention. The first is from a local school championing conservation and recycling (something dear to my heart). The garden implements envisioned as a wreath is just darn clever!

This tribute to Queen Keopuolani by the women of her namesake dormitory at the Kamehameha Schools just took my breath away. There is such grace and power in the woman's form, which is covered in a decoupage of pictures of the Queen, as well as moss. The red and gold are the colors of the Ali'i, the native Hawaiian ruling class. The last wreath recycles dried native flora into a beautiful wreath that can be displayed long into the new year.

To see pictures of the Honolulu Hale Christmas Tree and lawn display with their lights all aglow for the opening night festivities, visit the Honolulu City Lights official site.

Christmas in Honolulu: City Lights

Menehune on the Lanakila Pineapple Express
Christmas trees amid swaying palms, Menehune (Hawaiian "little people" of fable) on trains, Hawaiian sea turtles playing with penguins, a snow family braving the full tropical sun must be Christmas time in Hawaii! The annual Honolulu City Lights display is in full swing again in front of city hall, Honolulu Hale. It's a whimsical glimpse of how the Clauses might spend Christmas morning after Santa's hectic dash around the globe the night before. Hawaii is one of Santa's last stops on this side of the International Date Line, so it's time to kick off the slippahs (uh . . . boots), and have a tropical cocktail juice and some local grindz (laulau and poi). (Now that's what I'm talking about!)
Christmas in Honolulu
Santa and Mrs. Claus hangin' loose
Penguins in Hawaii?? Snowbirds that know how to chill
This Honu ofers Santa a cool guave juice Laulau and poi are on offer from this chillin' Honu
They're okay as long as their hats stay on . . .
Next in store: The Christmas Tree display inside Honolulu Hale . . .


Soutzoukakia (try saying that 10x fast!)

Earlier this week I had ground pork and beef out and was debating whether to go "loaf" or "ball." Italian flavors? Maybe Thai? How about Greek? I was leaning toward a feta/spinach flavor combination which is sort of Greek, so I thought of looking at Laurie's Mediterranean cooking site, Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, for other ways to go. Wouldn't you know it, her latest post was for Soutzoukakia (soo-tsoo-kah-kee-ah), a hand-formed sausage made from ground pork and beef, and simmered in a red wine sauce. I'm pre-disposed to like anything long-simmered in a red wine sauce, so this was a no-brainer. It also allowed me to play with Aleppo pepper again since both the meat "balls" and sauce had this special pepper. After tracking down this spice for 2 years, I finally happened upon it at The Souk spice store at Pike Place Market in Seattle last January. The Plasto recipe that we had last week also called for Aleppo pepper, but it's flavor was not as pronounced as it was this time. It's a very flavorful and mild heat that reminded me of Spanish hot pimenton.

The recipe calls for the meats and spices to be combined, then formed into football-shaped "sausages" and browned before being added to the simmering red wine tomato sauce. It comes together fairly quickly, and the house was redolent with a rich meaty smell that T commented on as soon as he stepped through the door. We served this as recommended, with feta (I still got my cheese fix!) and kalamata olives; but skipped the rice in favor of fresh-garlic bruschetta to sop up the wonderful sauce and to ensure we got our garlic dose for the day. The cumin and pepper really differentiate this from its Italian cousin, as does the surprise addition of red wine vinegar. This is another one for the keeper files. Here is Laurie's Soutzoukakia recipe on her site. I used only half the given quantity for the sausages (11 palm-sized footballs), and shaped the rest as meatballs, fried them, and immediately froze them for future use (maybe with grilled polenta?).

1 loaf of French bread or a baguette
2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
olive oil

Halve loaf or baguette lengthwise. Toast or broil until just golden brown. Immediately rub garlic cloves over all cut surfaces of the loaves. Drizzle with olive oil. Great with any dish with a sauce, especially these Soutzoukakia, but also
Crab Cioppino, Crawfish Etouffe, Chicken Barbera, and Stuffed Cabbage.

We only ate half the sausages for dinner so there were these tempting ground meat things swimming in delicious gravy in the fridge the next morning. You know what that means, don't you? Loco-moco, of course! For the yet-to-be-initiated, loco-moco is an Hawaiian breakfast favorite consisting of a bed of rice topped with a meat patty and fried egg, and covered in brown gravy! We christened this version . . . you guessed it
the Soutzou-moco! (You heard it here first, Folks!)

What's in the Pantry: Penne with Tuna

It's still pretty damp and dark, but the worst of the weather seems to be behind us (knock on wood!). Unfortunately, many folks on the Leeward (west) Coast and the North Shore are still without power because the electrical company still has to string up new lines to the 30 resurrected utility poles that were downed by yesterday's gusty winds. As the veteran of many many Super-typhoons (maximum sustained winds over 150mph) growing up and living on Guam, I feel their pain. It's usually at least a few weeks following any super typhoon before our village (Dededo, in the north of the island) would get power back. But in 1976, we had no power for 4 months after Supertyphoon Pamela came directly over Guam, THEN reversed direction and came back directly over the island again! Her 200mph winds in the eye wall hit the island in 2 directions so devastation was pretty widespread. So to make a short story long, this legacy has left it's mark on me in terms of disaster coping.

One mark has been to get creative with the canned goods we usually stock. Depending on how exotic your pantry stock is, you can make some really wonderful hot meals to get you through a power shortage. (Suggestions for how to stock a Basic, Expanded, or Exotic Pantry are offered in the "
In the Pantry" section.) So starting with a Basic Pantry, if you've got canned tuna, canned tomatoes, some capers and/or olives (and maybe some anchovies) you can make this Penne con Tonno (penne with tuna). Of course, you don't have to wait for a power outage to try this — we made it with the fresh tuna our neighbors gave us in last month's post, and it's an easy meal-saver when you only have 30 minutes to put dinner together on a weeknight.

So light the candles, open a nice bottle of wine and you'll almost be sorry when the power does come back on!

(for 2 persons, but easily doubles and triples)

1 clove of garlic, minced
TBL. olive oil (don't skimp on the oil, it will coat and flavor the pasta)
1/2 cup (or more, to your taste) olives (green, black, mixed), chopped or left whole
2-3 TBL. capers (I don't rinse for this recipe, but you can)
1/2 can (8oz/225g) diced tomatoes (pictures show roasted cherry tomatoes because that's what we had on hand that day)
2 anchovy fillets (you won't taste them in the final dish, I promise)

1 can (6oz/170g) tuna in olive oil, or water

1/2 box (230g) farfalle (bowtie), penne, or other pasta shape
sea salt
flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Put water on to boil for pasta.

Saute garlic in oil over medium heat. Once garlic is fragrant, add olives, capers, tomatoes, and anchovies, and stir until the anchovies dissolve. Add tuna (including oil if using tuna in olive oil), and cook over low heat at least 10 minutes, with pan covered. (The last picture shows this same sauce made with fresh tuna.)

Cook pasta until barely al dente (cooking time will vary depending on pasta shape). Drain well, but don't rinse.

Turn heat to medium high for the sauce, move the sauce ingredients to the edges creating a hole in the center, and add hot pasta to the center. Fold sauce ingredients over pasta and coat well. Turn heat off, cover and let rest for 5 minutes while you open a bottle and set the table. Garnish with parsley, if using.

A Bit of Lost Sunshine: Pina Colada Trifle

UPDATE: Dear Zorra has posted the Round-up for SHF #38 just in time for all our New Year's celebrations. Come see all the wonderful recipes from around the world here:

SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!

Sunshine in a cup: Pina Colada Trifle
It's a bit of a mess here in not-at-all-sunny Oahu today power lines and trees are on the roads, roofs have blown away, schools are closed, buses aren't running, many homes are without power. All this the result of a freak windstorm in the early morning hours. The weather reporter said the UV (ultra-violet) Index for today was 1 (it's usually 10-12), so that tells you how dark and dreary it is today, and will continue to be until the weekend. I always think of our poor visitors, some who are here on a vacation of a lifetime, some to escape the dreary weather in their cold hometowns. How awful to have come so far and then be told by the civil defense authorities that people should stay indoors, seas are too rough for boat travel or swimming.

So here's a little aloha to all of our wind-swept visitors (and to everyone in a colder clime): a ray of island sunshine in a cup, the Pina Colada Trifle. A fresh pineapple and rum cake is enveloped by a creamy, gently sweet coconut pudding. Easy to make, easy to serve. What could be better during this busy season? (The cake improves with one day's wait, so bake it early if time permits.)

Part I: Pineapple Rum Cake
12 TBL. (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250g) brown sugar
6 egg yolks

3 cups (270g) sifted cake flour
1 TBL. + 1 tsp. (20 grams) baking powder
3/4 tsp. (5g) salt
½ cup (112 ml) dark rum
½ cup (112ml) milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups (360g) chopped fresh pineapple

Preheat oven to 350F (177C).  Butter and flour 2 9-inch x 1-1/2 inch (23 x 3.75 cm) cake pans, or 1 13x9-inch pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
Combine rum, vanilla and milk.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar on high until sugar dissolves and mixture is light. On medium speed, add egg yolks, one at a time, ensuring each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down bowl.  Add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with rum mix, and ending with dry. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated, then increase mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl.  Add pineapple and fold in.

Pour batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, or when the cake springs back when pressed lightly in center.  Cool in pan on wire rack.

Part II: Haupia (Coconut Pudding)
(This recipe produces a looser pudding than haupia served by itself. If you want to make Haupia squares, increase cornstarch to 4 TBL.)
1-½ cup (350ml) coconut milk (12 oz. can)
1 ½ cup (350ml) water
3-4 TBL. sugar
3 TBL. cornstarch

Combine water, sugar, and cornstarch and cook over low heat until just below simmering. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Slowly add coconut milk, stirring constantly. Keep stirring, shifting directions, and stirring across the center so the mixture is in constant motion and doesn’t burn. After 10 to 15 minutes the color will change from chalky opaque to shiny bright white, and the mixture will thicken. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.

To Assemble: Cut cooled cake into 1 in. (2.5cm) cubes. Place in individual wine glasses. Pour slightly cooled haupia over cake. When pudding has completely cooled, cover and chill until serving time. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh grated coconut.
Pina Colada Trifle

SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!

Aloha also to all those participating in Sugar High Friday, hosted this month by the indefatigable zorra, aka kochtopf, at 1x umrühren bitte. This is my first entry to this long-standing blog event!


Table-top Cooking: BBQ pork with rice noodles

Tabletop cooking need no longer be relegated to special nights out at fancy teppanyaki restaurants, where smiling chefs send shrimp and vegetables flying through the air. If you can live without the theatrics, you can grill or have sukiyaki or shabu-shabu at home anytime. It's a great family experience, and a wonderful way to entertain at home, allowing each family member or guest to add the meats or vegetables they desire to the pot or grill. We've done everything from fajitas, pancakes, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, Korean bulgogi and fish juhn, Japanese nabes and okonomiyaki, and this grilled Vietnamese style pork with rice vermicelli noodles.

Rather than buying an electric appliance that leaves you with a trailing electrical cord and extension to deal with, we recommend this simple butane stove that sits compactly on the table and has an easy-to-control flame. This model comes in a plastic case for carrying and storage, and retails here in Hawaii for less than $20. I have also seen sleek stainless steel models selling for closer to $70. The non-refillable butane cartridges are less than $2 a piece. If you're having a hard time finding a butane stove, try a Korean or Japanese grocery. The added bonus, especially for we who live in hurricane-earthquake-tsunami prone areas, this doubles as a handy emergency stove. In fact, we bought this for that latter purpose and had it in the house for almost a year before the little light bulb went on over my head, and I remembered a dinner with friends who used a butane stove to grill bulgogi at the table. That was such a fun meal! Why not make everyday meals more fun, too?

The cookware you use for tabletop cooking should be pans that do NOT have a long handle. With one or more persons reaching toward the hot pans, a long handle is easy to tip over, catch in a sleeve, or bump. With hot liquids and oils, and an open flame, it is an invitation to disaster to use any pot, pan or wok with a long handle. Here are some safer options.

For grilling, this yakiniku grill is ideal. This model is non-stick and includes a drain hole for the excess grease (you need to put a small bowl at the drain point to catch the hot oil). We use this for fajitas, pancakes, yakiniku (literallly, "grilled meat" in Japanese), and okonomiyaki. It retails between $20-25 (in Hawaii, sometimes Long's has it on sale too — same with the stove and butane cartridges). In a pinch, you could also use a shallow pan like the paella-style one we use for sukiyaki, below.

For soups and nabes, we used to use this 3 quart pot from All-Clad just because it was already in the kitchen, any similar pot will work. Recently we've acquired this beautiful stoneware nabe pot too. We make kimchee soup, nabes, and other quick soupy stew-like meals in these.

For sukiyaki and other braised dishes, this shallower paella-style pan from Calphalon works well.
Photos of traditional cast-iron nabe and sukiyaki pans can be seen on this commercial site.

Here is a simple and tasty dish that's perfect for entertaining or to liven up a weekend meal at home. Thin slices of pork (you can certainly use beef or chicken, as well) are marinated in a sweet lemongrass marinade, grilled and served atop a bed of rice vermicelli noodles (called bun, "buhn") and fresh salad and herb base. Of course, you don't have to grill the meat at the table prepare it all in the kitchen and simply serve this delicious "Vietnamese noodle salad"!

Recipe for 4 persons

Marinade for 1 lb. (450g) pork, beef, or chicken
TBL. brown sugar
tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion, minced (about 3 TBL.)

stalk lemongrass, peeled and tender parts minced
2 TBL. fish sauce
1 TBL. oil

Thinly slice (as for sukiyaki) pork or beef. (In these photos I used pork sliced for tonkatsu, but that's too thick. Next time I'll get a thinner slice, or pound this cut thinner.) Or slice and pound thin chicken breasts or thighs. Combine marinade ingredients and add meat. Let marinate at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.

To assemble:
10 oz. (280g) bean sprouts (moyashi)
1 large bunch Thai basil
1 large bunch mint
1 large bunch cilantro
4 stalks scallions, roots trimmed
1 Japanese cucumber
1 head Romaine or leaf lettuce
1 package of rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water 30 minutes or until pliable
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (optional)
Carrot Pickle (recipe below)

Wash and pick leaves off basil, mint and cilantro. Rough chop herbs and scallions and set aside.

Peel cucumber. Cut off ends, then cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut off seeds, then julienne. Cut lengths into 2" (5 cm) pieces. Set aside.

Wash and remove thick ends, if necessary. Julienne.

Blanch the soaked rice noodles in boiling water until they turn bright white, about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Combine 3/4 of the herbs, cucumber and lettuce together. Place 1/4 of the salad in the bottom of a deep bowl (like a saimin or ramen bowl).

Coil 1/4 of the rice noodles over the salad in a mound.

Garnish noodles with remaining herbs, cucumber and Carrot Pickle (and peanuts, if using). Place garnished bowl, chopsticks and a small bowl with dipping sauce (Nuoc Nam, recipe below) in front of each diner.

Remove meat from marinade and arrange on serving platter. Lightly dab with paper towel to make sure it is not too wet (it will splatter in the hot oil).

Assemble the grill and place it where the cook can reach it safely (this meal is best prepared where one cook handles the raw meat, placing it on the grill while other diners remove pieces to their bowls as the meat cooks). Set the grill pan securely on the stove notches to make certain it doesn't move around or slip. Put a catch bowl at the oil drip spout, if necessary. Turn on grill and allow pan to heat to cooking temperature. Lightly oil grill and carefully place slices on the pan (do not drop pieces onto oil, which will splatter). Have a clean plate on hand to remove meat as it cooks, if the diners don't keep pace with the cooking. Let folks remove cooked meat to their bowls and begin eating.

A final caveat: you have an open flame and hot liquids or oil on the table, so you do keep a close eye on the stove; and never allow young children to reach near the open flame. Also, since you're cooking meats with some fat on them, there will still be some splattering from the grill, so all diners should be warned of the possibility of splatters, no mater how careful you are. It should go without saying, too, that you probably want to try this out before inviting friends to participate so you have a better idea of how far the splattering oil can reach.

This photo is BBQ pork bun from our favorite restaurant. (See how thin the meat is?)

More tabletop cooking to come . . .

Combine together:
2 cloves garlic, minced
TBL. sugar (I still use brown sugar)
6 TBL. fish sauce
2 TBL. lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 sliced serrano or bird's eye chile (optional)

Stir well until sugar dissolves. Divide into 4 dipping bowls.

2 medium carrots, shredded or julienned
1 TBL. sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBL. rice wine vinegar
tsp. sea salt

Sprinkle carrots with sugar. Leave for 15 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over carrots. Set aside until needed.

Table-top Cooking, Part 2: Sukiyaki


Game Day: Portuguese Bean Soup

Rainy days on Oahu

The weather is quite dreary here this weekend and will remain so into the middle of next week, if you believe the weather guy. Our poor hibiscus looks quite weighed down by the heavy rains we got yesterday, doesn’t she?

Nevertheless, there’s a big game today at Aloha Stadium — the undefeated (11-0) University of Hawaii Warriors face off against the Washington Huskies in the last game of the regular season. The excitement on Oahu is palpable and infectious, even sweeping in sometimes-sports fans like yours truly. We casually tuned in to last week’s televised game against Boise State and then sat glued to the TV to the end. Luckily we still had Thanksgiving leftovers (ala tetrazzini) then because I was too into the game to cook.

(You can listen to today's game via the UH website here or watch on ESPN2)

This week we’re prepared with the perfect Hawaiian TV football-watching food: the venerable Portuguese bean soup. And judging by the empty Portuguese sausage shelf and dearth of ham hocks and shanks at my local supermarket yesterday, I’m guessing there are lots of soup pots bubbling away right now. This ultra-hearty spicy island classic rivals American style chili con carne in its variations and plain down-home comfort. For me the key ingredient is Hawaiian style Portuguese sausage, it’s quite distinct from its European ancestor and whatever the blend of spices they use here, it’s uniquely Hawaii. And ono. When we lived in Europe, I made this soup a couple of times using sausages (chouricos) from Portugal and those were good too, but in my heart I felt like something was missing.
Our favorite Portuguese sausage

The method I use for this (and most soups) is different in that I use a slow-cooker. This will require that you start at least 48 hours before you plan to serve, if you also want to de-fat the broth (which I do), at least 36 hours if you skip the cooling process. It does take a while, but I like the fact that I’m not tied to the stove making the broth or soup. In Europe we found a slow-cooker made in the U.K. that was 220-volt, and eliminated the need for a voltage-converter for a 110 volt machine. And the multiple draining and rinsing may seem like a bother, but according to Aliza Green in "
The Bean Bible," this process, along with the parboiling, reduces the beans’ propensity to cause flatulence so skip this step at your own peril! ; P

The substitution of mustard greens for cabbage is a new thing in the evolution of this soup for us — we tried this variation in a soup we had near Hilo on the Big Island a couple of years ago. The slightly bitter green brings a nice balance to the spicy meaty soup.

Making broth for soup

Make the broth:
1 large smoked ham shank, whole
1 medium onion, peeled but left whole, or halved
4 whole cloves
4 celery heart branches, with leaves
2 large bay leaves
2 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks

Stick cloves in onion halves or whole. Place all ingredients in 5 quart or larger slow-cooker. Cover with water, at least to 4/5 of the ham shank. Set slow cooker to High and cover. After an hour or so, check and remove scum rising to the surface. When water comes to a boil, turn setting to Low and leave for 8-10 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.

Meanwhile, soak 8 oz. (225g) of rinsed red kidney beans in 8 cups (2L) cool water. After 4 hours, drain the water, rinse, and cover with 6 cups (1.5L) cool water. Repeat after 4 more hours.

When the broth is done, remove the ham shank and all the vegetables. Debone and shred or chop the meat, and return to broth. You can either cool the broth overnight and remove the fat in the morning, or proceed to finish the soup as is. These pictures show the cooled and defatted broth.
Broth after coolingBroth after de-fatting
If you choose to cool the soup, after de-fatting, return to slow-cooker and set on High for one hour before proceeding.

For the soup:
10 oz of Hawaiian Portuguese sausage, halved lengthwise, then sliced into half-moons
4 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cups water
1 15oz can of diced tomatoes, including juice
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1-½ tsp. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 medium bunch Chinese mustard greens, Italian chicory, endive, or other bitter green, chopped
4 oz. (113g) dry elbow macaroni, or other small pasta shape

Drain and rinse beans. Bring 6 cups of water to boil, then add rehydrated beans and boil for 15 minutes. Leave in water until ready to use. Then drain, rinse and add to hot broth.
Portuguese bean soup
Mmmm, soup . . . .
Over medium heat, pan fry the sliced sausage until browned, then add to hot broth. Remove the excess fat from the pan, then add garlic and cook until just fragrant. Turn heat to high and add water to pan and deglaze, add to broth with tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper and paprika. Turn slow-cooker to Low and let cook about 4 hours. Add potatoes, carrots, stem parts of cabbage, and uncooked macaroni. Cook on Low another 1-½ to 2 hours, or until potatoes and beans are tender. (Add tender green parts of cabbage last half hour.) Correct seasoning (salt will depend on type of sausage or smoked shank/hocks used) and serve with cornbread, hawaiian sweet bread, or garlic bread.

If you want to use cooked pasta or macaroni, reduce water to 1 cup, and add cooked pasta with tender cabbage greens, in the last half-hour of cooking.

For a great step-by-step pictorial on how to make Portuguese bean soup local kine, check out Pomai’s site at The Tasty Island.

For a European take on this island favorite, see local girl Rowena cooking in Italy at
Rubber Slippers in Italy.

Update: The Warriors took it in a come-from-behind, nail-biting finish, 35-28. . .

See also
Portuguese-style pork, clam and periwinkle stew


At the movies: Aloo Gobi

Potato and Cauliflower Curry

When I think about my favorite food-related movies, one of the first to mind is "Bend It Like Beckham." What? What does a movie about girls playing football/soccer have to do with food? Well, there's an iconic line in the movie when the protagonist, Jesminder, says, "Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?" Jesminder is a bit of a soccer fiend, but in order to play she has to overcome stereotypes about women's roles in her culture say, as makers of aloo gobi (a spicy potato and cauliflower).

As the oldest and only girl in my family, I sympathized with Jesminder's plight, to be sure (I heard "Young ladies don't scuba dive"), but the aloo gobi reference really hit home when I found Director Gurinder Chadha's "how-to-cook aloo gobi" featurette at the end of the DVD. She provides a wonderful peek into her family and her kitchen technique when she makes aloo gobi with her mother and aunt "supervising" in the background. I laughed so hard I cried the first time I saw this because it reminded me so much of cooking with my own mother — me trying to take shortcuts and improvise, mom insisting it had to be "done the right. way." Aloo gobi has been one of my favorite dishes for over 15 years, and the dish on the screen looked so good that I wanted to try Director Chadha's recipe. I took notes on the recipe and technique directly from the DVD, pausing and writing, rewinding often to capture it just so.

This is the recipe I use every time now, and it's what we had for T's b-day dinner last night. It's a nice balance of heat (we only use 2 serrano chilies) and spice, and definitely my favorite use of cauliflower! If Indian cooking is new to you, this is a good introduction because it doesn't require some of the more exotic spices (like fenugreek, kalonji, or brown mustard seeds) in other traditional recipes. If you're leery of peppers and heat in your food, try using hot paprika instead of sweet paprika and leave out the serranos altogether, but some small measure of heat is necessary to balance out the dish. Enjoy!

Aloo Gobi

(as prepared by Gurinder Chadha)

Ghee or unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Medium cauliflower, quartered, then sliced
2 large potatoes, quartered then sliced
1 TBL cumin seeds
1-3 green (serrano) chilies, sliced
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
2-inch piece ginger, sliced
3-6 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp sweet (regular) paprika
3 canned tomatoes, and juice
handful cilantro, chop stems and pick off leaves for garnish
1 1/2 tsp garam masala

Heat ghee, add cumin seeds, then onion and cilantro stems. Cook until translucent ("creamy golden").
Add chilies, turmeric, salt. Add paprika, then tomatoes. Stir in.
Add ginger, garlic cook about 1 min.
Add potatoes, cook 5 minutes
Add cauliflower and 2 TBL water, cover and cook 10 minutes.
Add garam masala cook 10 more minutes until cauliflower is tender, but not mushy.
Add cilantro leaves. Cover, turn off heat and leave 10 minutes.

Serve with naan or basmati rice. We had this with
vindaloo (meat curry) and tarka dal (spiced lentils). Also excellent cold the next day as a sandwich or tortilla wrap.

Go, Broncos! (SCU)


Happy Birthday, my Love

Today is T's birthday. Isn't he a cutie? This picture is a little dated, maybe, but trust me he's still a heart-stealer!

Each year on his birthday, T will choose a meal he desires — sometimes it's as easy as a steak with blue cheese and roasted potatoes, one year it was octopus braised in red wine. This year he's asked for a complete Indian meal:
vindaloo, tarka dal, aloo gobi and cardamom rice. He's also taken a pumpkin cheesecake (Brandon's recipe) to work to share with his colleagues after lunch. (My birthday "cards" for him are always edible . . . )

This is just a quick post to wish my Honey a very Happy 37th Birthday!

I love you

A Taste of Greece: Plasto

Greek Plasto

The day before Thanksgiving our trusty toaster oven gave up the ghost after 50 months of nearly daily use. We really test the limits of our table-top ovens — roasts, casseroles, tians, cakes, brownies, and yes, even, toast are produced each day in its energy-efficient cave. I had intended to roast the 9lb. organic turkey breast we secured for turkey day in the toaster, instead T was called upon to work his Grillmeister skills on the bird that day. We also had to do our Friday night turkey tetrazzini on the grill, and that worked pretty well.

Thanksgiving bird on the grill Turkey tetrazzini ala grill

We were all set to prepare Monday's new recipe on the grill as well when lo and behold, the FedEx man came with my new DeLonghi convection oven with rotisserie. Yay! This is the third DeLonghi toaster oven we've had, the first with either convection function or a rotisserie. I thought about baking this dish on the grill anyway to go into more detail about using a grill as an alternative oven, but let's be serious, I wanted to play with my new oven! : P
Plasto baking in our new oven!

So the inaugural meal from the new toaster oven was from Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska — Laurie writes about Greek cooking from her home in Alaska. She speaks with the perspective of a native Greek chef (she has a second home in the islands there), and she's adapted traditional Greek recipes to the North American kitchen. Her posts include history, anecdotes, and cultural insight (distilled from 400 Greek cookbooks in her collection!) into the many dishes she prepares and shares. I love those sort of details, don't you? The first of the many recipes I've earmarked to try is called Plasto, but Laurie notes it has many other names as well. Basically it's a braise of mixed greens and cheeses enveloped in a cornbread crust. Doesn't sound like a typical Greek dish you'd find in a restaurant, does it? We love greens, we love cheese, I love corn — this recipe had our names written all over it. Here is Laurie's recipe.
Greek cornbread and greens: Plasto
The beauty of this dish is that it seems so adaptable. Change the greens, change the cheese and you'll have a different experience. We used Chinese broccoli, watercress and garlic chives for the greens, and a mild sheep's milk cheese (Ossau-Irarty) this time. It was a delicious combination of savory (greens) and sweet (cornbread). If you like collard greens and pot likker with cornbread, it's kind of like that, but in a casserole. And Laurie notes that this dish is equally good cold, and it is — you can eat it like a sandwich. Brilliant!

Food as Medicine: Krautsuppe

Sauerkraut soup with shrimp or fish

After all the heavy foods from Thanksgiving, our taste buds really craved a kick — something completely different and new. It's been very drizzly and damp outside and we both still have a cough from that flu we had last week, too, so something soupy seemed in order, as well. A recipe from Lavaterra in Germany really caught my eye earlier this month, and it seemed like the perfect time to try it: Krautsuppe mit Krabben, sauerkraut soup with shrimp! The recipe blends sauerkraut with ginger, orange marmalade, dill and seafood — the unusual combination demanded to be sampled! When we lived in Germany, T once had a seafood choucroute in a restaurant near the French border and he loved the combination of sauerkraut and fish so I didn't think it would be a hard sell for him! ; )

We didn't have any shrimp, so I pan-fried a pink snapper filet to use instead. Also, when I was finished mincing the fresh ginger, I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the amount called for in the original recipe, and only used about 2/3 in the soup and the other 1/3 to season the fish when pan-frying it. Even with the lesser amount, the ginger flavor came through beautifully. We loved this soup — you don't taste "sauerkraut," but a lightly sweet and tart, yet creamy, flavor. It's quite remarkable how the disparate flavors come together. It reminded me of Chinese "hot and sour soup" — same balance of piquant and spicy. I know we will make this soup again. It is quick to prepare, tasty, healthy and a full meal with a slice of bread. If the idea of seafood and sauerkraut seems too strange to you, I think a nice sausage or even chicken will compliment these flavors well.

This recipe is categorized as "Food as Medicine" because the healthy dose of ginger makes this a very warming soup — what would be considered "yang" or warm energy in traditional Chinese medicine. And the tomato and orange rinds in the marmalade will contribute lycopene and Vitamin C, respectively. But did you know that sauerkraut is also very high in Vitamin C (much more than orange juice), some Vitamin Bs, and the lactobacilli bacteria that promotes good digestion? So besides being delicious, this soup just might cure what ails you! Guten Appetit!

Lavaterra's original recipe in German is here. Below is an English translation (suggestions for substitions that are not in the original German recipe are marked ** ).

(for 2 persons)

300g (10.5oz or 1-2/3 cup) sauerkraut (don't rinse)
40g (1 knob or 3 heaping
TBL.) fresh ginger
**500ml (2 cups) tomato juice
tsp. chicken broth bouillon paste, such as "Better Than Bouillon"
TBL. orange marmalade
1 pinch of nutmeg

TBL. sour cream **(or strained plain yogurt)
salt and pepper
4-5 fresh dill branches, about 1
tsp. dried

100g (1/2 cup) baby shrimp (or one cooked fish filet)

Finely chop sauerkraut. Peel and mince ginger. Cook together with tomato juice, bouillon paste, marmalade and nutmeg for 20 minutes, covered.
** If you don't have bouillon concentrate or paste, instead of a bouillon cube (which is very high in sodium), use a 1/2 cup of chicken broth and reduce the tomato juice to 1 1-1/2 cups.

Mix together sour cream, salt, pepper and dill. Set aside.

Taste the soup and correct seasoning. Serve with dollop of seasoned cream and garnish with shrimp (or fish or sausage).

Unplug: The Byodo-in Temple

Bridge entering Byodo-in Temple

As a counterpoint to the consumer mania that the US's "Black Friday" (the start of the holiday shopping season) ushered in yesterday, we offer here a chance to visit one of Oahu's oases of calm — the Byodo-in Temple in the Valley of the Temples, near Kane'ohe. Erected in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, this beautiful temple and its serene grounds are set against the stunning cliffs of the Ko'olau mountain range. The Valley of the Temples is actually a cemetery with specially designated areas to accommodate the different burial practices of Hawaii's diverse cultures and communities. The Byodo-in Temple is located at the rear of these majestic grounds. A nominal fee is collected just before crossing this bridge to the main temple area, but it is well worth the visit.

A full panorama of the temple and its front garden is here. (Do you notice anything strange about this photo?)

There are small ponds throughout the gardens, stocked with koi, or decorative Japanese carp. Many birds also take sanctuary here, although we did not get anything more exotic than some zebra doves (including one that looked like it was "diving") in our photos.
Golden koi in the temple streamsDoves taking refuge in the temple pond

View of the main temple from the pond in the front gardens (top) and from the rear gardens( bottom)
View from the front gardensView from the rear gardens

As you approach the main temple from the left, this iron bell invites the visitor to announce his visit and intention. [The bell is open for all visitors to use, but please remember this is a place of contemplation and prayer. The bell is not a toy]
Bell shrineByodo-in temple bell

Inside the temple, a golden Buddha sends loving kindness out to our beleaguered world. [Please be prepared to remove your shoes before entering the sanctuary]
View from sanctuarySmiling Buddha

Cranberry sauce with a kick

Fresh cranberries, washed and picked over

Growing up, my family didn't have cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving — everything else, just never cranberry sauce. In fact, my first taste of "the sauce" was in the school cafeteria my first year in college. I didn't care for the sweet fruit with my turkey and pretty much wrote off cranberry sauce as a condiment (now cranberry jello, that's a different story) until my friend Joyce shared some of her homemade sauce with us a few years ago. The addition of vinegar, wine and spices made it a complex and delicious compote, similar to chutney. This is even better when paired with grilled wild salmon or pork (chops, roast, you name it).

This cranberry relish/compote freezes well, so if you're not equipped to properly can it, you can freeze small quantities for later enjoyment. Because fresh cranberries are not generally available year-round, I usually make several batches to freeze, and to share with family and friends.

The original recipe called for ground spices but I didn't like the gritty feeling the ground spices left in the relish, so I've adapted the recipe to use whole spices in a bouquet garni bag that is easily removed at the end. To make a quick bouquet garni, put your spices and herbs is a large tea ball, or a No. 4 or 6 cone coffee filter tied with kitchen twine, or a disposable linen tea bag filter (availalble in Japanese groceries and fine tea shops).

A few other substitutions and adjustments have been made, but in our hearts, this will always be Joyce's cranberry sauce.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Joyce's cranberry relish

Bouquet Garni:
1-1/2 TBL. whole black peppercorns
1 TBL. broken cinnamon pieces
3 whole allspice (a.k.a. Piment)
1 TBL. coriander seeds,
4 whole cloves
1 blade of mace
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1-1/2 tsp. crushed dried
2 small bay leaves
Place all spices and herbs in garni bag, then lightly crush with a rolling pin or flat side of a meat tenderizer. If using a metal tea ball, lightly crush whole spices before putting in ball.

1 medium onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 TBL minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBL oil

2/3 cup/ 160ml apple cider vinegar
1-1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup/ 160ml Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon

24oz/ 680g cranberries (about 2 bags), washed and picked over
4 medium firm pears, or 1 large nashi pear, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup/ 75g dried cherries or cranberries, optional *
1/2 cup/ 120ml real maple syrup, or 1/3 cup/ 80ml agave nectar
Fresh fruits added to the wine syrup baseFinished sauce will thicken more as it cools
If canning, sterilize 3 pint jars and keep hot until needed. Prepare lids per manufacturer’s directions.

In large stainless steel pan set over medium heat, saute onion, jalapenos, ginger and garlic until onion is translucent.
Add vinegar, brown sugar and bouquet garni. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves completely (about 10 minutes). Add wine and continue simmering until syrupy (about 10 minutes).
Finished cranberry relish
Stir in cranberries, pears, dried fruit (if using), and maple syrup or agave nectar, bring to a boil, then simmer 15 minutes. Remove bouquet garni bag. Either can or prepare to freeze any quantities not to be used in 3-4 days.

What's in the pantry: Shiitake mushrooms

Dried shiitake mushrooms
Since I'm still battling the effects of this bout with the flu, I still crave things that support the immune system. I know that sounds weird, but don't you feel sometimes that your body tells you what it needs? (Yes, of course, the body can need chocolate . . . but that's another post . . .)

One such immunity booster is the shiitake mushroom. I was first opened to the healing possibilities of foods in Nina Simonds' book, "
A Spoonful of Ginger." It has remained a valuable and often sought resource in my library since 1999, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the healing properties of everyday food. In her book, Ms. Simonds notes that "[r]ecent research has credited shiitake mushrooms . . . with components that bolster the immune system, prolong life in cancer patients, and are useful in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and AIDS." (page 165) A quick google of "shiitake" on the internet will give you many reports of shiitake's growing use in cancer treatment, and it's reported success in lowering cholesterol and battling hepatitis B.

You'd think that growing up with a n Okinawan-Japanese mother that I would have grown up liking shiitake mushrooms. Not true. I used to hate the taste of these mushrooms — I would carefully pick them out, sliver by sliver, piece by piece, out of whatever dish my mom put them in. I really didn't develop a taste for them until I returned to Guam in my mid-20s. Now, I not only keep a supply of the dried fungi in my pantry, I usually rehydrate more than I need, and cook and season them to have on hand as a quick side dish for lunch, as a topping for ramen and other noodle soups, or to add a quick umami boost to a dish.
Dried shiitake weighted down to re-hydrate

First, you need to rehydrate the mushrooms. Place them in a container at least 3-4 times larger than the dried mushrooms. Cover with cool water, trying to keep the gills of the mushrooms face down. (Many sources say to use hot water, but I don't think this is necessary) Weigh down the mushrooms to keep them submerged (they're going to want to float at the surface). In the photo below, a small plate provides just enough weight to keep the mushrooms below the surface. Leave for 30 minutes of more. When they are fully re-hydrated, the stems will be pliable and not stiff anymore.

Soaked shiitake braising in seasoned liquid

Gently squeeze the mushrooms to release some of the absorbed water (but don't wring it dry). Trim the woody stems using kitchen scissors. You can keep this soaking water as a base for soup or sauce, but strain it through a sieve to keep out the fine grit that will be at the bottom of the container.

To make a braising sauce:
1/2 cup/ 120ml water or soaking liquid
1/2 cup/ 120ml mirin (Japanese seasoned cooking wine)
if you don't have mirin, you can use sake or dry sherry PLUS 1 tsp extra sugar)
1-1/2 tsp sugar or brown sugar
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in small pan and lay shiitake gill-side down (so the mushroom can absorb the flavor of the sauce) — the liquid should be about half way up the mushroom caps (add more water or soaking liquid if needed). Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid reduces by half. Taste braising liquid — it should be sweet and the alcohol flavor gone. Add another teaspoon of soy sauce and turn mushrooms over and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid becomes a glaze, thick and syrup-like. Turn off heat, cover, and let mushrooms cool in pan.

Braised shiitake cooling in pan

The finished mushrooms are delicious eaten as is. Try them in a sandwich, or as a side dish with any Asian rice meal. Or, as here, as a topping for ramen, saimin, udon, wonton or another noodle soup. You can also chop them finely and add to meatloaf or meatball mixture, season with teriyaki sauce and enjoy a different and healthy twist to your meatloaf. I think once you get used to having these tasty shrooms handy, you'll find many uses for them. I'd love to hear from anyone trying this recipe at home.

Seasoned shiitake in ramen noodle soup


The Way of Cooking: Chicken soup

When you're really not feeling well, there's few things better than chicken soup to make it all better. So what is it about chicken soup that makes it so popular as a cold remedy? Is it just the warm liquid soothing the chest? Hot vapors loosening nasal congestion? Or is it something more? At least two different scientific studies have taken a crack at what mothers and folklore the world over tout as the best cold remedy. The earlier study showed that warm chicken soup "increased nasal mucus velocity" (what a lovely term!) and so would alleviate the "acute rhinitis" (stuffy nose) that accompanies the common cold. (A) The later study, in 2000, demonstrated that the synergistic combination of chicken and vegetables in a homemade chicken soup inhibited the movement of white blood cells (called neutrophils) that caused inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. (B) By limiting the number of neutrophils at the infection site, the inflammation was reduced, and so was the duration of the cold. Interestingly, the second study also tested several commercial brands of chicken soup and found some of them had a better or equal anti-inflammatory effect as the homemade soup. (See the list of the commercial soups in the survey)

But what's the one key ingredient all the commercial brands of soup will be missing? TLC, of course — love. Chicken soup is not hard. Here's an easy, foolproof method you can start in a crockpot. The only catch is, I recommend starting the day before you serve so you can chill the broth and remove most of the fat. I usually start this in the morning and let it do it's thing until evening. (Meanwhile I can do my thing and not fret too much over an open flame)

In a 5-7 quart crockpot, place:
3-4 lbs chicken backs, or a 1-2 whole stewing chicken
2 well-scrubbed unpeeled carrots, cut in half
1 large well-scrubbed unpeeled onion, quartered
green tops of one bunch of scallions
1/2 hand of ginger, sliced

Cover with water and set crockpot on High setting for 3 hours, skim as impurities form "scum" in broth.
Turn setting to Low and simmer for another 6 hours. (The long simmer is necessary to extract maximum goodness from the bones)
Remove broth to a large shallow pan to cool, then in a container to refrigerate overnight.
When cold, remove all or most (I leave about 10-15
% in for flavor) of the layer of yellow fat at the top of the broth.
Chicken backs and vegetables start the soup base
Now you can do anything you want with it -- add all the vegetables you like; add chicken, seafood; add macaroni, orzo, rice noodles, rice or potatoes; add herbs or more spices; add . . . your imagination!

Here is one of our favorite chicken soups. It's a Filipino soup with green papaya
called Tinola. The papaya is supposed to be a stark white color. The one in these pictures had started to ripen on the inside, although the outer skin was still green. But it was very firm, not sweet, and stood up well in this soup. The watercress is not traditional in the original Philippine version, but I love watercress and think it adds a great flavor, not to mention all the extra nutrition from the greens. I"ve also seen this made with togan (also called winter melon) or upo (also called loofa gourd), instead of green papaya.

(Look here for a more traditional
Chicken & Vegetable Soup)
Peeled whole green papaya

(Chicken and green papaya soup with watercress)

1 large knob of ginger, julienned
1 onion, sliced
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
8-9 cups prepared chicken broth
1 whole chicken breast, cut in half
1 whole green papaya, peeled and cut into 4-inch cubes
1 large bunch watercress, cleaned and chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 TBL fish sauce (patis)
1-2 tsp ground black pepper
sea salt, if necessary
Cleaned watercress

The most important step in developing the right flavor for this soup is to saute the ginger, onions and garlic together until the onions become translucent, then slightly brown. Add chicken broth, and breast halves and bring to boil. Remove any scum that surfaces. When chicken is fully cooked, remove from broth.

Add papaya pieces, watercress, patis and pepper. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bone, tear into large chunks and return to soup. Cook over medium heat until papaya is just tender (pierces with a fork). Taste and adjust seasoning.
Raw green papaya Chicken and green papaya soup

Although this is a soup, you've probably guessed from the large chunks that this is not eaten directly from the bowl. I was taught to eat this with fork, spoon, plate of rice and a side dish of patis. We've given up on the tableside patis for health reasons (like all fish sauces, it's very salty with a high sodium content), but still eat this the traditional way: put some meat and vegetable on your plate and eat it with rice. You can use the broth to moisten your rice and/or drink the broth separately.

(A) Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach study (1978)
(B) University of Nebraska Medical Center report: "
Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro*" (2000)

One of the best cheesecakes ever ...

Thanksgiving seemed to sneak up on me this year. Not only did I lose most of the past week either tending to or being ill, but I got the designated day wrong — I thought it was on the 29th, but it's the 22d. That's this Thursday! (eek)

Well, I did know Thanksgiving was this
month, anyway, and coaxed our friend, Brandon, to share his recipe for the fabulous dessert he brought to our Thanksgiving table last year. The photo is actually of his cake before it was set upon after dinner. I'm not a huge dessert eater, and while I like cheesecake, they are generally very dense and I find it hard to eat more than a few nibbles. Not so with this cake. It is light and creamy, and the flavors are nuanced and layered: the pecans in the crust meet the candied pecan topping, the gingersnap crust echos the ginger and spices of the filling, the crunchy crumb crust and candied pecans sandwich the meltingly rich middle. Even after a full Thanksgiving meal, this cheesecake was a welcome touch of sweetness with our post-prandial coffee and digestifs.

Brandon will be literally a world away this Thanksgiving, probably working, but definitely missed in Hawaii. (And, yes, ladies, he not only bakes, he's single too!) Stay safe, Brandon, and Mahalo for letting me share this recipe.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Candied Pecans

1-1/2 cups/135g gingersnap cookies (about 25 cookies), or Lebkuchen
1/3 /40g cup pecan halves
1/4 cup/50g light brown sugar
4 TBL/58g unsalted butter, melted

Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.

In a food processor or blender, combine the gingersnaps and pecans, and blend to a fine crumb. Add sugar and butter, and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Transfer to prepared pan. Pat the mixture into the bottom and evenly all the way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until firm.

3/4 cup/150g light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
(in the alternative, you can substitute 1-3/4 tsp "pumpkin pie spice" for all these separate spices, the ratio will still be about the same)
1lb/454g cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup/180g pumpkin puree

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. Using a large bowl and an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the brown sugar mixture, beating until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin puree, beating until smooth. Pour into chilled crust and smooth top.

Bake until set or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

1 cup pecan halves
TBL. unsalted butter
TBL. granulated sugar

Pre-slice cake before garnishing

Set aside 10 pecan halves and coarsely chop the rest. In a small pan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add all the nuts, sprinkle with sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the nuts are toasted and coated. Transfer the mixture to a plate and cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Just before serving, slice the cake into 10-12 slices, then scatter the candied nuts over the cheesecake, and arrange the halves evenly around the perimeter. Serve with creme fraiche or lightly sweetened chantilly cream (perhaps laced with bourbon to bring out the pecan flavors).

We've entered this post in the Festive Food Fair event hosted by the lovely Anna at Morsels & Musings. This event highlights celebration foods from all traditions, East and West, and around the world. Look for the round-up starting the week of December 10-14th. I can't wait to see what wonderful stories and recipes are shared!

UPDATE: The Festive Food Fair Round-up has been posted
check it out HERE!


Food as Medicine: Ginger-scallion "tea"

Ingredients for ginger scallion tea

Most of this week we've been dealing with the flu. First T, now me. Our first line of defense during cold and flu season is ginger-scallion-cinnamon "tea." Making this drink, I can't help but think of the gifted healer and friend who taught me how to make it. During our first winter in Boston I was having a hard time dealing with the bitter cold, and any little cold often turned to bronchitis. Pam taught me how to make this drink to boost my immune system. In traditional Asian medicine, ginger, cinnamon and members of the Allium family, which includes scallions, are considered Yang, or warming energy. By the end of that winter, almost everyone in our office was drinking some form of this tea!

First you need a "hand of ginger" which is the large piece you see in the picture above. Washed well and lightly scrubbed, the ginger need not be peeled, but should be sliced. Then 2 large scallions, including the roots. (Pam was very specific that the roots must be kept intact.) Finally, a handful of cinnamon bark. If you're using the thicker rolled "cinnamon," you'll need 2 rolls. An optional ingredient is a pear, either the Asian nashi pear (in photo) or your favorite variety. The pear provides a very mild natural sweetness, and may be eaten separately as a treat or to soothe a cough.

Place all these in a large pot and cover with at least 4 quarts/liters of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer. After 30 minutes, remove the scallions and continue simmering for another 30 minutes.
Cooling tea bag full of cinnamon
After simmering for an hour, use a ladle to serve yourself some "tea" and enjoy while hot. This beverage, like the friend who shared its secret with me, is strong and full of energy, with only a hint of both sweetness (cinnamon) and earthiness (scallions) beneath it. It is most beneficial if drunk as is, but if you want to sweeten it, choose a natural sweetener such as stevia, agave or fresh fruit juice. Processed white sugar has actually been found to lower one's immune response for 5 hours after being consumed, so should be avoided.(A) Artificial sweeteners are increasingly shown to be cancer-causing and likewise should be avoided.(B)
Finished ginger tea

Let the pear cool for awhile in the liquid, then enjoy separately. In traditional Chinese medicine, pear is considered a "cooling" fruit that lubricates the lungs and quiets coughs.

Gingered pear is soothing for coughs

You don't have to wait for a cold or the flu to make this for yourself, in fact you may avoid getting either if you start boosting your immunity now. When we lived in places where the change of seasons was more noticeable, I started making this drink when the air started to get crisp, but here in Hawaii it's easier to forget that seasons still change and flu is always around the corner. Stay healthy, Everyone! And to Pammie, we will always think of this as "Pam's tea" — thank you for all your generous gifts to us!

(A) See the article: "Sugar's effects on your health"
(B) Learn more about the benefits of natural sweeteners and the dangers of artificial one: "Sugar substitutes and the potential danger of Splenda"

Honolulu's Chinatown: Come see what you've been missing

Lions greeting visitors to the Maunakea Marketplace Main entrance to Maunakea Marketplace
It's with great sadness that I read the growing number of reports about problems with foods and products made in mainland China. It gives one pause and certainly makes me look twice and thrice at labels. But I know I should do that anyway, regardless of where I buy something, whether it's a supermarket or an small ethnic grocery.

Many people we know have also told us they are wary of going to Chinatown here because they've heard it's scary or they've seen things on TV about high crime there. We heard the same thing about Boston's Chinatown when we lived in that area, and London's too. We didn't find those things to be true in those places either. I think it's a matter of being smart and careful, just as you would in any part of a large metropolitan area.
Colorful fruit stand at the Hotel Strret entrance to Maunakea Market Looking down Hotel Street toward River St. From Oahu Market, looking uptown
So I'd like to share the Honolulu Chinatown that we know and love. It's a terrific place. We try to go every couple of weeks for fresh produce, fish and seafood, bakery items, and a few dry goods. If you're interested in learning more about some of the unfamiliar items you might find on the store shelves, I highly recommend Linda Bladholm's
The Asian Grocery Store Demystified.

Where is it? Where do you park?
Chinatown is located Downtown Honolulu and is roughly bordered by Nimitz Highway to the south, River Steet (west), Beretania Street (north), and Nuuanu Avenue (east). Caveat: all these streets, except Nimitz are one-way. (
See a map from showing one-way streets) The street signs in Chinatown are pretty distinct, as they're written in both English and Chinese script.
Chinatown's unique street signs

Street parking is limited and 1-hour slots only (free Sundays and holidays), but there are municipal garages (pay half-hourly) on Smith (near Nimitz), Maunakea (near King), Nuuanu (past King), and Maunakea (near Beretania, at Chinese Cultural Plaza). Our favorite place to park, though, is at a private lot at the corner of Nuuanu and Nimitz (weekend rate, $4 all day til 5pm). We've been known to get to Chinatown for breakfast and not leave until after lunch so this is a good deal for us.
Philippine vegetable stand Freshest vegetables available Roasted and barbequed meats at Wing Loy
Where to buy:

  • Seafood: we go to the Troy Enterprise fish market (corner of King and Kekaulike Marketplace) for fresh whole moi (sweet white-meat fish) and Dungeness crabs (they will gut and scale the fish for you on request), and Da Kine Seafood (Maunakea, b/w King and Nimitz) also for Dungeness and for frozen seafood (they carry froglegs, French escargots — with or without butter, and crawfish tail meat if you're looking for such exotics); The Oahu Market (across Troy Enterprise) also has several different fish and seafood vendors; Wah Wah Seafoods (King/Keakaulike) has fresh fish and live frogs and eels; Seven Sisters (inside Maunakea Mktpl) has fresh local sweet shrimp
    • Fresh meat: market stalls at the Oahu Market and in Kekaulike Marketplace, and Maunakea Marketplace: you can find whole oxtail and other cuts of beef, sides of pork, fresh chickens
    • Produce: the market stalls on King, and in and around Kekaulike Marketplace can't be beat for price and selection (the early bird gets the best choices, they start opening around 6:30am)
    • Fresh noodles: we go to Yat Ting Chow Noodle Factory (King/River) for saimin, udon, and wonton, gyoza and mandoo wrappers; and Look Funn for plain, char siu or shrimp rice noodles
    • Chinese BBQ and roast meats: Eastern Food Center
    (King/Kekaulike Mkt), Wing Loy (Maunakea/Hotel), and Nam Fong (across from Wing Loy)
    • Pastries: Chinese (Lee, on King; Ruby's on Hotel; ) and Filipino (Pelio on Hotel); many dim sum houses will also carry pastries you can order for take-away
    • Chinese dry goods: There is the venerable Bo Wah (Maunakea/Hotel), but of course many many others throughout the area
    • Vietnamese dry goods: many along King Street between Kekaulike Mktplace and River St), 555 Market (King/Kekaulike Mkt)
    • Laotian: (Pauahi/Smith)
  • Thai: Hong Fa Market (Maunkea/Pauahi)
    • Manapua: Char Hung Sut (Pauahi/Smith); most bakeries will also carry different types of manapua
    • Cookware: China Arts on King/Maunakea has both carbon steel and stainless steel woks in a large range of prices and sizes, and other professional grade cookware and utensils; as well as tea sets, and serving and dinner ware
  • Acupuncture/Herbalists: as you might guess, there are quite a few in this neighborhood; we visit the acupuncturist at "Acupuncture and Herbs from China" (Nuuanu/Pauahi); she accepts certain types of insurance (unfortunately not ours), and can provide a receipt for insurance or FSA purposes
Entrance to acupuncture shop Entrance oto Summer Frappe smoothies shop Fresh fish market in the Troy Enterprise Bldg.
Where to eat: Where to begin? This area has quite a trove of dining opportunities and has something for every budget. You'd expect all flavors of Asian restaurants, but there are also Indian, Cuban, Mexican, a French bistro and others too. These are talked about elsewhere in the local press and blogosphere. Since we are rarely in Town in the afternoon, much less after dark, I can only tell you about our favorite breakfast and lunch locales. (Our rule of thumb when scoping out restaurants in an unfamiliar locale: look inside to see who eats there.)
  • The Maunakea Marketplace food court features Singapore, Malaysian, Filipino, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Laotian, Vietnamese and Indian stands. The first four are also open for breakfast, serving not only typical meat-egg entrees, but also warm noodle soups and rice porridges (congee, or arroz caldo at the Filipino stands). In the Maunakea Courtyard, fresh fruit smoothies are the real deal at Summer Frappe (see our post here)
  • The Eastern Food Center is a sit-down BBQ house that also opens early for breakfast, serving traditional breakfasts, but also succulent roast meats and warming congees.
  • There are many Vietnamese pho houses, but our go-to place is Pho 97 (Maunakea/entrance to Marketplace). Their Vietnamese crepe (made with mung beans and coconut milk), spring rolls, bun with BBQ pork, and pho have never disappointed. (Be prepared to wait at peak lunch hours)
  • Finally, there's Good Luck Dim Sum (Beretania/Maunakea). I was weaned on the glorious dim houses in San Francisco so I have to be able to choose my dumplings from a rolling cart, or I feel kind of cheated out of the dim sum experience. You get that full experience here, though the space is a bit small. Of course, you can also order anything off the extensive regular menu. We often order take-out from here, as dim sum makes great picnic food for an afternoon at Foster Gardens.

What else is nearby?
Don't miss Foster Gardens (Vineyard/Maunkea)! There's also an auction house (Nuuanu/King), Chinese antiques (Smith/King), art galleries, the Aloha Tower marketplace, and Fort Street mall shops. We often walk to the Hawaii State library and adjacent Iolani Palace grounds (King/Punchbowl), but that is probably a mile or so away. A nice walk when it's relatively cool out.

Coming soon:
Our favorite treasures from Chinatown (of course, most of them are edible ...)

It took longer than I hoped, but just in time for the Chinese New Year celebrations:
Best Buys in Chinatown

Bounty from the sea and a kind neighbor

Our neighbors Scott and Terry brought over this beautiful 2lb/1kg chunk of sashimi-grade ahi tuna! A friend of theirs caught it and shared it with them, and they have shared their incredible bounty with us and other neighbors. Wow, we are so-o lucky! This made three different meals for us. (Click on links for recipes)
Ahi  tuna Slices of ahi for peppered steaks

First, I pan-fried one slice with furikake (actually a Japanese nori and sesame topping for rice) a dish I learned here in Hawaii (Furikake Ahi). Oishi-katta!
Ahi furikake Ahi furikake with rice and takuan pickles

Two thicker slices were coated with mixed (white, black, Szechuan, green and rose) crushed peppers and quickly seared so the inside remains uncooked (T's favorite) Ahi with pepper crust. We served this with mashed potatoes, mashed Okinawan potatoes (purple mash on left), sesame sauteed warabi (fern greens) and shredded daikon namasu.
Ahi pepper filet

Lastly, I made a pasta sauce with the trimmed smaller pieces, cooked with roasted tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and oil Tonno Puttanesca. This base will have a splash of vinegar added before mixing for a cold pasta salad to take with us on Monday when we have to vacate the house for the termite exterminators (yikes!).
Ahi pieces cooked for pasta

Mahalo, Terry and Scott, for these three wonderful meals!

Our favorites: Summer Frappe smoothies

Sadly, we found Summer Frappe abruptly closed with no notice about a new location or any explanation, just a few weeks before we left Oahu. If Summer Frappe has re-opened in another location, please leave a comment below or email us and we will post the information.

Owner Summer Chau
One of Honolulu's best-kept secrets? Has to be Summer Frappe at the Maunakea Marketplace in Chinatown. Hands-down the best fresh fruit smoothies in the islands. No artificially-flavored powdered smoothies here. Owner Summer Chau uses recipes and techniques learned in her native Vietnam: adding only the freshest fruits in her smoothies, and no fillers, ice cream, yogurt or artificial flavors — just fruit, a little ice, a touch of sweetener (if needed) and enough water to blend. Mrs. Chau prepares each smoothie to order, and if the fruits she finds in the market don't meet her exacting quality standards (not ripe enough, not sweet enough, too stringy), she won't offer that flavor on a particular day. (The saddest news I can get from her: avocados not good today)

The prices here are crazy cheap ($3-4) for the ratio of fruit to ice & water in your smoothie. What you taste is fresh ripe fruit. Flavors include: fresh mango, papaya, pineapple, soursop, jackfruit, honeydew, durian(!), and avocado. There is also fresh orange and watermelon juices, and fresh lemonade.
Individually prepared smoothies Fresh fruits for your smoothie
The refrigerated shelves in this clean and cheerful shop are stocked with the beautiful blemish-free fruits used in the smoothies. You will also find prepared fresh fruit bowls that make a perfect take-away treat, and are great value.

Summer Frappe's newest offering: fresh-pressed juice, gotu kola, a.k.a. pennywort. Gotu kola has been gaining popularity in the West for its health benefits, including reducing hypertension and boosting the immune system. Mrs. Chau says she has regular customers in the Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian community who drink this fresh-pressed juice daily as a health tonic. She recommends sweetening the juice for first-time drinkers, but prefers it unsweetened herself. We both found the lightly sweetened drink very pleasant and grassy, although T admits his first impression was of lake water (he grew up swimming in Maine's fresh-water lakes). Since gotu kola tends to grow in wet marshy areas, this makes sense. We've tried the canned "pennywort drink" that's available in many Asian groceries before, and the fresh juice drink tastes very different.
Fresh_pressed gotu kola (pennywort) Fresh gotu kola

The ever-popular “bubble tea” drinks with the large chewy tapioca balls floating in various tea, coffee, and fruit flavors are also available at Summer Frappe. The bubble teas
do not have fresh fruit. But you can request tapioca "bubbles" for your fresh fruit smoothie for an extra 50 cents.
Avocado smoothie -- the best! Entrance to Summer Frappe
In Maunakea Marketplace Courtyard, Chinatown
(On Maunakea, between Hotel and Pauahi Streets)
Entering from the Maunakea Street entrance, it's to the right as you enter the courtyard

Double Mango Bread in Deutschland

Lavaterra, writing from Bavaria, in Germany put an overripe mango to good use by baking the mango bread recipe I submitted for World Bread Day (October 16). She is a prolific bread baker so I'm thrilled she was willing to try this recipe. Her bread seemed to have much more fruit through it, and I will update that recipe to include more dried mango. Check out her lovely bread here.

The double mango bread recipe was translated (not well, mind you) into German too: Doppelmango Brot hier.

To see more about the 183 recipes that were submitted for World Bread Day 2007, visit Zorra's incredible Round-up here.

What Brussels sprouts inspired

We found some incredibly fresh brussels sprouts at a market recently. They aren't local, but it's been so long since we've seen such fresh brussels sprouts that we had to buy them. I've always liked the German name for them, Rosenkohl, which means "rose cabbage." They do look like little green roses, don't they?

When they're so fresh, I like to cook sprouts in minimal amount of time so they retain their bright green color, crunch and sweet fresh flavor. So many people wrinkle their noses when they hear "brussels sprouts" — I know how they feel because I used to be one of them! If the only sprouts you've tried were boiled to death and a smelly flaccid green, then I hope one day you'll give them a second chance. They can and should be crunchy, sweet and full of healthful, cancer-busting goodness that their cruciferous cousins broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower also have.

So what to do with these little beauties? We felt overdue for a non-meat meal, so I began to think South Asian. We had made a dish once with cabbage and coconut so it seemed a natural to substitute the sprouts. The pantry turned up split yellow mung beans and potatoes so we settled on the following menu: a dry curry with brussels sprouts and coconut, tarka dal, and chaat potatoes. And store-bought naan (was in the freezer). The sprouts were wonderful prepared this way. I just wish I had had fresh coconut on hand (living on a tropical island, you'd think coconuts would be falling out of trees, wouldn't you? ... well, actually they do, but I didn't do the husking, cracking, grating thing for this ... sorry)

The best thing about having left over tarka dal is making a tortilla wrap with it the next day. It is so-o-o good. I actually put all these bits in a spinach tortilla and it was delicious. Cold, no need to heat anything up. Even better is if you make an aloo gobi and tarka dal wrap the next day. (Mmmm, guess what will appearing soon?)
Brussel sprouts with coconut and mustard seed

Brussels sprouts with coconut
1.25 lbs. (1/2 kilo) brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
2 TBL unsalted butter (or ghee if you have it)
1 TBL black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
3-5 TBL dried unsweetened coconut, or 1/2 cup fresh grated
3 TBL coconut milk (optional) - this is not in the cabbage recipe, I added it for liquid to help cook the sprouts

Boil water and briefly blanch sprouts (no more than a couple of minutes). Drain (keep some of the water) and cool. (I skipped this step)

Heat butter in pan and add mustard seeds. When seeds begin to pop (I love the smell of popping mustard seeds! It's like spicy popcorn), add ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and coconut. Warm spices.

If using coconut milk, add now. Add sprouts and coat with spices. Cover and lower heat.

If not using coconut milk, add sprouts and coat with spice mixture. Keep mixture moving in pan so spices don't burn. You may want to add some water from the blanching if the pan is too dry.

Cook until sprouts are just tender and still bright green. Remove from heat immediately.

Tarka dal

Tarka Dal
2/3 cup (160g) lentils, split peas or mung beans
2 cups (500ml) water
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt

For the Tarka
3-4 TBL unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
1-3 dried red chilies (had to leave these out this time)

Boil together the pulses, water, spices and salt. When the water reaches a boil, lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until the pulse reaches a soft consistency.

Meanwhile, prepare the tarka. Saute onions and garlic in butter until onions are translucent and starting to brown. Add crushed chilies and warm through. Remove from heat.

Add half of tarka to cooked dal and stir well. Remove dal to serving bowl and garnish top with remaining tarka.

Chaat Potatoes
2 large baking potatoes (about 1lb/.5kg)
3 TBL unsalted butter

2 TBL Bhel chutney, or date chutney
1 tsp honey
2 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp cayenne powder

Peel and cut potatoes into 1 inch dice. Melt butter in pan and fry potatoes on all sides.

Mix together chutney and honey in large bowl.
Combine chaat masala and cayenne powder.

Remove cooked potato cubes into bowl with chutney/honey mix, and coat well. Immediately sprinkle masala/chili mix and mix to coat well. Let cool a bit so flavors will blend.

These make a great drinks appetizer, too. Just serve with toothpicks.
Spicy chaat potatoes

Remembering World Pasta Day

World Pasta Day has come and gone for this year (it was October 25th), but it's always a good time to eat pasta, right? Rowena at Rubber Slippers in Italy told me they celebrate World Pasta Week in Italia! At any rate, if you feel the need for some inspiration, Verena at Mangia che te fa bene has posted a round-up with 18 recipes extolling the joys of pasta. Most of the posts are in Portuguese, at least one is in Dutch, but many have English translations if you need them. Enjoy!

What to pack for a visit to Guam

The "Lost in English" gang in Macerata, Italy are studying in an intensive English course and they're doing a meme about "what to pack for a visit to my hometown." It's a great way to get to know a little bit about Italy from insiders. I hope you give their site a look.

They've tagged all blogs (this means you too) to tell them about their hometowns. So far, someone from Maine has written to them. Now I'd like to share my hometown (island). No, not Oahu. Guam!

Where is Guam? Guam is an island on the 13' Latitude, which puts it in the North Pacific, about a 3 hour flight from Japan or the Philippine Islands. It's the western most U.S. territory, but is the first place in the U.S. to see the sun rise (hence, Guam's motto, "Where America's Day Begins") because it's across the International Date Line from Hawaii and the U.S. mainland (Sorry Maine ... )

What to pack for a trip to Guam?

Your swimsuit and sun protection: you'll want to spend the day on the beach and in the water, scuba diving, wind surfing, jet-skiing, sailing, or just enjoying the sandy beaches. Guam doesn't have too many surf spots. sorry.

Your appetite: Portions are generous and Guam has dishes that are unique in the world: start with a fiesta plate of red rice, chicken kelaguen (lemon coconut chicken salad), and BBQ ribs and chicken; and be sure to try the fried rosketi and melt-in-your-mouth guyuria cookies (a legacy of Guam's Spanish and Portuguese influence) before you go. But Guam is also a melting pot of cultures and cuisine: Filipino, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, even Italian and Mexican!

Your sense of adventure: Take a rental car and drive yourself around. Guam is a place with a lot of history. It was discovered by Europeans (the Chamorro people were already there) when Magellan arrived in 1521; it was traded to the U.S. by Spain at the end of the 19th century; it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and liberated by the US Marines in 1944. Visit the Guam Museum and the War in the Pacific National Historical Park to learn more. Also stop by the Latte Stone Park -- I don't think anthropologists are completely sure what purpose these ancient stone formations served, but they have become an icon of Guam's culture. (BTW, in this case, Latte rhymes with "batty," it's not pronounced like the coffee drink!)
Money (US$): The tourist areas of the island are largely resort areas (Hilton, Hyatt, etc etc) and prices are comparable to those here on Waikiki. But if you've packed your sense of adventure then you'll get away from the touristy areas!

Words to know before you go: "Hafa Adai" (hof ah-day) is Guam's equivalent of "Aloha"; the local indigenous population are "Chamorro," but residents of the island are "Guamanian" (I've heard Guamese, Guamolian, Guambat, and Guamer (in Germany), but these are all incorrect!)

For a virtual tour of the island, visit the Guam Visitors Bureau tour pages, or see highlights of Guam's historic places.

Food as Medicine: Artichokes

Artichoke in bloom

Food as medicine is an ancient concept, of course. It has a documented history over 5000 years in Asia, and at least a couple millenia in Europe. And now much of traditional lore about chicken soup to treat colds, and garlic to ward off illness is now backed by scientific study.

To explore this further, I've borrowed a book from the library called, “Herbs, Demystified” by Holly Phaneuf, PhD. It’s not part of
Linda Bladholms’ similarly-titled series explaining the mysteries of ethnic groceries, instead Dr. Phaneuf writes in plain-speak (most of the time) about the medicinal value of and clinical research, if any, behind some of the herbs and plants that are gaining popularity as medicinal and wellness foods. (The book is subtitled: “A Scientist Explains How the Most Common Herbal Remedies Really Work”)

Take artichokes, for instance. I love artichokes, but never thought of them as a medicinal food until earlier this year when I saw a local TV program highlighting healthy eating. The show featured 2 local naturpathic doctors who use both food and alternative therapies as medicine in their practice. One of the doctors is of Vietnamese descent and described how her grandmother would make a “tea” by simply boiling halved artichokes. She recommended it for maintaining good liver function and said it promotes clear skin.

When I had cooked artichokes before, it was always in highly seasoned (lemons, onions and peppers) water, which was then discarded. I'm always drawn to “grandmother wisdom,” though, so we decided to try it. We were expecting a bitter or funny-tasting brew, but were happily surprised it had a clean, mildly sweet, and pleasant taste. In fact, it tasted exactly like an artichoke heart. We’ve since adopted the practice of boiling artichokes in plain water, so we can also drink the “tea” afterwards.
Lovely organic chokes Halved artichokes 2 Treats: Artichokes and
And now we have Dr. Phaneuf’s explaination about why this may or may not be a good practice. She concludes her six page review of research into artichokes by saying:
  • they contain beneficial anti-oxidants,
  • may reduce cholesterol,
  • may improve both HDL/LDL cholesterol ratios and
  • may improve bile production (hence, digestion).
She also warns, however, that further research is needed about whether artichokes can worsen an existing gallstone condition, and whether they deplete valuable CoQ enzymes. She also cautions that people who are allergic to other members of the daisy family (which also includes chamomile, milk thistle, dandelion and echinacea), may be allergic to artichokes too. Please refer to pages 31-37 of Dr. Phaneuf’s book for her full article. And of course don’t attempt any changes in your medical program (for instance, stop taking your prescriptions and eating artichokes instead!) without consulting with your medical provider.
If Dr. Phaneuf's caveats don't apply to you, then "A Santé!" "Zum Wohl!" "Kampai!" "Salud!"

(UPDATE - 7 APRIL 2008 - To wash artichokes, especially if you intend to drink the "tea," it is important to clean away as much pesticide residue as possible from non-organic produce. Following the advice from this NPR story, "
What does it take to clean fresh food," instead of just spraying the vegetables, I prefer to soak the artichokes in a solution of 1/2 cup of white vinegar in 1 gallon of water (2 TBL. of vinegar to 1 liter/quart water). This allows the solution to get between all the packed leaves. Then rinse under running water, and drain.)

What do you do with the artichoke after making "tea"? Try
Stuffed Artichokes with Italian-style Dressing or South Asian Style Stuffing.

Read more about the health benefits of artichokes at,


Warming a chilly Leeward morning

Bocha (aka Pocha): Tibetan butter tea

For the last month or so I've been thinking about a tea we tried last January when we took a quick trip to the Pacific Northwest to visit my brother's family. Wouldn't you know it, it was the coldest days they had had there in 30 years or something. The roads were icy, the wind bit through our wool coats, clouds hung practically on our heads, and only the bravest of souls were out. On a drive back to our hotel, we happened on a Tibetan restaurant, Lungta. Never having had Tibetan cuisine before, it was a no-brainer that we would stop and try it. The food was exquisite, with some of the most subtle and delicious seasoning I've ever encountered. But the true revelation was the unusual butter tea. On the menu it was called Bocha, and was described as "lightly buttered, salted & churned with milk." We asked our waitress about it and she gave us fair warning that most people don't like it on first taste, but that it was sort of the national drink in her country. She also said it was very “warming.” On such a day, it sounded like it might be a winner. (You have to figure that Tibetans know a little something about how to keep warm in bitter weather.) She soon produced large mugs of a milky tea with a trace of butter on the surface.

First sip: OK, that's different — I've never had salt in my tea before, and I rarely add milk to tea either. But the spread of heat down and through the chest was a welcome sensation, and certainly worth a second sip. By the third sip, we were both hooked and loving the “heatiness” it provided — it was more than just the physical sensation of drinking a warm beverage, it was a warmth that went down to your toes. Before we left we asked the proprietor about the Bocha, and what special type of tea she used. She was genuinely surprised we liked the tea, and was kind enough to bring out a brick of dark pungent leaves to show us. We asked if it was something we could find in a shop nearby, but she told us she didn't know of a source, and said that friends send her the tea. So that was that. Nice experience, recommended Tibetan cuisine to any one who cares about good food, and soon returned to Oahu.

Eight months later and I'm craving this butter tea. It's not exactly cold here, but lately after midnight the temperature has been dropping below ... 70°F/21°C!! I know folks on the Mainland and elsewhere will have little sympathy for us, but that's pretty cool temperatures for around here. : - )

I found a few recipes for butter tea on the web, but the most helpful was from the Tibetan Assn. of Northern California at
Lobsang's Tibetan recipes. On this site it is called Po Cha and the recipe seems straightforward enough: you need black tea, salt, butter and full-cream milk. And a chandong, or churn for making tea. (If anyone knows where I can get one of these, please let me know!) The original Bocha is made with yak butter or milk, but we were a bit short on that so we went with unsalted butter from cow's milk.

I’m not much of a black tea drinker, except as iced tea, so in deciding on a tea to use I opted for the kind I used to send my tea-loving mother by the bags full — Lipton’s Yellow Label black tea. This was not available on Guam, so wherever we have lived, one of my first missions was always to seek out a new source of Yellow Label to keep mom supplied. These are available in Oriental shops, especially Chinese groceries, everywhere we have lived except here in Hawaii. Fortunately the Indian grocery carries 2 types of Yellow Label, the regular one, and another that is produced in India (shown here). But plain black tea just didn't smell as fragrant and earthy as I remembered the tea brick at Lungta being. One site I found mentioned using Pu-erh tea instead of black tea, so I used a mix of 1/3 Pu-erh and 2/3 Yellow Label.
Pu-erh teaYellow Label black tea
First we made a double strength tea (2 heaping TBL black, and 1 heaping TBL pu-erh, simmered with 4 cups water and reduced to 2 cups liquid). Then added 1 TBL butter, 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 cup half-and-half. And since I don't have a chandong (yet) and I'm a little leery of spinning hot liquids in closed containers at high speed, I opted to use a stick blender. This step emulsifies the butter into the tea.
Blending to emulsify butter

Now what to nibble with this delicious heat-y tea? Seemed a good opportunity to try something from all those new recipes collected from the
World Bread Day round-up. Something that wouldn't require turning on the full oven. In the end, we went with Hannah's vegetarian butterscotch bread, with the following adjustments. There was no vegetarian butterscotch pudding mix to be found at either of Oahu's 2 main health food shops so I turned to my over-stocked pantry to see what I had for substitutes. We had a powdered flan mix that comes with its own caramel sauce: the ingredient list had no gelatin so I hope it qualifies as vegetarian.

Soy milk disagrees with both of us, but we do use almond milk, and Hannah emailed to say it was an acceptable substitute for soy (Thanks, Hannah!). I only have olive oil for cooking and baking, so I substituted an equal amount for the canola in Hannah’s recipe. Also, I used less sugar because I wanted to use the liquid caramel flavoring from the flan mix for the extra flavoring.
As much as I hated to, I omitted the chocolate chips ONLY because we’re making this to complement the butter tea and it didn’t seem like the chocolate would mesh well with the salty tea.
Bocha and Butterscotch bread

The Verdict
The tea was delicious and hit the right notes from our memory of that first taste of Bocha. It is a very rich and filling tea, thanks to the half and half and butter, of course. Not something you really want to drink on a regular basis unless you have a chance to work it off outdoors in a cold clime. It would make a great pre-ski or pre-Volkswanderung drink. I wouldn't recommend adding a sweetener to this beverage, and if you aren't used to drinking tea without a sweetener, you might literally find this tea hard to swallow. You may want to have sweet cake or cookie on the side to round out your experience.

The bread was a super moist loaf with a great chewy crust and delicious caramely butterscotchy flavor. T admits that he is not a big fan of vegetarian baking (he usually passes on treats at the health food bakery), but he was the first to say how pleasantly surprised he was by how flavorful, light and moist this quick bread is. The mild sweetness was a perfect counterpoint to the salty rich tea.

Here is the final recipe, with the original quantities/ingredients noted in parentheses.

Butterscotch bread
Butterscotch Bread
(Original by Hannah, as adapted by manju)

1 cup/ 250ml almond milk (Soymilk)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup/ 145g granulated brown sugar,
aka “raw” sugar or demerara (1 cup/190g sugar)
1/4 cup/ 60 ml. olive oil (canola oil)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Caramel flavoring packet from flan mix
1 cup/ 100g all-purpose flour (1 ½ cup/ 150g)
1 cup/ 90g whole wheat pastry flour (½ cup/ 45g)
1 2.75 oz. package
Goya flan mix (Dr. Oetker’s butterscotch pudding)
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
(optional) ½ cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven 350F/ 180C. Butter/oil loaf pan.

In large mixing bowl, add vinegar to almond milk and set aside to curdle.

In separate bowl, combine both flours, flan mix powder, baking soda and powder and salt, and sift well together.

Beat vinegar/milk mixture until frothy. Add sugar, oil, vanilla and caramel packet and beat again until sugar dissolves.

Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, mixing well after each incorporation. Pour into prepared pan and bake 35-50 minutes, depending on your pan, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in pan 15 minutes, then on rack until completely cool. Use serrated knife to slice.

Treats for ghosts and superheroes: What's in your bowl?

We don't really gear up for Halloween at our house, but we are looking forward to the parade of costumes and giggles that will stop by tonight. This year it was great to see that more local producers are making Halloween size treats, and I picked two of my favorites: Halloween-shapes arare (rice crackers in bones, bats and pumpkin shapes) and gummy insects. Here's a peek at what you'll get if you come to our house on Halloween. What's in your bowl?

World Pasta Day: Homemade Pasta

** This a "talk story" post. In Hawaii, to "talk story" is to share memories and tell stories. **

When I received
Verena's invitation (from "Mangia che te fa bene") yesterday to participate in World Pasta Day, which is Thursday, October 25th, the first thing that came rushing back was our last trip to Italy in 2003. We had such fun exploring the Cinque Terra, the 5 sparkling sea cliff villages on the Italian riviera that have been designated a World Heritage site. More on that in a bit, but first the pasta.

Immediately after returning from that trip, I felt compelled to make pasta at home to take advantage of this beautiful wondrous mushroom called Ovoli we found in the markets at
Chiavari (the town we stayed in). I'm sorry this picture doesn't do it justice because it was taken 4 days after we bought it, and after a train ride, overnight in Bologna (sigh . . . Bologna), plane trip to Germany, 2-hour car ride home, etc. You can see it retained it's lovely orange color, despite our abuse.
Prized ovoli mushroom

We were there around this time of year (October) and it was mushroom season and the markets were full of all kinds of incredible mushrooms. I don't speak Italian besides being able to order coffee, and inquire about a price (but not understand the answer). That's what happened with these mushrooms. I was so taken with them that I just selected 2 and handed them to the proprietor. And she handed me a receipt for . . . (gasp) 20+ Euros. The Euro-USD exchange rate was better then that it is now, but that was still about $19. This was for 260g of mushrooms -- yes, that works out to about $40/lb!! I looked at her sign for the first time (I was too enthralled with the mushrooms to see it earlier) and yes, it said 80 Euros per kilo. A sane person might have said, oh, sorry, my mistake, I won't be taking these. Instead I thought, wow, these must be good, I have to try them! I asked the proprietor (in German, it was our only semi-common language) to write down the name of the mushroom in Italian, which she was kind enough to do.

So, no dried pasta for these babies, it had to be from scratch. I also did a mad search on the web for any information on the Ovoli and recipe ideas on how to take most advantage of it's unique flavors. I wanted a recipe as simple as possible, so the Ovoli would not be overshadowed by any other ingredient.

Egg Pasta
500g/ 4 cups durum flour (Type 00), aka "pasta flour" in the US
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp salt

Mix flour and salt. Make a mound of the flour and a well in the center. Add the egg yolks and starting from the middle, incorporate the yolks into the flour (this is messy but fun!). Gradually add flour from the sides until all flour is incorporated. Flour your hands, start kneading until the dough comes together and does not stick so much. Cover with damp towel and let rest while assembling pasta maker. We will finish the kneading with the pasta maker/roller.
Flour, egg yolks, salt

Set your pasta maker on the largest setting. Sprinkle flour very generously over the pasta roller. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take the first piece and flatten it with your hands so it will fit through the rollers. (Keep the other pieces under a damp towel.) Crank it all the way through. It will look something like this.
First pass through the roolers
Not very appetizing yet. Fold the dough and pass it through the rollers again. This action is actually doing the kneading for you.

After 2-3 times at the largest setting, go to the next smaller setting on your roller, and pass it through 2 times. Remember to fold the dough after it comes out of the rollers!
Dough after 6 passes

Set the rollers down at the third setting and roll through again. Now it's starting to resemble pasta . . .

Roll through the third setting one more time (don't forget to fold). This is a before and after view of the dough.
Pasta dough before and after kneading
After the last roll, cut your kneaded dough again into 3 pieces. Bring your roller setting down to the last setting, and put the short end of the dough through for the final roll. This is for the thinness of the dough. (Sorry, no picture of that)

Now go to the cutting side of your roller and put the paper-thin pieces of dough through to be cut. Sprinkle with more flour, gather lightly and leave to air dry. Isn't that beautiful? Fresh fettucine.
Pasta is cut into its final shapeFresh fettucine drying
But wait, we've only made one of those bundles so far. You have to go back and finish cutting the 2 other pieces of kneaded dough. Then there are still 3 pieces of unkneaded dough that have to go through the whole process. Hard work? A bit, but it's the kind of repetitious work, like making bread, that is meditative as well. If you're not in the mood to be meditative, put on your favorite music, open a nice Montepulciano and have fun with your work!

Ovoli saffron Sauce (made this up after a web search)
2 Ovoli, about 250g, cleaned gently with a towel and lovingly sliced
1-2 TBL olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 TBL unsalted butter
4-5 TBL creme fraiche
pinch of Saffron
sea salt to taste

Warm creme fraiche gently and add saffron to infuse.

Sear mushroom pieces in hot pan with minimal (no more than 2 tsp) oil. You want them to brown, not lose their juices. Remove them from pan. In same pan, add rest of olive oil and lower heat. Add garlic and saute until soft. Add butter and saffron-creme fraiche, and let them warm through. Turn heat to medium high and return mushrooms to pan. Heat through. Remove from heat and season as needed with salt. Mangia!
Fettucine in Saffron Ovoli Sauce
Fettucine with Ovoli Saffron Sauce

I hope now you will indulge me the nostalgia for the lovely places that inspired this cooking. The
Cinque Terre are the five villages (from south to north) of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. There is a cliff-side trail that connects the villages. We started first from the south, in Riomaggiore, and took our time to visit in each village. We stopped for a late lunch in Corniglia, the middle village, and took the train back to Chiavari for the night. Now a word to the wise, the trail that starts in the south, at Riomaggiore is a wide boulevard, paved and often with guard rails. We thought the whole trail was like that. But we were wrong.

View of Riomaggiore from the start of the trail
From the trail

Entering Manarola from the trail, and down its main street
Entering Manarola fr the south Manarola's main street

The only way to reach the town of Corniglia from the train station is up this switchback staircase! That'll work up your appetite.
Switchback staircase to Corniglia Fresh and fried, that's how we like it!

We started the next day at the northernmost village, Monterosso, and headed on the trail south to the village of Vernazza. The trail starts off as it did in Riomaggiore, paved and with rails, as you can see in this picture looking back at Riomaggiore from the beginning of the trail.
Northernmost village of Monterosso Trail leaving Monterosso

But it becomes this, and this. At one point, there is a narrow foot path (so narrow that my size 6 1/2, Euro 37, feet could not stand together on the trail) hugging the cliff-line for about 200 feet. We have no pictures of that because our fingers were dug into the cliff as we shuffled, crab-like, through that part!
The pavement and railing is gone after the first half-hour on the trail More on the trail

But after 2 1/2 hours hiking you see the light at the end of this dusty tunnel. The jewel of a village that is Vernazza.

Heading south on the cliff-side trail to Vernazza The gleaming jewel that is Vernazza

Thanks for taking that journey back with me. It's back to Hawaii and the present day in the next post, promise.

Happy World Pasta Day!

Come sample the breadbasket

Zorra, aka kochtopf, has done an incredible job organizing the 183 entries she received for this year's World Bread Day event. Come sample from this wonderful international breadbasket! The Round-Up is on-line now. Be inspired, be brave (delurk), and find your inner baker!


International recipe conversions made easier

Converting measures the old-fashioned way

Sharing recipes with friends and acquiring cookbooks while traveling and living overseas has occasionally left me playing the conversion game. This isn't so bad when you're converting similar measurements (like volume, cups to liters). But it's maddeningly slow work when you have to cross between the U.S. standard of measuring dry goods by volume (like cups of flour or sugar) to a metric weight standard. One cup of flour doesn't weigh the same as one cup of brown sugar. In the past, I've patiently measured out my ingredients in cups, then dumped them onto an electronic kitchen scale, before faithfully recording the weight into a translated recipe. I've done the same in reverse, translating recipes from other countries for my American friends. It can be slow and tedious work.

If you're nodding your head sympathetically as you read this, then you'll want to click on the link that is winking at you in the sidebar. This is no ordinary conversion site because it has a unique tool just for international foodies -- it's called the On-line Cooking Converter. With one click this tool will instantly give you 7 conversions from US/British pounds, ounces, fluid ounces, pint, cup, teaspoon or tablespoon to European metric kilogram, gram, liter, mililiter, cup, teaspoon and tablespoon, or vice versa.

But that's not even the best part. There's a menu of almost 200 different wet and dry goods (different types of flours and sugars, even) from which to choose before making the conversions. As you would expect, the differences can be dramatic. One cup of regular flour is 99 grams, one cup of brown sugar is 201 grams. Now all you have to do is take a copy of your recipe and go to the Cooking Converter at, and call up your ingredients and plug in your values. Voila, your measurements are converted!

This tool is available for use on the
Convert-me,com site for free! When you click on the link, look in the right-hand column for "Cooking Conversion" to try this tool for yourself.

When I was preparing the
Double Mango Bread recipe for World Bread Day, I knew our host, kochtopf, has many readers in Europe and Asia so I wanted to provide the metric measures for those readers. I checked my manually-weighed measurements against those on the "Cooking Conversion" tool and it checked out. I hope that many other people will find it useful, too. I'm happy to spread the news about any tool or product that makes it easier to share recipes, and that might make people more likely to cook (or bake)!!

There is also a free Google gadget from that will calculate simpler like-to-like measurements (lengths, volumes, weights, etc.) which you can make available on your website or load on your Google homepage. I tried to put it in my sidebar here but it was much too big. But you can still try out this cool little converter for yourself at the
Test Kitchen. If you like it, you can download it for yourself at the Convert-me site.


World Bread Day: Double Mango Bread

(Rezept auf Deutsch hier)

Mango Bread for breakfast

There are few things that call to mind Home and Love more readily than home-baked bread. Even people who don’t grow up with home-baked bread (like me) will feel emotional strings tugged when the aromas and textures of baking bread are evoked. Bread-making also invites Taoist mindfulness and a visceral connection to our food: the frothy wakening of yeast; the rhythmic meditative kneading; the long anticipation of the rises; the glorious aroma of baking bread filling the kitchen; and the simple happiness of having homemade bread in the house. So when I heard about World Bread Day, it was just the catalyst I needed to resolve to start baking again. I’ve dusted off my baker’s apron, scrounged around for the oven thermometer, pulled out my favorite fruit yeast bread recipe and bought some bread flour — so here we go!

When we moved to the hot and dry Leeward side of Oahu 2 years ago, we opted to forego air conditioning. Cool island tradewinds provide comfortable living temperatures 85% of the time, and we’ve learned work-arounds for the 15% when it’s either cloudy and humid, or scorching and windless. One thing we learned early on is: don’t use the oven unless you absolutely, positively HAVE TO. So far, we haven’t had to. T has become a master roaster with the outdoor propane grill, even roasting the Thanksgiving turkey to golden perfection last year. Our large capacity toaster oven does the bulk of the roasting for our small household, everything from whole chickens to loaf quick breads and brownies to roast potatoes and veg. The two things I haven’t made since we came to the Islands are bread and cookies because these both require the large capacity of a full-size oven for proper air circulation and distance from the heating elements.

First, the recipe. I’ve often made the Banana and Cardamom Bread from
1000 Classic Recipes — it produces a mildly sweet, fragrant and dense loaf with a lovely surprise of cardamom in the nose. Now that I have something I’ve never had in my life — access to fresh tree-ripe mangos — I want to substitute an equal amount of mango pulp for the bananas, and ground coriander for the cardamom and see what we get. I also want to add some dried mango because I know from all these years of oatmeal-making that the combination of fresh and dried fruit adds complexities in flavor notes. I think that will really be true in this case because 2 different mango varieties (dried Manila, and fresh Pirie) will be featured in this recipe. I’ll also take notes on measurement conversions for our friends who are metric.

Second, the timing. To do this and not live IN an oven for the rest of the day, I’ll have to plan to bake in the wee small hours of the morning. Which is OK, because I’m usually up early anyway. But to allow the dough a proper rise, I’ll have to start at least 3 hours before baking. Thank goodness for French Roast coffee.

Third, take advantage of having the oven on. My dad always says, if you’re going to turn on the oven, you better make full use of it. He’s right, of course. Pre-heating an oven consumes most of the energy spent in its use. So if we’re going to turn on the whole oven for a loaf of bread, then we’re going to make cookies too. I want to try using wolfberries in something other than oatmeal or soup, so I’ll make a batch of oatmeal cookie dough, using wolfberries and blueberries instead of raisins. These can bake while the bread is in its last hour of rising out of the fridge.

It’s six o’clock on a cool Oahu morning, I’m on my second mug of French Roast and the dough is in the oven. I’m a little surprised how easily it all came back — the mixing, the kneading rhythm, checking the “proof,” even the clean-up.
Sticky mango dough out of the bowl Dough after 10 minutes of knedaing
When the dough first came together in the bowl, it was pretty wet and sticky, but I loved its deep orange color. I heavily dusted my work space with flour, dumped out the dough, then sprinkled it with lots more flour and floured my hands before starting to knead. Once the kneading started, it was very easy to fall into a meditative mode. Watching the dough start to come together and take form as something so much more than just the sum of it parts; to see the flour proteins stretch and gather, stretch and gather; it was al kind of mesmerizing. I had set a timer for 10 minutes and was startled when it went off. I was happy to see the lovely color was retained and evenly distributed through the dough.
Rolled dough in loaf pan Place pan in oiled plastic bag Risen dough after 2 hours
Looking at my pictures, I didn’t do a very good job of the final shaping of the dough before placing it in the loaf pan and tying it off. If the ballooned plastic bag thing looks too complicated, use your own favorite method for covering your dough while it’s rising.

The biggest stickler I encountered was with my oven. Since I’ve never used it, I’m not at all familiar with its heating properties, and I found out after the first batch of goji-blueberry oatmeal cookies came out that it tends to run cool (the oven thermometer said it was running a hefty 30 degrees cooler than the stated temperature — that’s a lot!). Luckily, there was still time to get the heat up to the right internal temp before the bread was done proofing.

After a 2-hour rise, the dough was ready for the oven. I was so excited that I forgot to add the glaze (I’m a little out of practice). That’s OK, I have a work-around for that. When the aroma first hits you, it’s the simple earthy smell of baking yeast bread — the fruit doesn’t develop until it’s actually out of the oven. (Fresh unsalted butter over the to
p of the hot loaf provides some shine and helps to soften the crust a bit.)

Cooling Mango bread Melted butter glazes the hot bread for shine

Now the hardest part of the whole operation: waiting for the bread to cool before slicing. You can try slicing it while it’s still warm, but I tend to smoosh the bread and then am left with an unattractive, if still delicious, loaf for the rest of its days (or hours). I think I may try this recipe again as rolls so I can eat it hot and not have to worry about the slicing thing.

Dense and fruity mango bread

We loved it. It was the chewy, dense, mildly sweet and very fruity bread we were expecting. The mango flavors are great, but we started with tree-ripened Pirie mangos, so it’s hard to go wrong on that note. Whatever your mangos smell like when you’re adding them to the dough, that’s what flavors and smells you’ll get in your loaf. The dried Manila mangos added intense flavors that were very distinct from the Pirie flavors. I think if you can get fresh Manila (they were called "champagne mangos" in the Mainland) mangos and can bear not eating them straight out of your fist, then the fresh and dried Manila mango will really make this bread sing. One disappointment was that no coriander came through at all, so I would up the amount to a full teaspoon next time.

A word to the wise, while this IS a fruit bread, it isn’t a soft, fluffy, sweet bread, the way a cinnamon-raisin bread might be. You can see the recipe calls for only 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar. In the original recipe, the bananas (especially overripe bananas which is what I would normally use) provided a lot of sweetness and the 2 TBL were just enough to give the bread a boost. I liked the delicious mango flavor that carried through in this loaf, but I would adjust the recipe to add 2 more Tablespoons of brown sugar to make it more like the original banana recipe. This is still not enough to make it a “sweet bread” just closer to the original.

Also, this is a chewy loaf, provided by the heavier bread flour. We had thick slabs of bread with a bit of unsalted butter with breakfast, and it was onolicious. It’s also a great toasting bread, and makes a novel grilled cheese (try mozzarella or provolone) or grilled peanut butter sandwich.

I’d like to try this recipe again using plain flour (instead of bread flour) to get a lighter, airier loaf. If anyone does it before I do, I’d love to get your feedback on how it comes out. Until then,
Happy World Bread Day, Everyone! To see more wonderful bread recipes celebrating World Bread Day, visit our host, kochtopf.

(UPDATE: 11/11/07
Lavaterra made this bread too, and I liked how hers had lots more dried mango pieces, so I would recommend the maximum amount of dried mango, even up to double this amount *)

Double Mango Bread
Mis en place
In small bowl, mix together:
1 packet dry yeast
2/3 cup (150 ml) lukewarm water
1 Tbl. (15g) brown sugar

Dissolve yeast completely and leave for 5 minutes.

Sift together:
3 1/2 cups (500g) bread flour
1 tsp. (5g) sea salt
½ - 1 tsp. (3-6g) ground coriander
1 - 3 Tbl. (15-45g) brown sugar (depends on sweetness of mango, see notes bove)

Place in large bowl and make well in center. Once yeast is foaming, add to center of flour, and mix well.

Fruit from 2-3 mangos (about 1/2 cup or 150g)
¼-½ cup (70g - 140g) chopped dried mango * (1/2-3/4 cup [140g-210g] dried mango)
and mix again.

Flour your work surface and turn dough out. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If dough is too sticky, sparingly sprinkle additional flour over dough, one tablespoonful at a time, incorporating well after each addition.

Shape dough and turn into loaf pan. Place in a clean plastic bag, “balloon” bag to trap air and tie off. Leave in a warm place until double in size.

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Mix together
2 Tbl. (30ml) milk
1 tsp water

Remove pan from bag. With pastry brush, gently glaze top of dough.

Bake for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 400°F (200°C). Bake another 15 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

See also
Mango-Stuffed French Bread and
Double Mango Wholewheat Quickbread

Doppelmango Brot: Das Rezept auf Deutsch? (With apologies to native German speakers, this translation was an exercise for me to practice reading and writing German)


Celebrating culture, honoring our ancestors

Banner for 2007 Okinawa Festival
Everyone loves a good fest. Food, music, drink, maybe dancing — what’s not to love? Earlier this month the Hawaii United Okinawa Association held its 25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival at the beautiful Kapiolani Park, between Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. We were there only on Saturday evening for the bon odori, or obon dance.

Obon is a Buddhist festival of gratitude towards and celebration of one’s ancestors. Traditional group dances of colorfully dressed professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists alike circle a tower, called a yagura, ringing with drummers, musicians and singers. I love watching the dancers’ faces. Some seem contempletive and serene, whether they are thinking of their loved ones now gone or simply intent on the music. Others are clearly enjoying the camaraderie of the present, laughing and teasing someone nearby. Still other brave souls venture into the fray not knowing the dance steps and openly copying the movements of a more confident dancer in their view. All are welcome and encouraged, which is what makes bon odori so much fun.

Singers on stage, Okinawa fest 2007
Singers lead the dancers at this year's festival

Traditional yagura, 2006 festival
A more traditional yagura at the 2006 Okinawa Festival

Learning bon odori young!
This little guy knows that if you don't know the steps, you just follow someone who does!

Before the dancing begins at dusk, the festival is alive with markets, exhibits, games, and food booths. There’s a craft market, a nursery, an open farmers’ style market, and a food market of Okinawan favorites: black sugar cookies, bittermelon teas and beverages, Okinawan style noodles and kombu.

Refreshments for every taste
So many food and drink booths from which to choose

Hot andagi!
These dedicated andagi makers go non-stop to fill the demand for the delicious doughnuts

Pig;s feet soup The Andaddog
Ashibitchi and Andadog --- does it get any better?

To build one’s stamina before putting on the dance togs, fresh-cooked Okinawan specialties are also available: aschibitchi (pigs’ feet soup), chanpuru ( tofu scramble), yakisoba (fried noodles), and andagi (fried doughnuts). Last but not least, there’s the piece de resistance -- the Andadog, Hawaii Okinawans’ answer to the corn dog.

11 September: Heal yourself, heal the world

Dragonfly emerges

Two years ago this day fell on a Saturday, and I went with T to a Reiki class that was taught by a colleague from work. He had come home from work a couple of weeks earlier with a brochure for this teacher’s class, and said he would like to sign us both up to learn the technique. What was it, a type of massage? I asked. He wasn’t really sure, something about energy transfer, he thought. I read the brochure, and said, why not. With no other preparation or understanding of what to expect, I went.

Six years ago this day fell on a Tuesday. It was a clear cool New England morning and I was excited about the prospect of my parents finally meeting T’s parents in their home in Maine. T’s parents were not able to attend our wedding so this was a much anticipated first. We lived in Boston at the time and my parents and my mom’s best friend were visiting from Guam and Okinawa, respectively. As we began the drive north, the radio was reporting strange events in the skies around the East Coast. It was unclear, but it sounded like there was a plane crash in New York City and a building was hit.

Our instructor, CB, talked to us about the history of Reiki, its precepts, and how it worked. Reiki is a form a energy healing and balancing that was developed and named by Japanese researcher and teacher, Usui Mikao, in the late 19th century. Dr. Usui studied many ancient healing arts in Asia, including India. He distilled what he learned into the practice he called, Reiki -- a term coined from the Japanese word, Rei, meaning “universal” and Ki, meaning “life energy.” For me, the most intriguing thing CB said was that in Reiki, the healer does not direct or in any way control the energy — she is only a conduit; instead, it is the patient’s responsibility to accept the energy, which flows always where it is needed most.

We were not expected at T’s parents’ house until the late afternoon, but planned stops at the LLBean store and a visit to T’s adolescent home near Bowdoin College for a lobster lunch. At Bean’s, there was a wall-sized TV screen that was tuned to CNN and was following that strange story we heard on the radio. While my mom and my “aunt” and I trolled the floors, T and my dad gravitated to the TV. After about 20 minutes, T came looking for us with the horrific news — another plane hit another building, maybe a third in DC, more somewhere else. There was speculation it was all coordinated. As we all headed to the TV, the first tower in New York collapsed on screen and cries and gasps filled the store. Everyone stood dumbstruck. Many people started crying. Someone mentioned Pearl Harbor, and looked right at us.

More Reiki instruction and a meditation session preceded lunch, after which, revived in mind and body, we were initiated into healing. Immediately afterward, each student took a turn as a “patient” to receive Reiki from the others. This was our opportunity to see what Reiki felt like as a recipient, and gave us 5 chances to practice hand placements in healing others. Although a patient may lie (fully clothed) on a massage table, as we did that day, Reiki may also be administered to someone sitting upright. When I took my turn, I was surprised by how relaxed I felt. The second thing I noticed was the different degrees of heat I could feel in different parts of my body, except at my feet. Gentle pulses of coolness radiated from the tops of my feet and up my leg. Around the other five parts where a healer had placed his or her hands, although no one was physically touching me, I could feel heat. Some felt as hot as an electric hot pad on the high setting (one was T, I learned later), another a milder but more focused warmth. The overall feeling was one of deep relaxation. Half of the students fell asleep when it was their turn on the table.

T’s dad was the head of aviation safety for the state of Maine six years ago, and as the extent of the disaster dawned on us, T knew his dad was going to be called to coordinate the state’s response. A call home confirmed that he was already on his way in and that there was talk about completely shutting down US airspace. Given the uncertainties of the day and the days ahead, we all decided to postpone the meeting until a more auspicious time. Instead, we found ourselves like everyone in the country, in the world — glued to our TV and watching in disbelief and anguish the 24-hour coverage. It was planned. It was coordinated. It was an attack. It was aimed at us.

Before our Reiki class ended, CB extracted from each of us a commitment to practice self-healing for at least 30 consecutive days. After that, it would either be a practice we couldn’t live without or we might find it didn’t do anything for us and leave it. The night after that group healing session I had the best night’s sleep of my life, I think. At the time, I was averaging about 6 hours sleep each night. That night I slept for 9 and woke feeling rested and with a wonderful sense of well-being. What I wanted most was to become a Reiki master so I could teach my family and friends how to do self-healing every day, too. I couldn’t believe I had been given such a profound gift so unexpectedly.

11 September. September 11th. 9/11. It will always be a day tinged with grief and memories of horror. I‘m grateful that it also came to mark a day that was filled with healing and the gift to share healing. The second in no way erases the first. But the knowledge that healing is available to us — as close as our own hands — is a comfort in a world where evil can imagine steering a plane into a building on a cloudless autumn day, and a gift in a world that still needs so much healing. Reiki teaches that before you can heal anyone else, you must first heal yourself.

Five Precepts pf Reiki


Nourish body and mind

Bo Tree at Foster Gerdens

Last night was the third training sessions in my new Tai Chi (Yang, short form) class. It’s been over 5 years since I was last in a Tai Chi class and it feels great to be back in training. Even with only half an hour of actual exercise --- and that was with very gentle movements --- I can still feel those little-used muscles at the front of my thighs starting to burn. It always amazes me, too, how such gentle-seeming movements can really warm up your insides. It feels like your sweat comes from the center of your being.

The instructor, JC, puts great emphasis on strengthening muscles to provide balance. Most of the exercises we have learned naturally strengthen the legs, especially the thighs. To build upper-body and back strength, he’s asked each of us to prepare a weight-training tool called a Roll-Up. It’s devised from simple implements: a 12” dowel, a wood screw, 7ft. length of nylon cord, and hand weights (1 lb. to start). He told us that one could purchase similar pre-made devices at a few of the national franchise gyms, but you get the feeling that making one for yourself is part of the discipline of the training. Two of his long-term students were on-hand to do demonstrations, and I had a chance to look at their Roll-Ups. After 2-3 years of daily practice, each had been burnished a dark brown from its original sandy color. I hope the Roll-Up I’ve made will one day testify to my adherence to such faithful practice. For now, doing 10 Roll-Ups brings a intense burn in my upper arms and I’m trying to push past that to 15.

I’ve been good about doing the warm-up exercises, called 8 Brocades, every morning. Each “brocade” is a set of movements with lyrical names like “Push the Sky,” “Circle Wind,” and “Cow Turns Face to the Moon.” The challenge is not only in learning the sequence, but also in timing movements, and coordinating movement with breathing. JC tells us to also pay attention to the body’s position (feet and hand placements, whether a movement starts from the waist or the thighs, etc.) and how it responds to a given movement -- feel the stretch, knee twisting, can you keep your balance on your toes? It’s a wonderful morning routine because it has such gentle flowing movements, but it really does get your blood moving and your mind focused.

After completing the Brocade set eight times (takes 20-25 minutes), I often go directly into a Reiki session while still in the standing Wuji position (feet shoulder width apart, knees soft). I decided to try this once as a way to maintain the Wuji stance and develop leg strength, and was surprised how relaxing it was to do Reiki self-healing this way. The session ends with long-distance healing for friends and family who have requested it.

The best part of this routine is that the day starts with healing and gratitude. Healing for my mind and body with these gentle exercises and meditation, then in gratitude sending healing out to people (and animals) I love, and for whom I am grateful to have in my life.
So if we’re training our muscles, mind and spirit this way, seems a shame to spoil it all with a breakfast of fried eggs, sausage/bacon and biscuits/bread/rice. (Don’t get me wrong, I love portuguese sausage and fried rice, and Belgian waffles as much as the next person -- but these are “treats” not routine meals.) We have oatmeal almost every weekday morning, and this feels like a natural complement to follow the exercise-Reiki set -- warm, filling, nutritious, and oh-so-tasty.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve had home-cooked oatmeal, then you owe yourself the favor of rediscovering this old gem. Forget the instant stuff, they’re packed with all kinds of preservatives and who-knows-what. And they’re expensive to boot. A tub of old-fashioned oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes or so) and water are the basics, but oh-yo-can-have-so-much-fun with the flavorings! Have a different flavor every day. We add fresh, dried and frozen fruits (apples, pears, plums, peaches, mangoes, bananas, cantaloupe, blueberries) while the oatmeal is still cooking. Want chocolate oatmeal? -- add your favorite chocolate drink mix (recommend the less-sweet European Ovaltine) to the cooked oatmeal. How about apple pie? We add fresh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pat of butter to the pot, and sprinkle brown sugar on the cooked cereal. (Yes, this one is a bit decadent with that pat of butter, but you’d be amazed how much it does taste like pie.) Another favorite is double blueberry: frozen and dried (sweeter) blueberries cooked in, and maple syrup poured before eating (T is from Maine so the blueberry-maple syrup connection was a natural for him). For applesauce oatmeal, sweeten the cooked oatmeal, then stir in home-made or natural applesauce. When we lived in Germany, our hands-down favorite was Pflaumenmuss oatmeal. Pflaumenmuss is thick homemade cooked plum sauce -- kind of like apple butter, but not as highly spiced. The point is, put in the flavors you like. There are so many possibilities: nut butters, fruit preserves, fruits, spices, sweeteners (brown sugar, condensed milk, honey, maple syrup, flavored “coffee syrups”).

I like cereal or muesli and milk (or yogurt), too. I often have that as a snack or lazy-persons lunch. But there’s something comforting and soul-satisfying about starting your day with a warm bowl of cereal. It sets the tone for the day in a different way than cold cereals do. Maybe taking the time to cook something for yourself in the midst of a hectic morning intuitively says to yourself, I’m worth this effort. Maybe it’s the deep glow you feel as the warm cereal makes its way down the gullet. Maybe it’s just the fun of feeling like you’re eating apple pie or chocolate when you’re really eating oatmeal. Reclaim breakfast! Don’t just feed yourself. Nourish your body and your soul.

Double blueberry oatmeal
Tandm Oatmeal
(2 servings)

3 ¼ c. water (up to a ¼ cup more if you’re using only dried fruit)
1 ½ cup”old-fashioned” oatmeal (label usually says “cooks in 5 minutes” -- “quick”= “cooks in 1 minute”)
½ tsp. sea salt (you can omit if medically necessary, but sea salt has less
sodium than table salt; and salt will really round out the flavor of your oatmeal)
2 Tbl.
wolfberries (aka goji berries)

Bring water and wolfberries to a hard boil, add salt and oatmeal and anything from the following list or as your imagination calls forth, and cook for 6 minutes on medium high heat without a cover. Turn off heat, cover and let rest for at least 2 minutes. Serve. This will make 2 servings of the “heart-helathy” amount recommended to reduce cholesterol -- at first, a single serving may look quite daunting, but you’ll soon adjust.

To this you can add any thing your heart desires. Some suggestions:
  • 1 c. frozen and ½ c. dried blueberries (this combo gives you the juciness and rich color of the frozen berries, and the intense flavor and swetness of the dried)
    • 1 diced apple, or half diced apple and ½ c. cranberries, AND ½ tsp. cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 diced pear and ¼ c. candied ginger
    • ½ c. or more your favorite mixed diced fruit, raisins, cranberries, mangos, etc.
    • 1 overripe banana and peanut butter or chocolate

If fruits are cooked in, often additional sweetening is not necessary. If you want a touch of sweetness, try:
  • Ovaltine (less sweet European blend is available in Oriental markets), Milo or Horlicks chocolate powders
    • Peanut or other nut butters
    • Maple syrup
    • Honey
    • Malt or brown rice syrups
    • Agave syrup
    • Brown sugar
    • Fruit preserves and butters
    • Nutella (Hazelnut-chocolate spread)
    • Flavored syrups (Often sold as coffee or soda sweeteners -- just be wary of ones with high-fructose corn syrup HFCS)
    • Condensed milk or dulce de leche (check for the HFCS)

Add oats and dried berries

Instead of milk, try
  • soy milk
  • rice milk
  • almond milk
  • going bare -- no milk at all!


Anyone CAN cook!

"Anyone can cook!" is the light-hearted and joyous message echoing through movie theaters across the country in the new animated movie, "Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee)" --- about a rat who loves to cook, in spite of himself.

If a rat can do it, you can too, right? Granted, Remy is a no odinary rodent -- his gourmet's palate can pair a found morel mushroom with a bit of discarded gruyere cheese, and when he is serendipitously struck by lightning -- voila! a gougere aux forestiere. And Remy can read cookbooks, too!

"Anyone CAN cook" is the philosophy behind
the Way of Cooking too. Bringing the Tao's flexibility to the kitchen usually means adapting ingredients and methods, as the Way of Cooking encourages us to do. Other times it may be a matter of changing our perspective on a perceived "problem."

I remember one summer when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for dinner. As we sat down, G mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we might not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for another spice, and had added it to the sauce before she caught herself. If we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn't made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn't have a bechamel topping, but let's call that a technicality).

So be easy on yourself and be open to new things --- and you may surprise even you! But most importantly, cook for and nourish yourself, and for and with the ones you love. Even in spite of yourself. In the climax of "Ratatouille," one of the characters takes a bite of the eponymous eggplant-and-zucchini dish and is transported back to a long-forgotten time when he felt loved and secure and cared-for. Food is so often connected to memories. Not only grand holiday and special occasion meals, but also baking pies with mom when your older brother and sister are at school, or watching dad make his secret spaghetti sauce. Cook often. Cook with and for the people you love. Just cook. Anyone can cook.

After watching Remy's movie twice this summer, I couldn't help but search out my favorite ratatouiile recipe and take advantage of Oahu's locally grown zucchini, eggplant, onions and tomatoes to make a more traditionally rustic version of this Provencal classic. This is a terrific meal for people who think they don't like vegetables. It is toothsome and filling, and easy to mistake the sauteed eggplant for meat. Best of all, the cold leftovers make a great sandwich on a toasted baguette or rolled up in a flour tortilla with a little shredded Mozarella.

There are as many versions of this vegetable entree as there are cooks, but I think the key is to saute the eggplant and zucchini separately and allow each vegetable to caramelize lightly. It brings an added depth of flavor that's missed when all the vegetables are added at the same time and simply simmered in sauce. But if you're pressed for time, better to forego the added step of frying the vegetables separately than to talk yourself out of trying this wonderful dish.


(adapted from a recipe from my alma mater, Leith's School of Food and Wine, London)

Serves 2

olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. long Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 1/2 lbs. small or medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. white pepper
1 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
2 Tbl. minced fresh Italian parsley
sea salt to tate

Preheat large saute pan on medium heat. Add enough oil to coat bottom of pan, and add eggplant to cover pan (may have to do in batches). Lightly brown both sides and remove from heat. Add more oil and repeat with rest of eggplant. Repeat process with zucchini.

Lower heat and in the same pan cook onion until translucent (this may take 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and bell pepper after first 5 minutes. When onions are translucent, add coriander and white pepper and cook another 1 minute.

Raise heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, basil and parsley, and cook uncovered 10 minutes. Taste sauce and season with salt.

Add back eggplant and zucchini, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, but not falling apart.

A crispy, light baguette (on Oahu, St. Germain's demi-baguettes are the closest to the real thing we've found) and a nice pinot noir or syrah (depending on your tolerance for tannin) will round out your meal.

While we would absolutely love to pair this with a wine from France's Bourgogne or Rhone regions, we try to drink as close to home as possible. Since Hawaii doesn't (yet) have a robust home-grown viticulture, we look to West Coast and Australian wines to fill the bill for now.

Island bounty

Colorful papayas, bananas, lychee, dragonfruit
Papayas&Apple bananas --- Lychee(top)&Dragonfruit ---Taro,Russetts,Okinawan sweets&Red-skin Sweets --- Long beans,Squash blossoms&Red shallots

As a fairly new resident in Hawaii, I’ve really enjoyed combing through local farmers’ markets, ethnic groceries, even supermarket produce aisles to find what’s local and fresh here. Of course one expects to find tropical fruits (papayas, mangoes, dragonfruit, bananas, pineapples) and Asian vegetables a-plenty, and there’s certainly no shortage of these. What took my breath away is the abundance of unexpected delectables that are also grown locally: mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, strawberries, apples, oranges, and corn (corn?!). (And one of the local papers reports that coming soon…. blueberries from cool volcano slopes!) ©2007 setsat3

Another striking thing about the local produce is the variety that one will find in each category.

Do you like beans? You’ll find Kentucky green, yard-long, flat romanos, wing, sugar snap, and snowpeas.

How about sweet potatoes? They come in three colors – Okinawan purple or white flesh, and the traditional red-skinned yellow flesh (none of these are the orange yams called “sweet potatoes” on the Mainland).

Squash fan? Try zucchini, tongan or upo; or the hard-skinned kabocha.
Kona coffee beans
Kona coffee

Then there are the papayas – sunrise (orange flesh) or rainbow (red-orange) , or the unripe green ones for cooking;
and the luscious mangoes -- ripe greens, purples, reds, and deep orange Manilas.

And if you like cabbage, you’ve come to the right place – napa, Chinese mustard (also called gai choi, not US “mustard greens”), bok/pak choi (regular & baby sizes, white or green stem), choi sum, Chinese broccoli, green or white head cabbage.

Apple bananasApple bananas
Bananas that are locally grown include regular (Cavendish), apple, WIlliams, and saba (Philippine cooking bananas); but one can also find baby varieties, red eating and cooking varieties (separate types), as well as plantains in many shops.

But the crème de la crème for me is definitely the local mushroom bounty – fresh shiitake, shimeji, enoki and oyster mushrooms . . . . all year long. Mmmm.

The Hawaii Agriculture and Food Products Directory is compiled by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture compilation of Hawaii fruits and vegetables, showing peak availability, month-by-month. In addition to fruits of the tree and vine, there are also eggs, milk, pork and wonderful grass-fed beef --- all locally produced.

Other local products to look for:
  • coffee, of course, both from the Kona coast and from the other islands;
  • fragrant honeys;
  • vanilla beans;
  • Hawaiian Heritage chocolate;
  • macadamia nuts and oils;
  • alae sea salt (a wonderful finishing and preserving salt mixed with red clay);
  • farm-raised sweet shrimp and white-flesh moi (fish);
  • and award-winning goat cheeses from Maui and the Big Island.


The Way of Cooking: Fried Rice

Welcome to the Way of Cooking: cooking with a Taoist perspective.

Verse 8 Tao Te Ching

Omu-rice (short for "omelet rice") -- a true Japanese classic. Strange that a dish that features hot dogs and ketchup would be a Japanese nursery favorite, but there you have it.

As odd as omu-rice may look or sound, I think it sums up what this site is about --- namely, being open, flexible and creative with what you have. And making delicious food with it. In the post-War era, the Japanese took strange, but ubiquitous, ingredients (ketchup and hot dogs) introduced by the American military and combined them with the long-learned Chinese technique of chowing, or stir-frying, to create a uniquely Japanese dish.
Picture of Japanese omu-rice
The Tao Te Ching tells us to be like water, to flow around obstacles rather than to stop short before them; and to make the most of what we find, and leave something better in our wake.

The Way of Cooking is a way to cook with this Taoist perspective. Take what you know, adapt it, create something different. Other times it may be a matter of just changing our perspective on a "problem."

I remember one time when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for that evening. As we sat down to table, she mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we may not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for something else, and added it to the sauce before she caught her mistake. If we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn't made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn't have a bechamel topping, but let's call that a technicality).

Since Omu-rice is used as the example of the Way of Cooking in action, I've taken the basics of it's underlying method, frying rice, for the first Way of Cooking Basic Method.

The Way of Cooking considers these elements:
Essence: what defines the dish, what method or combination of ingredients give the dish its character.
Components: what are the basic ingredients
Proportion: how much of each ingredient is needed

Essence of Fried Rice is, of course, rice, oil, aromatics and seasonings quickly cooked in a hot wok; fillings are optional, but often included.

The secret to fried rice, no matter the ingredients used, is this: you have to season and cook the fillings (aromatics, meats, vegetables) before you add the rice.

Completely different styles of fried rice all have the same basic

Cold Rice,
Basic Seasonings,
Additional Seasonings,
Meat and/or Vegetable Fillings

that are quickly cooked in a hot pan. Change the rice, the seasonings, the filllings, even the oil, and your finished rice is a wholly different product. Most people have had fried rice as a side dish with a Chinese meal, but there are also Indonesian nasi goreng, Korean kimchi bokkum bap, Japanese omu-rice, pineapple rice, and breakfast fried rice (SPAM, ham or sausage with vegetables).

The Way allows for doubling, tripling --- as much as needed. The amounts given are only to give you a sense of the
Proportion of the ingredients, but the whole point is to put more or less according to your own taste and what you have on hand. I have only ever used a wok to make fried rice, and I think the wok’s sloping sides help the dish come together. It's a worthy investment (not just for fried rice, of course).

(Side note: don't buy a non-stick wok --- it is an oxymoron of the highest order. More on this later.)

The Way of Cooking: FRIED RICE
(Meal for 2 persons, side dish for 4)


4 cups (500g) cold Rice (refrigerator-cold works best – hot rice, especially medium or short grains, can come out clumped and sticky for novice cooks)
2-3 TBL (20-30 ml)
½ cup (75g)
Aromatics (One or all: onions, shallots, garlic)
1-2 tsp (5-10ml)
Basic Seasoning
(Choose: salt AND/OR ketchup, soy sauce OR kecap manis)

(Meats and Veg/Fruit should total about 1½ - 2 cups together):
½ -1 tsp (total)
Additional Seasoning
(Choose one or mix: pepper, curry powder, turmeric, black or brown mustard seed, onion seed, cumin, coriander, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g)
Meat (Chinese sausage, SPAM, hot dog, char siu pork,
beef, chicken, shrimp, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g)
Vegetable/Fruit (mixed vegetables, peas, edamame,
pineapple, bamboo, bean sprouts, raisins, beans, kimchee, etc.)

egg (hard-boiled, fried, scrambled in)
green onions or chives, cilantro

Heat oil and cook any raw meat/sausage.
Add Aromatics and cook until softened and transparent.
Add cooked meats (if using), vegetables and HALF of Basic Seasonings and ALL of Additional Seasoning.
Cook together 3-5 minutes, until everything is seasoned and heated through.

Push ingredients up the sides of wok/pan, creating a space in the center of the wok.
Add a touch more oil if necessary, then other half of Basic Seasoning, then cold Rice.
Using a flat spatula, GENTLY press the rice in the center, and bring the filling ingredients over from the sides of the wok, onto the top of the rice.
Press through again, cut through and over the center of the pan, and again bring over the ingredients that have pushed up the sides of the wok.
Work all the way around the wok. The motion is similar to folding in egg whites to a cake batter.
Repeat until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and rice is heated through.

We have rice with our evening meals at least 3 times a week, and even with T taking left-overs for lunch, we often have cold rice in the fridge. With the exception of the glutinous rices, cold rice becomes fried rice for at least one other meal. We have made fried rice with short grain, medium grain, long grain, Basmati, jasmine, and brown rices. Lately we have been using our own blend of brown and white rices as our basic rice, and have found that it makes a great pineapple fried rice. The chewiness of the brown rice complements the sweet tartness of pineapple, while the white rice absorbs the flavors of the seasonings to carry them through the dish. If you're not ready for fried rice for breakfast yet, pineapple fried rice is a delicious side dish with grilled or roasted meats.

Now to get you riffing on your own, the
Fried Rice Chart has some variations to get you started. Remember the important things are to look at what you have in your well-stocked pantry, and taste as you go along.

If you didn't grow up with a Japanese mother or have never been to Japan, Omu-Rice will sound pretty strange, but if you try it, I think you will find it quite addictive.


Paying Attention

One of the joys of living on a tropical island is being able to enjoy a sunrise or sunset on the beach. Or both. On the same day. Even on the same beach.

Yesterday morning we decided we hadn’t had breakfast on the beach for awhile, and so we went --- a jug of coffee, fresh fruit and fried rice in hand. T opted for a run and swim before breakfast, while I practiced deep breathing meditation then revelled in a steaming cup of french roast while surveying the other denizens of the beach. The paths were already busy with walkers and joggers, singles and buddies all keeping a good aerobic clip. A few day trippers ---- mostly families with young children, coolers, boogie boards, inflatables, and sand tools in tow --- were also arriving and staking out their patch of sand or shade. (One give-away about the locals vs. visitors on the beach: locals generally look for a shady spot on grass, while visitors seek out sunny places in the sand.) The south-facing shore was just warming up in the early morning rays – the sun had just cleared the Ko’olau mountains in the east, and whatever warmth the spring morning sun had to offer was clipped by a brisk trade breeze (blowing from the northeast).

An added joy of any visit to Hawaii’s beaches is the close encounters with the wildlife. At this particular shore we are always visisted by the local cardinals, mynahs, bulbuls and doves looking for a free hand-out. The little zebra doves will stay close but they don’t openly beg, they appear to keep themselves nonchalantly busy while keeping a sharp eye for errant or proferred crumbs. Meanwhile a red-crested cardinal planted himself right in my line of sight, caught my eye and began chirping melodically – I don’t know if he was singing for his breakfast or just making inquiries, but it was a pleasant encounter either way. Then, came the mafia — which is how I always think of the mynah birds. They have a certain reptilian look about them to begin with, but after I first witnessed a gang of mynahs actually surround a single one of their member, and then beat him up(!) the characterization has always stuck in my mind. Of course I’ve seen birds dominate others of their species in territorial battles, but I’d never seen this type of “gang behavior” before. Mynahs also have a way of landing among a group of other birds and strutting around as if “taking over a joint” that lends itself to this characterization. They are certainly fun to watch.

Less frequently, but with regularity we also see monk seals and green sea turtles (honu) near shore, dolphins spinning and fishing off-shore, and today – whales breeching and blowing about a half-mile off-shore! The smallish whales would leap and land on their backs causing huge splashes, followed by spouts of blown water. We watched the show move from west to east at about 10 minute intervals for half an hour. We couldn’t tell if these were humpback whales, but if they were, they are due to return to their summer feeding grounds in the north this month so we were happy to catch a sighting this late in the season.

The thing that astonished me most while we marveled at this close-shore display was this: no one else on the beach saw it. As we cheered and looked around after the first splash, we noticed that our fellow beach-goers were engrossed in activity and oblivious to the show --- headphones in place, eating, chatting, playing, swimming, running, walking . . . . doing. They were missing such a treat.

As we packed to leave a little while later, I hoped that the others on the beach that morning each found some time before they returned to their busy lives to be still and to see. To listen to and connect with the other residents of our islands; to feel themselves a part of nature.

Fried rice with pineapple, sausage, edamame and three onions.

E Komo Mai

I am a novice student of the Tao and a long-time student of food traditions of the world. Trained first and foremost in my parents' island kitchen, I learned early on that the soul of the family lies in its pots and pans.

My mother, Fumiko, was a reluctant cook, she learned to cook mostly from her husband, then her mother-in-law. But she learned recipes faithfully, and brought her love and attention to everything she made. She cooked to take care of people, and everyone among her family, friends, co-workers, and friends of her children found comfort and a listening ear around her table. Flore, my father, was the creative soul of the kitchen, introducing “exotic" dishes like Italian cacciatore and Spanish paella, to their Okinawan-Filipino household. He can still be found “riffing” on recipes with wild abandon (Emeril Lagasse is his role model) --- gaily substituting and making additions to recipes, albeit some where they should not go (sorry, but Worcestershire sauce has no place is chicken adobo. Ever). What these two cooks synthesized in their kitchen together for 44 years was a messy, happy and deep love for food and family. This they have passed on to their children and their families.

As an heir to this tradition, I’ve found my journey with the Tao keeps wending its way through the kitchen – cooking first to comfort and nourish self, then to gather and feed friends, now to nurture and heal family and friends, old and new. To cultivate the Tao in myself has been to understand that my kitchen is both my mirror and my canvas --- whether I’m feeling creative, adventurous, tired, obsessed, all these expressions find their way to my bowl and plate.

In the kitchen with Flore & Fumi

So how to combine a spiritual journey and a culinary quest? Tao in the kitchen? I think of it as the "Way of cooking." My goal is to have fun with food and stay open to new food cultures. In this forum let’s cultivate a connection to what we eat and how we cook it. Let's think of food not just as something to fill the belly, but to nourish the spirit, clear the body and heal the soul. Let’s make shopping for, preparing and enjoying meals simple and joyful exercises. Let’s learn about new foods, and think in different ways about foods we already love. This is what I propose to do and I welcome you to this shared journey!

I'd like to begin by sharing with you a dish that will always remind me of that first kitchen of my heart, my mom and dad's. This dish may be wholly foreign to you, but it is the epitome of comfort food for my family. Warm and soupy, nutritious and familiar, it is the "chicken soup" for the Okinawan soul. My mother just called it Kombu, which is the Japanese name for the dried sea kelp that is the basis for this dish. In Okinawa, kombu features much more prominently in the local diet than in mainland Japan, and this particular preparation is unique to that island's tastes. In the mainland, similar dishes called nishime or oden feature nearly identical ingredients, but the proportions of the ingredients are what make the distinction (for instance, oden has more kamaboko). And the Okinawan version is always cooked with lots of pork. Okinawans are notoriously dedicated pork eaters. I remember during childhood visits to Okinawa, having to squeeze myself into tiny doorways as massive 400-500lb. pigs were led down the narrow cobble streets of my grandmother’s village. Pork broth steaming from huge bowls of soba, laden with fish cake and pork ribs; succulent slices of double-cooked pork glazed with a hint of sweet soy….but I digress, more about these in future.

Sea kelp is a good source of calcium, iodine, magnesium, iron and folate, as well as glutamic acid -- a rich source of natural umami; and it is the foundation of the famed Okinawan Diet for good health and longevity. A quick google of "kombu" will yield some references to its use to make dashi (a flavoring broth essential to Japanese cooking), and a few recipes where it may play a small part. In this Okinawan dish, however, Kombu is clearly the star.

Chicken souup for the Okinawan soul
(clockwise: fried tofu, konnyaku, kombu, shiitake, carrot, kamaboko)

Prepare the pork and broth
1.5-2lb whole pork belly or shoulder
1 small hand ginger, washed well and sliced in ½ inch slices
3 TBL whisky, sake, or awamori (Okinawan sake)

1 packet
dashi no moto
2 tsp.
1 tsp. sugar, prefereably demerara or light brown

Broth preparation
Wash pork well and place in large (8qt or larger) pot with ginger. Cover meat with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and skim foam off top. Add liquor, then cover with lid and let simmer for 45 minutes. Remove meat and set aside. Discard ginger. Add dashi no moto, mirin and sugar to broth and keep at simmer.

2 strands of Hayani
kombu, soaked in 6 qts water for at least 20 minutes (save soaking water)
1 piece
1 small
daikon (white radish), peeled and cut in 3 in. pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut on diagonal
4-6 pieces fresh or canned whole bamboo tips, cut into 3-in pieces
8 pieces dried shiitake mushroom, soaked in 4 cups water until completely rehydrated -- about 1 hour
(save soaking water and strain) (fresh shiitake may be used, but dried is preferred for its intense flavor)
1 stick
chikuwa kamaboko (fishcake), sliced on diagonal (optional)
1 large firm block of tofu, wrapped in towel and drained in fridge at least 1 hr., then cut in 2-in. cubes
2-3 tsp. Kikkoman soy sauce

Kombu preparation
Depending on type of kombu, may need longer soak – it should be pliable but not disintegrating. Remove kombu and save water, if you like. If rehydrated kombu is more than 6” across, cut lengthwise before proceeding. Start tying knots in kombu strand, leaving about 4” between each knot. Now cut evenly between knots.

Konnyaku preparation
Rinse well. Slice cross-wise into ½” slices -- about 12 slices. Cut a lengthwise slit in the center of each slice, leaving ¾” uncut at top and bottom -- you should be able to put a finger through the hole. Now the fun part --- hold one slice in your left hand, and with your right, push the bottom of the slice through the slit and out. It will create a very attractive spiral pattern in the center. After you’re done admiring your handiwork, add to broth.

Add kombu, 1 cup saved kombu water, konnyaku, shiitake and shiitake water to broth. Simmer about 30 minutes. Add carrots, daikon, bamboo, kamaboko and tofu. Slice pork into 2” pieces and add to broth with soy sauce. Simmer another 20 minutes or until kombu is tender at the knotted middle (test the thickest part with fork -- it should slide easily through).

Serve with rice, and Japanese hot mustard or wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping. Pickled vegetables, called
tsukemono, are also lovely with this. Enjoy!