For the Lunar New Year: Watercress Dumplings

Happy New Year, again!

Yesterday was the first day of weeks-long celebrations of the beginning of the Year of the Ox. It’s snowing today and tomorrow, so we hope for better weather by Sunday when D.C.’s Chinatown will host a parade, lion dance and other festivities.

To start the celebrations of Lunar New Year 4707, we opted for a cozy dinner at home with spicy garlic eggplant, dry-fried Sichuan-style long beans, hot & sour soup, and watercress dumplings.

I use the term “dumpling” deliberately because these little packets of happiness can’t really be classified as Japanese gyoza, nor as Chinese wontons, Korean mandoo, Polish pierogi, Italian ravioli, or any other filled “pasta pocket.” But they are “ono,” nonetheless. When I learned this recipe from my mom, we used to make them with spinach, but watercress is definitely better. The slight bitter undertones of the vegetable counters the fattiness of the meat and balances the dumpling. Earlier this month we made these dumplings with pork instead of turkey for a dinner party, and the contrast between the savory veg and fatty meat was even more appreciated.

The watercress we’ve found since we moved away from the Islands are quite a bit smaller than what we were used to finding on Oahu. The stems and leaves are smaller, and are sold in smaller bunches than their Hawaiian cousins. We need 2-3 bunches of these smaller cress to equal the amounts we are accustomed to for our soups or flash-cooked greens. But for this recipe, one bunch is just about right.

Dumplings are often thought of as appetizers, but we often make a dinner of them with just rice and miso soup. And this is a great project for the kids or a group of friends — the additional hands make quick work of filling and folding all the little pouches.

The cooking method described below combines the best of pan-frying and steaming: the dumpling is crispy on one side from initial pan-frying, and juicy and cooked through by steam. You will need a large flat bottomed skillet with a fitted lid for this. For a more calorie-conscious dish, you can line a steamer with lettuce leaves or wax paper and just steam them (about 5 minutes or until meat is cooked through), or you can add them to simmering broth to make a full-meal soup. Steamed or fried, alone or as part of a larger meal, these dumplings have tried and true appeal with children and adults alike.

50+ dumplings, plus extra filling

1 small bunch watercress, about 1/2 lb (225g)

Wash well and drain, but do not completely dry. Remove thickest stems. Pre-heat wok over medium-high heat. Add watercress with any water on leaves after washing to hot wok. Stir through until vegetable is just wilted and still bright green. Remove from pan, and allow to cool completely. Finely mince leaves and remaining smaller stems, and set aside until needed. This can be done up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.

1lb (450g) ground turkey or pork
3-4 stems scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. sake or very dry white wine
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 slice (coin-size) of fresh ginger, minced (about 1/2 tsp)
1 large clove garlic, minced
generous seasoning with sea salt and ground black pepper

Combine meat and all seasonings, and massage well to incorporate. Set aside in fridge for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours, to allow flavors to marry. Add cooled cooked and minced watercress, and combine well.

To Finish:
1 package round gyoza wrappers, about 10 oz/ 280g (50-60 sheets)
small bowl of water

Place a scant teaspoonful of filling in the center of one wrapper. Dip your finger in water, and wet the edge of top half of wrapper. Bring bottom half of wrapper over the filling and press the center down to seal. Pleat the sides of the wrapper around the center, then press down to seal. Because the filling is rounded, the sides will naturally want to fold over each other. Set aside and continue until filling or wrappers run out.

To Pan-fry:
Have ready: a lid that fits snugly over the skillet you are using, a small container of oil for easy pouring, and a small cup of water.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 TBL. oil to pan, and swirl to coat entire bottom of pan. Place dumplings in pan, making sure they do not touch (or they will stick together), and gently press the filled center against the pan. Let fry about 30 seconds, then add about 2 TBL of water directly into the pan — trying not to pour water onto the dumplings themselves — and immediately cover with lid.
Turn heat down to medium, and let cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until pan stops steaming. Do not remove cover while steaming!

Carefully remove lid and check whether filling is thoroughly cooked by gently pressing on the meat-filled center: it will feel firm when the meat is cooked through. Using spatula or small fish slice (UK), remove dumplings to serving plate and cover to keep warm.

Turn heat back up to medium-high, and add 1 TBL oil to pan, coating bottom evenly. Add more dumplings, and cook as you did the first batch. Repeat until all dumplings are cooked.

Serve with rice, miso or other light soup, and Dipping Sauce (below) for a light meal. Or serve as an appetizer or part of a buffet.

In each dipping bowl, combine the following ingredients:
3 TBL rice vinegar
2 tsp soy
1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
3-5 drops chili oil

We don’t often have wine, other than sake, with Asian meals. But we’ve been waiting for an excuse to try this French wine called “Wasabi White” from the amusing Now & Zen label (Alsace). We both love the wines of Alsace but were a little skeptical about the cutesy label. Wasabi White proved to be in keeping with our expectations of Alsatian wines as being food wines first and foremost. It was both dry yet with enough fruit to tame and round out the rich and spicy notes in our meal, especially the garlic eggplant. In keeping with the Asian theme, we used large teacups instead of wine glasses!

Like watercress as much as we do? More recipes with watercress:
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)
Portuguese Bean Soup
Flash-cooked Watercress


Vive le Cassoulet!

Cassoulet (CAH-soo-lay). One of the great winter comfort foods, and certainly not for the calorie-shy — beans long-simmered with pork fatback and rind, as well as sausages, and duck, goose or lamb. A true peasant dish in the best sense, taking the humblest of ingredients and raising them to glorious heights with care and slow cooking.

As with all the best foods, there are as many recipes for cassoulet as there are cooks. At the foundation are the three great traditions around the Provencal districts from which cassoulet is said to have sprung — traditions that dictate what combination of meats will flavor and provide the unctuous bath for the lowly bean. Debates rage and blood pressures rise about whether duck or goose confit is better, and whether the inclusion of lamb is merely tolerable or absolutely sacrilegious. To claim one’s cassoulet “Castlenaudry” or “Toulouse” one would probably seek out ingredients actually from those regions. But it seems to me more in keeping with the spirit of cassoulet to use ingredients closer to home, and to elevate the meal with great love and attention rather than with pricey ingredients.

This particular cassoulet, while scrumptious, was not my best example. For one, the beans were much too small to capture and hold all that lovely fatty broth. I don’t know what I was thinking using navy beans, but it was a serious
brain fart. I also did not make a duck confit, and instead just browned the duck legs and added them and their rendered fat into the beans. The most garlicky sausage I could find on short notice was a Louisiana-style andouille, which together with the pork belly were also browned and added to the cooking pot, with their rendered drippings of course. One pound of dry beans, 2 duck legs, 3 sausages, 2.5 lbs of pork, loads of garlic, thyme, parsley, tomatoes, water, seasoning and breadcrumbs — that’s it. Six hours and 2 days later, choruses of “Bon Appetit.”

But even the most ardent fan of cassoulet (have you met my husband?) will concede that this is a dish best savored in deep winter when the biting cold will lend some justification for the extra pounds that will definitely ensue. Why ensue? Because cassoulet is a dish that makes no apologies for the pork fat, duck or goose fat (ha, ha, guess what “confit” is!), and sausage drippings that conspire to create the oh-so rich broth in which the beans will bake and swim. This is something we make only once a year, though it’s been at least 4 years since we last had this at home. Tropical Hawaii was much too warm for such a rich and hefty dish — seriously, this is Portuguese bean soup on steroids.

“Cassoulet forever”

We missed the buzz about cassoulet that circulated around the U.S. in November, on Election Night. Evidently a mischievous French-speaking cameraman declared his love for his Maman’s cassoulet by holding high signs that said “cassoulet” or “cassoulet forever” behind American broadcasters reporting on Mr. Obama’s victory. The signs were clearly visible in many news broadcasts, prompting a flurry of internet searches in the U.S. for the term “cassoulet” (it was reported to be one of the top Google searches on Election Day.) Some people even wondered out loud — including a broadcaster on live TV, Who is Cassoulet?”
(ou RaHV?)

We happened to make a cassoulet this weekend at T’s request. This is one of his all-time favorite foods — he even likes the canned stuff one can find on any supermarket shelf in cassoulet’s mother country. It was a celebratory meal, too, as we opened a special wine to toast our incoming president and in between sips and mouthfuls rocked with Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, U2, MaryJ Blige, Stevie Wonder, and Garth Brooks (who knew he was a little bit rock ‘n’ roll?!), who were performing down the street at the concert at the Lincoln Memorial that was the kick-off for the inauguration of our 44th President.

So Mr. Obama, we saved you a plate. And our first toast was also for you:
“Vive le President! Long live the 44th President of these United States!”


Gram's Recipe Box: Molasses Crinkles

“Co-o-o-o-o-o-kie!!”... I can’t help but hear the voice of my favorite Muppet character in my head around this time of year when the baking pans come out and every available space (including chairs, mantels and ironing boards) is made into an impromptu board for cooling cookies, cakes or bread.

This year especially most of our gifts for family and friends is going to come from the kitchen — economize, economize! Some recipes are perennial favorites, and are stored in a folder cleverly labelled “Holiday Recipes” in my filing cabinet (yes, they’re actually on paper!). Others are new, or as this year, newly-found old favorites.

An example of the latter are these Molasses Cookies, which came from a recipe I got from T’s grandmother over Thanksgiving weekend. Actually, Grandma Steff lent me one of her recipe boxes so I could scan in all her recipes! If you’ve followed this site at all, you know this was a gift of gold as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t wait to try something from her collection, and the molasses cookies are the first. I borrowed the idea of adding raw, or turbinado, sugar to the tops from other molasses cookie recipes — it adds a little holiday sparkle.

Tomorrow is Grandma Stephanie’s birthday, so we’ll have to send her some of these to help her celebrate her day.

This platter of Molasses Crinkles, Dark Chocolate Biscotti, Pecan Crescents and Almond-Anise Biscotti is going to join the party at Food Blogga’s “Eat Christmas Cookies” event. She’s accepting entries until the 21st, but there are already a wealth of recipes with photos on the site if you need some inspiration for this weekend’s blast of holiday baking. And if that’s not enough to get you going, all cookie lovers who submit an entry are eligible to win a cookie field guide. A party with door prizes — how can you pass up an invitation like that?!

(In Gram’s files, these are labelled “Christmas Cookies”)
Makes 4-6 dozen cookies, depending on size
Dough requires chilling for 2 or more hours before baking

1 cup shortening (used butter)
1 cup sugar (used raw sugar)
1 cup molasses (used blackstrap)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

Cream shortening, then add sugar gradually, then molasses and beaten egg. Add dissolved baking soda to mixture.

Sift together flour, salt and spices. Add to creamed mixture and blend thoroughly. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Here is where I diverge from Gram’s directions. She rolls out the dough and cuts out shapes. I made 1” balls, laid them on an ungreased cookie sheet, flattened them with the bottom of a drinking glass, and sprinkled raw sugar on top. Some recipes say to dip the balls in sugar then flatten with a glass, but I discovered after the first batch that the sugar crystals flatten out too much and don’t look as attractive.

If making cut-outs, Gram recommends baking for 8-10 minutes. For the thicker cookie crinkles, bake for 13-15 minutes.

Cool on sheet for a moment, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

These are equally great with your morning coffee, Glühwein, or with a warm apple cider.

Happy Baking!



Mulled or spiced wines are understandably popular when the weather turns cooler, and almost every country has its own version of mulled wine, wassail, or glogg. I confess I was never a fan until I spent my first winter in Germany — or rather, my first Christmas season. Glühwein (GLOO - vine), roughly translated as "glow wine," is the official beverage of the German Christkindlmärkte (KRIST-kin-del-merk-tuh) or Weihnachtsmärkte (VY-nahkts-merk-tuh), the world-renown Christmas markets!

Glühwein is both light-bodied and lightly spiced, which makes it eminently drinkable by the mugful as one wanders outdoors through the colorful stalls and festive displays of the markets. And when you're at a Christmas market, you will want to drink Glühwein by the mugful, not only because it's delicious, but also because it's winter in Germany and it's darn cold wandering through those markets!

It is the lightness in both body and spice that distinguishes Glühwein from other mulled wines I've tried, and it's this same quality that made me such a fan. Unlike many other mulled wine recipes which are 100% wine, sweetened and spiced, Glühwein can be one-third to one-half water. This is what makes Glühwein both quaffable in large sips to keep warm, and quaffable without getting too tipsy throughout the long winter day and night as one revels in the festive spirit of the Christmas market. The amounts of each spice used in Glühwein are also generally less than in other mulled wines, so the finished drink is as easy on the palate as it is on the liver.

There is something that seems just plain wrong about drinking Glühwein indoors. I can't remember ever seeing anyone drinking Glühwein inside a restaurant in Germany, although it might be on the menu. Having said all that, once it turned really cold here, we longed for a friendly mug of Glühwein to chase away the chill, even if we were drinking it at home. At least it was still cool in the house, unlike last winter when we made a batch of Glühwein in Hawaii! (Now that was just wrong, and we couldn't really enjoy our drink when it was still 70F outside!)

When making Glühwein, choose a cheap dry jug wine, such as a California Burgundy. No need for a pricey bottle here — not only are you going to add fruit and spices, but you're going to cut it with water, too. If you want to make this for a party, prepare the Base in triple or quadruple quantities, and divide the Base accordingly (into 3 or 4 batches). Then make each batch of
Glühwein as needed by adding a bottle of wine to the Base, and heating gently. If you make a big batch at once and leave it simmering too long, the alcohol can cook out and the spices become bitter.

You can fortify and personalize your Glühwein by adding shots of your favorite liquor or liqueur to your mug. My favorite addition is amaretto, a combination that is sold as "Heisse Liebe" (Hot Love) at the Heidelberg Christmas market (seen here) where I first tried it. Even if we only have our memories of Germany's Christkindlmärkte now, at least we can still make a hot mug of Glühwein to keep us warm.

Now if only I could figure out where my Zimtwaffeleisen is ...


500 ml/ 2 cups water
one orange, washed well, and sliced crosswise
Peel from one lemon
1 stick of cinnamon
3 whole cloves
3 tablespoons of raw sugar (only 2 TBL of regular sugar)
3-4 whole green cardamom pods
8-10 whole coriander seeds
1 vanilla bean

Note: If you can only find decorticated ground cardamom (inner seeds removed from the pod and ground) at the supermarket, put about 1/4 tsp. together with the cloves and coriander seeds, in a tea ball or tie them up in a coffee filter, and boil with the other spices and fruits. Remove bag after wine has been added and warmed through.

1 bottle (750ml) dry red wine
Rum, brandy, amaretto, or other liqueur, if desired

Bring water to boil. Add orange slices, lemon peel, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, cardamom, coriander and vanilla bean. Return to boil, then turn heat down to medium high and cook for 25 minutes.

The base can be prepared in advance, or in large quantities and kept refrigerated until needed. Re-heat Glühwein Base to boiling before adding wine.

Add bottle of wine and turn heat down to simmer – DO NOT BOIL. Keep at simmer for 15 minutes.

Pour into mugs, being careful not to pour in any of the whole spices. Add shots of rum, brandy, vodka, amaretto, hazelnut liqueur or sambuco as desired. Enjoy with spice cookies, such as Spekulaatis, Pfeffernusse,
Molasses Crinkles, or Zimtwaffeln. Zum Wohl!


Sunrise Service at Puowaina ("Punchbowl")

Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service at the National
Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Puowaina), Honolulu.

Sunrise view - 01
Sunrise view - 02
Sunrise view - 03
Sunrise view - 04
Celebrants representing 8 denominations across the island, and the ASL translator.
2008 Sunrise Serivce celebrants
The Royal Hawaiian Band
Roayal Hawaiian Band
Puowaina, like Diamond Head, is an extinct volcanic crater.
It lies in the heart of Honolulu.
Interior of Puowaina
View of Diamond Head from the center of Puowaina.
View of Diamond Head
Blessed and Happy Easter to All!


Wahoo!: Valentine for a Special Couple

Wahoo Pie

Today I wanted to make a special dinner for two people who aren't actually here in Hawaii, but who live in our hearts and thoughts everyday. We've begged, pleaded and cajoled them to visit here from cold and snowy (especially right now!!) Maine, but alas, to no avail. I'm sure they find the usual recipes on these pages a bit odd, and maybe even downright strange, and that's okay because they love me anyway. But today I wanted to send them a Valentine's wish for a very special anniversary.

I looked for a Maine version of this recipe, certain that it would be a staple there. But of the 6 Maine cookbooks I consulted, not one had a recipe for Fish Pie. I found that a bit astonishing, to be honest, because this dish has so many things for New Englanders to love: sweet white-meat fish, mashed potatoes, and a light cream sauce. T describes it as a Maine-style fish stew with mashed potatoes on top. For those of you familiar with Shepherd's Pie, or Cumberland Pie, you can think of this as a marine version of that, too.

I’ve had to rely instead on the recipe we used, and on which we were tested on so often, at the Leith’s School. I’ve adapted the methods a bit (sorry, Claire, I haven’t mashed potatoes through a sieve since 2000!), but the recipe is tried and true. One thing I like about this recipe is its method of poaching the fish in seasoned milk. The onion and bay leaf help to cut down any fishy smell, and in turn the poaching adds flavor to the milk, which is then used to make the bechamel sauce that will bathe the fish in creamy goodness. This was made with Wahoo, a popuar local fish also known as Ono (and it IS ono, too), and corn. It’s one of T’s favorites, too, so he gets a second early Valentine’s dinner — he’ll eat some for you both, Mom and Dad!

For Steve and Gladys, this one's for you! Thank you for all your love and support, and for sharing yourselves and one of the most wonderful of guys in the world with me. Happy Anniversary, late but with all our love!

*** This recipe is joining the heart-shaped savory pies we made earlier for zorra’s “Heart for your Valentine” event at 1x umrühren bitte. The event closes on Friday, the 15th, but zorra is updating the round-up as entries come in, so if you want ideas to tickle your Valentine’s fancy, there are already dozens of entries on-line. Check out the round-up here or by clicking the banner in the sidebar. ***

Wahoo fish pie

(adapted from
The Leith's Cookery Bible)
Mis en place:
1. Mashed Potatoes (for topping) (or use your favorite recipe)
1.5 lb (675g) floury potato (e.g., Russett)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup + 2
TBL. (100 ml) milk, room temperature
TBL. (55g) butter, room temperature
pinch fresh nutmeg (about 3 passes on a grater)

Peel potatoes, cut in quarters, and place in steamer. Steam over medium-high steam for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through.

Place milk, butter, salt and pepper in large bowl. Transfer hot potatoes to bowl, season with salt and peper, and immediately mash or whip to fulffy consistency. Add nutmeg, if using, and stir to mix through.
(Actually, when I make mashed potatoes for fish pie, I usually just mash the potatoes with a bit of
sea salt and ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil because there is so much butter, milk and cream in the sauce, it is too rich for my blood. But for company or a special occasion, I'll splurge on the butter and milk in the potatoes too.)

2. Poach Fish:
1.5-2lb. (675-900g) haddock, cod, wahoo, mahimahi, or other firm white fish, with skin
1-3/4 cup (425ml) whole or low-fat milk (don't recommend using non-fat)
½ onion, sliced
8-10 peppercorns
3-4 small bay leaves
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

In small oven-proof pan with deep sides, lay onion slices, peppercorns and bay leaves in pan. Place fish, skin side up (this is supposed to further protect your fish from drying out) on top of onions. Pour milk over fish, season with salt, and cover with parchment or wax paper. Cook in pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until fish is opaque (cooked through). Cooking time will depend on thickness of fish.

Remove fish from pan, and keep covered to retain heat. Strain milk to remove solids,
but KEEP MILK to make Bechamel Sauce.

3. Make Bechamel Sauce:
2 TBL. (30g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (30g) flour
Reserved Milk from Poached Fish
2 TBL. heavy cream (or double cream)

Melt butter in saucepan, and immediately add flour. Stirring constantly, cook together for one minute. Add 2 TBL. of Reserved Milk, and whisk until milk is completely absorbed. Add 2 more TBL. of Reserved Milk, and stir to incorporate. Continue to add increasing amounts of milk to slurry in pan, and whisk well. Bring sauce slowly to a boil over medium heat, then add cream and remove from heat. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

4. Assemble and Bake:
5 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled; OR 1 cup ( g) peas, green beans or veggie of your choice
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley,
minced (about 2 TBL.)

Place 6-cup oven-proof casserole on baking sheet. Flake fish in large chunks into casserole. Add eggs, if using, or vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley. Pour hot sauce over all. (Can be cooled and refrigerated overnight up to this point, to top with potatoes and bake later. Lay wax or parchment paper directly on surface of sauce to prevent "skin" from forming.)
Traditional criss-cross patternPiped mashed potato topping

Spread a layer of mashed potates over fish and, using a fork, make a traditional criss-cross pattern over the top (photo on left). Alternatively, pipe mashed potatoes in attractive pattern over fish (heart-shaped pan).

Drizzle with olive oil, and and place casserole on baking sheet into middle shelf in oven. Bake for 10 minutes, or until filling is hot throughout. Test filling with metal needle or skewer to make certain it is hot. If potatoes start to brown before filling is properly heated, cover lightly with foil/aluminium.

If you're baking a pie that was begun 24 hours earlier and refriegerated: Cover with foil/aluminium and bake for 30 minutes. Test filling as outlined above. Remove foil and continue baking another 10 minutes or until potatoes lightly brown.

Serve with salad, and a dry (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris) or mildly sweet (Riesling or White Zinfandel) white wine.

(This recipe also complies with the GDC, so it shouldn't trouble my dad's gout. More gout-friendly recipes)


Kung Hee Fat Choy: Happy Lunar New Year

New Year's good luck charmGau: new year's cake

Tomorrow officially begins the new lunar year, 4706 The Year of the Rat. Here on Oahu the festivities began early in January, and culminated publicly over the weekend with three days of partying in Honolulu's Chinatown. We caught the tail-end of the parade and the beginning of the street party on Saturday. We must have have missed the firecrackers, or perhaps there was a rain delay because it was quite wet in town all weekend. Despite the weather, hundreds of brave folks lined Hotel Street to watch the parade and stroll along the fest tents on Nu'uanu Street to sample fresh-cooked meat skewers, noodles, jai (also called monk's food, a vegetarian rice meal filled with good luck symbolism), fried rice, plate lunches, dim sum, and the hot fried-food-of-the-night "jin doi," crispy, hollow sesame-covered rice balls with a smear of sweet bean paste inside (far right photo below). Dad was looking for a remembered treat from Manila that he called "tikoy" turned out to be Gau (photo above), the super sticky brown-sugar and rice-flour "cake" that is available all over Chinatown and much of Oahu this time of year. For such simple ingredients, it's quite an addictive treat.
Hotel Street after the paradeMaunakea Marketplace CourtyardVendors preparing fresh jin doi
We only caught the last 2 entries in the parade, including this gaily decorated, if slightly water-logged, lion and his stalwart handlers.
The last lion wneds his way down the damp parade routeLion pauses for a feeding during the parade
After the parade, the lions go their separate ways to visit shops and other businesses in the area. People vie to "feed" the lions since doing so will bring good luck for the coming year. Many folks try to entice their youngsters to bring their "food" to the lions, but with their energetic dancing, and flashing bright eyes, the lions could be a bit intimidating for the little ones, too. First-timers are often carried by their parents. After receiving their monetary meal, the lions often bow in front of the donor and sometimes wag their tails!
A lion approachesLion awaits its feedingLion bows its appreciation to its youngest benefactor
Dad made his offerings to one of the lions one for Nikko, one for Kenji, and one Masato. I couldn't catch them both still, one was always in motion (Dad moves fast for a senior citizen!).
Dad and the Red LionThe Lion gets a second

More about Honolulu's Chinatown:
Part I: Come see what you've been missing
Part II: Best buys


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 . . .


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

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.