The Intersection of Blogging and Life: Meeting a Fellow Food Blogger

If you've ever met a fellow blogger, especially one that lives nearby, then you know the scenario...

You've set the date (yesterday), set the time (7PM), and picked the restaurant (Casablanca) - a fairly new Moroccan place in town that some co-workers had recommended. You know you're taking a risk on a restaurant that neither of you have been to, and realize the extent of that risk when you read the reviews and all it talks about is how sensuous the food is and the sexy appeal of the dark, sultry dining room. This is a first *date* of sorts, after all. But, what the heck? Live life adventurously, right?

And you already know they love food as much as you do.

You've picked out your clothes - not too nice because you don't want to seem like you're trying, but just nice enough that you don't seem like a slob. You arrive a bit early, because you don't want to be late the first time you meet. You're not really sure what your dining companion looks like, because they don't have a picture on their blog, but then again, neither do you. But when you get to the mostly empty restaurant and they seat you front and center, you're sure you'll be able to tell when they walk in.

And you can.

You meet, exchange hello hugs (you've been conversing over email anyhow and feel like you sort of know them already), and take your seats at the (very) low tables. It's really quiet in the restaurant, so you find yourselves whispering at first. You're nervous and thinking, what if they don't like me? Even worse, what if they stop reading my blog after this - that would be awful!? You brought your own wine because it's common here in Hawaii to do so since many places do not have liquor licenses - and you're happy to hear they don't charge a corkage fee. As you open it, you silently hope the transit in the shipping containers didn't ruin it (but of course, like would happen on any first *date,* it did). You're slightly embarrassed at how bad the wine is, actually, but you both laugh it off and decide to enjoy extra helpings of the mint tea instead.

There are a few moments when you're not sure what to say, as in any first meeting with someone you hardly know, but you're relieved to find that the conversation flows smoothly for most of the night. Because you're slightly nervous (you really want them to like you!), you accidentally knock your bread from your plate onto the floor (oops). But the soup is delicious, and you can tell that you're both wondering how to recreate the flavors at home. You talk about how much each of you loves soup, but how hard it is to eat warm soup when it's hot out all the time. You discover that you both read some of the same blogs - and it's like discovering you have mutual friends.

Things get even more interesting when you realize that there is no silverware at this place, and that you have a leg of lamb sitting on the plate between you with only your fingers and hands to dig into it with (no wonder they called it "sensuous" food!). The lamb is tender (if messy) and the capers and tomato sauce surrounding the soft calamari rings has a unique depth of flavor to it. After a while, you even forget that you're eating with your hands - until you drop some of the tasty chicken and cinnamon pastry dish from your fingers onto some of the other plates you're sharing. You apologize bashfully for dropping the food that was destined for your mouth on the mutual plates, and you both start giggling when the waitress arrives and tosses (a somewhat hefty amount of) orange blossom water at the top of your head from a tea kettle before she brings dessert.

By that time, the conversation comes easily now. And as it veers to food and restaurants and blogging, and you see their eyes light up and that they understand how blogging gets under your skin and the community becomes a part of your life, you know that you've found a kindred spirit. Neither of you is impressed with the fairly greasy and sticky funnel cake dessert, so you have extra mint tea instead - the honeyed flavor bringing a gentle end to the meal. Finally, you leave the restaurant with more hugs, deciding to take a cooking class or two from the local community college together, and head opposite directions down the street to your cars. You hope quietly to yourself that she had as good of a time as you did.

As you walk towards your car, you turn and take one last look at the front of the restaurant - "Casablanca" is painted in bright yellow letters against an azure background. You smile, and can't help but think to yourself:

* * *

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a fellow food blogger - Deb, from Kahakai Kitchen. After "stalking" her for the last month on her blog (once I found that there was another food blogger here in Hawaii whose site I thoroughly enjoyed reading every day, there was no going back), I finally convinced her to meet up with me (wink, wink). So I'm happy to report that she's even sweeter and funnier than I imagined she would be, and I love her easy-going personality, which is also apparent in all of the wonderful things she writes on her blog (not to mention the amazing-looking recipes). I'm really looking forward to taking the culinary classes and exploring some of the foodie adventures that Hawaii has to offer with her. It's great to have all sorts of friends to do different activities with, but knowing someone in the same town that is as big a food dork as you are? Priceless! Thanks for a great evening, Deb!

While the food at Casablanca was good (not stellar; except, perhaps, the soup), and the experience of eating with your fingers, washing your hands at the table and having orange-blossom water thrown at you is its own treat, we both agreed that the $34 price tag for the prix fixe meal was not necessarily worth it and that we would probably only go back in a large group.

Casablanca Restaurant
19 Ho'ola'i Street
Kailua, HI


Tag, You're It!

I was recently tagged for a meme by the lovely Deb at Kahakai Kitchen. Deb has delicious recipes and great photography on her blog and is far better at I am at showing people little bits of Hawaii - while she's only been blogging since April, she's been in Hawaii for seven years, making her a fabulous resource! Not only that, she's super prolific and her blog is a joy to read, so it's always fun to see what new she has to say nearly every day.

I discovered Deb's blog while looking for Hawaii food blogs and I'm so glad I did - it's been wonderful getting to know her! I haven't participated in a meme in quite some time, especially with my almost year-long hiatus from blogging while I finished up my degree, so I guess you know you're back in the swing of things when they start coming around to you again! It's been really fun discovering new blogs and I always enjoy reading everyone's answers. Thanks for tagging me, Deb! You can read Deb's meme answers here.

1. Last Movie I Saw In A Movie Theater?
Batman...on the Friday when it opened. No, I didn't dress up. But I thought about it. For about 2 seconds.

2. What Book Are You Reading? 1) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, 2) Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, and next on the list is The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen (yes, I realize that I am probably the only foodie on the planet that hasn't read it yet, but I haven't ever seen the movie Trainspotting yet either...somehow when you miss the first boat, the second is a long time coming!). I don't know if I've ever mentioned my book fetish...maybe it's better to keep something to yourself? So many books to read...so little time.

3. Favorite Board Game?
You know you've finally become your parents when one of your favorite past-times is inviting your friends over for board games...it might be even worse when you start inviting your neighbors over because you just have to find someone to play with you! I love board games! Our most recent indulgence has been a fair amount of Parcheesi, but I also love Apples to Apples, Go to the Head of the Class and any other game that I can beat LB at playing.

4. Favorite Magazine?
I'm with Debbie here: Donna Hay -- food porn at its finest!

5. Favorite Smells? Fresh, outdoor air - be it at the beach or the mountains. And that after-rain earthy smell. Coconut, vanilla, freshly baked bread.

6. Favorite Sounds?
ocean waves, laughter, tropical birds (only past 7 AM).

7. Worst Feeling In The World?
feeling like I've disappointed or failed someone I care about.

8. First Thing You Think of When You Wake?
"It's too early and I don't want to be awake yet - must. go. back. to. sleep!"

9. Favorite Fast Food Place?
I don't eat at fast food places. But I would (and have) eat(en) at Burgerville.

10. Future Child’s Name?
I wouldn't want to jinx 'em! Picking a kid's name is serious business too. I have a theory that your kid turns into what you name them. You have to be careful about that!

11. Finish This Statement—“If I Had a Lot of Money,"
I would open my own gourmet food store/deli.

12. Do You Drive Fast?
In my opinion, no, but I have been called "lead-foot" by various people in my life...

13. Do You Sleep With a Stuffed Animal?
Does LB count?

14. Storms—cool or scary?
Cool, unless they are really bad storms that cause a lot of chaos. Safe but big storms: cool, especially if there is thunder and lightning.

15. What Was Your First Car?
My 1st car had a name: The Piece. It was a Nissan Pulsar. I had it for 6 months and was only able to drive it for 2 of those six months because it was broken down the rest of the time. I sold it to a guy; and on the way home, the transmission went out on him. I also accidentally pushed it into a ditch once. But that's another story.

16. Favorite Drink?
Coconut Mojito! Oh, did you mean non-alcoholic? Right now, I'd have to go with coconut water. I'm new to Hawaii: all this coconut stuff is still novel! Plus, it's fat free and cholesterol free and all that good stuff, but still tastes decadent.

17. Finish This Statement—“If I Had the Time, I Would…"
travel all over the world, eating and drinking and laughing. (Guess I would need money for all of that too.)

18. Do You Eat the Stems on Broccoli?
Not usually, but strangely, lately I've been debating that very question.

19. If You could Dye your Hair Any Other Color, What Would It Be?
I like my hair color! But sometimes I would change it from curly to straight just to try something different (and because curly hair is a pain in the ass when it's humid).

20. Name All the Different Cities In Which You Have Lived
- Grand Junction & Fort Collins, Colorado; Seward, Alaska; Monterey, California; Coos Bay & Eugene, Oregon; Kaneohe, Hawaii.

21. Favorite Sport to Watch?
Not a huge TV sports fan (live sports are entirely different), but probably basketball or football IF it's a team that I have some reason for loyalty to a particular team (ie. it's LBs favorite or from my home town/state of Colorado - and home town/state wins over LB's favorite if they are playing each other). I can also dig on baseball during the world series, IF it's a team I have some reason for loyalty to also (ie. see above).

22. One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You
She lives on the same island as I do out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Plus, it looks like she makes amazing food and I want to convince her to be my new friend. ;)

23. What’s Under Your Bed?
Dog hair. Lots and lots and lots of dog hair. I don't go under there; it may have developed its own personality by now and I'm afraid I'd lose a hand or an arm if I stuck it under there.

24. Would You Like to Be Born As Yourself Again?
Um...only if I had a recollection of all of the things I have been through in this life already...and if I didn't have to relive some of the them.

25. Morning Person or Night Owl?
Neither, really. I like to sleep at least 9 hours, but my clock has been all screwed up since I moved here and now I wake up at 6 AM and I'm exhausted by 10 PM - still trying to shift it over. It's embarrassing to be 30 and yawning at 9:30 PM.

26. Over Easy or Sunny Side Up?
Over medium! NO runny whites and there has to be enough toast or crispy potatoes to hold up against the ratio of runny yolk.

27. Favorite Place to Relax?
The beach, baby! With a chair and a good book. Or drinking wine with friends.

28. Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
Anything with lots of "goodies" or chunks in it. And it has to have chocolate in it somewhere.

29. Of All the People You Have Tagged, Who Is the Most Likely to Respond First?
Good question.

Whew! Now the *fun* part of the meme - tagging 4-5 other bloggers. And I really appreciated Deb letting me know she had tagged me, so I'm going to do the same for my tagged bloggers!

I'm tagging:

  1. Nerissa, from Deetsa's Diningroom. Nerissa is currently exploring France with her husband and prince, The Frog, (go read her incredibly rich descriptions of the food and experiences she's having there!)and has been a long-time blog friend...so hopefully she'll forgive me for tagging her and giving her something more to do when she gets back. (xoxo Nerissa!).
  2. Melissa at Gluten Free For Good. Melissa is a nutrition expert and her blog is full of beautiful photography and helpful information. Although I see that she is embarking on a trip soon, I'd love to learn more about her and hopefully she won't mind a meme when she gets back!
  3. Dawn at Colorado Foodie. Both Dawn and Melissa live in Colorado, so they're my connections to home. Dawn started her blog at the same time I did and she's been away lately and I've been missing her blog, so hopefully the meme will get her going again!
  4. Paz at the Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz. It's been amazing watching the evolution of Paz, both in her cooking ability (she claims she started as a novice) and her photography and her site is simply beautiful. She also takes time out on Mondays to show her readers around New York. Having never been there myself, it's fun to see this place through her eyes! ** update: oh no! Paz is recovering from surgery, so this tag will have to wait...I hope you have a speedy recovery, Paz!


A Tribute to Sher

I was deeply saddened to learn a few days ago about the sudden and unexpected passing of a fellow food blogger, Sher, who was the author of the food blog, What did you Eat? Sher's circle of friends in the food blog community - her online family - spread the sad news with moving stories of her life, the friendships she formed, and the ways in which she had impacted their lives. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know her as I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of stumbling across her blog, but many of the food bloggers I visit regularly - my own food blogging family - did.

Sher was one of the fabulous Bread Baking Babes, and as a tribute to her they are making one of her recipes and posting it today.  Sher was an active member of the food-blogging community, contributed to BlogHer, and was involved in the long-standing and on-going Weekend Herb Blogging at Kalyn's Kitchen. Today, these bloggers and many others in the food blog community – all across the world - are celebrating her life and giving tribute to her by making and posting her recipes.  She will live on in the hearts and kitchens of all of her friends.

As my tribute to Sher, and the people who knew and loved her, I chose her recipe for Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs and Sun-dried Tomatoes. You can find her post about it and her recipe here. I chose this recipe because she was a self-professed meatball fanatic and her blog is full of delicious-looking recipes for them. And I chose it because I’ve never made them before. Sure, I’ve thrown a chunk or two of Italian sausage in some tomato sauce before, but her meatballs are the kind of soft, melt-in-your-mouth meatballs that come from a careful hand and a lot of love. They were delicious. I didn't have spaghetti, so instead of serving them with crusty bread, as Sher recommended, I put them on the crusty bread instead and had meatball sandwiches. We'll definitely be making them again. And every time I do, I'll think of Sher.

And this is what food blogs are about – sharing wisdom we've garnered and passing on recipes (and sometimes tidbits of ourselves), but more than anything else, it's about connecting with others and sharing a part of our lives that we're passionate about. Food is something that connects everyone in the world, regardless of location, age, job, lifestyle, political views or religion, and it has for hundreds of years.  Anyone who has blogged in this community knows that it is full of incredibly supportive and amazing people. By leaving comments and visiting other's blogs, by reading the posts that others write - the ones we all put our minds and our hearts into - you can't help but begin to know someone, even if you never learn their real names. And one day, you find you've somehow touched the lives of others and that they have touched yours - by encouragement, wisdom, laughter and sometimes just saying hello when you need it the most.

It's truly an incredible thing - the mere thought of the difference that Sher made to so many people, without having ever met them in person. I hope the posts today, which will be linked to the moving tribute by Sher's closest online friend, Glenna, and so that her family can find and read them, will help them to know just how much she was cared about. While she may have made her home in Davis, she touched the world through her blog.


Honey, You Had Me at "Let's Make Crepes"

Barely into the beginning of our relationship – long before I had even discovered just how much I enjoyed cooking – LB and I went with about 20 other graduate students to Sun River, Oregon to partake in a yearly event: Free Ski Friday. On Free Ski Friday, Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort opens its doors and lets anyone ski on their magnificent slopes for an entire day – for the “cost” of brining 2 cans of food to the ticket counter. It’s a fund-raiser for Neighbor Impact, a coalition that raises money and food to feed the needy and less fortunate of Central Oregon. Being that graduate students often have a surplus of canned foods, and are always on the lookout for a bargain, everyone pitches in to get a rental house for the weekend, loads in cars and drives the four hours from Eugene to spend a rowdy three days drinking, eating, skiing, laughing and lauding until we’re all utterly and happily exhausted.

Usually, the cooking gets divided amongst the revelers and people pair up in groups to buy and feed the masses. Newly dating, LB and I ended up with breakfast the last day. In trying to decide what we wanted to make, we came across a worn copy of The Joy of Cooking in one of the cupboards of the rental house. For whatever reason, we settled on making crepes – something neither of us had made before. We drove to the one grocery store in Sun River, loaded up on fruit and Nutella, milk, butter and flour and set off to impress the rest of our cohorts.

Somehow, it worked. We did it without a crepe pan, with zero kitchen skills between the both of us, and with only the rental house's available kitchen tools. And they were fabulous. Ever since then, LB has been the crepe man of the house and we often make crepes for friends and house guests – filling them with homemade jams, seasonal fruit, chocolate wine sauces, and Nutella. A savory crepe or two has even occasionally graced the table (eggs studded with homemade sausage or thinly sliced steak with ginger shitake cream sauce), although the sweet fillings reign supreme in this house. The ingredients are almost always in the cupboard and the refrigerator, and the only garnish needed is a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

In Hawaii, there is no shortage of sweet, tropical fruits to fill crepes with and they don’t even need chocolate sauce to satisfy. There is also no shortage of beautiful weather with which to enjoy a long, leisurely Sunday breakfast of crepes on the lanai with either. The raspberries are not local, and were certainly a luxury at $4 a 1/4 pint (on big, huge sale - they are normally $6.99 or more), but they were a colorful, flavorful addition that helped round out the sweetness of the other fruit - as did the magical, organic starfruit from our CSA, whose gentle astringency was also a welcome addition - plus, how cool is it to have a fruit shaped like a star?! It's just purrty! Just don't stick it in the fridge or it will get mushy and turn brown around the edges - oops.

While we now use our own worn and dog-eared copy of The Joy of Cooking (one of the first gifts I got LB), we make our crepes with whole wheat pastry flour (and sometimes vegan butter) and LB has tailored the recipe to make crepes that are delightfully thin and just lightly crisp around the edges, every time we enjoy them the taste still brings me back to that first shared kitchen experience. Who could have known that nearly six years later we’d still be making crepes together? But then again, maybe I did...

Crepes a la L.B., makes approximately 7-8 crepes
adapted from a recipe by The Joy of Cooking

  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for coating the pan
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup of cold water*
Mix all the ingredients together in a blender and pulse until smooth (we've also just whisked them together and they turned out fine; plus, less dishes!). Pour into a bowl and cover with saran wrap - let it stand for 30 minutes in the fridge, or up to 2 days. Test the consistency of the crepes and add the cold water, a splash at a time, until it's a very loose batter (LB describes this as "add water until you think that the batter is so loose that it's about to 'break' and then add one splash more" - see note below).

Preheat oven to 200F or just barely on (for keeping crepes warm). Coat a nonstick saute pan or a crepe pan (about 9" across) with butter. Then pour a nearly full 1/4 cup of batter into the pan, circling your wrist and moving the pan about so that the batter completely coats the bottom of the pan in a single, even, thin layer (*note: you can play around with the consistency of the batter here - if your first crepes come out too thick, add a splash or two more of water until they spread easy and come out thin and just ever so slightly crisp around the edges). Cook until the top is set and the underside becomes golden. Turn the crepe over - fingers work best - and cook until lightly browned and cooked through. Place the crepe on an oven-proof plate or dish and put in an oven at 200F to keep warm. Repeat for the remainder of the batter. Fill with yummy fillings of your choice and top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Some of our other favorite crepe fillings:
Merlot chocolate sauce and raspberries
Homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream
Sliced bananas and a light smearing of Nutella
Apple or pumpkin butter, with a bit of maple syrup
Apples stewed with cinnamon, topped with whipped cream
Lemon curd (or vanilla yogurt) and blackberries
Cherries cooked down with a little sugar, almond extract and lemon zest, then sprinkled with toasted sliced almonds


Nostalgia: A Toast to Friendship

The experiences we have in life are so transient, here one moment and gone the next. When I started graduate school, I had no thoughts about what it would be like to leave Eugene or the life I had formed there. I left California having just gotten out of a nasty relationship, and I was ready to start fresh. I was interested only interested in getting there, in getting started, and in earning my degree. Yet six years flew by me in a flash. In that time, I became a completely different person; I got married, I got my degree, and before I knew it, I was already leaving to begin the next chapter of my life. And I was excited to go - I was full of expectations and ready to take on the world, to determine if I was on the right path and to see where it would take me.

You see, when the time to leave comes, when you've packed up your life and you've had that one last meal or drink with the people you love there - the surrogate little family you have created for yourself - you feel ready to go; you're off to begin that new chapter and the new adventures that await you in your new home. Months later, when the unpacking is finished and the jobs are settled, when the KitchenAid mixer has its new spot on your new kitchen counter and your bowls and your coffee mugs have their new places in new cabinets, when your books are put up on the new bookshelves and the various trinkets and memories that you brought with you have been settled into their new positions to remind you of the "home" you left behind, only then does it finally hit you. Only then do you suddenly realize that when you move somewhere, away from the place you have been living for a year, two years, six years, twenty, thirty - however long it has been - that you can pack up your furniture, and you can move your books, and you can pack up your clothes and your kitchen gear, but you can't move your whole life. There are some things, even things that took years (or a lifetime) to build, that must be left behind.

Friendships are the hardest of these things. In the beginning, it takes a fair amount of vulnerability to let someone else, someone you hardly know, in. Once you've passed that hurdle and become comfortable with another person, friendships - like good bread - must be kneaded and nurtured, and the good ones (the ones that last) require a measure of understanding that can only come with time and experiences shared together (sometimes that even includes perspective and understanding about yourself that even you don't have).

While true friends will still play a big role in your life despite the miles that separate you, their lives must go on, just as yours must. And while it's one thing to pack up and leave a house or a town, it's another to truly understand that the daily lives of the people that you left there will still go on...but you won't be a part of them any longer. That means that there will be no more Friday nights drinking wine at the Jiffy Mart people-watching with the *regulars,* no more Saturday nights while somebody's husband is nice enough to watch the kids so that you can have a girl's night and share food together, no more talking over a bottle or two at Territorial and ranting about troubles at work or at home so that you can go back to both places and be nice, no more sneaking off from work to grab a cup of coffee or a meal to chitchat about your co-workers and your lives, and no more sweating together through an infinite number of different exercise classes - relying on friendship to force/help/guilt you into going.

I miss my friends. Sadly, I think I miss Tweety so much because that darn little bird was the closest thing I had to a friend here.

I find that I'm half afraid to open the last remaining bottle of Eugene Wine Cellars wine that we brought here with us from Oregon - a 2005 Bellevue Cross Pinot Noir. I'm afraid the taste will transport me back to the nights I spent at the winery, and the friendships created there. Because I know in just a few short month's time, the 2008 harvest will begin again, with a new crew; new friendships will be formed, someone will take over my job, and they will bottle the 2007 wines that I helped make...but I won't be there to taste them. One of my friends will begin graduate school in the Fall, and I won't be there to offer advice or an excuse to escape the lab on hard days, like she did for me. My lab desk and my lab bench have been taken over by new lab members, my shelves filled with new lab equipment, and my freezer boxes of samples emptied. My tight-knit group of girls continues to meet weekly at our old haunts and are discovering new places together. They are my sisters in many ways - the ones I formed when my real siblings were so far away. But the part I miss the most about all of my friends there? They knew me. They know me. And there is nothing else that brings that about except for shared time together.

While I plan on taking these nearest and dearest friends with me wherever I go, as I have done for other places and friends that I have had to "leave behind" on previous moves, it's still not easy. I do have to say that it is truly comforting to still have all of my favorite bloggers stopping by here on a regular basis, letting me know you're out there, being an almost daily part of my life here (thank you, thank you, thank you!) and letting me be a part of yours - some of you for nearly three years now. I know I will find new people here, fall in love with them and their personalities just as I did with the people who became my friends when I first moved to Eugene. But again, these things take time, and it is the wait that is difficult. I'm not even sure yet where to seek out new friends here - although, shhh - I'm already scoping the Internet for other foodies! Because if they love food as much as I do, then I'm sure to love them, right? Then I'll just have to convince them to give me a try too. Should it become necessary, I'm also not above stalking potential friends at the various places I do go - the farmer's market, the grocery store, the lab...if I see them picking up an organic avocado from Kimberly, if I spot a pint of Hamakua mushrooms in their cart, or catch them dipping their spoon in a jar of mango curd for lunch (well, I would do that!), then I might just say hello - all of these things say "potential friend material" to me!

But for now, I think I will open up that bottle of wine and make a toast to you, my dear friends - both old and new. To my old friends, I miss you. I hope that someday the gas prices go down and the plane tickets get cheaper and a fairly godmother comes along to grant us a way to sit with each other once more and reminisce about the old times, while sharing the adventures of our new, different lives (since for most of us that are still living on student salaries a fairy godmother would actually be required). But until then, may you always know that that regardless the miles of miles that separate us, we will never be far apart. To my blog friends, I'm so glad you're here with me still and that, uniquely through our blogs our relationships are able to continue on the same paths - regardless of where the world takes us. And to my new friends, whomever you may be - I can't wait to see what the future holds. Okole maluna!


Still Life with (Local) Burgers

On a warm summer night, there's nothing like sitting out on the lanai (or patio) with a glass of chilled wine or beer and enjoying a big, juicy burger cooked on the grill. Double points if you pick up the burger and the juice runs down your forearms onto the table - you know the kind; the burger that once you pick it up, you don't want to set it back down. Truly, burgers are quintessential Americana at its very best. Around our house, we don't eat our burgers with the traditional French fries and/or soda very often, but there's almost always some kind of salad to accompany them...a lightly dressed coleslaw, crisp lettuce with sliced veggies, pasta or potato salads, you name it...and now, we also often add grilled Maui or Ewa Sweet onions to top things off and give it that extra special Hawaii appeal.

In my book, a "burger" can encompass nearly anything so long as it ends up looking like a "patty" and is eaten on a bun (preferably a big, hearty bakery-made or homemade bun - none of these squidgy white bread buns that are 1/4 of the size of the burger you want to stick on it and that melts and gets doughy from the juice). This can include whizzing up some vegetables, grains or legumes in the food processor and molding that into a patty; marinating a big, properly bun-sized portobello mushroom; or finding yourself some deliciously grassy and lean local beef.

Still Life with (Local) Burger:
Grass-fed beef, Ba-Le Bakery bun, CSA veggies, Kahuku sweet corn (photo by LB)

Since we moved to Hawaii and have a proper lanai for grilling and enjoying our burgers (with wine and beer, of course), I've been sampling different techniques for making all kinds of burgers...quinoa burgers with cumin, portobellos marinated in Korean-style BBQ sauce, grass-fed beef burgers with caramelized onions and Worcestershire (Lea and Perrins, of course) and my latest quest: fish. Moonfish, or opah, to be exact.

Opah are simply beautiful fish - silvery with orange fins as you can see in the picture in this link. They are suggested as a "good alternative" on the Hawaii regional sustainable seafood guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium (If you haven't checked out this fabulous resource before, they have wonderful wallet-sized printouts available that tell you which fish are the best choices, good alternatives, and which to avoid completely. I used to work next door to the Aquarium, and they have a great program going.). The flesh of the opah is firm - similar to tuna - and slightly stringy. There are different colors pertaining to where on the fish the flesh comes from, and most of the opah sold in the markets here are by-catch from long-line tuna or mahi-mahi fishing; but all of it comes from Hawaii. While I'm not a huge fan of long-line caught anything (any kind of dredging, netting, etc. causes havoc on the underwater environment), I guess if it's going to be caught and killed anyway until we develop better ways of fishing (which may never happen), it might as well be eaten and not thrown back into the ocean. That said, until we figure out a bit more about this fish in general, I'd still like this relatively new commercial species not to become a too commonly caught species. But I still had to try it, at least once (besides - the salmon looked absolutely horrid that day, thus, we ended up with opah instead). Supposedly, opah was historically viewed as a good luck fish by old-time fishermen and even given to friends as a good-will measure instead of being sold at fishmarkets (hmm...I hope that doesn't mean I shouldn't eat it).

While opah does rank relatively high on the mercury scale, suggesting that only one 6 oz. serving (for women, that is) should be eaten per month, I'm a proponent of most things in moderation and it's not likely we'll be eating these again this month anyway (too many other fun things to try!). We'll definitely be making fish-type burgers again no matter what - these were delicious and would probably work with other types of semi-firm fish, including tuna, salmon or possibly even halibut (maybe).

I served these babies up with a plain, non-fat yogurt "mayonnaise" (healthy, healthy!) - containing lime juice and zest, tiny bits of mango, chili powder, salt and pepper - a sweet, tangy sauce that complimented the richness of the burgers quite well, and then I topped them off with grilled Ewa sweet onions (our local Oahu sweet onions). We ate them on whole-wheat Ba-Le Bakery buns from the farmer's market and with lettuce from our CSA. On the side was a version of a salad-of-sorts containing leftover wild rice and grilled Kahuku sweet corn (local Oahu sweet corn), mixed with fresh North Shore Farm's Big Wave tomatoes, a bit of olive oil and some spices. We finished it off with a surprisingly nice glass of pineapple and passionfruit wine from Tedeschi Vineyards - the Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch - on Maui. I'm not a real lover of fruit wines, but this one, although still fairly sweet, had enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the fruit and actually complimented the flavors of the opah burgers and the mango in the mayo/yogurt quite well.

  1. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Regional Sustainable Seafood Guides
  2. Environmental Defense Fund Fish Mercury Scale
  3. For another idea, check out Hawaii food blogger Kahakai Kitchen's take on burgers Turkey-Falafel Burgers


Diet for a Small Bird, Part II

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post to introduce you all to Tweety, our baby "myna bird." I gave LB a sufficient amount of teasing for bringing the scraggly-looking little fella home (or he might have been a girl, maybe, but his later personality confirmed to us, at least, that he was of the male persuasion), we started feeding him moistened dog food and avoided handling him (for the first few weeks anyway...), and finally rid him of the nasty case of bird mites that he had (one word: ew).

Once he could sort of move around (he had adult-sized legs and feet even as a little guy so it took him a while to be able to get his round little body up on those stilts!), we moved him from the bowl into a box, and soon he had started hopping around his box, getting more feathers and looking more and more like a bird. He also stopped tweeting quite so loudly all the time, except maybe at 5 in the morning, which all-and-all was a welcome change. Then one day, we had (thankfully) stuck him inside for the first time on a window seat in our room while we were gone and came home to find that little Tweety had escaped his box and was sitting on the window sill, just checking things out.

After that, we bought him a cage to keep him safe at night and while we were gone (there are cats in our neighborhood, as well as lots of dogs and cars just over the fence), but left the door open while we were home. With all that "freedom," Tweety started to fly. He wasn't very good at first, and often looked for wider landing spots (including my head/hair), but he was doing it all by himself. He also stopped tweeting and started making really beautiful (and some not so beautiful) calls when he was outside by himself. As he got a little older, he developed a bit of a curious crest of feathers on the top of his head...

Turns out, Tweety wasn't a myna (or mynah) bird at all, he was a red-vented bulbul. While still considered a nuisance species and one that is invasive here in Hawaii, he quickly became part of the family and we, despite our best efforts, fell quickly in love with him. As adults, red-vented bulbuls, or Pycnonotus cantor if you prefer scientific names, have a brilliant red underbelly - or maybe undertail is a better description (see these pictures). Another interesting side note is that they are one of a few species of animals, along with bats and humans, that cannot synthesize their own vitamin C and must get it from their food - thus, perhaps, why they are huge fans of fruit, one of the characteristics that makes them into "pests."

Tweety's personality was vibrant - he would chastise the dogs when they came outside for being in his space, he would call out to us when we went inside, shake his wings with excitement when we came outside and loved to sit on our shoulders in the evenings, nestling up to us as it got cooler towards night and cooing in our ears. Man, he was just plain cute. He loved to be held and petted, especially under his beak and would fall asleep sitting nuzzled against your neck or cradled in your lap as you pet his head (I never thought bird's liked being petted!). He even would occasionally mimic our whistles, although he definitely had his own repertoire of innate bird calls. We stopped caging him at night as soon as he could fly - we didn't want him beating up his feathers trying to get out as soon as he saw us in the mornings - and we never re-caged him after that. He stuck around for most of the day for a while, then was only there in the mornings and the evenings for meals and to enjoy a little nuzzling before bed.

You might notice that I'm using the past tense here. That's because our little Tweety "flew the coop" and left us two weeks ago. He started coming around less and less, leaving the yard to explore the neighborhood, and then one day, after a few minutes of being pet, he cooed and then just flew away...for good. I couldn't even see where he went. For the first week, very time we saw or heard a red-vented bulbul in the yard (we can recognize and distinguish their calls from mynahs, cardinals, java sparrows, finches and other birds in our yard now), we ran outside and started whistling, hoping it was him, looking to see if it was a juvenile bird (no red butt! Tweety had just one or two little red feathers on his underbelly, having not yet gained his stark red coloring) or if the bulbul would come when we whistled. But now it's been two weeks, and I don't think he'll be coming "home" again. This is okay. This is what birds are supposed to do - to prevent inbreeding, most fledglings are evolutionarily primed to leave the nest and the area where they were born.

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss him, because I do. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want him to come "home" again, because I do. But I'm happy. I think he's actually going to make it out there in the wild somehow...so long as a cat or a car didn't get him, which I try not to think about. His calls were innate, his ability to fly was innate and the last few weeks he was obviously finding food on his own because...well, let's just say we could tell he wasn't eating stuff other than what we were feeding him. He was strong and healthy when he left - I think you can see that just by looking at the last pictures we have of him (above) - so all we can do is hope that he's well and that he's making his own way...that he's become a wild bird.

Sometimes we have to learn to let go of the things that we love, like the quote by I don't even know who, that we've all heard before:

If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back to you, it was always yours.
If it does not, then it was never yours.
For we do not possess anything in this world...
we only imagine that we do.

And it holds true for birds, people and more. But while it may be true, that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt a little when they go. For me, food is always comforting, no matter where it hurts - on the outside or on the inside. In the winter, when it's cold out, I always want hearty, warm stews and crusty bread to dip in them. But when it's hot, like it is here most of the time, it's too hot to eat something like that, even if you do need some comforting (though a little bird's beating heart and cooing next to your neck is pretty darn comforting too -
boo hoo). This is one comfort-food dish that comforts, no matter what the weather is like: Tri-colored Orzo with Chicken, Veggies and Chickpeas (for Tweety). Think of it as a much healthier version of the comfort that comes from a pint of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream.

The recipe is based on a recent recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, but my version is listed below. The night before I made it, I had grilled some vegetables for a ratatouille, including eggplant, green beans, onions and tomatoes. After grilling the veggies, I put them in a bowl and let the olive oil and juices ran down into the bottom of the bowl. When I took what I wanted out of the bowl that night, I left the rest of the veggies in there, soaking in their juices. I also threw a couple of extra chicken breasts on while I was grilling - seasoned only with salt, pepper and dried oregano. All of that - the veggies, oil, and chicken went into this dish and it was so easy that the whole thing came together quickly and barely felt like cooking ...sometimes a good thing when you're feeling sad.

Tri-colored Orzo with Chicken, Veggies and Chickpeas, serves 4 - 6
adapted from Bon Appetit
  • 1 1/2 cup tri-colored dry orzo
  • 2 cups veggies - tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, whatever
  • 1 large chicken breast, or two small ones (more if you want more meat)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for chicken and tossing veggies
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup or so of feta cheese
  • 2 (small) cloves of garlic, minced
Rub the chicken breasts with a little olive oil and season with salt, pepper and oregano. Toss the veggies (sliced or not sliced for grilling - depends on what you're cooking) with olive oil, salt and pepper (oregano too, if you'd like) and grill over medium heat until the veggies are soft, the chicken is done and both have pretty grill marks (it's all about the pretty grill marks, people!). Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling water until al dente and drain. Put the veggies in a bowl after they come off the grill and let them rest just as you would the chicken - for about 15 minutes...you should get most of the oil and juices draining down into the bottom of the bowl.

When everything is ready, cut up the veggies and chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss them with the olive oil. Rinse and drain (well) the garbanzo beans and add that to the mix. To the bowl with all of the veggie juices, whisk together and add another 1/4 cup of olive oil, a little more salt and pepper, a bit more oregano (add the tsp, then adjust to taste) and the garlic cloves. Pour over the pasta and veggies, add the feta (crumbled) then toss everything together. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.


Green Food (Literally and Figuratively)

There are few places in the U.S. where as many things are imported as in Hawaii. We get nearly everything we have from the mainland and that means nearly everything gets in a boat or a plane and travels the 2400+ miles from the mainland states (western coastal states, mind you) to get to our supermarkets, big box stores or gas stations. Thus, our carbon footprint is astronomical. As gas continues to go up, so do the prices for nearly everything else. Don't get me wrong, I know it's happening everywhere else too...it's just that we're already paying $6.99 for our eggs and $6.49 for our half-gallons of milk and living off the same salaries we would have if we lived anywhere else, so we're feeling the pinch. I'm not complaining (anymore) and I've come to terms with how much things cost here, but if you think of the miles our food is traveling and the amount of gas, pollution and carbon we're wracking up, as people who care about the environment, we've got our work cut out for us.

Hawaii is a relatively small chain of islands - so small, in fact, that it cannot support a commercial industry for things like chicken (neither organic nor conventional). While we do have "Island Fresh" eggs that are locally produced and commercially distributed, there isn't enough land to support enough chickens to make enough money for a farmer to survive on selling poultry alone. That said, we're lucky that we live on Oahu and actually have a grass-fed beef company here, the North Shore Cattle Company, as well as many other local food suppliers for things like pig (nobody calls it pork here, and nearly 85% of it is still imported), tofu, tropical fruits, many international and ethnic foods (Thai watermelon, Okinawan sweet potatoes and saimin noodles to name a few), and there are even specialty items like figs (yay! picking up my first basket this weekend!), flavored salt and ginger syrup.

Worse than the food supply (maybe), very few things can be recycled most of the year. We can only recycle white and colored paper (no glossies, including magazines), newspaper, aluminum cans, glass bottles and corrogated cardboard. Only #1 and #2 plastics can be recycled, which cuts out just about everything from yogurt containers to most of the packaging materials that food comes in here. This was a big change from Eugene where nearly everything was recycled - and we composted (which we're not sure how to do here yet because of the massive cockroach problem, but we're working on figuring that out) - leaving us with only 1 bag of trash between 3 people, every 2 weeks. Amazing, really.

LB and I now generate nearly 3 - 4 bags of garbage per week, while recycling as much as possible. It actually hurts to throw away so many things, and I hope we never become immune to that. That said, the communities are trying to bring in curbside recycling this Fall and it will be great to see if it will be possible to add a bit more to the recyclable list. Unfortunately, no matter what gets recycled, most of it has to make the trek back to the mainland to be recycled there. Again, upping the stakes and leaving me wondering how much good it does in the long run. Well, we try.

To do our part to support the local economy and reduce our carbon footprint, we've been buying as much local food as possible, including shopping primarily at the various farmer's markets, picking out "Island Fresh" logos from the supermarkets (and Costco!) and joining the one and only Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group here on Oahu. The CSA is called "Just Add Water" and it's run by Kimberly Clark, who has been running it for nearly 15 years. Better still, it's organic, which is a huge bonus here. We pay $25 a week for the mid-sized box, which is just about right for two as long as you like to cook and cook mostly vegetarian.

Everything we get from Kimberly is beautiful, healthy and crisp - so long as I can get over to the pick up site before 5 pm to pick it up (it gets delivered at 2 in Kaneohe, which makes it rough if you've got a 9-5 job). Trust me, that's a huge bonus as much of the supermarket produce is extremely sad-looking and limp. And you can't beat the price around here, as we would be paying at least twice that for the amount of organic produce we're getting. So, just what do we get? The picture below shows the standard fare, and by that, I mean standard. We get essentially the same produce every single week, and we have now been members for almost 3 months. But that's okay with me - I love everything we get and it forces me to get creative. LB, on the other hand is not such a big fan of cooking greens and we get a big (at least 2 meals worth, cooked down) bag of chard, kale and collards every week. I'm determined to show him the light with greens and have found a few recipes that he'll eat, but I'll write more about that later ;)

While the beautiful nasturtiums are gone now (maybe they were only in our welcome box!), we always get: a head of romaine lettuce, a bag of mixed greens (which includes some great herbs like dill and some very interesting leaves I have yet to identify that smell like basil but don't look or taste like it), apple-bananas (we now have a full-on love affair with apple-bananas), a BIG bag of cooking greens (mixed chard, kale and collard greens), sunflower sprouts, daikon sprouts, sweet basil, and one or two beautifully buttery avocados. Then, we get one or two of the following, depending on the week: a small bag of green beans, cabbage (napa or purple), a lemon or lime or meyer lemon, a papaya, or a small eggplant. Most of it is green, so I supplement colored fruits and veggies from the farmer's market to make sure we're getting all the vitamins we need (eat the rainbow, right?).

The only downfall is that everything comes in a plastic bag, so I re-use them for anything I have that doesn't come in one and so far, I haven't felt the need to ask her to not put things in them (though I have debated it). Curiously, nearly everything at the farmer's market comes in bags too, prepackaged into 2 or 3 pieces and sold by the bag for a set price. It doesn't make for the prettiest pictures, which is one reason why I haven't taken any there. I guess maybe it's easier than weighing it at the market? Some things come on styrofoam platters and wrapped in plastic. I try and stay away from those. It's the same way at the supermarkets too. Why? I have no idea. We are an island after all, you'd think they'd want less trash accumulating around here - although much of it gets shipped to the mainland too. The same goes for the "plate lunch" - a Hawaiian institution consisting of one meat item, 2 scoops of white rice and a big scoop of very mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad - which for whatever reason has gone from paper plates to styrofoam boxes, regardless of whether you're eating in or eating out.

Overall, I'm a very happy CSA member and am thrilled to support Kimberly and all she's doing. I tell everyone I meet about it (which isn't too many people yet, but hopefully that will change soon!), and I've already gotten her two new members - yay! If you're living on Oahu and haven't checked her out, please do! Not only are you supporting our island economy, but helping her out financially as an individual and as an organic farmer too, something that is difficult in its own right.

And if you are here, or if you're visiting, here's a tip: these don't come in the CSA box, but she sometimes swaps with friends on other islands that have organic farms, and her Raposa mangoes are to die for. They're the best-tasting mangoes we've found here, and you can get them at her booth at either the KCC Farmer's Market or the Thursday night Kailua Farmer's Market. Just look for the organic produce vendors (there are only 3 at the KCC Market and she's the only one at the Thursday market, though one of the other vendors occasionally has organic produce). I wish I could send them to all of my friends and family, but then that wouldn't be reducing the food footprint would it...and that also means that there is more for me!

Kimberly Clark
Just Add Water (CSA)

Oahu Farmer's Market Information


The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread...Unsliced Bread!

For those of you still hanging on and coming around every once and a while to see what I’ve been up to, thank you. I’m glad you’re still here, and I appreciate you. Hugs and kisses all around! I know I haven’t been leaving many comments on your blogs lately (though I have checked in on many of you from time to time) and I haven’t done much on this blog the last month or two aside from frantically posting my Heart of the Matter entries (at the last possible moment), and I’m even more sad to report that I haven’t done much of anything the last month or two aside from working. Not even go to the beach – a sad feat when it is a mere mile (or less) from your doorstep. The crazy hours and non-stop sitting in front of my computer to prepare lectures and assignments for my students left me without the least bit of desire to sit in front of my computer a bit more and come up with something interesting to say.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been in the kitchen though. One does have to eat, after all. Granted, the last week of classes - now thankfully a week past – LB was back to being my house-husband as we had our very first house guests (yay!) and I had three tests to write, about 50 assignments to grade and no time to do anything else. Taking a break from blogging for a month gave me the time to settle into my teaching, but also gave me the time to try new recipes of yours I’ve spied. While I love blogging, spending an entire month just reading and not worrying about coming up with a new recipe to try or modify every few days in order to have something I want to blog about was actually quite nice.

I’ve made Tanna’s Panzanella, Katie's Beetroot and Chevre Salad, Ann's Strawberry Shortcake with Buttermilk Biscuits and many of my own old standbys. All of them were delicious – tailored to include what was on hand or available here for a reasonable price. But while checking in on my namesake (well, almost my namesake) Michele at Oswego Tea, I came across this Soda Bread – a recipe from Alice Water’s latest cookbook, The Art of Simple Food - and the cutest heading by Michele: "I baked it myself." Now, as Tanna will tell you, I’ve been enviously reading about her exploits in bread baking, as well as the rest of the BBBs (Bread Baking Babes) for quite some time now, yearning to try baking bread from scratch. There have been so many beautiful breads I’ve wanted to make, recipes I’ve bookmarked and gorgeous photos I’ve drooled over, each one calling out to me that THAT would be my first bread...but it was Alice’s recipe and Michele’s coaxing that got me in the kitchen one day when we were out of bread.

I think I’ve mentioned that bread is a bit expensive here (like everything else) and while I’ve gotten used to paying $4 for a loaf of bread (hey, I paid $3.94 in Eugene anyway), it would sure be nice not to have to buy bread and be able to put that $4 a week into say, a bar of nice dark chocolate to snack on or some mango curd, or something. And while this isn’t a yeast bread, and thus requires no rising, I think it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship and I hope to be baking bread more often (next up: yeast, baby!).

This bread is dense and has a chewy, crunchy crust. It’s got a great crumb and a lovely rustic look and heft to it that makes you take a step back and say – holy crap! I made that! And it wasn’t even that hard! It’s missing that yeasty smell and goodness that only breads that require a rise can have, but it makes great buttered toast for dipping into soft boiled eggs, hunks of it make perfect sops for soups and sauces, and it’s absolutely perfect for LB and my favorite summer breakfast of tomatoes and cream cheese on toast. But of course it’s good, it’s Alice Water’s recipe.

Like Michele, there’s no way I’m posting the recipe for this, as Alice Water’s is one of my heroes and you don’t mess with a woman (er, goddess) like that. But you can follow the same link that Michele gave if you’d like to find it and try it yourself: Alice Water’s Soda Bread.

I followed the recipe exactly – except I used half whole wheat pastry flour (I didn’t have bread flour, but that might have yielded even better results) and half all-purpose flour. While this works well, I wouldn’t use all whole wheat flour because it’s already such a dense bread. Also, be sure to add a tsp. or tbsp. of corn meal on your buttered baking sheet (or use parchment paper - something oddly difficult to find here) to prevent it from sticking - because it will stick, like cement, if you don’t.

While the “thumping” and the hollow sound you’re supposed to get eludes me, I’ve found if I give it about 35 minutes instead of 30 at 400F, until the crust is a deep, darkened brown – but not too brown – and when you can thump the top crust instead of the bottom (which is difficult to do with really hot bread!) and it truly feels like a hardened “crust,” then the inside will be thoroughly cooked. Don’t forget to cut the cross into it either, we made that mistake too – and while it still seems to rise properly, it didn’t finish cooking in the middle of the bread, leaving it doughy and uncooked and well, just not as nice as it could be. Until next time then, my friends - I'll see you in the kitchen.