Sunday, July 15, 2012

My first word was "flower." At least that’s what my Mom’s told me since I was a kid. Maybe even since I was two years old, about when I started spending a lot of time with my Tutu. We’d walk around her yard in Kilauea, picking hibiscus and plumeria to decorate the costume hats she crafted for me from paper bags.

The first job that I was ever paid for was making leis at a flower shop. I think I was twelve. Before that, my friends and I sold leis and bouquets to tourists for pocket money, from the side of the road in front of our houses. Peacefully stringing flower leis is one of my favorite things to do, possibly even more than cooking. The sheer beauty that exists in a single flower is only amplified when multiplied or variegated in a thoughtful pattern. Gathering the blossoms from your garden, the yards of friends, or wild areas is also part of the pleasure.
If you live on Kauai, you know where the good plumeria trees are. In June, when the flowers were blooming, I arrived on the island to find the trees partially picked over after the string of recent graduation ceremonies (6th grade, middle school, high school, college…). In Hawaii, it’s common for high school students to be virtually unrecognizable under a pile of leis following their graduation ceremony.

There used to be plumeria trees all over Anahola, on every school ground and in most yards, but these days they seem harder to find. If you have a plumeria tree and a couple of ti leaf plants, you have the resources to make a lei if an occasion arises to bring one. My family still has a couple of trees, but there are far more that line the road that borders my old high school campus, so that’s where my sister and I picked them for my Tutu’s memorial celebration.
I woke up the next day on Portland time, 6:00 a.m. in Hawaii. I quietly took the pretty pink plumerias from the refrigerator onto the porch, and strung the flowers together as the neighborhood rose. We draped those leis around my Tutu’s photograph, and sent baskets of loose plumeria and orchids out on a fishing boat into the ocean with her ashes. 
After Tutu passed last year,  we were looking through old photos (in most of them, she was wearing a lei) and letters, and I found a couple of typewritten sheets on how to make different types of leis from a class taught in the 80s by the esteemed Kauai leimaker and florist, Irmalee Pomroy. Someday, I hope to have a yard of my own where I can grow lei flowers, pick them and learn those more sophisticated lei making techniques. They say that people rarely make leis anymore, but I want to be someone who does.

I love to sing for you a plaintive melody

And give a lei to you to make you happy 

It’s just an old Hawaiian custom

When I say aloha to you
-Excerpted from the lyrics of the song, “An Old Hawaiian Custom” by John Noble

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Searching for Sustenance in Ohio

I snuck out of my hotel in downtown Ohio this morning with a pair of running shoes on, determined to get a taste for more of this city than what I’d seen. I was in Columbus for a three day conference, and as conferences often go, I spent most that time in one place, eating conference food. Thus, one of the last seminars had to be sacrificed in the name of culinary exploration.

I’d read a bit about this midwestern city and its budding local food scene. I knew at the very least I’d be making a pilgrimage to Jeni’s, one of the country’s most craveworthy ice cream companies, known for their local sourcing (cream from Ohio grass-pastured cows, no less) and creativity. I recently thumbed through Jeni's new cookbook, spotting things like Bangkok Peanut ice cream (with cayenne pepper) and other crazy flavor combinations, and was instantly infatuated. 

So I ran down High Street to one of Jeni’s scoop shops, housed in a gourmet haven known as the North Market. This indoor public food market holds rows of vendors facing an inner arcade. It's reminiscent of other historic North American food halls like Pike Place Market in Seattle and Grandville Island Public Market in Vancouver, B.C.), with prepared foods, fish, produce, meat and poultry, ethnic groceries and locally made goods.

I quickly jogged around the place perusing my breakfast options, and decided on a fresh carrot-celery-grapefruit juice from Bubbles, the Tea and Juice Company, and a scoop of Chana Masala over rice from Flavors of India. Delicious. It was only 9:30 a.m. but I couldn’t resist the smell of their curries, and also bought a couple of spice blends to take home with me. Then I grabbed a ham (from local Bluescreek Farm) and Swiss cheese croissant from Omega Artisan Baking (oh my, was that good) to eat on the plane.

On my way out, I stopped by Jeni’s for a taste of just one flavor, which turned into at least eight. I could have tried them all, all day long. My favorites were the limited editions -- Goat Cheese with Cherry, Lemon Curd with Juniper, Grapefruit Frozen Yogurt, Backyard Mint, and get this: Wheatgrass, Pear and Vinho Verde. Seriously! I normally can’t handle wheatgrass, but this complimentary combination captured the bright flavors of springtime.

Visiting North Market was a fabulous way to get a quick hit of the thoughtful food you can find in Columbus if you look (and of course where I ended up finding the latest issue of Edible Columbus). I wish I had time to venture further.  On my last night there, I got the chance to try a dish from The Coop, one of the city’s stellar food trucks: duck confit salad with ramps. Fantastic.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ode to Ding Dongs, and the Seattle Coffee Shops of My Dreams

There was a time that the neighborhoods of Seattle felt a little like Southeast Portland does now. When I was in college, Capitol Hill was this area with cute houses and apartment buildings, vintage clothing stores and independent coffee shops every few blocks. But these were the coffee houses of the 90s-- mismatched vintage furniture, open at night. They were where I learned to love lattes and scones (and later paid for it), and how to read under low lighting over a loud and crackly stereo system. The espresso tasted sublime to me then (mostly Caffe Vita and Vivace) and the pastries were satisfying but not ambitious. Leafy trees covered most of their windows to provide just enough of a mid-page distraction. My favorite coffee shop back then, and still today when I return, is Bauhaus on Pine Street.

About half way down the hill between Broadway and downtown, its floor-to-ceiling windows stretch two stories. Sitting at a table on the second floor, you're treated to a view of the iconic Space Needle, perfectly framed. The place is almost exactly as it was ten years ago – black walls and tables, two stories of library-style bookshelves, loud music, free alternative newspapers and a chalkboard menu listing the coffee drinks, Kool-Aid and Ding Dongs. The way those Ding Dongs were wrapped individually in foil and stacked on a cake stand inside the pastry case was timeless, and too tempting to resist. Their presence seemed both rebellious and retro in that dark space.

Like so many places that I developed a fondness for in Seattle, I just found out that the building’s been sold to a developer, and Bauhaus will soon be no longer, making way for condos and other commercial development. The thing about those developments that have changed Capitol Hill are that they destroy all of the character that made people want to live in the area in the first place, replacing cozy coffee shops with cold chains. Huh. I just read that the shops's tagline is: "brilliant. and less cold than elsewhere." Get your Ding Dongs and your free views while you can.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The large antique wall clock that hangs above the Saveur test kitchen is the same as the one that hung over the door to my mom’s office in her grocery store. It took all of my focus to pay attention to the editor giving us an office tour instead of staring transfixed on that clock, daydreaming about its twin back on Kauai. That clock kept the time of the moments in my life. I’d stare at it, while waiting for her to finish a meeting, check in a vendor, talk story with a long-time customer, or whatever else it was that kept me from getting the attention that I wanted. That clock told me when I had to finish eating my snack on the counter beside the register, and go to soccer practice at the ballpark behind the building. And later, when I ended up working there, it told me what time my shift was over. The aging brown face and antique hands presided over that neighborhood hub, keeping time of all the lives of which that grocery was a part of everyday. It timed the milk delivery, the start time of the farmers market in the parking lot next door, the time the movie started in the adjacent theater, then the church service when it was converted from an art house to a house of worship. Residents of the town moved in and out, old-timers stopped coming in for their newspapers in the morning, and the ownership eventually changed, but the clock remains, keeping time for Kilauea.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's February 13th, 42 degrees and overcast in Portland, Oregon. The winter landscape possesses its own stark beauty this time of year, but still, it's when I miss color the most. Color, warmth, the scent of tropical fruit, salty ocean breezes and brazen flowers. My thoughts can't help but turn to Hawaii. I took a trip to Oahu in October, and wrote a story about it that came out in this month's Mix magazine - perfect timing to relish in these memories, images, and dreams of my next trip. You can read it here. The day I saw my words in glossy print, accompanied by the photos of the very talented Marco Garcia, was one of my happiest.

The trip to Oahu itself was heaven - a full week to stay with one of my best friends, Meleana, in her cottage in Palolo Valley, eating (and drinking) our way across the island. We traveled to Paris together many years ago, and it was fun to explore familiar turf with that same sense of discovery as a traveler to a foreign land. But even better than a trip abroad, we were greeted with aloha everywhere we went on this Hawaiian flavor journey, and made many new friends along the trail of good taste.

A few snapshots from the trip...

This article turned out to be quite short in the end (as most do), and I wish I had room to add Prima restaurant in Kailua, which had just opened when I went there. They are raising the bar of island cuisine, for sure. I loved their curry papardelle pasta, and a dessert that had fennel incorporated in three different ways. Tim Rita is an amazing bartender, whom we met while he was working at Lewers Lounge, but has since gone to the Modern hotel's Lobby Bar. Go see him. And I serendipitously found myself sharing a meal with Reid, Oahu's most dedicated restaurant blogger, of Ono Kine Grindz.