Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Eat Good in Hawaii

Pineapple, SPAM, umbrella drinks. These may come to mind when you think of Hawaiian food. But friends, I am here to tell you Hawaii is so much more, it's a foodie paradise. And I'm not alone, when I asked some of my fellow Hawaii blogger friends to offer their tips on not-to-miss eats, they offered many enthusiastic responses.

1. Poke (pronounced poe-kay), raw fish salad
Geology blogger Anna listed poke as her top choice, "I didn't try it until I moved here and I was totally missing out!" Tania, our Maui fashionista, likes spicy ahi poke and lomi salmon. The great part about poke is the variety, there are so many kinds to try. If you don't care for raw seafood, give the cooked varieties a try. Poke can be found everywhere on the islands, just ask a local to point you in the right direction. 

2. Mochi, sweet Japanese rice cake
Gerrit, of Love Big Island, recommends strawberry mochi while photographer Dallas Nagata White kicks it up with mochi ice cream. Solid choices.

3. Tropical fruit
Seek out a farmer's market and you will be rewarded. Angie encourages you to go for the Maui gold pineapple, Dewi suggests poha berries (I've never had these!), Sonia stands by the breadfruit, and Doug, our resident farmer/blogger, urges you to try lilikoi (passion fruit), mango, white pineapple, and yellow dragon fruit.

4. Poi, mashed taro root
Even Andrew Zimmern dogged the sticky, purple staple of traditional Hawaiian food, often referred to as wallpaper paste-like. We know better. Ihilani suggests trying poi with other traditional luau foods like laulau, kalua pig, and squid luau. Even though he's still not a fan, Damon thinks everyone should at least try it. A way to sample many of these foods is at a luau, just be sure to choose carefully. If you are on Oahu, Jen recommends the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

5. SPAM musubi, a "sushi" roll with SPAM and egg
My personal favorite. It's just not a combo you see everyday on the mainland, and it is such a great breakfast. Pick one up at any grocery store or gas station.

Mahalo to all the bloggers who helped out with these recommendations. Please leave a comment below if you have further suggestions.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Hawaiian Sugar & Lemonade

Packed in Hilo, grown in ?
Part of my Sustainable Sunday mission is helping you find locally made products. There are more and more products becoming available in everyday grocery stores, which makes it much more accessible for those that don't have the time or resources to make it out to a farmer's market each week.

Today I bring you a controversial "sustainable" product because I'd love to get your input on this issue. Hawaiian sugar: good or evil?

Hawaii has a long history with the sugar industry, dating all the way back to the very first Polynesian settlers who brought the plant to the islands in their canoes. Big business entered the scene in the early 1800s, creating huge sugar plantations all over the state. The sugar industry was a major job source for the people of Hawaii for generations. In fact, many people immigrated to Hawaii to work on the plantations from all over the world, contributing to the multi-cultural population we have today. In the early to mid 1900s, the sugar industry in Hawaii began to decline as companies moved their crops overseas seeking lower labor and land costs. This was a blessing and a curse as thousands lost their jobs while the land began to recover from years of environmental damage, including air and water pollution.

Today the only remaining sugar processing plants reside on the island of Maui. Monsanto, a giant agricultural conglomerate that basically drives the food industry and has come under fire for such issues as GMO plants, has been buying out Maui's remaining sugar farms. If you know about some of the issues surrounding Monsanto, you know that this has been a touchy subject. Not to mention the heavy environmental toll sugar production has, particularly when it comes to water usage.

So what is a Hawaii resident to do when it comes to purchasing sugar? We have the option to buy locally grown and processed (NOT sustainable) sugar, for the double the price I might add. Or we have the option to buy shipped-in, organic varieties that are (probably) not owned by Monsanto but have a heavy environmental impact due to the importing logistics. There are of course cheap, table sugars shipped in from points beyond that are definitely produced by Monsanto and the corporate farming like.

It's not a black and white issue. We have bills to pay and cakes to bake and not enough time to weigh the issues as we push heavy shopping carts along the aisles of the local KTA. What would you do?

In the meantime, make this lemonade and think it over. Lemons came from my backyard, ginger from the farmer's market, and sugar from KTA.

Lemon Gingerade
serves 6-8

2-3 lemons
large piece of ginger, about the size of your hand
8 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups water

Using a food processor or similar contraption, pulse the ginger until is ground-up into pieces about the size of grains of rice. Place in a coffee filter and brew with 8 cups water in your coffee maker.

Squeeze lemons into a juice pitcher. You should have 11/2 - 2 cups of lemon juice.

Heat a small pot over medium heat and add 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.

Allow the brewed ginger and sugar water to cool before adding to the juice pitcher with the lemon juice. At this point, taste to check the level of sweetness. If it is too sweet or strong, simply add more water. I like mine fairly mellow, so I'd probably add 4 more cups of water, but do your own thing. Serve over ice. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Award-Winning Mango Salad

One of the scheduled activities for the Mango Festival here in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii was a recipe contest. Of course I was there, mango salad in tow. I'm excited to share with you that my entry won first place in the salad division! Please see the recipe below.

The FREE Mango Festival continues through tomorrow, Sunday, July 28. Head on down to the Keauhou Beach Resort for more mango fun this weekend!

Award-Winning Mango Salad with Black Beans and Avocado
serves 4 (can be easily doubled)

For the dressing:
Juice and zest from 1 lime
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt & pepper

For the salad:
1 can black beans, drained
1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped
1 avocado, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 green onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro

In a medium bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. The amount of oil you use depends on how juicy your lime is, so taste as you go to make sure it's the consistency you like.

Add beans, mango, avocado, onion, and tomato to the bowl and toss very gently to coat. Garnish with cilantro. The longer it marinates in the dressing, the better it gets. Serve with rice or as a taco or burrito filling. Excellent addition to the potluck table. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Foodie Souvenir

Ever kept a shell you found at the beach? Why not save a shell from a memorable seafood meal? Simply wash and dry the oyster, clam, or snail shell and write a little note-to-self in permanent marker. I always collect shells and stones and then promptly forget where and when I collected them. The little note ensures you'll never forget that special moment.

Pictured is the shell I saved from the infamous pearl incident in New York this summer. Wish the pearl were my memento, but the shell will have to do.

This would also be cute with a little glitter and some fishing line as a Christmas ornament. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Exotic Fruit 101: Mountain Apple

Hilo Mountain Apple
The mountain apple is known for being a "canoe plant." The Polynesians who first came to settle the Hawaiian islands, coming from afar in their canoes, brought a few precious plants with them, not knowing what they would find when arriving in the new lands. Among these plants was the sturdy mountain apple tree.

We don't see the mountain apple as much on the Kona (dry side) of the Big Island so I happily gathered a healthy share at the Hilo (wet side) farmer's market. This small fruit, no bigger than a baseball, is shaped like a pear, with a similar consistency. It tastes of pear, apple, and plum with a noticeable hit of rose petals.

We harvest them in the summer months, so if you see them at the farmer's market, a local fruit stand, or auntie's tree, give them a try.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tortilla Espanola: a simple Spanish treat

In 2002...wait, 2002 was 10 years ago, someone messed with my time machine...anyway, in 2002 I studied abroad in Spain. It was an all around eye-opener for me as I visited my first art museum, my first cathedral, got along speaking another language, travelled by myself for the first time, and fell madly in love with the place, a person, and of course, the food.

My unexpectedly hilarious roommate (whose wedding I just attended in New York) was a little nervous about her Spanish skills when we first arrived to take up residence in our homestay, a cozy 2-bedroom apartment with a spunky widow. The first question our host mother asked was, "what do you like to eat?" We'd been instructed to be sure to make it clear to our host families right away if we had any dietary restrictions. My roommate needed help telling her that she didn't eat seafood.

"No mariscos." Kacie said, possibly her first well-rehearsed phrase.

"No mariscos?" Balked our host mom.

"NO mariscos." She insisted, making the classic "no way" gesture with her her hands, palms faced down, crossing each other, then open.

Our host mom was slightly devastated, although throughout our stay, there was no shortage of good food. Paella, tuna and potato salads, and the ever important tortilla espanola.

This dish is ingrained in the fiber of the Spanish culture. It's found in every home, every restaurant, every cafe. Simple yet brilliant and extremely versatile, it is the definition of Spanish comfort food.

It has nothing to do with the tortillas we know today, so get that out of your mind. It is more like an omelet, and even more like a frittata.

It serves really well as an appetizer or potluck item, as you can cut it into squares or small pie slices to individualize. It doesn't need to be served warm either, room temperature is more typical anyway.

Tortilla Espanola
This recipe can also be seen on Foodie Friends Friday
serves 4 as a main course, 8-16 as an appetizer

2 russet potatoes, cut into thins rounds (like potato chips)
1 yellow onion, cut into thin rounds
1 clove garlic
2 TBL olive oil
6 eggs
1/4 half and half or milk
salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or non-stick pan over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion, and some salt & pepper and cook until soft, 10-15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, garlic, milk and more salt & pepper. Pour over potatoes and onion in the pan.

The next steps are up to you. The traditional way is to cook until the bottom is set (5-8 minutes), slide onto a plate, flip and cook until set all the way through, maybe another 5 minutes. For those of us who can't be bothered to flip, simply turn down the heat a hair or two, cover the pan and cook until set all the way through, about 10-12 minutes. It is better, taste wise, to flip but some days it just ain't happening, right? Enjoy!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Kona Chocolate

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to snag a space in a chocolate making class at Kuaiwi Farms in Captain Cook. That's right, chocolate made right here in Kona.

We learned how chocolate is made from bean to bar. Kuaiwi Farms is known for their excellent organic Kona coffee, but they also grow cacao (for the chocolate), mac nuts, and a variety of tropical fruits and vegetables.

Cacao trees and pods
In fact, I think the farm tour was my favorite part of the class. It was inspirational to see how owners Leon and Una used all organic methods to farm their land. They were so passionate about their crops, it shone through quite brightly in the way they run their farm, their products, and their smiling faces.

And making chocolate is no small feat. After the beans are harvested, they go through a fermentation process which must be carefully monitored for spoilage.

The beans are then dried and roasted.

The nibs must then be separated from their shells mechanically, then ground into a "meal." Whip this in around in a choc-o-matic machine made especially for this purpose for a day or so along with a little cocoa butter and sugar and you, almost, have the finished product.

Vague, you say? Yes, well that's the point. As I said, making chocolate is a long and delicate process and I don't blame these guys for wanting to keep some of their processes a mystery. Class attendees were provided more details and video, however if you want the same info you'll have to take the class, too. My lips are sealed.

Once the chocolate reaches the proper consistency it must be tempered, or brought slowly down to a certain temperature.

This is accomplished by smearing it all over a marble slab and sliding it back and forth with some spatulas.

Once the chocolate reaches the right temperature, it gets poured into molds and left to harden into candies and bars.

We were then invited to indulge in some of the still warm and melty chocolate. That little bowl of goodness nearly made me cry. It was that good.

Live in Hawaii and want to take a chocolate making class? Contact these folks for their next available classes:
Kuaiwi Farms (they also offer farm tours by reservation, HIGHLY recommended if you can't attend a chocolate class)
Madre Chocolate

Want to skip the class and get your hands on the good stuff? Here's where to score:
Madre Chocolate
Original Hawaiian Chocolate
Island Naturals

*I was not paid or compensated for the content of this post. I just really like these guys:)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Eat Good Food When Traveling

Do you ever get frustrated when trying to find a decent meal on vacation? ME TOO. It can be especially aggravating in tourist hubs where every restaurant seems to be offering the same thing for the "best price." You get ripped off, you get crap food, you get angry! Not to worry, I've gathered some of my travel savvy blogger friends together to offer you tips on how to keep your belly happy while traipsing the unknown. 

Rachel, quippy author of Rachel's Symbiotic Life, depends on Trip Advisor for restaurant recommendations, "I can't emphasize what a valuable tool that site can be. Having so many reviewers share such insightful information really allowed us to hand pick places we thought would be a good fit for us." In her recent travels around Europe, she found that straying from the main streets and looking for places packed with locals made for a sure thing when it came to impromptu meals. Read more about her recent trip to Italy here: Food in Pisa.

Jen, making Hawaii proud
Jen, fellow Hawaii blogger of Jenkakiospent one month backpacking through Europe with two male friends starting in Amsterdam (Netherlands).  Within a month, she visited Berlin, Poland, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Tuscany (Empoli to be exact), Florence, Rome, Vatican City, Munich, Salzburg, and Heidelberg. Dang girl, now that's getting around! Jen had the following advice:
To save money, go to the grocery store or farmer's market and have a picnic.  Europe's groceries were super cheap and fresh.  
Never turn down a food adventure.  I've never ate ostrich before and when the opportunity arose, I snatched one up without thinking.  Best foodie experience of the trip.
(In a foreign country) Learn how to say "please", "thank you", "hello", "sorry", "help", and "beer" in every language you will be encountering.  Okay, maybe "beer" is not needed for everybody, unless you are me.

Jen wrote many excellent posts about her adventures in Europe, check them out here: Jenkakio

Jen's first ostrich
Lindsay, style savvy author of Black+Blonde, just returned from her wedding/honeymoon in Belize, where she scored more lobster than my jealous heart cares to discuss. She offers the following tips: 
"First off, I would suggest avoiding the fancy restaurants. I love me some ambience and white tablecloths, but abroad (especially in the caribbean), it's a sign to go the other way.  You end up spending way too much money on mediocre food.
Go for the hole in the walls instead. We went to this roadside restaurant in Belize and had the best meal of our trip!  I ordered a coconut creme lobster tail and ended up getting two tails plus two additional sides.  The grand total for our meal? About $30 US.
It's a long told tip, but I would always recommend eating the local food.  You never know what you're missing until you try.  While cowfoot soup didn't really sound appetizing to me, it was still one of their traditional meals.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you get sick, but variety is the spice of life, right?" It sure is, thanks Lindsay!

Lovely Lindsay and her Lobster
As many of you know, I just returned from a month long trip to New York citaaay. I depended mainly on Yelp for restaurant recommendations, but beware, Yelp is really only useful when searching for something very specific like, "$1 oysters near Brooklyn." Otherwise it can be a rabbit hole of indecision. 

I keep a bottle of water and a bag of trail mix in my purse at all times while traveling. This prevents me from impulse buying a $15 hamburger because I'm too hungry to take the time to find something good. 

Stay in a place with a kitchen, if possible, such as a hostel, condo, or AirBnB. Cooking for yourself drastically reduces food costs and it can be fun to shop at the local groceries and farmer's markets where you can find specialty ingredients you might not be able to afford at a restaurant (hello, squid ink pasta). 

Lastly, if you find a menu without a trace of English, eat there. This often points to authenticity, and as long as you don't have any major dietary restrictions, you'll be fine just pointing to something on the menu. 

Hope you enjoyed our travel tips, if you have any you'd like to share, please do so in the comments below. Happy trails!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where Pearls Go & Other Oyster Adventures

Photo from Love, A Yi
You don't just eat one oyster. In my case, you don't eat a dozen oysters either. You go at the little mollusks as if you'll never have the chance again. Maybe you won't, fresh oysters aren't exactly readily available in the middle of the Pacific.

After reading "Consider the Oyster" by M.F.K. Fisher just before arriving in New York, the taste was already on my tongue. You may be surprised to learn that I'd never really eaten oysters before, my only memory of trying them was when dad breaded and fried hamburger sized ones that were, to me at the time, inedible.

My friend Jessica, appalled by this new knowledge, promptly escorted me to the nearest dollar oyster joint where we indulged in fries, beers, and the ephemeral oyster. And then I fell in love, just like that.

Fast forward another week or so. Lured by the promise of free oysters, Jessica and I made our way over to the South Street Seaport Museum to hear a panel discussion on Manhattan as it was in the early 1900's. Back in those days, oysters were so abundant in New York, they were considered a poor man's meal. Awaiting us at the museum were the fresh and tasty Naked Cowboy and Shibumi oysters from Blue Island Oyster Co. Like I said, you can't eat just one, so we all but commandeered the shucking table.

In the photo at the top of this post is an oyster with a pearl. Folks, this is real life. A real, honest, could-not-make-this-up-if-I-tried pearl. The oyster shucker dude totally shucked it right in front of my eyes.

And then he ate it. Guys and gals he ate the pearl. He said it is tradition. Tradition! I waited for a solid 5 minutes for him to give it up and admit he was joking. Not joking. He ate the pearl.

This sealed my romance with the oyster. Forever.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Brooklyn is for Picnics

The apartment I shared in Brooklyn this summer was minutes away from Prospect Park, probably one of my favorite parks of all time. Yes, I liked it even more than Central Park. For one, the landscape allows for excellent people watching. The main field, or Long Meadow, is just that, long and skinny, so you can watch so many people at once. Also, it feels like you are part of the community, everyone there together playing and laughing.
It's huge and includes its own lake, zoo, live music venue, dozens of trails, little waterfalls, and a sweet carousel. The best part of all? At dusk the fireflies come out, zipping all around making firefly magic. This was real special for me as we don't have the little guys on the west coast or in Hawaii. I had only seen them once before in my life, so it was natural for me to head down to the park and enjoy them as often as possible during my stay in Brooklyn.

Fireflies from Gwen Edwards on Vimeo.

And I didn't just oggle the fireflies, I ate some food, too. There are few pleasures like bare feet in grass and a good sandwich in hand on a balmy evening.

Or some cheese, New Jersey apples, and rose petal jelly.

And if you're really prepared, some pasta and a good rose.

I have finally emerged from summer laziness with a recipe for you. Feet in grass required.

The Brooklyn Sandwich (pictured above)
makes 2

4 thick slices ciabatta bread
4-6 slices prosciutto
a piece of pie sized slice of camembert cheese
4 large kale leaves
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
juice from 1/2 lemon
4 TBL olive oil
1/2 dijon mustard
salt & pepper

In a small bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking the olive oil into the garlic, lemon juice, mustard, and some salt & pepper to taste.

Wash and trim the kale leaves by removing the ribs. Cut into approximately 4" pieces. Place kale into the bowl with the dressing and stir to coat.

Layer cheese (cut cheese into chunks, see photo below) and meat on bread and top with dressing coated kale. Drizzle remaining dressing on bread  and stack your sandwiches. Pack em up and take em somewhere. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Lima Bean Fail

Look at all this wonderful produce I scored at the Hilo Farmer's Market for Sustainable Sunday! I could have filled an entire trunk with goodies from this market, but since we were spending all day at the canoe races and roller derby event, it probably wouldn't have survived the 2 hour drive home. Have you been to a roller derby bout yet? Definitely one of the more enjoyable sporting events I've attended.

So, being a huge lima bean fan, I was excited to find some fresh ones and share a recipe with you. Real life dictated otherwise. I'm not about to recommend you spend the 45+ minutes it took to boil and then peel these beans. True, they are delicious, but very few of us have that kind of time or patience. I cook with frozen limas all the time and love them, so let's just look at this as me saving you time when you get a hankering for fresh limas.

Before cooking

I did do some research on lima beans, which these may not actually be, they could be fava or broad beans. Either way, the outer skin was too tough to chew and needed to be peeled. Some types of lima beans do not need to be peeled at all, which would be the way to go. The best thing would be to ask the farmer/sales person how they need to be prepared. If you need to peel each bean, again, I'm not recommending that to anyone.

After boiling and peeling

In case you're wondering, I'll be sauteing the limas in lemon juice, butter, garlic and salt & pepper and serving them with skillet potatoes. Live and learn.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Coney Island and Frog Legs

During it's heyday in the early 20th century Coney Island was a major resort destination complete with a full-scale amusement park and expansive beaches. Since it was a short train ride from my temporary pad in Brooklyn, I dug out a swimsuit and took off to see what it was all about. It's all still there, the beaches, amusement park, even parts of the resort, but is not exactly the glamorous destination it once was.

Which is just my style. It's gritty, it's run-down but also nostalgic and sentimental and downright historic. Maybe just don't swim in the water.

Have I told you I was a carny once? Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon was my employer for a summer back in college days. Everything about it was great, the sunshine, the screaming children, the other carnies, even the puke (Adventureland is spot on). Most of us have a special place in our psyches for amusement parks, but I feel a double fondness having worked behind the scenes.

Nathan's Famous is a Coney Island landmark, known for it's hotdogs, french fries served with a tiny fork, and house-made lemonade. And frog legs apparently. Since I'm not a hot dog eater (long story) and have never in my life seen frog legs on a menu, it was an obvious choice. Deep fried in a thick batter they are about the size of a chicken drumstick, but taste more like a fish stick. It's hard to dislike anything deep fried, but these were really not half bad. I even made some friends over frog leg discussion. New Yorkers are so dang friendly, it's hard not to love 'em.

I even caught a minor league baseball game while there, the Brooklyn Cyclones, and will proudly sport the free jersey I got just for walking through the gate. My kinda place.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NYC Foodie Highlights (Part III)

Guys and gals I'm sorry to say my New York adventure is officially over. For now. I'm back again typing this on my old leather couch next to a snoozing puppy who was pretty excited to have his mama home. The Hawaiian breeze and birds completing this scene really ain't bad. But I could go for another giant chocolate chip cookie (more like a scone really) that was perfectly crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside from Levain Bakery.

Or another slice of New Haven pizza with clams or mashed potatoes on top. I was lucky enough to pass through Connecticut on my way to a wedding in Saratoga Springs, such a beautiful state.

The bride Kacie was my roommate when I studied abroad in Spain. We were known for such adventures as hotdog launching, botellon drinking, and bringing Halloween to a whole new level in a country that doesn't even celebrate it. Congrats Kacie, you looked stunning!

On our way to a Mets game, I snacked on some plantain chips.

Go Mets! Wait, Gwen, where are you looking?

Lobster bisque from The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market. Uh, I could live in this market. It's basically an old warehouse turned modern-day foodie mecca with all sorts of specialty foods shops and cafes.

I walked that cup of cream off in the nearby Chelsea art district which is loaded with galleries of all kinds, including public ones like this. I thought the space invader in the top right might be the real thing.

Mrs. Lee and I had a lovely blogger meet-up and shared an Italian meat and cheese plate. She is such a doll, so glad we got to meet. That may or may not be a giant glass of limoncello.

I was so inspired by all the art and culture around me on this trip, especially the Guggenheim museum and the Brooklyn Museum, that it was hard not to get into artist mode myself. Doodling while sipping on a cafe au lait and munching an Apple Jacks bar.

For the last meal it was off to Chinatown for amazeballs lamb burgers, cold noodles, and lamb face salad. That's right, lamb face. Thank you New York, in yo face!


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