Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I've been wanting to do a series on throwback recipes for awhile, and I'd say this pineapple upside down cake is the perfect way to start things off.

Growing up, dear old Betty Crocker was our go-to cookbook. Mom and I would flip through the flour-coated pages, oggling the perfect pastel petit fours and eloquently frosted layer cakes. But you see, mom and me, we're just not petit four kind of gals. Precision is not our forte. While we'd love to make the most beautiful of all pastries and have the family ooh and ahh, at the end of the day, we just can't be bothered. It's not a lack of patience, but rather a simple case of priorities. We want to make something delicious that doesn't take all damn day.

My memories of pineapple upside down cake involve a gooey, thin cake turned out from my father's well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Looking back, I'm not sure how we accomplished this, my own skillet today is so heavy I can't pick it up with one hand, so I made mine in a pie pan. Either way, this is a glorious cake, with lots of vintage flair. This was my husband's first time eating it, and the way he gushed was just the cutest thing. It was the first time in my life when I could say, "oh that old recipe? Why, I only make that when I don't care how it looks."

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
from Betty Crocker's Cookbook
Serves 8

1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 milk
1/3 cup butter or shortening
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 can drained pineapple, or 5 slices fresh
7 maraschino cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter (for topping) over low heat in a cake pan, pie pan, or skillet. Be sure the butter coats the entire pan. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter in the bottom of the pan only. Place a pineapple slice in center of pan. Cut remaining slices in half and arrange around center slice. Place cherries in "holes" if desired.

To prepare the batter for the cake, measure all ingredients into a large bowl. Blend 30 seconds on low, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high for 3 minutes, scraping occasionally. Pour into pan on top of arranged pineapples.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Invert onto a plate, leaving the pan over the cake for a few minutes. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Hawaiian Vanilla

Did you know there is only one vanilla farm in the entire United States? Lucky for me Hawaiian Vanilla Company is only an hour from my hometown of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

In addition to growing high-quality vanilla beans, the family-run farm offers tours, vanilla-themed luncheons and high tea. It turns out that vanilla can be used for much more than ice cream.

The owner's son, an expert vanilla chef, surrounded by extract. (Don't worry, he wasn't mixing us drinks)

One of the chefs demonstrated how to make a shrimp dish flavored with homemade vanilla extract. As you can see from the photo above he is a young chef, but certainly knew his vanilla facts. We then enjoyed an exceptional lunch; a chicken sandwich with two different kinds of vanilla infused sauces, salad with vanilla crusted pecans and vanilla-raspberry dressing, vanilla and spice rubbed potatoes, and washed it down with vanilla lemonade or iced tea. It was a challenge stuffing in the vanilla ice cream at the end.

Vanilla lemonade, salad with vanilla vinaigrette, and vanilla rubbed potatoes

Vanilla Arnold Palmers
Thankfully we got up on our feet for a tour of the farm, our bellies needing a walk at that point. The vanilla plant is an orchid whose blooms must be hand pollinated in order to produce vanilla beans. Harvesting just one bean is a very labor intensive process that takes many months, and if you've ever grown orchids, you know how challenging it can be to keep these plants happy. In the open-air "greenhouse" the farmers were experimenting with a new growing technique, hoping the vines would grow up moss covered poles.

Vanilla farmer experimenting with moss for climbing vines

A vanilla plant needs at least four years before it can begin producing beans. Which brings us to why there may be only one vanilla farm in the U.S. It's expensive. The costs and labor involved in mass production are great, which is why what we pay a lot per bean. But here's the deal, most beans that us common folks find at the grocery store are hard, shriveled things from Madagascar or Mexico and are basically not worth the cost. You will save yourself a lot of money by using extract.

Vanilla vines are orchids

To get the highest quality vanilla flavor Hawaiian Vanilla Company strongly recommends you make your own vanilla extract. This is mainly because extract sold in the U.S. is made mostly with water due to a strange law passed during the prohibition era. They suggest you use vodka (although rum and bourbon are ok if you like those flavors). Get your hands on 3 fresh and pliable Hawaiian vanilla beans (about $30, you'll need to special order them or stop by the farm), split them down the middle to expose the thousands of tiny seeds, plop them in a 12 oz. jar, fill with vodka, store in a cool, dark place and in 6 months you'll have the absolute best vanilla flavor money can buy. Not only that, but these beans will continue to make extract for up to 3 years, as long as you continue to refill it with vodka as you go along (make sure you maintain about an 8oz. "base").

Another owner's son, our tour guide, teaching us about hand-pollination

If you live on or are planning to visit the Big Island of Hawaii, this is a treat not to be missed. Learn more about their tour offerings here: Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Purchase Hawaiian vanilla beans and products here: Hawaiian Vanilla Company

*I was not paid or compensated in any way to write this post. I just really want you to have amazing vanilla in your lives!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Dominican Sweet 16

16 year old me in the Dominican Republic in 1996 with neighbor kids

The best summer of my youth was in 1996. At 16 I had it all; a car, a cute boyfriend, a varsity softball letterman jacket, long, wavy hair with blond highlights. The picture of the American Teenager. And then I was canon-fired across the country to a remote village in the Dominican Republic for 6 weeks.

Although I'd been planning the trip for nearly a year, nothing could have prepared me for adapting to a new culture, speaking a different language, being away from home for the first time and the drastic changes in myself that were to come of it.

Without much thought the previous year, I signed up for a program called Amigos de las Americas, an organization that sends youth into Latin American countries to complete community service projects during the summer months. All I really thought about at that point was that it would be rad to travel to another country and that it would look great on my college applications.

Ranch de la Guardia, Dominican Republic. My summer home in '96.

I was placed with two other girls my age in a town called Rancho de la Guardia, inland from the coast, about 4 miles from the Haitian border. We lived in a little shack next to our host family and quite happily settled in washing our clothes in a bucket, bathing in a waterfall, making midnight trips together to the latrine. Our host mother fed us bread and hot chocolate for dinner almost every night. We thought this was a pretty sweet deal, planting trees and speaking Spanish, no big deal.

But like all things, it got real. Here are a few excerpts from my journal:
"I'm not sure that I'm all for organizations like Amigos. Do these people really need our help? What are we doing here?"
"I'm totally going through culture shock...Sometimes it gets so frustrating to be around a lot of noise that you can't understand."
"We all cried a lot today and pretty much isolated ourselves in our room."
"I can't believe we have two days left. It's totally crazy. I think I might just die, or it will seem like all these people have. I can't bear the thought of leaving, but I can't bear the thought of staying either."

The house we stayed in that summer.

It got real not because we had no running water or TV, but because for the first time in my life, I realized there was more. That there was more than having great hair and perfect shoes, there was a whole world of people out there that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I came out of my teenaged shell and got a glimpse of the bigger picture. After coming home I threw out all my make-up, kept my hair short, and basically hated on all things "material." It took me a long time to reconcile what I'd experienced that summer with my life back home in Oregon. It took me an even longer while to figure out that it was me who'd benefitted from the experience, not necessarily the people I'd gone to "help."

Me (in gray) with my partners Amanda and Nicole and a friend

Nostalgia for this particular summer crept over me recently. I felt the best way to commemorate these feelings was to slow-cook a pot of beans and curl up on the couch with my journal and photo album. I laughed and laughed, flipping through the pages, remembering our neighbor boys whispering "I love you," and "do you like to kiss?" through slats in our door as we fell asleep on our mosquito net covered cots. Our favorite meal was "arroz con habichuelas" or rice and beans. I hope I'm doing the recipe, and this story, justice.

Dominican Rice and Beans
Also featured on Foodie Friends Friday
serves at least 8

1 pound kidney or red beans
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
1 TBL cumin
1 tsp chili powder (whatever you like)
salt & pepper
water, as needed
white rice

*I remember this dish being "soupy," as the beans were served separate from the rice. There was a lot of extra liquid in the bean pot, so that's the way I wrote this recipe, just FYI.

In your slow cooker, cover your pound of beans with water and soak over night. Drain and rinse, take the time to sort through them a bit, it's likely you'll find some dirt or rocks.

Add the drained beans back to the slow cooker along with the stock. If the stock doesn't cover the beans, add more water. Remember, we are going for soupy.

Chop your onion, garlic, and jalapeno and add to the pot. Toss in the spices and give it a stir. Watch the salt though as some stocks are saltier than others. It will be pretty spicy, so omit spicy ingredients if necessary. Turn it to low and let it cook overnight, or 8-10 hours.

To serve, spoon beans over hot cooked rice. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Natural Energy Lab Tour

On the Kona side of the Big Island we have a place called NELHA (Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority) that stretches along the coast between the airport and the harbor and houses a diverse  collection of science research facilities, aquaculture farms, and even a charter school that focuses on ocean science. They offer wonderful informational tours of the facilities that include tastings at some of the farms. I was in it for the abalone, but managed to glean a ton of other interesting facts along the way.

Our tour guide, Guy Toyama, began with a presentation in the Gateway center, a building powered entirely by the sun and ocean. We learned all about OTEC, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, a technology that has been used (intermittently) in Hawaii since 1974 to produce clean energy by using ocean temperature differences. The photo above is part of an OTEC plant, built by Lockheed Martin.

Experts estimate that by the year 2050, we will have depleted our oceans of fish. For real. Aquaculture farms, like Kona Kampachi, are looking to close that gap by using sustainable practices to supply hungry fish eaters. Fish farming has gotten a bad rap due to pollution and flavor issues. But Kona Kampachi is doing it right with open ocean cages that do not harm the fragile ocean environment. And it tastes dang good, too. We bought some of their smoked kampachi, but sorry folks it can only purchased at the farm directly. Their fresh kampachi, however, can be found in many restaurants all over Hawaii in the form of sushi, sashimi and poke. So if you see Kona kampachi on the menu, just remember you are doing something really good for the planet by choosing it versus the wild caught and nearly extinct Japanese version.

Our last stop on the tour was Big Island Abalone. We got to see how they are raised and shipped (live!) to points as far as Japan and California. This was my first taste of the little mollusc. Now I know why they are so valuable. Our guide simply placed the abalone, shell down meat up, on a hot grill for a couple minutes.

That's it. No salt or seasonings or butter or oil. Just sliced abalone perfection.

NELHA has many fascinating tenants (not part of the tour but some can be visited individually), including Mahalo Water, which is very deep sea water that has been piped to the surface and filtered. Not to mention a seahorse farm, seaweed farms, shrimp breeders, and a lobster hotel.

If you are on or coming to the Big Island and are interested in science, sustainable energy, or just how a fish farm operates, you will not want to miss the tours through NELHA. They offer a couple different versions of the tour, we went on the Friday "grand tour," which was well worth the cost. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

31 Birthday Wishes

Last year a post I wrote for my husband's birthday became your favorite post of all time on this blog. It seems we've come a long way in only a year. Dustin turns 31 today and although I could write 1000 reasons to love him, here's just a few.

1. He has been smoke free for exactly one year.
2. He's outfitting our house with new tile flooring. What a stud.
3. While I was away in NYC, he got the African violet I've had for 4 years that has never bloomed to bloom.
4. He buys me lemon verbena soap just because.
5. I was worried he would only eat Hot Pockets and blue box while I was away this summer, but came home to find the freezer full of vegan burritos.
6. He understands the perfect coffee:milk ratio.
7. Blue shirts bring out the most perfect hue to his eyes.
8. He loves our dog Cruiser SO MUCH.

9. When picking me up from the airport, he brings SPAM musubi.
10. He's cute.
11. He read every single candidate's profile before voting in the primary, even the crazies.
12. He'll eat anything I make, even liver.
13. He tells me if my outfit is looking wonky. This is a regular occurrence.
14. That green thumb really comes in handy.
15. "Sandwich" is his favorite food. I can make that!
16. He changes the oil in my car.
17. He never complains.
18. His organizational mastery makes my life much easier. Maybe it will rub off one day.

19. Pesto is his new favorite thing to make.
20. He looks pretty sexy on a motorcycle.
21. He rolls with the punches.
22. He lives life. Life doesn't live him.
23. He (usually) knows what's best for me.
24. He wants the best for me, no matter what.
25. His tan is really something else. Golden skin.
26. People don't mess with him. We call it his "cop face."
27. His wild, teenage "coming of age" stories are really the best that I know of.
28. He's got great skills and is pretty good with a bo staff.
29. No one eats like he does. The speed is impressive.
30. He's mine.
31. But most of all, I love him for being an outstanding, righteous human being.

Happy Birthday honey!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Make Your Own Limoncello

Limoncello has buried itself in the memory part of my brain, right next to dusty days under the hot Greek sun, walking endless straight lines through silvery olive groves, eyes to the ground in search of ancient pieces of pottery. Limoncello also butts right up against memories of Dustin and I, confused lovers on a quest for meaning in a tiny stone apartment, again in Greece.

Like many college grads, I headed off to Europe for a summer trek to celebrate my accomplishments. It would be the trip that sealed my love for solo travel. (Did you know my trip to NYC this summer was solo? A friend pointed out that I never mentioned this in any posts.) My sister happened to be on the island of Crete in Greece helping out on an archaeological project, so of course I headed her way. Their assignment was to survey miles and miles of farmland and open fields and record any pottery that happened to be lying on the ground. Imagine hours of hiking in the hot summer sun, scrutinizing every stone and dirt clod for possible signs of long gone life. It was grueling for them, week after week, sometimes finding nothing. It was joyous for me, handling a cup thousands of years old among the olive trees and screaming cicadas.

We'd head back to homebase, after these hours of surveying, exhausted and covered in reddish brown dust only to collapse around the shared courtyard in the setting sun. Somehow bowls of pasta materialized, along with liters of local wine, and after, rounds and rounds of creamy limoncello.

Limoncello glides right along, in between and in and out of my memories of Greece. After a few tormenting months in Denver, Dustin and I abruptly left the city and boarded a last minute flight to Europe. I couldn't wait to share with him the beauty I'd found the previous summer on Crete. Bouganvillea covered archways, candlelit shrines hidden deep inside caves, rocky hillsides, the wine-dark Mediterranean.

We spent our nights listening to music out of speakers fashioned from earbuds and paper cups, playing Egyptian Rat Screw on our pushed-together twin beds, trying to figure out whether forever was our future. I'd slice up a couple of impossibly red tomatoes, a cucumber, and the richest feta cheese to go with our homemade wine stored in recycled water bottles. And then in went the rounds and rounds of creamy limoncello. Sweet and tangy.

Sipping limoncello brings me right back, to somewhere in between starting a life and avoiding one.

Limoncello (not creamy, sorry!)
adapted from the recipe by Giada de Laurentiis

10 lemons (or 5-6 Hawaii sized lemons, like softballs)
750 ml vodka (1 bottle)
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

Peel lemons with a vegetable peeler, reserving rest of the lemon for another use. It helps to peel them in long strips. Using a very sharp paring knife, remove as much of the pith (white part of the peel) as you can. This takes time, but is the key to a good limoncello. Place peels in a container (like a juice pitcher) and allow to steep at room temperature for 4 days.

Heat water and sugar over medium heat in a sauce pan until sugar dissolves. Allow to cool and add sugar water to pitcher. Steep for another 24 hours.

Strain limoncello and discard peels. Bottle and store in the fridge for up to a month. Enjoy!

This recipe is featured on Foodie Friends Friday

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Edible Sea Purslane

Last weekend, as part of the Ka Hua program I'm involved in as a teacher, we participated in a service project removing 'akulikuli, or sea purslane, from delicate anchialine ponds. This low-lying plant can be found sprawled out near shoreline areas, as it can tolerate brackish water and wind, salt, and sea conditions. Also known as pickle plant, it is indigenous to Hawaii, and probably got the nickname from the salty flavor of the leaves.

When maintaining anchialine ponds, a special and important feature of Hawaii's coastlines and ecosystem, the 'akulikuli are often removed from the edges of the ponds to prevent it from choking out the other native grasses that need to survive in order to maintain balance. The shallow ponds are found set back from the shore, usually surrounded by trees and shrubs and sometimes contain tiny red shrimp, or 'opae ula. If you see one of these ponds, please don't enter the water with any sunscreen on or bathe with soap or shampoo.

If you come upon the 'akulikuli plant, feel free to clip some leaves, wash them well, and toss them into a salad, poke, or any dish that needs a salty, crisp bite. I threw some in a watermelon salad for a sweet and salty combo, see the recipe below. If you'd like to help maintain the anchialine ponds too and see the plants growing near them, please check with the landowners or park personnel before removing them.

Sweet and Salty Salad
This recipe is featured on Kahakai Kitchen
serves 4-6

5 cups watermelon, chopped and deseeded, rind removed
1/2 cup cotija cheese crumbled (feta would work great, too)
1/2 'akulikuli leaves, roughly chopped

In a medium bowl combine watermelon, cheese, and 'akulikuli. Stir gently with salad tongs. Enjoy!

*Hawaii grown watermelon purchased at KTA, 'akulikuli found on Kona coastline, cheese is from Costco but is not locally sourced.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Limoncello Teaser

Steep limoncello, steep! Recipe coming your way for this lemon infused concoction.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sustainable Sunday: Kuleana

My husband is one of those people that gets things done. He runs a business, works on all of our vehicles, builds things like stairs and benches. He never procrastinates and always finishes projects that he starts.

I'm not one of those people.

I'm one of those people who plants a garden and forgets about it. I'm one of those people who is happy to check off half the things on a to-do list. I'm one of those people who does lesson planning one day at a time. Pacing guides scare me as a teacher. I'm one of those people who has an embroidery project I work on once a year, a painting left unfinished, an inbox full of emails yet to be responded to, and a journal full of great ideas left hanging in great idea land.

Sometimes I beat myself up. Why can't I be more efficient? Get things done? Finish projects? Yesterday was a reminder that there is a bigger picture. We have a bigger kuleana to worry about.

Kuleana means responsibility in Hawaiian. For the past year I have been participating in a program called Ka Hua that has been specially designed for new teachers to help us implement culturally relevant teaching practices in our classrooms. Although I've been living in Hawaii for more than six years, participating in Ka Hua and learning more about the Hawaiian culture has opened my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking and living. Our focus this year for Ka Hua is kuleana, responsibility.

Kuleana is more than to-do lists and projects. It's our kuleana to take care of the 'aina (land), to live aloha, loving and taking care of each other. And so I ask you, on this Sustainable Sunday, what is our kuleana when it comes to food practices?

Making an effort to shop at the farmer's market, grow a garden, and buy local eggs means much more than deeming ourselves "Real Foodies." It's our kuleana.

With that in mind, I hope that this Sustainable Sunday series will help all of us fulfill our kuleana of taking care of the land, taking care of our bodies, and living aloha.

*Big Island folks: Did you know that ALL store brand milk (Mountain Apple brand, Meadow Gold, Lucerne (Safeway), Wal-Mart brand, Costco, etc) is locally sourced? It's true and it's fantastic! By the way, you should know that NONE of these brands are organic. Please see reader comments below for more information on the local milk situation. Mahalo Doug and Lori!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fig & Goat Cheese Bruschetta on Chill Air and Perfume

Happy Foodie Friday! Want to eat this? Check out my recipe for Roasted Fig and Goat Cheese Bruschetta on the Chill Air and Perfume blog today.

Have a great weekend my pretties. 


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