Sichuan Tofu with Vegetables

I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book quite as much as The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones. I had first read A Cup of Light by the author, and it was terrific, but this one, our Cook the Books selection for July/August,  is my favorite yet. The combination of suspense - who will win the competition - romance, explanation of fascinating Chinese culinary traditions, and her tempting food descriptions, is unbeatable. I so wanted to be at those meals and try all of that fantastic food. I was especially intrigued by the Chinese use of herbs and flavors to correct or modify each other and even to influence and heal something as deep as grief in the psyche of the diner, as Sam (the Chinese Chef she meets) did for Maggie with his chicken dish.

The story resonates with anyone who has gone through great loss and change in life, as it tells the story of a recent widow, trying to adjust.  In the novel, Maggie, our protagonist,  is able to shift from grief to a place beyond her past.  The trip to China is a kind of metaphor for going  forward, into a future of adventure and positive change, both physically and emotionally.

My first response was to contact an old family friend, I wanted to pick her brain as to restaurants in Honolulu and, possibly?? Hilo? Any that might have the sort of food described in our book. I remember having wonderful meals in Hong Kong eons ago, but figured with the large Chinese population here there should be something fabulous and authentic closer to home. Like the heroine in The Last Chinese Chef, I have been unimpressed with our local Chinese-American restaurants. And, Bob does not really like Chinese food. So, we've been in avoidance mode.  Still haven't found anything comparable to the book's fabulous standard.


Ono with Pia

We think the pia (also known as tapioca, manioc, cassava) came with the pigs who wandered on and off our land before it was fenced, before we had a dog. They love the plant, and broken bits took root here and there. Now we have one remaining patch which needs better cultivation, as passion fruit vines are growing around and over it, making the tubers difficult to harvest.

Pia is frequently misidentified in Hawaiiana books as "arrowroot", which is a term often used in a generic sense. It is not the Arrowroot plant I am talking about here.

I've used pia only occasionally over the years, but have been doing a bit more research into the plant as part of my ongoing desire to eat more food actually grown by me or produced locally. As far as starches go, I've only just become aware of the prevalence of manioc or pia consumption. Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world. Why eat potatoes (which don't do well at our elevation)? We're now growing taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, tapioca, and more recently, cooking banana. That about covers the carbs.

This week, before even reading that the leaves die back when the roots are ready, I decided pia would be the perfect accompaniment for my Ono (Wahoo) in Coconut Cream sauce. I manaaged to find a few medium size tubers and got a sweet potato with them. As you see below.

Here I'm cutting the peeled tubers into chunks and then soaking in water until ready to cook. The raw leaves and roots contain toxins (cyanogenic glucosides) in this case, as does taro, which need to be removed prior to eating. I usually cover with water, bring to a boil, then pour off and repeat the process about 3 times, cooking til tender on the last boil.

Nothing fancy here, just the boiled pia, and lonely sweet potato, but served with Ono in Coconut Cream Sauce, fantastic.

Ono in Coconut Cream Sauce
Dump the following onto a piece of waxed paper and mix:
3-4 kaffir lime leaves, minced as fine as humanly possible (or in a machine)
3 Tablespoons Spelt flour
2 tablespoons Garlic Gomasio (contains sesame seeds, sea salt & garlic) or salt to taste
pepper to taste
2 fillets Ono (Wahoo)
Coat the fillets of Ono on both sides with the dry mixture.

Heat a skillet and add1 tablespoon ghee or olive oil. Fry the fish fillets at a fairly high heat for several minutes on each side, until just barely done, then remove to a plate and set aside.

Turn the heat off and allow skillet to cool slightly. Add 1 cup white wine to the pan (carefully) turn heat back up to high and reduce by about half, then add 1/2 cup coconut
milk (thick) and stir well, sprinkling in some of the remaining dry seasoning mix, stirring all the while. When it has thickened enough, pour over the fish and serve with your pia (or potatoes or rice).

There it is, that crusty, tangy coating in the creamy sauce is unbeatable in my humble opinion. Ono in Hawaiian means good, and it certainly is.


Fast, But not Fast Food

The weather is so hot, I'm into whatever edibles are quick and easy. Here, I definitely do not mean "Fast Food", so called. By way of another blog, I linked to Michael Pollan's recent NY Times article on the subject, "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch", which was entertaining as well as excellent. Most TV cooking shows are all about keeping viewers and selling product, not really about encouraging us to cook food ourselves. However, I did disagree with one statement, he makes: "yet all American women now allow corporations to cook for them whenever they can." Mr. Pollan needs to read some of the thousands of food blogs floating around the internet. We have proven that idea wrong, many times over.

This was my lunch yesterday. Since it was so colorful, tangy and downright tasty, and being a blogger, of course I had to take it's picture. The Summer Salad took less than 5 minutes tops to assemble. I started by dumping into a salad bowl the following:

Fast and Easy Summer Salad
1 cup of cooked, marinated, cold white beans
1 handful of arugula leaves
3-4 cloves pickled garlic (or to taste)
3 or 4 halved Kalamata olives
5 or 6 cherry tomatoes (or a sliced larger one)
Ricotta or Feta crumbled on top
Toss all together

Yes, it does help to have a jar of your own beans marinating in the fridge. And, pickled garlic, but you get the idea - whatever you do have pickling or marinating will likely work. I had just made another batch of Feta and Ricotta, but that's usually a staple anyway. Great on a hot summer day, or for dinner in a larger amount with some fresh bread.


Honolulu Trip

We had another of those Anniversary deals. They come once a year and always seem to amaze me that, yes we're still hanging in there. And, I still laugh at his silly jokes. Only now getting around to posting on this. We usually go back to the scene of the crime - Honolulu - and this year was no exception. He was romantic enough to want our picture in front of St. Pat's where it all began. Would you believe 44 years ago?

We stay at the same hotel every time we go and still think it's great. Which it is, if you're not into Waikiki stuff. The Executive Center, downtown, 39th or 40th floor.

And, then there's my favorite: Roy's! Though, it's a lot less innovative than when we first went, a few years back. Which Bob appreciates. I, on the other hand, happen to love surprises. And creativity with food. One of those compromise things.


Pineapple Mint Sorbet

It's always delightful when our pineapples start turning just that bit of gold, signaling ripeness. Though it never fails that I anticipate sooner, and pick one before it's ready. This years poor specimen is sitting on a shelf waiting for signs of edibility. It's not like in the market where you can easily pick one up, and sniff for that fragrant pineapple smell. When fruit is on the plant, it would require getting down among the prickly leaves, so I usually just look for the color, and then, do the pull-on-a-leaf-to-see-if-it-is-loose test. Obviously not always infallible. These are what locally we call White Pineapples, and are fully ripe when only partly yellow. They are the best and sweetest of any variety known to man. I am not kidding.

Here you can see what I mean. It's not the bright yellow of standard commercial pineapples. I have a few of those also, but they need to be kept separate from the others so they don't cross pollinate.

These ornamental Bromeliads are in the pineapple family and bloom at the same time. I guess I should say that pineapples are Bromeliads.

For quite a few years, as we've been planting more and more pineapples, I've enjoyed the combination of mint with the fresh fruit, so thought that would be a winning addition to my Pineapple Sorbet. And seeing as mint is flourishing in our garden as well, this dish just cries out to enter the GYO (Grow Your Own) event of August 15 (#33), hosted by momgateway.

For this sorbet I decided to use Agave Nectar rather than sugar for an even more natural dessert. The recipe is almost too simple and so ridiculously easy, it makes the work to rewards ratio totally lopsided. All you do is juice enough pineapple to make 4 cups juice. That was about 2 medium pineapples. Then add 1/3 cup Agave Nectar (or 1/2 cup sugar) depending on the sweetness of your fruit, and 1/2 cup minced mint. That's it. Dump into your ice cream maker, adding the mint when it's almost finished. I think a bit of coconut cream and a few tablespoons of white rum wouldn't hurt, for a Pina Colada Sorbet. But, then AA people wouldn't be able to have any. Or kids. Unless you didn't tell them. Also, the addition of alcohol inhibits the tendency sorbet has to freeze solid. Cream helps with that too. All in all this was a delightful and refreshing dessert. Sooo good and completely guilt-free. Not that I get guilty about sweets.


Incarnations of Beach Glass

Before moving to the Big Island, we lived for a number of years on the North Shore of Oahu, in a beachfront rental. I would occasionally pick up and save bits of beach glass, shells and sea scoured Kukui nuts (which, unfortunately got left behind in the move). The glass and shells came with me, and recently I was able to use some in a tile, shell and glass mosaic when our pool was built.

You can see a few pieces here and there.
What brought this to mind was a nail file, of all things, made of beach glass. But so beautiful, it reminded me of a dragonfly with its iridescent coloring. A form of fusion glass, layers fired one at a time over each other, by artist Katharine Easton. I would include a link for her, but have been unable to find one. Her company is Beachglass Hawaii and the files as well as some jewelry are available at various galleries on the island. One of those things you can't justify getting for yourself, but still have to buy for a special gift. For some strange reason, I would purchase earrings for myself, but it seems that a fancy nail file is just over the line one step.

From what I've read, the sandblasted file will last forever.

Another creative use of beach glass by local artist, Karin Sayre, known for her mosaic mirror pieces. This one in my study features a hula girl.

These represent a new spin for what was debris, waste material dumped into the ocean. Good when something positive can be made of it. Maybe a righteous purpose (more probably money-making) will also be found for the giant skein of floating plastic, located somewhere in the Pacific between Hawaii and California. Called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", according to some reports it's about twice the size of Texas. I read somewhere that it might be possible to convert it to diesel fuel. You go guys!