Hawaii memories, part 4

We took a little trip during our vacation last June. I mean, sometimes you need a break from all the sun and white sand and clear water. Sometimes you need a little fog and drizzle. Sometimes you need to go to a volcano.

We did not see the lava flow – it wasn’t flowing anywhere where people can see it while we were there – but we did walk through a crater that had a volcano erupt in it in the 50s and is now a creepy black moonscape surrounded by forest, so we had that going for us.

Since the volcano and Volcanoes National Park are on the full opposite side of the large island from us, we stayed overnight up in Volcano, Hawaii. And we did as we were told by many many people and ate at the Thai restaurant there. We were, in fact, ordered by two separate people to be sure to eat there. It is no exaggeration to say that people had raved about the place. Raved.

In fairness, the Thai food was perfectly tasty. We were all quite happy with our dinners. What we were not was blown away. What we would not do is rave about it. If you live in a city with any decent Thai food at all, the Thai place in Volcano, despite what you hear, will not thrill you. What it will do is fill you up and taste good doing it. Just don’t get too excited.

What you can get exited about, however, is the Hana Hou Restaurant in Naalehu, the southern most restaurant in the U.S. For us it was on the way home up the west side of the island.

Homey, fresh, tasty food and a cheery aloha atmosphere. We ordered from the daily specials board as they were being written.

The mac nut chicken salad was tasty, the chowder fresh and hearty, the fish and chips crisp and light.

That crazy delicious macadamia nut cream pie up top (nuts in the crust, too) thrilled the lot of us. They pour delicious coffee at Hana Hou and the guy who grows it was there eating his plate lunch at the table next to us, so that, of course, thrilled me.


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Grilled scallion bread

Dear old friends were excited to tell me about their latest discovery. During a kitchen remodel they became deeply dependent on their grill. And one of them thought to put dough on the grill and grill the bread. The other of them thought that her husband was a genius for coming up with this. She thought I would be excited and amazed. She thought I’d want to write about it.

“I know!” I said, “I love making grill bread.”

“You know about it?” she asked, disappointed. “It’s a thing?”

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s a thing.”

Her husband nodded. He had been less impressed with his innovation from the beginning. He knew it was a thing.

This summer I branched out from my classic it’s-like-a-crack-pretzel version and took inspiration from a cilantro-scallion bread in the July issue of Bon Appetit. But I didn’t have cilantro or sesame seeds at the cabin and… well, there were several changes. The most important one, however, was popping the scallion-laden spirals on the grill. Some fell apart, some got a bit, um, charred, but that was a grillmaster/cook’s error rather than a recipe problem. Overall they were scrumptious.

Scallion grilled bread

This dough is much softer than others that I’ve grilled. Keep the grill at a steady, medium heat so they can cook through without burning and without you having to try and move them before the dough is nicely “set” so they don’t fall apart as some of mine did when I had to move them away from the intense heat on my overly-hot grill (in my defense, I had to move the lit grill up a stair to get in beneath an overhang when it started to rain and the coals shifted around most annoyingly).

Dissolve 2 teaspoons dry active yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Make sure it gets a bit foamy to make sure the yeast is alive and activated. Stir in 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons fine sea salt to dissolve. Then stir in 4 tablespoons melted and cooled butter and 1 egg. Stir about 2 cups flour into this wet mixture. You will have quite a sticky dough. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour or so or overnight in the fridge.

When the mixture has about doubled, chop up 4 scallions/green onions and combine them with 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds if you’re so inclined.

Punch down the dough and knead on a well floured surface so it’s a nice smooth mass. Roll or pat and stretch the whole mass into a 12-inch long rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Spread the dough all over with the scallion-cumin seed mixture, loosely roll the rectangle the long way into a log (the dough will expand and you want the spirals you’ll end up with to stay flat spirals and not puff up into cones), set the seam-side down and cut into 12 even disks about 1-inch thick each. Lay the disks out on a floured surface, pressing them a bit more flat or shaping them back into round disks if they got squished as you do so, cover with a clean towel, and let sit until a bit puffy.

Heat a grill to as even a medium heat (you can hold your hand about an inch above the cooking grate for 3 to 4 seconds) as you can. Brush the clean cooking grate with oil and brush the top of the disks with oil. Set the disks, oil-side-down on the grill and cook until the dough is a bit “set” and breads are well browned on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Oil the raw tops of the breads and turn them over to cook on the other side until cooked through and well browned on both sides, another 3 to 4 minutes. Serve somewhat immediately because fresh, hot bread is such a treat.


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Grilled corn salad

I have three sisters-in-law. They are each massively impressive in their own way. Their most important trait, of course, is the immense love they have all shown me and mine. A most treasured additional characteristic they share is the ability to make me laugh out loud. And really, that is all I ask of anyone.

What they may not realize, however, is how much they have helped me professionally.

They would not have realized this because none of them are writers. Or cooks.

What they are is this: smart, on-the-ball, professional women with children. Two of them work really amazingly full-time at rather beyond-demanding jobs, the third is career-shifting while raising three kids which hurts my head to even think about. Ow. They have all, over the years, sat and watched me cook. They have all, on various occasions, complimented the results. They want to feed themselves and their families in pleasurable and healthful ways.

And so when I write up a recipe I always image Heidi and Michelle and Mary cooking it. They are, collectively, my recipe barometer. On good days they are merry companions and we swing along through soups and salads with great fun. On bad days they are the witches from MacBeth, thwarting me at every turn with bad news and extra work because they do not already know how to grill a turkey or can’t agree on what, exactly, “blanching” is. How quickly will they, in all honesty, be able to mince those shallots? Do they keep (or want to keep) whole wheat pastry flour in the house? Will Heidi be able to find Asian eggplant easily in Minneapolis, or will it require an extra errand? Am I sure Michelle’s market in Los Angeles carries harissa, or must a substitution be stated? Will Mary, in her Greenwich Village apartment, need an alternative to grilling proper? I must admit that I do not answer their (imaginary) concerns as often as I might, but at least I do think of them, and that is thanks to my sisters-in-law.

One of them (Heidi) made a grilled corn salad this summer that got me thinking. It got me thinking about how to make an even more delicious grilled corn salad. I then made that even more delicious salad last weekend and another of them (Michelle) was quite taken by the results. Dare I hope that the third (Mary) finds a grill and cooks this up? (Hint: char the corn under a broiler instead of on a grill!)

Spicy grilled corn salad

This is yummers, plain and simple. Good all on its own, I’ve enjoyed it served with a lovely grilled tri-tip, a grilled chicken, and some grilled bratwurst (less of a perfect marriage, but tasty nonetheless). The green chile dressing could, of course, be used in plenty of other ways if one were so inclined.

Shuck 6 or 8 ears of fresh sweet corn. Brush them lightly with oil and set, along with 2 jalapeño or serrano chiles, on a hot grill. Cook, turning as you think of it, until the corn is lightly charred all over and the chiles are nicely blackened. Take everything off the grill as it’s done and let sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

Remove the blackened skin, stem, and seeds from the chiles. Chop them up – if they sort of fall apart as you do this, all the better. Put them in a large salad-type bowl and add 1 tablespoon of lime juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, some generous grindings of black pepper, and enough salt to make the taste pop. Finely chop a small red onion or a few shallots. (You can put the chopped results in a sieve or strainer, rinse with cold water, and turn out onto paper towels to pat dry if you want to tame the pungency of the raw onion.) Add the onion to the bowl and toss with the dressing. Cut the grilled corn kernels from the cobs and toss them with dressing and onion. Chop up as much cilantro as you have (about 1 cup of leaves works nicely, but more or less is fine) and add that to the mix. Serve it up. Note that a handful or two of crumbled cotija cheese (feta is a fine enough substitute) would not be out of order.


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Onigiri (rice balls)

Sometimes a favor flips itself over. You start off thinking you are doing someone else a favor and end up so grateful for what they have done for you.

About a week ago the lovely Tara Austen Weaver, author of The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman’s Romp through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis, sent out a request. She asked that people check out her new e-book, Tales from High Mountain, part 1, about the months she lived in a very traditional house in a very traditional town high the mountains of Japan. It costs only $3.99, as a PDF or a Kindle download, with all proceeds going to on-going relief efforts in Japan. She set the price low to encourage buyers, but you can enter any amount you want in the final purchase price to give more, if you’re so inclined.

So I bought it and stayed up late reading it – remembering so well the unbelievable fatigue that can come when living in a foreign country, in a foreign language, in other people’s houses – and tweeted about it, trying to get the word out about her great writing and inspiring goal of raising money to help a country she deeply loves.

But I kept thinking. Her descriptions of the food were, of course, so tempting. I do not cook a lot of Japanese food. Hardly any, really. But that night of reading about Japanese food made me turn the next morning to Everyday Harumi: Simple Japanese Food for Family & Friends by Harumi Kurihara who, according to the press release sent with the book from the publisher, is the Martha Stewart of Japan. I have absolutely no idea how accurate that comparison is, but I do know that the recipes in this book are super simple and beautiful and there are at leasta  dozen post-its sticking out from its pages marking the recipes I meant to cook when I first looked through it. Then recipes for work needed to be cooked and other books showed up and piled on top and I simply lost track of those intentions.

Until, of course, I read Tales from High Mountain. So I cooked up the onigiri, rice balls with chopped chicken (although the book has you use ground, which I didn’t note until I’d chopped the chicken – I’m a good recipe writer and not really the best recipe follower). We loved them. Origiri are, according to this book, what Japanese people might eat when we would turn to a sandwich. Lightbulb. My son, age 8, does not like sandwiches. This makes packing his punch everyday sort of a pain. Not so this week. We made another batch of origiri together and have popped them in his lunch bag two days in a row now.

I thought I was doing Tara a favor and in the process giving some more money to natural disaster survivors (something no San Franciscan every sneezes at). In the process I had a stupid, quotidian, boring, and unremarkable problem that has vexed me regularly for years – what to put in that lunch bag – solved.

How is that for a lead-in to asking you for a favor or two? First, check out Tara’s post and consider ordering her book. Second, cook something totally new this week. Who knows what other problems – big or small – we might solve?

Origiri – chicken rice balls

This is my version – a bit less sweet and with a bit more chicken in the chicken-to-rice ratio.

Rinse 1 cup sushi rice (long grain really won’t work) in cool water until the water runs clear. Put in a rice cooker or pot with 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Take off the heat and let sit 5 minutes. Uncover and let cool.

Meanwhile, put 1/2 pound finely chopped chicken thigh meat (or ground chicken if it doesn’t freak you out the way it freaks me out), 3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, and 2 tablespoons mirin in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid is pretty much absorbed, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Combine the rice and chicken mixture thoroughly. With damp hands grad a small handful of the mixture and press – press really hard – into a ball or patty. Set on a plate and repeat – being sure to rinse and re-wet your hands between each one (you’ll be tempted to try to do a second without rinsing your hands first, don’t give in to this temptation, it will only lead to super-sticky rice-covered hands). Cover let sit a bit before eating or chill and eat later.

If the mixture is still a bit warm, the balls will not hold together as well, so don’t fret if they start plopping apart a bit if you’ve jumped the gun and made them before things are cooled off.


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Fresh tomato lasagna

Can you count the layers?

I can. I did. If we’re willing to count the bit of sauce on the bottom of the dish – and I’m not at all sure we should be – then this lasagna has 18 layers of homemade pasta sheets, fresh tomato sauce, and creamy mozzarella cheese (with a smack of Parmesan on top). If we just want to count the pasta sheets themselves, then the answer is eight, which isn’t too shabby, though I say it myself.

It had been a good long time since I made lasagna, and the last time I made it… well, it was a disappointment at best. That one was too complicated, too many twists and turns and clever ideas and it all became a giant convoluted baked mess. Edible, to be sure, but hardly the triumph I was reaching for. So this time I kept it simple. Super simple. Too simple? Not really, but the light touch I gave this one caused my dashing husband to proclaim that it was more souffle than lasagna. I took it as the highest compliment. Or, to be more precise, I took it as a compliment once I stopped obsessively wondering if he really meant that there wasn’t enough food. There was enough food. Pretty much. Who knew the lasagna would turn out so tasty? Who were we to resist its charms?

Overly Long and Picture-Laden Fresh Tomato Lasagna Recipe

Start by buying super ripe tomatoes. The better the tomatoes, the better this lasagna will be. And by “better” I don’t mean fancy names or labels or heirloom-ness,  I mean ripe and super tomato-flavored. Taste before you buy. Also, less juicy varieties will work better here. Your Romas, your Early Girls, your plums.

Take about 3 pounds of those tomatoes and hull them (cut out their core). Chop them and run that mixture through a food mill.

Alternatively, you can purée them in a blender and then run them through a food mill or, if you don’t have a food mill, strain the mixture through a sieve to get the seeds and skin out – although that process is such a pain that I would then consider peeling and seeding the tomatoes first and then whirling them in a blender. In any case, you want to end up with a smooth purée of tomatoes with very minimal seeds or skin in the mix.

Pour this purée into a pot, add an onion that has been halved and peeled and about 6 tablespoons of butter. Bring the whole mess just to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring now and again as the mood strikes you, until it is all reduced and dark red and yummy looking and a bit thickened up. This will take at least an hour and maybe two depending on how juicy the tomatoes were to start with.

While the sauce is cooking you need to make the pasta. Work 2 cups of flour, a teaspoon of fine sea salt, and 4 eggs into a dough. Knead this dough so it holds together and is nice and smooth – you can just do this in the bowl you mixed the dough in. No big deal. No need to knead it like bread dough. Put the pasta dough on a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it up and shape it into a flat disk as you do so. Put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. You could, of course, do this before you get the sauce started so that once the sauce is cooking you can start in the with pasta. I did not do that. I found there was plenty of clean-up, note-taking, and lunch-eating to do while the pasta rested.

Then you need to roll out the pasta. I divided the dough into 8 portions. Rolled one portion on the thickest setting, folded that piece like a business letter in thirds, rolled it on the thickest setting, repeated that move and then moved on, doing that with each portion of dough (adding flour as necessary along the way, of course).

I then took each piece through the next setting, and so on until the dough was rolled out on the thinnest setting on my pasta roller-outer. You may well have another method for rolling out pasta dough. Please, use that if it works for you.

Cut the pasta sheets into pieces that 1) will fit in the pan you’re going to bake the lasagna in and 2) that you can deal with and handle without losing your mind. For me that meant cutting each sheet into 3 or 4 pieces.

Put a large pot of water on to boil, add enough salt so it tastes salty, and drop the pasta sheets in for about 30 seconds each. Have a bowl of ice water ready to dunk the pasta into when you take it out of the boiling water to cool it immediately.

Lift pasta out of the water, running your hand down each piece to remove as much excess water as possible, and lay the pasta out on clean kitchen towels. Warning: this will most likely use up most of your counter space.

Thinly slice about 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese. Finely grate about 4 ounces of Parmesan cheese.

Taste the pasta sauce, add enough sea salt to make the flavor really pop.

Put about 1/3 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 (or there about) baking pan and spread it around. Arrange a single layer of pasta in the pan. Top that with just a bit of sauce – seriously, just the thinnest of layers that will fall far short of coating everything.

Then a layer of pasta. Then a layer of mozzarella – but not a solid layer, just pull each slice apart a bit and arrange about half the mozzarella in the pan. Top with pasta. Then sauce. Then pasta.

Then a sprinkle of Parmesan. Then pasta. Then sauce. Then pasta. Then the remaining mozzarella. Then pasta. Then sauce. Then pasta. Then sauce and the rest of the Parmesan.

Cover and bake for 35 minutes at about 375°F. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes or so. Serve with fresh basil leaves and some oven-dried tomatoes. I also offered up a platter of sautéed zucchini, all beautifully browned and yummy out of a cast iron pan.

I’d like to say that this feeds six, but that is stretching it. It really is terribly light. Delicious. But light.


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Swedish meatballs. On a stick.

Three years ago my best friend from high school, my son, and I went to the Deerwood Summerfest. My friend and I saw that this small town street fair was happening on our way to pick up my son from day camp. To be more precise, my friend saw that it was happening. What I noticed was a table from which Lutheran ladies were selling Swedish meatballs. On the way back to the cabin, we stopped, got out of the car, and walked around; I with single-minded plans of scoring some of those Swedish meatballs.

We got to the table that had had Swedish meatballs on it. It was empty. There was a woman there packing up the sodas (well, actually, she was packing up the pops because if you call soda soda in Minnesota it takes people a minute or two to know what the hell you’re talking about; if it’s fizzy and it’s in a can or bottle and it’s not beer, it is pop). I asked her what happened to the Swedish meatballs.

“Oh, well now,” she said, “those were only for sale until four.”

“What time is it?” I asked, thinking that it was, maybe, barely four o’clock.

She looked at her watch and sharply drew in her breath, “Oh, yeah, it’s four-oh-three.”

“Oh,” I said, clearly disappointed and adopting my native accent, “and so I guess you’re all out then?”

“Well I don’t know about that,” she said, “but it’s four-oh three.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is an interaction that has haunted me for three years. Three years of three minutes keeping me from my dream of Swedish meatballs made by small town church ladies. And you just know those Lutheran church ladies of Deerwood, the town in which the hardware store sells not one but two models of lefse makers, know how to make a Swedish meatball right. A lady who was that judgmental about my thought that she might sell me meatballs just because there were meatballs left to sell when the sign plainly stated “10-4″ is just the kind of lady who is going to know how to make a Swedish meatball. She is going to make it old school and there will be plenty of cream in the mix and butter in that gravy because that is how you make them, cholesterol and newfangled ideas be damned. These meatballs will be bought and eaten by her neighbors and she knows what she would think about them if they didn’t make the very best meatballs possible, so she’s going to make that extra effort to make sure the meatballs are perfection. Church-centric cooking and baking in Minnesota are competitive sports as much as charitable activities.

So when my mom and I took my son to Deerwood Summerfest last week you know I was looking for those meatballs. We walked past the Lutheran church and my heart sank. Nada. No table, no church ladies, no meatballs Swedish or otherwise.

Luckily my son wanted to play the carnival games in the park, a spot from which we could see that there was something going on behind the church. While my mom got my son a corn dog, I hightailed it to the tented tables in the parking lot of the Salem Lutheran Church, traded my cash for tickets, walked right up to the lady overseeing the crockpot, and came into the possession of two Swedish meatballs on a stick, a small cup of gravy for dipping, and a baggie full of homemade lefse – not to mention change from the five I handed over to pay for the lot of it.

The meatballs were tender and moist and light. The gravy tasted as much of butter as it did of browning meatballs, just as it should. The lefse was still warm and thin enough to see through plus I managed to snag one that hadn’t had Parkway margarine out of squeeze bottle smeared all over it.

Best of all, and this goes without saying to all the transplanted Minnesotans out there, was, of course, that the meatballs were served on a stick. As every Minnesota State Fair goer knows, putting food on a stick, while seemingly just a practical way to serve food to people who are aimlessly milling around, has the unintended consequence of making said food taste better. Is it the woodsy flavor imparted by the stick? The attention one needs to pay while eating to make sure the whole thing doesn’t tumble onto one’s clothes? The knowledge that food-on-a-stick means you’re at a fair of one sort or another? These are questions I leave greater minds to answer. All I know is that now that my food fantasy of scarfing down Swedish meatballs on the mean streets of Deerwood has been fulfilled my next Minnesota food goal is to try some of that walleye-on-a-stick at the ballpark everyone is talking about. That fish has got to be delicious.


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Wild rice breakfast

I’ve been enjoying a shorter-than-usual and yet still decadently long visit to northern Minnesota. There has been real sticky summer heat. There have been thunderstorms. There have been tornado warnings and watches. There has been walleye. There has been walleye eaten while playing bingo. There have been dives into cool fresh lake water and long swims along the shore. There have been bug bites so itchy they wake you up and ice cream cones licked while speeding over deep blue water in a fast moving boat. Fish and frogs and toads have been caught and released. A guitar was played and songs sung. Many many things have been grilled.

There was a breakfast at the Birchwood Cafe in Aitkin (home of the Gobblers!). It was a fine breakfast. Standard, quality diner fare except for two very Minnesotan touches.

First, and most delightfully, when the server confirmed that I, indeed, would like some coffee, she promptly brought me a thermal carafe full of the stuff to the table.

Second, and most charmingly, the Birchwood Cafe also offers “hot wild rice” as a side on the breakfast menu (it also puts it in the Great Northern omelet). A cup or a bowl, your choice.

I was in an eggy-hashbrowny mood that morning, so I did not order the wild rice. It got me thinking though. Planted a seed of wild rice for breakfast that grew into the wild rice porridge dish you see above. Leftover wild rice, heated up with a bit of milk, topped with toasted chopped nuts, a bit of maple syrup, and a drizzle of browned butter. Some dried blueberries would have been good, too, I’m sure, if I’d had them in the house.

wild rice

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Hawaii memories, part 3

Lovely baskets of fresh produce beautifully stacked would normally be enough to tempt me. I consider the promise of a fresh cup of 100% Kona coffee worth a drive. Amazingly flavorful “red veal” from local ranches (the ground meat made divine burgers) would, one would think, get my ass in the car. The possibility that the bacon made from pigs raised in a mac nut orchard that I tried last year might be back seems like a reasonable inducement. Yet I cannot tell a lie. The A-number-1 reason I headed back to the Waimea farmers market for a second visit on this last trip was for one of Aunt Aggie’s malasadas.

Fried dough is tricky. It can be the thing I can’t stop eating no matter how full I am or the thing that even sharp hunger won’t urge me to eat. It can be crispy and light and flavorful or heavy and greasy and beyond bland.

Aunt Aggie’s malasadas were, obviously, the former.

The malasada, or, rather, the practice of making malasadas, was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, mainly from the islands of Madeira and the Azores when the grape-growing got rough in the 19th century. You can call it a doughnut. You can call it a fritter. You can call it a blob of fried dough rolled in sugar, for all I care. It is, after all, a most accurate description. Like its brethren, its deliciousness (or forgetableness) depends on a dough that was allowed some time to rise and develop flavor and texture, fresh oil that hasn’t gone rancid or taken up random ambient odors and smells, a steady oil temperature between 350 and 375 so the dough starts to cook before it has time to soak up oil, but doesn’t brown and burn on the outside before the inside is cooked and light and fluffy, and the prompt and speedy serving and eating of the result.

The people at the Aunt Aggie’s stand at the Waimea Homestead Farmers Market on Saturday mornings are doing all that. They are doing all that with smiles and good cheer.

When complimented they seem surprised. Why wouldn’t malasadas be delicious? And, I guess, when you know how to make them like that, you would think it was no big deal. But I’ve tried others and they can be, like all fried dough that is rushed or left too long, like faintly sweet industrial white bread that’s taken a oil bath.

So a humble gob of fried dough turned me into one of those people that, when gathered in enough quantity, can be the downfall of a farmers market; one of those people who head off to farmers markets to eat instead of to shop, who buy prepared food instead of ingredients. Yet how to think of salad when malasadas are there and you already have a cup of coffee in hand?


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Hawaii memories, part 2

Sometimes you do not want another fish sandwich. Even if it is remarkably fresh and delicious. Luckily, if you find yourself driving through Kawaihae, Hawaii on a Friday, there is GJ’s Huli Chicken.

Also, as you can see, GJ’s also hulis up ribs.

Huli? What is huli? It’s Hawaiian barbecue. Meat is slathered with brown sugar and soy sauce and usually some ginger and maybe other seasonings depending on the cook and cooked directly or indirectly with a fire.

GJ’s offers a plate lunch, with a scoop of rice and macaroni salad (“mac salad,” which can be a bit confusing because in every other instance I’ve ever experienced “mac” in Hawaii is short for macadamia nut, although it is usually phrased as “mac nut” so I should have caught on just a bit sooner than I did) or you can just buy the meat.

If you just want the meat, GJ picks up a half rack of ribs or half a chicken and puts it right in a plastic grocery bag (well, really two plastic grocery bags to avoid the quite fragrant meat juice dripping all over you and your car) and hands it over.

The plate lunch, with its carb-heavy propensity, seems like something developed for workers, surfers, and kids at that stage when they’re growing like weeds. My son loved nothing more than a plate lunch, especially the one from GJ’s with its generous allotment of bird.

My dashing husband and I preferred to get our meat-in-a-bag and doctor it up a bit back at the house with a vegetable or two. Spicy pickles and piquant dressings were key to cutting the fatty deliciousness of GJ’s huli.

GJ’s Huli, in Kawaihae on Fridays, Waimea on Saturdays, and Konohaa on Sundays. You supply the pickles.


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Hawaii memories, part 1

Sometime between the end of the school year and having “part of a dead person,” as my son calls my ACL donor graft, put in my right knee, we were lucky enough to spend a bit of time in Hawaii. The Big Island of Hawaii. We were in a part the locals call “Up North,” which, since that is what Minnesotans call anywhere their lakeside cabin finds itself, amused me to no end.

“Up North” on Hawaii and in Minnesota, I discovered, have three things in common.

First, they both offer excellent swimming. I believe I am clearly and firmly on the record as loving swimming, particularly in naturally occurring bodies of water. The warm salt water bath of the Hawaiian Pacific and the bracing effect of northern lakes are two sides of the same coin in my book.

Second, if you happen to go out for breakfast in either place you are likely to find yourself surrounded by old guys with incredibly strong accents spending the morning drinking black coffee and shooting what can only be called the shit.

Third, fresh fish. The soft spot on my palate for the delicate taste of fresh water lake fish like sunnies and walleye and bass seems to be fairly entrenched. But who am I to turn up my nose at a supremely fresh piece of ono? The very name of the fish means “delicious.”

The lunch wagon above was parked next to the fish market in the small town near where we stayed. You could watch the fishermen come in with their catch, off-load it into the giant refrigerated section next to the shack where it would later be sold, and, if you didn’t make too big of a deal about it, watch the fishmonger filet it up before it was walked over to the lunch wagon and cooked up for your sandwich. Dude had a way with the knife.

What’s not on the menu is the specials page taped to the window – the daily special plus a list of the fish you can choose to have cooked up for your plate or burger that day.

Besides being deliciously fresh food at a fair price, the lunch wagon offered the opportunity to interact with the lunch wagon lady. She was the kind of woman who happily gave Ernest all wings in his Korean chicken special. The kind of cook who noticed that I salted my sandwich one day and so asked if I’d like extra salt the next. Plus, I liked how the lawn furniture she had out front was the same kind I used to scrub clean when my parents brought it out from the storage space under the garage every spring.

If you’re on the Big Island anywhere near Kawaihae at lunchtime Monday through Saturday, I cannot recommend strongly enough eating lunch out of this ailing old vehicle.


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