Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair
Saturday, January 31, 2004
Preview: New dessert haven in Manoa / Drive-thru coffee
We've often felt that Manoa could use a first-rate dessert shop--a place to go after eating out at one of the many restaurants at or near the Manoa Marketplace. Why be forced to drive to Bubbies on University Avenue or Cafe Laufer or JJ French Pastry, both in Kaimuki? Why has Manoa been neglected in the dessert department?
Our obsessive quest for dessert perfection nearer to home may be satisfied at last. Opening Monday February 2 at 2740 E. Manoa Road, next to Boston's North End Pizza, will be It's a Beautiful Day Kafe, operated by Gordon Okamoto and Summer Batalona.
Desserts will include Sweet Street Desserts flown in from Reading, Pennsylvania, Tiffany's no-sugar-added pies, and Hawaii's own Starpoint old-fashioned desserts and pastries made with Hawaiian products. (We've been buying Kate Wagoner's Starpoint goodies regularly at the KCC Saturday Farmer's Market.)
We sampled a Chocolate Chunk Brownie which was dense, rich, moist, intensly chocolaty and not too sweet -- just the way we like our brownies.
The Kafe will also be the first in Hawaii to offer Tully's Coffee. Mr. Okamoto described the coffee as in the middle between the cinnamon roast of Seattle's Best and Starbuck's dark roast. He described it as a "full-bodied flavor without the burnt after-taste" of the very dark roasts.
There's ample parking. The location is where the old Shell station used to be. The Kafe will make good use of the location -- they'll be open from 6 a.m. daily, offering commuters drive-through coffee where the gas pumps used to be. So just pull off the road, grab a hot cup of coffee, and continue on your way to the daily grind.
It's a Beautiful Day Kafe plans a grand opening on Valentine's day, but why wait? We'll be there for the soft opening on Monday. Finally, great desserts in Manoa. I know I deserve a really great dessert, and so do you.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
How the Free Range Gourmet tamps coffee
Each day we enjoy a double espresso before rushing off to work. Actually, it's usually espresso seven days a week, unless we have an Americano or other variation on weekends when there is time to create an omelet or other special breakfast and to relax a bit with a coffee that better fits the cuisine.
Our Coffee Gaggia (the original model) and coffee grinder have travelled the world with us. When we lived in Japan, espresso was not popular and often hard to find. Moving from Japan to Hawaii, same thing -- there were few espresso machines anywhere in the Islands (young folks will just have to imagine a world without Starbucks, cell phones, MP3 downloads or TIVO).
We've kept the Gaggia alive with new parts as required. One significant improvement has been to replace the cheap plastic coffee tamper, which was a few millimeters too small anyway, with a hand-crafted model made by craftsman Reg Barber. I chose one made of stainless steel and African Rosewood. Check his website for pictures and information:
Reg Barber, Vancouver, Island, Canada, lathes coffee tampers using fine woods and either stainless steel or aluminum. The tampers are available in several sizes, so I was able to order the one that precisely fit our coffee machine.
I've always believed in having the right tool for the job. Hey -- I use this tool every day, so why not enjoy it? Maybe it's a guy thing, but I do appreciate the weight and feel of this coffee tamper in my hand, and it works much better than the orginal.
It's also one of the few items in the kitchen that I can take the lead in choosing.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Winners in the first race of the 2004 legislative session
It's not unusual for various advocacy groups or organizations to measure lawmakers on their effectiveness on a given issue. The Free Range Gourmet (freerangegourmet.com) is the first to rate Hawaii state legislators on their performance so far in the 2004 legislative session. And there are clear winners to announce.
On this, the opening day of this year's session, The Free Range Gourmet surveyed the traditional opening-day food offered to well-wishers at the State Capitol offices of the 51-member House and 25-member Senate.
Offerings ranged from basic cookies through sushi to conference tables laden with rice, Chinese noodles, fried fish and chicken. In between were some special dishes worth noting.
The Free Range Gourmet was not interested in quantity, nor do mass-produced sushi rolls earn many points. Instead, what attracted our attention was food that appears healthy, refined, sensuous, enjoyable. If it was home-made, that was a plus.
There were some tough decisions to make, and unfortunately not all 76 offices could be visited this year, although we gave it a good try.
There were three clear winners:
House Majority Whip Representative Brian Schatz (D-25th district - Tantalus, Makiki, McCully) wins on the gourmet quality of his Caprese Salad, with slices of juicy tomato layered between fresh basil leaves and creamy mozzarella. Visitors to his office also enjoyed grilled vegetables and jai and Chinese food made by his wife, Linda, according to staffer Karin Gill, who was in charge of the arrangements. Jai is a traditional vegetarian dish eaten by Chinese families on New Year's Day, so Brian can make some claim to offering Italian-Chinese fusion cuisine to his office visitors today.
Majority Leader Representative Marilyn Lee (D-38th district - Mililani, Mililani Mauka) took the prize for her healthy food. Rep. Lee, the only practicing health professional in the Legislature (she still works every weekend as Nursing Supervisor), offered tasty, attractive and low-fat fare to her visitors. According to staffer Ann Thornack, the dressing for the fruit salad is on the side to offer a choice of with or without. Dishes were made with brown rice and there were buns with meat but also whole- grain vegetarian buns. Rep Lee's office offered a welcome respite from the catered fried dishes in the conference rooms.
Finally, the ice cream war on the Senate level also produced a clear winner. On exact opposite ends of the floor, Senator Gordon Trimble and Senator Les Ihara compete for the dessert honors. A line formed outside the office of Senator Gordon Trimble (R-12th district - Kapahulu, Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako, Iwilei, Honolulu) where an ice cream machine was set up dispensing soft-serve mixed up by the staff. I felt like a kid again, pouring a generous coating of chocolate sprinkles on top of my ice cream cup.
But the prize goes to Senator Les Ihara, Jr., (D-9th district - Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo, St. Louis Heights, Maunalani Heights, Kapiolani Park). According to his office manager, Heather Bolan, the rich, creamy coconut ice cream served to those who learned the secret (and word travelled quickly through the Senate corridors) was ordered from La Gelateria on Cedar Street. The ice cream was made just the day before.
So the first legislative report cards are in, and congratulations to Rep. Brian Schatz, Rep. Marilyn Lee, and Sen. Les Ihara, Jr. for their outstanding performance so far in this new 2004 legislative session.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Is market shopping trendy, or what?
There are all kind of fads and diets out there, most pretty short-lived. What can we say about shopping at farmers markets? Is the Saturday Market a flash-in-the-pan thing, or will it last and perhaps grow?
Sun-dried tomatoes have lasted, and Rice Crispie Treats have come and gone for years and years. Salad greens your parents never heard of seem to be here to stay. Thai and Vietnamese restaurants are spreading and growing in popularity on the Mainland. Sushi is by now a permanent part of the American diet. But do heirloom tomatoes, Nalo greens, and all the products and produce found at farmers markets having staying power, or will they simply be short-lived trends?
I think the success of the markets is firmly linked to the slow food movement, and that looks like it's here to stay. Fast food won't necessarily go out, but slow is coming up strongly. It seems that Old is now New. With this renewed respect for cooking and eating comes a natural appreciation for the farmer and for heirloom products.
I notice that when I am in the supermarket, I don't feel any connection to the farm. It is a supermarket experience, not a farm experience. I can relate to the neatly stacked piles of apples and artificially colored oranges as fruit, but there's no thought to how they were produced or where they came from.
Going to the Saturday Market is an entirely different experience. Although one could shop and run, treating it as though it is just an outdoor supermarket, there's also the opportunity you never have in a supermarket -- to take more time and speak with the farmers. Doing so, one learns what it is like to look out the window at a storm washing away the crop, or to slog through the mud to see if anything can be salvaged after a heavy rain. One can learn about raising cattle or keeping bees, or how to satisfy the demands of Hawaii's chefs for fresh, clean, fancy salad greens.
Though it's now in the forefront of foodie chic to shop at farmers' markets, they deliver real value in many ways. They are both traditional and nouveau. They feed the body and the soul. Slow food and farmers' markets -- I think they are here to stay.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
"Down with fast food"
A review of a short history and a collection of essays from the founder of the slow food movement, Carlo Petrini Slow Food: Collected Writings on Taste, Tradition and the Honest Pleasures of Food by Tom Jaine of the Guardian of London.
Read more and order this book from Amazon.com
Friday, January 16, 2004
Some disassembly required
Monday night Nanette came home from a long day's work -- and was able to serve a delectable a coq au vin she cooked on Saturday. The wine she used was coincidentally the "Free Range" pinot noir (see January 10 post, below).
Tuesday night we had vanilla shrimp. It looks like the Kauai shrimp and Blue Lotus chicken are going to be at the market every other week -- but on the same day each time! This makes for a lot of work Saturday for the Free Range Gourmet. But it means that we can have "weekend" dishes during the week. How many of you can do coq au vin during the week, if you both work? The secret is that Nanette does her prep on Saturday, and we eat different things from it during the week.
[Lest you think we eat like this all the time, no, only until the stuff from Saturday runs out. For example, last Friday we went out with friends for a Boston North End pizza and brought a bottle of Chimay Ale along. So we're human actually.]
We're talking quality of life here. We work hard during the day. We deserve coq au vin sometimes in the evening. You do to! Just do the main work on the weekend and all sorts of things become possible. In fact, there's a bit of pressure to use what's in the fridge while it is still fresh, and before Saturday Market rolls around again.
Now, the Blue Lotus chicken is cleaned and comes with the spare parts in a little plastic bag. So some disassembly is required. These are not supermarket chicken breasts under cellophane. So part of the prep is taking apart the chicken (the liver ended up in an as-yet nameless dish with roasted red peppers and grated daikon).
Admittedly, coq au vin is not the best preparation to show off the quality of this chicken, and we'll do it a simpler way next time.
There was actually something planned for each night this week, right up to Friday, and then the cycle begins anew. But a pipe broke under the sink and we are waiting for the plumber, or someone like him, and since the kitchen is paralyzed without a sink, we went out to dinner this evening.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Paying homage to the "Len Evans Principle"
We subscribe to the "Len Evans" principle. Len Evans has been described as "Australia's leading ambassador of wine," and his complex of two restaurants and a shop in Sydney's Bulletin Place was the center of Australia's wine universe for 20 years, from 1969 to 1989. In one of his books I recall he calculated how many bottles of wine he would be able to drink in the rest of his life, and concluded that there simply were not enough left to waste drinking any plonk. Try this calculation yourself, it can be scary.
It was a pleasure to visit the Len Evans Steak House when I was in Sydney. At dinner Evans hosted vertical wine tastings, but mostly I went there for lunch. Walking in, one first approached the wine shelf. There was a high kind of breakfront on which one could lean while tasting and discussing the wines with the staff and other patrons. In true slow-food style, this could take some time, and was treated very seriously.
Having tasted, evaluated, analyzed, praised, criticized and discussed the various wines, one would then review them against the lunch menu, with the help of staff and other patrons again -- and choose what to eat based on the wine you had settled on. Not the other way around. As I recall, there was also a table with different breads, knives, cuttingboards, probably some cheeses and other things, to fuel the process of deliberation. No need to starve while figuring out what to have for lunch.
This is so civilized! Think of it -- when making a pilgrimage to the Mecca of Australian wine, isn't it sensible to pick your wine first, then the meal? We occasionally still do that at home. Thinking of a wine we've enjoyed and which we have on hand, we might choose the dinner that best goes with the wine.
Len Evan's steaks were impeccable, of course. I don't remember much of the menu, though. Since I was visiting, I wasn't driving -- a taxi would take me safely back to the hotel along with my purchases from the wine cellars below the restaurant -- and so I could indulge. Now that I drive to restaurants I need to skip the wine when we eat out. So we do the Len Evans thing when we are home.
The Len Evans Principle, better known as his Theory of Capacity, paraphrased and abridged (with apologies):
Market News -- Free Range to the Max
The free range gourmet scored a Blue Lotus chicken at the market this morning. It was killed yesterday. Free range of course. So as long as we are free ranging, what better to have with our dinner than Free Range Pinot Noire?
Ok, I'm getting carried away. This is a nice wine, though, we've had it before. It was recommended to us by Fujioka's.
Notice that "nice wine" is good enough for me, I don't really know if it has a nose or not, or if it is redolent of lychees with a side of Angostura. It was very reasonable, has a cute name and a pretty label.
Ok, yes, it has been described as "Lush and velvety. Immensely pleasurable ... Red berry perfume with a touch of cinnamon Spice, wrapped in a blanket of subtle French oak."
This amuses me immensely. Go into one wine shop and it will have a blurb like that, go into another and find a different blurb for the same wine. Now, you know you've had wines that didn't measure up, that you didn't really care for. Did the wine shop blurb say "musty, stale aroma, fishy taste on the palate?" No, it was probably that lychee or berry stuff. Sure.
What to do in place of personal experience, the understanding of wines that a true wine maven develops after a lifetime of, um, research? Shall I pick up a wine because I like the label? Should I choose because I'm impressed with the flowery description? Is it better to ask for advice from the shopkeeper or friends? Or to check out one or more of the wine blogs or the recommendations in a newspaper? And how does it work for you?
When I used to commute to Australia or travel to London, I consulted expert friends, the shopkeeper or the wine guide I found reliable. Although I was totally unfamiliar with the wines I would find there, I knew that my wine selection was in good hands and that I wouldn't be disappointed. In time, I learned a bit about Australian wines and began to rely more on my own taste and experience.
Asking for advice works really well, and so why not continue with that methodology? The Free Range Gourmet is not a snob, but a practical fellow.
When I choose a wine myself, without looking it up in our favorite wine book, or without any other guidance, I never do as well. Sometimes I luck out big time, but often I never hope to see another bottle of the same again. This particular "free range" Pinot Noir, complete with chicken on the label, was recommended to us at Fujioka's and we've not gone wrong so far with their recommendations.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Article: Chicago times recognizes that the Slow Food movement is different
The hippie kitchen's long strange trip . . . into your local supermarket
"Although the rhetoric has changed, counterculture concerns for health, nutrition, community and the environment are echoed in a slew of contemporary food movements. The Sustainable Cuisine Movement, Slow Food Movement, Raw Food Movement and Organic Movement all combine gastronomy with a variety of other causes such as ecology, agriculture, biodiversity and historic preservation.
"Once nearly extinct, the local farmers' market has emerged from obscurity, experiencing a dramatic resurgence. Many of today's leading chefs embrace the idea of simple, seasonal, "living foods" and actively promote sustainable agriculture. Renowned chefs like Chicago's Rick Bayless and Alice Waters are proud to identify themselves as social and environmental activists through their involvement in organizations such as Chef's Collaborative, which celebrates "the interconnectedness of the environment and food choices."
Saturday, January 03, 2004
Article (ABC News): Could the Environment Trigger Mad Cow Disease?
I didn't intend to devote so much blog-space to mad cow disease, but this is a must- read:
"Controversial Research Says Metals
Not Infectious Beef May Be Involved
"What if it turns out that the human form of mad cow disease is triggered by environmental factors and not by infectious beef products as some ongoing British research at Cambridge University suggests??"
Article (Star Publications, Malasia): slow food appeals to emerging economies...
Sounds right to me...:
"The trend thats burgeoning with the rising affluence in emerging economies such as Malaysia is giving the Slow Food Movement, born in Italy in 1986, second wind. The underlying philosophy is that food is more than sustenance; it is about experience, the celebration and preservation of heritage, flavours, ritual, taking time to indulge a culinary experience to share with friends."
Article (Financial Times, India): may the Slow Food peace be with you...
Simran Bhargava, in the Financial Times of India, includes the Sow Food movement as one of the next important international trends:
"Slow food: It began as a counter-revolution to fast-food in Italy some years ago when one man revolted against the opening of a McDonalds which he considered a threat to his countrys traditional lifestyle. The movement, known as Slow Food with a snail as its mascot has now spread to other countries and continues to grow. Dump the burger and reclaim the pleasures of preparing and eating real food. Grow your own vegetables, pound your own seven-grain flour. Switch off your cellphone, put the pot on simmer and let it cook sloooowly while you float, zen-like, selecting home-grown herbs. Slow down, relax, and may the peace be with you."
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