Thanksgiving, and Sea Urchin on Cereal

“Ooh, what is that?”



“It’s uni.  Sea urchin roe. For pupu.”

“How would you like it to be served?”

“I thought, I don’t know, maybe on a cracker.  But we didn’t have any crackers.  I mean, of course.”

“John has crackers.”

“We brought some.  Well…” she fished in her purse, and pulled out a little box.

It was one of those little orange cereal boxes.  Shredded wheat.

“Very Momofuku…” said one child.

Thanksgiving lunch 2011: Patsy, Patty, Fenny, Frank, four Chocks and Linnea.  Turkey by Dad, and super cranberry sauce (lime, in the place of orange) by sister.

Caramelized white pumpkin, sweet potato with lavender…tuberose.

And, when my old favorite heard her old favorite on the jukebox, a quiet conversation with Maikai Kamakani o Kohala.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Oven Figs

California Fresh FigsAll those Costco figs, and a Sunday morning.  A long roast in a low oven, brushed with NZ honey and nutmeg.

Oven Roast FigsTheir juices puddled into a bright pink jelly.

Oven Roast Figs And we ate them with greek yogurt, and in salads with black olives and sheep’s cheese.

Biography through recipe

Last week I was blessed with dinner chez Magali + famille.  It comes as no surprise that the conversation found itself aboard le Mistral, hurtling toward Paris.

“Do you remember, that time?”

“The lamb…”

“And the haricots blancs–”  Mme. turned to Magali to explain, her French accent making everything marvelous.  “They were not fresh.”

“Cooked from dry,” Mme.’s husband added. “On a train in America, we would have welcomed grilled cheese; and on this one the food was delicious but the passengers were up in arms.  It was a lovely train, le Mistral.”

“Before le TGV,” sighed Mme.

Fresh haricots blancs! My head was still spinning, chasing a moving cabin where legumes knew no compromise. “Back to the beans,” I interrupted. “The French really complained, to the servers?”

“They asked to approach the conductor himself.”

I need to plant haricots blancs,” I thought out loud, realizing I was gripping the table with force commensurate to the thrill of the conversation. No surprise. This was, after all, dinner at Magali’s–an experience that has been called “outlandishly elegant and riotously gastronomic” in certain media.

And at Magali’s they call it pain quotidien. This is perhaps the only corner of the world where, after a casual evening swim at Kaimana, one serves panisse over gorgeously-blackened chicken “Diablo;” a fragrant ratatouille, baguette, salade et fromages… and then announces dessert.  How?  I kept glancing at the tiny kitchen. Watching these dishes parade to the table was  like seeing the Dallas Mavericks file out of a Volkswagen bug.

And that dessert: plum clafoutis by Magali (plums, allowed by Julia’s headnotes as a substitute for cerises) and Mariage Freres.

Our stories ricocheted from haricots to Lanzhou paomo, and through decades.  Magali mentioned a “book” twice, in reference to family cookery, and as intrepid journalist and marginally polite guest I had to pry.  What, pray tell, was this project?

A binder, now quite thick, of recipes–each one patiently tested and calibrated by a father who does not need to measure when he cooks. (The other chef in the family, the French one, said something about refusing to break the rhythm of cooking.) Its contents range from Marseille heirlooms to dishes required for school projects, pan muerto to teriyaki steak.  In parts, the gastronomic canon of a family; in sum, something so much more. Menu as life score, I thought.

“Biography through recipe,” mused Mme., and my jaw dropped.

That would have been the perfect title for the blog, I said.

“It is yours,” she said immediately, forever French and elegant; always quick and deft with courtesy.

The French, I guess, have always had a strong sense of what matters most.  Baguette crusts, evening swims; good wine, fromages. And taste and tale: heirlooms that travel through time, fresh beans on a fast train to Paris.


Broccoli Days of Summer

The high tide of summer is inching away: long days always a little less so. Avocados are dropping, pakalana is in bloom and currant tomatoes flow from the vine. Salmon is smoking in the grill.

Also appearing at the table: first-ever homegrown broccoli.  Not exactly a tropical summer crop, but there it was in the garden bed.  A splash of olive oil and a moment over the fire to char and sweeten.  Delicious.

Then the matter of those avos, and tomatoes, and Kahuku corn.  These last snapshots are from a dinner with Jean-Yves, Monica and Carole, a bright-skied early evening that finished with blueberry crumble.  The crumble was by Pia, who wasn’t there to eat it–like summer, she had tiptoed away.

Au’s Garden

A Parisian son of our Chinese clan is on island; to celebrate, two round tables at Au’s Garden on Moʻokāula St. in Kalihi.  It was my first trip ever, and Aunty Helen’s third in two weeks.

It has been a long time since I last journaled on FiF; I don’t know why.  You probably know that I spent the summer paralyzed by indecision–and with apologies to Yogi Berra (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”) I chose to stay in Hawaiʻi.  I remember it as a difficult choice, but driving to Kalihi with the windows down and “ʻŌpae E” on the radio, it seemed a natural step on the path to self-actualization, forks and all.

Au’s is a lovely dining room unchanged by time, and by the way I have also discovered it to be the best Chinese restaurant in America.  Hands down.  I swear in print that is better even than Darda.  (Another story for another time!)

We began with corn soup.  I will have you know that I am not particular about the service aspect of Chinese dining experiences.  But I will always kvell when soup is ladled with one hand behind the back.  It is a graceful echo of childhood dinners, special occasions, when Yong Sing’s kitchen would send forth giant winter melons, hollowed almost to translucence, cut with a serrated edge and  filled with shimmering broth.  I can remember when our family filled six or more round tables, each with a steaming melon.  (Also a soft spot: steamed fish fileted deftly with two silver spoons in a single hand.)

Yong Sing is gone, as are many of the masterminds whose taste and tact guided the selection of those ten-course meals.  It is an incredible art and science; my sister seems to have picked it up but I wouldn’t even know where to begin on a menu.  I believe our meal this time was pre-selected by Aunty Pat, perhaps with help from Helen and maybe Dori.   It was a triumph.  Following the soup: sweetest cuttlefish on sin choy;  wood fire roasted clams; bittermelon; green beans seared with crisp pork and garlic; spicy eggplant; sherry chicken; shrimp, jai; a brilliant fish over tofu and under a fragrant mat of thread-thin ginger and scallions.

And, this being this, resin water glasses, little tea bowls, Australian sauvignon blanc in plastic cups.

We also observed the upcoming departure of another cousin, who is headed to Portland for college.  His recent graduation from Punahou was the centennial of our great grandfather’s commencement in 1911, a fact not lost on a great-aunt after likely 18 years of calculated anticipation.

On the subject of generational cycles, I happened to make this image below as we were wrapping things up.  It is the ritual act of portioning and packing leftovers, an exacting exercise that is perhaps one of the quaint hallmarks of Aunty Pat’s singular hospitality.  Here our young Parisian guest is seen, instinctively doing the same, unprompted (even as the original leaps in from the next table).

What a meal.  I kept snapping and snapping pictures all night.  Whatever kept me from blogging had disappeared.  We were all together at the right place in the right time–and though I didn’t take that fork, there was a pair of chopsticks for me.

Food is for weather

We had a spate of hot, hot days last month and I think another might be on its way. Sharing two ice-cube salads and a semifreddo one, all snappy as they are refreshing, that I’ve used to keep my cool:

Cucumber Peanut Salad (above)

A mountain of tiny cut cukes (Heidi says to make them like “pencil erasers,”) brightened with a squeeze of lemon, sprinkled with serrano chile and cilantro, and drizzled with a dressing of Indian flavors–then topped at the last minute with lightly-toasted peanuts and coconut.  Recipe on 101cookbooks.  Comes together faster than you’d think.  We had this with poi supper for Aunt Marjorie’s moving-out party.

Watermelon with Lime and Jalapeno

A tiny twist on a great and easy recipe from SNE.  Shower watermelon with the juice of a lime (with a little salt) and finely-diced jalapeno.  This could work as a salsa, a salad, a dessert… (In the book, no jalapeno: Heidi splashes with a drop of rosewater and tops it very prettily with bright green pistachios.)  Pool party perfect.

Caprese soft serve

At a Parisian aunt’s suggestion (she said use a pseudonym, and suggested Aunty Batty), I made basil ice cream–but substituted yogurt for half of the custard, and didn’t bother to measure the salt–and arrived at something distinctly in the neighborhood of mozzarella.  So summoned the ripest of my vine, and the last of the Provencal granola.  I wonder how far I could push this into yogurt territory–what a summer lunch it would be!

Mother’s Day

Pear Ice Cream and Almond Cake

We raised our glasses to Mother’s Day—

“Thank you, but really,” my mother said, her own glass held high, “to my children.”

So we toasted the two slouches who sat askew in big chairs, eating for free—one wearing her pajamas and the other doing nothing to put his dinner company at ease with a rather large camera.

(My grandmother was fond of saying that the Queen of England did not allow photographers in the dining room. I think this had a point about chewing with one’s mouth closed, but in retrospect I’m not sure if I was to mind the note on photography.  What my sister took away from the example of the Queen’s dining habits is also up for interpretation.)

For the special day, we fetched a souvenir from the year of a birth.  1983 was my turn, a year of the Boar, and of heavy fall rains on the Côte D’Or.   It was not a good year for burgundy, but in the mid-80s my parents would come into a case of ‘83 Nuits-St. Georges at Cost Plus and cellar it in my bedroom closet, as they had a 1979 vintage for my sister.

(How and why the traveling family—I have to assume with child in tow—picked up and carted home a case of wine is a story lost to time.)

(It is also a peculiar fact that the wine is now 28 years old, while I am just 23.  “Like a fine wine,” right?)

There’s also a 1979 stash to observe the elder child.  A year or two ago we ceremoniously uncorked one of these, and made salad dressing with it.

So this time we cut the foil on an ’83, with oil and black pepper at the ready.  This cork had long since slipped into the booze, and there was a great deal of excitement over decanting with a minimum of sediment.  (“That’s the wine concentrate,” said Fran Drescher’s character on The Nanny, while adjusting a sangria that was “two packets of Equal” shy of perfection.)

Sister, resident connoisseur, who shocks our parents and her brother by putting $20 bottles in the cart at Costco, decided the highest and best use of her glass was as an amendment to the local terroire.  We’ll see if this year’s avocadoes ripen with notes of 28-year French burgundy.

But honestly, it was absolutely drinkable and festive–and the $7 brother had a second pour with no adverse effects.

Beautiful pink moules in turquoise shells, with fennel and garlic (and chardonnay, earlier in the meal); bright red New Zealand salmon with applewood-smoked salt.  Red wheat berries with mushrooms.

For dessert: our favorite David Lebovitz almond cake, with pear ice cream.  It was raining so hard all weekend I didn’t even want to go to the grocery store.  (And still nearly every one of my young athletes showed up for swim lessons, led into the elements by a fearless mother.)  Hiding indoors, I scraped clean a tub of honey, fished for an old can of goat milk in the pantry and pureed a pear from the (not-getting-any-) crisper.

…and while the cake cooled, we rummaged in the yard to put a lei around a hat instead of going to the florist.

The cake won high praise (“Just like Costco muffins!” from Ms. Mānoa Muffin 1997) but the next time I make ice cream I should only be so lucky to have cream on hand.  The goat milk?  It had a delicate, sweet flavor with a certain sharpness.  Bite by bite, sometimes quite assertive, sometimes a fine and natural companion for pear, honey and almond.

About those ingredients:

  • I didn’t choose them.
  • They were in the kitchen far too long.
  • Having them out of the house is a great relief.

I never understood why they say that about children…

biography through recipe


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