Rumkin Pumpcake

Maybe a poor choice for a pool party.

But there, at the top of the seniority list in my kitchen cupboard, was the can of pumpkin–and there, at the top of my inbox, was the pool party invite.  It happened.  And as much as the stares said this-bathing-suit-doesn’t-eat-cake or only-drinks-clear-alcohol…the pumpkin rumcake was gone long before I.

Pantry detox–my goal for December is 12 items out–this was #2.  Ten to go.

Smoked turkey quinoa jook

The Christmas bug hasn’t found me yet.  In fact, my (temporary) holiday blindness is so severe that I’m already thinking about January.  Never mind December.

Starting the new year is a big deal for a lot of people in Hawaii, and the way to do it is with a clean slate: a swept-out house, a checked-off list, and a sparkling refrigerator and pantry.

I figured it would take me about a month to eat my way through the accumulated stores of my kitchen, so I started the day after Thanksgiving, with jook.

Jook (or rice congee) as I know it is a nourishing and beautiful food.  It’s a soup made from cooked rice and (in Hawaii) leftover turkey bones, and garnished with fresh greens–maybe Chinese parsley–and hot, garlicky chili sauce.  When I think of eating jook, I think of a hot bowl after swim practice on a winter evening.

As the rice cooks and breaks down, it turns the turkey stock into a silky (almost mucosal) broth.  I didn’t have any old rice, but I had a lot of leftover quinoa pilaf with chickpeas.  When life gives you quinoa.

The day before Thanksgiving, I had scored a $5.00 bag of smoked turkey thighs at Whole Foods, in the meat department’s bargain bin, tipping the scales at well over two pounds.  The bones and skin went into my slow cooker, and yielded a smoky, spicy stock that I poured over the quinoa and brought to a simmer.

That was it.  Before eating, I threw in some cold shredded turkey and let it warm through.  Purple Thai basil, hot sauce, green onions…. done.

I don’t go to evening swim practices any more (it’s been almost ten years!) but I had a long Saturday morning in the water, after which a hot cup of jook was just the ticket to fill the stomach and clear a little space for the fast-approaching new year.


I had three Thanksgiving meals this year.

At the first, wary of the second and third, I skipped turkey and enjoyed (grilled) roast beef instead.  (Stuffed with garlic, and rubbed with garlic and black pepper, and charred to unimaginable beauty.)  This was our annual Thursday luncheon with Dad’s family.  A last-minute plumbing mishap had ousted the event from its traditional location to the home of some very hospitable and accommodating in-laws.  I didn’t know if I should show up with a big, loud camera, so for once I sat down to a meal without taking any pictures.

A beach run on a cloudless  Thanksgiving afternoon lit the fire for the second meal, Thursday dinner.  I had turkey (dark meat) with the No. 1949s at the No. 1951s.  Fenny made a pumpkin pie on an oatmeal-walnut crust.  We ate at six–just about sunset–so no natural light, no camera.

The third was turkey supper on Friday, with the ’49ers and ’51st battalion at No. 1929. Helen and John were in from Kauai, and I chose white meat.

In spite of the crystal thimbles they use to serve wine, the good folks at No. 1929 really are world-class hostesses.  We laughed and laughed.  Mom brought up the story of a Thanksgiving dinner in that very house (prepared one odd year in the absence of the senior ’29s)  when a cousin had cooked a turkey in the microwave to fantastic results, then ignited and exploded a can of peas when attempting the same.  The girls, in their grand Manoa tradition (spanning almost too many years to still be called the work of girls, and costing to date approximately $1.07 in white thread) sewed plumeria lei for the dearest in our company.

No. 1929 is a home that glows and flickers with incandescent warmth like none I know.  Again, too dark to really poke around with a camera (without a blinding flash, which is a surefire way to be disinvited from family meals) but at 0-2 at bat I had to swing, if only with the ambient light.

Aunt M. wondered aloud why her daughters had declined (refused?) to use the good china or the silver, setting the table instead with “Summer Wheat” cutlery that both she and my grandmother had purchased in 1956 at the Manoa Chevron station.

Someone (maybe Fenny) said it was because silver is too much trouble to wash.  Someone (maybe also Fenny) suggested that it is because “Summer Wheat” is such a lovely, familiar pattern.

I read on food blogs this year all about how to do Thanksgiving.  How to brine and baste and rub and smoke and fry and roast (maybe even microwave?) a turkey.  How to do cranberry sauce twenty ways.  How to make stuffing in, or out; with hazelnuts, apricots, Chinese sausages, water chestnuts, sticky rice, corn bread, etc.  How to shop ahead and manage your time.

There may have been a pile of pots and pans in the kitchen sink, but this was a meal served effortlessly.  The key ingredients were not turkey or cranberry.  I didn’t take a single picture of food, and left with just a few shots on my card: summer wheat, pink plumerias, warm yellow light and the glow of memory.  I think I got it all.

Nectarine Raspberry Crumble

A five-pound box of nectarines was melting like Antarctica c. 2050 on my kitchen counter, and I had to act fast.  There was just enough time left in the afternoon that I could ransack my cupboards and refrigerator, put something in the oven, and get to yoga before dinner… and this is what happened.

The crust: crushed graham crackers, oatmeal, a little almond flour and brown sugar, and ghee.

The filling: chopped nectarines in all stages of ripe- and post-ripeness; raspberries, and apricot jelly.

It was easy and delicious.  We drizzled it with thick white kefir for a simple and nutritious dessert.

Nectarine Raspberry Crumble

  1. Combine, in a mixing bowl: About one cup graham cracker crumbs, one cup oatmeal, half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of almond flour, and 3 tbsps of melted butter or ghee.  Or substitute roughly 2.5 cups of any cracker/meal/cookie crumb you have on hand.
  2. Chop six nectarines into eighths.
  3. Pat half of the crumb mixture into the bottom of a buttered baking dish.  (I used an 11″ Emile Henry oval terracotta baker).
  4. Fill the dish with the nectarines; drop 2 cups of raspberries into the crevices between nectarine chunks; spoon about 2 or 3 tbsps of apricot preserves over the fruit.
  5. Top with the remaining crumb mixture and a few more raspberries.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30+ minutes.  I turned the oven off at 30 and went to yoga, leaving the crumble to finish baking in ambient heat.  Came out perfect.

Slanted Door

There’s always that moment just before sitting down at The Slanted Door, that light feeling that rises like hunger in my chest, the floating excitement of knowing there’s nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be–and the thrilling relief of having arrived.

My first trip here was with my family–it was lunch and I remember the space more than anything, at the edge of the docks, wrapped in glass, filled with midday light. We had braised Japanese eggplant, and praised the Japanese eggplant.

Next trip was just before Thanksgiving, at dusk– with Sara and Grant, old swim teammates. After spending our childhoods mostly underwater together, then scattering ourselves across the country, we were all three at the water’s edge again, dry and warmly dressed.  We had shaking beef, and green papaya.

On my 23rd birthday I had a dinner at Slanted Door, courtesy of Mom and Dad. Friends swarmed from Palo Alto and Berkeley. Binbin ordered the cone of duck.

That spring, Smita came through for a visit.  We wandered in at lunch and got a seat at the bar, where they served us the green papaya–a familiar dish, a simple food, which at the tip of Charles Phan’s knife seemed to slip away from gravity and hover, in orbit, as a pure substance.  Peanuts, diced nearly to a flour; shallots,  fried crisp; “limber” strips of carrots, flexing gracefully to  touch their toes.

My most recent trip was with Sam; and the excitement set in as we stepped inside, into the somehow cool perfumes of lime, cilantro, hot white rice. We didn’t have a reservation or really even a plan to eat there, but after the exhausting Fisher show at MoMA we found our toes at the entrance to the Ferry Building and quickly said yes to a short wait for a table outside.  I didn’t know there were tables outside; these were in a narrow strip along the restaurant’s sea-facing wall sheltered by a glass partition and warmed by space heaters against the blustering bay winds. The partitions must have been strangely soundproof–there were some young women nibbling bao on a bench just on the other side but we were mostly unaware of their presence… until I became fixated on the bao, and something they had with a dipping sauce…

I zipped up my jacket and ordered. Daikon cakes and green papaya to start (two favorites for old times’ sake) and yuba with mushroom and glass noodles and a chicken claypot (for something new) to follow.

You might think this is a recipe for disappointment, ordering with such nostalgic and superlative-laden expectations of simple dishes–but everything was more exciting than ever. The daikon rice cakes married flat with flashy: snow-white and humble turnip within; crisp, cracking shell sizzling in a salty slick of vinegar+soy beneath.  Green papaya, brilliant and pleasing as always.

The yuba was a must-order, being the current star on 101cookbooks (in a green curry soup.) I had never eaten yuba, but somewhere on the interweb I saw it called “tofu sashimi,” which turned out to be an accurate description of this tofu byproduct the NYT called “sexy, sophisticated and elegant.” In a bed of glass noodles and mushrooms, it made good on its luxurious and seductive reputation.

(I was shocked and a little embarrassed to realize, after thinking harder and asking around, that yuba is essentially fu jook, bar none my worst childhood food memory. Maybe I have to give FJ a second chance; or maybe this is the chasm between fresh and dried, Japan and China, 2010 and 1988.)

Last, not least, the steaming claypot–served just as the afternoon took a turn for the chilly. Beautiful, nourishing, life-affirming.  Our lunch was a brisk sail through the harbor on that gleaming ship, in a stiff breeze that carried the scent of lime trees and wood-roasted clams up and over the cold grey sea.

Japanese Macrobiotic

I think it started with the grilled lotus root. What I remember: it was late, I had just gotten out of the ocean, and I let J. pick the place for dinner. He chose Hale, a new restaurant where an okonomi-yaki outfit had just shuttered. In its place was a Japanese restaurant… Japanese macrobiotic.

Our first course: crisp grilled root, plain and tall, festooned with a broken branch of parsley.  I probably pulled my usual trick of quick judgment and started looking for a route to the door–but then a very special dish arrived at our table.

Hale offers a tightly-edited menu of few choices–maybe five entrees and about as many salads and small plates–which, after you subtract obligatory standard fare to appease unadventurous diners, should leave little room for surprises.  But not at Hale.  Not where, in the middle of the short menu, a roasted half papaya awaits, stuffed with grilled onions and mushrooms in a mayonnaise sauce.

Roasted papaya.  Onions and mushrooms.  Mayonnaise?  J. had tried it before and had to have it again.  So it soon arrived (taking the stage to a lukewarm audience after the lotus’ tough first act).  Unfazed, luscious, warm, smoky, super-ripe, gorgeous, hysterical, unapologetic, it sang.  The carotene meat was soft and just sweet, savory insides were umami and still steaming.

The table continued to fill: a show-stopper teishoku with kuruma-fu (a seitan-like cutlet) and all kinds of little pickles and seaweeds and salads, and dabs of two house-made misos: one pounded from apples, the other, from kale stalks.  (I went home and looked up what miso-making involves; it’s a feat.)

My favorite thing that night that didn’t grow on a papaya tree was the sushi sampler of creative non-maguro nigiri, highlighted by a supple strip of well-balanced (mirin?) roasted bell pepper, draped over rice and anointed with a pesto.  The meal was sensational, and almost entirely vegetal: after feeding our faces for the better part of an hour, we stood again with none of the heaviness of a multi-course restaurant meal.  J., it should be mentioned, washed it down with something called “twig tea.” Not sure at all if that’s what it sounds like; I was on one of those radical no-bark/ no-wood diets at the time.

Went back for the lunch special just last week.  Lunch company was Magali, whose Ph.D. research at Stanford focuses on brand authenticity.  She studies how well businesses, including restaurants, align their products and services to clearly-focused and well-defined identities; unequivocal shops, she says, might be less likely to fold.  Didn’t work for the okonomi-yaki theme grill, but this newer kitchen is still going and was kind enough to let me order papaya off the menu at lunch; maybe next time I’ll ask if they’ll grill me a lotus.