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A love affair

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Poke with Dad straight out of the carton with a bag of Pueo poi. My favorites were everything except tako and the mayonnaise-y ones. Korean and shoyu and limu and, who can forget, avocado. I tried the king crab and butter poke after Uncle Andy bought a variety when Uncle Lyle came to town. I remember I even tried the pipikaula that day. But the king crab was by far the most rich and indulgent thing to ever slide down my gullet. Seaweed salad was good for the first couple bites, but sometimes the taste became way too ocean-y. Sure Save had the best tofu poke, with lots of tomatoes and green onions. Tofu was the cheap kind too. But so, so ono.

So much local food went untried, thanks to my vegetarian ways. I remember that Chinese kid from that big family who all went Kea’au school starting the ‘huli-huli’ chant when we went down Paradise Drive and the huli huli chicken stand had roasting chickens turning in a spit by the side of the road. I remember that it smelled out of this world, holy almost. I had Mom buy one, probably on the way to Pahoa Library, and I took a bite with great anticipation. Sadly, it tasted bland and dry like all chicken did to me. My Mom ate the whole thing though. She has always loved her chiggin.

Leaving Pahoa Library, there was a Filipino food stand on the side of the road on our way back to Paradise Park. Mom would stop and get fresh produce, and she would let me get the banana leaf mochi treat for 50 cents. To unwrap that treasure and stuff the sweet, glutinous bar down my throat was downright heavenly. My mouth is watering as I think about it.

Somehow the rice you get at potlucks was always better than the rice you could make at home. Maybe this was because my parents didn’t use a rice cooker. Sometimes Dad even put butter on his rice, a vestige no doubt from his mainland days. I thought this was plain nasty: rice is something you pair with salty, not creamy. I used to see the more haole kids at school scrape their white-rice-and-ketchuped lunch plates and my stomach would turn. Shoyu is the best, maybe followed by furikake.

I can’t remember the first time I had purple sweet potato haupia pie, but it must have been a revelatory day. I was resolved to make it afterwards, for my dad’s big 50th birthday party. It was the hardest desert I had ever made, as a ten-year-old cooking enthusiast. I had to boil down the purple sweet potatoes a day in advance and make a sort of lumpy pudding out of it. The day of, I had to make the macnut crust, haupia and sweet potato layers, waiting in between each layer for the earlier component to set. I was so proud of my desert. I was walking around inside and outside (cause there were people spilled out literally everywhere across the house and yard) offering it up to people. One of our family friends even told me to be more humble! To be fair, he is a damn good cook himself.

Jojo fries from the gas station market are the best. The ones at the Kea’au gas station behind McDonalds are the best of the jojo fries. Slightly spicy wedges fried to perfection, eaten on the way home from school or town. Potato-wise, Mom’s green sauce potato enchiladas are one of the best meals she makes. I tried to recreate it here at school a few months ago. It was so labor intensive! It was wonderful though not quite as wonderful as Mom’s. She also makes her own refried beans and Spanish rice. Those were my favorite leftovers…some of the only leftovers I would actually eat. (I have a thing about ‘old food’.) Dad would sometimes throw halved potatoes into his broiler creations. He’d marinate a steak and then slap in down in a pan along with a bunch of vegetables. I would always eat the vegetables even though they were soaked in what I called ‘meat juice’. Potatoes are hard to cook. Mom would make scalloped potatoes and half the time, they’d still be starchy when you bit into the bigger pieces. Half the time she got it perfect though. 🙂 I think potato casseroles are some of the trickiest meals to make.

Both my parents made awesome tofu stirfrys. Mom started getting really fancy toward the end, making tofu parmesan that rivaled the eggplant version. Her stirfrys usually involved panko and frying, or a bunch of different sauces soaking into the tofu. I remember that her tofu was always cut like a brick and was a deep brown color. She sometimes fried up chow mein noodles too, and always veggies. Mom’s stirfrys always took longer than Dad’s. That’s because Dad made stirfry a completely different way. He chopped up the tofu into symmetrical cubes and tossed them into a pan with a selection of onions (always need the onion, he prefers Maui), garlic and vegetables. Sometimes Dad’s were better than Mom’s, and vice versa. I made them my own way, usually a variation of a Sam Choy recipe that I loved to death. Mine were pretty good too.

Mom’s magic bars were everyone’s favorite desert. A confectionary dream of graham cracker, evaporated milk, chocolate, butterscotch, ohelo berry jam, coconut flakes and literally a million other things, you just throw it all together and bake it. My cousin once asked if she could take two of them before she even had one. 🙂

My Uncle Andy is a French-trained sauce chef. Most of the stuff he makes is meat, so that leaves me out. His fish meals, though, are to die for. One time he made a ton of beer battered halibut for one of my birthday parties. That was one of the best culinary nights of my life. He makes wonderful seafood stews and scampis too. And his chocolate decadence cake…you’ll never settle for less. Ever in your life. Although Jessie made a sumptuous Sacher Torte last Christmas break that might give him a run for his money.

Some of the best food I have ever had was at my friend Coryn’s house. I remember one time she had me over for dinner. It was just a typical night, nothing fancy. However, her dad (a bonafide chef AND dentist) whipped up some griled LOBSTER TAILS, scallops and shrimp. That was my first known experience with lobster. The experience was literally indescribable. When Coryn brought food to school for sharing, which she frequently did, she drew crowds. She made me a delicious and beautiful chocolate (I think raspberry?) cake for my 18th birthday that I will never forget, even as a demented old woman. One time, a group of us were going to a track meet at Kea’au, and we stopped at Coryn’s to make some picnic food. I will never forget that seemingly innocuous cooking session. Coryn made Happy Rice, a dish I was previously unfamiliar with. She took a bowl of sticky rice, added Japanese marinated mushrooms, furikake, soybeans and I believe shoyu. She actually made musubi out of it with mochiko chicken, but I was content with the straight rice. Probably the best to-go lunch of my entire life. I have attempted to recreate Coryn’s Happy Rice here in Spokane…I actually went to the good Asian grocery in Seattle, guessed my way through the Japanese lettering, and brought home a few jars of what I hoped was the correct prepared mushrooms. They were! I will not be so bold as saying that my white girl, Spokane-made Happy Rice was as good as Coryn’s, but it satiated my cravings.

Sharon’s pumpkin dip, stuffed potato skins and CHRISTMAS COOKIES are what I think of when I pull into the Morrone household. I don’t remember where she found the recipe for the dip, but it was literally one of the best dips I have ever dipped into IN my twenty years of living. I actually forgot about it until just now, when thinking about the meals I’ve had at their house. This may have been a bad idea, because now I’ll probably think about it for the next few weeks in sad remembrance. Tony’s special Italian tomato sauce also remains the best red sauce, hands down, I have ever consumed. And yes, I am saying that even after going to Spokane’s delicious Tomato Street.

Sashimi…my old friend. After an unfortunate experience with grey sashimi in Idaho (bad, bad idea) I will probably never eat it again unless it is made by Mike Jervis or Pond’s restaurant. Go ahead. Convince me. ImageN

God I miss Hawaiian food, and the not-so-Hawaiian food that I associate with Hawaii. The quality of food back home is SO MUCH BETTER than it is here. I am such a food snob because of my upbringing. It is 12:09 and I need to sleep, or I would talk about nori-crusted ahi sashimi, FURIKAKE SALMON, Miyo’s, Hilo/Pahoa Farmer’s Market, H&Ks, KTA deli and…(oh my God) TWO LADIES KITCHEN.