For the Love of Good Food
Childhood memories captivate my senses as I prepare a meal for my friends. While I make crust for a mango tart, I’m taken back to the holidays in my Colorado home. I see my mother’s hands rolling piecrust and hear the rustle of my father’s newspaper. I didn’t realize mom was loving us at 5:30 a.m., shrouded in quiet and getting a jump on cooking. By the time we rose from our beds, trundled upstairs and kissed her with sleepy eyes, she had made a chocolate cream pie (my brother’s favorite), cherry pie (my favorite) and rum cake (dad’s favorite). After making us a hearty breakfast, she’d spend the rest of the morning cooking, while my father sat in the living room lingering over The Denver Post.
If it was the Fourth of July, she’d soak steaks in soy sauce and marinate them in the refrigerator. Then she’d get to work on deviled eggs, macaroni salad with chunks of bacon, potato salad with hard-boiled eggs and avocado dip with sour cream. She’s from Barcelona, so there’s always an Americanized version of tapas, or pica pica as her Catalan ancestors call them. On a plate, she’d layer paper thin slices of prosciutto (the closest thing to Spain’s jamon serrano), pickled white asparagus, Spanish olives, and a variety of cured meats and cheeses. If was Easter, she’d replace steak with baked ham and macaroni salad with mashed potatoes. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we’d have roasted turkey and baked ham. Each holiday, birthday or anniversary, she’d spend the day cooking – pressing her hand to her lower back every once in a while. We’d gulp it down in 30 minutes, barely burp a thank you, and then she’d wash the dishes!
I slide the mango tart into the oven and the heat burns shame from my face. Like my mother, I am cooking from the heart. Laura Lentz is a writer and editor who hosts mini workshops every Monday and Thursday night. One evening, I wrote about what I gave up to move here; how I was feeling overwhelmed and scared that I’ll fail; that tour and book sales need to be financially sustainable and that I know I have great products and I want to grow my business, but I’m not sure how. Laura suggests a “Brainstorm Your Life” session. I ask my entrepreneur friends to join us and Laura invites, Limor, a graphic designer and branding specialist.
Laura’s home is shaded by trees and the house is made from stone, which keeps the inside nice and cool. A boon for the hot summer days we’ve been having on Kauai. A private pool near the front lanai promises another way to cool down. Inside, original art hangs on pale blue walls and books spill from shelves and sit in stacks on the floor. Seven of us sit around a dining table. Laura hands each of us a piece of paper and says to quickly list my unique strengths. After five minutes, each person begins to read. I feel my face flush and my eyes water at what I hear. The common themes are: creative, open (eyes and heart), smart, generous, kind, empathetic, talented writer.
Laura asks what my passions are and as I talk, she jots them on a dry-erase board. I tell her I love to write and that I believe when good food is shared, relationships blossom and memories are created. There’s something about hand-to-mouth eating that’s fun and primal. When you use your hands to pick up a piece of food, it engages all of your senses. I love how we need food to survive, and how that fundamental fact bonds us in lasting ways. But only good food. Not forgettable fast food where no one, from farmer to cook to consumer, puts loving thought into it. I tell her I am passionate about how food gets to our collective table, and that there’s a global food crisis where people, animals and the environment are being exploited.
My kind of activism makes positive emotional connections while being entertaining and educational. I love revealing Hawaii’s culture through food. I love to demystify exotic ingredients by acquainting guests to the taste of tropical produce and introducing them to the people who grow it. I love to put a face on our food by writing about farmers, what they grow and how to cook with it. I love to find chefs and cooks who use local ingredients to make fresh food from scratch, and write about them. I love connecting people who grow and make good food with people who love to eat good food. I love turning strangers into friends and designing super local food tours that are better described as edible experiences. I love that our tours are empowering and eye-opening. I love that Dan’s food photography makes everyone hungry. I love that Michelle and our partners infuse our tours with aloha, connect people to a sense of place, forge vivid memories and make guests feel welcome and embraced.
My eyes sparkle and ignite my friend’s imaginations. They start pitching ideas. None of them are shot down. We are collecting concepts to be explored later. As the afternoon progresses, I begin to see myself through other people’s eyes.
“How about public speaking?” Asks Addison, the owner of The Specific Chiropractic.“You’re an inspiring woman with an energizing message.” “Farm-to-table consultations for restaurants,” shares Maris, owner of Verde restaurant. “I’ll be your first client!” Laura says,“Write a syndicated column!” Dan, my husband, agrees and adds,“Call it the same thing as the novel you’re writing.” Corrine, a retired marketing director for Princeville Ranch, says I need to establish value and that she likes it when I write from my heart. Christopher, a retired chiropractor, foodie and writer, suggests a cooking show. Other ideas fly: a podcast; a local radio show; YouTube show; apps; maps; membership to blog; develop branded food line;“new to the island” welcome boxes with seasonal produce and our restaurant guidebook tucked inside; Caring for Caregivers tour and other custom tours; exclusive dinner parties with local chefs; themed parties and mini tours. It’s exhilarating and I leave with a pile of plans.
At lunch, Laura and Limor set the table while I line a platter with local baby lettuces. I toss cubes of chicken in a homemade dressing along with plum tomatoes from Growing Strong Farm, fresh eating turnips from Olena Farm as well as scallions and lemon basil from my garden. I set the mango tart on the table and Maris cuts it into neat triangles, while Dan makes everyone a Mango Shrub Spritzer.
- 2 cups mango, sliced
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 TBS distilled white vinegar
In a medium pot, bring 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup sugar to a boil. Add 2 cups sliced mango and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Let sit for 30 minutes then strain into 1 cup mason jar. Reserve candied mango slices for tart (recipe below), or serve over yogurt. Add distilled white vinegar to mango syrup and chill. For a Lilikoi (passion fruit) Shrub, swap water for passion fruit pulp and omit mangoes. To make a Lilikoi-Mango Shrub, cook mangos in 1/2 cup passion fruit juice. (Check out “An Abundance of Lilikoi” to learn how to process passion fruit juice.) Makes 2 servings.
- Lilikoi-mango shrub
- Lime juice (I used calamansi)
Add 2-ounces of lilikoi-mango shrub to a metal shaker with 2-ounces of vodka and 1/2-ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice. Fill with ice, shake until frosty and serve in small cocktail glasses. For a mocktail, omit rum and top with chilled club soda. Makes 2 servings.
- 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 Tbsp. milk
- 1/4 cup Salty Wahine Lilikoi Cane Sugar
- 4 Tbsp. ice water
- Leftover candied mango slices
Pulse macadamia nuts in a food processor until it resembles a course meal. Add flour, salt, sugar and cinnamon. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces. Add 1 Tbsp. of ice water and give it four to five quick pulses to combine. Repeat until mixture comes together. Gently pat dough in a 6-inch round, wrap in plastic and store in refrigerator for at least one hour, but no more than 2 days.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a parchment paper lined baking tray. Pile the candied mango slices in the center of the tart, leaving a 2-inch border. Gently fold edges over, slightly overlapping and brush with milk. Generously sprinkle crust with Lilikoi Cane Sugar and bake for 45-50 minutes. Cool before serving. Makes 8 servings.