Category Archives: Food

Taro — It’s What’s for Dinner

These taro fries from Tropical Taco in Hanalei, Kauai, were delicious!

These taro fries from Tropical Taco in Hanalei, Kauai, were delicious!

Taro, known in the Hawaiian language as kalo, is the Hawaiian people’s most important crop. They brought it with them in their voyaging canoes when they migrated to the Hawaiian islands at least by 1,000 A.D. and possibly as early as 200 A.D. Kaua’i was the first inhabited Hawaiian island and is where most of Hawaiian taro is grown today. Seventy percent of the taro is grown in Hanalei River Valley, which includes the 917-acre Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.  The 917-acre refuge was established in 1972 to provide nesting and feeding habitat for endangered Hawaiian water birds, including the Hawaiian duck (koloa maoli), coot (‘alae ke’oke’o), moorhen (‘alae ‘ula), and stilt (ae’o).

The Hanalei River was designated an American Heritage River on July 30, 1998. The major bridge across the river (still one lane) is on Hawaii Route 560, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Hawaii.  When you’re waiting to cross the bridge to the town of Hanalei, you can see the taro fields beyond.

A taro field in the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge in northern Kauai.

A taro field in the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge in northern Kauai.

A tractor prepares a taro field in the Hanalei River Valley.

A tractor prepares a taro field in the Hanalei River Valley.

Water flows from a taro field in Limahuli Garden in northern Kauai. The rock walls you can see in the background are part of an important archeological site and are about 700 years old.

Water flows from a taro field in Limahuli Garden in northern Kauai. The rock walls you can see in the background are part of an important archeological site and are about 700 years old.

The rock walls surrounding the taro fields are estimated to be about 700 years old in the Limahuli Tropical Botanical Garden in north Kauai west of Hanalei. The rock walls were part of an irrigation system that diverted some water from the Limahuli River to grow taro.

The rock walls surrounding the taro fields are estimated to be about 700 years old in the Limahuli Tropical Botanical Garden in north Kauai west of Hanalei. The rock walls were part of an irrigation system that diverted some water from the Limahuli River to grow taro.

I've never eaten a McDonald's pie before, but we couldn't resist trying this taro version at a McDonald's in Lihue, Kauai. It tasted like pineapple, which was likely an added flavor, because our taro fries didn't taste like pineapple. Anyway, it wasn't bad for a fried fast food pie.

I’ve never eaten a McDonald’s pie before, but we couldn’t resist trying this taro version at a McDonald’s in Lihue, Kauai. It tasted like pineapple, which was likely an added flavor, because our taro fries didn’t taste like pineapple. Anyway, it wasn’t bad for a fried fast food pie.

You can see the taro fields on either side of the Hanalei River.  This is also a wildlife refuge.

You can see the taro fields on either side of the Hanalei River. This is also a wildlife refuge.

Limahuli Garden and Preserve in northern Kauai.

Limahuli Garden and Preserve in northern Kauai.

Terraced taro fields are in the Limahuli Garden and Preserve.  The rock walls you can see in the background are part of an important archeological site and are about 700 years old.

Terraced taro fields are in the Limahuli Garden and Preserve. The rock walls you can see in the background are part of an important archeological site and are about 700 years old.

Here are some traditional Hawaiian foods, including taro, dried coconut and dried fish. We tried these foods at a Hawaiian ceremony in a park on the Kona Coast of the Big Island on February 2011.

Here are some traditional Hawaiian foods, including taro, dried coconut and dried fish. We tried these foods at a Hawaiian ceremony in a park on the Kona Coast of the Big Island on February 2011.

About Poi, Poi to the World.

Wikipedia: About Taro.

Here’s an excerpt about taro in Hawaii from the Wikipedia Entry for Taro: In Hawaii, taro, or kalo in the Hawaiian language, is a traditional form of food sustenance and nutrition, known from ancient Hawaiian culture. The contemporary Hawaiian diet consists of many tuberous plants, particularly sweet potato and taro. Some of the uses for taro include poi, table taro, taro chips, and luau leaf. In Hawaii, taro is farmed under either dryland or wetland conditions. Taro farming in the Hawaiian islands is especially challenging because of difficulties in accessing fresh water. Taro is usually grown in pondfields known as loʻi in Hawaiian. Cool, flowing water yields the best crop. Typical dryland or upland varieties (varieties grown in watered but not flooded fields) in Hawaii are lehua maoli and bun long, the latter widely known as Chinese taro. Bun long is used for making taro chips. Dasheen (also called “eddo”) is another “dryland” variety of C. esculenta grown for its edible corms or sometimes just as an ornamental plant.

The Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service puts the 10-year median production of taro in the Hawaiian Islands at about 6.1 million pounds (2,800 t; Viotti, 2004). However, 2003 taro production in Hawaii was only 5 million pounds (2,300 t), an all-time low (record keeping started in 1946). The previous low, reached in 1997, was 5.5 million pounds (2,500 t). Despite generally growing demand, production was even lower in 2005: only 4 million pounds, with kalo for processing into poi accounting for 97.5%. Urbanization has driven down harvests from a high of 14.1 million pounds (6,400 t) in 1948, but more recently the decline has resulted from pests and diseases. A non-native apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) is a major culprit in the current crop decline. Also, a plant rot disease traced to a newly identified species of the fungal genus Phytophthora now plagues crops throughout the state. Although pesticides could control both pests to some extent, pesticide use in the pondfields is barred because of the clear opportunity for chemicals to quickly migrate into streams and then into the ocean.

Important aspects of Hawaiian culture revolves around taro cultivation and consumption. For example, the newer name for a traditional Hawaiian feast, luau, comes from the taro. Young taro tops baked with coconut milk and chicken or octopus arms are frequently served at luaus. Also, one cannot fight when a bowl of poi is open. By ancient Hawaiian custom, it is considered disrespectful to fight in front of an elder. One should not raise the voice, speak angrily, or make rude comments or gestures. An open poi bowl is connected to this concept because Haloa (Taro) is the name of the first-born son of the parents who begat the human race. The ancient Hawaiians identified so strongly with taro that the Hawaiian term for family, `ohana, is derived from the word `oha, the shoot or sucker which grows from the taro corm. As young shoots grow from the corm, so people grow from their family.

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Holiday Dinner Party Humor

Now that all of the holiday events are behind us, including that long stretch of food-eating extravaganzas from Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas parties through New Year’s Day buffets, we can now reflect on 2013 and resolve for 2014. Here’s a funny video about guests and their many eating quirks. Lucky me, I can eat almost anything!

I’m tacking on this 2013 annual report from WordPress.  The kindly people at WordPress noted that many of my top posts were not written this past year.  Rather than saying that I was lazy in 2013, they said this:  “Some of your most popular posts were written before 2013. Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.”    Hope to see you all in 2014.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Oh, Fudge!

Children are enthralled as they watch workers make fudge in one of Murdick’s Fudge Shops on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

“The perfect candle scent for Mackinac Island would be a layer of fudge-scented wax, then a layer of lilac, then at the bottom a layer of horse manure,” joked Joe, one of our carriage drivers on our recent (and first) trip to Mackinac Island, a beautiful island in Lake Huron just between Michigan’s Upper and Lower penisulas.

Unfortunately, we just missed lilac season, but we did see plenty of fudge shops and horses, when my husband and I visited in late June.   There are more than a hundred varieties of the Common Lilac on Mackinac Island, which celebrates lilacs with a 10-day festival every mid-June, which concludes with a horse-drawn lilac parade.  I’d love to return for that event.

Even though no cars, trucks or other motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, there’s a lot of traffic with horse-drawn carriages, people on horseback as well as hundreds of bicyclists and thousands of walkers.  (The island does allow one police car, one ambulance and some electric golf carts on the golf course.)

Here are some of the fudge flavors available at Murdick’s Fudge on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Butter Pecan, Plain Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Walnut.

Six fudge companies operate fudge shops on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Since each company seems to have at least two shops and some operate even more, that’s a lot of fudge on this small island. There are competing fudge shops next door to each other and some companies have opened fudge shops on opposite sides of the street — sort of like Starbucks Coffee. But, honestly, can you ever have enough fudge? There are as many as 15,000 tourists a day in peak season, so there is an enormous market for fudge. I bought fudge at Murdick’s Fudge. The Murdick Family opened its fudge shop in 1887, when sailmakers Henry and Rome Murdick came to Mackinac Island to make giant awnings for The Grand Hotel (the hotel was constructed in only 93 days!)

I bought the fudge for a gift, but I’m hoping the recipients will offer me a taste. (Yes, I managed to come home with uneaten fudge.) I’ve been known to preach (or even screech) about the dangers of sugar, but calorie counts don’t apply to any food eaten or bought on vacation, so I’ve been told. Even sugar is exempted. (Ok, even I don’t believe that.) But an occasional very small indulgence is good for the food soul. I’ll take a couple of extra laps around the neighborhood.

Mackinac Island, which is 3.8 square miles, has 80 miles of trails, if you want to walk off your fudge there. The entire island is a National Historic Landmark and 80 percent of it is Mackinac Island State Park. Initially, it was the second U.S. National Park, but the Feds later turned it over to the state of Michigan.

You can count at least three fudge shops in this photograph of a street on Mackinac Island, Michigan. You’d need four hands to count all of the fudge shops on the small island. The fudge shops are clustered conveniently close to where the tourists get off of the ferry. There are as many as 15,000 tourists a day in peak season. The fudge demand is enormous!

Here, the lovely cashier prepares my fudge purchase. I bought plain chocolate, chocolate espresso and chocolate cherry.

About Mackinac Island

Directory of Mackinac Island Fudge Shops.

History of Murdick’s Fudge.

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival.

Mackinac Island Lilacs.

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Fifth Annual Strawberry Photograph

This is one of my favorite salads. I tossed together walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and some strawberries from my garden on several varieties of lettuce.

The size of the strawberries in my strawberry patch were smaller than usual this spring — probably because I didn’t water enough, and we didn’t have much rain. Remind me next April to water my strawberry patch! I did get enough strawberries to enjoy each morning with a bowl of cereal. I also like to toss strawberries in a salad, such as the one pictured above with blue cheese and walnuts. The dressing is a dash of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of vinegar, sprinkled with garlic salt.  I usually use balsamic vinegar, but I was out so I used rice wine vinegar.  Here’s a link to last’s year’s strawberry photo: Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt

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Don’t Call Me Sugar

Desert Rose at Sugar Mill, St. John, U.S.V.I. postcard

Desert Rose shrubs adorn the ruins of a sugar factory at Caneel Bay on the island of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was eating left-over wedding cupcakes every morning. We ordered too many mini cupcakes for my daughter’s wedding, and there were at least ten dozen left.  I forced a lot of them on people as they left the reception. (I’m sorry!) But I took home at least three dozen.   The cupcakes were so rich — and so good.  I couldn’t let them go to waste. (So I let them go to my waist.)  I knew they weren’t a healthy choice, but hey, a calorie is a calorie, I thought. I could exchange a bowl of cereal for a cupcake. No harm, no foul.

Laura and Ryan's Wedding Cupcakes.

But then I had an epiphany when I saw the video at the bottom of this post. Sugar is bad for you. Really bad for you. I’ve been hearing this for decades, but shrugged it off even though diabetes runs in my family.  Now Valentine’s Day approaches, another sugar-soaked holiday. I’ve cut back on sugar so much in the past year that I don’t even like it.  (And almost no alcohol, either.) I’m not even tempted — well, okay, occasionally I succumb. And I do eat a lot of fruit. I wish I could say I feel so much better, but I don’t. I do feel smug, though! At least I haven’t gained any weight, always a problem as you grow older.

Does spurning sugar make me a sourpuss? I hope I’m still as sweet as always.  (Some who know me will say, What?) I’m bucking against the trend toward eating sugar. Sugar cane is the world’s largest crop. High fructose corn sugar from corn is ubiquitous. You can’t escape sugar in almost any processed food.  Recent statistics showed that U.S. adults consume 22.2 teaspoons of sugar daily — or 355 calories. That greatly exceeds the daily recommended amount. Dietitians have said that the average-sized women should be consuming no more than 6.25 teaspoons; men 9.4. Read the link below on Sucrose to see just what this chemical does to you!

Only two plants produce the sucrose that humans crave so much: sugar cane and sugar beets. I started thinking about sugar again when my family and I recently went to the small beautiful island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for my son’s wedding. (There seems to be a wedding theme here.) The island is now mostly a U.S. national park, but you can see the ruins of some of the sugar cane plantations that covered the island after Europeans first settled the island in 1718 and started farming. The Europeans used African and Indian slaves to work the plantations. Raising sugar cane and processing the cane into refined sugar was and still is hard work.

Here are the ruins of part of the Cinnamon Bay Estate sugar factory. Established in the early 1700s, Cinnamon Bay Estate became one of the most prosperous sugar cane operations on the island of St. John. The ruins are now in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park.

Sugar, as molasses, was traded from the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into rum. The profits from the sale of sugar were used to purchase manufactured goods, which were then shipped to West Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. The slaves were then brought back to the Caribbean to be sold to sugar planters. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to buy more sugar, which was shipped to Europe. The cycle would continue over and over. To read more, click on the link Triangular Trade at the bottom of the post.

The Europeans chopped down the native plants to plant their sugar cane plantations and introduced a lot of foreign animals. The descendants of some of these animals run wild on the island today, such as mongoose, goats, donkeys and deer. Many of the trees and vegetation did return when sugar cane plantations were abandoned. St. John was the site of one of the first significant slave rebellions in the New World in 1733, but the rebellion was put down. Slavery wasn’t abolished in St. John until 1848, and after that the sugar plantations shut down.  Now St. John’s main industry is tourism.

No sign remains of the sugar cane crop fields that once flourished here on the Cinnamon Bay Estate in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The sugar factory and estate house, built of blocks of coral, lie in ruins.

In case you’re wondering where the Virgin Islands group got its name, you can thank Christopher Columbus and his crew.  They were the first Europeans to see these islands and named the island group “Once Mil Virgenes”, or Eleven Thousand Virgins, in honor of the feast day of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who were martyred with her.

I wrote about the mongoose, which were also introduced to St. John and other tropical islands to control rats (which they didn’t), such as the Big Island of Hawaii. Why Did the Mongoose Cross the Road?

About Sugar Cane.

About Sucrose.
About St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

About the Triangular Trade of Sugar, Slaves and Other Goods.

CBS News: Is Sugar Toxic?

Here’s a long video that explains why sugar is bad for you. In it, Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, explores the damage caused by sugary foods. He argues that too much fructose too much and not enough fiber appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin.

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Dining Under the Bridge

Tables are beautifully set under the historic 12th Street Bridge for the Food Now Fund-raiser in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 27, 2011.

My multi-talented friend Chris B. invited me and several others to the second annual foodNow local food experience under the 12th Street Bridge in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri, on August 27, 2011. I had no idea what foodNow was, but who wouldn’t want to eat an elegant dinner under an old bridge in one of Kansas City’s most historic areas?  Chefs from many Kansas City restaurants prepared a three-course dinner from produce from the area. The event was a fund-raiser for Beans and Greens –  Nourishing Neighborhoods with Local Produce ,  Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition  and Get Growing KC.

"Haunted Houses" attract thrill-seekers in the fall near the 12th Street Bridge.

The tables were set on the original cobblestone street where farmers brought their produce for sale.  I’m glad I was wearing flat shoes. Some women wearing more fashionable footwear were a little wobbly on the cobblestones.  Nearby the bridge are old warehouses, which now have a new life hosting “haunted houses” that attract thrill-seekers every fall.  Also in the area is Kemper Arena and the site of the American Royal.   Each table had a different menu.  Chef Michael Turner of the Classic Cup prepared the delicious dinner for my table.  There was a silent and a live auction. Unfortunately, my table was far from the auctioneer.  An old bridge may be charming, but the acoustics were not that great.  I could hear my table-mates, though, and that made for a very fascinating evening.

The 12th Street Bridge was built in 1915 and is now undergoing a major rehabilitation. The West Bottoms (official name Central Industrial District) is an industrial area immediately to the west of downtown Kansas City, Missouri at the confluence of the Missouri River and the Kansas River. The area is one of the oldest areas of the city and is home to Kansas City’s early agricultural markets.

Originally called the “French Bottoms,” French trappers and Kansas Indians traded here centuries ago. French Bottoms sounds a lot more appealing, doesn’t it?  Steamships traveling upstream on the Missouri river offloaded their goods at the Bottoms to provision those immigrating west and for trade with Mexico over the Santa Fe Trail. The advent of the railroad increased the importance of the area.   Major floods have engulfed the area (1903, 1951 and 1993), which have diminished the area’s commercial and residential importance.  You could say river affluence has lessened the area’s influence.

Les Dames d'Escoffier International (Heart of America Chapter) sponsored the silent and live auction of cooking and food-related items.

Tiny lights illuminate the tables under the 12th Street Bridge in the West Bottoms of Kansas City for the foodNow dinner.

Check out these links:
foodNow.
About the West Bottoms. Official West Bottoms Site.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Postcard postcard

Late May and early June bring strawberries in the Kansas City area. After the long, cold, dreary miserable winter we had, I was thrilled when the first ripe strawberries appeared in my little patch every day. This year I’ve made some changes in my diet, avoiding refined sugar in everything, so I’m satisfying my sweet tooth with more fruit.  I’m very grateful for my abundant strawberry crop, even if I have to squat and stretch  every day for half an hour picking through the leaves to find these tiny red jewels. It’s kind of like yoga, except my back aches when I stand up.  (Ok, maybe it’s only 15 minutes a day, it just seems longer.)

Every spring, my maternal grandmother made strawberry rhubarb pies and sauces. She grew the plants in her huge garden, and my cousins and I would also find it among the grass and weeds in the old abandoned garden plot, where rhubarb and asparagus plants were all that remained. The rhubarb plants seemed eternal to me then, although I’ve never had any luck keeping any alive in my own gardens. When I saw some rhubarb for sale at a country market, I bought about ten stalks. Rhubarb isn’t palatable without sugar, though, so I’ve added some no-calorie sugar substitute, which is also a no-no, but I’m not giving that up fake sugar entirely. What is life without rhubarb?

I chopped the rhubarb, cooked it in about two cups water, cooled it and then added a cup of fresh strawberries. Then I added some fake sugar to taste. I added some of the sauce to nonfat Greek yogurt. Yummy!
Here’s what I’ve written in the past about my strawberry passion.  Third Annual Strawberry Photograph

Of course, I have to link to a downer article from the New York Times about how sugar is very, very, very bad for you.  Is Sugar Toxic?  Below is a related video that will cause you to weep.   I’ve been hearing this for years, but chose to ignore it, but now I’m trying to avoid sugar completely except in fruits and vegetables.   After watching this video, it sounds as if I need to cut back on fruit, too…

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