The (Mostly Hawaii) March List – 2018

I would wish you all Happy Spring, but it’s not really spring here, which I am also not happy about. The first half of March was a blur, but the second half slowed down quite a bit as we were in Hawaii for break.

1) The neighborhood pheasant thinks it’s spring, however, and he’s been ’round the house many times already. Every year we wonder if he will be back and every year he comes back, pecking at the mirrored kick plate on our front door, thinking he’s found a friend (or rival, perhaps). He’s a beauty.

Save for the Hawaii trip, March must not have been very exciting because I have close to zero photos on my phone taken in March, unless you are interested in screenshots of hairstyles that I like. Those I have about a million of and of course now you want to see one of them, so here you go.

2) I’m getting my hair cut next week, which is counter intuitive because I’m actually trying to grow it out, but it’s super jacked up for so many reasons, but I think the best thing to do is get a really nice trim and then let it grow out (wow, I am so interesting right now, I can hardly take it).

Also ignore the URL, oh my gosh. I got this photo off Pinterest, I promise (why so pensive, Sienna? Are you trying to read my mind?).

3) I was going to write a separate post about just Hawaii flowers, and another one about Hawaii food, and maybe another one about family and culture, but we all know that is not happening with my current state of affairs (#hotmess), so let’s go ahead and talk about Hawaii right now.

First of all, I love the shock of coming home and realizing that I grew up on a tropical island. I mean, obviously my whole life I knew I was living on an island, but the realization of how different it is than say growing up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, is always kind of a fun awakening, if even for a split second. Like, holy crap! I grew up on a straight up tropical island!! That’s amazing!

Besides the humidity, the plants are a big clue that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Hawaii plants don’t care about boundaries; they will grow and grow wherever they please. And often times the property owners of said plants will just let them. I mean, why fight it, I guess.

4)  Secondly, food. And lots of it. Like endless supplies of it. I imagine the Asian Mom, Auntie, Grandma, is very similar to the Italian Mom, Auntie, Grandma and therefore every day there is something new to eat and not only that but you HAVE to eat it because they made it. Just. For. You. Image result for gritting teeth emoji Oh I do appreciate it, especially the endless supply of fresh coconut that was prepared a week before our arrival and frozen for us in little ziplock bags so I could take one out to thaw every couple of days, but it’s a lot of pressure!

The desserts alone will stress you out. Actual conversation with self after dinner: “Hmmm…I’m not hungry. But maybe I can eat something small for dessert. Should I have the brownies? Or maybe the mochi squares? Or wait, Auntie just made halo-halo and baklava and what about the chiffon cake?” I mean.

The above spread was for a party we had at my Grandma’s home (rehab center). Those noodles bottom right were made by my Auntie. Pancit, a traditional Filipino dish. She makes hers with fishcake and lots of scallions and shitake mushrooms. So good.

5) Speaking of noodles, you can’t really visit Hawaii and not eat noodles. We had spicy miso ramen bowls like we always do, but this trip I went to a new spot called Piggie Smalls and got their garlic noodles with shrimp and it was ah-maz-ing.

I planned on saving half of it to take home with me, but I ate the entire thing.  They look kind of blah in this photo, but they were divine and I should have gone back another time for more.

6) So back to the party for my Grandma. She will be 95 in June (I think?) and just a few months ago she got sick and had to be moved to a home (she’d been living with my mom and Auntie, her daughters). She is well taken care of and mom and Auntie visit her pretty much daily. She mostly remembers people, with a little reminding, but is not nearly as talkative as she was even a year ago.

She is the matriarch right now in our family circle and it is very sweet to see everyone gather around her and treat her with dignity and respect. It’s inspiring and humbling.

7) Hawaii fashion is very casual and pretty much anything goes. For example, here you see an older lady doing some bold pattern mixing. And guess what, she does not give two hoots about your opinion on the matter (which I love).

8) The weather wasn’t great, but we did get to the beach a few times. Our first stop was Sandy Beach, or Sandy’s, as the locals call it. It’s not a swimming spot for the average swimmer – the waves are unpredictable and really strong. A lot of surf/bodysurf competitions are held at this spot.

I took a lot of pictures with my new camera, determined to use it on the manual setting. I never go the light quite right, but it was a huge learning experience and now I know how (after some Googling) how to shoot in bright light with reflections off water and sand.

9) On the way home from Sandy’s, we stopped at the Leonard’s malasada truck (I can’t seem to get off the food topic), which you must do, for the proper live-like-a-local tourist experience (not so much the truck but Leonard’s malasadas in general).

10) I could show you hundreds of flower photos that I took, but here are a few of my favorites. Hibiscus, ginger, bird of paradise.

11)  One afternoon I took the short walk from my mom’s house to The Lady of the Mount monument, where I spent and hour and a half taking photos of all the plants and flowers. No one else was around and it was such a nice “me time” moment.

So many cool plants to photograph, but this one cactus in particular caught my eye. It was subtle, yet flashy, understated, yet vibrant.

12) Another thing I learned during this trip about photography (which I suppose you could turn into some kind of metaphor about life if you were that kind of person and had the time to word it correctly) is that sometimes finding the light means stepping out of it. Capturing shadows, capturing darkness.

Plus, I love a good moody photo. I mean, this double hibiscus is giving it to you right here.

And that’s a wrap. I hope that wherever you are, if spring has not yet arrived at your home, that it will come soon. Wishing you the loveliest April.

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Hawaii: the Food

For my family (as is the case with most, I imagine),  a carefully planned and prepared meal equals love. The first night of our stay, my Auntie Melinda steamed a large uhu (aka parrot fish, and you can see why) that she got for $39 at Tamashiro Market on an outdoor gas wok as part of our huge dinner spread. After steaming, the fish was topped with oil, green onions and cilantro. My sister and her family came over and also her husband’s parents, who were in town for their annual visit.

Haupia Pie

Haupia Pie. Yum.

In addition to the usual sides of salad, rice and veggies, there was Korean meat jun (the only dish bought vs. made), thin strips of beef coated with egg and flour, fried and served with dipping sauce. AND miso butterfish (black cod), a white, flaky fish marinated with miso, mirin, sake and sugar and then baked or broiled. AND rainbow jello and a haupia “pie,” a layered dessert starting with a macadamia nut crust, then Japanese sweet potato (purple), then haupia (a coconut milk and sugar concoction with a custard-like texture).

Halo Halo + Coffee Mug

Halo-Halo + Coffee = Breakfast of Champions

Waiting for me in the fridge the next morning was a Filipino specialty, halo-halo (“hodge-podge” in Tagalog). There are so many different versions of this dessert. Basically, it’s a concoction of condensed milk plus a bunch of wacky ingredients (kidney beans, rice, gelatin, yams). Auntie’s not-too-sweet version is filled with tons of grated cantaloupe, papaya, avocado and coconut. There are also tapioca beads, palm fruit and some strange pink Japanese gelatin that I always pick out. I put an ice cube on the bottom (if I’m lucky, as I was this time, Mom will have frozen fresh coconut water cubes), dump a bunch of halo-halo on top and eat it with my coffee. Super YUM.

Ramen noodles

The perfect bite.

I love, love, love noodles. Italian pasta and Japanese ramen are at the top of my list. I can make Italian food all day long, but don’t know how to make ramen broth. Whenever I go to Hawaii, I always ask my sister to come with me to Goma Tei, a small noodle shop in Ward Center. We usually sit at the counter and I always get the same thing – Tan Tan Ramen, a basic spicy broth with char siu (Chinese-style bbq pork), green onions and greens (broccoli rabe or spinach or some Asian green that is very similar). SO good. Salty, with a hint of sesame and just enough heat.

Menu at Goma Tei

Menu at Goma Tei

That meal may very well have been my last taste of homemade ramen for 2014. (And dare I say 2015? No way. Surely not). And who knows? Maybe there is a hidden noodle shop in some Detroit alley that makes the best ramen noodles East of the Mississippi. Maybe. But… probably not.

If you ever find yourself in Hawaii, I urge you to try some of the local flavors. They might be weird, they might taste icky, they might taste awesome, but they will most assuredly be made with love.

Home

My mom's house

Mom’s House

We’re back from our short Hawaii trip and I have lots to share! Even though my whole family (except me) was sick with colds, we had a great time. We didn’t leave the house much, but the purpose of the trip was to spend time with family, which we did.

Road to Kalihi Valley

My mom lives in a neighborhood called Kalihi Valley (you might know the area from HGTV. They recently featured a home there, which is currently for sale). The valley is nestled between a lush mountain range, so it gets lots of rain and is very green. She lives in the lower level of a cinder block house and my Auntie and Grandma live up top.

My sister and her family live a few blocks down from my moms, at the bottom of a really steep hill (that used to be steeper before the city paved it a few years ago), in the same house where my grandparents lived when they settled on Oahu. My mom, sister and I lived in the smaller back house until my grandpa had the duplex built (early 80s?).

momsginger

Loads of ginger flowers.

Looking up at mountain range

My grandpa was a natural gardener; it was in his blood. The plants liked him, too. They listened to him and gave back to him. Sadly, he’s no longer around to pass his secrets on to me, now that I’m willing and eager to pay attention. My 90-year-old grandma still tends to her plants when she can. She loves orchids especially.

grandma

Grandma

Every inch of the small front yard has a flowering or edible plant on it and the perimeters around the house are filled as well. There’s ginger, ginger root (which my mom dug up for me to take home), papaya, malunggay (also called moringa. found in lots of Filipino dishes), tomatoes, bananas, eggplant, chives, green onions, edible ferns, bitter melon, bird of paradise, orchids, poinsettias, gardenias, succulents and aloe (I’m  sure I’m forgetting some!).

The green thumb gene may have skipped a generation (my mom is an excellent gardener. me, not so much), but I’m still going to try my hand at it in Michigan (we’ll have a backyard all to ourselves!).

momspapaya

Papaya and bitter melon vines.

momsgingerroot

Ginger Root

momsaloe

Aloe

I never realized how different Hawaii was from the rest of the country until I left home and came back to visit. I know it seems pretty obvious. It’s an island with island culture, but it was simply just “home” to me. Each time I go back, I am more grateful that I grew up there and have roots there. It will always be home, just as San Francisco will always be home, long after I move.