BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Bits and Bobs, Odds and Sods

Spring is historically a time of fevered activity, as all walks of life resiliently bound back into productivity after winter and its oppressive cold has receded. Never before has this been quite so clear for me, so personally applicable, as this particular stretch of 2013. For all the craziness, it’s hard to believe that we’re still in the thick of it, not yet at summer’s doorstep. This isn’t to complain, though; Being happily occupied for the past few months has been a dream come true, yielding greater rewards through more satisfying work. On that note, you’ll soon be able to see the fruits of that labor in a few upcoming magazines…

Such as the July/August 2013 issue of VegNews Magazine! My thrice yearly column, My Sweet Vegan, is back yet again, this time with a few sweet sips in tow. Boba tea has been a growing craze, sweeping across the nation like wildfire. Though most mainstream options use some questionable additives, not the least of which being dry milk powder, the best way to ensure boba bliss is to take the reins and make it at home. Offering Creamsicle, Chai, and Coconut flavor variations, you’ll have plenty of refreshing options to help you keep your cool.

Now available both in the US and in Canada, the summer edition of Allergic Living is packed full of vegan-friendly inspiration as per usual, crowned by Alisa Fleming‘s irresistible ice cream recipes. No one needed to ask me twice if I wanted to take this photography assignment. Scooping up simple, dairy-free takes on Chocolate and Strawberry Ice Cream, Alisa also goes in-depth on how to make the most decadent sundae imaginable. The above photo was an outtake, but one of my favorites to style… And eat later.

Finally, though not printed or published, another photo of mine has been featured in an exciting way. My Mujaddara Onigiri photo is in the running to win a trip to Thailand! Hosted by Village Harvest Rice, it’s all a popularity contest now, so pardon my periodic reminders to please vote every 24 hours, and spread the word! Your efforts are not only greatly appreciated but beneficial: Just imagine all of the photos and stories I would come back with to share.


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Fictional Foods, Part Two

For part one and an explanation of the series, click here.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen:

Melissa raised the plate on upturned palms. “Cupcakes,” she said. “Thought you might be needing some cupcakes in your life right around now.”

Not being theatrical, Chip felt disadvantaged around people who were. “Why are you bringing me cupcakes?” he said.

Melissa knelt and set the plate on this doormat among the pulverized remains of ivy and dead tulips. “I’ll just leave them here,’” she said, “and you can do whatever you want with them. Goodbye!’ She spread her arms and pirouetted off the doorstep and ran up the flagstone path on tiptoe.

The cupcakes were full of butter and frosted with a butter frosting. After he’d washed his hands and opened a bottle of Chardonnay he ate four of them and put the uncooked fish in the refrigerator. The skins of the overbaked squash were like inner-tube rubber…He lowered the blinds and drank the wine and ate two more cupcakes, detecting peppermint in them, a faint buttery peppermint, before he slept.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway:

I took out my knife, opened it, wiped off the blade and pared off the dirty outside surface of the cheese. Gavuzzi handed me the basin of macaroni.

“Start in to eat, Tenente.”

“No,” I said. “Put it on the floor. We’ll all eat.”

“There are no forks.”

“What the hell,” I said in English.

I cut the cheese into pieces and laid them on the macaroni.

“Sit down to it,” I said. They sat down and waited. I put thumb and fingers into the macaroni and lifted. The mass loosened.

“Lift it high, Tenente.”

I lifted it to arm’s length and the strands cleared. I lowered it into the mouth, sucked and snapped in the ends, and chewed, then took a bite of cheese, chewed, and then a drink of the wine. It tasted of rusty metal.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck:

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.

Eat, Love, Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Giovanni and Dario, my Tandem Exchange twins, are originally from Naples. I cannot picture it. I cannot imagine shy, studious, sympathetic Giovanni as a young boy amongst this—and I don’t use the word lightly — mob. But he is Neapolitan, no question about it, because before I left Rome he gave me the name of a pizzeria in Naples that I had to try, because, Giovanni informed me, it sold the best pizza in Naples. I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer … I’m almost too superstitious to say it … the best pizza in the world? Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the Margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.”

So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered — one for each of us — are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, “Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why did we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?

Pizzeria da Michele is a small place with only two rooms and one nonstop oven. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the train station in the rain, don’t even worry about it, just go. You need to get there fairly early in the day because sometimes they run out of dough, which will break your heart. By 1 p.m., the streets outside the pizzeria have become jammed with Neapolitans trying to get into the place, shoving for access like they’re trying to get space on a lifeboat. There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here — regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tired. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust — thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same way one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings a contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s technically impossible to eat this thing, of course. You try to take a bite off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslide, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.

Remembering Blue by Connie May Fowler:

Nick was never a picky eater but after suffering through so many of my culinary failures he was well within his rights when later that same day he poked at his food with a fork and asked tremulously, “What is it?”

“Tomato pie.”

Lillian had given me the recipe and I followed it to a T. Four to five tomatoes, blanched for easy removal of the skins. Three quarters of a cup mayonnaise (feel free to use light but not fat-free). Pillsbury refrigerated crusts (bake the bottom crust for ten minutes in a moderate oven, otherwise you’ll have a juicy mess). As much garlic as pleases you (Nick, as you must know by now, loves garlic). At least one and a quarter cup cheese (I use feta). Plus fresh basil. Put it all together and bake at three hundred and fifty degrees for about thirty minutes.

I served it with a green salad and sweet tea. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Nick balanced a bite-sized morsel on his fork, lifted it to his lips, and discreetly sniffed. His face betrayed neither surprise nor disgust. Having gotten this far- even if the savory smell had offended him- he had little choice but to go ahead and eat. He popped it in his mouth and chewed tentatively but within seconds his eyes widened gratefully and his face relaxed in that way men have- you know, when they are suddenly and unexpectedly content (I have noticed that this phenomenon almost always revolves around food).

“This is really good!” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, ignoring the note of amazement in his voice.

That night, he chewed heartily. He ate two more pieces and I wrapped up what was left and handed it to him as he walked out the door.

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi:

The winner of the race would receive a prize made by the last one to cross the finish line: an enormous pastilla, the most delicious of all of Allah’s varied foods. At once a pastry and a meal, pastilla is sweet and salty, made of pigeon meat and nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Oh! Pastilla crunches when you munch on it, and you have to eat it with delicate gestures, no rushing please, or else you will get sugar and cinnamon all over your face. Pastilla takes days to prepare because it is made of layers of sheer, almost transparent, crust, stuffed with roasted and slightly crushed almonds, along with a lot of other surprises.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol:

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words “EAT ME” were beautifully marked in currants. “Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice, “and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!”

She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself, “Which way? Which way?” holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size. To be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.

So she set to work, and very soon finished off the cake.

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence:

When they had run and danced themselves dry, the girls quickly dressed and sat down to the fragrant tea. They sat on the northern side of the grove, in the yellow sunshine facing the slope of the grassy hill, alone in a little world of their own. The tea was hot and aromatic, there were delicious little sandwiches of cucumber and of caviare, and winy cakes.

“Are you happy, Prune?” cried Ursula in delight, looking at her sister.

“Ursula, I’m perfectly happy,” replied Gudrun gravely, looking at the westering sun.

“So am I.”


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Fictional Foods

Reflecting on half a semester’s worth of work now at midterm time again, my latest school photo project takes inspiration from the classics. Rather than tried-and-true recipes, the classics in question here are works of literature that have made their mark on readers and writers across the ages. Bringing snippets of each story to life in such mouthwatering clarity that viewers may be tempted to eat their books, the goal is to inspire an entirely new conversation about each featured novel. Even though few of the original writings themselves were focused entirely on the edible aspects of their tales, they can provide striking insights into cultural norms, personalities, and a character’s state of mind when food comes into the picture. It plays such a central role to all walks of life, so even when depicted in fictional works, it should be no different. Those who have never read the books featured should still be able to enjoy such a series if executed properly; no matter language barriers, age differences, or political associations, the appreciation of food is universal. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw famously said, “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.”

Dishes have been veganized as needed, of course! While I can’t claim to have the most accurate renditions of each passage due to this subversion, all “meats” are made of seitan or tvp, and no other animal products were employed in any other dishes.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust:

She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis:

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmond had never tasted anything more delicious.

Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls by Thomas Preskett Prest:

“What a strange manner of talking she has!” said Jarvis Williams to himself, when he found he was alone. “There seems to be some singular and hidden meaning in every word she utters. What can she mean by a communication being made to me, if I neglect my duty! It is strange, and what a singular-looking place this is! I think it would be quite unbearable if not for the delicious odor of the pies, and they are indeed delicious – perhaps more delicious to me, who has been famished for so long, and has gone through so much wretchedness; there is no one here but myself, and I am hungry now – frightfully hungry, and whether the pies are done or not, I’ll have half a dozen of them at any rate, so here goes.”

He opened one of the ovens, and the fragrant steam that came out was perfectly delicious, and he sniffed it up with a satisfaction such as he had never felt before, as regarded anything that was eatable.

“Is it possible,” he said, “that I shall be able to make such delicious pies? At all events one can’t starve here, and if it is a kind of imprisonment, it’s a pleasant one. Upon my soul, they are nice, even half-cooked – delicious! I’ll have another half-dozen, there are lots of them – delightful! I can’t keep the gravy from running out of the corners of my mouth. Upon my soul, Mrs. Lovett, I don’t know where you get your meat, but it’s all as tender as young chickens, and the fat actually melts away in one’s mouth. Ah, there are pies, something like pies! – They are positively fit for the gods!”

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens:

The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more–except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn’t been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving:

[A]nd he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the bee-hive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty flapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez:

The harmony they had longed for reached its culmination when they least expected it, at a gala dinner at which a delicious food was served that Fermina Daza could not identify. She began with a good portion, but she liked it so much that she took another of the same size, and she was lamenting the fact that urbane etiquette did not permit her to help herself to a third, when she learned that she had just eaten with unsuspecting pleasure, two heaping plates of pureed eggplant. She accepted defeat with good grace, and from that time on, eggplant in all its forms was served at the villa in La Manga with almost as much frequency as at the Palace of Casalduero, and it was enjoyed so much by everyone that Dr. Juvenal Urbino would lighten the idle hours of his old age by insisting that he wanted to have another daughter so that he could give her the best-loved word in the house as a name: Eggplant Urbino.

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf:

An exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish and she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass to choose an especially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savory brown and yellow meats, and its bay leaves and its wine and thought, This will celebrate the occasion…


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A Sweet Start to Spring

There may be a fresh coat of snow on the ground, but here’s some news that will surely put a spring in your step: The spring 2013 issue of Allergic Living Magazine has been been unleashed! Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate with our calendar-assigned seasonal switch, a responsible publication will always follow the rules. Like clockwork, the latest quarterly will hit newsstands near you well before the flowers bloom.

It was my pleasure to work with the incomparable Alisa Fleming once more, illustrating her latest batch of tempting recipes. For this issue, it was all about bringing a bit of sweetness to the early hours of the day, all without any gluten or dairy, and easy options to accommodate any dietary restrictions.

Crisp on the outside but light and fluffy within, Strawberry Shortcake Waffles are sure to pull anyone out of even the deepest winter funk. Softly whipped coconut cream tops off each ridged breakfast cake, complete with gently macerated and fork-tender ripe strawberries. It’s the complete package for anyone who’s craving a bit of decadence first thing in the morning.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes were clearly designed with the voracious sweet tooth in mind, satisfying that sugar craving without starting the day in a sugar coma. Luscious ripples of brown sugar and cinnamon are swirled throughout each and every flapjack, perfectly fitting their namesakes both in taste and appearance. The whole short stack wouldn’t be complete without a light drizzle of icing, of course.

Recipes this good really shouldn’t be relegated only to the morning’s first meals… Either of them are more than worthy of a dessert or after dinner treat, too!


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Helau!

Though I hate to quote such a loathsome pop reference, Oops, I did it again. While no one was looking, I slipped away out the backdoor, spent a long weekend overseas in Germany, and quietly let myself back in. Talk about a whirlwind trip; there wasn’t even enough time to adjust to the time difference, or get a full night of sleep for that matter. Swept up in the spirit of the winter carnival, none of that mattered for long. It’s impossible not to drink in that energy and share the excitement of the crowd. It’s an annual custom that needs no translation, or complete understanding either. The most inexplicable parts are the best, such as the odd mish-mash of costume themes, the throwing of not only candy off of parade floats but also mini bottles of alcohol, or the exact meaning of “helau!” All that matters is that you yell it at the top of your lungs, again and again, to loved ones and strangers alike. After an hour or two in the freezing cold, feet turned into unfeeling blocks of ice, it simply starts to sound a whole lot like “hurrah!”

I’m sure Mardi Gras in New Orleans was wild and wonderful, but the Germans sure do know how to party, too.

While I struggle to acclimate to daily life at home once more, I will continue uploading photos and anecdotes on Flickr. It wasn’t the same sort of food-focused trip that Hawaii was, but there were  plenty of other fascinating subjects to train my lens on instead.


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Hello, Hilo

By contrast to the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Hilo is a sleepy little town tucked into the lush countryside. Compared to the rest of the country though, it’s still a lively and fully urbanized city. Condensing the majority of its shops and eateries into just about a dozen square blocks, almost everything is immediately accessible without hopping in a car, despite the lack of a comprehensive public transit system. For those seeking a tropical “escape” that still has all the amenities of home, Hilo should be at the top of your list. Pick your arrival time wisely, however, and don’t do as I did by landing on Sunday. Just a whisper above a ghost town, most of Hilo either takes Sunday off completely or closes up shop early, leaving those seeking shopping or structured entertainment to fend for themselves. Bear in mind that the listed hours for businesses here are generally more of a rough estimate than a precise time to set a watch by on any day, so always call in advance to confirm that the hits on your list are actually open when you drop by. Luckily, there are still a handful of eateries putting out their best dishes well into the evening. It was the small farmer’s market that shocked me, generously pointed out by an effusive shuttle driver on my way out of the airport.

The Hilo Farmer’s Market website states Wednesday and Saturday, 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM in no unclear terms, and yet there it was, gently humming away into the midday heat of Sunday afternoon. Though more modest in size and selection than the “big” days, this was no ramshackle assortment of venders here. Hidden on the corner just behind the KTA grocery store, skip the shopping cart to find more locally produced items just a few steps away. Piles of fresh produce overflowed out of baskets, fresh flowers sat in carefully arranged bouquets, and a good handful of homemade jams and syrups were available for tasting, to boot. Better than the selection that I’d find at my own local markets in the height of summer, this was a true boon to discover. Now that I had a full kitchen back at my hotel, I shamelessly stocked up on fruits and vegetables, stuffing the fridge as much as one can for such a brief stay.

Little did I know what hidden treasures lay barely a foot outside my hotel room door. For the first time using the descriptor of “homey” as a positive thing, I would recommend the Dolphin Bay Hotel to absolutely anyone. Walking into my comfortably furnished studio apartment, it really did feel like my own, happily lived in space. Offering bottomless cups of coffee in the morning far better than the average bitter brew, that generosity is only topped by the readily available papayas and finger bananas 24/7. Sitting right out in the hall, everyone is encouraged to eat as many as they can, and I did indulge quite a bit. Best of all, however, is their impossibly fruitful backyard. A quick stroll outside brought to light more edible delights than I could count, including but not limited to starfruit, oranges, ginger, bread fruit, mountain apples, and yes, avocados. It simply boggled my mind that all of this could be grown in the comfort of one’s home.

Though I now had plenty of food to survive through my single full day stay, there were a few enticing gustatory leads worth investigating nonetheless. All of my original points of interest were unavailable, but I struck solid gold after glancing into Le Magic Pan‘s open door. One of the rare establishments open until 9:00 PM everyday, they’re your best bet for a memorable vegan meal. Admittedly, options are slim, with your only real choice being the chickpea flour or buckwheat Vegan Crepe, but the mere existence of vegan crepes should be enough to encourage a taste. Go for the “half salad, half crepe” option, as portions are generous and the salad is far better than mere iceberg shreds with a token cherry tomato on top. Wildly varied and colorful throughout, the seemingly disparate ingredients came together to create a delightful little starter to whet one’s appetite.

Crispier than the average pancake, my chickpea-based crepe reminded me more of dosa than any French fare, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment one bit. Tucking artichoke hearts, creamy avocado chunks, and the salty pops of kalamata olives into that blanket of batter, the whole thing is topped off with an artful drizzle of “magic sauce,” which was appropriately surprisingly and mysteriously delicious. A must-try for any vegan in Hilo, budget travelers can play their cards wisely to get the best deal: The very same dish is on offer for breakfast, but at $2 cheaper.

Though I did have grand plans to visit a sushi joint offering up some creative vegetarian rolls, alas, bad timing thwarted my attempts. A full day tour kept me away from the downtown area until most places had closed up shop for the day, and then little was open the following morning of my departure. My greatest regret is missing out on trying shave ice… But I guess that’s just one more reason I’ll need to return, and soon.

Photos are still being uploaded to my Flickr set everyday, so keep clicking by to see the full scope of my trip. Coming soon: waterfalls and craters and vog, oh my!


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Broke Da Mout

Hawaiians simply have a way with words. Direct but gentle, and often spoken with a good dose of humor, every statement seems to come with a built-in smile at the end. Said in Pidgin with island inflection, “broke da mout” (“break the mouth”) is in fact a compliment to the chef. Not nearly as painful as it may let on, the phrase suggests that you’ve eaten something so unfathomably delicious, or eaten such vast quantities of it, that you simply couldn’t stand to take another bite. Ergo, your palate has been thoroughly spoiled, in the most satisfying way. I can report without hesitation that I thoroughly broke my own mouth to the fullest extent of the definition while in Honolulu.

Lured out by the familiar urge to discover new ono grindz (good eats), every step of my two mile walk to reach Greens & Vines was worth the effort. Born of the 100% raw vegan catering company Licious Dishes, this dine-in outpost is only a few months old, still glistening with that new restaurant shine. Glowing like a beacon on a dark night, the neon sign out front is quite arresting, especially for the unprepared. Already on my hit list, it was a sight I was unprepared for as I gazed blankly out the bus window.

“Oh, that’s the restaurant right there!” I exclaimed in spite of myself, to no one in particular. It would clearly require a more thorough exploration at a later time, especially without those lovely people sharing public transit who were now convinced of my mental instability.

After miscalculating the distance from my hotel rather drastically, it ended up being a later meal than anticipated, but gave me plenty of time to work up an appetite. Good thing too, since just one plateful of Kaffir Miso Pad Thai, composed of kelp noodles and topped off with a generous handful of crunchy cashews, left me feeling quite stuffed. Taking my time to luxuriate in every slippery strand, the effusively friendly staff made me feel more than welcome to linger, as opposed to so many other establishments that saw the single vegan diner as a burden. One gets a real sense of community here, proof positive that veganism is alive and thriving in all pockets of the world.

Although I already broke da mout on my main dish, the temptation of the dessert menu was too much to bear. Wrapping up a petite wedge of Tangerine Cheesecake to go, it became a most decadent midnight snack just a few hours later. Flawlessly smooth, creamy, and sparkling with citrus zest, its small size belied immense flavor. More than enough to satisfy even my voracious sweet tooth, what initially seemed like a scant portion turned out to be just right.

The raw movement may still be in its infancy in Honolulu, but endless other clean, green options can be readily found hidden in amongst the puka dog and saimin stands. Peace Cafe serves up well-balanced meals with a macrobiotic sort of slant, featuring otherwise obscure flavors like matcha and kinako to create vegan treats found no where else.

Speaking of which, the Iced Matcha Latte is an absolute must for any hot day, which is pretty much every day on the island. Lightly sweetened just to cut the bitter edge of the powdered green tea, soy milk lends body to the beverage, making it both refreshing and wholly satisfying. If only I had ventured out to this part of town sooner, I’m certain I would have found many excuses to return for a second and third refill.

Mochi brownies displayed alluringly on the counter did look like an awfully attractive lunch option, but the savory dishes are worth holding out for. Before ever setting foot in the shop, I already knew that I wanted the Heart and Seoul entree: Inspired by Korean bibimbap, a power plate of greens, both raw and cooked, beansprouts, shredded carrots, and either fresh tofu or TVP over a bed of brown rice. Ever indecisive, I stood there hemming and hawing at the counter, until the cashier helpfully broke my strained silence. “I could get you a little bit of both, too- How about that?” she asked sweetly. Yes, please; I felt like I really could have it all in that moment. Both were utterly delightful, but being the tofu-lover that I am, I would spring for a full portion of only that silky-soft bean curd next time. Topped off with a healthy dollop of very mild gochujang to mix and mash at will, the diner has the freedom to mix in as much of that salty paste as their heart desires. Naturally, I devoured every last smudge.

What’s most telling about how vegan-friendly a city is, however, is not the number of specialty shops or isolated outposts. Rather, it’s what one can scavenge in the everyday eateries, even the mundane or most unpromising locations. While the Ala Moana Mall is no average shopping center, boasting hundreds of stores spread out for what seems like miles, the above platter is still an incredible testament to how open and accessible Honolulu is to the compassionate visitor or resident. Grylt Ala Moana, located in the Makai Food Court, is one of three locations within Honolulu. In true cafeteria style, you’re encouraged to build your own plate, picking between proteins, sides, and sauces. Grilled Tofu is the way to go to avoid animal protein, and incredibly, you can actually choose Olive Oil Mashed Cauliflower over plain white rice, if desired. For just 50 cents more, it’s more than worth the upgrade. Grilled Veggies are already so expertly seasoned with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, it seems a shame to cover them with any additional sauce, despite how bright and vivacious the Citrus Herb Oil was. Request it on the side to dip the tofu in, and you’ll have the perfect complement to all components.

Next, we’re jetting off to another island… The Big Island, in fact, for a stop in Hilo. Still more photos are being uploaded everyday, so please keep checking in to see all of my adventures!


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Biting into the Big Pineapple

Though its nickname evokes images of a more tropical rendition of New York City, Honolulu is truly beyond compare. A big city with the heartbeat of a small town, everyone seems to know each other, or at least treat strangers like family if they don’t. Shy and introverted by nature, it took a huge step outside of myself to embark on my first solo trip, and I can say with conviction that there was no better destination than this string of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Reaching out into the void, I was shocked by the genuine kindness that was placed in my outstretched palms. Hearing horror stories about Hawaii’s rocky past, including some lingering (and often justified) resentment against haoles, it seemed a sure thing that my sheet-white face was just asking for trouble. Never have I been so happy to be wrong.

Simple interactions, no matter how shallow, just felt warmer, friendlier than anything I had previously encountered. Smiles came easily, instantly, to every gentle face, and accidental eye contact no longer felt like a potential threat. For the rest of my life, I will never forget the mundane act of waiting for the bus in China Town. Midday sun blazing away, cooling trade winds no where to be found, it was a warmth that was impossible to comprehend for a January afternoon. Wholly unprepared for the heat, I rolled up my sleeves and sweated it out, checking and double-checking the schedule to make sure I had picked the right bus line. Out of the blue, a petite woman sitting on the bench struck up a conversation, noticing my discomfort.

“Yeah, I sure wish I had an umbrella like you,” I mentioned dreamily, nodding to her black-paneled parasol. “I’ve only thought of them for rainy days, but that’s such a good idea!”

Without missing a beat, she immediately offered to share her shade. “Come sit by me then! There’s plenty of room,” she indicated her vast abundance of space, patting the empty seat. And so there I sat, nearly 5,000 miles from home, cheek-to-cheek with a complete stranger, having rarely felt safer in the comfort of my own house.

It’s such a simple gesture, such a forgettable instance, but I’m still bowled over by that effortless generosity. It’s just not something I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.

The people are what truly makes Hawaii so special, but the food naturally ranks second on my list of reasons to visit. Shockingly, vegan options abound in Honolulu, with hardly a menu lacking one ready-to-eat option. Tofu reigns supreme here, thanks to the influence of many Asian cultures, thus making it the norm rather than the “alternative.” Not every morsel was the height of fine cuisine, but I had a handful of memorable meals that would be worth returning to the island for.

An unassuming little hole in the wall, Ruffage Natural Foods is located just a few short blocks away from Kuhio Beach in Waikiki. After a long day of sun and surf, the short menu of simple, wholesome entrees draws both travelers and locals alike. The Tofu Avocado Spring Salad was exactly what I craved, fulfilling my desperate need for fresh greens and a punch of protein. Despite the heat, I still couldn’t resist pairing that with a soul-satisfying cup of miso soup, filled with seaweed and tofu as well. For a no-frills healthy meal, I can’t think of a better place to drop by.

Out in China Town, at the very bus stop where my most cherished conversation took place, the Downbeat Diner is also serving up some awesome meatless eats. Boasting a menu of comfort foods and classic diner favorites, they readily accept the challenge of veganizing each and every option should it not be naturally free of animal ingredients already. Since I came in a little bit early for lunch, the brunch options were most appealing, and they pulled out a solid Tofu Scramble indeed.

Squeezing in those greens again, this platter typically comes with potatoes, but can be swapped for a salad upon request. Mushrooms and onions added a savory complexity to the yellow-hued, seasoned bean curds, I cleaned my plate in mere minutes and would have licked it if not in public.

You won’t want to bypass the drink menu while you’re at it. My admittedly unusual request for a virgin Bloody Mary was met without any snark, and hit the spot perfectly. Lightly spicy, nice and salty, and packed with tomato flavor, I wish I could have ordered about a gallon of the stuff to take with me.

By complete accident or a crazy stroke of luck, however you’d like to consider it, I ended up staying at the very hotel where my top restaurant destination was situated. I had to compare the addresses at least five times before I believed it, but indeed, they were the same. Yuzu, crafting exquisite Japanese food in the ground floor of the Ala Moana Hotel, is not a vegan restaurant. Amazingly, they produce some of the most realistic-looking vegetable nigiri I have ever come across, and many other vegetable options are equally delightful.

You owe it to yourself to try the Vegetable Nigiri Sampler at least once in your life time. The height of edible art, though it may be a dead-ringer for fish at first glance, there’s not a scrap of animal protein to be found on this plate. The “tuna” slices are in fact peeled tomatoes, gently poached in vinegar to impart a uniquely bright, uncharacteristically oceanic flavor. Yuba fills one gunkan while a rich carrot mousse is piped into another. Lotus root is fried and covered with eel sauce, so cleverly hidden within its crispy shell that I would have never been able to identify it unaided. Mushrooms top of the remained of the pieces for incredible umami bites. Eggplant is typically included into the melange as well, but the chef so graciously provided a second tomato piece for me instead, accommodating for my sad eggplant intolerance.

Don’t leave the table without trying their hand-cut Veggie Medley Udon Noodles while you’re at it. Sliced fresh to order and lavished with all variety of garnishes on the side, they’re almost as much fun to eat as they are delicious. Slippery, chewy strands of wheat that twist effortlessly around the chopsticks, the noodles are a world apart from anything dried or store-bought. Each bite is a little bit different too, depending on how you load them up with scallions, sesame seeds, ginger, mushrooms, or crunchy tenkasu. A final splash into the soy-based dipping sauce, and the whole assembly goes down easily. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to return and try another dish or eight at Yuzu.

There’s still much more food to come, but in the meantime, keep checking my Flickr set for more photos!


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Aloha from Hawaii

Eyelids weighted down by a marathon 29-hour day in transit, it hardly seemed worth fighting their slow descent. Nodding off for 15-minute stretches at a time while waiting, waiting, waiting endlessly to stop hurtling through the clouds, I eventually succumbed to exhaustion. Next time I came to, I was in paradise.

I don’t care if it’s horribly cliched- It’s completely true. Honolulu, Hawaii is like no other place I’ve ever been, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a place more perfect if I truly had died and gone to heaven. Stepping off the gangway into the cozy embrace of 80-degree air, the afternoon sun sparkling overhead, I wasn’t quite sure I had actually woken up yet.

Though my hotel room wasn’t ocean-front or even ocean-facing, the view was still unparalleled in its grandeur. Each sunrise and sunset was a sight to behold. On my last morning in the city, I rose while the sky was still dark, dragging a chair in front of the window for a front seat to the show. In those wee AM hours, nursing a large cup of hot Kona coffee, I watched as the streets slowly began to glow and come alive and the sky danced with a changeable rainbow of colors.

Readjusting to 12-degree days and 5:00pm nightfall has been challenging, to say the least, so I’m not yet fully back up to speed. Consider these landscapes just a small taste of what’s to come, and keep checking my Flickr set for additional photos and descriptions, some of which won’t be featured on the blog. Though all my photos are full of treasured memories, too beautiful to keep to myself, I don’t want to bog down anyone’s loading time further. Consider it a somewhat hidden bonus for the truly curious. Next up, a handful of island food finds simply too incredible to limit to mere images. Stay tuned!

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