BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Like it or not, modern Honolulu is a rapidly changing world city, adapting local traditions to incoming waves of global inspiration. Although most are quick to take issue with bigger construction projects that are literally transforming and modifying the landscape as we know it, it’s a more positive and exciting proposition from a culinary standpoint. Every return visit turns up fresh eateries, new businesses, and inspiring young entrepreneurs eager to strike out on their own in paradise. It was pure luck that I caught wind of Banán, a tiny operation serving simple, sweet treats out of a stationary food truck, having opened right smack in the middle of my Oahu itinerary.

Quite simply, Banán is bananas. 100% banana soft serve treats in a variety of flavors, to be precise, and plenty of toppings to complement your fruity treats. The only things added to this refreshing base are either additional fruits or herbs for taste; no sugar nor dairy need apply. On a hot January day, there’s no better reward after a brisk hike up Diamond Head, which makes their nearby location on Monsarrat Ave. and accommodating hours ideal.

Unfalteringly generous with samples, the patient and kind scooper on duty successfully convinced me to order a flavor different from my intended pick- A considerable feat indeed. Basil sounds like a dubious pairing with banana, which is why I initially wrote it off as a trendy gimmick while perusing the options in advance. In reality though, this bright green blend sparkles with fresh, herbaceous flavor not unlike mint, regarded as a more conventional dessert addition.

Toppings are 50 cents each or 3 for $1.00, so go for broke and pile them on. The puffed quinoa in particular is a must, introducing both a satisfying crunch and nutty, toasted flavor to the mix. A study in contrasts, just a small sprinkle on top balances out any of the creamy concoctions with ease.

But perhaps I ordered too quickly. Hastily making my selection out of hunger and impatience, my companions quickly trumped my conventional order with custom requests. Combining two flavors in one bowl turned out to be no trouble at all, creating an even wider range of flavor sensations. Luckily, good friends that they are, everyone was more than happy to share the bounty. Ginger-Mint came in as a close second when I took stock of my favorites, but the berry notes of the Acai blend were quite appealing as well.

Upgrade your frozen confection further by trading in the classic cardboard waffle cone or cup for juicy, ripe papaya. Yes, another papaya boat worthy of your time, especially because these fruits are grown locally, and Banán takes the model of sustainability one step further by composting the discarded skins.

Banán sets itself apart from the pack by offering a genuinely healthy treat where few alternatives exist, but even more importantly, by fostering a sense of community by being so keenly aware of their impact. It’s the kind of small business we could truly use everywhere, but no matter how you slice it, this one is distinctly Hawaii grown, through and through.


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Rock the Boat

When it comes to food, little luxuries are not necessarily about overindulgence or decadence so much as they are small gifts you give yourself; modest treats to look forward to on an average day. Especially in the lean days of early January, it’s important to maintain these simple pleasures while everyone else seems to demand austerity, as if trying to atone for their holiday dietary sins. Luckily, it’s not difficult to reward yourself with something both sweet and healthy at the same time! Looking to the tropics for inspiration, a charming new juice shop in Honolulu offers papaya, re-imagined as a breakfast dish dressed beautifully enough to pass for dessert.

It’s far from a complex concept, but at The Salted Lemon, they’ve perfected the art of building an unsinkable papaya boat. Local orange and pink-hued fruits, more brilliant than a sunrise in paradise, are hollowed out and stuffed to the brim with granola, yogurt, banana slices, blueberries, and finished with a light shower of chia seeds on top. The contrast between creamy yogurt and crunchy cereal, flavored with the ripe and juicy fresh fruits, is so simple yet so satisfying. Eating this assembly is a rich experience that carries none of the guilt one might assign to traditional excess. Though the original is not vegan, the staff was more than willing to try something new, making use of my favorite almond-based yogurt once I snagged a cup at a nearby grocery store.

Lest you think that papaya boats are only the stuff of fancy cafes and languorous tropical vacations, just take a gander at the short and sweet formula below. They are effortless to whip up on any typical morning, no special occasion required, and no pretense need apply. All varieties of berries or cut fruits could be considered as welcome additions, so don’t be afraid to shake up the routine and experiment with new toppers.

While anything goes when it comes to vegan yogurt options, there’s no better brand to turn to than So Delicious, offering cultured coconut and almond bases, each boasting a full spectrum of enticing flavors. These prime alternatives make it a breeze to live dairy-free, which is why I wanted to share an equally easy concept as part of their 21-Day Dairy Free Challenge. Consider this your first step towards sweet, creamy satisfaction, and then join in on the initiative for even greater rewards!

Papaya Boats

1 Medium Hawaiian Papaya, Peeled and Seeded
1 Cup Granola, Homemade or Store-Bought
1 6-Ounce Container Vanilla So Delicious Almond or Coconut Yogurt
1 Medium Banana, Sliced
1/2 Cup Fresh Blueberries
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
Agave or Maple Syrup, to Taste (Optional)

Divide a 1/2 cup of the granola between two plates to set up a “foundation” for your papaya boat to rest on. This will help prevent it from capsizing when you eat it, and it also adds a nice additional layer of crunchy cereal to enjoy.

Place the remaining granola inside the papaya halves (1/4 cup inside of each) and top that with the yogurt, spooning equal amounts into the two boats. Arrange the sliced banana and blueberries as desired, and top with a sprinkle of chia seeds over the whole assembly. Finish with a light drizzle of syrup if desired, but with properly ripened, seasonal fruit, it should be plenty sweet enough without.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe

[Written for Go Dairy Free as part of the Dairy-Free Recipe Potluck, sponsored by So Delicious.]


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Smart Sweets

Though self-prescribed with good intentions, a striking majority of New Year’s resolutions are imagined in a world of extremes. Everything is painted in black and white; there is success and failure, productivity and laziness, good or bad foods. The temptation to simplify the complex “rules” of the road is great for those most desperate for change, especially when so much mainstream advice points in that very direction. What excitement is there in moderation? How could you sell anything based on common sense?

Quite frankly, I’m sick of this all-or-nothing approach. Resolutions themselves are not the problem, but the way society holds us to them. Friends, I’m not expert on the matter, but if you want my advice, I think we should make a bit more room in this renewed healthy eating regimen for chocolate.

As with all healthy eating choices, quality is absolutely essential for success, which is exactly what Vega has built their reputation on. Though best known for their powdered protein and meal-replacement shakes, I was naturally drawn more to their enticing array of snacking selections. Given the opportunity to investigate these unsung heroes further, I knew from the start that it would somehow end in a deceptively decadent dessert. Maca Chocolate Bars provided the real inspiration, with their gently earthy, mineral-y quality and slightly bitter edge calling out for a touch more sweetness to round out the deep cacao flavors. Lovers of deep, dark, serious chocolate would love them as is, but for someone coming off of a holiday sugar high, I must admit that my palate calls for something a bit less intense.

Incorporating the brilliantly “Karamelized” SaviSeed, roasted and sugar-coated Inca peanuts, for a satisfying crunch, Nava Atlas’ fool-proof recipe for unbaked brownies seemed custom made for just these ingredients. A few easy substitutions yielded the tastiest, yet healthiest, raw brownie that has ever passed my lips. As the original formula proves, however, no specialty ingredients need apply; switch up the fruits, nuts, and chocolate for equally delicious treats that will help keep your resolutions on track. I’ve successfully used raisins instead of prunes, almonds instead of cashews, and regular dark chocolate, in additional to Nava’s suggestions, all to the same enthusiastic reception. You have my sweet-toothed word that they don’t taste the least bit like “health food,” and you will never regret savoring that one extra square.

Mega Maca Brownies
Adapted from Nava Atlas’ Unbaked Fudgy Brownies from Plant Power

1 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Pitted Prunes
3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
4 (1.4 Ounce) Maca Chocolate Bars, Finely Chopped, Divided
1/4 Cup Sacha Inchi, Roughly Chopped

Place the cashews in your food processor and pulse until ground to a fine powder. Add in the prunes, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and half of the chopped chocolate. Pulse once more to incorporate, processing until the mixture holds together when pressed. Be patient, as this may take a few minutes.

Add the remaining chocolate along with the sacha inchi and pulse just briefly to distribute the goodies throughout the mixture. These final additions should be roughly chopped but still easily visible. You don’t want to puree the whole thing, since it’s much more satisfying with a bit of texture left in it.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 8 x 8-inch square pan. Use a wide spatula to press it evenly into the bottom before stashing it in the fridge. Chill for at least an hour before slicing and serving. Keep leftovers covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than a week, or in the freezer for up to a month.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Healthy Decadence

There’s a real art in finding the delicate balance between want and need, sweet and savory, austere and indulgent. All too often battling cravings that fall on the more hedonistic side of the scale, reaching some semblance of middle ground is especially important for this constant snacker. Grazing through my day with the greatest of ease, finding that ideal combination that will satisfy both my sweet tooth and my hunger is always the goal, but rarely the result of endless pantry raids throughout the day.

Inspired by yet another excellent new protein powder kindly provided as a sample by Ka’Chava, rather than just drink my superfoods straight, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get in the kitchen and play around. Energy bars were a natural first though, but too obvious, too easy to get excited about. Healthy, protein-packed fudge, though? Now that’s a wholesome treat one could lust after.

Rich, but not overwhelmingly so, crunchy cacao nibs punctuate the soft texture, much like chocolate chips strewn through unbaked cookie dough. A thin sheet of dark, slightly bitter chocolate caps off each small square with just the right extra dose of decadence, although it’s strictly optional if you’re more of a protein purist. Eaten straight out of the fridge, there are few tastier yet still healthy tidbits out there that can power me through a long day.

Protein Fudge

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 4 – 6 Hours
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 Packet (58.5g) Ka’Chava Chocolate Protein Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs

To Finish:

3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil, Melted

Thoroughly drain your cashews before tossing them into your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for this recipe to ensure the smoothest texture possible, but as long as you’re patient with a lower-powered model and let it process for a bit longer, the recipe shouldn’t suffer. Add in the melted coconut oil, coconut sugar, protein powder, vanilla, and salt, and start the machine on the lowest setting to begin breaking down the cashews. Slowly increase the speed until you reach the highest setting, using the plunger to keep the contents of the blender all moving towards the blade, or pausing to scrape down the sides of the container, as needed. It may take some time for everything to combine smoothly, without any residual cashew pieces or graininess to be found.

Meanwhile, line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with foil, lightly grease, and set aside.

Once your fudge mixture is thoroughly blended, stir in the cacao nibs by hand to evenly distribute them throughout. Transfer everything to your prepared pan and use a wide spatula to smooth out the top. Place the pan on a flat surface in your freezer to begin solidifying.

To finish off your fudge, place the finely chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all of the chocolate is melted and no pieces remain. If necessary, continue microwaving at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well after each one, until perfectly smooth. Retrieve the fudge from the freezer, pour the melted chocolate all over the top, and spread it out evenly so that it covers the entire pan. Return the pan of fudge to the freezer and let rest, undisturbed, for at least 3 hours.

Using the foil as a sling, pull the fudge out of the loaf pan and slice into small squares with a very sharp knife. To make cleaner cuts through the chocolate topping, first run the knife under very hot water and dry thoroughly before making your first incision.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 16 – 20 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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Monstrous Munchies

Halloween is right around the corner, but if you haven’t yet figured out your snacking strategy for when the moon rises and the creatures of the night emerge, don’t panic! Rather than reaching for a protective head of garlic, I say go for the sweets and invite those monsters right on in. They’ll feel perfectly at home when you present them with a heaping bowlful of gloriously green Matcha Monster Munch.

Candied green tea popcorn, tossed with crunchy pepitas and drenched in a generous drizzle of dark chocolate is a treat to tempt even the most distasteful beasts. Perfect for a party or just a quiet night of answering the doorbell for trick-or-treaters, it’s a snack that’s as irresistible as it is vibrant.

Quick, jump on your broomstick and fly over to the recipe on Go Dairy Free, before the witching hour is over!


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Poke Fun at Soybeans

Despite rising temperatures and flourishing green foliage, my mind still wanders back to the tropical coasts of Hawaii. So distant in memory that it all seems like a dream, it’s hard to imagine what paradise looks like at this time of year. If the seasons don’t change drastically, do the foods? Although I’m one of the biggest proponents out there for eating seasonally, part of me clings to the hope that nothing ever changes on the islands. Without distinct seasons, it’s a perfectly reasonable concept, I reason with myself, trying to ignore how selfish the desire is. Truthfully, nothing ever stays quite the same, but I’m optimistic that the food culture will remain just as vibrant day in and day out, unfettered by the passage of time.

Progress is definitely on the horizons, and that is one adjustment I would never stand in the way of. Vegan renditions of classic Hawaiian fare proved somewhat difficult to come by, making the random sighting of soybean poke at a nondescript Foodland grocery store such a delightful shock to the system. Were my eyes deceiving me? Poke, defined as a preparation of raw fish, in bean format? Not a chance in hell would I leave without this fabulous impulse buy; a full pound came back to the hotel room with me that evening, and not an ounce remained by daybreak.

A stroke of simple brilliance, the combination of flavors fuse to create something that all palates can appreciate. With the savory flavors of garlic, soy sauce, and the bright pop of red pepper flakes melded throughout, you can’t go wrong. It was the first thing I tried to recreate upon my return home, so it’s about time this appetizer made it into the blog’s spotlight. For parties or gatherings, this stuff goes fast- You may want to double or even triple the amounts.


Soybean Poke

1 Pound Frozen Edamame in Shells
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon (3 – 4 Cloves) Finely Minced Garlic
1/8 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3 Tablespoons Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce
Coarse Sea Salt, to Taste

In a medium or large stock pot, set about 2 quarts of water over medium heat and cover with the lid. Bring it up to a boil before tossing in the frozen edamame- No need to thaw. Boil uncovered for 3 – 4 minutes, until the pods are thawed and tender. If you overcook them, the beans will start ejecting themselves from their shells, but they’re still just as tasty, if a bit softer in texture. Drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, combine both oils and the minced garlic in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is aromatic but not quite browned. Add in the prepared edamame along with the red pepper flakes and soy sauce, tossing to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes longer to infuse the soybeans with the marinade.

Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add a pinch of salt over the top if desired, but use that salt sparingly! The soy sauce already adds quite a bit of sodium into the mix, so you may find it doesn’t need any extra at all.

Enjoy hot or or at room temperature.

Makes 4 – 6 Snack-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pop it Like it’s Hot

Upon arrival in Hawaii, there were only a few foods I knew were must-eats, and Hurricane Popcorn was near the top. A simple concept that has won fiercely loyal fans, boxes are said to be smuggled back the mainland by those in the know, craving the distinctive island snack food. Found in both popped and unpopped formats, the microwave bags are the only way to go for the true Hurricane Popcorn experience.

Broken down into separate packets containing popcorn kernels, dry toppings, and buttery flavor, it became immediately obvious that a homemade equivalent would be just about as complex to assemble. Salty, rich, and packed with umami, its appeal is easy to understand, but the ingredients themselves are rather unsavory. In the same vein as “slimy yet satisfying,” those glistening, crispy kernels made a lasting impression as “good but greasy.” Certainly, we can all do better… So after returning home, that’s just what I did.

Of course, never satisfied to go the basic route, I tried to one-up the original by making my own savory, soy sauce-infused mochi pieces, more true to the description than the dry rice crackers included in a plastic baggie. Though it’s not technically mochi, the sticky pounded rice cakes typically enjoyed for desserts, arare do fit the bill better for this unique snack application. Simpler is truly better, so don’t be fooled by the above photo; to best satisfy the next Hawaiian-inspired snack attack, do as I say, not as I do.

Homemade Hurricane Popcorn

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Unpopped Popcorn Kernels
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
3 – 4 Tablespoons Ao Nori
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Seeds (White, Black, or a Blend)
1 Cup Hana Arare (Flower-Shaped Rice Crackers)
Flaky Sea Salt, to Taste

In a large stock pot with high sides, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Place 3 – 4 popcorn kernels in the pot, cover, and once one pops, that will mean your oil has come up to the right temperature to really get popping. Add the remaining unpopped popcorn into the pan and cover the pan once more.

Gently shake the pan over the heat, still covered, to pop the kernels evenly and prevent already popped corn from burning. When the pace of popping slows to one pop every 3 – 5 seconds, remove the pan from the heat. Keep the pot covered while the final kernels pop; about 3 minutes. Carefully lift the lid away from you, as there will be a good deal of very hot steam looking to escape.

Meanwhile, melt the margarine in a microwave-safe dish, heating for 30 – 60 seconds. Transfer the popped corn to your desired serving bowl, leaving any unpopped kernels in the bottom of the pot. Drizzle the melted margarine all over, tossing to coat. Sprinkle in the nori flakes, sesame seeds, and salt, to taste. Finally add the arare right on top, and stir gently to incorporate. Enjoy right away!

Makes Approximately 4 Quarts (About 4 Servings)

Printable Recipe

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