Kung Hee Fat Choy

I can’t resist a new year’s celebration. Today is the celebration of Chinese New Year, the year of the Yang Water Dragon. I don’t know a whole lot about it and the explanations that I read online are way too complicated to relate here. I encourage you to check it out.

I do know that I am a tiger.  I also know that everybody is eating Gau today so I am too. I think that is a good start. I’m pretty sure that’s how my kids’ classmates feel when I show up to their classes and bring apples and honey for the Jewish New Year! It takes a while to understand.

Kung Hee Fat Choy

We are eating right for the new year

I decided that I need to write one final blog for 2011. It has been a good year. As my friend Candy says, “We are blessed.”

Thank you to all of those who have clicked somewhere or another and found yourself reading about Being Jewish in Hawaii. I look forward to your comments in 2012 and  enjoying the conversation together.

While the East Coast is getting ready for the “Ball” to drop, we are just making dinner and settling down to an evening at home celebrating with our small family (extra small as teenager is not here.)

We invited friends to join us, but they declined. We understand. They also prefer to be at their own homes.  I don’t like to go out on New Year’s Eve. It is too dangerous. I am happy in my humble abode, safe and in comfortable clothes (notice the lack of photo.)

The star attraction of this evening is the food. Husband is at the barbecue and there will be meat to eat: chicken, ribs, and lamb (must pronounce the b.) If we don’t eat it all, no big deal, we can have it tomorrow for leftovers and you are invited (but please let us know that you are coming so we can make sure that we have enough paper plates.)

At Erev Shabbat services last night, Rabbi Schaktman mentioned recent efforts our congregation has embraced in regards to what I have heard in other arenas called “Food Justice.” We are translating it tonight by eating the peppers we grew in our yard and several other local products.

The meat we bought at Costco.

I am not in the habit of bragging, but I can’t help myself tonight. With our wonderful dinner we will be serving fresh, local, ripe Makaha Mangoes. It is the miracle of New Year’s Eve as even this transplant knows that mango season was over months ago.

But when I went to visit my friend Candy today to talk story for a bit and to share the holiday fudge that I only make once a year, along with her annual Chex mix that I love so much, she sent us home with several beautiful ripe and delicious mangoes.

Months ago, tweenager planted various seeds in the pots we have stored in the front yard. She has diligently watered them daily and the fruits of her labor became available this month. She was sure that she planted snow peas, but when we went to harvest it became apparent that they were peppers. Another miracle.

My husband picked a few of them today and mixed them in the sauce for the ribs. There will be mild, hot and fire hot on the dinner table tonight. Yum. Once again, if you will be joining us for leftovers tomorrow, just let us know.

On my way to Makaha I stopped at Tamura’s Super Market in Wai’anae to purchase some poke and fixings for salad. The line for poke was long, but worth it. We got ahi and tako poke.

As for the salad, I made sure to buy local. The Manoa lettuce was not cheap, but also worth it.

That’s about it: meat, mango, poke and salad.

I can’t imagine a better way to ring in the new year: safe at home eating right.

Happy New Year to you and your family with wishes for all good blessings.


Mele Kalikimakanukkah (Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah)

Everybody gets to celebrate today. Hallelujah!

My family is spending this Christmas morning delivering holiday meals for Lanakila Pacific’s Meals on Wheels program. Our Synagogue organizes an annual group of volunteers and we joined the team three years ago. We have made it a family tradition ever since.

And tonight we will celebrate the sixth night of Chanukkah with a holiday meal shared among friends at our home. I got up early to make chocolate fudge dreidles with the mold we got as a gift from my younger sister, boo. We’ll make brownies later with the other molds  she sent. Of course we will make latkes too.

Whenever I cook for the Jewish holidays it makes me think of my mom, especially when I make chopped liver. It was her specialty. She used a hand grinder to combine the liver and eggs and onions. When food processors debuted she continued to grind it by hand,  insisting that the new contraption made the liver to mushy. She put it in a circle mold and served it with mini pieces of rye bread. My dad loved it.

My mom made chopped liver for every holiday and I always helped her. Using a special meat grinder attachment to her Betty Crocker mixer, she would grind the liver and the eggs and the onions separately and mix them all together for the perfect blend and consistency. I remember one year she had me separate the egg yolks from the whites and we ground those separately so that when we combined it all together it wouldn’t be too “Yolky.”

I started making it about ten years ago for celebrations at our home in Hawaii. It connected us to her, living so far away, as she shared her recipe and techniques. It evoked vivid memories of childhood that I could share with my daughter. And now it brings wonderful memories of my mom (may she rest in peace) and makes me miss her very much.

The first time I made it, she sent me a meat grinder she  used post Betty Crocker mixer. I still use it every year. I’m willing to use a food processor for the potatoes for the latkes, but in honor of Gloria, not for the liver.

The biggest obstacles have been the shmaltz (chicken fat) and the liver. You can’t buy shmaltz in Hawaii. One year she came to visit around Chanukkah time and brought a small cooler on the plane with a jar of schmaltz just for me. Talk about the love of a Jewish Mother!

Since then, I have alternately made my own or just used Crisco.

My mom always swore that calf’s liver was the best choice for chopped liver. I have looked island wide for years, never found any and had to let chicken livers suffice. I ordered them fresh from Tamura Super Market in Wai’anae and they turned out just fine. This year I found calf liver in the commissary. Oh Happy Day.

On this Christmas day, I will grind the liver and eggs and onions as my mother has done before me.  We will fry latkes as Jews around the world have done for ages. We will start a new tradition of making chocolate dreidles for dessert.

And on this sixth night of Chanukkah, we will embrace our holiday traditions as we light the candles, say the blessings, share a meal and honor all of the miracles that people celebrate this season.

No more lau lua for kau kau at the local Jewau

When I was preparing for our Passover seder a few weeks ago, I opened the  cookbook that our Temple’s Sisterhood  published last year.

That was the first time I really looked at the book. I bought it for two reasons: to support the sisterhood and my mother’s recipes were inside. I never really imagined that I would use it.

Pressed for time, instead of digging through my recipe drawer for the index card with my mom’s hand written instructions, I got “Cooking With Shaloha” down from the shelf.

It was much more interesting than I expected. Filled with typical recipes for challah and brisket and kasha varnishkes, it is also peppered with local dishes such as haupia and mango bread and poke.

The best surprise came at the end of the book: The Juau!

I was thrilled to find this one. Contributor Jill Merl suggests a menu for a porkless luau. I thought it was hilarious.

And then I started thinking that  a Passover seder is the Jewish version of a luau–the ultimate Jewau.

I looked up the meaning of  luau on the internet and an online dictionary defined it as: an elaborate Hawaiian feast or party (especially one accompanied by traditional foods and entertainment.)

Sounds like a seder to me. Just substitute the word Hawaiian with Jewish and entertainment with telling the story and there you have it–a Jewau.

Gefilte fish fills in for poke or lomi salmon, chicken soup for chicken long rice. Eat brisket instead of kalua pork and macaroons instead of haupia! Drink four glasses with tiny bubbles…..You get the idea.

There’s more than just a chicken in my soup pot

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for me it is huge. I used the fresh dill that grew in  my very own yard in the chicken soup that I made in preparation for our seder.

Many of you are used to growing things and eating them. I am not. I do not have a green thumb. The only thing I have been able to grow successfully are a few children and a dog or two over the years. My track record in the plant department is appalling.

Every time a plant in our garden begins to thrive, something happens. We go on vacation and the house sitter forgets to water them. It rains so much that the plants drown. Or I just put them in the wrong spot.

I had a beautiful basil plant for a while and was able to serve its leaves on a few occasions. I’ve even had some limited success with green onions. That’s about it.

I planted the dill seeds a while ago because the package said they need direct sunlight. I only plant seeds that like direct sunlight. None of this indirect stuff for me. It is too unclear.

I’ve been wondering what to do with the dill. It keeps growing and growing and growing. We keep watering and watering and watering. I’ve moved it a few times to chase the sun.  I am proud of our dill plant.

When I looked at a the  chicken soup recipe for Passover and it said to use fresh dill I got excited. “I get to use the dill,” I reveled.

The chickens and carrots and celery I bought at the store. I had to go to several stores to find the parsnip. But the dill was right in my yard waiting to jump in the pot.

Why was last night different than many other nights? Celebrating Passover with a little local style

A seder in Hawaii is much like any seder around the world. We tell the story. We eat the traditional foods. And then there are a few special moments that highlight that we are celebrating in this particular place and possibly nowhere else.

Last night was no exception. The Aloha Jewish Chapel seder at the Hale Koa Hotel was a pleasure. The table was set with a beautiful seder plate and we told the story that Jews around the world had been telling all day long in different time zones.

This particular event has a personal story our family likes to tell. Every year when we attend, we remember that it was at this very seder, eight years ago, that my husband and I had our “Almost First Date.” We have been going every year since–except in 2005 when he was deployed in Iraq.




The seder also has some local flavor, but not in the cooking.

How many seders have you been to where the guest list is a balance of  names such as Watanabe, Fukuhara and Hashimoto?

And then there is the music. Rachel Haymer played the ukulele at my wedding, my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and at most of our Temple events. The addition of her ukulele and her voice last night was a real treat.

Finally, comes my favorite, and the initial inspiration to write this particular blog entry. When we were singing the four questions, during the part that asks why on some nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we only recline: She b’chol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshbin uvein m’subin. Halailah hazeh, kulanu m’subin., both my husband and older daughter changed the word  m’subin-reclining- to musubi which is a spam and rice sushi snack that is so far from belonging at a seder that one can only laugh.

Try singing it.

Only in Hawaii.

Happy Passover.

Bring on the Thanksgiving noodle kugel

In the 20 years I have lived in Hawaii I  only traveled to the mainland twice to spend Thanksgiving with family. Once I met my mother and youngest sister in L.A.. When my daughter was a toddler,  I took her to Kansas City to share the holiday with my mother and oldest sister.

Both were disastrous. Not in the family dynamics kind of way, when one part of the family is not speaking to another part so you can’t sit them next to each other at the table type of thing. We always enjoy the company. It was more about the logistics.

From L.A., my plane was terribly delayed and I did not make it home in time for work on Monday. That soured me on peak travel dates forever after.

In Kansas City it was cold. “Duh,” you might respond. “The Midwest in November? Hellooooo.”

Yes, I knew it would be cold. Yes, I took warm clothes. My mom bought cute little puffy snow jackets at Steinmart for my daughter and greeted us with gift sets that included ear muffs and warm woolen gloves and caps suitable for the most fashionable of bunnies on the slopes. We were suitably armed.

However, I did not take into consideration the discomfort  of  my three-year-old who was used to wearing slippers all year round and who had never experienced the stifling feeling of  thick socks or a jacket that looked like it was made of jet puffed marshmallows sewn together by the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

She was fine when we were in the house. My mom turned up the heat and my daughter did not have to don layer after thick layer for protection against the elements. She was free. It just turned out hard to  hard to go anywhere without a fuss. So we stayed home.

One year my family came here. They stayed at Ko Olina. We had Thanksgiving at the Ihilani. All was good.

I have gotten used to not being together on holidays. I’ve comfortably absorbed into the local families I know and put together one of my own in the past few years.

This year we spent Thanksgiving in Makaha with the Suisos. One of our favorite places and definitely some of our favorite people.

I knew I would not miss my mother due to distance. I did know that I would miss her because I miss her every day. Because it is a special occasion and I would not be able to call and say hello, I wanted find a way to honor her memory and feel her with me in some way.

I wore jewelry she had given me over the years: a ring that my father had given her that I’ve been wearing since high school and some earrings that I bought with one of her birthday checks a few years ago.

And I made “The Kugel.” My mother’s noodle kugel made its appearance at every festive meal except Passover (no noodles on Passover.) We enjoyed its buttery cinnamon sugar goodness  on holidays, Jewish or non.

I started making it almost ten years ago as an addition to our holiday menu. She sent me the recipe. It made my exotic life feel more like home. I don’t prepare it for every holiday. This year I did.

It came out perfect and tasted delicious.

As people passed through the improvised buffet line I heard them ask, “What is it?” With each explanation that “Kugel means casserole in Yiddish and it was my mother’s recipe,” I felt a  connection.

Not enough to completely replace my mother’s presence at the table at which she would not usually sit. But certainly sufficient to brighten her memory and let her distant presence  energize its sparkle in my life and enrich our celebration and appreciation.

Thank you, Mom. Very much.

Why do they call it a fast when it goes by soooo slow(ly)

Fasting was a big topic of conversation in our family this weekend. My oldest daughter is 13 and it is the first year she felt responsible for observing this Yom Kippur ritual.

Considering how much time we usually spend talking about food and what we are going to eat and how we will prepare it and how good it tastes, it is not a surprise that in its distinctive  absence  we  filled the void with conversation about not eating, or when we would eat or how hungry we might be feeling or how the feeling of hunger kind of goes away after a while.

At one point I mused that the word fast is really an oxymoron all by itself. Why on earth would they choose a word that suggests a rapid finish for an act that takes such a very long time?

We usually go to Temple in the morning until about noon when we go home and do not return at 3 pm for the afternoon service. Traffic and school nights always made it seem so inconvenient.

This year, Yom Kippur was on a Saturday, eliminating both of those issues. Also, I really wanted to go to the Yizkor (memorial) service in the afternoon. This is the first year that both of my parents are gone and it seemed very important to attend services in both of their memory.

I lit the two Yarzheit candles  before sundown on Friday and they burned the requisite 24 hours on our kitchen counter. It was amazing how those two little twinkling candles were such a comfort, like my parents were here with us for a short time, sharing the day with us. The light, their dancing spirits, brightening our home for while. I felt so sad when they were done.

It turns out that the afternoon service is now my favorite. It was peaceful and meaningful. The sun pouring into the Synagogue as it set and the warm glow from the lights of the memorial plaques taking its place.

And it is totally easier to fast while you are at services praying and reflecting and concentrating on other thoughts than when you are sitting at home waiting for the day to end so you can eat.

We broke the fast at Kit n Kitchen on University Avenue. I’ve only been to this restaurant once before, but I have very fond memories of that meal. My husband took me there  for dinner four years ago, soon after we were engaged. We planned our wedding that night. The food was good too.

It was good again on Saturday–and not just because we were hungry.

While I think it would be nice to invite people to our home and break the fast together, it is very  hard for me to imagine preparing a meal when I am so hungry. I haven’t quite figured out  the logistics of that one, so we go out.

The kids had the Volcano Stone Grilled. They bring the hot stone to the table and grill the meat and vegetables right there.

We were treated to the owner, Kit’s, presence as he helped prepare the steak for our children.

Both  my husband and I ordered lamb and savored every bite.

The kids enjoyed their Coca Cola bottle collection.

It was a particularly meaningful holiday, fast and services and memorial and all.

How/where did you break the fast?

L’shanah Tovah and bon appetite (or b’tei avon)

It’s the holiday season which brings up the discussion of food. No, not that holiday season….the Jewish High Holy Days. For each one we eat traditional foods symbolizing our deeper understanding of that particular observance, bringing us together in celebration of the joy that it brings. That’s just how we roll.

Rosh Hashanah means apples and honey and honey cake and honey buns (okay, I added that one.)

On Yom Kippur we fast, which is the distinct absence of food. The day is a solitary journey of internal reflection. But when we do  break the fast, we once again come together.

For Sukkot we eat outside under the stars and on Simchas Torah there is candy.

No wonder I love being Jewish.

Today I would like to share with you the challah that Rachel Nudelman gave to me on Erev Rosh Hashanah. While she didn’t bake it exclusively for me as a special gift, it sure feels that way and I am loving every bite as if she did.

She brought it to serve at the oneg after services at the Aloha Jewish Chapel on Pearl Harbor. But it was announced between the Aleinu and the Kaddish that there is a child with nut allergies and no nuts of any kind could be served.

Rachel had brought platters of honey cake, frosted and plain, made with walnuts and a gorgeous Rosh Hashanah challah coiled in the traditional holiday fashion to symbolize the cycle of the year.

Instead of adding raisins as a symbol for the sweetness of the new year (thank goodness, because I do not like raisins in challah,)  she folded apples and nuts into the coil. She said that they had their own at home and offered this beautiful, sweet challah  to me. Not one to have to be asked twice, I readily accepted and heartily thanked her.

I carried it carefully to the car, nestled it close to me, protecting it like I would my own baby the entire way home.

I cannot stop eating that challah.

I had a piece as soon as we returned from services. We had it for breakfast this morning, sliced straight onto our plates. Tomorrow it will make excellent french toast.

I can’t help but mention that Rachel made the most amazing matzah ball soup for our model seder at Temple Emanu-El School of Jewish Studies last spring. She is definitely among a new generation of balabustas and I am pleased to be in her acquaintance–for more reasons than just food.

Thank you, Rachel. Shanah Tovah U’metukah.

Wishing your family a healthy and sweet new year.

Summer camp

I started going to Jewish summer camp between 7th and 8th grade. Camp Komaroff. It changed my life—my Jewish life.

An advertisement for a weekend retreat at a small camp in Lake Arrowhead, California appeared in our Temple bulletin the  winter of 1974. I attended along with  a few of my Sunday school classmates  and I caught the Jewish camp bug.

I couldn’t wait to go back. The following summer  and every summer until I went to college, I returned to Camp Komaroff, staying as long as my parents would let me, until finally, after my Junior year of high school, I spent the entire three month vacation there.

The programs and prayer and friendships and song I enjoyed at camp were instrumental in  fostering the joyous connection I feel about being Jewish.

I wanted my daughter to experience the same thing, especially since our Jewish community in Hawaii is even smaller than the one in which my family raised me at Temple Beth Ohr in Southern California’s Northern Orange County of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Since my oldest daughter has been in the third grade, I pack her up every summer and send her to URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California.

Like her mother before her, she connects to being Jewish through song and prayer and activities surrounded by other Jewish kids her age and the beautiful natural landscape of Northern California.

And that is also why I get to visit with my high school friend Jennifer almost every summer.

My daughter flies unaccompanied minor to Caifornia where the camp staff pick her up. Some summers she also flies home on her own. Other years, like this one, I fly to California by myself and meet her after camp to fly on to the East Coast together for a visit with family before returning to Hawaii and school and our regular lives.

I arrived at San Francisco Airport on Monday evening.  I spent the  night at an inexpensive hotel near the airport and took the BART into the city the next morning. I disembarked at Montgomery Street, walked over to Jennifer’s office,  dumped my luggage and embraced the city.

I walked several blocks to The Embarcadero, hit the YMCA for a swim and entered the Ferry Building, recommended by Jennifer as the perfect place for a delicious lunch.

I joined the Honolulu YMCA because there is a branch near our Synagogue, Temple Emanu-El,  in Nuuanu and I can go for a quick swim after I drop off my kids for Hebrew school. It is also near the Kukui Center where  I  work part time. And I have also been going to a great yoga class in the morning at the Leeward Y near our home in Kapolei. Great deal for $40 a month.

I can also use the YMCA when I travel. It cost me three bucks to enter the Embarcadero branch of the San Francisco YMCA, the nice man at the desk gave me my guest pass and I had a great swim in their 25 meter pool. The locker looks out on  the Bay Bridge which was a definite bonus.

A few blocks down is the Ferry Building, a foodie paradise. It reminds me of Faneuil Hall in Boston, but on a more selective scale. I did not eat at the Tasty Salty Pig Parts for fairly obvious reasons.

I was drawn to several places, but decided to stick with Jennifer’s recommendation for Vietnamese food and had the one of the best lunches I have ever tasted. 5 spice chicken on vermicelli.

I picked up some bread at the Acme bread company for the dinner we would eat at Jennifer’s San Rafael home and went back to her office to pack up our stuff and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to spend the night with her family and get ready to pick up my daughter the next day at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center.

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