Lisa is the author of the award-winning memoir, A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood, which was an National Book Critics Circle Top-10 Independent Press Pick for 2011. With Caroline, she's the co-founder of Learning to Eat and co-editor of The Cassoulet Saved our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat. She holds an MA in creative writing, a PhD in English and has taught literature and creative writing widely, most recently in the MFA Program at the University of San Francisco.
My daughter Ella admits that apple bananas look awful, but taste really, really good. They’re best when they have a good number of brown spots, and they’re about half the size of commercial bananas we get on the mainland, and they taste just like, well, a banana should taste.
After nap today, I was looking for a snack, and cut open our first strawberry papaya. The kids had never seen one, and I’m not a particular fan, but we try things.
It looks otherworldly, bright orange, fleshy, fertile, The aroma is really earthy. Both kids and Kory used other words to describe it.
Even after scooping out the seeds, slicing out the flesh like a melon, it was not a hit. So I tried the passion fruit, which you can see for yourself is even more alien-looking to people who have not grown up eating tropical fruit.
You scoop out the seeds with a spoon, which are sweet and tart and bright tasting. It’s really good, but after the papaya, Ella and Finn weren’t trusting me so much.
I hate to waste food, especially from a farmer. So, I made smoothies. Which were a big hit.
When we’re here, we like to get to the beach early–often before 8 am–although we don’t have much choice as the kids are up by 6 am, and sometimes before depending on the din of the roosters. I like it that early, because the beach is empty and pacific, and this year, the tide has been low, so we hunt for hermit crabs and snowflake moray eels and fish and sea snails and sea cucumbers. It’s always different…
But this means we’re home for naps by 1 pm, and we return to the beach in late afternoon until 5 or 5:30. By the time we get home we’re all hungry, and I have no tolerance for fancy or involved. So on Day 2:
I started the rice cooker, chopped up the fiddlehead ferns and threw them in a foil packet with a little olive oil and red sea salt.
After showers, Kory took the ahi out to the grill, which had been marinating in Huli Huli sauce, which is diluted soy sauce, sugar, ginger and is good on just about anything.
While he grilled outside with the kids, I sliced the cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado from the Sunshine market.
I threw some (organic, prewashed) microgreens in the salad bowl, and set the table on the lanai.
I poured a little Huli Huli sauce in a bowl, added a small amount of ginger & fresh scallion (also from the Sunshine market) and had instant dipping sauce.
Fiddleheads were steamed in foil on the grill with snap peas:
Yes, we had a lot of food.
Dinner was done in the time it took the fish to grill. I couldn’t get a picture of the tuna on the table. As soon as it was set down, before I even sat down, it was on the kid’s plates.
We’re working on the manners.
But, after dinner, Finn accompanied Ella while she painted the sunset. Kory & I finished the wine.
Finn is my picky eater. As an infant, he ate everything, then one day, he refused everything green. And orange and red. For a year, he ate mostly rice and vitamins and fruit. I did what the books tell you to do–I offered him the same food we were eating, in the hopes that he would slowly reincorporate those foods into his diet.
It mostly worked, but he still had the habit of taking one look at something new and proclaiming: “NOT I like that,” and zipping his mouth shut.
Day 1 in Kauai, Finn and his sister spent hours in the ocean: swimming, snorkeling, trying to surf on their boogie boards, digging in the sand, collecting hermit crabs, feeding any number of tropical fish that swim around them. They’re easily engaged, generally speaking, but they’re in their glory when water and sand come together.
Dinner, Night One in Kauai: I set down in front of Finn a plate of ono, which is sweet, white fleshed fish and which lives up to its name in every way, and a small amount of seaweed salad.
The seaweed–ogo, I think, or ogi–was blanched fresh by our local market, and to it I added a few drops sesame oil, some soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar, and red salt. My husband and I love ocean salad, and this one was decent, but nowhere near as good as what we get at our local Japanese restaurant. This was fresh as the ocean, and slightly crunchy. Finn & his sister regularly eat nori strips, but that dried seaweed is more like a crunchy seasoned snack; it doesn’t look like a plant, and it doesn’t feel like a plant in your mouth. Especially not a plant with a whole lot of feathery tentacles in your mouth, which is what I put in front of him.
I told Finn, “This seaweed came from the ocean you were swimming in today.”
His eyes opened wide, he gave a little gasp of astonishment, then he actually popped the seaweed in his mouth. Then, as we watched, he gave it a thumbs up. “I LOVE it,” he exclaimed.
Po’ ipu, Kauai is not where the story begins, but it’s where we are now, and we have literally had to learn how to eat here.
Vacation in Kauai is becoming something of a lucky habit for us, since Kory‘s parents have a timeshare here, which they generously share with us.
On our first trip, the food was unbearably bad.
We ate meal after horrible meal and spent enormous amounts of money doing so, mostly at tacky tourist restaurants–the kind that have palm trees and fake waterfalls inside. Nothing was fresh. Most things were from California–or farther, as was the case with some Angus beef. I was pregnant with my son, so I avoided much of the ahi and other big fish, and all of the sushi and poke (more on this later). Kauai is still relatively underdeveloped, and the only market we could find was filled with dead-looking produce and tremendously expensive staples, largely imported from California. Think $7 for a half-gallon of organic milk. We ate a lot of rice crackers that first week, and shave ice, and burgers from the poolside grill. Kory drank my Mai Tais.
Then we were told by Michelle Ross of Ella Bella Farms about the Sunshine Markets, and how to pack an extra suitcase with staples, and about Sueoki’s Market, which I had seen, but which had appeared from the outside to be a hardware store (it’s not). Michelle lived here, and owned a restaurant/cafe, and told us where to go for fish and to get to the Sunshine Market early. Our second year, we followed her advice and had one of the best food vacations we’d ever had: fresh, local produce-including plenty of tropical things we’d never seen before, much less eaten; fresh, cheap fish that we could get as long as the fisherman felt like bringing it in; lots of locally produced goodies like taro chips and coconut chocolate chip cookies, pineapple bread, Huli Huli sauce, kauai salsa, Hawaiian bread (and a cinnamon version, which is neither healthy nor good for you, but really delicious).
Now we pack an extra suitcase in order to save money (milk is still $7/half-gallon, OJ is close to $5), and also so I don’t have to do a lot of marketing while we’re here. It is true that this means we have a stupid amount of luggage on the trip over. That baggage handlers and fellow travelers look at us askance in the baggage check line. And that I worry for 24 hours about whether the suitcases will be too heavy and incur the extra charge. But. I console myself with the thought of the time & money we’ll save having our staples when we arrive.
This year, this is what I brought, for a 2 week trip, squirreled away between clothes and swim cover-ups, and double wrapped in paper bags, to avoid breaking and leakage:
3 boxes breakfast cereal (not full, just what I grabbed off our shelf)
2 boxes instant porridge
2 boxes instant Annnie’s mac ‘n cheese
2-16 oz bottles olive oil
Baby bell cheese (my son’s favorite, and nearly imperishable)
5 bottles wine, 1 bottle sake
2 salamis (also imperishable before it’s cut)
Kosher Salt (which I didn’t really need as we buy red Hawaii salt right away)
2-boxes Trader Joes mini-sandwich crackers
2-lbs rice (we’ve found a rice cooker to be indispensable here)
small tin wasabi peas
1-box ziplock bags for marinating and storing
1-roll foil for grilling vegetable packets
1-roll glad wrap for wrapping lunches
This pretty much does us for breakfast and many lunches, and leaves us free to spend our time and money buying weird produce from the Sunshine Market on Mondays, and amazingly fresh, cheap fish and impossibly good pork from the Big Island at Sueoka’s.
We stay late at the beach, come home and start the rice cooker while we shower, & bathe the kids, grill the fish & produce, and then sit down eat dinner on the lanai. It doesn’t get much easier, or much better.