Saturday, August 1, 2015

Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop, How our Neighborhood Feeds our Souls

Even though, for the last decade or so, I have lived 20 miles from downtown Honolulu, I have had a small business in Chinatown during these years. Although it hasn't been where I've lived, it's my neighborhood. The other business owners and customers I have met over the years have become family, lovers, friends. When one of our beloved shops or restaurants closes or moves locations, we grieve like one of our dear friends has left us. When a new place opens up, we all buzz about it and do what we can to cross promote our fellow entrepreneurs. We have watched our comrades move up in their careers and grow and expand, and we have seen places come and go, while people's lives weave in and out of our own, and we have watched as our neighborhood has evolved to what it is today.

Some of us have had several incarnations in the neighborhood and during all of our ups and downs, celebratory meals, drinks to drown our sorrows or to sow our oats, or shopping sprees after our own big sales, we turn to one of our neighboring shops, bars or restaurants where we enjoy our own moments in life, and where they enjoy them along with us.

I have been working on a series of articles for Hawaii Aloha Travel, as their food blogger, focusing first on my favorite neighborhood: Chinatown. I started with an article about Lucky Belly, easily promoting my favorite eats and drinks from their menu, but maybe even more importantly talking about the connection between food, drink, and all of the best and toughest times in our lives.

My next article was on Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop, another of my very favorites. As I wrote the article I had my usual sentimental feelings about my neighborhood. Of course I wrote about their amazing food and drinks, but what I really love about the story is that it is a success story of one of our own. Brian Chan has family food history. His family owns Little Village, as well as Epic, where Brian was the chef and part owner until he opened up his own little Chinatown baby one year ago: Scratch Kitchen and Bakeshop, located at 1030 Smith Street, Honolulu. 

Chef Brian garnishes his beautiful Pound Cake French Toast dish

When they opened, we were all abuzz. A great breakfast place in the neighborhood?! AND they are open on Sundays when Chinatown turns into a bit of a culinary ghost town? Finally!! With creative, sexy food and booze for breakfast?!
BLT Benny


Pound Cake French Toast

Obviously we became regulars for all of those reasons alone, but what I realized while digging into my favorite BLT Benny, navigating the awesome Chilaquiles, and beholding the art of their Pound Cake French Toast, and eyeballing my other favorite on the menu - the Big Island Beef Burger at the next table over, was this:

The food rocks my world, but it's these PLACES, and the people that work there that feed my soul. Talking story with Brian as he sends over shots of Jameson (yes, it's breakfast, don't judge), getting a smooch on the cheek from friends and my own employee who also works there, remembering all the different meals and who we shared them with and what was happening in our lives as we sat at the tables or bellied up to the counter...THIS is what feeds our souls, and why we come back again and again, and why we love this neighborhood of ours. 

And so cheers to YOU Chinatown and all of your inhabitants, residents and business owners. I'm savoring my role of eating, drinking, and spreading the word about each of you, don't worry, I'm coming for you next....  

Do you have Chinatown connection stories? I would love to hear them!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Lucky Belly Connection

Lucky Belly in Chinatown - Honolulu, Hawaii

 It's a theme I have been giving attention to in my life. It's one of my favorite things in the world, and maybe even THE most important thing in my world. When I was a portrait photographer, I began to see the beauty and the purpose in connecting with other people. I learned that capturing a good photograph happens by making a connection to the subject and capturing that moment.
I heard mothers tell me that if there were a fire in their home the two things they would grab on the way out would be their hard drive and the photos I took of their children.
That is a pretty beautiful connection.

When I began to make mixed media art and furnishings,  I saw it again. And I learned that
 it is way more purposeful to work at something that I am connected to because it attracts people who will love and appreciate it and find their own connection to something that I have created.
And that's a really cool connection too.

When I started to photograph and write about food I didn't expect to find that same connection with a subject I could EAT after photographing it, but guess what?
 I remembered how much connection there is that happens around food.

We all have endless memories centered around meals and family gatherings. The connections that happen between teaching children to eat, meals with girlfriends, date nights, cooking at home for someone, weddings, funerals, sad days, or happy days alone.
Connecting with someone who feeds you, or someone you have fed, or someone you share a meal with, holds much of the magical stuff of life: the connection we crave and seek and discover and share.
 The connection we find over food and drink and adventure.

Sometimes the desire to fly away and experience these things in a far away place is incredibly strong, and sometimes when that happens, a whole new world opens up and the experience is life changing. Sometimes that same connection can happen at the kitchen table, or at that cool little place down the street over a drink and something great to eat.

I am beyond lucky to live in Hawaii, a place where people save money their whole lives in order to come visit. I am fortunate to be able to work with food in a place that is bursting with new and creative places to savor those connections and I am lucky enough to be right in the middle of Chinatown, where there is a literal buzz on the streets with all of the new and exciting places that have come to the neighborhood.

I opened up my photography studio in Chinatown, right across from the historic Hawaii Theatre in 2005. At that time, much of the neighborhood's shops were covered in papered windows, empty and waiting for the area's revitalization to be realized.
Over the years, the neighborhood has blossomed with fresh new places to eat and drink, blending in with the places that have been around for decades and standing arm and arm with the ever present crazy side of Chinatown.  

Chinatown has always been the seedier side of Downtown. 
And honestly, this is why we love it. It's on the edge, but just enough to make it unpretentious, artsy, and a mecca for creative culture
Since the 1800's when sailors first began to use the harbor for shipping  and docking large vessels, which also meant the arrival of sailors and harbor workers to the area, offering migrant plantation workers the opportunity to settle in the area and open up shops and bars, Chinatown has had a rich history and made way for it's colorful inhabitants today.

And as for connection, the business owners in the area have an almost familial connection, and for  the people that visit these merchants, it is easy to feel the connection to them and their product. 

I recently sat down with Dusty Grable, co-owner of Lucky Belly, located on Hotel Street and was not surprised that our conversation centered around this very thing. The connection that happens through food and drink
Lucky Belly

 Dusty opened Lucky Belly nearly three years ago, along with co-owners Jesse Cruz and Mary Tess Calad, in the heart of Chinatown and has become one of my favorite spots for lunch, dinner and of course cocktails

Lucky Belly is a spectacular combination of Asian influenced dishes with a definite local flare and is riddled with both Jesse and Dusty's determination to do things in their own style. The result is a comfortable, modern-rustic place, that is putting out some seriously sexy food, centered around the concept of hospitality found by sharing a meal. 
The Lucky Bowl

Among their amazing appetizers, salads, special plates and their signature ramen, are my favorites and the items I order over and over again: 
the amazing Pork Belly Bao, 
their seriously sexy Shrimp Gyoza with edamame avocado puree and ponzu, 
the best Beet and Spicy Greens salad anywhere 
and of course, their giant Lucky Bowl.    
Beet and Spicy Greens Salad with goat cheese, candied pumpkin seeds and pomegranate dressing

A new menu item - Scallop Risotto in a cone sushi shell
Although Dusty is a certified sommaleir, and their sake selection is amazing, I can never order anything to drink except The Aviation - a cocktail made with gin, elderberry flower and citrus, OR their smokey Old Fashioned where they smoke a piece of kiawe under the glass before pouring in the cocktail to give it an amazing smokey flavor. 
But if for some reason you need a non-alcoholic beverage, the Chinatown Swizzle will make you feel like you've got the real deal in your hand. It's made with galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, drinking vinegar and coconut juice.  
The Aviation

The Chinatown Swizzle
And to make things even sweeter, for our late night needs there is the Lucky Belly Window. A little walk up window on the street where only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm-2am you can grab one of three $5 plates to sop up any late night booze after carousing at the many bars and clubs in Chinatown. The menu changes weekly and is actually something we plan our schedules around.

The moral of the story? 
Chinatown, with all of it's whackiness, is home to places like this; where great food is taken seriously, but not too seriously and where the most important factor is connecting to the place, the food and the people you are with. Take it from all of us, who's bellies are lucky on a regular basis, Lucky Belly needs to be your new favorite spot and Chinatown needs to be on your list of places to visit on Oahu.

Are you a believer in connection? 
What are some of your memories that center around food and drink?
Cheers to places like Lucky Belly and blogs like this where we can share in a meal, a cocktail and an experience!
I love to hear from you!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hawaiian Shochu Company or Why We Love The Magic Funk Factor

The Koji Room at Hawaiian Shochu Company

I have learned something in my experiences as a dickwolfer, and even just as an eater and a drinker. And it is this:
The Funk Factor is where the magic is at.
It is present in all food and beverages that have some sort of fermentation alchemy going on.
 Think miso, cheese, shoyu, wine, beer, kombucha....
The fermentation process is a funky one.
Beautiful in it's delicate balance of foul and fantastic. A little on the edge, risky almost.
 Left a little too long and fermentation becomes rot, but carefully tended with intention and you've got the alchemy of turning something unimpressive into something golden.

al . che . my
1. the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.  
2. a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination.

And this brings me to the coolness, precision and magic happening at the 
Hawaiian Shochu Company.
Tucked into the sleepy back roads of Haleiwa on the 
North Shore of Oahu, a tour of The Hawaiian Shochu Company is a really great addition to your North Shore experience. Most people are familiar with Sake, but Shochu has been having a surge in popularity not only in Japan, but in the U.S. as well, and Oahu is home to the United States' only shochu distillery.  
Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit, while Sake is a brewed beverage. If you are curious about this fascinating process, a trip to Hawaiian Shochu Company is a must on your list of things not to be missed when on Oahu.

Hawaiian Shochu Company was one of only two Shochu distilleries in the United States until recently, when a Washington state distillery closed its doors, making Hawaiian Shochu Company the country's only shochu distillery.
Namihana Shochu

Namihana is the name of Hawaiian Shochu Company's shochu. It is created using traditional techniques of "Kurose Brew Masters" of Kagoshima, Japan. Years ago, Ken Hirata served as an apprentice under Master Manzen at Manzen Shuzo Co. in Kagoshima, Japan, later choosing Hawaii as the place to set up his own distillery based on Hawaii's weather, which is similar to Kagoshima's fall season when sweet potatoes are harvested. Hawaii offers a year round growing season in rich volcanic soil for the many varieties of sweet potatoes used in Namihana Shochu. Even the Name "Namihana" sounds like a blend of Hawaiian and Japanese: Nami - meaning waves, and Hana - meaning flowers.

Although Sweet potatoes are key in producing this Shochu, the real magic ingredient is KOJI-rice. And this is where the magic happens: when Koda Farms heirloom varietal rice is steamed in a wooden steamer called a KOSHIKI, and then introduced with koji (culture), the magic funk begins to do it's thing. This process is done by hand and closely watched as it does it's magic for 48 hours. Ken and his wife, Yumiko carefully tend to the fermentation of the Koji rice like a winemaker tends to his grapes, until they have reached the right balance of funk.   
Kametsubo fermentation pots

Next the koji rice is mixed with steamed sweet potatoes and then goes into century-old ceramic vats called KAMETSUBO, which occupy a corner of the distillery, where the fermentation process continues for a total of about two weeks. After that, the mash is heated, distilled and then aged 4-6 months before it is ready for bottling.

 This process is only done twice a year and yields a batch of only 6,000 bottles of shochu. This is one of the things that makes Hawaiian Shochu Company so special. Every step of the process is done by hand in the traditional way and when you have one of their bottles in hand, you know it is from a small batch made with a lot of love. The other thing that makes it special is the team of two that make it all happen. It is a treat to be guided through the process by Ken, who has such a love for the spirit, the techniques and the land from which it is produced. He happily explains each step and answers as many questions as you can come up with, while his wife Yumiko places labels on bottles and handles business across the room.
Ken & Yumiko Hirata

Of course, there is a sample involved in a tour of the distillery. I'm no shochu expert, but I can tell you this: there is a smooth, rich flavor in Namihana Shochu. Served simply over ice or crafted into a cocktail, shochu is a great addition to your arsenal.  

If you're looking for something you can't find anywhere else in the islands OR the U.S. this is a fun and informative experience, complete with a sample of Namihana shochu!
You can schedule your tour or purchase Namihana Shochu 
by appointment only by calling
 The Hawaiian Shochu Company.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mama Mama, I Want Three Of All Of These!!!

Venice Tables, March 2015

When you sit at a sun drenched table in a little nook in the streets of Venice in the spring, celebrating your birthday and another year of life, it's quite possible that you could have a gorgeous, spirit whacking realization that, yes, you want it all.

I sat at one such table a few days after my 42nd birthday in March, reveling in the manifestation of my dream of going to Italy

My eyes and heart are filled by what I'm seeing and feeling, and I sit there; truly believing that I am the luckiest girl in the world

My boyfriend had run back to the car for something and so I sit alone, savoring the sun on my face on this chilly winter day and watching the people around me swirling through this magical place. 
I watch a young married couple, traveling with their two small sons. The parents trying to wrangle and chase and keep up with their children, and finally deciding to soak up the same sunny moment at the same cafe where I sit, at the next table over. 

I sip my cocktail and chew on some salted nuts that our waiter brought over and think about my own children and when they were that age. I think about how quickly time passes and how I now have two teenagers and a preteen, I am divorced, I am a business owner, an artist, a chef, a friend, a girlfriend, a seeker, and I am very, very filled.

And then I hear the youngest son, while looking at the menu at the table next to me say, 
"Mama Mama, I want three of all of these!"

And I laugh.
Mama Mama! Venice, March 2015
And I love this little guy's excitement, because I feel the same way.
And I love his focus on having lots of all of the things that look good to him, because I think that's what we should desire. 
And I love his simple belief that there's no reason he shouldn't be allowed to have three of all of these, because I believe that too.

They don't even realize the beautiful thing they just helped me to recognize:   
I want all of it. 
I want three of all of these.
I want lots of all of the things that feel good to me:
Connection with my kids, my love, my friends, my family, the people who cross my path, opportunities, abundance, travel, art, great food and drinks...

This kid reminds me there is no reason I shouldn't have these things either. 
He helps me know that there's no reason you shouldn't have all of these things too.

That's why we are here. 
To live life to the full
To see everything we want to see
To feel deep, real, raw, brazen, sweet, love.
To walk through shadowy times so that we are strengthened and grow.
To soar.
To have three of all of these. 
Venice Girl & Birds, March 2015

Cheers to allowing ourselves the belief that we can be or do or have anything we desire, 
and even three of all of them.

Quote of the Day:

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy".
Guiseppe Verdi

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

When Your Friend Has a Winery In Tuscany

I know this
When your friend tells you, 
"When, you're in Tuscany, get in touch with Mario. He's a good friend of mine with a winery near Montalcino,"
you do it. 
You meet him at Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana
an "Antica Cantina del Brunello" in the amazing town of Montalcino.
Montalcino, Italy
This town...
Perched on top of a hill, guarded by a castle overlooking the Tuscan valley;
rows and rows of vineyards stitched together across rolling green hills under a winter sky.

Tuscany, Italy
Tuscany, Italy
Ancient buildings line narrow streets in typical Italian grandeur, waiting for us to fall in love with it.
And we do.
Montalcino Clock tower

Streets of Montalcino, Italy
We manage to arrive at Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana early, despite getting lost along the way and driving in a huge, beautiful circle through wineries and dirt roads only to arrive back at the main street and the doors of this amazing cafe.
And this Cafe...
As with so many things in Italy, this amazing landmark has been in business for over a hundred years. 
Founded by Ferruccio Biondi Santi, inventor of the famed Brunello wine, and run by owners Alessandro, Franco and Nadia Pazzaglia - sommeliers and experts in the famous Brunello di Montalcino wine, the Super Tuscans, as well as Sassicaia and Masseto, and other excellent Tuscan wines and champagnes.

Red velvet seats, chandeliers, mirrors, espresso, cocktails, wine and desserts, oh my...
Of course we order two glasses of Brunello di Montalcino, and our sweet, sophisticated bartender brings us the customary complimentary appetizers that come with happy hour cocktails in Italy - One more thing to love about this place.
Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana, Montalcino Italy
Brunello di Montalcino
I slip out to buy a gift for our soon to be friend Mario, and walk the cold streets of Montalcino until I find the most amazing cheese store, where I choose a Pecorino Vinacciolo - An amazing pecorino cheese aged in grape seeds and wine making scraps of some sort which was obviously amazing. 

Pecorino Vinacciolo

And then Mario arrives.
A man who smiles from eyes that have seen the world.
A man who embodies the Italian way of life; caring for his land, producing amazing wines, and dare I say, is a fellow dickwolfer.
We chat until it's time to pick up his daughter from school, and
we take to the ancient streets of Montalcino again, this time being led by someone who's everyday life is lived here.
A schoolyard waits behind a wrought iron fence, about to be filled with squealing young Italian children running towards parents and grandparents.
And we are here, pulling back the curtain to catch a glimpse of a day in the life.
Montalcino School
 And then the doors open and Vivienne bursts into the courtyard, throws her hat at Mario and takes off like a wild little banshee.
She's all eyes and giggles, cold flushed cheeks and overflowing 8 year old precociousness.
And I instantly fall in love with her.

 Finally we make our way to the winery.
Terralsole is the winery and home of Mario Bollag and his wife and children, and WE are the lucky two heading there to get to know  them, tour the winery and have an amazing family dinner.

Terralsole Winery, Tuscany

Terralsole Winery, Tuscany

Terralsole Tasting Room

Terralsole Cellars

Cases of prized Brunello di Montalcino

Terralsole Wine Cellar

This is where the magic happens

After a tour, a bottle of bubbles and two bottles of wine are opened, we sit at the dinner table and talk story about life in Italy, life in Hawaii, wine making, relationship making and children. Mario makes dinner while Vivienne shows me how she makes perfume out of rosemary and writes one of her poems in my journal which she translates as:

"When winter comes
you put on wool
and you go outside
when you see the snowflakes on your eyelashes
you discover the beauty"
The wine and the dinner are as sweet and robust as this family, this winery and this night;
and just like Vivienne's poem:
"When you see it, you discover it's beauty."

Find out more information about Terralsole Winery 
Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana at:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Strawberry Epiphany

Strawberries in Tuscany
I realize that this is a blog about swigs (drinks) and grinds (food) and I haven't been talking much about that lately. However, this is also a blog about the things we laugh at and chew on along the way. Both literally and metaphorically. 
And sometimes the literal and the metaphorical meet over a cocktail or a bite to eat and THAT is where epiphanies happen.

noun . epiph.a.ny . i-pi-fe-nee
a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.

Here's what I've always heard about Italy
The food is fresher, the ingredients are better, they understand their ingredients and they coax them into their finest forms, they savor, appreciate, indulge
Everything just tastes better.

That's what I had heard anyway. 
So that was my expectation.
I believed that was what eating in Italy would be like. 

Well, it's freakin true. All of it. I knew it!! I actually proclaimed that sentence several times during our travels. 
I freakin knew it
I was angry and ecstatic at the same time. Ecstatic because I was there. I was eating the most beautiful, simple, thoughtful food and I was angry because I thought I was ruined.

How could I go back to the United States and eat another tomato that is pink and mushy instead of bright red and tastes the way it smells? How could I walk through another supermarket when I have seen the produce in the markets in Pisa, or the meat and cheese shops in the Campo di Fiore?
Market in Pisa, Italy
Ruggeri Salsamentaria - Vini Liquori. Rome, Italy
Norcineria Viola. Rome Italy

The first time I talked to my daughter on the phone she asked me, "So what's the BEST thing that you've eaten?!" (Only my kid...)
And I thought about all of the amazing things that I had devoured and I said, 
"A strawberry".
And she asked, confused, "Well what was on it?"
"Nothing", I said.
"Well what was it IN?", she asked. 
"Nothing", was the answer I had while having my first ever strawberry epiphany.

My strawberry epiphany was the moment in which I suddenly understood food in a new or very clear way.
This is what food is supposed to be. Its SUPPOSED to taste like you just plucked it from your very own garden.
It's supposed to be made by a pair of hands that know where it came from and have made it with care. It's supposed to give you a connection with the person who made it and the person who sold it to you and the person you share it with and the place where you are sitting. 

And then I realized I wasn't ruined at all. I was enhanced and awakened to a deeper love of the process. 
And then I realized I was coming home to Hawaii.
 To a place with a love and appreciation for food.
To my own cafe. To my own life where I have the pair of hands that makes the food with care, I have a connection with the person who sold it to me, I will pick it from my very own garden, and I cherish the people I share it with and the places we sit together. 

And this, kids, is my epiphany. 
Italians are doing everything right in my book and so can we
We just need to pay attention and find the best of what we have and act like and eat like, "when in Rome"...
Even if we are oceans away and Italy is only our dream.