January 18, 2011

What are you drinking tonight?

I AM LUCKY this evening.  Why? Because I'm drinking coffee with Coffee-mate creamer.  Salesi returned from Vava'u bearing gifts: ahhhh, nothing like drinking instant coffee and powdered creamer to make me totally unappreciative of fresh goats' milk and lemon leaf tea.  How easy it is to scoop powdered creamer vs. milking Lula by hand for that fresh taste of creamy goodness.  The coffee, creamer and many other consumable goodies came in a box sent all the way from California from my mom-in-law, full of foodstuff, clothes, medical supplies, and of course, peanut butter and candy, including a Chips Ahoy! jumbo3-pack which lasted just under a week.  Mind you, Salesi and Pops hardly ate any, so you can assume I ate almost the entire three packs...Is this part of PDS Syndrome (product deprivation syndrome)?  Why must I gorge the whole pack of pre-packaged, pre-processed, refined sugar-having, store-bought COOKIES?  I must confess, I came to the epiphany that clever marketing and taste professionals have worked on Chips Ahoy! cookies for generations, I'm sure, just to come up with that store-bought cookie flavor.  While not necessarily delicious, it is nonetheless, productive of a compulsory, addictive behavior that ends in having eaten an ENTIRE pack before I'm even conscious of it.  Thank Goodness the bulk packs have now been depleted, so I can go back to making my homemade Wacky Cakes once in awhile for my sugar rush (recipe forthcoming).  So, aside from the cookie binge, I've been happy to have some caffeine in my cup, and am using all resources including the powdered creamer.

On the other hand, while I'm drinking coffee this evening, Salesi is drinking kava.  He went to the kalapu - (men's kava club) at Maka Maile (one of three or four different clubs available in the village...these are clubs that are the main social activity for men) - to have a cup of kava-infused water with our island's reigning Nopele (chief) Malupo.  Here's some photo's from Salesi's afternoon kava session, where he spoke with Malupo, and was invited back again tonight to continue the faikava (literally to 'do kava'). 

The Noble of  'Uiha, Malupo, holding court via his kava circle
The Guy Who Mixes the Kava
The beverage the chap pictured above is making in that white bucket, is made from kava roots that are ground up into a fine powder, and sieved through some water, making a cloudy brown earthy liquid that steadies and expands the mind and slows the body down considerably. Kava, for those who might not know, is the traditional drink of Tonga, and indeed many Pacific islands grow this slightly-narcotic plant for making a slightly intoxicating earthy beverage.  In Fiji, women and men partake either formally or informally on social occasions; in Samoa, its more of a ceremonial beverage for special occasions in which rank is reinforced.  In Tonga, it is both ceremonial as well as a central, daily part of village life, and it is largely a mostly male-affair (except for the young maiden who serves the beverage, and tolerates/jokes with the kava circle while dishing out portions to each person; she is usually renumerated/tipped by the fees collected from the drinkers).  And sometimes, they do their own serving if no girl has been arranged to come.  This is, by the way, a perfectly respectable activity for the girls (I'm talking about 18+ out of school of course not younger ones!).
'Conversation Rules the Nation'
Coconut Cups ready for filling

Kava has been part of the Polynesian cultures since time immemorial - kava was one of the plants brought by the first peoples. There's so much history behind the kava circle, and so much meaning, that I'll have to do another post devoted to the Kava Circle.  It can be highly ritualized but also very informal.  More later - these photos took SO long to load, that my caffeine buzz has finally succumbed to a sleepy dozing state in which if I don't break away from this computer screen, I shall surely cause some sort of retinal damage to my eyes from staring so intently to the screen!  Ah, technology....

January 12, 2011

Abundant Lobster & Fish Pie

I WAS AWOKEN TOO EARLY this morning by our neighbor Vaimou'i who had just returned from tahi with a fresh catch.  He passed me four decent sized lobsters and a yea big parrot fish.
While grumpy at the early wake up call, I bit my tongue and decided NOT to tell him about my anger that two days ago their basketball team held a kai tunu (pig roast) on our beach just to the North of Kali's house, and had left rubbish, a smoldering BBQ stand, had cut some fao trees, and stripped bare the young baby coconut trees of their leaves in order to make a picnic blanket underneath the 'ovava fisi tree.  I didn't get angry - or even let him know about it which I had sworn I would next time I saw him - and all because he came bearing GIFTS.  How could I criticize and call to responsibility when I am feeling nothing but GRATITUDE and JOY at the prospect of making FOOD all day long.  In fact, such a bounty of food might last a whole week if carefully preserved.  But, seafood is BEST eaten FRESH.  So, I baked the four good size lobsters, slid the parrot fish up on the same pan, and placed in the oven. 

Due to the recent festive season - or shall I say FEASTING season - we had accumulated an excess of lard.  Uncle 'Apiesa brought us some big ole hunks of beef,  and before that Uncle Tevita Lutui and Vika brought some pork with BEAUTIFUL strips of fat on each piece, which I cut off, boiled down, added to half as much salted water, and boiled again then let it set over night. The result: Lard formed a cake/skin on top which I stored in a sterilized glass jar with lid.

Lard is exceptionally amazing.  I've been using it all week in meals.  My favorite has been the pie crust: flour, salt, lard, water.  Don't overmix and voila: Flaky pie crust.  I've also made crackers with it.  I even tried to make soap, it was an utter disaster. 

So here's the rest of the Lobster Fish Pie:

1. Make a white sauce.  (I used goats milk as base)
2. Shred lobster and fish, season.  (Hide from cats). Chop onions and your starch - I used a couple different varieties of green bananas, called hopa and siaina - boiled for 10 minutes before.

3. Shred the lobster and fish, season all, layer all in prepared pie crust, pour white sauce over all and BAKE until done.

Dad and Kitilani enjoy the meal

Smelled delicious and tasted even better.

January 8, 2011

Polynesian Spinach

I'VE STARTED A POLYNESIAN SPINACH PLANT - 3 to be accurate.   Its a green leafy vegetable that is related to the hibiscus family.  Its scientific name is hibiscus manihot, and in the Pacific its called pele or bele, and has been part of Pacific diets since time immemorial - maybe it was introduced by the first Oceanians, I'm not sure.  The adult plant can get tall and have a woody stem if not kept in a short bushy shape.  In keeping with my new years' theme, I'm posting pictures of the wee baby plants that I'm starting to grow....Our climate allows us to pretty much grow vegetables all year round, so I am slowly building up my gardening knowledge.  Mind you, I - like most of you - for the most part grew up on store bought food.  My dad was a bit of a hobby farmer so at times we had homegrown potatoes, corn, and watermelon, but he was not so keen on the vegetable plots/rows which, granted, take a lot of maintenance.  He is one of those old time Polynesian farmers, who focus on the root crops that one mounds up and are easier to keep weed free - crops like tapioca, taro, and sweet potato.  In Hawai'i, my dad had a five acre farm as a hobby - half of it was full of rows and rows of pele, which we harvested and froze in big gallon ziploc bags and sold to the small trickle of mostly Tongans who would buy, often to take in a cooler on a plane to the continental US, as a gift for family.  Pele leaves don't do well outside of the warm tropics and subtropics.  I know because Dad let some of his Hawai'i pele plants go to seed, collected them, and popped some seeds in Salt Lake City, where they failed to really thrive - must have been the altitude.  Anyways, last year when I was preparing to come here to Ha'apai, Tonga and do sustainable living, my mom sent me several old pill bottles full of pele seeds.  For some reason, I never popped them until now.  We have some pele plants growing that we got from local stalks but I've popped some of these Hawaiian variety.  Once these babies get bigger, I can transplant to the soil, and let them get large, then take cuttings from these, since pele plants are easiest grown from cuttings rather than seed.  I'm learning so much just by finally taking the time to watch plants grow.  Its really amazing, humbling, and puts life in perspective.  I sort of resent the fact that my whole formal education was bereft of the simple truths I've learned just by slowing down and listening to plants and seeds.  Their needs are really so simple: air, water, sun, soil....and they're programmed to do one thing: grow and bear fruits.  The simpleness of this amazes me, and it amazes me that for so long I've been detached from the truth of food.  What an awakening! 

January 1, 2011

Fresh Starts

 LAST YEAR, I CAME TO TONGA with a selection of herb seeds: lemon grass, oregano, chives, basil, cilantro, and out of all of them, the basil was the easiest to grow.  This handful of leaves (pictured above) is a second generation plant - the mother plant which I planted one year ago went to seed about six months ago, and from those seeds, this plant grew.  The mother plant is just now flowering and going to seed for the second time. I never much used the mother's leaves for cooking, so she got tall and spindly, but these next ones, I'm going to keep them manicured into a short round bush and in the vegetative growth rather than letting them flower - I think this will work, although I'm very new to horticulture, an herb garden here at the house is teaching me a lot about seeds, growth, cycles, stages, and the very lovely fresh starts. 
 This handful of basil sits on my table and reminds me that fresh starts are full of potential.  To plant a seed is a powerful thing. 

So here's to fresh starts (and I hope we are all planning on  planting something special this year, with its fun double digit 1-1). May our sowing this year bring us harvests of abundance. Happy Planting 2011!