Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Takeaways from Paradise

Sujata Massey

This classic cookbook details the heritage of Hawaiian cooking

I'm the last member of Murder is Everywhere to write about the Left Coast Crime convention on the Island of Oahu. Jeffrey shared the people part of the convention and the contrasts between busy Oahu and quiet Kauai. Susan got up insanely early to photograph a sunrise view from Diamond Head crater. Here's my takeaway from a week in Paradise.

I've been coming regularly to Oahu since the early 1990s--five visits so far, and each time I feel more at home. In the early years I  was a military spouse spending time with my husband, who was on TDY (that's temporary active duty, not tidying). We stayed on the Leeward side  and began developing a long-lasting group of coworkers and friends.

Later on, I came to Hawaii to teach as an artist in residence at the Iolani School, so I stayed at a hotel on the Waikiki tourist strip. And most recently, I was with the mystery convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the edge of downtown. I've been to the North Shore, to Kailua and Kanaoehe, to Waimanalo Beach, Hanama Bay, and just about every museum the island has. While it's easy to deplore the concrete invasion of Honolulu, I enjoy everything else, and I appreciate the fact that Honolulu is a real city with a diversity of jobs that go beyond tourism.

Oahu's balmy, non-humid, sunny weather with temps mostly in the 80s make it a great island for walkers. I did 10,000-20,000 steps daily on my recent week at Left Coast Crime. This was not part of an exercise plan. I simply woke up early, left the hotel, and walked along the water, whether it was Waikiki Beach or Ala Moana. Then I'd have some breakfast. Last year, I did the same amount of walking on my way to dinner.

Any time of day, the food is quite amazing. Honolulu has developed a regional cuisine with an evolving emphasis on healthy fruits and vegetables. Due to Hawaii's distance from where most fruit and veg is farmed, food is never going to be dirt-cheap; not even at the Kapiolani College Farmer's Market, which surely is one of the best farmers markets in the US. My friend Jackie from the Iolani School  brought me to this fabulous Saturday morning market, where we shared a mouthwatering banh mi sandwich prepared by the chef-artisans from Pig& The Lady in Honolulu's Chinatown. I used to shop weekly at the farmer's market in Kapolei, on the Leeward side, where I could get a bag of live shrimp to freak out my children and turn into dinner that night.

Jackie and the famous banh mi sandwich

Oahu was once all about sugar farming. On the leeward side of the island, sugar barons recklessly sucked natural moisture  from the earth to support their plantations, which wound up all closing down. A lot of people are stuck in the Wainae coast where these plantations were. Jobs are scarce and the ground is too poor too farm. While the windward side of the island has wetter land, there isn't much space left for it. Typically "local" fruits and vegetables come from other islands in the Hawaiian chain.

This is great, because most food in Oahu's supermarkets is shipped or flown the 2500 miles from California and beyond. You can see the distance in the indifferent shine and taste of Red Delicious apples. They don't even taste like apples. But why eat such things when there are local oranges with an interesting green skin? Apple-bananas? Papayas, passionfruit, pineapple and mangoes?

So sweet, so cold, so ripe! Papaya at Tango Contemporary Cafe

This sumptuous, perfectly ripe papaya at Tango Contemporary Cafe was one of the best I'd ever eaten. The other great papaya was a takeaway item from Good Earth, a small organic grocery chain  introduced to me by my friend. Karen helped me pick the perfect local papaya, apple-bananas and oranges to bring back to my fridge at LCC's hotel, Hyatt Hawaiian Village.

I went bananas for the banana varieties at Good Earth

During the time I stayed in Waikiki,  my evening walks made me discover the outdoor  farmers' and chefs'  markets that run Monday through Saturday evenings at either Kings Village Shopping Center or the Hyatt Regency Hotel. On site I devoured delicious pad thai and crisply fried Chinese dumplings, and I set myself up for the next day with luscious green salads and containers of fresh-sliced local fruit. I also bought colorful Hawaiian sea salt smoked with different flavorings that I use on a daily basis in Baltimore.

King's Village evening farmers' market in Waikiki

Hawaii's chefs are working hard to bring local produce, meat and fish into their restaurants. In 1991, 12 chefs committed to developing a new Hawaii Regional Cuisine. The goal was to help local farmers and fishermen grow delicious, sustainable foods that would be the centerpiece of hotel and restaurant fare. These chefs have prospered, and their mission has been supported by so many other cooks. This year, I noticed almost every restaurant and hotel menu boasted about serving locavore or Hawaiian regional food.

The genuine HRC came onto my plate at the restaurants I'm about to describe.

One night I went to Honolulu's artistic district known as SALT to eat a Peter Merriman restaurant called Moku Kitchen. Led by my intrepid gourmet friend Jackie, we enjoyed a pizza topped with wild Hamakua mushrooms and fresh herbs. I sampled a chopped poke appetizer of local ahi tuna mixed with shoyu and ginger, and tiny tacos filled with roasted bulgogi pork and crisp raw vegetables. A high point were the dumplings stuffed with pumpkin, spinach and chèvre. The small plates were so intensely tasteful that we finished them up, but had no room for dessert. It's always hard to walk away from a great restaurant without tasting dessert, but it would have been too much!

Goofy's is a casual cafe on top of a beach goods shop

Goofy's is a tiny second story restaurant just outside the Hilton Hawaiian Village. A long line of people is usually waiting outside its doors. Many of them are Japanese tourists who have read about Goofy's in guidebooks and have come for the "local first, organic whenever possible" casual gourmet cuisine. It's a peaceable wait in line, because the weather's so pleasant.

Susan Spann and I walked over to Goofys for a quick lunch on Sunday. I got a bibimbap bowl with an egg on top and she went for the loco moco, which is what I'd call a heritage hawaiian dish: the kind of recipe you'll find in the definitive food memoir/recipe book,  The Food of Paradise by Rachel Laudan. Loco-moco is a garlic-and-onion flavored beef patty atop a scoop of moist fried rice that floats in a sumptuous meat gravy. And why not put an egg on top?

Bibimbap bowl mixes Korea and Hawaii at Goofy's

Fusion's scrambled my brain. I think I'm going to try the loco-moco concept at home, but do it vegetarian. I'll keep the sunny-side up egg, but substitute leftover vegetable paella for the fried rice, and use sambar, a spicy Indian vegetable soup, for the meat gravy. Is that a travesty?

Goofy's was so good I went back with my friend Valerie a few hours later for dinner. I wanted to try a dish that had sounded enticing: green spaghetti. The pasta was tossed with a pesto made from local green herbs and macadamia nuts. It was as good as it sounded.

One of my favorite restaurant discoveries this time was the Tango Contemporary Cafe at the Queen Street and Ala Moana Boulevard intersection. It's owned by a Finnish chef who participates in the Hawaiian Island Chefs group supporting sustainable local agriculture, aquaculture and education. One cafe breakfast specialty, Pytt-i-panna, translates to "stuff in a pan' and offers variations with a lot of vegetables and meats, including loco moco beef and smoked salmon. I decided to go for the vegetarian version; a nicely browned hash of grilled vegetables with spinach, kale and tomatoes, topped with you-guessed-it.

Vegetable pytt-i-panna at Tango Contemporary Cafe

I breakfasted at Tango one Sunday morning and found almost 20 people waiting for the 8 am opening. I was seated near a Japanese couple who ordered the regular pancakes with maple syrup. Twenty minutes later, my order for Swedish pancakes with fresh fruit, berry compote and whipped cream arrived at my table. The Japanese man called over the waitress and told her she had brought him the wrong dish. He preferred the pancakes that I had, which were ever so petite and enticing. Of course, he had not specified Swedish pancakes. Yet with utmost courtesy, the waitress brought him his request.

Swedish pancake platter at Tango Contemporary Cafe

Some restaurants aren't being buzzed about, but that continue to reward eaters. Quite a few of them are in Chinatown. Consider Duc's Bistro, where classic Vietnamese ingredients combine with meat and fish and vegetables prepared with French techniques. Duc's is a favored spot for locals out for a quiet, elegant, and delicious meal, and the fish I had there was delicious.

Duc's window beckons in Chinatown

Duc's takes Asian ingredients and molds them with French elegance

On the old favorites trail, I went with with my new friend Diana to Little Village Noodle House. This is an inexpensive Szechuan Chinese restaurant that played a stake-out role in my Hawaii mystery novel, Shimura Trouble.  I always get the crispy green onion pancakes pictured below. This savory vegetarian dish always surprises me with its similarity to a fried Indian paratha bread. Of course, China and India aren't that far apart. And as Hawaii teaches us, you may as well take influences from all around the world, mix them loco moco, and offer with a dash of aloha (peace).

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

the past is a foreign country

My friend in Arizona showed me this picture of her father. Here he is at a cemetery in Normandy putting a wreath on his brother's grave who'd landed there on DDay. He came to the cemetery after serving in the Battle of the Bulge to say goodbye to his brother and bring this photo back to their mother.
Here's her father with his buddies from the battle of the Bulge somewhere in Belgium. My friend said her father never talked about the past. Or the war.
Cara - on deadline on Tuesday

Monday, March 27, 2017

True Crime: The Kidnapping of Lisa La Gioconda

Annamaria on Monday

On 21 August 1911, Lisa Gherardini was kidnapped from her Paris home.  She was not missed until twenty-four hours later.  Then, despite frantic efforts by the Paris Prefecture of Police and La Sûreté and a world-wide hunt for her abductor, with her picture blazoned over front pages of newspapers everywhere, nothing was heard of her whereabouts until December of 1913.  Here is the photo that the police used to try to locate her:


Lisa, nicknamed Mona, was already famous before she disappeared.  Once the dragnet went out to try to find her, hers became the most famous face on the planet.

Lisa was, as her name indicates, Italian—yet she was ensconced in the Louvre when she disappeared.  Leonardo da Vinci, unable to part with her and give her to her husband Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant, took her with him to France around 1517.  After Leonardo’s death, she lived in splendor with King Louis XIV.  Louis XV didn’t much like her looks, so he relegated her to the office of one of his minions.  She went to live in the new art museum in the Louvre in 1797.

Once her disappearance was noticed on 22 August 1911, a hue and cry went up from the citizenry of Paris.  How could the administration of the Louvre have been so careless as to lose her?  And how could the Paris police and the French National Criminal Investigations Department be so clueless when it came to getting her back?   Some wags posited that the disappearance was a set-up—to boost attendance at the museum.  Had that been the case, it would have worked.  As it happened, people lined up to get in to see the empty wall where the painting had hung.

Jokes circulated: The Eiffel Tower will be next to be taken.  Cancan girls danced dressed as topless Mona Lisas.

Directors and investigators lost their jobs.

Despite every stone being turned, every vehicle being searched, every museum employee being investigated, the trail went cold.

Little did the flics know that the lady was ensconced for the next two years just a few blocks from her former home, in the humble apartment of Vincenzo (ne’ Pietro) Peruggia, who had worked at the Louvre as a carpenter.

He kept the painting hidden for two years, at which point he contacted a Florentine antiquarian art dealer—Alfredo Geri—and the Director of the Uffizi—Giovanni Poggi.  He told them that he (mistakenly) believed that the masterpiece had—as so many others had—been looted by Napoleon.   He claimed to have taken it because it was Italian and belonged in Italy.  He wanted the government to give him a reward for his patriotic caper.  Those Florentine gentlemen, handling the delicate situation with great aplomb and cleverness, got Peruggia to turn the painting over to them.  Once he went back to his hotel room, he was arrested.

Then the Hotel Tripoli-Italia, now the Hotel La Gioconda

In the course of Peruggia's trial, the story of how he managed the theft emerged.  Dressed in the typical white smock of a museum skilled worker, he entered on a Sunday and hid in a storage room overnight.  The next day, when the museum was closed and only staff members were about, he took the picture into a stairwell and removed it from the protective box in which it had been displayed.    The Mona Lisa is painted, as many Renaissance works were, on a board.  He took it out of its frame, wrapped it in his smock, and for all intents and purposes, walked out of the building with it under his arm.

Once the director of the Uffizi had authenticated it, he declared that it would be returned to France.  Mona Lisa made a triumphal tour of her true homeland before she went back to her place in the Louvre.

Peruggia, because of his patriotic claims, got off with a light sentence of one year and fifteen days.  He served seven months.

These are the facts as far as I can tell.  There is a lot of other conjecture about the affair, but I take it with a grain of salt.  Especially, the long article in the May 2009 edition of Vanity Fair—a first serial printing of a chapter of a book, The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.  For one thing, those authors—throughout their recounting of the story—misspelled Peruggia’s name.

Some authors say that it was this theft that made the Mona Lisa the most famous painted work of art in the world.  Art historians, though, say that it is a surpassingly wonderful work.

The last time I saw it, I was appalled by how it is treated as a celebrity, rather than as a work of genius.  Camera flashes are going off, several a second, right in poor Lisa’s face.  Ugh!  On top of which, another Leonardo masterpiece, his The Virgin of the Rocks hangs nearby, and none of the philistines that are taking selfies with Mona even give it glance.  Here it is.

If you show up in the Louvre, of course you should try to see Mona in person.  But spend a few minutes with this one too.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Emerging Into The Light

Zoë Sharp

This week, Spring officially sprang. In the Northern Hemisphere it was on March 20th at 10:28 in the morning. I never knew they could pinpoint it so precisely.

It feels quite appropriate, that I have just emerged, blinking, into the light of a new season. I've been holed up, head down, with a miner's lamp on my head, chipping away at the word-face.

But I have finally finished the new Charlie Fox book. Hurrah!

There have been times, I don't mind admitting it, when I didn't think that light at the end of the tunnel was ever going to get any closer.

Of course, as I write this I have yet to receive my publisher's and editor's feedback, but it feels good to have typed the last word of the epilogue and think that it all makes sense -- more or less, anyway.

So now I have to try to catch up with all the emails I should have responded to but have pushed aside because any time spent with fingers on keys should be adding more words to the book. And it also gives me time, however briefly, to catch up with friends I also have felt unable to go and see.

And that, as it turned out, was a big mistake on my part. A week or so ago I travelled north to attend the funeral of a very dear friend, someone I've known for probably forty years. Her daughter is a week different in age to me, and in the past I've had the privilege of sailing and skiing with the family. I used to be at their house so often when I was younger I think they felt either they should adopt me, or charge me rent.

Listening to the eulogy, I was in awe, as always of how much she packed into her life. She may have been taken from us early, but nobody could possibly say she squandered a moment while she was here.

It's made me realised that I, too, do not want to squander time. So, anybody who's ever airily made the offer, "Come and stay!" may soon have cause to regret their generosity. On the plus side, I'm quite handy to have around the home. I called in on a friend locally a couple of days ago, and ended up dismantling and reassembling their sticking front door lock over a cup of tea.

Finishing the book also seems to have kick-started my brain into plotting. I have two short stories with deadlines that are rapidly approaching. They were really quite generous deadlines when I first agreed to them, but with the overrun of the latest book, they're now starting to loom just a teensy bit. I vaguely looked at them while I was still working on the book, and nothing occurred, but as soon as I'd hit 'Send' on the email with manuscript attached, the bit of my brain that was obviously churning things over woke up and spat out a couple of workable ideas. I love the subconscious mind!

I also have a garden to sort, which I held at bay over the winter by covering the weeds with bits of old carpet. I now have to uncover the earth and actually plant things in there which I hope might flourish. Any suggestions for plants that someone with the opposite of green fingers can look after -- and that might have a reasonable life expectancy under those circumstances -- gratefully received.

I've been thinking of putting in some form of small ornamental bamboo, just for the wonderful calming rustling noise it makes in the breeze. But I confess that when it comes to plants I am no expert!

I also love aliums, but am not sure if I have the right sort of soil to grow them:

And any kind of interestingly shaped greenery, like box:

As well as a pair of bay trees for either side of the front door in planters:

Although, of course, first I would need to build some wooden planters! Basically, I want to put together a quiet little space where I can sit out and make notes, or tap away at my keyboard, without feeling I should be weeding constantly. What's not to like about that?

And with British Summer Time -- or Daylight Saving Time, if you prefer -- officially starting at 1am on Sunday, March 26th, the time for sitting out in the garden is nearly upon us.

This week's Word of the Week is Ostara, which as well as being the Germanic goddess of Spring, fertility and new life, is also a holiday. Her symbols include eggs, rabbits and others that denote fertility and it is after Ostara that the Easter holiday is named. Hot cross buns were originally offerings to this goddess.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Tale of Two Islands


On the surface, you wouldn’t see them as having much in common.  One is fourteen times the size of the other, with six and a half times the population. It’s also a tropical rainforest island with low unemployment and a thriving economy, while the smaller island is a desert landscape oasis amid a country of no-end-in-sight Great Depression times.  And they are separated from each other by virtually half the circumference of the globe.

One is Kauai, the most undeveloped of Hawaii’s main islands, the other (of course) is Mykonos, among the most developed of Greece’s Aegean Cycladic islands.

I’ve never been to Hawaii before, and after a week in Honolulu at Left Coast Crime, we headed off for five days on Kauai.  Quite a difference between those two islands, though both are beautiful. But Oahu is dominated by a big city, whereas Kauai seems dominated by the desire not to become one.

We did the touristic things…running all around Kauai to all the places reachable by car—the Mustang convertible is the rental car of choice here for good reason (see, sunburned nose).  Kauai truly is a paradise…as the crush of tourists and places catering to them attest.

I’m not being judgmental on that point, just honest. Frankly, Mykonos is far more touristic in season than Kauai.  Which brings me to the point of this post.

As Barbara and I like to do, we ferretted out local places, and spoke with locals. We also read the local papers.  The result was simple:  Compared to our home island of Mykonos, it’s déjà vu all over again.

The locals are battling developers who “promise” their developments will not change the basic nature of the island.  They’re also battling commercial interests seeking to establish mega-ventures in the heart of residential enclaves, notably a huge dairy farm…upwind of long established homes. Upwind means that the scents embracing your island home will not be ambrosia carried on trade winds.  To use the phrase I’ve heard (not herd) island lovers mention in describing the situation, I think “bull shit” sums up both the proposal and aroma succinctly—even though “cow shit” may be more accurate for a dairy farm.

So, what are the similarities between Kauai and Mykonos? There are no dairy farms on Mykonos, but there are sewage treatment facilities and dumps, and continuing debates over both.

There’s also the changing life style phenomenon common to both islands. Kauai has been discovered by celebrity types…Mark Zuckerberg paying a reported 100 million dollars for oceanfront property is the most current big story…and though celebrities living there are nothing new (Pierce Brosnan, Ben Stiller, Julia Roberts, Bette Midler), it appears everyone believes they can get equivalent amounts for what they have to sell.  Or rent…to tourists and locals alike. 

Zuckerberg Property

For sure, that’s now the established norm on Mykonos.

And once that mentality takes hold—that the dollar or euro is what matters—those who follow its lead only add to development, desecration, and despondency of those who truly care for their island. 

Perhaps Kauai will be different. After all, it functions under an American system of laws and has an indigenous people highly motivated to protect their history, plus a lot of newcomers willing to join in the battle.

We shall see.  After all, the worst that can happen is Kuaui will begin to look like Oahu.  I leave it to you to choose which you prefer. There’s no right answer.



Bottom line: Different strokes for different folks. And neither island is likely to give you one. Yes, we’ll be back.

Aloha—as we fly off to NYC today.  Or should I say, “Oy vey?”


Friday, March 24, 2017

Waterloo Bridge to Portsoy.

As the eagle eyed amongst you may know I was in London last week. Alan  had gone out for a walk on the Wednesday while I was at my acupuncture lecture. He walked down to the Houses of Parliament and stood on Waterloo Bridge and sent me a selfie from there. 
The same place and time  where five people lost their lives just 7 days later.
Thinks like that always make you stop to think.
Signs on the London Underground are saying today, 'All terrorists are politely reminded that this is London. So we are going to have a cup of tea and carry on as usual. Thank you.'
But on the lighter side of life Stan the man was supposed to be riding in the Cape Argos Cycle race, I think it was called off or delayed for some reason. My friend, a Scottish journalist who was the Times South African correspondant for many years, had been training for the Cape Argos and sending me regular facebook messages about how badly his training was going. I understand that these two gentlemen met over a tennis net. And discovered they had me in common!
I'm not sure what you say in those situations? 'Of all the tennis courts in all the world, you had to walk on to mine.' ?? 

On a slightly more insane note the Scottish Nationalists are at it again. They are calling for what's now known as "the second referendum".  I can’t be bothered toruturing my brain with this logic but it goes something like this. The Scottish population voted to stay in the EU so if we have a referendum and vote to go independent we will then rejoin the EU although the rules are you can’t for 7 years if you are a newly independent nation (and the Spanish have said they will veto Scotland's application for entry as they want to keep hold of the Catalans) while everybody is ignoring the fact that 34% of the SNP PARLIAMENTARY party membership voted to leave the EU.....
Meanwhile back in the real world..... last week I was in Portsoy and back in Nairn where I do believe Stan has hit the odd golf ball or two. So here is a photo flaneur of the trip.

A rainbow over Loch Ness. just  because it could!

Rannoch Moor. Bleak.

The sands at Nairn


                                                  Sunset at Nairn
                                           Just before the event at the Salmon Bothy in Portsoy
                                                        View from the walk way at Nairn
                                                                    Sunset at Nairn
                                                              Alan getting some fresh air
 The Bothy, prevent. They had make cupcakes with tiny books on them! And Prosecco!
 Miss Ramsay, Miss Grey and Miss Cleeve
Another sunset

                                                        The sell out crowd at the Bothy.

The Salmon Bothy is now a venue for arts and crafts and community activities. It was built in 1834 as a ice store and Salmon store and has been all sorts in between,  on the walls were old photographs of boys learning to be draughtsmen and girls learning to be cooks! 
Portsoy is a tiny village, population of 1700 people. It sits on the Moray Firth about fifty miles north of Aberdeen. It probably looks the same now as it did in the 1830's.

Caro Ramsay 24 03 2017