Monday, March 10, 2008

Everybody loves chocolate

Saturday was a great day! My co-worker/friend Robin and I toured Kailua Chocolate Factory and The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory cacao plantation. Too cool. This, after a Thursday night class teaching us the finer points of tasting chocolate. I will never look at a Hershey bar the same way again. I think, in fact, I shall become even more of a chocolate snob than I am a wine snob.
This photo (left) shows a cacao pod, from which the elixir of life that is chocolate eventually flows.
The second photo depicts the contents of a pod spilled out onto the table. The seeds or beans are coated in white, fruity, sticky stuff. If you pop one of these slimy white segments into your mouth, it tastes like sweet citrus. As you can see, the gecko likes it, too. The white stuff is fermented off, leaving the seed, which is dark purple, brown or even brown with a white center. The beans are dried, their parchment or husk removed. The inside of the bean is ground into either a paste or what they call chocolate liquor. Eventually, sugar, cocoa butter (which I think is separated from the liquor when it's made) milk (if you're making milk chocolate) and an emulsifier like soy lecithin are added to create chocolate. The lecithin acts as a binding agent to keep all the components well blended. Viola! Yummy! I learned that white chocolate is not chocolate at all. There is no chocolate in it, although there may be cocoa butter in it. It's good, it's just not chocolate.
There were nine ladies, including the driver, who made the trip from Hilo to Kona and back on Saturday, enjoying our tours, lunch. I'd like to say I enjoyed the ride too, but I don't do well in passenger vans. Thankfully, we made just enough stops along the way to keep me from being much more than mildly head achy and queasy throughout the trip.

Today, we are breathing easier about our Mr. Sox. He disappeared last Thursday night and didn't re-appear until Sunday night. It was then I noticed a nasty wound on his chin, which made it painful for him to eat. He was gone most of the day today, too. When I saw him able back weakly this afternoon, I grabbed him up and whisked him off to the vet. He was none to happy about that, telling about how much he hated the ride all the way to town. Poor kitty. His chin sports quite a gash and is still looking a little pussy. He got a shot of antibiotics and vaccinations while we were there. When we got home, I dabbed some ointment on his ouchy and he snuggled up with me for an hour or so on the couch. Right now, he's sound asleep on a dining room chair. I think he'll be fine, though it will probably be a few more days before he's really comfortable eating. He can manage a little soft, wet food, but can't quite crunch the dry stuff. Luckily, Mr. Sox has some nice reserves. He's lost a little weight, since he didn't eat at all for nearly three days. But he's still got a little spare tire left. I was really worried about him all day today. I've missed him sitting next to me on the couch or waking me up early in the morning. Now, I'm confident he's on the road to recovery. He's a tough little buggah.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Cowboy comfort

The other day, a man walked into the winery. I had never met him, yet I felt I somehow knew him. He wore a white stetson and a shirt with snaps instead of buttons. The man looked to be in his sixties, with a slightly weathered face, a warm smile and sparkly blue eyes. When he approached the bar with his party, I made some sort of joke to which he responded, "Yer kind of a smart alec, aren't ya?"
"Yep," I smiled. He winked and grinned back at me. We'd never met before and yet, I knew him. He was a rancher from Montana, but he might just as well have been from Wyoming or Utah or Nevada or Colorado. This man was an honest to goodness cowboy. Not the George Bush variety, mind you, but the real deal. Here was an honorable, chivalrous, hardworking cattleman. The Code of the West is real. These guys live it. It was nice to hang with the fellow and his family for while. It was a little like being home.
I also enjoyed a couple that came in yesterday. They were from Green Bay, Wisconsin. This pair was retired and rotund, a lifetime of cheddar, bratwurst, pork chops and sour kraut showing in their waistlines. Figuratively, I knew them too. They were all-American Midwesterners. We chatted about the Packers and I lamented the fact that Bret didn't make it to the big game one last time before calling it quits. They seemed to enjoy the wines, but preferred the sweeter stuff.
"This our Hawaiian Guava," I told them. "It's half guava and half white grapes. The guava comes from Kea'au, a community just down the highway...."
The woman stared at the tip of the bottle as I poured the liquid into her glass. She listened intently to my explanation. Then, shyly, she asked, "What did you call that again?"
"Guava?" I said in a clarifying sort of way.
"Is that some kind of fruit?" she asked shyly.
"Well yes, it is." I described it for her, showing how big it was with my hands, explaining that it grows on a tree. It was really pretty cool. She knew what bananas and pineapples were, since those appear regularly in grocery stores all over the world, including Green Bay. But she'd never been to Hawaii or any other tropical country, so couldn't possibly have known about guavas. She was getting her first taste of them, albeit a bit distorted by fermentation and added grapes, with that sip from the glass I'd poured her.
"Well that's really something," she said. It sounded just like something my grandmother might have said.
This morning, I had some fun using the few Japanese words I know. I can say oishi (tasty), amai (sweet), hachimitsu (honey) and my new favorite, scoshi (just a little bit). Then of course there's arrigato and sayonara. The Japanese tourists love it. They are always willing to teach me more. Somehow, we always manage to communicate and laugh a little.

Tomorrow, I'll travel to Kona for a chocolate tour. We'll go to a cacao grove (or is that an orchard?) and a candy making factory. Yummy! It's the second part of a chocolate class that began Thursday night. So far so good. I'll spill the cacao beans later....

It will be nice to be out of the vog tomorrow. This afternoon, it was chokingly thick. That has got to stop. I really don't think I can stand breathing that stuff much more.

A hui hou. Aloha!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Say what?

If you hail from New York, you are a New Yorker. In my life I've been an Oregonian, a Coloradoan and a Californian. That's because I've lived in those states. I live in Hawaii now, but I can never be Hawaiian. To be Hawaiian, you must have Hawaiian blood. A Hawaiian can be a Californian or a Nevadan, a Washingtonian or a Vermonter, but a haole mainlander of European descent can never be a Hawaiian. Here in Hawaii, I am a Hawaii resident. No less, but no more. According to my state I.D., I am kama'aina, insofar as my ability to receive an occasional local discount on stuffs l'dat. Technically, however, kama'aina means native born. Hawaiians born in the islands are both Hawaiian and kama'aina. A Hawaiian born in California is still Hawaiian, though not kama'aina. Third, fourth or fifth generation descendants of missionaries or plantation workers who were born in Hawaii are kama'aina, but not Hawaiian. I am officially a malihini, or newcomer, and will be until I've been here for a very long time. Maybe forever. Of course, some of this confusion comes from the fact that this state bears the same name as the people who first inhabited the islands. Of course, so do several other states - Iowa and the Dakotas come to mind - along with hundreds of towns, cities and counties. So, what does all this mean? I guess these are just things that make me go, "hmmmmmmm...."
One thing I notice here is the plethora of placards and other postings declaring Hawaiian-ness. It's not unlike the "native" bumper stickers that became popular in Colorado and Oregon as people began moving to those states in droves back in the 80s. Here, bumper stickers say, "Proud Hawaiian," or "Kau Inoa" which is the Hawaiian ethnic registry. I saw a guy sporting a t-shirt ala Dr. Seuss the other day that read, "Hawaiian I am." Mahalo, mahalo, Sam I am. I think it's great, this resurgence in Hawaiian ethnic identity and pride. A little pride is a good thing for a people who have been oppressed and feel disenfranchised. But it also feels a bit exclusionary. If you're not Hawaiian, you're not in the club. I suppose that excluded is just how Hawaiians have felt in their own land for more than two hundred hears now; ever since that crazy Captain Cook happened upon these islands. What goes around comes around.
I've thought about getting my own bumper sticker to announce my Heinz 57 origins. Maybe something like, "Norwegian, Scottish, Irish, German, Cherokee Pride." My heritage would make me a herring eatin', spud gummin', whiskey swillin', bratworst-gnashin' buffalo pemmican chewer. No poi, but plenty to be proud of, for sure. (Also quite a lot to be ashamed of, but we won't go there just now...) Technically, I guess you could add African to the list, since we are all descendants of the first homosapiens to walk upright on that continent. Admittedly, that would be going way back. Now, the Cherokee part is something my grandmother swore to, despite no actual, researched family tree to prove it. That said, if you ever saw my great uncle Bill or my great aunt May, you'd believe it. Of course, if I'm Native American, then I might have descendants who crossed the ice sheet spanning the Bering straight tens of thousands of years ago, which also makes me Asian. Despite the Native American blood, which admittedly is just a smidgen, I'm thinking my multi-ethnic pronouncement would not be appreciated here. This, despite the fact that Hawaii may be the most diversely populated, multi-ethnic state in the union. If, that is, you believe it to actually be a state.
And so go the musings of a strange mind.
Abner wants some petting now, so I've gotta go. Cat's rule, dogs drool and people are all just here for their comfort.
A hui hou. Aloha!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tanks a lot

Adventure schmenture. I think I shall now make it my goal to one day live someplace where I don't have to rely on a pump, a well or a tank for my water supply. At least, those items won't be in my own yard and won't be my responsibility. Instead, I'd like to tap into some municipal water supply. It would be great. I could just turn on the kitchen spigot and viola! Water would come out, like magic. I could also drink said water. It would be officially potable. Oh sure, I'd still be willing to conserve with low flow toilets and shower heads, water-stingy washer, odd-even day lawn watering in the summer. I'd even be willing to continue with the mantra, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down." That's a bit of what we've been doing lately, since it hasn't rained in a little over two weeks. Check that. It hadn't rained. It's raining now. Ron noticed, however, that despite the precipitation, no water was going into the tank. He had climbed the ladder against our giant water catchment tank in the rain and peered over the side, expecting to see water running into our heretofore rapidly diminishing water supply. The tank was down to about a third full. He looked in, but saw no water running, or even dripping from the pipe leading into the tank. After searching all the pipe joints and ripping away overgrown weeds from around the pipes coming off the roof and slithering across the yard, we found the reason. One of those critical pipes was, as they say around these parts, all bus' up. It had a big slit that was gushing water. The very water that was suppose to be going into the tank was instead spewing like a fountain and landing in the grass. Luckily, we were able to make a temporary fix for tonight. We'll get a new pipe tomorrow.
So now it's raining and the good news is that I can probably abandon my plan to hit the Laundromat this weekend. The tank will fill up fast if the rain comes as usual. Water shortage averted by mother nature.
And so it goes here in the rainforest. Tomorrow's another day at the wine factory.
A hui hou. Aloha!