The Garden Island

Every fruit and vegetable that comes from the farmers market or friends is a free giveaway of seeds. If I'm happy with the taste I want to grow it. We need to plant more trees. I'm officially addicted to planting. Friends around me are pointing towards natural resources that enable to create a community garden; fruit forest compost in the backyard, old flats at Sheldonia farms for seeding, 6" sickle at the local hardware store (my first farm tool I've owned, and only cost $11), seeds from leftover Hanai produce and my grandmother, the list goes on. Each day brings a new element to the Garden of Rosa on the Garden Island. Rosa and Jess goes on a quick stroll around our property and comes back with hands full of flowers, sprouting chayote, lima beans, chili peppers and papayas. Our landlord brings us mint and parsley from her daycare garden.... and I have more mint, lettuce, radish, cucumber, ice cream bean tree, cacao, coffee in the earth outside our front door. Rosa helped clear 500 square feet of earth this week and cut down vines around the fence. She planted her first tree, at the age of almost 2. 

We're getting ready for something big in our lives... a chance to grow our long-term health in our backyard. We cannot have goats or horses on the property, but that's probably a good thing because if I could do homesteading all the way to the point where I wouldn't need a car or buy anything, I would. I'd rather have a horse and buggy than a Jeep, and wonder if I could convert to an Amish lad and get the DoT approval to ride a horse to Sheldonia Farms. When I look into the pantry and see no corn flour to make honey cornbread I say to myself... I need land to grow on, water, sun, corn seed (not genetically modified), a grain mill and patience. Is the need and desire to be off-grid and self sustainable too much to ask for in a culture that relies heavily on transportation of food and fuel, social networking and the processing of natural resources? I want to unplug and the more time I spend in the garden and dreaming up ways to harvest fresh water and what to pickle next, the less time I have to be busy running errands, that I don't really need to run. We don't have a heater, air conditioner, television, radio, stove, washer, dryer, Iphone... but, there's a beach down the road, a garden out back and the weather is always nice. 

to be continued.. 


The Sheldon: Table-to-Farmer

The only dish on the Hanai menu that has been there every night from the very first day is the Sheldonia greens salad. It's a masterpiece that I help raise in the fields under the wings of farmer Phil Sheldon. Last night at the dinner table he told us that he's experimented with 40 types of lettuce, and that most of the ones that are good quality and grow well in California, don't do so well here in Kauai. His 30 yr old trip has been to find a half dozen varieties of lettuce that are exceptionally beautiful and tasty, and will grow in the Omao micro-climate. Natural selection is key. Farmer Phil's decades of hard work has made it to our table and we want to share this gift to all. It's a moral responsibility of mine to provide adequate respect, material supplies and personal energy to caretakers of the land such that they may continue on in the righteous path of sustainable cuisine and farming. 

Lettuce is often bypassed for sincere good quality since a salad tends to be topped dressing and garnishes, which mask the flavor of the greens beneath, but trust me, one does know what lettuce truly tastes like until they try the Sheldonia greens. Like a house, a dish is only as good as it's foundation. If the greens that first plop down on a plate have a texture and taste like none other then everything else that goes on it is just icing on the cake.

 On the farm our techniques are old school and simply organic. In the kitchen with Hanai the techniques are traditional and simply simple and effective. Chef D with Hanai made a sweet corn soup last night that was cooked in a way that elevated the flavors of the natural sugars of the corn from a molecular means topped with a pinch of roasted kernel in the oven, and the main and only ingredient was... corn. So there it is, the lettuce is so good all you need is the lettuce, and the corn is so good all you need is corn, and the fish is so good we don't dare to cook and therefore fly it into a crudo plate and top it with basic raw veggies and fruits and borage flowers. Kauai is unique in that you can grow, fish, hunt and harvest a world of ingredients that have more punch in each bite, more bang for the buck, because the composition of this landscape is extremely rich with old volcanic soil intermixed with ocean spray, global biological diversity, fresh water and ample insolation year-round. The culture(s) that inhabits is a collage of all the Pacific Rim native peoples plus that of the Western civilizations. In the middle of all of this is me and I'm stoked that this is pretty darn close to a miracle to have my mentor farm dude eat his own salad and 7 other bangin' courses in a strictly Hawaiian-grown pop-up restaurant just a half mile from old church studio where my lovely wife and little Kauaian girl are dreaming under a monkey pod tree. 

Farmer Phil eating 'The Sheldon' salad. 

Roasted eggplant, brushed with local: banana vinegar, mango juice, pink peppercorn juice, kiawe spice and pink sea salt. Caramelized on a panini press. Laid on top roasted sweet potato and padron peppers, watermelon radish and sweet peas. Garnished with calamansi, dianthus and spring onion curls. 

Hapu brandade mixed with banana, underneath a 61.5 C juicy egg and mushrooms and sunflower sprout, garnished with pumpkin seed powder.

The ahi crudo with cucumber ribbons, lilikoi, heart of palm and avo puree.

Colossal shrimp for two on the fly.

Mary's Hanai to go order. Nearly everything of the menu in a box.

Family meal shrimp platter.

This photograph is the greatest gift I could ever receive from working with Hanai. Here is a group of cutting edge, but down to Earth, chefs and solo waitress (and barber) with the Sheldonia farmer (and barber), whom I've been working with since May of 2013 when my daughter was born. Farmer Phil led me to Chef Adam two months ago,  and Chef Adam led me to Collin and Hanai, and from there I've been helping put together the Hawaii farm-to-table and bringing the table to the Kauai farmer. 

Mahalo arigato. 


Raising Kauai

Rosa Kai Lee, my little girl hiding beneath the hibiscus tree. Reminds me of how awesome it is to not get too caught up in work and outside relations, and simply have fun. Yesterday morning I woke up really early and decided to get a head start to bypass traffic and get to the farm. I arrived before sunrise and ate cacao kumut cereal in the middle of the lettuce fields that come daybreak will be harvesting from. That's the first time I've ever seen sunrise from Sheldonia and boy was it magical. The colors of a cotton candy Hawaii sky hanging above rows of lettuce painted in shades of purple, red and green. When I could see a few meters in front of me in the I began weeding and slowly woke up with the plants and insects. Rooted in the consciousness of the land, tramping around in bare feet with the sun on my back, aware of so many changes going on minute by minute, day after day... time stopped. Eight hours working the land had gone by and it felt like I just arrived. The only left to do was to laugh. 

When a salad goes out the door at a Hanai dinner a flashback comes back to the Sheldonia nursery; where lettuce and good health are born.

Keiki curly.

Once the flats leave the nursery they come to me and I plug each into the ground in a matrix of one and half hand lengths. We measure everything in farmer paces and hand lengths. Farmer Phil always tells me that the best tools are your hands. The hands are the original pitch fork and sickle. By relying on the human body to do the work there is no need for machines or gasoline. No need for pesticides since we're plucking out cut worms by hand from the fields and feeding them to Mr. Bird Man. No need for herbicides or weed killers since I have two hands that can pull any plant out and toss it into our compost pile. Good thing island time is on our side.

A couple months later from the day the seeds are planted comes this. The biggest lettuce heads ever seen on Sheldonia. There are some twice as big as the ones in the photo below. From July to October of 2014 there was next to 100% nothing in lettuce due to super high temperatures and little rain. A record of little yield. Months later we have the opposite situation where the lettuce is so big and it's so plentiful we're forced to eat like rabbits and share the wealth. Dis be da Matanuska kine season of greens.

Sexy lettuce.

On Wednesday night I came home with a box of lettuce heads and arugula. Jessica made plans for us to bring a big salad to the Kauai Farmers Union potluck.

This was our first time meeting the farmers union. The night started off with a potluck dinner full of salads, roasted breadfruit, mashed purple potato and sweet rice pudding. Then the speakers got into current news pertaining to Kauai farmers. The hot topic of this month was progress in establishing burn laws, which are meant to curb air pollution that can harm the public; a roundabout way to jab at the Kauai GMO operatioons. Back in the day county politicians made laws that limited where and when one could burn hay since burning it would choke out the local community if done in proximity and in certain climatic situations, and was excessive. From hay burns to cane burns the laws grew. Now they're looking to broaden the law to cover other smoky activities, like Chicken in a Barrel's barbecue next to the highway (Bill #2573). Big question to me is, how far do they want to go with air pollution laws? The volcano a few islands over ain't going to stop making big smoke with humans tell it to? And why no regulation on how many planes can come into the island? Why not subsidize bike lanes and more renewable energies? What ever happened to the Kauai's sugarcane trains? Could we not have used the old sugar tracks and made way with passenger trains to minimize traffic and gas use? If we're talking about air pollution, we have lots to talk about.

Next day, off to the farmers market after a half day of farming ('market gardening') on Sheldonia to see what Collin and Adam are up to. First rule of Hanai is we do not speak of Hanai. Yet, without words, one can taste and see how it works. The foundation of Hanai is 100% local Hawaiian pop-up restaurant. More than half the ingredients are procured from the Kapaa farmers market. The other half comes from ranchers, fisherman and wild pickers just like us.

The Hanai guys are not the only chefs at the farmers market, which is good news. I've always said that competition is collaboration. If the chef next store is making a bombastic dish with farmers market ingredients and selling it at an effective cost that supports the consumer, restaurant, farmer and land, then I reckon that the chef next store would wish to do the same, right? Do all chefs care about where their ingredients comes from? How about the consumers? What do WE need to care about when sit down for a meal? 

Gathering one's menu directly from farmers ain't all that easy sometimes, but if you can work it then there is nothing else more rewarding. Big thing I'm all mixed up about is getting on farmers time, then getting off it to work in a kitchen. It takes months to grow something, and sometimes chef need an ingredient, tomorrow. Sometimes a plate needs a flower garnish, right now, before it goes out to the table. Farmers time is the growing motion of longer time spans. Got to cook what's in season and if you want something special, put an order in for 6 months down the road. You'll be a half year older by the time you can taste them carrots.

Here is half of Hanai packed into a van. More or less a food truck. Everything from fancy wine glasses to propane stoves and sprouted coconuts. 

First step: unload.

When we arrive to the kitchen it's marketed as Java Kai, which it is 90% of the week. Come Friday and Saturday afternoon the coffee joint turns into a festive Hawaiian fine dining small plate restaurant.

The sign gets replaced.

The menu and concept changes.

Here is what the kitchen is before Hanai takes over.

Here it is gutted and bare.

Here's Hanai in action. Adam in the back behind the helm with immersion circulator for the 61.5 C degree eggs. Cody up front keeping an eye on the panini press, which is the only heat source I have to grill steak, shrimp and veggies. We're very limited on equipment, so it's nice to have as much preparation done beforehand so it's a reheat and serve type process, but time is also limited. Come a couple hours before service stuff gets all Western in the kitchen and like a box of chocolate, never know what you're gonna get. I have no clue what the menu is until 2 hours before service when Adam throws me a to-do list. Just cause the menu is written down doesn't mean it's going to truly come out that way. Everything is changing. The chefs must be adaptive. Farmer Phil always says that when he has it, he has it, and we he don't, he don't. Farmers do their best to provide the highest quality of ingredients, but sometimes nature takes over and says nope, not right now. The same applies to the kitchen. We run with a dish and tweak it to make it as good as we can, but when it starts to lose quality due to limited ingredients, lack of equipment, or the fresh flowers start to wilt on day two, then it's crossed off the chalkboard and back to the drawing board to invent a new dish with what's in the cooler.

Java Kai and their menu.

Collin writing out the Hanai menu.

Hanai means 'to adopt'.

Here's Adam writing out the menu from digital format in the back of his truck. All of our freshies are in the coolers behind him.

Here's my station: banana leaf, cilantro blossoms, kermit eggplant, plantain, watermelon radish, stripped cherry tomatoes, kumquat, calamansi, two different types of lilikoi fruit, green lilikoi ribbons, grapefruit, pomelo, lemon, eggfruit sauce, chili salt, pink salt, toasted pumpkin seed powder, roasted mushroom powder, fresh onago, sprouted coconut apple and sweet coconut sauce.

Ding ding ding.. dinner time! Blast off! Panini press and blow torch. Yeehaw! Ice cream banana brulee.

Pork belly from Kaneshiro farms on top a roselle fruit sauce from Sheldonia farms, topped with a bunch of goody green garnishes and flowers from the farmers market.

The presentation is sought out to be like this... you're walking through the Hawaiian jungle, a big wind blows and from the tree canopy above falls this litter of fruit and leaf and all of a sudden you look down to the forest floor and see this...

Or perhaps you're walking along the beach and a small tsunami comes to shore... your run to high ground and when the water retreats you find this at your feet...

This kind of plating is 'fall into place'. We all come together and dance, and somehow, everything works out and is beautiful.

At midnight after Adam gets an inventory on what is left, and has an idea as to what has to be gathered for tomorrows dinner, everything is tossed back into the carriage.

I walk home in the dark starry-lit sky past the cow and horse pastures. 

Here's the front door to our studio under the full moon.

Ice cream banana and beeswax candle ceremony on the stoop.

The monkey pod tree above us. 

The wild within us.