As I was sleepily scrolling through my news feed this morning, I saw that a facebook friend is planning a trip to my beloved Oahu.
Artie and I decided to run away to Hawaii after college, for a few months before we had to start grad school and figure out how to be adults.
It was an excellent plan, though our parents may have needed a little convincing.
While I was finishing up my senior year of college, Artie was working 3 jobs so we could make it there.
We did, by the skin of our teeth. I remember shoving $750 cash in his palm, every cent to my name, and telling him to go ahead and buy the tickets.
Two months later, we arrived with no jobs, no friends, and no plan.
It was scary.
But we found jobs, at Waialae Country Club. Artie sprayed down golf carts for minimum wage, and I waited tables for not much more. I wish I had a picture of the hideous mumu I was forced wear, with pantyhose (the worst word in English language?)
It wasn’t the first golf course I had worked at, and with all that testosterone and liquor, the line between friendly and inappropriate gets blurred now and again.
I appreciate the effort of uglying up the female staff in order to deter male club members.
At least that’s my theory on the uniform.
But I digress, while we may have been broke, friendless and forced to wear ugly clothes to less than stimulating jobs, thinking about that summer gives me the warm fuzzies.
We had kind roommates, Austin, a friendly, tanned midwesterner, with the nicest family you’ve ever met, who picked us up at work in his VW bus, and drank beers with us on the Lanai.
And a beautiful, blond, Canadian Marine Biologist named Carlie, who drove a bright pink barbie-mobile. It was clear from the minute you met her, that she had found her happy place. We were transients, disoriented, and looking for an adventure, but she had made Hawaii her home.
As our friends who visited us in Hawaii will tell you, we never had more than $25 in the joint bank account we opened when we got to the island.
If you are going to be broke, with a bunch of free time, Hawaii is a good place to do it.
The beaches are free, and the bus system is cheap, if not entirely reliable.
My father in-law lived on Oahu for a stretch when he was a kid, and says he remembers the bus driver being 45 minutes late, parking, and smoking a cigarette before continuing on the route.
It takes a while to get used to Hawaiian time. But I think it’s good for the uptight, East Coast soul.
Alan Wong is a member at Waialae, the bartender knew I was going to culinary school in the fall, and introduced me at work one day.
Chef Wong invited me to come to his restaurant and chat, we were talking about the French Laundry and I was so nervous, I forgot Thomas Keller’s name.
I’m turning red just thinking about it.
After giving me lot’s of advice, Chef Wong grabbed my uncalloused hands, inspected them, and let out a belly laugh.
“If you become a chef, those are going to look a lot different”.
I wouldn’t call myself a chef, but after 5 years of cooking professionally, they already do.
Of course on most nights, we were not eating at fancy restaurants.
Luckily the farmer’s markets (cheaper than the grocery stores, which were full of food that was shipped across the ocean) were bursting with local mangoes, avocados, and lychee fruits, ready to pop out of their spiky red skins.
And there was fish.
Butterfish, Ahi Tuna, Moonfish.
I cooked up a storm.
One of my favorite dishes from Hawaii is Tuna Poke. Every family and restaurant has a different recipe but it starts with fresh raw tuna, tossed with sesame, and seaweed.
I haven’t made it back to Hawaii yet, but Tuna poke brings me right back, even on a cold, rainy Wednesday in Boston.
When I do make the trip, (it’s only a matter of time), I’m going to march into Alan Wong’s, and proudly show him my blistered, burnt and battered cook’s hands.
Not really, because I’m sure he has no recollection of me, or the Zenful pep-talk he gave to a sweaty, nervous 21-year old 5 years ago.
But I will saddle up to the bar, order a drink, and his famous “Poki-Pines” -crispy wonton wrapped Ahi poke, with avocado and wasabi sauce – and see how mine measures up.
Here’s the print out!
Tuna poke (pronounce PO-kay) is a traditional Hawaiian dish served at Luaus, block parties, and holiday gatherings. Every family has their own recipe, which might include jalapeno, nori, or Japanese spice mixtures like Tograshi and Furikake. Simpler versions contain only onion, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Here, avocado lends creaminess and hothouse cucumber adds crunch, while seaweed salad (available in the sushi section of many grocery stores) ups the oceany flavor. Serve alone or on top of crispy wonton chips.
1 pound fresh ahi tuna, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 a small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 a hothouse cucumber, chopped
2 avocados, chopped
1/4 pound (about 1 cup) prepared seaweed salad (available in most grocery stores in the asian food or sushi section)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
dash of hot sauce
2 teaspoons black and white sesame seeds, plus more for garnish.
Sea salt to taste.
1.In a large bowl combine tuna, onion, cucumber avocado and seaweed salad.
2. In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, hot sauce, and sesame seeds.
3. Pour soy sauce mixture over tuna and gently toss to combine. Sprinkle with more sesame seeds, season to taste with sea salt, and serve.