Sudden rain falls through October’s lingering plumeria blossoms,
Turning in twilight’s trade winds.
The sidewalks shine in the streetlight’s wet glow,
And walkers in flip-flops and aloha shirts
Hurry to bus stops,
Parked cars, overhangs,
Their little doggies on leashes,
Damp beside them.
Old time rock ‘n roll wafts
Through the drizzle from somewhere,
And the watcher at the window
Lifts her heart in joy.
After ten years on the beach in the ancient Hawaiian village of Kaaawa on Oahu’s windward shore, my husband Wayne and I decided to move to a high-rise apartment in Honolulu. This was a complete change in lifestyle, but we felt it was time to position ourselves nearer to food, entertainment, cultural events, medical care, and even emergency services if needed. We chose Nauru Tower, now thirty years old and one of the first skyscrapers in Honolulu. This model of modern architecture is still clean, well-managed, beautifully landscaped and graced with a large saltwater swimming pool, tennis courts, and picnic and barbecue areas for the residents. Though we lived in Los Gatos, California, a suburb of San Jose, for forty years, neither of us has previously lived in the city center of a large metropolis.
Our heads are still spinning with the number of snack shops, grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping venues right outside as we exit the elevator. Nauru Tower is located next to Ala Moana Shopping Center, once the largest shopping center in the world, still massive and culturally diverse in delightful ways. Every day at lunch time, we can wander over to enjoy Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Indian, Nepalese, Vegan, Italian, Filipino or any number of other local treats and snacks that we don’t have to make in our own kitchen.
The closest food source to our apartment is the magical flagship store of the family-owned Foodland chain of local Hawaiian grocery stores, founded in 1948. We are one block away from this comprehensive culinary wonderland, also known as Foodland Farms Ala Moana. Foodland has everything a shopper expects in a good grocery store—a bakery, a deli, dairy products, frozen foods, meats and seafood, flowers, snacks and a pharmacy, but also so much more. Visitors to Foodland Ala Moana are reminded of Harrods of London and Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi, filled with freshly prepared foods, ready to eat on the premises or take home for a gourmet meal with the family. Foodland has an in-house wine bar, R. Field Wine Company, where patrons can enjoy some very fine wines and select from a menu of European-inspired cheeses and charcuterie, including Beef Carpaccio, Bruschetta, Caramelized Onion Soup, Truffle Parmesan Fries, and more familiar items such as Pizza and Spaghetti. Poke, Hawaii’s gift to the world, is also available at the Foodland wine bar. And the staff at R. Field Wine Company will help you assemble a gift basket for a special occasion.
At Foodland, Poke is just the beginning. They also serve a wide variety of fresh sushi and musubi (rice balls wrapped in seaweed, eggs, Spam or fish,) and prepared Bentos to eat for lunch or dinner or to take home for family meals and social gatherings. I recently bought a Salmon Teriyaki Bento that also included some edamame (steamed soybeans,) a piece of steamed and flavored Japanese eggplant, a small serving of steamed white rice sprinkled with furikake, some sticky rice with azuki beans, some Japanese style cooked carrots and gobo (burdock root,) and a piece of seasoned kabocha squash. All this for seven dollars! Compared to the thirty-dollar lunches that are typical in Honolulu’s downtown, a Bento from Foodland is a delicious and wholesome bargain.
Foodland is the gateway to Ala Moana Center, where many additional restaurants, snack shops and treats await. The Makai Market Food Court offers an affordable adventure in pan-Asian and Polynesian food, and frankly puts most other shopping center food courts, filled with chain burger joints, to shame. One of our favorites is the Curry House Coco Ichibanya, where Japanese style spicy curry is served over hot rice with pickles for a simple and healthy meal. The choices include Chicken Katsu Curry, Pork Cutlet Curry, Kalbi Curry, Veggie Curry, and a startling number of other options at about nine dollars per serving.
Since Halloween is on its way, and parents no longer allow their children to accept homemade treats and snacks from strangers, Ala Moana is the place to find luscious local treats that you and your grownup friends will also enjoy. Big Island Candies and the Honolulu Cookie Company both have stores at Ala Moana, and both specialize in Macadamia Nut Shortbread, the most popular cookies in Hawaii. They sell individually wrapped cookies and beautifully packaged gift boxes. Big Island Candies, based on the Big Island of Hawaii, with its flagship store in Hilo, offers a variety of specialized candies and cookies using unique local ingredients. Chocolate Dipped Macadamia Nut Shortbread is a popular item, but Big Island Candies also sells Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Brownies, Taro Shortbread that contains Purple Sweet Potatoes, Coco Dusted Chocolate Almonds and Hawaiian Red Chili Toffee.
The Honolulu Cookie Company is famous for their pineapple shaped Macadamia Shortbread Cookies, baked in Honolulu. We bring gift boxes of these with us when we return to California to visit our family. Like Big Island Candies, the Honolulu Cookie Company offers an interesting variety. My favorite is Dark Triple Chocolate Macadamia Nut Shortbread, and I also love Dark Chocolate Kona Coffee Shortbread. Other delicious options include Macadamia Nut Shortbread Cookies that contain chocolate chips, pineapple or coconut, dipped in either white or dark chocolate.
All of the places I have just recommended for food or snacks are within a two-block walk of our new apartment. If we were to take a right turn out of Nauru Tower instead of a left turn toward Ala Moana, we would find ourselves almost immediately at Ward Village and the adjacent South Shore Market, two trendy shopping locations also filled with restaurants and snack shops galore, including a staggering number of Asian style Boba Tea shops. Among other dining destinations in this neighborhood are the venerable and elegant Merriman’s, Istanbul, a high-end Turkish restaurant with delicious and wholesome food, the smaller and meticulous Tango Contemporary Café, Scratch Kitchen and Meatery, and a sandwich shop called Fat Cheeks that sells Buttered Lobster Rolls and even Lobster Cheeseburgers. There is also an impressive multi-level Whole Foods Market nearby. With the possible exception of Fat Cheeks, which I admit I have not yet visited, the restaurants I have just mentioned all make every effort to serve the freshest seasonal food possible and to support local Hawaiian farmers and fishermen.
Clearly it will take a while for us to explore every interesting venue and food opportunity within walking distance of our new home. Meanwhile, we are enjoying the trade winds, the blossoming flowers, and even the egrets who venture into the city. And we love looking out our windows. The view from our windows takes in Ala Moana Park, Magic Island, the Honolulu Yacht Harbor and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Every Friday evening at 8:00 PM, a four- minute fireworks display takes place over Waikiki beach. The view from our lanai is perfect. We are in paradise.
This month my food gift to you is an updated cake version of the traditional Butter Mochi recipe I shared in my September 2019 blog about the Island of Lanai.
Maple and Macadamia Nut Butter Mochi Cake
Butter Mochi is one of Hawaii’s most popular desserts. It requires Mochi flour made from sticky rice, which produces a pleasing chewy texture. I use Koda Farms Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour, which comes in a small one-pound box. Butter Mochi is usually made in a rectangular baking pan and cut into little squares like brownies to serve with ice cream or fresh fruit. However, for this Butter Mochi Cake, I adapted a recipe I found in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine. This Butter Mochi Cake is loaded with macadamia nuts flavored with pure maple syrup for a festive autumnal pastry that would be a delightful surprise for Halloween or even among the Apple and Pumpkin Pies on your Thanksgiving table.
- 8 ounces of macadamia nuts, whole or chopped (approximately 2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- Baking spray for the cookie sheet
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and set aside to cool
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt or Hawaiian sea salt
- 1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 2/3 cups Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Baking spray for the pan
Vanilla, dulce de leche or butter pecan ice cream
Ripe pear, berries or persimmon slices
Rimmed baking sheet, sprayed with baking spray, rubber spatula, medium sized bowl, large mixing bowl, 9” springform pan, parchment, hand-held electric mixer or whisk, bamboo skewer, wire rack, offset spatula, attractive serving platter or cake pedestal, sharp knife
8-12 servings or more. Butter Mochi is very dense and filling.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F
- To prepare the macadamia nuts, spray the baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside. Place the macadamia nuts, maple syrup and sugar in a medium sized bowl, and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula. Pour the mixture evenly over the prepared baking sheet and smooth it out until the nuts are evenly spaced. Bake at 350 degrees F for 6-8 minutes. The syrup will begin to bubble, but the nuts will not be fully toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- To prepare the cake, spray the 9” springform pan with cooking spray, and cut 2 rounds of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan. Cut additional strips of parchment to fit around the inside of the pan. Spray the parchment pieces with additional cooking spray, and make sure they adhere to the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside.
- Place the eggs, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer or whisk until the mixture is smooth and well incorporated. Add the coconut milk, vanilla and cooled melted butter and whisk well. Add the mochiko flour and baking powder and mix the batter thoroughly until well combined, thick and smooth.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Toss the reserved macadamia nut and maple mixture to separate any clumps, and using the rubber spatula, scatter the nuts evenly over the cake batter, covering the top evenly all the way to the edges of the pan. Some of the nuts will sink into the batter.
- Bake in the pre-heated 350-degree oven until the top is a light golden brown and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 50-55 minutes or until a bamboo skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Place the cake on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the sides of the springform pan, and carefully remove the parchment from the sides of the cake. Carefully turn the cake over onto the cooling rack and remove the parchment from the bottom of the cake. Place an attractive serving platter over the cake and carefully turn the cake right side up onto the platter or cake pedestal. Use an offset spatula to assist with this process if necessary. Allow the cake to cool completely, at least one hour. Slice with a sharp knife and serve with ice cream and fresh fruit or berries as you wish. Mochi Cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap and reserved at room temperature overnight. It can also be refrigerated, but it must come to room temperature before serving.