Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blog moving!


It was announced today that I will be appointed to a new position effective July 1, 2010. To help with the transition to a new pastor for this church, I have transferred my blog. Click on the following link:

Hope you'll check out the new blog site. Thanks so much.

Grace and aloha,

Tom Choi

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Drop In Cafe - First Take

One of my blog readers suggested that I try a new place in the Aikahi Shopping Center in Kailua (near the Marine Corp Base): The Drop In Cafe. It's in the space previously occupied by the Muddy Waters Cafe.

It has coffee, sandwiches, and the like. When I walked in, I was met by a very cheerful and particularly nice server/host. When I said that this was my first visit and what would she recommend, she immediately said, "the Chicago Dog - it's fantastic!"

So I got one, and it was pretty good. The bun was sesame seed instead of poppy seed, but it was good nonetheless. Some of the other requisite ingredients - including pickle spear, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and the famous "nuclear green" relish - were present. I'm guessing that mustard was omitted to give the diner the choice of how much to put on; celery salt was listed as an ingredient, but didn't seem present in mine. It didn't bother me, though. I enjoyed it.

I still think Hank's is better, but this one is a bit bigger and for my taste, better than Flavors of Kailua.

I was, however, very heartened by the enthusiastic attitude. At a time when good service is hard to find, I appreciate a new place that tries hard to please.

How would I rate the experience? I'm humbled that another one of my blog readers has started using a code term at restaurants for whether or not she and her husband liked a place. She now asks her husband: "Would you blog about it?" which means "Do you think it's good?" This is because I don't blog about restaurants that I don't like or that have little or no redeeming value.

The other ways of evaluating from other companions are: "Would you make a special trip to go to this place?" or "Would you come back?" or "Would you tell your friends that you absolutely have to go to this place?"

Well, I'm blogging about this place, and I do plan on coming back. I would not, however, make a special trip just to go if I wasn't already in Kailua.

All this is to say that I hope that you give the Drop In Cafe a try. The food is fine and I want to see nice people succeed in business.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. We've all been concerned about the situation in Haiti. It's at times such as these that I'm proud to be part of the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one of many organizations that provide relief. The one very compelling reason to give through this channel is that 100% of your donations go to relief efforts, because UMCOR's administrative structure is supported by the denomination.

A poignant note to this is that the executive director of UMCOR, the Rev. Sam Dixon, was in Haiti to strategize ways to help this already beleaguered nation when the earthquake happened. Rev. Dixon perished in the catastrophe.

If you would like to donate to Haiti relief through UMCOR, you can do so online:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Peanut Challenge

In my September 2, 2009 blog post, I said that Costco had a number of their proprietary brand products were the best at any price. Among those was the Virginia peanuts.

One of my church members took exception to this claim and insisted that the peanuts from the Peanut Shop of Williamsburg (Virginia) were superior.

So I issued a challenge: we would have different people in the church from various generations do a blind tasting and vote for the one each thought was the best.

The results: 20 people chose the Peanut Shop peanuts. 19 chose the Costco peanuts. Those who preferred the Peanut Shop peanuts thought they had a more pronounced peanut flavor (I do agree with that opinion). Those who like the Costco peanuts cited the larger size of each peanut and the particularly nice crunch.

Technically, I lost the challenge. But consider this: a 32 ounce tin from the Peanut Shop costs $21 (it nets down to a little under $17 if you buy a case of 6) plus the required express shipping to Hawaii: $15. That makes it $36 for a single 32 ounce tin.

A 40 ounce tin from Costco costs a little less than $8. For a product that is essentially evenly matched with the premium brand and slightly more than 20% the net cost, I'll take the Costco brand every time.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Virgina figures prominently in the birth of the United States. There is also a lot of debate about the faith and religious life of the Founding Fathers, such as Virginians George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. It seems that like America today, the Founding Fathers were a mixed bag religiously: Deists, Unitarians, and Orthodox Christians. One important difference: even those that did not have traditional Christian beliefs nonetheless saw civic importance of organized religion and most never made a formal break with the churches of their upbringing. These days, it seems that the importance of organized religion is diminishing, and the result, I'm afraid, will be a further splintering and division of people, for when people are individuals about everything, they will disagree on much.

I think the Founding Fathers had it right.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Breakfast on the Windward Side of Oahu - A Brief Roundup

Kailua has received some national attention when Rachael Ray visited a couple of this Windward town's restaurants for her "Tasty Travels" show on Food Network. One of them specializes in breakfast, so I thought that this post would focus on breakfast places on the Windward side. I'll be focusing on distinctively Windward places, so I won't be talking about Denny's, IHOP, or even Zippy's.

I'm trying to be nice, so I'm going to say at least one redeeming thing about each place.

Best Muffins - Moke's Bread and Breakfast
Moke's is located at 27 Hoolai St in Kailua, next to Boston Pizza and across the street from Blockbuster. It has homestyle breakfast (and only breakfast, BTW) with nice service. I must also say that the interior is very nice and homey.

Now by homestyle I mean that if I were to get Moke's kind of food at someone's home, I would be delighted. As a restaurant, however, the food is okay, but not great, and certainly not the kind of accolades it received on Yelp (whose reviewers with whom I consistently tend to disagree). I have gone to Moke's a few times, the last time in December with a party of 12. The service was good, with just about everyone saying pretty much the same thing: the food was okay, but they've had better.

The sole exception was the truly outstanding banana nut muffin. It was light but substantial, flavorful without overdoing the banana flavor.

I think if you would like to have a nice, relaxed breakfast in a cute setting with good service, Moke's is for you, especially if you like muffins.

Biggest Portions - Times Coffee Shop
Times is on 153 Hamakua Dr, pretty close to Safeway. Times is a local style place: big portions, hole in the wall atmosphere, fairly good service.

From pancakes, to Loco Moco, to meat and eggs plates, Times does a good job. Their fried rice is among the better ones around.

The ambience is definitely "Spartan," and the service is generally polite and pretty efficient, if not overly friendly.

Who would like Times? Local folks and people in general who have big appetites. It's definitely a solid choice.

Excellent Breakfast with the Most Unusual Meat Dish - Koa Pancake House
Located on 46-126 Kahuhipa St, Koa Pancake House has a big menu and good food with cheerful, attentive service. Pancakes, waffles, omelets are all good.

What makes Koa's distinctive is Vinha D'alhos (pronounced Vinna Dosh - like the first part of "Kosher" - the pronunciation indicates that the Portuguese who introduced this dish to Hawaii came from the Azores, an island archipelago off the coast of Portugal; maybe that's what attracted these islanders to the Hawaiian islands). It is a Portuguese dish that means "wine and garlic." The Hawaiian version appears to be stewed and then fried chunks of pork in a vinegar base. The waitress described it being like pork adobo but drier. I thought it looked and tasted a lot like the Cuban dish masitas de puercos. In any case, it is delicious and good alongside eggs and potatoes, or in an omelet.

Koa Pancake House would be one of my two favorite places to have breakfast on the Windward side.

The Best Single Breakfast Dish in Hawaii - Boot's and Kimo's
*Sigh* I have a real love/hate thing for this restaurant, located on Hekili street in a new location across the street from Hawaiian Island Creations. On one hand, the food is excellent, with great tasting omelets and if you hang around late enough for lunch, one of the best garlic chicken plate lunches around.

They also have what I think is the single best breakfast dish in Hawaii: pancakes with the macadamia nut sauce. Many people have speculated what this sauce is made of, as it is absolutely delicious and a deeply guarded secret. My guess is that it is melted and heated vanilla ice cream with crushed macadamia nuts on top. I have to try that sometime at home to see.

But I must regretfully confess that I do not particularly care to go there, except when people visit us who have never been there. For one thing, the wait to get a table is interminable (it's kind of like what Yogi Berra said once about a restaurant in New York: "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded").

The other thing that is difficult is that the service is generally rather indifferent. I thought it was just me, but nearly everyone I have talked to says the same thing. I would characterize the service as giving off an attitude along the lines of "If you don't like the service, that's okay, you don't have to come back...we have plenty of diners who will take your place." And unfortunately, that is true: they have tons of diners lining up and waiting outside to get a table at almost all hours of operation.

But those pancakes are heavenly. If you are visiting Hawaii, it is definitely on the to do list, but be prepared to wait and think only about how good the food is. If you live in Hawaii and you've never been there before, do go once and then decide if on balance it's worth going back.

The Best All Around Breakfast on the Windward Side - Cinnamon's
This restaurant located in a large business plaza that's off of Maluniu (or Aulike or Uluniu, depending on where you're coming from...the best landmark is that the plaza is across the street from the McDonald's on Kuulei). I don't think that there is anything that is absolutely the best I've ever had, but just about everything is very good to outstanding. This was the place featured on Rachael Ray's show (the other place in Kailua, by the way, was Kalapawai Cafe, which I'll write about in a future post).

They are famous for their pancakes, which aren't quite as good as Boot's and Kimo's, but close enough without the wait. I recommend the guava pancakes, the carrot cake-like pancakes, and the strawberry cheesecake pancakes (occasional special item).

Their best omelets are actually more like frittatas (or egg foo yung), with ingredients mixed in with the eggs before cooking. I like the Chinese omelet, which has things like bits of char siu, bean sprouts, and green onions. The Hawaiian omelet is good too, with kalua pork as the main ingredient.

They have good Eggs Benedict (no place will ever quite replace the superb Eggs Benedict from the old Tahitian Lanai, but Cinnamon's is the next best), with creative alternatives to Canadian Bacon, like mahi mahi, and spinach and tomato.

S.A.N.D. (Start of A Nice Day) is popular: kind of like a version of the Grand Slam Breakfast: pancakes, one egg, and bacon (a three run home run?).

The service is outstanding and they are able to accommodate large parties with ease. They also have al fresco dining in the courtyard.

Happy Eating!

Grace and aloha,


P. S. The word "Breakfast" means to "break a fast," which is the long period without eating that comes with sleep.

Breakfast is featured prominently in one of the accounts of the Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. In Luke 24, the first thing that Jesus does when the disciples see him is serve them breakfast.

Perhaps the breakfast was symbolic of breaking the fast from the presence of Jesus that the disciples experienced. With the resurrected Christ, they would never be without him, and that opportunity is available to us.

So may breakfast always be reminder of the constant and renewing presence of Christ in our lives.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Week of Living Tastelessly

[Note: this post was adapted from my Christmas Eve service message, delivered at Kailua United Methodist Church last week]

When I say that I spent a week of living tastelessly this doesn’t mean that I spent seven days watching Jerry Springer’s talk show, listening to Howard Stern’s radio program, or getting media advice from Richard and Mayumi Heene, the parents of the Balloon Boy, whose hoax infuriated America.

Actually, a couple of weeks ago, I had a bad cold, and what it did was give me sinus congestion such that I couldn’t taste any food for a week.

For a food blogger, this is not good. I think my office manager, Shelley, put it best: when I told her that I couldn’t taste food, she said, “Wow…that would almost be like dying for you!”

She wasn’t too far from the truth. For me, the worst part of being sick is not being able to taste food – for one week, I experienced a complete absence of flavor in my food. I could sort of figure out if something was salty, bitter, or sweet, but not with any enjoyment.

I basically live to eat…but for a week, I had to eat to live. Did I survive? Sure…but some of the great joy in life was gone.

I was particularly concerned, because at the end of the week on that Saturday was our church's Christmas Party, which featured gourmet food prepared by a professional chef and culinary students. I was thinking in horror that I would not be able to taste fully that wonderful food.

I tried everything…medications, Vapo-Rub, even a straight shot of wasabi, hoping it would clear out my nasal passages…nothing…

By Friday morning, there was the first sign of flavor! I made some Lipton’s Chicken noodle soup, and there was just a wisp of that chicken bouillon saltiness. Such a simple thing, but it was very exciting!

I found that if I blew my nose, I could get just a touch of flavor (at this point, you are simultaneously grossed out and empathetic). I found out during a meal of Panda Express later that day (a favorite of my daughters) if I gently blew air through my nose, I could get a little bit of flavor. Things were looking up!

By the next day, I could taste the nuttiness of Cheerios – very thrilling! Later that morning, I could taste some of the Christmas cookies made by some of our dedicated church members.

By the time of the Christmas Party, I was able to fully taste food! Yes! I could taste the steamship round of beef…I could taste the yummy ahi crostini…the chicken satay skewers…the fried wonton with two piquant sauces…kalua pig on a guava roll…even the vegetarian salad with green beans and two kinds of beets! Amazing! Delicious! Fantastic!

I really understood how much being able to taste food adds so much to my life.

Now…if I had been born without the sense of smell – which is really where we get most of our sense of flavor from – I would certainly be alive, I would certainly be able to get through life…but I would be missing out on so much of the joy, the satisfaction, the wonder of living. That’s what life lived tastelessly would be like. The absence of flavor in my life would be tragic.

And that’s just the absence of the sense of smell and flavor. I would say that there are those who don’t think their lives are missing much because of the absence of Christ in their lives. But if they only knew what the presence of Christ does to their lives, it would be like adding flavor to the mere eating of food.

There is a reading from Isaiah 9:2: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." The people of that time are experiencing the absence of light – which is what darkness is. Of course, Isaiah is speaking figuratively…what he meant was that they were living in the absence of true joy, happiness, and fulfillment in life.

But then the people who have lived in darkness…the people who have lived in the absence of light…saw a great light. It started as the light of a star that shone over a tiny little town in Palestine on the first Christmas. And as impressive as that light was, it was nothing compared to the light that came from a beautiful infant child, radiating nothing but joy, hope, love, peace, possibilities, and fulfillment. And those shepherds, abiding their fields at night – the time when light is absent – witnessed the light of the angels, and went to see the Christ child, full of grace and truth, and the light that shines in the darkness of hopelessness, of despair, of pessimistic times…and promises possibilities that go beyond the imaginations that we can conjure up in our wildest dreams.

It is no accident in the book of Genesis that when you see the passage of days, that it says, “And there was evening and morning, another day.” We usually think of the days as morning to evening…but the biblical writers wanted us to be reminded every day of the goodness of God, and so we begin each day in darkness – in the absence of light – and move into the light the shines in the darkness…a reminder of the light of joy, hope and love from God. That’s why Jesus was born in the darkness, and then came into the light – because he IS the light of the world.

One last note on taste and flavor. We all know that Jesus was born in something called a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. The word itself comes from the French word “manger,” which means to eat.

I don’t think it is coincidental that Jesus is identified with something to eat, to taste. When Jesus grows up to be a man, he teaches, he heals, he astounds, and gives hope and joy to people who needed it badly. And then when he was to give himself as a sacrifice for the world, he had a final meal with his disciples, and told them that to remember him, they would need to symbolically taste him in the life giving elements of food and drink…and that from then on, when we taste the goodness and flavor of food and drink, we give thanks for the flavor and joy and goodness that Christ gives to everyone.

So…may you go from the absence of flavor and the absence of light in your lives to taste and experience the light fullness of joy, goodness, happiness, peace, hope, and love.

May you know that no matter how your life is now, that there is the hope that it will be so much more in Christ…

And may the light that shines in the darkness, Jesus Christ, born in a manger, a place that provided taste, flavor and nourishment, be with you and remain with you this Christmas, and always….Amen.

Grace and aloha - and Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Princess and the Frog - The Power of Love and Food

Opening boxes from our move to our new home, I was pleasantly surprised to come across some movie passes that were gifts from a thoughtful friend a few Christmases ago. With most of the groundwork laid for Christmas Eve and Sunday, I decided to take my daughters to see Disney's latest animated film, "The Princess and the Frog." The trailers looked like it was going to be a light, fluffy film, but it had some pretty good lessons and subtle faith messages.

The film is an updated version of the Grimm's fairy tale, but instead of being set in Germany, it is set in early 20th century New Orleans. Tiana is the daughter of a hard working family that nonetheless has time for family and friends, especially with food as the centerpiece. Tiana shows skill at cooking gumbo, and her benevolent father invites the entire neighborhood, basically saying that food builds community (hence, its appropriateness for this food blog).

The years pass and Tiana is now a hard working double shift waitress, trying to make enough money to buy her own restaurant. Her childhood friend, the wealthy Charlotte, is vying to marry a prince, and one happens to be visiting New Orleans - Prince Naveen from country of Maldonia.

Into the picture comes Dr. Facilier, AKA the Shadowman, a voodoo magician who turns Prince Naveen into a frog and plots to have Naveen's crooked butler, Lawrence, help Facilier gain the fortune of Charlotte's father and control New Orleans.

Naveen convinces Tiana to kiss him so he can be restored to human form, but instead, Tiana turns into a frog. The rest of the movie is the resolution of this crisis and also the development and resolution of the relationship that develops between Naveen and Tiana.

This is a well made film that belongs in the pantheon of Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Pocahontas, etc. It probably won't be quite as beloved as those named, but I think it is one that will grow on you.

The characters of Tiana and Naveen are very well developed, and are very much appropriate to contemporary tastes. Tiana, for example, is bright, independent, and goal oriented - and the goal isn't a man and living happily ever after with him and doing what he wants.

The score is by Randy Newman, who is known to many as the composer of such pop songs such as "Short People" and the theme song to the TV series "Monk." Newman, however, comes from perhaps the most prestigious family of film score composers, beginning with his uncles, Alfred, Emil and Lionel Newman, and his cousins, Joey, Maria, David, and Thomas Newman, the latter the composer of the scores of such films as "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile," and "Pay It Forward." Randy's score is playful, diverse, and appropriate to the jazz birthplace that is New Orleans.

The key themes are: that the love of others is more important than fame, fortune and ambition; that one can rely on good luck or even divine intervention only so far, that personal dedication and effort are key to realizing one's dreams.

One of the most important, but perhaps overlooked, subplots is the star that various characters make wishes to. The star is named Evangeline, which means "the bringer of good news." For me, it alludes to the star that shone over Bethlehem pointed the way to the ultimate definition of Good News: Jesus Christ, born in a manger, to give hope, joy, and peace to all, and taught that love is the greatest force in the universe, and transcends all other values.

May that Good News be brought to all of you during this time and always.

Merry Christmas.

Grace and aloha,


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Carrabba's Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup - My Take

Those of us who live in Hawaii and California are fortunate in almost every way, except that we don't have a Carrabba's Italian Grill near us. I would describe it as Italian-American food in the very best way that term can mean. It isn't super authentic Italian food, but it is as good as a chain restaurant gets, which in this case, is very good:

I think they make terrific steaks, good chicken dishes, and the pastas are fine. But what I love and crave is their Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup they make often. The service is also very good. We went to the location in Mechanicsburg, PA (a lot better than it sounds). I was crushed when they said they didn't have the soup that day. The waiter slipped away for a moment, came back and said, "My manager said, 'Tell us when you can come back, and we'll make it especially for you.'" Now that's great service! We did go back a couple of days later, and it was great.

It doesn't sound like much, but it is a hearty, deeply satisfying soup that goes great with the rustic Italian bread they serve with it.

I won't be making it back to Mechanicsburg anytime soon (although I found a Nashville location, so there's a good chance I'll make it there in the spring), so I've been trying to come up with a reasonable facsimile of my own.

So here's my's adapted from guesswork and different recipes I've seen. I think it's pretty good...maybe not quite as good as Carrabba's, but I can make it anytime. Served with some good, crusty bread, it makes a terrific winter time meal.

For the vegetarians, you can omit the sausage and substitute vegetable stock. My sister, Portia, who has been published writing about the wonders of lentils, likes the vegetarian take. I'm not so sure, but lentils are packed with iron and are high in protein, especially when eaten with rice or other grains. In any version, so good and good for you.

1 pound Italian sausage (spicy or mild, depending on your family's taste)
1 pound lentils
2-3 round onions, depending on size, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery, chopped
1 can (14-16 oz) stewed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 cups of chicken stock, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Hot pepper flakes
Bay leaf, basil, oregano
Vinegar (apple cider or balsamic)

In an eight quart Dutch oven, sauté sausage in olive oil, breaking up sausage into small pieces. Drain all but one tablespoon oil if needed.

Add lentils, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, chicken stock, black pepper (I waited until near the end to see if it needed salt), and optional hot pepper flakes (if you prefer to use Italian herbs, you can add them now if desired – I usually don't add them; I think it turns out much better without, and so does Becky, but is a personal taste thing).

Bring soup to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower heat and simmer for 1 ½ hours or until lentils are tender. Add water or stock during cooking if the soup becomes too thick. Adjust for seasoning if necessary before removing from heat.

Serve with good crusty bread. If desired, pass around a bottle of vinegar and invite diners to add a small amount to each bowl. Start with a few drops or more to taste. I like a little bit of vinegar, Becky and the girls don't care for it.


Grace and aloha,


P. S. Lentils show up often in the Bible. For example, when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob, it is for a bowl of lentil stew. When fleeing from his rebellious son, Absalom, King David and his men were strengthened with a meal that included lentils. It's interesting to know that such a humble legume played an important role in biblical narratives.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Corn Souffle - An Easy and Good Dish for the Holidays or Anytime

At Thanksgiving time or potluck time other times of the year, my wife Becky and I will often make something called Corn Souffle. It is very easy to make and it is delicious. It's been a part of Becky's family for many years.

I've been asked for the recipe often, including this year, so I am posting the recipe so that anyone can access it at any time.

One warning: it is not a diet dish! As my seminary literature professor, Peter Hawkins, might describe: it is "heartstoppingly" rich. I usually double the recipe for potlucks and dinner parties.

Corn Souffle


2 sticks of butter (melted then cooled)
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 can corn (w/liquid) 11 oz. (we prefer the Green Giant White Shoepeg variety)
1 can creamed corn 15 oz.
1 box JIFFY corn muffin mix


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat egg and mix with both cans of corn. Add sour cream and cooled melted butter, mix together well.

Add muffin mix, mix together until well blended.

Pour into casserole dish and bake at 350 for approximately 1 hour until golden brown & not obviously runny.

My good friend Deborah Tom decided to make it at the last minute. She forgot to add the eggs and substituted cream cheese for the sour cream. She said it still turned out well.


Grace and aloha,


P. S. If I had to choose a quintessentially American food product, it would have to be corn. That is both a good and bad thing. Great things come from corn: popcorn, corn on the cob, even the best environmentally friendly picnic ware.

Corn also turns up in an incredibly high percentage of food products, especially sweetened foods. High fructose corn syrup shows up in almost anything sweet nowadays. There are big debates about the healthiness of high fructose corn syrup, and while I don't have the personal knowledge to make a judgment either way, it does give one pause at how ubiquitous it is. It's worth taking an inventory and understanding what we are ingesting into our bodies.

By the same token, it's also worth taking an inventory at what we are ingesting into our souls. We may be surprised at how much or how little we are receiving in terms of spiritual nourishment.

The season before Christmas that we are now in is called Advent. It means "coming," in other words, the coming of Christ. It has been traditionally set apart as a time for reflection and meditation on the meaning and significance of Jesus. The hustle and bustle of commercialized Christmas has basically taken that completely away from most.

This year...please carve out some time to reflect prayerfully and seriously. If "Jesus is the reason for the season," let's take some time to figure out exactly what that means.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Deep Fried Turkey - The Best Way to Cook a Turkey

If you haven't tried deep fried turkey, you are missing out on one of life's true pleasures. There really isn't anything like it. The skin is crisp and delicious, the white and dark meat are moist and tender, and it generally takes less than an hour to cook. I will often fry several and do the following: the first one is usually the "pickin' turkey" where it comes out hot and people just pick off bits of skin and meat - it really is the best that way, kind of along the Krispy Kreme doughnut principle where the sooner it comes out of the fryer, the better it is; one or two more will feed people on Thanksgiving; one or two will be carved and frozen for another day...alas it never seems to last as long as I want. I also take the carcasses and will make a good turkey jook (or soup) the next day.

Frying for the first time can be a bit intimidating, but after awhile, you'll find it is very easy. Here are some tips that I've learned over the years:

1. Get good frying equipment and make sure the stand for the fry pot is sturdy. Don't forget to fill the propane tank in advance.

2. If I do it optimally, I will brine thawed turkeys (that are no more than 15 pounds, although 12-14 pounds is best) the night before in a solution of about a cup of kosher salt to each gallon of water with ice, enough to cover, along with some peppercorns and maybe some poultry seasoning. I'm not a big fan of adding sugar to the brine, but that's up to you. If I'm doing several, I will brine the turkeys in a clean cooler. You can also use a clean, unused paint bucket if you are only doing one and have enough room in your fridge to put the bucket in.

If I'm lazier (which I tend to be more these days), I will buy frozen turkeys that have been injected with a broth solution already (the Safeway sale turkeys are like that). The day before, I will place the frozen turkeys - still in their wrappers - in the cooler, cover with water, and they should be thawed by the next day (but watch the temperature of the water and make sure it still is cold enough). The downside of this method is that some of the brine will diffuse out of the turkey and the flavor loss may be noticeable to some, but it is a whole lot easier.

3. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed. If doing the lazy method, you will often find that the cavity is still a bit frozen. Soak in cold water without ice for a bit.

4. Make sure that the turkey is absolutely dry, patting down with paper or lint-free cloth towels, making sure you dry off the pesky cavity. Water is the enemy of the deep fryer - you will have painful and dangerous oil spatter if you aren't careful; the dry rub doesn't stay on as well either.

5. The classic seasoning for deep fried turkey is Tony Chachere Creole Seasoning (pronounced Satchery as in hatchery - don't ask me why, it's a Southern thing). Liberally sprinkle and rub all over the skin and inside the cavity. You can add some freshly cracked black pepper as well.

Some people like to inject the birds with different things...after the first year, I did not. If you brine the turkeys or get one of the pre-injected turkeys that haven't lost a lot of broth, there will be plenty of flavor.

5. Make sure that the turkeys come close to room temperature. It will keep the oil from cooling down too much and make the turkey more greasy. When making several, I bring the next one out right after I lower a turkey into the fryer.

6. Use oil that has a very high smoke point. Peanut oil is the classic, but it is the most expensive (although the prices this year are about 40% cheaper - about $30 for the big container), but since one of my daughters has a peanut allergy, I use liquid vegetable shortening - yes, I know about trans fats, but it tastes a lot better than canola. Costco has it for about $20.

7. Remember that oil is different than water!! It takes time for the oil to come to temperature (no higher than 375 degrees). Don't be tempted to put the heat on very high to speed up the heating process. You will find that it will seem slow and then all of a sudden be too hot. The oil cannot be taken to the smoke point, or else it will break down and the quality will suffer. You also run the definite risk of burning your turkey, because oil also takes a long time to cool down.

The converse of that is that you should not let the oil go below 325 degrees, which usually means your turkey was too cold to begin with. If it does, do not fiddle with the flame too much, if at all. The oil should come back to temp. Increasing the flame even a little too much will cause the turkey to burn black - I know, this happened to me the first year. Remember the principle: oil is slow to heat, and slow to cool. Patience is the key.

8. When lowering the turkey into the fryer, you must be very careful, or else there will be spatter that will burn you, or the oil will bubble over and there is a real fire danger.

I have developed a "teabag" technique where I dip the turkey slowly so the bottom of the bird gets seared, then dip a little bit more so more gets seared. After doing this a few times, I will very carefully dip so that oil gets into the cavity, then pulling it out immediately, so there is no spatter. The cavity tends to have the most moisture, so the dipping method sears the inside as well as the outside. I repeat this procedure again, a few more times, and then slowly lower the turkey into the fryer. If the oil is still bubbling too much, raise the turkey and lower again. This takes a lot of practice, so be very, very careful!

Once all the way in, I will fry for about 3 1/2 minutes per pound. You may wish to experiment. Use an instant read thermometer until the breast reads at least 165 degrees (although I usually cook it until the temp is at least 170; the dark meat can reach 180 degrees). Even if the temperature is a little higher than than that, it's okay, because trying keeps the meat moist.

I usually place a cardboard box on the ground with several sheets of newspaper and paper towels on top and place the beautifully browned turkey on that, and remove carefully from the caddy.

The only downside to deep fried turkey is that you can't put stuffing into the cavity or the neck. But it is a small price to pay for something so absolutely delicious!

Grace and aloha,


P. S. The first Thanksgiving might not have had too much turkey. Venison almost certainly was the main meat, along with duck, and perhaps fish, such as cod. Corn was prominent.

The one thing that hopefully never changes from the first Thanksgiving is the gratitude to God the Pilgrims had in surviving a harsh first year in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

May your Thanksgiving be blessed!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kikuya Restaurant in Kaneohe - Classic Local Style Japanese

Aloha...many of you thought that I may have starved to death since it has been a month since my last post. We've been in the midst of moving from Kailua to our own home in Kaneohe and it's been a crazy time. We've been eating at fast food chains a lot and didn't think you needed thoughts on those places.

Yesterday, however, a group of United Methodist pastors and I had lunch at a place I had heard about a lot, but had never been to: Kikuya Restaurant, 46-148 Kahuhipa St, Kaneohe, HI (808) 235-2613. It's located in the industrial section of this Windward Oahu town.

This is old fashioned Local Hawaii style Japanese food - not too fancy, in spartan decor, but reliably good.

The four of us opted for three of the combination plates. Two got the fried ahi with tempura.

I got a taste of a bit of the ahi. It was good and full of flavor. Gilbert, who frequently comments on the blog and who took these pictures, thought that the fish was cut a little thin and that made it just a touch dry, but he thought the flavor was terrific.

Another combination chosen was chicken katsu and tempura.

My pastor friend thought that the chicken katsu was very good, better than most.

I got the chicken teriyaki and tempura.

This is chicken teriyaki like I love: marinated through and through and the chicken has been charred nicely on the outside, but the inside is tender and juicy. The one thing I really appreciate about Kikuya is that they are not afraid to season their food. There are too many times when other places under-season their food. As much as I love Dean's Drive Inn most of the time, for example, there are times when they will under-season food. Absolutely no problem at Kikuya. Everything was seasoned extremely well.

We all thought that the tempura was good. I would probably pick a few other places' tempura to be a bit better, but I don't have any complaints.

The potato salad was also enjoyed by all.

The prices are good: about $9.50 for a good sized plate is a good deal.

A bonus: they do a brisk take-out business as well, with mini-plates like the chicken katsu and teriyaki dishes for only $5.

I would say that the other three pastors and I definitely recommend this place for a no frills, but thoroughly enjoyable meal. You're going to doubt the word of three men of the cloth? :>

Grace and aloha,


P. S. I briefly mentioned Dean's Drive Inn in this post. One thing that you'll notice is that it closes at 4:00 p.m. on Fridays and they are closed on Saturdays. This is because the owners are Seventh Day Adventists (SDA's). This is a Christian denomination that tries to honor the entire Bible and considers the Old Testament Law to be authoritative for their lives. SDA's believe that Saturday is the Biblical Sabbath and do no work on that day and the evening before. My mother-in-law is SDA, and she will not watch television or cook meals during the Sabbath. SDA's will also not eat pork or other foods that would be considered by Jews to be non-Kosher.

Most Christians (including myself) hold to St. Paul's teaching that they are freed from the law because of the work of Christ, therefore do not feel compelled to observe Sabbath and dietary laws. Moreover, since Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday, most Christians will worship on Sunday as the Day of the Lord.

I do, however, have a healthy respect for SDA's (and would even if my mother-in-law was not SDA, BTW) and their determination to have integrity about their faith life.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flavors of Kailua - First Take

As I was driving down Kailua Road, I saw a sign for a new place in Kailua called Flavors of Kailua, featuring shave ice and Chicago Hot Dogs.

I decided to check it out. I discovered that it is located on the corner opposite Zippy's on Oneawa Street. There is no parking that is immediately apparent (unless you want to risk the ire of Zippy's management). I figured out that if I went around the block and parked in the public parking structure between McDonald's and Lucy's, I would be just a few yards away. If you know to do that right away, the location is pretty accessible, but it is not intuitively obvious.

I'm not sure what Chicago Hot Dogs have to do with the local flavors of Kailua, but I guess since many residents here are from somewhere else, I was willing to go with it. I tried the No. 1 combination with a Chicago Dog, chips, and a drink, all for $5.50, tax included. The service was what I would call "laconic, local style," but the server/food preparer had a pleasant enough demeanor.

The Chicago Dog was fine, although a little heavy on the mustard. It's not as good as Hank's (or Portillo's in Chicago, for that matter). But it was authentic Vienna Beef, and I didn't have to drive into Honolulu or fly to Chicago.

I was just about to try the shave ice, but as I was finishing my meal, the man behind the counter suddenly closed up the place at 12:45 p.m. (I was eating outside, so I was not displaced). Apparently, he had to respond to the call of nature.

I decided not to hang around.

Overall, the experience itself was actually okay, and the price was certainly good. But is it worth all the trouble to go around the block to get parking and feed a meter? Not sure to try the shave ice first. I would not give it my highest recommendation, but I wouldn't discourage anyone from going, either. Since it is a new business, I would encourage people to give it a try once for the benefit of the doubt. Supporting a local business is in the genuine spirit and flavor of Kailua.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. The latest book I am reading is called UnChristian. It's about why so many 16-29 year olds do not go to church and even think that Christianity is irrelevant. I'll give some more updates as I work through the book.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Steak Plate at Times Market - Oahu's Best Known Secret

The plate lunch has been raised to an art form in Hawaii. An entree (or two) with two scoops of rice and (usually macaroni) salad is ubiquitous. There is no end to the possibilities. Gracie's Drive-In was and is known for their chicken katsu. President Obama took his family to Rainbow's on Kapahulu. L&L Drive-In is the most common these days.

A relatively recent phenomenon is the steak plate: a half-pound of steak, served with two scoops of rice, tossed salad, and a drink, all for about $7. You will see lunch trucks all over selling these plates, often with a side of garlic shrimp. Blazin' Steaks is probably best known by tourists and it's okay, although the steaks are cooked on a flat top grill. Blazin' Steaks offers different sauces and styles of cooking, such as Thai and Korean.

But for those in the know, hands down, the best steak plate in Hawaii comes from Times Supermarkets. The tender Sterling Silver brand sirloin steaks (according to one of the cooks they are seasoned with McCormick's garlic pepper and Hawaiian alae salt) are grilled outside of the stores on gas grills and the flavor is much better than those cooked on a flat top grill.

A bonus is that you can get a la carte portions of steak and shrimp for about $5 each. Our standard Friday dinner is two portions of steak and one portion of shrimp. We make rice at home and open a can of Niblets corn. All for about $17. It's a good and delicious deal. It is so popular that at noon and after five, the line at the Kailua location goes halfway down the produce department. I always see at least one person I know every Friday, and sometimes there are enough of my church members there that we could hold a decent worship service.

The catch is that you have to know which day Times is serving up steak, as each location offers steak once a week (most locations offer other items on different days, but the steak is the best, although I do like the huli huli chicken Wednesdays at the Kaneohe store). Here's the schedule of steak (and shrimp) plates by location:

Mondays: Kahala, Liliha, Royal Kunia
Tuesdays: Kaimuki
Wednesdays: Waimalu
Thursdays: Aiea, Beretania
Fridays: Kailua, Koolau, McCully, Waimalu
Saturdays: Kaneohe

You can check out the full menus at the Times website:

Grace and aloha,


P. S. I was in Nashville most of this past week for a meeting of the United Methodist Study on Ministry. It is a group evaluating various aspects of ordained ministry in this denomination.

One of the things that is at the forefront of the discussion is the need for the United Methodist Church (and its ministers) to rethink how it approaches doing church ministry. For the past several decades, the emphasis has been to appoint a pastor to a church, and the assumption is that the flock that is already in the church is the main emphasis, and the pastor takes care of the flock primarily.

There is a movement to change that understanding so that pastors are appointed to a community, of which the church congregation is a part, but not the only focus. Those who are not yet in the church are equally important.

It means a quantum change in how most churches function. The focus is more outward than inward, which will be difficult for many church members accustomed to their pastors at their beck and call. It will also mean pastors will need to emerge from their offices and spend time in the community.

This is, of course, the way it should be and even used to be. Somewhere along the line, many Mainline Protestant churches have evolved into nice but insular clubs. One pastor I know called it becoming "warm, spiritual Jacuzzis." It's no wonder that so many people outside it think that the Church is an irrelevant relic of the past.

I welcome this change of perspective on the part of church leaders to emphasize appointing pastors to a community. The Good News of Christ is something so great. Those in the Church need to make sure all know about it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Chestnuts from Girolami Farms - The Return of An American Treasure

Before the days of year-round available produce from high tech farmers and Southern Hemisphere countries, there was a seasonal quality to produce that defined that time of the year during my formative years.

Winter, especially at Christmas, was marked by big boxes of oranges and apples that church members gave to our family as gifts.

Spring meant strawberries, especially the huge, sweet, and scrumptious ones from Camarillo, California. Cherries signaled the beginning of summer. Peaches and watermelon were synonymous with the height of summer.

But autumn was truly autumn when on a cool evening, our family roasted chestnuts, with the sweet aroma filling our home, and we anxiously peeled the chestnuts, trying to be careful not to burn our fingers. It was a sweet, chewy, deeply satisfying taste that defined my childhood.

Chestnuts have not been a big part of American palates for a long time. It's a part of holiday lore in Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting in an Open Fire," most famously recorded by Nat "King" Cole, but I never knew anyone who ever actually did that. I saw recipes for turkey dressing that contained chestnuts, but again, I didn't know too many people who actually did that. When I visited New York on a vacation, there was the chestnut cart that had the cones of newspaper filled with chestnuts that Becky and I enjoyed.

Chestnuts are big in Asia. I have enjoyed tiny ones from China and Japan, and there are huge ones from Korea (which I actually like the least). Europeans use chestnuts extensively; traditionally, for example, hogs used to make prosciutto were fed chestnuts. I remember that in the film, "Amadeus," composer Salieri served Frau Mozart a special confection that only the aristocracy ate: Roman chestnuts in brandied sugar.

Chestnuts are so prominent that the description for brown color is used in many languages. Marron in French, often used to describe dark brown hair color, means chestnut. In Korea, the term for brown, pahm sekal, literally means "chestnut color" (incidentally, the word for orange in Korean is kahm sekal, or persimmon color).

What many don't know is that chestnut products were an incredibly significant source of sustenance in America in many ways. At one time, chestnut trees covered much of America, and were used as timber, fuel, and of course, food. Chestnuts are gluten free, high in fiber, high in nutritional value, low in fat, and versatile. Ground into flour, chestnuts can be used for cakes, bread, pancakes, etc. It is an ingredient for sweet or savory dishes, and can be used as a sweetener. The chestnut tree allowed many Americans to survive during difficult times. Some health food stores call them the perfect health food.

Unfortunately, a blight afflicted the millions of American chestnut trees, nearly wiping out the entire species. By the 1940's, only a few trees remained. Even if new ones were planted, it would take decades for a suitable crop, since chestnut trees yield their best nuts at 60 years of age.

For many years in America, most of the chestnuts one would see at the marketplace were from Italy. With immigration, the Asian varieties began to pop up here and there.

The problem for me was that I didn't care for the Korean variety (just didn't like the flavor somehow), the Japanese and Chinese ones were just too small, and the Italian chestnuts, which I love, would often have a high rate of spoilage, which was even worse when we moved to Hawaii.

Happily, there is now a good supply of delicious American chestnuts. For the past few years, I have ordered them from Girolami Farms, a family owned business in Stockton, California. I highly recommend them. Girolami Farms have wonderful chestnuts - large, sweet, with a nice texture. The great bonus: none of them were spoiled or had that green rot that is present in so many of the supermarket chestnuts I find.

They are $5.75 per pound for the jumbo (which I ordered), and $6.50 per pound for the colossal. The price may seem a little high (although in Hawaii, it isn't bad), but remember that the quality of the chestnuts is excellent and there is no waste from spoilage: what you pay for is what you get. They also have pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts, chestnut flour, and cookware specifically designed for chestnuts. There are also recipes and directions for preparing the chestnuts.

Here are some tips and info for cooking chestnuts: 1) I recommend roasting to boiling; boiling makes them easier to peel, but the flavor loss is noticeable. 2) The open fire method may be romantic, but is a lot of trouble and requires constant attention; so only do this if you are planning to monitor the cooking every second of the process! 3) It will take some experience to know when the chestnuts are cool enough to handle and peel, but not so cool that that the inner skin sticks to the nutmeat; I use an oven mitt to start the first ones straight out of the oven.

4) If using a chestnut knife (which does work well and you can order from Girolami Farms), I wear a bandage (in advance) on my thumb so I don't have to worry about the tip of the blade cutting me and I can work much faster. 5) Cooking times definitely vary, so even though the website says 15-20 minutes in a 375 degree oven, test one and make sure it has a light golden brown color and you can begin to smell the aroma. It shouldn't have any trace of a crisp texture (such as from a raw carrot or a water chestnut - which is completely unrelated to the chestnuts we've been talking about BTW) or have a slightly astringent taste. Properly cooked chestnuts have a unique texture that is tender but firm.

5. Make sure that you cut slits in them to avoid exploding nuts, release steam, and facilitate easier peeling. I usually cut an "X" on one or both sides and make sure that I cut into the tough hull a bit as well.

Order them directly from the website:


Grace and aloha,


P. S. One of the great things about chestnut time in our home growing up is that it was a communal event. Because there is a small window of time to peel the chestnuts before the inner skin sticks irretrievably to the nut (and then you would have to peel them with a knife, sacrificing nutmeat and aesthetics), we would all gather as a family and peel them together. As I look back, it was one of the few activities that everyone in the family took part in. Maybe that's why I have a nostalgic view on chestnuts: the warmth of the chestnuts warming up a cool autumn evening was made even more wonderful by the warmth of our family together, working on a common purpose.

Maybe that's why I'm so gung ho on the church. There is something simply unmatched by the connection of a community that comes together for a common purpose and a common experience. It's like no other place on earth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pepper's Place - Cheesesteak in Hawaii

Perhaps no food item is so closely identified with a city as the Philadelphia cheesesteak. For the few who do not know what it is: it is thinly sliced steak cooked on a flat top grill and placed into a long roll (the one made by the Amoroso Bakery is de rigueur). Cheese is melted on top. Believe it or not, Cheese Whiz is the traditional topping. Grilled onions are also a traditional part of a cheesesteak. It is optional, and you order a sandwich "wit'" or "wit'out" onions.

Pat's the King of Steaks on Passuyunk Ave. in Philadelphia is the original. Pasquale "Pat" Olivieri invented the cheesesteak in 1930 and the family still owns the company. A relative of the family, Rick Olivieri, has his own version, Rick's the Prince of Steaks. Other well known places are Geno's (a location also on Passyunk Ave., catty corner from Pat's), Jim's, and Tony Luke's (who was featured on an episode of Bobby Flay's Throwdown).

I had my first cheesesteak at the original Pat's several years ago. I ordered a "Whiz wit'," Cheese Whiz with grilled onions. It was an amazing experience. It is true what they say: no one ingredient is the key - it is the combination of meat, bread, cheese and onions working in complete harmony that makes the sandwich sublime.

I went back a few years ago to Rick's, when his place was in the Reading Terminal Market (he's now at the Food Court at the Bellevue). It wasn't quite as good as Pat's, but it was still excellent. Becky was with me on this visit, and she got provolone cheese, which is her preference to Cheese Whiz.

Here in Hawaii, I've had the cheesesteak at Zia's (it really isn't a cheesesteak - the bread is wrong, there is too much cheese and it's mozzarella, and they automatically add peppers; it's okay, but they shouldn't call it a Philly cheesesteak). There is a place on Kuhio Ave. in Waikiki that claims to have authentic Philadelphia cheesesteak, but it somehow fell short for me. Dave and Buster's has a cheesesteak that is surprisingly good, and actually could be the best one I've had in Hawaii.

This brings us to Pepper's Place in the Kailua Shopping Center near Times Market. Their logo proclaims it to have the world's best Philadelphia cheesesteak. I'm always skeptical when a place has to advertise that it is the world's best at something. It usually means it isn't. In fact, it often means it isn't very good at all.

In this case, Pepper's Place falls somewhere in between, although favorably so. They use an Amoroso roll, and the meat and onions are done well. They have their own proprietary blend of cheddar cheese and provolone (they claim that Cheese Whiz is too salty so they came up with this combination). This costs them some authenticity points, but I appreciate that they thought it out.

The verdict? I think that it is a good cheesesteak (you'll notice that I do not add Philadelphia to the description; I agree with a Philadelphia native in my church who says that you have to go to Philadelphia to get a Philadelphia cheesesteak), although not the world's best. It doesn't come together with the same harmony as Pat's or even Rick's, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. Pepper's Place won't quite replace the memory of cheesesteak from Philadelphia, but it does ease the pain of being so far away from one of the definitive American sandwiches from the City of Brotherly Love.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Phileo is the Greek word for friendship or affection, aka brotherly love (hence, the first part of Philadelphia). It is one of a number of words in Greek for love. One of them is eros, or romantic love. Another is stergo, or familial love. Finally, there is agape, which is defined as Divine love or unconditional love or self-sacrificing love. Much of the time, subtlety is lost in translation from the original languages of the Bible into English.

For example, in John 21, Jesus and Peter have a conversation where Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" The first two times, Jesus asks, "Do you love (agape) me?" Peter responds "Yes, Lord, I love (phileo) you." The third time, Jesus asks, "Do you love (phileo) me?" And Peter says, "You know I (phileo) you." Scholars differ greatly in their interpretation of this change in words. It is clear to me, however, that Jesus has one expectation for loving him, and Peter has another. Perhaps it is that Peter isn't quite ready or not yet able to comprehend enough to embrace the kind of self-sacrificing for which Jesus asks. Over time, however, Peter does understand and embrace agape love. It is then that he truly experiences the depth of a relationship with Christ.

I think to love (agape) Jesus is a difficult concept. It happens over time. It becomes clearer as we learn more about Christ, especially His agape for us.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Five Dollar Family Feast - Fish

Ahi tuna is one of Hawaii's most famous foods. Most enjoy ahi in a few basic ways: as sashimi, in sushi, cubed in poke, and pan seared rare. In each case, the fish is derived from a boneless fillet. But ahi is a bony fish...what happens to the bones after they are filleted?

Thanks to my wife,Becky, I have discovered what happens to some of the bones, and deliciously so.

Becky works for the State of Hawaii, and her office is in Kalihi, on School Street. Every few months, a woman comes by selling fish out of a cooler (not an uncommon thing here). One of the unusual things she sells is something called ahi bone, which are the leftover bones of ahi after filleting. She sells a bag of about 20 pieces of leftover bones - each about the size of the palm of a hand - for $6. Becky split a bag with a co-worker, bringing the price down to $3 for 9 pieces (Becky gave the extra pieces to the co-worker, who had a larger family).

Each piece looks like a cut from a smaller fish (I'll take a picture the next time we get it...especially for Bennett). There is a thin layer of meat on both sides of each piece. Becky seasoned the fish simply with garlic salt, dredged in a little flour and sauteed. There is a row of very large bones that kind of resemble shark's teeth, plus some smaller bones, but none of the bones are so small as to be a danger, and are easily removed. In fact, you can get a few mini fillets from each piece that I made sure had no bones and gave them to my 5 year old daughters. In fact, it was kind of fun to work through the pieces of fish - just enough work to feel a sense of accomplishment, but not so bony to be a pain, like eating bluegill.

The fish was delicious, perhaps even more so because we fed our family of four very well(five adequately the first time, when my mother-in-law was with us). Add rice and a can of Niblets corn from Costco, and this meal cost us about five dollars. You can't beat that!

I would imagine that any good fish monger will have these bones hanging around and he/she should sell them to you for next to nothing. But watch out, they may catch on and could become the newest thing, and the price could skyrocket, just like oxtails (I just can't believe what they cost now!). So get them now and enjoy a delicious meal at current economy friendly prices!

Grace and aloha,


P. S. The fish is one of the enduring symbols of Christianity. The earliest symbol of Christianity in the catacombs was the fishes and loaves, what Jesus used to feed the five thousand men plus women and children. The tilapia is known as St. Peter's fish in many places, referring to Peter's profession.

You may have wondered what the Jesus fish stands for. It is an acrostic based on the letters which form the word Ichthys, which is "fish" in Greek. The letters stand for the phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."

I'm actually not a big fan of the Jesus fish (if you have one, God bless you, though). I think that it tends to trivializes Jesus (remember Elaine Benes from "Seinfeld"?) and I think anytime you parade a religious symbol without personal relationship is missing the point.

Something as important as all that Christ signifies and symbolizes should be celebrated at the forefront of one's heart, and not pasted onto the back of one's car's trunk.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hank's Haute Dogs in Kakaako - Hot Dogs' Greatest Hits

Kanani, one my most dedicated blog readers, suggested I try Hanks "Haute" Dogs (get it, francophiles?), 324 Coral Street in the Kakaako section of Honolulu, just off of Ala Moana Blvd., between OfficeMax and the now defunct CompUSA. There is now a location in Waikiki, in the International Marketplace.

Any conversation about a hot dog place will invariably include something to the effect of "Okay, maybe it's good, but is it that much better than a hot dog and a drink at Costco for $1.50?" For some, you will never be able to convince them that what breaks down to a 92 cent hot dog or Polish dog (if you subtract the 58 cent solo drink price from the combo price) could possibly be topped.

For the others, you'll find Hank's to be a great place to sample hot dogs prepared in different styles.

I got a Chicago dog, which uses the correct ingredients: a Vienna brand all beef hot dog served on a poppy seed roll with yellow mustard, onions, tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, very green relish, hot peppers, and celery salt.

When I got it, it was a little smaller in size than the ones I've had in Chicago, but I have to say that it was excellent. The hot dog had a nicely textured casing and the meat was very flavorful and tender. I enjoyed it very much.

I have to admit, however, that I liked what Becky ordered better, although you might have predicted so. She got the Fat Boy: which is a hot dog wrapped in bacon and deep fried(!!!!). It comes with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. You might think of it as a delicious hybrid of a BLT and a plain hot dog. It was fabulous!

Kanani urged me to get the fries cooked in duck fat. Alas, these are only available on the weekends, when they make a duck and foie gras sausage. But the regular, twice cooked fries were good, although I prefer fries made from peeled potatoes. The gourmet dipping sauce made from wasabi and tobiko was very good.

They have a daily exotic hot dog. On this day (Tuesday), it was alligator sausage. I have to go back and try Sunday's special: a Wagyu Kobe beef hot dog. There are also hot dogs made from rabbit, buffalo, and lobster.

There is a Polish dog, but that seems like going to a great steakhouse and ordering a hamburger.

The drinks are a delightful bonus. The jasmine iced tea was particularly good, especially with some simple syrup (they call it liquid sugar) added. The hibiscus lemonade was good, although I would say that this is an adult drink, not too sweet and pretty tart.

There is a vegetarian "No Dog," with avocado, tomato, onion, cucumber, cilantro, spicy chipotle mayo, and cheddar, which I'm sure I will never order (why go to a hot dog place if you're not going to eat a hot dog?). There is a keiki dog, but I think if I take my children, I'll have them split a Fat Boy (partly because I won't mind eating their leftovers).

The service is a bit uneven. There was one front-of-the-house person who was very helpful and enthusiastic - he seemed to be more of a management type. The other person we experienced was devoid of energy, did only what was necessary, and was clearly hired help. She didn't detract too much from the experience, but I like good service no matter where I go.

All in all, however, Hank's is a very enjoyable place. For me, it's the best hot dog place in Hawaii. And yes...I would go there anytime over Costco...and pay the higher price.

For's another place (not Costco)...I'll blog about it soon.

Grace and aloha,



One of the best books that I've read in a long time is Darkness Is My Only Companion. It chronicles the experiences of Kathryn Greene-McCreight, with whom I went to seminary, and who went on to receive a Ph.D in Theology from Yale and become an Episcopal priest.

After the birth of her second child, Kathryn would eventually be diagnosed bi-polar, would be hospitalized a number of times, and though she has shown some great improvement (with psychotherapy, medication, and by her description, the grace of God), she will probably always live with the illness.

The book is a great witness of a sufferer of mental illness who nonetheless remains steadfastly Christian. The podcast of my latest sermon goes into a bit more detail.

For anyone who has suffered depression at any level, or struggled with the diseases of the mind, this book is an illuminating resource.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Langer's - When Done Right, the Best Pastrami in the World (Sorry, New York, It's True)

Back in June, my family and I made a pilgrimage to Langer's Delicatessen in Los Angeles at the corner of Alvarado and 7th (there is validated parking in a lot that is one block east of Alvarado on 7th). Langer's is legendary for its pastrami sandwich, especially No. 19 - pastrami on rye with cole slaw on top of the meat.

What makes Langer's so good first has to do with the fact that they simmer the meat long enough so that it is very tender. Most of the fast food pastrami I've had (and some of the restaurant kind) is tough and rubbery. You would think that this would be a simple thing - just cook it longer - but Langer's is one of the few that gets this right.

The second thing is that Langer's uses remarkable rye bread (to get any other type of bread with pastrami at a deli is simply sacrilegious): a very nice crust with the inside of the bread very tender but firm enough to hold the sandwich (kind of like al dente pasta - notice that this is a running theme with me).

I've been to delis all over the world, including some of the best in New York City, like Carnegie Deli and the now defunct Wolfe's Deli, but Langer's is hands down the best - when it's done right. what am I getting at with the "when it's done right" business? What truly sets Langer's apart from the others is the hand slicing of the meat. I once mentioned this to someone, and he replied, a bit cynically, "And that makes a difference?" I emphatically said yes, but actually wasn't sure.

On this last trip to Langer's, I found out the hard way. We ordered our sandwiches, and when they came, the meat was clearly machine sliced! It was still an excellent sandwich, but it was lowered to the level of a good New York deli, merely among the better in the world. When I asked the waitress about this, she said,"Oh, you can request it to be hand sliced." Having bitten into my sandwich already, I decided not to make a bit deal of it, but there is definitely a difference. The meat isn't quite as juicy as the thicker slices by hand. And there is just something disconcerting about something that was so good and above reproach, and now has bowed to the god of efficiency ("Don't worry, it saves time and money, and no one will notice."). Ah...but we do notice!

So MAKE SURE that as you are ordering, you request hand slicing. While No. 19 is the most popular (it was featured on Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate"), some don't like the cole slaw, so just get it plain.

And make sure you go during the day - Langer's closes at 4 p.m.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. The disappointment of finding machine sliced meat at Langer's makes me think about how we often go through life striving for "just good enough to get by," and not on what is the best possible effort we can give. The delusion of "no one will notice," is a strong one, and one that will eventually rob us of meaning and fulfillment in life.

I think this is particularly true about our relationship with God. It is too often left neglected or not nurtured as much as it might be. We (including myself) might often think, "God is all loving and all forgiving, so it's okay that I don't pay attention as much; in the end, God will accept me."

And while that is true, the question isn't about whether or not God will still love us or forgive us. It is whether or not we are missing out on an incredible relationship with our God, one that is not only individual, but also communal, in places like the church.

I think about my girls and I am mindful of the time I spend with them. In the enormous demands of a pastor, I am tempted to spend less time with them, knowing that they love me and will forgive me. But I watch them grow so quickly, and the joy and blessing of each stage of their lives is gone forever in seemingly a blink of an eye, and I have to make sure I set aside enough time to appreciate truly what I have in these moments with them. It's similar with God.

In the end, it isn't whether or not God loves you and forgives you...that's a given. It's whether or not you and I benefit from that love, and experience the joy and blessing that comes from knowing - as fully as we can - our God in each of the stages of our lives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dean's Drive-Inn in Kaneohe - Upscale Fast Food

I ordinarily wouldn't post again so soon, but the Cheap Eats guys on KHNL, Lyle Galdeira and Russell Yamanoha, reviewed a place called Dean's Drive-Inn at 45-773 Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe. Today, Becky's aunt and uncle called to say they were coming over and were going to bring lunch from Dean's, because they saw it on T.V.!

This isn't your typical plate lunch place, although there are some dishes like loco moco. The cooking seems to strive for something more ambitious. One of the obvious signs of this is the thin strands of vegetables that garnish every place - a very nice touch.

Here's what we tried:

1. Two kinds of soup - cream of spinach and chicken noodle. The cream of spinach was a bit too thick, as if it had too much cornstarch. The chicken noodle was hearty, with big pieces of chicken - definitely the better of the two.

2. Mahi mahi, pan sauteed with a mild sauce that had capers. I didn't taste enough flavor to discern a real sauce, but it looked like picatta. It was okay but not something I would order again.

3. The chicken teriyaki was grilled with a nice char and a delicate teriyaki sauce. It was pretty moist. My daughter liked it, and I thought it was pretty good.

4. The next dish was called chopped steak. It looked like a stir fry with onions, celery, carrots, and strips of beef. I thought this had more flavor than the previously described dishes - in general, the food seemed a little under-seasoned.

5. The best dish by far was the lamb chops. I would order these again and again. The most impressive thing is that you get several (6-7) chops that are cooked simply and nicely (again, gently seasoned, but in this case, the full flavor of the meat was all there; there is mint jelly served on the side for those who like that with their lamb). They are the kind you pick up by the bone and just gnaw on them for all they are worth.

We did not try the ahi-cakes that were featured on T.V., kind of a local take on crab cakes. I'll have to try those next time, along with a couple of orders of lamb chops.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Lamb has an important place in Judeo-Christian history. Lamb was the main item sacrificed during the Passover festival, which was the final event that led to the Hebrews securing freedom from the Egyptians. However, instead of just burning it on an altar, the Hebrews were to eat the entire animal, an evolution in the understanding of sacrifice (Rob Bell's video "The God's Aren't Angry," gives a great explanation of the progression of sacrifice and the deepening understanding of the divine.

When Jesus is about to give himself up to the Romans to be arrested, flogged, and crucified, it is at a Passover meal, or seder, at which lamb was presumably served, although it is not mentioned in the Gospels but it almost definitely was. Perhaps the lack of mention of the lamb was intentional, because throughout history, Jesus became known as the Paschal lamb, the true sacrifice on behalf of all humankind.

So enjoy lamb and keep in mind the grace symbolized in it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Washington D. C. - Fantastic Food Town

Most people think of Washington, D. C. mostly as the seat of the federal government and free museums. This is true, but it also has some of the best restaurants I've ever experienced.

I spent several weeks in Washington while getting my doctor of ministry degree through Wesley Theological Seminary, which is adjacent to American University. For those who know the area, it's in the northwest part of the city, in a nice section called Tenleytown. It was very convenient to go from there to almost anywhere in the city by the Metro, a great subway system.

So here are some of my picks for the nation's capital (just for my Sasabune hosting friend, Linda Quarles) counting down to my favorite:

10. Clyde's, several locations, including Georgetown, Chevy Chase, and the Gallery Place/Chinatown area. This is a reliable American restaurant to which you would take a multi-generational crowd. Good meat and fish. The Chevy Chase location has a cool interior with model trains going around and kind of a mini-car museum downstairs. It's a safe choice if you are with traditional, non-adventurous people (it's where I would have taken my parents if they were still living...that's not to say it's bad, it's good...but not overly exciting or cutting edge...just good old American food).

9. Two Amy's Pizza, 3715 Macomb Street, NW. Two Amy's is reputed to have the best pizza in the city. I would disagree, but it is still good pizza. The best part is the crust, which is thin, Neapolitan style. The toppings are pretty good to very good. My favorite was the Calabrese: tomato, onions, anchovy, fresh mozzarella, parsley, olives. I think it is worth going to once, but I didn't it make my regular pizza place.

8. Saint's Paradise Cafeteria, Shaw District, NW. This is a good soul food place run by a large Pentecostal church. Meat and a couple of sides is what you would get. I had the fried chicken, macaroni and choose, and cornbread (they were out of collard greens the night I went, much to my disappointment). The food was good - not as good as the Loveless Cafe, but solid. Elbert Kim, one of the pastors of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego, is crazy about this place, especially on rib night, which I believe is on Thursdays.

7. 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, many locations. This is one of the better burger places you will find. Very good burgers on a good bun, accompanied by high quality fries. Lots of stuff to put on your burger.

Okay, the above are good to try, but not essential eats. Here are the places you shouldn't miss:

6. Crab - various places. Spiced blue crabs (steamed with a spice mix, often with Old Bay Seasoning, served on a butcher paper covered table) are a true delicacy in these parts, and there are many places to go and opinions about which are better. The Dancing Crab in Tenleytown was recommended to me, and I've been there a few times and thought it was pretty good...until people told me that there were much better places, and kind of looked at me with some disdain when I said I liked it (I still actually think it's fine). I thought the Bethesda Crab House was good. My all-time favorite, though, would have to be the Fairfax Crab House, mainly because it was all-you-can-eat crabs. I haven't been there in many years, and a quick check on the internet seems to indicate that it has changed ownership, but they still have all-you-can-eat crabs. Maybe Linda or others know a better place. But spiced crab is something not to be missed if you've never had them.

5. Ben's Chili Bowl, 1213 U Street. Could be the most famous greasy spoon in America. You may recall that President Obama and Vice-President Biden ate there around the time of the inauguration. The thing to get is a half-smoke: a split sausage with onions, chili, and cheese. Definitely heart-stoppingly delicious!

4. Zaytinya, Gallery Place/Chinatown. Spaniard Jose Andres is one of the world's best chefs and restaurateurs, and he has several restaurants in Washington. Zaytinya is a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant specializing in mezze, or small plates. I liked the stuffed grape leaves, the fried eggplant, marinated prawns, and lamb chops, but so many of the dishes looked good that I didn't try. Caution: this place is described as being moderately priced, but I think it creeped up on expensive. NOTE: Zaytinya's executive chef, Mike Isabella, is a contestant on Top Chef Las Vegas.

Okay...These last three are truly great restaurants and the ranking is not based on which is better tasting, but more on which I am most likely to visit the most, basically based on the price.

3. Kinkead's, Foggy Bottom. No, this isn't the restaurant chain you're thinking of - Kincaid's at Ward Warehouse and other locations. This is one of the best restaurants anywhere. It is so good that the sous chef (and not the head chef) was a contestant in the Bocuse D'Or, probably the most prestigious cooking competition in the world (she lost to the French chef). I was fortunate enough to have been treated here by my sister and brother-in-law a few years ago. I've been assured that it is still great. It was one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. Even something as simple as clam chowder was elevated into another level; a natural clam broth with country ham instead of bacon - it really demonstrated how the simplest of preparations are the best when done right. I also had a perfectly cooked and seasoned piece of fish, once again, simple but absolutely delicious. This is an expensive restaurant, but a great place for a very special occasion.

2. Jaleo, several locations. These are Jose Andres's flagship restaurants. Spanish tapas prepared unbelievably well. Yet again, my sister and brother-in-law hosted this meal for my family for my graduation. There are too many dishes to recommend, but two that you shouldn't miss are the paella (we chose the one with shrimp and cuttlefish) and the incredibly tender and flavorful braised short ribs.

1. If, however, I had to pick just one restaurant in Washington to eat at, it would be the Matchbox at Gallery Place/Chinatown. It is across the street from a Baptist church pastored by my classmate, the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler. If you need a good restaurant recommendation other than these, she has always been spot on. And the Matchbox was her best recommendation.

It is a hip casual dining place. The appetizers are terrific, things like mini-burgers (really good sliders with something called onion strings on them - excellent), shrimp and grits, and crab cakes.

The apple/pear salad is out of this world! Mesclun greens, candied pecans, gorgonzola, with a honey-balsamic vinaigrette. It is just the best.

The Matchbox is known for its pizza, and it's hands down better than Two Amy's (sorry!). Just about all of them are excellent, but two stand out for me. Fire and Smoke is not for the timid; it is very spicy: fire roasted red peppers, spanish onions, chipotle pepper tomato sauce, garlic puree, smoked gouda, fresh basil.

But my all-time favorite was off of the specials menu on one visit: arugula (rocket greens for the British readers) and prosciutto. So simple yet so good! My mouth still waters just at the thought of it!

Just thinking about the apple/pear salad and the fire and smoke pizza makes me think that if vegetarian food was all this good, I'd eschew meat forever. Then again, those braised short ribs at Jaleo are awfully good....

So there you have take on my favorite places in our nation's capital. I'd love to hear from the D. C. residents to know what they think and what other recommendations they would make.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Great discussion on science and religion from the last post! One of the things that intrigues me about those who dismiss God on scientific grounds: they will often argue that given time, one could eventually have a complex universe based on pure chance and not on an intelligent God (unlike Cara's observation).

Well, I guess it's theoretically possible that a sandstorm somewhere whipped up and swept through an iron mine that was on top of an oil deposit and there was am earthquake and suddenly a fully equipped turbo charged Volvo appeared in the sand.

The question is, which is more likely to happen: an intelligent God who creates a world in which people eventually build a Volvo? Or random occurrences that result in a Volvo?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Side Street Inn - If I Had to Recommend Just One

When it comes down to it, most of the people I know, if they could only recommend one restaurant on Oahu to people visiting Hawaii, would recommend Side Street Inn, 1225 Hopaka Street in Honolulu, across the street from the Ewa side of the Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Side Street's chef, Colin Nishida, creates the kind of food that sophisticated gourmands and down home eating people can all love. The restaurant was featured on the Hawaii episode of Anthony Boudain's No Reservation program, with Bourdain eating dinner with many of Hawaii's most celebrated chefs. It is said that the best chefs in town go to Side Street to eat after hours.

When saying that if I could only recommend one, it's not to say that Side Street is the best restaurant in town, nor is it necessarily my favorite (although it is certainly up there; we don't go as often because it is more of a bar restaurant and it is not the best place to take children, especially young children). But if I had to pick one place that best represents what food in Hawaii is about, Side Street is that place.

When you approach the restaurant, you might get the feeling you are in the wrong place. The restaurant is literally on a side street, and near a red light section. But there is valet parking and when you get inside, you are greeted by a crowded interior teeming with people and good food. Hopefully you will be seated fairly quickly, and then you will try to make choices from a huge menu. I would suggest going with at least three people, because you will want to order several dishes.

The pork chops are legendary. Lightly dredged and fried (according to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin article, the dredging ingredients are cornstarch, flour, pepper and garlic salt), they are comfort food at its most delicious.

Also highly revered by many is the fried rice. I'm not as wild about it as others, but it is good. It has a very distinct flavor, and I am guessing that they add dashi (Japanese fish based soup stock) to it in addition to lup cheong, Chinese sausage instead of the usual char siu. They also add frozen peas and carrots, which takes the dish down a peg for me. But if you are there for the first time, you have to try it and judge for yourself.

The lilikoi (passion fruit) baby back ribs are terrific. Sweet and succulent, they are everything you hoped that Hawaii style ribs should taste like but rarely do.

There are also nods to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: try the furikake (a Japanese seaweed based condiment) encrusted mahi-mahi, or the pesto encrusted ahi. The Manila steamer clams are garlicky and buttery and served with garlic bread to sop up the scrumptious liquid that is formed during the preparation. The famous Nalo Greens (to me, the absolute best mesclun salad greens) are utilized in various ways and a fabulous addition.

I could go on and on, but by now, you have decided to go and try it for yourself. It will be a great experience.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. When I get into discussions with non-believers, the most common complaint is they are scientifically based people, and faith in God and Christ cannot be empirically proven by the scientific method. The problem is that the scientific method is not designed to measure or verify human experience. For example, if I say that I love my wife and children, how can you prove that with the scientific method? You can measure certain physiological changes when I'm with them, you might be able to isolate and categorize brain wave activity, but you cannot qualify by this method what it means to love.

Another problem is that the scientific method is inherently limited, because it is a human enterprise restricted to the finite nature of human cognition. How can something finite have the ability to measure something that is infinite?

Still another problem with the scientific method is that it requires detachment from the thing being studied, so that a more "objective" conclusion can be reached. But detachment is exactly the opposite goal of religion (which is from the Latin word, ligare - to connect - which is the same root word as ligament, which connects muscle to bone; re-ligion is to re-connect humans with God). You cannot understand religion unless you are making an active pursuit of connection with God. This would be at cross purposes with the scientific method (I do embrace the scientific method wherever it is appropriate, by the way).

In any case, I've always felt the logical, scientific perspective presented by non-believers is really a smoke screen. When it comes down to it, all of the non-believers I've spoken to begin with a logical, scientific objection to religion, but eventually reveal a highly emotional experience that turned them away.

Bill Maher's film "Religulous" illustrates this, which is ironic because Maher spends the whole film trashing religion (I highly recommend this actually strengthened my faith in a strange way; although I would suspect that if you were anti-religious going in, you would be even more so at the end). Maher shares that his family attended church with his Irish Catholic father, and didn't know for many years that his mother was actually Jewish, which would have been almost scandalous in the pre-Vatican II (and at times anti-Semitic) Catholic Church. Because of a disagreement with church dogma, his father stopped taking the family to church when Bill was 13. This had to be a volatile set of circumstances for a young adolescent that would affect profoundly his views on religion.

In the film, Maher meets with a men's group from a storefront church. After one of the more regimented members, offended by Maher, stalks off, the remaining members continue the conversation. At the end, these men ask Maher if they could pray for him. He allows them to do it, keeping his eyes open and staring at the man praying for him with intense scrutiny and curiosity. At the end, he says to the remaining men, "Thank you for being Christ-like, and not just Christian."

That was a pretty extraordinary statement from one who has been so vitriolic against Christianity. I think what it comes down to is that Maher opposes extremist religious people, which is what he mostly experiences. I think he is secretly much more open to God than he lets on. I'd love to see a conversation between Maher and someone like Rob Bell - who thinks moderately and scientifically - instead of the admittedly preposterous people Maher interviews in the film. In fact, I believe most Christians also find the extremist religious people to be pretty ridiculous as well, as they are more about personal power and control than an authentic desire to do God's will.

In the end, faith in God and Christ is much more about personal experience, and not about detached, scientific observation.

You can read my blog posts faithfully, but if you never go and actually experience the restaurants or food I write about, you will never truly know what I am talking about. It's the same with faith: you can read about it, argue about it, but if you don't truly seek an authentic experience with God in Christ, you'll never know what I'm talking about.