Fruit Category

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 2

If only every morning would wake me with seaside breezes tickling my skin! Made all the difference in the world.

Today we freely explore and acclimatize ourselves to Kauai; that is, after a monster breakfast with a slew of skittering Mina birds and leaping koi keeping us company.

Our exploration started with a mini-hike along the sandstone cliffs overlooking Shipwreck Beach. Although we liked to imagine grand pirate ships crashed on the shore, littering their loot across the sand, it’s actually named for a small abandoned boat that made it’s home there for years until Hurricane Iwa took its badly decomposing shell back to the sea. Also just below the water’s surface are jagged volcanic rocks endemic to Kauai which makes for some killer body surfing. Notice that I decidedly use the word “killer” to describe surfing there.

Seeing those big waves whet our appetite to visit one of the best beaches for body surfing, Poipu Beach. We’re talking plump waves converging at odd angles to create ideal conditions for some heady surf!

After a sufficient beating, we indulged in a couples 80-minute sports massage and looked forward to what is considered the most romantic place for dinner in Kauai – The Beachhouse.

Starting off with soft floury ciabatta and plenty of butter, we dove into fresh local fish ceviche served in a coconut shell, tempura-fried Ahi maki stuffed with crab. Our main courses included locally caught Oni, black forbidden rice, a grilled coconut sauce, and fresh green papaya. Jordan had wasabi-crusted Mongchong or local butterfish with lillikoi beurre blanc. Lillikoi or passion fruit – all types of which flourish all over the island – is a beloved and ubiquitous staple on local and restaurant menus alike.

Although the Beachhouse isn’t going to win any Michelin stars, the ingredients were treated simply, allowing them to be delicious just on their own.

Stuffed and intoxicated on a luxury cocktail of sunset and seaside, we caught the finale of a luau, complete with impassioned fire twirling display, from our window and quickly drifted off to sleep.

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy: Venice

After desperately navigating a mega-riot of cars at the bus terminal in Venice, and saying a fond farewell to our trusty rental car, we met our guide Takayo who took us to our hotel.

Honestly, I have absolutely no idea how we would have ever done it without her. Venice was by far the hardest city to navigate without walking in circles, triangles and rectangles first. If it wasn’t for its supreme charm and romantic waterways, it could feel like trying to find your way out of an M.C. Escher drawing.

Make no mistake that Venice is a tourist town and the prices for everything from Carnival masks to fish charged by the kilogram make it one of the most expensive places to visit in Italy. But its fascinating history as a hub for trade and politics seep deep into its ancient walls, streets, and wood piles upon which this city stays afloat. And you feel it.

One of the highlights of my time in Venice was visiting the Rialto Fish Market – a place where it seems you’re walking underwater while swaths of sea colors dance around you.

Cuttlefish or squid ink pasta is one of the most famous dishes from Venice. Our very well-read guide Mr. Sabino tipped us off to a local joint called Rosticceria Gislon which supposedly had an excellent Spaghettini Nero and other tipico dishes without the ridiculous prices.

Downstairs was an open a la carte trattoria with hot and cold dishes (it was extremely difficult not to try each one!) and upstairs was their sit-down restaurant. We opted for the restaurant so we could rest a bit and get a little down time from the throngs of customers downstairs.

Feast your eyes!

Seafood was the star in every one of the dishes we tried. Even the mozzarella en carroza acciughe or fried cheese sandwich with anchovy delightfully punched you in the face with the incredible briny flavors swimming through the gooey crispiness of the cheese and bread.

Spaghettini Nero
The squid was as tender as braised abalone and the sauce had an intense seafood flavor that was also sweet, almost chocolatey. While eating this, I knew I’d never find its equal in the States.

Scampi
Simply boiled shrimp with lemon. Crisp meaty refreshing nibbles.

Spaghetti acciughe
Sweet soft onions, fruity olive oil, and anchovies offered well-rounded mouthful after mouthful of comfort with every bite.

Fritte di frutta di mare
Very lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil. This isn’t your Long John Silver’s fried fish platter. Those little fish and shrimp heads had so much incredible flavor!

Sure Venice is a tourist town with its tourist trappings.

But by nightfall, it was impossible not fall in love with its people, culture, history, and food. And hey, if you’ve got your honey to spend it with, it truly feels like you’re starring in your own romantic movie.

Awwww. 🙂

The Gingko Experiment: Let’s do this!

Despite my excursion to Italy (look for my mega post coming soon!), I made it back just in time to harvest those precious stinkers now stinkin’ up my front sidewalk! Since I am a total newbie, I decided to play it safe and experiment with a handful only. But friends, I can now say that I am part of the illustrious group of foragers, harvesters, and cooks of the gingko nut that has spanned generation upon generation…

Well, not really. I’m still pretty much a newb, but it was a lot of fun anyhow! At least maybe these little guys will help me stave off the coming winter flu season.

Gingko Nut Harvesting
Arm yourself with some rubber gloves! Don’t handle the gingko nuts with bare hands as they will cause major skin irritation.
Use a double plastic bag for gathering the nuts.
When ripe, the gingko nuts will be soft on the outside and a beautiful orange persimmon-y color. And of course, they’ll stink to high heaven!

Be mindful of any juicy bits that cling to your bag or your rubber gloves.

Gingko Nut Preparation
Its a good idea to wash your hands with your gloves on so as to control any smearing of the sticky stuff.
Get a clean bowl and get a pot of water boiling on the stove (size of pot will vary depending on how many nuts you have. Use your best judgment. I trust you!)
First squish off the stinky outer layer of the nut. Dispose of the fleshy pile immediately (I took the bag right out to the trash bin outside when I was done cleaning the nuts).

Rinse the nuts thoroughly so they are clean, and dry.

Gently crack open the nut shells (don’t be a knucklehead like me and be too heavy-handed!).

Remove the shells and you’re left with cute little nuts with a paper thin skin.

Pour some boiling water over them and let them soak for ~10 minutes.
Gently peel off the skins to reveal the gorgeous jade green nuts, then put them in a pot of boiling water.

Simmer for ~30 minutes, then drain.

I’m going to eat these beauties lightly pan fried with salt, but there are numerous preparations. You can grill them, roast them, stir fry them, and add them to soups like my friend Mr. Katsu does with his famous matsutake mushroom soup at Katsu in Chicago. Keep in mind, though, that these nuts are loaded with powerful antioxidants and numerous sources say that one should limit herself to eating only 5-10 per day.

Well…that wasn’t too bad I guess? Not so bad at all, in fact!

So if you are feeling adventurous and are fortunate enough for a gingko nut to cross your path, follow your nose and try these gems out! You won’t be disappointed.

This concludes The Gingko Experiment. Fin.

Check out The Gingko Experiment: The Beginning for some background to this fun project!

The Gingko Experiment: The beginning

When we moved into our house here in Chicago nine years ago (did I just say nine?!), my parents came for a housewarming visit in the Fall. It was early September, and I was giving my Dad a tour of the front of the house.

“…and here is the front porch, Dad. Uh, Dad?”

No answer. I turned to face my Dad and sure enough, he was staring up into a couple of trees in front of the house and not listening to me one bit.

“Uh, what are you looking at? Did you see a squirrel or something?” I asked.

“Jeanne, do you know what these are?” he said using his whiny sarcastic voice to poke fun.

“You mean ‘trees’?” I replied, grinning. “Hey, by the way, something stinks. Smells like something died over here.”

He reached down and picked up what looked like a perfectly round jade-green grape.

“This is a gingko nut and these are gingko trees – one male and one female. How lucky you are!”

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If it wasn’t for my Dad and our Korean heritage, I may have spent these nine years not knowing the treasure that grew right in front of my house. Instead, the tree may have just been the source of a putrid stink from pulp staining the sidewalk brownish red as people squashed the nuts under their feet.

Gingko nut trees (also known as Maidenhair trees) are considered “living fossils” as they are biologically the oldest trees in the world. The Chinese especially revere the tree and its nuts as sacred. It is known as the Silver Almond Tree, White Nut Tree, or Ancestor Tree. The nuts are still used in East Asian cooking today, especially in Japan and Korea. In Korea, it’s popular to thread the nuts onto pine needles or skewers, and then grill them. In Japan, one may be lucky enough to find a gingko nut in a chawanmushi or matsutake mushroom soup. The gingko biloba extract is famous for its medicinal properties as well.

Today, I woke up to a refreshingly rainy September morning and thought of my father as the leaves of the gingko tree rippled outside my window. My forager instinct bloomed instantly and I anxiously went outside to reacquaint myself with the smelly gems.

Alas, the nuts still have yet to turn orange and slightly soft. And the stink certainly hasn’t reached its full potency.  I’ll need to wait a bit longer.

No matter. I can wait, my pretties!

Cooking them of course will be the next challenge; this being no easy feat. Preparing gingko nuts isn’t just stinky and messy, it can actually severely irritate the skin. There are days for drying as well before cooking can even begin.

But who doesn’t love a challenge? Stay tuned…