Tag Archives: Travel

Beyond the Beaches in Hawaii

Today, it’s pouring rain in Seattle. In fact it’s rained so much that we’ve set a new record and according to NPR, Nov 19th is officially the rainiest day of the year! I badly need a new pair of rain boots that are actually waterproof. Sigh.

I’m recently back from a 10 day trip to Hawaii. This was my first time! We were on the Big Island and Kauai. While I enjoyed the beaches and got to do some scuba diving while on the Big Island, there was a lot of other things to like about the Hawaiian islands. Here’s a photo essay of some of my favorite things: bananas, sweet potatoes, taro fields, lu’au, kalua pork and of course the flora.

I haven’t traveled much since getting hit with all the food allergies and I’ll confess that I was slightly worried about how it would all go. We rented cottages on Airbnb and made sure we had a kitchen for me to cook in if needed. This helped a lot. I ended up cooking about 50% of the time and you can see below some of the produce I found at local farmers markets.

Fortunately, there were a few things I could eat out. Plate lunches included meat and white rice and often came with a salad. I got the grilled fish, kalua pork or poke (raw fish salad dressed in sesame oil) options and skipped the salad dressing. Laulau was another wholesome meal where the meat was covered in taro and ti leaves and steamed. Simple, yummy and very filling with rice. It was great for me that meats are usually simply prepared without a lot of sauces by grilling, steaming or roasting.

I’m counting on the memories, the remnants of a tan and hopefully lots of stored up Vitamin D to get me through another Pacific Northwest winter! The thought of the ski slopes opening soon does help too.


Hawaiian bananas, pink limes and sweet potatoes big island farmers market

Hawaiian bananas, pink limes and sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes had a very floral flavor when steamed. The local bananas were starchier and I liked them a lot bananas than what you normally get in the US.

quail eggs and hawaiian bananas

We treated ourselves to quail eggs one day! And those bananas went from green to yellow just in 2 days.

Taro field

Fields of taro, the starchy tuber used to make the Hawaiian staple poi. The leaves are used to wrap around meat and steam, adding flavor and helping keep the moisture in.

banana tree

Banana tree blossom

kalua pork cooked in imu

Opening up the imu – the pit constructed in the ground to cook a whole pig in

Kalua pork

Kalua pork when cooked the traditional way in the imu

After a luau

After the luau feast and show, very touristy but great show.

palm tree braids

Palm tree jewellery


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Romantic Red Hills in the Nilgiris

The bus, a very comfortable “Volvo” bus came to an abrupt stop and the driver yelled gruffly that it was the last stop. It was 5:35 in the morning and we had arrived at the Ooty bus stop 25 minutes early. I hadn’t thought to put on my warm fleece layer since a driver from the Red Hills resort was supposed to pick me up. Bad decision.

Even at this early hour, there was a fair amount of activity. Buses came and went, auto rickshaws waited patiently for passengers, and street vendors had already set up shop. My ride finally came and off we went, both front windows all the way down. That might have reduced the wind shield from fogging up too much but it left me cold!

Ooty is in the Nilgiri hills and the town is situated at an altitude of roughly 8000 ft. It is the premier hill station destination for South Indians wanting to escape the heat of summer. It is also a choice place for newly wedded couples to honeymoon. My destination, Red Hills, was only 25 kilometers from Ooty but took almost two hours and included a car ride followed by a 4 wheel drive for the really bad roads. Red Hills is really remote. And simply gorgeous.

The beautiful white washed villa was built by a British man over a hundred years ago. The current owners who also run the surrounding tea plantation, have built additional rooms and a large hall into the place. This quiet and romantic location is not only perfect for honeymooners but also for small weddings! There is even a small Krishna temple on the grounds.

Hiking through the forests. That's a pepper vine on the tree.

The British introduced tea cultivation into India in the 18th century. The three major regions that grow tea in India are Assam, Darjeeling and the Nilgiris. While all are black teas, the flavor and aromas differ considerably. Tea from the Nilgiris, when brewed, has a lovely dark gold color and a very light taste with pleasing aroma. The Badaga people of the area who were once livestock owners and organic farmers are now the tea producers and most still stick to organic farming.

Nilgiris black tea, light and aromatic

The owners of Red Hills, Mr. Vijay Kumar and Mrs. Banu were gracious hosts. I was welcomed into the kitchen and had many opportunities to learn the style of cooking of their community. The next few posts will cover more about the cuisine of the Badaga community and a few typical recipes that are very easy to make anywhere in the world.

For now, I’ll leave you with the proper technique of brewing tea. If you have tea from the Nilgiris or from Darjeeling (or for that matter, most teas), I learned that it should never be boiled. These are light and delicate teas. Heat water till it comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, add 1 teaspoon tea for every two mugs, and steep for 3-4 minutes. A slice of fresh lime in the tea gives it a refreshing touch.


Filed under General, India

Japan: Of friendship and food

Back in 2001, I was fortunate enough to celebrate New Years in Japan with my friend’s family at her grandmother’s house in a small village near Himeji Castle. The whole family had gathered – caring and curious aunts and uncles, friendly cousins, and adorable little nephews and nieces. The kitchen was a beehive of activity with grandmother running the show. Being guests, we weren’t allowed to help and we’d probably only have been in the way anyway. As the evening got colder and the clock inched closer to midnight, we overcame the initial shyness with the couple of words of Japanese we knew, our hosts’ smattering of English, and lots of good cheer. When we finally sat down to dinner, we needed five tables to accommodate everyone. My friend’s mother, grandmother and aunts had prepared an amazing spread. I’ll confess that with the many years that have since passed, I don’t exactly remember all the dishes we ate. I do remember my favorite was the wild boar nabe. After the feast, my friend’s father took us to the family shrine to ring the bell and bring in the new year. I will never forget how lucky I felt to have been a part of a Japanese family for that celebration. Every new year, I crave nabe and many of the other Japanese dishes that we had on that trip and I think of my friend and her family. Once I even made okonomiyaki and gomae (spinach salad with sesame seeds) as part of the new year’s eve dinner.

So you can imagine my pleasure when I received a surprise package from this dear friend a couple of months ago. She sent me a book of Bashō’s haiku, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking and the most encouraging note ever. It totally made my day. I’ve been meaning to use my new cookbook ever since. She also sent me The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, a compilation of haiku by Matsuo Bashō, a Japanese poet born in 1644. He wrote this haiku upon meeting an old friend he hadn’t seen for twenty years. It is one of my favorite.

A lively cherry
In full bloom
Between the two lives
Now made one.

Tofu with Hot Spring Egg ‘Onsen Tamago’ (Onsen Tamago Nose Dofu)

Adapted from Harumi Kurihara’s Harumi’s Japanese Cooking


1 lb Silken Tofu
4 eggs
1/4 cup soy sauce (I use Kikkoman Less Sodium)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
a couple of drops of fish sauce (optional)
roughly 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or to your taste)
roughly 10 stalks of chives finely chopped (or to your taste, can also use spring onions)


Carefully remove the tofu from its packaging while trying to keep it intact. Let excess water drain and cut into 4 big pieces.

Soft boil the eggs so the white is just cooked and the yolk runny. The cookbook says to use eggs that are at room temperature, place them in a glass container and pour boiling water to cover them and allow to cook for 10 minutes. (I screwed up and forgot to bring my egg down to room temperature and it was still uncooked. Fortunately I had a second egg but I screwed up again and overcooked it. Yup I make many mistakes. Next time I plan to place the egg in boiling water on the stove for 4-5 minutes.)

Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sake and fish sauce in a mug and microwave for 45 seconds. (Book says to microwave for 2 minutes but my dressing ended up too thick)

Place a piece of tofu on each of four plates and scoop out about a wide tablespoon from the top of each piece.

Crack an egg and carefully empty the white and yolk into the hollow of each piece of tofu.

Arrange the previously scooped out tofu on the side. Place some grated ginger on top and garnish the dish with the chives.

Pour the dressing over the tofu before serving.

My verdict? The dish was simple, yet elegant, subtle yet smooth and flavorful.


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{April Newsletter} What I Learned in Guatemala

This post just went out as part of my April Newsletter and I thought I’d share it here as well.

It has been about six weeks since I launched (Veena’s Market) in mid-February. And what an interesting six weeks it has been. Everyone I talk to loves the concept behind Veena’s Market – recipe kits that make it really easy to cook something from another cuisine and get good results. And many are curious about how I came up with the idea.

It was July 2009. With Yadira in the lead, we stopped by the local market to pick up herbs and vegetables and then caughta packed mini bus and held on for dear life till we reached her village a short distance from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city. Once there, we stopped by the butcher’s to pick up fresh chicken before walking up the steep cobblestone pathway to her home – a farmhouse built into the hillside with spectacular views of the village below and volcanoes in the distance. Rows of planted corn, barking dogs and clucking hens completed the pretty picture. Yadira had ambitious plans for us. We learned that the secret to home-made tortillas lay not just in getting the right ratio of masa flour to water but especially in forming the tortilla. You hold the little ball of dough and slap it back and forth from hand to hand to create an even and round tortilla, something that is easier said than done! We learned how to thicken the sauce for Pepian (an orange-red sauce that is usually made with chicken) with rolls of white bread and how to make tamalitos (little tamales) to go with the curry. Finally for dessert, we learned how delicious plantains stuffed with sweet black bean paste can be and how easy it is to make them. Well, it is easy enough when you know to buy plantains that are just the right shade of green – ripe but not too mature.

My husband and I were lucky to arrange this culinary adventure with Yadira, a friend of our Spanish teacher. I loved every minute of this wonderful afternoon and was so grateful for the insights not only into Guatemalan cuisine but also into Guatemalan culture. A couple of months earlier, I was trying to decide between going back into the corporate world or pursuing an entrepreneurial endeavor related to food, something I’ve always been passionate about. It was an easy decision to make. I wanted to create Veena’s Market and give people similar insights into other cultures and cuisine as what I received in Guatemala. Helping people connect to other cultures through food; I couldn’t think of a better job description!

I’ve loved reading your emails and comments sent through the website. As we continue on our journey to improve and grow, I hope you will stay in touch and share your thoughts on recipes, cuisines or anything Veena’s Market can improve on.

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