Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pantry Dinner

Well, all good things must end and and so, too, has my month in Kauai ended. Reality for me means three things: food, laundry, and the mail. You can go around in dirty clothes not having read your mail, but all God's chil'n gotta eat, so I started sizing up the kitchen situation almost immediately.

Before we left, we had done a rather admirable job of eating all our perishables, so on returning, there was nothing to eat -- in a manner of speaking. There was no fresh food, but enough canned, dried, and otherwise packaged food to keep two people going indefinitely. This time, I created something I call the mix-in.

A mix-in has three ingredients: a box of soup, a package of frozen vegetables, and a cooked grain. For our return
dinner, I used a box of tomato-roasted pepper soup, some spinach, and brown rice. Just cook each ingredient separately, then mix them together. If the soup cools down while you're combining ingredients, just give it a minute in the microwave for a big bowl of steaming hot goodness.

I admit it: this is no big deal. Three ingredients and you're done. But it's terrific! I had to keep reminding myself that I was eating a pantry dinner. The secret, I think, is the boxed soup. Every variety of every brand of boxed soup I've tried has had a really bold flavor that pops with the essence of the featured vegetable.

This saucy little combo is only the beginning. Another of my favorite boxed soups, from Pacific Natural Foods, is curried red lentil, which also works great with spinach and brown rice. (By the way, mix-ins work equally well with fresh vegetables and steamed rice.)

I'd love to hear about other mix-in combinations, so send them along!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Would you like papaya with that?

A high point of my stay in Kauai has been has been my daily treat, a fresh papaya smoothie. Papayas are in season now and can be had for next to nothing; at the Koloa market yesterday, large, 2-3-pound fruit were going for just two dollars!

At these prices, I can afford to stock up and so my  little kitchen hasn't been without them. For a smoothie that generously feeds one, the recipe goes like this:

1/2 papaya
1/2 c plain, nonfat yogurt
1 banana
2 glugs of soy milk (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 c bran cereal, such as Fiber 1 or All Bran
4 ice cubes

Whir the whole thing in a blender until ingredients are well mixed and ice is crushed. I guarantee that you will be trying to lick the inside of the glass to get every drop. As you can see from the shape of my preferred smoothie glass, this is an ongoing challenge.

Kauai's papayas are a delicious but endangered species. During the second half of the twentieth century, papayas on every Hawaiian island except Kauai have become infected with  the ringspot virus. As the fruit is re-introduced, many farmers are opting to plant a genetically modified version. The citizen group, GMO-Free Kauai, charges that the genetically modified papaya is less resistant to disease and unpopular with importing countries. Keeping Kauai's papayas pure is a cause celebre and GMO-Free Kauai has begun a grass-roots program testing the island's papayas to ensure that they haven't been contaminated with the genetically altered variety.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Groceries: Kauai's Dirty Little Secret

With Hawaii's lush landscape, you might expect there to be an abundance of inexpensive, delectable produce in the markets here. Unfortunately, the produce aisles at Kauai's markets all look like war zones. Limp lettuce and bruised apples at out-of-sight prices only begin to tell the story.

Whether I'm on vacation or off, I usually enjoy grocery shopping. For me, shopping for food is an interesting way to learn more about an area and its people. If I were to judge Kauaians by their grocery stores, I'd say they've given up. Lemons sell for $1.99 EACH. (In California, they're usually four for a dollar.) Bananas are brought in from Ecuador at premium prices when a more flavorful local variety grows unharvested by the roadside. A single-serving bottle of V-8 juice is $2.75. Surely the merchants here don't think that consumers are happy and wouldn't go elsewhere if they could?

Fortunately, others are questioning the high prices, low quality, and dangers of Kauai's reliance on imported food. The Kauai Food Industry Forum, a group of concerned community members, estimates that 90 percent of the island's food supply is imported. Recently, the group held a conference to encourage open dialog about the problem. Foremost on their agenda is encouraging home and community gardens. To learn more, visit