When kids and food collide

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I have no idea how it all happened, but I wound up handing luau trays of chef-prepared tilapia to a bunch of kids.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to help isisHawaii, a nonprofit dedicated to getting students excited as bout science and technology, with a food-based sustainability project.

The organization needed help recruiting chefs who would be willing and able to cook up farm-raised tilapia for kids and parents — along with locally grown produce from Mari’s Gardens in Mililani — to teach them how to cook and eat in a sustainable way.

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Fresh produce from Mari’s Gardens.

That’s where I came in.

I called in a bunch of favors — to chefs Ed Kenney (@edstown) and Elmer Guzman (@pokestop) — who both agreed to put on demos. And Mel Sumida (@mel808) asked Chris Okuhara from Miso & Ale to help, too.

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The crews from Poke Stop and Miso & Ale

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Kenney from town

The event was called Tasty Tidbits and it was held at two elementary schools — Ala Wai Elementary and Lunalilo Elementary — with dozens of parents and students in attendance.

I gotta say, these chefs turned out gourmet dishes using hot plates and electric frying pans — using tilapia and fresh veggies.

Like Okuhara’s red Thai curry on rice noodles or Guzman’s smoke tilapia.

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Here’s the spicy curry with tilapia from Miso & Ale.

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And here are the lettuce wraps using Guzman’s smoked tilapia.

The reason for using tilapia: this is a fish often used in aquaponics, where combines aquaculture and hydroponics. The fish waste is used to fertilize the plants, which grow without soil.

“If it’s grown together, it goes together,” said Kenney at a cooking demo at Lunalilo Elementary.

It’s a sustainable product — and aqupaonics uses substantially less water than traditional soil-based agriculture.

Tilapia is one of those fish that make people in Hawaii shudder. A lot of us relate them to the big, black mutant fish found in the Ala Wai Canal.

But those are just that — mutants — and nothing like the fish we ate at these events.

Turns out, tilapia is the third-most important fish in aquaculture. And people around the world eat it.

And it’s no surprise.

It’s not a fishy fish; meaning, it’s easy to eat, especially for those who aren’t big fish fans. It’s got big bones that are easy to find and pull out. And the skin, when fried, is its own tasty treat.

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These two events really showcased the tilapia and fresh local produce in a way that, I’m sure, inspired the families who turned out.

At least it did me.

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FUUD: Pancake & Waffles in Kalihi

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I’m not much of a breakfast person — at least not in the morning.

Gimme a bowl of beef stew or chili and rice after an early morning surf session, and I’m all good.

But waffles?

I prefer those for dinner, actually.

But when you pair them with, oh, say honey butter fried chicken, a la Pancakes & Waffles in the City Square Shopping Center, I can quickly change my eating habits!

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This unassuming restaurant — in the shopping center with Sugoi and Koolau Farmers — boasts no frills or fanfare. And it plainly tells you in its name — Pancakes & Waffles — just what you’re getting yourself into.

The menu is any breakfast lover’s dream. There’s eggs Benedict done several ways, a dizzying variety of pancakes, French toast, loco mocos, crepes, fried rice, and a country breakfast with gravy over two buttermilk biscuits and Scottish bangers. It even serves plates lunches like Korean chicken, roast pork with gravy, beef teriyaki and country fried steak.

And you can’t forget about the famed chicken and waffles.

Pancakes & Waffles is owned by local boy Jason Sung, whose family runs the chain of Koa Pancake Houses around the island and previously owned Cajun Joe’s on Nimitz, which specialized in Cajun chicken.

Waffles. Chicken. You get the idea.

I wound up here after my car broke down in Waikiki after a surf session — and on my birthday, no less — and rediscovered my love for all things breakfast.

Here’s what we ate:

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I wanted to try the waffles — but honestly, I knew I couldn’t eat the entire plate of them. So my mom and I shared the mini waffles (four pieces for $6.49), which was perfectly sized and golden brown. I love waffles because of their helpful pockets that catch all that butter and maple syrup. Genius invention, really.

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Here’s the special that morning: French toast dredged in Frosted Flakes cereal. Killer combo!

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My mom ordered the mini breakfast special ($5.49), which comes with two eggs, pancakes and meat. We had to try the pancakes — I mean, it’s in its name! — and wasn’t disappointed. I know this photo makes them look limp, but they arrived fairly fluffy and light. They’re served with whipped butter and syrup.

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Being part Portuguese, I have an ethnic obligation to sample any vinha d’alhos (vinegar-marinated pork) I come across. And this was no different. (Side order is $6.29.) I know the Koa Pancake House version is pretty spot on, so I figured this would be about the same. And it was. Nicely vinegary and salty with a little heat from the Hawaiian chili peppers.

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But the star, at least to me, was the honey butter fried chicken. Utter perfection. The sweet and the salty combo, paired with crispy skin and juicy meat, is unbeatable. I had sampled everything and was pretty full — but I finished the chicken. That tells you something!

Pancakes & Waffles, City Square Shopping Center, 1284 Kalani Street #D100. Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Phone: 808-847-7770.

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Kapio, we had a great ride

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It’s never good to see anything shut down.

But when it’s a student-run newspaper at the community college where I had worked since 2001, it’s even more devastating.

Here’s the story: the Kapio Newspress, which has been the campus newspaper at Kapiolani Community College since the ’70s, is going to cease printing as of this semester. The administration decided to change the program from one that supported student-run publications to a place where faculty and staff could post outstanding student work. Meaning, there would be no need for a student staff and all decisions would be made by the school instead.

I suppose people can say it’s the sign of the times. With newspapers shutting down or shrinking across the country, it’s no wonder a campus newspaper would assume the same fate.

But the publications program, at least to me, wasn’t only about providing journalism students an opportunity to get published and hone reporting, writing, editing and design skills. It was about providing them campus jobs, real-life work experience, and a place for them to hang out and make friends.

That’s what I tried to do when I was faculty adviser there from 2008 to 2012.

Turns out, I was the last full-time faculty member to oversee this program. I left to pursue writing full time and to travel; I didn’t expect my departure would trigger something like this.

I can’t say I know exactly what’s going on. I’ve heard different stories about why this decision was ultimately made, but I can’t pretend to know exactly why the school decided to remove the “student-run” part of “student-run publications.” I’m sure there’s a good reason, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is happening and I’m torn up about it.

I believed in what we did there. Every student, no matter what discipline or major, had the opportunity to get published. There’s something thrilling about seeing your name in print, like it validates your thoughts, your opinions, your existence. Since every KCC student paid publication fees, it was important to provide access to these publications and the opportunity to get published — and I felt we were doing that.

I look back fondly on those years as the faculty adviser. I had some great students, many of whom I’m still in contact with, and great memories of late nights working on issues or afternoons just talking story with my staff. They were dedicated and loyal to each other, sometimes to a fault, and they loved working there. It’s sad to see this go.

But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that the college continues to value student writing and work and uses what we’ve built — which really started from Winnie Au, the longtime adviser and champion of student publications at KCC — as a platform to showcase that. Because, really, this should always be about what’s best for the students, period.

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In #AlohaBeijing, ‘Aloha’ can mean goodbye

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So if you haven’t already noticed from my Instagram feed, I’m not in Beijing.

In fact, I didn’t even get near the country.

Turns out, the travel agent who told me I didn’t need a visa because I wouldn’t be in China for 72 hours was wrong.

Here’s how it went down:

I went to the travel agent’s office with just enough time to get a visa to China, which is required in most cases. He told me as long as I wouldn’t be in the country for more than 72 hours, I didn’t need one. He had clients who had done it before, so I shouldn’t worry.

I trusted his advice. I mean, who was I to go against a guy who makes his living scheduling vacations and business trips?

Last night I picked up Melissa Chang and got to the airport with about an hour until boarding. As I was checking into the flight, the Hawaiian Airlines worker asked for my visa. I told her I didn’t have one.

After several huddles among employees, the woman came back and said I wasn’t going to be allowed on the plane. It was company policy that everyone had to have a visa. So I was out of luck. (She was very apologetic about it, though.)

I’ve gotten a lot of flack online — primarily on Facebook — about what I did. I even got called stupid, which was bit overly harsh. Look, I went with information I thought was valid. Did I know you needed a visa to enter China? Yes. Did I know about the policy allowing foreigners into the country for less than 72 hours? Yes. But did I know about the minor stipulations — like you had to be transiting through China, yada yada — that an expert like a travel agent would know? Absolutely not.

It’s not like I was trying to circumvent getting a visa — or trying to get out of this trip to Beijing, as was also implied. It was a simple but disastrous mistake — and one that I will likely regret for awhile.

So that’s what happened.

I went to Chinatown this morning and grabbed a box of baked manapua from Royal Kitchen. I took it to my surfing buddies, who were meeting for breakfast, and told them this was their omiyage from China.

Because that’s as close as I was going to get!

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#CatTravels: 67 hours in Beijing

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This trip has already been, well, a trip.

Awhile back, Hawaiian Airlines invited me on its inaugural flight to Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world. The airlines is starting this new route Wednesday morning, with a departure just after midnight.

I had months to prepare for this — and I was preparing. Fellow blogger — and one of my favorite travel partners — Melissa Chang (@melissa808) and I had started mapping out a 10-day trip to China, which included a stop in Shanghai to visit her niece.

But then I got sick.

And then I was hospitalized.

And then three doctors advised me not to travel to China anytime soon.

So here I was, with a coveted invitation to travel on this landmark flight to a mysterious city I really know nothing about.

I’ll be honest, Beijing wasn’t high on my list of Places to Visit Before I Die. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its allure.

The fact that there are more than 21 million people living in this uber-metropolis is reason enough to go. But it’s also the hub of all things Chinese, from its politics to its culture.

This is the site of Tiananmen Square, the focal point of pro-demoncracy protests in 1989 that ended with the declaration of martial law in Beijing and the death of hundreds of people.

It’s also where you can access the Great Wall of China, which stretches for more than 13,000 miles.

There’s the Beijing Zoo, the Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs and the various hutongs (or small streets lined with shops and restaurants), not to mention the venues built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which the city hosted.

So there’s a lot to see and do.

But I was sick — and the healthcare system, air quality (@BeijingAir) and overall cleanliness of China are all suspect, especially to first-time visitors like me.

But that’s not the only reason this trip almost never happened.

I didn’t get a visa in time.

This may sound dire, maybe even downright crazy, but here’s the thing: According to one travel agent I spoke to and a dozens of sites online, China instituted a visa-free transit policy in 2013, which allows passengers with passports from certain countries — U.S. included — to stay for up to 72 hours without a visa if entering and exiting Beijing (and a few other airports).

I had three people — the travel agent, a Hawaiian Air rep, and my CPA friend — to calculate the exact number of hours I’d be in China.

67.

I would just make it.

And if, by some reason, I don’t, I’ll be stuck in China for at least another week — or I might have to start learning Mandarin. (Melissa did promise to bust me out of a Chinese prison, so I’m counting on that.)

So stay tuned! Follow me on Twitter (@thedailydish), Instagram (@catherinetoth) and on YouTube to see what happens to me!

Special thanks to Hawaiian Airlines who graciously invited me on its inaugural flight to Beijing! Learn more about Beijing here.

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