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#DoThis: Okinawan Festival this weekend

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Every summer I think about how lucky we are to live in Hawai‘i.

There’s always surf on south shores and bright skies for daylong hikes. The weather is balmy, the oceans is warm, and everyone seems to be just a little happier.

And then there are the festivals, from Duke’s Oceanfest in Waikīkī to the dozens of bon dances at Japanese temples all over the state.

One of my favorites, though, is the annual Okinawan Festival, happening this weekend at Kapi‘olani Park.

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In its 32nd year, the festival, organized by the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, celebrates all things Okinawan, from music to cultural arts.

But the real draw, at least for me, is the food.

Andagi (deep-fried doughnuts, top), champuru (shoyu pork, stir-fried veggies and luncheon meat with rice) and taco rice (exactly what it sounds like) top my list of favorites.

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But the one Okinawan delight I’m desperate to try — and I can’t believe I haven’t eaten it before — is the Oki Dog, a hot dog topped with Zippy’s chili and wrapped in a soft tortilla with shredded shoyu pork and lettuce.

Oh, yeah.

The only thing it needs is maybe a dollop of mayonnaise.

More than 3,000 of these culturally confused dogs are sold every year since its introduction.

I really am surprised I haven’t had one yet.

Well, I guess there’s always this weekend!

The 32nd annual Okinawan Festival, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 30 & 31 at Kapiolani Park in Waikīkī, Oʻahu. For more information, visit here.

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A peek inside ‘Dumplings All Day Wong’

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The first time I ate at Koko Head Cafe in Kaimukī, I ordered the dumpling of the day.

It just so happened to be the best dish I had eaten all year.

I thought about that pork-stuffed potsticker topped with a housemade XO sauce crafted by “Top Chef” alum Lee Anne Wong (@leeannewong) for weeks.

Turns out, it’s the recipe on Page 4 of her new cookbook, aptly named “Dumplings All Day Wong,” on shelves now.

I flipped through the 256-page cook — gorgeously photographed, by the way — and practically licked the images of sesame jin dui, California roll gyoza, dan dan pork wontons, and white chocolate wasabi pretzel dumplings.

But my heart stopped on Page 122: BBQ Chicken Dumplings (top).

Oh, the perfect combination of things I love, namely chopped barbecue chicken and deep-fried dough. It’s really the perfect dish for leftover chicken — easy to prep, simple to make. I was sold. (Recipe below)

So I chatted with the busy chef/owner — and now cookbook author! — about this new endeavor and how the OG_KarateGuy got into her book:

CT: Where did the idea for the book come from? What were hopes/goals for the project?

LAW: Interestingly enough the photographer in the book, Ken Goodman, whom I have known peripherally through food and wine circles for a few years, contacted me and inquired if I’d be into writing a book. Page Street Publishing was looking for some new culinary authors. I had just filmed a one hour special — “Food Crawl with Lee Anne Wong” for The Cooking Channel/Food Network — which was focused on my interactive tour through NYC in search of awesome dumplings and noodles. It is now and has always been my theory that you’d be hard pressed to find a single soul on this planet who wouldn’t like a hot fresh dumpling. I agreed to write it because while I am no dim sum master, I enjoy feeding people and I love making (and eating) dumplings. With only the hopes that it was a topic that would be universally loved, I set out to write a book for dumpling lovers of all skill sets, from the home cook to the professional.

CT: Why dumplings?

LAW: Almost every culinary culture in this world has their own version of a dumpling of sorts. I focused on the Asian variety because I’m obsessed with them. I also feel like when you’re in the kitchen making dumplings people tend to flock first in curiosity and then in anticipation. “Dumplings bring people together.” If I were a politician that’d be my slogan.

CT: I’m obsessed with your dumplings at Koko Head Cafe. Obsessed. Why do you have such a knack for it — and what do you love about making them?

LAW: Speaking of obsessions, haha, thanks, Cat. Dumplings on my menu at Koko Head Cafe is part of my nod to Asian culture. If it’s 7 a.m. and you put a plate of dumplings in front of me, and then a plate of eggs and bacon, etc, I’m gonna go for the dumplings first every time. Having spent the past 20 years in NYC, favorite early morning activities included dim sum, congee, and noodles in Chinatown, where especially on really cold winter days, it became a morning food religion, soulful comfort food kinda stuff, you know? I have folded many dumplings in my life and when we first opened I was the only one who knew how to do it. I knew I had to teach my cooks at some point. Now at least half of them are quite skilled at it, and I’m no longer folding dumplings on the fly at 7 a.m. hoping the first three tables that sit down immediately don’t want dumplings (and they usually do, only proving my point). I do enjoy the repetition of folding though. It’s my “me” time to think about whatever. And I’m pretty fast.

CT: How do you get inspiration for your recipes?

LAW: I’m inspired by what’s delicious. Classic and favorite flavor combinations make it easy to conceptualize what works, which is pretty much anything. You like meatloaf and mashed potatoes??? OK, let’s put that in a dumpling and drown the thing in mushroom gravy. Yum. Nom nom.

CT: Looks like you did a lot of the shooting and cooking here in Hawaii. True? Why Hawaii and not, oh, NYC?

LAW: Right in my backyard in Mānoa. It was timing, where I had just moved here in December and had to get the book photographed by Jan. 15. I was still in the middle of writing it while we shot the recipes (in a whirlwind of three days — thank you [chef] Will Chen for helping me), so while it was an undoubtedly painful process, I am relieved it is done and now I will always be able to look at my cookbook with that little kid pride: “I did that :)”

CT: Is there anything you can’t do in a dumpling?

LAW: Tell me your favorite food and I’ll tell you how to make it into a dumpling.

CT: The name of the book is perfection. How did that come about?

LAW: The publisher had asked me to start thinking about titles and so I fired off six, “Dumplings All Day Wong” being the first one. I think he glazed over the email or it just didn’t sit well with him the first time. So they tested the concept to a few audiences with some other titles they made up, that in the end I railed against because they said nothing about me or the tone of the book. At which point we had a phone call and I said, “What about ‘Dumplings All Day Wong’? C’mon, it’s funny. It’s very ‘me.’ And it immediately brands the book.” He reacted like he had heard it for the very first time, and everyone else on the conference call chuckled too, so when he said, “I like it, I think it could work.” It was huge victory for me.

CT: I’m stoked the OG_KarateGuy made the book! Is he your muse?

LAW: Yes my little buddy (@OG_KarateGuy on Twitter), who has traveled the culinary universe with me, made it into the book. I actually need to create an Instagram for all of his past adventures, and take him out of my coffee table, where he currently resides, and start creating some fresh ones. Stay tuned. Hai.

***

BBQ Chicken Dumplings
From “Dumplings All Day Wong” by Lee Anne Wong

Ingredients
Filling:
12 oz (340 g) cooked chicken meat, dark meat preferably
¼ cup (15 g) minced scallion, white and green parts
1 tsp (5 g) minced garlic
1 tsp (5 g) minced ginger
2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup or dark brown sugar
1 tbsp (15 ml) oyster sauce
1 tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce
1 tbsp (15 ml) apple juice or cider
1 tbsp (10 g) cornstarch
1 tbsp (15 ml) Chinese red vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tsp (5 ml) sambal paste or Sriracha
½ tsp dry mustard powder
¼ tsp ground white pepper
1 recipe Bao Dough (page 30)
Oil for deep-frying

Directions:
To make the filling, chop the cooked chicken meat into small ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces and shred. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until smooth. Fold the sauce into the cooked chicken meat until well combined. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Divide your dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch (2.5-cm)-thick rope and cut into ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces. Keep the dough covered with a damp towel. Roll each dough ball into a 3-inch (7.5-cm) round wrapper using a rolling pin, about ⅙-inch (0.4 cm) thick. Fill each wrapper with 1 tablespoon (12 g) of filling. Lightly wet the edges of the wrapper and form the dumpling using the round or puck-shaped fold. Keep the dumplings covered on a lightly floured tray or plate. Preheat the deep-frying oil to 350°F/176°C. Carefully fry the dumplings in small batches until the skin is golden brown and the dumplings are floating in the oil, about 3 to 4 minutes, gently tossing the dumplings in the oil so all sides cook evenly. Drain on paper towels. Allow the oil to come back to 350°F/176°C before frying the next batch. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce of your choice. Makes 32 dumplings.

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Concussions aren’t fun

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I wouldn’t say I’m accident prone.

But it’s no surprise things happen to me that make for great Facebook status updates.

Like getting my wallet stolen in Athens. Or getting a serious staph infection after surfing in Tavarua, Fiji. Or suffering through a urinary tract infection on a flight to Hamburg. (The Germans have the best medicine, let me tell you!)

So why wouldn’t I get a concussion on a recent kayak trip to the Mokulua Islands in Kailua?

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Here’s the story: We met up with some friends this past Sunday to kayak to the iconic twin islands off Lanikai Beach on the windward side of O‘ahu. The plan was to walk around Moku Nui, the larger of the two and the only one the public can legally land on.

The backside of the island can be dangerous to traverse, and I wouldn’t recommend people venture there.

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An unofficial warning sign posted toward the back of Moku Nui.

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But of course, I never listen to my own advice. I’ve been back there (see above) a couple of times before without any incident. There’s a protected cove into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead. And there’s also a shallow saltwater bath — into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead.

I don’t jump into anything, so that’s not where I hit my head.

In fact, it was on my way around the island when I sustained this concussion that doesn’t seem to go away.

I followed my friends’ two teenagers into a sea cave and a wave pushed me against the side of a rock wall, full force, and I whacked my right cranium pretty hard.

At first I panicked, thinking I was going to start bleeding profusely. And the ocean is the last place I’d like to be with an open wound to my head and blood gushing everywhere.

So I quickly got out of the water and onto land.

And to be honest, save for a headache, I felt fine.

In fact, I felt fine up until that night, when I sipped a glass of moscato and started slurring. Then I went into the bathroom, switched on the lights, and everything got so bright, I thought the roof had been torn from the house and the sunlight was streaming in. I couldn’t open my eyes.

When I told my husband about this strange phenomenon — I was actually tripping out about the suddenly bright bathroom more than thinking this could be neurological damage — he started asking me a bunch of questions.

“Do you have a headache?”

“Are you nauseous?”

“Are you dizzy?”

“Do you have any weakness or numbness in your arms?”

To all of these questions I answered yes.

“I think you have a concussion.”

OK, so I’ve heard about concussions. Football players, boxers and car accident victims get them. You have to really hit your head pretty hard, I thought, to sustain something like that.

Turns out, millions of Americans have suffered from a concussion, many unreported. More than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S., according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. And you don’t have to actually hit your head to get one. A violent shake can cause a concussion, too.

Effects are usually temporary and include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.

On Monday, I was really starting to feel the effects. I had a difficult time concentrating, I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I felt dizzy and nauseous all the time. Light hurt my eyes and I was still suffering from what was starting to feel like a migraine. It wasn’t fun.

By Tuesday I was at the doctor’s office, getting my eyes checked and my brain scanned. No blood clots, but I definitely had a concussion that the doctor said may take weeks to months to heal fully.

This is Day 5, and I already see an improvement, at least in my concentration and balance. (It would take me twice as long to type an email, for example. It literally hurt to think.) But this injury is no joke.

Friends kept reminding of me actress Natasha Richardson, who, back in 2009, sustained a head injury when she fell while taking a beginner skiing lesson at a resort in Canada. She seemed fine, talked and acted normally — then died the next day.

I feel like if I’ve survived this long, I’m in the clear.

But I won’t be swimming into any sea caves anytime soon.

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‘Sometimes you gotta jump in the van’

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I had never been to a writer’s conference before, which may seem odd since that’s what I do for a living.

But these conferences are notoriously expensive, when you include airfare to and from Hawai‘i and the cost of accommodations, and being a writer, well, you’re usually broke.

So I’ve read about them, I’ve longed over websites, I’ve listened with uncloaked envy to people who have attended these mysterious wonders where speakers talk about story arcs and cliched ledes.

Then I finally decided to suck it up — read: fork over some hard-earned cash — and go to one myself.

And I’m not kidding when I say this: I literally signed up the week of the conference. And I had no place to stay, either.

The conference was for travel writers and photographers, put on for the past 22 years at Book Passage, a reputable independent bookstore in Corte Madera, Calif. that puts on highly regarded conferences and workshops throughout the year, including the one I had attended this weekend.

It’s expensive — a little more than $600 for the four-day conference — and airfare to San Francisco, especially at such short-notice, wasn’t cheap. So I had lofty hopes that I’d get my money’s worth.

And I have to say, the experience was well worth the investment. (I even missed a little south shore bump, too.)

IMG_0510Like every conference in the Western world, it featured a bunch of seminars, from talk-story panel discussions on freelancing to intensive workshops on writing narratives.

I hadn’t been to one of these before — it seemed like most people were conference alums — so I just sat in whichever session sounded remotely interesting. I settled on, “Writing the Big Five,” with Jim Benning and David Farley, both accomplished travel writers and return speakers. The course focused on the five main types of travel writing: magazine stories, newspaper articles, personal essays, blog posts and books.

We started by introducing ourselves with our names, hometowns and favorite animals. More than 60 people filled the event room in the back of the bookstore, hailing from as far as Berlin to as nearby as the Santa Cruz Mountains. (For some reason, there was a strangely high number of people who were from Minnesota and didn’t know each other.) There were two others from Hawai‘i and a guy named Alan Toth. I felt right at home.

The first thing the pair of speakers did was dispel myths about travel writing.

“The first one. You make a lot of money.” That made attendees chuckle.

Though I’ve been freelancing for more than 10 years now, it was nice to have time to actually think about my approach to my craft and career. The discussions in this course challenged me to hone my writing, to be more specific in my descriptions, to not be lazy with my word choices, to re-read and edit more carefully my work, and to strategize on how to sell my stories to editors.

The next seminar — this time a discussion about finding your story on the road — really inspired me.

In this panel discussion, Spud Hilton, the travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle aptly said, “Sometimes you gotta jump in the van.”

Meaning, sometimes you have to do the stuff that you’re going to write about. And sometimes you’re not going to like it. Sometimes it might scare you. Sometimes it might be against your better judgement. But if you’re going to make this a bona fide career — and you want a paycheck — well, you gotta do what you gotta do. And jumping in that proverbial van might be it.

I didn’t realize, until I attended this conference, that there was such a huge world out there to be explored. And that I could, very feasibly, write about it.

It’s too bad it took me $1,800 and three days in another city to figure this out.

But maybe that’s what it was going to take.

I’m just glad I got in the van.

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Brother Noland, the original prepper

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When my friend, Dawn Sakamoto, first told me the publishing company where she works was printing a survival guide penned by Brother Noland, I almost didn’t believe her.

Brother Noland? The slack-key master and award-winning musician? The guy who sang, “Coconut Girl?”

A prepper?

Oh, yeah.

In fact, Brother Noland has long been learning and sharing his knowledge of native survival skills. He even started the Hawaiian Inside Tracking program in 1996, offered through his Ho‘ea Initiative, that gives children and adults a chance to learn these traditional tracking and outdoor skills.

His book, “The Hawaiian Survival Handbook” ($16.95, Watermark Publishing), features more than 40 different survival techniques and outdoor skills, from how to survive a flash flood to how to brush your teeth in the wilderness. These tips are handy for anyone who heads outside — from day hikers to overnight campers to fishermen at sea.

“People always talk about being sustainable,” he said. “But sustainable means you can walk into the forest with just a knife.”

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Yesterday we met Brother Noland at Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kāneʻohe. He and his team of survivalists were going to show us some of the skills showcased in his book. We were going to learn how to throw a fishing net, how to make fire, and how to stun a rabbit with a stick.

I had to actually wear shoes for this!

We stood in a circle, holding hands, while Jenny Yagodich led us in a prayer to thank everything around us, from the insects in the ground to the clouds overhead.

Then the lessons began.

“Look around,” Brother Noland said. “Look at all the beautiful things here in our classroom. This is the original Costco.”

He talked about all of us — no matter our ethnic background — have ancestors who knew these important survival skills. These skills were passed down to generation after generation after generation, he said, “and if we stop passing them down, they’ll be gone.”

And it doesn’t matter how many college degrees we have, either: “Can you find water right now? Can you start a fire without a match or lighter? We teach the other half so you get 20-20 vision.”

The first skill we learned was how to throw a net.

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Palakiko Yagodich, an assistant professor of hospitality and tourism education at Kapi‘olani Community College, taught us the basics, from the different components to the net to the technique of actually throwing it.

And you can’t throw it in the ocean, Brother Noland said, until you know what to do with the fish you catch.

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Yagodich and Noland made is look easy. “It’s like throwing a frisbee, but not,” Yagodich said, laughing.

Our group learned from Alex, an 11-year-old junior tracker from ‘Ewa Beach, who has already mastered much of what’s in this handbook.

He told me to grip the net, pull it up toward you to make a “skirt,” pull a third of it across one shoulder and another third across the opposite knee. Then grab the middle, pull it up toward you, cup your hand around the edge of the net that’s across your knee and throw with your hips.

Or something like that.

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Next, we watched Jenny Yagodich make fire from a baseboard, a spindle and some pine needles. It was mesmerizing watching her create this life force that can be used for everything from providing warmth to cooking food to sterilizing water.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, the whole experience, from throwing net to throwing a guava stick toward a target that’s supposed to simulate a rabbit or chicken, was humbling. But I get it. I get why this is necessary — and why these life skills should be shared with everyone.

“The knowledge is in the doing,” Brother Noland said. “This book is just the dirt under the nail of my little finger. It just scratches the surface.”

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Get “The Hawaiian Survival Handbook” at bookstores starting at the end of the month or online here. Or take a one-day, once-a-month class from Brother Noland to learn these survival skills, like fire-making, wayfinding and net-throwing. Fee is $65 per person and includes a copy of the book. Contact (808) 729-8293 or email hoeainitiative@aol.com to sign up.

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