I Really Do Eat For a Living

By October 5, 2017 Food

One Friday in August, I found myself in a froyo shop in ‘Aiea eating yogurt served in a watermelon.

That’s when I realized, “I really do eat for a living.”

I’m not going to lie: I had my reservations about being a full-time, full-on food writer. When I took the job as food editor at HONOLULU Magazine two years ago, I wondered if this was really the right fit for me. I don’t consider myself a foodie, I don’t cook Instagrammable meals, I have no professional kitchen experience. I don’t even care for truffles. (The fungus, not the chocolate.)

I get asked all the time: How did you become a food writer? And the answer always surprises people.

I actually started out as a sportswriter, working as a sports clerk for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, fully intending to be the third (at the time) female sportswriter in Hawai‘i.

After getting my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, I returned to the Islands with a job offer from the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser — as an entertainment reporter. That was not nearly as fun as that may sound.

After a couple of years writing features — which I grew to love — I, along with five other reporters, were tasked with the job of writing a blog. Everyone else had a topic — parenting, politics, college football — except for me. My only directive? Blog about something the others weren’t blogging about. Yeah, thanks, helpful.

The paper launched The Daily Dish, the original name of my blog, and I started writing about whatever — dating, reality TV, my dog. Then, one Friday, I posted some photos of what I ate for lunch. Nothing special. It wasn’t from a new restaurant. It wasn’t something I hadn’t eaten before. It was literally my lunch.

This was back before Yelp, Facebook, Instagram. There weren’t a lot of food bloggers and only a handful locally. And it was the first time a daily newspaper in Hawai‘i ran a blog about food.

It was a huge hit. Instantly.

I told one of my editors the food writer needed to launch a blog. People love the food blogs! They can’t get enough! And I have no idea what I was doing! I’m not a food writer! This isn’t my zone of genius!

But no one wanted to take on the task — and I was left to keep posting bad photos of my mediocre lunch every Friday.

That’s how it all started.

Now, here I am, more than a decade later, and I’m the food editor and blogger for a city magazine. It doesn’t even make sense to me!

I literally get paid to eat. It’s my actual JOB. I could think of worse things to do for a living.

But what I love about my job isn’t eating whatever I want. (Though, yes, it’s a perk.) It’s about writing the stories behind the food, it’s about discovering new things, it’s about meeting creative and passionate people in the community.

I’ve blogged about restaurants opening, restaurants closing, chefs taking risks, farmers following dreams. I’ve learned about finger limes, tried Safeway’s delivery service and figured out how to pronounce, “kouign amann.”

I got to find out what drives Christopher Sy to make labor-intensive artisanal breads at his shop, Breadshop, in Kaimukī. He read an essay back in college in Smithsonian Magazine by Rudolph Chelminski on the legendary Parisian baker Lionel Piolane, who crafted bread the old-fashioned way. Something about it stuck, he told me. And now he’s crafting some of the best bread in the country.

Christopher Sy, the bread master. Photo courtesy of Richard Walker.

I met Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn who asked the guests at their wedding at Kualoa Ranch to help them fund their restaurant dream. Seven years later, the couple opened Over Easy, now one of the most popular brunch spots on O‘ahu. I still think about the Potato N’ Eggs dish there.

Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn, owners of Over Easy in Kailua.

The Potato N’ Eggs dish has thick-cut French bread stuffed with a sweet tomato jam, then draped in a creamy potato purée and topped with bacon crumbles and a 7-minute local egg. It’s seriously addictive.

Then, there’s Robynne Mai‘i and Chuck Bussler, a couple who moved to Kaimukī with plans to open a restaurant. They came with impressive experience and local ties — Mai‘i hails from O‘ahu — but not many people knew who they were. Until now. They’re the owners behind the award-winning Fête in Chinatown. I met with them at a small coffee shop in Downtown — thanks to chef Chris Kajioka — and found out I’m practically related to Mai‘i.

Robynne Mai‘i and Chuck Bussler, owners of Fête. Photo courtesy of Robynne Mai‘i.

I got to tell the stories behind the fluffy, crispy malaasadas at Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Kaimukī, the wildly popular poi mochi doughnuts at Liliha Bakery and the first locally grown acai bowl at Kahuku Farm.

Kahuku Farms figured out how to grow and process acai berries to make what’s likely the first locally grown acai bowls in Hawai‘i.

I may not be a foodie or a professional cook. But I’m a writer who loves to tell stories. And, at the end of the day, that’s what my job really is all about. I could be writing about doorknobs or dogs and it would still be the same: I’d write the stories behind the subject.

It’s just the food is way more interesting (and beneficial to me, personally) than doorknobs.

Read my food blogs at Biting Commentary at HONOLULU Magazine.

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Remembering a Guy Named Soyu

By September 15, 2017 Musings

The last photo we took together, at my baby shower. I’ve saved this on my phone since then.

You never know how you’re going to react when you hear the news.

And it’s never news you want to hear.

I got a text on Wednesday morning, on my way to the bus stop, that read, “Soyu passed away this morning.”

I froze and stared at my phone.

Wait… what? But I just saw him!

Soyu — or, Gilbert Kawamoto — is the guy we all thought would live forever.

Though 74, he surfed every morning — and on a shortboard sometimes barely taller than him. He was one of the guys who started the garden up at the Diamond Head lookout, tidying up the area, watering the plants and cutting grass. Longtime friends with the family who owns Rainbow Drive-In, he often cut the grass there, too, in exchange for a Slush Float. He helped at most of the events the drive-in catered, unloading the van or serving chili and rice at surf contests at the beach.

I’ve known Soyu for years, back when I was in my 20s and started surfing at Queen’s regularly. While he mostly surfed at Diamond Head — even in my definition of hurricane-force winds — he would occasionally paddle out in Waikīkī during a good-size south swell, opting to sit on the inside and heckle. The heckling (he would never let you live down a wipeout) was one of the best parts about surfing with him.

Everyone, it seems, knows Soyu. A fixture in Hawai‘i’s surf community for decades, he’s competed in contests and surfed with the world’s best. His best friend growing up was famed shaper Donald Takayama. He’s even been in legendary surf films, including — his claim to fame — a quick cameo of him surfing at Bowl’s in the 1966 surf classic “Endless Summer.” Don’t blink, though, or you’ll miss it.

But there’s so much more to Soyu than surfing.

He was a husband, a father of two and grandfather of adoring grandkids. He worked at his father’s shop, Kawamoto Radio & TV on King Street, until it closed. He served in the Army and was stationed for a year in Germany, a time he fondly reflected on. He worked for a few years at Rainbow’s, doing odd jobs. Even in “retirement,” he still helped out at catering events and made the Slush Float Freeze (which I used to make) the drive-in sells in its retail store.

He loved Christmas, so much so he would plan how he would help decorate Rainbow’s during the holidays. Down to finding deals in the stores months before December.

He also loved going to Vegas —— though he always seemed more interested in visiting some magical hardware store than gambling or going to Trader Joe’s. A few years ago, on a trip there, we planned a trek to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a 10-foot-wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the canyon. He refused to go. He said he had already watched a documentary on it — and on a big TV, too — so he saw it already. And he insisted what he saw would be better than the real thing, so he stayed behind.

That was Soyu.

Soyu was the guy you could always count on to help out. Always.

He was one of my favorite people, and I think he knew it. He was the strangest, quirkiest, most interesting person, and he always did or said something that made me laugh, often for days. He was super meticulous about his car, a black Scion. He had a strict ritual for getting ready to surf. He was particular about the thermos he used for his coffee. He preferred his Spam and bacon extra crispy. He always had surf wax on hand, and didn’t mind parting with it since he usually got it for free at surf meets. He had his own logic about things, sometimes hilarious, often genius (though we’d never admit that). He argued the best way to remedy a box jellyfish sting was to put a hot frying pan on it, for example.

Once, we thought he was starting to lose his hearing. He would take calls on his fancy new phone — not a smart one, just a regular one — and walk away because he couldn’t hear the caller. He strained to hear the person on the other line. Turns out, he had inadvertently turned down the volume on his phone. This had gone on for months.

Then there are the stories — or maybe it’s advice — that have stuck with me for years, advice that now makes so much more sense as I’ve gotten older.

He told me when he became a dad, he completely quit surfing. He didn’t get in the water for 20 years, opting to be his son’s coach or just a present dad. You have to sacrifice, he explained to me. Your life changes.

I remember asking him why he started shortboarding, a relatively new thing for the longtime longboarder. You gotta change it up, he said. Otherwise, you going get bored.

After I had my baby last November, I didn’t come around as often. I couldn’t meet the guys in the surf at dawn or for breakfast afterward. But I always made a point to drive by Diamond Head after walking the dogs, just to honk my horn at Soyu, just to hear him yell at me and wave.

There’s no one left who knows why he was nicknamed Soyu. (And it’s S-O-Y-U, not Shoyu.) He wouldn’t tell anyone the story. And now we’ll never know.

No matter, though.

I’m just glad I knew him. I just wish we had a little more time.

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More Questions Than Answers

By September 7, 2017 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

(What happens when one questions leads to another — and then it’s lunch. This happens A LOT.)

What time is it?


How am I supposed to finish all this today???

What else do I need to do?

Where’s that to-do list?

Wait, did I make one?

When did I get so disorganized?

Why do I have so much to do?

How did I get myself into this situation?

Is this ever going to get better?

When was the last time I went on vacation?

Why can’t I remember?

Is it because of the baby?

Did the baby suck out every ability to be a functioning adult?

Where’s the baby, anyway?

How did I do this without a sitter?

Who can work from home AND watch an infant?

Do women like that really exist?

Do they have Instagram accounts?

Where’s my phone?

What did we do without our phones?

Now, where’s that app…?

How can she afford to travel ALL THE TIME?

How did she lose the baby weight in THREE MONTHS??


Why am I so hungry?

What do I have in the fridge?

How old is this salami…?

Is it still good…?

Why does it smell weird…?

How much does it would cost to hire a personal chef?

Why don’t I have some kind of profitable talent or skill?

Why did I have to like writing?

Why couldn’t I love MATH?

How in the world am I supposed to make a living as a writer?

Am I a bad mom because I can’t afford to send my son to private school?

Or to soccer camps?

Or on international trips?

Will he grow up to resent me?

Why is this so hard?

Where did everything take this turn?


Wait, what was I doing, again…?

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Yes, It Really Does Take a Village — and a Good Sitter

By August 28, 2017 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

This blog is twofold: to explain to moms why help matters (to both you and your kids) and to freak you out about childcare. Because I wish I knew what I know now.

Let’s start at the beginning: I am fiercely independent. I still insist on lugging all of the groceries up 22 steps to our front door despite a very big and strong husband who can carry twice as much as me with half the strain. I rarely ask for help, I think I can do everything by myself, I never share to even my closest friends what’s going on in my life. And all this didn’t change when I had a baby. In fact, it may have gotten worse.

I waved off offers to help me, especially in the first few weeks when it was obvious I needed it. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. I had girlfriends who remembered that first month (some in very specific detail), how much it hurt to breastfeed, to get around after a C-section, to feel completely defeated. They insisting on helping, they came over with food and advice, and I said I was fine.

Then, months later, when I was returning to work, I needed help watching Landon. I had lined up my parents for a couple of days and had planned to work from home the other two. It all worked out until my mom hurt her shoulder and needed surgery, which left me without childcare during the week.

I had never considered getting outside help, always assuming our families would be there. But I didn’t think about things like injuries or scheduling conflicts or the fact that maybe my mother-in-law really did want to keep working full time.

And, just like that, I was stuck.

I panicked, calling every mom I knew, signing up for Care.com and browsing Patch online, looking desperately for someone — anyone! — to watch Landon while I went back to work.

Over the next few weeks, I called, emailed or texted more than 50 different sitters, daycare facilities, friends, friends of friends — anyone I could use. To no avail. What I needed and what was out there didn’t line up. I was put on two-year waitlists (behind women who are still pregnant!) and never heard back from potential sitters. In the meantime, I struggled to work from home while watching an infant, doing phone interviews while he napped or writing while he played in a bouncer. I never had a stretch of longer than 30 minutes to work, and that’s been tough.

I realized how much I needed help, even just to run to the grocery store or go to the bank. I felt bad dragging this poor kid along with me, taking him to interviews or on errands. And it’s not easy. You can just run out of the house with your wallet and keys. There’s an entire bag to prepare, with diapers and formula (in case you’re stuck in traffic), a stroller or Ergo in which to lug him around, a heavy car seat to carry up and down those aforementioned 22 steps. It’s a production!

On those rare days when I was in the office, it was sheer bliss. I could sit and work and not worry about whether Landon needed his diaper changed or stop in the middle of a story to make his bottle or stop him eating the remote control. It was weird, to be honest, but nice, too.

I did find a sitter — finally — and, so far, the adjustment’s been harder on me than him. I worry all the time about whether he’s happy and safe, that he’s loved and not neglected, that he won’t remember this and grow up to resent me. (Seriously, I can’t afford any more therapy!)

But, at the same time, I’m starting to realize the importance of having time to do what I need to do to be a happy human, which, in turn, makes me a happy (and better) mom.

A friend of mine whose son is around the same age as Landon confided in me, saying she feels guilty that she hires a sitter just so she can go to yoga or meet up with friends for lunch. But I totally get it. We all need to feel normal sometimes, to make ourselves happy and healthy. My mother-in-law watches Landon on Sundays so my husband and I can surf, hike, shop for groceries, clean the house, or sometimes just take a nap. We all need a break.

I used to wonder how my mom did it, raise four kids. It sounds nightmarish. But I forgot my grandma lived with us and helped my mom, who didn’t go back to work until I started preschool. And my younger sister went to a sitter when she was just a couple of months old.

See? We all need help. And our kids are better for it.

Just make sure you secure that help soon and not wait. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me and not have a choice!

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What’s Wrong with an Only Child?

By August 14, 2017 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

Hours after undergoing a C-section to deliver our first son, still hooked up to an IV and a urinary catheter, still recovering from weeks in the hospital after a traumatic pre-labor experience that involved a dog, overwhelmed with emotion and feeling like my body had been sliced in half and stapled back together, my husband asked about having a second child.

And he wasn’t kidding.

Luckily for him, I couldn’t get out of the hospital bed to strangle him.

There was no way I could even think about a second child. Not after a difficult pregnancy. Not after a C-section. Not after the first couple of weeks, when I thought I would never sleep longer than two hours again in my life.

Moms always say we forget the pain, the suffering, the swollen nipples, the sleepless nights spent Googling every symptom your baby seems to have. We forget it all — and then we have that second or third child.

But I haven’t forgotten yet. I remember every moment spent hugging the toilet, every laborious step to my front door when I was carrying 20 pounds of extra weight, every minute I suffered at the hands of a breast pump, every nap I never got. Oh, I remember.

But now that Landon is almost 9 months old, and he’s crawling (albeit backwards), laughing all the time, napping regularly, eating anything I put in his mouth and sleeping 12 straight hours a night (knock on wood), I have to admit I’m thinking about that second child.

Not because I loved the newborn stage and wish Landon wouldn’t grow up so fast. And not because I’m a glutton for punishment. I’m considering it because I worry about him being an only child — and I don’t know what that will mean.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with onlies. To be sure, many of my friends don’t have siblings and they’re fine. (They don’t like to share, but otherwise, they’re fine.) And a few of my friends decided to have just one child, and they’re raising onlines in glorious fashion.

But my husband and I have siblings — he has a younger brother; I have two sisters and a brother — and we see the value in those relationships.

But there’s a lot to consider on both sides.

For example, the cost. Already, college tuition for one child is going to bankrupt us. Our spending has tripled since Landon, with diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, clothing and toys to buy. We do way more laundry, we sleep far less, we rarely surf. And that’s just with one child.

I have a couple of friends who decided to have just one kid. They rationalized that, with one child, they could provide the best, everything the child needed, with the opportunity to travel, attend private school, enroll in art and music classes, get tutoring. With two, they’d have to sacrifice.

But I have friends who are raising more than one kid — and love it. The kids play together (rather, keep each other occupied), they learn valuable socialization skills, they love each other (most days), they’re not lonely.

It’s a tough decision.

I also have to factor in my age because, quite honestly, I’m older and the chances of me having a healthy child — or just a child in general — are greatly reduced every year I wait. I’m lucky: Landon is healthy, happy, loves to sleep, loves to eat. And he’s cute. That helps.

There’s no guarantee for No. 2.

It’s a hard decision — and one that I have to make quickly.

I’m worried that I won’t know how to raise a well-adjusted kid in general, much less an only child who needs to learn valuable social skills that come from being around others. And I don’t want him to be alone when we’re gone. He doesn’t have many cousins — and none who live here — and that concerns me.

Every day I feel differently. When I see posts on Instagram of sisters on trips or brothers playing in the backyard, my heart swells and I want that for Landon. But when I’m looking at preschool tuition and working on our family budget, I realize we can barely afford this little guy.

So what do I do?

Well, for now, I’m just going to enjoy this phase in Landon’s life, where he has my full and undivided attention. And maybe I’ll go back and read my pregnancy journal. Because maybe I am forgetting after all!

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