#CatTravels: Wine Country, it’s been awhile

By June 11, 2015 #CatTravels


Let’s put it this way, the last time I was in Wine Country in California, Instagram didn’t exist, Ann Curry was still on “Today,” and no one was taking selfies with an iPhone.

It was 2010 — and man, things have changed.

For one, I actually drink wine now.

That’s quite a change from the last three visits to Napa and Sonoma, when I either sipped champagne or served as the boring-but-important job of designated driver.

This weekend — actually, in a few hours — my husband and I are heading to Sebastopol, Calif., a quaint town in Sonoma, just 20 minutes from the ocean, between Santa Rose and Bodega Bay. Once a plum- and apple-growing region, this area is dominated by, well, grapes. We’ll be staying in a trailer — yes, trailer — at the Full House Farm, where we can get up early and milk goats if we wanted to.

We’re only there for a few days — Friday through Sunday — for our one-year anniversary. (Yes, it’s been a year already!) Since my husband doesn’t have the luxury of a freelance life — where I can take off whenever I want so long as I’ve got my work done and there’s WiFi wherever we go — we can’t stay long. So we plan to make our trip very meaningful — and pack as much as we can in!

This time around, though, I’m really interested in the wine.

Not that I’m much of a wine drinker, but I enjoy a nice Riesling or moscato d’asti every now and again. (The fact that I know THIS much shows progress!)

So stay tuned for more from Wine Country! Follow me on Instagram (@catherinetoth) and Twitter (@thedailydish) — or stay right here! Photos to come!

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Why I planted a lemon tree

By June 8, 2015 Musings, The Daily Dish


I knew something was wrong.

I had this uncomfortable pain in my lower abdomen while hiking one Sunday morning. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous hike, but I suddenly felt a little dizzy. And the pain, though dull and manageable, wasn’t going away.

As soon as I got home, I ran to the bathroom to confirm what I was already suspecting: I was bleeding.

I was a month pregnant and bleeding. With cramps. This wasn’t good.

I started to panic.

And when you panic, you Google.

Every website said the same thing: bleeding during the early stages of pregnancy is normal. But bleeding with cramping isn’t — and it’s often a sign of a miscarriage.

“This can’t be happening.”

It was just a few days earlier that I was sitting in this exact place — in my bathroom, on my toilet — and found out I was pregnant.

My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant since we got married a year ago. At my age — now 40 — we knew it would be more, well, challenging to get pregnant naturally, so we wanted to get an early start.

I was always a bit defeatist about the whole thing. I have friends around my age who have had difficulties getting pregnant, and we’d often commiserate about ovulation tests and the side effects of Clomid. I envied those who got pregnant so easily, sometimes on a whim, while the rest of us struggled with daily urine tests and regular visits to our OBGYN.

Here’s the thing: I’ve managed to plan every aspect of my life — the jobs I got, the degrees I’ve earned, the places where I’ve lived — and yet I couldn’t accomplish something that should be so natural to us.

I couldn’t get pregnant.

Yes, I know there are a lot of factors involved in getting pregnant. And yes, I realize my age plays a part. But it became so frustrating that this was something I couldn’t control or make happen.

And I started to feel like a failure.

So when my husband showed me the second line emerging on the small window of the at-home pregnant test, I almost didn’t believe it at first. I squinted at it. Was that really a second line? But it was so faint…

“Am I…?

“Pregnant? Yeah!”

I was shocked into silence, which is rare for me. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally — finally — pregnant.

For the next few days that’s all I thought about. I wondered if it was too early to plan. (Remember, I’m a planner!) I thought about possible names. I started to eat better. I even refrained from confirming flight reservations to New Zealand in December because I’d be giving birth around then.

Life was changing — and I liked it.

That morning I thought about how this was the first of many hikes I’d do with our child. How awesome would that be, taking our little one on these adventures, surfing and hiking and playing, sharing the world with this new life. It was going to be so much fun!

And then, just like that, it was gone.

My husband drove me to the hospital that night to confirm my fear. I had what’s called a “threatened miscarriage,” which basically meant I had vaginal bleeding within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the doctor couldn’t verify for sure if I had truly miscarried.

That was confirmed a few days later.

It was strange to lose something I never really had. That feeling of complete and sheer happiness was suddenly replaced by a great loss, a gaping void, a depth of emptiness that I never realized I could feel. It felt like the miscarriage happened in my heart. It was devastating.

When it happened, I didn’t even consider blogging about this experience. In fact, I didn’t really want to tell anyone. I wasn’t that I felt embarrassed. I just didn’t know what to say.

“Hi there! I was pregnant, and then I had a miscarriage. How was your day?”

In my Google panic, I discovered that miscarriages are fairly common, regardless of age. About 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage for a variety of reasons. Between 50 to 70 percent of first-trimester miscarriages — like mine — are thought to be random events caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg. Older women — like me — have a greater chance of miscarrying than 20-year-olds.

Like my OBGYN told me matter-of-factly, “It happens.”

When I started sharing with a few people about my miscarriage, I was surprised to find out that more of my friends had experienced it than I had realized. Women I had known for years. Some who went on to have children, others who stayed single. And they never said anything.

In that aforementioned frantic Internet search, I came across a blog written by Jessica Zucker on the New York Times site last year about her miscarriage at 16 weeks. This struck me:

We shouldn’t feel ashamed of our traumas, nor should we hide the consequent grief. It’s not that I necessarily feel proud of having a miscarriage, but I do feel compelled to question why it seems as if we rarely talk about pregnancy loss, though the statistics are staggering. Is it resounding cultural shame? Speckles of self-blame? Steadfast stigma? The notion that talking about “unpleasant” things is a no-no? It’s a hard topic. But if every woman who has lost a pregnancy to miscarriage or stillbirth told her story, we might at least feel less alone.

So I’m sharing my story in the hopes that anyone who’s gone through a miscarriage will know there are lots of women and couples dealing with the same loss, too.

I’m luckier than most. I’ve heard stories of women losing their babies at later stages of pregnancy, the horrific loss of blood, the depression in which they drown. I had some clotting, some cramping, but that’s it.

The next day my sweet husband took the day off and spent it with me. We drove around the island, soaking up the sunshine and marveling at the beauty of our home that we often take for granted. And I realized this miscarriage, while awful and painful, wasn’t entirely bad. The embryo clearly wasn’t healthy. And I have a great life — with a family that includes a husband and three dogs who love me no matter what. That’s really all I need.

So we planted a lemon tree.

It might be cliched — lemons, lemonade — but there’s truth to the idea that while we can’t control everything in life, we can control how we embrace it.

So I’m embracing it.

And in a year or so, I’ll make lemon bars.

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Me? A leader in agriculture?

By June 5, 2015 #CatTravels, Musings


The closest I get to agriculture in Hawai‘i is my hydroponic garden in my backyard.

So to have been chosen as part of the 15th class of the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawai‘i’s Agricultural Leadership Program is a bit, well, strange for me.

For starters, this program has long recruited people who actual work in agriculture or natural resources management. I don’t think my one-year stint at a flower shop would qualify.

But I applied anyway, partly prompted by my husband, who’s an alum of the program, and partly because I feel it’s my job.

As a reporter and freelance writer, I have long felt the importance of our role in telling stories that matter, about issues that matter. We have the opportunity to engage a broad audience and share with them what’s going on in our communities.

Hawai‘i’s ag community — from farmers to food producers to the folks who buy and consume these products — face unique challenges that really affect all of us.

I mean, if anything, I’m a consumer. And I really, really care about that!

So I applied, got in, and found myself with 13 others — smart, interesting, slightly crazy (as you have to be) — who would be part of this program with me for the next 18 months.

The goal of this statewide program, established by the nonprofit in 1982, is to train and groom promising leaders from Hawai‘i’s agriculture, natural resources management and rural community sectors. The program is designed to provide its participants the necessary tools and skills to be effective influencers of change and leaders in the community.

“It’s not about how to apply the best pesticide or till the ground,” says program director Pauline Sato. “The main goal is to learn about agriculture in Hawai‘i, to understand the breadth of it, and to be better advocates and leaders.”

Our first stop: Hilo, Hawai‘i to learn about Hawai‘i’s rich agriculture history, to hone our leadership skills and to meet farmers, teachers and other leaders in agriculture to get inspired.

Here were some of the highlights:

Last year, longtime farmer and business leader Richard Ha, president of the 600-acre Hāmākua Springs Country Farms, decided to stop growing tomatoes. That was a huge deal since Ha’s farm produced some of the best and most popular vine-ripened tomatoes on the market. His decision stemmed from one simple fact: he couldn’t afford it. The infrastructure where he housed his tomato operation was in much-needed repair, and it would be too costly to fix these greenhouses. So he decided to ditch tomatoes — he sold a million pounds of them a year — and concentrate on bananas, a crop he’s grown since 2002. He also invested about $1 million to use an old plantation-era flume to generate hydroelectricity. The system already generates about 100 kilowatts of energy a day; he uses about 40.

When Lesley Hill and Mike Crowell started Wailea Agricultural Group in 1994, they had been told the only crops that grow in this area are sugar, macadamia nuts and cattle. The pair proved everyone wrong. Today, they grow more than a dozen different crops across 110 acres, including rambutans, mangosteen, yuzu, nutmeg, lychee, jack fruit and durian.

One of their newest crops is the finger lime, a micro-citrus from Australia that boasts an interior pulp that resembles citrus pearls. It’s quickly become a favorite among local chefs who have come out to sample this unusual and playful fruit. The pair planted about 120 trees so far, selling the fruit at $40 a pound.

The mission of Wailea Ag is to be stewards of the land. So it’s no surprise that its main crop — fresh hearts of palm — is sustainable: all of the fronds and outer layers of the tree to back into the beds as compose, enriching the soil and controlling weeds. And the plant, itself, is a non-host to fruit flies.

The Kohala Center‘s Beginning Farmer Training Program, spearheaded by Derrick Kiyabu (formerly of MA‘O Organic Farms on O‘ahu), has already graduated 72 participants, some of whom already have small farms, others who just wanted to see what it would take to grow food commercially. They’re also learning the business-side of farming, from financing to marketing, in this comprehensive, 16-session program. And look at this beet! It’s just one of the crops growing on the center’s 10-acre demonstration farm.

We had a free morning, and a bunch of us jumped in a van — OK, some ran here — to the Hilo Farmers Market, which is open daily. The biggest days, though, are Wednesdays and Saturdays, when more than 200 vendors set up selling everything from artwork to local poi.

We really enjoyed sampling all the locally grown fruits and vegetables — like this coconut — at the farmers market. It was nice to put into practice what we were learning: you gotta support local!

We visited a piggery in Mountain View, run by Neena Roumell and Atto Assi, that uses a Korean-based natural farming method. Now, anyone who’s ever visited a piggery knows its distinctly foul smell. But these farms use what’s called indigenous microorganisms — or IMOs — in the soil to break down animal waste naturally, resulting in a lack of smell. It was pretty amazing.

These were happy, healthy-looking pigs, too.

Eric Tanoue, an alum of the program, took us on a short tour of his business, Green Point Nurseries, a second-generation producer and exporter of anthuriums and other tropical flowers and foliage. Here, we learned a valuable lesson: “You want to be price-makers, not price-takers,” Tanoue says. Meaning, Hawai‘i farmers and producers should think about setting a price for their high-quality products — and keep to that standard.

We had the special privilege to visit a rare plant nursery on Hawai‘i Island — the location is strictly kept a secret because of vandalism and theft — to see the efforts of Patty Moriyasu and her staff to save plants native to the island. There are 146 threatened and endangered plant species here, 24 of which already considered extinct in the wild. Though various methods of plant propagation and by maintaining a gene bank of plants and seeds, this group has successfully increased these plant numbers. One example: these folks have already out-planted more than 35,000 Mauna Loa Silverswords at four main sites on the island. It’s mind-blowing.

Joan Yoshioka of the Plant Extinction Prevention Program — and an Ag Leadership Program alum — took us birding along Kīpuka Puaulu (Bird Walk), where we saw ‘apapane and ‘amakihi and learned about the plants in the area. It was nice to get out, stretch our legs and walk — especially if you saw how much we ate over the weekend!

And rounding out our weekend was a visit with Derek Kurisu, executive vice president of KTA Super Stores — my favorite stop in Hilo! — to hear more about its Mountain Apple brand. This is how KTA support local farmers, ranchers and food producers. The program’s first product was fresh island milk, introduced in 1992. Since then, the line has grown to include more than 50 local vendor supplying more than 200 different food products to KTA stores across the island.

Hey, I might not be a farmer or run an alternative energy project. But this program has sparked the inner agriculturalist — and, obviously, the tree-hugger — in me.

To learn more, visit the blogs at Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawai‘i, follow on Instagram @agleaderhi, and on Twitter @agleaderhi.

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5 Qs with indoor farmer Kerry Kakazu

By June 3, 2015 Musings


After ditching a regular 9-to-5 job and armed with degrees in biology and plant physiology, Kerry Kakazu started what’s probably the first urban indoor farm in Hawai‘i last year.

And he’s not growing marijuana.

MetroGrow Hawai‘i produces various greens, microgreens and shoots in space-saving, vertically integrated aeroponic and hydroponics operations in a teeny little warehouse space in Kaka‘ako. He’s in charge of everything here, from planting to harvesting to replenishing the nutrient solution supply the grows his greens.

Right now, he supplies local restaurants including Stage Restaurant, Tango Contemporary Cafe and Yohei Sushi. Ed Kenney’s new venture, Mud Hen Water, in Kaimukī is soon to be a regular customer.

And what’s been crazy-popular is the ice plant (above), or glacier lettuce, which taste a bit like the salty sea asparagus but way cooler.

So we decided to chat with Kakazu and find out what motivated him to start this business and what he think about the future of agriculture in Hawai‘i:

Here are green onions sprouts. And yes, you can eat the seed, too.

1. How did you get the idea of farming indoors?

I had been interested in hydroponic growing for awhile and read about how enclosed aeroponic farms were being developed in Singapore because of the lack of land and warm climate. I saw the similarities to the situation in Hawai‘i and thought that growing indoors would be a unique niche for the growing different plants from the outdoor farms. The idea of being able to control all the different variables that contribute to plant growth appealed to my plant science background. However, until recently, most of the lighting systems were tremendous energy users so I didn’t think an indoor farm could be economical unless you were growing something like marijuana. A few years ago, LED lighting products for horticulture started to come out and they used a fraction of the electricity. That development made me think that an indoor farm could be feasible.

2. What are you currently growing and what are some interesting crops you plan to go soon? (Or maybe dream about growing.)

I am growing butter lettuce, Chinese cabages, microgreens, pea and corn shoots and ice plant. I’m researching some other cool weather greens like mache and Miner’s lettuce. I’d also like to develop aeroponic growing of strawberries and wasabi.

3. What are your plans for the Kaka‘ako regentrification? Are you staying where you are?

I wasn’t sure how critical being in Kaka‘ako would be when I started out, but now that I’m here, I like the fit. I got into my space partly because Kamehameha Schools saw this venture as compatible with their master plan for Kaka‘ako. Chefs seem interested that I’m nearby, so I think that is a definite marketing advantage. I’ve biked to Vino and Hiroshi to deliver product. Today, Ed Kenney called, stopped by and picked up some pea shoots and scallion microgreens. Later, I walked over to Bevy to bring them samples. I think this community is very receptive to outside the box businesses. However, because of the continuing development, I’m on a month-to-month lease, so the future isn’t certain. I’ve thought about trying to partner with one of the new developments to be an onsite farm/vegetable store. My big dream is a combination indoor farm, organic waste recycling center (anaerobic digestion) and community garden facility that would be a great sustainability demonstration/education project. I’d like to talk to HCDA (Hawai‘i Community Development Authority) about that one.

4. How has this new career changed your life?

It’s been fun to work for myself, definitely fulfilling to be producing a tangible product. Getting hands on with so many different aspects of a business seems to fit my personality, I like to try new things and learn new skills. It’s hard work, yet not stressful. A lot of dichotomies, but I’m guessing that’s how a lot of entrepreneurs feel. It’s tough not to be making money yet, but luckily I have support from family who want to see this succeed.

5. What’s your view on the future of farming in Hawai‘i?

When I started this, I was under the impression that farm land was scarce on O‘ahu. Because of the loss of sugar and pineapple, It does seem that there is still a lot of ag land that is under-utilized because of lack of infrastructure. I believe the governor supports diversified ag and projects like Whitmore Village may help expand the use of the existing ag lands and for more local food production. However, I believe that there will be a need for urban, indoor farming to supplement the traditional growing. If renewable energy sources can be utilized it can be a practical adjunct to more traditional farming. It will also conserve water, reduce pesticide usage, pollute less, and prevent soil degradation. It can only help better Hawai‘i’s food production self-sufficiency. The biggest hurdle (for all kinds of farming) will be price competition. Large Mainland and foreign farms can often still sell for less than local producers because of their economies of scale and efficient distribution chains. It will take education and awareness of the higher quality of the local produce (that’s where the chefs really help) to show that the local product is still a good value at a higher price.

Visit this indoor farm today from 2:30 to 5 p.m. in Kaka‘ako. For more information about MetroGrow Hawai‘i, call (808) 255-3002 or follow @metrogrowhawaii on Instragram.

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#40trails No. 6: Kalāwahine Trail, O‘ahu

By June 2, 2015 #40trails


HIKE: Kalāwahine Trail, Tantalus, O‘ahu
WHEN: May 2015
LENGTH: 2.5 miles roundtrip
FEATURES: Native trees and plants, birds, valleys and gulches, tree snails, feral pigs.

We really weren’t planning to hike that day.

It just sort of happened.

That’s why we’re so fortunate to live on O‘ahu, where a hiking trail is literally a short drive away from anywhere on the island. In this case, it took us maybe 15 minutes to get to the trailhead of Kalāwahine Trail on Tantalus.

It’s a trail I’ve often done, the last time years ago with a group of coworkers, one of whom carried a six-pack of beer in his backpack the whole way. Along with ice.

As you can tell, it’s not a difficult trail.

The hardest part is really just finding parking.

Tantalus Drive, where the trailhead is located

The trailhead is off Tantalus Drive (see above). There’s very limited parking near the start of the trail, located just beyond a narrow bridge and adjacent to a private road that goes uphill. You can also park in an area just before the bridge in a sort of pull-off on the turn. (That’s where we ended up parking.)

The start of the trail.

A bandana tied to the post means there’s a hunter around. And we met up with him early into the trail — with six dogs. We were glad we didn’t bring the #ratterpack!

The trailhead (above) is right at the junction between Tantalus Drive and a private road (called Telephone Road on Google Maps). It’s well marked and there’s brush at the start where you can — and should — remove dirt and seeds from the soles of your shoes.

Kalāwahine Trail is part of a larger system of interconnected trails over Makiki known as the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. It starts near the top of Tantalus, a cinder cone called Pu‘u ʻŌhiʻa on the southern Ko‘olau Range. The trail contours along the edge of Pauoa Valley and to a lookout with views of Nu‘uanu Valley.

The start of the trail. Its name, Kalāwahine, means “the day of women.”

A rest stop with a recently planted koa tree.

Another scene from the early parts of the trail.

Snails ahead!

Near the start, there’s a small gully that’s marked as tree snail habitats (above). There’s a patch of kalo (taro) and white ginger here. And the snails were pretty easy to spot.

Here’s one. There were many more on nearby plants.

Most of these tiny snails were brown in color, like the one above, and cruising on the ginger leaves.

Just a century ago, snails — like the kahuli — were plentiful here. In fact, students from Punahou School would collect the shells of these land snails and even hunt for duck in this area back in the 1840s. One account says there were more than 2,000 kahuli snails — now all extinct — collected on a single hike. I can’t imagine.

My favorite twisted tree on this hike.

Watch for signs like these.

Kalāwahine Trail is part of a large, meandering network of trails; in fact the Makiki-Tantalus Trail, alone, uses 18 different trails in the Honolulu mauka system. So there are lots of junctions everywhere, including on this seemingly easy-to-follow trail.

It’s actually not.

My husband, who’s an avid hiker, has admitted to taking wrong turns on this trail system. You really need to keep a lookout for signs — and they’re not always so obvious.

This trail intersects with the Mānoa Cliff and the Pauoa Flats trails. Take the wrong turn and you might end up at a waterfall in another valley.

While this trail is mostly flat, there are spots with stairs. But seriously, this is as hard as it gets.

You’ll hit this open area — which my husband says is perfect for paint balling. (Yes, he grew up in the ’90s.)

Here’s another junction, though, according to the sign, you can go either way.

Just a glamour shot of the forest.

At that Pauoa Flats Trail junction, you can either go right or left. If you go right, you’ll end up at a midpoint on Mānoa Cliff Trail. Left takes you to the Nu‘uanu overlook — where we had wanted to end up.

For those of you who are into birds, you won’t find native ones here. But you’ll find the white-rumped shama — originally from Malaysia — with its variety of songs. It often mimics other birds, too. So whistle. You might get a whistle back.

When you go left, you’ll walk through a thick bamboo grove.

The end!

There’s a nice little area where you can sit and gaze out into Nu‘uanu Valley — or drink some champagne, which is what we did.

The view of Nu‘uanu Reservoir.

It doesn’t take too long from the bamboo forest to hit the end of the trail — there are signs saying it’s the end — at this overlook. You get a stunning view of Nu‘uanu Valley and the reservoir.

This reservoir — technically, Nu‘uanu Reservoir No. 4 — was a favorite spot for my family to fish. Once a year, the state would open it up to anglers looking to catch the catfish and tilapia that are stocked there. But budget cuts forced the shutdown of the hatchery operations here in December 2009.

Some people actually ignore “No Tresspassing” signs and climb the 50-foot tower and jump into the reservoir. People have died doing this. It’s stupid. I don’t recommend it.

But I do recommend this hike. It’s so much nicer to see the reservoir than be actually in it.

VERDICT: This is an easy trail, something you could squeeze in after work or on a lazy Sunday morning. It’s a nice walk through trees and along gullies, very peaceful and quiet despite being just minutes from a bustling city. And maybe you can glimpse a tree snail, too.

Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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