Maui Food Madness Part 4

Sorry for being absent from Xanga for over a week. We returned from the United States with my sister and brother-in-law in tow, and have been showing them around Bangkok, leaving little time for blogging. With that said, let me pick up where we left off in Hawai’i. For the final segment on food in Maui, we visit a lavender farm, a goat dairy, and eat some fantastic fish tacos.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

One of the interesting things about Maui is that it is agriculturally more diverse than you initially expect. While there are wide swaths of land dedicated to sugar cane and other tropical produce, as you ascend the slopes of Haleakala (the volcano that forms the eastern 75% of Maui), you pass through a more temperate zone. The combination of rich soil, moisture-laden air, and the filtered tropical sun provides a fertile growing environment for a wide variety of produce. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a great example of this. 

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Situated 4,000 feet above the ocean in the town of Kula, the Ali’i farm stretches over 13 sloping acres. Different varieties of lavender are cultivated and the grounds are largely open for self-guided walking tours. In the early afternoon, the breeze was pleasantly warm but we were protected by a thick layer of clouds that reminded me of the fog of my native San Francisco, but without the need for multiple layers of clothing.

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Here, Sugi and Tawn pose amidst a field of lavender on the upper edge of the farm. The farm offers settings for private events including weddings. While the steep slopes might prove challenging for guests with limited mobility, the views (and fragrance!) would be unforgettable and worth the effort.

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Close up of one variety of lavender. The air really is perfumed with a subtle, but pleasant aroma from the acres of lavender.

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In addition to the lavender, the farm has extensive gardens with many different plants and beautiful flowers. Many of the plants were familiar to me from growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a similar climate. I was excited to see the fuchsia (on the right) because my father used to grow these in our back yard.

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No trip to the farm is complete without a stop at the gift shop for a snack. Beverages include lavender lemonade and tea.

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The highlight is the lavender scones served with passion fruit and lavender jelly. A few years ago, I purchased some food grade lavender but rarely used it. Tasting these scones, I was sorely tempted to buy some more and make it a point to cook more frequently with this beautiful flavor.

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Sitting on the shady balcony outside the gift shop, we were visited by a flock of small birds who waited not so patiently for scone crumbs. Tawn decided to share his crumbs with them and they gingerly approached and pecked them from his hand.

Surfing Goat Dairy

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Just down the hill from the lavender farm is the Surfing Goat Dairy, another example of the agricultural variety found on Maui. A working farm that produces more than two dozen varieties of goat cheese that are used at restaurants across the island, Surfing Goat Dairy proudly claims to make da’ feta mo’ betta!

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One of the younger goats playing on a surf board.

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The dairy offers tours and there is a small gift shop that sells a variety of their products. Recommended are the cheese tasting flights, which feature both fresh and aged cheeses.

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We sampled six cheeses, a mixture of fresh and aged. From the back left, clockwise: fresh feta, “Ping Pong Balls” (drained chevre, rolled into balls and marinated in garlic olive oil), Ole! (chevre with jalepenos, lime juice, artichokes, and cilantro), Udderly Delicious (plain, salted chevre), Garden Fantasia (chevre with fresh garden herbs), and French Dream (an aged cheese with herbs de Provence). Lots of fantastic cheese here, many of which have won national awards. 

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A pleasant, shaded seating area was populated with a friendly farm dog and cat, both of which came over looking for some attention. Despite being outside, both animals had exceptionally soft, well groomed coats. Perhaps the result of drinking plenty of goat milk?

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Before we left, I snapped a picture of these kids feeding kids. Ha ha…

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

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The final entry about Maui food concludes with a stop at Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei. This restaurant, which is in a strip mall, looks like nothing to write home about but surprises you with tremendous quality. The must-eat item is fish tacos, which are prepared from fresh, locally-caught fish.

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The owner, Mike Phillips, who is in the shop most evenings, supervises operations and comes out to chat with customers. He took this picture for us. He explained that they are just setting up franchises on the west cost of the mainland, with the initial store to be in Santa Cruz. If a Coconut’s Fish Cafe opens near you, please make sure you try it. As Mike explained, the only advertising they do is customer word-of-mouth. So from my mouth to your ear: word.

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The beautiful fish taco, made with fresh mahi mahi, crunchy cabbage slaw, and a sweet and tangy mango salsa. This taco was so good that I would seriously consider stopping in Maui next time I’m flying back to the mainland US, just to eat here. My only quibble is that the toppings are cut in very large chunks, making them a bit hard to eat. Smaller bits would ensure you get a little bit of everything in each bite, but that’s a tiny complaint.

There you have it, the conclusion of my Maui Food Madness entries. I hope you enjoyed them!

Part 3
Part 2

Part 1

 

Cooking: Easy Taco Salad

A picture posted by my cousin Jane was all it took to inspire me to try making taco salad at home.  But something I didn’t want to deal with was deep frying tortillas to make the taco bowls.  Not only does deep frying add a lot of fat (and, thus, heaviness) to the meal, but it is also more work than I want to deal with.  The key was finding an easier, lower fat way to make the taco bowls.

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After some searching on the internet, I found two techniques for baking taco bowls that sounded promising.  The first involved spraying a tortilla with cooking spray (Pam, Crisco, or another brand).  The second technique involved pouring a tablespoon or so of oil on top of about an inch of water in a large container such as a roasting tray and then dipping the tortillas into the water.  Regardless of which method you used, you then shaped the tortilla between two oven proof bowls and baked for about five minutes in a 400 F oven.  Ofter that, you remove from the bowls and bake the bowls another five minutes until crisp.

Both techniques work well, although if you are going to spray the tortilla you need to be careful about overdoing it.  It also works better if your tortillas are at room temperature or even zapped in the microwave for a few seconds before trying to shape them, otherwise they may crack or tear.  The flavor of the baked bowls was very enjoyable, albeit less oily than with the fried bowls.

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As for ingredients, you could use whatever suits your budget, sense of taste, and amount of prep time.  I used chopped romaine lettuce for a base, although mixing in some spinach or other greens would have been a nice alternative.

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To the lettuce I added chicken and beans.  The chicken had been marinated in a coconut chili sauce that I had handy, although simply sprinkling the chicken with some salt, pepper, and cumin and pan frying would have been fine, too.  For the beans, I drained a can of kidney beans (no black beans were available at the store), then cooked them for just a few minutes with some chopped onion and chopped red bell pepper. 

On top of the protein, I aded freshly boiled corn, chopped tomatoes, and some more red bell pepper.  For a dressing, I used homemade tomato salsa, although if it were the right season, some homemade mango salsa would have been spectacular.

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Garnished with some shredded pepper jack cheese and sliced green onions, these taco salads made for a healthy and tasty treat.  Many thanks to Jane for inspiring me.