Sunday, May 14, 2017

The First Without...


The first sigh, the first smile, the first recognition that you are a significant person in this little person’s life; the first clutch of a toy, the first step, the first solid food, the first word ( “giggie” for dog, “owa” for cat); the first Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, birthday, Halloween and Easter; the first day of kindergarten; the first soccer/basketball/baseball/lacrosse team; the first day of high school; the first car, the first girlfriend, the first college graduation, the first job and the first business success. 

 I relish these events, noting each one on my calendar; I share them by phone with grandparents, aunts and uncles; I reflect upon them with a photo, and more recently, I relive them via a Facebook post or a text message.

Today is another first. The first Mother’s Day in 26 years I will spend without my son, Ian Clarke MacKenzie. 

He died on July 16 2016, in an accident that should have never happened. But then, when are accidents planned?

In May 1991, Ian was in utero at about 20 weeks, and in that way, he joined his father, Bill, and me on a trip the island of Kauai. I count that as my first Mother’s Day.

One year later, we celebrated in Southern California at brunch with family at a restaurant on Newport harbor. By the next May, 1993, Ian’s brother, Alec Hugh, was a 3 month old. We had a double celebration!

My mother died in 1995 and the first Mother’s Day without her, which also always falls close to her birthday, was difficult. Since then, I have been able to celebrate and remember my mother, Jane Hite Reilly, on two days, very close together. I have always held her in my heart as I shared this special day with my sons, basking in the love of being a mother of two active, vibrant, mischievous, creative, intelligent children.

I have experienced the first birthday, the first Halloween, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and Easter without Ian. Each is accompanied by its own loving memory.

The first Mother’s Day without him? I was totally unprepared for the emotion this day has brought.

I am thankful for the rich memories I have of Ian. There are more than I can count. I am sad that I no longer have him to hug as he comes home from work and to congratulate him on a successful sale. I am sorry that I will not witness the growth of a young man who, poised to take the world by storm, was also growing into his role as a thoughtful adult with dreams of good things to come. I am sad that I will not watch him as he courts and marries the woman he loves, and that I will not one day hold his child, my grandchild, in my arms.

Hawaii. Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, is important us. It is why, when the boys were growing up, we spent vacations at Kona Village Resort, a place that holds Ohana in its heart. The Big Island of Hawaii is where Bill and I now go to find peace, beauty, spiritually and simplicity. 

Ohana. I am not without Ian. I know you are with me but in a different, more spiritual way. I miss you mightily.  I love you wholeheartedly. Remember when you realized you could order as many Cookie Monsters as you wanted at Kona Village? Oh, those, were the days...

I love you, Ian. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Say Aloha to Aloha Java Seasoning Blend

How Aloha Java Was Created

The Big Island of Hawaii has been a special vacation destination for the Mackenzie's for years. This past October, Bill and I rented a cottage in the Kohala district at the northern tip of the island, in the town of Hawi. Listening to the rain and wind on the lanai of our cottage while reading, walking through the lush gardens surrounding us and enjoying local dining and arts provided the tranquility we were looking for on this trip to  the Big Island.
Welcome to Bamboo Cottage!
When it was clear enough, we could catch a glimpse of Maui and the summit of Haleakala across the choppy channel that separates the two islands. It was like a Bali Hai experience; mysterious, near but far away at the same time. Knowing another piece of land was also there, so far from the Continental US, was a comfort.


Hawi is a casual town with a thriving art scene and lots of history. King Kamehameha was born in here. In the early 20th century, sugar cane was king on the island and the waters from rain-heavy Kohala flowed to the cane fields through ditches engineered by M. M. O'Shaughnessy, who was also responsible for the Hetch-Hetchy project that brought water from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco. Known as "Da Ditch", there are tour operators that provide tourists with a locals-only view of the water system by inflatable kayak. My family loved this soggy adventure during a 2002 island visit. I highly recommend the restaurant Bamboo, right in the heart of town. It serves up a tangy pulled pork sandwich and if you're lucky, local son and slack key guitar virtuoso John Keawe will be playing.

Bamboo Cottage is situated along one of the ditches and we were privy to the fresh citrus and avocados that grow on the property. I actually plucked my own ginger root from the garden to include in a vinaigrette I prepared for greens purchased at the Hawi farmers' market. 


Under the banyan tree, the Hawi farmer's market

At the market, I got to talking with Chris Bornstein, the co-founder of Spicy Ninja Sauce. I have recently developed a greater appreciation for heat in my cooking, recognizing that chili peppers provide depth of flavor in many dishes that one may not associate with hot, spicy food. Well, Chris' Spicy Ninja Sauce blew me away. Even the mild sauce tested my wimpy palate, but after the initial intense heat wore off, there was a delightful buzz in my mouth. Hum...I could get to like this stuff! Maybe heat is addictive after all.

I told Chris about Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings  and he said, "You should do a Hawaiian blend". That suggestion germinated in me for the remainder of our stay. Hawaii holds a significant place in my heart and it would seem only natural for me to give flavor to that special place.

The 5 hour flight from Kona to SFO provided plenty of time for me to dream of potential concoctions. Coffee was an obvious ingredient, and ginger, which I had at my finger tips at Bamboo Cottage, had to be included. Once home, I explored the seasonings I had on hand and found that in addition to coffee and ginger, garlic, smoked paprika, some brown sugar and something I hadn't used very often, Sichuan peppercorns, would make for a very interesting blend. And now I have a blend that gives a little delightful buzz of Hawi to my tongue!

Aloha Java Blend brings me back to a place my family loves. I hope it brings you a taste of the islands and some spice to your cooking!


Aloha Java Pan Roasted Cod with Mashed Butternut Squash

The subtlety of any flaky white fish will be enhanced by the smoky, sweet and spicy flavors provided by Aloha Java blend. Do not be afraid of purchasing fish fillets that have been processed, individually packaged and flash frozen aboard a fishing vessel; this is the best way to high quality, non-local fish (a fish monger told me this). I’ve had a lot of luck with the frozen individual cod fillets available at Costco; they are all even sized portions and easy to defrost and prepare.




Ingredients

For the Butternut Squash

Spray Canola or Olive oil
1 butternut squash, about 1 pound
Ian’s Fire Seasoning Blend, red pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste
Butter
Salt and pepper

For the Cod
Olive Oil
4 cod fillets, or other flaky white fish, even in size.
4 tablespoons Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Aloha Java Seasoning
Maldon Salt or kosher salt, to finish, if desired
Special equipment – baking sheet pan, 10 inch skillet, handheld potato masher

Instructions

For the Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the sheet pan with the oil.
Slice the stem off the squash and cut in half, lengthwise. Remove the seeds and membranes from the center of each half of the squash with spoon and place, cut side down, on the prepared sheet pan. Use a paring knife to make several slits in the skin of the squash to allow steam to escape during cooking. Place the sheet pan in the oven and roast for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the outer skin is soft and you can cut through to the flesh easily.
Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the squash to cool to the point that you can handle it. With a spoon, scrape the flesh from the skin into a medium bowl, being careful not include any of the skin. Add a tablespoon or so of butter, salt, pepper and Ian’s Fire or other spicy choice (go easy on the Ian’s Fire, though!), and mash with the potato masher to desired texture; it doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. Add extra seasoning as desired.
The squash can be made several hours or up to one day in advance. To warm, place in a sauce pan with a lid, add a little bit more butter, and heat over low, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

For the Cod

Pat the fish dry and sprinkle with Aloha Java blend on each side, about a tablespoon per fillet.
Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place the cod fillets in the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, until you can see that about half of the fillet is opaque. Gently flip the fillets with a spatula and continue to cook until the entire fillet is cooked through and flaky. Remove the fish to a chopping board.
Place a generous spoonful of warm Mashed Butternut Squash onto four dinner plates and then place the Aloha Java cod slightly a top. You can also add another green vegetable or salad if you’d like.

Enjoy with Aloha and Love!




Monday, January 16, 2017

A Kona Village Remembrance



The MacKenzies at Kona Village Resort, 2001

The Big Island of Hawaii…just writing those words makes me take a deep, relaxing breath and pretend a gentle trade wind has brushed my cheek. The island has long been a favorite vacation spot for my family. We spent 5 spring breaks at Kona Village Resort, a throwback of sorts - no phones, radios or TV’s in the individual bungalows, or hales; no swimming pools with multitudes of water slides, grottos or swim up bars. Kona Village provided a feeling of welcome, of ‘Ohana (the Hawaiian word for family) from the staff who had become friends; a refuge from Silicon Valley for our sons to explore tide pools, fish in ancient Hawaiian ponds (catch and release, of course), snorkel through waters filled with a diverse and colorful array of sea life and just enjoy being kids in a very family-friendly environment.



 The boys wore their surf trunks on the plane so they could hop out of the car before it even rolled up to the reception area and race to the beach to find their friends who also always came this same week. Bill and I, in turn, became with friends with the parents of the boys’ friends. That’s what Kona Village was all about – friendship. We’d check in with the daytime bartenders, Sid or Rusty, about how many Cookie Monsters or Lava Flows the boys had ordered; they were limited to 3 of each. “Sometimes it's hard to say no”, Sid or Rusty would tell us if the boys has exceeded their limit. No worries, the boys were not tracking our Mai Tais or Kona Lagers!

Bill and I would catch glimpses of Ian and Alec throughout the day while we sat on the beach and read copious amounts of books. The boys would join us at the bountiful luncheon buffet (they both developed an affinity for sashimi here). We’d watch as they jumped off the diving raft anchored in Kahuwai Bay with half a dozen other kids and I would joined them for snorkeling with green sea turtles that called the bay and beach home. 

Bill kayaked with Ian and captained a sailfish with Alec. The three of them - Bill, Ian and Alec - completed their SCUBA certification at Kona Village.



Fishing in the pond off our hale

Bill and I would collect the boys after “keiki” dinner – a time spent playing totally low tech games like capture the flag or dodge ball with all the other keikis (kids) in the village – at the manta ray grotto at 8:30. We would then watch the mantas who, attracted by the lights aimed at the water, came into the bay to feed and provide us with a graceful farewell to the day, waving to us with their own special form of aloha. For seven days, we were content with living in a thatched roof hale, listening to the lap of waves on the black sand shore as we went to sleep and a cacophony of birdsong as we awoke, and then savoring all the simple pleasures that Kona Village presented.

We had hoped to return with the boys for our 30th wedding anniversary this year, but that won’t happen. Sadly, Kona Village was a victim of the 2011 tsunami that swept across the Pacific from Japan and has been closed since then. 2005 was our last visit to the village.

During a stay on the Big Island this past October, Bill and I walked the KVR beach. We saw the rusted keel of the New Moon, the boat piloted by KVR founder Johnno Jackson, moored on the coral and lava since the early 1960’s. Honu (sea turtle) are still sunning on the black sand and thriving in Kahuwai Bay. The bones of the village are there and all the memories are still alive, all the smiling welcoming people who embraced us as ‘Ohana. It was the same and yet different.

The keel of the New Moon
KVR is rebuilding and hopes to reopen in 2019. Will we ever capture the special feeling we had there for 5 spring breaks? 

Our eldest Ian died in July 2016 at the age of 24. I don’t know what a stay at a renewed Kona Village would be like without him. Bill, Alec and I will build a new relationship with the Big Island, and Ian will always be with us. 

Bill and I tossed a lei into Kahuwai Bay at the manta ray grotto on October 16, 2016, on what would have been Ian's 25th birthday.  He will always swim in those waters.