Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hawaii Pono

Yesterday, Hawaii’s Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Hawaii’s civil unions bill into law. The law will become effective next January 1, but it is finally done. A few posts ago, I mentioned that this is in keeping with the Aloha Spirit, and the general attitude in Hawaii. Below is footage of the signing ceremony. The first 3 and a half minutes, his opening remarks, are particularly interesting, as he reflects on how this is a natural step in Hawaii’s progress and in keeping with traditional values. The theme of inclusiveness and justice certainly run through Hawaiian language. He’s very impressive - Hawaiians elected the right governor.

He briefly touched on the concept of ho’oponopono. This is an ancient Hawaiian conflict resolution process which is kind of a cross between a prayer circle and mediation. It means “to make right”. The Hawaiian word for righteousness is “pono”, but it also implies a sense of justice, and ethics, as well as morality. And the title I used for this post, Hawaii Pono, refers to a good or just Hawaii.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Biodiversity and Invasive Species

One of my favourite things about Hawaii is the remarkable variety of plant and animal life to be found there. It is quite an impressive feat on its own that there are any native species, as Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from any land mass that would anything growing. Since humans did not find the islands until 1000 years ago, all plant and animal species living in Hawaii before then arrived by pure chance. Plant spores and seedlings might be carried by ocean currents and, with luck, might take hold and reproduce in Hawaiian soil. Even more amazing is that a species of finch managed to take hold in the Islands and evolved into several different species collectively known as honeycreepers. The different species are dramatically different in plumage and have specialized beaks for specific diets. There were also insects, a native bat and some large flightless birds, as well as sea birds that migrate through this section of ocean.

Human impact on an ecosystem has rarely been as dramatic as in Hawaii. The Polynesians brought various food plants such as coconut, taro and breadfruit, and the Islands’ first land mammals: pigs, dogs and chickens. Though unintended, rats also came along. The Hawaiians cleared large sections of native forest, and hunted several species of birds to extinction. But this impact was minimal compared to the impact of European arrivals in the last 300+ years. While it is not generally considered flora or fauna, the first things introduced by Europeans were sexually transmitted diseases, dating all the way back to Captain Cook’s crew. Though Cook may have introduced a few goats and pigs to the Big Island, many more livestock were introduced in the early 1790's by Captain George Vancouver (goats, cattle and sheep) and other captains. Horses and European pigs were introduced shortly afterwards. The goats and cattle were originally the most destructive to native wildlife. In the first years they were allowed to reproduce without any hunting that would keep their numbers in line. As continuous grazers, these animals ravaged the native forests, where almost no native plants contained any toxins, as with no native land mammals, there was no need for plants to have such defense mechanisms. For this reason the ‘akala or Hawaiian raspberry has no thorns and Hawaiian mint is almost flavourless. In addition to habitat destruction, cattle proved to be very dangerous to people as well. When the cattle were introduced, hunting them was banned for 10 years, to increase their numbers. They increased all right and became aggressive wild animals once again. The most popular hunting method was to dig a pit to trap the wild bulls so they could be killed without risking one’s life. The famous botanist David Douglas died when he fell into one of these pits and was gored by the bull already trapped inside (but there may be more to this story - some claim he did not get into that pit by accident). Wild goats are still a problem, though there are no longer wild cattle. Hawaii’s cattle are now managed on ranches and beef is a significant export to the mainland.

The European pigs are a larger breed and were more damaging to native vegetation than the Polynesian pigs were. Pigs are still a problem in the wild. Unlike other livestock, they do much of their damage in the rainforests of the island, areas not much affected by cattle or goats. They are also very capable of destroying fences put up to keep them out of protected areas. The government does little to nothing to control them, in large part due to hunters who lobby the government to keep game animals available for sport hunting. What I find galling is that hunters typically claim that they are the ones that care for the ecosystem, when they are allowing the continued destruction of native habitat.

A wide variety of animals have been released at various times in Hawaii’s history. Some of these introductions were intended and some were not, but a great many have been destructive. The mongoose was introduced to Hawaii during the days of plantation agriculture as a way to control the rats that were eating sugar cane. Now I’m not sure what caliber of genius decided on this, but this concept was doomed from the start. The particular mongoose that was brought over hunts in the daytime while rats are nocturnal. So now a new predator has been introduced with little to no redeeming social value. While not many rats were eaten by mongooses (no, not mongeese), they found a steady food supply among the native birds of the Islands. Ground nesting birds were particularly easy prey, especially the nene, Hawaii’s state bird. The nene is descended from, and still looks very similar to, the Canada Goose. There is some change in colouring and there is no webbing on their feet, as the nene is exclusively a land bird. The mongoose would eat nene eggs as well as hatchlings and juveniles. On occasion, a mongoose has been known to kill adult geese. Feral cats also prey on native birds, leading to the near extinction of the ‘alala, or Hawaiian Crow.

Until the arrival of Europeans, there were no mosquitos in Hawaii. They were first released on the Islands in 1826 in discarded bilge water from a British ship and they have thrived ever since. They have decimated many populations of native birds by the spread of avian malaria, a disease for which the native honeycreepers have no immunity. This is why most visitors to Hawaii will never see the native birds. They still exist in the mountain forests, since the local mosquitos generally can not survive above 4000 feet elevation, but most tourists do not travel to these remote forests. The birds in the cities and by the coast have all been introduced, most of them in the last century. Fortunately, some of the native birds may be beginning to develop some immunity to avian malaria, and in recent years some of these birds have been sighted in lower elevation native forests.

Most of the pests and invaders known to the world have made their way to Hawaii, but one particular undesirable has not yet made their way to the Islands. There are no snakes in Hawaii (most guidebook writers deem it necessary to make some joke about this fact - usually involving politicians or tax collectors) and agricultural inspectors are doing everything they can to be sure things stay this way. Of particular concern is the brown tree snake, which was introduced to Guam during World War II and proceeded to eliminate pretty much all native bird life, short out power lines, and they are even dangerous to pets and small babies. On a few occasions, dead or dying snakes have been found in the wheel wells of airplanes arriving in Hawaii from Guam. From time to time, other types of snakes are found and (usually) killed.

As mentioned earlier, because there were no land mammals in Hawaii, plants either did not develop defences against predators, or lost what defences the plants originally had, such as the thornless raspberry and mintless mint mentioned before. Then when foraging animals were introduced at the same time as a large number of foreign plants, the natives were at a distinct disadvantage and were quickly pushed out. Furthermore in the 1870's, many native ohia trees began to die off.

It wasn’t understood at the time, but now it is known that this is a natural dieback phenomenon where the entire canopy in an area will die off over the course of a decade. This will open up the canopy and allow the new generation of seedlings to grow. Because the botanists at the time did not know this, they decided to replace the trees with introduced species, such as eucalyptus, ironwood, redwood, fir, and pine, among others. This was not the only Hawaiian tree impacted by humans. In the 1820's the early merchants and traders noticed that one of the trees that grew in abundance was sandalwood, a tree whose heartwood was greatly prized in China for carved boxes and burning as incense. Since many Chinese products were in demand in Europe and America, the traders had finally found a method of payment for these items. The Hawaiian chiefs also began making purchases using sandalwood as payment, often for absurdly inflated prices, with the burden of collecting the wood falling on the commoners. The desires of the traders and chiefs easily outstripped the supply of sandalwood and the tree was almost eradicated. Today there are a few trees here and there in the native forests but not in anything close to the numbers there used to be.

In modern times, there has been more of an interest in preservation of native plant and animal species and the limiting of invasives. This article from the Maui News shows what damage can be done from just one invasive species, the strawberry guava, to the native bird population. It also describes the tree’s impact on the island’s water supply, and measures being taken for preservation. An interesting tourist attraction that embraces native plant life and preservation is the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook, on the South Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a living museum that recreates the native Hawaiian agricultural system and preserves native plants. They also operate a nursery that sells native plants for residents to use in their own gardens.

This is not to say that only endemic species have a place in Hawaii’s ecosystem. A great product, lehua honey, is made by introduced honey bees gathering nectar from the lehua blossom from the native ohia tree. Almost all food plants were introduced at some point, whether by the Polynesians or by westerners. This past weekend, the Amy Greenwell garden hosted their annual avocado festival. The avocado is not native to Hawaii, but it is a useful plant for encouraging sustainable agriculture. Here are pictures of some avocado creations made for the festival’s recipe competition.

Much of the information and details for this post were drawn from a very good book about Hawaii’s environmental history. For those not into biology and ecology, some parts of this book can make for dry reading, but I find this to be an invaluable resource. I originally studied this topic for a high school biology project when I was about 16 and this book was a very important source that I found and looked for it until I found a revised edition a few years ago.

Islands In A Far Sea: The Fate of Nature in Hawaii
. Revised Edition. By John L. Culliney. University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Out On The Ice?

I have been following a recent series of news stories that relate to the anniversary of a tragic event that occurred last year. A young collegiate hockey player, Brendan Burke, who had just become the first openly gay hockey player at a major US college, was killed in a car crash. His coming out was significant for two reasons. First, no professional team sport athlete in North America has yet come out. Secondly, Brendan was the son of Brian Burke, the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of hockey’s most storied franchises. Brian is a revered figure in the hockey world for his managerial skills and his reverence for tough, hard-nosed players. Now, on the first anniversary of his death, several articles have been published that address the possibility of an NHL player coming out. There are two Toronto Sun articles dealing with the topic, as well as some posts in an interesting blog that covers stories about LGBT issues in sports -

I recommend reading the following two articles in the Toronto Sun:

"Burke's Legacy Opens Door To Gay Players"

"Avery Would Support A Gay Player"

And two posts from - Jock Talk Blog

"Sean Avery Would Support Gay NHL Player"

"NHL Players Say They Have Gay Teammates"

Now there is no disputing that there are gay hockey players currently playing in the NHL. The league has 800 players to have played at least one game this season so it is obvious that some of them are gay. Now some probably don’t care and may not choose to come out even if it were easy to do. But being in the closet is hard, and I would assume there are many who would not want to keep this part of their lives secret. But to date no professional hockey, baseball, football or basketball player has come out while still an active player. Recently there were possibly two NHL players who were almost ready to do so. They consulted with Canadian Olympic Champion Mark Tewksbury, who frequently gets involved with LGBT issues in sport. In the end, these players chose not to come out, but the atmosphere could possibly be changing. Brian Burke’s strong support of his son, possibly changed some impressions about how accepted out players might be, and Tewksbury believes Burke’s support can be an important factor for change. The Toronto Sun article quoted a few NHL players and other individuals connected to the NHL that had encouraging messages that they would accept openly gay teammates. Daniel Alfredsson, captain of the Ottawa Senators said

“I just believe that it is a person’s right to be what they are. If they are gay, it would probably be really hard to have to hide it all the time. There will always be people opposed to it, I suppose. But I have a feeling that overall, it would be accepted.”

An even stronger statement was made by Sean Avery of the New York Rangers. It should be mentioned that Sean Avery is described by hockey writers as “outspoken” and on the ice is an “agitator” or “pest”. For those that don’t speak sports-page-ese, this means he is an unrepentant pain in the ass who can’t keep his mouth shut. Fans of his own team love him, but players and fans of other teams hate him (or possibly love to hate?). He told the Sun :

"If there's a kid in Canada or wherever, who is playing and really loves the game and wants to keep playing but he's worried about coming out, I'd tell him to pick up the phone and call (NHLPA [players’ union] executive director) Donald Fehr and tell him to book me a (plane) ticket.

"I'll stand beside him in the dressing room while he tells his teammates he is gay. Maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it."

I think in this case he image as an outspoken agitator lends strength to the message. It sends the message “if anyone messes with him, they mess with me”. And also if someone as tough as him has no problem with someone being gay, why should you?

Blog author Jim Buzinski has predicted that the first out athlete in North American team sports will come from the NHL, and I think I agree with his reasoning. In a post for OutSports (click here to read his article - I have elaborated on a few points), he wrote that the first reason is that the culture of the NHL is less American, as the largest segment of NHLers are Canadian with many Scandinavian players as well. I would add that, although there teams located throughout the USA, including in some conservative areas such as Carolina, Atlanta and Nashville, there are hardly any players that actually originate from these places. Most of the Americans in the league are from more progressive states such as Massachusetts, and New York. Another reason is that it is the least watched of the major pro sports in North America, meaning the players are not as big celebrities as in other sports. Finally, the other sports seem to be more infused with public expressions of religion. As Buzinski says “I can hardly remember a hockey player thanking God for scoring a goal”. While I have maintained that you can still be religious and Gay, these public displays such as thanking God for touchdowns or awards or what have you have little to do with real faith but are more showing the fans they have the “right” motivations. That kind of religious expectation is not likely to be gay friendly.

An additional reason is that I believe that, overall, hockey players tend to be better educated than those in other sports, and more knowledge generally leads to greater tolerance. Canadian junior leagues ensure players keep up solid academic performances and, while US colleges do offer full scholarships as in other sports, there is less competition for the top prospects, so there appear to be fewer “free ride” scholarships given, at least not without an emphasis on maintaining academics. Also, some of the more competitive collegiate hockey teams are strong academically as well. Nearly every Ivy league University, including Harvard and Princeton, have top level hockey teams.

I would be very interested to hear if any of you have thoughts on this topic.

A little off topic, but I’d like to close the post with this picture, as it has a hockey theme, but with an unusual twist. The two flags are for the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks, two Canadian NHL teams. They are in front of Oceans sports bar in Kihei, Maui, Hawaii. I thank my traveling photographer for the pic. (love you!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kalua Risotto

This is something of a follow up to my last post, as it is a way to use the kalua pig or duck made using the recipe from the last post. The recipe I am going to post is not a traditional risotto, but I do follow the risotto technique, so I will also explain how to make a real risotto.

Kalua Risotto

1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup “forbidden rice” or other black rice
large splash white wine
4-6 cups chicken stock
2 cups cooked and shredded kalua pig or duck
plus any fat from pig or duck
Hawaiian salt
1 tsp grains of paradise
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
small pinch cayenne
½ cup creme fraiche
½ cup frozen peas

If you have sufficient fat from the pork or duck (you should) melt it in a pot. If there is not enough, supplement with duck fat or, lacking that, olive oil. Meanwhile, heat chicken stock in a separate pot to a bare simmer and keep hot. If you wish, up to 2 cups of the stock can be replaced with water. Saute onion in fat until soft, then add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the rice and saute for another 2-3 minutes, until you start getting a nutty smell from the rice.

Saute the rice until you get a nutty aroma and there is a slight chalky texture on the surface of the rice

Add a splash of wine, then add one or two ladles of the stock and simmer, stirring regularly, until the liquid is absorbed. Once the first batch of liquid is absorbed, add more stock and continue cooking in this manner until the rice is tender. As this is a whole grain rice, it will likely take about 40 minutes, as opposed to 20-25 minutes if one were using a white rice. Traditionally, risotto is supposed to be stirred constantly, but this really isn’t necessary, especially for this recipe. A few stirs every minute should be enough. When the rice is tender, add the meat and any additional fat, and a final ladle or two of stock. You can even add the skin if you want, just slice it into narrow strips.

Add the seasonings, creme fraiche and peas, heat everything through, and serve.

Forbidden rice is a variety of rice that, in ancient China, was reserved for use by the emperor, and thus forbidden to all others. Now it is just one of many interesting varieties of rices available. If one were making traditional risotto, the rice to use is arborio, a short-grain Italian white rice. When cooked and stirred, the starch releases from the rice into the pot and the dish takes on a creamy texture. The forbidden rice releases far less starch, so you will not get the same creaminess, which is why I add creme fraiche, an addition that should not be made to true risotto. Creme fraiche is heavy cream that has been slightly soured. If you cannot find it, replace it with heavy cream, just add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Grains of paradise, also called guinea pepper or alligator pepper, taste something like pepper, with a bit of lemony flavour. If you cannot find it, lemon pepper may be acceptable, or just black pepper.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Kalua - Style Roasting

This post can bring a bit of Hawaii to your kitchen. A famous method of traditional Hawaiian cuisine involves cooking a whole pig, along with other foods, in an earthen oven, called an imu, for hours. The food cooked in such an oven is referred to as “Kalua” from the Hawaiian meaning “the hole” - a reference to the imu. This was often done for celebrations, now referred to as luaus. Obviously most people do not have the ability or space to construct an imu at home, or to cook a whole pig. But there are ways to approximate the finished product at home.

First, I will explain how kalua pig is prepared in the traditional manner. You start with a whole dressed pig, meaning hair removed, gutted but with head and skin on. Then you dig a pit large enough to contain the pig and whatever else you are cooking, generally about 2-3 feet deep. You build a fire of kindling wood and burn it down to coals and use the fire to heat stones, which, when hot, will be placed inside the pigs cavity to ensure even cooking. When the coals are ready, they are spread around and wet banana stalks, banana leaves and ti leaves are put on top of the coals to generate steam. The pig is placed on top of the leaves with additional leaves placed on top. The entire pig is then covered with wet burlap sacks then a canvas tarp covers the entire pit and is covered over with dirt. Depending on the size of the pig, this takes anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Other popular items cooked in the imu are duck, fish, taro, breadfruit and sweet potatoes.

Obviously this is not something I expect anyone here would actually do. Here is a much more appropriate method, using available equipment and ingredients that can be made for fewer than 50 people. I have done this recipe both with pork and with duck. It is technically less difficult with pork, but I think the results can be better using duck.

Kalua Pig/ Kalua Duck

1 large piece pork shoulder, bone in / 1 whole duck
2 banana leaves
1 tablespoon pink Hawaiian Salt (‘Alaea) - can substitute other sea salt
1 tablespoon natural liquid smoke (mesquite is best)
heavy duty extra wide aluminum foil

Lay out a sheet of aluminum foil approximately double the size of the pork/duck and lay it on a work surface then place a piece of banana leaf on top of the foil. The banana leaf should stop at least 2 inches from the edge of the foil, but still be large enough to place the entire piece of meat on top.

Place the pork shoulder or duck on the banana leaf. Season both sides with generous amount of Hawaiian salt and several dashes of liquid smoke. Place another banana leaf on top of the meat and cover with another piece of foil the same size as the first. Crimp the two sheets of foil together, being very careful not to tear the foil or get the banana leaf caught in the crimping.

Heavy duty foil that is extra wide is very important for this, because ordinary foil is not wide enough to accommodate a whole duck, and can be problematic even for the pork. Also, regular foil is not sturdy enough to resist tearing, which is very important. Place the package in a large roasting pan filled with at least two inches of water. Cover the roasting pan with more foil and put in a 500 degree oven for about 2 ½ hours. After two hours you may need to add more water as, even though the foil should have sealed in all the water, with the intense heat, it always seems to escape. After 2 ½ hours, turn off the oven but leave the meat in the oven for another hour, or until the oven is cool. If you are using a duck, you may need another 30 minutes with the heat on.

The pork will produce a product something like pulled pork, though maybe a little drier. So this is also a decent method to get close to southern barbeque without a massive smoker and firebox. The only difficulty is much of the pork shoulder I find does not have a lot of fat, so parts of the meat can get a little too dry.

Because the duck is covered with skin and fat, the meat remains moister so, although it is more diffiuclt to prepare for the oven due to its awkward size, I think it tastes better. When the meat is cooled, shred it as you would pulled pork and decide how to use it. An excellent use of the duck is as an hors d’oeuvre. Take a cracker or toast, put on a little goat cheese, some shredded kalua duck and top with a few grains of coarse Hawaiian salt. One of my favourite uses is in risotto, and I will give that recipe in my next post.

This recipes features some unusual items that can be difficult to obtain. Banana leaves are actually a compromise from the original recipe. The proper leaves to use are ti leaves, from the ti plant, indigenous to the South Pacific. It is quite hard to find even in Hawaii where it is in demand, and impossible to find elsewhere. Banana leaves are the closest substitute readily available. Any Asian grocery should have frozen banana leaves. The banana leaves are not to be eaten, but they will impart a delicate flavour to the meat.

With the prominence of gourmet sea salts today, Hawaiian salt is actually available in fine foods and gourmet shops. The salt you will find outside Hawaii may have a darker coloration than what is pictured. I get this salt directly from stores in Hawaii, usually brought back by my parents if I am unable to go myself and for some reason the Hawaiian salt I have seen here in Montreal has a more reddish colour. As this is a Hawaiian preparation, I prefer to use the salt from that place, but as the taste differences in sea salts are so minimal, any good quality sea salt would work for this dish. Just don’t use table salt.

Liquid smoke is sometimes looked down on as a cheater’s method for imparting smoke flavour, but as long as the liquid smoke you buy is naturally produced and contains no artificial ingredients, it is a perfectly good product, as all it is is concentrated condensed smoke. Although when I use real wood smoke on a BBQ, I prefer hickory chips as they give more flavour, I prefer mesquite for this for two reasons. The first is that hickory liquid smoke can be too strong tasting. The second reason is that a very common wood used in Hawaii for the imu is kiawe wood, which is a form of mesquite.