baked oats green chile chicken enchiladas chow mein bakery-style butter cookies

copyright jennifer yu © 2004-2023 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

archive for May 2011


Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

They say friends are the family that you get to choose. But my family gets and gives that special unconditional love no matter what has been said or done. Throughout the week, family arrived and we crammed into Grandma’s small studio apartment to continue sorting through her belongings, making plans, and reminiscing about this kind and gentle matriarch who has touched all of our lives so dearly. Grandma’s four daughters have four distinctly different and strong personalities. The interactions among them are far more complex than magnetohydrodynamics and are not governed by the laws of Nature, but rather by the laws of the Heart.


recounting good stories about grandma

The grandchildren are another matter. We’re all pretty chill, cracking jokes, and sharing stories while the mothers fret over whether or not we’ve gotten enough to eat. In a rare moment, it was just the three cousins (the fourth was to fly in the morning of the service) at Grandma’s. Instead of the incessant chatter of the “adults”, we quietly sat on the floor making hair clips with white flowers for all of the female members of the family (to wear for 100 days) and mused over our family the way that only adult grandchildren can. We had to make vegetarian dishes for Grandma’s Buddhist service, so I chose to sauté soybean sprouts. Grandma always plucked the tails off of the sprouts, but I rarely do because it’s time-consuming. We had plenty of time. My cousin helped me trim the ends and it reminded me of all the childhood days I sat at the kitchen table helping Grandma clean the sprouts before dinner.

trimming the sprout tips


my cousins and their mom

another aunt lovingly prepares asparagus to send grandma off with good food

As more members of the family arrived in town, our meals out were less somber, more celebratory, more elaborate, and more filling. There was so much to do in preparation for Grandma’s services and there were so many loved ones around that the sadness faded and I felt as if Grandma was still there.

hand-pulled noodles (so cool to watch)

just getting started on lunch

the meal after the services (everyone was ready to pop)

**Jump for more butter**

the longest day

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

I’ve been racing down long stretches of highway, speeding through dark tunnels lit with colored spots of light zipping past, hurtling skyward as if launching into the heavens – all the while my focus was completely unfocused on the empty space straight ahead.

There was a 1 am phone call from my mother, text messages, more calls, and finally a text from my dear aunt: she’s gone. That cold, numbness ran through my veins while my face flushed hot and wet from tears and emotion. I sobbed, wailed into Jeremy’s arms – sadness overcoming the rational side that knew I needed to book the first flight out, a rental car, hotel and get there as soon as I could. It felt familiar. It felt awful. The same despair I felt when I learned my sister had died unexpectedly. Unexpected. This was unexpected and yet it wasn’t. Grandma was to turn 90 years old this October and while I knew she could not live forever, somewhere in my heart I deeply wanted to believe that she would. It’s like that thing you wish so hard for when you’re a little girl who looks to her grandma and believes that reaching up to take hold of her hand will make everything bad in the world disappear. I am not a wishful girl. But I did wish it.

Jeremy arranged all of my travel logistics (he had to remain with Kaweah because we couldn’t get anyone to take her on such short notice at 3 am) while I staggered around dumbstruck and emotionally drained, packing my bag in the cold darkness of the house. My hands didn’t obey my brain and my arms were heavy and exhausted. I was packing for an undefined trip. I had a one-way ticket. I didn’t know when the services would be held. My head throbbed from all of the tears and my eyes burned, stung. Calls to the East Coast and text messages to the West Coast to coordinate travel with loved ones. Grandma meant the world to me. She meant the world to a lot of people including my mom – her first-born. Loss like this hurts from all directions. It wasn’t just my sadness. I knew my mother and aunts were devastated. If you’ve ever loved someone, you know how much it destroys you to see their heart broken. Everyone loved my grandma. She totally kicked ass.

When all was packed and ready, there was a little time before I had to leave for my flight. Jeremy tried to catch some sleep as he insisted on driving me to the airport, but I couldn’t sleep. I was sapped of energy and yet a nervous trembling plagued my body. It’s like the trembling you get in your legs when you’re stuck on a climb and you’ve been looking for the next placement for too long. I had two hours to gather photos of Grandma for her services. She was so pragmatic that she would occasionally tell me, “Take a nice portrait of me… you know, so we’ll have a good one for my funeral.”

my grandma

I was the zombie sitting in the waiting area near the gate at Denver International Airport. I was the girl in the aisle seat who alternately wiped tears from her eyes and chatted with her neighbors about Yosemite Valley. I was the red car that followed the familiar path from airport to Grandma’s place. My aunt opened the door. Mom had asked me to take care of my aunt (we are very close) because she’s the youngest of the sisters and had to deal with Grandma’s sudden passing alone. She looked tired and small. We hugged, cried, talked, and then set to work on the task of clearing out Grandma’s belongings.

She saved a lot of things in tidy little stacks or containers. She kept items nearly new by zipping them up in plastic. If you made or gave her something she really liked, she would never use it and probably wrap it up and stow it away someplace safe. She did that with some flower washcloths I knitted for her about nine years ago.

**Jump for more butter**

travel: big island of hawai’i (long)

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Several people had asked for good recommendations around the Big Island, so I thought I’d jot down some of our good (and not as good) experiences for those who are planning or at least dreaming of their own trip. My references included: Lonely Planet: Hawai’i the Big Island (3rd edition September 2008), my friend Fran (a native of Hilo), our previous trip in 2005, the interwebs, and recommendations from my followers on Twitter.

* relief artist: dorothy nelson, 1966 (public domain)

Day 0: Kailua-Kona
Day 1: Green sand beach, Punalu’u bake shop, black sand beach, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Day 2: Punalu’u black sand beach, Hilo Coffee Mill, Lava Tree State Monument, Pahoa, Kapoho Tidepools, Kea’au
Day 3: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park
Day 4: Hilo Farmer’s Market, Banyan Tree at Rainbow Falls, Waipi’o, Waimea, Pololu
Day 5: Waipi’o Valley, Hawi, Pololu Valley, Waimea
Day 6: Waimea, Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, Kona

Day 0: Flying into Kona (Kailua-Kona) on a drizzly Tuesday night is not ideal, but who am I to argue with $10 airfare from Denver to Kona? Thank you, frequent flier miles! December-January is considered the peak travel time and that can affect prices for lodging and other services. We popped into a KTA grocery store to ogle the offerings (lots of Asian stuff, regular white grocery stuff, and beautiful local fruits) and had a stay at the Royal Kona Resort. Jeremy found that one online ($123 for room with 2 double beds, $10/night for parking). Dated, but clean with pretty grounds.

things we liked
Apple bananas: They look like half-sized regular bananas, but they have a slight tartness to them which makes them infinitely better than the regular banana. You do need to wait for them to turn yellow as with regular bananas.

Taro chips: Taro is ubiquitous in Hawai’i. I love it. I’m Chinese, man. Looking at the label on one brand of taro chips, I was mortified to see that it had been processed on the mainland and shipped to Hawai’i, so we stuck with the local brands of sweet potato and taro chips.

taro and sweet potato chips

Day 1: We went to the green sand beach at Mahana Bay (free), one of three green sand beaches in the world – the other two in Guam and the Galapagos. Hike 2.5 miles from the “parking area” to the green sand beach with mild yo-yoing as you skirt the coast. Follow the maze of 4WD roads that mar the coastal landscape (it can be quite muddy). The south part of the island is generally windy and sand was flying everywhere (not the green kind – that’s heavier). There were a few fellows with 4WD trucks driving people to the green sand beach, presumably for a fee. If you can walk, I suggest you walk and bring some water. You will see plants, minerals, critters, and beach up close. It’s a quick and not so difficult scramble down the wall of the old cinder cone to the beach itself and worth the small effort. Removal of green sand is illegal, not to mention a jerk thing to do.

on the hike to the bay, a little pocket of green sand accumulated on the beach

volcanic rock with olivine crystals

green sand

the bay: olive green, not emerald green (it would be made of emeralds if that were the case)

On Highway 11 to the east was the little town of Naalehu. The point of interest: Punalu’u Bake Shop. Their guava, taro, and other sweet breads are carried in most of the grocery stores on the island. We tried some of the samples before having lunch and malasadas. The chocolate cream and the strawberry-filled malasadas were nice, but the real winner for us was the plain taro malasada (we also got a guava, but I’m partial to taro and purple). It was raining, but there were several covered seating areas to enjoy your goodies while admiring native flowering plants in the gardens and all of the gorgeous local birds twittering about. We walked a little bit of our lunch off checking out the grounds (it’s small, but pleasant).

the claim

malasadas: guava (pink), taro (purple), strawberry-filled, and chocolate cream-filled

We made a quick stop at the Punalu’u black sand beach (free). It’s a pretty black sand beach, but I wasn’t there for the sand (which is a little uncomfortable to walk on because it is broken down from cooled lava – basalt – that hasn’t broken down completely into smooth little sand grains). This is a great location to see green sea turtles, except we didn’t see many of them on the beach – mostly just frolicking in the water. It was afternoon and the winds were crazy, so we didn’t stay long.

here is one returning into the waves

The drive from Punalu’u to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park ($10/vehicle, good for 7 days) climbs 3500 feet. At some point you cross over to the wet side of the island. There are rainforests here for a reason. On the recommendation of a Twitter follower, I booked two nights for us at the Volcano Rainforest Retreat nestled in the rainforest just outside of the national park.

entrance from our covered parking

shoes off, please

lovely little touches

We stayed in the Forest House (for 2 night stay, $170/night not including taxes/fees) – an octagonal stand-alone structure with private path to the hot tub. Our 300 square foot space had skylights, big windows, a gas fireplace/stove/heater (it was in the 50s and 60s), an air purifier (you’re RIGHT NEXT to active Kilauea Volcano), refrigerator, wifi, television, robes, flip flops, flashlights, umbrellas, and tons of information on the park and nearby services in the town of Volcano (massage therapists and restaurants). Breakfast is provided the day before: papaya, apple bananas, local pastries, 100% Kona coffee, hard boiled eggs, juice. It’s a crunchy-granola type of place, which we like. There are bins for compost, recyclables, trash. There is a purifier spigot for drinking water which, like all the rest, is sourced from the rainwater they catch. It is quiet, peaceful, relaxing, and private. My only gripe was the lack of shampoo/conditioner.

the view from our room – all rainforest

bright and tidy

our path to the hot tub

view from the hot tub

local brekkie

The Hawai’i Volcanoes NP visitor center provides the latest information on lava flows and volcanic activity (close at 5pm). There was no active lava flowing and there hadn’t been for three years. The only activity was at Halema’uma’u Crater and a little at Pu’u O’o – craters housing small lava lakes that weren’t doing much at the time. The volcanic activity was producing dangerous sulphur dioxide gas which forced closures over half of Crater Rim Drive. We grabbed a quick dinner at Lava Rock Café in Volcano (the town) even though Kiawe Kitchen‘s menu looked better – we were short on time. While nothing spectacular, the food is decent and you can get some local flavor like liliko’i (passion fruit) vinaigrette on your green salad, fresh mahi mahi fish and chips, and decent kalbi (korean bbq beef short ribs).

Reaching the Jaggar Museum in the national park by sunset, we walked out onto the back deck with hordes of middle schoolers and their chaperons in the drizzle and rain to watch steam rising from Halema’uma’u Crater. The lava levels were low and deep in the crater, so not visible from where we stood. As twilight approached, a faint pink tint appeared at the base of the steam and it intensified to a moderate glow. It was in the lower 50s, but standing around in the wind and rain made it feel colder.

the start of the glow

more color

last remnants of blue


things we liked
Olivine sand at the green sand beach.
Taro malasadas from the Punalu’u Bake Shop in Naalehu.
Volcano Rainforest Retreat in Volcano.
Halema’uma’u Crater at night in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
**Jump for more butter**