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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

Nuts for Macadamias

Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia Nuts

One of the greatest joys of travel is indulging in favorite foods simply because you are at the source.

Macadamia Nuts at Volcano National Park

Macadamia Garnish on Ahi Poke at Volcano National Park

On a recent visit to Hawaii, myMEGusta found these little treasures in surprising places like salads, beyond the usual coatings for fish or chicken.

She even went to the touristy Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory on the Big Island, complete with unlimited free samples in a jillion flavors.  Lunch that day was a macadamia ice cream cone.

Macadamia Ice Cream

Macadamia Ice Cream

A particularly amusing part of the self guided tour through this Hershey subsidiary was a view of the chocolate covered macadamia production line, reminiscent of I Love Lucy’s adventures in a candy factory.

Lucy at the Candy Factory?

Lucy at the Candy Factory?

Macadamia nuts are not native to Hawaii, the first tree having been imported from Australia in 1881. That country also has a thriving macadamia business, but most of theirs go to China and elsewhere in the Far East, although if there are crop shortfalls in Hawaii, Australian nuts come to the United States, too. California, South Africa, New Zealand and other countries where the weather is accommodating also produce the nuts.

Have you ever wondered why they are almost always shelled, normally not sold fully “clothed” in their native shells? It’s because these are the hardest nuts to crack, and if you get too aggressive in opening them, the meat inside gets damaged. The producers of macadamia nuts have special machinery which is strong enough to break the shells, but calibrated to do so without destroying what’s inside.

In the Shell

In the Shell

One unusual customer for the whole unbroken nut is the macaw, and owners of such birds are the primary market for one California macadamia coop.  The tough shell, a problem for most of us, is useful to the birds in keeping their beaks strong.

Speaking of birds, the worst natural enemy of the Australia macadamia nut industry is the cockatoo, not a factor in Hawaii.

Macadamia nuts are the highest in calories among popular nuts, at over 200 calories per ounce, and 93% of those calories come from mono-saturated (“good”) fat.  By comparison, pistachios are 161 calories per ounce, 72% of which comes from fat. We like to think of all nuts as a relatively healthy treat, okay to enjoy in moderation. But, this does not include noshing on anything covered in chocolate!

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Musselmania

Happy Meal at the Mussel Farm

Happy Meal at the Mussel Farm

Having recently traveled to New Zealand, myMEGusta is often asked: What’s the best recipe for greenshell mussels?

It’s easy: Get on a plane and go there, because New Zealand is the only place in the world where you are likely to get them fresh.

Anywhere else, they’ve probably been processed and frozen, because the government is highly protective of the industry and it is illegal to export them live. The packaging sometimes even includes the shell, just to make them appear freshly prepared when they show up in the dining room.

Steamed Greenshell Mussel at the Source

Steamed Greenshell Mussel at the Source

Of course, that is not to say that enterprising entrepreneurs elsewhere have not smuggled them out and are happily farming away. So it’s not impossible to find them live, just not likely.

Sitting on a boat in Marlborough Sound, surrounded by a mussel farm, and slurping them hot from the steamer, accompanied by a local Sauvignon Blanc, is a lunch right out of heaven.  The bivalves didn’t even need sauce or garnish of any kind, and the rule was to just toss the shell over the side, exactly where it came from in the first place.

“Greenshell” is a relatively new name for an old shellfish. These delicacies used to be called green lipped mussels, but the Kiwi (New Zealander) marketing people decided that name needed better appetite appeal.

Seeding Mussels

Seeding Mussels

Seeding Mussels

Seeding Mussels

Harvesting Mussels

Harvesting Mussels

As delicious as the greenshell mussels are, they are matched in flavor, if not size, by the farmed black mussels readily available in good fish markets in the United States. In the old days, before farming, mussels were a lot of work to clean, but the aquaculture techniques used now (in New Zealand and here) eliminate all that.

Europeans, particularly in Belgium and France, eat many, many more mussels than Americans do, often paired with French fries, the classic “Moules Frites”.  It’s our loss, especially since they are so easy to prepare, not needing much more than steaming in a flavorful broth (white wine and herbs will do it, or find a recipe for something more elaborate). And that broth, infused with the juices from the mussels as they pop open, is delicious, too, perfect for sopping up with a hunk of good French bread.

Moules Frites

Moules Frites

Incidentally, the “proper”, at least French, way to eat them is to use a fork to pull out the first specimen and eat it, then use that shell as pincers to pluck out the rest.

Occasionally, you’ll see raw mussels, for example on a plateau de fruits de mer in France or at a Hawaiian luau.  They’re just as safe as a properly handled raw oysters or clams, but myMEGusta prefers them cooked, all a matter of briny taste.

Plateau de Fruits de Mer

Plateau de Fruits de Mer

 

 

 

 

Another Good Reason to Visit the 50th State!

What’s a fruit that’s really good when completely unripe, fantastic when nurtured to juicy-soft perfection, and not really worth the trouble in between?

Papaya

Papaya

The beautiful papaya! It is hard to beat the flavor and texture of a tree ripened papaya, particularly if you’re eating it not so far from the tree where it grew on Hawaii’s Big Island.

They’re not easy to come by in most parts of the United States in this gorgeous condition, and, when they do, they’re the basic papaya, really good, but not like you get in places like Hawaii.

Strawberry Papaya with Lime at the Kilauea Lodge

Strawberry Papaya with Lime at the Kilauea Lodge

Strawberry papayas sat next to regular ones in the Hilo, Hawaii, Farmers’ Market on a foggy January morning. They looked pretty much the same. But, myMEGusta had one of the strawberry variety for breakfast the next day at the Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village. Adorned simply with a wedge of lime, it was heaven on a plate.  The next day, she eschewed the additional menus items offered in addition to the fruit course, and her plea for “just more papaya, please” was answered.

Who knows if the dead ripe “regular” papayas would have been just as delicious, or maybe even better if tasted side by side?

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad

But who wants to eat unripe, green papaya? We do!

Shredded green papaya is the base for a Thai salad which also incorporates lime juice, hot peppers sauce, sweet pepper slices and peanuts all on a bed of lettuce. The cook always asks how hot, and myMEGusta’s request for super hot usually gets honored (sometimes, we are not believed….), another celestial delight.

Rahana's Truck at the Hilo Market

Rahana’s Truck at the Hilo Market

Available in most Thai restaurants, the green papaya salad has become a mainstay in mainland USA, which is great. But, myMEGusta’s favorite was mixed to order by Rahana in her little truck at the Hilo market that day.

Savored on a picnic table, with wafts of barbecue from a nearby stand floating by, it was the second best papaya breakfast ever.

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