Tag Archives: 13

Once Upon a Restaurant

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Kana Girl’s Hawaiian BBQ on a busy Friday night

Once Upon a Time…  Kana & Keoni owned a Hawai’ian barbecue restaurant.

For more than a year, Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ held UrbanSpoon’s #1 spot for “Best BBQ restaurant” in the Treasure Valley (home to one-third of Idaho’s population)…. And we had a kick-ass time of it, building a unique atmosphere with our combined knowledge of Hawai’ian culture and Keoni’s cooking—the authentic family recipes he learned from his Tutu Pa (grandfather) when he was a small kid. The word our guests most often used to describe Keoni’s food (a little ironic in view of our own alcoholic/addict backgrounds) was: ADDICTIVE.  We were closed Sundays & Mondays, which meant we’d have an onslaught of regular customers every Tuesday, jonesing for a “fix” because they’d had to go two days without his food. No joke.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

A photo featured in “Boise Weekly” with a rave review of our restaurant… Keoni & me displaying a couple “Plate Lunches”…

When we first opened the restaurant, we hadn’t realized what an abundant number of Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders lived in this area, but word quickly spread among the “Local” community (“Local” being a word Hawai’ians use to refer to other Islanders, regardless of their current location) and we quickly had a flood of folks looking to test us to see if Keoni’s food were the “real thing.” He passed the authenticity test, hands down—his “plate lunch” (a to-go container with sticky rice, mac salad, and favorite Island entrees) is precisely what the Local folks remember from back home. Word-of-Mouth served us well; most months we didn’t spend a dime on advertising—but business was booming.

Island Time Zone

The two of us ran the place by ourselves–the original “Mom & Pop” approach—so we had the pleasure of getting to know our many Regulars, and after a while we couldn’t go anywhere in town without being pounced on and identified as “the Hawai’ian BBQ people.” No doubt it’s the closest we’ll ever come to experiencing “celebrity” status. (Keoni follows the Hawai’ian custom of addressing everyone as “Bruddah” or “Sistah”–a personable habit that came in handy in the occasional encounter when we were unable to put names to the faces of people who obviously recognized US…)

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Wally & Esther—a friendship that began with “Howzit”… Enjoying Lau Lau, an ULTRA-traditional Hawai’ian dish

It led to some interesting social dynamics at times… During our first week of business a gentleman came in the front door and I greeted him with “Howzit“–the Island version of “Hey, how’s it going?” He literally stopped dead in his tracks and repeated the word with a question mark. He looked “Local” to me, but I expanded with an explanation: “Howzit–How’s it going?” He looked askance at my haole (white!) self and retorted, “I know Howzit. How do you know Howzit?” I explained that I went to school on the Big Island, and that I’m married to a Hawai’ian (the cook)—and once he tasted (or should I say tested) his first Plate Lunch order, he was hooked. In fact, he and his wife became some of our closest friends in the years that followed.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ taro

Keoni  “playing ukelele” on a taro root

And then there were my Friday-morning rounds to the Asian markets in town… We made our fries from the taro root (the Hawai’ian staple from which they make poi)–but taro is understandably difficult to come by in Idaho. All the Asian markets got their produce shipments on Friday mornings, which meant that every Friday the markets would be swamped with lovely ladies who came up to my shoulder… And every Friday I made the rounds of all those markets, buying up their taro root. I’m not sure what the Chinese words would be for “tattooed white lady who buys the taro,” but chances are that I’d recognize the phrase if I ever heard it again… The taro fries were a hit—and we noticed that although people occasionally asked if we had poi, very few people actually asked for it. Let’s just say that poi is an acquired taste.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Keoni on a “charm walk,” sharing a shaka with a connoisseur of the keiki (kids’) menu

Whenever Keoni had a few minutes of down-time in the kitchen, he’d wend his way through the dining room (I called it his “Charm Walk”) speaking Hawai’ian Pidgin with the Local folks and “talking story” with other diners.  (Pidgin is a recognized language in the Islands, so Keoni was considered a Bilingual Officer when he worked in the prisons there…) He also sang in the kitchen all day long–he’s got a gorgeous tenor voice and knows all the classic Hawai’ian songs by heart… His Tutu Pa was a musician, and taught Keoni to sing as well as to cook–and also to blend the things he’s passionate about.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ kanikapila

Piko (one of our regulars) kicking back for some kanikapila after a meal

Our restaurant was the kind of place where diners (who didn’t know each other) would chat among tables, where people would bring ukeleles and indulge in an impromptu kanikapila (“jam session”) when they finished eating, where a couple might get up and dance in the middle of the floor to one of Keoni’s solos, where regular customers would drop in to say Aloha and give us a hug even when they weren’t there to eat, where people brought in all kinds of Hawai’ian mementos until our decor was a wonderfully collaborative clutter, where we could get to know people’s regular requests and personalize their orders (that’s also how we ended up with Vegetarian and Gluten-Free menus), where people could slow down from the hectic pace of their lives and enjoy a mini-vacation in our “ISLAND TIME zone” (as the sign above the door proclaimed)… We liked to think of it as an embassy of sorts—a few hundred square feet of Hawai’ian soil in the middle of Idaho.

We loved being able to work together—we were happy to go to work together every morning, and we were happy to go home together every evening. We were only half joking when we’d say that Keoni was afraid of the cash register and I was afraid of the smoker—but together we made a Most Excellent Team.  And Keoni liked to boast that he got “paid in kisses and tattoos.” Whenever a diner told me I should give the cook a raise, I’d lay a big ol’ smooch on him!

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

evidently this chick doesn’t look like a business owner…

We regularly ran up against sexist stereotypes when dealing with salespeople and the like; very few people made their first approach with the idea that I might be the “businessperson” of the operation. One salesman came in while Keoni was out picking up supplies, and insisted on sitting and waiting until my husband returned, rather than talking to me. When Keoni came back half an hour later, you can imagine the guy’s chagrin when Keoni told him, “You’ll have to talk to Kana Girl about that. She’s the owner—I just cook.” Needless to say, this guy had already lost any chance of making a sale. Other people would ask me if they could talk to the owner (never mind my apron with “Kana” across the front, and the “Kana Girl’s” name across the front door)—and one fellow went so far as to ask me if I knew who the owner was. (Surely it couldn’t be the tattooed chick in the miniskirt!)

Ohana

Keoni at the restaurant with the youngest 4 of our 7 kids: Christian, Kapena, Elena Grace, & Kawika

We were also both very happy about NOT having to work for anybody else. It was one of our favorite jokes, whenever anyone asked if we could make a substitution or fulfill a special request—Keoni would answer, “Well, I’ll have to check with Corporate…” Then he’d turn to me with the question: “So what do you think, Babe?” (We also joked that if I were “Corporate,” that made Keoni my “Corporate Man-date”…)  We loved being able to do things the way WE thought they should be done, and we loved being able to involve our keikis (kids) in the family business.

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQLooking back now… Opening that restaurant when we did looks in retrospect like a totally harebrained idea. We were deep in a recession and eateries were closing left and right. Neither of us had ever owned a business, we’d only known each other for half a year, and only been Sober for that same half-year. Launching a restaurant just then was a crazy-ass thing to do. And we had a lot to learn! But all in all, it went beautifully. In fact, in some ways it was an advantage to be new to the restaurant business, because we weren’t hidebound by “The Way Things Are Done.” (Take the zero-dollar advertising budget, for example…) Although I also have to say that there were plenty of other things, learned along the way, that we would definitely handle differently if we ever had a “do-over.”

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Keoni with another Keoni, who gave us his old license plate to hang on the wall

In the end, we threw our beautiful restaurant away. We didn’t lose it; we threw it away. After a year and a half of booming business, we drank again. In a mere matter of weeks, we threw away absolutely everything that was important to our Sober Selves. Custody of our kids, our restaurant, our house, our car, and almost our marriage. (People regularly ask us if we ever fight—a question usually accompanied by the observation that we clearly have a lot of fun together. The honest answer is that we don’t argue… when we’re Sober. When we drank, we didn’t even like each other.)

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

Keoni cooking on his smoker—in sunshine, rain, sleet, or snow… And always in shorts! Crazy Hawai’ian.

That was a little more than two years ago. If we could take back the hurt we caused to the people who love us—particularly our kids and our parents—we’d do it in a heartbeat. But at the same time… There are a lot of things about our journey of the last couple years that we wouldn’t want to trade. (In fact, that’s probably a whole post in its own right.) Bottom line, though: despite the financial struggles and various challenges of the last 27 months, we’re in a better place now than we’ve ever been—spiritually, emotionally, in terms of our Sobriety and our family relationships… in every way, actually, except financially.

And then… An unexpected blessing fell into our laps. Keoni had a retirement account from his career in Corrections; we’d been trying to avoid tapping into that resource, but we’d been falling behind on our rent, and he had a couple surgeries to get through (last week’s spine surgery, and another knee replacement coming up) before he could get back to working… So we finally decided we’d better go ahead and cash out his retirement. We thought it would be just enough to catch up on our rent and pay ahead a few months while we figured out “what next”… But when the check arrived, it turned out to be quite a lot more than we’d expected. In fact…

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

a wakeboard made for us (and autographed) by one of our regular customers

It turned out to be enough to re-open our restaurant. Seriously, how often in life do we actually get a “do-over”? Well, we just got handed one. To quote one of our favorite A.A. guys: “How cool is THAT?!”

Things have been falling into place the way only God’s plans do. (One of the things we’ve learned in Sobriety is that when we’re working too hard to try and make something happen, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate whether “our plan” is really the best thing to be doing. Not surprisingly, God’s ideas are better than ours.)

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

“Coming Soon!”

We found the perfect location almost immediately. It’s  ideally situated from a business perspective, and it’s right next door to Elena Grace’s school and within walking distance of Christian’s junior high. There’s even a private space upstairs that we can use as a “family room” when the younger kids are there with us.

This time around we also have the advantage of some eager extra hands within the family. Our teenage son Kapena has already been working full-time between two jobs, and he can’t wait to quit those  jobs to work with us. Even Christian is gung-ho about being part of the venture. And we have the chance this time to put into practice all the things we learned the “hard way” the last time around. I can’t even begin to describe how excited we are.

We’re set to open April 13 (our lucky number 13!), giving the landlord time to do some remodeling and updating of the building, and giving us time to “remodel” the cook (those surgeries I mentioned). The restaurant website is still under construction, but I do have the menus posted: www.KanaGirlBBQ.com. And so… The next adventure begins! Stay tuned…

Kana Girl's Hawaiian BBQ

our “save the date” card

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The Shampoo Manifesto

Our sons Christian (11) and Kapena (16) introducing the chickens to Kapena’s girlfriend Rachel

When our son Christian started Kindergarten, the school called me up within the first two weeks to ask if they could move him to second grade. Eep! We compromised at the halfway point, and he skipped just one grade. I had no question that he could handle the academics, but I had fears for junior-high years, and how tough it might be socially for a kid to be two full years younger than his classmates when everybody else hits puberty. And I confess I wasn’t wild about having him graduate high school and leave home just a month after his sixteenth birthday…

He’s younger than classmates and teammates, but he holds his own—on the soccer field and elsewhere!

I was also guessing at the time that he might end up small for his age—his dad is Filipino and not much taller than I. As it turns out, though, Christian has stayed near the top-end of the growth charts for his age, and holds his own physically even with a year’s difference from his classmates. He and Keoni were running errands recently and ran into the father of one of Kapena’s football teammates; the guy asked Christian his age and then commented, “You Hawai’ians sure do have size!” My bemused guys didn’t correct his assumption about heritage (Christian refers to himself and Keoni as “peas in a pod,” but there’s not a genetic link there) but at least we can say that Christian passes for “Hawai’ian size”…

I’m glad of that, because here we are in the Junior High years I used to worry about. Christian commented casually a few weeks ago that he’s figured out how to deal with bullies: laugh at them. I’m tickled that he’s exhibiting more wisdom at eleven than I could have claimed even in college—but there’s also the Mama-Bear stomping around in my head with her hackles up, growling “Bullies?!”

Comfortable in his own skin! Christian goofing around in a pair of my heels…

Christian has an understanding sympathizer l in Keoni, whose comparative age relative to grade-level was almost exactly the same. Keoni really was big for his age (Hawai’ian size?)–by ninth grade he topped six feet and weighed in at more than 200 pounds. But he says his athletic abilities took a while to catch up to his size. In high school he was All-American on the football field and League Champion three years running for wrestling–but in junior high teams would pick him for his size and then leave him on the bench because of his lack of coordination or skills. Junior high was a pretty miserable time for him, and he remembers unpleasant social run-ins characterizing those years when classmates were ahead of him in everything but size…

Christian is remarkably solid in his sense of self, comfortable in his own skin, and unconcerned with what other people think—a combination of traits that’s truly a blessing at Junior-high age—so when he shared with me that his scalp has been really itchy and his curly hobbit-hair haunted by dandruff, he’s really much more bothered by the itchiness than about the “social ramifications” of dandruff. (At the same time, though, I’m thinking of my own 7th-grade dandruff issues, and particularly the locker-room bully who made sure everybody heard her proclamations that I was “dirty”… To her way of thinking, dandruff was an indication that I must not be showering.) No need to burden Christian with my baggage—but happily I think we can take care of both the dandruff and the itching. Time for DIY-Mom to re-open the shampoo factory!

We’ve been making our own shampoo for this household, so I asked Christian if he’d like me to research anti-dandruff ingredients and make a special batch that he could take to his dad’s house. He answered with a resounding “Yes, please!”—so here’s our first recipe… We’d already harvested the lavender we grew this summer, so I started by stripping a couple stalks of their flowers and using a mortar and pestle to smash them up in order to release the oils. I gathered the mashed blooms into a coffee filter tied up with a rubber band (my home-made version of a tea-bag), which went into a cup of water in a small pot, brought to a boil before I turned off the stove and let the lavender steep for thirty minutes.

home-grown lavender

Half a cup of the lavender-water went into the shampoo bottle (an old hand-soap bottle with a pump), and I saved the rest for conditioner. The remaining shampoo ingredients: half a cup of Castile soap, and 13 drops each of tea tree oil & rosemary oil. Tea tree oil acts as both an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial agent, and has been clinically proven as effective in treating dandruff. Rosemary and lavender are also included on almost every list of natural remedies for dandruff; lavender is said to help balance the natural oils on the scalp, and both plants contain compounds that relieve itching. I’m not sure on the amounts with the oils–10 to 15 drops seemed to be a common recommendation, so I went with our lucky number 13. We’ll see how it works, and go from there!

The conditioner I made for Christian is a variation of the one Keoni and I have been enjoying for a few months now. Christian actually likes the smell of vinegar (a quirk we probably owe to his taste for salt-and-vinegar chips)—which is a good thing, since most of our home-made household cleaners have a vinegar base! It also helps here, since he doesn’t mind coming out of the shower smelling rather strongly of vinegar. (Keoni and I usually rinse it out when we use it, but it’s also effective as a leave-in conditioner.) This one is easy to make; I used the remainder of the lavender-water, mixed in a one-to-one ratio with apple cider vinegar, and poured into a spray bottle (recycled from its original incarnation as a hairspray spritzer).

And finally: the scalp scrub! This one is similar to the body-scrub I like to use on my arms & legs, but here I used coconut oil because it is not only a deep moisturizer, but also has natural anti-fungal properties. Coconut oil can be a little tricky to work with, because it’s solid at “room temperature,” but liquid in a warm room. My home-made deodorant, for example, has a coconut-oil base, and it’s much easier to apply it now than it was in the summer when our hot weather turned it liquid… In this case I wanted the oil to be somewhat liquid, to get that crumbly-wet consistency that’s easy to scoop out and apply, so I went half-and-half with coconut oil and vegetable oil.

“Hobbit shampoo”

I melted the coconut oil in the microwave so it would be easier to mix (I didn’t want to heat it after mixing in the sugar, because the sugar would start melting and lose its “sharp edges”), then stirred together the two oils and the brown sugar. I didn’t measure amounts for this one, just kept adding brown sugar until it had the consistency I wanted—clumping together in a crumbly mixture. The pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, & allspice) is just to make it smell yummy.

The brown sugar acts as an exfoliator, scrubbing away dead skin cells and semi-solid sebum (scalp-oil) build-up. Christian had showed me the white crud that collected under his fingernails when he scratched his scalp—and he commented that he’s glad he has a mom “who doesn’t get grossed out easily!” His comment brought to mind our recent trip to the dentist—Keoni needed a tooth pulled (Medicaid’s only dental “coverage” is for pulling a tooth when it gets too infected to leave in a mouth) and I asked the dentist if I could see the extracted molar. He hesitated, then asked if I get “squeamish.” I was about to answer that I was a biology major (thinking of all the dissections I used to do), but Keoni beat me to the punch with a more pertinent answer: “She’s a mom!”

When the kids arrived for their weekend with us, I had “Hobbit shampoo,” “Hobbit conditioner,” and “Hobbit scalp scrub” ready for a test run, and labeled with the nickname I’ve used since Christian’s curly hair first grew in. I suggested that he hop in the bathtub with his swimsuit on, and I’d give him a thorough scalp massage with his new scrub (and the additional tool of mom-fingernails!)

We’ll have to wait and see about long-term use, but the initial report on the test-run is positive—the gunky build-up was gone after scrubbing, his head wasn’t itching or flaking over the weekend, and even the scabbing seemed to be on its way to clearing up. When he headed out the door to his dad’s truck at the end of the weekend, he thanked me for his home-made hair-care products, and also for the head-rub. “I needed the Mommy-ing,” he confided as he hugged me. That’s definitely my favorite new word.

*************

Dr. Bronner’s soap[box]… a bizarre pseudo-religious manifesto in tiny print, interrupted only by the small central section of actual shampoo-labeling

And on the topic of interesting words… We were quite bemused by the labeling on the Castile soap. I’d ordered the most inexpensive version I could find—“Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps” unscented baby-mild Castile liquid soap. The center of the label contains the usual ingredients and information: the soap is made primarily from olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil; it’s USDA-certified organic,  entirely biodegradable, vegan-friendly, packaged with 100% recycled materials, and Fair Trade certified by IMO….

So far, so good. But that information takes up a small central section of the label, and the entire remainder of the bottle is covered in tiny print that has nothing whatsoever to do with shampoo—except, perhaps, for the maxim that “cleanliness is next to godliness”… I hardly know how to describe the rest of the text. It’s sort of religious, sort of a social rant, sort of incoherent, and sort of a bizarre writing-style, liberally sprinkled with exclamation points and incomplete sentences and repeated phrases and long runs of words strung together with hyphens…

The opening to one long section first caught my eye with its reference to my totem, the owl:

Arctic White Owls by Birth-Control survive: the female does not go into heat until she sees three full months of frozen food for her young ones to survive! Putting to shame our welfare-state, with its untrained masses, enslaved by Marxist half-true hate!

“Arctic White Owls by Birth-Control survive”…

The text goes on to describe (sort of) the “God-Inspired Moral ABC of Mama Cat,” a list of 13 items introduced as the lessons every mother cat supposedly teaches its young. Who knew that our cat was such a complex creature, not to mention religious! Here’s #13, just to give a sample:

13th: Free, brave! No Marxist slave! Mama Cat’s ABC of Love and the Swallow’s Song inspired by the Kingdom of God’s Law! All-One! Above! Above! All swallows evolve united to perfect pilots by full-truth, hard work, God’s Law, trained brave! No slave! Brave! Always evolving-united, free in All-One-God-faith! Hardworking, self-disciplined, no parasite-blackmail, welfare-slave! Therefore, brave we live to teach-work-love-inspire-unite! All-One! Win Victory! Help get it done! Teach to unite All-One! All-One! All-One! For these are the days my friend, we know they’ll never end! We’ll work-sing-dance-love marching on! Marching on! We’ll teach how to Love God’s Way! We’ll fight for it, OK! For we’re young and sure to unite All-One! All-One!

I read the whole bottle in fascination, and there’s an underlying theme of love and inter-connectivity, both among humans and between humans and God. God would probably approve that message—but it’s a message that’s nearly buried in eccentric ranting and inexplicable tangents. I was curious enough to look up Dr. Bronner on Wikipedia, and wasn’t surprised to read that he’d been committed at one point to a mental institution, which he “escaped” after receiving shock treatments. (I wonder now if he wrote this before or after shock-therapy…)

His story is kind of a sad one—he was a third-generation Jewish German soap-maker who left Nazi Germany and tried unsuccessfully to convince his parents to do the same. The last he ever heard from his parents, before they died in a Nazi death camp, was a postcard from his father saying simply: “You were right.” Soap-making, to him, was secondary to spreading his “philosophy.” He lectured all over the United States (his sojourn in the mental institution followed an arrest for public speaking without a permit), giving away soap samples pretty much as an afterthought. When he realized people showed up for the soap and didn’t stay for the lectures, he started printing his message on the soap bottles themselves.

It seems that in some ways he acted on his love-messages with generous charitable donations from his soap company… But it also seems as if he only acted on a “big-picture” scale, rather than in his personal interactions—when his wife died, he put his kids in foster-care so they wouldn’t interfere with his lecture circuit.

Our Hobbit (hopefully dandruff-free!) with his owls. No word on whether they “by Birth-Control Survive”…

Inc. magazine ran a fascinating article on the business, now being run by Bronner’s grandson David, who is described as “a ponytailed marijuana activist who drives a rainbow Mercedes that runs on French fry grease.” (“The Undiluted Genius of Dr. Bronner’s,” April 2012.) It’s a fascinating story of family and philosophy and marketing—and not a little madness.

Regarding our own soap-making, one of Christian’s bright ideas for our proposed Hawai’i Bed & Breakfast is a gift shop, where our guests could purchase items like our specialty home-made soaps. I think, though, that we’ll keep our labeling a little simpler!


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