I’m notoriously late. Truly, notoriously, can count on it, late!
I have a long-time relationship with a car service that has taken me to the airport for the better part of twenty years (wow, has it really been that long?). Owners of Bellevue Towncar Service, Mark and Natasha, are like family. As Mark was driving Tom and I to the airport for our Thanksgiving/Tom’s birthday trip to Maui, we were discussing individual behaviors. He has a client base that, with time, he has come to know their behaviors are unchanging. I am one of those un-changables; he always schedules in an extra 20 minutes for my tardiness, because he knows I always will be t a r d y .
At first it was a forgotten wallet or one more shirt to pack; five more minutes, please! Sometimes, it was Buffy, taking too long outside to pee (Wheeee! Now it is Ginger and Buddy). Early on, I realized that when I told him to pick me up at 5:00 am, he would be outside at 4:45, and I would usually make it to the curb by 5:15. He never missed a pick-up time, was always early and never late. I was always late, and never early.
As we were conversing in the car this trip, he eluded that he knows me well. Some clients are waiting curbside, bags packed, no matter how early he shows up. With me, he can count on my rushing out the door, with more bags than I need, and never less than 15 minutes late.
So yes, it is December, and as I’m cutting into my Halloween pumpkins, almost six weeks after Halloween (because the Christmas tree has decided to move-in in their place and I don’t want them to go to waste), it occurs to me, I haven’t yet finished writing about O’o Farms. I started writing about it in November…2013! Yes, I said 2013 (more than a year ago, for those of you not paying attention).
So, rewind to the beginning…November, 2013, lunch on “the Farm” (this is what I had to say back then):
“I am not one to be caught acting like a tourist, even if I am (which in this case I’m not) nor would I be the one asking for someone’s autograph; that’s like asking for someone to sign my trash. We are all living life in similar capacity, some just luckier, smarter, or more talented than the others. Some who need for material things and some that are fueled by love. Each of us has, or has had, capacity to change their situation or move geography if desired. I would love to live a million lifetimes, doing something different with each and every one of them. If asked today what it is I want to do and where, the answer would be upcountry, down country or any country – on a farm; a beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking farm. I don’t mean a milking the cows or shoveling manure kind of farm (even though that is part of the package for farm life). I mean a “wow”, I’m lucky to be alive and be allowed to work on this farm kind-of-place!
Now, I can’t say that I’m a gardener (because I’m not); it wasn’t something I ever chose to learn. I can snip my herbs and appreciate the tomatoes that Tom readies every Summer; awaiting their peak as they ripen in the sun. I can plant a row of seeds or pick a crop of berries, if not too large a crop. I do neither of those things particularly well, but I can appreciate those that do. Those that allow we who appreciate the best the land can offer, to partake. I appreciate those that nurture, grow and have respect of land and life. O’o Farms is comprised of just those kind of people. As with any place that is good, it is the people behind that place that make it a good place. O’o Farms is such a place.
We had been meaning to go for a few years but could never drag ourselves off the beach for long enough to see how beautiful this farm is and enjoy the deliciousness it has to offer. When I was on island this (that) past July, I had made reservations online in the wee hours of the night, but apparently, technology didn’t quite make it up the mountain, so we (nieces + Mom) weren’t able to join the farm hands on that trip; much to their dismay. This trip I used the POT device (plain old telephone) so Tom and I were able to join a group of people to tour the farm, harvest fixings for our salad and consume an undeniably delicious lunch, outdoors, looking down over the valley and out to the beach.
Yes, this farm is a spectacular place. It wasn’t always this way though. It might have been beautiful, always, but hard work, passion and good people made it into the magical place that it is today.
Ansel begins the tour at his coffee and olive trees. I was immediately drawn into the enthusiasm he portrayed. He was like a child who was describing (tearing into) a beautifully wrapped gift and simultaneously, a proud papa who had nurtured his child to become prosperous, charitable and kind. He was like an educator who could discover new things alongside his students. Ansel is the orchard manager and the pride that he takes shows, in his words, in his eyes and in the crops that he helps nurture; it is infectious.
After Ansel educated us on their farming practices and agricultural efforts and we had taken the walking tour where we harvested bits for our lunch, JJ wowed us with the edibles from his outdoor kitchen; I thought him to be the luckiest man on earth at the time, and us to be the luckiest of diners. I couldn’t wait to go back.”
Fast-forward to: November, 2014, and our “recent” lunch on the Farm.
On return to the Farm, on the way up the volcano of Haleakala, I breathed in the fresh air and rejoiced.
O’o farms. A tour and a lunch.
A snack, and a tour, and a lunch.
An education, a snack, and a meal!
Plus the view, once again, isn’t bad either, of the farm, the distant ocean or the guide. Ansel, once again greets his crowd at the start of the epicurean adventure and thoroughly recreates the history, past and present, that went into making this farm the special place that it is. This young man is passionate about the land and the work that goes into cultivating a product special enough to boast itself proudly on menus in Lahaina and at the farm, for which the produce is grown. It is not found in the markets, which makes it coveted by the lucky patrons that are smart enough to book a table (I recommend the table located on the mountain, under the thatched roof, looking down on the valley and out onto the ocean…at this place, called O’o Farm.
I could spiel off all the facts he told us, but that would be like giving away the ending of a movie, you just need to go there to hear about the plot yourself. I will say…compost, chickens, wattle trees, 1,000 crops in rotation…oh my (to the tune of “Lions & Tigers & Bears…oh my).
What I really want to tell you about, is the food. Needless to say, the produce is über fresh and this fact alone, well, this coupled with the wood-fired oven, sets the tone for a spectacular meal. While the group is off touring the farm, harvesting ingredients for the salad, Chef is preparing a glorious feast. Chef JJ, who was with us last year has moved back to the Mainland.
Joining the Farm in October of this year, the sous chef at the sister restaurant Pacific’o (located in Lahaina and definitely worthy of a visit), was Chef Daniel. We really like Chef Daniel. Not only is he a fabulous chef, he is a good guy. He too has that infectious passion for what he does and he openly shares his process with the inquisitives (such as myself) without the airy pretension that can sometimes accompany those donning the coat of a chef.
Wine: Irony chardonnay, BYOB, purchased from our favorite wine shop, Wailea Wine. You are able to bring with you a bottle (or more) of wine to enjoy with your meal. They will keep it chilled (if needed) until lunch and then open it and provide stemware.
Simple focaccia bread, doused heavily in olive oil (made from the harvest of Ansel’s olive trees) and baked in the wood-fired oven. This was so good a fight almost broke out for the last piece (honest, no kidding).
Salad of hand-harvested baby lettuces, spinach, arugula, fennel fronds & purple Osaka (a mustard green that is reminiscent of wasabi) and whatever other stray greens we decided to harvest and throw into the basket on our tour. The salad is dressed with an addictive lemon vinaigrette made by reducing citrus to a syrup and whisking in oil, infused with kafir lime and lemongrass, all from the site. I think everyone at our table would have drank it if offered a cup.
Crispy tofu with wood-fired vegetables, rutabaga, daikon, and watermelon radish. The tofu is memorable, almost magical. It is seared for almost 2 hours to deplete it of excess moisture then cooked amongst a nest of root vegetables to produce a fluffy pillow of flavor with just the right amount of crisp. If you think you don’t like tofu (or even if you do), you will (even more-so) after this.
Fresh-caught local Mahi Mahi roasted in the wood-fired oven. This is finished with a crush of fresh Kafir lime leaf and seared in lemongrass-infused oil, then topped with braised scallions and leeks. The fish is so fresh that it cuts like butter and melts in your mouth, exploding with flavor. Never have I enjoyed this type of fish so much.
Rosemary lemon-brined chicken roasted in the wood-fired oven, topped with juices from the pan and chayote squash (which tastes like a cross between a potato and a cucumber). The chicken was so moist and tender that I almost mistook it for the fish as I put in on my plate. For a moment, I thought of replicating it for our Thanksgiving supper but decided to keep traditional with our beach grill of Hawaiian fish. Instead I have semi-replicated it here at home using Cornish hen; my new favorite roasted bird.
Chocolate truffles, Maui pineapple and French-presss coffee, a finale:
The farm tour concludes with a look at the newly built coffee roasting facility, built by hand using eucalyptus and wattle trees fallen from the property. Again, with great pride, Ansel describes the nuances of coffee production and describes what it takes to go from berry to cup. The coffee can be purchased on-line at ‘āina Gourmet Coffee and Tom (and I) heartily recommend the mokka roast (that we were just drinking today).
From there, we walk back to the kitchen, wash our hands at the outdoor sink and gather around to plate up our food that is just being laid out upon our arrival.
The wine we brought with us has been kept chilled and brought down to the tables to be opened. Long communal tables made from full slabs of tree are all set with china, glassware and silver. There were three of them nestled under a thatched roof, overlooking the farm, valley below, and of course, the ocean (both the North and South shores). The air is clean, fragrant and warm, but definitely not hot. If you breath in deeply, you can fill your lungs with the mountain air and capture the essence of the land. As you breath out, slowly, actively engaged with the surrounding views, temporarily, you are in a moment of deep zen.
ROSEMARY, LEMON-BRINED CORNISH HENS
I chose cornish hens here because I had been meaning to roast a few after being served a delicious dinner of said-bird at my mother-in-law’s place this past summer. Chef Daniel described what he used for the brine and I translated that description into a more humble scale, suitable for four people rather than 20.
This is delicious served alongside just a simple green salad, or also, give roasted chayote squash a try. The kafir lime leaves infuse a subtle, exotic flavor, but if you have trouble finding them, squeeze over a little extra citrus; either way, you won’t be disappointed with the finished dish.
8 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup honey
8 bay leaves
4 TB lemon juice
4 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
1 stalk celery
1 tsp toasted corriander seed
2 cornish game hens (preferably organic, pastured hens), lemongrass, kaffir lime-infused oil (simply heat a pan and add a lemongrass stalk with outer shell removed, a few kaffir lime leaves and some coriander seeds. Let warm, then add some grape seed oil to cover, when the oil is warm, turn off the heat and let the flavor infuse).
Bring everything but the hens and the oil to a boil. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, cut out the backbone from the hens and cut the birds into two halves, consisting each of breast and leg.
Add the poultry to the brine liquid. Let sit, covered and refrigerated for a minimum of 4 hours (maximum 24 hours).
Drain and pat dry. Put all of the pieces into a stainless steel or glass bowl and cover loosely with paper towels. Let sit overnight refrigerated (to dry further).
Brush with the infused oil and place the pieces in a single layer in a baking pan. Toss a few lime leaves into the pan.
Roast in a pre-heated, 400-degree oven for approximately 45-60 minutes. Turn once or twice during roasting and brush with the pan juices each turn.
When the skin is golden and the meat is cooked through (internal temp should be 165), remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Squeeze lemon juice over the hens and then squeeze the lime leaves over. Brush with more infused oil and pan drippings. If you like, you can heat the pan drippings with a little white wine plus more lemon juice and use that as a sauce.
Don’t forget, it is perfectly acceptable to pick up the hens with your hands and be sure to lick the bone. Keep the bones away from your dogs though, as poultry bones can be dangerous to their health.