Monday, October 27, 2008

Tropical Fruits -- You Betcha!

This visit on beautiful Hawaii, I’ve been treated to some fruits I’ve never tried as well as others I’ve enjoyed once again. I love fruit, not only because of the sweetness, but also the explosion of juice, the mouth-feel, the textures, the sheer lusciousness they offer.

Some of the fruits I’ve eaten this trip I first had in China, but didn’t have recognizable names for them. Fruits such as longdon, a small round fruit in an unassuming thin khaki shell. Similar to the lychee, it is a delicate, translucent fruit with a single brown seed in the center. Just a taste, but sweet and refreshing.

Dragon fruit with its exotic fuchsia skin with scales and beet-red flesh was served to me the first time in China. It is currently in season in Hawaii. I wasn’t really taken by it in China so I haven’t had it here, but I was curious about its origins. It’s from a cactus, which makes perfect sense as I realize now that it tastes similar to tunas, the little fruits that grow on the flat paddles of Mexican and Central American cactus. Now that I understand it, I like it better.

Another is Lilikoi, a variety of passion fruit that is more citrusy than its sensual purple cousin. Lilikoi chiffon pie is an Island favorite, as well as lilikoi salad dressing, lilikoi curd to spread on toast or poundcake, or lilikoi cream pie. Too tart for my palate by itself, but delicious as an ingredient.

Cape Gooseberry is a little round fruit that looks almost like a cherry tomato. It comes encased in a parchment-like covering that is shaped like a small paper lantern. Sweet and flavorful.

Jaboticaba, an astonishing purple, grape-like fruit that comes originally from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil. It grows directly on the trunk and branches of the tree and is made into jellies, wine and juice.

I spent an afternoon in Kona with a 90 year old farmer, Sunao Kadooka, who grows exotic flowers and fruits. He had trees laden with what Island people call “butter avocadoes” growing so large and fat that one he gave me weighed at least three pounds! And how do the locals eat them? Sprinkled with sugar and scooped out with a spoon!

Miracle Fruit is a small berry that isn’t particularly interesting on its own, but is a show stopper in its ability to make sour taste sweet. For instance, if you suck a lime briefly and follow it with the Miracle Fruit, you get an immediate sensation of sweetness in your mouth.

I have to admit that I still don’t “get” star fruit (carambola). I’ve had them several times and the only way I think it works is in salads and even then my reaction is, “Why bother?”

But serve me all the many varieties of pineapples, bananas, mangoes and papayas, each with its own unique flavor and texture as I love them all! However, today as a judge for a culinary contest, I learned that mangoes don’t work in pies or upside down cakes. The texture is all wrong. What is pure passion as a raw fruit becomes mushy and slimy when baked in a crust or on top of a cake.

I didn’t know that apples could grow in the tropics, but they do in Hawaii, at 5000 feet, with their roots entrenched in the rich volcanic soil. They’re small but have a snap. I remember how much I missed apples when I lived in Guatemala many years ago despite the bounty of new fruits around me. Having been raised on apples, they were strongly imprinted in my mind. Now I’ve learned to enjoy whatever grows right where I am.

For instance, cherimoya, most divine and creamy smooth. If you’ve never had one, seek it out. In Latin America they’re made into ice cream.

And guanabana, not a fruit I’ve had here in Hawaii, but one I discovered in Southern Mexico. They’re too delicate to travel. I just looked it up and learned that it is also called soursop, which is ironic, as a woman in Papua New Guinea recently recommended soursop as the plant has very strong anti-cancer properties.

It’s a member of the anona family, closely related to cherimoya, with white flesh and brown seeds. I first fell in love with this fruit on a steamy-hot afternoon. The fruit had been mashed in the bottom of a large, wide glass with a bit of sugar, then water and ice filled the glass and the drink was served with both a straw and a spoon. It was incredibly refreshing. They’re also made into “paletas,” molded and frozen on a flat stick like a popsicle and so, so good!

Star fruit, originally from the Americas, was served to me in Tahiti. It’s a round purple fruit that, when cut in half, has a star shape on the deep red flesh.

One last treat here are the late melons. Cantaloupes and Honey-dews. Sugar-sweet watermelons, stretching the last days of summer into late October. And after we finished eating our fill and spilling juice down our shirts, the chickens fought for the rinds, wildly pecking the pieces until the last flecks of green skin disappeared.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Breast Cancer Month - Less Pink More Research

Have you noticed how many retailers are drawing attention to Breast Cancer this month? How terrific, we say. Look how much they're promoting awareness and helping to find a cure. And how nice that we should have a month dedicated just to breast cancer! After all, more than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

But behind the banners and promotions, the pink ribbons, t-shirts, jewelry, bags, M&Ms and everything else pink, pink, pink, there is the insidious little issue of how much of the pink promotion actually goes to research. As it turns out, not a whole lot. So before rushing out and wildly buying precious pink items, find out exactly how much money will actually go to research and how much goes back into the pockets of the producer.

What we really need to be asking is why, after more than ten years of pink promotion, we still don't have solid answers about what causes most breast cancers and how to prevent them. And why, with all the research being done, are women still dying of this disease? Is research actually addressing these issues? If not, where is our money going?

When I was first diagnosed five years ago, I admit that I actually believed that very few women died of breast cancer. When I was told to put my affairs in order, I was stunned, not just from the diagnosis, but from the reality that actually a lot of women do die from breast cancer. Between 40,000 and 60,000 women will die this year!

While yes, many of us live with metastatic (advanced) breast cancer as a chronic illness, what this really means is invasive, toxic, painful and exhausting treatment will keep us alive. Most of my friends who have had metastatic cancer didn't die from the cancer itself but from the side effects of the drugs. Frequently our hearts finally give out or pneumonia overtakes us.

In an election year, it's crucially important that we look at what the candidates are saying about health care and medical research for all forms of cancer. When asked what their thoughts are on health care and research, Barack Obama said,

"I think it should be a right for every American. … for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that."

McCain said:

"I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member. … But government mandates I — I’m always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility."

This is what the Breast Cancer Coalition says:

Health care is a basic human right.

Health care is fundamental to maintaining a productive society.

Health care coverage must be guaranteed for everyone.

The health care system must provide the same comprehensive benefits to everyone and must meet the public’s expectations.

The health care system must be redesigned so that treatment and coverage decisions are based on evidence and best practices.

All individuals must financially contribute to the system, based on ability to pay.
The new health care system must be easy to use for patients and providers, and easy to administer.

Any system of coverage must include these core values:

Access. Individuals must be able to get all the care they need when they need it. This must include meaningful access to evidence-based interventions.

Information. Individuals must receive information that is evidence-based, objective, complete and correct.

Choice. Individuals must have some choice of doctors and care.

Respect. Our health care system must treat the whole person, not just a person’s disease.

Accountability. Standards regarding care must be clear, uniform, and enforceable. Patients must have a right to sue if their basic human right to health care is violated.

Improvement. The health care system must have methods for measuring what is and is not working so that the quality of care can continuously be improved. Individuals must have access to well designed and efficiently run clinical trials, and must have coverage of all routine care costs associated with participation in such trials.

When I was in eighth grade our teacher told us that one in four people would get cancer at some time in their lives. Current statistics show that one in two men will be diagnosed cancer at some point in their lives; for women, it is one in three. In many developing countries nearly everyone will develop some form of cancer within their lifetime.

Given these statistics it's important to do some research. We are all exposed to chemicals and other environmental pollutants. Many of us have been exposed to too much radiation and other cancer-causing factors. Given this is the world we now live in, learn what you can do to prevent getting cancer. Being informed and aware is powerful.

Speak up! Demand that our leaders provide effective health care for everyone. strong>Seven out of ten families whose homes went into foreclosure were not living irresponsibly -- they were sick! Trust me, this can happen to any of us!

Get involved! For more information from an intelligent, activist site, I highly recommend, not just for breast cancer, but for all cancers.

Pink is lovely but we need less pink and more results! Keep our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and wives healthy!

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Attending a fundraiser thrown for you is kind of like having a milestone birthday celebration -- like your 21st, 40th, 50th or 90th -- and your wake rolled into one. Except you get to be alive to enjoy the party! You're not only the guest of honor but also the center of a lot of attention, Everyone lies and says you look absolutely fabulous until you actually believe it, and they're so nice to you that you don't dare let them down and get sick again or drop dead. I'm still marvelling at how blessed and fortunate I am to have so many dear friends worldwide who care about me!

Lucky for the guests I wore one of my "Queen's Suits" so I couldn't whip up my handmade Totonac dress to show off my somewhat scary, very impressive scar to anyone who hadn't yet seen it. I admit it -- I'm really proud of my scar. I'm disappointed to say that even though it's been only 4-1/2 months, it's already starting to fade. How could it? It's better than a tattoo; it's my badge of courage!

Okay, so for all of you who weren't able to attend, here's what it was like. First, it was held at the Seymour Center at Long's Marine Lab, part of the University of California, Santa Cruz marine biology facility, on a bluff overlooking the Monterey Bay. There's a patio off the room, which draws visitors outside easily, and walking trails along the bluffs. There is also a huge whale skeleton and a large sculpture of an elephant seal in front of the building that are perfect for climbing if you're my nearly five-year-old grandson. (Otherwise, you're just impressed by how big whale skeletons are.)

The room was decorated in tropical motifs with wall hangings and tables draped with colorful cloths and flowers. There were 19 student volunteers from the Professional Culinary Institute in Chef's Whites serving and assisting guests. And, there were 16food stations. Eat your heart out! This is what was served:

Gabriella Café: Green Zebra Bacon Gazpacho with Watermelon Radish Cucumber Shooters; Grilled Laughing Shrimp With Vanilla Chili Oil.

Café Sparrow: Diver Scallops with orange Vanilla sauce over Spinach Salad; Profiteroles with Vanilla Cream and Chocolate Sauce.

Ristorante Avanti: Vanilla Panna Cotta.

Theo's: Homemade Spatzele with Lobster pieces and Vanilla aioli.

Vida: Fresh Dungenous Crab Salad With Vanilla Aioli on Crostini.

PCI: Vanilla-Scented Lentil Soup; Crostini with Onion Jam.

Cowboy Diner: Asian Noodle Salad.

Lifestyle Culinary Arts and Cafe: Pistachio Vanilla Cheese Spread with Baguette; Pears with Gorgonzola Cheese and Vanilla Balsamic Reduction.

Carried Away: Vanilla Marinated Pork Loin Crostini with Onion Jam; Fennel salad.

India Joze: Seared Tuna in an Asian Vanilla Sauce, with Greens, Served over Fried Wonton skins. (Joe had a barbecue on the patio so everything was freshly prepared.

Flipper Fanny Cookies: Signature Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies and brownie cookies.

Dolce Bella: Artisan chocolates filled with Bourbon, Mexican and Tahitian Vanilla Ganache.

Chocolate Visions: Vanilla Dream Medallions: Dark chocolate enrobed vanilla marshmallow, toasted coconut, and crushed toasted pecans. My picture and "Patricia Rain, Vanilla Queen" design on top in edible gold leaf.

Café La Vie: Raw Chocolate Cream Pie.

Homestyle Baking Table: Beautiful cakes, tartes, tortes and bars baked by members of the Baker's Dozen.

The wine and beverage table was outside on the patio. A silent auction with 67 very cool items was set up in one area of the room.

A movie screen showed pictures of vanilla, growers and much more in a continuous loop.

The Hula School of Santa Cruz performed for us. And a jazz combo played the rest of the time.

Can you even imagine it? It was like being at one of those high-end hotel resort receptions you read about, except that it was right in Santa Cruz and it was in my honor!

Some of the guests said it was the best party they'd ever been to. The students asked Chef Stephany that if she ever threw another event like this, could they volunteer again. It was truly a gala celebration.

Special thanks to Stephany Buswell, pastry instructor at Professional Culinary Institute, Kathy Long, my web designer, Anna Marie, fundraiser specialist, Andrea Waters of Lifestyle Culinary Arts and Cafe and fundraiser specialist, and Leolani Lawrey and Garrick Gondo for making it possible to have the Hula School of Santa Cruz. And for Noel and other members of the jazz combo (whose name I unfortunately don't remember other than that they were great)! And to Prince and Barbara LaShaw for flowers.

Also thank you to all of the restaurants, bakers and chocolatiers who went all out to make this event a success, to Knipprath Cellars, Pelican Ranch Winery, Storrs Winery, and Bargetto Winery for wines. If I've left anyone out, I apologize. It was such a whirlwind that I barely tasted the food, much less know where all the wines came from.

The fundraiser has definitely helped me with bills incurred during my cancer dance. More than that, it has made me feel so loved, supported and connected with all of you who have written notes, sent donations, or helped me along this quite remarkable journey. I thank you so sincerely for your support.