Category Archives: The Good Life

Tomato Fest

Here it is, Tomato Fest time again in Carmel.

We stayed in Monterey. That’s where, as a second lieutenant stationed at Ft. Ord, I spent some time bottom-fishing with fellow rookie officers for ling cod and yellow tail from charters on the Fisherman’s Wharf.

This is our second time at the Tomato Fest, and we’re veterans now. Take Highway One south from Monterey. Turn into Carmel Valley Road and turn right past the Quail Lodge, down to the golf course to park. We catch the shuttle and we’re there in a few minutes.

We go to the special section where we get a head start on tasting more than 200 varieties of tomatoes. This time we recognize a lot of the varieties. And we do find some very special ones. One grape variety, in particular, we found because a little girl maybe eight years old kept coming back to eat more of them. I counted nine tomatoes that she ate. So we made sure to find out why. Sure enough, it was spectacularly good tasting. We’re going to grow that variety for sure.

We walk over to chat with Dagma and Gary Ibsen, founders of the Tomato Fest. I introduce myself and Dagma says, Of course I remember you, Richard and June. Thanks for coming all the way over from Hawai‘i. We tell them to please come to visit us when they are on the Big Island. Very nice folks.

We walk past a television crew filming and a lady comes over and says, You’re Richard and June, I recognize you from your blog.

You must be Mary-Anne, I say. Back home Sonia Martinez had introduced us (online) to her friend Mary-Anne Durkee who was going to film the event for iFood TV online.

She says, Let me interview you. Tell me a bit of your history, what you do, what products you grow, the chefs you work with. O.K. ready? You’re on!


One take and it’s over and then she has to rush over to interview a famous chef before the music started. Boy, she is efficient, I think to myself. Very impressive. Maybe we’ll be on TV. Sonia says she’ll let us know if and when it airs.

We head for the chefs’ tent and try the different sample dishes. And again, we are amazed with the imagination the chefs exhibit. We try a micro-sample. Instead of a cracker, the chef cuts out tiny rounds from a flat sheet that looks like a crepe. On top of that he places goat cheese and places the tiniest tomato with a leaf of basil. Something about this tiny taste made it stand out. And there are various shooters, tomato soups, won ton for crackers and all kinds of tomato with cheese and basil or other herbs. All very beautiful to look at, and very tasty.

Toward the end of the event, June found herself holding a Bloody Mary and sampling a tomato sorbet while the band plays the song Johnny B. Goode.

Lots of fun and very contagious. Last year we decided this is an annual trek for us. It was a good decision.


Tomato Revelry

Melissa Clark has a delicious article in today’s New York Times about cooking with tomatoes. After I read it, I actually had to go in the kitchen and prepare a snack.

Her summary:

“After purchasing bags of summer tomatoes from the farmer’s market, I spent the next week in decadent tomato revelry. Here’s a chronicle of my grand tomato tour.”

My summary:

Ummm. Pan con tomate (trust me; it sounds great); baked stuffed tomatoes with goat cheese fondue; multicolored tomato tartlets; instant tomato-ricotta “soup” with capers; red and yellow cherry tomato confit; gazpacho with watermelon and avocado; and green tomato and lemon marmalade.

My conclusion:

Tomorrow I am going to make gazpacho with watermelon and avocado. Or maybe I’ll roast some tomatoes, which “condenses and caramelizes the juices, turning a juicy, salad-worthy fruit into syrupy tomato candy.”



Richard Ha wrote:

On Jan 7th I started on a program to lose a half pound per week.

Weight on Jan. 7, 2007: 204.5
Weight today, Jan. 28, 2007: 201.0
Scheduled weight: 203.0

I am 2.0 pounds ahead of schedule.

Resting heart rate today: 54 beats per minute.

Months ago, in a previous incarnation of my weight loss program, I got down to 200 pounds and planned to reward myself by having dinner with friends at Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Honolulu.

This past Saturday night, June and I, along with Linda and Dan Nakasone, finally went. For appetizers I had an ‘Opihi Shooter. Here’s what is in that fluted, two-ounce shooter glass, from the bottom up: An olive, a couple slivers of scallion, a couple pieces of fennel, a slice of basil and a slice of shizo leaf, an ume plum, four pieces of diced tomatoes, two more slivers of scallion, an ‘opihi, a wasabi pearl and a sprig of chervil. When you down all this in one shot you get a sensory short-circuit.

We also shared a dish of three different tomato salads. The flavors were incredible. This is not just “eating”—it’s an experience. I stuffed myself.

For my entrée, I had Ginger-Crusted Onaga. It was prepared perfectly. It had a nice crispy crust and sat on a bed of Nozawa sweet corn with Hamakua mushrooms, surrounded by a miso sesame vinaigrette. For an instant, my memory flashed on when Dad used to go fishing and would bring home moi, and Mom would steam it in ti leaf with Hawaiian salt and ginger, then pour hot spattering sesame oil and then shoyu over it.

The dish does not look like that at all, nor are the ingredients the same. It just brought on that memory flash for a moment. That added to the experience for me.

For dessert, June and I went for the Five Spoonfuls of Brulee, which consists of macadamia nuts, Waialua chocolate, Ka‘u orange, Kona Mocha and Liliko‘i brulee, each served in an individual saimin spoon. Then, Michelle, the pastry chef, brought out four variations of Wailua Chocolate truffles for each of us. We were so full we didn’t think we could eat another bite, but they looked so good we had to try. They were just delicious.

But we were totally full, so we asked for a doggie bag. The truffles came back in two little gift-wrapped boxes. Incredible. June protected her treasures all the way back to Hilo.

And it turned out that wasn’t enough of Chef Alan’s creations, so on Saturday June and I went to The Pineapple Room for lunch. The food was delicious and the staff incredible. Again, we indulged.

And this is why I am so happy. In spite of trying so many of Chef Alan’s creations, I lost more weight this week than was my goal. My strategy? I made an effort to eat a little less before our splurges and a little less after. This, along with my exercise program, worked and I was able to continue losing weight.

Maybe I should reward myself with another trip to Alan Wong’s when I hit 200 lbs. again. I think everybody would be game.

Leslie’s note: Wait a minute, Richard—You’re not supposed to keep gaining and losing the same couple pounds over and over so that you keep getting to go back to Alan Wong’s!


The Day The Chefs Came Over and Cooked For Us

Richard Ha writes:

Chef Alan Wong is featured in this week’s MidWeek magazine. Jo McGarry, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Restaurant Specialist, writes about Chef Alan’s commitment to island-fresh products grown by local farmers. I’m in the picture with Chef Alan.

In the article, she mentions his bringing some of the staff from his Hawai’i restaurants to visit Hamakua Springs. Let me tell you about that visit, and about them cooking for us.

First, it’s pretty amazing how Alan Wong treats his farmers. When our farm personnel visit his restaurants, they are treated like royalty. To Chef Alan, the farmers are the celebrities. He keeps telling us that he cannot make products better; that he is limited by what he has to work with. Although we don’t know if we believe that, it’s starting to sink in. Knowing this, we try to do the best we can.

Once Kimo and Tracy went to the Pineapple Room, unannounced. Restaurant Manager Barbara Stange recognized them and notified her staff that the people from Hamakua Springs Country Farms were in the house.

Kimo and Tracy both said they had never experienced anything like it: It seemed like they were assigned extra wait staff. They were brought extra dishes to sample. People were saying, “Try this, it’s made with cocktail tomatoes.” And, “Here’s another dish.” I’m sure Chef Alan does this for all his farmers. But it makes us want to take special care of all the products we supply him.

A few months back he brought some of the staff from his Hawai’i restaurants to visit the Big Island farmers on the Hamakua coast. He said it helps the staff describe his creations when they know the farmer who grow the product.

When he visited us, we showed him several things we were testing. A few months before, Chef Alan had expressed interest in creating a dessert with a specialty melon cut in half and served with a scoop of ice cream.

Alan_and_melons_1So we have been testing melons. That picture is of Chef Alan checking the melon for aroma. He gave his approval, and so we are now proceeding on to production. The next step is to get the melons to his restaurants and to make sure everything is right. After that we will bring it to the supermarkets. But first things first. We need to prove that we can deliver sweet melons each time, all the time.

We took everyone on a tour of our farm, where I explained our sustainable farming philosophy and how it drives our decision-making. They saw how we use high-tech monitoring of environmental conditions inside of a low-energy-consuming growing house.

We run the irrigation controllers with a few D batteries. We don’t use electricity at the tomato houses and all our water is free. We leave the tomatoes on the plants to ripen naturally for as long as we can. We continuously monitor sugar content of the tomatoes so we are sure they are sweet. I demonstrated how we take leaf samples, which we send to a lab to assess the plant’s nutritional status. Then we make up a custom fertilizer that helps to give it a rich and sweet flavor.

We are mindful of the effect our farming might have on the environment, so we are careful not to over-fertilize. Our tomato houses are surrounded by strips of vegetation that help prevent any excess fertilizer from reaching any streams.

Chef Alan gave us pointers about what he looks for in the various crops we grow, and we showed him how to drive a bulldozer. He and Kimo went in the back and pushed some soil around. Chef Alan got to make a pile and level it off, pack it down and then back blade it for a nice finish. He learned that you steer the bulldozer by locking one brake or the other. In that way you can even spin the machine around in one spot. He had an ear-to-ear grin when he cruised by on his way to park the machine. Now that we know his weakness, we’re going to trade lessons on the backhoe for another cookout.

We put up a tent so we could do this and keep the farm running. Besides the immediate family, our supervisors came. Leslie Lang, our neighbor and future Chief Blogger, was there. Bob and Janice Stanga (of Hamakua Mushrooms) brought their Hamakua mushrooms, Lesley Hill and Mike Crowell (Wailea Agricultural Group) provided heart of palm, Dick and Heather Threlfall (Hawaii Island Goat Dairy) provided goat cheese, we supplied tomatoes and greens, and the chefs brought li hing mui/ume dressing with them, and wine. (We got to keep the extra li hing mui dressing). They also bought loads of stuff from the Hilo Farmers Market.

When they all started into action preparing the dinner, it looked like there were 50 things going on at once. Barbara Stange and Leigh Ito, also of Alan Wong’s staff, were making different kinds of salads that were so nice to look at. The head of the wait staff and Chef Alan’s front-of-the-house personnel were busy doing the finishing touches on dishes never before seen at Hamakua Springs Country Farms.

Then they fired up the grills and started cooking. Grandma Ha was thrilled that Chef Alan was cooking for us. She told him, “Give me the recipe, okay?” Mom can do that–she has seniority. (That’s my mom and Alan Wong on the right.) Chef James of the Hualalai Grille was on one burner, Chef Neil, Chef de cuisine from the Pineapple Room was on another, and Executive Chef Lance was on another.

The food was delicious and we tried everything. They brought beer and wine and there was animated conversation going on all around.

Chef Alan, Dan Nakasone and I have pineapple-picking stories in common. Tracy and a small audience cornered Chef Lance, who was at a burner demonstrating the finer points about preparing risotto. (You have to keep your eye on it.)

Some of the guys were trading pig hunting stories with the Hualalai Grille staff. Why was I surprised that they would know anything about pig hunting, just because they are associated with a restaurant that has won nine ‘Ilima awards and is the quintessential Hawaii Regional Cuisine restaurant?

We realized that they are all normal, everyday people, like you and me. But they are incredibly good at what they do. We like to think that we are kind of like that, too. We all live here in Hawai’i, with all of the local influences. At the end of the evening we were like good old friends. And, can you imagine–we got to give all our people take-home plates of Alan Wong’s creations.

Life on the farm will never be the same.

Now we know what happens to the products we grow and how important it is to provide the best quality possible. We used to be concerned about our products until they left the farm’s loading docks. Now we worry about everything that goes on after they leave our farm and until they reach Chef Alan’s door. And that makes us better farmers.


Exit Interview: New York City

Here are some highlights of our last few days in New York City. It was a great two weeks in shorts.

When we landed at Honolulu International, our first impression was that Hawai’i people walk at half the speed of New Yorkers. In New York everyone seems to be on a mission, as if they’re going to miss the train to somewhere. Where we were, the city was clean and felt safe and the police were visible and personable. The people are fine and I have a favorable impression of New Yorkers. We like New York City very much and are eager to return.

But I like to walk around slowly with my hands in my shorts pockets. It’s hard to do that in New York City.


We took in four musicals. The Color Purple was very good. Everyone was teary except me. I just had a runny nose.

Chicago was really funny and enjoyable. Rosie O’Donnell, with her partner and some friends, sat five rows in front of us. She seemed very approachable and the people around her in the audience seemed to genuinely like her. She smiled and acknowledged Kapono. We liked her too.

We went to the Saturday evening performance of The Phantom of the Opera and sat in the front mezzanine. Amazing how the smallest sound can be heard so clearly. There are theatres up and down 44th street. We had seen The Phantom at the Blaisdell on O’ahu and so we knew the story. But there is nothing like experiencing it in New York City.

We saw The Producers last. You’d have to be crazy to think up that story line–of making money by financing the show using funds provided by little old ladies, then keeping the difference if the show flops. The expectation is that the worse the show, the more money they can keep. And then having a financial disaster, because the unlikely musical about Adolph Hitler is a big hit. But that’s Mel Brooks for you.

We loved it all. From blocking the whole sidewalk on Broadway waiting for doors to open up for The Color Purple; to going to our seats for The Phantom of the Opera and walking down steps so steep we felt like we were going to fall off the mezzanine; to going to Juniors for cheese cake after the show; to dodging the traffic while crossing in the middle of the block like veteran New Yorkers after The Producers; to sitting on the sidewalk outside of Starbucks watching people go by. It was all lots of fun.

We caught a cab to Chelsea Market, the home of The Food Network. We discovered gelato for the first time. Wow. It tastes like good ice cream, only better. Would have blown my diet if I had one. We ordered a sandwich at Ruthy’s Bakery and ate it outside in the hallway watching the people go by. They had the most interesting variety of sandwiches. They all looked tasty.

It will be good to have some of these sandwiches at the Farmers Market gift shop/deli we are planning to build at “The Gears” property, which we own. It consists of 13 acres fronting the highway where the Sugar Mill Road meets Highway 19 in Pepe’ekeo. We will start the permitting process soon.

The best food deal was a $3.50 slice of jalapeno pizza at the Grand Central Station. It had a thin crust with tasty tomato-something sauce with sundried tomatoes and just the right amount of bite and taste from the jalapenos. It would have been perfect with anchovies. We ran down with the crowd and squeezed into the subway shuttle to Times Square and 42nd Street. We poured out into the streets with everyone else but stood behind a post so we could get our bearing without getting swept along out of control.


We went to the Empire State Building with a friendly cab driver. I asked him why cab drivers blow their horns. He said they can only blow their horn in case of imminent danger. They risk a $350 fine if they sound their horn for any other reason. I guess there must be danger everywhere.


How about the weird, six-person bicycle, where the driver is facing the right way and the other five are in a circle facing the center and pedaling like hell? Crazy young people having fun. We were stopped at a traffic light and one flew by with the rest of the cross traffic and a group of young kids on the sidewalks gave them an ovation. We had to grin.

Where do the vendors go with their carts when they’re done for the day? It seems like there is a cart on every corner. The cab driver said there are several warehouses down by the Hudson River that replenish the carts during the evenings. So the vendors push their carts back in the evening and go get it the next morning. That’s a long push. They must make money.


After 50 minutes of standing in lines, we finally arrived at the Empire State Building’s 86-floor observation deck for a 360-degree view of the City. Because we had been all over the city, we were familiar with many of the prominent landmarks. Looking to the North, there was the GE and Met Life Building. So, our hotel must be a little to the left and short of the GE building. Further up was Central Park. That must be the pond where we sat on the benches. To the right, the Upper East Side and Eli’s. Further up, Harlem and the Bronx. To the left was the Hudson River and to the right, the East River. Facing the East, there is the United Nations building and across the East River, Queens and Brooklyn. To the south, Greenwich Village, the financial district and in the haze, the Statue of Liberty. We’re glad we came here on the last day. The view is so much more meaningful after having put some time in on the ground.

Our last couple of days were rainy. We’re veterans at the hotel by now. The greeter recognizes us and tells us she will miss us when we leave. We are starting to nod knowingly when newly arriving guests look around disoriented.

They’re just like us with the revolving doors. We eventually figured out that they are supposed to keep on revolving smoothly, not jerky like when we first encountered them. June says it was me who made the revolving doors jerky. It kept talking to us: “Please move to the front.” Now we’re smooth.

The elevators go from A to N and are computer routed. Punch in the floor that you want and the key pad tells you which elevator is going to that floor. And you need to get in that elevator, which will only stop on the floors pushed. There are no buttons inside the elevator.

A person asked, as I got out and the door started to close, where are the buttons? He must have followed someone in and did not push the button for his floor. I could not react in time to tell him to get out and punch in his floor number on the keypad outside. I think he is still on that elevator.

New York is great fun, and we have to go back again. But it’s nice to be home.



Richard writes:

Sunday we took a stroll, several blocks to Rockefeller Center, and bumped into a street fair that ran the length of the Avenue of the Americas. (6th Avenue)


There was music all along the way. Indian music, then Egyptian bellydancing, then Mariachi blending into reggae as we made our way up the avenue. Very colorful and festive.

We tried some shaved ice with fresh fruit topping and that was really refreshing in the 95 degree heat.


We got a few pieces of something that looked like malasadas, in size, shape and smell, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They gave it to us in a brown paper sack with powdered sugar in the bottom. It was tasty–crispy on the outside like andagi but more sticky and stretchy.

Avenue of the Americas is named after the Central/South American influence in NYC. But the name is too long and people still call it 6th Avenue. It’s got the sights, smells and sounds of the Americas. Much off-the-grill meats and chicken on sticks. And not only the Latin American influence; we saw Egyptian bellydancers with supporters in the crowd clapping, laughing and speaking in the language. Further up the avenue we saw several booths selling banana, strawberry, chocolate, mushroom and salsa crepes. All kinds of combinations of crepes. Some you think: why not?

We were heading for Rockefeller Center. Will send more snippets as we go along.



Short Pants

Welcome to our new blog. You can click on the “About” button at right to read a bit about us, and enter your email address at right if you’d like to get an email whenever we update the blog.

And if you’re just getting to know us here at Hamakua Springs Country Farms, let me start you off by explaining that we’re pretty down-to-earth around here.

Especially Richard.

When our fearless leaders Richard and June Ha were honored recently at Washington Place—that’s the governor’s mansion in Honolulu—the Hawai’i-style farmer wore what he always wears: short pants.

They were his good shorts, of course. And he wore a nice Aloha shirt with them.


(From left to right: Governor Linda Lingle, Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, Speaker of the House Calvin Say, June Ha and Richard Ha)

The Washington Place luncheon was to recognize founding members of the new Hawai‘i Seal of Quality program, a statewide branding program to protect and promote Hawai‘i-grown and Hawai‘i-made products.

Richard says he looked around and saw that Hamakua Springs Country Farms is in good company. “It’s a wide range of products, but the common thread is everybody is acknowledged as a good company,” he says. “High quality. It’s good to be in with this group. Everybody’s quality helps each other.”


(That’s Richard and June at the top of the second column.)

Check out the mouthwatering Washington Place luncheon menu comprised of the 12 companies’ products (but not if you’re hungry).

Did Governor Lingle blanch when Richard came forward to accept his award in short pants? Nope. Richard says he got two reactions to his choice of formalwear, neither of them negative. One was anticipatory (someone told him he’d wondered if Richard would show up in shorts) and the other, envious.

Richard has worn shorts as far north as Edmonton, Canada, where he says it was “pretty cold” but he’d do it again. And he once wore shorts throughout England, where he said he really stuck out (but when people found out they were from Hawai’i, he was instantly forgiven).

He’s speaking at a high school graduation soon, and says that’s the only time he’ll bend his rule and wear long pants. “That to me is serious stuff,” he says. “Everything else is pretty light.”

Re: the shorts. Would he do it again? Definitely, he says.

“If I met the president of the United States, I would have to really think hard,” he says. “But that’s about it.”