Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crawdads At The Blue Canoe


That's me.

I wanted to spend some time with my teenage son; a technical thing when they get older, get driving, and get a social life.

I thought of the perfect thing. This guy was the kid that at age ten asked to be taken out for sushi for the first time. When the restaurant server placed the platter before us, we advised him to go for something mild to start off with. He went straight for the purple slice of octupus, little white suction cups and all. Popped it in his mouth and chewed like it was candy.

On a busy Saturday afternoon, I invited my son to pencil in some time with me for something he'd been dying to try: crawdads.

I knew just the place. Hadn't I seen a Crawdad Feed advertised at the Blue Canoe? Just our luck, we'd missed it. But I was betting they had a few left for us.

My son and I drove up Highway 45 south of Nampa past Walter's Ferry, then kept left for the road that veered toward Murphy. We were at our destination in no time; it's really not that far out of the way.

We were met by Al, or Alan (take your pick), the restaurant's co-owner. He was a card from the start. He asked my son all about his life, life plans, and love life. Then he gave us a riddle:

"What days of the week besides Tuesday and Thursday start with the letter T?"

We thought he was just messing with us, but he asked the question and then disappeared around the corner to get our food, leaving us in suspense. We could figure this out, I thought. My son is a brainiac and I'm a writer, good with words.

Aha. Today and Tomorrow. I'm sure that was an old one, but we'd never heard it. When Al returned, we were ready with our answer.

"Did your mom tell you that?" Al asked when Jared responded with the solving of the riddle. We told him it was very much a joint effort. Al's cheerful grin never faded as he spoke with us.

Crisp salads with homemade dressing (delish, by the way), and warm fresh-baked mini-loaves of bread with chilled butter pats where placed before us. We both relaxed a little more into the booth's padded seats and settled into our role of happy diners.

Marinated stuffed mushrooms were brought out next. It's not often that I can't place the flavors; I'm a pretty good spice and taste detector. I couldn't place these. Savory variants were blended so well, it was hard to make a distinction. Deb (who was concocting in the kitchen) told me later that the diced stems and some bacon were involved. That explained the filling's intricate texture.

Crawdads at last. I'd once had them while I was (interestingly enough) expecting this particular son. A friend had pulled them out of the Boise river and had presented them to me, knowing that I was having a serious seafood craving at the time. If I recall, a serious amount of garlic butter was a part of that memory.

But these bad boys...they were bigger than anything I'd seen out of the River. Red and with large black eyes that seemed to say, "I dare ya."

"Can you eat the brains like they do in New Orleans?" my son asked Al. This from the boy who enjoys devouring fried shrimp heads with his uncle at an undisclosed place in Boise.

"Well...you can," began Al, "But you're better off eating them like we do here in Idaho. We only eat the good stuff."

Al then gave a tutorial on proper crawdad handling and consuming.

"How you eat them after this is up to you, but this is how we do it around these parts," he said.

A word of caution from one who now knows; avoid the 'mud vein' at all costs. It really and truly tastes like mud. Regrets.

The little guys tasted so much like lobster it was amazing. The claw meat seemed to be the sweetest and the best. My verdict? A lot of work for so little meat, but the meat was very tasty, especially when dipped into melted butter and accompanied by a side of mouth-watering garlic mashed potatoes and delicately steamed veggies.

Everybody won that day. I got time with my son, my son got to experience crawdads, and we both got a wonderful jaunt out into the early Autumn Idaho countryside. Everybody won...everybody, that is, but the crawdads. Sorry little guys: sometimes you just have to take one for the team.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Second Chances

It’s always a privilege when someone gives you a glimpse of their life, of where they’ve come from. Ruth Story gave me such a gift.

First of all, I have to come clean and admit that I’d never been in her store. That’s been remedied. Being a writer, the first words that popped into my head after walking through the glass doors were ‘eye’ and ‘candy’. There is bling, ruffles, brilliant colors and textures galore. Everything girlie inside me was standing up and cheering. If you want to look like a real woman, this is your new home.

Right away I noticed the bin of stuffed animals and other items for the Hope’s Door shelter. I was aware from my research that Ruth keeps a list of things needed at the shelter right out in the open where people can see it, then donate. Toilet paper, paper towels and diapers are always on that list.

After warmly greeting me, Ruth immediately offered a beverage and led me to the back of the store where there were comfy couches, great lighting, some fun album covers framed and hung on the wall behind us, and a peaceful water feature. Upbeat music was playing on the surround sound.

“If this were Tuesday, I’d have cookies for you,” she told me. I made a mental note to return on a Tuesday.

Peppy and sporting sassy red hair, Ruth’s slim frame was dressed from head to toe with the latest in fashion. To say that she was fashionable would be an understatement. Her fashion was mixed in with a lot of class. How are strong women like this created? What drives her? I wanted to find out.

“Hope House does weekly tours to get people involved with the shelter. At one of the tours recently, I actually opened the meeting. Here, for the first time, I actually verbalized to a group of people my background of abuse, and what it had done to me. How from childhood it went into adulthood. All the wrong decisions; how I felt I deserved everything I got. It took me years to go ‘Wait a minute! No, no, no!’

Years ago, Ruth took her first tour of Hope’s Door.

“It changed my life right then and there, on the spot,” she says, “I was so hooked; I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do. I had a second chance; God gave me a second chance. I had a store at the Coast, but because of an abusive relationship I had to sell it and flee. I figured I at least had my dream once. But God chose to give it back, so when He did, I knew that there was something I was supposed to do. When you keep your eyes and ears open to Him, He’ll tell you…if you’re listening.”

Ruth is currently a Hope’s Door board member. When people bring clothing in, sometimes they’re not interested in consignment and just donate the items to Story&Co. Ruth puts Hope’s Door on those tags and gives the entire amount to the shelter.

“On Wednesday, I gave them a check for $265,” Ruth told me, “It’s a little, but it adds up, and it was empowering to me.”

Last summer, Ruth helped to organized the Canyon County Music Festival. When I found this out, I thought to myself, ‘This woman is a marvel.’ Then she tipped the scales by saying:

“I’m working on some other possible fundraisers. For the store’s second anniversary I did a Ladies’ Night Out here, where we did a silent auction and raised $1800 in one night, just like that. It was awesome!” she told me, eyes twinkling.

“Good morning!” Ruth suddenly called out, “I’m back here, honey!” Store owners often have a sensitive ear for the front doors.

When Ruth returned, she added, “Anytime people need a silent auction or anything, I just do it.”

Events at Indian Creek have brought her new business.

“Last year about 100 people came through my door for the first time during the Festival. This year, we did something fun; we put all the summer clothes out on the street and marked them at two or three dollars. At the very end, we handed everyone a brown bag and told them ‘five bucks, you stuff it!’ They loved it! The ladies that stuffed those five dollars bags are addicted to the store now. The Salvation Army also had a booth out front; they hauled away everything we didn’t sell.”

Ruth openly credits God for her store’s success.

“This year I’m up by about $2000 a month since last year. It’s been increasing every year. Business has basically doubled since I opened.”

I very pointedly asked her what she was doing that gained her so many loyal clientele.

“When people come in here,” she answered, “They are acknowledged. I try to make them feel like they’re the only person in the store. I try to learn their names, and help them pick outfits. I give them good prices and good customer service. That’s what brings people back. I also like to stay on top of fashion, doing one-day fly-ups to Seattle, bringing back suitcases full of items. You can’t go anywhere else and find these things for less. My prices are always less.”

“I have new items mixed in with consignment items; I took the high-end feel and infused it into a new/consignment store. I almost over-killed it, though. When I initially put the gold lettering on the windows, many people thought it was a really expensive store and were scared to death to come in here. Now I have them coming from Boise, Ontario, Baker City and beyond.”

Returning back to the topic of Hope’s Door, Ruth waxed unusually solemn.

“One of the things that’s really tough on the Board is when,” she paused, getting emotional, “…you hear that because the economy is so bad, we have a waiting list. We have women out there that could DIE because we don’t have enough beds to put them in. We should NEVER have a waiting list, that’s what drives me to go out and make money wherever I can.”

One of Hope’s Door’s slogans is ‘one is too many.’

“God puts you in a place,” Ruth said, “And if you listen, if you open your ears, He allows you to help.”

At Story&Co. in Caldwell, it’s way more than just about the clothes. If you’re put in a place where you can help, you’re going to look great while doing it with an updated wardrobe that has much deeper meaning than just an upscale, inexpensive outfit.

At Story&Co, it’s about second chances.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Treasury of Memories

Interest piqued, I returned once again to the Warhawk Air Museum (a place I thought once upon a time I’d never go) to interview Director Sue Paul. I thought a good intro would be to ask her which items spoke to her, given my experience during my last visit. I should have guessed the answer:

“The whole museum speaks to me. Everything in here has meaning to me. I know the history of all of them. These are someone’s memories.”

Sue and her husband John are the co-founders. He’d been restoring WWII airplanes for years. When they moved from the Bay Area to Idaho in 1986 they brought two restored fighter planes and a P-51 Mustang that was in pieces along with them. They opened their manufacturing company and then built a small hangar at the Caldwell airport.

They were promptly overwhelmed by the amount of interest from people wanting to see the planes, unaware at the time of the Valley’s military history with Mountain Home AFB. Many people started coming to the Caldwell airport to see the planes and to talk about them. Boxes of uniforms or WWII memorabilia were left at the door with notes saying, ‘I don’t know what to do with these; would you like to put them with your airplanes?’

The Pauls were disturbed by this; these were precious pieces of peoples’ histories. Sue knew the items must be preserved and saw the need for a museum. She researched how to form a non-profit museum and in 1989 the Warhawk Air Museum, a non-proft 501c3, was born. It had taken a full year to put it all together.

“From there, it just exploded,” says Sue. “We had a board of directors and all kinds of dreams for the future. By the year 2000 we’d completely outgrown the 7000 square foot Caldwell hangar and knew we needed something bigger and centrally located. I also wanted a program where children could come for field trips and learn about history.”

John and Sue felt fortunate to have had their planes used in the movie Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. The various actors went in and out of each plane during the filming. John and Sue went to Hawaii for six weeks during production. The planes were flown down to the Naval Base at Coronado Beach, then put on a barge, pulled by a little tugboat across the ocean, which was worrisome to the owners, even though Disney had the planes insured for millions. If the planes were lost, they’d most likely never be able to replace them, since there are only around 20-25 of the P-40s left in the entire world, and only four of that particular type of Mustang.

As soon as the public was aware of the 20,000 square foot building, everything started coming in. During the next five years people brought in their collections, one after the other. Systems of cabinets were needed to create a space for it all. Volunteers appeared and started helping wherever they could. The Museum is always open for more, too. Those that volunteer are given a chance to find their own passion and niche. One archivist, Lou Bauman, who started out doing field trips now puts all of the displays and binders together.

“He loves it. He does a brilliant job,” said Sue, “Many others started off doing one thing and then found something else they had a passion for, so that’s what they get to do.”

Sue quit her ‘paying job’ in 2001 and is now the full-time volunteer director. She’s at the museum full time.

‘---Because that’s what it takes,’ she told me.

In August of 2010 the new 18,000 square foot Cold War Era wing was opened, where you can walk through a Berlin Wall replica into a very different sense of American history.

“As you walk into the second section, you’ll have a whole different feel of the fifties and sixties. The last section was an era where America was engaged in the war. Man, woman and child. Everybody was involved. We knew who our enemy was. There was a beginning to the conflict and there was a definite end. We knew we won. We knew exactly who our foes were; we knew who our friends were. Then the war ended and we went into the Cold War Era with the fear of communism, fear of ideologies. Not solid. There weren’t boundaries. The wars of the Cold War became something like trying to put your arms around a cloud. Americans were not engaged this time in that. You didn’t see them out there with flags; you didn’t see the patriotic posters. People in America were trying to move on with their lives. The GI bill was huge. For the first time in American history, anyone could get an education, and they did.”

“The GI bill educated America. Our doctors, lawyers, businessmen during that time all came from the Bill. People wanted to build homes and move to the suburbs. They didn’t want or understand why when the Korean War started. We were in one country as advisors; it wasn’t clear cut. Vietnam was the same thing.”

This was the section representing the jet age. Bomb shelter information is coming soon. The build up of Communism and the feeling of the fear of Communism lingers. Visitors can see that the technology vastly changed from one era to another as the TV entered homes during the 50s and 60s. The media had a big portion of the control when it came to how America viewed Vietnam.

Kiosks house information about Cold War history where different stories are told. The tales are there for those that choose to stand and listen for a while.

“We hear people telling us all the time that this is the most personal experience they’ve ever had in a museum,” Sue told me, “That means so much to us. You can go to a lot of museums and see things without knowing the history of it. Take this Huey, here…it wound up in a junkyard in Sacramento. We found it and brought it here, having no idea that we’d also find all of the last of the crew that fought in this exact aircraft. They’ve all been here, and it was a very emotional experience for them. They lost thirty-four men while fighting in this Huey. For the first time they were able to hold a Missing Man Ceremony to honor those men here, with this Huey. It’s about the stories; it’s about the people.”

“Visitors are shocked not only at what they find, but over the amount of time they want to spend here. They want to come back again and again because we’re always adding more. This is not a stagnant museum.”

A dad, a grandfather, an uncle will bring their collection, wanting their loved ones’ memories preserved because they like what the Museum has done.

On the first Tuesday of every month from 10am-12 is the Kilroy Coffee Klatch, free for veterans. It’s a connection thing. The group has grown from a mere fifteen to twenty to the current 125-150. Men who’d served on the same ship at the same time yet had never met each other swap stories. Two men found each other and discovered that one’s man’s wife had been another man’s girlfriend sixty years prior.

Another program is the Veteran’s History Project. Partnering with the Library of Congress, the Museum has preserved over 700 personal histories on film. They keep one copy, give one to the interviewee, and one goes to the Library of Congress. Families get to hear stories they’ve never heard for the very first time, directly from the person they care about.

“We do get emotional during the interviews,” Sue says, “We can turn off the camera at any point. We hear some real hard stuff, but a lot of joyful things too. It’s just very personal. There’s a sense of trust here; they open up. One veteran, although he’s not the only one this happens to, had never talked about his experiences. He was involved in the firebombing over Japan. When we finished the interview he was like a teenager, he just had this relief. He ordered seventy-five copies of the dvd!”

Sue recalled having a man approach her at a luncheon, saying, “You probably don’t remember me, but I’ve just got to tell you that my family and I spent Christmas morning with you.” He then went on to tell her that she’d interviewed his grandfather, who’d died just two months later. On Christmas morning, his parents gave them each a copy of the dvd, and they all watched it together.

“You have no idea what that means to our family to have my grandfather who we all loved so much sitting there telling his own story,” he said.

“To me,” said Sue, “The greatest joy is not just preserving the stories, but the fact that the families have these stories now.”

“What a treasure,” I commented.

Sue looked me right in the eye and said earnestly:

“That’s what the whole museum is. It is a treasure.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flight Path Corrected- A Visit To The Warhawk Air Museum

I never had a thing for planes. My father did; he dragged the four of us to the airport to sit and watch them take off and land, take off and land over and over again on a regular basis. We weren’t allowed to fuss or make any noise while he was revering the winged craft. Thus, I never had a thing for planes.

Perhaps that was how I could live in Nampa for the better part of my life without ever once visiting the Warhawk Air Museum. What would I want with airplanes? I’d had more than enough of them while growing up, or so I thought.

Curiosity eventually overruled my aversion. I found myself stepping through the Warhawk’s doors on a bright Saturday afternoon in October. We entered and walked into a non-imposing gift shop, where I came face to face with my idol; Rosie the Riveter. This could be something after all.

Dallas, who’s been with the museum for years, immediately welcomed us. He said that he’s been able to get to know many veterans that frequent the place, and how once they know you, they treat you like family. He talked about how hard it is to lose some of them as they get older. Dallas’ family is military and so he’d been involved in that life for ages and understood it well.

Dallas led us through the door into the actual museum and showed us the system. The Warhawk is a self-guided tour; you grab a pamphlet from the front table and since each item is numbered, there are explanations for almost every piece.

Twenty-thousand square feet of history was before me. Planes and cars and era music and Bob Hope telling jokes in the background. All of that, and all I could think about was what was right in front of me; the journals. Long tables full of the journals of servicemen that had lived, loved and sometimes lost. It was as if they were all speaking to me at once.

I instantly knew that this was a place where I could spend days reading. The men and women of World War II seemed to be trying to speak to me, and I wished mightily that I had time to read what they’d taken the time to write in their heartfelt, young language. That would sadly have to wait for another day.

I’d never been in the same space with planes like I was in the museum, yet while the planes loomed I was drawn to the smaller things. A nurse’s uniform. An ad for a tailor for those men who’d left home skinny and returned home with ‘huskier’ frames. Posters everywhere that encouraged any good citizen to support the war, honor rations and donate their metal, even if that metal came in the shape of a toy car. It was their American duty, and everyone those days did their duty. They were, after all, a team and indivisible at that. I had to wonder what that might feel like. The closest thing I’d ever experienced to unity was probably on and after September 11th, 2001.

While my husband looked at the machinery and artillery, I was looking still at the photographs of fresh-faced soldiers, some who’d probably never left their hometowns before the war. Some had Hawaiian ladies posing in the pictures with them. Some looked hardly old enough to shave.

Of the many binders, one caught my eye. It was off to itself at the end of a cabinet and had a poem inscribed on the outside, which was what had attracted me. It read:

“Through the years we have watched ships head to sea
with no more hazards to encounter than storms and raging seas.

But today, for those who sail towards the setting sun
Danger lurks in a form more ruthless and sinister than nature ever conjured.

Death and destruction at the hands of human wolves may be theirs.”

Those sobering words stopped me in my tracks. I had to know who this soldier was. Looking beyond the poem’s page I found the intended cover with a boy’s face on it; that of a Mr. Homer Dellinger, who by all accounts was quite the poet. I found pages and pages in his book, “People and Thoughts”, dated 12-7-41 through 8/45. If I’d only had the time to read them all.

I couldn’t resist jotting down just one more of Homer’s gems:

“If all be true that I do think
There are five reasons we should drink:

Good wine, a friend, or being dry,
---or lest we should be, by and by

Or any other reason why.”


Surrounded by the items of the time, it was brought home to me so clearly:

The had lives.
They had wives.

They’ve had reunions and adventures well beyond the Armed Forces by now.

At one time, these men meant everything to each other. They had dreams, girls they were sweet on, hopes for their future.

How appropriate to hear a plane flying overhead at that exact moment, as Bob Hope played on the TV in the corner and cooing music played out of the surround sound. Bob Hope’s, performing in front of countless soldiers said, “What an island. No women anywhere. I say we just let ‘em take it.”

This followed by good-natured laughter.

Then his co-host lady friend spoke, “I was practicing shooting targets for a half hour today with one of the guys. He had his arm around me, showing me how. We’re gonna try it again tomorrow with a rifle!”

Bob Hope mentioned their many accomplishments and quipped, “Isn’t it wonderful what you can do on Spam, huh?”

He said sincerely in closing, “We tried to entertain as many guys and gals as we could.”

More to see. Stars on the planes that equaled the number of confirmed kills. Themes of how a man’s girl was everything to them. Their girl equaled hope and home. The music seemed to back up that sentiment.

“Hot-diggity, dog-diggity, what you do to me…when you’re holding me tight.”

Freedom, family, and protecting the homefront was what it was all about in that day. I was glad I’d had the chance to touch history if only for an hour or two. Even though World War II was a mighty tough time for our country, it was also a time where its population pulled together, worked together and whole-heartedly supported each other.

It’s awfully good to re-visit that every once in a while, and hopefully bring some of that back out the door with us to spread far and wide.

When you understand fully where you’ve come from, you better understand who you are.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buffalo Gal * * * * *

What did I know about Donnelly, Idaho?

It’s where I spent a hilarious weekend, and once I was detained there for a half hour one hot summer day during some road construction. That was all.

The rural Valley County city has a population of around 150, give or take a few. It’s 4,865 feet above sea level and on the northeast shore of Lake Cascade, nestled between Cascade and McCall. I’ve never expected to find anything phenomenal there, but the tweeting BuffaloSous chef Jake Totter got my attention with his lure of the tasty dishes to be had at Buffalo Gal in none other than Donnelly, Idaho. Curiosity was piqued. Since Donnelly’s not exactly a part of my driving routine, this was a destination mini-vacation. A two hour and twenty-three minute jaunt. In other words; road trip. Winding mountain roads, rustic cabins, and frothy water tumbling over boulders along the way are what the drive up offers, accompanied by pine-scented air and a stunning sunset if you go in the evening like we did.

You can’t miss Buffalo Gal. It’s tucked off to the left of the main highway going through town, headed towards McCall. The well-maintained building with its large flower pots outside every window seemed to indicate good things within.

Inside, the eclectic mix of décor instantly reminded me of Sun Valley eateries, where I’d always marveled at their brazenness in combining antlers with French Country. This was similar; sort of Western-meets chic-meets Shaker-style. Four ceiling fans twirled at just the right speed overhead, soft-toned walls hosted black and cranberry-colored accents, battery-operated mood candles set atop each table, and a wooden sign hung near the kitchen that said ‘Dinner Choices: 1) Take It and 2) Leave It’. Suspecting we were in for a singular experience, I began grinning before we were even seated.

Had there not been a game going on that night, chances of getting a spot would have been slim to none. Nearly every table was occupied, in addition to the to-go customers who mulled over the menu just as much as I did. A guest claiming she was only there for a quick take-out salad looked dismayed as she perused choices.

“Oh my,” she sighed, “That looks good, too!”

Traditional items like spaghetti and meatballs, Caesar Salad, and Chef’s Daily Homemade Soup were present, but the majority of the items made my eyes bulge. Chana Masala, Carne Frita, Poisson Cru and Sweet Potato Gnocchi? Had we made a wrong turn? I thought we were in Donnelly!

The waitress brought us a sample of the Chana Masala. Detecting a citrus-like substance, I asked our server about it, who consulted with the chef and returned, assuring that there was in fact no lemon grass in the recipe, which had been my best guess. She later informed me there was actually ground coriander in the tasty concoction. Feeling validated and with what I thought was good humor, I asked if I got any points for that. With complete deadpan expression, I was told ‘No. You don’t.’ I think she was serious.

What was this menu doing in Donnelly? This sort of thing was comparable to the summer we camped at a place that gave away free antique steam-engine rides all day long, or the day we stumbled upon Santa Claus, Indiana, complete with Christmas-themed amusement park. Delightfully unexpected; delightfully out of place.

Why? I was soon to find out. In time, owner Julie stopped by our table and introduced herself. She was the woman behind the former Buffalo Gal produce. Years prior, the closest tomato to be bought was in McCall, several miles down the road. Julie not only brought fresh tomatoes to the area, she also brought things like persimmons and other fruits and vegetables that had been unheard of before Julie's arrival. Now she and Tom did the same thing, but with prepared dishes. During the season’s slack times (the months of May and November), the couple re-charges with travel and eats food without any type of agenda.

“That kick starts the creativity all over again,” said Julie. She looked over at the plates that had been set on our table just then by the waitress.

“Those are sweet potato fries,” she said, “They’re ridiculous. It’s a good thing I don’t have much access to those things; they’re out-STANDING.”

My dinner partner had already sunk his teeth into his Idaho Barbeque Buffalo Burger. With the buffalo supplied by a place off Smiley Lane a few miles down the road, it couldn’t get much fresher. When asked how he liked it, he looked annoyed to have to stop eating long enough to reply, and in fact didn’t.

We spoke next with owner Tom and the BuffaloSous himself, Jake Totter. Tom talked about their slack-time travels.

“When we go, we just take some time to breathe. We’ve been to Basque country; talk about great food. Most of the time we’re in Miami, and we have an apartment in New York, so when we fly to Puerto Rico…endless new ideas. The Peruvian special tonight came from a Miami restaurant. Not too proud to say I steal ideas everywhere I go. The Carne Frita is a poor person’s street food or hangover cure. The brisket, though, is one that’s original. It’s probably our number one best-seller.”

Jake Totter’s beginnings with Buffalo Gal were brisket-related. When he went to dinner at the restaurant, he went home that night and emailed them his resume.

“It was that good. I knew I needed to work here,” he said with a smile. He auditioned with his Chicken Satay, which is now on the menu.

“I could tell he knew what he was doing,” said Tom, “But had no idea what an asset he’d be. He’s enabled me to take the menu just about anywhere I want to go.”

When asked about the name, Tom said that it was Julie’s ‘brand’, and she decided to keep it, since the name already had a reputation for quality.

“I’m filling up fast,” whispered my dinner partner, just as the waitress placed the dessert menu before him. “I’m still hungry,” he amended.

I’d already eaten a third of my generous portion of Vietnamese Pork and Noodles, which tasted like dishes I’d had in the finest of Vietnamese establishments. I was intrigued with the infusion of ground anise and fresh basil, and couldn’t wait to finish it off. However, being a slow, deliberate eater, I set my entree aside for the time-sensitive home-made coconut ice cream, with its resoundingly fresh coconut taste.

“We don’t believe in subtle flavors,” Tom told us.

Finally, a place that takes its food right up to the finish line.

I feel zero remorse in admitting that I ate the rest of my entrée in the passenger seat within about ten minutes’ time on our way back down the mountain. To Buffalo Gal’s food, I give a vigorous round of applause. It was worth every mile.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aloha Addiction

In 2007, Ludi and Renus Domingo moved to Idaho. The drawback: Hawaiian food was virtually absent. They weren’t the only ones craving the authentic tastes of ‘back home’.

“There’s a huge Polynesian community in Nampa,” said Ludi, “We were calling out ‘hey, auntie, hey, uncle,’ all the time. The islanders weren’t alone; there was a demand among people who were once stationed on-base in Hawaii, too. We found a lot of local support.”

With a huge leap of faith and a few tables, the unique Island Kine Grinds was launched in Nampa last April.

The owners are passionate about two things: food and people. Renus, a former server and retail worker, has always been out front. Ludi, cooking since age seven, says, “Instead of playing with Barbie dolls, I was inside playing with pots and pans.”

Teaching grade school for eight years, Ludi searched for something she could be passionate about that also came naturally: cooking resurfaced. After meeting Renus, the son of a catering business owner, things were set into motion.

At Island Kine Grinds, everyone’s an auntie or an uncle; the island way is family.

“You’re gonna get Hawaii here,” says Renus, “We create a comfortable home away from home. I answer as many cultural questions as I can. The music, the food; people appreciate that. People tell us our portions are generous, maybe a little too generous, but I’d rather they took food with them. We put a lot of love into our food.”

Hawaiian food is a melting pot; an array from every culture that’s ever lived on the islands. Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese, Portugese, Korean. Even so, people still want to know one thing: is the chef Hawaiian? Ludi frequently leaves her post to prove that she’s the real deal. She answers questions about the food, but one thing neither owner can answer for is the teriyaki sauce. Ludi’s family makes it, shipping gallons of it from Hawaii. They only know it has a touch of soda in it.

“We’ll get the recipe when we visit,” Renus then joked that they might not be allowed to leave the island again.

The sauce compliments things like lettuce wraps with tender chicken, bean thread, and crisp julienned vegetables. Musumi? That took convincing.

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” Renus said, “It’s basically fried Spam sushi.”

The verdict? Alarmingly good.

Pork lau lau, butterfish and pork wrapped in spinach, tea, and taro leaves was said to be an acquired taste. Ludi commented, “Those who’ve been to Hawaii and have gone to a luau; they’ll know what that is.” I’d done both, but still didn’t know. No matter; I cherished every moist and flavorful bite, and as Roman Tudela, the restaurant’s own ukulele superstar, strummed and sang, I leaned over to Ludi and asked:

“Can I live here?”

I’ll bet they get that all the time.

Ludi and Renus invite you to taste the Aloha. A word of warning: Aloha addiction is real. I have it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wheeler's Handout/ Nampa, Idaho

In the animal kingdom, parents teach their offspring survival techniques. This has been done not only in the wild, but in Nampa, Idaho. Four generations of humans have found that the key to maintaining their thriving species is simply this: Wheeler’s Handout. One of the last great American burger stands.

Hundreds flock daily to the double-drive-thru windows, participating in that sacred ritual; the first taste of a Wheeler’s Long and Juicy. While confused offspring might initially argue that their burger is not ‘shaped right’, a kind and loving parent will silently encourage the errant child by knowingly handing them a napkin.

Generic burgers are not to be found here; these dreams on hoagie buns are dripping in personality. Just ask the Wheeler Dealer, a double-pattied Beast, sporting several proud banners of thick bacon; he’s been called the one ‘to die for’. His cousin, the Bronco Burger, is nothing less than a spiritual experience. Certain censors, however, restrict us from mentioning the famous ‘special sauce’, which has been described in terms far too adult for the general population.

Word has it that amateur diners have often become emotional when they are told they can have a chocolate Coke, or a Raspberry Sprite, or whatever flavor their heart desires. It would only be unkind for a youth to learn prematurely that the drink of their choice could also be made into a float; so this information is used with extreme discretion.

Grandpa knew it. Mama knew it. You know it. Answer your primal need for survival at Wheeler’s Handout. You’re a lot hungrier than you think.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!