Monday, April 25, 2011

Hawaii's solemn "Punchbowl" Cemetery

As mentioned in the previous entry, H and I have been on the road the last couple weeks.   Business for me, and some family time for H in her home state of Hawaii.  Fortunately, my business travel sometimes takes me to Hawaii, so we were able to link up and spend a little time together.

Every time we make it out to the islands, we visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to pay tribute to H's grandfather, a veteran of World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam.  The cemetery is located in the Puowaina Crater and known locally as the "Punchbowl" because of its shape.  According to the cemetery custodians, Puowaina means "Consecrated Hill" or "Hill of Sacrifice."  Established in the late 1940s, the Punchbowl contains some 11,597 identified and 2,079 unidentified dead from the Pacific Theater of World War Two (WW2), including Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, China, Burma, Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.  Also interred are the remains of 848 US servicemen who died in the Korean War.  In addition, the Punchbowl contains the Honolulu Memorial, which honors some 28,778 servicemen from WW2, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, who are missing in action or lost or buried at sea in the Pacific.
In all, the cemetery contains the graves of about 34,000 veterans--some with their spouses-- of World War One, WW2, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  One of those graves, just to the left once you drive through the entrance is Sergeant First Class Raymond Sakomoto, a veteran of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam, and H's grandfather and the object of our visit.

The 100th Infantry Battalion was a unit of Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) soldiers formed from the Hawaiian National Guard.  The unit was not allowed to fight in the Pacific and was instead ordered to Europe where it fought valiantly and suffered heavy casualties during the campaigns in Italy and France.  The 100th was highly decorated and became known as the "Purple Heart Battalion."  Many of the men from the 100th are buried in the Punchbowl.

Ernie Pyle was a famous WW2 war correspondent who wrote from the perspective of the common soldier, winning the Pulitzer prize in 1944, as well as the love and respect of many soldiers.  He spent much of his time covering the war in Europe, but went to the Pacific in time for the invasion of Okinawa.  He was killed by Japanese machine gun fire while he was with the 77th Infantry Division on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa, on 18 April 1945.

The Honolulu Memorial with the names of the missing from three wars to the left and right of the steps.

The names are etched on each of the columns.

The highlighted entry is a Medal of Honor winner.

The memorial includes paintings depicting the Pacific campaigns of WW2.

Including Tarawa, where the US Marines suffered over 3,000 casualties in about 76 hours of fighting.

And Iwo Jima where the Marines had nearly 34,000 casualties.

And Korea.

Looking back towards the entrance to the cemetery.

Three brothers killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

View from the rim of the crater looking over Honolulu with the Diamond Head crater in the background.
A look back into the crater.

Monument to US servicemen who died on the infamous Burma--or Death--Railway, many of whom came from the USS Houston, a cruiser which was sunk early in the war in the Battle of Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java.  The Burma Railway was famously depicted in the movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Numerous small monuments to units which fought in the Pacific War line the walkway along the rim of the crater, including this one from the 24th Infantry Division.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring break

Apologies for the lack of postings as of late, but both of us have been traveling.  More on that later.   First, however, a little about the transformation of our yard.

Spring is a lovely time of year and perhaps our favorite season.  The cold of winter fades, the days appear less dreary, the sun seems to shine a little brighter and more often, animals seem more active, and life in the form of buds, flowers, and color returns to the trees and plants.  This last part is especially true in our yard with its dogwoods, azaleas, maples, forsythias, hosta plants, daylilies, peonies, and other types of flora.  Come mid- to late-April, we have an explosion of white, yellow, purple, red, or pink flowers.  One week, the yard appears barren.  The next, green begins to show in the form of thin green stalks popping out of the ground or tiny buds on the trees and bushes.  By the third week, the yard is a sunburst of colors and life in general just seems a little brighter.  And did I mention the grass now needs mowing?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunday Supper Series #11, homestyle Chinese

When T is still remarking how good Sunday’s dinner was on Monday afternoon, I know that I did well. A close friend of ours was in town and she came over for some simple, home-style Chinese food.

Chinese food is rewarding and relatively easy to make. The main issue is all of the prep work and chopping that must be accomplished PRIOR to the actual, standing in front of the stove cooking. As much of Chinese food is stir-fried in a wok over searing high heat, everything must be ready and at hand prior to active cooking. The prep work often takes much longer than the actual stir-frying, which is over before you know it.

As you can see, a sharp knife and the right ingredients are essential in Chinese food.

Zhenzhu rou wan (“pearl meat balls”), Hong shao rou (“red braised meat”), Yuxiang qiezi (“fish flavored eggplants”), Gan bian siji dou (“dry fried green beans”), rice.

First, T’s favorite. I seem to make these steamed, rice coated meatballs with more and more frequency. They are not hard, just a little tedious. But then of course the end result is so spectacular and so appreciated that it is well worth the effort.

The meatball mixture is straightforward, but first you must soak a cup (or more) of long grain white glutinous rice (available in Thai grocery stores) in a bowl of water for several hours. Drain the rice and spread it into a cookie sheet. Absorb excess water with a paper towel and let air dry for a few more hours.

Then make the meatballs. Mix: 1 lb ground pork, 1 egg, 1 T soy sauce, 1/2 T salt, 4 dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water and minced fine, 6 water chestnuts minced fine, 1 scallion minced fine, 1 1/2 T minced ginger, 1/2 tsp sugar, a glug of Shaoxing cooking wine.

I used my standing mixer, but you can just as easily roll up your sleeves and use your hands.

Shape them and roll them into the soaked and dried rice. Place them into a steamer basket lined with cabbage leaves.

Steam them for about 10-15 minutes, or until you sense that all is well.

Beautiful, just beautiful.

Hong shao rou, or “red braised meat” was apparently Mao Zedong’s favorite dish. It isn’t red, nor do I think that his fondness for the dish is the reason for the “red,” or as he would have said it, “Red” in the name. I think it is called “red braised” because one of the first things you do is melt sugar in oil and flash fry the parboiled meat in it, turning both the meat and sauce a caramelized red-brown.

I started this in the morning, using a Polyface ham steak (for leaner meat), as well as a pack of Polyface pork ribs for flavor and fatty meat. You parboil the meat in salted water first, then drain it.

I think you do this so that when you flash fry the pieces of meat in the hot, caramelized sugar oil, it will turn an even brown. I have seen recipes where you omit this step and just boil the meat, drain it and then add broth, sugar and everything else. I guess that works too.

After you drain the boiled meat, heat 1 – 2 T of peanut oil in the wok, add 2 T or so of sugar, and stir until the sugar melts and turns brown. Dump the meat back in and coat it in the oil and sugar until the meat pieces are browned. Add minced onions - I used two leeks, ginger and a few liberal glugs of Shaoxing cooking wine. Add some light soy sauce. Add some stock. For this, I just strained the water I boiled the pork in and poured it back into the wok.

This is what it looked like.

Move it to the slow cooker and let it go until the meat is tender and the sauce develops. Skim as much fat off the surface as possible. Before serving, balance the flavors with more sugar, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. It should be fairly delicate, but there should be subtle, but not overpowering sweetness mixed with the distinctive Shaoxing wine flavor. The broth with this dish is wonderful with rice.

The other two dishes that night were the veggie dishes. Yuxiang qiezi, or “fish flavored eggplant” contains no fish or seafood. It is a dish from Sichuan province. When I was a student at Beijing University, it appeared literally every night at the cafeteria and it took me a few years before I could look at the dish without it turning my stomach. Now, half the reason I eat it is for nostalgia's sake. It is the same reason why I crave won bok (Napa) cabbage fried with garlic, salt and vinegar. It reminds me of my very first winter EVER, when the only vegetable you could get was cabbage and every restaurant in Beijing served it, day in and day out.

Gan bian siji dou, or "dried fried green beans" can be made a million different ways. Sometimes with a bit of meat, sometimes without it. Always lots of garlic, usually some chili. I used garlic, ginger, lots of roasted chili paste and fermented black beans. And some Chinese style bacon for the smokiness, although interestingly all three of us picked out the beans off our plate and left the bacon, so I would say that the bacon is unnecessary.

I have two woks, so I had both vegetable dishes going at the same time, with the meatballs steaming on the back burner. If there is something I hate, it is lukewarm stir-fried food.

Fresh from the wok.

Like I said, this was a fabulous meal and I am glad our friend was there to share it with us.