Last year in February Jeremy and I flew out to Hawaii for the very first time. Given that we’ve both been west-coasters our whole lives, it’s crazy to think that it took us that long to venture out there, but I am *so* glad that we did. We came out to visit our dear friends Jessica and Kawika of Hawaii Island Picnics and Provisions, who had invited us out to show us around their beautiful homeland. They’re both born and raised on Hawaiia island, and true to the culture, they’re the most welcoming and generous people I’ve ever met. They shared so much of their culture, their beautiful native land, and their *insanely* delicious Hawaiian dishes with us as they drove us all over the lush tropical island. And true to their generous spirit, they’re partnering with me for a giveaway of an EPIC goodie box full of locally sourced + hand-crafted Big Island food goodness. You can enter via instagram here!
As someone who loves food and plants, I was in awe of the fertile landscape of this place. There’s thousands of different kinds of tropical fruits there, mainly because it’s so fertile that all the fruits hybridize and create cross-varieties. So you have access to hundreds of different types of avocados (some as big as your head, some the size of an apricot), pink-fleshed bananas that taste like a cross between a banana and a watermelon, and lemon varieties that are as sweet as oranges, and we got to enjoy some of them on our tour with Jessica and Kawika (and learn about the magical banana man of Hawaii! He has ALL the bananas.)
Every morning started with a new incredible homemade breakfast spread from Jess + Kawika, including banana + coconut french toast, delicious local sausage, and a vibrant array of ripe fresh local tropical fruits. The first day they took us to a local farmer’s market, where we got to try traditional locally-pastured and raised pork belly buns, the sweetest-ever passion fruits, and local macadamia nut honey (yep! It’s made by bees that pollinate macadamia nut orchards, and the honey tastes as amazing as it sounds.) After that they took us to visit a very old macadamia nut plantation, with huge and majestic old-growth macadamia trees. Standing underneath them as the tropical breeze rustled their branches was so peaceful, and Kawika picked a few and opened them for us so we could see what the macadamia nut looks like inside the pod. It was SOOOOO fascinating and beautiful to see them in their raw and native state.
The next day we went on a foraging trip in the jungle right by the most beautiful tucked-away beach with a picnic table on the shore. Jess + Kawika picked some native fiddlehead ferns for us to try, they really flourish in the wet jungle’s volcanic soil, and on our way home we stopped to harvest some wild sugar cane, too! You just chew on the end of the fresh cane and it releases this sweet refreshing juice, which is what granulated sugar is made from. After that Kawika took us on a hike through the jungle, which lead to an amazing vista with one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. The edge of the cliff just drops off and you can see a huge mountain in front of you filled with more lush jungle. The view was so enormous I couldn’t even fit everything inside the camera frame even with my widest lens…it literally took my breath away as I gasped when we walked out of the jungle brush and out onto the vista clearing. I’ve never seen anything like it.
After that, we visited a local vanilla bean farm, Hawaiian Vanilla Company, and got to see the only vanilla beans grown in the United States. They’re doing incredible work with sustainability there, and it was really amazing to be able to see the vanilla bean plant (it’s an orchid!) in-person for the first time after enjoying it pretty much my entire life. Then we stopped at a local green tea plantation, Mauna Kea Tea, with vibrant rolling hills filled with tea plants. Standing out in the tea fields looking at the mist settling in the valley of the hills was so calming and beautiful, it was the perfect place to stop and enjoy a little green tea and relax (they also made some realllly amazing organic sunscreen with local coconut and green tea bits in it that I’ve been trying to make last ever since our trip. It is seriously the best sunscreen ever!) And at the end of the day, they drove us up to the top of Mouna Kea to watch the sunset into the clouds below. It was the perfect end to the perfect journey, and left me completely in awe of the beauty, hospitality, and generosity of spirit of this place.
If you’re thinking of going to Hawaii, I *highly* recommend going to the Big Island and booking an adventure or picnic with Jess and Kawika of Hipnics and Provisions. It’s an out-of-the-ordinary experience that shows you what true Hawaiian culture is like outside of the resort-bubble, and brings you back to the natural beauty, awe-inspiring majesty, and rich heritage of this incredible place. It truly feels like heaven-on-earth there—it is an absolute paradise. Being able to be shown Hawaii through the eyes of someone who lives it and breathes it everyday, and has for generations, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. (Plus you get to eat all the BONKERS GOOD food that Jess and Kawika make for you, which is 10000x better than anything you’ll find in even the fanciest restaurants.) A million thanks to Jess + Kawika for the trip of a lifetime, I can’t wait to see them + the big island again.
Big Island Must-Do’s
Custom Picnic + Food Tour with Hawaii Island Picnics + Provisions
Try Wai Meli macadamia nut honey
Visit Mauna Kea green tea plantation
Forage for fiddlehead ferns with Hipnics + Provisions
Go on the Hawaiian Vanilla Company farm tour
Try a pink banana
Visit a farmer’s market + try the different avocados + local honey varieties
Drive to the top of Mouna Kea + watch the sunset
Hawaiian Coconut Pudding (Vanilla Bean Haupia)
Haupia is a traditional coconut dessert offered at most luaus, shared meals and celebrations in Hawaii. This refreshing and tropical sweet treat is simple to make and an easy way to bring a taste of Hawaii into your kitchen.
Traditional haupia recipes yield a firm, sliceable, jellied square that can be picked up and eaten with your fingers. By adjusting the ratio of cornstarch, you can find your own textural happy place. The more cornstarch you add, the thicker and firmer the end result will be.
My version is a velvety, vanilla flecked pudding that can be enjoyed simply as is or fancied up for special occasions. I love to use this pudding to make layered dessert jars with fruit jams, compotes, chocolate or caramel…it is also delicious with granola and fresh fruit.
- 2 13.5 ounce cans of good quality, full-fat coconut milk*
- 1 small or ½ of a large vanilla bean cut in half lengthwise and scraped
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
- Pinch of salt
- Set aside ½ a cup of coconut milk.
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed (non-aluminum) saucepan, combine the remaining coconut milk, vanilla scrapings and vanilla pod. Heat gently over medium heat, stirring to distribute the vanilla flecks throughout the coconut milk. Once the milk starts to steam, but before it boils, remove the pot from the heat, cover and steep for an hour. After you’ve infused the milk, remove the vanilla pod.**
- In a small bowl, combine the reserved ½ cup of coconut milk with the cornstarch and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved and the slurry is smooth.
- Put the vanilla infused coconut milk back over medium heat, stir in the sugar and salt. Cook and stir gently until the sugar dissolves and the milk just begins to boil.
- Whisk the slurry into the hot coconut milk – it should start to thicken almost immediately. Continue whisking and cook another 1-2 minutes at a soft boil. Pour the thickened pudding into a heat-safe baking dish or into individual jars. Cover and chill the pudding until firm – at least 4 hours. You can make this pudding up to 3 days in advance.
*Good quality canned coconut milk is creamy, smooth & luscious. It should only contain coconut and water. This recipe will not work with light coconut milk or with the coconut milk beverage you find in the refrigerated section.
**Save that precious vanilla bean – once you remove it from the infused coconut milk, give it a good rinse, dry it thoroughly and then tuck it into a jar of sugar – you won’t be sorry!