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Griffin to Go: Hawaiians Definitely Have a Sweet Tooth

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Shave ice is a refreshing treat on a hot afternoon.

Is it any wonder, given the amount of sugar that grows on Maui, that the folks here have a sweet tooth? All manner of sweet breads can be found in bakeries and markets. Desserts are the starting point for many when it comes to dining out. And that great Hawaiian creation, shave ice, helps take the edge off the heat of the day.

That’s right. It’s shave ice, not “shaved ice.” The “d” is added only on the mainland. But sweet slivers of ice by any other name — raspas, anyone? — would still be a welcome, sticky treat. On my first visit to this Hawaiian island, I found a shave ice stand where the owners actually made their own syrups from locally grown fruit and sugar. It was, needless to say, the best I’ve ever had.

I haven’t been so lucky on this trip as far as finding shave ice with a handmade syrup, but I also haven’t been seeking out sweets, because of my diabetes. Still, it’s hard to avoid overdosing on carbohydrates on an island where starches, from potatoes to poi, are a mainstay of the diet, and dishes are often finished off with ripe fruit bursting with natural sugars. Dining out is a minefield of high-carb options from coconut rice and burgers with pineapple to fish cooked with fruit salsa on top.

The staffs at restaurants have been understanding of my dietary restrictions and have accommodated my requests. The women at Casanova Deli gave me olive oil and freshly cut lemon slices for a salad because the house dressing was out of bounds. The kitchen at Stella Blues served up my Maui burger without the bun and held the croutons from the accompanying Caesar. At Mama’s Fish House, the uku arrived with a double portion of sautéed eggplant, mushrooms and assorted vegetables instead of the advertised coconut rice.

French Apricot Peach pie from Komoda Store.

Diabetes in a problem here, as it is everywhere else. Thankfully, more and more restaurateurs are accommodating those needs.

Still, sweet is what most people seem to want, and that, of course, includes mai tais, piña coladas and other cocktails that arrive with umbrellas or orchids floating in them.

It’s quite understandable when faced with a FAP, the French Apricot Peach pie from T. Komoda Store and Bakery in Makawao. This internationally known Upcountry spot has everything from incredible cream puffs to glazed doughnuts, all in a weather-worn storefront that has seen plenty of foot traffic through the years. There’s not much light in the place. The display cases are colored with age. And the bakery racks are so cluttered that you can’t help but wonder which goodies are getting lost in the mix.

None of that matters once you’ve tasted what comes out of that kitchen. My friend Carol, who remembered the somewhat twisted route from our last trip six years ago (as if it were yesterday), bought a FAP, which was redolent with the aromas of freshly baked fruit and butter under that buttery crumble topping. It proved to be her breakfast treat each morning until she finished it. She showed admirable concern about my blood sugar levels, and she made it known that the pie was her property and hers alone, although she did offer me a spoonful, and it tasted better than it had any right to.

There's more to Maui than meals, even to this foodie.

My greatest temptation on this trip, however, has been the fruit. There have been pineapples so golden and ripe that the juices just run when you cut into them and just-picked guavas with their intense perfume, watermelons and Mandarin oranges, tiny plums, fingerling bananas and who knows what all else, all supposedly healthy yet so loaded with sugar that I can only eat the tiniest amount.

I’ve already written about how I marinated a pork roast in pineapple juice, but I also used pineapple when dealing with the leftovers. I shredded the meat and tossed it in a sauté pan with a little olive oil, Maui onion, red bell pepper strips, ginger and, yes, pineapple strips. It came together in minutes and, like the best leftovers, it tasted like a whole new dish.

Best of all, my blood sugar levels have been better than they have been in a month or more, though swimming twice a day in the ocean might have been a help with that.




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