As many may know, I am from a large extended Hawaiian family where music, hula, and food is something we enjoy and take special pride in.
I have written previously about my experience dancing hula as a young girl and how that evolved into becoming a professional singer and recording artist performing Hawaiian music. I was able to pass my love of Hawaiian music and dance to my children and moʻopuna. My daughters, both singers, now have their own hula hālau. The joy I have being able to tell a story and convey a feeling through mele or song is too great to calculate or appreciate, and it is why I will never tire of being able to connect with other people in this way. It is probably why my children have also chosen to devote their lives to Hawaiian music and hula.
Cooking is another special love of mine and a skill I acquired as a young child. Our mother was a working mom, so she depended on her children to get dinner ready for the family. I was chosen to be the cook.
When I was 14-years-old, my mom would give me directions over the phone how to prepare each dish. I remember wanting to surprise her one evening by baking cornbread. I don’t know what I did wrong, but the cornbread did not turn out well. After a long day at work, my mom came home and saw the cornbread, and asked me “What is this?” I told her it was cornbread, but it was hard as a rock and she threw it on the floor because she was disappointed I had wasted the ingredients. Needless to say, it bounced across the kitchen floor. My children believe that my strict upbringing taught me to be a great cook.
Most memorable and satisfying are my 20 years of cooking at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival for the dancers of Hālau Nā Lei Kaumaka O Uka.
Wednesday through Sunday, I cooked three meals a day: turkey bacon and eggs with fruit, rolls and cereal for breakfast; egg salad and tuna sandwiches, turkey hot dogs, fruit and baked potato chips for lunch; and for dinner, ground turkey spaghetti, ground turkey chili and chicken stew.
But on Saturday night we’d have my beef stew. Friends and family from all the islands would gather in our hotel room and in the hallways of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel to eat my beef stew. Kumu Napua kept the dancers on strict kapu one month prior to the Festival – no beef, pork, or heʻe – and nothing sweet except fruits.
My beef stew became a popular dish for visiting entertainers to Maui either at Napua’s hale or mine. When Josh Tatofi tasted my beef stew, he honored me by writing a song entitled Aunty Hulu’s Beef Stew. That was to ensure that whenever he visited Maui a pot of beef stew would be waiting for him on the stove.
I’m amazed that somehow all the things I love – food, music, and ʻohana – came together in Aunty Hulu’s Beef Stew. It’s like my beef stew recipe – a little bit of this, a little bit of that, with an unexpected back beat of short ribs, and vegetables with diced tomatoes. In music, a major chord is the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a major scale.
In my life, that major chord, which a lot of people seem to love, is my beef stew. It’s really just a major chord of food, music, and ʻohana – and from what I’ve heard, It’s also very pleasing to the taste buds.