Chasing Pele #3: The zen of malunggay

Oct 6, 2014
Monday morning. The kitchen smells of guava. It’s a sugary pinkish scent, with  undertones of bright green.

A bunch of the guava were ready for picking yesterday, along with some tangerines and calamansi, so I pulled them off the trees and brought them in to the kitchen. We ate the ripest of the guava while Arvin was outside cleaning the lanai railing. I’d slice a bit and feed him, he pausing during a soapy interval to savor the gifts from the yard.

Fruit bowl w guava and tangerine

Today begins, as will every day this month,  as did every day last month – with coffee and a check of the lava flow.

The coffee is middling today. Every day the quality is random. It’s difficult to get it just right. There’s something about a french press that  demands precision yet (in my hands at least) defies the achievement.

As for the lava…

  • The narrow lava flow front has advanced approximately 150 yards since yesterday.
  • Burning trees are producing a significant amount of smoke. While there was no brush fire threat this morning, vog and smoke conditions were moderate to heavy across lower Puna to Hilo.
  • The FAA is now restricting flights over the lava flow.

Big Island Video News will become our constant companion. It’s a new news outlet on the Big Island and its coverage of the lava flow is squashing the meager output of the old school Hilo Tribune-Herald.




We drink our silty bitter coffee, trying to assuage our tongues by adding ever more milk. Arvin is on a conference call. I am struggling with character development. (The Punatics. Not my own.) And so begins a normal day. The new normal, I guess you could call it. Phase 1: pre-arrival.

In time, after I’ve sorted through the Rinpoche’s motivations, I’ll run my privileged errands in new Pahoa. Arvin’s birthday is tomorrow and we’re having a few people over. Despite the ominous, slow moving cloud upon land known as the Pahoa lava flow, life must go on.

If only…
When you subtract the impending arrival of lava, there’s a certain ease to being in Hawaii. Ease coupled with hard work. Plenty of work. The to-do list has begun and it includes things like scraping and painting the back lanai; hand cutting the 8 foot tall cane grass that’s consuming the tea bed; pruning the four big areca palms; weeding the berm and buddha wall.

These moments of effort and occasional exhaustion are countered by moments of true ease and bliss. Harvesting malunggay leaves, for instance.

For dinner tonight Arvin’s cooking chicken adobo, a classic Filipino dish and a staple on our Hawaiian menu, served with a side of mung beans. We’ll serve the mung beans again tomorrow as a side dish to the grilled meat on his birthday.

As chance would have it, one of the local vendors at Maku’u Market yesterday was selling branches of malunggay, a tall twiggy shrub whose leaves are used to give stew-like dishes nutty and slightly grassy notes. It’s a classic component of mung beans.

So I ran my errands in town, came home and we ate lunch on the dry heat of the lanai. Afterwards, in the shade of the overhang, I gently stripped the branches of their leaves.

If only all the days were so serene: a little writing, bitter coffee, errands, and a zen-like harvesting of fine green leaves.

But that would make us boring, lazy, far too in-the-moment and enlightened. Life is better, I hate to say it, with a bit of struggle.

Malunggay leaves

Malunggay leaves

How to make mung beans:

  • Sautee onion and diced pork loin in oil
  • Add dried mung beans; sautee briefly
  • Add water and/or broth
  • Add chopped tomatoes
  • Add Malunggay leaves (can substitute with spinach, perhaps)
  • Cook until beans are done: soft but not mush

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