Food, Travel

5 sweet treats on Maui

Spending all day on the beach is not good for your skin. So, in the interests of better skin, if not necessarily better health, my sweet-eating companion and I dedicated our Maui middays to finding the island’s best treats. Herewith – the fruits of our labours!

1. Chocolate tasting
Melanie Boudar used to be a gem buyer. Now she makes less permanent treasures – chocolates. Taste the range at her store, Sweet Paradise Chocolate, in Wailea Gateway shopping centre. Even better, go to her cocoa farm, Manawai Estate Chocolate, on the road out of Paia, where she grows the beans that will soon form the basis for her chocolates. First make your own hot chocolate, starting with roasted beans. (I’ve written about making chocolate from scratch here.)

Manawai estate hot chocolate

Follow up with a guided chocolate tasting, after which you’ll be amazed to find you can taste the difference between chocolate from Hawaii and chocolate from Venezuela.  I promise after this , you will never mindlessly eat chocolate again.

2. Dippy donuts
On Maui, donuts are malasadas and at Star Noodle in Lahaina, they come speared on a skewer to dip into chocolate or butterscotch sauce and roll in crushed peanuts. What makes this dessert even better is that it follows a great menu that ranges all over Asia, and doesn’t just stick with noodles. It feels a bit wrong to leave the beach to lunch in the light industrial area of town, but once the door to those delicious cooking smells opens, you won’t miss a view.

3. Banana cream pie 

Leoda's banana cream pie
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop is on the road north from Lahaina. There’s a welcoming diner-meets-plantation-house aesthetic to the fit-out and the menu suits, with great fresh salads and sandwiches. The draws for us though were the homemade pies. Maui is mad for the macadamia nut-chocolate combo they call macnut. As macadamias are Australian native plants we felt it a patriotic duty to indulge in the macnut choc pie. (It was the Hawaiians who commercialised the mac and until recently were the world’s biggest producer of macs, and its most enthusiastic coverers of it in chocolate!) Flag-waving aside, we found the macnut just a bit too rich, and sided with the North American classic – banana cream.

Celebrity trivia note: Leoda’s chef/owner is Sheldon Simeon, who fans of Top Chef will remember as a charming finalist in series 10. 

4. Coconut ice
There are several reasons you’ll need an ice cream when you get to Hana. The first is medicinal. The road is famously narrow and windy, the locals know no fear – nor speed limits – and, taking their lead, neither do the teenage boys in rental convertibles. So it’s a white-knuckle ride: a sweet ice will soothe those adrenalin jitters. And then, once you have walked to the base of Maimoku Falls waterfall and back, you’ll need an ice cream to cool down.

Coconut Glen's

Coconut Glen’s is the last food stall before Hana. Glen himself is a refugee chef from Boston. He’s also a vegan so his ‘ice creams’ are all made with coconut milk, and with a spirit of sharing.

Coconut Glen's

5. Best gelato

Home base for the Maui gelataria Ono is Lahaina, but there is an outpost in the cool old whaling village of Paia. Robert Mahler makes genuine gelato (which is denser and more flavour-packed than traditional American ice cream because it’s churned more slowly and so incorporates less air as it freezes) from locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. The coffee crunch – with chocolate, coffee and mac nuts – is hard to pass up, but save some room for the sensational salted caramel, and, because this is Hawaii, the only place on earth where people eat more passionfruit that we do – for the lilikoi, Hawaiian for passionfruit.

In season

January 27

In now: There’s a sudden influx of different apple varieties in stores as the end of last year’s harvest is sold off. But there’s no need to eat old apples. The Bilpin orchards all have fresh Royal Galas, and some have some interesting non-commercial varieties too, such as Gravestein and Akane. Make a day trip.  For addresses and opening times of of individual orchards check Hawkesbury Harvest. Otherwise just head up the Bells Line of Road. I wrote about our usual daytrip itinerary here.

At its best: Expect great figs from now until April. Eat fresh; drape with prosciutto; pan fry and pile atop salad, or roast and serve with crushed praline and vanilla ice cream.

Best buy: Look for corncobs with plump shiny smooth kernels bursting with juice.

In the vegie patch: Protect ripening pomegranate from fruit fly. After last year’s horror show harvest in which almost all my fruit had maggots wriggling among those glorious ruby pearls, I am this year trying out mesh exclusion bags. I’ll put together a post on the process and its success once I pick, usually in mid-February.

What else:

  • will you bust the budget with just one more 2kg box of Tasmanian cherries before they finish for another year?
  • look out for locally grown nashi.
  • test for snake bean freshness by giving them a gentle squeeze. Firm is good, foamy is old.
  • expect some bargains on last year’s packham pears as the shelves are cleared for the new harvest.


Crassula ovata gollum
Plants I love

Succulents for Sydney

It’s ironic that succulents should look so much like coral. Far from living underwater in the cool and wet, these plants are at home in the hot and dry, places where for much of the year water is a memory. Crassula are from the eastern cape of South Africa; cotyledons from the drier parts of the African continent; kalanchoe are mostly from Madagascar; and the echeverias hail from the semi-desert regions of central America. But pile them all together and the sense of a coral reef is unmistakable, as was cleverly exploited by Phil Withers in his garden at Australian Garden Show in Sydney last year, a feature that won him the People’s Choice Award. Here it is:

Philip Withers AGSS

Given the reef illusion, entering the shade houses at the Succulent Garden nursery, in Glenorie in Sydney’s north-west, is a visual leap into the ocean. There are silver rosettes sprouting improbably violet flowers, clumps of blue-green paddles edged in carmine, plants with twisted forms and scalloped edges, all in mad colours from lime to deep purple via blue and grey. All that is missing are the clown fish.

The succulent garden nursery

Surveying the scene is Grace Calvi, who, with her daughter-in-law Sue Hunt, has been growing and selling succulents for 14 years. Grace is responsible for the propagating and growing, Sue for the online sales and the procurement of new oddities for a collection that now numbers close on a thousand.

Here’s Grace at work under the camphor laurels, potting up clumps of plants into old ricotta seives for clients who want to populate a large container instantly.

The succulent garden nursery

Grace grows tricky and rare plants, as well the many succulents that are easy to propagate. Her preferred propagation method is to use leaves from an established plant. The leaf simply has to be laid on free-draining potting mix and covered at its stem-end with the merest scattering of mix. The leaf will root and the roots will send up new plants, which can then be removed from the old leaf and potted up. The secret, explains Grace, is that the mix should be dry and the leaf should stay dry until the new plants have formed. Watering too early will cause the leaf to rot.


Plants can also be propagated from stem cuttings taken to reduce the overall size of the plant, to keep it tidy, or to harvest the incredible heads for floral arrangements (heads stuck into soaked florist oasis will last for ages.) Plants will also reproduce with no intervention from the gardener, creating pups that gradually build the size of the clump. The ease of propagation makes succulents great for sharing with friends, for landscaping in the garden, and for mixing in containers as varied as ceramic pots, woven baskets or carved-out slabs of wood as I wrote about last week. Once you have them in a pot, or in the garden, don’t forget to water occasionally. While water-averse at birth, and highly resistant to drought and neglect, succulents do grow best when watered during their growing season. Take care though, they might look like underwater treasures, but they are easily drowned.

Grace and Sue open the gates of The Succulent Garden nursery on the fourth weekend of each month. Next open day is next weekend [Jan 31-Feb 1]. Bring a box and cash. Prices range from $5-$35. 20 Pinus Ave, Glenorie.  To visit at other times call Grace on 02 9652 1693. And when you’re there take a close look at this agave with a mad violet trim. Unfortunately it’s not for sale. Grace has had it for years, patiently waiting for it to produce some pups, but so far not a sausage.  She doesn’t know what it is, does anyone out there?

violet-edged agave

In season

January 20

In now: The achacha season started late this year but the Queensland-grown harvest of these Bolivian natives has now started. The fruit is related to mangosteen and likewise offers a sweet treat inside a thick skin.

Act fast: Blood plums have only a short season. Buy shiny firm fruit to eat fresh, and jam or stew any that go soft.

Best buy: It’s been a great year for yellow peaches, and there are bargains in trays.

In the vegie patch: The rain and heat have everything growing madly, including mildew, snails and slugs. Keep a close eye and act on problems fast.

What else:

  • Sydney-grown figs are available. All the rain has caused the fruit to split, so they’re best cooked. Try halved or quartered figs pan-fried til caramelised and piled on to mignonette lettuce and torn basil. Add fresh goat’s curd or fetta and dress with a balsamic dressing.
  • dragonfruit looks like a hot pink hand grenade and tastes sweet and mild
  • local eggplants are great value
  • look out for bargains on locally-grown passionfruit
Other people's gardens

Necessity and invention etc.

I get to play in my parents’ garden as well as my own. Mum and Dad live on the South Coast of NSW, surrounded by remnant rainforest and stunning views of the ocean. Consequently there is zero incentive to hop in the car and fight the highway to a garden centre and possible pot and plant purchases. So when the tired pots on the outdoor table needed replacing, the solution had to be found on the hill.

Just the week before I’d picked up The Plant Recipe Book on the shelf of new books at my local library. The ‘recipes’ are for living centrepieces designed by San Francisco garden designer/floral stylist, Baylor Chapman of Lila B. The company designs small-space gardens and is involved in all kinds of botanical styling, but for me the real appeal are the beautifully styled centrepieces of plants, not cut flowers, that they do for events and weddings. Have a look at a few things here.

Inspired by Baylor we went hunting for a lump of wood, and found a gnarly slice of redgum drying out up in the top shed. Dad sacrificed a few drill bits hollowing out its middle while I snipped bits and pieces from around the garden. I found some tiny unnamed sedums, the ever-reliable Sedum ‘Gold Mound’, some rosettes of echeveria, a fresh bromeliad pup, and one of a silver tillandsia, plus a rooted bit of the purple and silver variegated tradescantia. I tossed together a free-draining medium from bark mulch, gravel, compost and a sandy soil mix and fitted the plants into the space, along with a few shells collected by various grandchildren.

Succulents in wooden trough

Mum is chief carer, watering often, but lightly, using a water spray bottle as there are no drainage holes in our lump of redgum. A few weeks later Dad sent this proof of ongoing success, with everything looking sprightly.

Succulents in wooden trough

And then just last week, he also sent this:


A new lump of redgum, with a great lava-down-the-mountainside look, photographed with the original for purposes of scale. Perfect timing: I’ve just been to The Succulent Garden nursery in Glenorie and picked up some little treasures, (more on that next week).
Once I have them in my redgum lump I’ll update this post with a fresh pic.

In season

January 13

In now: Australian garlic is not as white as imported garlic. That’s a good thing; a sign it hasn’t been treated with bleach or other chemicals on its way from the fields to our plates.

 At its best: Tasmanian cherry farmers grow mostly late-season varieties to capitalise on their already late season and get the new year cherry market to themselves. Cherry lovers suffer the high prices because the flavour is sensational.

Best buy: Fresh snake beans don’t snap like a green bean but cook up firm and tasty.

In the vegie patch: Plant more basil and parsley wherever there is space. You need a lot of parsley to regularly make tabouli!

What else:

  • a chilled lychee is a beautiful thing
  • the yellow-fleshed peaches have had a great season
  • Australian grapes have been pricey or hard to come by, but stocks should improve now
  • speaking of grapes, sweet bunches of red currant grapes are briefly available