Before Tom Sawyer, before Huckleberry Finn, when Mark Twain was an underpaid wanna-be newspaper reporter, he found himself in Hawaii. In 1866 at just 31 years of age, The Sacramento Daily Union sent him on assignment to the Sandwich Islands, present-day Hawaii. He spent four months in the islands, sent back 25 letters and was paid $20 a dispatch. 

No glaze. Just plain. Confectionary sugar. Very tasty, toasted. Easy to freeze.

It wasn’t until 1947 that a collection of those letters was turned into a book, Letters from Hawaii. One present-day East Coast reviewer called it ‘a foretaste of genius and the best travel writing about Hawaii I have ever read.’ The book is still available today. Although Twain never returned to Hawaii, late in life he wrote, “What I have always longed for was the privilege of living forever away up on one of those mountains in the Sandwich Islands overlooking the sea.”

When planning a hike/walk and you say, “Meet you at the goats,” everyone knows where they reside. Just remember, don’t mess with the King.

In the Eighties and Nineties Michael and I vacationed in Hawaii often. We visited every island, toured the war memorials in Honolulu and enjoyed all that was available to a tourist. Now, almost twenty years since our last trip, unlike Twain who never was able to return, I wanted one last trip to those old haunts. 

Our version of En Plein Air. We each received a Paint-by-Number kit for Christmas. Our only complaint, the numbers were tiny. Note the glasses.

But once again Covid ran interference to all my plans. Having arrived in Maui to face the increasing Omicron surge, island hopping, Pearl Harbor,  revisiting special restaurants and mixing it up with the tourists on Kaanapali Beach and Lahaina’s historic Front Street were off the table. Surprisingly, my time here has taken on an amazing personality of its own without the possible discomfort a walk down memory lane might have pulled up. I have pictures…

While this unglazed Poppy-Seed Tea Loaf is a Plain Jane, it’s my preference. Toast it in the morning. A tasty addition to afternoon tea or coffee. And, dessert with a little whipped cream or fruit mix on top.

The Ae’o is the Hawaiian Black Stilt, a sub-species of the Black-necked Stilt we see in other states.

Although endangered, these Stilts seem to be thriving at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in West Maui.

The Auku’u, Black-crowned Night Heron, seems happy as well.

“Ooooommgawd is this amazing!!!

This cake batter is mixed by hand. I love that.

I’ve got a little baking adventure for you. No electric mixer needed. A cinch to throw together. No outlandish ingredients required. And if you’re over holiday sugar and sweetness, how about plain and simple. This Poppy-Seed Tea Cake’s texture is ‘a delightful cross between the close grain of a poundcake with a spongecake’s bit of bounce.’

The Gemini is the same catamaran (an updated version) that Michael and I always went on.

The number of humpback whales here may vary from year to year, but NOAA scientists have estimated that as many as 12,000 humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Alaska to breed, calve, and nurse their young in the warm waters of Hawai‘i each year.

Whale watching. This is why I returned to Hawaii. There were 45 people on the catamaran. When the captain spotted a pod of Spinner and Spotted Dolphins feeding at the front of the catamaran, he sent all the kids on board to the bow to have a look. The spinners are such showoffs.

Thanks to Omicron, I am still my personal chef this winter. Not complaining, I have a dream kitchen here in Maui. In Dorie Greenspan’s January “EAT” column in New York Times Magazine, she wrote about her grandmother, childhood memories and poppy seeds. In ten years of cooking through this woman’s cookbooks, I’m entitled to gush over Dorie and her recipes. This is a three-gusher.  

 Having already baked several of these loaves, I prefer plain. The glaze glams it up, adding a tad of sweetness. I’m baking half-glazed, half-plain today for my neighbor. Friends here played taste testers. Leslie’s response is the caption above. The cake apparently also passed muster with her husband with the “WOW” factor. Let’s just leave it there.

Malasadas, Hawaii’s favorite fried treats, are Portuguese yeast-leavened doughnuts enriched with eggs and butter and milk. No holes. Rolled in sugar. The fillings I chose were Haupia (coconut), Lilikoi (passion fruit) and blackberry. And, yes, I managed to eat all three but paced myself!

DORIE’S POPPY-SEED TEA CAKE  by Dorie Greenspan, EAT, New York Times Magazine

Ten Servings


For The Cake:

Butter and flour for the pan

1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 Cups of Sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or tangerine

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 tablespoons of lemon or tangerine juice

11/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

51/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup poppy seeds

For the Glaze (optional) :

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds, for sprinkling


  1. To make the cake, center a rack in the oven and pre-heat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 81/2-inch loaf pan. Place the pan on two stacked baking sheets OR an insulated baking sheet.

2.  Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Put the sugar in a large bowl, add the lemon or tangerine zest. Rub together with your finger until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, one by one, whisking in one vigorously before adding the next.  Whisk in the juice and vanilla and then the heavy cream until smooth.

3.  Add the flour mixture in three additions, using the whisk to gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter. When the flour is incorporated, add the butter in two additions, again stirring gently with the whisk. You should have a thick, smooth, shiny batter. Switch to a flexible spatula and stir in the poppy seeds. Scrape the batter into the pan.

4.  Bake until it has risen and cracked along the center and, most importantly, a tester inserted deep into the cake comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes. Take a look at it after about 45 minutes and tent it loosely with foil if it’s getting too dark too fast.

5.  Transfer the pan to a rack, cool for 5 minutes and then run a table knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold the cake and then turn it right-side up onto the rack. Cool to room temperature. 

6.  Stir together the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice until smooth. If needed add more juice, a drop at a time, until you have an icing that falls slowly from the tip of a spoon.  Spread it over the cooled cake to coat evenly, sprinkle with poppy seeds and let stand until set. 

7.  Wrapped well, the cake will keep at room temperature for about 4 days. Unglazed it can be stored up to a month. 

Early Morning in Launiupoko