A vegan BLT made ‘better’ with eggplant bacon and kale. It’s the perfect packed picnic lunch!
You probably am aware we’re in Hawaii and have read about some of the crazy adventures we’ve been on and the delicious local food we’ve noshed on. But I haven’t told ya’ll much about what I do as an intern. So let me share with you ‘A Day in the Life of Leung’, the Hawaii internship version.
6AM “The sky is awake, so I’m awake.” Maybe I’ve maintained some jetlag all this time, but I have no problem rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn and getting to the community kitchen by 7am. The crazy thing is that I’m not even the first one up. The chef, who is the sweetest, most talented plant-based chef, is already in the kitchen preparing an incredible dish for lunch. One morning I walked in and she had already finished baking cinnamon rolls! I was overjoyed.
7AM Recently, I’ve been taking on breakfast duties alone, so to give our chef more time to prepare an elaborate lunch. I make fresh coconut milk, blend up a tropical colada smoothie, scramble the freshest eggs (from the chickens on the land) with chives freshly snipped from the garden, cook a pot-full of steel cut oatmeal, and slice up a platter of fresh local fruit.
8:30AM Breakfast is served! To notify everyone, we blow a conch shell. I managed to make a decent honk on my second day here, but since then have made absolutely no noise. I’m known to jazz up my oatmeal with some of my own almond milk (I’ve been enjoying the Califia farms here), a generous spoonful of peanut butter (pb is insanely expensive here, SOS), and more cut up fruit.
9AM After cleaning up breakfast dishes, I go straight into lunch prep. Harvesting greens from the garden for salad and a sautee, washing them very thoroughly (I’ve never had to scrub individual leaves before), chopping tons of vegetables, cooking rice or quinoa, and sometimes I’ll prepare the soup or another side dish. Our chef makes the best bean and veggie soups. I guess you could also call them stews. She effectively utilizes the array of spices we have on the kitchen shelf. I particularly love her mung bean and lentil stews.
10AM Time for a mid-morning break! Wi-fi is only available in one small area of the property, which is also the place with the most mosquitos so if I don’t feel like trading blood for internet connection, I’ll sit outside the kitchen to enjoy the breeze, or flip through a Big Island travel guide book. Once I got to help harvest and crack up cacao pods. The first two steps in the chocolate making process!
11AM Back to the kitchen to continue cooking! The smell of our chef’s signature oat and seed crackers is intoxicating. I’ll toss the steamed purple sweet potatoes with homemade macadamia nut pesto or sautee a mountain of chopped leafy greens. I get very excited about lunch by this time.
12:30PM The second sounding of the conch shell means it’s lunch time! The best meal of the day, without doubt.
1:30PM All the interns pitch in and help wash dishes, wipe counters, and sweep the floor. After this we’re free (usually)!
2PM What to do with my free time? I’ve walked to Pahoa town to grab groceries, snorkelled with turtles at Pohoiki Bay, and waded in the volcanically heated Kapoho Warm Ponds. On the days I stay on the property, I might visit the sauna, take a yoga class, attend a [mandatory] workshop on communication, have a team meeting, work on school assignments, or write a blogpost. I’ve discovered how great Iyengar yoga is to stretch out my stiff body after a day of bustling around the kitchen; I haven’t been on top of exercising since arriving in Hawaii. Not everyday is packed with adventure, but that’s okay. My body needs some quiet time here and there.
6PM Starting to feel peckish again. If it’s a Wednesday, we’ll hop into the truck (in the tailgate if there’s more than 5 people) and drive south to Uncle Robert’s which is a sort of local night market. It’s one third prepared food vendors, one third local artists and products, and one third live music. It’s like the entire neighbourhood shows up and everyone knows everyone. Great place to really immerse yourself in the local happenings. If it’s not a Wednesday, I’ll go to the community kitchen and usually the other interns are there too. We’ll be whipping up something simple for dinner or dig through the fridge for lunch leftovers. Since lunch is always plentiful, I’m super lazy and cut up some fruit or eat cereal or toast. Breakfast for dinner, nothing new for me.
7PM It’s completely dark now, so I grab my headlight and go to brush my teeth at the outdoor bathrooms. The sky is full of stars and I gaze up as I walk back to my cabin, all while trying to avoid stepping in puddles, bird poop, or a toad.
8PM I’ve retreated inside my cabin and write an entry for my travel diary, read a book, listen to music, and chat with my roommate.
9PM Lights are out and we’re asleep. Don’t even bother making jokes about how early bedtime is.
I don’t have my usually kitchen duties on the weekends so that is when I’ll get to venture farther on the island and do something interesting like sightseeing along the Hamakua Coast, rappelling down waterfalls, lounging at a beach, swimming with wildlife, hiking at the National Volcanoes Park, eating at a restaurant with my fellow interns, or filling my canvas bag with tropical fruit at a farmer’s market.
One of the ingredients the chef here loves to incorporate into her dishes is eggplant. This versatile vegetable is like a sponge that soaks up any flavour you add to it. Turn plain eggplant into crispy vegan bacon with just 2 ingredients! Slice it up really thin, spread some barbeque sauce on both sides, and bake it until it’s crisp and voila, you have vegan bacon! And of course, the perfect sandwich also needs some fresh bread, lettuce, and tomato. We are fortunate to have beautiful fresh lettuce and tomatoes here on the Big Island and also back at home in Vancouver. Enjoy the bounty of summer produce by making this vegan BLT sandwich. Although the vegan eggplant bacon is best eaten right away, these would be a fabulous lunch to take on a picnic. Summer is the season of picnics, so take advantage of the beautiful weather and bring lunch outside!
Just in case you were wondering, this purple bread is a walnut sourdough from a local bakery called Terra Breads. Isn’t it pretty? It pairs fabulously with my favourite fig and mango toasts.
- 1 small eggplant, sliced 3mm thick
- 2 to 3 tbsp smoky BBQ sauce
- 4 to 6 slices of bread
- Hummus or vegan mayonnaise
- 1 to 2 roma tomatoes, sliced
- Salt & freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 handful of kale
- To make the bacon, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray it lightly with oil. Arrange the sliced eggplant in a single layer and spray the eggplant lightly with oil.
- Bake for 5 minutes then flip and spread a thin layer of BBQ sauce on one side. Bake for another 5 minutes, flip again, and brush the other side with BBQ sauce. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until crispy, flipping as needed.
- Once the eggplant is nicely browned, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. It will crisp up as it cools.
- To assemble the sandwiches, spread mustard on one slice of the bread and hummus on another slice (per sandwich). Top with sliced tomatoes, a pinch of salt and pepper on the tomatoes, the eggplant bacon, and kale. Enjoy within the day.