I met Hawaiian food blogger Mariko Jackson of The Little Foodie through this blog. A year ago she was a frequent commenter, and told her I wanted to come to Hawaii. I asked if she could help me set up a class. To my surprise, she said yes. Before this point, I had only taught classes for schools, bookstores, or conferences, so I was a newbie at planning my own event.
Our strategy didn’t go smoothly at first. I thought we needed a swanky restaurant lunch to attract food writers, because that strategy had worked well in Seattle. But it cost too much, and not enough people responded. Mariko lowered the price and dumped the restaurant, and to our delight, 20 food writers and bloggers signed up.
Lots of bighearted Hawaiians and mainland Hawaii lovers helped me get the word out. Hawaiians RT’d announcements of the class on Twitter; Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy suggested some contacts; Catherine Toth, a prominent Honolulu food writer, interviewed me; the Hawaiian president of Les Dames Escoffier told members about the class and invited me to pupus (appetizers) at a trendy
restaurant afterwards; and one of the students offered use of a teahouse in the garden of her condo. That was a relief, because until a few weeks before, Mariko hadn’t found a place.
The morning of the class, I flew into Honolulu from the Big Island, where I was vacationing. Mariko picked me up in her SUV loaded with supplies. She took me to Honolulu’s Chinatown for a lichee/cherimoya shake and a manapua. Then we headed to the teahouse, where Mariko sprung into action.
The room was a little shabby, but Mariko was prepared. She hauled out about a dozen colorful tablecloths borrowed from friends, and put giveaway books tied in ribbons on each table. She carried in a projector and screen; side tables; coffee, water and snacks; extension cords and power strips; colored folders with handouts…I’m sure I’m missing a few things. She thought of everything, even soliciting several sponsors for door prizes and food.
Before we walked in, she pulled a stunning lantern flower lei out of a plastic clamshell and lifted it over my head. It happened to match my dress perfectly.
The students filed in, and we started out with writing exercises. The cohesiveness and collecitve experiences of the group floored me. One woman burst into tears when another read about her grandmother giving her the job of opening a can of corned beef, while her siblings played outside. It was right after I talked about the ability to evoke emotion in readers. Another read a story about his Japanese auntie, with “a tongue as sharp a a Samurai sword,” right after I explained the value of using similes.
He also introduced me to my new favorite snack food. After carrying his auntie’s groceries as a kid, he said, she gave him money for a matinee, where he dumped out the popcorn and mixed it with arare and nori. Many heads nodded, and the whole class reminisced about the popcorn mix, regardless of whether they were Asian, haole, or hapa. As soon as I got back to California I bought rice crackers and a shaker bottle of nori mixed with sesame seeds, and tried them mixed with popcorn. It’s an addictive combo of crunchy textures and saltiness, and now I’ve made it several times.
Later, three women at the same table found out they attended the same high school. Typically there isn’t this kind of connection in a group of students, but Hawaii is different. The students laughed when I remarked on it, saying in Hawaii there are only three degrees of separation, not six. I also loved spending a whole day with locals. I have visited Hawaii for more than 30 years, and I typically I only meet other tourists and those who work in the tourist industry.
After dinner, Mariko and I went to the pupu reception and met people involved in Hawaii’s food and hospitality industry, and then she drove me to the airport. Here’s a post Mariko wrote where she talked about the day.
There’s one more thing I want to tell you. After announcing the Hawaii class on Twitter, I finally understood what Jaden Hair meant when she told me years ago she gets business from Twitter. Other food bloggers saw the tweet and inquired if I would be willing to teach elsewhere. I’ve already been paid to teach a private food writing class in March; and an Irish blogger, Dorcas Barry, is working on getting me to Ireland to teach later in the year. Talk about a lot to be grateful for!
I’d like to give a big thank you and virtual hug to the generous and hard-working Mariko Jackson for all she did to make the class happen. You are the best, Mariko!
And to you, dear readers, a Happy New Year and my best wishes for a productive year of writing in 2012. To help you get there, if you haven’t already, subscribe to my quarterly newsletter, full of tips and links to resources on writing and social media. Said Lori Galvin, senior editor of Cooks Illustrated, on Twitter: “Anyone interested in food writing should read @diannej‘s blog or subscribe to her newsletter. Solid stuff, seriously.”