I met George Yoshida just once many, many years ago on a trip to Hilo. I was introduced to him by my good friend, the late Elaine Okutsu. She told me about all the good things George did for the island’s kūpuna, which was why the seniors would do anything to help him: They’d cook, make dozens of Spam musubi, sew, drive . . . anything for George.
Even from that very brief introduction, I could see that he was a best friend for life to all of Hawai‘i Island’s kūpuna, always working to make their “golden years” easier and more enjoyable and rewarding.
George Yoshida died this past April at the age of 75. He retired from the county in 1998 after 32 years of service, 17 of them as Elderly Activities Division director.
As head of Elderly Activities, George initiated lots of activities to keep the island’s kūpuna healthy, happy and active. The activities included a seniors karaoke program, the Hawaii International Kupuna Hula Festival, Seniors Health and Fitness Fair, senior bowling and softball leagues, field trips to other senior centers and Christmas celebrations at the various senior centers around the island. George also became a familiar figure to his neighbor island counterparts and others who worked in the field of aging.
His good work as director of Elderly Activities was rewarded by his promotion to Parks and Recreation Department director, a post he held for eight years until he retired.
But if George thought his public profile days were behind him, he was sadly mistaken, for KTA Super Stores executive vice president Derek Kurisu had other plans for him.
George had been a regular on KTA’s television program, “Living in Paradise,” which Kurisu produces and hosts on Spectrum Channel 129. George appeared on a segment highlighting seniors.
That segment led to the creation of an entirely new program with Kurisu called “Seniors Living in Paradise.”
After retiring from the county, George published a cookbook of warabi, or fiddlehead fern (hō‘i‘o in Hawaiian), recipes. Warabi is a native fern that grows in high-altitude rain forests, primarily on the islands of Hawai‘i and Maui — on Maui, the fern is called pohole. It is rich in vitamin C, niacin and potassium and is also high in beta-carotene due to its deep green color. Warabi is often used in salads with ingredients such as kamaboko (fishcake), konbu (seaweed) and onions, mixed with a shoyu or sesame sauce.
George went on to publish a second book, “Hawaii’s Best Cookbook on Fried Rice” in 2000. And, four years later, he and Kurisu co-authored “No-Sweat Cooking,” featuring easy to prepare recipes.
In an interview with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald after George’s passing, Kurisu said George felt that “every man should know how to cook.”
“I told George, you know, you look down the aisle in the store, and you see all these senior men whose wives are sick or they’ve passed on, and they don’t know how to feed themselves. It became our mission to teach them to make easy, simple dishes . . . so at least they’re able to feed themselves, and not just go out to eat,” Kurisu said.
The pair also conducted cooking demonstrations at senior centers and at community events.
George’s wife Cheryl told the Tribune-Herald that her husband enjoyed cooking for their neighborhood and their grandkids. “He’d make a big pot of spaghetti and share it with the whole neighborhood.” She said their grandkids loved their grandpa’s corned beef cabbage, Portuguese bean soup and beef stew, and he gave his leftover meatloaf a second life the next day by slicing it, frying it and making a hamburger sandwich out of it.
So, in memory of George Yoshida, here are a few of his easy-to-make recipes, courtesy of KTA Super Stores.
Here’s a no-sweat way of preparing local-style delicious pumpkin (often called kabocha). This healthy dish, which features no meat, has been enjoyed by generations of old-timers.
6 pieces ebi (dried shrimp)
1 tsp. oil
1 pkg. aburage (fried tofu), chopped into 1-inch pieces
Approximately 3 lbs. of kabocha (pumpkin), skin removed and cut into 1 ½” cubes
3-4 Shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water then cut into slivers
1/4 cup shoyu
1/4 cup sugar
1 bottle (16 oz.) water
In a pot, fry ebi and pumpkin in oil for a few minutes, until brown. Add shoyu, sugar, Shiitake mushrooms and ½ bottle water. Cover pot and simmer, stirring occasionally until liquid is reduced. Add remaining water and add aburage. Cook until pumpkin is soft and can be easily penetrated with a chopstick.
Option: Add 1/2 cup sake while cooking to give it an extra boost.
KIM CHEE SOUP
From: “Best of . . . Living in Paradise”
Everybody enjoyed this refreshing soup featuring a bottle of kim chee cooked with togan (winter melon), tofu and chicken broth.
1 package ground pork or hamburger
2 large cans of chicken broth
2 bottles of aged kim chee, chopped
1/2 tōgan (winter melon), seeded, pared and chopped
1 block firm tofu (cut in squares)
1) Brown ground pork or hamburger.
2) Add chicken broth, winter melon and kim chee (juice and all).
3) Simmer for at least 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
4) Add tofu 15 minutes before serving.
5) Taste before adding salt.
Guaranteed to add spice to your life!
SIMPLE CABBAGE KÖKÖ (PICKLES)
From: “Best Recipes from George Yoshida’s Kitchen”
My Aunty Betty Shimizu, who is now in her 90s, taught me to make this old-fashioned good kōkō. It’s so good that it’s still served in several Japanese restaurants in town.
1 medium cabbage, sliced into ½-inch pieces
3 small daikon (radish), sliced thin
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vinegar (natural flavored distilled by Shirakiku, “Chikyu-uma” brand)
2 tablespoons Hawaiian salt
1) Mix ingredients for sauce, bring to a boil in saucepan.
2) Cool slightly.
3) Pour over vegetables.
4) Ready to eat in two hours!
Here’s our simplest way to cook fried eggplants that takes only a few minutes to prepare. The final product can be enjoyed with a little ketchup or shoyu and rice.
3-4 long eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
Garlic salt to taste
Approximately 1 cup mayonnaise
Season eggplants with garlic salt and baste with mayonnaise. Let stand for about 30 minutes. Fry in large pan on low-medium heat. Do not use cooking oil. Cook and turn over until both sides are seared and softened.
What a no-sweat way to enjoy fried eggplants!