Happy Mother’s Day, moms. I know typically this holiday can either be full of joy or maybe some sadness, and I know this year might be even more challenging, but I hope that if you are celebrating or ignoring this day you are doing whatever makes you feel the happiest. I’m writing this in advance but I’m likely in a bath, watching Normal People (or something from our list) with a face mask, hair mask and a “mom-osa.” But last week I did two things I’ve been meaning to do: 1.) Cook dinner with my mom and sister (and cousins) via video (we use the Portal #nonspon). 2.) Make my childhood favorite comfort dish, Hawaiian Haystacks, to see if I still like it and regardless obviously force it upon my children. So I figured we could do both at the same time and try to get some semblance of connection with my mom and sister through a long hang out and cooking session.
But there is a backstory about this meal. Growing up I thought my mom learned this recipe from her (Mormon) mission in Hawaii when she was 21 in the 60’s. I remember in college meeting students from Hawaii and asking them about Hawaiian Haystacks, and they were like “yah, that’s not a thing.” Turns out, guys, with a quick google search last week, it is indeed not a secret tropical recipe, inspired on her travels but instead a pretty American, (perhaps Mormon?), way of making a smorgasbord of toppings into “dinner”.
It’s a deconstructed DIY casserole that you “stack,” and the only must-haves are dried Chinese noodles and pineapple chunks (Hawaiian, see??). But I haven’t tried this dish as an adult. Will I even like it????? It doesn’t necessarily sound like something I’d opt for myself, so when I was looking at recipes I figured I’d make some substitutions for Brian and I, both of which failed. But that’s not really the point, is it?
My younger sister and her two kids (aged 6 months apart from mine) are with my parents in Portland, and in an attempt to connect to all of them (cousins included) we did a long hang out video session. You can do this a million different ways but I’m telling you that the Portal is awesome. This is absolutely NON-spon, but everyone asks why we use that instead of Zoom or Facetime and it’s because of the better video, better sound, and the fact that it tracks you better when you walk around. It’s way more “hanging out” than feeling like you are on a call. This particular hang out session lasted 2 hours and was VERY FUN.
I would say that my mom walked me through the recipe but its pretty darn easy so we more just chatted and caught up. Also when are Charlie’s teeth going to come in??? He lost his two front teeth months ago, and it is ADORABLE but the kid really wants to eat an apple. Anyway, all the grandkids (14 total) call my mom Mimi (who is about to be a great-grandma – CRAZY) and while we don’t get up to Portland nearly enough we are trying to make more of an effort to connect while staying home because these kids need to know their cousins and grandparents and phone calls don’t really cut it with 4 and 6 year olds.
Being at home like this has created some habits that we won’t give up. This girl LOVES to cook and she is intimidated by nothing. The other day she helped me make a falafel salad from start to finish, which took over an hour and I was in heave. As I’m putting on my apron, I hear a “can I help?” from the cutest little voice you’ll ever hear. She uses a kid’s knife and the crucial thing you need is a good stable step stool. We just bought some of these step stools so they each have one, but when they were littler and needed more stability we had one of these (that both kids used to be able to fit on but it is really big).
I’ve also developed some real braid skills as you can see below.
OK, back to them STACKS.
So I tried to tweak the recipe in two ways – I wanted to make my own cream of chicken rather than using a can (which we didn’t have) and Brian and I wanted to try it over cauliflower rice instead of normal rice. Both of which failed. Here’s a lesson I learned – almond flour doesn’t thicken. As I was mixing it with the milk I kept putting in more and more to try to thicken it, but it magically didn’t. I probably added close to 2 cups and it was still water-y, so finally I put a 1/4 cup of normal flour and it turned instantly into a thick gelatinous paste. It really was a lesson in food chemistry. It tasted delicious but the texture was TERRIBLE and it was hard to find the chicken. So next time I will still make my own cream of chicken because I liked having the garlic and onion in there, but I’ll use normal flour (unless any of you have better ideas that could be gluten-free?). The cauliflower rice I just let burn because I didn’t pay enough attention to it.
But the point wasn’t to learn a recipe, it was to create more casual hang out sessions with my family. I think it’s very easy to put off phone calls because they can feel like this ‘formal’ time to talk, so I’m trying to be way better at just hanging out, making it feel more every day and casual especially there isn’t too much to really fill anyone in on these days. My maiden name was Starke (Yes, I know that Emily Starke is much cooler than Emily Henderson) so obviously I renamed this to be the Hawaiian Hay-STARKE.Print
THE STARKE HAWAIIAN HAYSTACK (The ‘hay-STARKE’
Listen these stacks are very up to interpretation. The important thing is rice on the bottom, a creamy chicken mixture then you basically just go for it with the toppings. I like a mixture of crunchy and soft, hot and cold, sweet and salty and of course we add hot sauce for whoever can handle it. You can make this as healthy or unhealthy as you want 🙂
- 2 chicken breasts cooked and cut into small chunks or shredded, or grab one rotisserie chicken and shred
- 1/2 white or sweet onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 cup sour cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups steamed rice (any kind you like)
- Frozen peas
- Chopped celery
- Chopped tomatoes (we love cherry)
- Black olives
- Nuts! we love crushed cashews
- Shredded iceberg lettuce (or cabbage for cold crunch)
- Chinese noodles
- Fresh or canned pineapple
- 2 cups cooked rice (or more depending on how many people).
Despite me messing this up using almond flour, this recipe is extremely basic and has a lot of flexibility. Sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant, then add cream of chicken and sour cream, shredded or cooked chicken and salt and pepper to taste (1 tsp of each is good). Bring to boil, then simmer for as long as you like (it can be “done” pretty quickly. Meanwhile, chop all the toppings and put in separate bowls (this part is annoying to me because so many dishes to wash so I think someone needs to invent a special “Hawaiian Haystack” dish with like 10 compartments.). The fun is letting everyone build their own. Start with rice, add chicken mixture, and top it off however you want. Mix it or not – it’s DELICIOUS.
Listen, the meal is good and fun and the kids LOVED it. If you build it “right” you get creamy, crunchy, hot, cold, sweet, and salty all in one bite which I blew my mind as a kid.
We were never the family that cooked three meals a day, but we sure do now, and while I really enjoyed our take out burger last night, I now really get what they mean when they say it’s “made with love.” Cooking as a family is a new habit that we won’t break, I PROMISE, and hanging out with extended family while we do it is an even easier way to connect that feels more meaningful.
Happy mothers day to my mom – mother of 6, grandmother of 14. I have no idea how you taught us all six of us to play piano, sew our own clothes, and can our own tuna – but we all are forever grateful for those skills (and all the love, time and care that went into making that happen). Someday I’ll convince Brian to let me continue the “canning tuna” tradition, but for now, I’ll just raid your pantry whenever I come home like I did in college. Hopefully, that is sooner than later. xx