Thursday, April 9, 2009

Padres, Petco & New Pets

I love going to San Diego Padres games, especially early in the season when they bait all the doubters and skeptics with swag. I've collected more than my share of Padres blankets, ball caps, coolers and towels. But today, I hauled home bounty so off the wall I can only describe it as a grand slam.

I scored some awesome Toyota Terrace seats from a long-time high school/college buddy who happens to have a second home right here in "America's Finest City." And I owe Dan big time! The seats were in the shade, right off the third base line. The view was great, restrooms were close, a REAL bar with my favorite Coronado Blonde brew was nearby and a sushi bar was about as far away as second base to home plate. At Petco, it really doesn't get much better than this!

The Padres actually won the tight game against our big-time Los Angeles Dodgers rivals, which was reward enough for fans like me. And after witnessing the numerous "Man Ram" jeers each time the Dodgers favorite son, Manny Ramirez, came to the plate, I was more than satiated.

Heading back to my car, I had an experience more reserved for Petco than Petco Park. A gentleman perched on a curb outside of a condo asked my gang if any of us were interested in taking home a mini-feline cupped in his hand. I borderline collect cats, so my five-second processing of this insane proposition found me saying yes. And this was before looking at the little guy - a gray and white wee bit of a thing that reminded me of my 10-year-old Florence, who I found in Kailua on Oahu about a decade ago. Same coloring, and hopefully the same spunk and longevity.

Mind you, I'll feed little Padre (I think he's male - and if he's not, I'm not changing the name to Madre), get him healthy, get attached to him and pretend to be trying to adopt him out. After all, I don't diss my other Padre swag. So I definitely won't do it to little Padre either!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Curing With Coffee

My most recent Big Island visit perked up when I attended the annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Hawaii’s longest running ag event that’s been a major part of the island’s cultural complexion for some four decades. Picking up steam among connoisseurs, Kona Coffee consists exclusively of beans grown on the western slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in a strip extending south from Holualoa to Honaunau. More than 670 farms create a tapestry amid the 22-mile-long, two-mile-wide coffee-rich corridor.

American missionary Samuel Ruggles introduced coffee to the island in 1828, transporting cuttings of Arabica trees from Oahu to Kona. The area was a natural choice, thanks to its rich volcanic soil, ample rainfall, natural cloud cover and hard-working family farmers who toiled away to establish the renowned region thriving today.

To explore this savory taste of the Big Island, you can pick up a Kona Coffee Country driving map from the concierge at most Kona Coast hotels and from businesses in Kailua-Kona Town. The comprehensive piece includes information on coffee history, current industry standards and an overview of cultivation practices. For direction ease, it opens to a map pinpointing farms and retail sites that welcome guests.

One of the industry’s most storied producers – and a long-time favorite of mine – is Greenwell Farms in Kealakekua. Most recently, Greenwell has brewed up additional recognition by donating 200 pounds of its finest for the inaugural Grounds For Health specialty coffee auction slated for June 2.

Launching in 1996 in Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico, Grounds For Health expanded services to the nearby town of Pluma Hidalgo two years later. It then established a site in Huatusco, Veracruz in 2000. Before the arrival of the Grounds For Health team, there was very little cervical cancer screening done in these areas. And there was no outreach at all to women in more remote communities. As a further setback, any screening done was hampered by questionable cytological accuracy and poor delivery of results.

Today, the Grounds For Health mission is to bring effective cervical cancer screening and treatment to women in coffee-growing communities throughout the world. By recruiting the world's largest coffee producers for the specialty auction, Grounds For Health hopes to spread goodwill to the global farming community and to foster a spirit of international collaboration.

Funds generated from the auction will be used for purchasing health care equipment, providing training and technical assistance to in-country partners, strengthening local treatment capacity, developing a network of community health promoters and educating women in coffee-growing communities. It's one of the first organizations to bring innovative, life-saving technology to coffee farmers and their families.

Based on research funded by the Gates Foundation and endorsed by the World Health Organization, this "Single Visit Screen & Treat" approach has proven affordable, effective and sustainable in low-resource settings.
It has also allowed rural women to receive care in one day. Even more important for long-term sustainability, the skills and equipment required for providing this care are simple enough for general health care practitioners in local communities.

Tom Greenwell, General Manager of Greenwell Farms, is pleased to show his farm's support. "Greenwell Farms has been in the coffee industry for 150 years and knows first hand the ups and downs of farming,” he said. “By participating in this unique auction, we are trying to help our fellow farmers around the world."

After establishing Greenwell Farms in 1850, Henry Nicholas Greenwell devoted the next 40 years farming, ranching and perfecting his Kona coffee. Today, the farm grows its own coffee on a portion of 100 acres amid the most productive land in the Kona District. It also purchases coffee cherry from over 200 selected farmers within the Kona region.

The farm lies adjacent to the ancestral home of Henry and his wife, Elizabeth, which is now occupied by the Kona Historical Society & Museum. Guided walking tours run continuously from 8am - 4pm Monday through Friday and 8am - 3pm on Saturday. Be sure to sample the white chocolate covered coffee beans in the tasting area!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beach Bounty

I've hunted and collected beach glass ever since my days of beachcombing the Windward and North shores of Oahu. So when I came across a mother load in the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Angel, this heavenly slice of Mexico's Pacific Coast shot even higher up my list of great south of the border retreats.

Waiting for lunch at Cordelia's on Playa Panteon, I decided to check if the water was as pleasant as it had been in Huatulco's Tangolunda Bay the day prior. The temperature was much the same. But it came with a bonus that sparkled in the mid-day sunlight. Interspersed among small seashells, a bounty of sea glass was ripe for the plucking.

I filled my pockets with some three dozen shards that were mostly white - likely from old Coca Cola bottles that had been carelessly discarded on the beach rather than placed into one of those red crates for recycling. With rounded edges and heavily abraded surfaces, these rapidly vanishing jewels were in abundance that day.

If your travels take you to Huatulco or Puerto Escondido, be sure to check out this sweet little village. Cordelia's has tasty seafood that's served in an enormous dining room that sprawls out to tables standing in the sand and shaded by a thatched palapa. It's part of Hotel Cordelia's, one of the newer and most expensive hotels in the region. But at $50 a night, it's tough to use the word expensive.

Playa Panteon's small bay and scattered inlets are ideal for snorkeling and swimming. The pace is slow, with the biggest buzz found as fishermen haul in fresh catches served up at local eateries for lunch and dinner.

And relaxing on the sand is just as inviting as splashing in the water. But I can't promise how much sea glass will be left. I put a lot of effort into cleaning the beach, so to speak.