Recipe: Hawaiian French Toast

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

For ten years (!), I’ve been trying to improve upon a version of French Toast I first tasted while staying at Howard House Bed and Breakfast in New Bern, NC. The owner, Kim Wynn, served a French toast dish with pineapples which I devoured and begged the recipe for. As always, regional variation in groceries mean that some things just can’t be duplicated, and for starters, we can’t get “Texas Toast” in our supermarkets. I’ve been experimenting on and off with various iterations of the dish ever since.
When you’re a five-room bed and breakfast and you are putting together menus to feed ten or twelve guests per day without additional help in the kitchen, you do all you can to make sure that the entree can feed all of the guests without anyone feeling “cheated.” Yes, we always have cereals and yogurts on hand (and if I do say so myself, I make a nice yogurt parfait with a sprinkle of vanilla granola), but it’s a little personal victory for me when I can prepare a recipe taking into account dietary restrictions that accommodates everyone in one try.
Last week, we had dairy-free guests who were staying four days, and I really didn’t want them to feel like pariahs with a daily parade of “special” meals. Our “sweet” days are generally the more challenging, for the two most common dietary restrictions are gluten and lactose intolerance. (Translation, no wheat for the former, no milk or cow’s milk cheese for the latter.) On the dairy-free side, most recipes are workable with soy and almond milks, though because they are thinner, sometimes there’s a slight texture difference. Coconut milk is also dairy-free, but unlike soy and almond, it adds a distinctive flavor to the meal.
Flipping through my binder of recipes, I came across Kim Wynn’s recipe for her pineapple french toast, and something clicked. Pineapple…coconut…. rum…marachino cherries on little umbrellas…piña colada!
Actually, piña coladas originated in Puerto Rico, but when I think of pineapple, I think of Hawaii. And…King’s Hawaiian Bread, a soft, slightly sweet loaf I can find easily in California, but until recently (that regional variation again), not here in the Hamptons.
And coconut milk. Yummy, lactose-free coconut milk. Used purposefully for the taste as well as to accommodate the lactose intolerance.
Voilá! The result is reminiscent of a pineapple upside-down cake (though I left out the marachino cherry in the middle of the pineapple ring).
350 oven
8 servings
12 King’s
Hawaiian bread dinner rolls, roughly torn
1 13.5 oz can  light or regular coconut
5 eggs     
1/2 tsp EACH cinnamon and nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
stick butter
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. dark
brown sugar
1 15 oz. can
crushed pineapple in syrup, well drained, or ½ fresh 
pineapple, coarsely chopped in food processor
1 15 oz. can
pineapple rings, well drained
Dash  rum (optional)
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted in microwave (here’s how to do this)
3 Tbsp. crystalized ginger
The night before:
a 9” x 13” baking dish. Tear rolls roughly in half and scatter evenly in bottom
of pan. Mix milk, eggs, spices and vanilla in bowl. Pour over bread in pan.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next
pan from fridge and let come to room temp (approx. 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
butter in skillet, add 3/4 cup brown sugar, crushed pineapple and a dash of salt.
Cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Add rum (optional) and cook an
additional minute. Pour over bread mixture. Arrange pineapple rings on top. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar, toasted coconut and crystallized ginger over top.
Bake 35 minutes until lightly browned. Cut and garnish with a sliced
Taste of the Islands! 

I should have added the paper umbrella.

Soothing the stressed soul, part 1

Picture this: A warm afternoon. A shaded deck overlooking a vanishing perspective of grapevine rows. The sun, softened by afternoon sky, warming the cascaded fruit tucked beneath the copious green leaves. An occasional warm sigh of breeze stirring your hair. A comfortable deck chair. The smooth slender stem of a cool glass of wine in hand. The fat doughnut notes of a mellow saxophone grounded by a rumbling standing bass.
Relaxed yet?
This is one of my most favorite ways to end a summer day. 
I love that many of our local wineries have developed an experience more likely to engage all of your senses than simply a wine tasting, and that tasting rooms are increasingly open later on weekend nights. Here on the South Fork, weather permitting, Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill features live music on the back patio Friday night 5-8 PM, where you can catch a sunset over the vineyard (!!) and toast the end of the workweek, as well as on Saturday and Sunday afternoons 1-5 PM. Chris and I often suggest Duck Walk’s weekend jazz afternoons as a great option for the end of a day spent rambling round the Hamptons, since it’s a scant 3 miles from A Butler’s Manor. Bring your new favorite wine back to enjoy on the patio around the pool before changing for dinner.
Wolffer Estate Vineyard features two venues: their gorgeous main tasting room on Sagg Main Road in Sagaponack, where Twilight Thursdays are held each Thursday 5-8 PM, and the Wine Stand, around the corner on Montauk Highway, for Sunset Friday and Saturdays, 5-8 PM. Both locations feature the option to purchase wines by the glass or bottle, as well as cheese and charcuterie plates. Live music is featured at both locations. Thursdays hew closer to a jazz format whereas the weekends feature a more eclectic blend.
Hey, but I’m visiting midweek! you cry. What’s going on when I’m there?
Through the end of June (so far!) Wolffer also has extracurricular events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Main Tasting Room. On Tuesdays, become a local at Locals Night, when 4-8 PM, glasses of wine are half price and for a small fee between 6-8 PM you can participate in the following activity:
  • June 10:  Chocolate Paired and Made with Wine 
  • June 17: Wine-Themed Poetry Night
  • June 24: ROSÉ WEEK: Rosé in the Raw–Wolffer rosé wines paired with shellfish, at the Wine Stand. ($25 per person in advance, $30 at the door)
On Wednesdays between 6-7 PM, educate yourself on all things oenophilian. For a small fee, enjoy a themed tasting led by knowledgeable experts:
  • June 4: The Wines of Alsace and the Loire Valley
  • June 11: Sparkling Wines
  • June 18: Tasting Techniques
  • June 25: Special Edition: Big Rosé World ($25 in advance, $30 at the door)
And lastly, a summer weekend offering that teams wine tasting with bicycling through the beauty of the backcountry between these two South Fork vineyards:  Pour and Pedal offers a 4-5 hour tour (and they supply the bikes!) which begins at Wolffer and ends with lunch at Duck Walk. How virtuous would you feel after that tour?
steady stick wine holders From RedEnvelope.comOkay, for those of you who’d prefer to unwind at little farther from the madding crowd, here’s a variation to picture: Beachside in a sand chair with a mansion at your back and the surf before your toes. A cold bottle of wine in these cool holders. Your fave chill-out tunes on your iPod…
So aren’t you just THERE, already, in your mind? I sure am.
Quote of the Day: There’s never enough time to do all the nothing that you want. –Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes