adventures in hawaiian employment / spicy tempeh burritos, guacamole, and mango salsa

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I really am a vegan chef. I studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC after a two year hiatus in Hawaii where I intimately observed the lives of beach bums…so intimately in fact, that I became one. Yes, I had a job; I had many jobs. The longest one lasted 4 months, the shortest one, about 3 weeks. Let’s start at the beginning…
My title? Community Marketing Agent (translation: asshole in aloha shirt who stands on street corners with orchids and pretends to be giving you directions and a free flower, but really intends to sign you up for a tour of a timeshare condo in Waikiki). The effectiveness of this job was entirely based on how good you were at lying, manipulating, and faking a smile. I quit after I realized how good I was at it. My husband was quickly demoted to a “greeter”, which is the idiot holding the flowers who stands next to the CMA. This was, of course, a complement because it meant that he was a decent human being. Our roommate Evan was also a CMA, but instead of signing clueless tourists up for timeshare tours, he signed up clueless girls with his number. They were typically blond and their names almost always started with the letter “A”.
Where was I going with this?
Oh right, next job. Waitress. Let’s just say that I might have been the worst waitress of all time. The fast pace of a restaurant instantly made me feel sluggish, as though my heinous, black work shoes were covered in tar and stuck to the floor. The idea of “turning my tables” quickly was not particularly appealing, even though it meant more tips. I found myself content with making the least amount of tips, while leisurely enjoying my tables and encouraging them to stick around. My boss eventually gave me the small outside section (which overlooks the ocean and was notorious for slow tables). I really enjoyed this until we all had to start sharing the “sushi bar” section. This stressed me out: all single customers, lined up in a row. They want their sushi fast and their drinks faster. This is about the time I started my involuntarily eye roll. Everybody does this, right? Sure, but not like me. When I roll my eyes it’s horribly obvious and I have no control over it. Needless to say, a few forgotten beers later, an impatient customer got the full wrath of my eyes. My boss was unhappy with me, and there were a few other incidences too (example: kid asked me for milk. “Um, it’s a Japanese restaurant buddy, we don’t have milk”. I asked my boss what to do. He told me to go to the restaurant next door and borrow some. You’re joking, right? I had a better idea: coffee creamer mixed with fresh tap water. Perfect; the kid freaking loved it, and asked for more).
So I moved on to retail: slower pace, encouraged to partake in my favorite activity (staring off into space and succumbing to wildly entertaining daydreams), and I didn’t smell like dead fish anymore. Nope, instead I smelled like hand sanitizer and cotton, and my daydreaming became so invasive that when a customer actually addressed me, I looked at them as though they were in the dreamworld and my reality was Neverland. That was the job that lasted 3 weeks. Then we moved back to the mainland, and I realized that I wanted to become a chef. Do you see how my story perfectly sets up that connection? Don’t over think it.

taking in the view at Makapu’u lighthouse

Onward to the recipes!

It’s muggy and hot outside, so even though it’s fall I don’t feel inclined to make a batch of cozy “let’s make a fire” autumn stew. Instead, I’m sweating and fending off a mass of nearly dead mosquitos with nothing left to lose. Solution? Spicy burritos made with a wondrously healthy and scrumptious food called tempeh. Tempeh is my favorite soy miracle, made from whole soybeans and fermented into a scary looking (think brains) but delicious and protein packed package of love. This recipe takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish so it’s a great meal to have when you don’t feel like cooking.

*Note: all of the ingredients below can be purchased at Whole Foods or another natural foods store.  Yes, I know, “Whole Paycheck” is expensive, but remember this: what is the one thing you do three times a day (maybe more, hopefully not less) for your entire life? Yup, you guessed it…eat! Your body is counting on you to fill it up with yummy and healthy food, a little bit everyday. So do yourself a favor and spend a few extra bucks on organic, minimally processed food. It will make you happy and you will start seeing unicorns everywhere.

Tempeh Burritos

1 package Tempeh, crumbled (I use SoyBoy brand)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 T mexican seasoning blend (I love Penzey’s Adobo blend, but any mexican blend will work…or you can just use a mixture of cumin, cayenne, and garlic)
3/4 jar prepared salsa (I use 365 organic mild or medium salsa, but you can use any kind)
1 T shoyu or tamari (shoyu is naturally brewed soy sauce without the preservatives and oftentimes corn syrup (gasp!) in conventional brands. Tamari is brewed without wheat = gluten free)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 bunch collard greens, stems removed

In a large saute pan, turn flame on high, add oil and heat. Add onions (this is about the time when you will grab a wooden spoon and feel the urge to vigorously stir the onions. Do not give in to this temptation. When you stir, it produces steam, and all your crispy veggies will turn to mush. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stir at all, just don’t go crazy). Now add the crumbled tempeh and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add peppers, tamari/shoyu, and seasoning and continue to cook. Pour in salsa and turn down flame. Using your wooden spoon, deglaze the crispy bits on the bottom of the pan with the salsa. Turn off flame and toss with cilantro. Lightly steam collards in a pot fitted with a steamer basket for 5 minutes or just lay collards over the burrito filling towards the end of cooking to soften. Serve with guacamole, salsa, romaine lettuce, and hot sauce. Makes about 4 burritos or enough for 4 corona sipping unicorns.

Homemade guacamole and salsa are so easy to make and taste so much better than the stuff from the store. Grab a mixing bowl for each, add ingredients, mix & serve!


3 avocados, pitted & scooped out of skins
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 red onion, diced
small handful cilantro, finely chopped
1 T jalapeno pepper, deveined, seeded & minced (wear rubber gloves if you’re sensitive to heat)
sea salt to taste
Mango Salsa

1 mango, peeled, pitted & diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded & diced
1 T jalapeno, seeded & diced
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1 T lime juice
1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
sea salt & black pepper to taste

6 thoughts on “adventures in hawaiian employment / spicy tempeh burritos, guacamole, and mango salsa

    Anonymous said:
    September 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Like the self-deprecating humor and the creative 'milk' in Hawaii. It sounds like you made a good decision to write and not waitress but I love reading about it anyway. Might try the recipe but not a chef or a vegan

    […] the store, folded shirts and the smell of cotton flash me back to my short-lived retail days (see Adventures in Hawaiian Employment ), and I smile apologetically at the salesperson, knowing the torture she is enduring. […]

    […] are cilantro, basil, and thyme. They take any dish to the next level of flavor! Try cilantro in my tempeh burritos or in an asian […]

    Russ said:
    January 16, 2013 at 1:38 am

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      J. Z. Manley said:
      January 16, 2013 at 2:35 am

      Hi Russ, thanks for reading and yes, you can quote my work! I’ll be sure to check out your blog!

    […] wait- I moved to Hawaii. And they don’t have phones there. See my travels in semi-employment here. No, seriously, I think the next time my message changed was when I heard some of my productive […]

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