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Sautéed Wild Leeks + A Memoir of Growing up Wild in Hawaii #FoodieReads

This week, I breezed through Freckled: A Memoir of Growing up Wild in Hawaii by TW Neal.* I had ordered it last month when we were lamenting the cancellation of our family vacation to Hawaii amid the coronavirus pandemic. I was reading anything and everything that was set in Hawaii; and the boys and I were re-watching the reboot of Hawaii Five-O as well. We're into Season Five and enjoying seeing the sights we missed last month.

Freckled was definitely not a feel-good read about some of our favorite islands. In fact, it is one of the only books that has made me literally cringe while reading it, but still kept me reading it. Also, I was completely unfamiliar with the author, but her writing is incredibly evocative. I will definitely read more of her work...maybe just not more about her painfully abusive childhood.

On the Page
photo from

This book is raw in its honesty and so, so disturbing. It's jarring to see such unbridled dysfunction through the eyes of a child. The books covers her life from five years old through high school. Her parents are young, selfish, and addicted to drugs and alcohol; they are part of the surfing culture on Kauai's north shore and more concerned with catching the perfect waves than raising their kids. In fact, I can't figure out why they even bothered to have kids. They were, on a good day, simply irresponsible and, on other days, downright abusive. They ignored incidents of sexual molestation, physical bullying, and rampant racism. I have no idea how Toby forgave her parents.

But, as I mentioned, this is well-written. One way in which I almost respected Sue, Toby's mom, was her fervent desire for her kids to each healthy foods. Toby recalls getting a special treat of shave ice. "I’m so excited. Shave ice is really special because it’s full of sugar, and sugar is badforyou" (pg. 20).

Toby grew up on whole foods, not too far off from what I usually feed my family actually. "Breakfast is oatmeal cooked on the stove with the squishy goodness of raisins popping on my tongue and local honey drizzled over it. Mom has found a co-op in California, and with the money Pop has from his trust fund, she has big boxes of food shipped each month to Hanalei, the closest town. Lentils, garbanzos, alfalfa, mung beans, dried figs, dates, apricots, oats, and flour so brown it looks speckled, fill the jars on the built-in shelf in the kitchen area, along with honey in a can and peanut butter separating into golden oil and sludgy goodness" (pg. 36).

Unlike Sue, I am not a good gardener. But Jake spends a lot of time working the garden with D. Toby writes, "The hundreds of barrows of cow manure Bon and I have hauled help her grow some of the biggest vegetables anyone in Hanalei has ever seen—her Chinese cabbages are the size of basketballs" (pg. 203).
And, probably, like my kids when I'm not around, Toby and her siblings revel in the junk food that relatives give them. "...bananas, coconut, and papayas we ate so much of from the Estate’s trees are nonexistent, as are the abundant Swiss chard, won bok, lettuce, and Chinese pea pods from Mom’s huge garden. Instead, there’s a plethora of junk food in the house that we binge on without restraint. Cookies, ice cream, gallon jugs of whole milk, whole boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese, and packages of hot dogs and frozen French fries are all inhaled. We lie around eating and watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie and Gilligan’s Island as we revel in having television for the first time" (pg. 263).

Toby seems quite normal and well-adjusted for the things that she endured. She campaigned to leave Kauai, live with relative, and attend her senior year of high school in California. She registered herself, worked hard, and landed a scholarship to attend college. And - flash forward three decades - she has a healthy, happy marriage with children of her own. It's quite a remarkable story. But what a wild childhood!
On the Plate

There were passages about her foraging for wild mushrooms to earn money to buy a pony. And it reminded me of wild greens that I like to eat, such as dandelions and ramps which are also called wild leeks.

Are you a ramp-fanatic? I eagerly await the week or two - yes, the season is very, very short - when you walk the markets and spot these pungent lovelies. Their aroma is somewhere between garlic and leeks; in fact, they are also called wild leeks. But they are actually a perennial wild onion. And their appearance is fleeting. Enjoy them while you can because they'll be gone before you know it.

Funny story...they are so elusive that the cashier at the market earlier this Spring didn't know what they were. I had grabbed them from the bins next to the fava beans, but they didn't have a code or price. 

"What are these?" she asked. Ramps, I informed her. She looked all through her code book. She even sent someone to get the code from the produce department.

"There is no code," he reported back. Yeah, I didn't see one either, but I just wanted to grab some since you don't carry them for very long.

In a complete surprise turn of events, she said, "Well, I guess I'll just give them to you...since we don't have a price in our system." Oh! Thanks. If I had known that was going to transpire, I would have grabbed a whole lot more of them. But I controlled myself and just nodded gratefully.

You can eat them raw, but I don't like raw onions very much. So I cook ramps. I sautéed these gems and served them over roasted rockfish for an easy seasonal dinner.

  • 2 bunches ramps (wild leeks)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • freshly ground salt

To clean the ramps...fill a bowl with cold water, then place ramps in the water. Swirl them around to remove as much dirt as possible. Remove them from the bowl and give them another rinse under cool running water to remove any remaining dirt. Drain ramps on a dry paper towel, then blot out as much water as possible. Trim off the bottom of the ramps and peel away any part of the stems that might be slimy.

Heat butter in the olive oil in a large, flat-bottom pan until the butter is melted, frothy, and beginning to turn brown. Add the ramps to the browned butter and cook until the ramps are lightly charred and wilted. 

You can serve them as is for a nice Spring sidedish. Or you can use them to top your favorite meat or fish. 

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in July 2020: here.


  1. Isn't it fun when they bring in the bounty and you get to cook it up? The book sounds interesting in a Glass Castle kind of way.

  2. I do like a well-written memoir. Your review reminds me of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. She writes of an equally disturbing childhood.


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