keep your eyes on the hands

Tired of winter’s bleak, gray landscape? Feeling a little cooped up and color starved?

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SOUP’S ON: Edna Cabcabin Moran in the Kitchen!

                 photo by Mark Moran

A-L-O-H-A! Today we have just the thing to take the chill off the last days of winter. How about some warm sunshine from Hawai’i? Children’s book author and illustrator, Edna Cabcabin Moran, has stopped by for some enchanting talk story and a little hula! She’ll also be sharing a mouth-watering, authentic family recipe that’ll send you straight to the kitchen.

Last year, I discovered Edna’s first picture book, The Sleeping Giant: A Tale from Kaua’i, while browsing Verla Kay’s blue boards. I was so excited, because high quality children’s books about Hawai’i are few and far between. Edna’s book, a retelling of the traditional folktale about the creation of Nounou mountain on the island of Kaua’i, is a real treasure, both for its lyrical storytelling and its lush, textured illustrations. 

As the story goes, an old fisherman catches an enchanted fish who weeps. The villagers are surprised when the fish turns into a human giant, who has an insatiable hunger for poi (pounded taro). They continue to feed him, but when they run out of taro, the kahuna says they must offer chants (oli) to ease the giant’s hunger pangs. No one is successful until young Pualani chants the giant’s name, Nounou. This naming, or identity, finally brings him peace. He lays down and sleeps for years and years, his body forming the craggy shape of a mountain.

                            (Beachhouse Publishing, 2006), ages 4-8, 32 pp.

The Sleeping Giant was awarded a Ka Palapala Po’okela Honorable Mention for Excellence in Children’s Hawaiian Literature for 2007. Edna has also received a 2006 Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention in Rhyming Poetry, the Northern California Gold Addy, and the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles Illustration Merit. Born in Maryland and raised under the magical colors of the aurora borealis in Iceland, Edna studied printmaking at the University of Hawai’i. She now lives in California, where she creates children’s books, works as a graphic artist, and dances with the critically acclaimed  Halau Hula Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu.

E komo mai (Welcome), Edna! How did you come to select this particular folktale, and what was its path to publication?

Aloha e Jama! 🙂 The story of the Sleeping Giant came to me by way of a greeting card. It was one of those ideas that jumped out and grabbed my attention. And it wouldn’t let go. I even dropped it for 2-1/2 years (when I took a break from pursuing writing or illustrating kid lit), and it still came knocking on my door.

What types of challenges are involved in a retelling vs. an original story?

Making sure you maintain the integrity of the story and/or story form and thoroughly researching details with respect to the cultural setting is a necessity. Also, framing the story in a voice that is natural yet works transparently with the tale (which often stems from different sources) can pose a challenge.

How did you research this book? What’s the most interesting or surprising fact(s) you discovered about the tale?

The first thing I did was research the story’s "back story." I talked to people and checked out a ton of resources — people from Kaua’i, my kumu (teacher), storytellers and librarians from Kaua’i, the internet, books, and magazine articles. I’m intrigued by the many other sleeping giant tales that are out there. There’s a sleeping woman forming part of the Waianae mountain range on O’ahu and a Sleeping Giant park in New Haven, Connecticut.

The book has now been out just over a year. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about promoting a first book? Any advice for soon-to-be-published writers?

I have learned the importance of planning long term for book promotion. In the beginning, there’s a rush of energy celebrating the release of a book and the publisher gets involved with promotions and publicity. But once the book has been out for awhile, I see how important it is to have a strategy in place. PR folks talk about "platform." Authors have to get acquainted with this whole other side of the business, even if they don’t plan on doing a publicity blitz on their own. Right before my book was released, a fellow author/illustrator advised me to treat my book like a baby — nurture it, feed it, help "raise" it.

                  Edna visiting Kamiloiki School in Hawai’i Kai

You are one of those doubly talented people whom I envy, being a writer and an artist. Which is harder for you, writing the story or doing the pictures? Do you enjoy one more than the other?

That’s a difficult question. My self identity is rooted in visual art because of the positive reinforcement I had growing up as a "class artist." I also received some attention with my older sisters’ friends, who asked me to draw their ideal boyfriends. What I did was kind of similar to police artists drawing the person according to a description of hair, eyes, nose, mouth, etc.

I like to think I’m versatile when it comes to art styles and methods. My illustration style is on the painterly side, more loose and expressive. I am primarily in expression — different ideas, thoughts and feelings. If I’m not having fun drawing and painting and it feels like a chore, something’s not right.

          Regarding "Untitled," painted when she was a teenager,
                        Edna says the goldfish came from a magazine 
                 photo and the rest of the painting came from her imagination.

Growing up, I had a hidden side. I wrote a lot: poetry, stories, journals, you name it. In school, I preferred essay tests over multiple choice questions. Writing was my oasis in the big, crazy world.

I can’t choose one art over the other. The most accurate thing to say is that I’m a "storyteller." I love playing with words and images and creating stories.

By all accounts, you seem to be a true Renaissance woman. Besides writing children’s stories, you also tell stories through hula. How did you become interested in this form of dance? Does immersion in music and movement influence your ideas/thought processes for writing/painting?

I started dancing hula in my teens and fell in love with it while training under my first kumu. In all the other arts, I started out self-taught and received training later. I’ve danced with Kumu Patrick Makuakane the longest. I could have minored in dance given all the dance classes I took at the University of Hawai’i.

   With her group, Edna has danced in Hawai’i, Los Angeles, and New York.
     They’ll be performing in Honolulu this weekend, San Francisco next month,
               and in New Orleans this fall.      ~ photo by Lin Cariffe

What inspires you?

I find that everyday living and daydreaming stoke enough ideas to keep me busy.

Ideas can be fleeting so it’s important to capture them. I write them down in my journal and sketch book and if those aren’t handy, then I’ll write or sketch out the idea on whatever is available, an old envelope or piece of scrap paper.

What are you working on now?

I am under contract to illustrate a Hawaiiana picture book and I have several of my own picture books in progress.

Could you describe how you made the pictures for The Sleeping Giant?

My paintings for The Sleeping Giant were created at my drawing table. I work on a flat surface with butcher paper underneath my art board to catch the pastel dust. I frequently paint with my reference photos nearby. This photo is of a sweet girl named Lehua, who is also a hula dancer. I took dozens of photos of her chanting an oli. She was the perfect model for

 I use my fingers like a paintbrush and watch my paintings evolve with every stroke of chalk pastel. This painting of Pualani was one I wanted to get "just right." I wanted to portray the magic of the oli coming through in Pualani‘s voice. In old Hawai’i, breath was considered sacred and linked with the importance of using our voice and choosing our words.

   final illustration from The Sleeping Giant
I was so excited to learn your father is a chef. What were some of your favorite childhood dishes? Did you help with the cooking?

My dad was a whiz in the kitchen. I loved watching him whip up a meal from "nothing." He made almost everything from scratch. I sometimes helped him out, but was more interested in tasting the food rather than cooking it. The kitchen was a magical place where practically anything we wanted could be created before our eyes. If we wanted pie, then my dad would pull together all the ingredients, measuring completely by eye, mix the dough to the right consistency, roll it out and set it in a pie plate, trim off the excess and scallop the edges with his fingers. The crust would turn out perfect and flaky. He used real fruit or canned fruit — whatever was on hand. I love pie, can you tell? I learned the basics about cooking from watching and talking to my dad as he worked. 

My mom also enjoyed cooking. She took a more leisurely pace and I learned different recipes from her. She specialized primarily in Filipino dishes, whereas my dad often cooked up American and European foods. I helped my mom create the more time-consuming party foods from the Philippines, like lumpia.

What are some of your favorite local foods from Hawai’i?

Whenever we go to local-style parties, I love eating poi with lomi lomi salmon, chicken lau lau, and sometimes kalua pig. For dessert, I enjoy eating haupia (coconut pudding).

Do you see any similarities between cooking and writing?

Yes. Stories are prepped, marinated and cooked in different ways, depending on the writer. Every story is a unique recipe. However, most people are interested in results more than process. Sitting down to a meal, I care more about how the food looks, smells and tastes, rather than how the various vegetables were cut. Julienne or not? I’m focused on the moment: steam rising from vegetable soup, emitting a faint sweetness of sauteed onions into the air. That’s the soup’s hook. Like a good meal, a good story engages the senses.


Describe yourself in 5 words.

Amused, practical, curious, tenacious, dreamer.

List the 5 highlights of your career thus far.

1. Holding my picture book in my hands for the first time. My kids were home when the box of books arrived. We were all so excited. It was almost like having a new baby in the house.             

2. Getting "the call" from the publisher.

3. Having two very special book launches in Honolulu and the Bay Area.

4. Getting a scholarship and attending the Highlights Chautauqua Writers Workshop.

5. The first time I googled my book and found it on Amazon and other places on the net.

Favorite books/authors:

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Boy by Roald Dahl
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Favorite artists/painters:

Marg Chagall
Willem de Kooning
Georgia O’Keefe
Dietrich Varez (printmaker)

What one food inspires your best work?

I love dark chocolate — such as the gourmet chocolate bars containing 71% cocoa. I’ve read that dark chocolate is ideal for women because of its antioxidant properties. It also stimulates endorphins and seratonin levels and uplifts one’s mood. So nice to have science back you up when you have chocolate cravings. I’ve been a chocolate fan ever since my first bite into a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. It was a homemade Tollhouse cookie, of course.

What can you tell us about the recipe you’re sharing with us today?

I learned this recipe from my mother, who measured by eye and taste. The measurements below are estimates only. Feel free to adjust according to preference. Lumpia is a great appetizer. It can be made ahead of time and kept frozen for several weeks before cooking.

(yields 50-75 lumpia rolls)


1/4 cup cooking oil
4-6 garlic cloves, pressed and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1-16-oz package green beans, julienne strips
1-16-oz package carrots, julienne strips
1-16-oz package peas
1/3 cup chicken broth (canned or made from flavored bouillon cubes)
1/2 lb mung bean sprouts, washed and cleaned
soy sauce and pepper to taste

In a large heavy skillet or wok, saute garlic in oil until light brown. Add onion and cook on medium heat until transparent. Reduce temperature a little and gradually add in the following order: green beans, carrots, and peas. Pour in some broth, allowing it to steam and soften the vegetables. Gently stir and mix the vegetables as they cook. Gradually add mung bean sprouts. Add soy sauce and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and let cool before using it as a filling.

To assemble the lumpia, you will need:

Lumpia wrapper (round, thin, wheat-based) – commercially available
1 egg white and 1-1/2 cups water (this helps seal the wrapper)
Large, clean work surface with several plates (1 for holding wrappers, 1 for rolling lumpia, and 1 for storing lumpia)

Gently separate lumpia wrappers (if you’ve purchased the package that isn’t pre-separated). Spoon approximately 1 T of lumpia filling onto a wrapper about 2 inches away from the edge. Position the wrapper so that the filling is directly in front of you. Dip your fingers into the egg and water liquid and rub on inside, near the edge of wrapper closest to you. 


Fold wrapper over filling (away from you), keeping the wrapper taut over the filling. 


 Rub egg white liquid onto the sides of the wrapper and fold over toward the center of the roll. 

 Start rolling the lumpia, making sure the wrap stays tucked into the sides and keep rolling away from you. Finish by sealing the wrapper with egg white mix.


Deep fry rolled lumpia until golden brown. Tip: Drain fried lumpia by propping it vertically in bowl or casserole dish lined with paper towels.

Dipping Sauce:

1/2 cup apple vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2-3 T garlic, pressed and finely chopped

Mix garlic with equal parts apple vinegar and soy sauce. Enjoy!


 You must visit Edna’s beautiful website and blog!

For more information about her hula halau, visit If you’re one of those lucky people living on O’ahu, you have the opportunity to see Edna dance this Friday and Saturday, March 7th and 8th!  Her group will be performing "Daughters of Haumea" at the Hawai’i Theatre!! Ticket info at the hula website.

**Artwork posted by permission, © 2008 Edna Cabcabin Moran, All Rights Reserved.