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When I’m born, my sister holds me for the first time and says: “I will always love you.” She’s only eight years old, but she makes good on this. We spend the next 30 years in growing kinship, occasionally bristling like sisters do, but always with a special secret bond. She moves to Hawaii, which is her place, and I stay in Oregon, which is mine. I visit when we’re both adults—old enough to share the excitement of our dreams being built, young enough to sing the Hamilton soundtrack on our drives to the beach.

We buy malasadas—sugar-coated Portuguese donuts—from a pink truck in a parking lot. My favorite flavor is haupia, the one with coconut custard inside, oozing out smooth and milky white. They’re better than any donut I find at home. We go to the pink truck more than once on my visits, between trips to Whole Foods, and beaches where the waves slap down and even out, and once, a little island we kayaked to laughing. We get spicy thai food and watch the sun sink to the water, coloring the sky in a long sherbet smudge overhead. We get rained on. We run a Spartan Race. We fall asleep to sad movies. I am never happy to leave.

The haupia I make is peppered with all of this, invisible ingredients that only I can taste. It’s smooth and milky like the malasadas, creamy like the sunset colors quieting down. The coconut is rich but its sweetness is measured, not cloying; the way we laugh breathlessly and speak soberly in the same conversation. Like our time together, it’s gone quickly, too good to last. I consider the empty glass dish, naked where the haupia was. I run a finger along the edge and lick it. I buy a ticket to Hawaii.

The following is the recipe I used, as found here.


  • 1 can full fat coconut milk about 14 oz. See note

  • 5 Tablespoons cornstarch or less, to taste. See note

  • 5 Tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 3/4 cup water


  1. Get an 8x8 inch pan.

  2. Place coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.

    Meanwhile, combine sugar and cornstarch in a bowl, and add the water. Whisk until completely combined.

  3. When the coconut milk just starts to simmer, add the sugar/cornstarch mix, and whisk. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens and starts looking slightly translucent. This took me about 10 minutes. When you bring your whisk up, the haupia should flow off of it and you can see the trace of it for a few seconds before it "melts away".

  4. Pour into the 8x8 pan and allow to cool on the counter before refrigerating. Refrigerate until solid and completely cooled. If you are using the full 5 tablespoons, you should be able to pull the sides away from the pan and invert the whole thing onto a cutting board. If it seems too soft for that, just cut it while in the pan. Cut into 2 inch pieces (16 pieces total) and serve. 

    Recipe Notes

    Adapted from: Hawaiian Electric

    I used Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk, and it was a 13.66 oz can. As long as it's around 14 oz it will be fine. PLEASE make sure you are using canned coconut milk, not the drink type that comes in cartons in the refrigerated section (like Silk brand).

    If you want your haupia to have more of a pudding consistency, use less cornstarch. You can try 4 tablespoons, or if you want it even less firm, try 3!

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