d o c t o r a n d m a m a

Linda Shiue

Linda Shiue
San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
December 31
I am a physician and spend my free time with my husband and kids, reading everything in sight, eating, traveling, and cooking meals inspired by my travels. These days I'm spending more time at my food blog, spiceboxtravels.com. Please visit me there and follow me on Twitter @spiceboxtravels. Disclaimer: Health information presented here is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. © 2010-12 Linda Shiue. All Rights Reserved.

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FEBRUARY 7, 2010 2:53PM

Samoas: Tell Me About Your Cookie

Rate: 13 Flag
Is this a Samoa? 
Or is this a Samoa?
Ofu by Linda Shiue
This is my second most favorite Girl Scout Cookie, after the Thin Mint.  Chewy, sweet, caramelly and chocolatey, I used to eat them without wondering about the origin of their name.  But then I started to wonder... did the Girl Scouts have a special connection to Samoa? Is the toasted coconut an ode to the tall coconut trees which sway in the tropical breezes of the South Pacific? Could it be stereotyping?
It's entirely possible that a Girl Scout troop leader, or possibly, executive, took a trip to the Samoan islands and asked for an authentic Samoan cookie... and was lied to.  Not really a lie in any malicious sense. There is a word in Samoan, pepelo, which means not-quite-truth, and it can be a way of having fun, being conversational, and combating the boredom that comes with living on a small island. 
To understand this sort of not-really-lying, we need to remember Margaret Mead.  Ta'u is one of the three islands which comprise the Manu'a islands group, which also includes 'Ofu and Olosega, pictured above.  Ta'u was made famous by Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist, who did her fieldwork there living among and interviewing Samoan young women as a way to study adolescence in a different cultural context.  In Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), she famously declared that Samoans, unlike Westerners, had a blissful, angst-free adolescence, and enjoyed casual sexual relationships before marriage-- basically that the natives were happy.  Decades later, after her death, another anthropologist, Derek Freeman, attempted to debunk her findings and implied that the natives had actually lied to her.  To prove his thesis, in the early 1980s, Freeman interviewed two of the girls, who had since converted to evangelical Christianity:
"She must have taken it seriously," one of the girls would say of Mead on videotape years later, "but I was only joking. As you know, Samoan girls are terrific liars when it comes to joking. But Margaret accepted our trumped up stories as though they were true." If challenged by Mead, the girls would not have hesitated to tell the truth, but Mead never questioned their stories. The girls, now mature women, swore on the Bible to the truth of what they told Freeman and his colleagues." 

The truth remains an unknowable controversy.  'Ofu is still a place of mainly untouched beauty, paradise on earth.  There's really no place to stay on 'Ofu except for Vaoto Lodge, which you get to by walking across the runway.  
Air Samoa by Linda Shiue 
It's a simple place with a lodge and a few private cabins.  When my husband first visited 'Ofu to do his fieldwork, the owners, Marge and Tito Malae, were on site.  He told me they were ebullient hosts who cooked lovingly for their guests, and served them family style on the long table which took up most of the common room.
Vaoto dining 
A typical night would be spent talking story, playing cards, and learning to sing local songs beneath the starry sky.  But as with everything so glorified, underneath 'Ofu's simple beauty are some secrets and lies, if you're paying attention.  When my husband brought me, his new bride, back for a visit, Marge and Tito were abroad, and in their place was their helper, a British woman who, like many expatriates, was living there because it was at the end of the world, far away from the life she wanted to escape.   We never found out the details of what made her travel so far.  She was nice enough, but she cooked terribly.  Really terribly, as if she was trying to reinforce stereotypes about English food.  Besides the bad food, meals were made awkward by the giggles and knowing glances she exchanged with the one other guest who was there during our stay, a recently engaged (to someone else) young American on his way to meet up with his fiancee.  
The outdoors was also more complex than how it appeared at first glance. The landscape, sunny and blue skied in the daytime, at night turned dark ombre.  Our evening walk back to the lodge from the coral reef where we snorkeled in the daytime led through a palm grove.  In the twilight, the grove was alive with a mysterious sound, which my husband told me was from flying foxes.  "They eat fruit," he said. Another almost-truth-not-quite-lie: he later admitted they were actually bats.  Despite their fruitarianism, had I known they were bats, I would have freaked out, even in the daytime. We talked to our British host about that.  She didn't seem concerned about the bats, but turned pale for another reason.  "You walked through there at night? But didn't you know, it's haunted by aitu?" So many dark layers beneath the sunny exterior. 
Maybe Samoas, the Girl Scout cookie, really are named after Samoa, the archipelago of islands.  Whimsical chocolate swirls atop sunny, toasted coconut, covering a deep, dark, mysterious layer of chocolate. 
But sometimes, a cookie is just a cookie. 
Samoas.  These are just perfect on their own, with an icy cold glass of milk. But if you want to get more creative, make them into a tropical trifle.  An appropriately English toast to our host, who escaped her mysterious past by moving to the other end of the world.
*  *  * 
samoa trifle by Linda Shiue 
Samoa Trifle 
Serves 4.
coconut pudding
1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk
1/2 Tbsp. corn starch  
  1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Combine all ingredients, then bring to a boil.  
Let cool for 20 minutes before assembling trifle.
1 dozen Samoas cookies, coarsely broken
1-1/2 cups whipped cream
cocoa powder 
In clear glasses, alternately layer prepared coconut pudding, Samoa cookie pieces, and whipped cream.  End with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with a sprinkle of cocoa powder.  Chill for at least an hour.
 © Linda Shiue, 2010

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I thought Westerners had a blissful, angst-free adolescence. (Or is it only those who consume peanut butter cookies?)
This is a great post, but I have a special reason for loving it that I will tell you about in a PM. Rated.
Absolutely lovely story and the recipe & photo are great. I made a Samoa cheesecake once from a Girl Scout brochure - a pound and a half of cream cheese and nine whole eggs. Your recipe is a lot saner.
Nicely done... and yum.
Like you, Samoas are my second-favorite Girl Scout cookie. I've never been to Samoa personally, but several of my cousins were born there, so I feel somehow connected.

This is a wonderful story and recipe, Linda. I wish you all the luck in the challenge.
Thanks, all, for your comments.
Steve: Where's the live blogging from the Superbowl?
caroline marie: great, thanks!
Lucy: that Samoa cheesecake recipe is hopefully old, before we cared about overnutrition? But probably tasty.
iamsurly: thank you. I wish I had been in your girl scout troop; sounds like you had a very fun time.
Kathy: thank you. You should have your cousins bring you to Samoa some time. It is so very far away from most everywhere, but singularly beautiful.
I always heard they were named that way because if you ate one you wanted some-more-a, samoa. Kind of like S'mores.
Had to wipe the drool off my keyboard before I could rate this post!

FWIW, I also thought they were called "samoas" because after you eat one, you want "samoa" (some more).
ocularnervosa and hubergal: Like s'mores? Hmm...
I have given up on GS cookies (mainly because several years ago, I ate too much of them and never had a craving since) but this post is almost tempting me to change my mind again! Love the story and the pictures!!
Love the travelogue! And the cookie (by any name)!
They are still great cookies, although, I prefer the Thin Mint from the GSCM: Girl Scout Cookie Mafia.
They are training the most ruthless cold-calling salespeople in history.
rebelmom and julieshanti: thanks for stopping by!
Don Rich: it's true. It's hard to say no to such an eager salespitch.