Sunday, November 8, 2015

Building our home life, from the kitchen's perspective

It's nearing five months since Andrew and I moved into our apartment, and exactly three months since our wedding.  We're gradually figuring out a rhythm for this shared life.  For me, given my household neuroses and the fact that cooking is one of my at-home responsibilities, that means learning how to gauge groceries for two people (volume, nutrition, budget, and consistency vs. novelty) and how to prepare enough meals that are nourishing and enjoyable, without requiring me to spend tons of time in the kitchen.

Since I do like cooking and baking, and I typically find the kitchen to be a therapeutic place, this new life is a great opportunity for me to increase my repertoire, technique, and efficiency.  I've got plenty of support: an enthusiastic eater husband (who has also turned me into a coffee enthusiast), my mother and mother-in-law (two experienced home cooks who have always held demanding jobs), a bounty of inspirational and easy-to-reference cookbooks (e.g. Food52's "Genius Recipes" and anything by Ottolenghi), and food blogs (e.g. Orangette and Heart Of Light) written by practical-minded cooks who are honest about their own time and energy limitations.

Equipment station, pre-Halloween

Andrew and I don't have significant food allergies, with minor limitations being that I'm moderately lactose intolerant and can't eat raw melon or certain tropical fruits.  We try to keep red meat at a minimum, instead relying primarily on chicken, fish, tofu, yogurt, and eggs for protein.  When we do purchase red meat, it's a treat, and we try to buy a sustainably raised product from a reputable butcher.  We are fortunate to have a year-round supply of excellent produce thanks to the great farmers markets nearby, including our favorite: Saturday morning at Virginia Park on Pico Blvd.

About twice a week I try and cook a complete, multiple-dish dinner, with enough volume to support the familiar theme of Leftovers and its variation Leftovers Supplemented With Something Quick/Fresh on other days.  I am getting better at the throw-a-bunch-of-things-into-a-pot-and-add-some-seasoning play.  About once every 7-10 days we have Potsticker Night, wherein we rely on the frozen potstickers from Mitsuwa - surprisingly good - and some steamed vegetables.  We do intermittently get Thai or Persian takeout, especially since we live two blocks from Tehrangeles, or we make an expedition for pho or ramen.  Trying a new restaurant, or returning to a favorite, is typically a weekend activity.

Given all that, here's a speed-round recap of some of my recent cooking successes ("recent" = "in the past two months").  These are preparations and flavor profiles that will be in my pseudo-regular rotation.

Chicken Milanese (Giada's recipe), with eggplant (the thinner Japanese kind, sliced and roasted with garlic).  Leftovers, sliced, make great panini.

Linguine with mixed mushrooms (first iteration shown above): slice and saute crimini, white, and portobello mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil with minced garlic until texture is tender but varied.  (I've also added oyster mushrooms.  Whatever the input mushroom types, the idea is that the softer mushroom types break down enough to form a nice sauce once pasta and pasta water are added, but the firmer mushroom pieces remain intact.)  Salt gently.  Add nearly-al-dente linguine and some pasta water to the pan and cook, tossing intermittently, until pasta is al dente.  Add some finely grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino Romano, toss, and adjust seasoning.  If desired, add some chili pepper flakes.  Add more pasta water as necessary.  (I served this pasta with spinach-kale-strawberry salad the first time I made it, and warm carrot salad another time.)  Leftovers reheat really well.

Stir-fried "king beans" (a.k.a. yard long beans) with tofu and ground turkey: Saute ground turkey (or ground pork) with minced garlic and olive oil until cooked through, seasoning with some soy sauce and a little salt, then set aside.  Meanwhile, drain firm sprouted tofu (from TJ's) and chop into cubes.  Chop beans into 1-in pieces and saute until yielding to teeth but not overly soft.  Add ground pork and tofu cubes, turning heat down slightly, and add additional seasoning to taste (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chili pepper flakes, salt/pepper, sesame oil).  Add some cornstarch dissolved in water.  Toss entire mixture until tofu cubes are a little bit broken down.  Serve with pasta or rice.

Eggplant and tomato salad (left, above, with corn/gai lan/pancetta and sauteed greens): chop regular-sized or baby eggplants into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, and minced garlic, and roast until tender.  Let cool slightly, then toss with chopped heirloom tomato, minced green onion, and a little olive oil and vinegar.  Correct seasoning.

Warm potato salad (top right, above, shown with quick-roasted salmon and sauteed zucchini): starting with small potatoes (I like the tri-color variety bags from the farmers market), cut each in half, then bring to a gentle boil in salted water until easily pierced by a fork.  Dress while still warm with whisked-together Dijon mustard, sesame oil, a little olive oil, green onion, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper.

Carrot salad (adapted from a recipe in Ottolenghi and Tamimi's "Jerusalem"): peel and chop carrots into ~0.75" pieces.  Simmer until a butter knife pierces quite easily.  Dress with any number of possible combinations, e.g. harissa + pepper flakes + a little cumin, or the same dressing as the potato salad above, or just vinegar + oil, etc.

Marion Burros' plum torte (made with blackberries).  Given how many people have raved about this recipe, I used the proscribed amount of sugar, and in fact it was not too sweet (though next time I probably will still reduce the sugar.  I just can't help it.)  The texture and flavor might even be better on day two.

Gluten-free brownies (TJ's flour blend): softer and more crumbly than when made with regular flour, not surprisingly, but very good, especially around the edges and corners.  The centers were possibly more fudge-like in a way, which isn't a bad thing.

Zucchini bread ("My new favorite zucchini bread" on Food52) with toasted pine nuts.

Hamentaschen w/a blend of all-purpose flour, coconut flour, and almond meal (original recipe posted by Molly Yeh).  Texture was definitely different: stickier and softer pre-baking and a little more crumbly right after baking, but by day 2 they had become a little more moist.  I don't use halva spread but I do like using different jams and adding additional bits of filling like a fresh berry or some sliced or chopped nuts.

"Quintessential chocolate chip cookies" by Martha Rose Shulman on NYT Cooking.  I used Callebaut dark chocolate chips (purchased at Surfas in Culver City, though I heard that they're closing in a few months, so I should probably stock up).  I reduced the white sugar to about 80 g, down from 100 g, but I keep the brown sugar at 80 g.  Did I mention that my food scale has markedly improved my baking?  It has.  Also, cookie quality is definitely improved by refrigerating the dough (already shaped into logs and wrapped for easy slicing) for at least 24 hours, and with a sprinkle of flaky finishing salt before baking.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 8: Snorkeling and seafood

Tunnels Beach as seen from the air
Monday, August 17

During our airplane tour on our first full day of vacation, Captain Josh had mentioned that Tunnels Beach on the north side (near Ke'e Beach) was a famously great spot for snorkeling, and we had seen the large reef from the plane.  There was snorkel equipment in our condo, and our snorkeling experience during the Na Pali boat tour had whetted our appetite, so we decided to go to Tunnels with masks and flippers.  On our way out of Kapa'a, we went across the street from our building to Passion Bakery Cafe for their famous macadamia nut sticky bun and a "croisscone," which is supposed to be a croissant-scone hybrid.  Both were very good, though the sticky bun was softer than I expected, and I failed to discern the croissant nature of the croisscone.

Driving north on the Kuhio highway
We again drove north, through Hanalei, until we reached Haena Beach Park and Tunnels Beach.  The reef at Tunnels Beach extends nearly to the edge of the water, and in some spots the water is too shallow to float above the reef, so it took some time for us to figure out a sandy route out into sufficient depth for swimming.  But even before we did so, we could see colorful fish swimming around us, and it only got better once we started swimming in slightly deeper water.  The reef itself was rather bland in color, but after about an hour we had lost count of all the different fish varieties; it was at least 15, in all sorts of vivid color combinations.  There were lots of snorkelers, but the fish didn't seem to mind, though presumably they did mind the spearfishers we saw at one point.

Anyhow, a great morning!  We didn't have an underwater camera, but here's a chart of Hawaiian fish for some perspective.

Our return drive through Hanalei provided a reminder that bad drivers are everywhere, not just in Los Angeles.  Hanalei has many one-lane bridges, on which the etiquette is that about 5-7 cars at a time will cross from one side, while cars going the other direction will pause and wait.  In general it works well, and seems refreshingly pleasant and civilized.  However, there are two bridges near Tunnels that are nearly attached at approximately a 135-degree angle, so cars on both sides have to look very carefully at both bridges before deciding whether to cross.  Several cars (not us!) failed to do so, and we found ourselves in a series of face-offs requiring a balance of caution (backing up into a small off-road area between the bridges) and assertiveness (forcing a recklessly advancing car to back up off the bridge).  Not so fun, but we and our rental car got through unscathed.

After that, some more coffee and lunch was warranted, so we stopped in Hanalei town for coffee and a papaya-coconut-pineapple-ginger smoothie at Hanalei Coffee Roasters, followed by hot dogs with coconut and pineapple relish and lilikoi mustard at Puka Dog (pretty good but forgettable).  We de-sanded at home, rested, and then went to Kilauea Fish Market for a simple but satisfying dinner of salad with grilled Nairagi fish and rice with mochi Ono.

Delicious fish, though maybe ironic after the morning's fish viewing....
The evening ended with one last shave ice at Hee Fat and one last walk along the beach path.

Microclimates at sunset
The next morning we cleaned up the condo, picked up croisscones at Passion Bakery, and then drove to Lihue airport for our flight back to California.  It was a wonderful and much-needed vacation, and we're already looking forward to our next trip to Hawaii.

To my husband: between our wedding and honeymoon, I couldn't have imagined a better beginning to our married life, and I'm grateful every day for your love and our partnership.  May we have many more adventures together!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 7: Botanical mini-golf and Bar Acuda

Kapa'a Multi-Use Path
Sunday, August 16

Our last two days in Kauai were spent relaxing as much as possible.  This morning we slept in, got coffee at the local Java Kai - excellent cold brew coffee and iced macadamia nut lattes - and then walked along the Kapa'a beach path and enjoyed the views and breeze.

With Kauai's famous "Red Dirt"
After getting sweaty in the humidity, we stopped at the Coconut Cup juice bar and got an iced coconut (lots of water inside and a sweet, creamy flavor) before driving to visit the Spouting Horn blowhole in Poipu.  We shared a quick plate lunch of shrimp and mahi mahi at Sueoka Snack Shop (a dubious-looking but tasty and cheap lunch spot attached to Sueoka Market, which looks like it's been there forever), and then got to the blowhole.  Turns out it's kind of a tourist trap: certainly entertaining to see the waves crash and the water vent upward a few seconds later, but that's in fact all there is to it, plus a bunch of souvenir stands.  You could say that it kind of blows.

We returned to the apartment and whiled away some time in the air-conditioning, and I started writing this travelogue.  Around 4:30pm we again drove north, this time to play mini golf at Kauai Mini Golf in Kilauea.  Years ago we had gone to the mini golf course in Redwood City but were sorely disappointed by the underwhelming and questionably maintained course, its proximity to the 101 freeway, and the streams of unruly pre-teens everywhere.  However, Kauai Mini Golf was the polar opposite, and indeed the best mini golf course either of us had ever been to.

It's essentially mini-golf built in a botanical garden, with informative placards at every hole describing aspects of Hawaii's history and the native plants on the islands (and represented in the garden).  Rather pricey at $18/person, but as we weren't planning on visiting any of the large botanical gardens on the island (there are three or four), we thought it was worth it.

We continued into Hanalei, encountering a sudden rainstorm as we parked at the Hanalei Pier and walked out to the covered deck at the end.  The view of Hanalei Bay and the valley is somewhat similar to the view from the St. Regis, but the location is within the bay and, conveniently, comes without a price tag.

The rain passed just as quickly as it had arrived, and we watched the clouds recede over the cliffs and the sun go down while stand-up paddleboarders meandered across the water and a couple small boats puttered by.

Dinner that evening was at Bar Acuda, a modern/local tapas restaurant started about nine years ago by the chef who previously owned the Slow Club in San Francisco.  As the Slow Club was where I had my first Big Foodie Experience, a memorable food festival dinner around 2008 that included the best roast chicken (with oyster mushrooms and polenta) that I had ever had, and since Andrew and I are both fond of the Bay Area food scene, Bar Acuda seemed to be an obvious must-visit for us.  It's a very popular restaurant and was fully booked, so it was good to have reservations weeks in advance. We were seated at a table on the deck - the restaurant is basically open to the exterior, and the "indoors" temperature is actually quite hot compared to the exterior.

We ordered as follows: tropical sangria (white wine with pineapple juice and rum), North Shore honeycomb with Humboldt Fog aged goat cheese (a clear NorCal shoutout) and Fuji apple; pizzetta with oyster mushrooms, ricotta salata, and sweet onion; flank steak with black pepper pineapple relish; and local Ono with daikon, carrot, and cilantro oil.  The honeycomb plate was excellent; I'm not generally a goat cheese fan, but this flavor combination was quite perfect.

The flank steak was also excellent, as it was much more tender and juicy than other flank steaks I'd tried, and the black pepper pineapple flavors lent it a tropical and Chinese (Szechuan in particular) hybrid personality.  The pizzetta was very good, though nothing too special.

The Ono was a little disappointing in that the preparation seemed to render this particular fish too dry.  The menu had advertised Uku fish, but the catch of the day was Ono, so perhaps the Uku would have been more harmonious.

Service was initially polished, but dropped off after the flank steak was served.  There was a long gap before the Ono, which was the last dish, and then after that plate was cleared, our server disappeared for over 15 minutes before returning to ask about dessert.  We had thought about dessert, but after the wait, we decided to simply get the check.  Between the variable quality of the dishes - at these tapas prices, one should expect a local fish preparation to be excellent - and the variable service, I would give a partial recommendation for Bar Acuda.  I think it was worth trying and we did enjoy our meal, but our expectations may have been a little too high.  It doesn't seem like Bar Acuda has much competition on the island, and it was apparently sold out on the night we went, so although it stands out for its style and trendiness within the local food scene, it probably doesn't have to be consistently great in order to thrive.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 6: River kayaking and rum-ful recovery

Saturday, August 15, 2015

For this morning we had planned our last "adventure," which turned out to be more rigorous than we intended, in a different way.  Wailua Kayak Adventures is a friendly, family-run company that has been offering river kayak tours for 20-something years, and at a very reasonable price (a guided tour with them was not much more than the cost of renting a two-person kayak).  Our tour group of seven people assembled at the office to sign waiver forms at 6:45am, and then by 7:20am we were getting into our kayaks at the marina.  Our guide was Judah, a remarkably low-key man who moved from the Los Angeles area to Kauai in 1992, and has since then worked as a kayak guide (both river and sea), a radio announcer, and a wedding officiant.

One of the little tributaries off the main river.
We kayaked up the river for about 40 minutes, which provided a very adequate upper-body workout.  As we were the first group on the river that morning, it felt quite serene and even meditative as we paddled past the tree-blanketed banks and the nearby hills.  We then went on a muddy but easy one-mile loop through the jungle; having our water shoes - purchased inexpensively on Amazon - was very helpful here.

Fern towers
Judah pointed out pig holes (Kauai's wild pig population is three times the size of the human population), a variety of tropical plants (including Awapuhi ginger and firecracker ferns), and also showed us the "green room," which is a mystical-looking clearing with a colonnade of fern towers that once apparently grew together into a huge fern wall, but have been reduced to columns by wind storms.  Then, we kayaked to a swimming hole with a cliff jump, which I didn't try but enjoyed watching:

Not us.

Finally, we kayaked back to the marina, this time against the wind, and really did a number on our arms and shoulders.  My paddling technique probably worsened the more tired I became.  Andrew and I were glad, many times over, that we had chosen a boat tour of the Na Pali coast instead of the 17-mile sea kayak tour, which we had originally considered in a fit of presumption and was the inspiration for "Operation Kauai Thunder."  (Several days of recovery later, Andrew mused that "we could have done it," but I attributed this to retrospective delusion/confidence.  Regardless, go team!  This blog post brought to you by Advil.)

We were back at the marina by 11:00 am and headed home to clean up, followed by lunch at Pono Market and another Hee Fat shave ice.

Then we drove south to Kilohana, a former plantation that is now a historical site / tourist trap / fancy restaurant and also home to the Koloa Rum Company and its free tastings.  I was feeling sub-par because of a combination of Benadryl (to counteract the mosquito welts gained the previous day) and massive lactic acid release from my forearms, though I hadn't yet realized the latter's severity at the time of rum tasting.  The rums were certainly good, though, especially the coconut rum, and it was fun to learn about the differences in color and production.

Because the answer to feeling over-adventured is obviously to eat even more dessert, we went to The Right Slice pie shop in Lihue and got two slices of pie (tangelo and lilikoi cheesecake), which we ate at home before taking long naps.

Dinner was also prepared and eaten at home, followed by back-to-back Netflix viewings of two documentaries about climbing expeditions on K2.  Vivid and somber films about dangerous mountain climbing are a shared interest in our household (we recommend "K2: Siren of the Himalayas" and "Touching The Void," among others).  They certainly put our Kauai day trips into perspective.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 5: In which we test our adventuring mettle

Outbound view on Kalalau Trail
Friday, August 14, 2015

We knew that hiking the legendary Kalalau Trail, or at least the first two miles of it, was a must-do for our vacation.  The first section of the trail extends from Ke'e beach, which is the end of the Kuhio highway on the island's north side, to Hanakapi'ai beach, which is only accessible via water or the trail.  Less certain for us was the idea of extending our hike by taking the Hanakapi'ai Valley Trail, which is another two miles (each way) from the beach to the eponymous waterfall.  Four miles doesn't sound like much, but various online and print guides described this trail as "difficult," "technical," "can be dangerous," and "for those with the time and endurance."  We had never hiked longer than 6.5 miles together, and that was on two instances: 1) the Awaawapuhi trail from two days prior, and 2) a Pinnacles National Monument trail a couple years prior.  Eight miles with "technical" stretches seemed like, well, a stretch, even with our newlywed honeymoon enthusiasm (go team!).

Near the beginning
The outbound Kalalau hike provides quick satisfaction, as a rapid ascent up along the cliff soon offers big "oohs" and "aahs."  Footing had to be careful, but not dangerously so since we had a dry day.  Crazy views of the coastline and the otherworldly iridescence of the blue water far below:

No post-processing

Again, no post-processing

Eventually it's a downward hike with switchbacks to the beach, which was quite full of hikers relaxing, and to my surprise also contained a large number of rock towers.  Evidently these are created by hikers, though if I remember correctly, the ancient Hawaiians also made larger rock towers as tributes to the god Lono.

This beach is where the Hanakaipi'ai stream (from the waterfall) flows into the ocean, and it's all very idyllic:

For some unclear reasons involving a back-and-forth of "What do you want to do?" and "Maybe we should try it?" and "Are you sure?," we decided to try out the valley trail to the waterfall.  We initially thought we'd just hike to a point where we could get a glimpse of the waterfall, but as the trail progressed, the waterfall was nowhere in sight, and my mood worsened noticeably.  Let's just say that I was not at my finest in terms of maturity, but reacted by stubbornly insist that we "hike it out."  It was mostly to prove that we could, since we'd already come so far, and we both felt it would be a shame if we didn't get to see the waterfall after all that effort.  (And, I admit, I didn't want to be a wimp.)

Fast forward through a lot of muddy rocks, many pounds of fallen/smashed/rotting guava adding to the slippery terrain (and sometimes perfuming the air nicely if mockingly), much maneuvering over and between boulders, and a couple stream crossings.  We finally got to a point where were quite near to the waterfall and could see it clearly.  This was tantalizingly close to the actual end of the trail, where the waterfall meets its pool below and originates the stream; we were maybe an eighth of a mile away or less, based on later study of the trail map.

Look!  The waterfall!  Let's be extra chipper for a selfie!
But after glancing up the trail and seeing an even more imposing stretch of smooth rock waiting to be climbed, and my involuntary whimper in response, we decided the risk of injury had become too great.  (Actually, I cried a little and said "This is no longer fun."  Andrew was very reassuring about this outburst.)  And so we sat on some rocks in the beautiful stream with terraced pools and smaller waterfalls all around, soaked our feet in the bubbles of clear water, ate granola bars, and reapplied sunscreen.

Best foot spa ever
My husband would, at this time, like to offer his account of this hike, which runs as follows: "We made it [to the waterfall]. It was beautiful, it was paradise, and we recommend it to everyone." (He also thinks that "Operation Kauai Thunder" is a terrible name for an operation.)  We did originally agree that this single staunch sentence would be our shared story from Kalalau day, but my guilt at having actually cried during our hike necessitates the absolution of writing a more honest account for my ~7 readers.

After the bubbly paradise of the hike's midpoint, we turned back toward the beach. At one point we encountered a family with two kids, around 10 years of age, and saw that the daughter had apparently fallen and hit her head on a rock.  She was very upset but seemed physically fine aside from a couple scrapes on her legs, so after a couple easy questions about vision (normal), dizziness (none), pounding headache (none), and nausea (none), we continued along the trail.  Hopefully she was completely recovered after a few more minutes, and I didn't forget to ask anything obvious!

We made it back to Hanakapi'ai beach relatively efficiently, only getting one shoe each soaked during the stream crossings.  At the beach we paused for some more sunscreen and bandaids-on-blisters, and then headed uphill back toward Ke'e beach.  At this point the sun felt particularly strong, along with the humidity - the sea breezes don't extend inland to the valley area near the beach - and we realized that we should have packed more water.  There were two attractive trickles of freshwater coming down to the trail around the last (first) mile, but we didn't think it wise to drink that without filtration.

Fortunately, with some breaks, the eventual strong breezes along the cliffside, and some water rationing, we made it back to the trailhead. Our lunch, packed in a cooler in the car trunk, included some pineapple that tasted like the best fruit imaginable.

It was close to 3:00 pm when we finished, or nearly six hours after we had started.  That works out to about 1.25 miles per hour, which is rather slow, but I think respectable given the climate and trail difficulty, and we passed far more groups than passed us.  Would I do it again?  The first section of the Kalalau trail, definitely yes, as those views can only be seen from the trail or by boat or plane (or helicopter) tour.  With the Hanakapi'ai trail extension, possibly, but with strong caveats: I would want to bring a spare pair of hiking socks in addition to the ones I wore, which were already helpful; an additional 16+ oz of water each; and more mental preparation for the out-and-back nature of the trail.  It might have been good to pack lunch and actually eat that at the midpoint instead of snacking in the middle and eating a late lunch afterward.  Wearing reliable hiking shoes was key (I couldn't believe it when we saw some outbound hikers in flip-flops during our return hike), as was having a great hiking partner.  I will say without reservation that, even with the frustrations mid-trail, it was ultimately a fun adventure to share with Andrew, and I'm very happy that we "conquered" it together.

On our way back to the apartment we stopped at Hee Fat General Store in old town Kapa'a for the first of several shave ices during the weekend.  This store has some of the best shave ice on the island, which I think is because of the fine, powdery ice and also the option for syrups made from real fruit.  Over the next few days we tried the guava, mango, passionfruit, pineapple, and coconut flavors (you can get up to four at once), and always with vanilla macadamia nut ice cream at the bottom.  One shave ice is plenty big enough to share.

For dinner that night we got takeout from Kauai Family Cafe, which advertises local and Filipino food. The restaurant is not much to look at, but prices are very reasonable and the generously-portioned food is delicious.  We got Kalua pork (served with rice and half of a very ripe, bright orange mango) and vegetarian Pancit noodles, and ate all of it with some steamed vegetables and local beer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 4: Na Pali sail and tea at Hanalei

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We drove south again today, this time to the boat harbor in Port Allen, for our sail and snorkel trip on the Na Pali coast.  We had booked a tour with Captain Andy's company based on its solid reviews online, and because the 65-foot catamarans provide a smoother sailing experience than smaller boats or rigid hull inflatables.  The boat felt reasonably but not excessively full, with a mix of couples and families (and some fortunately well-behaved children).  In addition to the skipper, Captain Bernard, there were three other crew members on board (Luke, Heather, and Roy).  All were confident, helpful, and funny.  The cabin area was spacious enough for everyone to stow their bags, and there was plenty of cushioned seating on the exterior decks.  Andrew and I quickly discovered that the upper-level navigation deck had a great seating area that felt quieter than the main deck, so we sat there for most of the tour.

Cinnamon buns, pineapple, and coffee started off the trip as we left Port Allen.  Off the southern coast, near the old sugar mills, we found a big pod of spinner dolphins that are apparently regular inhabitants of those waters.  Some were sleeping, but quite a few were happy to frolic in the breakwater coming from the boats, and provided an exciting show.  We rounded the bend to the U.S. Navy property and then Polihale Beach, and then began our trip up along the Na Pali.  After the buttery white brightness of Polihale Beach, the cliffs are jarring in their beauty.  I'll let pictures do the talking.

Eventually, the crew unfurled the sails, and we sailed south along the coast until we had returned to the designated snorkeling spot.  This was my first time snorkeling, so I was glad of the crew's short lesson (and the fact that Andrew is an experienced snorkeler), and of the calm, clear water in the cove.  There weren't very many fish, but certainly enough to make it interesting, and the adequate depth meant that I didn't have to worry about accidentally hitting coral.  After this first snorkel experience I was definitely excited for more.

Lunch on the boat was a delicious barbecue spread of burgers (or chicken), cole slaw, baked beans, drinks, and eventually some freshly baked macadamia nut cookies.  We basked in the sun for the bumpier ride back to Port Allen.

After cleaning up and resting a bit at the apartment, we then drove north to Princeville, thus nearly circumnavigating the island in one day.  I had made a reservation for afternoon tea at the St. Regis Princeville, which is apparently the only place for afternoon tea on Kauai.  As such, I didn't have great expectations, but we had heard that this hotel, which overlooks Hanalei Bay and the ocean beyond, was possibly the best place on the island to watch a spectacular sunset.

Tea was set up at a low table in the living room-like bar area, facing the picture windows with the valley and bay view.  We chose English Breakfast and Chai teas (bagged but still quite good, with hot water proferred regularly), and also shared a glass of champagne.  Sandwiches were roasted vegetable, roast beef, curried chicken, smoked chicken, smoked salmon, salmon with cucumber, and another which I'm forgetting.  A couple were on the dry side, but all the flavors were clear.  Next came an assortment of scones: chocolate chip with lime zest, pineapple, and guava, served with clotted cream, lemon curd, raspberry preserves, and orange marmalade.  I liked that our server, Jeffrey, paced out the courses in a leisurely but still careful fashion, and also suggested that we take some of the scones home so that we could fully enjoy the desserts.

The scones were excellent, especially the guava scone, and I was happy that they made Andrew's first afternoon tea experience a successful one.  (This, despite the fact that toward the end of tea I made a clumsy movement and knocked over the champagne, some of which spilled into Andrew's half-full teacup.  Kind husband that he is, he gallantly insisted that this new beverage blend tasted fine.)

We finished with an assortment of tarts and other desserts: pineapple tart, mango tart, guava macaron, coconut macaroon, chocolate cream tart (with dark chocolate pearls), lemon meringue tart, mixed fruit tart, and some chocolate cake.  With the exception of the chocolate cake, which was forgettable, the tarts were all freshly made, appropriately delicate and flavorful, and generally pleasing to these fruit tart fans.

After tea, we decided to move to the seating area on the terrace, having heard that it would become very crowded right before the sunset. It was still quite warm and humid as we sat down outside, but sure enough, the place filled up rapidly as the temperature dropped. Eventually we decided on two Mai Tais (their signature drink, and indeed well-made), and watched the entire valley and oceanscape fill with a rich golden-pink glow.

The sunset was every bit as lovely as we had hoped, and we finally headed home after the nightly champagne sabering: amusing if gimmicky, as the director of food and beverage services somehow tied together the St. Regis' champagne sabering tradition with the ancient Hawaiians' tradition of lighting fires on the Na Pali cliffs and tossing burning brands into the ocean to welcome visiting royalty into Hanalei Bay.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 3: Awaawapuhi and Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Today was our first "adventure" day. We got an early start with a hearty breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee Company: great coffee, as expected, with French toast and an egg scramble.  The drive up Waimea Canyon Road to the Awaawapuhi trailhead at Mile 17 took a lot longer than expected, because it's very winding and sometimes narrow, but there are plenty of scenic lookouts along the way.  We were the third car in the parking area and started hiking around 9:00am. The first part of the trail is through a forested area and quickly transitions into muddy and slippery downhills. Then it levels off somewhat, and views of the surrounding valley and coast start to emerge.  The last section of the trail is quite dry and sunny.

About 2/3 of the way to the lookout

The destination is the Awaawapuhi lookout, which feels like a lookout on the edge of the world.  On the left (south) side is the lush green valley, with a red dirt cliff edge.  On the right (north) side is a dark, forboding-looking cliff, with its top shrouded in clouds.  Directly in front is the open ocean.

Awaawapuhi lookout
Cliffs on the north side
It's quite a spot for a pineapple break and some bird watching before the mostly-uphill hike back to the trailhead, though the uphill muddy stretch was in some ways easier to maintain safe footing than the downhill.

Total mileage was 6.5.  On the return hike we passed about eight other hiking groups, and the parking lot was full at the trailhead, so getting an early start is a wise idea.

Beautiful tropical plants abound.
On the way back down Waimea Canyon Road, we stopped alongside the road for one view of the canyon, and again at the Waimea Canyon Lookout at Mile 11.  This spot affords a spectacular view of much of the canyon, and it's hard to adequately describe the variety of colors and shadows that saturate the panorama.  Mark Twain christened this canyon the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," and it's easy to see why, but at the same time I think the moniker doesn't do this landscape justice.

Wild chickens are everywhere on Kauai.
After returning to Hanapepe town, we stopped for a late lunch at Ishihara Market. Their hot lunch service had already ended, but fortunately the deli was happy to pack up some ahi poke, seaweed salad, and two scoops of rice for us to eat at the picnic tables outside.  Next, we drove to the original Lappert's ice cream shop and tried two of their signature flavors, including the Kauai pie (coffee ice cream with coconut, fudge, macadamia nuts, and a couple other add-ins). It was tasty but actually too sweet for my palate.  Adjacent was a Hawaiian sea salt company and also the Kauai Cookie Company (we liked the macadamia shortbread), and across the street was Wong's Chinese Restaurant, where we picked up a slice of their famous lilikoi (passionfruit) chiffon pie.

Dinner tonight was cooked at home and eaten on our lanai: ravioli with kale pesto and steamed vegetables, Old Fashioneds to drink, and the lilikoi pie for dessert after the sun had set.