I’ve put off writing this blog entry. Mostly because I’ve been in denial since arriving back from my vacation in Hawaii that I’m still not on vacation. I arrived back home a couple of Sundays ago and let me tell you I was a GRUMP at work the next day (more than my usual pre-caffeine grump – my coworker even emailed me to ask me “hey. you ok?” in which I had to reply back “Fine. Just uncomfortable wearing shoes not flip flops.”) I think writing this blog entry would sort of finalize the deal-o that I’m back home to my (some what) normal life. Luckily, while on vacation I made some made crazy moist tropical island inspired Pineapple-Mango Muffins with Macadamia Nut Crumb Topping in the condo we were renting on Kauai and now I know that I can make them at home I will instantly transport myself back to Hawaii and this trip, except without the sand and the mosquitos. Well sort of. OK, it’s a sad conciliation prize, but I’ll take what I can get right?
So a couple of weeks ago, AJ and I packed up our bags and headed out to a MUCH needed vacation. We hadn’t had a proper vacation in about two years or so, and we initially had grandiose plans to travel internationally. Our first thought was Southeast Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and if we could squeeze it in, Laos. But when we first were thinking of it, Thailand was the main hub into/out of Southeast Asia and they weren’t the most stable (what with the riots and all). AJ said “I’m sure everything will settle down by the time we go!” but then we thought better of the gamble and decided that the trip was for another time.
Then we thought about Greece, but around that time they started having financial troubles and though that might be to our advantage as tourist it all started to sound complicated going to a country that was on the brink of bankruptcy and neither of us had the time nor inclination to do the research to figure out a big international trip anyway.
So we “settled” on Hawaii. Which isn’t really settling if you think about it as Hawaii is pretty fantastic (that’s the view from our condo above – really it’s not a bad “conciliation prize” if you think about it). It’s part of the US and that meant we didn’t need to renew our passports (which sadly has lapsed – I really really need to get some photos taken, after all who knows when you have the opportunity to to jet/boat off to foreign soil?). Hawaiians speak the same language as we do AND they take our money (which is actually THEIR money too, now that I think about it). It’s almost like traveling to a foreign country, but not really because they are American’s as well and this is probably offending Hawaiians so I’m going to stop rambling about it now other than to say I was excited to go to Hawaii.
Anyway, we picked July 4th weekend as I would get an extra day off and not have to use one of my vacation day but when we arrived in Honolulu we quickly realized that we weren’t the only people who had that idea. It was overrun with tourists and frat boys/sorority girls, all partying hard. AJ and I don’t party hard. We politely, ever so subtly, drink our top shelf cocktails (well fine, I drink mocktails as I am an extremely boring drunk and tend to fall asleep) and then we go to sleep relatively early. It was not necessarily a good fit.
Complicating things more was the fact that we had pricelined a hotel that shall remain nameless (oh fine, it was the Hyatt Regency on Waikiki) and though we got a decent price (decent being relative, after all it was Hawaii), it caught on fire while we were staying there, and we had to evacuate the hotel at 4am.
True story. There’s nothing like waking up from a dead sleep with the fire alarm blaring and an announcement on the blaring intercom to not panic but please evacuate by the stairway in a calm collect manner. However, one advantage of having the cheap rooms – we only had to climb down 11 flights of smoked filled stairs. Our fancy vacation friends* had to climb down 28 flights of smoked filled stairs.
*Side note. What are vacation friends? Oh you know, they are the sort of people you meet at the bar or at the beach or on some adventure-trip hiking or kayaking and end up hang out with whilst on vacation having a grand time all the while and swear you will keep in touch with them once the vacation ends, but then you never really do. We had met these vacation friends at a gay boat cruise mixer (see what straight people miss out on? Sure you guys can get legally married and all that, but you guys don’t get the opportunity to go on an one-hour boat cruise, drinking weak mai-tais and mingle with other gays while listening to Lady Gaga blaring. I know you are jealous) and they happen to be staying at the Hyatt Regency as well.
The vacation friends later invited us up to the Regency Club which apparently is only accessible if you are fancy and rich. The Regency club offers complimentary nibbly food (I immediately loaded up a too small plate full of finger foods even though I wasn’t hungry because, hey it was free) as well as an open bar (this was less impressive to me as I stated above that I don’t really drink, but AJ certainly took advantage having his fair share of martini’s, mai-tais that weren’t weak and wine). It all made me wonder why AJ and I aren’t fancy enough to have access to the Regency Club but then AJ gently reminded me with the word “priceline” and then I remembered. We’re cheap.
Anyway, despite the ridiculousness of the hotel situation and the Disney meets Frat Party feel of Waikiki, we still had a good time. The aforementioned gay boat cruise was actually really fun, and we met some great people (the vacation friends, a great lawyer from New York who worked on the current gay marriage case in the federal courts, a superintendent from a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a handful of older lesbians who were supremely amused by all the boisterous gay men they were on a boat with). The highlight of the boat ride, however, wasn’t the jumping into the ocean for a swim (which was fun, but since I’m not a great swimmer, also was relatively short) but was the school of dolphins who swam right under us and hung out with us for awhile. I wanted to jump in and swim with them, but the boat was on a schedule and couldn’t stop for that long…
We took a cab over to Diamond Head and hiked Diamond Head (that’s the view from Diamond Head below) and got a great panoramic view of Honolulu, and then we rented a convertible for a day and drove around the island, ending up on the North Shore where we saw the tail end of their annual Independence Day parade. Later that day we had a lovely brunch where we sat next to the gay contingency of the parade (this was a table of 12 – including a fabulous woman who was wearing a button that said “I Love My Gay Son”). Apparently there were only 12 gay people in the North Shore of Oahu, and we saw all of them. Go figure.
The next day we flew off to Kauai which was WAY more what we thought our Hawaiian vacation was going to be like. Well sort of. I absolutely fell in love with the lush tropical island and the sleepy small towns that dotted the outer rim. We stayed in Kapaa which is smack in the middle of the Eastern Side of the island. The center of the island (something like 80% of the island) is rainforest (either private land or federal park reserve, but either way it’s nearly impossible to get to). The only way to see it is via helicopter ride.
So that’s what AJ and I did, immediately booking one! It was the best money I ever spent. REALLY. It was ridiculously expensive, but if you can afford it, you have to do it. Afterwards, AJ turned to me and said “If I had to choose to do that again or go back to French Laundry, I’d do that again.” I kinda had to agree with him. Though I’ve been to French Laundry twice, so I probably don’t really need to go again. But the helicopter ride…worth every penny.
The helicopter ride was only an hour and it pretty much felt like it was over in a minute. Everyone we met asked us if we were scared (we also had chosen to do the helicopter ride without doors which freaked people out even more when we tell them that, but our tour book said you get a better view, and yeah you do!). The reality is, it probably is a little scary, but SO awe inspiring that you pretty much forget all your fears. At least I did. My camera’s card filled up in the first 15 minutes (yeah, I was taking that many pictures) and after five seconds of being totally annoyed with myself, I promptly forgot about it and in the end it was probably for the best. I truly lived in the moment and experience the helicopter ride as it happened.
AJ was a little more cautious (and had his big DSLR camera) but I was sticking my head out the helicopter and just looking all over the place at the amazing island. It’s a natural high that is impossible to describe, other than the sheer glory of the mountains, the waterfalls, the rainforest, the trees, the rivers and valleys invoke a near religious experience of magnitude. I was giddy for hours afterwards. Hell, I’m giddy right now thinking about the ride and looking at the pictures again!
Kauai is pretty amazing and full of little gorgeous surprises. Take our first day there. We flew in at 11am, and rented the car, went and got a great meal (AJ had his IDEAL lunch, a sandwich sampler platter!) checked into our condo and then went for a ride around the island. We ended up driving up to Wailua Falls, and then driving around for awhile trying to find another waterfall. We drove around endlessly and at one point I turned to AJ and said “you realize we are completely ignoring TLC’s advice and are chasing waterfalls.” He pointedly ignored me as this is a song that he always hated (“But you CAN chase waterfalls! They are physical things! You CAN’T chase rainbows. They don’t have material substance. Waterfalls do!” is something he rants about when the song comes up).
In the end we arrived on some poor guy’s private driveway, and he pointed us in the right direction, we hiked down a well worn path in a bamboo jungle, to find the waterfall with an awesome pool that it fell into. A couple from Toronto were there and the guy was jumping off the waterfall cliff directly into the pool and then climbing out and swinging on a rope tarzaning into the pool as well. It was pretty amazing and made me realize that this island has so much to offer and there was no way we were going to see it all.
The other “must do” thing that we were told to do besides the helicopter ride was go on a boat ride along the Na Pali Coast. After doing it, I understand why. The sheer beauty of the coast from a boat is a completely different experience than from the air. The magnitude and the towering cliffs and beaches and formations are stunning and awesome. Luckily I had my sea legs, because some of the passengers got a little green around the gills on the ride, but I had a blast going into sea caves and snorkeling from the boat, swimming with the turtles. They pointed out the trail that you can take from the most northern part of the island. It’s an 11 mile, 8 hour hike out to a desolate beach, where you have to camp out overnight before heading back and one of these days AJ and I are going to do it. At least half of it, as my friend Jane said you can book a boat to pick you up from the beach so you don’t have to hike back. I like that idea.
There’s tons of hiking on the island and we drove up to the Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon” of the Pacific. Considering there are no other canyons in the Pacific, it’s a dubious title, but AJ assured me, who has not been to the Grand Canyon, that the Waimea Canyon was equally as stunning as the Grand Canyon (though they are both different. We need to go to the Grand Canyon. I’m putting that on my list). The light was just fantastic, as the day progressed, changing the colors of the canyon, and though we only hiked halfway down a very short 1 mile trail (it was very muddy, and we did not come prepared for hiking) I pretty much used and abused the words “stunning” “gorgeous” “amazing” until AJ started to mock me for it. But really how can anyone not be in awe?
Our friends had warned us that there wasn’t much to do in Kauai after 8:30pm, but since we were always our trying to catch the best sunset we didn’t end up coming home until around 10:30 or so. Our friends Peter and Grant, the fanciest people we know, claimed it was from the Princeville St. Regis. You can sit on the deck drinking a martini and nibbling on expensive appetizers and watch a fantastic sunset there.
However a local waitress at a great Pizza joint named Casa Bianca in Kapaa (if you are on Kauai go check it out, excellent pizza!) who had just moved from the Bronx six months ago claimed the best sunset was from the Poihale State Park beach on the western side, which required you going “off road” onto an unpaved EXTREMELY rocky pathway, for about 5 to 6 miles to get to. We made it 4 miles in our lowriding convertible mustang and then gave up because we knew we wouldn’t get to the beach in time. Sadness.
However, we did watch the sunset from the north shore of Ke’e Beach and that pretty much was our favorite sunset hands down. It’s not that the St. Regis in Princeville isn’t amazing. It’s that the Ke’e Beach had the Na Pali coast on the left of it, and the sunset over the ocean was just breathtaking. Plus you’re on a beach, which is the epitome of what a Hawaii vacation is suppose to be about. Also it’s cheaper than the St. Regis, though there isn’t complimentary parking I guess.
In our sparetime, when weren’t dangling out of helicopters, riding the waves of the ocean on the Na Pali coastline or hiking down a canyon we hung out at our fantastic condo we forced ourselves to spend one day (just one) at the beach and not do anything else. We ended up picking out Larsen’s Beach, which was pretty hidden away from the other beaches. We were one of about six other people on a fairly large strip of sand. We lounged about, hung out in the water for a little bit, and basically just spent time relaxing. We later found out that Larsen’s beach is where they filmed Gilligan’s Island. Which explains why I had such a strong desire to put my hair in pigtails and wear gingham that day.
At the condo, I decided that I had to take advantage of the tropical fruit and bake something. The kitchen was surprisingly well stocked (hello rice cooker! hello knife sharpener! hello mezzaluna knife!) I really REALLY wanted to make a POG inspired muffin. POG is a tropical juice that you can pretty much get anywhere on the Hawaii islands. It stands for Papaya (or sometimes Pineapple), Orange and Guava juice. Sadly I couldn’t hit any farmers markets and the grocery stores refuse to carry guava (the stocker said that there was no demand as guavas are full of seeds, and directed me to a frozen concentrate guava nectar that was 90% corn syrup, 10% juice. No thank you).
So I did the next best thing. I made a POM muffin. Pineapple, Orange and Mango. You work with what you got right? They turned out pretty good. Moist, tropical tasting, and perfect with a cup of Kona or Kauai Bean Coffee in the morning, before running out to hike, waterfall hunt or ride the ocean waves.
Kauai. I love you. I will be back soon. Until then. I will always have these muffins.
Whilst baking these, I listened to the ocean crashing into the surf from our condo.
Oh yeah, and if you want to see more pictures from Hawaii, check out AJ’s flickr set. These are a small selection (~90) of about 2500+ photos he and I took….Who knows when we’ll get through processing them all. But that set is a nice sneak peak.
Hawaii Inspired POM (Pineapple, Orange and Mango) not POG Muffins with Macadamia Nut Crumb Topping
for muffin batter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
zest of one large orange
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup pineapple chopped
1/2 cup mango chopped
3/4 cups pineapple chopped fine or crushed
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
2 Tbsp orange juice
1 1/2 cups powdered (confectionary) sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F
2. Combine the pineapple/mango/orange juice, milk, vanilla and orange zest. Put aside.
3. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powde, salt and cinnamon together.
4. Toss the chopped pineapple and mango into the flour mixture and toss the together to coat the fruit. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture
5. Whisk the milk liquid and the egg together. Add the melted butter and whisk until combined. Pour the liquid into the center of the well.
6. Using a large spatula, gently stir the batter together until it is just moist. Do not overmix (the batter will still have pockets of flour, that’s ok). If you overmix, you’ll end up with a tough rock of a muffin. Not good.
7. Divide the reserved 3/4 cups chopped pineapple over the muffin batter.
8. Toss the remaining topping ingredients together (butter, binnamon, brown sugar, flour, macadamia nuts) until they clump together. Divide and sprinkle the topping over the muffins (over the pineapple).
9. Bake for 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick stick in the side of the muffin comes out clean (the muffins will be super moist because of all the fruit in the center as the pineapple sinks, so stick the toothpick sort of off center to see if it’s done)
10. Cool the muffin in the tin for 10 minutes and remove to a rack to cool to room temperature. As they cool make the glaze by mixing the orange juice, melted butter and powdered sugar together. If the glaze is too runny, add more powdered sugar 1 Tbsp at a time. If the glaze is too thick add orange juice 1/2 tsp at at time until it thins out.
11. Drizzle the glaze over the muffins when they have cooled. Enjoy on a lanai with palm trees outside and the ocean waves splashing in the background.
Note: Reserve the pineapple juice and the mango juice from the chopping. You may or may not have enough juice to fill 1/4 cup. If you have enough, then use that. If you need to fill up 1/4 cup, add orange juice from the orange.