Salted Rum Caramel Bars with Macadamia Shortbread and How I Nearly Broke my Neck in Maui

by Irvin on September 19, 2011 · 31 comments

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My sister had come with her husband to Hawaii (along with my parents) for a late “honeymoon” – having married back in October of last year. Being newlyweds, they didn’t have much disposable money between the two of them, so when the opportunity to fly out to Hawaii, with a free place to stay (albeit with my parents, not the most romantic, but still a free place) they lept at the chance, a makeshift honeymoon vacation. AJ and I were thrilled with the idea of them coming and spending their honeymoon with us. Near the end of their trip, I made them Salted Rum Caramel Bars with Macadamia Shortbread, hoping that they would remember these bars as a sweet ending to an eventful vacation.

Salted Rum Caramel Bars with Macadamia Shortbread jpg

Salted Rum Caramel Bars with Macadamia Shortbread, which I made for a party back in SF.

The one problem with a tropical island vacation for my sister, was that she happened to be deathly afraid of the ocean – or as she said – “we’re not really friends right now but we’re trying to get along.” She wasn’t always this way. I have fond memories of her playing in the ocean as a child in Virginia, jumping up to catch waves with friends of our cousins on Myrtle Beach. This all changed in a recent trip to Delaware where a particularly powerful wave hit her, knocking her down and rendering her topless for all the beach to see. It didn’t help that my sister couldn’t hear her new husband speaking to her from the beach where he stood, trying to tell her subtly that she was topless, until finally he had to yell out loud at the top of his lungs “YOUR TOP!” thereby ensuring everyone on the beach would turn to witness her in all her glory. Thus, the first day she arrived in Hawaii, we went to the beach and she stood there, feet in the water, unable to venture farther out in the water, staring at the ocean, trying to determine if the water really was her friend or foe.

Natatia and Peter posing at the beach...far away from the water. jpg

Natatia and Peter posing at the beach...far away from the water.

That said, something tells me that when I was hit by a rogue wave, strapped to a backboard and taken off the beach by lifeguards, then ambulance driven to the only hospital in Maui 45 minutes away to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed for life a few days later, probably won’t improve her relationship with the ocean.

It all started innocent enough, with my parents having arrived a few days prior to my accident. The following day after their arrival, found us doing a morning trip to the Iao Valley where we stared the natural wonder of West Maui and then to Walmart shopping for swimwear, something my parents did not have with them. It was a rather startling change of scenery to go from natural wonder to big box store.

The Iao Valley

The Iao Valley is utterly gorgeous, as is most of Maui.

The Iao Needle is on the left. jpg

The Iao Needle is on the left. It's a 2,250 foot natural phallic object.

Iao Valley

Peter and Natatia, my dad and mom and AJ and I hanging out at Iao Valley

We went to Big Beach bright and early on the Monday after they arrived, a gorgeous sprawling gold sand beach that I thought my parents and my sister and husband would appreciate. AJ, my brother-in-law Peter and I ventured in the water and were hanging out, appreciating the gentle undulating waves from the shallow shores of the beach when two Canadian women started chatting AJ and I up. They were visiting from Vancouver and had just started their vacation, happy to be in Maui. AJ quickly realized that they had gravitated toward us, being lesbians and seeing AJ and I acting affectionate, wanting to find other fellowsexuals on the island. I, on the other hand, just thought they were being their usual friendly Canadians, polite and wanting to chat with those in close proximity, in their usual Canadian amiable way, sharing the ocean with others. It was then, distracted by our conversation that the wave hit me by surprise, knocking me face first into the shallow shore and then somersaulting me onto my back. A second wave, mere seconds afterwards had me reeling with shock and unable to do anything else but stumble and fall again.

The family hanging out on the beach right before my encounter with a rogue wave. jpg

The family hanging out on the beach right before my encounter with a rogue wave.

Moments before being hit by the wave.

Moments before being hit by the wave. That's my brother-in-law behind me.

AJ had been hit by the wave too, but was farther out and was prepared for it. He grabbed me and walked me out of the ocean, asking me if I was okay. I couldn’t answer and a man walking past, who had witnessed the entire scene, ran up to us and started asking me questions. It turned out he was a lifeguard in training, off duty, and was concerned by the way I looked. No wonder, as I was a mess, utterly unable to properly comprehend what was going on. When he asked me if I was feeling numbness or tingling in my fingers, and I replied back in the affirmative, he told me I needed to go to the hospital. Tingling or numbness in the fingers was the first sign that I had a neck injury, as the spinal cord in the neck was bruised or potentially compromised and those nerves were the ones that went to my fingers. They called over the other lifeguards, they isolated my head so it wouldn’t move and potentially cause more damage, then strapped me to a backboard and carried me out to the parking lot. An ambulance met us there and took AJ and I to the only hospital in Maui. My family followed quickly, concerned for my well-being.

At the hospital.

At the hospital. The neck brace is as comfortable as it looks.

At the hospital, I waited for the MRI, as my fingers continued to tingle as if they had fallen asleep. I was lucky, as they never really got numb, nor did I lose any strength in my hands or feet. I answered all the questions properly (we were on Maui, our president was Obama and it was Monday) and the doctor, a smiling thin older hippy looking man, skin tan and weathered from the tropical sun, wearing a puka shell necklace and looking like he probably would probably be more at home on the beach surfing than at the ER, declared me fine, with just a little bruising in my spinal neck nerve which would go away naturally (he also said I had some neck arthritis, which apparently was normal for a man my age – physical proof that I am old).

My first thought was that this is going to leave a really odd tan line. jpg

My first thought was that this is going to leave a really odd tan line.

We left the hospital, with my family relieved and happy that I was ok. We rescheduled our reservations to the luau that we originally had planned on going to that night (I was not in any condition to appreciate kahlua pork or hula dancing). I spent that day resting and the following day in a neck brace puttering around the house, while my family and AJ went up to Mt. Haleakala to see the sunset and hike down to the cinder cone (a hike that I had gone on three years ago with AJ in our first trip to Maui).

My sister Natatia and Peter hiked in Mt. Haleakala with AJ while I stayed home in a neck brace. jpg

My sister Natatia and Peter hiked to this cindercone in Mt. Haleakala with AJ while I stayed home.

I don’t know if my sister ever did get back in the ocean after seeing me nearly get paralyzed, but she did say she was able to enjoy the rest of her makeshift honeymoon. Once I was a little more recovered, we did eventually make it to the luau, which featured a world champion fire dancer, as well as a road trip around the island to the town of Hana (and beyond). We did go back to the beach (though I never did see my sister go farther out than ankle deep), ate well, laughed and generally enjoyed all the island was able to give us. Nature is a powerful thing, both beautiful and dangerous at the same time, and Maui made me realize this more than any other place I’ve been.

Digging up the kahlua pig at the luau. jpg

Digging up the kahlua pig at the luau. So glad I did not miss this sight.

The food was plentiful at the luau. jpg

The food was plentiful at the luau.

Natatia and Peter on the road to Hana at the Ke'anae Peninsula. jpg

Natatia and Peter on the road to Hana at the Ke'anae Peninsula.

AJ and I did end up going back in the water though, determined not to let the one incident (no matter how traumatic) ruin our relationship to the ocean. True, the ocean is a fickle friend, but as long as it is treated with respect, I know that it will stay a friend. AJ did make sure to point out to me Every. Single. Wave, that came my way, in case I wasn’t paying attention. But I’ve learned my lesson well. I will never let Canadian lesbians distract me again.

We still love the ocean. jpg  

Despite nearly dying, I still love the ocean. Especially with AJ.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie September 19, 2011 at 9:36 am

This recipe looks great! Glad you didn’t break your neck, too 🙂


Lillian September 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm

omigoodness – what a story! glad you’re ok and that you didn’t let the accident ruin your vaca – though that photo of you giving the evil eye is kinda priceless.

these bars are look ridiculously good – i love salted caramel… is there something i could substitute if i didn’t want to use rum or any alcohol? (i know that’s the best part!)


Irvin September 19, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I would just sub in 1/4 of cream if you don’t want to use the alcohol, but keep in mind that most of the alcohol does burn off when you cook the caramel. There’s still a tinge of it, and the rum gives a nice earthy depth to the caramel, but the all cream version without the alcohol is just as fantastic.


Belinda @zomppa September 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Oh my gosh, I was holding my breath the entire time! Gee, between going topless and getting your neck in such a shape…so happy y’all continued on and had the best time with each other. Gorgeous photos – great perspective. Certainly a vacation you won’t forget. Especially not with that shortbread.


[email protected] Food. Stories. September 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Damn Canadian lesbians and their wily ways! I’m so glad you’re ok – and is it wrong that the biggest worry I now have after reading this piece is how much arthritis I already have in my body?


Irvin September 19, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Seriously! I immediately forgot about the fact that I could have been permanently paralyzed and was all “ARTHRITIS? Am I THAT old?!?!”


Jane Bonacci - The Heritage Cook September 19, 2011 at 8:55 pm

We are so relieved that your injuries weren’t too serious, and thrilled that even with that scary event you were able to enjoy your vacation. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful recipe!


Jane Bonacci - The Heritage Cook September 19, 2011 at 8:57 pm

I just had a thought … I wonder if the Vanilla/Honey Vodka we just had would be good in this? Hmmmm…


Irvin September 19, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I think that vanilla honey vodka would be AMAZING. The butterscotch notes in that vodka alone would push these bars over the edge. You must make them and then give me a few. 😉


Jane Bonacci - The Heritage Cook September 19, 2011 at 10:05 pm

It would be my pleasure!!


Natatia September 19, 2011 at 9:06 pm

haha great story-telling…thanks for ‘revealing’ my ocean experiences in such a colorful way. 🙂 true, it is only my friend when it is calm and barely lapping at my ankles! so glad you were ok…and thanks again for a most fantastico honeymoon! =D


Sabrina Modelle September 19, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Oh my goodness, Irvin. Damn Canadian lesbians, they can be so distracting. This one time, at band camp…
I’m so glad you weren’t seriously hurt. I’d be so super sad if anything happened to you. <3


shauna September 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Oh my goodness, you had me worried (even though I knew it came out okay), and then going aaaah over the photo of you and AJ and then howling with laughter at the end.

Pretty damned good, sir.


chef_d September 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

So glad you are okay now. Beautiful pics of Hawaii. Thanks for sharing your recipe for Salted Rum Caramel bars…looks delicious!


Chrissy September 20, 2011 at 4:05 am

Hey! I’m from Delaware- although when it comes to beaches, I prefer Hawaii.
You did it again, Irvin! Love salted caramel, and I love rum even more! I can’t wait to make these- I have some pink hawaiian salt that was made to adorn the top of these. Glad you are OK and able to still make all these yummy desserts for us.


Erin September 20, 2011 at 6:23 am

Crazy story, but glad you are okay and Tash and Peter were able to have a honeymoon after all! And those bars look TDF.


Nettie Moore September 20, 2011 at 8:01 am

Wowie! So happy that you are okay, now I can make your bars without guilt!


Nettie Moore September 20, 2011 at 8:03 am

How do I print your recipe?


Irvin September 20, 2011 at 10:32 am

There is a button right above the recipe that says “print this” – just click on the button and you will get a plain view image of the recipe, without the narrative that came before it. Then go to the top of your menu bar and go to File > Print and print that page.


Nettie Moore September 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

Now I see it! Duh- sorry a bit slow today!


elizabeyta September 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I am so glad you are okay. And then got back into the water. That can be the hard part.

I like the idea of the bars. I do something similar that has a brownie base and caramel interspersed through the top. According to my father, I do need a new candy thermometer.


Irvin September 22, 2011 at 12:30 am

A brownie base sounds wonderful! I actually recently made these with a chocolate shortbread crust. They turned out great that way, but a brownie base sounds positively decadent.


kankana September 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm

your post took me back to my honeymoon days .. which was last year and we had spent it in Hawaii. God! I love that place and can go there again and again 🙂
Some crazy stories you shared out there !
Ass for those shortbread .. they look stunning and macadamia nuts are my favs !


anneliesz September 20, 2011 at 10:46 pm

This recipe is no joke. Nom nom nom. Dude, I’m glad you didn’t break your neck- that neck brace also looks no joke!


merri October 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm

that looks REALLY SCARY!! i cant even swim & hate getting wet. yikes! i’m glad you’re ok. As to your sister’s wave incident, if that happened to me i would have laughed. nothing wrong with topless beaches anyway!


kari January 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm

These look fantastic, but totally did not work out for me though I’m an experienced baker who’s pretty good with caramel. Heated on medium in the final stages just as Irvin said, but the mixture curdled and broke apart around 220 degrees. It was an unsalvageable mess!


Irvin January 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Wow! I have never had that problem before. How strange! I have made these three or four times since, and each time they have come out exactly the same, without any issues of breaking or curdling.

So a quick google search lead to the fact that curdling in caramel happens because their is an excess of acidity in the caramel when cooking it. To avoid this, you need to let the caramel cook continually boiling while trying to bring it to the right temperature and not pull it off the heat. The more you pull it off the heat and let it cool, even a little bit, the more likely it is going to curdle.

You can also completely safeguard against this by adding a pinch of baking soda to the caramel before you make the caramel, to combat the acidity.

If you do make these again, please let me know how they turn out! So sorry they curdled.


Karen January 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

I can’t wait to try these, but I have made others in the past and after about 30 mins. on the counter they fall apart because the caramel is not hard enough and need to be eaten out of the fridge. Is that the case with these? I’d like to have them at our annual valentine’s party! Thanks for the recipe and crazy story!!!!!


Irvin January 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

You want to make sure the caramel itself reaches 240˚F to 245˚F, or the soft ball stage. Make sure your candy thermometer is accurate (boil some water and stick the thermometer in it, it should read 212˚F at boiling). If your thermometer is off, recalibrate it or adjust the temperature when you make the caramel.

As long as you get the caramel to 240˚F the caramel will set no problem! Be sure the thermometer isn’t touching the bottom of the pan (you’ll get a false reading) and that you stir or swirl the caramel around to get an accurate reading of the temperature (some parts of your pan may be hotter than others depending on how your stovetop is set up and what size pan you are using).


Karen January 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Thank you for the quick reply!! I can’t wait to make these!! After looking at my other recipe, the temp on that was 230, so no wonder they didn’t set!!! Thanks again and PS–LOVE. THE. BLOG.!!!!!!


Karen January 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm

PSS–I just made them…DELISH!!!! 242 was the magic temp!! Thanks!!


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