Saturday, January 24, 2009

Visiting and Cooking with Anna and Nathan

Lauren and I had a lovely time visiting Anna and Nathan in Santa Barbara over the weekend.  In a whirlwind tour of their favorite haunts, we:
  • Had some amazing Mexican food on Friday evening.
  • Visited the wonderful Santa Barbara farmers' market on Saturday morning to buy food for the evening.
  • Took plenty of walks with Ziska, including one along the beach (that dog is one happy and LARGE beast).
  • Watched two Underworld movies.  I'm not at all ashamed. 
  • Read, talked, laughed, and generally caught up on life.
Here's a picture of our dinner on Saturday evening:

It was a real group effort, with Lauren braising some artichokes, Nathan providing hors d'oeuvres, wine, and olive oil, and me sauteeing some chicken with sun-dried tomatoes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Three-bean soup and prosciutto pasta

The soup is a Lauren original, declared by Albert to be the best soup he's ever had.  The pasta is typical Rachel Ray fare.  Salad by the visiting BOB:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maui Day 5

With little time to spare before our return flight to Oahu, there was one last thing we really wanted to see on Maui: the Olivine Pools.  Our trusty guidebook gushed more about this single site than anything else in its pages.  And we'd had such good luck with Maui Revealed thus far that we didn't want to miss seeing them.

The drive up to the pools was farther than it sounded, with state road winding down to county road before we'd reached the unmarked (and empty) turnoff.


From the car, we carefully picked our way down some tricky slopes, heeding the warning signs promising "injury or death" to the unwary.

And finally, we reached the pools themselves.


Our cheap waterproof camera really doesn't do the site justice, but it was undoubtedly one of the coolest places either of us had ever seen, period.  The pools are wide and deep, scattered on the ocean's edge, where a large formation of volcanic rock is just high enough to keep the surrounding sea out.  Colorful tropical fish of all shapes and sizes swim around in this haven, protected from all of their predators.  And humans taking a dip can relax in perfectly still, emerald-tinged water, as the waves crash dramatically against the sheltering rocks just a few feet away.
We couldn't have wished for a better end to our time in Maui.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Maui Trip Day 4: More Lahaina and Warren and Annabelle's

After a quick breakfast at Lahaina Cooler's, we were off, Will looking especially handsome in the morning sun:


We had heard that mornings were the best time for whale watching, so we headed down to a scenic lookout along the southern coast:



On this lookout, volunteers would set up umbrellas and tables full of whale models and literature, and binoculars that tourists like us could use.  One volunteer, Tom, described how he would hold up a whale model behind people's heads when they were taking pictures, so it looked like a whale was jumping out of the water right behind him.  Through the binoculars, we could see the edge of Maui, Molokini, and Lanai, and the spouts of whales far into the distance.  This picture has a tiny spout in the middle if you make it big and look very closely:



We spent a long time with the whales and Tom, the kind and knowledgeable whale volunteer; we saw many spouts, a couple tails, and learned how to spot the shining black back of the whales that would just emerge above the waves.

On the way back from the whale watching scenic spot, we stopped by at the "town" of Olowalu.  I put "town" in quotation marks because Olowalu was mainly comprised of a huge water storage tank, a general store, and a randomly world-class French restaurant.

However, behind Olowalu is a dirt road, where we parked the car with some nervousness about thieves (we took all our belongings with us), and set off in search of the petroglyph's that Maui Revealed promised were down the path:



Again, just as Maui Revealed said it would, the sign next to Will claimed that the walk would be a quarter mile, when in fact it was a good three-quarter miles.  However, at the end of the walk were some amazing petroglyphs:



Even though I felt we had to go through hell and high water to see them.

Exhausted and hot, we made our way back to the hotel, and found the beautiful pool that makes Aina Nalu famous.  It is not chlorinated, but instead a "saline" pool, which means a light salting -- not nearly as heavy as ocean water, and much nicer smelling than the usual chlorine pool.  The pool waters came right up to the grass, so when in the water it seemed as if the pool and the grass flowed one into the other.  We spent some time in the cabana relaxing:



Then back to Kimo's for lunch.  The menu the previous night had promised me an artichoke and I had my heart set on it!  So there we were, about 12 hours later, back on the water at Kimo's.  I had my artichoke and was so happy:



For dessert, we used one of Barrett's coupons and got a FREE! Kimo's Hula Pie:



An oreo cookie crust, whipped cream, hot fudge, and mounds and mounds of macadamia nut ice cream.  Will's face just about says it all.

After another of my epic naps, we woke just in time to squeeze in a quick run (again in Ka'anapali, the resort area, passing by a beautiful infinity pool that made me think of Ellen, and the Mercedes Benz's golf tournament gala setup), and then we were off to dinner.  The Lahaina Grill had an elegant menu of French dishes:



And then the highlight of our trip, Warren and Annabelle's.  Warren and Annabelle's is a theme evening and magic show with a wonderfully witty slight-of-hand magician named Warren, and the ghost that plays music in his parlor named Annabelle.  Here's a clip of Will assisting Warren in one of his magic tricks (apologies for the sideways shots ... I didn't figure out how to use the video camera until too late):



As you can see from the clip, Will and I were chosen as part of the four couples who sat in the very front and assisted Warren with his tricks.  It was pretty cool all around.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Maui Day 3: Snorkling and Lahaina

Waking up in the morning, we were sad to pack up and say goodbye to our Maui Lu hotel room.  Despite the filthy carpets and torn screens, we had the sound of the ocean and a spectacular view right outside of our window:


However, we were off to go snorkling!  With our bags in storage and our towels borrowed from the Maui Lu, we headed off towards Po'olenalena, a beach on the south east coast, south of Wailea.  The beach was relatively empty, but already there were some snorkelers in the water.  Will and I put on our scuba boots, fins, mask, and snorkel, and feeling a little overprepared, went into the water.

The wildlife at this diving spot was fantastic, with coral and tropical fish right beneath our eyes.  I spent a long time looking at a Hawaiian sea turtle, huge and asleep beneath a coral ledge, who cared not a bit that I was splashing around above him.

Done with our scuba diving, we set out for Lahaina.  Along the way, Maui Revealed recommended a stop at Dina's Sand Witch, a darling, tiny bar with fantastic portuaguese bean soup:


... And finally, we entered Lahaina.  Mom had introduced us to Barrett, the General Manager of Aina Nalu, an Outrigger resort in Lahaina.  When we arrived, Barrett was there to welcome us with a cute Outrigger bag, water bottles, and -- my favorite -- coupons, coupons, coupons!!!  We subsequently spent the rest of the trip trying to eat at all of the places with coupons for discounts or free stuff.

After a quick nap, we headed up north to Ka'anapali, where all of the big flagship resorts were.  We were looking for a sunset and found Leilani's, another beautiful restaurant on the beach:
A closer look at the napkins showed that this was another restaurant owned by the same company as Duke's in Waikiki, and Kimo's back in Lahaina.  The big give-away was that all the restaurants owned by this company serve Kimo's Hula Pie.  This company does amazing restaurants!  All right on the water, with excellent drinks!  We caught the beautiful sunset:


Barrett had recommended Lahaina's Front Street as the central location for strolling, so Will and I enjoyed a late evening walk down the street.  The highlights were:

  • Several art galleries, one with paintings blending modern Hawaiian life with scenes of the spirits of native Hawaiians;
  • A furniture art gallery with beautiful glass tables, supported either by real bamboo stalks, or metal sculptures of frogs or gecko's on branches;
  • A store selling huge, real vintage European posters, like the replicas you see in furniture stores sometimes, but these were the real things!
Tired and getting hungry again (hmm, we must have been growing), we stopped by Kimo's Restaurant, where we got a table with the ocean right beneath us and an older uncle playing Hawaiian music on his slack key guitar sitting next to us.  We had a few drinks and headed home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Maui Day 2: Kihei Continued

That evening we headed out early for the Five Palms restaurant, to be sure that we did not miss the sunset.  We headed out so early, in fact, that we had plenty of time to do some reading on some borrowed beach chairs:


It was perfect -- great weather, great books (I read Getting Things Done, by David Allen, "light reading"), and then, of course, the highlight of the evening: a great dinner table overlooking the ocean and the sky.


I had some great fish (although next time a waiter asks, I'm going to request pan sauteed instead of grilled, to retain the moistness) and Will had some chicken with coconut forbidden rice.  Nice all around.

On the way home, we decided to stop by Blockbuster to pick up a video.  Blockbuster in Kihei is the smallest, most disorganized store ever; they could not find either of the videos we requested.  However, the employees were very kind and friendly, especially one guy who looked like Hurley from the television show "Lost."  Our Hurley-look-alike offered to first make me a new Blockbuster card, and then followed Will and I around the store, giving advice about which videos to borrow, and which ones were his favorite.  He then regaled us with stories about all his family members in the entertainment business, and finished by saying that he himself had been a radio DJ once.  Amazing.

We ended up watching a Vin Diesel movie, "Babylon A.D.," which was just as mindless and wonderful as I was hoping it would be.  Another packed day in Kihei.

Maui Day 2: Scuba, brunch, napping

Scuba day!  We packed our gear the night before, then woke at 5am to eat a bagel and make it to the nearby Kihei boat ramp by 6am.

Two boat dives today, one at the famous Molokini crater a few miles offshore:


...and one at the “Red Hill” dive spot near Little Beach on Maui.

Molokini crater is half-submerged, allowing boats to drive into the shallow center (where snorkelers tend to congregate).  On the boat ride from Maui, we saw two whales playing right around the crater.  This was a great thing to see, but an even better thing to HEAR underwater.  Whalesong was the background music for both our dives.  (It carries for miles). A first for me and a really great accent for the dives.

Molokini diving was spectacular.  We dropped down to the sandy bottom within the crater, where a small forest of sand eels poke their heads out of the sand to catch drifting plankton.  We swam around the edge of the submerged crater, and then spent 30 minutes or so drifting and kicking around the west outer edge.  We saw plenty of coral, nice colorful fish, an eel, and a  good-sized, sleeping reef shark.  Lauren’s deepest dive ever, at a max depth of 98 feet.  Visibility was around 100 feet.  When conditions are like this, I really get the “flying underwater” feeling that drew me to diving in the first place.

For her part, Lauren described the dive as a “cathedral of fish.”  Looking upslope, downslope, above us, and straight ahead, fish were everywhere.

Red Hills was fairly close to the boat ramp, just south of Wailea.  A shallow dive with average visibility.  Not much in the way of coral, and far fewer fish than at Molokini.  However, the draw here was the larger sea life.  We saw:
  • A manta ray (very good luck!)
  • An octopus with a LOT of ink.
  • Two eagle rays following it around.
  • Two eels.
  • Two sea turtles.
  • Another small white-tipped reef shark.
A highlight was the cleaning station, where fish swim in between some rocks and small shrimp clean their back and mouth.  Our divemaster popped his regulator out of his mouth, opened it near the shrimp, and got a cleaning himself.  Whoa!

Throughout the experience, I was reminded once again of just how much easier diving is if you’re not freezing your butt off under 40 pounds of lead (thanks for being a good training ground, Monterey!).

Final note on diving: on the advice of Maui Revealed, we went with the Prodiver Maui dive boat.


We really liked this company and the staff we had aboard (Matt and Gary). Admittedly, we lucked out and had only one other diver on the boat with us, perfect conditions, etc.  However even when “full,” Prodiver’s boat only takes out 6 divers plus the divemaster, so it seems like a pretty good outfit overall.  Would use them again.

After the second dive, Lauren went through her customary 10 minutes of being cold and quiet.  And as usual, after drying off and sipping some hot tea, she was smiling almost as widely as me.

We said goodbye to the Prodiver guys and drove down the road to the Kihei Caffe for some delicious brunch. (Corned beef hash for Lauren, delicious cheesy-veggie scramble for me).

Finally, we returned to the hotel around 11:30am, and Lauren decided on a shower and a “short  nap,” which was long enough for me to write this blog post AND all other posts starting with 2008-12-29.  It’s 2:00pm now, and I think I hear her stirring…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Maui Day 1

Woke on the early side to have a small breakfast and then catch the 40-minute flight to Maui. I didn’t bother asking for exit-row seats on such a short flight, but soon discovered that seats were even smaller than usual, and so I physically couldn’t sit down. Luckily an exit row was still open. So we made it to Maui without taking a hacksaw to my legs.

Plane touched down at 11. Baggage claim. Car rental. (“no, thanks” on the umpteen upsell attempts). Hotel checkin. (don’t care if our room won’t be ready ‘til 3). Snarfed local lunch at “Da Kitchen.”

….and, finally! There we were on a perfect beach, no sound but the surf in front of us, at just about 2pm. We spent some time in the waves, then wandered up and down the 1-mile footpath along part of Wailea beach. Perfect vista after perfect vista. I never get tired of telling people that all of Hawaii looks exactly like you dream Hawaii will look. It’s like every time you open your eyes you’re framing a shot for a movie or an episode of LOST. Just incredible.
Ran some last-minute errands between beach and dinner. Water-proof fanny pack is essential if you don’t want to worry about theft on remote beaches. Also, incredibly stylish. SO stylish in fact that I’m going to let Lauren do all the fanny-pack wearing.

Dinner was at local spot: “Vietnamese Cuisine.” Tasty, friendly, and kind of unique in our experience. Especially liked the make-your-own Vietnamese “burritos.” (Really steamed summer rolls).

As an aside: before the trip, we’d both read through the excellent guidebook, Maui Revealed. It’s steered us toward most of our stops on Maui so far, and we’ve been very pleased.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Day 12: Soccer, cooking

Lauren and I spent the morning at a large soccer complex. We jogged a bit, but mostly watched Donna and her teammates DESTROY their opponents in the first game of the season. (Score: 1-0, which is pretty high for soccer).

Had Grammy and Grampa over for dinner, where Lauren and I made “our” “signature” sun-dried-tomato-pesto-chicken pasts. Quotation marks are because we mostly do just what The Joy of Cooking tells us on this dish. However, there are a few touches that make it our own (fresh basil leaves from the garden, the addition of sundried tomatoes in the sauce and as a garnish, and some balsamic-glazed, sautéed chicken breasts chopped up and thrown in). Pasta got rave reviews, and accompanied a grab-bag of leftovers as we tried to clear the fridge before scampering off to Maui.

After dinner, we watched An Inconvenient Truth, which I’d been meaning to see for a while. Pretty good.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Day 10: Uncle Chuck's redux

Started the morning with an early and LONG visit to Lauren’s dentist (Lauren) and some Safeway shopping (me). I was at Safeway to pick up ingredients for Uncle Chuck’s spaghetti sauce. When you write a blog post like this one, people are inevitably going to demand some of the sauce. So I came to Hawaii ready to cook.

Shirley also made some of her own sauce with vegetarian meatballs. (Basically falafel, but stewed in the sauce, not fried. Interesting!)

Chuck’s sauce delivered once again, though it never tastes quite as good as when Mom makes it (or Chuck makes it, for that matter).

Friday, January 2, 2009

Day 9: New Year's (Lazy) Day

New Years Day! Took the day off. Go read about someone else’s exciting vacation. We napped a lot, read a lot, ate some leftovers. Was fun.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day 8: New Year's Eve

Spent the morning and early afternoon at Lauren’s Grammy and Grampa’s place, first rolling sushi and then eating it!  We also had some tasty new-years soup.

We then drove into Honolulu for quality time and an early dinner with Kung Kung and Shirley.   Dinner was at the Little Village restaurant in Chinatown.  Really simple, hearty Chinese food, and a great value for the money.

After saying goodbye to Kung Kung and Shirley, it was time to go to Donna’s former law partner’s house for his yearly New Year’s Eve party.  Lots of polite mingling, followed by some sticky fun with silly string and whippersnappers, with a really wacky party game thrown into the middle.  At Donna’s request, all pictures from the evening have been DESTROYED.

After the party, and just before midnight, we returned to Donna and Robin’s home.  We lit firecrackers at the door to bless the house for the new year.  Then it was time for a small glass of champagne and a welcome bed.