Letting Kauai Happen

In October, the Mister and I went to Hawaii for our second honeymoon. And it was GLORIOUS.

After researching our trip to within an inch of its life (as I’m wont to do), we settled on visiting Kauai since all I wanted to do was sit on the beach and just relax. Kauai worked perfectly since there’s just enough to do but not worry about missing out if all you DID want to do was sit on the beach and just relax.

We went for a week and while it was the perfect amount of time to do most of the things we wanted, it wasn’t long enough because who wants their vacation to end?

We rented a condo in Poipu on the South Shore that was probably a 5 minute walk to Poipu State Beach and offered a great view of the ocean from the lanai.

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Here’s all the fun we got into:

Tuesday: Tuesday was our travel day. After a harried arrival at Oakland International (we’re working on leaving earlier for the airport), we just made our flight by a couple of minutes (mahalo to the Hawaiian Airlines staff for working hard to get us through check-in and security!). Thankfully the rest of the trip was delightfully uneventful but the service on Hawaiian was great; they even serve food on the first leg to the Islands! AND once you reach Hawaiian airspace, they gave us a free rum punch. Yes, we were definitely on vacation. Once on Kauai, we geeked out over our first wild chicken sighting at the airport (they are EVERYWHERE), had lunch at Tortilla Republic and lunch dessert at Lappert’s (because vacation) and then settled into our condo.

Wednesday: We woke up early and walked down to the beach to watch the sunrise, saw a monk seal napping on the beach, went hunting for Wailua Falls (my first real waterfall sighting!) and enjoyed the Farmers’ Market at the Shops at Kukui’ula where I sampled some of the most divine lilikoi curd ever.

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Thursday: Our big adventure for the day was ziplining! We ziplined with Skyline Zipline and were treated to a fantastic view of the South Shore while we zipped along 8 different lines. It was a little nerve-wrecking in the beginning knowing that we were pretty high up but the thrill of gliding through the air was amazing. Our guides recommended doing a running start and that certainly amped up the thrills! That night we had dinner at the Dolphin and was treated to a great sunset view and a little begging from a very polite stray cat who sit next to you after you were served your meal. Then I tasted nirvana: it takes of shave ice (I’d go on to have shave ice several more times during the week).

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Friday: We started the day checking out Spouting Horn and then part of the afternoon at Kiahuna Beach. The Mister hung out and read while I swam in the ocean. I didn’t have any snorkeling gear but I still was able to see a blue tang swim by! That evening we headed inland to go to Smith’s Family Luau for our traditional luau experience. I enjoyed the show and even figured out that I like poi! It’s pretty good on pulled pork.

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Saturday: Saturday was our big adventure: a helicopter tour! While we had to sell our figurative soul by going to a timeshare presentation, we did enjoy the discounted tour that we otherwise wouldn’t have taken. It was a great opportunity to see the ENTIRE island – though if you go, try to get a seat on the right side of the copter. I was on the left and except for our spin through Waimea Canyon, I had a fantastic view of the ocean.

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After our tour, we made our way to visit the North Shore and Hanalei Pier but it was kind of rainy and overcast so our trip was cut a bit short. That night we had a delightful dinner at Roy Yamaguchi’s Eating House and more shave ice.

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Sunday: After surviving the timeshare presentation (which we are not allowed to do ever again), we had brunch at La Spezia to fuel up for our trek up Waimea Canyon. While we did see the Canyon during our tour the day before (as the Mister so generously reminded me several times), it was still a treat to drive and pull off at almost every possible lookout point (much to the chagrin of the Mister) to see the Canyon from a different perspective. It was definitely worth the drive up! We push through to the literal end of the road for an amazing view of the ocean and part of the Na Pali coast.

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Monday: Monday was our final full day and since we had done all the bigger adventures, we kept it casual, with a morning trip to Poipu Beach (really? Swimming in the ocean on a Monday morning? Be still my heart), followed by lunch at Merriman’s Fish House (it’s so weird to be having lunch while listening to Monday Night Football), then dinner and free hula show at the Poipu Shopping Village and our final sunset in paradise.

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In all, it was an amazing trip and I’m so glad we were able to make it happen. It was a great way to celebrate a second honeymoon and it was such a treat to get away with the Mister. I’m looking forward to coming back and discovering a new island (though Kauai will always be my favorite). Maui, you’re next!

Aloha Kauai. Until we meet again.

Beautiful – even somewhere in the middle

After spending the winter break in Michigan with my in-laws (without snow! In December! I felt kind of ripped off), the husband and I headed back home in a new-to-us car. That’s right; we DROVE from Michigan to California.

3 days, 2,363 miles and 8 states later, we made it home in one piece AND still married. It was quite the feat.

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While this wasn’t my first cross-country trip (that occurred way earlier in life when my family moved from Georgia to California), I had a lot more appreciation for the views along I-80, especially coupled with the small portion of the Oregon Trail we travelled along (why else would anyone be excited (or even know about) stopping in Laramie? Or seeing a roadside sign for Chimney Rock?

There were ‘fording the river’ jokes a plenty.

America is beautiful. From the farm lands in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska to the snowy mountains of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Northern California, there was so much to see and enjoy; views that I normally fly over so it was a joy to be able to actually see them this time. While I took a lot of photos (follow me on Instagram to check them out at #thehalifeCATrail) there were so many more sights I didn’t capture and instead, just enjoyed in the moment.

We were blessed with clear weather after waiting out Winter Storm Goliath the entire way through, which was a major concern given the time of year. While it was interesting to sleep in a different state each night of the trip, boy are we glad to be home in our own bed without the threat of another 6-9 hour drive ahead of us.

That said, I’d totally be up for another road trip; the husband…not so much. But maybe I can start small and work things up. There’s always a mini roadtrip up (or down) the PCH!

Eating…Seattle: Second Helpings

Before I left for Seattle I made a list of new restaurants to try while I was in town. I am nothing, if not prepared. Especially when it comes to eating. That is no joke.

I didn’t get a chance to try too many new things, since we were kind of pressed for time with all the wedding events that had to be done [including an amusing family get together at the house – oh the copious amount of beer that had been consumed that day] but I did try a few good places and revisited some familiar sites.

After getting picked up at the airport, we stopped by the Jewel Box Café for boba milk tea and a Seattle Dog for me. If you don’t remember from last time, a Seattle dog is a hot dog on a slightly toasted bun with cream cheese. Don’t knock it until you try it. The one at the café was passable, though the street vendors make a much better dog. I think the bun was a bit too toasty to wield to the dog and there definitely was not enough cream cheese.

On Thursday, the family got together at Red Hook Brewery for a few [hundred] pitchers and food. I’m not a real fan of beer but somehow I had a glass pored for me and I slowly, and I mean, S-L-O-W-L-Y, sucked that thing down over the course of the lunch. And we were there for at least a few hours. The food was your typical pub food: burgers, sandwiches, other stuff, and nothing really to write about. The shenanigans that happened while we were there..well, we had fun.

Things turned towards fun on Friday. J and I went to pick up some cupcakes from Trophy with a Groupon he bought and I had the pleasure of picking the flavors. Oh, I was in heaven. We ended up with the following: two pineapple upside down, two hummingbirds, snickerdoodle, red velvet, lemon, salted caramel, snowball, triple chocolate, something else and the monthly special: the Elvis. As soon as I saw the sign, my eyes lit up. Not because I was a fan of Elvis, but because it was a banana cake with peanut butter frosting drizzled with honey. Can you say delicious?

I tore into that cupcake as soon as physically possible. The frosting was perfect: just the right amount of peanut butter, not too sweet and delightfully light and fluffy. I’m not a big frosting person but I wanted to lick it all off right then and there. Trophy, my goodness. I puffy heart you.

Then I took a bite out of the cake. It was moist [much better texture over the red velvet one I had previously] and banana-ey and…FILLED WITH COCONUT. I was appalled. And disgusted. And utterly crushed. Oh Trophy! Why do you hate me so?! I was miffed but because the frosting was so delicious, I suffered through the rest of the cake. I sat there with a very noticeable frown on my face. I was NOT happy. Who puts coconut in a banana cake? I was mad that the clerk at the shop failed to mention they baked their cake with coconut. What if I was allergic to coconut? Who thinks to ask if there’s coconut in a banana cake?! Oh. You? You think to ask if there’s coconut in a banana cake? You disgust me. I later tried the snicker doodle and was disappointed with that one as well. The frosting was too sweet and the cake was dry and flavorless. It reminded me of a corn muffin. Not very appetizing to say the least.

At least lunch didn’t disappoint. After picking up the cupcakes, J and I headed to Paseo since we were near the neighborhood and it was only a few minutes before it opened, which was key since a line quickly formed soon after we arrived [with another 10 minutes to go before opening!]. They serve Caribbean sandwiches and other stuff and the smell from the bbq was intoxicating. I ended up getting the #1: Grilled Pork sandwich and could not wait to sink my teeth into that baby.

By the time we got to the house, the baguette had soaked up just enough of the sauce to make it a bit more pliable but seriously, this was the best pork sandwich I have ever eaten. I could have done with less lettuce as it kind of just got in the way, but the grilled onions, the meat, and the aioli sauce…simply delicioso. One of the groomsmen was more than excited to talk to me about the joys of eating at Paseo and was shocked that I didn’t have to wait in line for 45 minutes like he did. Timing is everything. I will definitely be adding this to my “must eat” list for any and all future trips to Seattle. We had the rehearsal dinner at O’Asian Kitchen but I wasn’t really feeling the food so I didn’t have much to eat.

On Sunday I made revisited a past favorite, Piroshky Piroshky, for breakfast. I was kind of shocked to find a line at 9 in the morning but hey, at least it’s quick moving. I picked up a potato, onion and cheese piroshky as well as a cinnamon cardamon braid to munch on. The piroshky was just as delicious as I remembered and I happily tore into it as I walked around the market. I was going to save the braid for later but later came a lot sooner than I anticipated and sat on a bench to enjoy the view before hiking it to the Space Needle.

After saying by to the newlyweds, I headed out on my own to do a little foodie adventuring. Thankfully the two places I planned to visit were in the same area as the hotel, my biggest issue was just finding parking. What a hassle. I stopped by The Yellow Leaf Cupcakes to pick up, well what else, a cupcake. There were a lot of flavors vying for my attention but the blood orange cupcake caught my eye. I had never seen that flavor anywhere before and had to snap it up. I saved it though for later so I could indulge at my last stop of the day: Serious Pie.

 

I had heard of Serious Pie thanks to Food Networks’ “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” series when Tyler Florence was expounding on the deliciousness of the chanterelle mushroom and truffle cheese pizza and  my desire to check it out only heightened when A and J both heartily endorsed it. The restaurant itself is tiny and filled with long benches for communal dining. I was a little nervous about my time since I only had a couple hours before I had to return the rental car but thankfully being a single diner was an advantage and I was seated within minutes. I gave the menu a cursory glance since I knew exactly what I wanted, much to the apparent disappointed from my server, who seemed put off that I refused to hear the specials [but in my defense: why would you wait until AFTER I placed my order to ask if I want to hear the specials? Why don’t you lead off with that?].

The pizza itself was really good. It was a thin crust/flatbread-esque pizza that was crispy and chewy and slightly salty, though it was a little too salty in some areas. I really enjoyed the mushrooms and the floral fragrance from the truffle cheese [I think]. I had to consciously tell myself to slow down or else run the risk of scarfing the whole thing down in minutes.

After lunch, I had enough time to hit up Kerry Point to enjoy my cupcake and take in one last view of the Seattle skyline before heading home. I was excited about trying the cupcake and even purposefully stopped eating just so I had room to eat the cupcake. It was a beautiful looking layered cupcake, I’m not sure what they were but from the looks of it, possibly a yellow and red velvet, with orange buttercream frosting and a dollop of what I assumed to be blood orange puree.

I tasted the frosting but couldn’t discern any flavor. It just tasted like whipped cream or something. I was confused but forged ahead, taking a bite out of the cupcake itself. It was dry and also flavorless [which was why I couldn’t figure out what flavors the cake was – if they were flavored or maybe they were just colored batter. And as far as I know, you can’t taste colors while sober]. The only thing that had any kind of flavor was the orange filling, which was appropriately sweet and orangey. Cupcake: FAIL.

I was utterly disappointed and ended up not finishing the cupcake. I just couldn’t get over how flavorless that thing was. Would I be open to trying another flavor? Probably, but I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to try it either.

All in all, while this wasn’t my best attempt at stuffing my face, I still enjoyed my meals, especially the heavenly pork sandwich and pizza. I know where I”m going next time I’m in Seattle!

Eating…Oxbow Public Market

Lately the weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, odd considering that it was late May/early June in California and it’s usually warmer around this time. The bf was actually a bit disappointed since he was looking forward to the warmer weather. In fact, my plans for a fun outing in Napa Valley with him was cancelled due to general un-picnic like weather. Boo rain. Because of the weird weather, I’ve spent the past few days hanging out at home so when the need to be outside to photosynthesize suddenly became overwhelming, I decided to pretend I was a tourist and hit up Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s basically a large market hall with a bunch of small alcoves for shops, similar to the Ferry Building marketplace [apparently the guy behind the Ferry Building space is the genius behind Oxbow]. I wandered around for a bit checking everything out and getting a lay of the land. One shop in particular, Whole Spice, really grabbed my attention which had a ton of different spices, extracts and salts, including Himalayan Pink salt. I’m not quite sure how I would use the Himalayan Pink salt but I was tempted to buy a few ounces just because. I would like to go back to further discover what else they had in store.  Since I didn’t really have a game plan when I came to the market, I ended up deciding to make it a day of eating. Of course I did.

My first stop was to C Casa. There were a lot of things on the menu that I wanted to try but since I had plans on sampling a few other bites, I had to pick only one. Instead of leaning on my go to [steak], I inched outside my comfort zone and ordered the spicy lamb taco (with goat cheese, avocado crema, mint, jalapeños, garlic aioli & micro greens) and the hibiscus orange iced tea.

I really enjoyed this taco. The lamb was nicely seasoned and really tender and there was a slight heat from the jalapeno peppers. The lamb was so good I would have eaten it by itself. I was disappointed that I couldn’t really taste the mint and I ended up taking out almost half of the micro greens because it was just too much. They really overwhelmed the rest of the taco.

Next, I stopped by Gott’s Roadside in hopes of getting an order of their crazily delicious calamari, however my plans were thwarted when I found out there was, in fact, NO CALAMARI. How rude!

I sulked for a second as I slowly made my way back to the marketplace before realizing the bakery I wanted to try was just around the corner. The Model Bakery has tons of different breads, cakes, cookies and other yummy looking pastries available all day long. I stopped in to try one of their famous English Muffins that was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate…

This was no ordinary English Muffin; it was large, fluffy, and crispy. The dough is actually a ciabatta bread so it lends its unique texture to the muffin, plus they griddle them to give it a nice outside crust. I had mine toasted and slathered it with butter and apricot jam and I instantly fell in love with it on the first bite. The bread itself is really chewy, the good kind of chewy, and my mouth is watering just thinking about it right now. I want more and I know I won’t ever be able to enjoy a Thomas English Muffin ever again. I have effectively been ruined and I’m not mad about it in the slightest.

After feasting on the world’s best English Muffins, I made one last stop at Pica Pica Bar to see if anything on the menu could entice me. Originally I was going to order some tajadas [sweet plantains] but I ended up being swayed by a display of patacones. I’m not exactly sure what I got [I let the cashier pick the fillings for me] but they’re like twice baked potatoes with meat fillings instead of more potato. Also, instead of potato, it’s actually a plantain. I ended up with a trio of pork, chicken and steak with a spicy cream dipping sauce [which was sour cream with smoked chile].

Of the three, the chicken was actually my favorite. It’s rare when I prefer chicken over steak but the chicken had a smoky almost barbequed taste to it that I really liked. The pork was good too, it was just salty enough for me, though the tomato and avocado slice made it a little messy to eat. I could have done without the steak; it was just meh. It didn’t really taste like they had done anything to it. I would have rather have a second chicken patacone.

In all, I’m really glad I made the trip up to Oxbow and loved everything I nommed on during the two hours I was there. It was the perfect distraction from my day and I’d definitely come back to eat everything again. Especially that English Muffin.

Snacking my way through Wine Country

I’m sometimes ashamed at how much of California I haven’t experienced. Yosemite? Haven’t been. Santa Barbara? Nope. Laguna Beach? Just making sure you’re still paying attention.

One of the closest of tourist destinations is the Napa Valley. Millions of people come from the ends of the world to traipse through the Wine Country to look at vineyards, taste wine and eat at the numerous frou-frou and fancy and delectable restaurants started by celebrity chefs. I live about 15 minutes from Napa and the last time I was really in the Napa Valley, I complained about how long of a drive it was from my house to St. Helena [it was about 45 minutes]. I’m a big, whiny baby, I know.

That said, I know there is so much more to the Wine Country than what I’ve seen and its really a shame that I haven’t taken the time to fully explore it like the most intrepid travelers do. I’m blessed that these places are so close that I can take them in at my leisure instead of trying to fit in as much as possible within a few days so it’s really sad that I haven’t taken advantage of my proximity. Heading up to the Napa Valley is easy and really, can be done on a whim. So why haven’t I done it? Not sure.

Tam took the wheel and drove us along highway 29 through the valley to show us some of the sights. Our first stop of the day was Dean & Deluca in St. Helena.

Dean & Deluca is just a fancy schmancy specialty grocery store – though the cheese samples were infinitely better than most of the offerings at the local stores. I couldn’t help BUT comparison shop while I was wandering through the store. The biggest difference was that the vanilla bean paste I’ve come to love so much was $16 at D&D when I can pick up the same exact bottle for $11 at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table!

My first snack of the day was this chocolate chip whoopie pie:

I was excited. A whoopie pie? Made out of chocolate chip cookies? Love! Except not. I was not impressed. I wasn’t sure what was going on with the middle layer; was it marshmallow? was it buttercream? was it edible? if it was edible, do I really want to eat it? No. I do not. The cookies were okay. They could have been better and I was really sad about the  money Tam essentially wasted on it. I much preferred my own whoopie pies better. Needless to say, I never got around to finishing it.

We trudged on and landed in downtown St. Helena. It’s a cute little town area with tons of boutique shops. My favorite was Woodhouse Chocolate. When I saw the shop, my eyes lit up, immediately going back to the moment I tried the chocolate for the first time [hint: scroll to the bottom]. This chocolate, people, just get it. I know it’s expensive but it’s sooooo worth it. This will be the smoothest chocolate you’ve ever tasted. I was more than excited to introduce the family to the deliciousness and they were not disappointed. I’m drooling at the thought of getting more.

The nephew was starving by then so we made a stop at Gott’s Roadside for lunch. I had eaten at the Ferry Building site and was amped for the food. We ordered a mess of food and I was only one bite into my delicious chili cheese dog only to be struck with a full stomach. I couldn’t eat any more! I was so disappointed. Thankfully it was just as delicious warmed up later that day.

Full from the burgers and fries and one bite of chili cheese dog, we headed back home, making a stop at Robert Mondavi Winery to look around.

Our final stop turned out to be a bit of a whim. We had decided to take the Silverado Trail back home and decided to stop in Yountville to make a trip to Bouchon Bakery. Sure I was too full to eat my chili cheese dog, but apparently that didn’t stop me from nearly knocking over the display case in the bakery. Classy.

I picked out a chocolate bouchon, which is essentially just a brownie [pretty much sums up my impression] and a raspberry macaron.

Had I known how amazing Thomas Keller’s macarons are, I would have gotten more than just one. The deliciousness really deserves its own post so I’ll just say that I ate mine and then ate some of Tammy’s. And tried to eat Lindsey’s. And have gone back twice within the past two weeks. And gotten two macarons each time. And ate them both within a day.

In all, it was a fun day and now I’m intent on “Eating the Wine Country.” Just thinking about all the eating and fine dining opportunities that await me makes me incredibly happy and excited. I’m turning 30 next year; I think I’m grown up enough to enjoy the occasional fine dining experience. There are tons of restaurants there that I am now chomping at the bit to try. I probably won’t eat at most of them, but if I can make my way through a good chunk, I’d be one happy camper. We’re already planning on saving our money so we can try the French Laundry next year [provided we’re able to get reservations!] and I’m already eying Bouchon Bistro, Bistro Jeanty and maybe possibly Ad Hoc and Morimoto in Napa. Yes these places are not cheap at all but I have no problem saving my dollars for a good meal and honestly, if I can get a great meal and the experience of eating at these places, that would be worth it to me. It’s not like I’ll be eating there all the time.

They’re not Bouchon macarons, after all.