Audio Adventures & Old Hawaii, Too


By the end of the month I suppose it will be time to dismiss my efforts at connecting with someone, anyone of potential influence, even by way of their simply having read the book and contributed a public review, as a categorical failure. It’s embarrassing, humiliating actually, and very discouraging in terms of what to do next when you’ve put forth your very best, all that you have, and it doesn’t measure up. This is the risk of the art-craft gambit, of course; namely, making oneself vulnerable to the world’s unbuffered adjudication. You can fail. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a legitimate risk.

How do I know that it hasn’t measured up? Shouldn’t I give everything a lot more time to play out? Yes. Who knows if anyone has even finished reading the thing, even if they bought a copy? The giveaways, well, folks don’t value what they get for free. People are busy and one’s little novel doesn’t factor very high in their list of priorities. I get it. I wouldn’t give a shit either. It’s nothing to do with anyone else, the success or failure of my aspirations. Nobody is obligated to help. And if the book is really just so-so, which I suppose it might be, my opinion notwithstanding, then silence is probably a kinder fate than criticism.

The thing that really stings, however, and the thing that I couldn’t have anticipated even at my lowest point in the creative and production process, was the cutting nature of indifference. The categorical, across the board lack of even passing interest. To be criticized, it can be said, is to have reached a level of accomplishment, as it were, that is exponentially greater than the thing which is dismissed out of hand. To be criticized is to be considered. To be criticized is to be acknowledged. To be criticized means somebody paid attention. It’s a lousy form of legitimization, obviously, the worst form, but it’s legitimization nonetheless. Whereas what I’m experiencing, which is no experience at all, really, is the crushing futility that the cipher experiences, the ghostly existence of the nobody and the nonentity. You live and your work lives but not in the same vital manner that we recognize as proper life. Or even typical life. Because there is an air of refusal to the whole experience of the void; of enforced indifference.

Now, to be sure, it’s just this kind of thinking that reveals the onset of psychological schism, for nobody cares. They really, truly don’t. They’re innocent in this way. Just as there are any number of things that I’m innocently indifferent to, that I’m not actively ignoring, let alone dismissing, so it is with the world-of-action and even anyone whom I’ve foisted a copy of the book upon. Even anyone who has bought the thing out of courtesy. I still don’t know if anyone has read it besides Angie, Veronica and Kev. And if they have and it hasn’t inspired them enough to comment or to become a member of my tribe, then, so be it. There’s no arguing fate in that way. Oh, it’s as good as anything out there racking up decent sales so goddammit, buy it, support it, help this man’s book get the recognition, the readership it deserves. Things don’t work that way. I think Ari W. wrote something about a book, as an example of an idea, residing for any number of years or decades in obscurity, buried on some shelf until its time comes. Until the zeitgeist jibes with the content, until the book has its day. But sometimes it never does. And if the author dies beforehand then it’s also as if it never did.

That last idea is just me being selfish and self-centered, of course. It’s just me grasping at outcomes, at the fruits of my labor when I ought to be content with having accomplished the  work for its own sake. This is one reason why I write and why, specifically, I journal, so as to write my way through the dark. Because I’m proud to have written Time Crime. And every time, as I’ve said, I glance at the cover, or the words inside the book or stare at the poster of the cover on the wall, I feel good, I feel energized and alive. I feel the energy it creates of its own accord. The book lives. And when I work on marketing it, I also feel alive and feel good on behalf of the book. I’m doing my best for it. It deserves my best. And when I work on the next book it helps, too. It helps me and helps TC1. I can wish things were different; that the folks in the bookstores would read the thing instead of just stocking it; that somebody would get behind it like I’m behind  it, but that’s too much to ask of people. It’s my job, meanwhile, from what I can tell, since things didn’t take off right away like they could have in the exceptional case, to just keep at it; to listen to my heart and make certain the energy is good and that I’m not grasping and to do my work, my thing, to hold to my VAPM. Because there is progress, as little as it seems, and that’s the evidence. I’m getting the book and the word out, slowly but methodically and I’m waking up every day with the resources – the time and money – to keep at it.

To post or not to post? There’s no market for failure, after all; people don’t want to hear it; they want a happy ending. Who wouldn’t? Perhaps I wouldn’t read this shit if I hadn’t written it. Perhaps it’s a mistake to make the private public in this way? I can say that having become used to the environment, the blogging life, already, it seems my journaling is returning to its private nature. When I first began this experiment a couple weeks ago the exposure, such as it is or isn’t, was destined to distort my perspective. It did in the beginning to some extent. But to know that this big reveal is happening more or less privately anyway, that I’m alone within the crowd, well, it’s not so unnerving. Somebody someday might actually read this crap. And if they don’t, my satisfaction, my sense of being properly alive while doing this work and attempting to connect with it, resides, I think, within its truth. This is how things are with me; with my work, with my adventure and it’s the only thing I have to offer. So, it’s offered. I’m trying to do good when I know what good is. It’s not pretty, I’m sorry to say, but it’s offered nonetheless. This is not a lament. This is not a biography. It’s a real mythology. It’s human. Hence, I have faith that it somehow belongs in the world, despite not completely understanding its function. It feels real. It feels authentic. It feels like progress. And if it feels like progress, even if it doesn’t so much look like progress, then it is.

Time Crime Audiobook cover by Robin Vuchnich

On that note, I’d reached out to Robin V., my book designer, about the glitchiness of my trying to upload an audiobook cover, DIY attempting to crop the image, which has to be square (you know, because somebody had to create an arbitrary configuration so as to distinguish audiobooks from print books, apparently) for my Findaway Voices account. She fired off a properly formatted version, no charge and all I can say, because I’m really feeling tapped out in terms of the ceaseless financial outlay of this project, is whew, thanks. She could’ve charged me for an hour and she didn’t. Anyway, her version (above) kicks ass and we’ll see how far I can get with this project, one step at a time.


All photos by the author except the luau dancers image which came from a promotional flyer

New Adventures in Old Hawaii

My parents, in a very gracious gesture, decided to invite us to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with them in Hawaii, a place they had fond memories of from a trip they’d enjoyed decades before. They paid for the airfare and accommodations for me, Angie, my brother Kurt, his wife Amy, and their daughter Ella. To our great disappointment, however, my twin brother Kevin is unable to go with us – he’s in the midst of a new teaching job and can’t justify going on a two-week vacation so soon after getting hired and in the midst of the semester. I’m determined to arrange some kind of get-together in 2011 to make up for it in some way, even if me and Angie just get him down to Houston again. But it’s a great gift, my parents even threw in a couple thousand bucks in spending money – wow! – so it’s a family reunion island-style. Neither Angie nor I have ever been to Hawaii, and who knows if we’d have ever gotten there – it’s an unexpected adventure worth making the most of.

We’ve created a vision-of-greatness for this, so we can maximize the time spent with family that we very rarely see, especially after having moved to Texas with everyone else living in Michigan. We’ve been on a diet, trying to slim down a little in expectation of some “beachy” body awareness situations – we’d like to try to look our best – it helps us to enjoy ourselves if we’re not as self-conscious about that stuff. Anyway, it’s been a good detoxification experiment if nothing else because we haven’t done any drinking for over a month. Drinking is a vice, but an enjoyable one for us – I think we all need at least one to keep from becoming dullards. We’ve tried to follow Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred plan, and we’ve seen good results. We like food and drink too much to ever make a habit out of tweaking what we eat and drink like this – life’s too short. We prefer to eat what we want, and then work out to keep the balance; a few pounds here and there are worth it.

We’re scheduled to spend four days in Honolulu and ten days in Maui. We expect to do a lot of hiking, some cooking (I’m bringing my kitchen knives), some eating out, and considerable quality time with our family. We’ll learn a lot too, I hope. My parents wanted to include a luau in the itinerary, but hadn’t set it up yet when they told us of the plans for the family trip. I happened to mention going to Hawaii in an email to Ari W., and in an amazing coincidence, it so happened that he was in Hawaii at that very moment, in Lahaina, where we’d be spending ten days! He was ostensibly working, providing a Zingtrain seminar with the folks who run Old Lahaina Luau. Ari was apparently impressed with their operation, and having attended one of their luaus, he recommended it without reservation, describing Old Lahaina as a group that focused on the traditional aspects of the luau (a competitive business in Hawaii) versus the more commercially and touristy versions that apparently abound. So Angie and I jumped at the chance to reserve a spot with Old Lahaina – with Ari’s recommendation behind it, we trust it’ll be fantastic.

According the folks at Old Lahaina, the word “luau” describes two things: first, “lu’au” are the leaves of the Kalo or Taro plant, which is a traditional Hawaiian food (they consume both the leaves and the root), so you’ll see dishes like “squid luau” or “chicken luau;” secondly, as it’s used today, lu’au has come to mean “an informal gathering of people for food and entertainment.”[1] Include the drink, and that’s as good a definition of a party as I’ve heard.

I’ve been emailing Chef Masuda at Old Lahaina Luau, which we’ve scheduled for November 12th. I’m interested in the Kalua Pig, which is “unearthed from the Imu” – the traditional underground oven – as part of the feast. I can’t wait to see how it’s done, and I’m interested in the sourcing of the pig, the breed, what it’s fed – all the stuff that gets my mental nut spinning on the subject of pigs. I would have hoped they’d known the answers right away, but even in this enlightened age of food provenance and local flavor in America, I know that it’s still not commonplace for a restaurant to necessarily have this info at their fingertips.

Sunday, November 07, 2010. It’s early morning and we’re in our hotel in Honolulu. The sun has not risen yet, and Angie and I have completed a sitting meditation – the stretching and postures felt especially good on our stomach, hips, and legs which suffered some strain during the nine or so hours of plane travel. I’m at my computer journaling. Rather than hand write this journal entry, and discard it later, I’m experimenting this morning with recording the events of our trip directly into the computer and possibly, if it makes my editorial cut, including them in the book.

We spent last evening hooking up with my parents, Kurt, Amy and Ella. We were all tired, obviously – the time change is fairly dramatic – five hours difference for me and Angie coming from Texas, and I think six hours for the rest of the family coming from Michigan. But gaining so many hours just adds more daylight to our adventure! The sun was setting as Angie and I tried to refresh ourselves as best we could from the trip. We made our way down to the nice pool and of course the open bar that the hotel provides each evening. Although we were too jet-lagged to really enjoy our first beers in over five weeks, it was still great to celebrate being free from our diet. There was also entertainment: a Hawaiian dance club performing what I assumed were traditional island dances. It was a family affair, mc’d by the mother with her daughters performing along with ten or twelve other youngsters, all dressed in colorful clothing, the long-haired girls wearing luminescent red, yellow and green dresses, their arms bare, and the boys, smartly dressed in blue short sleeve shirts and white slacks. All were barefoot. The young girls performed earnestly, some very self-possessed and professional, their elegance revealing a natural talent for the art form, while most of the others seemed charmingly distracted, looking side-to-side trying to stay in position. These dances tell stories and at times it seemed you could figure out what they were describing with their movements – their eyes focused on their cupped hands above their heads, it seemed they were demonstrating the presence of the sun. When their arms were extended, gracefully flowing together, I imagined waves. As opposed to the graceful, flowing movements of the girls and women, the boys and men performed with more angular, quick economy of movement. The best dancers – men, women, boys or girls – were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the wordless story-telling – if you watched their movements closely, you could begin to see the culture imbedded in this traditional art form – it is, like all dancing, very expressive. I could see that this family affair was a labor of love for the mother troop leader and the handful of other adult members, all of whom seemed to have their own children in the group. It was touching to see how proud they were – the performances were from the heart, it was obvious. After the show, the dances fanned out into our small crowd of spectators, greeting each of us with handshakes, “alohas” and “mahulas.” They expressed their creativity with passion and mindfulness, and that’s what I took from the performance – to remember to live each day in this way, engaged, and in touch with your master passions.

Today, refreshed, we plan to hike to Kona Brewery and back – nine miles one way – so we’re starting early to catch the sunrise on the beach, just down the street from our hotel, then we’ll be back for a quick breakfast before we start walking.

We’re back and we’re suffering from sore toes. We managed the entire eighteen miles round trip from our hotel in the Waikiki Beach area, heading east around Diamond Head Crater along Highway 72, a.k.a. Kalanianaole Highway, to Koko Marina and the Kona Brewery Pub, where we enjoyed cold beers and a fish sandwich special.

The walk back along the south side of Diamond Head Crater was a visual treat – the ritzy neighborhoods and then the great view of the Pacific from high above the water. A large portion of the walk was unfortunately along Highway 72 with a lot of traffic. Our feet are sore – Angie has some blisters. Otherwise, it was a good, long, hard trek; we got lots of sun, and we’re really tired.

Dinner was at a place called Shore Bird. This was an experience none of us will forget. The idea of the place is to have the guests grill all their own meat and fish on a communal grill. I was skeptical from the beginning – why the hell would I take the trouble to go to a restaurant and then cook my own food? I can cook my own food at home. Anyway, an intitially intriguing but ultimately gimmicky concept that seemed to attempt to blend the group-hug atmosphere of a Mongolian barbecue-type experience with more traditional burgers and fish fillets, all over a giant gas grill. The grill itself was on the other side of the restaurant from our table and had I noticed the huge plum of blue grill smoke continually blowing up the overworked hood vent and into the faces of the diner/grillers, I may have been even more skeptical. In the end, I was blithely unaware of any non-routine dining experience until after everybody had ordered and the waiter casually mentioned where the grill was and that he’d be right out with the meat. Adding to the curiosity of the event was that apparently the rest of the family was already aware of the DIY situation but mistakenly thought it was optional.

It turns out that nobody wanted to cook their own entrée and me and Kurt were forced into grill duty. We carried our raw meat across the restaurant hoping to find some space to work at the grill station and soon after arriving we received brief instruction by a red-faced grill attendant who looked overworked and exasperated. Kurt and I wielded our double-length grill tools (obviously designed to keep folks as far from the heat and smoke as possible) against the choking inferno, taking what pleasure we could from the man-versus-fire scenario before hauling our handiwork back to the rest of the hungry family.

Monday, November 8, 2010. We’re up by 5:30AM to get coffee from the Starbucks across the street and to stroll back to our hotel and put our feet in the hotel pool. Mornings here are breezy and cool; it seems to take quite a few hours for the sun to make its way over the tall buildings and heat things up. So we sat there awhile and then had the “complimentary” breakfast again. The food looks nice, but has no flavor whatsoever, typical of the hotel buffet genre. The rest of our crew came down for breakfast, we did some chatting, then pops checked his email on our laptop. I passed on a copy of my book “query” since Mom had asked Angie about the book I was writing yesterday and it’s a bit of a challenge to describe it, but this is designed to do just that, so they all looked it over. It’s the same for the Humble Hogs website (and concept for that matter) – it’s the first time I’ve revealed any of my ideas to the “regular” family. I’ve been sort of holding off exposing myself so to say to the parents and Kurt and Amy – I’ve not been sure that they’d really give a shit, let alone appreciate the concept.

There’s a really a languorous beauty to enjoy here; a grand oceanic luxury and expansiveness that especially comes over you when you look out across the ocean. Angie and I walked the beach for an hour before lunch and it was already hot enough that a short walk on the sand required some time with your feet in the water to cool off. We ate lunch at what turned out to be a local hang out of sorts for Japanese food – Wasabi Bistro. The food was, like all great Japanese food, visually stylish. Both of our dishes contained portions of fermented bean curd, which the waiter was careful to “warn” us about. It seemed like a family-run place, so our young waiter seemed to be related to the older woman who made sure to stop by and ask, skeptically, if we liked our fermented bean curd it, but she seemed please when we said yes. She pored some soy sauce on it which helped to make it more palatable; it’s a very pungent, strong-tasting substance which Angie described accurately as something resembling cheese more than anything else in western cuisine. It reminded us of Epoisse, a soft, stinky cheese we’ve enjoyed before. But the curd is even more challenging in terms of flavor; after several mouthfuls of my dish and Angie’s (hers had a lot of curd) I had had enough of the pungent, overpowering stuff. The texture alone can be off-putting – gooey is the best word. Like brownish cottage cheese curds, when you picked some up with chop sticks, the gooey stringiness was pronounced – more like glue out of a jar than the more familiar stringiness of melted cheese or the heavy stickiness of honey – this was a light, delicate messy gooiness that just wouldn’t let go of your chop sticks. In all, very odd. I’m glad we tried it, but it’s nothing I’d go back to.

Dinner was at Top of Waikiki, Honolulu’s only rotating restaurant (thank thor), located on the eighteenth floor of the Waikiki Business Plaza. Open since 1965, it was recommended by a local newspaper, and it didn’t disappoint us – the food was very good, the atmosphere casually elegant and the views rewarding. The restaurant makes a full rotation every hour (at a speed of about one mile an hour) and the panorama of Honolulu and the ocean and the surrounding hills was great. While tempted to try the pork osso bucco (sic) with smoked lentils, I couldn’t ignore the duck breast served with macadamia nut egg rolls. The Hawaiian “sliders” – three mini-burgers, each no bigger than a silver dollar, topped with seared fois gras, pineapple relish, camembert cheese and micro greens on a profiterole – were also recommended by the newspaper and they succeeded in combining playfulness with sophistication; delicately rich, even the little buns were compellingly flavorful. Angie had a disappointing fish “special:” seared tuna coated in furukaki seasoning. It was dull with the accompanying slaw far outshining the flavorless fish. The tour de force meal of the evening indeed happened to be the pork osso bucco with smoked lentils, roasted baby carrots and apples. This dish, which my sister-in-law Amy ordered, was the definition of a comforting fall meal – the smoked lentils alone were worth it. I think the pork could’ve been more tender given the braised preparation, but in all the dish was a winner.

Tuesday, 11/9. We hiked to Mt. Olympus today, an impressive-sounding destination that in fact almost lived up to it’s name – this was a serious hike, one of the best we’ve had over the years – it reminded us of our hiking trips to Mont Blanc and the Canadian Rockies, which is saying something indeed. The trails were quite challenging in places with a lot of elevation changes and even some rock scrambling that required both hands to get through. This type of hiking is something we’ve missed; our Texas hikes are of course relegated to essentially zero elevation change. Trails like this inspire us to move somewhere where we can enjoy good hiking whenever we want.

After some debate on whether we’d try to cut our mileage by taking public transportation to a trail head, keeping us to under ten miles for the day, we scrapped the idea. Before we set off, we went down to our hotel lobby and spoke to a representative for Expedia who turned out to be very helpful. A native of Switzerland, he’d spent much of his life in Vancouver, Canada so we enjoyed talking a little about Mont Blanc, the Canadian Rockies and hiking culture in Europe. We told him about our plans for Mount Olympus and how we were debating whether to get a ride to the trail head or just hike from the city; he advised against trying to negotiate the highway, which was not designed to accommodate walkers. He gave us some maps, pointed us towards a book store which had a lot of hiking guides, and advised that we call the city bus authority for info on routes. I called them, and they also advised against walking the highway route to the trail head. I was getting frustrated and impatient – our public transportation idea was costing us time instead of saving it – so we decided to regroup and discuss our options.

It became clear to us that we’d be better off sticking to our Oahu map, and heading out on foot to see how far we could get versus trying to micromanage the experience. We’d plan our own route up, and if we made it to the trail head and could still manage to get back to our hotel before dark, we’d consider ourselves successful. This way, at least we’d be autonomous and whatever happened, we’d enjoy the walking, so off we went. We made our way north through Honolulu, and within half an hour we were huffing and puffing our way up through a surprisingly hilly, almost mountainous neighborhood. The grade was dramatic, and we wondered how much folks enjoyed living on such severe slopes, but whenever a car, moped or even the occasional pedal biker rolled by, the folks seemed blithely unaffected by the challenge, proving you can get used to anything. Trudging onwards, we quickly gained elevation and the views back towards Honolulu were getting good:

It’s always reassuring to run across a trail marker and we were glad to see this sign for the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail:

We soon reached the trail head, which somewhat incongruously begins immediately at the edge of the subdivision we walked through. In the photo below, Angie’s entering the park (note the torii gate[2]) and you can see the yellow and purple-colored flowering shrubs at the corner of the homeowner’s property on her left:

The State of Hawaii Department of Natural Resources refers to this area as a “rain forest” and it indeed had a lush, green, densely forested quality to it – quite a dramatic change from the beaches and surfer vibe of downtown Honolulu.

We reached the summit after about an hour of hiking and even after enjoying the views of the surrounding neighborhoods and forest along the way, we found this open spot to be especially majestic and inspiring – what a view of the city and the sea! – we could even see inside Diamond Head Crater to the East.

You don’t often get an official “end of trail” sign to provide a sense of accomplishment, but in this case, we lucked out.

Angie at the end of the trail

We headed back parched, sun baked, very tired, with sore feet and empty stomachs, having accomplished thirteen miles of challenging trail and city trekking. After a much needed shower, we were hungry and made our way down to the hotel pool and patio area for beer and pizza. Reconnecting with the rest of the family, we anxiously exchanged stories of our adventures. My parents took a submarine ride: tug boats tow electrically-powered submarines out to deep water, then a boat shuttles patrons out to the subs where they get a short ride underwater. Kurt, Amy and Ella took a surfing lesson on Waikiki Beach, trying their skills on the waves of that famous area where “The Duke” made his name. We all began to relax, beginning to hit our vacation stride so to say.

After four days in Honolulu, it was on to Maui where we were to spend the next ten days at the Honua Kai Resort at Kaanapali Beach, about two miles up the coast from Lahaina, a small tourist city on the island. The resort was less than a year old at the time of this writing, very large, covering at least a few acres and consisting of two separate “dormitory” style buildings surrounded by well-landscaped pool areas, walking boardwalks, open space, a restaurant, a small gourmet food shop and a mere one-hundred-yard stroll to the beach, with the islands of Lanai and Molokai flanking the view.

The three-bedroom suite we shared was very nicely designed with a spacious and well-outfitted kitchen with a granite-topped island as the centerpiece, surrounded by a large family room and dining area. We had a washer and dryer in the suite and each bedroom had access to a handsomely tiled bathroom. The family room, dining area and master bedroom opened to the wrap-around balcony through impressively sturdy and functionally engineered storm door panels; designed with heavy aluminum frames, they opened and closed accordion-style, making for a breezy, stylish, indoor/outdoor living space.

Angie and I quickly focused on getting the maximum enjoyment out of the professional-style Viking brand kitchen equipment which included a four-burner range, a large gas oven which could be switched back and forth between conventional and convection, and a separate smaller oven, also with convection options. We had a large microwave and a counter-depth, cabinet-matching refrigerator (which looked large but since the depth was decreased, did not actually hold much food). The one disappointment was the range hood which, as is all too typical in residential installations, was not vented to the outside; it not only diminished the professional aspect of the kitchen’s functionality, but also turned out to be a liability in terms of my working conditions: not only the smoke, but the heat generated by two ovens and a range top continued to build up in the kitchen and short of opening all the doorwalls and hoping for cool breezes, there was no way to abate it. The air conditioning wasn’t up to the task of compensating for this heat load and if we opened the doorwalls to let in the ocean breezes, it automatically shut off. With the afternoon sun blazing in through all the storm doors it just got worse as I worked. Our only solution was to leave the heavy drapes covering the door walls (which we kept closed to keep the air conditioning on) to block the sun, and when it began to set in the late afternoon, we opened the doorwalls to let in the cool breeze.

Regardless of the heat, the cooking was fun and really became one of the best parts of the trip for me. I had been concerned that everyone else in the family would prefer to eat out all the time, which would have been understandable. After all, why would anyone assume I could cook a good meal? But as it turned out, the cost of eating out, coupled with the exhausting (but exhilarating) days of exploring, swimming, and shopping typically had everyone completely on board with sharing a home-cooked meal in the suite. From our first day there, everyone else seemed o.k. with me and Angie doing some full dinners – we didn’t want to “hog” the kitchen or force our tastes or food on everyone else, but from the beginning we were encouraged to do our own grocery shopping and cooking. We made sure to communicate what we’d be making very early in the day so that if someone wanted to opt out of dinner “at home” they could and it would be no-harm-no-foul in terms of anyone’s feelings getting hurt.

We’re all going to remember this Hawaiian vacation differently, unique to our own passions and experiences and for me it was great to let it revolve around food. I like to cook for others, I don’t know why, but I don’t question it, it just comes out of me and the more the merrier is my motto, whether you just enjoy eating what I make or you want to join in and help out (or even run the show) I’m up for anything to do with it as long as we’re eating well and having a blast with it. So, a good way for me to record the Maui days is to use the meals as a sort of reference point.

On day one, when we were burned out by the travel from Oahu (even a short flight like that required all the packing and airport check-in, security checks, and rental car gyrations) we ended up at Duke’s, the restaurant located a stone’s throw outside our suite, towards the beach. It was a serviceable place, serving decent seafood-themed dishes, but it lacked inspiration or originality. It was mid-grade restaurant fare with a little face-lift in presentation, some live entertainment, a great setting, some tourist burn-out issues from the staff, and of course the captured-audience, tourist-gouging prices that you can’t blame them for I guess – there was nothing to be disappointed about if you knew what to expect. With the open-air, poolside setting, the tikki torches, the mai tais and a mere fifty-yard walk to our suite, I couldn’t really complain.

The next day, Thursday, Angie and I went grocery shopping to stock the suite with some basics like breakfast cereal, eggs and milk and to get enough stuff to crank out at least a couple straightforward but tasty meals that would inspire but not offend the various palates of our group. Chicken seemed a good place to start, and I had an idea of using the fall seasonality as a guide even though we were in island paradise weather. A Caesar salad with sautéed chicken breast and butternut squash soup with homemade croutons started things off. I needed my homemade chicken stock for the soup and figured I could trim the breasts out of a chicken, use those for the salad, then use the rest of the carcass for a good stock for the soup – the amount would be perfect for the soup and I could cook it up in a couple of hours. The bread choices for croutons? Horrible. Again, where was a Zingerman’s when you needed them? But I made do with what I could get from the market recommended to us by one of the valets – Lahaina Farms – which was actually owned by Foodland and was their new experiment in an organic grocery environment – sourcing some local produce and focusing on the Whole Foods style of quality organic but still mixed in with more standard grocery fair. This market was indeed very new and you could tell – the employees seemed earnest but not quite up to speed on where everything was, but they had a good attitude. In addition to serviceable bread, we picked up two more chickens, sourced from Washington state and I can tell you that they were some of the most chickeny chickens I’ve ever had – to be used for the next dinner of roast chicken (times two) with Makers Mark whiskey sauce, Irish roasties (a high-heat roasted potato recipe from Ari Weinzweig’s Guide to Good Eating) and sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon. Bingo – we had two meals planned with the possibility of leftovers for lunches.

Of note, my mom and dad are not fans of spicy food – my mom has what a doctor called a “geographic tongue” in which, apparently, certain foods, especially spicy or acidic ones, will cause a painful and irritating condition on the surface of her tongue so that she can’t enjoy eating at all. My dad simply doesn’t prefer the heat of peppers nor more exotic spices from India or Asia unless he gets a chance to try them in small servings. So, there was no advantage to anyone in me reaching beyond familiar and simple roasts and braises – good savory restorative food for folks that have had full days of physical activity in the water and in the sun. I love that food anyway, so I was excited to prepare it. Even though Kurt and Amy were more adventurous eaters, I was sure they’d be satisfied if I could make sure to make the meals as flavorful as possible.

On Friday, dinner was part of the Old Lahaina Luau that Angie had reserved on the recommendation of Ari. We were all looking forward to it, and it delivered – the setting was, according to the general manager who stopped by our table, designed specifically for the luau, versus many of the competitor’s versions that were simply attached to a hotel with fake beach scenes on murals and the like, within walking distance from people’s rooms. A luau can, as you might expect, become a tacky, frat-party drinking and dancing type of experience with none of the heritage and history as brought forth in the traditional dances, music and costumes that Old Lahaina focuses on. Theirs was a great combination of relaxation, interesting Hawaiian history, good food and high-energy entertainment by vibrant and talented dancers. We enjoyed a traditional festive drum dance called the Ote’a. This was followed by Kahiko – the ancient hula, a tribute to King David Kalakaua, known as the “Merry Monarch” and credited for giving the hula back to the Hawaiian people after more than fifty years of it being banned during the missionary era. Then the Auana – the modern hula, and finally a Tahitian Fete Celebration featuring solo dancers.

The luau food was great and turned out to be a very well-managed buffet style banquet of many, many different dishes – I counted sixteen on the menu! It included everything from traditional Poke and Poi to Maui Style Mahimahi, Pulehu Steak and Lomilomi Salmon, with banana bread, taro rolls, green salad, fresh fruit and desserts. When I say “buffet” one might imagine the all-too-familiar steam table line up were you stand in line for a half hour before you can get all your food and sit down to eat. This was very different, each large table had a waiter who guided us through the meal and process – they were all young locals with great energy and customer service skills – they were entertainers in their own right and we were shepherded to the buffet and back in such well-timed and well-manage choreography that you never would have known that you were enjoying this feast with a hundreds of other people. There were two pork dishes: Laulau – bundles of meat wrapped in taro leaf – and Kalua Pua’a (pork), which was the undisputed star of the food show – three whole pigs, wrapped in banana leaves and nestled within hot rocks, had been steaming underneath a bed of sand for most of the day. This earthen oven is known as an “imu” and a crowd began to gather around it almost as soon as we arrived at the luau.

Whether roasted on a spit over a fire, barbequed within a Texas-style steel smoker pit, or indeed steamed within an imu, cooking whole hogs fascinates, inspires and enchants people – it’s evident wherever cooking like this takes place – and Old Lahaina was no exception. As the sun set over the water, the island of Lanai in the distance, the tikki torches becoming our only light, two men responsible for unearthing the pigs arrived with a large tray which they placed just outside the pit. They spoke to the crowd about the details of cooking in this way – what type of rocks were used (not lava), that the pork was steamed, not baked – the water in the banana leaves turns to steam within the imu and gently cooks the pork to tenderness. They explained that the essence of the traditional luau included the celebration of working together and that each member of the luau was to contribute in some way – either by bringing food or helping to prepare it; it this way one “earned” his or her portion of the food, it was a communal effort that made the event more meaningful. We were in fact advised, just before the pigs were unearthed, that the spirit of the famous Hawaiian greeting “aloha” is meant to convey more than just a greeting; it encourages happiness and wellness so that, as our young imu-tender told us, “When you say aloha, you should mean it.”

The men quickly got to work, using shovels to remove the layer of sand which was warm, but not hot to the touch, exposing a cloth tarp which in turn covered the banana leaves and the three steaming pigs. Chicken wire supports the first layers of banana leaves, forming a sort of roof over the pigs and air space for the steam to circulate. The pigs themselves are also wrapped in chicken wire and banana leaves. As the men carefully removed the layers of wire and banana leaves, steam billowed up, generating a collective “Aaahh…” from the crowd and initiating a sudden blitzkrieg of camera flashes – the pigs had become a combination of movie stars and buried treasure.

We were told that hot rocks were placed within the pigs to enhance the cooking process. the pigs were quickly transferred to the large trays and carried off to be prepared for the dinner service, dispersing the hungry crowd and encouraging us to make our way to the buffet. I made sure to include a healthy portion of the tender pork on my plate; its flavor was very straightforward – I tasted only sweet pork and mild salt. We were to enjoy Kalua pork several more times at different restaurants on Maui and the flavor was always similar to this lightly seasoned, lean meat. The pigs are obtained from a local pig farm and, according to Chef Craig, are a Yorkshire and Hampshire crossbreed which are fead grain and food waste for the five to eight months it takes them to reach a market weight of between 200 and 240 pounds prior to slaughter.

In all, this event seemed to set the perfect mood for the rest of our Hawaiian adventure – we had now been fully immersed in Hawaiian history, culture, music, food and hospitality. The three hour evening was over before we knew it – we soon found ourselves at the end of the show and a little wistful that it was over.

The next night, I cooked again, and decided on a pasta dish, one of my own creations, which is penne, homemade tomato-basil sauce, mild Italian sausage and sautéed mushrooms. We suffered through more mediocre bread – there was nothing else available – to soak up the sauce and ended up with some left-overs for lunch which my dad took care of later in the week.

After the home-cooking, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check out some of the restaurants that Ari Weinzweig had recommended. Star Noodle, in Lahaina, with a menu, at the time of this writing in 2010, designed by Chef Sheldon Simeon, under Executive Chef Craig Masuda, was a treat and surpassed all of the expectations that Angie and I had for it. We started with lunch.

Our waitress, Robyn, was fantastic and gave us an enthusiastic run-down of the food. A flight of sake was a great start, along with a Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde beer. We shared the special, an Ahi Ssam and the Star Udon (pork broth and kalua pork!) for which Star Noodle makes their own udon noodles, appropriately enough. We were asked how we found about the restaurant and we mentioned Ari Weinzweig, whom they really seemed to like from the Zingtrain classes. Also, we mentioned that we’d been in touch with Chef Craig and one of the waiters said the chef happened to be in the kitchen and that he’d bring him out to say hello. What a great surprise and treat to meet Chef Craig, a warm and soft-spoken man with an obviously big heart and real talent! He returned to the kitchen, but our meal was apparently only just beginning because within a few minutes our table was refilled with more star noodle specialties including steamed pork buns, pohole salad and Brussels sprouts with bacon and kim chee puree (I’d just prepared Brussels sprouts in exactly the manner, minus the kim chee, the night before). We finished with star screams for dessert, a selection of three fruity gelatos – but our waitress wasn’t confident that we’d like the orange-based version they’d been tasting so she provided two of the same flavor. We’d been missing the luxurious body and vibrant taste of gelato since our days in Ann Arbor where we’d enjoy the gelatos that Zingerman’s served at its Roadhouse restaurant and also sold in pints at Whole Foods. We ended up overfull, but very happy, and we were determined to return later in the week.

We even convinced my parents, whose trepidation of thai-style food and its accompanying heat usually kept them far away from places like Star Noodle, to stop by and enjoy the Ssam special of the day, which is like a burrito, this time stuffed with tender grilled tuna suffused with a smoky char from the grill and accompanied by a delicate cream sauce. It was another example of what Star Noodle does best – deeply flavorful food that combines a comforting and familiar home cooked savoriness with an unpredictable and forward-thinking “chefy-ness.” The food is unpretentious yet accomplished. The service and the food are from the heart, and the joy comes through. It was to be our last shared meal in Hawaii; our trip had come to an end and we’d soon be on a plane back to Texas.

Angie and my parents, outside Star Noodle restaurant, Maui, 2010

[1], November 4, 2010.

[2] My study of Shinto was at this point two years away, so at the time, I didn’t recognize this park entrance as a form of torii gate; however, looking back, it’s the first of two photos in DOP showing Angie passing beneath one. Refer to the chapter entitled Magokoro for the other photo and a discussion of torii gates within Shinto spirituality.