I played hooky for the past few weeks of school. It may have not been the best time to take a vacation because of all of the deadlines that I have coming up and my looming baking final practical exam that is coming up this week. There really isn’t ever a perfect time to take a vacation. These days I find I have to force myself to take a break or I will just keep going and going. Unfortunately, no break often leads to burn out, and I know that feeling all too well so in the past few weeks my family and I went to Hawaii.
It’s been just over two years since my life and career took such a sharp turn into the wonderful world of food and as most of you know, working for yourself means working twice as hard. The result, however, is that I love what I do. This wasn’t the only reason I took the giant leap into self-employment. I have two very young kids and I did the 9-5 job and daycare grind for a while and It never made sense to me. I knew there was so much more out there and I didn’t want opportunities to pass me by (I firmly believe that if the opportunity is there, and you don’t grab onto it while life is handing it to you, they float away forever). Now was the perfect time to venture off on my own but I promised myself I would always keep in mind why I did this in the first place – Passion and life balance.
We were set to head off to the airport at 4am, our flight was scheduled to take off at 6:20am. We packed a bag (we decided to pack incredibly light) and at 3am after we finished packing, we thought we would take a quick nap before the taxi arrived. HUGE MISTAKE. We both slept through our alarm clocks and missed our flight to Vancouver. (A sure sign that we needed a rest…point proven universe!)
The lady at West Jet did an amazing job at calming me down. I called the booking line and pleaded with them to hold the plane. Instead, she booked us on a late evening flight which got us into Hawaii 14 hours later. This meant that we had to miss our planned stopover, fun day, in Vancouver and instead slept the night in the Vancouver airport.
My birthday was the following day after we arrived in Hawaii. It wasn’t a milestone or anything, we just prefer to go away at the beginning of April which happens to be my birthday. It was fun to have cake by the Pacific Ocean. I bought the largest coconut cream cake I could find and it was delicious.
Living like a local
We haven’t stayed at a resort in over 8 years. There is nothing wrong with resorts, self travel is just the way we like to do it. We booked an apartment on Air B&B that was a block from the main beach in Oahu. We learned the bus schedule and walked to the grocery store and even cooked our own meals.
There is a great Farmers Market on Saturdays at the KCC. We were all set to go and explore the food and fresh produce but by the time we got the kids ready and arrived at the market, they were packing up. A farmers market that closes at 11 am just seems silly to me but we accepted and moved on. We started walking home and much to our surprise we passed right by another farmers market at an elementary school in the area. It was much smaller but this one was not-for-profit and it was run by the locals.
At the market we spoke to a baker who has been making gluten-free and vegan treats for over 10 years. We bought Gluten-free, vegan brownies, the starch used was taro root. The baker told us that 40% of adults and 50% of children are gluten-free/diabetic in Hawaii. It’s something that has evolved overtime – Hawaiians would never eat refined sugar and processed foods but now with the evolution of food, many have developed an intolerance to these processed ingredients.
We also ran into a lovely teacher from the elementary school. She taught me how to make fresh lei and Dean learned Hawaiian from “Auntie Puhia”, is what she called herself. She teaches children ancient Hawaiian culture. She taught us how a lei can tell us about a person’s mood. Lei’s are something you would typically make for someone else and the quality of your craftsmanship would determine your mood while making it. For example, there’s a pattern to follow, 5 flowers, 5 leaves. If the pattern is disturbed, then likely your head was somewhere else. Prior to this break, I would have screwed up a whole bunch of lei – that I know for sure!
Exploring the food
I dragged my husband and kids to numerous fun food spots. They thanked me afterwards. Here is what we ate:
Mochi Ice Cream – Japanese Mochi on the outside (pounded sticky rice) with an ice cream filling. I chose choco-mint and mango! These were very interesting. I liked how the ice cream was contained inside the mochi. Eating them wasn’t messy at all! The mochi is chewy, like chewy candy, but not super sweet. The ice cream is pretty standard.
Hawaiian Plate Lunch at Ono Hawaiian Food – We had to try a classic Hawaiian Plate lunch. We ordered the Kalua Pig Plate which consisted of Kalua pig, pipikaula, lomi salmon, haupia, and rice. The fish delivery hadn’t come in yet so we didn’t get to try any fresh fish dishes. The haupia – the coconut rice pudding that is similar in consistency to jell-o – was so delicious. I have a sweet tooth so I could have had more of this!
Shaved Ice at the Shimazu Store – You can find shaved ice all over Hawaii but nothing like the shaved ice at the Shimazu Store. Often duplicated, many vendors sell snow cones and call it shaved ice. You can see the difference in consistency just from my two photos. The top is from the beach stand and the bottom two are from the Shimazu Store. A true shaved ice is literally shaved using a machine (that I wasn’t allowed to take a photo of) and then covered with any syrup your taste buds desired – there were over 100 flavours. The consistency was made up of super tiny granules of ice that were like ice silk on your tongue. The finer granules also held on to the syrup much better. The kicker-they serve their shaved ice with ice cream on the bottom. This made for a creamy flavour mixed with the syrup – it was pretty magical!
Crack Seed Store – We visited a Crack Seed Store which is Hawaii’s unique take on the candy store. They sell a unique treat — crack seed, salty and sweet dried fruit. You can choose from many different varieties like berries, dried plums, cherries and strawberries. I tried the sweet seedless litling Mei (dried berries). They were a good combination of salty and sweet and very unique in flavour. Salty on the outside and sweet once you break open the centre. I liked them but I couldn’t eat a whole bunch. They went for $20 per pound. If you check out the process of making this specialty candy, you will understand why they are so expensive.
Dim sum at Happy Garden Dim Sum – We visited China town and also shopped a few markets. It’s similar to China Towns that could be found in any city but this one is special because it’s one of the oldest in the world. We tried Happy Garden Dim Sum because it’s one of the oldest and best dim sum in the area. The fish was really fresh because it was caught right on the island, and it showed. The Har Gao was the freshest I have ever tasted. I really liked the Pei Guen (Fried Tofu Skin Roll) – it was my first time trying that.
Korean BBQ – Even though it was sweltering hot in Oahu, I was craving something hot and spicy. I got some yuk gae jang (Spicy beef soup). Me’s BBQ was really close to the beach so we tried it out and their slogan is “The tastiest Korean food on the island!” so I had to verify this for myself. I really liked it but after talking to a local, they told us there are better Korean spots to visit and they even went as far as saying the Korean food was better here, in Hawaii, than in Korea. His words, not mine!
Shrimp trucks at the North Shore – Shrimp trucks are a must visit in Oahu, specifically the North Shore shrimp trucks. We planned to rent a car and visit the famous Giovanni’s shrimp truck, but we took a vote and decided to just eat at a shrimp truck at the South Shore and be good with it. The shrimp was absolutely amazing (I could literally still taste it) and after speaking to a bunch of people, it’s a long drive and not really all that worth it with kids. My husband and I spend a lot of time commuting so a long drive on vacation, although the scenery is beautiful, wasn’t all that appealing to us. Maybe next visit we will take the trip.
Beach food – Every beach vacation we go on, we try the local beach food – fresh fish from the island (mahi mahi) and charcoal barbecued chicken. Every inch of this plate was so satisfying, especially after a rough day on the beach.
Home cooking – I use the term “cooking” loosely. Our kitchen consisted of a fridge, a sink and counter, and a table with an induction burner. We had one frying pan, a microwave, toaster oven and plating with utensils – more than one would need to cook a few meals. Cooking on vacation for me is more like prepping on vacation. We shopped at local markets and grocery stores that were near by. We had fresh fruit and cereal for breakfast, and fresh bread, cheese and cured meats for a light lunch or early dinner. On special mornings I did make eggs and pancakes, but that only happened twice.
Malasadas – My husband is Portuguese and malasadas (fried dough) is something his mother makes every year around shrove Tuesday. Leonard’s Bakery’s Malasadas are the best malasadas on the island, or so I’ve heard. Sadly, we never made it there but I will head there next time around.
Mud Hen Water – Traditional Hawaiian Tapas – and a fun birthday meal with my boys! Favourites: Beets (/w avocado, gorilla ogo, smoked macadamia nuts), Grilled He’e (lu’au, inamona dukkah), Yaki o pa’i’ ai (shoyu sugar, nori, sesame). The kids ate bucatini with butter. I’m still working on them. It was a very cool restaurant in a trendy part of Honolulu.
Red Lobster – I have never eaten at a Red Lobster before but we heard that the best place to enjoy it was in Hawaii because the fish is caught locally. I ordered the ultimate feast, crab legs, lobster, shrimp two ways, and nothing went uneaten. And, can we talk about the biscuits?! Sweet Jesus, those were incredible. Now that I know all about making biscuits from my baking class at Centennial College, my next challenge will be making them taste just like the ones from Red Lobster!
If you want to hit shaved ice at Shimazu’s, malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery, and a Hawaiian plate lunch at Ono Hawaiian foods, go on the same day because they are all really close to each other.
Taking in the culture
I didn’t book a Luau for my family simply because they are really expensive. Luckily for us, we have been experiencing true Hawaiian food on our own, already, and we ran into a free show on Waikiki Beach at sundown. It was beautiful to see the sun setting over the ocean while the Polynesian dancers told stories, played traditional instruments and danced the traditional hula. There were a lot of people who attended but you could hear a pin drop, and the ocean waves, at sun down. It was peaceful and absolutely stunning.
It is said that every Hawaiian island has a different vibe. Oahu means “the gathering place” and it certainly was. The beach, boardwalk and city strip had such an energy about it. A lot of people may prefer the more serene energy of an island like Maui, but my husband and I really took to the vibe in Oahu. There’s something for everyone and you can find anything you need. There is always something happening but you can take it or leave it. Our favourite thing to do was sit on our apartment patio and take in the evening sights and sounds while the kids recharged for the next beach day.
We spent every single day on the beach. It was something that we said we were going to do since it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. There were lots of areas where the tide was blocked off by large rocks so it made for the perfect area for kids to swim safely.
Don’t Take The Lava Rock Home With You
I almost took home some rock and sand home with me to add to my souvenirs. Thank goodness a fellow Canadian traveller told me curse about Pele’s curse, so I immediately put the coral, shells, lava rock and sand back at the beach.
“One of the most well-known myths in Hawaii is Pele’s Curse, which — it turns out — is not an ancient myth at all. Pele’s curse says that any visitor who takes rock or sand away from the Hawaii islands will suffer bad luck until the native Hawaiian elements are returned. The warning is ubiquitous in Hawaii, but it is a modern legend and some people attribute it to a disgruntled park ranger who was sick of people carting off rocks on his watch. Still others think tour guides made up the curse to discourage tourists from bringing dirt and sand onto the buses. Either way, each year hundreds of visitors send packages back to Hawaii full of rocks, sand, and other natural materials in an effort to relieve their consciences and change their luck.” (source: Huffington Post Canada)
A curse is never a good thing to take home with you as a souvenir.
Since we spent so much time on the beach, I often caught the surfers doing their thing. Watching them, I was convinced I could do it too and also what better place to try surfing for the first time then at the place it was invented!
I decided to take a lesson and I also wanted my almost 5 year old to experience it as well. We went to Moku Surf Shop and our instructor was named Kamalu. He was awesome with kids and has been surfing his whole life, so I felt comfortable with him surfing with Dean.
The GoPro camera was a fun addition to the experience! We got so many videos and pictures! Dean did amazingly well! He was so brave and fully enjoyed the experience. He was even able to hold his balance on the waves!
I found surfing pretty easy. Getting up on the board wasn’t difficult, finding the waves was the hard part. Luckily, Kamalu took care of the hard part. He would “shop” for waves and when he found one he set me up and pushed me right into it. All I had to do was get up and ride it. I tried finding waves on my own but every time I got up, it would be a dud. I accepted the fact that this skill takes tonnes of practice. It was an amazing and fun experience and I would totally recommend that you try it out!
The next time we head to Hawaii, we are thinking to try out Maui or Kauai. If we ever make it back to Oahu, I do want to try Leonard’s Malasadas, a north shore shrimp truck, the art district (we hit up one art gallery but the museums require an entire day!), a hike up Diamond Head (when the kids are bigger and more patient), and chili pepper water on fresh poke fish. Oh, and spam noodles, because I was intrigued by this delicacy.
The most common question I have been getting from people about our trip was – how was the long flight and layover with two young kids? My almost 5 year old is a seasoned traveller, so no worries had about him. My almost two year old, on the other hand, was very uncomfortable on the plane. Had I realized this was going to be a problem, I would have bought him his own seat. We are all still getting over jet lag and a time difference of 6 hours, but it was all worth it!
Mahalo and Aloha for now, Hawaii!
Winter has come and gone and we were lucky to come home to beautiful Spring weather in Toronto. Now, I have a baking practical exam to study for!
Growing up in my Italian family, sandwiches were our go-to lunch on the weekends. They are quick and hearty and the options