20 July 2008
Aloha Report #1,
It seems hard to believe that just a few days ago I was hiking up Diamond Head trail thinking about what to eat for lunch now that I’m back in the lovely summer heat of D.C. and the office air conditioner is broken. But that’s the way it is with vacation, no matter how wonderful it may be, you have to return to real life in the end.
We left for Hawai’i on the morning of July 4th, pretty early in the morning. The food choices during out fourteen hour trip weren’t the greatest (I could write an entire post on the lack of anything remotely healthy in the Phoenix airport so I think it’s better I not say anything at all) so I was really glad that I had packed some chocolate and zucchini muffin cakes (post to come) to help us get through the trip. After seemingly endless hours squished into economy class we touched down on runway at Kona International Airport at Keahole in the middle of a craggy, black lava field and we stepped out into a blast of heat convecting off the blacktop that made me wonder why we left DC. My sentiments quickly changed as less than an hour later we were in the water though and the memories of being scrunched into an airplane seat were fading fast.
After a unremarkable dinner and breakfast the next morning we got in the car (a crème colored PT Cruiser, yes really) and headed for the other side of the island, stopping at Waipio Valley to take a look from the top of a cliff down on a black sand beach and making another stop to pick up some home-made fudge (dark chocolate macadamia for me and chocolate-coconut for Zach) before getting in to Hilo. For lunch we headed to Ocean Sushi downtown, which gave off a grade school cafeteria vibe with its linoleum and white walls but had some very fresh sushi (it was the first time Zach’s dad had ever had it--). That night we headed to Kalapana to see lava flowing into the ocean. At first I was sort of annoyed with Zach for making us drive down after an entire day spent in the car as all we could see was a huge plume of steam coming off the ocean but after the sun set we could see the orange reflection of the lava flow in the plume and occasional explosions that sent fiery lava into the air. For a late dinner that night we ate at Ken’s- a local diner with a really great keiki (kids’ menu).
Food portions on the Big Island really reflected the island’s name and were enormous so I was really happy to see a menu of smaller things at Ken’s that wasn’t just mac and cheese or a hot dog. I got grilled mahi-mahi with a tossed salad and brown rice and managed to clear my plate for the first time on the trip. After a few days hiking at Volcanoes National Park we headed back to the Kona side where I had a bit of a food rebellion.
When I am on vacation I get to eat whatever I want. Not that I’m restrictive about food at home, but on vacation I can eat ice cream every day and really think I should. The only thing that was a bit disappointing on the first half of the trip was that the lunch portions were so big I never had room for an afternoon ice cream. The first day back in Kona was no different as I got a bowl of saimin that was sized for a sumo wrestler. Though the name ‘Big Island Grill’ probably should have tipped me off, I was still surprised to get a massive bowl of steaming pork based broth chock full of soft noodles, pork filled dumplings, cooked egg, Chinese style pork and scallions. As if that wasn’t enough, our server also set down a little bowl with two batter dipped fried shrimp. I kid you not- I ate as much as I could for lunch and still had soup left over after filling a quart-sized take out container. It was delicious, but I could barely eat dinner that night, which led to my epiphany the next day.
After a morning snorkel at Honaunau Bay, where we spent a few hours in the peace of coral covered mountains (they were only 30-50 feet tall but seemed mountainous to me) watching the fish go about their daily lives and sharing the water with Honu, endangered Hawaiian sea turtles, we went to the Coffee Shack for lunch. Recommended in our guidebook, the Coffee Shack is an unassuming building perched on the side of the mountain hugging the edge of the highway. We stepped into a tiny room with a counter and dessert case and the pies immediately caught my attention. French silk, key lime, macadamia nut, not to mention the tall carrot cake with its cream cheese frosting or the dark chocolate layer cake next to it. As we picked a table outside on the veranda and momentarily forgot out hunger looking out over the view of the ocean worthy of a Michelin 3-Star restaurant the epiphany came- I was going to eat pie for lunch.
Now some of you might be laughing at this point at the silly nature of this revelation but for me it really was a revolutionary idea- skip the nutritious stuff and go straight for dessert but I am honestly not sure I’d ever done it before in my life. My plan did backfire a bit though, as the smell of Zach’s pizza reminded me of how hungry I actually was from the morning swimming so we made a trade- I got a quarter of Zach’s pizza and he got half my pie (he really was the winner on that one- though at the time he was quite huffy about it). The pizza wasn’t really what I would consider a pizza- more like thick bread with a sauce and cheese topping, though it was delicious. The pie filling, Kona lime not Key Lime, had the perfect balance of tart and sweet and the real whip cream topping balanced it out with a creamy finish. The crust was actually not the greatest but in the interest of full disclosure I will say that Zach’s mom makes an amazing flaky-crispy piecrust so I’m a bit spoiled.
We liked the Coffee Shack so much we drove down again for our last meal on the Big Island before heading to Honolulu.
To be continued….