Ocean Kayaking on Maui

Near the end of our trip to Maui for Andy and Sugi’s wedding, I had the opportunity to kayak in the ocean. While I had kayaked once before on the Wailua River on Kauai, this was my first time kayaking in ocean water.

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(All photos and video courtesy Andy Yang and his big zoom lens)

While Tawn took a yoga class, Andy, Sugi, and I went to Sugi’s family compound nearby in Paia. After hosing off a long-unused kayak, Andy and I carried it down a steep and untended cliff, giving me the first of many cuts and scrapes.

Eventually, we launched the kayak in the shallow waters of the cove. Sugi and her cousin watched from the comfort of the lawn some twenty feet above and Andy snapped photos as I headed towards the surf. The water remained shallow – not more than ten feet at its deepest – and I could see the lava rocks and coral as I paddled by.

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This one-person kayak seemed much less stable than the two-person kayak I used on Kauai last year. It wobbled readily and I became very cautious when it was time to turn around. A few hundred feet from shore, the gentle swells became large enough to threaten to capsize my vessel. I paddled out and back a few times before leaning too far and pulling too hard with the paddle, dumping myself into four feet of water.

The capsizing wasn’t a problem – I’m an able swimmer, wore a flotation device, and could touch bottom. The problem was how to get back into the kayak. Nobody had taught me that! Turns out, it is much more challenging than I had imagined. After a few failed attempts, I floated the kayak into much shallower water to start again.

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Eventually, I managed to seat myself on the kayak again and paddled for another fifteen minutes or so before returning to shore. Surprisingly (or not), Andy decided he didn’t want to try his hand at ocean kayaking. My repeated falls and poor choice of footwear (flip-flops = bad for kayaking) resulted in a cut knee and scrapes to the tops and sides of my toes. These injuries were worsened when we were carrying the kayak back up the cliff and my left leg fell through what I thought was a solid mass of dried palm fronds. Turned out they were covering a crevice between too tree trunks.

Oh, well – what’s an athletic adventure if there aren’t some injuries, right?

 

Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

While I said I was done with the food entries from Maui, there actually is one dessert/snack entry remaining: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.

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Andy’s wife Sugi (I can say “wife” now – yay!) enjoying her favorite shave ice. Since her mother is from Maui and Sugi spent her summers growing up on the island, I put great stock in her number-one rating for Ululani’s. After some so-so experiences with shave ice on Kauai last year, I was surprised at how good the dessert can be – if you go to the right place.

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Shave ice, often confused by mainlanders with snow cones, is a local Hawaiian specialty. Unlike snow cones, which are made with crushed ice, shave ice is precisely that – shaved – with a texture akin to snow. (I know, it would seem that shave ice should really be called “snow cones,” right?) This is important because while a snow cone results in a big pool of flavored syrup sitting at the bottom of a cup of ice, shave ice absorbs the syrup, ensuring that each bite is full of goodness.

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Ululani’s has four locations on Maui – two near each other in Lahaina, one in the island’s main town of Kahului, and the newest shop on the north side of Kihei. We went to the original location on Front Street in old town Lahaina.

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Each of Ululani’s 40 flavored syrups is made in-house using fruit purees, extracts, filtered water, and pure cane sugar. Toppings are either home made or come from other Maui companies. This local approach is one of their secrets to success. Now, it is true that shave ice can be a sickeningly sweet dessert. The key is to choose favors that create complexity and contrast rather than just add one layer of sweetness on top of another. I chose a recommended combination – Ho’ike – which offers lilikoi (passionfruit), li hing mui (Chinese salted plum), and passion orange. The salted plum adds a tart and salty note that cuts the sweetness, making the shave ice refreshing. 

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Another part of Ululani’s charm is their friendly employees. Sure, I’m a mainlander who barely knows my pu pu platter from my poke. But this young lady was patient, happy to answer every question with a smile, and chatted with us about our visit to Maui while preparing our shave ice. In this picture, she adds mochi (made by Maui Specialty Chocolates) to my shave ice.

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The finished product! Yummy!

 

Maui Food Madness Part 4

Sorry for being absent from Xanga for over a week. We returned from the United States with my sister and brother-in-law in tow, and have been showing them around Bangkok, leaving little time for blogging. With that said, let me pick up where we left off in Hawai’i. For the final segment on food in Maui, we visit a lavender farm, a goat dairy, and eat some fantastic fish tacos.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

One of the interesting things about Maui is that it is agriculturally more diverse than you initially expect. While there are wide swaths of land dedicated to sugar cane and other tropical produce, as you ascend the slopes of Haleakala (the volcano that forms the eastern 75% of Maui), you pass through a more temperate zone. The combination of rich soil, moisture-laden air, and the filtered tropical sun provides a fertile growing environment for a wide variety of produce. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a great example of this. 

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Situated 4,000 feet above the ocean in the town of Kula, the Ali’i farm stretches over 13 sloping acres. Different varieties of lavender are cultivated and the grounds are largely open for self-guided walking tours. In the early afternoon, the breeze was pleasantly warm but we were protected by a thick layer of clouds that reminded me of the fog of my native San Francisco, but without the need for multiple layers of clothing.

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Here, Sugi and Tawn pose amidst a field of lavender on the upper edge of the farm. The farm offers settings for private events including weddings. While the steep slopes might prove challenging for guests with limited mobility, the views (and fragrance!) would be unforgettable and worth the effort.

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Close up of one variety of lavender. The air really is perfumed with a subtle, but pleasant aroma from the acres of lavender.

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In addition to the lavender, the farm has extensive gardens with many different plants and beautiful flowers. Many of the plants were familiar to me from growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a similar climate. I was excited to see the fuchsia (on the right) because my father used to grow these in our back yard.

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No trip to the farm is complete without a stop at the gift shop for a snack. Beverages include lavender lemonade and tea.

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The highlight is the lavender scones served with passion fruit and lavender jelly. A few years ago, I purchased some food grade lavender but rarely used it. Tasting these scones, I was sorely tempted to buy some more and make it a point to cook more frequently with this beautiful flavor.

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Sitting on the shady balcony outside the gift shop, we were visited by a flock of small birds who waited not so patiently for scone crumbs. Tawn decided to share his crumbs with them and they gingerly approached and pecked them from his hand.

Surfing Goat Dairy

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Just down the hill from the lavender farm is the Surfing Goat Dairy, another example of the agricultural variety found on Maui. A working farm that produces more than two dozen varieties of goat cheese that are used at restaurants across the island, Surfing Goat Dairy proudly claims to make da’ feta mo’ betta!

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One of the younger goats playing on a surf board.

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The dairy offers tours and there is a small gift shop that sells a variety of their products. Recommended are the cheese tasting flights, which feature both fresh and aged cheeses.

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We sampled six cheeses, a mixture of fresh and aged. From the back left, clockwise: fresh feta, “Ping Pong Balls” (drained chevre, rolled into balls and marinated in garlic olive oil), Ole! (chevre with jalepenos, lime juice, artichokes, and cilantro), Udderly Delicious (plain, salted chevre), Garden Fantasia (chevre with fresh garden herbs), and French Dream (an aged cheese with herbs de Provence). Lots of fantastic cheese here, many of which have won national awards. 

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A pleasant, shaded seating area was populated with a friendly farm dog and cat, both of which came over looking for some attention. Despite being outside, both animals had exceptionally soft, well groomed coats. Perhaps the result of drinking plenty of goat milk?

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Before we left, I snapped a picture of these kids feeding kids. Ha ha…

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

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The final entry about Maui food concludes with a stop at Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei. This restaurant, which is in a strip mall, looks like nothing to write home about but surprises you with tremendous quality. The must-eat item is fish tacos, which are prepared from fresh, locally-caught fish.

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The owner, Mike Phillips, who is in the shop most evenings, supervises operations and comes out to chat with customers. He took this picture for us. He explained that they are just setting up franchises on the west cost of the mainland, with the initial store to be in Santa Cruz. If a Coconut’s Fish Cafe opens near you, please make sure you try it. As Mike explained, the only advertising they do is customer word-of-mouth. So from my mouth to your ear: word.

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The beautiful fish taco, made with fresh mahi mahi, crunchy cabbage slaw, and a sweet and tangy mango salsa. This taco was so good that I would seriously consider stopping in Maui next time I’m flying back to the mainland US, just to eat here. My only quibble is that the toppings are cut in very large chunks, making them a bit hard to eat. Smaller bits would ensure you get a little bit of everything in each bite, but that’s a tiny complaint.

There you have it, the conclusion of my Maui Food Madness entries. I hope you enjoyed them!

Part 3
Part 2

Part 1

 

Maui Food Madness Part 3

Our Maui dining adventures continues with some Japanese food, a touristy luau, and some organic pizza.

Ramen Ya

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Monday evening we ate dinner at Ramen Ya, a Japanese restaurant located in a mall in Kahului. Right across the courtyard is Sugi’s aunt’s fabric store.

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The newlyweds – still all smiles – decide what dinner to order.

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The food is what I might call “rough and tumble” – huge portions of moderately satisfying Japanese favorites. Here we have a gargantuan portion of chicken katsu served over fried rice. It was tasty enough but the portion could have served three.

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A bowl of ramen, part of a combo set that also included fried rice and gyoza. Nobody complained about the food but it didn’t inspire any positive raves, either.

 

Old Lahaina Luau

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Andy Yang had arranged for all of us to make a trip to the Old Lahaina Luau, reportedly the best of the touristy package luau shows. Located right on the harbor, the grounds offered seating for more than 500 guests for their nightly show. The sun was a bit strong in the late afternoon but by the time it set, the location was beautiful and the weather pleasant.

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Each table seats eight – here is Andy Yang, his brother-in-law Erich, Sugi, and Tawn. Every group of three or four tables had their own server, all of whom were shirtless men. This was Tim, who was really friendly and took good care of our group. Would you believe he is celebrating his twenty-ninth wedding anniversary this year? He looks younger than that.

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Sunset over the harbor. This was a beautiful sunset, accentuated by the live Hawaiian music being performed by a quartet on the lawn.

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Food was served buffet style, each table being released in order to avoid long queues. Food included Hawaiian specialties along with “Hawaiianized” chicken, steak, etc. On the left is lau lau pork – pork wrapped in ti leaves and steamed. Working clockwise is kalua pork (which they cook overnight in a pit), teriyaki beef, a creamed vegetable salad, lomi salmon (a salted salmon dish), a dish made with local greens, sweet-and-sour chicken, and mahi mahi. Overall, I give the luau high marks for food quality and variety. Especially when considering the setting, the meal was very satisfying. 

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The dessert tray: macadamia nut tarts, chocolate brownies, chocolate passion fruit pots-de-creme, and haupia – a coconut milk based pudding.

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Two shots from the show, which came on after dinner. Photos by Andy Yang. The program traced the islands’ history and illustrated different types of dancing based on different cultural traditions that influenced modern Hawai’i.

At $100 per person plus gratuity, the Old Lahaina Luau is steep. (All inclusive, including alcoholic drinks) If it is your first time to the islands, though, it might be a fun way to set the mood. Service was very good.

 

Flatbread Company

A few days later we found ourselves back in Paia, where Sugi’s family lives. Andy and I tried sea kayaking (well, I tried, he photographed – more on that soon!) while Tawn did yoga. Afterwards, we stopped for some pizza at the renown Flatbread Company.

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Here’s the storefront of the Flatbread Company, located in the hippie-ish town of Paia on the north shore of Maui. As the sign says, they serve wood fired love.

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In addition to the dough being made from organic flour, lots of ingredients are locally sourced. A chalkboard in the dining room lists local suppliers.

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The wood burning hearth is in the middle of the dining room. If you are feeling cold (not likely!) you can walk up to it and warm yourself.

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Metaphoto. Everyone is taking pictures. Thankfully, our dining companions knew the cardinal rule of food blogger etiquette: nobody eats until the shooting’s complete.

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Mopsy’s Kalua Pork – Kiawa smoked free range pork shoulder, homemade organic mango BBQ sauce, organic red onions, Maui pineapple, and a blend of Hawaiian goat cheeses and mozzarella, topped with local organic herbs.

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The Coevolution – imported kalmatta olives, fresh organic Maui rosemary, red onions, and fire roasted sweet red peppers, and a blend of Hawaiian goat cheeses and mozzarella, topped with organic local herbs.

Both pizzas were excellence. The kalua pork was mutually agreed to be our favorite. What made these pizzas excellent were the crusts, that found the perfect balance between crispiness and chewiness. The secret – Giusto’s Organic Ultimate Performer Unbleached Flour from South San Francisco, which has high protein and high gluten.

 

Maui Food Madness Part 2

The second part in my series of interesting places I ate while we were recently on Maui. Today: eskimo candy, touristy seafood, and sensational sushi.

Eskimo Candy

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Eskimo Candy is what they call smoked salmon. Eskimo Candy is also a small seafood restaurant located across from a Napa auto parts store in the beach condo town of Kihei, on the south side of Maui. Open weekdays only, there’s only a trio of tables and much of the business is takeout. The menu is mostly fish and freshness is the name of the game.

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An order of fish and chips served with slaw. The catches of the day are listed on the board and are available in many forms, including fried in a light beer batter and served with fries. This was opah (also known as moonfish), a firm white fleshed fish that is a byproduct of longline tuna fishing. Really good.

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The prize catch, though, is their poke rice bowl. Poke (pronounced “poh-keh”) is raw fish (usually tuna) salad. Eskimo Candy serves four types: a spicy poke, one with fukikake (dried seaweed and sesame seeds), one with shoyu (soy sauce), and one with wasabi. The fish is really fresh, cold, and firm – the best quality poke I’ve eaten. 

Also worth trying (although not seafood) is their chicken teriyaki.

 

Lahaina Fish Company

Lahaina is the largest town on the west side of Maui, an old whaling town that dates back to the 1800s. It is a major tourist area with a charming downtown of shops and sights to see. We had lunch at the Lahaina Fish Company, a restaurant that sits on the harbor and is listed in the Lonely Planet as a worthwhile place to eat.

The breeze was pleasant and the service reasonably attentive. The food, though, wasn’t very interesting and the prices were about what you would expect in this touristy an area. Two items that are worth mention:

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A poke taco appetizer consisted of four very crisp tortilla shells served with okay poke and garnishes including edamame guacamole. It was passable but the shells were super crunchy, a bit too much so.

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One of the specials was described as an “Ahi Sashimi ‘Katsu’ Rice Bowl”. Of course, this is a contradiction in terms. Sashimi is raw and katsu is fried. Sure enough, they used middling quality ahi tuna, wrapped it in nori, lightly breaded it then briefly fried it. It was served with fresh seaweed, carrots, dried seaweed, and a few other greens on a large serving of rice. The so-called “wasabi ginger buerre blanc” dressing didn’t add anything to the dish and the portion of rice was so large that the last quarter of the bowl (despite mixing the ingredients) was plain white rice.

 

Sushi Paradise

After eating abused ahi sashimi in Lahaina, it was a relief to come to Sushi Paradise.

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Located in a strip mall in the condo town of Kihei, Sushi Paradise puts on an unflattering face.

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The inside is small and spartan but it gets busy. If you don’t make reservations, you could easily face a wait of up to two hours. Tawn and I shared a “Paradise Dinner” for $60, which includes a selection of sashimi and sushi, sunomono, miso soup, chawanmushi, and a choice of rolls. We also ordered a few specials, which inflated our bill.

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The sunomono, or pickled seafood salad, featured fresh tako, or octopus. The key to very tender tako is that it has to be massaged before it is cooked. Otherwise, it is just a lump of rubber.

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Our selection of sashimi: red snapper, salmon, yellow tail, squid, octopus, tuna, surf clam, mackerel, and sweet egg. Some of the best quality fish we’ve had outside of Japan. Hard to speak too highly of this restaurant.

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One of the specials was a very lightly torched albacore tuna served with avocado. Not only very tasty, also very beautiful to look at. The very essence of Japanese cuisine is that food should be pleasing to all the senses. This dish achieved that.

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Chawanmushi is a steamed egg custard dish. Our had spinach in it, which was mostly near the bottom of the tea cup in which it is served. The key to this dish is that it has to be strained to remove any clumps or scrambled bits. If it is cooked to the correct point, it is gently solid with a velvet texture. As you might expect, Sushi Paradise has mastered this technique.

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Another special was lightly fried fish belly (don’t remember the type) topped with a mixture of soy sauce, scallions, and grated radish. Deceptively simple but very complex flavors.

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Our sushi plate: tuna, red snapper, yellow tail, salmon, shrimp, eel, sweet egg, plus a spicy tuna roll. All very fresh fish. The shrimp was perfectly done, crunchy but not tough. As you would imagine, I’d recommend you go to Sushi Paradise next time you are on Maui.

Stay tuned for more Maui Food Madness…

 

Maui Food Madness Part 1

As with any time spent with Andy and Sugi, food was a focal point. Maui proved to be a good place for eating. Here is the first of at least two parts highlighting some of the eats. I’ll say that this first batch of food wasn’t as good as what I’ll cover in some upcoming posts.

Da Kitchen Express

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Located in Kihei, in south Maui, Da Kitchen Express is an outpost of a larger Hawaiian food restaurant in Kahului. The menu is pretty much all rice plates, typical lunch food on the islands.

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I enjoyed a kalua pork sandwich. Kalua is a term that means to cook in an underground oven called an “imu”. These days, it is usually just a slow cooked pork shoulder. Pretty tender but needed some seasoning.

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There was also some beef teriyaki eaten by another member of our party. The pieces were a little tough but exceedingly tasty.

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Best of all, macadamia nut cream pie for dessert. This was made elsewhere and brought in, I’m sure. Nonetheless, it turned out better than any of my attempts at it… yet!

Komoda Bakery

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Located in the former ranching town of Makawao, which dates from the 1800s, Komoda Store and Bakery has been around for several generations.

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The inside is a bit disorganized, looking like you are on both the wrong and right sides of the counter all at once.

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Komoda is known for their cream puffs, delicate but fist-sized pastries that sell out early. The filling is a standard pastry cream.

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The bakery is also known for their malasadas, a Portuguese pastry that is basically a donut hole. Komoda makes malasadas with a guava filling. Truth be told, I am not a huge donut fan and haven’t figured out what is so special about malasadas. I like saying the name, though.

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Another fun item they sell is donuts on a stick. They are cooked on the stick, not put on afterwards.

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Sugi takes a picture as Andy poses with the stick of donuts. He then notices Kenny looking on an lures him into a PG13-rated photo.

McDonalds

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I didn’t go to McDonald’s while in Hawai’i but Andy W did. He likes eating trying the local specialties that McDonald’s features in many places. Here in Hawai’i it is the Island Breakfast, which features scrambled egg, rice, grilled SPAM, and grilled Portuguese sausage. My verdict: no more special than any other McDonald’s breakfast… which is to say, not very.

Krispy Kreme

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Just outside the Kahului airport sits a Krispy Kreme. Yes, I know that Hawai’i is one of the 50 United States but it seems a cultural intrusion to have Krispy Kreme there. Curious, though, I wanted to see if there was anything local on the menu. There was.

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The only local offering was the pineapple fritter. Frankly, it was hard to tell it apart from a regular apple fritter. After eating about a half, I tossed the rest in the trash and kit the road.

Stay tuned for the next part.

 

Maui Memories

Some more photos from our week in Maui.

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View from our condo’s lanai (balcony) in Kihei on the south side of Maui. This is on the northern end of town looking south.

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From the deck on the building’s roof looking north towards the neck of Maui.

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Tawn watches the sunset from the beautifully manicured lawn.

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Sunset over the west part of Maui on our second evening there. You can just see the windmills that line the ridge of the mountain.