Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Final Days in Paradise

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On Friday morning, we again had breakfast in the condo. I made banana taro pancakes napped with the local coconut syrup and we feasted on a plate of the remaining assorted tropical fruit we had purchased at the farmers’ markets. Randi made omelets and we lingered over breakfast, spent the morning catching up with work, organizing photos, blogging, telephoning family, and Skyping with Andy, Jessica and the girls. Eventually, Larry headed over to the beautiful pool and lava rock hot tub for a few hours. The rest of us took a drive to Costco to purchase supplies for Shabbat dinner. On the way, in Puhio, we stopped at Mark’s Place, a local take-out joint hidden in an industrial complex, about which there were many raves on the Net. We shared two luncheon combination plates among the five of us while soaking up the sun at one of their outdoor picnic tables. The food was as good as billed and with very ample and reasonable portions. They had very limited hours and are closed on weekends, so we felt very lucky to have had the opportunity to get there before the end of our vacation.

In addition to the dinner items at Costco, we also picked up some souvenir items like macadamia nut assortments and a beautiful Hawaiian-print, 100%-cotton shirt for Saul. Costco supports the local economy by featuring locally-made products. In addition to a beautiful selection of shirts, there was a kiosk featuring high-end, handmade Hawaiian-print quilts. The fish selection includes a smoked tuna poké which is “to die for.” There are many other examples. We stopped at K-Mart also, to try to find a Pyrex baking dish so that I could bake coconut tapioca pudding for Ken. He had been paying $3.50 for a tiny cup of it at a local grocery store. I had forgotten how expensive these glass items can be on the island and finally resorted to buying some large aluminum foil pans.

The Friday farmers’ market at Lihue which was supposed to begin at 3:00 p.m. looked as though it had been in full swing for a while when we arrived. Most important, Saul found the vendor with the pink guavas, who had been looking for him at the other traveling farmers’ markets on the island. He was instantly transported back 50 years to his childhood when he bit into one of the ripe guavas we purchased from her. We also picked up wonderful fresh baby greens and arugula for a salad, red scallions, yellow cherry tomatoes, ripe red tomatoes, and fresh-picked jicama. One of the big treats which we always share at these markets is a young coconut. The vendor hacks off a chunk which allows us to sip the coconut water with a straw. When the liquid has been consumed, we return to the vendor, who hacks the whole thing into a few large pieces so that we can consume the gelatinous young coconut meat with a spoon. Yum!

Returning to our condo, we prepared Shabbat dinner, lighting candles and immediately watching the final rays of a beautiful sunset over the ocean from our front balcony. We successfully baked the coconut tapioca pudding, and prepared a refreshing salad with a calamansi vinaigrette. Ken roasted eggplant on the grill, followed by calamansi/mustard-marinated racks of lamb, burgers, and hot dogs. I sauteéd shiitake mushrooms, grated carrots, and the red scallions to make a warm soba dish sauced with soy and sesame. Our breads were a roasted garlic bread and a multi-grain loaf that were still warm from the oven when we purchased them at Costco. For dessert, we had locally-made haupia ice cream and lilikoi sorbet, augmented with chocolate macadamia nut candies from Ari’s souvenir packages. We finally managed to stay awake for a while after dinner to socialize and reminisce before heading off to bed.

Saturday was as close to perfection as one can get on Kauai. After a torrential downpour in the wee hours of the morning, we arose in time to see vibrant double rainbows from the balcony outside Ken and Randi’s bedroom. The morning dawned bright with sunshine, mild temperatures, and just enough of the delicious trade wind breezes to keep mosquitoes from alighting. We left without breakfast and drove a short distance to a parking area near Spouting Horn. Then, we hiked about a half mile along an ocean-side cove, arboretum, and multi-million dollar properties to the tiny public park that provides an unparalleled view of Spouting Horn. Never in my life have I seen a calmer, bluer, or more inviting ocean. The only white caps were those created as the water lapped against the dark rock formation whose tunneled configuration causes the Spouting Horn phenomenon. Handsome feral roosters were providing a raucous cacophony that was a counterpoint to the hissing water sprays. Overhead, for a few minutes, we were treated to the unique sight of two ultra-light airplanes cruising through the calm skies sightseeing over the still, turquoise-blue water. Then, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away, beginning to feel the first pangs of hunger.

We had pre-arranged breakfast at Yum Cha, the golf course clubhouse of the Grand Hyatt. Seated before a huge wall of windows, we soaked in the glorious, meticulously-groomed tropical landscape of the golf course as we dined on perfectly-poached eggs napped with unctuous Hollandaise, and the most tasty trio of pancakes ever—one with bananas, one with mango, and one with blueberries. Each fresh blueberry sprinkled on top looked like it had been hand-picked for its jewel-like qualities. The staff was superlative, warm and friendly, and extremely attentive to every detail. After our walk, many of us ordered iced tea, which came garnished not only with the usual lemon wedge, but with a thin baton of raw sugar cane. Again, Saul was transported back to his childhood, when he used to chew on raw sugar cane from nearby fields. The waiter overheard him and, unbidden, brought him a plate with extra sticks of it. Sadly, the clubhouse will close on March 31 for a complete overhaul of the décor. It will be closed for at least six months.

Back at the condo, we changed into bathing suits and headed over to Poipu Beach. We had the most perfect beach day! The sky was blue with just enough of the fluffy white clouds to provide occasional relief from the sun’s burning rays. The water was just the right temperature—refreshingly cool, but not enough to cause distress on first going into it. The waves were gentle swells in the protected beach area, and abundant, splendidly-hued, phosphorescent, tropical fish could be viewed through the crystal-clear water without even the need for a snorkel. Silky sand had magically returned to the rocky bottom so that water shoes were optional to protect from the occasional projecting rock. I spent almost the entire day in the water, not realizing that the sun’s rays can penetrate not only 50-SPF sunblock, but clear ocean-water as well. Even water-challenged Randi (who is a non-swimmer) ventured into the ocean for a time, so calm and inviting was the water. Saul and I met a young woman, Leah, in the water, who had just arrived from Minnesota and who could not, at first, believe her senses. She questioned us about whether she should be worried about sharks or jellyfish in the water. Once we reassured her, Saul offered her his snorkel and showed her how to use it so that she could view the scene underwater more clearly. Returning it gratefully, she was soon joined by her boyfriend, Josh, also newly-arrived from Minnesota, and they blissfully swam off together to join other friends a short distance away. We were treated to a kaleidoscope of indescribable fishy shapes and colors when a woman, standing nearby, decided to feed the fish from two empty soda cans filled with Grape Nuts cereal. Luckily, Saul was ready for what ensued with Larry’s underwater camera. The photos and videos which I have included in these blog posts are a compendium of the best of all of our photos and videos, taken with various cameras and iPhones. Larry spent a lot of time during this vacation, not only photographing, but editing in iMovie and iPhoto on his laptop. He also proffered an amazing and touching gesture. He has been wearing his parents’ wedding rings on a chain around his neck for several years since they both died within a year of each other. When Saul lost his wedding ring at Baby Beach next to Poipu, shortly afterward, Larry removed his father’s wedding band from the chain and offered it to Saul as a replacement for his loss, which brought tears to the eyes of both of us. The ring, surprisingly, almost fit Saul’s Brobdingnagian finger, but, in the end, we all decided it should be re-sized just a little larger.

When we finally tore ourselves away from Poipu and went home to shower, we began to realize just how sunburned some of us had become, despite our frequent spraying of sunblock. This did not deter us from meeting our scheduled reservations at The Plantation Gardens Restaurant to enjoy our last dinner on our last full day on Kauai. The Plantation Gardens is surrounded by an unsurpassed orchid garden where dozens of multi-hued, multi-patterned, and multi-shaped, flower varieties grow lavishly in a sensational, naturally-landscaped setting of meandering walkways, lava rock formations, grassy lawns, water features, frog-inhabited lily ponds, and old, gnarly, exotic trees. I could not help thinking that this is what the best exhibits at the world-renowned Philadelphia Flower Show are trying to emulate. Our meal at the center table on the veranda overlooking the gardens began with beautiful tropical cocktails and a delightful assortment of appetizers which we shared. Ari had a very unusual cucumber mojito, presented in a Kerr mason jar, with the paper thin cucumber slices arranged to look like a delicate flower. Saul and I shared an entrée of mahi-mahi stir-fried with veggies and pasta in a ginger sauce, and Saul had a beautiful tomato salad with a baked, crusted round of goat cheese. We lingered over dinner as long as we could in this other-worldly setting. Back at the condo, the sunburn and exertions of the day beginning to get the better of me, I wandered off to bed without sharing with the others in our coconut and lilikoi ice creams, coconut tapioca, chocolate macadamias, and other Hawaiian delights.

For our last day on the island, we had scheduled a special buffet brunch at Gaylord’s relatively early in the morning at 10:15 a.m. The plan was to skip lunch, go to the beach or pool, shower, finish packing and cleaning, and have an early dinner at a favorite, low-key, inexpensive, locally-favored restaurant in Lihue, Garden Island Barbecue and Chinese Restaurant, before dropping off our leased car in the airport parking lot to catch our plane. As it turned out, we could barely move after our irresistible last breakfast on Kauai, which included, among the many other selections, a warm purple yam salad, home fries, French toast and banana pancakes with coconut syrup, perfect poached egg dishes and omelets cooked to order, soup, mushroom pasta, sweet buttery slices of assorted loaf cakes, seafood “sliders” on taro buns, Danish, scones, sliced fresh tropical fruit, warm bread pudding with creme Anglaise, orange and guava juices, and an assortment of mini cakes which included dense, dark, flourless chocolate, and rich, chewy fresh coconut on buttery shortbread. Also available, at an additional charge, was a Bloody Mary bar, which, had we not hopelessly indulged the night before, would have been a great temptation. We were seated in one wing of a u-shaped, brick-pillared, covered patio. In the case of passing showers, which we encountered that day, rolled up clear tarpaulins were unfurled to protect the diners without obstructing the view of the expansive garden. After brunch, we stepped off the patio and crossed the lawn to a clay studio to view the items for sale there. The Gaylord is a tourist mecca that is surrounded by quirky, high-end shops, a restored, picturesque railroad train that takes tourists for jaunts around the grounds, and pastures in which donkeys calmly graze. Saul went into a shop that specialized in rum and did a tasting. In an adjacent shop, I added to my collection of honey from around the world with a boxed trio of exotic organic single-flower varieties, wilelaiki blossom, ohi’a blossom, and macadamia nut blossom. Randi and I spent some time talking to the shopkeeper they knew where Haley had chosen her unique, artist-created raku wish-keeper, that had been a major element of her shower and wedding. The shop was readying to move to larger quarters within the month. With all of our gung-ho plans for making the most of our final day in paradise, we spent the afternoon in various stages of repose, laying on the couch drinking in the fragrant breezes and digesting our huge meal, reading, recovering from slightly stinging sunburns, wrapping up photographic downloads, packing, cleaning, and lazily watching a classic beach movie on t.v.—Where the Boys Are. Ari, Saul, and I went into Koloa Town so that I could purchase additional taro pancake mix, Kauai honey, and local tea to take home with me. In the end, as much as we had wanted to revisit our fondly-remembered Lihue restaurant, none of us had any appetite left, nor did we want to take a chance on upsetting our stomachs before our long flight home. We did not even want to nibble the great leftovers in the refrigerator. We kissed and hugged Ken and Randi many times as we said farewell on the parking lot of their condo, not wanting that parting moment ever to arrive. Ari and I shared a small bowl of ramen at the airport just to have something comforting in our stomachs in the hour before our red-eye departure at 8:45 p.m. Ben Stiller was on our airplane, returning to Los Angeles from his home on Kauai, but we only got to catch a glimpse of him as he waited to exit from first class. Before we had to turn off our phones for take-off, Randi e-mailed us an iPhone video of the sunset we had just missed.

Our flight left on time and having taking my Ativan this time, I was able to sleep for a part of the four-and-a-half hour flight to L.A. The movie we watched, Everybody’s Fine, was a welcome diversion also, but pretty mediocre overall considering the stellar actors involved. Arriving with minimal turbulence in L.A., a bit ahead of schedule, we said goodbye to Larry, who was flying to Denver and then on to Philadelphia. We waited about 10 minutes for the Red Carpet Club to open at 6:00 a.m. and quickly fortified ourselves with coffee, juice, toast, and bowls of cereal before boarding our on-time flight to Dulles. Since we had all already seen, and hated, the movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ari bought a splitter from a Best Buy vending machine at LAX and we all watched episodes of Modern Family that he had downloaded with our headphones attached to his laptop. All of us were able to catch a little more sleep on that leg of the flight as well, which was also about four-and-a-half hours long and not tremendously turbulent.

Arriving at Dulles right on schedule, we learned that Larry’s flight from Denver had been delayed for an hour due to high winds in Philadelphia. We had just missed a horrible weather day at home with torrential downpours and 60 m.p.h. wind gusts that took down many trees and wreaked havoc with power lines. By the time we landed at Dulles, we were ravenous. While Ari retrieved our Prius from the long-term parking lot, and while we collected our luggage from baggage claim, Saul availed himself of a free H1N1 vaccination available from a team of medical people at a table just a few feet from the baggage claim area. I chickened out. We decided to have late lunch/early dinner at Café Asia near Ari’s office in Rosslyn, Virginia, before picking up his car which he had left in the adjacent parking lot. It was a good choice. The varied pan-Asian menu provided us with tasty and comforting selections before our three-hour ride home. We stopped at Ari’s condo briefly to use the bathroom and retrieve a few items of clothing and were on our way home by 5:45 p.m. Daylight Saving time the previous day had shortened our day, but given us more sunlight for the journey. The last two hours of our drive were in light rain and were extremely tiring. In the end, we arrived home only two hours later than Larry, about 9:00 p.m. I was greeted with a bad, fishy sort of smell when I opened the door. Beth had considerately stocked our refrigerator with milk and homemade vegetable soup and had gone crazy looking for the source of the smell, but couldn’t find anything. Saul, after a little searching, discovered that I had inadvertently left steamed cauliflower in the microwave oven for the entire 10 days. The smell wasn’t as bad as I would have thought it would be, and I think it is gone now.

We were asleep and mostly unpacked by 10:00 p.m. I awoke about 1:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep until about 4:30 a.m. Saul slept through the night. When the alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. I got up as usual to make us tea and cook oatmeal for Saul before he leaves for school. I thought I would not be jet lagged, but I spent most of the day sleeping and am now just completing this blog post at 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday. I think I had better try getting to sleep for the next two hours before the alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. again.

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