January 18, 2011

Hawaiian Adventures Part 2: The Big Island

Kona, where all your dreams come true!

It's cold outside.  The sky is gray, the air frigid and the sun just won't show its face.  With no relief in sight, at least not for several months, what's one to do?  Perhaps the more affluential can hop a plane to Jamaica or Barbados, soaking up the sun to escape winter's grasp.  For the rest of us however, reminiscing on vacations past is the only way to vicariously travel to the equator.  While dwelling on such a thought, it occurred to me that I never shared the second leg of my Hawaiian adventure.  It seems that now would be as good a time as ever and hopefully my tale will provide a few of you with your necessary getaway.

Have you noticed I like taking pics of sunsets?

I believe I made it clear that the week I spent in Maui was pure bliss.  Food, sun, beaches and a little adventure.  It was the perfect vacation.  If you can believe it, I actually managed to experience a completely different type of vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It was all social camaraderie, lot's of adventure and even a little romance (which, unfortunately, is a part of the story I must decline to share).  Upon arriving in Kona, I was immediately introduced to Abe's local friends.  (Abe was my gracious host and a friend I've known and cherished since I was 17).  They were all around my age and from different backgrounds and places.  Each had their own story on how they came to arrive in Kona from California, Seattle, Virginia or even Kentucky.  They all embraced me and showed me what it was like to live with the "Aloha Spirit."


During my visit, Abe was busy studying for the GMAT, so I was pawned off to different friends that were given the burden of showing me around for the day (although I don't think any of them really minded all that much).  The first day I joined two of his buddies for one of their (almost) daily snorkels. Until this day, snorkeling had not been one of my favorite pastimes.  I'm not the biggest fan of swallowing salt water.  However, this particular time snorkeling will long exist as one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had.  After timidly wading into the water, I became increasingly comfortable with the crystal clear sea.  I was enjoying myself while paddling through the warm water, gazing down at the ocean floor, comprised of endless miniature valleys of sand.  Without notice, I was suddenly in deep water, the earth's surface a good 70 feet below me.  The panic slowly started to rise like a lump of coal in my throat, but just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.  For the next thing I knew, I was swimming among dolphins.  Nearly 30 of them, in all directions.  To my left, to my right, above and below me.  There were big mama dolphins gliding through the water next to their babies, guiding them with their fins.  It seemed as if some of them were playing with their children, tickling them even.  For ten minutes these dolphins let me into their world and allowed me to observe them.  It was the single most awe inspiring moment of my life, even if I was digesting marine mammal feces (it was unavoidable; it was floating everywhere).  However, fish poop is a small price to pay for a majestic moment such as this.

a lazy parrot at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

It seemed my vacation in Kona had peaked on the very first day.  Wrong again.  After some much needed relaxation on various beaches, a booze soaked day at the Mauna Kea resort, followed by indulgent gluttony at Merriman's cafe (menu: mango margaritas, margherita pizza, caponata bruschetta, hummus, truffled mac and cheese, meatball subs, and the most divine Hamakua- local Hawaiian mushrooms- tagliatella.  All of which was followed by chocolate souffl├ęs from Roy's.  Oh yeah, this was all for 4 people), we packed up the car and headed for a weekend of camping on the other side of the island in Hilo.

the cliffs at Ka Lae

With a caravan of adventurous Hawaiian souls (I was now one of them), we stopped at Ka Lae or South Point, the southern most tip of the Big Island and the Unites States, to jump off the cliffs.  Easily a 60-foot drop, I was hesitant to make the leap, but how could I refuse such an opportunity?  It was exhilarating plunging into the dark blue water with nothing but miles and miles of ocean in front of you.  Only after you look up from the water, while climbing a very rickety, seemingly ancient ladder to the top of the cliff do you realize how far down the drop really is.

Abe and I after leaping off the South Point cliffs

After a couple more stops along the way to Hilo, we arrived and set up camp mere meters from the ocean's edge.  We (illegally) hiked toward natural steam caves, lost our way to the hot ponds, picked up the occasional patchouli drenched hitch hiker ("we're going wherever the wind takes us, man"), and gazed at the stars while listening to waves crash on the beach.  Never a fan of sleeping outdoors, but I could live like this forever.

the view from our Hilo camp site

Guess what?  It gets even better.  The second day in Hilo was reserved for a 6 mile hike to the lava flow. We could see the billowing pinkish-gray smoke from a distance on our drive in, but I was eager to see real live lava up close and personal (or as close as one can get to molten magma).  The lava flow on the Big Island is constant, more visible at certain times than others, as it makes its way through a tube beneath the surface and sparks and spills into the ocean.

hiking to the lava flow

The land that we were traversing toward the eruption was actually new land formed from former eruptions.  The hardened rock beneath our feet was black and shiny, smelled of sulfur and became increasingly warm as we neared the cascading lava.  Once we hiked as far as we could, without singeing our eyebrows, we looked for small lava fissures to roast marshmallows.  Though a very cool and rare way to make s'mores, it doesn't make for the best tasting treat, that is unless you enjoy the crunch of lava rock between your teeth and the faint aftertaste of sulfur which induces a slight panic of being poisoned.

look at that magma!

My trip was coming to an end, but there were still so many things I had yet to cross off my list.  I mean I had been in Hawaii for 14 days and still had not tried my hand at surfing.  What was a girl to do?  I called the airline and inquired on the cost of changing my flight.  Far too expensive.  But according to my new Hawaiian friend, by way of Seattle (a seasoned traveler who has been to every exotic local one could think of), the easiest way to reschedule a flight was to "miss" that flight and plea (with girlish charms and perhaps some teary sniffles thrown into the mix) for a seat on the next flight out.  Well, as luck would have it, the next available flight was three days later.  Shucks.

where I learned to "surf"

So I was granted three extra days in paradise, 2 of which I would spend "surfing."  Yes, the quotation marks are essential as I'm not sure you could qualify what I did as surfing.  Abe did tell me I did quite well for my first time out (I rode a wave for about a split second at one point), but I still believe he was just being nice.  However, in my defense, I was taken out to one of the hardest spots to learn surfing.  A beach that was spotted with black rocks just waiting to tear the flesh off one's foot.  I gave it my all for about 30 minutes but then resigned to the notion that I would never be a "hot surfer babe."  I decided to instead sun bathe and watch others surf while pretending to take notes.

early morn on the high seas

The last day and final thrill of my Hawaiian adventure had finally arrived, but this excursion began at 5 am (after a heavy night of drinking and singing karaoke- and please note I never sing karaoke, so my rendition of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" should serve as an indicator of how much drinking was actually involved) on a chartered fishing boat.  Abe, Jesse (the seasoned traveler), her Australian friend Kristofer, myself and the captain ventured out onto the open seas.  Just as I finished my egg McMuffin, breathed in the salty air and set my gaze on the glassy water's surface, the nausea hit me like a rock.  It was hard to tell at this point whether it was sea sickness, the whiskey I had consumed only mere hours before or perhaps even the egg mcMuffin (I hate those things but they're hard to turn down in the event of a hangover).  Whatever it was, it took hold of me in fierce fashion and wouldn't release its talons for a good 5 hours.

Kristofer about to catch a blue marlin

Luckily, fishing is a waiting game and just as the fog of nausea started to lift, the line pulled tight.  Kristofer, who had been in bad shape as well, vomiting at least twice more than I, jumped to the fighting chair and battled with the mighty fish at the end of the line.  All thoughts of nausea disappeared as the excitement escalated with the sudden and methodical actions of the crew.  Kristofer continued to reel in the fish (which had now been identified as a blue marlin since his great leap from the surface), sweat emerging from his pores, hands cramping with strain, but a wide grin remaining glued to his face.

after they clubbed the poor fish

Abe pulling the beast on board

As the marlin reached the edge of the boat, the crew took over.  The great fish thrashed about, struggling to free itself from the hook.  The captain took a club to its head, an action I deemed cruel but was argued as necessary by all others.  The marlin was hauled on board and wrapped in tarp as we made our way back to shore.  We took the trophy to be weighed and photographed and our day out at sea was declared a victory, nausea and vomiting included.

our 134 pound trophy

I took my sea legs to shore, packed my bags and bid farewell to my new kindred spirits.  My Hawaiian adventure may have been over, but the memories and friendships I forged will last forever.

Hula Cheesecake

Hula pie is a sweet staple among the chain of the Hawaiian islands.  A wide variety of versions exist, but all include these essential ingredients: chocolate, coconut, coffee, and macadamia nuts.  I, of course, was working on my own adaptation all the while traveling, sight seeing and tanning.  I came home and put my mental creation to the test, serving it to a deserving and knowledgeable audience: my grandparents who had come over from Maui to stay with us during the holidays.  Ganny said it was perfection, but that sort of praise is expected from a grandmother.  However, I think my Hula Cheesecake was just about as good as any hula pie I ate while vacationing in paradise.

a bite of Hawaii

Hula Cheesecake
Recipe by Karlie Kiser

9 oz chocolate wafers
2 tbsp sugar
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

Macaroon layer
3/4 cup evaporated cane juice (super fine sugar can be substituted)
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (available at Whole Foods)
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

Cheesecake filling:
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
32 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp flour
1/4 cup Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur)
2 tbsp espresso powder
2 tbsp ground coffee (use a Kona blend if possible)
1 1/2 tbsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
3/4 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp heavy cream
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup sweetened coconut, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350┬║ F.  Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.  Line with a round of parchment paper if so desired.

2. For the crust, finely grind chocolate wafers and 2 tablespoons sugar together in a food processor.  Add semisweet chocolate and pulse until chocolate is efficiently chopped and combined.  Add melted butter and salt and pulse until mixture comes together.  Press crumb mixture onto bottom and half way up sides of the prepared springform pan.  Set aside.

3. For the macaroon layer, mix evaporated can juice, coconut, egg whites, almond and vanilla extracts and sea salt together in a small bowl with your hands (get messy- cooking is hands on!).  Press mixture onto top of chocolate crust (don't go up the sides).  You can use all the macaroon mixture or reserve some for other use, make this layer as thick as you like.  Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes.

4. Melt 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler or bain marie over simmering water.  Stir until smooth and melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

5. For the cheesecake filling, beat cream cheese and sugar together with an electric mixer (or stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment) until smooth and blended.  Beat in 1 tablespoon flour. 

6. In a small bowl, stir Kahlua, espresso powder, ground coffee and coconut and vanilla extracts together until espresso powder dissolves.  Beat into cream cheese mixture until combined, scraping down the sides as necessary. 

7. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition until just combined. 

8. Slowly stir in the melted chocolate, beating at low speed until fully combined.  Fold in the macadamia nuts. 

9. Pour cheesecake filling into crust and place on a baking sheet.  Bake until top is puffed and center 2-inches move only slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour (or more depending on your oven).

10.  Let cool at room temperature, then chill in fridge for at least 4 hours. 

11. For the glaze, warm heavy cream in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, about 2 minutes.  Add the 5 oz bittersweet chocolate, let sit for 1 minute, then stir until melted and smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool only slightly, about 5 minutes.  Drizzle ganache glaze over chilled cheesecake in any manner you like.  I like to pour the ganache into a large squeeze bottle.  I find this to be the easiest way to control the direction of the drizzle.  Before the glaze sets, top the center of the cheesecake with toasted coconut.  Slice, serve and enjoy!

Serves at least 12