Monday, February 4, 2013

FoodTrek: Fearless Feats and Feasts, the Maui Adventures Continue!

My best vacation advice ever? Have SOMEONE ELSE plan your excursions. Because that Someone Else will plan something more adventurous than what you would ever choose from a clinically sane mind. That Someone Else will test your boundaries for personal safety. And that Someone Else may stand to inherit all your personal wealth and property in the event of your unfortunate demise, so what the hell -- RIDE THE SNAKE AND ENJOY MAUI TO THE FULLEST!

Locomoco, taken to Eleven, thanks to Kihei Caffe  -  Photo by Wasabi Prime
I can credit Mr. Wasabi, aka, Brock, with making our trip to Maui all the more adventurous and harrowing because he chose all our land-to-sea-activities that surely put my Power of Attorney  preparations to the test. All I can take credit for is saying: I want some wicked-ass Locomoco that will stop my arteries in place. Blame peer pressure, but given our Runic Games crew of adventurous food-souls, the photos of a Legendary Yeti-like Locomoco on
Facebook from fellow Runic-arians inspired me to bomb my gut with furious intent with rice, beef patty, egg and packaged gravy. Which ultimately led us to Kihei Caffe.

Eating well and local-friendly. Just check the condiment area for the seal of Aloha - Photos by Wasabi Prime
You know a place is true hidden gem when all you have is some friends' very avid Facebook photos and aYelp entry. That's Kihei Caffe. No fancy schmancy website, no fussy ads in the airline magazine or a visit from Andrew Zimmern/Tony Bourdain/ etc., but they do have a Facebook page. Several friends made it out here to have a reasonably-priced meal, a decent cup of coffee, and just eat like the locals do, which is just what this place is -- delightfully local and delicious. A mix of island-sourced ingredients with locomoco breakfasts, fruit smoothies and coffee drinks. Don't be put off by the big sign saying you should order your food first and not hold a table. It's true -- by the time you place your order, get that cup of coffee and wait for your food, a table will, indeed open for you. Trust in the Gods, they will not fail you, even on a busy Wednesday morning. I daresay this corner-stop little restaurant has cracked the Foodservice DaVinci Code -- people will not hang onto a table longer than necessary, especially when they have stuff to do or get to work, so don't pre-emptively hold a table like it's made of gold. We followed this rule, even after driving by the place a couple of times, feeling rather sure we'd never get a place to sit, yet there we found ourselves, magically blessed with a delicious egg and chorizo breakfast, fried rice locomoco, and two coffees, enjoying our hearty breakfast with no pressure, and time to leisurely depart our table to start the day. Pure sorcery! And most importantly, Holy Hell, that fried rice Locomoco was damn good. Clearly the photos speak for themselves. It was Epic. And I don't need to say any more about how you need to make a stop here for at least one breakfast while on your visit to Maui. My work here is done.

Big day in Upcountry Maui -- sugar, spice, everything nice - Photos by Wasabi Prime
This was the perfect fuel for any number of events on your island itinerary - especially a trip Upcountry, past the sugar cane fields, towards Haleakala -- and definitely check out the lovely lavender farm at Ali'i Kula Lavender. The Mister decided to scare the hell out of me by signing us up for a ziplining excursion at the foot of Haleakala Crater. I have a lot of memories of tourist excursions in  Upcountry Maui, spending childhood summers at my grandparents' home in Makawao -- all those bike tour groups going down the mountain, zipping by the road near the house, which meant in the misty fog of early morning, we'd have quiet, peaceful periods broken up by momentary howls of raw human terror as bicycle groups would come barreling down the winding country roads. Runic friends did this Hell on Wheels tour, and they said it was Awesomesauce, which I have no doubt. We opted for heading towards Kula and checking into Skyline EcoAdventures for our own ride of a lifetime, bringing my Circle of Terror/Spiritual Epiphany to completion.

Ziplining shenanigans and Indiana Jones flashbacks - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I will never say Don't Do Ziplining. It will go against every cellular fiber of common sense that believes in the power of gravity and not stepping off of a perfectly stable platform into a cavernous valley, but I will never say NO to strapping in, Trusting the Gear, and simply hanging on for dear f%$ing life. Why? Because despite the crappy Tardar Sauce-cat frowny-face you'll inevitably make in every photo (like me), it's an experience that teaches you to simply Let Go. You have no idea how profound that is. It's like an enema of the human soul. I'm pretty sure I had an anxiety-ridden frowny face when I went skydiving years ago, but I don't regret it for a second, just like I don't regret getting the zipline ride of a lifetime FIVE TIMES with the fellas at Skyline EcoAdventures. Again, I know, this is a food blog and it's all about the crap we stuff into our faces and pretend how much of a life experience it is (honestly, it's not the end-all, be-all of life -- it's just calories you'll poop out in 8 hours), it's all about the bigger picture, which is training our little dino-pea-brains to step outside of our comfort zones, realize there's something bigger/scarier/greater than ourselves, and just submit to that dominant force. Don't like seafood? Give it a whirl, you might like the bugs of the sea! Think cilantro tastes like soap? Eat it when it's prepared properly and not over-used! Any food/ingredient you have some preconceived notion about? Throw your bias away and just accept that someone in the world will have a way of presenting it in a palatable, exciting way -- short of allergies, of course. Getting hooked onto a heavy-gauge wire and careening across a gorgeously terrifying tropical valley at 40 mph will be a right-quick way of reminding you to not be a Big Fussy Baby about anything in life, and just let things happen.

Taking in the Maui sights - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Granted, I now have many unflattering sour-faced photos, swooping along with the greatest of unease, but I still recommend giving ziplining a try if you've never done it, because it will leave you with the profound realization of Letting Go. You can apply that moment of self-realization to anything you like, just reconsider the photo part, immortalizing your fear and discomfort, so everyone else doesn't see those horrible pics of you looking like you just ate rotten meat or passed through a stranger's fart.

Big day at sea -- fortify at Kihei Caffe, mateys! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Fine, so maybe an adventurous day on land isn't your thing -- how about swashbuckling adventures on the High Seas? Admittedly, we fortified at Kihei Caffe before heading Upcountry, like a couple of landlubbers, but there's no reason their coffee and a breakfast to-go couldn't power you for a day on the ocean. The Mister and I tasked the good fellows at Trilogy to sail us across the rolling blues of the Pacific towards snorkeling adventures and whale sightings. We ended up doing two snorkeling excursions with Trilogy, only because the first outing was fraught with high winds and wild waves, so we couldn't get to our main destination, snorkeling around the Molokini Crater. We still snorkeled around Olowalu, which has a gorgeous (and wind-protected) coral reef home to sea turtle "cleaning stations" where the turtles literally hang around the reef, get a gentle spa treatment from the fish, and putter along their merry way for their paparazzi photo session with us silly snorkeling hoomins. Olowalu had some of the best sea turtle viewing and the water visibility was crystal-clear when we were snorkeling, even in high-wind conditions.

"THAR BE WHALES, CAPTAIN!" Incredible sights on the high seas -- and some turtles - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We were obsessed with getting out to Molokini, so we booked a second trip out with Trilogy, which given the improved weather conditions, was much more smooth. And so we made it to Molokini crater, an underwater cinder cone that is now a protected bird sanctuary. From a glance up-close, you'd think -- Bird Poop Island. But viewed from above, it's a gorgeous C-shape underwater volcanic formation, and underwater, it's a beautifully preserved coral reef, flush with underwater wildlife. Friends who are scuba-certified went diving around the crater and they said it was amazing -- like a whale concert, you could hear so much activity. It's totally worth waking up at the crack of dawn to board the catamaran at Maalea Harbor. It's worth the smooth early morning ride towards Molokini, watching the sky go from deep shades of dark blue, to bright pink, orange and yellow, before melting into a bright sky blue with the sun's light -- especially with a tasty cinnamon bun in hand, thanks to Trilogy's kitchen-crafty crew. The early morning wake-up is absolutely worth the incredible humpback whale sightings you'll see if you're out on the water during their January migratory path. Our boat was literally a breath away from several whales swimming by and I could see the barnacles on the blowhole that appeared within an arm's reach from our boat!! By law, vessels and humans required to stay a safe distance from the whales, but the waters are so crowded with humpback whales, it's ridiculous! In all the years I visited the island of Maui, I'd never been there during January, and clearly this is the time to be here, for waters so busy with whales, you can sit on your hotel balcony and count the numbers of whale spouts and tail-flips as you drink your morning coffee. It was that awesome. Seriously.

Maui sunrises on the water and molesting fake turtles - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I said before how visiting Hawaii is one of those odd vacation experiences where you don't want to sleep in, and waking up early is a part of the experience -- I stand by this crazypant statement. I don't think we slept in beyond 8am on any of the days spent on Maui, and considering what torture it is to wake up by/before that time at home, that's saying something. The Mister wisely chose Trilogy to handle our snorkeling trips and I'd recommend this outfit hands-down. They fed us breakfast and lunch, prepared right on the boat. Coffee/cocoa and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls for the morning, and a hearty and tasty chicken teriyaki with rice, salad and taro roll for lunch -- plenty of seconds for both meal services, so don't be shy. They'll provide snorkel gear, as well as rash guard tops to ward off sunburn and ocean temperatures. Bring a sweater or hoodie to ward off morning chill or wind while on the boat, and if you've got a hat, make sure it's got a strap or firmly attached to your noggin, the wind can really kick up. And don't skimp on the sunscreen, you pasty, vitamin D-deficient gang of Gollums -- opt for lotion-based sunscreen vs the spray-on stuff, which just gets messy and slippery if you're trying to use it on the boat. You should apply the liquid sunscreen in advance, just to allow it to soak into your skin and avoid as much of it from seeping into the ocean, since you're swimming in eco-protected environments. You don't want a bunch of Jersey Shore goombas rolling around your living room, coated in Crisco, so think about how the fish and turtles feel with you jumping into their waters with barely-set Coppertone sunblock that smells like a cocoa butter-slathered stripper -- got it?

The all-important cocktail hour on the boat and turtle makeout session - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Not that it's all eco-green-ocean tree-hugging awareness on the boat -- there's always Cocktail Hour. You've had a few rounds of snorkeling and getting to know the wildlife, and now it's a leisurely sail back to the harbor, complete with Jurassic Park soundtrack-playing, because we were being silly and requested it, right after the love-fest with Journey's Don't Stop Believing. Let's unwind with some beer and Mai Tais, shall we? There's no need for Tom Cruise to be shimmy-shaky-mixologist-make-y some complex cocktail creation. Just an eco-friendly, recyclable cup filled with ice and pre-mixed Mai Tai goodness, and you're in tropical heaven on the high seas. I'm all for balanced, artisan cocktail-making, but when you're on a boat that's a-rockin' don't come a-knockin' with fussy stuff, any easy-breezy cocktail will do, and we heartily enjoyed our quickly-made drinks on the catamaran, with a million-dollar view.

Finishing the day with Le Tigre, shoyu chicken and manju from Home Maid  Bakery - Photos by Wasabi Prime
How do you finish a day like this, ziplining through the wild jungles of Haleakala or braving the high seas and overly-curious turtles and whales of the Pacific Ocean? Maybe a simple meal of shoyu chicken and a to-go package of crispy manju from Home Maid Cafe, over in Kihei. The memorably tasty meals aren't overly-planned, they just happen. We were wandering a strip mall in Kihei, still salt-sprayed and windblown from our snorkel/catamaran adventure, and wanted something simple. I pick local places based on the taped-on flyers plastering a restaurant's window. If it's full of local performances, announcements, lost pets, I know it's good home-cookin' and that's how I zoned in on Home Maid Cafe. They don't have a website -- as far as I can tell, you can find their basic info via Yelp, Urbanspoon, all the usual suspects. The Mister and I shared a nice, simple order of shoyu chicken, which is just that -- chicken  roasted and then slowly braised in a sweetened soy sauce until the meat falls off the bone. Served with rice and potato-mac salad, it's a delicious way to fortify after a long day, and I made sure to pick up a package of their homemade crispy manju, which is a lovely little flaky pastry filled with anything from apple to more traditional fillings like sweet bean paste. The Mister might crinkle his nose at adzuki bean fillings, but I have to say, one of these dense but flaky pastries with morning coffee is a lil' slice of heaven. I enjoyed a couple of mornings with manju and coffee, watching whales from our hotel balcony, and I can't imagine a better dining experience than that.

Still craving more Maui-wowie adventures? I have one final post detailing our trip with Team Runic -- grab your grass skirt and get ready to rock-a-hula, baby! 

(And for no other reason than the fact that I'm a big, fat nerd, here's that part from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where Scotty's ridiculous line ran through my head the whole time we were watchin' whales.)

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