Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 3

Honopu Ridge Trail kicked my butt. But it was the kind of butt-kicking that hurts so good afterwards. There was fear, red dirt, off-key singing, green explosions, and chubby blocks of fresh ahi jerky.

As we piled into a dusty mini-flatbed truck that smelled “natural,” and met our guide Steve – 60ish, unkempt hair, wiry limbs, and deep wrinkled tan – I knew we were in for a visceral adventure.

Although the hike up to what I coined the “Red Dirt Ridge” is only about 5-7 miles total, it requires getting up close and personal with dense greenery, root-ridden uphill trails, and your own body. You’ve also got to be patient because you may do some backtracking. But boy, is it worth all that red dust getting up in those tiny crevices (yeah, you’ll know what I mean after you take a shower).

Although many who visit Kauai opt see the Na Pali Coast by air; nothing beats seeing it off a powder dirt “cliff” carved by time and tropical winds.

When you do this trek, it feels as if your mind moves from one world to the next a la Cloud Atlas. First you’re in Nea So Copros (for me, Chicago), then you go back in time to the greenest of Green (when Nature still perseveres despite humans blowing themselves up), then you’re on Mars, and then you gaze out from the apex to the Blue Yonder where you imagine everyone talks with an overly elaborate, overly romanticized 19th century vocabulary.

I know I sound corny, but this place does inspire such grandiosity and I unapologetically bathed myself in it. It’s the kind of Stuff that helps me get through the languishing of the Everyday, every day.

Fully dirty and fully content, Steve had a nice detour planned for us and I’d recommend it to any visitor. Doesn’t require a pinch of the physical effort as Honopu, but it’s quite a sight. The Pu’u Hinahina Lookout lays out a spectacular view of Waimea Canyon. You can see all the way down to the Pacific whilst your two feet stand firmly planted on a concrete platform.

We had a sleepy, windy ride back as we listened to Steve crooning his heart out to Marvin Gaye. A pit stop at JoJo’s Shave Ice capped off our trek. I had the #12 Fruity Special, a pineapple-orange-lillikoi-macnut ice cream treat. Jordan had the strawberry-mango-coconut-vanilla cream-macnut ice cream flavor blast. We both agreed the macadamia nut ice cream trumped the shaved ice.

Sushi and drinks at the Stevenson Library back at the Hyatt didn’t have a chance of competing against chomping down homemade ahi tuna jerky in the middle of the Kauai jungle. But the cocktails and fresh fish didn’t hurt one bit.

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 2

If only every morning would wake me with seaside breezes tickling my skin! Made all the difference in the world.

Today we freely explore and acclimatize ourselves to Kauai; that is, after a monster breakfast with a slew of skittering Mina birds and leaping koi keeping us company.

Our exploration started with a mini-hike along the sandstone cliffs overlooking Shipwreck Beach. Although we liked to imagine grand pirate ships crashed on the shore, littering their loot across the sand, it’s actually named for a small abandoned boat that made it’s home there for years until Hurricane Iwa took its badly decomposing shell back to the sea. Also just below the water’s surface are jagged volcanic rocks endemic to Kauai which makes for some killer body surfing. Notice that I decidedly use the word “killer” to describe surfing there.

Seeing those big waves whet our appetite to visit one of the best beaches for body surfing, Poipu Beach. We’re talking plump waves converging at odd angles to create ideal conditions for some heady surf!

After a sufficient beating, we indulged in a couples 80-minute sports massage and looked forward to what is considered the most romantic place for dinner in Kauai – The Beachhouse.

Starting off with soft floury ciabatta and plenty of butter, we dove into fresh local fish ceviche served in a coconut shell, tempura-fried Ahi maki stuffed with crab. Our main courses included locally caught Oni, black forbidden rice, a grilled coconut sauce, and fresh green papaya. Jordan had wasabi-crusted Mongchong or local butterfish with lillikoi beurre blanc. Lillikoi or passion fruit – all types of which flourish all over the island – is a beloved and ubiquitous staple on local and restaurant menus alike.

Although the Beachhouse isn’t going to win any Michelin stars, the ingredients were treated simply, allowing them to be delicious just on their own.

Stuffed and intoxicated on a luxury cocktail of sunset and seaside, we caught the finale of a luau, complete with impassioned fire twirling display, from our window and quickly drifted off to sleep.

An Adventure Anniversary in Kauai: 10 Years!

As I walked over the gap from plane to paradise, I immediately smelled sea salt in the air as its light moisture descended on my skin, wrapping me in a warm dewy embrace. We had finally arrived in Kauai.

Expectations were already running high given the accolades I received for Kauai from what seemed myriad friends and colleagues, and yet I sensed this island would still manage to surprise us.

Kauai – home to a variety of climates on any given day, stretches of grassland ideal for raising cattle, dense fragrant jungle forest, beaches ringed by ancient rocky cliffsides, and “red dirt” soil rich with iron giving it its famous rust-like hue – promised adventure, perhaps even danger. This trip would be quite a contrast from the lazy luxury I’d experienced 10 years ago in Maui for our honeymoon. Kauai seemed the ideal destination for an adventure anniversary.

And of course, exploring would require plenty of energy-fueling eating.

But first: get our bearings, eat some fresh local ahi tuna (ideally, pool-side), and relax.

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The Dock is the casual eatery on the upper level pools at The Grand Hyatt in Poipu on the southern coast of the island. Nothing fancy, but I have to admit, this hit the spot. No fuss. No muss. Just fresh ahi. The Kalua BBQ pork sandwich was tasty as well.

Done and done. Now nothing but sun and sun.

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After a truly praiseworthy hour with our concierge extraordinaire Maren, we took a quick hike up the cliffs on Shipwreck Beach which is conveniently located right next to the hotel. This public beach area is aptly named given the rocky cliffs and ocean-side outcroppings. Seasoned local body surfers love this spot for its breaks. Definitely not for newbs. The waves here are raucous and relentless.

The hike gave us our first taste of Kauai’s rugged natural beauty and unforgiving terrain. Even for avid hikers like us, the Garden Island will make you work for it.

We were stoked.

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Unfortunately our first dinner on the island at Tidepools was disappointing, but romantic. The restaurant seemed to float on a picturesque koi-filled lagoon in the middle of the gardens at the Grand Hyatt. But it seemed Tidepools took its popularity a bit for granted.

My local baby romaine salad was so heavily dressed, it was white, and the ahi I had was sadly overseasoned to the point of being salty. It was almost like it was seasoned twice by accident. The ingredients were top notch, too. Sigh.

Jordan’s opah was much better, but the fish still had to fight for attention alongside the strong Creole-flavored sauce and succotash of potatoes, corn, edamame, and crab. It was decent, but the dish still seemed a bit heavy-handed.

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All in all, no matter. We were in Kauai. The Garden Island awaited us tomorrow.

Our dopey smiles said it all as we drifted in a sleepy haze through sweet-smelling greenery back to beckoning crisp white pillows.

There’s no place like a [Korean] home…

Just when I’m getting cabin fever and feeling homesick, my photo archive reveals a treasure trove of pictures from a visit back home to Pennsylvania where my parents still live. I know it’s trite to say, but memories do indeed fuel the wonder only dishes from home can bring to the soul; especially when you come from a Korean family that loves to eat!

First let’s talk about what to me is the quintessential Korean dish (besides kimchee, of course), bibimbap. Bibimbap literally translates to “mixed rice.” It’s become so mainstream, you find it on the menu in the most unlikely of places. Even just today I discovered that Chicago’s famous gastropub The Publican’s Sunday brunch menu features a pork belly bibimbap!

Bibimbap works for so many reasons, not least of which is that when it’s made at home it takes no prep whatsoever. It originated from literally taking whatever leftover rice and banchan you had (traditional small dishes to eat with rice), throwing it all in a big bowl, adding lots of gochujang (bright red, sweet and spicy fermented chili and soybean paste) and a sunny side up egg (if you had it), and mixing and incorporating everything together until your arm hurt. Then the fam would each grab a spoon (somehow it seems to taste better with a long stem metal Korean spoon), and communally dig in! Even clean up is easy!

And just as layers of flavor permeate bibimbap, so does this dish speak to the rich agricultural history and resourcefulness intrinsic not only to making Korean food, but also eating it. At its core, it’s a no frills, hearty kind of eating spiced up with fire from plenty of hot chiles.

These photos were taken from Christmas 2011. We had a bunch of tasty banchan from my Mom and during a visit to my aunt’s house, a bibim party ensued with gusto! It’s always a special treat when my Dad decides to be the “Bimbim Master,” as we kids like to call him.

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This is the kind of spread waiting for me when I visit home. Gawd. Moms should be recognized as the ninth wonders of the world. All of this was made from scratch, yo.

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We also had some other memorable dishes from the visit including homemade Duk Mandoo Guk (beef soup with beef dumplings and rice cakes) and Guksu jongol (spicy casserole with noodles). Had to throw these in too because they are absolute pure comfort food for any Korean!

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Pure comfort indeed.