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#FUUD: Salted Lemon in Liliha

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I’m always on the lookout for a good acai bowl.

And when Salted Lemon opened up near my (new) ‘hood this summer — and I heard it sold sizable acai bowls filled to the brim with fresh fruits — I had put it on my list of places to try.

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Outside the shop on Liliha Street.

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Inside — decorated for Halloween!

It’s not the easiest place to find — unless you’re familiar with the Liliha area.

The shop is in an old shoe store on Liliha Street next to the iconic Jane’s Fountain. (I love that place.) It really brightens up the neighborhood, giving this aging community a boost of cool.

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Salted Lemon was opened by Patrick Nguyen, whose parents ran Bob’s Market for 26 years. He started making juices for his mother when she was battling cancer — and that became the basis for the menu here.

Taking up an entire wall behind the counter, the blackboard menu has three basic categories: juices ($7 for 16 ounces), acai bowls and smoothies (between $4 to $5 each). Nguyen prefers to use the natural sugars from fruits and veggies, with simple syrup, to sweeten the drinks.

I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a juice person, despite my attempts at juicing in the past. I came for an acai bowl — and that’s exactly what I ordered.

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The acai bowl — with soy milk.

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The acai bowl — with apple juice.

Salted Lemon’s acai bowl ($9) looks like this (above, both). The acai made with soy milk is nice and thick, perfectly chilled with the consistency of sorbet (my preference). It’s got apple banana slices, strawberries, blueberries, bee pollen, lehua blossom honey and granola.

We ordered acai sweetened with apple juice instead of soy milk — and it took about 10 minutes longer to make. (The acai is pre-made.) That made the acai not as thick and it melted a lot faster. (I’d opt for the soy milk version next time.)

And at $9 a bowl, it’s a bit pricey.

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The couple next to us ordered the papaya bowl ($7), a half Kahuku papaya filled with Greek yogurt and topped with blueberries, bananas, granola, honey and chia seeds. This looked pretty refreshing and tasty.

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I had to order the shop’s signature drink, the Salted Lemon ($4), and I was surprised at how much it grew on me.

At first, it was a bit unusual. It’s made from lemons that are brined and fermented in the sun for months, then combined with bits of lemon peel. I feel like if I were sick, this would be the surefire cure. It was salted and sour and sweet and perfect. I could have had six of them.

It’s nice to know there’s a shop so nearby that serves the kind of refreshing drinks perfect for these humid days.

And yes, there’s WiFi, too.

Coffice, anyone?

Salted Lemon, 1723 Liliha St. in Honolulu. Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (808) 538-1291

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#CatChat: Visiting the new Choco le‘a Boutique

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Yeah, yeah, I keep saying I’m going to restart the #CatChat segments on my blog.

And hey, this might be my first one in 2014, but at least I did it!

I decided to save my first #CatChat of the year for the opening of Choco le‘a‘s first boutique in Mānoa Square (2909 Lowrey Avenue in Mānoa).

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Outside the shop on Lowrey Avenue.

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Owner Erin Kanno Uehara preparing a box of chocolate truffles.

The charming storefront opened in late September — the grand opening isn’t slated until November — for fans of the artisan chocolates made with premium chocolates and the freshest ingredients possible.

I visited Erin Kanno Uehara last year — last year! — and have been a huge fan ever since. (See my blog post on that visit here.) I appreciate the rich, bold flavors and unique ingredients — like Guinness beer, locally made cheesecakes, pink chichi dango mochi, lychee liqueur — that set these chocolates apart from others.

The shop features about 18 different truffle flavors that will rotate monthly; dark, milk and white chocolate macadamia nut clusters; almond cups; dipped pineapple and mango slices; chocolate-dipped strawberries; and prepackaged gift boxes and bags. Soon, she’ll be serving chocolate drinks. (Can’t wait!)

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White chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

For the holidays, Choco le‘a will be selling special orange chocolate-covered Oreos, caramel apple Oreos and pumpkin spice Oreos. And yes, you can come here on Halloween to trick-or-treat. (Or treat-or-treat, as I like to do.)

Here’s what the Mānoa shop looks like — and why you should plan your next weekend around visiting it:

#CatChat with Erin Kanno Uehara

And here’s the outtake where I fired my mother. LOL.

Visit Choco le‘a at 2909 Lowrey Avenue in Mānoa on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Or follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @chocoleahawaii.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch more #CatChats.

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What makes the best fries

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There are some foods you can’t separate.

Peanut butter and jelly. Waffles and fried chicken. And burgers and fries.

I don’t care how full I am, I will order a bag of fries with every burger, period.

The saltiness, the crispiness, the oiliness — fries are the perfect complement to a greasy burger topped with melted cheese and smoky bacon, leafy lettuce and a fresh slice of tomato. You really can’t beat it.

So when Frolic Hawai‘i asked me to blog about my Top 5 favorite fries, I actually had a hard time narrowing it down.

Because it really all depends.

While the basic criteria are simple — texture, temperature, crispiness, taste — the subjectiveness is what muddles the list.

Like nostalgia. Or price. Or when I’m eating these fries. (I’m far less picky about my fried choices when I’ve just come from the beach.)

And then picking just five was heart-wrenchingly difficult.

Truly, there are others that didn’t make my Top 5 list.

Like the crinkle-cut fries topped with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil at Home Bar & Grill. Or the unsalted skinny fries at Kua ‘Aina. Or the Jamaican jerk fries at Ryan’s Grill.

And don’t get me started on fries outside the island. (The fries at In-N-Out Burger [top] — individually cut at the restaurant, cooking in 100 percent vegetable oil, never frozen — are among my all-time favorites.)

So what should we be looking for in the fries?

Here are my criteria: they’ve got to be golden brown, slightly crispy and hot. I like the crunch, though I can deal with a soggy fry if it doesn’t taste like a wad of cooking oil. I’m not a huge fan of steak fries or ones breaded before they’re tossed into a deep fryer. (Remember when Burger King changed their fries? Terrible.) I like them on the skinnier side, fresh is always best, and double-fried makes ‘em better.

And hey, I’m never above a bag from McDonald’s, either!

Got a favorite frites? (I have lots of room on my Favorite Fries list!)

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#CatTravels: 48 Hours in Ireland

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Years ago, back when I worked at the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser, I plugged in “Dublin” in a travel booking website and found roundtrip tickets from Honolulu for less than it would cost to fly to Vegas.

And I didn’t go.

It always lingered in my mind, the fact that I let that opportunity get away from me.

So I’ve been thinking about Ireland ever since.

Not that I have any connection to the North Atlantic island. I’m not Irish (that I know of) and I don’t drink Guinness.

But I do love Oscar Wilde (his middle name was O’Flahertie), soda bread, Lucky Charms and the color green.

All kidding aside.

Ireland is one of those magical places, where the lush countryside is as emerald green as it appears in travel guides. The sea cliffs are as dramatic, people as friendly. Everything about Ireland is exactly how I had imagined. It’s the kind of place that makes you believe in fairies and monsters.

When we were planning our honeymoon to the United Kingdom, we, of course, included Ireland. Our friends had just come back from a two-week adventure across the island — the largest in the British Isle archipelago and third-largest in Europe — driving along its southern and western coastlines, staying at little bed-and-breakfasts along the way.

It sounded so quaint and idyllic.

There was no way we could be that relaxed on our two-day jaunt.

Originally, we were going to spend five days in Ireland. But my husband convinced me to rebook our flights and hotels so we could spend more time in Scotland, instead. So we had just about two full days in the country — and really, that wasn’t enough.

DAY 1

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We flew into Dublin and rented a tiny Nissan Micra from locally owned Dan Dooley Car Rental. Like in the rest of the British Isles, you have to drive on the left-hand side of the street, opposite of how it is in the U.S. And having a small car, trust me, was a good thing. (Roads are perilously narrow.)

We were heading to Cong, a teeny village straddling the borders of Galway and Mayo counties with less than 200 residents. (It’s also the home of Sir William Wilde, historian and father to the prominent playwright.) Its claim to fame is Ashford Castle — and we were staying there for the night.

It was going to take about two and a half hours to get there — I was driving, too! — so we stopped halfway to Cong at a small town called Kilbeggan, famous as the location of the oldest recorded incidence of a tornado in Europe.

But that’s not why we were there.

We wanted a drink and a quick bite to eat (above, second and third). And the Saddler’s Inn delivered — with a cold pint of Guinness and ham and cheese sandwiches. (That was the only thing on the menu!)

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Just before sunset, we arrived at Ashford Castle (above, first), one of Ireland’s finest luxe hotels converted from a Victorian faux lakeside castle. It was built on the site in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman House of Burke right on the banks of Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second largest lake.

We had some time to kill before dinner, so we walked around the property, which sprawls over 365 acres of land, much of it wooded. There were neat paths that meandered through perfect gardens. Such a gorgeous area! The hotel offers various activities that allow you to truly absorb your surroundings, including cycling, skeet shooting and kayaking in Lough Corrib.

We had dinner at Cullen’s at the Dungeon (above, fourth), the more casual dining experience at the castle. I tried an Irish specialty: beef and Guinness stew.

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We had breakfast in the immaculate George V Dining Room (above, first and second), with a buffet spread that included cheese, salami, croissants, soda bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, black pudding and fruits.

We needed the fuel for our long, complicated drive north to the Céide Fields in the northwestern tip of Ireland.

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The Céide Fields is an archaeological site that contains the oldest known agricultural field systems in the world. Using various dating methods, it was discovered that the creation and development of the Céide Fields goes back some five and a half thousand years.

We first stopped at a viewing spot to see the 365-foot cliffs of Ballycastle (above, first), these horizontal layers of sandstone roughly 350 million years old. Mayo County is home to the country’s highest cliffs — yes, taller than those of the famed Cliffs of Moher — and second highest in all of Europe at Croaghaun, Achill Island. (The Benwee Head cliffs in Kilcommon Erris stand nearly 900 feet straight above the wild Atlantic.) The coastline here was just breathtaking.

But we had come to see Céide Fields.

We walked up to the visitor’s center (above, second) built on the archaeological site of what is considered the most extensive stone monument in the world, stone-walled fields preserved beneath a 5,000-year-old bog. We got to see parts of the wall (above, third) that had been uncovered.

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Then we were back to Ashford Castle for some hawk flying. The oldest established Falconry School in Ireland gives you chance to fly a hawk around the woodlands of the castle in a one-hour private Hawk Walk.

Uh, of course we were doing it.

We met Tommy (above, first), one of the instructors and bird expert, who introduced us to Andes, a Peruvian hawk and champion hunter. He explained how this whole thing was going to work: the hawk would be tied to the glove as we walked to an open area on the castle grounds. Then we would let it fly away, calling it back with a small piece of raw beef hidden in our gloved fist. “You don’t train a hawk,” Tommy said. “You learn what it needs.”

These hawks — and falcons (above, third) — were amazing. Among the most intelligent birds in the world, hawks boast exceptional eyesight, able to perceive the visible range and the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Not only can they see greater distances than humans, their visual acuity is eight times that of ours. In addition, these birds of prey can attain speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour, traveling thousand of miles a year. They are pretty astounding creatures, and handling them was very humbling.

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It’s hard to top flying a hawk, but spending a night in Doolin (above, first) wasn’t too bad, either.

Doolin is a coastal village in Clare County, best known for being the capital of traditional Irish music. We didn’t know this at first, but when we checked in at the charming Twin Peaks B&B (above, second), the owners were quick to tell us to get our meals before 9:30 p.m. After that, they said, the music starts and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an open seat.

And they weren’t kidding.

The pubs on the town’s very small main street was packed with people eager to hear live traditional Irish music. We popped into The Chocolate Shop (above, third and fourth), next door to Doolin’s famous Gus O’Connor Pub, for a little snack. This place is one of the few shops that carry the Wilde Irish Chocolates, handmade artisan chocolates that are to die for.

We stopped by O’Connor’s just for a quick bite — I got a burger with bacon and cheese, my husband got fish and chips — then called it a night. We had a big day tomorrow of surfing and beer-drinking.

DAY 2

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Prior to our arrival in Ireland, I had been emailing with Cathal “Ben” Bennett, owner of Bens Surf Clinic located in Lahinch, known as one of the best surfing spots in all of Ireland (above, first three).

The beach is the spot for lessons, too. There are several shops offering surfing instruction and board rentals, so it was a perfect place for us to get wet in Ireland.

Ben had emailed me the night before and said the waves were decent and the conditions really good. He wasn’t kidding. Aside from the nip in the air, we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine — and small waves. We suited up — we were wearing a 5/3 mm wetsuit and booties — and paddled out.

To be honest, I was a bit concerned about the cold. The water temp here was around 60 degrees — the average water temperature in Hawai‘i is 74 degrees — and I had never worn a wetsuit before. But as soon as we paddled out — and Ben did tell me this — the cold wasn’t a factor at all. My hands warmed up pretty quickly, and by the time I got out to the lineup, I didn’t feel the chill at all. In fact, it got a bit warm. And when we got to shore, we shed our wetsuits and wore T-shirts for the rest of the morning.

I have to say, this was probably one of my favorite experiences on this entire trip.

We wandered around Lahinch for a bit, grabbing a beer at a local restaurant that faced the ocean and popping into the Celtic T-shirt Shop (above, fourth), which specializes in artistic Celtic designs. Cool little town.

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After cruising around the beach town, we jumped into our rental car and drove two and a half hours to Dublin, where we were going to spend the night before heading back home.

You can’t come all the way to Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse, especially if you love beer the way my husband does.

Open in 2000, Guinness Storehouse is a Guinness-themed tourist attraction at St. James Gate Brewery. The building in which this seven-story beer lover’s mecca is located was constructed in 1902 as a fermentation plant. Now, it tells the story of Guinness, the beloved Irish dry stout that originated here.

The self-guided tour covers the history of the brewery, the process, a showcase of advertising, even an interactive exhibit on responsible drinking. The draw, though, is the tasting. You learn how to properly drink a pint of Guinness — lift the glass to your mouth and take in a good-sized mouthful to get the perfect sip — and what makes this stout unlike any other.

Then you can head up to the Gravy Bar with 360-degree panoramic views of Dublin — and where you pick up the free pint that comes with your admission ticket.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people just head straight up to the top floor and skip the exhibits.

We had been told by everyone, even some Scots, that you have to drink a pint of Guinness while in Ireland. “Guinness doesn’t travel well,” people said to us. And they were right. There’s something about the perfectly brewed mouthful, that slight tang, its thick and creamy head, that you don’t really get anywhere else but here.

Then again, you can say that about everything we experienced in Ireland. It’s so much better done there.

Thanks to everyone who followed our #FoxHoneymoon here, on Facebook, on Twitter or on Instagram! It was a pleasure sharing our experiences with you! Hopefully we have inspired all of you to take that dream trip to Europe — or anywhere in the world, to be honest. There’s lots of exploring out there. What are you waiting for?

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#CatTravels: A lesson in Scotch whisky

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The only thing I knew about Scotch whisky was that, well, it was alcohol.

That’s really about it.

I had no idea whisky made in Scotland was such a special thing.

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When we arrived in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland (above), last week, one of the things my husband wanted to do was check out a whisky distillery.

To be honest, that wasn’t on my Top 5 list of things to do in Edinburgh. I’m not a whisky drinker, much less an aficionado, but I figured this was a good opportunity to learn a little something about Scotland’s national drink. So I booked a tour to nearby Glenkinchie Distillery, located about 15 miles from Edinburgh in a picturesque part of the country, to see first-hand what makes Scotch whisky so unique.

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We got on a bus near Princes Street with a group of French high school students. It took about 30 minutes to get to the distillery, where we toured the malting floors, production area and cask room. (We couldn’t take photos during the tour, since Glenkinchie is still a working distillery.)

This is a classic and historic distillery, started in 1837 during the time when distilling became legal. (In 1777 Edinburgh houses maybe 400 illicit distilleries.)

Blended Scotch whisky constitutes about 90 percent of the whisky produced in Scotland. These blends contain both malt whisky and grain whisky. Producers combine the various malts and grain whiskies to produce a consistent brand style. Think Bells, Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker, Whyte and Mackay, Cutty Sark, J&B, The Famous Grouse, Ballantine’s and Chivas Regal.

Glenkinchie, though, became well-known for its single malt whisky. (It’s one of six distilleries in the Lowland region of Scotland.)

OK, so all that was interesting. But here’s what I didn’t know. Scotch whisky is like champagne in France: there are rules to it. Meaning, you have to adhere to a certain set of standards before you can call the whisky you brew Scotch.

As defined by law, Scotch whisky has to be:

• Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
• Processed at that distillery into a mash
• Converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems
• Fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast
• Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 percent (190 US proof)
• Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (185 US gal; 154 imp gal) for at least three years
• Retaining the color, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation
• Containing no added substances, other than water and plain (E150A) caramel coloring
• Comprising a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40 percent (80 US proof)

“The whole process has to be done in Scotland,” said our tour guide.

And did you know this? Only Scotch whisky uses this spelling; all others are spelled “whiskey.”

“You know what ‘E’ stands for?” she asked us, a twinkle in her eyes. “We say it stands for ‘effort.'”

After sampling four different kinds of whiskies produced by Glenkinchie, we had the fortunate luck of staying with a guy in Edinburgh who is incredibly knowledgeable about Scotch whisky — and a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

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Founded in 1983, SMWS is the world’s foremost malt whisky club — with a location in Leith (above) where you can sample the best single cask, single malt whisky it has for its members only.

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Here, you can taste whatever the society has available — all rare whiskies from single casks. (Remember, most whiskies are blended.) That means whatever each bottle comes from an individual aging barrel, instead of being created by blending together the contents of various barrels to provide uniformity of color and taste. Even whiskeys that are not blends may be combined from more than one batch.

So these single cask whiskies are very special, very rare Scotch whiskies — and we were privileged to sample them.

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Even though I’m not a fan of whisky — with or without the “e” — I can totally appreciate the process, the subtleties, the effort put into each bottle, and the passion aficionados like Andrew have for Scotch whisky.

I think I feel that way about ice cream.

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