#FieldTrip: A walk on the west side

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It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been out to the westernmost point of O‘ahu.

So when some friends and I were discussing different trails to tackle this past weekend, I tossed in Ka‘ena Point as a suggestion.

And to my surprise, one hadn’t been there in a decade and the other two had never been there at all.

So it was unanimous, we were going to Ka‘ena Point.

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We got to the trailhead on the Wai‘anae start of the hike by 7 a.m. And to be honest, that was a little late. This isn’t the kind of trail that you want to be still on when the sun is high in the sky. It’s dry, it’s brutally hot, and you won’t find any relief from the heat.

If you follow the highway to the end of the road, you will hit the start of the trail. There are places to park, trash cans for rubbish and signs everywhere telling you what you can and cannot do. For example, no dogs. I made a special note of that one.

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Ka‘ena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands. Located on the westernmost point of O‘ahu, at the end of Farrington Highway, this wild and rugged lava shoreline with sweeping views of the vast Pacific Ocean in every direction is nothing short of magical.

You can feel a kind of purposeful spirit here, walking the uneven 5-mile dirt trail from Makua on O‘ahu’s western coastline to Mokulē‘ia on the North Shore. This is the place of Hawaiian lore, where souls of ancient Hawaiians would jump off the point and into the spirit world and meet the souls of their ancestors.

That wasn’t in our plan.

We just wanted to walk the wild coastline dotted with tide pools and sea arches, talk story, and breathe in the beauty of this sacred place.

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The trail leads to Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, a remote and scenic protected area harboring some of the last vestiges of coastal sand dune habitat on the island, and home to native plants and seabirds. Whales frequent this shoreline during the winter months, and sometimes you can see spinner dolphins playing in the waters offshore.

Back in 2011, a 6.5-foot-tall predator-proof fence was installed to keep out invasive species that have been devastating the populations of native and endangered plants and animals. Animals like dogs, cats and mongooses have killed ground-nesting seabirds and rats eat their eggs.

Since this stainless steel, marine-grade fence — a dark brown to blend in with the natural surroundings — went up, wedge-tailed shearwater fledglings increased from 300 in 2010 to more than 1,700 last year. Laysan albatross fledglings went up 25 percent this year. Native plants such as ‘ōhiʻa and sandalwood are now covered in fruit.

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We were lucky enough to see a nesting wedge-tailed shearwater (above).

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Once you pass through the predator fence, the landscape changes. The volcanic rock coastline softens into sandy dunes lined with naupaka.

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To walk around this area is like a visual lesson in Native Hawaiian ecology. The coastline is dotted with native plants such as ‘ilima, naio and hinahina kū kahakai, with 11 species that are federally listed as endangered ʻāwiwi, puʻukaʻa, dwarf naupaka and ʻohia. And the point, a nature reserve closed to motorized vehicles, is home to rare and endangered coastal plants and seabirds. The critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtles are regularly spotted resting along the coastline.

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Closer to the shoreline, we found small tide pools, little marine ecosystems bustling with fish like lama (baby goatfish), alaihi (squirrel fish) and sergeant majors.

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We got to the point in about 90 minutes — and that’s with stopping to shoot photos.

It’s not a challenging hike at all. In fact, it’s a well-traversed trail with hardly any incline save for one spot where the original road washed away. But we didn’t go there for a workout. We went to see the stunning scenery and marvel at the native ecosystem that’s alive and thriving.

And that’s exactly what we got.

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#CatTravels: Makalawena not a secret anymore

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It’s hard to find a white-sand beach in Kona on Hawai‘i Island.

But there is one — and it’s been a carefully guarded secret until recently.

Makalawena Beach is a secluded stretch of sandy beach coves located about three miles north of the Kona International Airport on private land owned by Kamehameha Schools.

That last part, though, you won’t find in most guidebooks or on travel sites.

People have access to the beach via the shoreline — which is public — by parking at the nearby Kekaha Kai State Park and walking for about 30 minutes along a well-worn path of sharp a‘a. (You’ll need a 4WD vehicle.)

And there are even boats now that drop off visitors to the beach for a few hours.

So this once pristine coastline — and let’s be real, it’s not as crowded as Waikīkī Beach — is now packed with people just about every day of the year. Beach-goers lug their tents, hibachis (grills), beach chairs, even surfboards for about a mile along the shoreline to get here.

And I can see why it’s worth the effort.

The white sand here is super fine — not dissimilar to the sand found in Kailua on O‘ahu — and there are enough small coves to find a quiet spot to relax. Since it’s not easy to get to — it’s about four miles from the highway — it tends to be less crowded than spots like Hāpuna Beach

There are small pools of brackish water inland for washing off the salt and small coves perfect for snorkeling and bodysurfing. We dove around and saw Hawaiian sea turtles, ‘uhu (parrotfish), yellow tang, kala (unicorn fish), a variety of wrasse, a pod of spinner dolphins and lots of humuhumunukunukuapua‘a (wedge-tail triggerfish).

But man, it was crowded. People were tossing footballs in the shallow water and blasting their reggae music on the beach. It wasn’t quite what I had expected.

“It’s in the (guide)book,” says one of the volunteer caretakers this weekend, who counted more than 150 people on Sunday at this small beach. “So they come. And they going keep coming.”

The beach is “open” every day — it used to be closed on Wednesdays — from sun up to sun down. Once the sun starts setting, though, the caretaker will come around and tell folks to leave. The only way you can stay and camp is if you have a permit from Kamehameha Schools. And those aren’t easy to get, either.

We were lucky enough to know someone who works for KS. He invited us to stay over the weekend at Makalawena with him and his extended family. And it was perfect timing, too, since I’m still recovering from a concussion and can’t do much but lounge around. And if you know me, you know how hard that is!

Here’s what our weekend looked like — and let me tell you, when the sun goes down is when this place really turns on its magic:

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In the early morning, you could catch the beach all to yourself.

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It was breathtaking to see the majestic shield volcano Hualālai, which rises 8,271 feet above sea level, off in the distance. It’s the third most active volcano on the Big Island.

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The family we went with are serious about camping. Look at this — he brought a portable toilet for camping and set up a nice, private lua (bathroom) for everyone.

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Here was basecamp. As typical when local families get together, we had way too much food.

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We found a nice, secluded spot and set up our tent. I wish we could have brought the dogs!

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Some of the happy campers! We were prepared with everything from bocce ball to bodyboards.

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We took out a two-man kayak to explore the water. That’s Hualālai in the distance.

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We lucked out with great conditions for snorkeling and diving. The water was so clean and clear.

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For dinner one night, we had lūʻau stew with taro leaves and chunks of beef and pork. It was simply perfection, especially with fresh poi from Waipi‘o Valley. Just enough salt, too. I couldn’t stop eating it.

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These kids had so much fun here; it was a perfect playground for them. They kayaked, dove, fished, bodyboarded, adventured around — and afterward they got to eat kiawe-grilled steaks and chicken, hot dogs, fresh āholehole (flag tail) and s’mores. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a better sunset in Hawai‘i outside of Kona — and especially if you’re watching it from Makalawena. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect weekend to rest, relax and heal. Thank you to the Kealoha family for inviting us and letting us eat everything in your coolers. We are humbled by the beauty of our island state. Truly.

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#DoThis: Okinawan Festival this weekend

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Every summer I think about how lucky we are to live in Hawai‘i.

There’s always surf on south shores and bright skies for daylong hikes. The weather is balmy, the oceans is warm, and everyone seems to be just a little happier.

And then there are the festivals, from Duke’s Oceanfest in Waikīkī to the dozens of bon dances at Japanese temples all over the state.

One of my favorites, though, is the annual Okinawan Festival, happening this weekend at Kapi‘olani Park.

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In its 32nd year, the festival, organized by the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, celebrates all things Okinawan, from music to cultural arts.

But the real draw, at least for me, is the food.

Andagi (deep-fried doughnuts, top), champuru (shoyu pork, stir-fried veggies and luncheon meat with rice) and taco rice (exactly what it sounds like) top my list of favorites.

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But the one Okinawan delight I’m desperate to try — and I can’t believe I haven’t eaten it before — is the Oki Dog, a hot dog topped with Zippy’s chili and wrapped in a soft tortilla with shredded shoyu pork and lettuce.

Oh, yeah.

The only thing it needs is maybe a dollop of mayonnaise.

More than 3,000 of these culturally confused dogs are sold every year since its introduction.

I really am surprised I haven’t had one yet.

Well, I guess there’s always this weekend!

The 32nd annual Okinawan Festival, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 30 & 31 at Kapiolani Park in Waikīkī, Oʻahu. For more information, visit here.

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A peek inside ‘Dumplings All Day Wong’

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The first time I ate at Koko Head Cafe in Kaimukī, I ordered the dumpling of the day.

It just so happened to be the best dish I had eaten all year.

I thought about that pork-stuffed potsticker topped with a housemade XO sauce crafted by “Top Chef” alum Lee Anne Wong (@leeannewong) for weeks.

Turns out, it’s the recipe on Page 4 of her new cookbook, aptly named “Dumplings All Day Wong,” on shelves now.

I flipped through the 256-page cook — gorgeously photographed, by the way — and practically licked the images of sesame jin dui, California roll gyoza, dan dan pork wontons, and white chocolate wasabi pretzel dumplings.

But my heart stopped on Page 122: BBQ Chicken Dumplings (top).

Oh, the perfect combination of things I love, namely chopped barbecue chicken and deep-fried dough. It’s really the perfect dish for leftover chicken — easy to prep, simple to make. I was sold. (Recipe below)

So I chatted with the busy chef/owner — and now cookbook author! — about this new endeavor and how the OG_KarateGuy got into her book:

CT: Where did the idea for the book come from? What were hopes/goals for the project?

LAW: Interestingly enough the photographer in the book, Ken Goodman, whom I have known peripherally through food and wine circles for a few years, contacted me and inquired if I’d be into writing a book. Page Street Publishing was looking for some new culinary authors. I had just filmed a one hour special — “Food Crawl with Lee Anne Wong” for The Cooking Channel/Food Network — which was focused on my interactive tour through NYC in search of awesome dumplings and noodles. It is now and has always been my theory that you’d be hard pressed to find a single soul on this planet who wouldn’t like a hot fresh dumpling. I agreed to write it because while I am no dim sum master, I enjoy feeding people and I love making (and eating) dumplings. With only the hopes that it was a topic that would be universally loved, I set out to write a book for dumpling lovers of all skill sets, from the home cook to the professional.

CT: Why dumplings?

LAW: Almost every culinary culture in this world has their own version of a dumpling of sorts. I focused on the Asian variety because I’m obsessed with them. I also feel like when you’re in the kitchen making dumplings people tend to flock first in curiosity and then in anticipation. “Dumplings bring people together.” If I were a politician that’d be my slogan.

CT: I’m obsessed with your dumplings at Koko Head Cafe. Obsessed. Why do you have such a knack for it — and what do you love about making them?

LAW: Speaking of obsessions, haha, thanks, Cat. Dumplings on my menu at Koko Head Cafe is part of my nod to Asian culture. If it’s 7 a.m. and you put a plate of dumplings in front of me, and then a plate of eggs and bacon, etc, I’m gonna go for the dumplings first every time. Having spent the past 20 years in NYC, favorite early morning activities included dim sum, congee, and noodles in Chinatown, where especially on really cold winter days, it became a morning food religion, soulful comfort food kinda stuff, you know? I have folded many dumplings in my life and when we first opened I was the only one who knew how to do it. I knew I had to teach my cooks at some point. Now at least half of them are quite skilled at it, and I’m no longer folding dumplings on the fly at 7 a.m. hoping the first three tables that sit down immediately don’t want dumplings (and they usually do, only proving my point). I do enjoy the repetition of folding though. It’s my “me” time to think about whatever. And I’m pretty fast.

CT: How do you get inspiration for your recipes?

LAW: I’m inspired by what’s delicious. Classic and favorite flavor combinations make it easy to conceptualize what works, which is pretty much anything. You like meatloaf and mashed potatoes??? OK, let’s put that in a dumpling and drown the thing in mushroom gravy. Yum. Nom nom.

CT: Looks like you did a lot of the shooting and cooking here in Hawaii. True? Why Hawaii and not, oh, NYC?

LAW: Right in my backyard in Mānoa. It was timing, where I had just moved here in December and had to get the book photographed by Jan. 15. I was still in the middle of writing it while we shot the recipes (in a whirlwind of three days — thank you [chef] Will Chen for helping me), so while it was an undoubtedly painful process, I am relieved it is done and now I will always be able to look at my cookbook with that little kid pride: “I did that :)”

CT: Is there anything you can’t do in a dumpling?

LAW: Tell me your favorite food and I’ll tell you how to make it into a dumpling.

CT: The name of the book is perfection. How did that come about?

LAW: The publisher had asked me to start thinking about titles and so I fired off six, “Dumplings All Day Wong” being the first one. I think he glazed over the email or it just didn’t sit well with him the first time. So they tested the concept to a few audiences with some other titles they made up, that in the end I railed against because they said nothing about me or the tone of the book. At which point we had a phone call and I said, “What about ‘Dumplings All Day Wong’? C’mon, it’s funny. It’s very ‘me.’ And it immediately brands the book.” He reacted like he had heard it for the very first time, and everyone else on the conference call chuckled too, so when he said, “I like it, I think it could work.” It was huge victory for me.

CT: I’m stoked the OG_KarateGuy made the book! Is he your muse?

LAW: Yes my little buddy (@OG_KarateGuy on Twitter), who has traveled the culinary universe with me, made it into the book. I actually need to create an Instagram for all of his past adventures, and take him out of my coffee table, where he currently resides, and start creating some fresh ones. Stay tuned. Hai.

***

BBQ Chicken Dumplings
From “Dumplings All Day Wong” by Lee Anne Wong

Ingredients
Filling:
12 oz (340 g) cooked chicken meat, dark meat preferably
¼ cup (15 g) minced scallion, white and green parts
1 tsp (5 g) minced garlic
1 tsp (5 g) minced ginger
2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup or dark brown sugar
1 tbsp (15 ml) oyster sauce
1 tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce
1 tbsp (15 ml) apple juice or cider
1 tbsp (10 g) cornstarch
1 tbsp (15 ml) Chinese red vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tsp (5 ml) sambal paste or Sriracha
½ tsp dry mustard powder
¼ tsp ground white pepper
1 recipe Bao Dough (page 30)
Oil for deep-frying

Directions:
To make the filling, chop the cooked chicken meat into small ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces and shred. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until smooth. Fold the sauce into the cooked chicken meat until well combined. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Divide your dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch (2.5-cm)-thick rope and cut into ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces. Keep the dough covered with a damp towel. Roll each dough ball into a 3-inch (7.5-cm) round wrapper using a rolling pin, about ⅙-inch (0.4 cm) thick. Fill each wrapper with 1 tablespoon (12 g) of filling. Lightly wet the edges of the wrapper and form the dumpling using the round or puck-shaped fold. Keep the dumplings covered on a lightly floured tray or plate. Preheat the deep-frying oil to 350°F/176°C. Carefully fry the dumplings in small batches until the skin is golden brown and the dumplings are floating in the oil, about 3 to 4 minutes, gently tossing the dumplings in the oil so all sides cook evenly. Drain on paper towels. Allow the oil to come back to 350°F/176°C before frying the next batch. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce of your choice. Makes 32 dumplings.

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Concussions aren’t fun

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I wouldn’t say I’m accident prone.

But it’s no surprise things happen to me that make for great Facebook status updates.

Like getting my wallet stolen in Athens. Or getting a serious staph infection after surfing in Tavarua, Fiji. Or suffering through a urinary tract infection on a flight to Hamburg. (The Germans have the best medicine, let me tell you!)

So why wouldn’t I get a concussion on a recent kayak trip to the Mokulua Islands in Kailua?

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Here’s the story: We met up with some friends this past Sunday to kayak to the iconic twin islands off Lanikai Beach on the windward side of O‘ahu. The plan was to walk around Moku Nui, the larger of the two and the only one the public can legally land on.

The backside of the island can be dangerous to traverse, and I wouldn’t recommend people venture there.

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An unofficial warning sign posted toward the back of Moku Nui.

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But of course, I never listen to my own advice. I’ve been back there (see above) a couple of times before without any incident. There’s a protected cove into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead. And there’s also a shallow saltwater bath — into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead.

I don’t jump into anything, so that’s not where I hit my head.

In fact, it was on my way around the island when I sustained this concussion that doesn’t seem to go away.

I followed my friends’ two teenagers into a sea cave and a wave pushed me against the side of a rock wall, full force, and I whacked my right cranium pretty hard.

At first I panicked, thinking I was going to start bleeding profusely. And the ocean is the last place I’d like to be with an open wound to my head and blood gushing everywhere.

So I quickly got out of the water and onto land.

And to be honest, save for a headache, I felt fine.

In fact, I felt fine up until that night, when I sipped a glass of moscato and started slurring. Then I went into the bathroom, switched on the lights, and everything got so bright, I thought the roof had been torn from the house and the sunlight was streaming in. I couldn’t open my eyes.

When I told my husband about this strange phenomenon — I was actually tripping out about the suddenly bright bathroom more than thinking this could be neurological damage — he started asking me a bunch of questions.

“Do you have a headache?”

“Are you nauseous?”

“Are you dizzy?”

“Do you have any weakness or numbness in your arms?”

To all of these questions I answered yes.

“I think you have a concussion.”

OK, so I’ve heard about concussions. Football players, boxers and car accident victims get them. You have to really hit your head pretty hard, I thought, to sustain something like that.

Turns out, millions of Americans have suffered from a concussion, many unreported. More than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S., according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. And you don’t have to actually hit your head to get one. A violent shake can cause a concussion, too.

Effects are usually temporary and include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.

On Monday, I was really starting to feel the effects. I had a difficult time concentrating, I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I felt dizzy and nauseous all the time. Light hurt my eyes and I was still suffering from what was starting to feel like a migraine. It wasn’t fun.

By Tuesday I was at the doctor’s office, getting my eyes checked and my brain scanned. No blood clots, but I definitely had a concussion that the doctor said may take weeks to months to heal fully.

This is Day 5, and I already see an improvement, at least in my concentration and balance. (It would take me twice as long to type an email, for example. It literally hurt to think.) But this injury is no joke.

Friends kept reminding of me actress Natasha Richardson, who, back in 2009, sustained a head injury when she fell while taking a beginner skiing lesson at a resort in Canada. She seemed fine, talked and acted normally — then died the next day.

I feel like if I’ve survived this long, I’m in the clear.

But I won’t be swimming into any sea caves anytime soon.

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