#40trails No. 16: Going solo on Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge, O‘ahu

By January 4, 2016 #40trails


HIKE: Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge, O‘ahu
WHEN: January 2016
LENGTH: 5-mile roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Fairly easy, especially the first two-thirds of the trail; more challenging to the summit
FEATURES: Gradual switchbacks, usually dry and shady, some native plants like ʻōhiʻa trees, groves of Cook pines, open ridges, summit view of the windward coast.

I knew it was going to be crowded.

And that’s precisely why I decided to do it.

I had a few hours to myself on New Year’s Day, and since I had already surfed that morning, I wanted to hit the mountains. But I was going to have to do it alone. (My husband was on a rescue mission to find a friend’s drone that had crash-landed on a ridge. Long story.)

I don’t recommend hiking alone, though I do it more often than not — and more out of necessity and convenience than anything else. A lot of times — like on Friday — I make the decision to hike spontaneously, not giving anyone enough time to gear up and meet me at the trailhead.

Solo hiking, though, can be a revitalizing, uplifting experience. I love being outdoors by myself, hearing the chirps of forest birds and breathing in the crisp mountain air without no one else around.

That said, I’m always armed with pepper spray and a big stick — just in case.

But on New Year’s Day, I figured hundreds of people would be hitting trails all over the island. It was the start of a new year, and many, like me, wanted to kick it off right.

It helps that hiking torches the calories you’ve likely put on over the holidays, too.

So I picked Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail, between ‘Āina Haina and Hawai‘i Kai, for two reasons: One, it’s a fairly easy, non-treacherous hike to a summit lookout that offers great views of the windward side; and two, though I was hiking alone, I could guarantee I really wouldn’t be.

A word about the trail itself: Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail is one of a handful of state-managed trails that end at a summit atop the Ko‘olau Mountains. Of the three that traverse this stretch of the range, this five-mile hike is slightly longer and a tad more difficult than Wiliwilinui Ridge but easier than Hawai‘i Loa Ridge. It’s also easily the most popular, with its gradual switchbacks and shady paths.

The trailhead starts here.

The trailhead starts here.

This trail traverses a public hunting area. Here's the hunter check-in if you want to see if there's hunters on the trail while you're hiking.

This trail traverses a public hunting area. Here’s the hunter check-in if you want to see if there’s hunters on the trail while you’re hiking.

The trail starts at the end of Kala‘au Place in the residential neighborhood of Kuli‘ou‘ou. There’s no parking lot for this trail; you’ll have to find street parking in the area. And as with any hike, be respectful of the residents who live here. Don’t block their driveways or throw your trash in their yards or wipe your muddy feet on their lawns. I say this because, unfortunately, it happens more often than you’d think. (Ask anyone who lives by the trailhead to Maunawili Falls.)

I got to Kala‘au Place just after noon on Friday, and the entire stretch of road was already lined with cars. Hikers were parking on Kuli‘ou‘ou Road and walking up the steep street to the trailhead. Luckily, I found parking just at the bottom, after another car had pulled out. So for me, the hike began here.

The trail at the start.

The trail at the start.

My favorite part of the beginning of the trail, where you can see the blue skies overhead.

My favorite part of the beginning of the trail, where you can see Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley and the blue skies overhead.

This trail traverses a public hunting area, and it’s also open to mountain bikers and dogs on leashes. So there can be a lot more going on along this trail than just hiking.

There are two trails here. Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley Trail is a very short and shady two-mile walk along a well-groomed and graded path through this leeward valley. It’s perfect for beginners or families. The ridge hike, which veers to the right, is more challenging, with switchbacks that zigzag to the summit of the Ko‘olau.

After walking through a forest of Christmas berry, haole koa and guava trees, you’ll reach a signed junction. Go right. (Left will take you along the valley trail.)

The switchbacks start almost immediately, and they offer the easiest way to climb a steep ridge like this one. But you have to pay attention, as some of the turns aren’t super obvious.

And avoid the shortcuts that cross these switchbacks. While I’ve done them — I even cut across a few this time — using them can cause erosion that damages the trail. And to be honest, some aren’t any shorter than walking along the marked trail and others may not even be shortcuts at all. Case in point: I was following a group of college coeds from Russia. At one point, going down, they took every shortcut they could find. I stuck to the path and still caught up with them. Then they took another trail that appeared to be a shortcut — and I never saw them again. Either that was the worst shortcut in the world — or the best. I will never know.

The path weaves through ironwoods.

The path weaves through ironwoods.

Much of the first part of this hike is dry and shady like this.

Much of the first part of this hike is dry and shady like this.

After about half an hour, I made it to a clearing where the trail can get a bit confusing. Always veer left. You’ll come across a grove of tall Cook pines, then two covered picnic tables where many hikers decide to stop for lunch — or stop for good. (These pines were planted here in the 1930s as part of a reforestation project.)

The push to the summit starts here.

That first open area.

That first open area.

A family walking through the grove of Cook pines.

A family walking through the grove of Cook pines.

The covered picnic tables offer a great resting spot for tired (or hungry) hikers.

The covered picnic tables offer a great resting spot for tired (or hungry) hikers.

This next part of the trail gets a bit more challenging — but the payoff is well worth the extra effort.

The hike meanders through more of a native forest, with ʻōhiʻa and lama trees and the occasional native bird. (It’s so crowded on this trail, though, that hikers tend to scare off whatever forest birds frequent here.)

The climb here is significantly more difficult — and there aren’t any switchbacks here to make the trek easier.

Another viewing spot.

Another viewing spot.

Totally gratuitous dog pic! There were at least two dozen dogs on the trail when I hiked. It's a great place for them to explore.

Totally gratuitous shot: dogs! There were at least two dozen dogs on the trail when I hiked. It’s a great place for them to explore.

The dreaded stairs.

The dreaded stairs.

You'll encounter more native trees and plants on this part of the trail.

You’ll encounter more native trees and plants on this part of the trail.

As on both Wiliwilinui and Hawai‘i Loa ridge trails, the final ascent is marked with stairs. These steps are maintained by the state’s Nā Ala Hele program and the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i to slow erosion and make it safer — and easier — for hikers to climb to the summit. There are just about 300 steps on this trail to the top, which really isn’t too bad.

You might hate the steps, but they actually make it easier for you to reach the summit.

You might hate the steps, but they actually make it easier for you to reach the summit.

I gotta say, it was a gorgeous day for hiking.

I gotta say, it was a gorgeous day for hiking.

You always need to look back sometimes.

You always need to look back sometimes.

It’s the last set of steps that will undoubtedly be your hardest. Not just for the fact that it comes after an hour or so of hiking, but by this point, you’re desperate for the finale. You want the payoff — but don’t worry, it’s coming.

Your first glimpse of the summit will likely be this.

The top!

Here, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the windward coast.

Here, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the windward coast.

Doesn't get better than this!

Doesn’t get better than this!

It took me an hour to reach the summit — and the last push was so worth it!

It took me an hour to reach the summit — I booked it! — and the last push was so worth it!

The red-dirt summit, which sits at about 1,700 feet above sea level, will welcome you with a blast of cold air. At least it did for me on Friday. It was like standing in front of an air conditioner. The air was that chilly. And after an hour of scrambling to the top, I wasn’t complaining about it, either.

The view is just as spectacular as people say. From the summit, you can see Kailua, including the offshore Mokulua Islands, the long stretch of Waimānalo, Mānana (Rabbit) Island and even Koko Crater to the south. It was so clear that afternoon, we could see Moloka‘i, Lānaʻi and Maui, too.

It’s a fairly wide summit area. By the time I got there — around 1:15 p.m. — there were about a dozen people (and two dogs) taking in the view. But even with all the hikers, I could still find a quiet place to myself, where I could gaze out over Waimānalo and the azure ocean and be thankful for everything around me.

We really are lucky to live here, and I don’t ever take that for granted.

What a great start to 2016!

VERDICT: This is a great trail for novice to intermediate hikers. Two-thirds of the trail is comprised of switchbacks, which make it easy to climb the ridge. And the last push, which involves steps (but no ropes!), isn’t very long or steep. But veteran hikers shouldn’t scoff at this trail: it’s got everything you could want in a hike — native forest, challenging sections, panoramic views of the windward and southern coastlines — just minutes from town. And it’s not too long; I finished this in two hours, so it’s a doable in a relatively short amount of time.

Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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#CatResolves: This year, I’m keeping it simple

By December 29, 2015 Musings, The Daily Dish


Every year around New Year’s, without fail, I’ve come up with a laundry list of changes I want to make in the coming year.

It ranges from the super easy — “Floss!” — to the strenuous — “Finish the marathon this time!”

I’m all about change, to be honest. I think it’s important to reevaluate your life every now and again and see where you can improve. Maybe you’ve been slacking on the workouts. Maybe you’ve been neglecting your garden-turned-rainforest in your backyard. Maybe you’ve been watching too many episodes of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and considering Botox instead of pursuing your goals and dreams.

Here’s the thing: Change can be good. And change is often necessary, especially if you feel stagnant or complacent.

Last year, I had a run of horrible incidents, starting with a kidney infection that landed me in a hospital for almost a week to euthanizing our pet chicken.

This year wasn’t any better, to be honest. I suffered two miscarriages, put down two more chickens, got audited by the state, and sunk more money into my Nissan Murano than it’s worth. (I did that last year, too.)

But there have been awesome moments, too, like taking a full-time job as food editor at HONOLULU Magazine and working in a fun office with real people who can actually carry on a conversation. (Not like my dogs, who just stare at me while I eat.) I got to eat Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore, I went hiking through Kōkeʻe State Park on Kaua‘i and all over Moloka‘i, we visited our new niece in Los Angeles, Sunny got much-needed surgery on her anal glands, I learned more about fertility than I ever thought possible, I got back to writing fiction (thanks, in part, to my writing pal, Kim), I’ve made soup and pizza dough for the first time, our new chickens are egg-laying machines, I surfed some of the best sessions of my life this summer, and our avocado tree is finally fruiting.

These are not things to scoff at.

But still, like 45 percent of Americans, I’m thinking about how 2016 can be better. Though most folks target losing weight, getting organizing, saving money and ditching the nicotine habit as top priorities, I’m going for something more, well, reachable — and something more fun.

I’m going to do something I’ve always wanted to do every month for the whole year. It could be hike a new trail, cook a new dish, or finish, finally, the last books in the “Game of Thrones” series.

And I’ll post about it here. Maybe just a photo and a caption, nothing more. Just something to keep me on track.

Because it’s very, very easy — especially with three cute dogs and TVs in every single room, including the kitchen — to get distracted.

So good luck to everyone out there who’s planning to make big — or small — changes in your life. It’s not easy, but we’re all here to help!

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5 food gifts for foodies

By December 21, 2015 Food


To me, there’s no better gift than the gift of food.

Sure, I wouldn’t mind a new Honda Fit or an oceanfront bungalow on some secluded beach.

But let’s be real.

Unless my husband — or I! — win Megabucks in the next three days, the likelihood of those gifts appearing under my Christmas tree is virtually nil.

The next best thing?


Everyone loves food. And everyone needs to eat. So food gifts tend to be the quick, easy and surefire gift to give anyone on your Christmas list.

Here are some of my favorites right now:

Truffles from Choco le‘a

There’s not many things better in this world than solid dark-chocolate truffles (top photo). And the ones from Choco le‘a are no exception. The Mānoa artisan chocolatier uses a blend of Hawaiian and European chocolates and fills them with anything you can think of — mochi, liliko‘i, peanut butter and jelly, Guinness beer, haupia, cookie butter, even ice wine. The boutique also sells macadamia nut clusters, chocolate-covered Oreos and chocolate-dipped dried fruits such as pineapple and jabong — all which make great gifts and stocking stuffers. For the serious chocoholic, consider a six-month membership of customized chocolate boxes. The nine-piece membership is $120, the 20-piece is $240. I mean, who wouldn’t love that?

Choco le‘a, 2909 Lowrey Ave., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Eve. (808) 371-2234.

House-made pickles from Bethel Street Tap Room


Maybe it’s an odd gift. But to any pickle lover — and I happen to be one — a jar of house-made pickles would be an unexpected surprise. Bethel Street Tap Room in Chinatown — which, by the way, has an amazing pickle martini — is now selling 32-ounce jars of its famous dill pickles. Each jar has about 10 to 14 pickle halves, all for $12. (It also sells a Bloody Mary mix, 32 ounces for $16, and a combo of both for $24.)

Bethel Street Tap Room, 1153 Bethel St., 11 a.m. to closing Monday through Saturday, (808) 524-0920.

White-chocolate peppermint pretzels from Neiman Marcus


I am completely obsessed with these white-chocolate peppermint pretzels from Neiman Marcus. It’s the perfect combination of sugar, salt and crunch, and I literally can’t stop eating them. Each traditional Pennsylvania Dutch pretzel log is covered in white chocolate and peppermint sprinkles in a festive holiday color, all made exclusively for the luxury department store. A tin costs $25 — and it’s so worth it!

Neiman Marcus, Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd.,(808) 951-8887.

Liliko‘i balsamic dressing and vanilla caramel from Kahuku Farms


I’m a big fan of Kahuku Farms — its farm tour, its café, the family who runs it. And every time I’m on my way to the North Shore, I try to stop there. My favorite items — aside from the papaya-banana smoothie, grilled banana bread and roasted veggie soup — are these culinary products made from farm-grown ingredients. The rich and creamy vanilla caramel ($7.75 for 4.5 ounces) uses Kahuku-grown vanilla and is perfect over ice cream or hot cereal. And the tangy, farm-fresh liliko‘i balsamic dressing ($6 for 5.5 ounces) — it’s used on the salads sold at the café — is made with local passion fruit; it’s great on salads or as a marinade for chicken and fish. These are unique food gifts that support a family-run farm.

Kahuku Farms, 56-800 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 293-8159.

Peppermint Bark Bites from Williams-Sonoma


Christmas, to me, is indulging in the nostalgic peppermint bark from Williams-Sonoma. It’s the quintessential holiday snack. The high-end, gourmet food retailer sells the handmade bark in one-pound tins (just under $30) or as bites (above), which are around $14 for four bars. It’s made from custom-blended Guittard premium chocolate, infused with natural peppermint oil, layered with creamy white chocolate and finished with crisp, handmade peppermint candy bits. Honestly, it’s Christmas in my mouth.

Williams-Sonoma, Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 951-0088.

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#FBCookieSwap: Swapping liliko‘i bar cookies

By December 16, 2015 Food


There’s nothing I love more than baking during the holidays.

This year, though, I haven’t been feeling the Christmas spirit.

So I had mixed feelings about participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

On the one hand, I didn’t feel like searching for a new recipe and spending an entire weekend slaving in the kitchen. But on the other hand, this cookie swap has become sort of a tradition for me. Every Christmas for three years — I missed one! — I’ve participated in this now-global swap hosted by bloggers (and my Instagram and Twitter pals) Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen. Last year, alone, 566 bloggers participated and, with the help of sponsors — OXO, Dixie Crystals and Land O’ Lakes matched the donation dollar for dollar this year —— raised $12,335 for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Awesome, right?

cookieswaplogo2015So I decided to do it. Not because it might infuse a little Christmas spirit into me. (Though it did help.) I did it because this swap supports such a worthy cause.

And because who doesn’t love getting delicious cookies in the mail from strangers?

Some background: I joined the very first year the swap started. That first year I made and mailed kakimochi chocolate chip sweetheart cookies, using a very familiar ingredient — kakimochi, or rice crackers — to folks from Hawai‘i and Japan. The next year I made local-style thumbprint cookies. And in 2013 — my most recent year — I made pinwheel ice-box cookies. (Man, those were a bitch to make!)

I like to tell a story with my baking, either by using an ingredient that represents Hawai‘i or my culture, or using a family recipe. In this case, I went with a combination of both.

Not to be biased, my mom makes the best lemon bars in the world. They’re perfectly tangy with a golden, shortbread crust that I dream about.

While I could easily whip up some of her awesome lemon squares, I wanted to mix it up and use a fruit that’s more, well, local.

Not native to Hawai‘i but cultivated here, liliko‘i, or passion fruit, is a type of berry — either yellow or dark purple at maturity — with a juicy interior filled with seeds. It’s both eaten and juiced, and the flavor is robust and memorable.

We eat passion fruit just as it is — scooping out the seeds with a spoon and devoured. But more often, you’ll find liliko‘i in syrups, as toppings, in jams and mixed in with butter.

It’s tangy like lemon, and it’s not unusual to see it swapped for its yellowy counterpart in recipes.

So liliko‘i instead of lemons in my mom’s lemon bar recipe? Uh, yes, please!

I got batches out to my assigned food bloggers: Loy Moore from Washington, Grandma Loy’s Kitchen; Michele Phillips of Minnesota, Bacon Fatte, @baconfatte; and Starr Nordgren of Illinois, Chicago Foodie Girl, @chicagofoodiegirl.

Hope they liked it as much as I do — and I hope you do, too.

Here’s how I made them:

Here are the ingredients.

Here are the ingredients.

I'm spoiled with fresh eggs from our hens. Do they really make a difference? I think so, though it's probably not as noticeable in baking. But they're free!

I’m spoiled with fresh eggs from our hens. Do they really make a difference? I think so, though it’s probably not as noticeable in baking. But they’re free!

For the crust, you need to cream room-temperature butter and sugar. Most recipes call for unsalted butter — then add salt — so I just use regular, salted butter.

For the crust, you need to cream room-temperature butter and sugar. Most recipes call for unsalted butter — then add salt — so I just use regular, salted butter and add a dash of salt.

Once you add the flour to the butter and sugar mixture, the dough will get crumbly like this.

Once you add the flour to the butter and sugar mixture, the dough will get crumbly like this.

Press the dough into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Make sure it's even!

Press the dough into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Make sure it’s even! Then bake for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add eggs

Onto the filling! Whisk eggs, sugar and fresh liliko‘i juice together. Seriously, the hardest part about this recipe is making the liliko‘i juice.

Add flour, then the zest and juice of one lemon. I love this microplane. Makes zesting so easy!

Add flour, then the zest and juice of one lemon. I love this microplane. Makes zesting so easy!

Bake for about 30 minutes and viola! You've got liliko‘i bars! Very easy!

Bake for about 30 minutes and viola! You’ve got liliko‘i bars! Very easy!

And here’s the recipe:

Liliko‘i Bars


1/2 pound butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cup flour, sifted
Dash of salt

6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh liliko‘i juice (about 10 liliko‘i fruits)
1 cup flour
1 lemon, juice and zest


To make liliko‘i juice: Cut eat fruit in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds and place in food processor or blender. Pulse a few short times until the pulp pulls away from the seeds. Pour pulp into a sieve to separate the juice from the seeds. Set aside 1 cup.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar in a bowl. Combine flour and salt into butter-and-sugar mixture, until just mixed. Flatten dough in a greased 9-by-13-inch baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Cool crust.

For the filling, whisk together eggs, sugar, liliko‘i juice, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Cool.

Top with powdered sugar.

Special thanks to fellow bloggers/bakers, Cortney Wright, Jamie Gates and Prudy Blank, who shared some killer cookies with me, too! And for more about this cookie swap, check out the site and follow on Twitter @fbcookiesswap. You can also get notifications by registering here.

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#CatCooks: Bacon and corn chowder

By December 13, 2015 Food, Weekend Dish

Bacon and Corn Chowder

I’m a soup freak.

I can’t pass up a bowl of hot miso soup filled with those miniature tofu blocks at Japanese restaurants. I crave tomato bisque, especially when paired with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich (or, better yet, Baby Goldfish crackers). And I actually enjoy getting sick and being fed a bowl of Campbell’s chicken and rice soup.

But truth be told: I’ve never actually made soup before.

I know, I know. I hear from my friends — and my mom! — how easy it is. I know people who make soup in their Vitamix blenders.

But despite my affection for soup, it’s just not something I’ve been dying to make.

Until this past Thanksgiving.

Since I don’t normally make the turkey — that’s my mom’s job — I like to come up with different, sometimes creative side dishes to share with my very discerning family.

So I settled on corn chowder, one of my mom’s favorite soups and something she rarely cooks herself. (Well, apple doesn’t fall very far, now does it?)

It also happens to be one of my favorite soups, too, but it’s not one that’s easily found on restaurant menus.

So I decided to make it myself.

And to be honest, it’s really not that hard.

There are tons of recipes online for this thick, cream-based soup, some including cheddar cheese, others with hot chiles. Most call for fresh corn, sliced right off the cob. And while that would be amazing — can you imagine Kahuku corn chowder? — I didn’t have time.

So instead, I decided to make a version of corn chowder with bacon.

Because who doesn’t love bacon?

Here’s what I did:



In a soup pot — I used a Le Creuset cast-iron round dutch oven — heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until it’s crisp, maybe about 5 minutes. Then remove with a slotted spoon and put in a separate bowl.


To the bacon fat, add chopped onions, celery, garlic and potatoes until soft. (You really want the potatoes to break down.) It’s important to chop your veggies small and around the same size. Dusk the vegetables with flour and mix thoroughly.


Add a whole can of chicken broth and then stir in some fresh, minced thyme. (Fresh herbs are always better and more flavorful than dried.)

I used a reduced-salt stock, which meant I had to adjust how much salt I added to the soup. You can probably use a vegetable stock instead, though I wouldn’t swap chicken broth with beef.


Now here’s where my recipe diverges with many others. I used Carnation evaporated milk, while most call for cream. It’s really your call. The evaporated milk keep the broth smooth, in my opinion, but less heavy than more cream-based versions.


To this mixture, add a whole bag of frozen corn. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes — or longer, if needed. Your veggies should be very soft.


Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with bacon and fresh parsley. And that’s it!


Here’s the recipe:

Bacon & Corn Chowder


4 slices of bacon, diced
Olive oil
1-2 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium potato, sliced thin
1/2 T. fresh thyme, minced
1/4 c. flour
1 can chicken broth
1/2 can Carnation evaporated milk
8 ounces (1 bag) frozen corn
Salt and pepper to taste


Cook bacon until crisp, then remove and put in a separate bowl.

Sautée onions, celery, garlic and potatoes in bacon fat until soft. Sprinkle flour on vegetables and mix thoroughly. Add chicken broth. Stir in thyme. Add milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add corn. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until thickened.

Garnish with bacon and fresh parsley.

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