#FieldTrip: Spending the evening in Waikiki

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We just can’t get enough of each other.

The four of us who traveled to Greece a couple of weeks ago planned to meet up with another friend, Dara Lum, who just started a new job as communications director at the posh Hakeulani.

And, of course, we had to eat.

So we decided to check out a new art exhibit at the Waikiki Parc, a swanky boutique hotel on Helumoa Road across the street from the beach.

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For the past year and a half, the hotel has partnered with the University of Hawaii at Manoa to transform what used to be a bare walkway through the hotel into a quaint gallery space to showcase student and alumni work. (It’s called the Parc Promenade.)

For the next three months — the art changes that often! — the works of Nathan J.H. Ditzler of Kailua (above), who graduated from UH and is now a graduate student at West Virginia University, will be on display (and for sale). This is his first solo show.

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His sculptures show a tension between the natural and the constructed — and with a clear sense of humor. I mean, just look at the ones above!

My favorite — and Ditzler’s, too — is “Shaka Mudra” (above), constructed from stoneware and metallic glaze. “It lends itself to art history but has this subversive element,” he explained. “I have to think this historical figure would have had a sense of humor.”

After the art opening, we walked across the street to the Halekulani for drinks at the House Without a Key and dinner at Orchid’s.

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I love this open-air restaurant for a lot of reasons, namely the view and the live music. It’s that classic Waikiki scene visitors romanticize about: the sun setting behind a trio of Hawaiian musicians with a former Miss Hawaii gracefully dancing under a century-old kiawe tree as you sip on your Mai Tai. How does it get better?

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The view from our table was perfect.

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We started with drinks — of course — and I had to sample the restaurant’s famous Mai Tai. Such a classic — and perfectly crafted.

But once the sun dropped behind the Pacific Ocean, we headed to Orchid’s, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Best known for its Sunday brunch, Orchid’s has a stellar dinner menu, too, that’s definitely worth checking out.

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We started with the lobster bisque, a decadent soup starter that’s a must-not-miss.

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Next, we sampled the grilled Romaine salad, the greens slightly charred and warm. It was nicely paired with feta cheese, cucumbers, onions and a lemon-oregano dressing. But it was the tomato chutney that was out-of-this-world. I could eat that with just bread and be happy.

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The server recommended this tuna and foie gras croquette, with a tomatillo salsa and green apple-frisée salad.

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A standout appetizer is the seared scallops with cauliflower mousseline — like a Hollandaise sauce — with caviar and gribiche cream. The scallops were buttery delicious.

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Another popular dish — and rightly so — is the olive oil-poached salmon paired with Big Island goat cheese and pistachios and roasted beetroot. This was so unexplainable delicious — must have been the olive oil poaching prep — that two of my girlfriends who don’t care much for salmon absolutely loved this. That says a lot!

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Easily the most popular dish here — actually, it could be its signature — is the steamed onaga (long-tailed red snapper), done Chinese-style. It comes with shiitake mushrooms and green onions, sizzled with sesame oil and shoyu. Melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

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Here’s the ravioli using Kahuku shrimp and asparagus from Waialua and topped with a lemon verbena butter.

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My girlfriend and I split the beef ribeye and tenderloin (shown), which came with root veggies and mustard cream. The tenderloin, as expected, was lean and a bit dryer than the fatty ribeye, which exceeded expectations. I will think about that ribeye for awhile.

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For dessert, we tried the organic chocolate plate with a rich chocolate cream paired with roasted apple bananas and organic white honey. Interesting, for sure.

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I ordered the ice cream sampler, all made in-house. You can pick from vanilla, nougat, Kona coffee, coconut and chocolate.

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But the star of the dinner is Halekulani’s signature coconut cake, a slice of heaven, really. This chiffon cake features coconut-amaretto cream, whipped cream and shredded coconut. And if you don’t like coconut, don’t worry. Most of us weren’t coconut fans — but we gobbled this up in no time. There’s a reason why this cake is legendary. It’s THAT good.

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#Revisited: Afternoon tea at the Moana

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I’m not much of a tea drinker.

But when Lorraine Elliot (@notquitenigella), blogger extraordinaire and food enthusiast from Sydney, informed Melissa Chang (@melissa808) and me that she was coming to town and wanted to meet at the historic Moana Surfrider in Waikīkī for some afternoon tea, well, I suddenly craved some iced tea and scones.

It’s had been awhile since I sat down on the famed veranda at this iconic hotel. The tea service here is steeped — pardon the pun — in history, it’s practically legendary!

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We went a little later than normal to beat the lunchtime crowd — we got there at around 2:45 p.m. — and only had to share the veranda with a few people. There was live music at the bar fronting the banyan tree and we had front row seats to the Pacific Ocean. You couldn’t beat it.

There are three tea options: $34 for the Veranda Tea Service, $40 for the Moana Classic Tea Service, and $48 for the First Lady Tea Service. All three come with your choice of tea, three assorted finger sandwiches, traditional scones and a sampling of pastries and petit fours on a three-tiered tray. The difference between the three? The Moana has an extra finger sandwich, a ginger biscotti and a mini pot de creme; the First Lady has all that plus a plate of fresh berries and a glass of sparkling dry rose. (We got the Moana Classic Tea Service.)

And it all starts with the tea.

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The service — in this case, Carlo who likes grasshoppers — brought out six different teas (above), including one herbal tea, for us to smell and pick.

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I chose the Moana Royale, a fruity blend that’s one of the service’s most popular. Melissa picked the hotel’s signature Moana Sunset with mango notes and Lorraine opted for the Veranda Breeze with caramel. The others were jasmine phoenix pearls, mango melee, and darjeeling and lemon rooibos.

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The tea, which you can get hot or iced, arrived first. You have to let the tea steep for a few minutes before pouring. It was nice — and strategic — that we had ordered three different teas so we could sample more than just our own.

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Next came the grub.

We were served this impressive display of scones and pastries, so perfectly crafted and pretty it was hard to eat. (OK, it wasn’t THAT hard to eat them.)

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The top tray featured a roll sponge cake filled with a creamy haupia (coconut) filling, mango macarons and a macadamia nut cookie.

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The second tier had traditional scones — a bit hard but tasty – paired with Devonshire clotted cream (my favorite) and lemon curd.

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The last tier boasted mini cakes — guava and coffee — that I figured got Lorraine excited! (She’s a bit of a cake aficionado. Read her blog.

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But the service doesn’t just offer sweets. We were also served this small plate of finger sandwiches: salmon over toast, a mini roast beef bite, and a tasty little bánh mì with pork and shredded radishes that gave it a nice crunch.

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Since we ordered the Moana Classic Tea Service, we also got this plate filled with a mini pot de creme in dark chocolate, which was divine, and a difficult-to-eat crab sandwich that used cucumber slices instead of bread.

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The meal finished with a dollop of lemongrass green tea sorbet.

My take: This may not be the most posh tea services around — and granted, I’m not a connoisseur at all — but I like the vibe and atmosphere. I want to go to an afternoon tea service that’s slow and relaxed, not stuffy or full of pretense, and this is it. You don’t feel rushed, you don’t feel stressed, and you’re definitely not thinking about all the work you have to do when you leave the hotel. You’re just enjoying the company, the view, and the food. As it should be.

Afternoon tea at the Moana Surfrider, 2365 Kalākaua Ave. in Waikīkī. Hours: Noon to 3 p.m. daily. Cost: $34, $40 and $48. Phone: 808-921-4600.

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A life without TV

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If you spent any time in my living room, you’d find it hard to believe I survived three months without cable TV.

Actually, without any TV.

I moved back in February to a place that didn’t have a cable subscription. The most I could do was connect my WiFi-enabled TV to an online streaming service like Netflix and watch old movies and TV shows.

Which I wasn’t about to do.

I was relegated to catching up with my favorite shows — yes, mostly on Bravo — on my laptop. It’s not as fun watching the reunion of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” in five-minute segments, trust me.

Back in my old apartment, I had three TVs hooked up to cable. Three. And it was just me living there. It’s not like my dogs were partial to any particular TV program.

I guess you could say I was addicted to my television. Not in a super unhealthy way. I just liked having it on, whether I was watching it or not. I took comfort in Ina Garten‘s voice, explaining to me how to cook a perfect roast, or catching up with the latest news from the crew on NBC’s “Today.” It made me feel normal.

So when I moved here without cable TV, I thought I wasn’t going to last a week.

Turns out, I actually can live with it.

I found myself cooking more, reading more, and working more. (Not that I’m happy about that last part.) I took longer walks and surfed in the early evenings — not things I did before.

If I wanted me TV fix, I snapped on the Internet and browsed YouTube or Hulu for my favorite show.

It was no surprise to me that the number of Americans who paid for TV through cable, satellite or fiber services fell by more than a quarter of a million in 2013, the first full-year decline. We’re using more online streaming services because we can, it’s free, and we’d rather pay for Internet than cable.

So even though 99 percent of U.S. homes have at least one television set, it doesn’t mean they’re all hooked up to cable services. (Just 56 percent of Americans pay for cable, actually.)

Of course, I wound up getting cable — digital, in fact. And I found myself, at least for the first week, completely engrossed in the Cooking Channel and the 2014 ASP Fiji Pro.

I still find comfort in flipping on the TV, though browsing the dizzying number of channels on digital is a bit daunting. It’s just nice to know it’s there whenever I need a distraction.

I just get way less done now.

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#NewEats: Ethiopian Restaurant in Kapahulu

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It all started with a photo on Instagram of a turmeric-pineapple elixir.

I asked my Insta-friend — who’s vegan — where she got it from. She asked me to lunch. I invited another vegan friend, who posted this comment: “I heard there is a vegan Ethiopian restaurant in Kapahulu now?”

And that was it. The lunch date was on.

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I had read about this restaurant in Frolic Hawaii last week. It opened on May 17 — as the sign outside would indicate (above) — inside Takahashiya Ramen on Kapahulu.

Yes, inside. Not near, not next door, but literally inside. The two restaurants share a dining area and kitchen. In fact, when you walk in, the server will ask you, “Ramen or Ethiopian?”

The backstory: The smiley Abraham Samuel owns and runs this restaurant with the help of some family members from Ethiopia. He’s friendly and helpful and will go over the menu with you if you have questions.

And I certainly did have questions about the menu.

I hadn’t eaten Ethiopian food since living in Chicago back in 1999. And I remember it being cheap, tasty and filling.

But ask me WHAT I ate and I couldn’t answer you.

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The menu here was pretty advanced for me. There’s something called kitfo (prime beef tartar seasoned with Ethopian clarified butter and spiced chili powder), derek ribs (beef sautéed in onions, chili, ginger and garlic), and asa dullet (tilapia sautéed with onions, rosemary, hot peppers and spices.

Here’s how it went down: You sit anywhere in the restaurant and ask for the Ethiopian menu. (You can also order ramen and gyoza, too.) Then you order and wait — and wait and wait. We had to put more money into the meters outside because the food took so long. But it’s OK — I prefer the food takes awhile to make if it’s being made entirely from scratch, which is was. But just a fair warning: if you’re pressed for time, you might want to reconsider.

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We started with the veggie sambas (above, $2.95 for one), filled with brown lentils, green peppers, onions and garlic. Very tasty and a great way to start the meal.

We ordered two vegan dishes — all vegetarian dishes here are prepared vegan; not sure why they don’t just label them vegan instead — and the meat combo plate. All three were served with injira, that delicious spongy bread used to wrap the food in lieu of utensils.

All three dishes came on the same platter, which I had expected from my experience in Chicago. But the vegan dishes were mixed with the meat ones, which sort of defeated the purpose.

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I wanted to try the dinch wot (above, $10.95), which is basically just potatoes and carrots sautéed with garlic, ginger and turmeric powder, and eaten with the injira. This was incredibly delicious, though pricey for the amount we got. (And, to be honest, I always thought, perhaps inaccurately, that Ethiopian food was more affordable. But hey, I’d pay good money for anything delicious!)

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This was part of the meat combination platter (above, $15.95 for one, $28.95 for two), which comes with key wot, alicha wot and kik alicha (yellow split peas simmered in a mild-flavored onion and herb sauce).

The vegetarian combo ($14.95 for one person; $27.95 for two) included red lentils spiced with red pepper sauce, yellow split peas, chopped cabbage and potatoes and carrots.

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The food was a bit on the oily side — the restaurant uses canola oil, we found out — but super flavorful and tasty. I loved the textures, the spices, the warmth, the fact that I could use my hands.

Will I be back? Definitely. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring more quarters for the parking meter!

Ethiopian Restaurant, 730 Kapahulu Avenue, inside Takahashiya Ramen. Hours: Tentatively open at noon through dinner, though times may change. Phone: (808) 725-7197

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What I’ve learned from Maya Angelou

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It’s not easy being a writer.

We have a love-hate relationship with our profession. We get writer’s block and carpal tunnel. And unless you’re JK Rowling, you’re probably living just above the poverty level.

Sure, there are careers for writers, like working as a journalist or grant-writer. We can pen screenplays and marketing campaigns and ad copy.

But most writers I know want something more than just a paycheck: they want to write the stuff that’s stewing in their heads. It could be a memoir, a work of science fiction, a travelogue.

And therein lies the frustration.

Consider this: an agent could get something like 500 manuscripts to read a month, and maybe one of those will get accepted and published. Those are small odds.

I have often compared publishing to winning the lottery, though that analogy isn’t entirely correct. Megabucks is a completely random thing; publishing can happen, and you do have some control over that.

It’s taken me a long time to feel even a little confident that I could pen a book — or even a story in a national magazine. And it has been the words of the late Maya Angelou that has helped me believe in what I can do.

The author-poet-activist, who passed away last week, was truly an inspiration, not just as a writer but as a human.

The gift she gave many writers: the courage to speak.

Here are a few of her quotes that have echoed in my head for years:

“You can never be great at anything unless you love it.”

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

These are great words to live by, whether you’re an aspiring writer or not. It’s about loving what you do, accepting who you are, and getting it done. Really, are there any other options?

Angelou taught people how to think about the world around them, how to navigate what’s important and screw what’s not. She famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And that’s easily the most important lesson anyone can learn.

***

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
— Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

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