‘New year, new me’

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I went to lunch today with two 28-year-olds who had such a youthful view of life, it was actually infectious.

One just broke up with her long-distance boyfriend, the other is in the middle of growing her business. Both stressful — and neither situation sounded appealing to me.

And yet, over pork jowls and bowls of pho, they laughed and joked, declaring, “New year, new me!”

I couldn’t help but smile.

It’s been quite a tumultuous year, it seems, for a lot of people. People have been posting things like, “Can’t wait for this year to end” and “It’s been the darkest year of my life” on social media as the year has been winding down.

It’s made me reflect on my own year.

Turns out, it wasn’t exactly the best year for me, either. I started it off with a kidney infection that kept me in a hospital room for almost a week. I ditched a regular paycheck — and benefits — to freelance full time. I struggled with friendships that started to change and evolve. I had my wallet stolen in Greece and had my credit card comprised three different times. I’ve spent more money fixing my car than it’s worth. I’ve lost photos on my phone, worried about my sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and euthanized our pet chicken.

I think that all qualifies for a status update along the lines of, “2014 pretty much sucked.”

But I kept thinking about the positive attitude of my two young friends, who looked at this new year with such expectant optimism.

And in order to look forward with such a sunny outlook, you have to reflect in that way, too.

Sure, this year was crazy. I can honestly say I’ve never been more stressed, more anguished, or more frustrated than in 2014.

But look at what else has happened: I traveled to Europe twice, I’ve met some pretty inspiring people, I’ve written more than I ever thought possible. I attended my first writers’ conference, landed a gig on a morning show, and delved into aquaponics and sustainable farming. I’ve seen friends get engaged, get married, buy homes, start businesses, get pregnant, give birth, send their children off to college. I’ve surfed and hiked and even rode a horse. And above all, I met — and married — a guy who inspires me to be a better person.

That’s really not too bad.

So my New Year’s resolution? It’s pretty easy. I’m going to just be happy. I’m not going to dwell on the negatives — easier said than done, of course — and try to focus on all the wonderfulness in this world.

It’s a new year, but the same me — just with a new attitude.

Happy 2015, everyone! And I hope you all find your happiness this year, too!

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5 reasons why I love Christmas

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Look, I get it. Christmas isn’t for everyone.

We’re stressed, we’re cranky, we’re broke — and we’re driving like maniacs.

Who in their right mind would want to stand in line at uncomfortably crowded department stores, then hand over entire paychecks to gifts for people you only see once a year? Why spend your only free time, slaving in a hot kitchen, churning out dozens of meticulously decorated sugar cookies and loaves of fruitcake that will likely be used as a doorstop?

Are we crazy?

Well, yes, we are.

See, I love Christmas. I always have. And it has nothing to do with opening presents on Christmas Day, either.

In fact, my favorite day is today, Christmas Eve. The anticipation of Christmas is still lurking behind midnight, and you can just feel the feverish energy. (Or is that panic…?) The tree is decked, the gifts are wrapped, the stockings are hung on fireplaces made out of cardboard — hey, this is Hawai‘i! — and all the baking and cleaning and Christmas card-writing are finally done.

It’s the only day, really, when you can sit back, take a deep breath, and inhale it all in.

So what, exactly, is it about Christmas that makes me so cheerful, despite the awful traffic, the dwindling checking account, and the dozens of Aleve I’ve popped in the past week and a half?

I’ll tell you.

IMG_40475. Gives me a reason to bake: For a long time, I’ve lived alone — with no one to bake for. So I love any excuse to convert my home kitchen into a commercial facility, pumping out dozens of cookies and bars and cakes for friends, parties, neighbors, ‘opala workers. There’s something so satisfying when you bake, watching the slew of ingredients you’ve combined culminate into something (hopefully) delicious. And it’s equally gratifying to hand these baked goods to people who are really, really happy to receive them. You can’t beat it!

4. Yes, I do love Christmas music: I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I am a self-professed lover of Christmas music. All of it. Pop versions, classic renditions, horrific duets — I will listen and love. Seriously. Put on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” or Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and I’m all good. But here’s the catch: I can only — ONLY — listen to Christmas music during the holidays, starting in December, no earlier. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.

3. Buying gifts for kids: I’ll admit, shopping for gifts can be stressful, especially when you’re trying to find that perfect present (the one they won’t return or regift). But I love buying gifts for kids. I feel like no matter what you get them — aside from boring clothes and encyclopedia collections — they’re always thrilled to get something, anything, even gift cards. (I got my friend’s pre-teen son a gift card once and he loved it. It was like a fake credit card or something.) For the past few years, I’ve bought the kids on my list books. Yeah, I know, that could be the least exciting present under the tree for them, but I feel like I’m 1) supporting an industry that I never want to see go away, 2) promoting a lifelong love of reading, and 3) reliving my own youth through these books. This year, I got some of my favorites — like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series and “Calvin & Hobbes” collections. Great reads. I even bought a book for myself! Win-win!

2. Seeing familiar faces all month long: No matter how busy we all get — with careers or kids or three needy dogs — everyone seems to carve out time to get together for the holidays. I mean, there are friends I never see or even talk to all year long — yet, here we are, having drinks with dinner or swapping cookies over afternoon tea. It really makes all the sitting-in-traffic-on-a-weekday-WTF and feeling-sick-because-we-ate-way-too-much-again so worth it.

1. It’s that old Christmas spirit: Maybe it’s cliche — although so is Christmas, I suppose — but there’s just something magical in the air during the holiday. It’s why we open doors for others and drop dollar bills into red kettles hanging outside of grocery stores. It’s why we leave lilikoi fruit on the sidewalk for people to take for free — and include plastic bags, too (top photo). We donate to causes, we buy responsible gifts that don’t hurt our environment, we look for a larger meaning to life, we hope for the best in each other and the world, we hold hands, we sing together, we pray together, we climb mountains to watch the sunrise and paddle out in the surf for sunset. Christmas just inspires us to live, to love, to hope. I just wish this feeling would last past Dec. 25.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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#FUUD: The Winter Truffle Menu at Chef Mavro

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There are some meals that are unforgettable.

And then there’s the winter truffle menu at Chef Mavro in McCully.

It’s not a meal you’d easily forget — but it’s one you wouldn’t want to.

It all started with this menu:

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I browsed the lineup: steamed day-boat onaga (long-tail red snapper) done Chinese style, a decadent wagyu pavé with a pomegranate-teriyaki glaze, a Waialua chocolate crispy rice bar.

And wine, too?

I felt like Christmas came early!

My husband and I were invited by chef/owner George Mavrothalassitis and his lovely wife, Donna Jung, to sample the winter truffle dinner menu, which is available now through the holidays. (Incidentally, today is the 16th anniversary of Mavro’s restaurant!)

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The menu features the exquisite Périgord truffles (above), often referred to as the “Diamonds of Périgord.” These truffles are characterized by a subtle aroma and an earthly flavor somewhat reminiscent of a rich, dark chocolate. Like other varieties of truffles, these grow underground and are hunted by dogs (used to be pigs). They’re rare, too, scarcer and more desirable than others, making this menu at Chef Mavro that much more spectacular.

And if anyone knows how to use Périgord black truffles, it’s Mavro.

Here’s what we ate — and yes, you can eat this, too:

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I love a good amuse bouche. Chill some carrot soup, add some coconut foam and top with cocoa nibs, and I’m sold.

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This is the vegetable course, a méli-mélo (collection) of root vegetables accented with black truffle shavings, some baked, others braised, and a few raw. As Mavro says, if it’s better not to cook them, they don’t.

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One of the best dishes I have all year is this: the restaurant’s classic Peterson Upland Farm egg and truffle “osmose,” whereby the eggs are stored with the black truffles upon arrival in a hermitically sealed box. Yes, they are sealed together. That way, the eggs are naturally infused with the truffle aroma. (Hence, the “osmose” in the name.) The egg is then poached to preserve the truffle flavor and served in a truffle potato mousseline, topped with pickled shallots, prosciutto ribbons, chervil leaves and even more truffles on top. It is ridiculously, almost criminally good.

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Next, this is the steamed day-boat onaga, done Chinatown style, with ginger shiitake mushrooms, sizzled with grape seed and sesame oils, and topped with crispy fried cilantro and green onions that gave the dish a little something extra. Mavro really knows how to cook fish, can I just say.

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Here’s the lamb loin with a deconstructed basil-infused ratatouille and Provencal socca (chickpea flour crepes), inspired from the French Riviera, Côte d’Azur. It was finished with a nice sweet-spiced lamb jus and topped with some black truffle shavings.

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This it the 100 percent wagyu pavé topped with a well-balanced pomegranate-teriyaki glaze. In one corner is sautéed kabocha (pumpkin) topped with a bouquet of watercress from Sumida Farms. And in another corner are potato mochi cakes with a yuzu-kosho accent in the middle. The best bite had all of the components, trust me.

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Next up: the pre-dessert. (Don’t you love pre-desserts?) This is a champagne gelée with honeydew melon. The perfect palette cleanser.

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We were treated to two desserts last night. This was mine — Mavro knows me! — a Waialua chocolate crispy rice bar with cranberry white chocolate namesake, gingerbread cake with a tangy cranberry sauce, topped with candied almonds. Divine!

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My husband had the rosemary roasted pineapple with semifreddo, a guava gelée, coconut (haupia, more like) sorbet, and sansho crumble. Such a delightfully refreshing dish.

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We even got to sample the popular white chocolate and green tea marquise. Such a lovely dessert.

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And if that weren’t enough, we were gifted with rich dark chocolate and lavender pavé (truffle) that melted in our mouths. The perfect ending.

If you’re interested in trying this decadent seasonal menu, make reservations now! It’ll only be available through the holidays! The four-course menu is $95 per person, the six-course menu is $128 per person. More for wine pairings and black truffle add-ons. Call (808) 944-4714.

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It started with an email

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I wouldn’t consider myself a risk-taker.

Sure, I’ve traveled to third-world countries without getting the appropriate shots and moved to Chicago without even visiting the city. (I am an Aries!)

But in general, I tend to live between the lines. I don’t paddle out if the waves are overhead and I wouldn’t walk my dogs in the middle of the night.

And to get me to go out on a date with someone I’ve never met before falls into that category.

Here’s what happened: Back in November 2013, I confessed to a friend that I was divorced. It wasn’t something I liked to broadcast. In fact, only a handful of people knew that my marriage was over.

I didn’t tell anyone for a variety of reasons, one of which was not wanting to get set up.

Which is exactly what happened.

My friend sent me over a link to the Facebook page of a guy he had known for a couple of years.

“Single,” he wrote.

“Who is he?”

“He’s a professor at UH, works with us on the wetland project, he does aquaculture mostly.”

“Nice?” I asked. Because that’s really, really important to me.

“Nice,” my friend responded. “And hunky.”

“I seriously don’t care about hunky.” (True.)

“Right…”

After a few back-and-forths — and then a serendipitous assignment on aquaculture — I decided I’d email this guy my friend was raving about.

My attitude was this: “If he’s nice and he’s active and he’s not an idiot or a misogynist or a downer or crazy or an asshole, I’m open.”

So I emailed him about the story. He wrote back the next morning, his message full of useful information. I appreciated his quick and comprehensive response. We became Facebook friends and, a month later, he emailed me this line about that story I was supposed to write: “I’m happy to help, too, and maybe we can meet up sometime in person to discuss.”

We agreed to meet on Dec. 14, 2013 in the early morning to surf at Queen’s — and to talk about aquaculture.

We surfed. And we did talk. But not just about aquaculture.

We wound up talking for six hours at Rainbow Drive-In. And before he got home, he texted me about surfing the next morning, too.

We saw each other every single day from that point on. And six months to the day we met, we were married.

And all it took was an email to a stranger.

I’ve looked back on my exchange with our mutual friend who set us up and I always laugh when I read the message he sent me, begging me not taking on this guy’s last name if we ever got married. (And this was before I had even sent that first email.) “Cat Fox,” he said, was just too much.

And yet, here we are, a year after we met on that fateful morning at the beach, and I’m officially — and legally and happily — a Fox.

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Celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend at the Moana Surfrider.

It’s still so unbelievable to me that our lives intersected last year, that we were both single at the same time, that we would both instantly like each other so much that in six months we made our relationship legal.

It just seems so surreal.

I barely knew the guy at first. (I won’t lie, I did Google him, but not much showed up.) And I’ve never really been the type to just meet someone like that — at 5 a.m. in Waikīkī, no less.

Yet, that departure from the way I usually operate proved to be the best decision of my life.

I met my husband, my best friend. I’m part of an awesome, supportive family. And my two dogs have another sister. Life couldn’t be better or more complete.

I’m still not going to paddle out in high-advisory surf or move to Syria. (There’s no good reason there.) But maybe, sometimes, every once in awhile, I might shake things up, do something that’s out of my ordinary.

Because you just never know what amazing turn your life might take.

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It’s already December and I’m freaking out

Christmas stress - busy santa woman

Cursed Christmas.

How did you get here so fast?

It’s already the second week of December — 15 days to Christmas — and I’m panicking.

I’ve bought exactly one present, mailed out zero cards, and just got a tree on Monday. It’s up, but there’s nothing on it.

I’m actually appalled with myself. By this time last year my entire Christmas list was checked off, gifts were wrapped, cards were long mailed out, and I was sitting in Christmas-themed pajamas, staring at a fully decorated tree with a mug of hot cocoa.

I might have already baked, too.

So what happened?

Good question.

In fact, it was a question I openly discussed with my dental hygienist yesterday. She’s a perfectionist — I can tell — and highly organized. By Thanksgiving she’s done shopping, too, and just coasting to Christmas.

But this year, she said, she hadn’t done a thing.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said through her medical mask, panic shining in her eyes. “I’m so behind!”

A part of me blames the Internet.

Not only have I been spending more time on said technological advancement, but I’m shopping there, too. It’s easy to get caught up in the depth of these shopping sites, browsing at items you didn’t even know existed. I mean, did you know you could buy a modular chicken cook from Williams-Sonoma or glow-in-the-dark Silly Putty from Amazon? I certainly didn’t.

So what happened was this: I wound up buying online a dozen Govino stemless shatterproof wine glasses, a Billabong wetsuit top, and a Fire TV stick — all for me.

The sales were just too good.

I bet the revenue generated from online retailers this holiday season — thanks to an extended Cyber Monday that really lasted two weeks — wasn’t solely for Christmas gifts. I’m sure people, like me, splurged on themselves. I mean, it’s hard to resist a deal — and with free shipping!

But now it’s just a couple of weeks until Christmas and I have nothing to show for it. Not even a batch of decorated sugar cookies or a tree with at least lights on it.

My plan now is to wait for Saturday, when it will be exactly 12 days until Christmas. That seems like a reasonable timeframe to get started.

Anyone else freaking out?

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