Tag Archives: Christmas

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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10 Things I Love About Christmas

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It would be easy this year to say, “Bah, humbug,” about Christmas.

Traffic has never been worse. There’s been crazy weather around the country. The malls are a mess.

Not to mention I’ve had quite a tumultuously 2013, which is only ending with a stress fracture in my right leg and news that someone was racking up thousands of dollars of charges on my credit card in France.

Still, that hasn’t dampened my Christmas spirit, amazingly.

I still love this time of the year, when the weather in Hawaii has a little chill in it that makes it harder to get out of bed with two snuggling dogs.

So here are the 10 things I love about Christmas — and I hope it reminds you to look at something other than the stack of cars in front of you:

1. Decorated houses and trees: I’m a sucker for Christmas decorations. You got a house decked in lights, I will stop and marvel. I love that people take the time to climb ladders to wrap LED lights around plumeria trees and and edges of roofs — and really for no other reason than celebrating the season.

2. Winter surf: This is going to sound strange, but I love that the North Shore is getting the surf right now. For one, if you’ve ever seen the monster swells out there, it’s mind-blowing. I can see why thousands of people trek to the North Shore — and sit in traffic for hours on Kamehameha Highway — to see it. But the surf out there clears out the breaks on the south shore, and there’s nothing better than a little out-of-season south swell or west wrap to make up for the flat days in Waikiki. Trust me.

3. Weather: I realize all of my far-flung friends will groan when I say this, but I love the (relatively) cold weather during the winter months. It’s nice to bundle up, to use three blankets, to put T-shirts on my dogs. I love it.

4. New releases: There’s always a slew of great movies that get pushed out toward the end of the year to make the Oscar run. If you can find the time between Christmas shopping and wrapping gifts, you can see some of the year’s most-anticipated movies, like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “August: Osage County” and “Frozen.” Or, if you’re like me, all you want to see are the season’s sequels: “Thor: The Dark World,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” and, of course, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

5. Movie traditions: Speaking of movies, this is the time of the year when it makes sense to watch movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Elf.” Not that you can’t watch these Christmas flicks in June, but they’re so much better in December. Two of my favorites to catch before Christmas: “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and “The Sound of Music.”

6. Cookies: I love baking — in fact, baking got me through 2013 — but it’s so much more fun to bake for a purpose. For the past three years, I’ve been participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, where I’ve met a lot of cool bloggers who love to bake/cook like me. (And I’ve eaten some pretty interesting cookies, too.) And baking during the holidays has long been a tradition in my family. My mom’s kitchen is always filled with the smells of freshly baked bread, sugar cookies and fruit pies, especially this time of the year. And whenever I can score free baked goodies from her, it’s all good!

7. Christmas shopping: I know, I know. This might top the list of Things I Hate About the Holidays. But as sick as this sounds, I enjoy walking around the malls when it’s packed with shoppers, armed with lists and credit cards. You feel like you’re part of something big, like you’re witnessing the Olympic Games of Christmas Shopping. It’s competitive, it’s stressful, I love it. (Mind you, I do all of my shopping online. LOL)

8. Christmas songs 24-7: This is really the only time of the year when listening to “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Rock” is not only appropriate but entirely tolerated.

9. Christmas Eve: This is, hands down, my favorite day of the year. Always has been. When I was a kid, my family would go to an annual Christmas party made up of my dad’s classmates and their families. These people are really family to me, too, and this is the only time of the year we get to see everyone. But I think, too, I love Christmas Eve because Christmas hasn’t arrived yet. The anticipation is far greater than the anticlimactic let-down the following day, when Christmas is over by 10 a.m.

10. Excuse to see people I love: We’re all busy, I get that. But we tend to make time during the holidays — sometimes after Christmas, and that’s OK — to see the people we care about. Screw gifts, I’d rather just spend an evening chatting with my friends or hanging with my family over a stellar spread of food. And to me, that’s the best part of this, and really any, holiday.

Got your reasons for the season? Share them here!

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What’s with the bah humbug?

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The other day I asked friend on my Facebook page what Christmas song was their most and least favorite.

And the vast majority just answered that second part.

And with passion, too.

Here were some responses:

“There is not a single Christmas song that I would like to hear.”

I run screaming out of the stores when I hear them…I have to wear my kicker headphones from now on.

I try to avoid going shopping in December. I’m very thankful for Amazon.

Wow, when did we all lose our Christmas spirit?

I don’t know what’s going on this holiday — maybe it’s the biting cold weather hitting parts of the U.S. — but people seem to be in a solid “bah humbug” mood. My girlfriends who are usually finished with their Christmas shopping in November haven’t even started yet. My dad is worried the gifts he ordered — and late — aren’t going to arrive by Dec. 25. And I haven’t received a single can of cookies yet.

What’s going on?

See, I love Christmas. Or maybe I love what Christmas used to be. It reminds of me the final weeks of school, when teachers were in good moods and classmates brought sugar cookies and small gifts to school. You counted down the days ’til Christmas break and then spent those two weeks hanging out at home, baking cookies and wrapping gifts with my mom. I loved every single awesome minute.

And yes, I listened to Christmas music every chance I got.

Now, though, as an adult, we don’t have the luxury of two-week vacations. We are still checking emails and wrapping up projects. Santa doesn’t bring us gifts anymore, either; that responsibility falls to us, and we barely have time to finish our laundry much less buy presents for everyone on our list.

We have to fight crowds, sit in traffic, spend money, bake cookies, wrap gifts. It’s not as fun as it was when we were kids.

But still, I love the spirit of the season. I love that Christmas is about giving and sharing and spending time with our friends and families.

But clearly, not everyone feels the same.

So where are you this holiday season — loving it or hating every stressful moment?

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It’s officially time to freak out

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Today is Nov. 25.

That means it’s exactly one month until Christmas.

Yes, you may scream now.

So when did that happen? When did it suddenly become Christmas? I remember seeing decorated trees and holiday gift packs on display right around Halloween and thinking, “Uh, hello, Christmas isn’t for another two months.”

Then, bam. It’s here.

Normally, I’m done with my Christmas shopping by November. (Yes, I’m one of those.) But this year, I don’t know what happened. It’s not like I’ve been busier than usual — though if you follow me on Instagram, you might disagree. But maybe I’ve just kept thinking that Christmas was still a ways off.

Now it’s right around the proverbial corner.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t bought a single gift yet. Not one. I’ve written out my gift list and planned a couple of Christmas parties — poorly, I might add — but that’s about it.

I had major anxiety last night about it, too. I got up at around 2 a.m., staring at the ceiling fan and wondering, “What am I going to do?” In my mind, it’s already too late to order gifts online — not true — and I’m a huge Christmas failure — that’s debatable. Now I’ll have to brave the crowds at the mall, buying more gifts than I probably need and spending way too much money.

Am I alone in this — or are you freaking out, too?

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