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5 Things I learned about Hawai‘i Beef

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Beef.

It’s (often) what’s for dinner.

But last Friday, when I spent the day on the Big Island courtesy of the Hawai‘i Beef Industry Council, I realized I didn’t know much about the state’s cattle industry.

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As part of a #PastureToPlate tour, a group of us — from ranchers to food safety experts to writers like me (above) — visited two cattle ranches and a slaughter facility. The goal was to familiarize us with cattle ranching in Hawai‘i.

Oh, and did it!

Here’s what I learned:

1. Ranching is an important part of our economy.

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The gift of cattle to Kamehameha I by Capt. George Vancouver in 1793 made a huge impact on Hawai‘i economy. An entire industry was created, with that rich cowboy (paniolo) and ranch culture still around today.

Ranchers are the stewards of more than 1 million acres of land in Hawai‘i, of 25 percent of the state’s total land mass. The Big Island produces the most of the state’s beef — and boast some of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S.

2. It’s not easy to raise, slaughter and sell Hawai‘i beef directly to the local market — but it happens.

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Most cattle is grown here until about six or seven months old, then sold into the commodity market on the Mainland — the price of cattle right now is at an all-time high. Very few ranches produce beef from cows raised, finished, slaughtered and sold directly to local markets.

Why? Well, it’s more cost-effective for ranchers to sell their calves instead of finishing them here. You need lots of great pasture land for that. And after decades of sending off their calves, the infrastructure here has changed. There are only a few slaughterhouses left.

Ponoholo Ranch in Kohala, for exmpale, sells most of its calves to the Mainland after they’re weaned (about seven months old and about 400 pounds). They are sent via “cowtainers” to California or Seattle or by 747 cargo jets to L.A. The cattle are then trucked to pastures or directly to a feed yard.

There are ranches, though, that are committed to producing beef — start-to-finish in the Islands — like Kuahiwi Ranch in Ka‘ū. One hundred precent of its cattle is finished here. And cull cows, older bulls and a couple hundred grass-finished steers and heifers from Ponoholo Ranch get harvested and processed on the Big Island for the local market.

There’s also a program with Hawai‘i Ranchers that brings Hawai‘i-born cattle sent to the Mainland to finish in feed lots back to the Islands. In the program, Hawai‘i-born calves are shipped to feed lots in Oregon, where they are kept separate from cattle from other states. They receive no hormones or antibiotics, and are fed a vegetarian diet that has no animal by-product feeds and, whenever possible, has no genetically modified grains. The cows are processed on the Mainland and the meat is shipped back here.

3. Ranches are beautiful places.

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I was blown away by the sheer beauty and serenity of these ranches, particularly Ponoholo Ranch (above), which sprawls over 11,000 acres from summit to sea. (This ranch was started by Ronald von Holt and Atherton Richards back in 1928. In 1980 the ranch split into two — Kahua Ranch and Ponoholo Ranch — and were jointly operated until 1989.)

The ranch covers three climate zones — from the rainforest at 4,800 feet elevation to the rugged coastline — and has the second largest herd of cattle on the island at around 6,000 heads.

The view was breathtaking, with a herd of cattle in the distance grazing and the Pacific Ocean below. I mean, people pay good money for views like that!

4. Slaughterhouses are nothing to be afraid of.

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I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous — though super curious — about visiting a slaughterhouse.

Lot of gruesome images come to mind. Bloody carcasses, guts everywhere.

Turns out, Hawai‘i Beef Producers in Pa‘auilo is not like that at all.

We weren’t there on a processing day — thankfully — but we did get to tour the facility, which was so clean I could’ve licked the floor. Seriously. (We couldn’t take photos, though, probably because people — like me — would have preconceived notions — read: fears — about the process.)

The De Luz family, which has been ranching for three generations on the 10,000-acre Kukaiau Ranch nearby, runs this slaughterhouse. The beef that’s processed here is top-notch, meeting the uber-high standards of such retailers at Whole Foods Markets. (Read about the company’s animal welfare standards here.)

The slaughterhouse processes about 450 heads a month, all local cattle. And whatever that translates to in terms of beef on tables or industry revenue, it really means keeping these ranchers and processors in business.

5. You can’t beat a beef burger.

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When we were touring the slaughterhouse, Jill Andrade-Mattos, the general manager, told us that Hawai‘i beef may not be the tenderest, but it’s the healthiest — and more importantly, it’s local.

She should have added, “tasty,” to that list.

Our tour ended at Āhualoa Ranch in Pa‘auilo, where chef Edwin Goto of Village Burger in Waimea prepared us lunch using Kuahiwi Ranch beef.

The patties were flavorful and juicy and grilled perfectly. Goto paired it with brioche baked at Holy’s Bakery in Kapa‘au — it’s Goto’s recipe — and locally grown tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and condiments. (I mean, you can’t eat a burger without mayonnaise!) Talk about a winner.

I mean, eating a perfect burger made from beef grown and harvested on this island, while gazing at the open pastureland of Āhualoa Ranch — how can it get any better?

Special thanks to Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch for inviting me! For more information about Hawai‘i’s cattle industry, visit the Hawai‘i Beef Industry Council. And when you shop, look for local beef. #supportlocal

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A letter to my sister

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Dear Crystal,

You are probably at IKEA in Portland right now — yes, I’m infinitely jealous of you — looking for a futon bed or something equally functional for your studio apartment, and I’m still in disbelief that you’re not fast asleep at our parents’ house while Mom is washing your clothes. (It IS Monday, after all.)

You are in Oregon. And you’re not coming back — at least for a year, as your lease would indicate.

You’re going to miss Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family for the first time in your 28 years. And I can’t just barge into your bedroom, you sitting at your computer wearing the kind of headphones we used to rock in the ’80s — when did they make a comeback? — and show you photos of my dogs.

No, you’re literally 2,603 miles away now, living in a state where you can die with dignity and legally smoke weed. You will be shopping at stores like Fred Meyer and WinCo and wearing turtlenecks and rain jackets. (Speaking of which, you better pick those up this week.)

It’s all too surreal.

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It was only the other day that you were this little baby, wrapped like Jesus in the manger on Christmas Day. I would cradle you in my arms and walk up and down the hallway, wondering what kind of person you would turn into. Would you be reserved like our brother or creative like our sister or, God forbid, loud and obnoxious like me?

Then you got older and soon you were running, not walking, down that hallway — you ran everywhere! — singing and smiling and saying something that made us laugh. Like sunshine streaming into our home.

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Soon enough, you were old enough to go to preschool, then kindergarten. And that’s when I started to see you — and the uniqueness that would always be part of your identity. It was at your school’s open house. Your teacher had everyone in your class draw pictures of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Amid the colorful depictions of firefighters and teachers, there was yours, a well-drawn illustration of a scientist studying insects. You wrote — and it was spelling correctly, I might add — “entomologist.” I think even your teacher was taken aback.

Even as a kid, you did your own thing. You shunned trends and forged your own path, opting to watch anime instead of Disney movies — though you did have a thing for “Cinderella” early on and we must’ve watched it 124 times with you — and wore whatever felt comfortable, down to your toed socks.

It was entirely my fault that you got into video games. I remember your complete fascination as you watched me destroy the bosses in “Super Mario Bros.,” barely escape the guillotines in “Prince of Persia,” and navigate the courses in “Battle Bull” on the original Game Boy. I could tell you were hooked — and there was no chance you would continue playing soccer anymore. (I was right.)

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You survived high school, got a biology degree, and even worked as a plant inspector for the state, checking produce at Costco and playing poker at lunch. Collecting a paycheck and bitching about life — you were officially an adult.

But you had always wanted to move away. You wanted to try living on your own, without any help from us — particularly me, who had suddenly transformed from the cool big sister into an overbearing, lecturing adult to whom you were unfortunately related. I don’t blame you for wanting your distance. I left, too, when I was 23, heading off to graduate school in Chicago. Before then, I had never been east of Las Vegas and, worst yet, never seen snow in my life. Our brother and I landed at O’Hare along with the second-worst blizzard in the city’s history. Yay for me.

And now you’re in Oregon — with that same brother who, hopefully, has better weather karma this time — shopping for household goods and boxes of instant ramen.

I’ll miss you, even though we didn’t see each all that often. And you know our parents won’t know what to do with themselves now that you’re gone.

But it’s good. It’s really good. You need to get away and breathe and live on your own. You need to complain about the cost of electricity and discover the irritation of coin-operated washers and dryers. You need to be able to shop at will at a grocery store and watch whatever you want on YouTube until you fall asleep at your computer surrounded by open bags of Doritos and empty Diet Coke cans. (Wait, we’re not talking about me…)

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It will be hard, I won’t lie. You’ll sit on your futon couch from IKEA, alone, listening to a strange silence you’ve probably never heard before — yes, silence has a sound! — and wish you could just walk into the kitchen and see Mom kneading bread while watching the Golf Channel. I felt that way when I moved into a small, one-bedroom cottage in Kaimukī at 25. That first night, when Mom had left to go home and I was all alone in the house, was the worst. I kept the lights on and climbed into bed, surrounded by boxes I still hadn’t unpacked, and cried. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

Turns out, it was the best decision I had made — and one, despite the thousands of dollars I’ve paid to landlords and property managers, I have never regretted.

So take it from me — the overbearing older sister who has lived through this before — you’ll be fine. You are on a great adventure. You’ll meet new people, eat new foods, see new things. Your entire life will open up — something that couldn’t have happened if you had stayed here — and you’ll grow into the person you want to be.

And who knows. Maybe you’ll love it and stay there forever. Maybe you’ll pack up and move to Paris. Or heck, you might even come home after a year. Whatever happens, just know, we love you, we admire you, we believe in you, we are rooting for you.

Just don’t forget to call every once in a while.

Love no matter what,
Catherine

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#CatTravels: 48 Hours in Ireland

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Years ago, back when I worked at the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser, I plugged in “Dublin” in a travel booking website and found roundtrip tickets from Honolulu for less than it would cost to fly to Vegas.

And I didn’t go.

It always lingered in my mind, the fact that I let that opportunity get away from me.

So I’ve been thinking about Ireland ever since.

Not that I have any connection to the North Atlantic island. I’m not Irish (that I know of) and I don’t drink Guinness.

But I do love Oscar Wilde (his middle name was O’Flahertie), soda bread, Lucky Charms and the color green.

All kidding aside.

Ireland is one of those magical places, where the lush countryside is as emerald green as it appears in travel guides. The sea cliffs are as dramatic, people as friendly. Everything about Ireland is exactly how I had imagined. It’s the kind of place that makes you believe in fairies and monsters.

When we were planning our honeymoon to the United Kingdom, we, of course, included Ireland. Our friends had just come back from a two-week adventure across the island — the largest in the British Isle archipelago and third-largest in Europe — driving along its southern and western coastlines, staying at little bed-and-breakfasts along the way.

It sounded so quaint and idyllic.

There was no way we could be that relaxed on our two-day jaunt.

Originally, we were going to spend five days in Ireland. But my husband convinced me to rebook our flights and hotels so we could spend more time in Scotland, instead. So we had just about two full days in the country — and really, that wasn’t enough.

DAY 1

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We flew into Dublin and rented a tiny Nissan Micra from locally owned Dan Dooley Car Rental. Like in the rest of the British Isles, you have to drive on the left-hand side of the street, opposite of how it is in the U.S. And having a small car, trust me, was a good thing. (Roads are perilously narrow.)

We were heading to Cong, a teeny village straddling the borders of Galway and Mayo counties with less than 200 residents. (It’s also the home of Sir William Wilde, historian and father to the prominent playwright.) Its claim to fame is Ashford Castle — and we were staying there for the night.

It was going to take about two and a half hours to get there — I was driving, too! — so we stopped halfway to Cong at a small town called Kilbeggan, famous as the location of the oldest recorded incidence of a tornado in Europe.

But that’s not why we were there.

We wanted a drink and a quick bite to eat (above, second and third). And the Saddler’s Inn delivered — with a cold pint of Guinness and ham and cheese sandwiches. (That was the only thing on the menu!)

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Just before sunset, we arrived at Ashford Castle (above, first), one of Ireland’s finest luxe hotels converted from a Victorian faux lakeside castle. It was built on the site in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman House of Burke right on the banks of Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second largest lake.

We had some time to kill before dinner, so we walked around the property, which sprawls over 365 acres of land, much of it wooded. There were neat paths that meandered through perfect gardens. Such a gorgeous area! The hotel offers various activities that allow you to truly absorb your surroundings, including cycling, skeet shooting and kayaking in Lough Corrib.

We had dinner at Cullen’s at the Dungeon (above, fourth), the more casual dining experience at the castle. I tried an Irish specialty: beef and Guinness stew.

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We had breakfast in the immaculate George V Dining Room (above, first and second), with a buffet spread that included cheese, salami, croissants, soda bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, black pudding and fruits.

We needed the fuel for our long, complicated drive north to the Céide Fields in the northwestern tip of Ireland.

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The Céide Fields is an archaeological site that contains the oldest known agricultural field systems in the world. Using various dating methods, it was discovered that the creation and development of the Céide Fields goes back some five and a half thousand years.

We first stopped at a viewing spot to see the 365-foot cliffs of Ballycastle (above, first), these horizontal layers of sandstone roughly 350 million years old. Mayo County is home to the country’s highest cliffs — yes, taller than those of the famed Cliffs of Moher — and second highest in all of Europe at Croaghaun, Achill Island. (The Benwee Head cliffs in Kilcommon Erris stand nearly 900 feet straight above the wild Atlantic.) The coastline here was just breathtaking.

But we had come to see Céide Fields.

We walked up to the visitor’s center (above, second) built on the archaeological site of what is considered the most extensive stone monument in the world, stone-walled fields preserved beneath a 5,000-year-old bog. We got to see parts of the wall (above, third) that had been uncovered.

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Then we were back to Ashford Castle for some hawk flying. The oldest established Falconry School in Ireland gives you chance to fly a hawk around the woodlands of the castle in a one-hour private Hawk Walk.

Uh, of course we were doing it.

We met Tommy (above, first), one of the instructors and bird expert, who introduced us to Andes, a Peruvian hawk and champion hunter. He explained how this whole thing was going to work: the hawk would be tied to the glove as we walked to an open area on the castle grounds. Then we would let it fly away, calling it back with a small piece of raw beef hidden in our gloved fist. “You don’t train a hawk,” Tommy said. “You learn what it needs.”

These hawks — and falcons (above, third) — were amazing. Among the most intelligent birds in the world, hawks boast exceptional eyesight, able to perceive the visible range and the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Not only can they see greater distances than humans, their visual acuity is eight times that of ours. In addition, these birds of prey can attain speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour, traveling thousand of miles a year. They are pretty astounding creatures, and handling them was very humbling.

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It’s hard to top flying a hawk, but spending a night in Doolin (above, first) wasn’t too bad, either.

Doolin is a coastal village in Clare County, best known for being the capital of traditional Irish music. We didn’t know this at first, but when we checked in at the charming Twin Peaks B&B (above, second), the owners were quick to tell us to get our meals before 9:30 p.m. After that, they said, the music starts and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an open seat.

And they weren’t kidding.

The pubs on the town’s very small main street was packed with people eager to hear live traditional Irish music. We popped into The Chocolate Shop (above, third and fourth), next door to Doolin’s famous Gus O’Connor Pub, for a little snack. This place is one of the few shops that carry the Wilde Irish Chocolates, handmade artisan chocolates that are to die for.

We stopped by O’Connor’s just for a quick bite — I got a burger with bacon and cheese, my husband got fish and chips — then called it a night. We had a big day tomorrow of surfing and beer-drinking.

DAY 2

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Prior to our arrival in Ireland, I had been emailing with Cathal “Ben” Bennett, owner of Bens Surf Clinic located in Lahinch, known as one of the best surfing spots in all of Ireland (above, first three).

The beach is the spot for lessons, too. There are several shops offering surfing instruction and board rentals, so it was a perfect place for us to get wet in Ireland.

Ben had emailed me the night before and said the waves were decent and the conditions really good. He wasn’t kidding. Aside from the nip in the air, we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine — and small waves. We suited up — we were wearing a 5/3 mm wetsuit and booties — and paddled out.

To be honest, I was a bit concerned about the cold. The water temp here was around 60 degrees — the average water temperature in Hawai‘i is 74 degrees — and I had never worn a wetsuit before. But as soon as we paddled out — and Ben did tell me this — the cold wasn’t a factor at all. My hands warmed up pretty quickly, and by the time I got out to the lineup, I didn’t feel the chill at all. In fact, it got a bit warm. And when we got to shore, we shed our wetsuits and wore T-shirts for the rest of the morning.

I have to say, this was probably one of my favorite experiences on this entire trip.

We wandered around Lahinch for a bit, grabbing a beer at a local restaurant that faced the ocean and popping into the Celtic T-shirt Shop (above, fourth), which specializes in artistic Celtic designs. Cool little town.

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After cruising around the beach town, we jumped into our rental car and drove two and a half hours to Dublin, where we were going to spend the night before heading back home.

You can’t come all the way to Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse, especially if you love beer the way my husband does.

Open in 2000, Guinness Storehouse is a Guinness-themed tourist attraction at St. James Gate Brewery. The building in which this seven-story beer lover’s mecca is located was constructed in 1902 as a fermentation plant. Now, it tells the story of Guinness, the beloved Irish dry stout that originated here.

The self-guided tour covers the history of the brewery, the process, a showcase of advertising, even an interactive exhibit on responsible drinking. The draw, though, is the tasting. You learn how to properly drink a pint of Guinness — lift the glass to your mouth and take in a good-sized mouthful to get the perfect sip — and what makes this stout unlike any other.

Then you can head up to the Gravy Bar with 360-degree panoramic views of Dublin — and where you pick up the free pint that comes with your admission ticket.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people just head straight up to the top floor and skip the exhibits.

We had been told by everyone, even some Scots, that you have to drink a pint of Guinness while in Ireland. “Guinness doesn’t travel well,” people said to us. And they were right. There’s something about the perfectly brewed mouthful, that slight tang, its thick and creamy head, that you don’t really get anywhere else but here.

Then again, you can say that about everything we experienced in Ireland. It’s so much better done there.

Thanks to everyone who followed our #FoxHoneymoon here, on Facebook, on Twitter or on Instagram! It was a pleasure sharing our experiences with you! Hopefully we have inspired all of you to take that dream trip to Europe — or anywhere in the world, to be honest. There’s lots of exploring out there. What are you waiting for?

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#CatTravels: The Highlands, Day 2

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If the first day in the Highlands in Scotland wasn’t packed with enough memories to create a Shutterfly photo book, the second day just turned that into a full-length motion picture.

We visited the most photographed castle in the British Isles, ate Scottish ice cream, gazed at a waterfall, and hung out at the most famous loch in the world.

And it started with breakfast.

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The Berkeley House, where we had stayed the night, provided a great breakfast the next morning, complete with a nice selection of cereals and breads, and the option to order a full breakfast.

So in Scotland — as in Ireland and England — there’s something called a full breakfast. It comes with eggs, often scrambled, back bacon, link sausage, buttered toast, baked beans, maybe a grilled tomato or mushrooms, sometimes haggis, and on occasion you might get a slice of black pudding. I only ordered it once — back in Edinburgh — and it’s a lot to eat at once. Here, at the Berkeley House, I just opted for fruits and yogurt.

We met up with our tour bus from Timberbush Tours and headed out to explore another part of the Highlands — really, the highlight of the two-day adventure.

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We were extremely fortunate with the weather. I was worried Scotland was going to be fiercely cold — and the Highlands even worse. It turned out that we had blue skies and sunshine, even in northern Scotland. Our tour guide, Marty, said it’s only this clear and sunny about 50 days out of the year — and we were lucky enough to catch it like this on our trip.

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Our first stop was the famous Eilean Donan Castle (above, first) located on a small tidal island where three lochs — Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh — meet in the western Highlands. The castle itself overlooks the Isle of Skye and is surrounded by the forested mountains of Kintail. It’s pretty spectacular.

This castle is one of the most photographed icons of Scotland — and one of the most photographed castles in all of the United Kingdom. It’s not unusual to see it on shortbread tins, postcards, calendars and whisky bottles.

This 13th-century stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and its ally, Clan Macrae, was rebuilt between 1919 and 1932 and included the construction of an arched bridge to give easier access to the island. A visitor’s center opened in 1998 — and there’s even a live webcam there, too. (The castle was featured prominently in “Highlander.”)

We walked around the castle, much of it restored and rebuilt, and took a ton of photos and selfies (as you do), before heading to Loch Ness in search of the mysterious creature fabled to live there.

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But first, we had to eat!

We stopped at Fort Augustus, a small village at the southwest end of Loch Ness with a population of roughly 650. As you could probably guess, this town relies heavily on the visitors to the loch, made famous for its cryptid resident.

We ate lunch at Scots Kitchen, ordering beef nachos (above, first) and roast beef with veggies and potatoes. I was surprised to see nachos on the menu at a Scottish restaurant. And even though it wasn’t your traditional American-style dish, it was completely addictive. The beef tasted a lot like taco meat, with the cheese and red onions a perfect complement. I thoroughly enjoy it.

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Loch Ness (above, first) is the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area but, because of its insane depth (755 feet at its deepest point), it is the largest by volume. This one loch contains more fresh water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. It’s best known for the monster, affectionately known as “Nessie,” which allegedly lives here, along with European eels, northern pike, white sturgeon and a variety of trout and char.

Loch Ness also serves as the lower storage reservoir for the Foyers’ pumped-storage hydroelectric scheme, which is designed to “soak up” excess power generated by wind and wave farms, using it to pump water up to a reservoir. Turbines here were originally use to provide power for a nearby aluminum smelting plant. Now, the electricity generated supplies the National Grid.

The lochs have locks, too (above, second and third). Opened in 1822, the lock system is part of the 60-mile Caledonian Canal that links Inverness to Fort William. The canal was originally built to provide a shortcut for merchant skippers between the east and west coasts of Scotland.

Of course, visitors flock here for one purpose: to see if they can spot the infamous Loch Ness Monster.

This large, reptilian creature lurking in the loch has been urban legend since 1933. Evidence of its existence has been largely anecdotal, with the occasional photos and sonar readings suggesting that something big — really big — does live down there. We didn’t see it — but that doesn’t mean we don’t believe it’s down there!

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After visiting Loch Ness, we headed to Pitlochery for a nice walk to the Falls of Bruar, a series of waterfalls on the Bruar Water (above, first three). While today this area is heavily wooded, it was once sparse and barren. This gorge is a living memorial to the poet Robert Burns, who came here in 1787 to admire these falls. He wrote, “The Humble Petition of Bruar Water,” in which he urged the 4th Duke of Atholl to plant its bleak banks with trees. Larch and Scottish pines were planted in the 18th century, only to be cut down during World War II. After the war ended, trees were replanted in the area. You can see Scots pine, hybrid larch, fir and spruce.

It’s a short but scenic walk to the waterfalls — maybe about 15 minutes — with a nice bridge to best view it. The natural waterfalls has been attracting visitors since the 1720s, and it continues to be a popular destination for travelers.

After the walk, we wandered around the nearby House of Bruar, a collection of retail departments including a 15,000-square-foot food hall that showcases the best of Scottish foods and drinks — including locally made ice cream.

If that’s not the best way to end a two-day tour to the Highlands, I don’t know what is.

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Thank you to Timberbush Tours and our guide, Marty (above), for taking us on this magical two-day adventure into the Highlands. Definitely a highlight of our trip to Europe!

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#CatTravels: A lesson in Scotch whisky

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The only thing I knew about Scotch whisky was that, well, it was alcohol.

That’s really about it.

I had no idea whisky made in Scotland was such a special thing.

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When we arrived in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland (above), last week, one of the things my husband wanted to do was check out a whisky distillery.

To be honest, that wasn’t on my Top 5 list of things to do in Edinburgh. I’m not a whisky drinker, much less an aficionado, but I figured this was a good opportunity to learn a little something about Scotland’s national drink. So I booked a tour to nearby Glenkinchie Distillery, located about 15 miles from Edinburgh in a picturesque part of the country, to see first-hand what makes Scotch whisky so unique.

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We got on a bus near Princes Street with a group of French high school students. It took about 30 minutes to get to the distillery, where we toured the malting floors, production area and cask room. (We couldn’t take photos during the tour, since Glenkinchie is still a working distillery.)

This is a classic and historic distillery, started in 1837 during the time when distilling became legal. (In 1777 Edinburgh houses maybe 400 illicit distilleries.)

Blended Scotch whisky constitutes about 90 percent of the whisky produced in Scotland. These blends contain both malt whisky and grain whisky. Producers combine the various malts and grain whiskies to produce a consistent brand style. Think Bells, Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker, Whyte and Mackay, Cutty Sark, J&B, The Famous Grouse, Ballantine’s and Chivas Regal.

Glenkinchie, though, became well-known for its single malt whisky. (It’s one of six distilleries in the Lowland region of Scotland.)

OK, so all that was interesting. But here’s what I didn’t know. Scotch whisky is like champagne in France: there are rules to it. Meaning, you have to adhere to a certain set of standards before you can call the whisky you brew Scotch.

As defined by law, Scotch whisky has to be:

• Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
• Processed at that distillery into a mash
• Converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems
• Fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast
• Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 percent (190 US proof)
• Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (185 US gal; 154 imp gal) for at least three years
• Retaining the color, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation
• Containing no added substances, other than water and plain (E150A) caramel coloring
• Comprising a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40 percent (80 US proof)

“The whole process has to be done in Scotland,” said our tour guide.

And did you know this? Only Scotch whisky uses this spelling; all others are spelled “whiskey.”

“You know what ‘E’ stands for?” she asked us, a twinkle in her eyes. “We say it stands for ‘effort.'”

After sampling four different kinds of whiskies produced by Glenkinchie, we had the fortunate luck of staying with a guy in Edinburgh who is incredibly knowledgeable about Scotch whisky — and a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

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Founded in 1983, SMWS is the world’s foremost malt whisky club — with a location in Leith (above) where you can sample the best single cask, single malt whisky it has for its members only.

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Here, you can taste whatever the society has available — all rare whiskies from single casks. (Remember, most whiskies are blended.) That means whatever each bottle comes from an individual aging barrel, instead of being created by blending together the contents of various barrels to provide uniformity of color and taste. Even whiskeys that are not blends may be combined from more than one batch.

So these single cask whiskies are very special, very rare Scotch whiskies — and we were privileged to sample them.

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Even though I’m not a fan of whisky — with or without the “e” — I can totally appreciate the process, the subtleties, the effort put into each bottle, and the passion aficionados like Andrew have for Scotch whisky.

I think I feel that way about ice cream.

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