Notes from our Hawaiian Vacation

I will start at the end. Ed and I were watching the sunset from our table of the beautiful St. Regis Kauai Grill on our last night on the island, and he asked me if Hawaii was everything I hoped it would be. My wonderful husband was so excited to be fulfilling my lifelong dream, and I wanted so much to give him the answer he wanted. But I couldn’t lie, so I chose my words carefully.

Hawaii is unspeakably gorgeous and pure and breathtaking, and all of the clichés you ever heard about it are true. However, as a 44 year old woman, I have been fortunate to see a lot of the world, and the thrill was no doubt diminished by experience, age and privilege. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing marginal returns. In grandmother-speak, it’s called being spoiled. Life has, blessedly, given me many wonderful experiences, and as a result, the wow factor of Hawaii will never have the same impact as when I first saw it on tv in the 1970s. Those Bradys ruin everything! Nevertheless, it is an experience I will cherish forever.

For those of us living in the northeastern United States, Hawaii was almost like visiting another planet — a planet where everyone is unhurried, laid back, wearing flip flops and smiling for no reason at all. It is so far from our daily reality of rushing and traffic and deadlines and stress, and Kauai, especially, doesn’t resemble anything close to what we know as Real Life. It felt like dessert for dinner seven days a week. It was nice, but it didn’t feel real, and part of that is due to my uptight east coast breeding. Dessert for dinner can feel unsettling after a couple of days. So wrong and yet so right.

Hawaii’s natural beauty far exceeded my expectations. The feel and smell of the air, the temperature of the ocean, the exotic flowers blooming casually from the road like they’re no big deal, the beautiful birds, the crayon box of fish…all perfect. The food, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment, even with my low expectations. We had some decent meals (see link above), but I can say with certainty that I’ve eaten much better food right here in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

If you pick any recipe at random from my blog, chances are it will be something with strong flavors, often with a bit of heat. I’m not a lover of bland, boring food and definitely not afraid to go heavy handed on the spices, so keep that in mind while reading this criticism. I found the flavors used in Hawaii to be so strong, so in your face, that the taste of the food was lost altogether. The food didn’t make sense to my palate. As I told my mother, it was as if a child opened my refrigerator door, pulled out all of my condiments and salad dressings, poured them in one large bowl, then emptied my spice rack, mixed everything together, spooned it over fish and topped it with a pineapple. Voila!

The only thing worse than unappealing food is obscenely overpriced unappealing food. We went into this vacation knowing food would be expensive, and that’s just part of vacation we’ve come to accept.. As people who always appreciate a good meal, we don’t mind paying for one. We do, however, resent paying a lot of money for crap. Knowing what I know now, I would do more research about the best places to eat before going back. Don’t get me wrong, some great places do exist, but we chose badly more often than not.

We didn’t travel halfway around the world just to sit on a beach, even though sitting on the beach is one of my favorite activities ever. We planned four main activities for the week: a helicopter ride, a surfing lesson, a Catamaran sail and snorkel, and a luau. Every one of these activities was well worth it and enhanced our understanding and enjoyment of Kauai, and I’m glad we did them, but these are not the experiences I will remember when I’m old.

I will remember my boys playing in the stunningly blue Pacific ocean, hiking some pretty scary trails right out of a Jurassic Park set, eating Hawaii’s famous shave ice (and Nate attempting to order the disgusting flavor combo of pickles and grandma’s apple pie — he certainly got into the Hawaiian spirit!), playing the coconut instrument bought at Foodland while hula dancing in the living room. I will remember my boys chasing peacocks and chickens, and petting the sweet rescue dog wearing a lei in the t-shirt shop. I will remember the kindness of all the people and the waitress singing Happy Birthday to Andrew in her beautiful voice. But there were other times, too, where we were That Annoying Family. There was a fair amount of bickering and disharmony and snippiness. That’s part of vacation, too, and not a part I enjoy. Like overpriced dried out hamburgers, I accept it’s part of the package, especially with kids aged 16, 11 and 9.

I hope when they look back years from now, they will forget the bad stuff and only remember the sunshine and rainbows. Mahalo, Hawaii. You were worth the wait.

The daily rainbow

Napali coast from helicopter.

I took this picture above especially for my friend Marykate.

Surf school. One of these people didn’t graduate.

My Brady Fantasy Vacation Coming True After 35 Years of Dreaming

Now before y’all start throwing rotten tomatoes at me, I fully realize it should be against the law to go to Paris and Hawaii in the same summer. Let me assure you that this is due to an unusual amount of star alignment in my life, and only a fool would pass up the opportunity, even though I do feel slightly Oprahesque in my level of self indulgence. But as Ed’s farmer ancestors would say, “Make hay while the sun shines.”

I am curious to try the food in Hawaii, but I’ll admit my expectations are low. It seems like all of the fresh fruit and seafood would make for wonderful dining, but I am still traumatized and slightly insulted by the notion of Hawaiian pizza. I truly can’t imagine anything more disgusting to do to pizza than top it with ham and pineapple. What’s up with that, Hawaii?

I have been fortunate to travel a bit in my life, but I have never set foot in the Pacific Ocean. We briefly considered Tahiti for our honeymoon, but settled on the much more “sensible” for east coasters St. Barth’s. And somehow I knew that if I didn’t make it to the Pacific on my honeymoon, I wouldn’t get there until I was much, much older. Even as a starry eyed soon-to-be newlywed, I knew how life worked. Flights are long and expensive, vacation days are limited. I was hopeful that eventually my day would come.

I still remember being in second grade, watching the Brady Bunch gleefully hit Hawaii on our crappy old staticky TV. It was my very first Liz Lemon “I want to go to there” moment; I didn’t even care that all kinds of horrible things happened to them there. Hawaii was propelled to the top of my list of places to visit, where it remained for the rest of my life (unlike Disney World, which was removed from the list by age ten). Alas, going to Hawaii was about as feasible as owning my own horse, which is to say only slightly more feasible than my anti-gambling mother hitting the lottery. When I tell you this is my dream, I am not being melodramatic. This really is my lifelong dream. And here it is! I don’t even mind that I’m closer in age to Alice than I am to Marcia.

Aloha, friends!

Uncle Larry’s Teriyaki Steak

I love getting mail! I was thrilled to open my mailbox last week and find several recipes sent from my dear aunt (and Mom Mom’s daughter). She wrote:

Dearest Dawn,

When Uncle Larry was in his early 20’s, he lived with a girl in Hawaii and they had a cook (Japanese) and before he left, she gave him these recipes.

I never knew this about my uncle, and once again I was reminded that most people have lived lives beyond the ones we know. Before we became stable, upstanding citizens and parents, many of us had quite an interesting and colorful past. Myself included. But those are tales for another day.

I always knew my uncle was a great cook, because my mother raved for years about how he cooked dinner for her and my aunt after my cousin was born and my mom was sent up to New Hampshire to help out with the new baby duties. Of course, Mom’s standards — no offense, Dad — were pretty low, and I’m sure anything beyond a bowl of cereal and milk was mighty impressive to her. Anyway, the surprise to me was not that my uncle (or any man) can cook, but that he lived in Hawaii. I have a bit of a Hawaii fixation, and we will definitely be discussing that another day.

I am always so honored when people take the time to share their favorite recipes with me, and I promise you I will eventually try them all. In April, I will be making a coconut cake from one of my mom’s oldest friends. But tonight, it is Uncle Larry’s Teriyaki Steak from 1970’s Hawaii. It is a simple little recipe, but as we all know, simple things are often the most delicious. I served this tonight with sauteed green peppers, onions and rice. The verdict was strongly positive. Logan, 15, said it was as good as expected. Andrew, 8, and my pickiest eater in the family, said it was BETTER than he expected. Nate liked it well enough, and Ed is already asking when I can make it again. In this family, that’s a win.

Some notes on the recipe:

“Shoyu” means soy sauce. “Ajinomoto” is the commercial name for mono-sodium glutamate, or MSG as it’s commonly known, and we will NOT be using that, even sparingly. But in the interest of authenticity, I am including it in the recipe. I actually made two batches of this marinade: one for the peppers and onions, and one for the steak. I wanted to be able to pour some extra over the rice, and of course we know that any extra beef marinade must be discarded for safety reasons. I used about a pound and a half of a boneless top round sirloin. I also sprinkled some roasted sesames on my serving, because I believe almost everything is better with sesame seeds.


Grating fresh ginger is a breeze if you freeze it first. Even peeling is unnecessary. A Microplane grater/zester makes the job effortless. Say goodbye to bloody knuckles forever!

Uncle Larry’s Teriyaki Steak

1 pound meat

1/2 cup shoyu (soy sauce)

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

ajinomoto (Dawn did not use and does not recommend)

1 small piece of ginger, crushed or grated

Boil sugar and soy sauce. Add other ingredients while cooling. Soak meat in this sauce for an hour. (Dawn used a Ziplock bag and marinated for about two hours). Use hot skillet and cook quickly (Dawn used some olive oil in the skillet, too).

The original recipe is shown below, and I just love that it was kept for all these years. I hope you enjoy this as much as my family did.