Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Garden Isle

Last week, we escaped to Hawaii for vacation. When you live around Asheville, it takes something pretty spectacular to make you want to leave home and, much to our surprise, we find that Hawaii has become our preferred getaway. We never thought we would be those people. The ones who jet off to Hawaii. But it got to us. More specifically, Kaua'i won us over.

This tiny island (somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 square miles) has everything we need: friendly people, great food with plenty of good vegetarian options, gorgeous scenery, varied topography, and an uncanny ability to get us to relax fully and immediately.

We knew that we hadn't erred in making our third trip to Kaua'i when mere hours after getting off the plane, we spotted a sign for roller derby.

To our delight and amazement, the Garden Island Renegade Rollerz had started a league in the 18 months since our last visit and they kindly scheduled a bout for our first night there. Not only did it help keep us awake until bedtime, it was a blast. Held at an outdoor hockey rink in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd, we watched two young teams battle it out. I imagine this is what our Blue Ridge Roller Girls looked like when they were just getting started. The jams were slower than what we're accustomed to but it made it easier to see what was going on. The half-time show performed by a group of local beat boys was truly spectacular. Best $5 we've ever spent on vacation.

One of the things we love about Kaua'i is that you never have to drive far to get where you're going. For example, the bout in Kapaa was just 10 minutes from our cottage in Wailua. And what a cottage! The lovely folks at Rosewood have a number of rentals but this one is on the property where they live. Not only did we get to stay in a perfectly lovely and well-appointed cottage, we were able to enjoy the fruits (literally) of the owners' labor.

Our hosts, Norbert and Rosemary, have a gorgeous garden and small nursery which we were able to wander through and pick up stray grapefruit, oranges, and lemons. There were many more fruiting trees and shrubs than we could identify but Norbert was very willing to answer our many questions and offer us samples when there was ripe fruit to be had as with the Suriname cherries which were new to us. We were too early for the pineapples but it was fun to see them in their infancy.

After our first foray out to visit their chickens (Rhode Island Reds and Araucanas), we returned to find a dozen eggs waiting for us. Between the welcome basket of goodies (granola, fruit bread, and a variety of other local treats), the fruit, and eggs, we were nearly set for breakfast for the week.

A quick trip to the Safeway netted us the necessary butter and yogurt as well as locally-made Aloha Tofu, fresh soba noodles, and local honey. We were delighted to discover in the same shopping center Papaya's Natural Foods which had a great selection of healthy veggie foods, including most of what we buy at home. We stocked up on quinoa pasta, refried black beans, and found some locally-made sweet potato tamales. They also have a great hot bar which served us well when we needed to grab a quick bite before Roller Derby.

One of the main reasons we chose a self-catering property this time (aside from the fact that the hotel where we stayed on points last time had changed ownership), was to have control over our diet. Even though Kaua'i is one of the most vegetarian-friendly destinations, there isn't always a good option nearby for every meal and we often weary of having to eat more food and pay more it than we want to--especially when we're trying to adjust to a six-hour time difference. Plus, we wanted pie. Lots of pie.

During our last visit, we discovered the pie lady. We went to the Hanapepe art walk on our last night in town. Every Friday, the sleepy town of Hanapepe comes to life with artists, musicians, and street food vendors.

We found the pie lady, braving the windy and rainy evening to bring real butter-crust pie in a spectacular range of varieties to tourists and artists alike. It was love at first bite. Sadly, we had to get on the plane that evening and only had time and tummy for one slice. We vowed to find her upon our return. Turns out she's doing spectacularly well. She makes appearances at most of the island's farmers' markets and is looking for a permanent location. Operating under the moniker, "The Right Slice," she has developed a big and well-deserved following. We made a point of hitting the sunshine markets early in the week so we could stock up.

This is Jim with our four slices: Coconut Blueberry, Macadamia Nut, Chocolate Macaroon, and Lemon. That doesn't count the two slices we got at the art walk which were consumed at the airport after we dropped off our rental car: PB/Banana/Chocolate and Blueberry/Ginger.

Although it was early in the season, the sunshine markets had enough fun things to make it worth a stop whenever we found one. The whole approach to the markets is fun in itself. Everyone lines up at the entrance and when the appointed time comes for the start of the market, someone honks a car horn or blows a loud whistle and it's game on. A mad scramble ensues as everyone tries to jockey for position to get the best of the fruit and flowers before they run out. Even if you aren't staying in a place where you can cook your own food, go just to see fruit you normally don't see at home and to buy the ridiculously cheap tropical flowers. Here's what $5 got us (a close second in value to the roller derby tickets):

As for food, we snagged some lettuces, radishes, avocado, papaya, rambutan, and something called a cream apple. Here's our haul:

I'd had rambutan before but never fresh ones. Similar to lychees or longan, the flesh of the fruit (hidden beneath the spiky red exterior) is a bit like a firm grape but it does have a large seed in the center that is inedible. Chilled, they make a wonderful dessert after a spicy meal and are readily available in canned form in any decent Asian market.

Then there was the cream apple. We saw several variations on this fruit (some green, some called star apple) and really didn't know what to make of it. We grabbed one to try at home. It is a beautiful deep purple with a  creamy white interior. Unfortunately, it didn't have much flavor. I suspect we need to do some research and find out how the locals use this fruit. Here it is with a delicious orange we found under one of Norbert's trees:

We were clearly not hurting for fiber or vitamin C on this trip! Well, that's probably enough for now on self-catering on Kaua'i. Up next, getting out and enjoying the island.