travel: the delights of waikiki

once again, i must hang my head in shame and apologize for my absence. i was away for 9 days, but the rest of it has just been real life and a giant black hole of stress sucking my inspiration.  but this morning, i’ve committed myself to posting my hawaii roundup before i head off to seattle for the night.

november saw me return to waikiki for the 5th time.  but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing or anything important… it was about getting some sun and relaxing with my husband.  …and special guest appearances by my bro & his buddy and the puss & her family.  all around, it was a great time.

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we stayed at the aqua bamboo, which was new for me.  it was actually my first time not staying at a beachfront property right on waikiki beach.  for those familiar with the area, the bamboo is on kuhio, pretty much in line with the surfrider.  so it’s not far to the beach… lets say a 5 minute walk (2 blocks), but i will still stand by my preference of staying beachfront.
the hotel itself was good… cheap and cheerful as they say… nothing fancy, but absolutely fine for a week stay.  the hotel had an adorable little pool and the world’s tiniest hot tub, which was a factor in choosing the hotel, but at the end of it all we never actually made it in to either.

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i did enjoy that the bamboo had a very affordable massage place that was poolside.  my husband i both had a 50 minute massage for just under $80 including tax & tip.  a great bargain.  and boy did it ever feel good after that hike to diamond head.

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ah the diamond head hike… its turned into a must do for me.  you know… i must punish my body for so many mai tais.  somehow it makes me feel better. this trip, i literally woke my hangover up, did the 45 minute walk to diamond head, then did the hike and back and then ate a giant burger and then swam in the ocean,  then went for a massage.
overall, i’d say it was a hawaii win.  cured my hangover, thats for sure.

so, beverages will come in their own post, because in hawaii, there is no shortage of happy hour and tropical delights… but this one is all about the food.

hawaii’s food is a unique style of cuisine that defines melting pot.  it has strong influences from asia, polynesia, north america and when its mixed in with the traditional foods native to the area, you get things you can’t find anywhere else.  my husband’s favourite is loco moco.
basically loco moco is rice, a hamburger patty, 2 fried eggs done any style and smothered in gravy.  for breakfast. and its delicious.

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you know how they say; when in rome…?  well, when in hawaii, you’d best eat some loco moco.  and my husband did.  5 times.  lol.  he was on a mission to sample the local favourite at as many places as possible… and his verdict was that every place did it a little different, but at the end of the day, it was all delicious.  some places had a homemade gravy, sometimes adding mushrooms and/or onions… some places garnished with chopped green onions… some places put the gravy on top of the eggs, others eggs last.  some burger patties were clearly frozen from a box, others were hand formed and fresh.  but the base for all of them never changed… this delicious hawaiian style white rice.  i’m not too sure how they make their rice taste so good, but it sure does.  and for me, it’s one of my LOVES about hawaii, is that i can get this yummy sticky almost sushi style rice with my breakfasts.

so while my husband was eating his weight in loco moco, i was eating things like this:

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and i can’t forget the magic of this…

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ahhhh pancakes in hawaii.  another random thing to be in love with, but i never ever order pancakes at home. i just don’t care for them much. but in hawaii its a different animal.  topped with things like pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts and other local treats… and then smothered in coconut syrup instead of maple?  oh man, put a fork in me, i am DONE.

and let us not forget the papaya that much accompany every breakfast no matter what your main of choice is:

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yup, thats the stuff.

another island favourite is “pupus” which as far as i can tell is just hawaiian for appetizer.  which makes for hilarious (warning: may only be hilarious after several mai tais) jokes about needing to “take a wicked appetizer”.  haha.
anyhoo…. we had a lot of pupus.  because happy hour is cheap!  and if you do it right, you don’t really need a proper dinner.
one of my favourite destinations for pupus in waikiki is hula grill in the outrigger waikiki on the beach.  its upstairs from duke’s and often overlooked in favour of dukes.  but here’s the thing.  the decor is just as awesome upstairs, the food is pretty much the same and the drinks are waaaaay cheaper during happy hour.  so the hula grill is where you’ll often find me at happy hour…. eating things like: kahlua pork potstickers and ceviche and crab & mac nut stuffed won tons…

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and my personal favourites: crispy pork belly bao

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and the honey chicken lollypops which were ridiculously sticky sweet goodness.

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and at the end of a several hour long happy hour… we weren’t much worse for the wear financially.

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then there’s downstairs.  duke’s.  what can you say? if you’ve gone to waikiki, you’ve gone to dukes.  you just… have to.  yes, its loud and crazy and filled to the brim with pasty tourists and there’s children… but it’s dead centre in waikiki beach and makes a wicked mai tai and has good food and live music and, well, it’s just fun.

i am particularly in love with their salad bar.  there’s not a lot of good salad in waikiki, and dukes scratches my itch for fresh crispy lettuce and tons of good toppings so that i can construct my picky girl salad of choice.
but the fish entrees should never be overlooked.  you get the list from the server of whats in season and fresh right now and you choose from one of 4 preparations that they offer and chow down.  the fish entrees are always well cooked, perfectly seasoned and just fucking delicious.

we had the following: mine is the opah with mac nut crust and butter caper sauce (i just drooled typing that)
SAUTÉED MAC NUT AND HERB CRUSTED – Lightly dusted in parmesan cheese & bread crumbs, topped with lemon and caper butter

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and my husband dinned on the ono done duke’s style…
BAKED “DUKE’S STYLE” – Baked in a garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze

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both were giant portions of fish so fresh, it may have been swimming yesterday… and at a fair market price.  plus it includes salad bar. did i mention the salad bar?

my last category for hawaiian eats is pop ups, food carts & beach shacks.  yes, food is everywhere in waikiki.  on two occasions this last trip, my husband and i grabbed some fish tacos & pork tacos from the food hut right on waikiki beach beside the surfrider and deemed it one of the best deals around.  $19 got us 4 giant tacos and a house brewed iced tea with pineapple juice in it to share.  not too shabby.

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a few days into our trip, on the way back from the beach to the hotel, we were surprised by a pop up market of sorts… except it was all food stands.  it wasn’t selling groceries, like our markets here, but selling fresh baked delights and pad thai and poke and even empanadas and dim sum treats.  so we stocked up and went back to our balcony with some local beers and made our own happy hour.

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last, but certainly not least… once can not forget that hawaii knows its food trucks.  possibly the best one i’ve ever seen… the malasadas truck.  leonards is famous for its malasadas which are basically like a big round dounut rolled in sugar and sometimes stuffed with creme or fruit filling.  they’re DELICIOUS.  and leonards is the king.  buuuuut we didn’t quite make it to leonards proper, so we were thrilled to stumble across their food truck on the way to sandy beach one day.

so while we did this:

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we also go to eat this:

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a clear win win situation.

and off course, on our quest to enjoy this beach:

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we also got to enjoy this shrimp shack on the north shore.

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there’s a lot of shrimp options, and generally we go to giovanni’s, but this one lured us in with their option to have local shrimp, while a lot of stands have switched to the cheaper and inferior thailand shrimp.  the difference slapped you in the face.  these were almost like my beloved spot prawns.  sooooo worth the half hour wait.  (this place was BUSY – also a good sign)

and of course, i had to have my coconut… and this time i also may have had a corn on the cob at the roadside pit stop…

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mmmhmmm.  and thats how i do hawaii.
oh, but before i wrap up, i’d like to give a surprising honorable mention to buba gump’s shrimp.  yes, it is a chain theme restaurant and generally that goes against my better instincts, but my husband loves it and he actually sold me on it with this:

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thats a pound and a half of hot fresh cooked peel & eats with half caijun spice and half butter and garlic.  ya, we slayed those in a few minutes flat.  they were messy and buttery and so fucking delicious.

but then we followed it up with some shrimp tacos…

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and the calamari that they swore was the best ever and you know, it actually was like top 5 in my life and i’ve eaten a LOT of fried squid in my day.

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theirs had half squid, half rock shrimp and also deep fried red peppers and pepperoncini peppers.  well played bubba gumps, well played.

and so, i leave you with my last view of hawaii for this trip… diamondhead from my brothers suite on the 33rd floor of the sheraton.  yes, it was a grand time had in hawaii, and yes, i’ll be back as soon as i can.

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food: pork shoulder


for canada day, we kinda went all out.
i’m not going to give you a whole lot of preamble, but we slow roasted a 15lb bone-in pork shoulder for 24 hours.
so, there’s that.

we also let it brine for 24 hours before cooking.
aaaaand we butchered the pig ourselves.
so let’s just say it was a real farm to table meal so to speak.

i’ll let the pictures tell the story…

brine for 24 hours.

homemade spice rub and injection.

ready for the oven.

after 6 hours.

after 15 hours.

finished product after 24 hours at 200 degrees.

and then we let it cool for an hour and removed the fat cap and shredded the pig into a mountain of deliciousness.

we served it up with 3 bbq sauces.  a mustard based south carolina sauce.  a vinegar north carolina sauce.  and a more classic looking kansas city bbq sauce.
and then we chowed down with some delicious cornbread & coleslaw side dishes.

everyone like their bbq different.
this first plate is mine.  i poured the vinegar sauce all over the pork and then did a side of mustard and classic bbq sauces and dipped as i ate.


this second plate is moonbeam’s.  she made 4 piles, one plain and one with each of the 3 sauces to taste them all appropriately.


and then jules made hers into a cornbread sandwich.  which, frankly, i can’t fault a sister for.


the winners were the two homemade sauces, north & south carolina.
the bottled sauce was the least favourite even though it was a tasty one.
the pork itself was incredible.  so tender and roasted to perfection.
and as an added bonus, it made my house smell magical for 2 days.

it was the first time i’d ever cooked something for that long and wow.  what results.
part of me was a bit nervous about the whole endeavor… leaving the oven on overnight, what if it overcooked and dried out ect… but it turned out absolutely perfect.

and now i shall be eating pork leftovers for the next week.  and that is in no way a complaint.

restaurants: border grill las vegas

border grill in mandalay bay has been my favourite place to dine in las vegas since my husband (then – boyfriend) stumbled across it on our very first trip to las vegas.
we were walking to the shark reef and saw the cantina and decided on a whim to stop in for a margarita.  we started noming on chips and salsa and realized we were kind of hungry, so we ordered tortilla soup.

not just any tortilla soup… the best one i’ve ever had in my life.
and an obsession was born.

this restaurant is owned by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger who i knew from their cooking show Two Hot Tamales.  (side note – remember when the food network used to have actual cooking shows? i miss that)
since then, susan feniger has made appearances on top chef all stars, doing quite well for herself.  and its no surprise, her cooking is masterful.

the restaurant itself has two lovely outdoor areas.  one upstairs that is covered and i’ve dined in a few times, and also the downstairs outdoor patio that housed my wedding reception.  outdoor areas for dining are a rarity in vegas, so i always make note of them for my lists, as i love al fresco dining.
this is where we had lunch on my latest visit… the downstairs outdoors…


as if the regular menu choices don’t cause me enough distress with all the yummy options, their specials menu gets offered to me.
oh my… what to do…


well, obviously the pineapple strawberry sangria needs to get in my mouth.


my mom went with the patron silver margarita, and said she preferred the one at hussong’s because it was simple.  of course, she ordered one with blood orange and other stuff, so its obviously not comparing apples to apples.

while we were waiting for lunch, we enjoyed the chips and salsa… i love their salsa.  all 3 of them.
they haven’t changed the recipes in years and i love them for it.  its perfect. not to be messed with.


for the meal, we both decided on tacos, since it was lunch time and we were hungry, but not starved and wanted something kind of light since we were headed back to the pool.

i went with the carnitas with no onions.  because it was supposed to have guacamole on it which contained onions, they just put avocado slices on it for me.  which worked perfectly.
you have the option of pinto beans or black beans and i went pinto.



my tacos were delicious and the pork cooked to perfection, although they were a little greasy.  they could have been drained a little better before going on the tortillas.
but in terms of flavour, preperation, tenderness, ect, top notch.

my mom went with the shrimp creole tacos and they were WOW.
she had black beans, also good, but i still stand by my pinto bean decision.

my mom’s shrimp was cooked to perfection and the slaw on top was crunchy and provided a great contrast for the rest of the taco.
we agreed that these were the superior choice between mine and hers.

stuffed to the brim, we headed back to pool for a lay down.
thanks for yet another amazing meal border grill.  i’ll see you next time.


food: pork sausage

we finally got around to sampling our homemade sausage…
clearly, the best way to showcase it was as a sausage bake.

so i lovingly prepared it all…
chopped up golden beets, onions, fennel, carrots and a couple potatoes…
tossed it all in olive oil and baked it up.



the final product was a thing of beauty… naturally.


and we were SO EXCITED to dig into the fruits of our labour…

but when we did…

this sausage is insanely salty.
like, i couldn’t even eat it.

the spices great, the texture and flavour wonderful, but holy salt!
i don’t know if there was some sort of measuring error or what, but basically we brought home some seriously inedible meat.
so, colour me disappointed.

i’m still going to try to make something of the last 5 links… maybe if i slice them up and put them in a slow cooker sauce i can redistribute the salt.
but i’m real sad about it.

learning: bacon & sausage making class

thanks to the magic of groupon, myself, my husband and moonbeam (otherwise known as the tricycle of fun) embarked on another food learning adventure.
this time; to learn to make bacon and sausages.

the sausage part was intriguing, but not an oh-my-god-i-have-to-do-this thing… i mean, i love sausages (non sexual, i swear) but i feel like i could make sausage myself, i just don’t have the equipment. (again, so not sexual, lol)
so it was more a this-will-be-neat-to-make-my-own-and-if-i-ever-have-room-i’ll-buy-a-meat-grinder thing…
and lets face it, it’s hilarious to manhandle large quantities of sausage. (sexual jokes allowed now)

anyways.  our class took place at the landmark Save On Meats on hastings street.
this is a place i’ve eyed up all my life and not once set foot in.
but clearly, their signage is among the best in the city.


we received an apron, a nametag and a doutang of recipes.
thumbs up for this idea.  it was great to just watch and learn without being worried about remembering the correct ratios and recipes.
we were divided into 2 groups.  one went to bacon first (that was us) and the other did sausage.
then we switched.

our friendly, knowledgeable and easy on the eyes chef/teacher/butcher introduced us to a big pile of pork belly and we got to making bacon.  (teehee – again)

basically we just mixed pre-measured spices & salt and coated our bacon and stuck it in a plastic bag where it will hang out for the next 7 days.

definitely not *hard* but it was interesting to learn about various bacons and how to make your own smoker and such.

we then moved on to pancetta making.  basically the same thing as bacon.  you salt & season it, let it hang out for 7 days and then roll it up, tie it and dry it to cure.

it was so easy that i can’t believe i haven’t been doing this myself all along.

so then we moved over to the sausage station.

our sausage guide went through the whole process once so we could see it start to finish and then we got at it.

first step was to weigh our meat and then double grind it.
there was a hand crank and an electric one.  i went electric.

we then mixed in the pre-measured spices and loaded it into the sausage pump thing (what the hell do you call that?) and got down to business.

again this was easy.  but fun.
and we laughed and make dirty comments about cranking meat and squeezing sausage.

all in all, it was a lot of fun and i was satisfied with the experience.
if i was going to make any comments it would be that the groupon said it would be a 3 hour class and it definitely was not.
we started at around 6:45 and we were gone by 8:30 and people left before us.
so total, it was less than 2 hours.

i don’t feel like we needed to be there for longer… in fact, i think 3 hours is too long possibly…
but if you say 3 hours, it should last close to 3 hours.
maybe they should have incorporated another element or maybe done a tour of the facilities or something else to add content. i don’t know…

anyways, we’re headed back to save on meats for a cheese making class in May and i’m really looking forward to that.
i know how to make cheese, but its been a long time since i did it and i’m looking forward to learning about aging cheeses because that’s a new thing for me too.

and now i have bacon, pancetta and sausages to eat from my class which i am very much looking forward to.
yey for learning!

food: the red wagon, vancouver

on monday, we made a visit to one of the places featured on diners, drive ins and dives.
the red wagon in east van.

this is has been a place i’ve driven past a bazillion times and always noticed it looked funky and busy.  really busy.  like, there’s usually a line up outside during peak times.
i’m a fan of el bario, with is in the same block, but this was a place that intrigued me… and so i’d listed it on my mental “to do”, but never been particularly fussed about it.

and then guy fieri showed up.

the episode of DDD aired on 27 Jan, and ever since, this place has been even busier.


my husband and i were in the area, buying produce at donald’s and since we were parked and RIGHT THERE, we decided to pop in for a meal.
unfortunately for us, we weren’t starving.  so we just ate a lighter meal.  (kinda, lol)

the signature item here is the pulled pork pancakes.
now, obviously, i don’t eat pancakes and my husband had just eaten a pretty big breakfast, so he wasn’t in the mood… so we looked longingly at the stacks of deliciousness on neighboring tables, but decided we’d save it for another trip.

my husband went with the Ruben.
the phrase “house brined beef” sold him.
he deemed it to be an excellent sandwich.


i honestly, chose poorly.
i got a cobb salad.  and while it was good, it was just a cobb salad.
nothing crazy or special about it, just a really good solid salad.  the dressing was really nice.  but the rest was just pretty normal.
one thing though… it was MASSIVE.  i only made it about 1/2 way through before giving up.


i also ordered a cup of the smoked tomato soup.
wow.  now here’s where i ventured into “something special” territory.

after picking out what looked like absolutely beautiful buttered croutons, i devoured this.
the pesto on the top was perfect… the soup itself smokey and creamy and rich.
i love a good tomato soup and this was one of the best i’ve had in vancouver.


and then… the real magic.
we got a side of the crispy pork belly and JD syrup to dip it in.

i know *insert heart attack here*

i’m not sure this picture really does justice to the fact that this is a slab of pork belly.
as we saw on DDD, they confit it until perfectly cooked and rendered and then slap it on the flat top to crisp it to order.

the word WOW is a freaking understatement.

and the syrup… i don’t even like jack daniels and this was incredible.
you got the hit of the booze with the most delightful maple finish.
these two items are friends.  make sure you pair them together.


all in all, a massive success.
we’ll be back for sure.

the woman at the table across from me ordered the crispy pork belly sandwich, which looked like a play on a banh mi and she declared it to be the best thing on the menu.
she was a regular.
i trusted her.

travel: old lahaina luau – maui

well friends… i came, i saw and i conquered.  hawaii was, as expected, an absolute delight.  maui was a whole new experience and honolulu was the same loveliness that i adore.  the differences between the two were more pronounced than expected, but both definitely have a place in my vacation plans.

i have a few blogs to post about maui in the next few days… i’m going to split up the trip into a few different events, because i have a ton of photos to share.  if you have me on faceboook or instagram, then you’ve seen some… but i’ve been purposefully holding back some pics for the blog, so it won’t be all repeats.

i’m starting with the luau.  we chose the Old Lahaina Luau for our outing, based on the feedback that it was the “most authentic” and totally not cheesy.  it absolutely delivered on all counts.  the setting was stunning, the food excellent and the service top notch.  the show was a delight, although i’ll admit to being distracted by taking photos, so i kinda missed some of the story.

this was the setting…

rough, huh?  😉
the thing about hawaii is that every little thing is exponentially more beautiful, simply because of where you are.  sunsets go from lovely to magical… the trees are things to marvel at… the colour and clarity of the water seems unreal.
it just oozes sheer beauty.
…but back to business.

so, my husband learned how to make poi…

and then we watched the delicious pig get unearthed from it’s underground oven.  okay, really, 3 pigs to feed us all – but i only took pictures of the first one, because the ridiculous aroma was killing me…

so here’s the “before” picture of the pit…

and then the fun begins!

ya, pretty magic. and let me tell you, that pig was ridiculously delicious.  so tender and smokey from cooking all day underground… i’m drooling just thinking about it.

here’s a snapshot of my plate…i really did not do this meal justice with this picture… but i was too intoxicated with free mai tai’s and the aroma of pig to care.  i just needed to dig in.

and then, the show!

i honestly can’t say enough good things about this event.  we paid around $90 each and all felt it was well worth it.  we all agreed that it was one of our favourite nights of the trip, just perfect from start to finish.  i heartily recommend this luau.

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