Kauai Equals Ahi Heaven

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I confess.  I did not think Ahi was all that.  I always thought the flavor was a little strong, to me a little off-putting.  I’ll say it, even a bit “fishy”.  Well.  I just hadn’t had FRESH Ahi!

Kauai is renowned for having expensive food.  Of course!  Everything has to be shipped in to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for a small population.  Except what can be caught or grown there.  Enter the Ahi.  It’s actually one of the more affordable menu items at most restaurants and they do not mess around with portion size either.

We recently began to order Ahi for just about every meal and to my delight I found it delicious.  Typically it was caught that morning in local waters so it doesn’t get much fresher than that.  They almost always prepare it seared and rare, which I heard referred to as “kissed” and I just can’t get enough!  Kissed Ahi over coleslaw with a wasabi cream dipping sauce.  Seared Ahi and island mashed potatoes with soy miso reduction. Ahi wrap. Ahi sashimi.  Ahi tacos.

Try it at Tahiti Nui in Hanalei for Ahi carpaccio or an entree.  One of our favorites in the appetizer serving at Olympic Cafe in Kapaa, watch out they don’t mess around with the wasabi in the cream sauce!  Costco sells Ahi and yellowtail sashimi already prepared and packaged and it is lovely to have in the fridge for a protein break.  Pick up some to cook yourselves at Kilauea Fish Market, or go for their wraps or tacos.  You can’t go far on the island without being tempted by the transluscent, ruby red flesh of Ahi.  And if you are there for a short time, why resist temptation?

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Quest for Best Shave Ice on Kauai

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YUMMMMMYYY

Shave ice is the king of sweet treats in Hawaii. Available on almost every block, sold out of shop windows, trucks, carts, restaurants and coffee shops it is hard not to stub your slippah on the stuff. It makes sense, a nice sweet treat made up of mostly water to enjoy in a warm tropical environment after you’ve been surfing or diving and gotten a whole snootful of saltwater up your nose. What could be more restorative? It is somewhat unique to the islands as well in that it isn’t really snow cone, it isn’t water ice and it isn’t slushee…it is definitely shave ice, and definitely NOT shaved ice you haole you!

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Machine and Man Working Together to Craft Perfect Shave Ice

The large cylindrical block of ice is placed in a holder on top of a blade that rotates and shaves the ice off in perfect crystals that neither melt too fast in the heat or when the syrup comes in contact with it, nor are so large that they don’t easily chew and melt in your mouth as you eat them. They slowly melt and make a delicious slush at the bottom. The syrups are typically artificially colored, super sugary, fruity flavored or crazy flavored (bubble gum, root beer etc) concoctions to pour over the ice, lending it flavor and brilliant color. It is often, and I totally recommend it, served with an ice cream scoop. This sounded putrid to me at first, but is actually pure Hawaiian genius because it mixes with the melted ice and syrups to make a sweet, creamy delicious treat at the bottom of the container.

With so many shave ice places, how do you know where to pick up your treat? We regularly visit Kauai and Dan has made it his mission to find the best spot on the island. Of course each year he has to make sure that things have not changed. This year we tried a few new places and were very pleasantly surprised with the results.

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Jo-Jo’s Funky Little Building

We were all the way down on the west shore and stopped in at Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice  9734 Kaumualii Hwy Waimea, HI 96796. Apparently there are 3 places with Jo-Jo’s in the name within walking distance here. I don’t know the whole story and wasn’t even aware of it while we were there, so just suffice it to say, this is about Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice, period. It’s a crazy, dark, little building with a boombox playing some loud tunes out onto the sidewalk with a couple benches. A colorful paint job, a slanty floor and not much else. It is all about the flavors though. Over 60 of them to choose from and the most interesting ones that I had seen so far on the island. Many Hawaiian fruits and specialty flavors. I like to try the Li hing mui wherever we go. It is salted plum, which Dan can’t stand so it keeps him out of my bowl, and is just a dream for people who like salty, sour and sweet combinations. Their Li hing mui syrup was too die for. It had pucker for days and sent you digging for the macadamia nut ice cream at the bottom, which paired with it perfectly. They even sprinkled Li hing mui powder on the top of the shave ice to give it an extra kick. So much better than the almost salty, almost sour, sweet Li hing mui syrups I had been having at other places on the island. Their mango, pineapple, lime and passionfruit were all equally distinctive as opposed to vaguely fruity and sweet like at other places. The syrups are strongly flavored so you don’t need as much as you do at other places, you may want to ask them to go light with the syrup. The ice was light and fluffy and the portion was huge. We will definitely go back next time we are down in that area, I must have the Li hing mui again and check out a few of their other flavors as well .

Dan ordering afternoon treat at Paradise Shave Ice

Dan ordering afternoon treat at Shave Ice Paradise

 

 

One of our old faithfuls is Shave Ice Paradise, 5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei. This is a charming little place in a nice little village convenient to some of our favorite beaches. After a long day on the beach, snorkeling and what not it is great to grab a shave ice and share a picnic table in a park by the highway to enjoy it. Kauai, the only place on earth I have found so far where I can un-self-consciously sit in my bathing suit in public and eat ice cream. That may very well be the definition of heaven right there! The servings are generous, the ice a good consistency, the syrups are average but dependable and it is convenient, reliable and relatively quick. You never know who you will see there either, last time we saw John Malkovich!

Ono Ono

We really did save the best for last. Our last day on the island this last trip we had breakfast at one of our favorite breakfast places, Ono Family Restaurant 4-1292 Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a, and remembered to save room for shave ice at the Ono Ono Shave Ice shack in their parking lot. How did we miss this the whole time we were here? I was enticed by a sign that read “try our organic ginger syrup”. So I had ginger, coconut and vanilla syrup over macadamia nut ice cream. The gal shaved a bunch of ice, put ginger syrup on it, put a big scoop of ice cream on that and then built the ice for the three flavors on top of the ice cream. It was HUGE! It also came with a free “snow cap” which is either sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk. I chose the coconut, and it was a great addition. Most places put the ice cream on the bottom of the shave ice and build the ice on top, but putting it in the middle made it so much better! The creaminess mixed earlier with the ice and changed the whole game. For me though, it was all about the ginger. It was really strong and sweet, but also hot and peppery and almost hurt to eat. In other words, a ginger lover’s dream! Good thing it was close to the ice cream. Dan was really jealous that he hadn’t ordered it and he likes ginger but doesn’t LOVE ginger. He was loving mine!   As we were enjoying our shave ice at Ono Ono I overheard a young woman plaintively ask her young man “How did we not do this every day?” I couldn’t help laughing and we ended up talking a bit. They had been on the island all week, were leaving that night and this was the first shave ice they had tried. Ends up the young man was a bit of a perfectionist and had read about the “best shave ice” place somewhere on the island, but they never made it there so he never compromised. She did not seem happy about that and I think she needs to teach him to enjoy what’s available or RUN AWAY!! Pretty good shave ice every day is better than the best shave ice once, or as almost happened, no shave ice at all. But that’s just my opinion, and those are three of my places to try on Kauai. Can’t wait to go back and find a few more. Aloha!

Dolphin Hunt

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Pacific White Sided Dolphin like the pod we saw

Dan and I have been Stand Up Paddleboarding for about 2 years now. It started inauspiciously in a lagoon in Carlsbad.We  rented boards that seemed to have the temperament of unbroken horses.  I will soon tell all about that process, but last weekend we had an experience that was pretty much the reason we learned to paddle in the first place.

On Friday I had gone out at La Jolla Shores, a beautiful, 90 degree day in May which is very unusual. The wind was very high but the sea was as calm as a bath tub. Tiny ankle slapper waves made it easy to maneuver the 12 foot board out past the surf and I was able to hop right up and start paddling the gentle swells over unusually clear water. If the paddle stayed this good, I was going to be one happy mermaid. I saw a long distance swimmer about a mile away and noticed s/he had some extra activity around him. As I looked closer I saw that it was birds, but I also saw a tiny object jump from the water and gracefully land back in it. S/He had a dolphin following him/her! Several! They looked tiny from such a distance but I knew better and was so envious of his/her incredible swim experience. S/He was out where I was thinking of going anyway, so I headed that direction in a leisurely way, figuring the pod would be long gone by the time I got there.

As I went, I could see the dolphins frisking around him/her for quite a while and then I got distracted by a couple of curious seals. I kept paddling in the same direction but I had lost sight of the swimmer and the pod. I was headed to a buoy off the end of the Scripps Pier and getting close when I saw one of the dolphins break the water again, heading my way. This was a smaller, different dolphin than we were used to seeing out there. It was darker with a light patch on its side and seemed more inclined to jump out of the water and zoom quickly, acrobatically underwater. There were about fifteen of them heading in my direction and they all came close, jumping when they reached me, sometimes in pairs, zooming under my board, chattering that dolphin squeak and churning up the water. They circled a couple times. It felt like they were checking me out. I felt like I could not play to their satisfaction and then they wandered off, leaving a couple seals behind to look at me expectantly. If I had better balance skills I would have been jumping up and down on my board in excitement. We had seen two or three dolphins at a time before, bottlenose or common, breaking the surface calmly, circling a bit as they pass by, but nothing like this. I was dying to tell Dan, and see if we could find them again so he could experience it.

When I got home Dan was as jealous as I had feared. Saturday was a repeat in weather and I thought we might get lucky and run into them again so we headed down to the Shores to try. The conditions were just as fantastic, which was good because I was a little fatigued from Friday’s paddle. We headed out to where I had seen them and there was no sign of them. We went all the way out to the rough water line where a deep sea cliff starts and then headed back over to the La Jolla Cove. I was feeling badly for Dan because we really weren’t getting any mammalian sightings and I had really hoped he could experience that as well. About a half mile off the cove I looked out to sea and saw one dolphin jump out of the water. Ha!

We headed in that direction, they were coming our way too so we took it slow and sure enough they came straight at us. Of course, I can’t tell if it was the same pod, but it was the same kind of dolphin and about the same number in the same vicinity so I would guess it was. Dan’s face expressed exactly what I was feeling, and I’m sure mine did too. They were really jumping as they came at us but then started just swimming around us and under us. The water was really getting churned up and then three seagulls dove right at one of the dolphins. Dan said that they were attacking it, but we quickly realized that they were going after the fish. The dolphins were rounding up a large school of fish right underneath our boards and then swimming through it to catch a meal. The birds were coming to feed off of it too. Next thing we knew there were a couple of seals in on the action as well. They were so bold that we thought we might have company on our boards! It did not seem to bother or slow down the dolphins. We could look down and see the cloud of fish and the dolphins as they swam around and through them. It was amazing. Suddenly something shifted and the dolphins were headed out to sea again. They were jumping and swimming in a straight line. Were they full? Did they get tired of the seals and birds? Did they lose control of the fish? We followed for a bit to see if they were going to pause and round up more fish but they kept going and there was no way we were going to keep pace, or stalk the wildlife.

We looked around and the nearest people were a herd of kayakers about three quarters of a mile away over by the sea caves by La Jolla Cove. The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club at the Shores was probably a mile and a half paddle away and we were all alone out there having had the most amazing sea encounter we had ever had. We couldn’t help but wonder what someone would have thought if they witnessed that interaction through binoculars or a telescope from the shore. When we took up paddling it was my intention to get good enough to be able to paddle out to try and find the whales during the migration off the coast here in San Diego. This experience was more than worth the price of admission!     But, I’m still going to try for the whales…..

The Scariest Bug or the Prettiest Bird

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She’s in there somewhere.

We have been super fortunate to have had a hummingbird mama build a nest in our pygmy palm right outside our kitchen window a few times now. It is within view when we are inside and we can look right in it when we are outside. We like to respect her fierce motherly instincts and keep the peeping to a minimum, as she is pretty clear with her menacing buzzing around our faces when we go near the nest that she is displeased if we linger by her young’uns too long. At least until they show their cute little beaks and she has to go off and gather nectar for them.

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Out of focus, but I was trying to get out fast!

I found the nest when I was getting ready to trim back the palms. She began her impressive kamikaze aerial display aimed primarily at my face and I knew immediately that I needed to inspect very carefully before I did any cutting. She was clearly defending a nest so I did not want to destroy that. I searched and found, buried under a couple of fronds, clinging to the stem of one frond a fragile looking, tiny nest with two perfect little mini jelly bean sized eggs nestled in it. Aha! She has cleverly hidden the nest from view from above, made it difficult for other birds (even for herself) to navigate in to the nest, and has placed it on a flimsy frond that sways in the breeze and would not support a predator’s weight. It looks precarious and fragile but on closer inspection I can see that it is securely fastened to the frond at the bottom with what looks like silky dog fur. Could she have harvested Enzo’s fur from when I brushed him last week on the lawn? Later I am told by my friend and hummingbird expert Nancy that this is actually spider web! They use it to build their nest, secure it to the branch and it expands nicely as the chicks grow. Could that be any more like a fairy tale?

 

Double blessing for me! I didn’t have to trim the palms and we get to watch the nest. We consider this a real honor and gift and decided this time we are going to document the process and share with our friends because not many people get a look inside the nest of a hummingbird. It seemed like the egg stage lasted a long time. It was probably at most, three weeks, but we were anxious for that fragile stage to be over and for proof of life. Mama was an excellent sitter. She patiently remained there while we did the dishes just feet away, while Enzo frolicked underneath her, when the wind picked up and blew her and the eggs back and forth and when we couldn’t resist any longer and peeked in to see how she was doing.


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There they are!

 

Then one day she wasn’t sitting. I rushed out to peek in and was horrified to see a couple little black blobs in the bottom of the nest and thought that a predator had gotten the eggs. It looked like Mama had pooped and left. Until one of the poops moved a little. Those little blobs were the chicks! Tiny little babies had hatched and there was no eggshell to be seen anywhere. Not in the nest, the fronds or on the ground. Did Mama take them somewhere else to camouflage where her chicks were? Speaking of Mama, she came buzzing back in a hurry and I was out of there! She had tiny little mouths to feed. Not even long beaks yet, unrecognizable as hummingbirds these little blobs were hungry and had a lot of growing to do, which meant Mama had a lot of nectar gathering to do! She fed them and settled in, still covering them in the nest. There she stayed until her next nectar excursion. It was, for the next few days, difficult to catch a glimpse of the chicks, as Mama was mostly sitting the nest.

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Hungry little blobs with very un-hummingbird-like beaks! Thing One and Thing Two

One of my favorite things as a child was to interact with the birds in our backyard.  We had some bluejays that were particularly motivated by peanuts and became tame enough, or greedy enough to land on my hand and take them.  I was later able to look into their nest when they had chicks and witness this process with them and it is something I will never forget.  My friend Nancy has a daughter, Avery who is almost 3.  We had a chance to show her the babies and she was so perfectly gentle and careful with them and the nest, resulting in this precious moment.

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Avery meets Thing One and Thing Two

After about a week, Mama was gone more and we could peek in at Thing One and Thing Two more often. They had grown substantially, they were getting a more hummingbird-like beak and each time we peeked at them it triggered their “feed me” response and those beaks opened up to big orange mouths that were so vivid against their little brown bodies. By now, Mama could only feed them and sit beside them on the nest. They had crowded her out and were keeping each other warm and she was spending much more time gathering their food.

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No room for Mama

Over the next week or so the story remained the same. Mama was busy, the Things were growing fast. We could now see their heads outside the nest like Mama’s used to be when she was sitting eggs. They were almost as big as her now. Then one morning I noticed the gleam of a little color on their wings, and when one of them moved a little I saw that they had almost got their flight feathers. It will be any time now and we will be empty nesters. Sigh. One last picture, a few words of encouragement for them and praise for Mama. Gratitude offered to nature for giving us this opportunity and keeping them safe. The next morning, they were gone!

 

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Here today…

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…..gone tomorrow.

I can never see a hummingbird without thinking about one of my favorite stories my mom would tell. When she and my dad moved to San Diego from Michigan in the 1950’s she had never seen a hummingbird before. She was out in the backyard hanging some laundry and heard a buzzing sound. I get my unease around insects honestly, from my mom. She looked around frantically to determine what was making that loud buzzing, figuring it had to be some kind of hideous insect. She saw a huge, winged insect with a long stinger headed straight for her and just lost it! Biggest, scariest bug she had ever seen and it was moving fast. She ran in the house screaming for Dad and refused to go back out again until he would go first and she could hide behind him. They looked all over the yard, couldn’t find the beast so he settled down to stay with her while she finished hanging the laundry because, believe me, she was NOT going to be left alone out there until that thing was ENDED. Eventually the sound of the invading force returned and Mom was ready to retreat, all the way to Michigan!! Dad stood his ground until he saw the source of the terror and then ending up taking a seat on it laughing so hard. Mom was terrified of a hummingbird. It’s understandable, really, if you think of the bird as an insect it absolutely is terrifying. Once Mom got over the horror of the idea that it was an insect and wrapped her head around the idea that it was a bird they became one of the most beautiful things to her in her newly adopted city and she planted things in the yard that would attract them. Two things I love best about that story: Mom’s willingness to laugh at herself, and the concept of perception so clearly illustrated.

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Nano Brewery In North County San Diego

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Is it just me or is everyone facing the beer?

Dan and I were invited to a beer tasting party at WillRich Homebrew this past weekend and we were certainly eager to find out what they had cooked up over the brutal San Diego winter.   By that I mean the winter where we had to endure the phone calls from our friends and family members that live in other places that had epic bad weather all winter, while we had Camelot-like weather and barely felt guilty, but had to pretend like we did. Phew! This was our second tasting here, one year after our first, which was quite enjoyable so we had high hopes for the afternoon.

OK, we confess. This is a home brewing operation and not commercial, not available to the public, but it should be. More on that later!

We arrived to a hand written sign on the front door, “Beer Tasting, Come on In, Don’t Let the Dog Out”. Wow, brave party throwers, way to get party crashers! Richard and Susan’s adorable something-poo dog ran to meet us at the door with three big woofs which I correctly interpreted to mean “what did you bring me?” allowed us to admire him briefly and then went off looking for someone who was better equipped to fulfill his wishes. Susan greeted us more conventionally, very warmly, no woofing and she did not ditch us when we revealed no treats. She did however, urge us to scurry on out and get some liquid refreshment.

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“Step up to the bar! What can we pour you?”

Richard and his son William collaborate on this venture and they had set up a nice canopy and tables to display the eleven varieties (over achievers!!) of beer they had concocted and cover the coolers and taps necessary to supply their eager tasters. They had an excellent turnout for the party so they were very busy pouring, tapping, explaining and describing the beer.

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Synchronized Explaining. Like Father, Like Son

This season’s lineup was all clever galactic names like “Big Bang Brown” and “Satellite Steam Ale”.   They went from the lightest imaginable to very dark, and they even popped a bottle of mead! Ales, IPA’s and yup, that just exhausted what I can tell you about beers because frankly, I am not a beer person and I started socializing with some of the wonderful people at the party when Richard and William started talking to Dan about “hops ratios” and some such stuff.

One couple we really had a great time with, Glenn and Beth, kept us well entertained and engaged all afternoon. I kept trying to figure out who Glenn reminded me of though, and I am horribly embarrassed to have finally figured it out in the car on the way home! We were even discussing how much we love the show…he looks so much like Leonard, Johnny Galecki on Big Bang Theory. We had also discussed our awkward celebrity encounters and how we had probably walked right past a lot of famous people without noticing. It made me think for a quick second that I had done an extreme example of exactly that! But Glenn is much cuter, so I think I am safe. Susan, Richard and William have very cool friends that are fun to hang out with. It makes for a wonderful party but it didn’t exactly work out in their favor because none of us wanted to say goodbye to our newly met besties and we stayed well past the suggested end of the party as listed on the invitation to continue our conversation and camaraderie. Forgive us, excellent hosts, we were having such a good time!

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We were treated to a tour of the “brewery” itself during the festivities. This was impressive on many levels. First of all, who has time to stop in the middle of a party and lead a group of people on a tour? Masterful Richard, masterful! Secondly, this was set up in their garage. Now, we have a house that used to have inside parking for four cars but now has no inside parking at all. In fact, you can’t really get another bicycle in the garage. I would die before I would lead a party full of people into our garage! The liability alone makes me shudder. But Richard and Susan? Their garage is pristine! You could make beer in it!   They have designated a nice amount of space for the brewery and Richard and William have designed a great system that Richard kindly explained to us all. Someone pointed out that the freezer we were leaning on looked a little suspicious and I started thinking about the similarities of this operation to “Breaking Bad” and how if Jesse showed up I was going to be very excited and very scared at the same time. This is definitely more “Breaking Bad” light, as if it were written for the ABC Family channel. But hey, we’re in suburban North County San Diego! Nevertheless, I wander back out to the backyard and the sweet California sunshine.

The beers they produce in that pristine environment were pronounced by all as quite excellent. They had the eleven different varieties or styles and I was told that they all were very indicative of the style they were going for, but drinkable. I guess a lot of times the local breweries will push the styles to the extreme so that they are almost unpleasant but Richard and William kept the character of the styles without making them overwhelming to anyone who isn’t a fan of extremism. The two lightest of the beers I really enjoyed as they tasted more like a punch to me, a little citrusy and refreshing with barely a beer taste. They will be terrific for summer afternoons, just like Richard said they were going for.  With our thriving micro-brewery industry here in San Diego I think they should be considering a bigger operation. It really was unanimous, everyone had a favorite and everyone was impressed. It was certainly nice of these guys to invite so many of us over to help them “clean out” some of their stock. Any time guys, any time! Sorry Susan, you shouldn’t be such a good hostess. And William, you’re right, you should put out a tip jar.

Falconry Lesson. Yup, Really!

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Recently we had Mark, a dear friend of mine from college and his wonderful long time partner, Don, come down and spend a weekend with us. Mark always finds something interesting to do and this time was no exception. He found a falconry class on Living Social. When Mark first told me about the chance to do this I thought it sounded fantastic but could they really deliver that great an experience to a group? I mean, come on! Handle the bird for real? But even if it was only to observe and learn I was on board so we booked it and the time had come to go see what it was all about.

I love critters. I am the one who hears a twig snap in the forest and goes to see what stepped on it. Someone makes the sign for shark while we’re diving and points in the direction they saw it and I will swim that way. Probably not too smart, but it’s the way I’m wired, so birds of prey seemed like a wonderful hobby to me. Obviously to all of us that attended because we came to learn about it. That was refreshing, because a lot of people I told about the class showed a distinct aversion to the idea of handling such a bird.   There were 12 of us plus the 2 instructors/trainers/entrepreneurs and 3 of their birds. There were a couple of teenagers which was cool and they did great, the instructors worked with them perfectly so if you are considering it for a younger audience that worked out very well.

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One of the Three Stooges. Majestic Harris Hawk.

We got right to it standing in front of 3 stands with the 3 birds and getting a very good introduction to the sport, the tradition, how they got into it and the birds themselves. It was very interesting, some surprising information and it really gave us an appreciation for the bond that has to develop between the trainer and the birds. Meanwhile the Three Stooges are looking at us like the dumbest twelve monkeys they have seen all year! Bored, aloof, regal and just majestic, we have now learned that they are all Harris Hawks and we will be working one of them for the next hour. Clearly they are letting us know that we will, if one of them will allow it. Kirk has picked up a beautiful female, Shanti and is using her to demonstrate a few things and she is showing signs of grudging cooperation so he decides to use her for the class.

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If I feel like it!

We each get a leather glove that comes up to our elbow for our left hand, along with some very strict instructions on what NOT to do with that arm for the rest of the session. The bird is very much keyed into that glove as a signal and as a cue that you may have food. We were instructed to leave it at our side unbent at all times. That is harder than it sounds! Taking pictures, gesturing in disbelief and awe, talking really fast and enthusiastically…none of these things lend itself to dead arm. We tried. They had us all form a large circle and began teaching us to call Shanti to our glove (with the added incentive of a little chicken meat). We had a glorious time having her land on us and take off for the first time from our gloves and realizing how light but powerful she is, less than 3 pounds and such a gentle grip for such a fierce hunter. Thrilling at the swoosh of her wings in our faces as she lands and her tail as she turns to face the wind. Seeing the sun light up her beautiful, golden brown eyes that look so far past you it makes you realize she has deigned to land upon you and take the chicken, but other than that, you do not exist for her. Up close and personal with something you usually see from afar and admire, if not envy, in flight.

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She had me at first flight!

OK. Expectations already exceeded. The four of us are thrilled so far with this activity and it has just begun. I don’t want to ruin it, if this interests you, you must go do it for yourselves. We had many more opportunities to handle Shanti, she was a perfect lady and the class was run exceedingly well by Kirk and Denise. It remained informative, interesting, hands-on and downright breathtaking. My favorite part was at the end. We lined up to get pictures with Shanti.   Kirk held her behind the line, she flew to the subject facing the line (over our heads) landed, posed like a professional, and then Kirk called her back and she swooped right up in our faces to land behind us on Kirk’s stand. Oh, the thrill! Every time she flew right at me then adjusted and swooped up to the stand at the last second just took my breath away. I could have stood there all day and had her do that.

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Dan with hawk landing for his picture session

The class was held at a remote site in Alpine with a beautiful, sweeping view of valleys and mountains. The birds were clearly loved by their caregivers, had ample opportunity to leave and never return and were cared for exceedingly well, I was paying attention. If it weren’t for the whole “feeding them live and nearly live, cute little animals thing” I would be ever so tempted to take up this sport myself. Especially once you see how Kirk got hooked on it. He says he was in Nepal and saw them parahawking. Click here to see him doing this himself with his bird here in San Diego. No, really, check it out. Yup, if I could dispatch chicks and bunnies I would be all over this!

So, this is a rare treat. We were told there are only 4 schools in America at which you can have this experience. This is West Coast Sky Falconry. We are so lucky to have them right here. Go do it. Bring a camera. Bring a Go-Pro. Do not bring your cute little pets.

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Our instructors Denise and Kirk with Shanti

Happy Hour Downtown with Champagne Sista!

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Flirty and Fabulous

Flirty and Fabulous

I am convinced that my friend Mary is my sister from the same mother. I was adopted, so it could be true. Her mother swears it isn’t, with such vehemence that I am a little bit insulted. For sure she is my sista’ friend because we could not be more similar if we tried. From our opinions on professional sports and the players, parenting (she’s a mom, I am not), fiscal responsibility,  the kinds of friends we each have and attract and what we like to do it’s like we are carbon copies. I am about a foot and a half taller than her though. She was delighted to discover the phrase Person McNugget last year!
So, when we were headed downtown to San Diego on a Monday night for an event and needed somewhere for Happy Hour, I knew we would find somewhere we could agree on without a problem. I did leave it up to Mary, excellent researcher that she is and within minutes she was suggesting Encore, Champagne Bar and Dining Room. It was a couple blocks from our event and just happened to have my very favorite vice of all as its central theme! Champagne! Mary is brilliant, did I mention we are EXACTLY the same?
We parked and walked and spotted the place from across the street. We could see inside the big windows that it is very stylish. Mostly white with beautifully tufted, upholstered seating, black architectural accents, intricate opalescent tile and the only spots of color are the most stunning, audacious turquoise blue chandeliers you could find! So glam, and so perfect. The staff are all equally beautiful and welcoming as could be. We were there early, so we had the place to ourselves for a while. We perched elegantly at the bar (Mary did anyway…I sort of plopped down) and really got the opportunity to chat with Brandy the bartender. Moises, another of the handsome staff took our picture for us. Scott, the other bartender (they must hire from a modeling agency) for the evening and bar manager other evenings chatted with us and introduced us to an all chardonnay grape Champagne. Spoiled rotten we were!

Audacious!

Audacious!

So we have established that the atmosphere, décor and eye candy are definitely approved by Mary and Dianne. On to other important details. Happy Hour Menu! They had a white wine, a red wine, a champagne, a bellini and I don’t remember what else on the drink menu. We opted for the champagne and that night it was Piper Sonoma for $6 per glass. Approved! We began to approve of everything else even more with champagne on board, such is the magic of the bubbles. They had a nice selection of salads and little plates at half price for happy hour as well. The beef carpaccio with tangerine (tangerine? Who thinks of that? Kudos Chef!) and the rustic salad with beets and pistachio were especially yummy. Scott told us that the chef does like to combine unexpected flavors for surprising but complimentary effect. Not your typical happy hour food to be sure, the plates were not very mini, and everything went great with the champagne of course.

See!  Tangerine!
People began to trickle in as we enjoyed ourselves. A mixture of folks to be sure. A group of men dressed in jeans and workboots that gravitated towards the extensive collection of beertaps on the other side of the bar. Scott greeted them by name so they had clearly discovered the magic of Encore and were fans. By the way they enjoyed the beer selection, Brandy the bartender is not the only worthy attraction for them here. Young ladies were meeting after work, ordering the wine and champagne, occupying the reserved tables surrounding the bar with their luxuriously tufted upholstery. Some hipsters opted for the sofas and coffee table by the window to enjoy their cocktails and there were even a couple oldie but goodies like ourselves. One nicely dressed man came in a bit unsteadily, engaged us in somewhat loud but friendly conversation and was deftly and discretely handled by Scott as he recognized he was too intoxicated for 5 in the afternoon and needed to go sleep it off somewhere safe. Impressive. It was obvious that many of the people that came in were repeat customers if not downright regulars, and I can certainly see why. All were greeted warmly, repeat visitors were made to feel they were recognized and Mary and I were by now wondering if we could find a company downtown that would like to hire us both and rent us a suite to use when we needed to stay downtown instead of commute back to North County during the week. Something REALLY close to Encore! Brandy told us that the weekends are very busy and as the evening wears on the bar gets more of a nightclub vibe. They are open until 1:30 am.
We peeked in on the restroom and the dining room. The restroom was totally glammed out too, of course. A unisex with shared sink area and private stalls with men on one side, women on the other. It has a hint of daring but is actually very conventional. Sexy! Cool lighting, even in the roomy stalls.  The dining room continues the modern, cosmopolitan feel of the bar and has a counter where you can sit to eat and look into the kitchen. Scott told us that on nights where the chef is not too busy he will pause and chat with diners at the counter. Definitely coming back with the hubby for dinner, plus we peeked at the dinner menu and it looks wonderful!
A lovely young woman named Amber came in as we were getting ready to go. She said that she had been in the night before and a band that was playing over at House of Blues came in. They sat at the bar, ordered all of the bar food on the menu, shared it with her and they ended up chatting and drinking together. She went with them over to their concert and I guess had a great night partying like a rock star. So, apparently, you never know what will happen when you stop in at Encore. Mary and I will just have to keep going and find out! That’s what sisters do for each other.

Good Times

Good Times