If you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Disney World, especially during the holidays, you know there really is nothing quite as spectacular as a Disney fireworks show. Because they’re Disney, they spare no expense, so the pyrotechnics are amazing on their own merit. But something as simple as Cinderella’s castle just standing there and being lit up by color in the foreground just adds that element of awe that no other entertainment company can reproduce.
Here are some shots I took of the nightly “Wishes” fireworks show at Magic Kingdom last week:
Even though this was the nightly show and not a holiday special, it was so amazing that even though Magic Kingdom is a pain to get to (you park your car, take a cart to the transportation center, THEN take a monorail or ferry 1.5 miles more to get to the actual entrance of the park), we went to see it three nights in a row!
By the way, big BIG mahalo to my friend Steve Okubo, who helped me work out some crucial lens issues for fireworks shooting! :)
While I was planning our recent vacation to Central Florida, I decided to check Google for whether the region had anything worth exploring other than Disney World and Universal Studios. I didn’t come up with a whole lot, but I did find mention of something called Giraffe Ranch Farm Tours on a Visit Florida website. Giraffe Ranch is a self-described “licensed working ranch that specializes in exotic species as well as domestic cattle and horses.” Admission was less than Disney or Universal, but the ranch was about an hour’s drive from Lake Buena Vista, and I didn’t know anyone who had been there . . . but in the end, I decided to take one for the team, be the guinea pig and give it a shot. And I’m so glad I did!
For $75/person (again, way cheaper than Disney or Universal), you get a four-by-four tour of the ranch, which includes interaction with all kinds of exotic animals, including, of course, giraffes:
. . . which you get to feed!
. . . as well as llamas:
. . . tortoises . . .
. . . blackbuck antelope (OK, mostly, they just run away, but the fact that they can maintain their distance is the beauty of this safari-like experience) . . .
. . . ostriches . . .
. . . zebras . . .
. . . and my not-so-secret admirer, a camel:
(Seriously, that thing couldn’t keep its jowls off me. I turned my back for one second, and he started nibbling on my shoulder!)
The ranch also has pygmy hippos, Indian rhinos, a warthog and a whole slew of other species I can’t even remember. But by far, my favorite part of our visit was feeding grapes to ring-tailed lemurs!
Feeding the lemurs is $20 extra per person and is well worth every cent. Lemurs are among the world’s most primitive primates, and while they aren’t very smart, they are definitely cute. Their paws are soft like human babies’ hands, and they have a very intentional grip. And they will climb all over you, including in your hair, to get to the guy on the other side of you who’s holding out a grape.
Lex and Elena, who own and operate the ranch, are well-read and well-spoken and have years of experience in looking after these and many other animals (they also own a larger ranch in Florida, and Lex used to be a zookeeper), and they’re really good about answering any questions about the animals, conservationism and their community. Lex even referred us to a great soul food restaurant nearby (Steph’s, if you’re ever in the area) for lunch afterward.
Again, this place is pretty far from Florida’s big tourist attractions, but it’s well worth the drive and expense — and having to call between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Eastern time (the only hour in which Elena takes calls) to make a reservation. The Giraffe Ranch tour is a hands-on experience unlike any other you’ll have in Florida, perhaps unlike any other you’ll have anywhere in your entire life, especially if you’re a city slicker like me. I’d definitely do it again!
I’m proud to say that I came up with this recipe myself! OK, so the basic chocolate chip cookie part is pretty generic . . . but I did add a couple of ingredients to “Hawaiian-ize” it: shaved coconut and roasted macadamia nuts.
‘HAWAIIAN’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 oz chopped, dry roasted macadamia nuts
- 7 oz shredded, sweetened coconut
- 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Add the eggs (one by one!) and vanilla extract.
Incorporate 1/2 cup of dry mixture and mix to combine. Continue at this pace until all dry mixture is incorporated. Reduce speed to ridiculously low and use the mixer to fold in macadamia nuts and shredded coconut. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in chocolate chips by hand.
Scoop roughly 1-inch balls and flatten slightly (just so they’re not round) on baking sheet. Bake until coconut at edges of cookies is browned, about 14 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet before removing to a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature . . . if you can stand to wait that long.
Yield: Approximately 8 dozen — but they will go really, really quickly.
- Macadamia nuts are notoriously difficult to roast without burning. Or so I’ve heard. I haven’t actually tried it myself because I am super lazy like that. So do yourself a favor: Mauna Loa (now owned by Hershey) sells Dry Roasted Macadamia Baking Pieces! And you can buy them on Amazon! And they taste great.
- Conventional wisdom would call for more like 1 tsp of salt, but I like the taste of salt to balance out the sweet in my cookies, especially since shredded coconut adds even more sweetness. So I typically just pretend I’m using only 1 tsp, but I make it a heaping teaspoon . . . and whatever else happens to fall into the dough, falls into the dough.
Tags: food · recipe
December 30th, 2013 · 1 Comment
A few weeks ago, some friends and I had plans to meet up for Christmas-ish dinner. One of our group of friends, Irene, was unable to attend because she lives in the Bay Area, so we planned to FaceTime with her so she could kind-of still be there. Then another friend, Nick, came down with a rather violently symptomatic flu — and, in the interest of not being grossed out, we decided against using FaceTime with him (plus, there’s a chance we’d interrupt a nap or something anyway).
For several years now, I’ve had a tradition of including geographically (or otherwise) challenged party guests via a little gimmick I like to call Heads on Sticks. It all started one day when I decided that Ryne Sandberg needed to come to a gathering with me, so I printed out a Ryne Sandberg face and mounted it on some disposable chopsticks. Another time, my friend Tina couldn’t come to a party because she was going to be out of town, so Tina’s head-on-stick represented her at a friend’s house. Bill Adams was spotted with a few of us at Murphy’s on Merchant Street when he was actually in Baltimore. And so on. I don’t recall how many times this has been done, but photographic evidence exists of at least these instances.
So of course Nick had to be at our dinner. And he was! We even surprised Irene by showing “Nick’s” face as soon as she answered her FaceTime call. Many laughs were had.
FaceTime with Irene.
FaceTime with Irene . . . from Irene’s perspective.
Wil, pictured above, thought it would be hilarious if we were to anonymously send Nick-on-a-Stick to Nick, just to see how he would react. More laughs were had, and we agreed to embargo all photos from that evening that included Nick-on-a-Stick until the prank was up, including a real gem of a group shot.
A couple of days later, Wil sent Nick-on-a-Stick out in the mail, a task that was more challenging than we’d anticipated. We created a specific Facebook chat for the co-conspirators, separate from the Facebook chat all of us usually use to communicate, and Wil posted these images there:
Success! (H. Simpson is a reference to The Simpsons: Tapped Out, an iOS/Android game that all of us play except Nick, who tried it and decided it wasn’t for him. We wanted to be mysterious, but not to the point where Nick wouldn’t be able to identify any suspects.)
We sat on the photos . . . and waited.
Oh, and we used delivery tracking. Or we tried. Wil informed us that the package was scheduled to be delivered the next day, December 21. But I entered the tracking number on USPS.com on the 21st, when we didn’t hear from Nick, and the website informed us that delivery was then scheduled for Christmas Eve.
So we waited some more.
Fast forward to Christmas Eve, 4:30 p.m. Alternate Facebook chat was abuzz with anticipation. But then Wil started to have doubts: “Maybe I did the tracking wrong. I used the automated system but didn’t put the tracking sticker on it.”
So it was a whole week after our dinner, and we could only assume that Nick had received the envelope.
For days, the conversation dragged on:
“Maybe he really doesn’t know who it was?”
“Or he’s getting back at us.”
“It’s a battle of the wills!”
“But he must be stymied, right? It’s unlike Nick to be silent if he knows it’s us.”
“Yeah. I’m sure he would have said something. Maybe we need to start talking about Homer.”
Seriously. Days and days and days of conversations like this. We even tried baiting Nick in the original group chat, asking him whether he’d received any unusual mail lately. No dice. His replies were sporadic, and we found out that he’d been having a frustrating week, totally separate from our issue. So we felt bad . . . and so waited some more. We wondered whether he was mad. I personally wondered if he’d contacted the postal inspector or things had otherwise gotten serious.
Finally, today, I couldn’t take it anymore. Nick was active on the chat, so since I knew he would respond, I posted the group photo (below) and asked him if it looked familiar:
He said no and that he thought we had superimposed his face on the group shot we had previously posted to Facebook — we took one without Nick-on-a-Stick, too, so that we would have something to post. But then Wil posted the screen caps from FaceTime, and Alice mentioned that some postal employee was driving around with Nick’s head on a stick in his/her vehicle.
Nick’s response upon realizing what was going on: “I’m on a frickin stick!”
Nick: “Oh! That’s what that is at the Post Office.”
Nick: “It was from B. Simpson LOL so I never went to pick it up!”
Irene: “Lol!!!!! . . . It didn’t fit in his mailbox!!”
me: “And dammit, why does your building not have a parcel box?!”
Wil: “He does have a big head after all . . . ”
So now Nick has gone back and is laughing at our epic prank fail. This may not seem as ridiculous to you as it is to those of us who were directly involved, but consider that these shenanigans spanned a period of TWO WEEKS. A complete epic failure on all levels. “So epic,” Irene quipped, “it’s classic.” Indeed.
Moral of the Story: Don’t be a no-show at dinner. ;)
Tags: everyday stuff · friends
Image (c) Warner Bros. Pictures.
It’s extremely difficult to review “Gravity” without spoiling it. I went into the theater not knowing anything about this movie other than that George Clooney and Sandra Bullock get into trouble in space, and that it really stressed my fellow moviegoers out. I walked out completely blown away. I highly recommend going to see it with that blank slate.
All right, but you didn’t click over here to hear me say that. So . . .
- The special effects were amazing. I was going to say that I don’t know how they did it, but I didn’t want to seem like an idiot, so I looked it up. This Popular Mechanics article kind of explains it. I still don’t get how everything looked so realistic* when they didn’t actually film it in space or in some kind of zero-gravity chamber. Dammit, Jim, I’m a scientist . . . but I’m not a rocket scientist.
- If you have the opportunity to see “Gravity” in 3-D or IMAX or both (yeah, I don’t really know whether or how those things work), DO IT. Yes, it costs more, and you may want to vomit, but it is completely worthwhile in this case. (What the heck are you doing at a space movie if you’re prone to motion sickness, anyway?) It will turn this from a movie you could be watching on your living room TV into a surreal delight. 3-D works really well in conjunction with the concept of anti-gravity.
- The acting was not bad. It wasn’t Academy Award winning material, but it was believable. My inability to be moved to tears by Sandra Bullock should come as a shock to no one.
- Speaking of actors, I can’t recall ever having seen a major motion picture that had no extras in it. Well, there were a couple of people who didn’t have lines, but they were . . . well . . . (highlight the rest of the paragraph if you really want to know, but DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU) . . . dead astronauts. And the other astronaut’s family, who only appear in a photo. So that was interesting. For the sake of people who enjoy doing background work (I count myself as one of them), I wouldn’t want this to be a trend, but it definitely works for this film.
Basically, go see this movie. Do it now, before someone spoils it for you. What the heck, even if they tell you who lives, who dies and that Mission Control is voiced by Ed Harris (oops — oh, come on, that’s not a spoiler!), you will enjoy “Gravity” anyway because it is just that kind of unique movie-going experience. Absolutely stunning.
* DISCLAIMER: I am not an astronaut. Perhaps the movie wasn’t realistic at all, but everything that happened seemed like it could’ve worked, at least in my head.
September 10th, 2013 · No Comments
Every year, the Four Seasons Hualālai at Historic Ka‘ūpūlehu hosts its Run for Hope Weekend, the proceeds from which benefit the American Cancer Society and the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center. For a while now, the Friends of the Cancer Center have paid for volunteers from the Cancer Center to fly to and stay in Kona (not at the Four Seasons, but not at Uncle Billy’s, either!) to work at the weekend’s events. Todd and I have volunteered for several years.
This year, the fundraising weekend included the Taste of Hawai‘i Island gala foodie event on Friday night, a golf tournament on Saturday afternoon and the signature 5K and 10K runs early Sunday morning. Our team spent the weekend busing tables, assembling race packets, registering golfers, pouring drinks, pointing runners in the right direction along the race course — and, of course, relaxing in whatever spare time we had.
Taste of Hawai‘i Island.
Taste of Hawai‘i Island entertainment.
Checking people in for the golf tournament.
Collecting donations and serving up Bloody Marys — hey, somebody’s gotta do it.
Cheering on runners during the Run for Hope.
I’ve seen a few Four Seasons properties, and Hualālai definitely tops my list in terms of luxury and overall beauty. It’s not difficult to see why!
Tags: travel · work
February 8th, 2012 · 1 Comment
This recipe really couldn’t be easier, and everyone loves it!
- 1-1/2 lb chicken breast
- 1 (16-oz) jar salsa
- 1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained
- 1/2 lb frozen corn (I used white corn)
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 Tbsp cumin
- 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic (I cheat and used the pre-minced in a bottle)
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 8 oz shredded cheddar
Combine all ingredients except cilantro and cheddar in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or until chicken shreds easily with a fork.
Top with shredded cheddar. Serve cilantro on the side for individuals to use as garnish (it’s better when not wilted, so individual servings when you’re ready to eat are better).
Tags: food · recipe
January 10th, 2012 · 1 Comment
I came across this linked recipe for Chicago pastry chef Mathew Rice’s Gooey Butter Cookies one day on Pinterest. I’d asked Todd for a stand mixer for Christmas — I even picked out the exact one I wanted (the cheapest KitchenAid one, 4.5-qt, white) and Wish List-ed it on Amazon — but I didn’t really have a particular recipe in mind to make with it until I found this. I’m a sucker for a nice, chewy cookie, and this looked like it would fill some kind of holiday dessert void.
The recipe calls for a lot of butter, a lot of sugar, a ton of flour (not literally) and half a real vanilla bean (which, let’s face it, you can only buy whole), so it definitely isn’t the cheapest cookie recipe in town — but it is well worth the “extras.” With all you put into the effort, you do get a lot out of it: One batch yields at least six dozen cookies (it’s actually way more, but I lost count) if you use a teaspoon-sized scoop, and everyone you gift these cookies with will be your friend for LIFE. The gooey butter cookie completely fulfills the promise of its name in terms of taste and texture, and it tastes amazing whether it’s consumed warm, refrigerated or at room temperature. Bless your friends with these, and you will definitely bring smiles to their faces; after all, really good cookies with pure natural ingredients are hard to come by these days!
And so, without further adieu, I bring you the recipe for possibly the most fabulous cookies on Earth.
GOOEY BUTTER COOKIES
Recipe by Mathew Rice of Nightwood Restaurant
Source: Tim Mazurek, Lottie + Doof (reprinted with permission)
- 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 pound cream cheese
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped [How to Scrape a Vanilla Bean]
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Confectioner’s sugar for rolling and dusting
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese, butter, vanilla bean seeds, and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract.
Incorporate the flour mixture. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Scoop roughly 1-ounce balls and toss in the confectioner’s sugar. Place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment, a couple of inches apart. Bake at 325° F until they spread and puff slightly, about 12-16 minutes. They will be really soft in the center. If they start to brown, they’ve gone too far. Cool to room temperature.
- Seriously, do not skimp on the ingredients. Tim thinks the vanilla bean is optional (“but important”), but really, I think if you’re going to go through all the trouble, go big or go home.
- You will use lots and lots of confectioner’s sugar. That is why there’s no set amount: It’s just a lot.
- The longer you refrigerate the dough after prep before you roll it into balls, the better the shape will hold up. This is true for most cookie recipes, but it is especially important here.
- You should also keep the dough (rolled or not) in the refrigerator whenever you don’t need to have it in front of you (i.e., while each cookie sheet is baking).
- Cookies can cool on a plate in the refrigerator. Yeah, it’s ghetto compared to cooling racks, but when you’re lacking for counter space, it works, and it’s fast.
If you are a friend of mine within reasonable geographic distance (i.e., you live on Oahu), please don’t steal my thunder and give these away for Christmas. . . . But otherwise, you know, enjoy!
Tags: food · recipe
I don’t have a photo to go with this recipe because my corn tortillas cracked open when I was rolling the darned things. While the finished product looked like a mess, it tasted great. I got the original recipe from a blog that got it from America’s Test Kitchen, but I tweaked it a little because (a) I didn’t want it to have too much heat, and (b) I thought chicken thighs would shred more easily and contribute more moisture than chicken breast. The following is the resulting recipe:
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 tsp. olive or canola oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (I used the one in the jar — yes, we cheat at my house)
- 3 Tbsp. chili powder
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 15 oz. tomato sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1 tomato, seeded and chopped
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chunked
- 2 cups “Mexican blend” cheese (usually cheddar and monterey jack)
- 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
- 12 (6-inch) soft corn tortillas
- cooking spray
1. Use oil to sautee onion and jalapeno in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until softened (8-10 minutes). Stir in garlic, chili powder, cumin and sugar (30 seconds), then adding tomato sauce, water and tomato. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until slightly thickened (5 minutes).
2. Cook chicken pieces in sauce until chicken is cooked through (internal temperature should be about 160˚F), then transfer chicken to a separate container to cool.
3. Use a collander to strain sauce liquids into a medium bowl, to be kept separate from the sauce solids (onions, etc.). Transfer sauce solids into a large bowl.
4. Shred chicken and mix with the sauce solids (onions, etc.), along with 1/4 cup of the sauce liquids, 1 cup of shredded cheese and the cilantro.
5. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Use cooking spray to grease a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
6. Stack corn tortillas on a plate and microwave for 60 seconds to soften.
7. Spoon 1/3 cup of chicken mixture evenly down the center of a tortilla. Roll the tortilla around the filling as tightly as possible (watch out — they break easily) and place in baking dish, opening side facing down. Repeat with remaining filling and tortillas.
8. Lightly spray top of enchiladas with cooking spray. Place in oven, uncovered, for 7 minutes, until tortillas brown slightly.
9. Remove enchiladas from oven and pour remaining sauce liquids over top, then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Reduce oven temperature to 400˚F. Cover dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Tags: food · recipe