Caveat lector: This is just an excuse to post photos of Hawaii. FeeL free to scroll through the blah-blah-blah and behold the blue.

This wasn’t going to be a tourist trip. No lei greeting … no hotels … no luaus. We’d stay with David’s niece Aja and assorted friends. Namely Stan, then his son Hayden and wife Kait.

David has known Stan for 40+ years. Hayden and Kait had spent part of their honeymoon with us in Italy, so they are now friends (not just “kids of”). When our orange tabby was born less than a month later, we named him Hayden … in part because hayden is a type of mango. Stan even offered that they all could drive us around, so we wouldn’t need an expensive rental car.

Our frequent flyer miles got us from LAX to Kona … in First Class … free.

Our plans were set.

We texted Kait from baggage claim, then waited under a plumeria tree until she and Hayden made their way from the cell phone parking lot. I was already slathered in SPF50 and wearing my SPF50 hat.

“Do you folks want to stop at Costco before heading to Hilo?”

“Sure!,” we answered.

The two essentials were macadamia nuts (to bring home) and local fish (to eat with our hosts). Ahi … opah.

“Do you folks want to stop for plate lunch before heading to Hilo?”

“Of course!,” we answered.

We stopped at PINE TREE CAFE. As we studied the chalkboard menu, we all decided to skip the plate lunch and have a rice bowl. I got roast chicken, David picked fried ahi. We were both happy and satisfied with our 1st Hawaiian meal.

Up and out of the hot, humid Kona afternoon … through the rain and fog along the new and improved Saddle Road … down into the lush tropics of Hilo.

First lodging was with Aja, her 2 darling daughters, and Ravens-fan husband. I told Hayden he could just slow down, and we’d tuck-and-roll … but he was nice enough to stop. I sat in the backseat with the girls, ages 8 and 5, talking and giggling, showing me dolls and computers and schoolwork as we got to know one another.

Aja’s house is on a secluded, 2-acre parcel about 30 minutes from Hilo. The excitement of our trip kept us going … jet lag would rear its ugly (and by ugly I mean, tired) head the next evening.

While the girls were at school the next day, we drove through Volcano National Park to see Kilauea. It’s fascinating scenery. Stark, with spindle trees … flowers that flourish in the harsh, unforgiving environment. The volcano seemed calm, but unbeknownst to us, earthquakes had started … and a few weeks after we got home, a new vent opened and lava began anew. Recently, Kilauea itself reawakened.

Then we stopped at VOLCANO WINERY. Yes, for a tasting. David was surprised that I was honest with the, um, sommelier … and told him I didn’t like any of the wines. But they did have a dessert wine made from mac nuts that was reminiscent of vin santo that we all enjoyed. We bought a bottle and a pupu platter of cream cheese/blue cheese spread with Ritz crackers and pretzels. I talked with the resident kitty … who was aloof … while we sat on the covered patio, sipping and dipping and chatting.

We ate at home more than we ate out. We grilled the moonfish … it was fabulous. I made fusilli with (canned tomatoes) and turkey sausage … everyone loved it. One dinner of tasty Thai take-out.

One night, courtesy of Disney+, we watched “Hamilton.” Wow, what a great show. The songs, the staging, the … everything.

A drive along the water’s edge along Hilo Bay was postcard perfect. A palate of blues stretched as far as the eye could see, the serene sea meeting the expansive sky in the distance. We made this drive twice … both times magical.

Hayden and Kait bought a 20-acre parcel high on the slopes of Moana Kea, and their custom, off-the-grid home was just finished. The previous owner had cleared an expanse for a sweeping lawn, but most of the property was still a jungle … complete with stream and waterfall. We didn’t have the right hiking-slash-mud boots to get all the way to the falls, but the stream was across a narrow suspension bridge. The tranquility envelops you, and you feel yourself exhale.

We grilled ahi … we seared moonfish … we created poké bowls … Hayden baked his special, luscious cream pie … Kait made her grandma’s Portuegese sausage-bean soup … we brunched on bagels with avocado.

Stan knows every inch of the Big Island … along the coast, across the lava flows, over the Big Crack, up the five volcanoes that comprise the island, near the old villages and older settlements, each trail and path and non-path, every flora and fauna (native and invasive). Plus Stan is the consummate sports fan … decades before Eminem borrowed his name.

I had promised Stan I would cook for him. His favorite was fusilli tossed with arugula and parmigiano. He said it was easy enough that he could make it for himself.

There might not be restaurant meals to tantalize … but the images are feasts for the eyes.

We said aloha to the Big Island, and headed to Los Angeles. And my high school reunion.

Next part of the trip … I’M SEEIN’ SIGNS FOR CALIFORNIA


2–½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
1–½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup red wine
½ cup olive oil
½ cup dark chocolate chips
Coarse salt … for sprinkling

- Preheat the oven to 350°F (170° C). Line 2 cookie sheets with silpats.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then add wine and oil. Stir to create stiff dough.
- Turn dough out onto a wooden board, and cut into 4 pieces.
- Roll into a log about 8 inches long and 1 inch wide and ¾ inch high. (The dough will be a bit oily.) Press the top and sides to “flatten” the log.
- Cut into 1 inch slices.
- Place on cookie sheets. Grind coarse salt over each cookie with coarse salt.
- Bake for 15–18 minutes until just firm.
Makes about 32 cookies.