Mai Tai & Hawaii

It's always strange coming home after a long vacation. It's the simple things that throw me off guard, making me aware of just how long I've been gone. Opening the door to the house and recognizing the scent of my home, a smell so familiar to me that I fail to notice it in my day to day happenings. It's in the act of opening the refrigerator, with no faint reminder of what lies within.

The mundane and ordinary life of mine becomes surreal to my jet-lagged mind. For a moment, I feel like I don't belong in my home. Not yet. Not while my heart is still across the sea, not ready to give up the holiday and return to reality.

I spent the last week and half in Hawaii, vacationing on Oahu's north shore. There was sand and sun, water and waves, and a tropical breeze that refused to relent as it whirled my hair around my face. It was a vacation I didn't know I needed until I waded into the cool waters of the Pacific. There were historic towns, long drives up and down the length of the island, and endless miles of beach.

My boyfriend's family invited me to come with them to his sister's destination wedding and I simply couldn't refuse.

The wedding was gorgeous. Tropical flowers, bright and blooming, and loose white linens blowing in the wind lined the arch under which the bride and groom stood. The wedding overlooked the ocean and the waves crashing over rocks became the backdrop for the scene unfolding. There were leis, tears, tender smiles, and blissful expressions that couldn't be removed from the bride and groom's faces.

I couldn't help but grab a photograph of the wedding cake. I also couldn't stop myself from eating two pieces.

I climbed a few hills, overlooking the city of Honolulu and the wide never-ending ocean. I wandered the touristy beach of Waikiki, walking hundreds of feet out into the shallow waters, trying to jump over the waves before they swept me back to shore. I went on a shark tour and was carried a few miles out to sea to jump into a shark cage, Discovery Channel style.

Never one to shy from risk and adventure, I climbed into the cage and found the metal bars were the only barrier between me and half a dozen full-grown Galapagos sharks. One came near enough to touch, as it swam only a foot beneath the cage. Did you know Galapagos sharks have brilliant yellow cat eyes? Neither did I.

I also tried my hand at surfing one particularly windy morning. Though I had never been near a surfboard before, standing up was easier than I ever expected. I caught my first wave, feeling the swell of the ocean beneath me, and held onto it as long as I dared. It was paddling back out to sea that was the hardest; more than once the surfing instructor took pity and carried me and my surfboard out when he swam back out to sea.

After swallowing a mouthful of water fighting against the waves and crashing into sharp rocks beneath the surface after falling off my board, I had enough. For those of you who surf, you have my utmost respect. It's hard.

As the sun set on the Hawaiian beaches, my thoughts always went to the food. The fish was so fresh, the pineapple so juicy, the shrimp so spicy, the shaved ice so refreshing, that it was devoured before a second thought could be given to my camera. On vacations, I think that's the way it should be. Living in the present, reveling in the small moments of the sand between your toes, the scent of the salty sea, and the feel of a cold cocktail in your hand.

There are many more stories to tell, of wild adventures and vacation mishaps, but I'll let those tales rest for now. I'll bring them out on a rainy day, when I can only dream of taking tropical vacations and leaving reality for just a moment to swim with the sea turtles.

There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding what defines an "authentic" Mai Tai, most of it revolving around orgeat syrup and the presence of fruit juices. I'll start by saying that this particular Mai Tai is nowhere near authentic, but it is reminiscent of the ones I had in Hawaii, lying under beach umbrellas and listening to the roar of the sea (and, most importantly, it can be made with ingredients lying around the house). Light and dark rum booze up pineapple and lime juice, with a hint of orange liquor to round out the sweetness.

If you find it too strong (and you may), add more pineapple juice until it suits your taste.

One Year Ago:Chocolate Nests, Roasted Pineapple, and Lemon Thins

Mai Tai

Yields 2 servings

3 ounces light rum
6 ounces dark rum, divided
1 ounce orange liquor (grand marnier, orange curacao, triple sec... whatever you have on hand)
4 ounces pineapple juice (fresh if possible)
4 ounces (about 1-2 limes) lime juice, freshly squeezed
Limes, pineapple chunks, maraschino cherries (for garnish)

Fill 2 glasses with ice cubes. Pour 1 1/2 ounces (1 standard-sized shot) light rum and dark rum, 1/2 ounce orange liquor, 2 ounces pineapple and lime juice into each glass. Garnish with pineapples, lime slices, or maraschino cherries, if desired. Just before serving, top each glass with a remaining 1 1/2 ounces dark rum.

Drink up!