I’m not sure what I was expecting from the poolside cocktail mixing class at the Hotel Wailea on Maui – the reinforcement of a few basics, maybe a couple of exotic ingredients in a familiar drink. We’d signed up the day before for the mixology class, but by the time it rolled around at 11 a.m., we felt like we’d already had a long day of intense touristing behind us, working hard to get the most out of our vacation.
Just after dawn on Haleakala, a wild mix of clouds and colors.
We’d spent the morning making the drive from the coast of Maui up to the summit of Haleakala to watch the sunrise from 10,000 feet above the ocean, high above the clouds and slopes of Maui. We’d gotten up at 3 a.m., watched the 7 a.m. sunrise, and gave ourselves a pat on the back for getting up early and seeing such a spectacular sight as a reward.
Sometimes having fun requires a genuine effort.
Kerry, the beverage wizard who was teaching the mixology class, blithely dispensed with cocktail basics within the first ten minutes. What she really wanted to talk about was a lesson altogether more fundamental: the place in life where we take what we have on hand and make something wonderful. Less hard work, more appreciation.
For example, simple syrups. Sure, anyone can buy a simple syrup – that basic sweetener, water and sugar cooked together. And adding a flavor to that concoction is nothing new.
A few samples of simple syrup: Honey, jalapeño, rose, lavender, hibiscus.
What I liked about Kerry’s approach was the notion of making just about anything into simple syrup, the spices or herbs or flowers or chilis or leaves that are in the kitchen, in the refrigerator, in the garden or blooming on the balcony. I especially liked her low-heat approach to processing these ingredients – in a blender with water and sugar, and then some time sitting in the sun before straining – adding sunlight to maintain pure flavors and come up with a lavender mojito, or a hibiscus margarita.
She introduced our small class to the lovely Pau Vodka, a Maui-produced spirit based on pineapple. Now, pineapple was introduced to the Hawaiian islands by the Spanish, so technically it’s not an indigenous plant – but Hawaii is the only U.S. state which produces pineapple. Pineapple cultivation might be a fraught subject, but the vodka was a delight, with a hint of the fruit’s tangy sweetness.
(Ocean Vodka is Maui’s other locally-produced vodka, one we didn’t try – and one more reason to go back to the island. Another would be the pineapple wines of the Tedeschi Vineyards.)
The well-used hydrosols – basil, lime, allspice, etc., with the simple syrup bottles and a few of the fruits used.
Kerry also had a number of hydrosols – the bi-product of essential oil distillation and condensed water left over after steam or water distillation – on hand. Not something I’d likely produce on a regular basis in my own kitchen, but easy enough to get at the local health food store.
After a morning of trying hard to get the most out of the day, the class was a lesson in taking life as it comes and making the best of what’s right in front us.
Back home and thoroughly bundled up against the Arctic temperatures both outside and inside our old stone house, I’m trying to do just that.
Pre-dawn on the summit of Haleakala, Maui. All photos: PK Read
What is it about watching the sun come up and watching the sun go down?
After all, it’s just a way of watching the planet turn in its usual way, day after day.
At least for me, watching a sunrise, and watching a sunset, never gets old.
Each one the fundamentally the same, each one unique.
On our last day in Maui, we made the early trek up to the summit of Haleakala.
We left our hotel 3 a.m., arriving at the top of the mountain around 5 a.m., and then waited patiently in the blistering cold as the stars in the clear skies above gave way with excruciating slowness to the bruised purples and reds of pre-dawn.
As ever more people arrived, we wondered whether the entire undertaking was really worth it.
The long drive over from the western shore, the frigid temperatures, the biting wind that blew away all memory of the coast below, hidden beneath a layer of coastal clouds as if in another world, a dream world of beaches and balmy breezes.
And then, the clouds were limned with orange and gold, the sun broke through, a collective sigh arose from the crowd, quickly followed by the chirps and clicks of a hundred cameras.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did.
Daybreak, again, always new. And then, the drive back down the mountain, with stops to look at the blasted crater, the tumbles of volcanic rock, the carpets of vegetation that reclaim the land, over and over.
The day was bookended by the sunset, always predictable and never the same.
The Earth turns, the sun disappears behind the horizon, same procedure as yesterday and tomorrow, and I never tire of it.