Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change

CHAPTER 36: IS THIS REALLY WORTH EATING?

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I had one of those really weird dreams the other night, in which I was standing on a bathroom scale and it read 127 pounds. Surprisingly, I didn’t laugh myself awake.

I mention this because I can’t remember ever weighing 127 pounds. Obviously at some point I must have, considering that I started life – in the same hospital in England in which my mother had been a nurse — clocking in at just over four pounds and a month early. At some point, however fleeting, I passed through that number. Why 127 pounds in my dream, I have no idea, and as I don’t ascribe much sense to the so-called “meaning” of dreams, the why will remain a mystery,

The point of mentioning the dream was not the exact number on the scale but the fact that here in Hawaii, I have no access to a bathroom scale, short of popping into the medical clinic on South Kihei Road, for which I would probably be charged an exorbitant amount as a “consultation” fee. Clearly, this is “weighing” on my mind as we spend five weeks in paradise — aka Maui.

The reason for my worry is simple: five weeks of a mid-winter vacation should not necessarily mean five weeks of excess, but the temptation is always there. Not wretched excess, but all those extra calories that seem to come with depressing regularity.

It’s not as if I’m stuffing myself with all the wrong kinds of food, but there have been a few too many two-beer lunches, a few too many orders of fish and chips, or burgers and fries, and a few too few green salads and grilled, skinless, boneless— and tasteless — chicken breasts.

On the plus side, there has also been the daily four-mile slog (about 6.5 ks) through sometimes too-soft beach sand, supposedly “earning” me an average of 620 extra calories to “spend” each day. Thanks to wearing a pedometer on my pre-dawn walks on the beach, I know all these numbers. The good news is easily out-manoeuvered by a distressing habit of snacking on taco chips and willingly and happily downing a tall gin and tonic (albeit diet tonic) each day after lounging around the pool all morning.

Then there’s the obligatory (because I say so) sunset cocktail hour, watching the sun drop into the ocean off the point of West Maui Mountain accompanied by the equally obligatory blowing of the conch shell (by my sister) to signal the end of another day. And what is a cocktail hour at sunset without a cocktail? (Mine are usually limited to the calorie-friendly Scotch and water.) Only occasionally do I fall prey to one of those “girlie” drinks — Sex In The City’s favourite Cosmopolitan. Thankfully, the sugar-laden blended drinks that come with a tiny paper umbrella don’t interest me: no mai-tais, no pina coladas, not even a Blue Hawaiian.

Yet the nagging persists. Am I gaining weight along with the tan? Am I undoing all of my hard work over the past five months? (Hard work may be an over-statement, but I feel better characterizing it as such.)

Five weeks without the crutch of a bathroom scale to keep me in line? Ted tells me not to worry, my own brain tells me not to worry, but there is that nagging feeling that nearly every woman who has spent way too much time obsessing about her weight knows — the awful thought that one day you’ll wake up and be a million pounds heavier. Any wonder I had a dream about standing on a scale?

This is clearly exacerbated by the guilty knowledge to which I now admit — having scarfed down an entire pint of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream without pausing to take a breath. It was wonderful. (Then I did it again two weeks later with a tub of coffee ice cream. Is there no reason when one is on vacation?)

Then there are the Maui Caramacs — drat Rob and Wendy Armstrong who brought over an open box last night before they left for their Calgary home. The good news: there were only three Caramacs left in the box. The bad news: even though I tossed them in the freezer immediately, they did not survive the night. Alas, those suckers are really, really good frozen solid. The empty box now sits as mute evidence in the garbage, leaving only taco chips and fiery salsa from Amigo’s (whose plate of chicken enchiladas with rice and refried beans I’ve greedily consumed twice during this vacation.)

But none of the above – with possibly the exception of the ice cream — made me feel guilty. Why? Because I so enjoyed the enchiladas, for example. And that’s the kind of choices I’m willing to make, no matter the program on which I’ve embarked.

What does make me guilty is eating food that’s not worth the calories consumed — meals that are badly made or served with a surliness that the waiter or waitress doesn’t even try to disguise.

That’s the downside of paradise — you’re just another tourist, so why should you be treated as if you’re going to be back next week? Getting good food with good service in any vacation spot is often a crap shoot. It has nothing to do with the cost or reputation of the restaurant.

Amigos is a small hole-in-the-wall establishment with a half-dozen tables covered with plastic tablecloths. It opened a few years ago serving its Mexican cuisine on paper plates with plastic knives and forks. It has expanded to three locations on Maui, has graduated to real plates and cutlery, has a beer license and still serves the same humble but delicious (it could be spicier) Mexican standards. Its charming owner has a face that lights up when greeting customers. All of this combined makes for a happy experience.

Contrast that with another hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Coconut’s Fish Cafe. Certainly it has a more elaborate decor than Amigos, its tables being miniature surfboards. It opened in April of last year, and its menu boasts that “most all the food is very lo-cal or close to fat free.” On the menu, owner Mike Phillips employs lots of exclamation points to emphasize his commitment to God, all veterans and the environment. He also uses those same exclamation points for the fish and chips which are, “NOT GREASY! Lightly Battered Fried in 100 % Canola Oil!”

More than a few people praised its fish and have raved about the food. So we tried it and won’t go back. Why? Its touted reputation did not pan out in the food itself, although anyone can have a single bad experience in a restaurant. But here’s the clincher – the fish and chips I ordered was too-highly battered and deep-fried to death. It “needed” the tartar sauce to give it flavour. Bad day? Could just be that. But, here’s the kicker — when the owner stopped by our table and asked how everything was, I asked if he just worked there or was he the owner? The latter, he replied proudly. “Then,” I said, “I’ll be honest with you: The fish was really dry.”

His response wasn’t an apology, wasn’t an invitation to come back on another day, wasn’t to refund my portion of the bill. None of the above. He said, with a dismissive tone in his voice: “Well, that’s your opinion.” And he walked off. What do you think the chances of us returning are?

In the 2008 fourth edition of his excellent guidebook, Maui Revealed — published by Wizard Publications — Andrew Doughty writes: “By their very nature restaurant reviews are the most subjective part of any guidebook . . . All it takes is one person to wreck what is usually a good meal.”

For years, I refused to go back to one of Maui’s most celebrated restaurants, The Waterfront, after a disastrous experience with crappy food, a snotty waiter and a “turned” bottle of wine that I had to insist — insist, mind you — be replaced. In other words, the trifecta of bad restaurant experiences. Add to that, it had been our guests’ wedding anniversary and you have more than enough to boycott a restaurant. After all, its not like there aren’t more restaurants than enough to feed every tourist without anyone having to repeat.

But this trip we returned to The Waterfront. Food better; waiter better; wine better; table better. But the truth? It’s not nearly as good as its reputation and its prices would have one believe. One bad experience has been erased, but not replaced with any desire to return.

NEXT: There’s more to Maui than food and drink – of course.

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Written by Catherine Ford

February 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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