Musings, Mac Nuts, Mai Tais, and a Little Music

It started with an email I received a few days ago from Ahualoa Farms in Honoka’a, Hawai’i, and ended with a pretty close to perfect Mai Tai last night.

I love connecting the dots. But, before I do, l want to pay a little tribute to Kaulana Pakele the lead singer of Mana’o Company, who tragically lost his life while swimming off Makaha Beach Park on Memorial Day. “Moloka’i Slide” has a special place in my heart because it was the genesis of this wonderful business that has dominated my life for the last 14 years. . . . .another story for another time. I come back to this tune time and again and have always considered it a celebration of a life well lived and one to look forward to. R.I.P Kaulana and thank you.If you want to play and sing along with your uke, here’s the song sheet for “Moloka’i Slide that we use in our songbooks at the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat.

Kaulana Pakele and Mana’o Company with my favorite rendition of “Moloka’i Slide,” the song where it all began:

The people. The music. The traditions. The natural beauty of the islands and cultural heritage. I love it all and want to share it with you….including some of our favorite foods. One of the first stops I make on our way to Hawi for the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat is the Waimea Town Market at the Parker School, held  every Saturday from 7:30 am to noon. This is where we first became acquainted with the good folks at Ahualoa Farms in Honoka’a, on Hawai’i Island’s north shore.

If you’ve never had a fresh, and I mean really fresh, macadamia nut grown in Hawai’i, with nothing but a light dusting of sea salt, you are missing one of life’s true guilty pleasures. And while you can get mac nuts with all kinds of spices and seasonings, other than possibly simply coating them with thick, dark chocolate, why would you want to mask that pure, subtle, and wholesome taste of a simply roasted nut?

Granted, macadamia nuts are notably high in fat, 21 grams per ounce! But, oh, what that fat can do! You can read a summary of the many health benefits to be had from eating an ounce of macadamia nuts each day (and a couple of precautions) in Medical News Today.  The hardest part may be limiting yourself to just one ounce.

Suffice it to say that my perfect trail mix, with just the right amount of carbohydrate, fat, and caffeine to keep me powered up for a steep climb ahead is a little 2oz container filled with 1 oz. of Dark Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans and 1 oz. of Sea Salt Macadamia Nuts.

And dang!  I just spread a little of the Macnella Chocolate Macademia Nut Spread on a slice of fresh French Bread and there’s no going back……….

Lucky for us, Ahuloa Farms is having a 20% off sale now through the fourth of July….so this would be the perfect time for you to visit their website and explore.  (Plus, if you hit $80, shipping is free!) Now that I know how good they are for me, I’ll be adding a couple of bags of their Large Pieces to my order to use in my home-made granola…..Let me know if you’d like the recipe.

So, how did we get from there to the near-perfect Mai Tai?

When my last order from Ahualoa Farms arrived here in California a few days ago, I got to pining (again) for Hawai’i, most specifically that moment—shortly after we arrive in Hilo, after we have picked up our rental car and have gotten out of the airport—when we’re sitting at our favorite table overlooking the lovely koi pond at Ponds in Hilo.

Then, I know we have arrived. The weight of the journey (which probably started at 4 am) leaves us and the joy of being back in Hawai’i wraps all around us.

Jordan orders a beer, I order a Mai Tai.  And we share an order of the Furikake Seared Ahi, one of our favorite meals.

If you want to take a moment to get in the mood right now, it really doesn’t get much better than Amy Hanaiali’i singing “In Hilo Town.”  But if that’s a little too slow for you, and you want to play along, skip ahead and join John Cruz singing “Island Style.” (Click here to download the song sheet.)

Amy Hanaiali’i sings “In Hilo Town:”

John Cruz sings and plays “Island Style.”  Grab your song sheet and play along.  You’ll learn to sing it like it was meant to be:

Even with the music, though, it is difficult to recreate that moment at home in California. Believe me.  I have tried numerous times. And I have given up any attempt at duplicating the furikake seared ahi. But, after a bit of trial and error, I have come up with a darn good Mai Tai that uses fresh lillikoi syrup that we used to get at the Farmer’s Market in Hawi, just across the street from the Kohala Village Hub, home of the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat. For me there is no other single flavor on the planet that invokes the gentle sea breezes of Hawai’i more than the tropical scent and taste of fresh lillikoi. (I’m such a sucker.  I just planted two passion fruit plants in my front yard hoping I’ll get some fruit.) In the meantime I’ll substitute Aunty Lillikoi’s “award winning” Passion Fruit Syrup in the following—experimented with, and argued over—recipe for a very close-to-“real” Mai Tai.

The Very Best Mai Tai, ever.


  • 1 ounce Bacardi Gold (or light) Gold Rum
  • 1 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce Grand Marnier (or Orange Curacao)
  • ½ ounce Lillikoi Syrup (or. . . . .simple syrup, if you must.)
  • 1 ounce Myer’s Original Dark Rum
Combine the Gold Rum, lime juice, Grand Marnier, and Lillikoi Syrup in a cocktail shaker and fill halfway with ice. Shake for 10 to 15 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass. Add a few cubes of ice and finish with a dark rum float.

To float the dark rum, place the tip of a spoon perpendicular to the inside edge of the glass with the curve of the spoon toward the ceiling and the spoon pointed downward.Slowly pour the dark rum over the spoon toward the inside of the glass and it should make a nice dark layer of tasty rum on top.Garnish with a wedge of lime and (optional) a sprig of mint.

You will note that this recipe lacks the pineapple and orange juice people often associate with Mai Tai’s and that it does require fresh lime juice. But, the original Mai Tai, concocted at Trader Vic’s in Oakland, in 1944, was a sipping drink, meant to showcase the rum. Replacing the Orgeat in the original (which is difficult to find) and simple syrup with lillikoi syrup is our own take on it. I also add more fresh lime juice because. . . . .well. . . .Vitamin C. Gotta stay healthy!

That’s it for now!  Be sure to order your nuts while you can still save 20% and I’ll be back with more music and Ukulele Adventures news by the time they arrive.

In the meantime, here’s a little IZ and “White Sandy Beach of Hawai’i” to take us out. Assuming you might like to learn this song, I’ve also included a couple of excellent tutorials.  The first one, by Jody Kamisato, is an easy karaoke-style play and strum along.  You can down-load the song sheet for “White Sandy Beach” here. (Hint: If that Bbm is a little tricky for you, just play a Bbm6 instead, by simply barring the first fret.)

The second truly exceptional instructional video, by Aldrine Guerrero (Ukulele Underground) teaches a finger-picking pattern for this tune so you can play a little more like IZ did.  (The finger-picking pattern starts about 2 minutes into the video.)

Have fun!    Stay safe.    And please wear a mask and wash your hands often, so we can all sing and play together again soon.



R.I.P. Courtney Gonzales.  This one is for you.

Karaoke-style tutorial for White Sandy Beach, by Jody Kamisato:

If you like this lesson with Aldrine Guerrero, you can find many more at Ukulele Underground.


Why you should learn to play the ‘ukulele in Hawai’i

And it’s not the reason you think!

You may have been expecting a discourse on the ‘ukulele’s Hawaiian origins, but you’d have been wrong.  Of course, most people do associate the ‘ukulele with Hawai’i, and justifiably so. For it was the Hawaiians who adapted, re-designed  an instrument brought to their shores about 125 years ago by Portuguese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane fields. Renamed ‘ukulele (jumping flea) by the Hawaiians, it quickly rose in popularity in the islands,  and when it showed up on the mainland as part of the Hawaiian Exposition at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915, the ‘ukulele helped launch a craze that lasted well into the 20’s and early 30’s. topAnd when it seemingly fell out of favor on the mainland, the Hawaiians continued to embrace the ‘ukulele and are perhaps responsible for its most recent incarnation–who can forget the iconic images of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, or “Iz,” a giant of a man, coaxing such lovely tunes out of his relatively tiny ‘ukulele?

But that’s not why you should go to Hawai’i to learn to play your ‘ukulele or to get further instruction. You should go for the immersion. For the camaraderie. As a gift to yourself.  To lose yourself for 5 magical days into the wonderful sensation of making music with others in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

260218_526178320779043_151622472_nThere is nothing quite like an immersion experience to get your head wrapped around anything.  Sure, you might take weekly music lessons, attend every ukulele workshop that comes your way, join your pals for a weekly or monthly sing-along, and have a rollicking good (but short) time at an ‘ukulele festival.  But then, life gets in the way.  You forget some of the little tips you learned. You don’t have time to practice. And the pals you play and sing with just aren’t available when you’d like them to be.

But come to the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat and you’ll find yourself walking out of a workshop with a little time on your hands and the opportunity to sit and practice what you just learned. And if there’s something you forgot or need help with, other students and the instructor are right there, at the ready.  You don’t have to stop to make dinner or clean the house or go to work or pick up the kids from school or take the dog for a walk or do anything at all! There really is no better way to get your head (and hands) wrapped around those 4 strings than to attend the  retreat and immerse yourself in learning, practicing, and playing.

379638_4856273366670_1706906658_nBut learning new skills and techniques is not the only reason you should come to Hawai’i to play your ‘ukulele.  It’s also the new friends you’ll make with people from all walks of life and from all over the country (and beyond), people who will become near and dear to you over the course of five days. And then there’s all the health benefits born from the lovely camaraderie that evolves through a shared experience. And what can be more invigorating and relaxing, than making music with your friends? Whether you come by yourself or with friends or loved ones, you will leave with your heart full.

hawaii-hula-wahine-ukulele1Immersion?  Camaraderie? Sure. But why Hawai’i? Because it is Hawai’i, and there is no other place like it on the planet. There’s a reason the Hawaiian Islands are often called “paradise.” Sugar-sand beaches to walk along while dolphins spin out of the water offshore. Crystal clear water to swim in, along with beautiful tropical fish and the occasional curious sea turtle or honu. Trade winds to gently blow your cares away and palm trees to settle under and relax. Tropical plants and flowers that help awaken all the senses, waterfalls to refresh your soul, and volcanoes to remind you that the planet is alive. And music, music, music everywhere you turn. And people who live aloha.

So why should you learn to play your ‘ukulele in Hawai’i?  Because at the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat, it’s all about you!  Choose to give this gift to yourself. You deserve it.

Registration for the 2015 Hawai’i Island Ukulele Retreat is open, and we’d love to have you join us.