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Local animal protein is starting to become more accessible to home cooks on Oahu. In addition to beef, pork, and chicken, you can now find local venison and rabbit. Ed Kenney started slinging pork and tasty porchetta sandwiches at the Kaka’ako Farmers’ Market a few months back to help Shinsato Farms move product and recently added rabbit to his offerings.

A taste of Superette's porchetta

a taste of Superette’s porchetta

I jumped (or hopped) at the opportunity to play around with some bunny and talked with Ed about his experience working with wabbit at his westaurants. Through Ed’s input, the wonders of google, and my imagination, I managed to use the entire rabbit in three tasty meals.

Rabbit is extremely easy to butcher. It took just a few minutes to divide the skinned, headless carcass into neat, manageable pieces. I first separated the forelegs, then the rear, followed by chopping off the end of the spine and pelvis. Rabbit bones are easy to cut through and my 8” chef’s knife was sufficient. Next, I cut along the spine and separated the loin and saddle, leaving the ribs attached to the loin for aesthetics. I roasted the bones and made stock.

Before

before

After

after

Following Ed’s advice, I made a white ragu with the forelegs. I went with my usual ragu base, but added sprigs of thyme and didn’t include tomato. In a bath of white wine and rabbit stock, I simmered the ragu for about 5 hours, then added fresh tagliatelle and topped with MA’O parsley and pecorino.

ragu, fresh tagliatelle, pecorino

ragu, tagliatelle, pecorino

I wrapped the saddles in prosciutto, then browned them and the ribs in duck fat and finished to medium in the oven. I sautéed the liver and kidneys, keeping them pink in the center, and served everything over a fig/port puree and covered in jus.

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saddle, loin, offal, fig

The rabbit’s swansong came in the form of braised legs, another Chef Ed suggestion. I went coq au vin style and rendered lardons in Naked Cow Dairy truffle butter, browned and removed the legs, added and softened the mir poix, then dumped half a bottle of red, rabbit stock, and herbs, returned the rabbit, and braised for a couple hours. I put everything except for the rabbit in the vitamix, then thinned the sauce out with a little more stock. I hit the leg with my Searzall and served it, well-sauced, over Camas Country Mill heirloom polenta. For the polenta, I went 4:1 liquid to cornmeal, using half milk and half rabbit stock, and finished with an ungodly amount of butter and pecorino.

braised leg, polenta

braised leg, polenta

My rabbit adventure was a success. The meat itself was juicy, tender, and tasty. It did not taste like chicken. The 2.5-pound rabbit cost $30 and provided three meals for two people. If you’d like to try for yourself, visit Kaimuki Superette at the Kaka’ako Farmers Market on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

DISCLOSURE: I paid full price for everything.

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Jay Theiler from Snake River Farms and Ray Signorello from Signorello Estate recently hosted a couple “Kobe and Cabernet” dinners in Honolulu. Both Snake River Farms and Signorello Estate are family owned operations that focus on quality. Snake River Farms, America’s preeminent Wagyu producer, first entered my radar when I had their buttery soft and delicious beef at Vintage Cave. Signorello meticulously produces small batches of premium wines in Napa. This was some serious beef and wine. My wonderful and talented friend Malia scored an invite, but is busy eating her way through South America, so I was able to go in her stead. The venues for the two dinners were the Plaza Club and the Outrigger Canoe Club; I went with the latter and was treated to a spectacular sunset over the ocean before dinner started.

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I sat at Jay and Ray’s table and was pleasantly surprised to see a few familiar faces join us for the meal. The hosts told us about their operations and explained each course and pairing. The party started with Snake River Farms Wagyu filet tartar. An extremely generous portion of very good meat came paired with an interesting full-bodied Signorello Hope’s Cuvée Chardonnay, which is named after Ray’s late mother.

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Next was Snake River Farms kurobuta pork belly, the Wagyu of pork, that came with a simple frisée citrus salad and was also paired with the Cuvée.

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The belly was followed by my favorite dish of the night, a perfectly cooked and simply seasoned Snake River Farms Wagyu New York steak with green peppercorn demi that was paired with Signorello’s Cab.

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The final course was a Snake River Farms Wagyu ribeye wellington that was liberally showered with truffles and served with Signorello Padrone, named after Ray’s late father. Unfortunately, my ribeye was cooked to a tragic medium-well. Fortunately, the silky smooth Padrone was more than enough to make up for it.

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Dinner was nothing short of phenomenal. Snake River Farms’ Kobe-style beef is the best you can get short of flying to Japan and Signorello wines are quality even I could taste. If you’d like to try the highest quality steak available on Oahu, try looking for Snake River Farms at BLT Steak, Budnamujip, Michel’s at the Colony Surf, Stage, and Vintage Cave.

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Daniel, my host in Medellin, told me I had to make a day trip to Guatapé. Despite having limited time remaining before heading home, I adjusted my schedule accordingly and listened to Daniel’s advice. I’m glad I did because Guatapé ended up being my favorite place in Colombia.

Guatapé is less than 2 hours away by bus from Medellin’s north terminal. I was advised to get off of the bus 10 minutes before arriving in Guatapé to climb Piedra del Peñol, the iconic rock that dominates the landscape. The driver will know where to drop you off and you can either walk 15 minutes, take a taxi, or ride a mule to the rock. A small admission fee and 700 steps later, you reach the highest point for as far as the eye can see. The view overlooking a deep blue lake dotted with green islands is among the best I’ve seen anywhere.

From the rock, my traveling companion Majka and I took a ride to town in a funky little green convertible. After some negotiating and waiting, we went on a 90 minute boat tour of the lake with 8 others for $5 each. The lake attracts many weekend and holiday visitors from Medellin and the houses built on its islands show they are quite well-off. You even get to cruise by Pablo Escobar’s now-destroyed sprawling compound.

Guatapé lake is human-made and powers a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity to a third of Colombia. The town of Peñol once existed where the water now stands and its only remaining building has been turned into a museum. We stopped and docked the boat there, where we learned the history of the house that would become the museum as well as that of Peñol itself. It was informative and interesting.

Following the tour, we explored the town of Guatapé. A tremendous amount of consideration went into every aspect of this charming little town. Buildings are painted bright, bold colors and there are murals on the front of houses depicting village life. Streets in the center are made of small stones and even the streetlights have a historic, very aesthetically pleasing design.

It’s difficult to believe that Guatapé is not a top tourist attraction for Colombia. I have no doubt that it will eventually gain that recognition and can see UNESCO designating the place as a World Heritage Site; it’s that special. Guatapé earned my highest possible endorsement and I would love to go back and spend more time.

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Whenever possible, I try to squeeze in a destination birthday. This year I was lucky to be able to ring in a new year in Colombia. It just so happens that my birthday coincides with one of the biggest celebrations in the country: Medellin‘s Feria de las Flores, the flower festival.

Medellin is a flat city surrounded by mountains. In the past, the city’s elite would get up the hills surrounding Medellin on the backs of slaves. The cart-like devices used to transport the wealthy were called silletetos, and after the abolition of slavery, they were filled with flowers rather than rich people as a liberation celebration known as the Feria de las Flores.

The festival is held over the first 10 days of August. This year was special with the festival ending on a weekend. On the eve of the culminating day, which also happened to be my birthday, people gather in Santa Elena, a town on top of one of the mountains that surround Medellin where the silletetos are made, for eating, drinking, and revelry. People paint themselves black and wear large fake chains. There were also a number of men in (comically non-convincing) drag, although I never got an explanation of the historical context behind that tradition.

Sunday’s parade, which marks the end of the festival, drew the biggest crowd I have ever witnessed anywhere. Plazas are packed with people and vendors, and the streets are lined several rows deep with people for miles along the route. It was impossible to get a spot with a decent view and I relied on putting my camera above my head to get photos. The atmosphere was intoxicating, as was the cheap beer being consumed by virtually everyone.

If gigantic, unique cultural events are your thing, I highly recommend visiting Medellin in early August. The Feria de las Flores was like nothing I’d ever seen and is something I will never forget.

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Colombia has a bit of a reputation for its recent violent past, and that stigma hangs over Medellin more than any other place in the country. Just as things have calmed down nationally, Colombia’s second city is once again safe to visit. Medellin hasn’t just emerged from the stranglehold of narco-violence; it’s thriving. The Urban Land Institute, which is the preeminent authority on municipal governance, last year named Medellin the world’s most innovative city.

What sparked Medellin’s turnaround? The condensed, not too wonky version is that the city has had three outstanding mayors in a row and is home to Colombia’s only metro system. Smart growth centered around mass transit and expanding transportation equity has opened Medellin to its own people, and the world.

Rail is supported by MetroPlus (a dedicated bus lane), a conventional public bus system, the incredibly cool metro cable system that takes you up and down the mountains that surround the city, and the 385 meter escalator that provides urban access to the Comuna Trece, the most dangerous and infamous neighborhood in the city.

Even with all of the progress made, Medellin is not out of the woods yet. I looked forward to visiting the escalator to the slums only to find out that it is controlled by an organized crime syndicate that charges a fee and kills people, including children, indiscriminately. Downtown isn’t safe at night either, but you are free to take in its many cultural sites during the day.

Over the first 10 days of August each year, Medellin hosts the world-renowned Feria de las Flores, or “flower festival.” Fortunately, my trip overlapped with the festival and I was able to take in this unique cultural celebration.

The flower festival is peak tourism season for Medellin and this year’s festival ended on a Sunday, adding to the normally incredible demand. Every single hostel in the city was booked and had been charging far above the usual rate.

Arriving on short notice (I booked my accommodation and plane ticket the day before), I tried Airbnb and totally lucked out. I ended up getting a private room in a guesthouse in Los Alpes, a safe, quiet area on the MetroPlus line for less than what hostels with poor reviews were charging for dorms. My host Daniel and his mother are wonderful people and made me feel at home in their city.

Although I was limited on time, I made a day trip to Guatape on Daniel’s strong recommendation, and it turned out to be my favorite place in Colombia.

While Cartagena was extremely hot and humid and Bogota too chilly for my liking, the climate in Medellin was just right; so were the people. For a place with a bad reputation, the people of Medellin more than go out of their way to be kind, friendly, and welcoming. If I had to pick just one city to visit again in Colombia, it would be Medellin.

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Machu Picchu is the biggest tourist attraction in South America, which means a LOT of people go there. Being one of them, I can’t complain about the crowd and it’s number one for a reason: the place is truly wondrous. That being said, I longed to go on a trek to an abandoned jungle city, without throngs of fellow visitors. Enter Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City.

Located a short ride from Santa Marta in Colombia’s north, Ciudad Perdida is a remnant of a lost civilization that was founded more than half a millennium prior to Peru’s crown jewel. Rediscovered 40 years ago, the Lost City isn’t as breathtaking a sight, but offers, for now, something Machu Picchu can never again: authenticity.

From the gorgeous jungle trekking, to the indigenous guides, to the city itself, Ciudad Perdida is the adventure many travelers seek. There are hills, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls, and a wide variety of exotic birds and insects. Pumas, jaguars, and other big cats are in the area as well, but rarely seen near the trail. You really can’t ask for more in terms of a walk through the jungle.

The government regulates access to the area and has set a flat rate of 600,000 Colombian Pesos regardless of what tour company you use or if you do a 4 or 5 day trek. Due to these guidelines, the tour operators work in concert with one another and many visitors end up being pooled with customers from other companies. Wiwa is the lone exception to this rule, but their guides do not speak English.

I went with Turcol, a suggestion from Pau at La Guaca, the hostel I stayed at in Santa Marta, and we joined forces with a group from Expotur Eco. The guides were kind, polite, professional, and only spoke Spanish, but members of our group served as translators. All of the guides were from the area (one of our guide’s house was at the first campsite) and their connection to the land greatly enhanced our stay in this special place.

Our group of about 20 was a mix of 4 and 5 day tours and the only difference in itineraries was in the last day or two. Rather than use the additional day to move at a more leisurely pace for the entire trek, those who opted for the fifth day moved with the 4 dayers for the first 3 days and essentially chilled out for the last couple days not far from the end of the trail. Having just one month for this trip, I went for the expedited version and the pace was still rather light.

The food was fine, we slept in beds each night, and there was beer for sale at each campsite. Our group was a great mix of interesting people that undoubtedly added to the overwhelmingly positive experience. I absolutely loved the trekking and the chance to visit a place like Ciudad Perdida before it rises to prominence on the tourist radar was priceless.

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Coming from Hawaii, I usually avoid beaches while on vacation, but a number of people in Cartagena told me to visit Tayrona National Park. The park features several beaches, only a few of which are suitable for swimming due to riptides, hiking trails, and camping areas. If you arrive early enough, you can sleep in a hammock on a rocky outcrop that juts into the ocean!

About an hour bus ride from Santa Marta, Tayrona is in the heart of the Colombian Caribbean Coast. Entrance to the park is about $20. Upon arrival you can either walk for one to two hours or take a $1 shuttle to the start of the hiking trails; I highly recommend the latter. After being dropped off by the shuttle, you hike through forest and beach to arrive at your camping site.

Tayrona has two main campgrounds: Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan. Cabo is the preferred location since the beach there is safe for swimming and you can sleep in a hammock on the ocean. It takes roughly one hour to reach Arrecifes and another to arrive at Cabo. The walk is nice and you can see monkeys, a variety of birds, and brilliant blue lizards.

I am a huge hammock enthusiast and made sure to arrive in Cabo early enough to have my beach hammock experience. When registration began at 2 p.m., I was first in line and gladly forked over the $14 for a hammock on the Caribbean.

Food and beverages are expensive at the campsites and it’s a good idea to at least bring water in with you. The food at Cabo is pricy and looked like your typical backpacker garbage. I went to a nearby small outdoor restaurant and splurged on a delicious fried fish (my choice, straight from the sea) with coconut rice, plantains, and a beer for about $15.

Outside of frolicking in the ocean, lazing on the beach, and hiking through the forest, Tayrona doesn’t have much in terms of activities. Some people only stay for the day and others spend close to a week. Having a limited amount of time and a number of other things to do around Santa Marta, I kept my Tayrona trip to two days and one night. It was a perfect duration for me and I suggest spending at least one night, and sleeping in a hammock over the ocean.

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