Thursday, January 31, 2013

EATING SPAM AT 10,000 FEET

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled Friday Food Love for a special episode about how the experience sometimes makes the most mundane of foods memorable.

Take, for instance, Spam.

This canned meat product isn't considered a delicacy anywhere, not even in places where it's consumed regularly, such as Hawaii. My favorite Spam preparation is musubi:

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmic_bandita/1180353174/
My least favorite Spam preparation is it cut in chunks and tossed into a bowl of milk, like cereal. I saw that once, years ago. The image haunts me still.

This morning I woke early in order to drop my father, husband and brother off for a hike. It didn't go exactly as planned. Just minutes away from our rental condo, we encountered flash floods. As in, a couple of miles of unfamiliar road flooded on one side, or the other, or both.

Once we hit a clear highway, we caught up to the rains that had just caused the floods. There's nothing quite like seeing a flash of green through a wall of water, thinking it might be a road sign for your exit, estimating the amount of time between this possible sign and that potential exit and hopefully veering to the right.

We were correct, by the way, or this would be a very different blog post.

Following that, we drove up the side of a volcano. Ten thousand vertical feet of hairpin turns and switchbacks, with no shoulders on the road, and a steady onslaught of buses, shuttles, white-knuckle tourists and miserable-looking families hunched over bicycles. Plus there were geese and cattle, crossing the road at their leisure. All we were missing were oil slicks and banana peels, and Wario cackling at us and our two plumber friends.

And then we reached the top. Or, as high as cars are allowed to go. And it was outstanding. Like finding the surface of the moon laid over the surface of Mars and surrounded by fast-moving clouds.

This is Haleakala, known as "house of the sun" in Hawaiian. It's a dormant volcano - not dead, merely in between eruptive states. The summit is at nearly twice the elevation of Denver, the Mile-High City.

It's cold up there, and often windy, but even when rain is pouring lower on the island of Maui, it's oftentimes sunny at the top of the mountain. Standing on the edge of this great crater as the clouds rise up over the opposite ridge, then glide past, is unbelievably calming.


It sets a great tone for the drive back down to sea level. Driving a difficult, well-paved road is its own kind of exhilarating meditation. It's not for everyone. I encountered a woman at a rest stop who all but begged me to drive her rental car back the rest of the way down for her. She was almost in tears, and if I hadn't been alone, I would have. She said that she was afraid that she was going to go around a corner and find herself driving off the end of the world. I couldn't dispute that the road often looked as though it was a kind of naturally-occurring gangplank, but I assured her that, unless she had ascended from somewhere not-of-this-world, she likely wasn't going to find herself going that way on the descent.

After the harrowing morning, the elevation-induced giddiness and the half hour I spent puttering around the visitor center in the cold with a gaggle of very well-dressed Japanese tourists, I was hungry. We'd picked up musubi in the morning. They're ubiquitous in Hawaii, from gas stations to high-end grocery stores, and combine the best of Japanese snacking food with long shelf-life American food products. And, when the road was straight enough for long enough, I'd sneak a bite.

Best Spam I've ever had.

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