Saturday, January 28, 2012

Best Place to Own a Second Home in Hawaii

Makaha Valley Towers Condominium Complex in Waianae, Oahu

Makaha Valley Towers, a high-rise condominium complex on Oahu, is the best place for the money to buy a getaway Hawaiian vacation home.

On the western side of Oahu, just thirteen miles beyond the Ko'olina resorts, is a stunningly beautiful small town called Makaha that most tourists never see. Farrington Highway runs along the western coast and deadends just beyond Makaha, so visitors circling the island in their rental cars typically bypass the area, driving Highway 2 to the 99 through the middle of the island, never knowing what they have missed.

Makaha Valley Towers Pool
Retirement Homes and Second Homes

William Pereira (1909 - 1985) was an architectural genius whose legendary buildings include the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, Disneyland Hotel, Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara, the City Hall of Miami, Florida, the Convention Center in San Francisco, Descanso Canyon Hotel on Santa Catalina Island, and the Doha Sheraton Hotel in Qatar, to name just a few. William Pereira's legacy is over 300 impressively constructed landmark buildings, malls, corporate headquarters, airports, and luxury subdivisions, not to mention his 1970 masterpiece, the Makaha Valley Towers.

Pereira's Makaha Valley Towers includes 586 studio, one and two bedroom condominiums on a 14-acre tropically landscaped site, overlooking a pool and a golf resort in Makaha Valley. Each apartment is situated to enjoy an incredible view ranging from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The 24-hour security guards keep the property safe, and no one is allowed on the premises without an invitation from a resident. Prices of the luxury condos are in the $100,000 range.

Waikiki always had the bulk of tourists in Hawaii, but Pereira desired to build his condominium complex in a remote location on the island. Makaha was chosen for its spectacular setting. About the same time, Maui and Kauai were gearing up to build their own resorts. Kaanapali on the west side of Maui came first, then Wailea, Kapalua and finally Kihei. The Big Island developed their Kona coast. The resorts, like Makaha Valley Towers, were built on the dry leeward side of their islands, to take advantage of less wind and rain, and gorgeous sunsets. The island of Kauai built the magnificent Princeville Resort during the 1970's.

Nearby Kaena Point, Leeward Coast of Oahu

The resorts on the other islands soon took attention away from Makaha, and the prices of the Makaha condos stagnated. Tourists apparently wanted either the cosmopolitan amenities of Waikiki or the peace and quiet represented by the other islands. Many were unaware that they could have both in Makaha, enjoying a peaceful, tropical setting with the convenience of a big city only an hour's drive away.

Makaha Gets a Bad Rap

Almost all the realtors in Honolulu discourage their clients from looking at properties on the leeward coast, including Makaha, despite the reasonable prices. Realtors do influence the housing market, especially when they collectively parrot their indoctrination, and the effect can deprive an area of its true value. Their reasons for avoiding Makaha appear overblown and deserve further inspection:

Makaha Valley
  • too many homeless on the leeward coast
  • the neighboring city of Waianae
  • lower income people
  • native Hawaiians who don't like haoles (white people)
  • drugs and crime rate

Homelessness is an unfortunate problem, especially in Hawaii where many a livelihood depends on tourism, but the homeless live on all the islands, not just on the Waianae coast of Oahu. Because of the climate, some of the homeless actually prefer their lifestyle to that of mainstream citizens, and this should be kept in mind. However, as far as singling out the Waianae coast, 2011 statistics show 296 homeless living there, but a grand total of 703 in greater Honolulu.
Top Deals under $100 Great Holiday Savings for You and Your Family

Reputation of Waianae

The City of Waianae stands along the coastal stretch between Makaha and the Ko'olina resorts. Its residential communities resemble those in Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu or Kapaa on Kauai, which are not generally criticized by the real estate community. Waianae's income level is lower than on other parts of Oahu and the area does contain Hawaiian homesteads, but they are well kept, and the Native Hawaiians still offer the spirit of aloha to visitors. Makaha Valley Towers owners include many retirees from the U.S. mainland, Canada and other parts of the world, including wealthy people who don't mind living next door to Section 8 tenants and part-year residents. In short, all kinds of people live in Makaha Valley Towers.

Makaha Sunset
While Waianae struggles to gain respect, Kahala on the east side is regarded as the Beverly Hills of Oahu and is home to many of the island's elite. How do the crime rates of these two areas compare? In 2010, District 8, which includes Makaha and Waianae, had 4,189 crimes while District 7, which includes prestigious Kahala, had 4,035. Although no amount of crime should be tolerated in either area, there is not much difference in the rates.

Purchasing Second Home in Hawaii

Waianae Mountain Range in Makaha
One Waikiki resident remarked that he often heard people say about the west side, "Don't go to that part of the island." Out of curiosity, he decided to drive over and see it himself. What he saw surprised him: Beachfront condos selling for just $30,000 at the Makaha Surfside mid-rise complex, complete with ocean views and a pool. As of 2012, the prices had risen to around $85,000, still a bargain by Hawaiian standards.

The gentleman invited friends from Honolulu and they were also impressed with the scenic beauty along with reasonable housing prices. Several condominium complexes are in Makaha, but none are built to the standard of William Pereira's building. They moved to Makaha Valley Towers, often called the "undiscovered jewel of Oahu." The units cost a little bit more than the Surfside but are far less than anything of similar quality in Waikiki.

Makaha Valley Towers

2010 Annual Report Statistics. Honolulu Police Department, 2011, retrieved January 27, 2012.

City & County of Honolulu Homeless Point-in-Time Count 2011. City & County of Honolulu Department of Community Services, May 2011. retrieved January 27, 2012,
Portfolios: Pereira, William. Kellner, Thomas. retrieved January 27, 2012,

Search Results., January 27, 2012.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Best Bars in San Francisco Include Alembic

Alembic Bar and Restaurant in San Francisco

The Alembic Bar is located in the Haight District of San Francisco, offering excellent food and drink served a la California style. Unusual combinations of ingredients and creative presentations delight the eye as well as the palate. The menu features items like pickled quail eggs, sumac potato chips with garlic-lemon yogurt and zaatar, and jerk spiced duck hearts with pickled pineapple and thyme salt. Dishes are what one would expect to see in a fine dining establishment rather than the modest facility Alembic resides in.

Once again, my friend Kate has brought me because she's printed out a voucher from the online discounter, Living Social. Though Alembic's food and beverage offerings are pricey, the coupon reduces the check by about half. On this occasion, we are joined by Joyce, a friend who lives right in San Francisco. She has never been to Alembic before, and orders a drink called The Promissory Note, which contains tequila, dry vermouth, canton ginger liqueur, honey and a dash of absinthe. "This place is so San Francisco," she remarks, "and this is the best drink of my life!"
Wine Club

San Francisco Eating

Instead of sourdough bread, a bowl of popcorn spiced with peppery herbs is brought to our table by a friendly waitress named Jennifer. Some of the online reviews for this restaurant bar denigrate the help, so we are pleasantly surprised by the courteous, prompt service we receive.

Beef and Sweetbread
Because of the voucher special, a two-course meal with a drink is predetermined. The cocktail appears to be a modification of their Gilded Lily, with gin, lemon juice, sparkling demi-sec and cardamon. It has the right amount of tartness but is too small, leaving one wanting for more. The entree is beef with sweetbread, artistically dotted with leafy greens. The beef is tender with an exquisite sauce.

Joyce orders the $12 Roasted Beets and Carrots, with goat cheese ribbon, quinoa, smoked date puree, vadouvan and corriander, a fussy dish that tastes delicious.

Roasted Beets and Carrots

Her dessert is called Cheesecake in a Jar, made with meyer lemon curd, huckleberry jam and candied coconut. It isn't much for $8 but the cream cheese is fresh and wonderfully enhanced by the crunchy coconut. Kate and I have a soft chocolate ganache, which tastes just like it sounds: delicate, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.

Cheesecake in a Jar With Huckleberry Jam & Coconut

At the end of the meal, Joyce's bill seems pretty high at almost $50, but the chef seems to earn his keep with all the effort he puts into his creative concoctions. The recipes are well planned, the ingredients are fresh and all is carefully prepared.

Alembic is located at 1725 Haight Street, between Cole and Shrader Streets, and opens everyday at noon for lunch. The restaurant closes at 1:00 a.m. and the bar at 2:00 a.m. They don't take reservations, so it might help to call ahead on busy nights if time is a problem. It is in a seedy part of town, quite frankly, and one might have to dodge a few vagrants loafing on the sidewalk before entering. This may be off-putting to some diners, however the cuisine is definitely worth making a visit.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Best Ever Brownie Recipes

Best Ever Brownies

Thousands of chocolate brownie recipes circulate the globe, but these two must be in the top ten, sure to please all tastes. Brownies are an American invention, with the original ones baked in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 20th Century. They became richer through the years with more eggs, butter and baking chocolate added, to become one of the world's most favorite desserts.

Traditional Brownie Recipe

A classic brownie recipe with or without nuts is basic in any cook's repertoire. After mastering this traditional recipe, variations can be experimented with.
  • 2 sticks or 1/2 pound (226 g) salted butter
  • 4 oz. (113 g) unsweetened chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups (400 g) of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) white flour or brown rice flour 
  • 1 tsp. (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (100 g) walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F (177*C). Grease and flour a 13 x 9 x 2" (32.5 x 23 x 5 cm) baking pan.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a saucepan over very low heat or in the top of a double boiler. When melted, set it aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar together.
  4. Add the vanilla to the eggs and sugar.
  5. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, thoroughly mixing it.
  6. Sift the flour and fold it gently into the batter, mixing it just until it's blended. Then fold in the walnuts.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the center springs back when lightly touched or an inserted knife comes out clean. DO NOT OVERBAKE.
  8. Let the brownies cool in the pan for about 30 minutes and then cut into bars. This recipe makes 28 large, fabulous tasting brownies.
Dancing Deer Baking Co

Caramel Brownies Recipe

An exceptional variation of the brownie recipe was devised by a woman in California who owned a pizza restaurant. She sold her homemade brownies to many satisfied customers.
  • 1 1-18.5 oz. (520 g) package German chocolate cake mix
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) canned evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup or 1 and a half sticks (180 g) melted butter
  • 1 cup (150 g) chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • 6 oz. (168 g) package of semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 3/4 tub or 12 oz. (340 g) caramel apple dip (found in the produce section of most grocery stores)

  1. Mix together the cake mix, evaporated milk, butter and nuts.
  2. Pour half the batter into a well greased 9 x 9" (23 x 23 cm) brownie pan.
  3. Bake at 350*F (177*C) for 6 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle the chocolate morsels over over the brownie.
  5. Spread the caramel over the morsels.
  6. Soften the remainder of the brownie mixture in a microwave oven for 30 seconds, then pour and spread on top of the caramel.
  7. Bake at 350*F (177*C) for 15 to 18 minutes. It won't be firm but will jiggle like jello. Makes 16 delicious brownies.
Brownies are also a fabulous choice to bring to a Christmas cookie exchange. Make several batches and swap them with friends who are each bringing multiple batches of their own special cookie recipes. It is great fun and allows everyone to have many varieties of holiday cookies.

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