Moana

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I had a feeling about this movie. We’ve known for over 2 years that Disney was working on a new, animated, feature-length film with a Polynesian theme. This was good news, as Disney has been a strong player in the Tiki ohana (see Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit).

The last 2 years have been filled with anticipation as the Disney marketing machine built up to the eventual release of Moana this Thanksgiving weekend. There were news releases when they picked the cast. There were previews, which we Tiki geeks faithfully promoted on our Facebook pages. There was the merchandise, which in typical Disney fashion, was available months before the movie came out. There was even a special pre-release event at our local Disney store, which I happily attended with a bunch of small children, not embarrassed at all to join in the fun. I soaked it all up!

So, of course I went to see Moana as soon as it was released, on Wednesday November 23rd. Thanksgiving eve. My wife, son and I donned our 3D glasses as we found our seats in the surprisingly uncrowded theatre. I had to post the event as a check-in on my Facebook page, because, well, this was a big deal. To me.


Now, for full disclosure, we don’t go out to the movies much. I usually prefer to wait for a movie to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray and watch it from the comfort of home. But this was different. I needed to experience Moana on a big movie screen, in 3D, with full theatre sound. I was not disappointed. I love this movie. A lot.

Moana was transformational for me. I’ll leave the reviewing for others (here’s a good one if you’re interested: #PopCulturePundit), but let me just say this was one amazing movie! I found myself getting choked up as the movie ended, with full-blown tears streaming down my cheeks. It’s a little embarrassing to have my 11-year old son see my crying, but I couldn’t help myself, it was very emotional. There was a happy ending, of course, but the message this movie sends you is much more than that.

Moana is a strong female character I would be proud for my daughters to emulate. She’s headstrong for sure, but respects her elders and loves nature. Moana’ attraction to the sea is central to the movie, and her rediscovery of her Polynesian ancestors’ wayfinding skills is key to resolving the plot of the movie.


After I watched this movie for the first time, I rediscovered a modern-day, real-life voyage I had only casually followed previously: the Mālama Honua worldwide voyage of Hōkūle’a. I was originally attracted to the story of this group of explorers because of my love of all things Polynesian, and I followed them on Facebook without really understanding what they were all about. After seeing Moana, I felt inspired to understand Mālama Honua in more depth, and my eyes were really opened. Their mission is to sail the world and find examples of people helping each other and the environment, with the common thread being the ocean that connects us all. What a beautiful idea, come to life! I had to support and share this message with my Facebook family. I hope you will check it out too.


So, apparently art does imitate life. Moana, as it turns out, is based on some actual Polynesian legends, and is pretty faithful to the stories of Polynesian people. Disney has crafted a masterpiece with this movie, and if it could raise the environmental consciousness of at least one person, than it has told a wonderful story indeed. I’ve already gone to see it again, this time with my mother-in-law. It was her turn to see me cry. Oh, well, I’m not ashamed to show my joy and love for Moana. Go see this movie.

Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya

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It’s that magical time of year, that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when work seems to slow down and family life heats up, what with big gatherings involving food, fellowship and fun, culminating on December 25th with some jolly old elf in a red suit traveling the world delivering gifts, and the denouement on New Years Day with the traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut for good luck in the coming year. Naturally, at this time of year, I’m thinking about Jambalaya.

Wait, what? How did that happen? I’m sitting around the week of Thanksgiving, planning my trip to Wegmans to buy the food we need for our feast, when it hits me: I need to whip up a big pot of Jambalaya for Wednesday night. But why?

Maybe it was the thought of all of that turkey in my near future? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some turkey, but after a few days of eating nothing but turkey, a guy gets a little tired of it, you know? We even cook a back-up turkey on Wednesday, so we’ll have plenty of leftovers after we send people home with their fair share on Thanksgiving night. Since we were feeding 16 people at our house this year, the possibility of having no leftovers from our 22-lb. bird was real. Hence the 19-lb. back-up.

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Maybe it was the Cajun Sausage Cornbread stuffing I had to make the night before? I’ve made this stuffing for years, from a terrific recipe in one of chef Paul Prudhomme’s cookbooks, and I stuff the bird with it on Thanksgiving morning before it goes in the oven. The combination of Andouille sausage, cornbread, veggies, complex seasonings and Crystal hot sauce makes for a mean stuffing! Sadly, we never have enough of it, as everybody seems to like it.

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That’s where the Jambalaya comes in. It was a tasty diversion prior to the turkey onslaught, an inspiration for (and from) the Cajun stuffing, and a much-needed respite from the steady diet of leftover turkey. You see, a big pot of Jambalaya leaves a lot of leftovers too!

So, what does all this talk of Jambalaya have to do with Tiki? Well, on the surface…nothing. However, I did discuss the connection between my passions for Cajun and Tiki in my blog post, Aloha Spirit: New Orleans, which I published almost a year ago. As I re-read that post, it dawned on me that a couple of things I wrote about last year have (and soon might) come to pass.

First, my friend Jeff “Beachbum” Berry did finally open his first Tiki bar in New Orleans, Latitude 29. More than just a Tiki bar, Latitude 29 is a full-service restaurant and bar in the Bienville House hotel, right in the French Quarter. By all accounts, it’s doing really well, and I can’t wait to visit it and see for myself. In the meantime, I’m planning an interview with Bum for my next podcast, which will be very soon. Stay tuned!

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Second, I’m hoping to make it to Mardi Gras in NOLA this coming February, which is only a couple of months away. This is another item on my bucket list well within my reach. Visiting Latitude 29 is just the excuse I needed to make this happen sooner rather than later! I’ve already booked a room at the Bienville House; now I just need to convince my wife Jess to come with me. It’s been over ten years since we last visited N’awlins, so we’re due.

So there you have it. It seems I’m predisposed to thinking (and writing) about my love of all things Cajun at this time of year. I’ve always loved the idea of worlds colliding, and my converging passions for New Orleans and Tiki are neatly embodied by Beachbum Berry and his Latitude 29. Sprinkle in another bucket list conquest during Mardi Gras, and I’m set for the next few months. Mahalo ét tois!

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