The City Girls and I went to Hawaii Island last week. On our last trip together, a small bug created enough of a stir among a few of the girls for me to realize I have really become countrified living here on Kauai. I just swiped the little cockroach aside with my hand like I was wiping a stray hair out of my face. This time, on Hawaii Island, the heat got the girls riled up. The City Girls aren't used to the heat. They work in an air-conditioned office every day. Me? I sweat it out of my home office, stretching out next to the two dogs on the cool concrete floor when it gets too hot. But the City Girls got me wondering: Is it really hotter in Kona on the west side of Hawaii Island than elsewhere in the Hawaiian Island chain?
Here's the real reason for my inquiry into the heat? It melted my Donkey Balls. More specifically, the Salty Donkey Balls I bought to give to my husband, who was taking care of our one home, two dogs and three chickens back on Kauai. I'd packed the unopened, 8-ounce, plastic package of Salty Donkey Balls in my suitcase and stashed it in the trunk of the rental car while I explored Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and Pu’ukohola National Historical Site.
Now, melted Salty Donkey Balls aren’t such a bad thing. All you have to do is let them solidify--maybe put them in the refrigerator--and use a knife to cut chunks of chocolate, making sure to include a bit of macadamia nut. Melted Salty Donkey Balls were kind of a bummer. They were a gooey mess and had lost the humor behind the ball, but melted Salty Donkey Balls didn't make the omiyage for my husband inedible.
But what melted Salty Donkey Balls meant to TSA at the Kailua-Kona Airport was something else altogether. Melted Salty Donkey Balls were, in their opinion, a liquid.
When the TSA agent, a mild-mannered Clark Kent type, reached for my carry-on as it emerged from the screening hood, he asked, "Is this your bag?" I said yes, and I thought, oh, they're going to swipe the handle again. On two recent trips, I was randomly selected for extra security measures. Not me, really, but my bags. They were pulled from the belt to be wiped down with a round disc that looked oddly like an anti-blemish wipe sold in the health and beauty departments of grocery and drug stores across the United States. But instead of swabbing my suitcase's handle, Clark said, "I'm going to take a look inside."
The last time a TSA agent opened my bag, he pulled out a root stalk of taro that my friend Mahealani, who lives in a beautiful valley en route to Hana on Maui with her taro farmer-husband, gave me. I was thinking about this incident as Clark rummaged through my bag. And, then, I remember thinking he better not mess up the contents of my suitcase too much. I didn't once, not for one second, think about the Salty Donkey Balls in my bag—melted or not—until he pulled them out.
Another TSA agent inspecting some other bag leaned over, looked at the plastic bag in Clark’s hand and nodded. “Donkey balls,” she said with a knowing tone. I smiled, embarrassed—but only slightly. “Those are for my husband,” I said.
Clark glanced at a supervisor engaged in a conversation with yet another TSA agent in the corner. Clark shook his head. He stammered. Said something about liquid. Moved toward me and, then, back to his supervisor. Clearly, Clark didn’t know what to do.
That’s when I realized the Salty Donkey Balls had melted into one, big blob, and I wondered how that would affect the taste. Would the sea salt in which the Donkey Balls were rolled still crunch?
And that brings me to the topic of consistency.
The City Girls are consistent in their City Girl ways. They blanch at bugs, and they wilt in the heat. Any good dog trainer will tell you the most important thing in dog training is consistency. Before I take my dogs outside to go for a walk, we stand by the door. I say, “Sit,” and they sit. Then, I clip on their leashes and open the door. Every. Single. Time. Now, when I ask if they want to go for a walk, they make a beeline for the door and plop their bottoms down.
We all know that chocolate melts at relatively low temperatures. That’s why M&Ms adopted the slogan, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” But at what point does chocolate become a liquid? If you cannot actually pour the chocolate out of its container, can it be considered a liquid?
“I would wager pretty much everything I’ve got that it wasn’t in liquid form,” said Todd Trygstad, owner of SooooGood Chocolate and an outlet for Keoki’s Donkey Balls in Queen’s Marketplace, Waikoloa. “I’ve shipped no less than 100 packages in the year or so I’ve been here in this store, and I’ve never had that problem. I’m kinda blown away that they would take Donkey Balls. I’m not a chocolatier, so I couldn’t speak what the true temperature for chocolate to be a liquid is, but I would say it would have to exceed 150 degrees.”
In further talking to Todd, I realized I hadn’t actually purchased my Salty Donkey Balls from his shop at Queen's Marketplace in Waikoloa. He told me there was a Donkey Ball imitator on the island. The Donkey Balls he carries in his store—Keoki’s Donkey Balls—are made by Dennis Lovell, who started making the first Donkey Balls in 1998.
I purchased my Salty Donkey Balls from a shop in Kealakekua. (There’s another story here—a rather sticky one—but I’ll let some investigative reporter with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser write that one.)
Lisa Ellis and her husband bought their store and started making Donkey Balls in 2009. She said when chocolate melts, it actually goes through a chemical process in which five different types of sugar crystals break down. Some start melting at 96 degrees; others not until 121 degrees. “We usually tell people to put their Donkey Balls in their carry-on, because checked baggage can sit on a hot tarmac. We’ve taken Donkey Balls in our carry-on as far as Germany before and never had a problem.”
I pressed Lisa. “At what point would it be considered a liquid?”
She put it this way. “In a liquid state, you’d be able to fill a measuring cup. Like turning a bottle of water upside down.”
In a liquid state, my husband's Salty Donkey Balls would also be hot.
Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Burn experts say water or other liquids can cause third-degree burns at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot tap water is a major cause of scald burns. The Burn Foundation recommends the temperature of bath water should not exceed 100 degrees Farhenheit.
Clark conferred with his supervisor and returned--plastic bag of Salty Donkey Balls in hand. He'd held it for, at least, two minutes by now. He didn't toss it from hand to hand. He didn't say, "Ouch, that's hot." The contents inside didn't slosh around. They didn't coat the entirety of the inside of the plastic. What Clark did say to me was, “I’m sorry." And tossed my un-opened package of Salty Donkey Balls in a trash can.
Liquid? I don't think so.
I stomped off to my gate, whipped out my phone and started tweeting and posting to Facebook, where the most frequent refrain among friends was along the lines of Joy Alma Houglum’s comment, “TSA agents needed a snack!”
And if you haven’t figured out by now, Salty Donkey Balls are chocolate-dipped macadamia nuts rolled in sea salt.