Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A tale of two Christmases

We have come to that time of year when the annual battle between Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas begins. On one side of the battle are people who are not Christians, or who firmly believe in the separation of church and state and the freedom for everyone to practice their own religion. On the other are people who are Christians, and know that most of us in the US are Christians, and that even though we say we are a secular country we all know deep down that the US is a conservative Christian country.
Unfortunately, the issue is not as cut and dry as it seems. I have argued this with my mom on countless occasions because, even though I'm Christian, I don't believe that we should force everyone to say Merry Christmas. I'm for keeping Christmas a religious holiday that we celebrate in our own ways and not making it a mandatory observance for everyone.
In the US there are two Christmases. You might try to deny it and say that no, Christmas is the biggest religious holiday that there is and that's all there is to it. But you'd be wrong. Take a look at the Christmas decorations, specials, cards, and entertainment. You have your religious, Christian celebrations filled with the birth of Christ, nativities, and celebratory songs. Then there is the secular Christmas, dominated by Santa, reindeer, snowmen, gifts, and songs about Santa and snow.
And while we are forcing everyone to celebrate Christmas the secular Christmas is gaining ground. If you look at the Christmas specials they show on TV only one or two even mention the nativity or the birth of Christ, the rest are all about Santa, presents, and snow. All of the decorations in the stores are of the secular kind, and most of what people focus their attention on are presents. This was amply demonstrated last year when DH was talking to his language teacher about Christmas. He mentioned that I was going home for Christmas because it was a big Christian holiday and his teacher said that she had no idea that Christmas was a Christian holiday.
I know that it is the case here in China. There are Christmas decorations out everywhere and I'm fairly certain that most of the people with decorations in their windows are not Christians, nor do they have any idea what the holiday is about other than Santa and presents. Is this what the founders of the "stores against Christmas list" were after? Did they want to create a holiday that everyone celebrates, but which has no meaning? I think the fundamentalists are shooting themselves in the foot by insisting that everyone honor Christmas, pretty soon they are going to wake up to a world in which Christmas is presided over by Santa.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To market, to market to buy a ......

For today's adventure I went off to the great big lotus market (called hehuachi in Chinese). I've been to this market once before about two months ago. It is huge and sprawling and a bit overwhelming. Last time I went I had to take a taxi, which took me 45 minutes. However between then and now the new subway line has opened up and getting on the subway and heading north took maybe half that time. Unfortunately as we were on the subway heading north there was a HUGE fight on the train not half a car away from us. From what we could tell, it was between a man and a woman who didn't know each other, and it might have started over a seat. But they were angry. They were pushing, shoving, kicking, yelling, screaming... I'm talking high drama. I was impressed with the security though, by the time we got to the next station there were security waiting to take them off the train. I swear, the pent up anger in people here.
Ah, but the market. This market is crazy. They have just about everything there. For example, today the people in my group bought Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, stationary, wind chimes, ribbon, painted pictures, seat cushions, fabric, metal snaps, buttons, wall stickers, and toys. We could have also bought rugs, plastic flowers, purses, cross stitch kits, costumes, aprons, blow driers, irons, and furry pants. Plus hundreds of other things that it would take me all day to name.
I think it would take you at least a year to go through every single stall there. Every where you look someone is selling something or other and for cheap. I didn't even bargain at most places because the price was so low to begin with that I couldn't see how the people would make money. For instance a bought about 30 buttons for a dollar. How are you going to make that cheaper, and is it even worth it. Sure I could have gotten it for 75 cents, but why?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

One of those women

So yesterday I went to my first Holiday Planning meeting as a wife of a diplomat. I have always avoided such things in the past by either working or leaving post. But this year I am in town and my child is too big for me to say I'm too busy. *sigh* I've crossed over and become one of "those" women. It's not bad I guess. I am involved in what happens over the holiday, and I can steer events towards things that I like or Babes likes, but still.
I knew this before though. We've only been at post 3 1/2 months and I've already been to 3 maybe 4 potlucks and I'm pretty sure we've got at least 3 more before the end of the year. So I've decided that I need a casserole warmer. But all the ones I have found are so old fashioned. You know, big sunflowers on the top and what not. I've decided that if I'm going to knit or crochet one I need to put something cool on top. But so far I can't find a 3 dimensional pattern for a Darth Vader helmet or tie fighter. *SIGH* I might just have to make the lame sunflowers.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Spiced Oatmeal Pumpkin Muffins

From Blogger Pictures
Thanks to Halloween and our regular vegetable delivery I have found myself with an over abundance of pumpkin. I cooked some, pureed it and stashed it in the freezer and I'm going to put some in Chili tonight, but this morning for breakfast I decided to try to spice up my regular oatmeal muffins and combine it with a pumpkin gingerbread recipe that I found on the internet. The result was very good, if I do say so myself. Here's the recipe:

Spiced Oatmeal Pumpkin Muffins
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/2 C pumpkin puree
  • 1 C leftover cooked oatmeal
  • 1/2 C molasses (I'm wondering if this could be reduced to 1/4)
  • 1/2 C raisins

1. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients
2. In another bowl mix together eggs, pumpkin, oatmeal, molasses and raisins
3. Add to dry ingredients mix until just moistened
4. Spoon batter into lined or lightly greased muffin cups
5. Bake at 350 until muffin centers are slightly firm.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010


From Blogger Pictures

Look at this picture. You would think I took it in the US. But no, I am still in China. One of the local neighborhoods put together Halloween trick or treating for the kids. There weren't a lot of houses participating but for my 3 1/2 yr old it was perfect. She got to walk around in her costume knock on the doors of houses, some decorated spookily, and do her trick or treat thing. How awesome is that?

Monday, November 01, 2010

This week's bounty

From Blogger Pictures
So this is what came in our bag this week. Not as exotic. Lots of potatoes and greens. But it's good that we like cabbage, especially fried up with garlic.

Although, is this grass? The closest thing I can come up with is wheat or barley grass.
And of course the ever mysterious:
From Blogger Pictures
From Blogger Pictures
In other news I've been playing around with Picasa and blogger and trying to work out how to post pictures on the blog without tearing out my hair--the great firewall makes it very hard to post pictures to blogger (blogger being blocked of course) but Picasa is not and so far this seems to be working. We'll see.
I am working on a travel post, so pictures of Xian and Beijing to come!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Purple sweet potatoes!

As previously mentioned we are part of an organic farm co-op and last weeks delivery bag held a bunch of potatoes.... or so I thought. I was all geared up to make mashed potatoes or something when I washed them.... imagine my surprise, then when I started peeling them and discovered this.

From Blogger Pictures

That's right, these bad boys were bright purple inside. I was put out for a minute, but I had actually purchased a few of these from the store and was able to look up the chinese name online. These are called chestnut sweet potatoes. In English they are just referred to as purple sweet potatoes (an english search for chestnut sweet potatoes yields squat). They are apparently popular in Filipino cuisines.
From Blogger Pictures

I looked around for a recipe that would not require too much effort as dinner time was fast approaching. I decided on making a sweet potato Gnocchi with walnut cream sauce. The purple sweet potatoes have a much milder flavor than regular sweet potatoes, even though they are bright purple.
From Blogger Pictures

I think it might be cool to serve this to guests, after all how often do you get purple gnocchi?

Monday, October 25, 2010

food glorious food!

Today I finally got around to cleaning out my refrigerator to see what was in there. It turns out that I still had quite a few vegetables? in there. Our weekly delivery from the local organic farms has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand I am able (forced) to try out all sorts of new and unusual vegetables that I wouldn't necessarily have the courage to try. On the other, I usually have no idea what the things are that arrive in our weekly bag. Also, while some of my experiments with winter melon have proved edible, winter melon is by no means something I want to eat all the time, yet we get a LOT of it. Anyway, here is what I found in my fridge. Some of these things are obviously some sort of potato. I think they might even be sweet potatoes not of the orange variety (I even have purple sweet potatoes but more on that later). I have no idea what the big thing in the middle is. I think it might be bamboo.... but I could be completely wrong.
From Blogger Pictures

There were also some really big radishes included, but I can't find the picture, and I want to post this!
We also bought some tiny bananas. I have been told that they are super sweet, but I will of course, never try them since bananas of any type make me gag (I have only just recently been able to contain my revulsion enough to be able to make banana muffins, but it's still horrible!)
From Blogger Pictures

But they are really cute.
Anyway, I am going to stop here so that I can post this tonight. Coming up Buddha's fist and Purple sweet potatoes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Long time no post

I see that it has been almost a month since I posted. Well, I've been busy! First off our shipment came which means that I had 150 or so boxes to unpack. That's a whole lot of boxes. Then to make matters worse our maid quit the day the boxes came. Which was not a problem for the unpacking I would have been very annoyed had she tried to help put stuff away, but it was a problem for the clean up after the boxes were empty. I probably shouldn't complain I didn't have to move myself. I just stood around and watched while the movers came, put our stuff into boxes, and then waited while they brought the boxes to my house and even opened some of them and unpacked them.
But aside from unpacking everything and getting it all put away I've been cooking using our surprise organic vegetable delivery. We've joined something like a farm subscription where we get a once a week delivery of fresh vegetables to our house. It's a little like the Iron chef because I get a green bag full of mystery ingredients and have to come up with something delicious to feed one husband and one toddler to eat for dinner. Luckily I have more than an hour to do this in, but it is more challenging because I often have no idea what the things are in the bag. I have taken some pictures and I will post the mystery vegetables and what I've done with them soon.
And finally I've been knitting up a storm... or rather a cloud of clothes? I've made myself a tube top, a REALLY large sock (which I unraveled) and a purse that I gave away before I took pictures. I am currently knitting Babes a sweater and I will post pictures of everything.... I am going to try to get back into the habit of posting more regularly but it is tough. I can either watch tv and knit for an hour while Babes has her quiet time or I can come here and type..... well, you can see what has usually won the day... Promises Promises!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Taxi Taxi

When I came to Chengdu I expected the worst out of its Taxi drivers. After serving in Beijing, where the taxi drivers often did not know where they were going, I had no hope that the drivers of the smaller more provincial capital would be any good whatsoever. I have been pleasantly surprised. From what I understand, Taxi drivers here are locals. You must be a Chengdu resident to drive a cab. This is fantastic! I have only had very few instances getting into a cab where I have told a driver where to go and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. And usually if I can give a good land mark they can get me pretty close. Why is this unusual, you might ask, well Beijing drivers often were not from Beijing. Chances were they got into the city the week before and were now driving cabs all over the place. Often I'd get into a cab, tell them where to go, and they'd start driving. A few minutes into the ride I'd realize we were going the wrong way and I'd ask them where they were going and they literally had no clue!
I also don't have that problem of getting into a cab and having that frustrating, I want to go to Yashow! Yashow? YAshow! Yashow? yaSHOW! yashow? YASHOW! oh Yashow! Chengdu people seem to have a better time with foreigners speaking Chinese than they did in Beijing. I only have to repeat myself once, and generally I do not get that Look the animal is speaking stare. People seem nice and generally want to help.
The only problem is that Taxis are hard to find. Some people say they are too cheap so drivers can afford to pick and choose who to pick up because everyone can ride. And often it's not just me who can't get into a cab. There are lines of people along the street trying to get a cab to stop. Some days it's next to impossible to get one.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fighting the hordes

Before I got to China this time I *promised* myself that I would try to contain my China rage (like road rage, but directed towards Chinese people instead of drivers). The last time we came, I spent an absurd amount of time on a one man (well woman) battle to change the way Chinese people do things. For instance, instead of joining the crazy mob of people waiting to get serviced at a counter, I would line up and then grumble loudly at the people who were cutting in front of me. Or, when walking on a side walk I refused to move when honked at by a car trying to park. This time, I said to myself, over and over and over, I would try to do things the Chinese way. Sort of go with the flow instead of swimming upstream.
But it's hard. We've been here about a month and already I've broken my rule any number of times. I've walked slowly in front of black Audis driving on the sidewalk, I've grumbled loudly about my place in the grocery weighing lines, and I've stared aghast at women letting their babies poop on the floors of stores.
I am getting better though, these instances do not work up my blood, I am not super angry for minutes after, I fight through and move on. I've even gotten to the pushing and shoving point, I mean, what good is it to be larger than everyone else if you can't use your size to make people get out of your way? I try to keep it within acceptable levels, though, I move to the end of the crowd, but I will defend my position in the mob with elbows and hips. And, I am ashamed to say, I stole a cab from a guy yesterday (I got fed up after five people took cabs in front of me after coming out of no where) he was hot (I still feel bad about it). Hopefully I don't get too caught up in all this, and I will be able to go back to the civilized world one day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Chengdu!

So we have made it to Chengdu. It feels like we've been "going to Chengdu" forever and a day, and it feels weird to have actually made it. We didn't get to come directly here so we did arrive here in the middle of the night (or so it felt) with our traveling circus all jet lagged, but to be honest the flight wasn't that bad, nor was the jet lag any worse than going anywhere else.
Chengdu is a bit of a gray city. I can't tell if it's cloudy all the time, if it's pollution, or what. I think it might be a little of everything because I haven't lived in a place this thunderstormy (yes I just created an adjective) since Texas. Since we've been here there has been a thunderstorm on average every third day. Which is good, because Chengdu is pretty green (compared to Beijing, not Taipei) and I think it's cleaner than it would be if there was not so much rain. The people here are friendlier than Beijingers so you will see smiles on faces (sometimes, though not a lot) and they generally make an effort to understand what you are trying to tell them. I have not gotten that LOOK the animal is talking look here at all.
Our housing is pretty nice, we are in a great/pretty central location. There are three expat restaurants within walking distance of us and a cornucopia of local restaurants as well. We are not too far from several big shopping centers and we can get to the Carrefore and Auschan (European supermarkets) with a short cab ride. There is also an Ikea really close and several Ito Yokado's that we can get to.
On the whole I think the city is going to be a good place to be for two years. DH can walk to work, and there seems to be a pretty active community of spouses so that Babes and I can get out and about without going stir crazy.
More soon when it stops raining everyday. We've been trying to go on an adventure for over a week!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Moving out....

I sent this as an email to a friend and I liked the way it turned out so much that I decided to repost it here. Keep in mind this was immediately after all the stuff was taken away so I was feeling a little melancholy...

So we are all moved out. The post pack out empty house is always so sad. There is all this dust (and dog hair) and sometime the ghosts of pictures on the wall. I'm sitting in my empty house all alone and trying very hard not to move my head because if I sit very still I can pretend that nothing has changed (the furniture stays with the place, only the trimmings are gone).
The empty house that you are leaving is so different from the empty house when you arrive. When you first get to post, bleary eyed from the plane ride, the empty house is cold, strange. There are corners in unexpected places, new doors to learn, and a host of minor annoyances to get used to. The house you are leaving, is warm and comfortable. The doors and windows known from thousands of glances, the quirks figured out, but the drawers empty of their familiar usefulness. When you are leaving there is the lingering sadness of good times, and the gentle sound of a chapter closing. When you are arriving the air is heavy with the fear of the unknown and the hopes that you have for this space.
This life is full of so many comings and goings, as babes gets older it is going to get even harder as it will not just be my ghosts in a place, but hers as well....

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Crafting update

Lest you think that I've been neglecting my cooking duties (which I have) and just generally slacking, I thought I'd let you in on what I've been up to. We are moving in three weeks (YIKES!) and instead of packing, and preparing the house, I've been furiously sewing trying to finish the frakking quilt that I'm making for babes. I can't do that while watching TV so I've also been knitting up a storm, and just generally crafting all around.
Anyway, here's some pics of what I've done.
First, I melted some broken crayons in the oven (350 for a few minutes until they're soupy, then popped in the freezer until solid) to make some big crayons for Babes.

I finished up the dress and purse I made for Babes.

I knitted this dress from the pattern I found here, the purse is here (but you have to be a member to see the pattern).

Then I designed and knitted myself a purse. (I might put the instructions up later if I make another one). It's my first design project and I'm pretty pleased (ok I didn't design it myself, it's a copy cat of another purse that I have, but I reverse engineered it myself!)

I'm still working on the quilt. I haven't finished yet, but I have hope that I might finish during today's nap or tomorrow's.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My hair is just like Mommy's

I never thought I would get words of wisdom, or universal truths, from Battle Star Galactica, but I did. At one point, Adama is talking to his son Lee and he says and I quote loosely, "when you have children, you see yourself reflected in their eyes." It struck me as true when I heard it, and as I thought about it more I realized that I believe it. When I see my daughter look at me in her eyes I see love, trust, and her absolute belief in my perfection looking back at me. I'm her mom. I am her first role model, and her first model of feminine beauty. In her mind, when she thinks of what a woman should be like, her first thought will be of her mother.
And then it struck me. We are not losing our girls to image disorders through unreal images in magazines, or to super skinny tv and movie actresses. We lose our girls even before that. What is a girl supposed to think when she sees her mommy, the most perfect being in the world and mommy has nothing but negative things to say about herself? How is she supposed to feel when the hair that "looks just like Mommy's" is constantly being changed and treated to "make it more beautiful" on Mommy's head? Or when people tell her she has her mommy's eyes, nose, legs, hips, or whatever, and mommy spends all day talking about how much she hates her eyes, nose, legs, hips, or whatever. And she is watching us. I cringe now thinking back on all those mom's groups where spent the whole two hours talking about dieting, or tummy fat. I don't want her to think that her thighs, or butt or whatever are less than ideal.
We can talk about the media and the unrealistic expectations that these images place on our daughters, but she's watching. How is she supposed to believe what we are saying if we are essentially saying to her, "You are beautiful just the way you are, but Mommy just needs to lose 15 lbs"?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hao Ke ai!

So Babes and I went to the zoo yesterday and had a blast! I won't gush anymore about how wonderful a place the Taipei zoo is, or how much I like to go there... I've done enough of that. Instead I'm going to talk about the exhibit/celebrity status Babes has where ever we go in Taipei. Taiwanese people LOVE little kids. Men, women, girls, boys they all like little kids. Which is great, it means that you can take your child many places that you might not think about taking them in the US. We take Babes with us all over the place, restaurants, museums, malls, on the bus, subway, taxis, everywhere! And for the most part no one ever looks at us strangely for bringing a kid, and usually there's at least one other kid there too. And Taiwanese kids stay up late so often there are kids out doing things when Babes is already tucked in bed and well on her way to dreamland.
The downside to this is that it sometimes feels as if Babes is something akin to a celebrity. Not only is she a little kid, but she's different. She's got curly hair, big eyes, and long lashes (yeah, I'll admit it, she is pretty cute). Taiwanese people LOVE her. I have much sympathy for celebrities these days. There are many times when I'm sitting having lunch with Babes, and after we turn down the fifth person for a photograph, I just want to scream "WE JUST WANT TO EAT OUR LUNCH IN PEACE! PLEASE!" But I don't, because they mean well, instead I ask Babes if she wants to take a picture with these people, and inevitably she says no, and then I apologize to the nice people and say "I'm sorry, she doesn't want to take a picture." Then they look disappointed and go away.
And for the most part people are truly good hearted about it. They say "hao Ke ai!" meaning how cute. They mention a feature, they giggle, sometimes they offer her something (candy, toys, pens, pencils), sometimes they ask to take a picture, and then they leave us in peace. Very seldom do people take liberties, and it's mostly teenage girls (or old ladies) who try to touch her hair, or give her hugs. I generally don't mind it, because these people are teaching Babes better than words not to talk to or trust strangers. It's a little sad that she's becoming shy, but in the long run it's better.
Sometimes it's a little annoying. Although I usually get a kick out of kids trying to get together enough English to ask us for a picture. I love the discussion that goes on, and then the sacrificial lamb with the most English comes forth to stammer out a question. I usually feel bad denying them, I can see how much courage it takes. But Babes is pretty adamant about not wanting a picture. She will smile, sometimes, and sometimes wave, and she might answer a question, but generally no pictures. After a day of this at the zoo, I think even Babes was fed up with the attention. As we left the zoo, I heard her repeating over, and over, "hao ke ai! Hao ke ai!"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Friday night

We've been trying to find things for our racially/culturally/religiously blended family to do together. I've been taking Babes to church on some Sundays, we celebrate some of the Jewish Holy days as well as the Christian ones, and since she has started to understand more we have Shabbat dinner on Friday nights. As a Protestant I find the whole thing a little odd. My brand of protestantism does not have quite so much ritual. In fact, thinking over things, I don't think there is anything of ritual at all as a Baptist.... no wait, there is communion... which could be a smaller version of the shabbat ritual I guess.
But anyway, on Friday nights we gather around the table. I lay out the freshly baked Challah on a plate with some salt, and a glass of wine in a special cup. When the sun goes down Babes and DH light a candle. Then we sit at the table while DH says a prayer over the wine and we all take a sip. After wards we have a ritual hand washing then return to the table where DH breaks the Challah and holds it in his hands and says a brief prayer over it. Then I say grace and we eat.
Anyway, here are some pictures of the fresh baked Challah.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


One of the good things about living in Asia (specifically Taiwan) is 7-11. Now if you are from the US you are probably thinking, "what? 7-11?" Because you are thinking of US 7-11 a dirty, dingy, badly lit convenience store where you can buy overpriced milk, chips, and an assortment of low-grade fast food. 7-11 in Asia, is a bright, friendly, well-lit place where you can do almost everything.
Let's start with the food. Babes and I often pick up lunch at 7-11 (it's on the way home from her school). They have a pretty good selection of semi-fresh things, from weird sandwiches, hand rolls, and noodles to bagels and thousand year old eggs. They also have a small selection of frozen things like dumplings, and LOTS of dried noodle packages. Babes and I often pick up Fantuans (which are like triangle shaped hand rolls) and/or a package of instant noodles. The rest of the stuff is just like any other 7-11; chips, sodas, juice, bottled teas, alcohol and convenience items.
And then there are all the other services that 7-11 provides. I have paid my phone bill at 7-11, added money to my transit card. You can pay your water and electric at 7-11, your cable bill, your cell phone bill. I have seen people send packages from 7-11 and I have heard that they will make travel arrangements (but I can not confirm this from personal experience). You can also pay your parking tickets, no need for meters in Taiwan, they print you out a bill and you take it to 7-11 and pay. You can also buy concert tickets! Who needs pesky government agencies when you have 7-11? And with one on every corner (sometimes both corners!) most people can make all of their utilities payments on their way to work.
Yes Sir! 7-11 in Asia really is your one stop shop, open day and night!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Lame Duck

*SIGH* We have now reached that place in an assignment where there's not enough time left at post to start anything new, but not yet soon enough that we are actually leaving. I have actually put it off here longer than I usually do because I've been in denial that we are actually leaving. But I REALLY feel it today. I am antsy and bored, but I don't want to do anything. Add to it an antsy child who is *supposed* to be home sick from preschool and you have one irritated mommy.
The Foreign Service is very good for people who constantly like a change, because there are always new challenges, but this lame duck period is frustrating.
It's like the last semester of high school or college after you've been admitted to the next college or grad school. You don't feel like studying, you don't really want to leave, but you can't wait to get out. Similarly, I don't want to start packing because it's too soon, I don't want to start anything new because it's too late. I'm not looking forward to leaving, but I'm anticipating getting out.

**On another note, a friend of mine is going in for her final fertility treatments this month, if you are so inclined please pray for a successful visit, if praying is not your thing please send happy conception thoughts her way. She really is the sweetest person I know and would make a wonderful mother.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

So I thought I was doing something

I have been so smug and proud of myself this year. I thought that I was making healthier choices because I generally walk or take the bus where I want to go. Most of the time I walk with Babes so we walk, and we walk, and we walk. When we go to the store it's a 45 min walk. Walking to the bus stop is 10 min. Walking to friend's houses from the bus stop 15 min or more. I thought I was getting TONS of work outs. But no. Since Babes has been going to school I've been walking by myself at regular speed. It turns out that the store 45 min with Babes - 10 min tops by myself. The bus stop is just a hop skip and a jump away, and it really is faster to just walk to the grocery store than to get on a bus.
I knew Babes had little legs and likes to walk slow, but I didn't know HOW much she was slowing me down. And let me just tell you, it's not usually a pleasant 45 min. to the store, it's a grueling drag on my patience and arm. Because after about 20 min the rest of the time is spent dragging a whining child who doesn't really want to walk anymore, so I get to the store/home/wherever wiped out and irritated.
However, this explains why I haven't really lost any weight. I'm not really exercising, just taxing my patience. Ah well, it's worth it not to have to drag a stroller around.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Black as Chocolate

I have been obsessed with this store (Black as Chocolate) since maybe my first week in Taipei. First of all, there is the name, Black as Chocolate, I just like saying it. Black as Chocolate, it's even fun to type. Then there is the fact that there is no chocolate visible anywhere in the store. It is one of those modern minimalist places with stark lighting and a counter. When you go in to order a cake, you don't get to look at the cakes, you choose one from a book and then they bring it to you.
But it wasn't until my birthday when DH bought me a Black as Chocolate cake that I TRULY became obsessed. These cakes are delicious. Such yummy chocolaty goodness. So we had one for my birthday, then we had one last weekend for dinner (yup that's right, I didn't cook, we all ate cake it was great!) I wonder if I can go get another one this weekend.....

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Catching up

Oh! It's been awhile since I was here. Well in the time that I've been gone I finally got around to making the Oatmeal pancakes (with mixed results) and homemade yogurt (surprisingly easy).
Let's start with the Yogurt.

I found a recipe for homemade yogurt on Recipezaar (where else, that's where I get almost all of my recipes). Basically what you do is 1. Boil milk.

2. Let it cool to about 120 degrees (where you can just stick your finger in it, but why do this as whatever germs are on your finger will end up in the milk)
3. (you can pour it into another container at this point) Add about 1-2 tablespoons of yogurt (with live active cultures) or yogurt starter for each cup of milk that you boiled. 4. Stir well 5. Let sit in a warm place (keeping milk at about 110 -115 degrees) for 4-8 hours depending on how firm you want your yogurt. In order to keep it warm first I tried putting it in a crock-pot full of water on the warm setting, but it got to warm, so I had to keep turning it on and off.
This time I'm trying the wrap into towels method, where you wrap the jar full of yogurt in a bunch of towels to keep in the heat (after about four hours it seemed to be getting cold so I put it the whole thing in an oven that I warmed to 170 then turned off) we'll see how this works.
With any luck your yogurt will set up right and you'll have nice thick yogurt.
As for the Leftover Oatmeal pancakes....
Well, I didn't have a specific recipe and for all of my looking online the best I got was add a cup of leftover oatmeal to the pancake batter and increase the baking powder to make up for the heaviness of the batter. Not very specific is it? So I decided to start with half a cup of oatmeal and increased the baking soda by another tablespoon.

The batter was thicker than normal, and VERY lumpy (but I expected that I did use whole oat groats to make my oatmeal after all) but I couldn't use my trusty recycled ketchup bottle to squeeze my pancake batter into the pan.
(trusty leftover ketchup bottle, you know Williams Sonoma sells something similar for $10, but this way you can reduce and reuse).

The pancakes were not bad.
They were slightly chewier than normal, much puffier than normal, and I was slightly concerned about them being cooked all the way through but they tasted ok. I think I'm going to need to play around with it a little more, I think it would be awesome with buttermilk, but Taiwan is not the place for buttermilk.

Next up: Homemade Ice Cream

Friday, April 16, 2010


One of the things that I used to like about living in New York was the rare occasions when I had to be up early in the morning. I used to love to walk through the neighborhood to catch the train as the neighborhood shops were setting up. I don't know why but I love the feeling of being out in the world and watching it wake up. I think maybe it's like being behind the scenes for a play or a movie. You get to see the stars without their makeup and watch as the set designers set up the stage. I didn't see this too often, because I HATE mornings. I don't like sunrises, and I think it's criminal to be up earlier than 7 in the morning.... That being said Taiwan is perfect for me since I can have that behind the scenes glimpse at 9 in the morning.
I have started taking Honeydog with me when we take Babes to school so that HD gets her walk in and I don't have to make several trips in and out of the apartment. When Babes goes to school all the shops and food stands are shut. But as I walk HD back to our place you can often see vendors sweeping their sidewalks, mopping their shop floors, and putting their places in order for the day. Most places don't open until 11 or 12 so there are only a few people up at this early hour (early for the Taiwanese). But it's good, because HD and I can get our walk in and be back at home before the streets fill up with shoppers and people on their way to work.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leftover Oatmeal Carrot cake muffins

Hmm... In an effort to make something other than the usual leftover oatmeal muffins I tried to come up with something different. So I decided to make carrot cake muffins.

1 cup leftover oatmeal
2 eggs
1/4 Cup butter (I actually used 3 Tbsp butter, 1 olive oil)
1 Cup grated carrot
1/2 Cup finely chopped pineapple
1/2 Cup raisins
1 Tsp Vanilla
1 Cup flour
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 Tsp baking soda
1 Tsp baking powder

I mixed the wet ingredients together and the dry ingredients together then mixed the two together and put them in mini muffin pans. These took forever to bake though maybe 30 minutes at 350, and they were still a little too moist (for my taste), and I don't think I cut the pineapple small enough. But DD and DH loved them so I will try them again grating/cutting everything smaller. No picture this time, but they look a lot like the other muffins....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Around Taiwan

(originally sent as an email)

Saturday morning I had breakfast overlooking a forest of palm trees in an open air dining room to the soft sound of rainfall as it rippled across the decorative ponds of our hotel. Yes, the rain did spoil the day of sight seeing we had planned for sun-moon lake, but the rain, and the accompanying fog, intensified the natural beauty of the area surrounding our hotel. The fog blanketed the valley below us, softening the landscape and obscuring all but faint shapes giving the whole scene a dreamlike quality, while the rain beaded on palm leaves and spiderwebs and sparkled brightly in the dim light.
Where was I, you might ask yourself, No we did not splurge and fly to some tropical paradise, we merely took a road trip down to the South of Taiwan (which I guess is a tropical paradise, but is it still paradise if you work there? Yeah I guess it is). We took a week of vacation and drove to Tainan, Kenting, and Sun-moon lake.
I was interested to see what Taiwan would have to offer once you left the gilded and polished city of Taipei, and it did not disappoint. What the smaller cities lack in polish and refinement they make up for with beautiful scenery and friendly people. Our main objective in this trip was to head to the beaches of Kenting, which is a 7 hour journey by car. To break up the trip (since we are traveling with a toddler) we stopped in Tainan which is in southwestern Taiwan. Having traveled in China and now some in Taiwan I have to say that it is interesting to visit Taiwanese cities because you get to see something of Chinese culture and history that you really don't see that often on the mainland. In Tainan we visited several small and large Buddhist and Confucius temples. In Taiwan these temples are still active and often well cared for. At any given time in a temple you will see, not only tourists, but worshipers as well, and, like churches in the U.S., they were centers of social as well as spiritual activity. (you see this in Taipei, but also like in the U.S. the further away from the modernized cities and the closer to the countryside the number of temples increases)
After a day in Tainan we drove to Kenting which is a very big surfing beach in Taiwan. Unfortunately, Zora's cold developed into a fever and the weather took a turn for the worse, so the first day or two in Kenting we spent in our hotel instead of on the beach. BUT this was not a loss as we stayed in a beautiful suite (apartment?) on a man-made lake a little ways inland. The Swan Lake Resort was a peaceful, if somewhat kitschy, hotel/resort. Our first day we got to spend on the first floor with a deck right on the lake where Zora could feed the swans right in front of our rooms. There were at least 8 swans, six black (did you know there were black swans?) and two white ones, and maybe one or two baby swans in their own special fenced in area. When the weather did finally lighten up (around the same time Zora's fever broke) we headed out to the beach to watch the waves crash upon the shore. The water, beautifully blue, was much too turbulent to wade in, so we spent the afternoon in the sun. It was actually kind of funny because as we were sitting in the shade in our swim gear talking about the heat (it was about 80) there was a man next to us in a woolen vest.
After Kenting, we headed back north and hit the sun moon lake on our way back to Taipei. Sun-moon lake is located in the only land locked county in Taiwan (every other county in Taiwan has a beach). It took us an hour to find our hotel driving around windy curvy hilly back mountain country roads in the semi dark and finally dark dark. Unfortunately Google maps directions get less useful right around the same time as the street lights disappear. But it was totally worth the search. The hotels rooms all look out over a forest of palms with private patios, and huge jacuzzi tubs with glass walls over looking the forest. The next day we took a rope line (cable car/sky bucket) over the mountains to a minority village/amusement park. It is an interesting thing, it is set up to teach Taiwanese kids about the indigenous people of Taiwan, there are tribal dances, and mock villages, but to sweeten the deal there is an amusement park rival to six flags. About half way through the day the weather turned and a heavy fog descended upon the area so that when we took the rope line back down to the lake we couldn't see anything ahead or behind us.
In the end, we wandered through one of the towns around sun-moon lake before stumbling upon a small hotel that would turn out to serve one of the best meals that I've had in Taiwan. The restaurant specializes in pairing meats with some of the fruits that Taiwan is famous for. As we sat enjoying the sumptuous meal with the open air patio I couldn't think of a better way to end our spring break!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Taipei Zoo

I think one of my favorite places in Taipei has to be the zoo. It's just beautiful! Especially if you hit it on a good day, if the weather is perfect it can feel as if you are a million miles from civilization roaming through a forest catching secret glimpses of wild animals. Even if the weather isn't perfect it's an awesome zoo.
The zoo's planners put a lot of thought into the layout of both the animal enclosures (I say enclosures because very few animals are in the traditional barred cages) and the paths the humans would take. Most animals have a pretty big pen with lots of grass and trees surrounding them. There is a continuity between the vegetation in the animal enclosures and the vegetation that lines the wide sidewalks and shades the sitting areas so that there doesn't seem to be much space between where the humans are and where the wild things are.
And the zoo is HUGE! I've been there 5 or 6 times (maybe more) and I STILL don't think I've seen all the animals (although now it's because we choose to hit certain places every time). You would have to be VERY dedicated and move fairly quickly to be able to see everything at the Taipei zoo in one day, if it is even possible. I know that it has to sprawl over several miles because some of the signs pointing you to various exhibits say things like Penguins 530meters, and that's after you've been walking through the zoo for some time.
We went on Monday for Babes' pre-birthday celebration and got a special treat as all of the animals were pretty frisky. We heard lions roar, wolves howl, saw penguins swimming, elephants splashing in the water, giraffe's walking and laying down, it was great!
Anyway, here are some pictures to give you an idea of the scope and prettiness of the zoo.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Yesterday we went into Danshui to stroll about and have some lunch while the weather was somewhat nice. Danshui is a suburb/city of Taipei about thirty minutes north of us. It's got a cute little river walk and some random British colonial stuff (a fort, a boat dock, some missionary missions). It also has a Mexican restaurant. Now we've passed this place before a couple of times, it's just off the main drag so it's easy to spot from the road. I thought nothing of it, other than OOH Mexican food. But since we are in Asia I thought it would be horrible (I know what you are thinking, how can you mess up Mexican food it's just rice and beans with some peppers thrown in, but OH it can be BAD!). But Vlad had it on good authority that it was good, so we went in.
From the start I knew that we were in for a treat, the restaurant was packed with, what I think were, Latin Americans (which is weird to say about a group of people in Taiwan, but they were speaking a combination of Spanish and English in a way that is unique to certain parts of the US). The restaurant itself had a very Californian Mexican restaurant feel. There were Mexican flags on the wall and lots of pastel. The feeling was enhanced by the waitress who had a VERY strong American accent.
Now, I have been to many a Mexican restaurant in Asia and, let me just tell you, they were not good. Maybe it's the ingredients they use, or just that the technique is so foreign, whatever the reason the food is no good. But this restaurant was great. The salsa was chopped fresh and had just the right balance of onion and tomato, the chips were crispy and salted just right. I had a beef and a chicken Enchilada both of which were perfectly seasoned and not gloopy or oversauced at all. It all left me feeling like we would walk out the door onto a California beach, and when we left (and didn't walk out onto a beach) I was sad. BUT I think I will be going back again soon!
(pics of fish tacos and enchiladas)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Random slice

Today as I was walking home from Babes' school I passed a man who was wearing a bright purple track suit, blue and white tennis shoes and carrying what could have been a Louis Vuitton man bag, while smoking a cigarette. I REALLY wished I had my camera because I would have figured out a way to surreptitiously take a picture of him. There was something quintessentially
foreign about the way this man was dressed, because really, except for his shoes (and I have to say those were a little outdated too), he did not have on one single thing that an American Man would wear. Be it the track suit, the man bag, or more and more recently, cigarette.

In other news, we picked up some weird fruit at the store this weekend. It tastes a little bit like an apricot mixed with a cantaloupe with the texture reminiscent of a watermelon. I wonder what these things are?

And finally, yesterday in a fit of baking I made a pineapple upside down cake. I used to hate these when I was a kid, but now I love them! I think I'm finding my southern roots as I get older. First sweet iced tea, now pineapple upside down cakes.... Next thing you know I'll be frying up chicken and biscuits!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Leftover Oatmeal muffins

The crock pot oatmeal recipe makes TONS of oatmeal and nobody really likes to eat leftover oatmeal (even though with the sturdier oat groats you totally could), so after a little searching I found this recipe for leftover oatmeal muffins. Which makes a really great breakfast muffin. I even cut the butter and sugar in half and it was still Yummy. I think I'm going to tweak it a little and see if I can come up with my own recipe. Anyway, they turned out great and look like this:

Monday, March 08, 2010

Whole Oat Groats

So in an effort to post more often I'm going to start adding some regular slice of life moments that are slightly different because I'm overseas, or maybe regular things that I wouldn't normally do but that I'm doing because I'm overseas. Did that make any sense? No? Well, since no one really reads this, it's ok.

We were in the grocery store last week and I came across these:

They are whole oat groats. Basically it's oatmeal in the most natural state that I've seen it in. To be honest it looks a little like rice. Babes LOVES oatmeal so I've been looking for steel-cut oats here so that she can have porridge in a crock pot (which she loves) instead of so much of the instant stuff. In case you don't know the steel cut oats look like this:

After a lot of internet searching I found a basic recipe of 1 part oats to 4 parts water. Which is very close to the way the steel cut oats are made so I decided to do them the same way. I put a little bit of water in the inside of the bowl to my crock pot, then I took a glass mixing bowl and put it in the water, and I mixed together 1 cup of oats and 4 cups of water, put the lid on, turned my crock pot on low, then went to bed. When we woke up the oatmeal was done and viola!

Which I have to say looks gross when you do a close up shot, but was actually quite tasty! The oatmeal is firmer and not nearly as gooey as the instant stuff. I am definitely convinced that this is the way to go. Tomorrow.... Leftover Oatmeal muffins!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Key!

I like to entertain, maybe actually LOVE to entertain. Before Babes was born I would spend HOURS painstakingly arranging a menu, then marinating, cutting, and piecing together food. At some point I was even cutting pats of butter in decorative shapes. With the arrival of a child, however, I no longer have the time to spend the whole day in the kitchen. Menus have gotten simpler, decorations less fancy, everything pared down to the essentials.
I had baby group at my house on Friday and then again today. While it is not a dinner party, by a long stretch, it still set my entertaining mind aflutter. BUT instead of a whole day's prep or even several house I had everything together and laid out in under two hours (including dressing myself and the child). And here's what I did...
1. I cleaned the day before: toys picked up, floors vacuumed, kitchen wiped, dishwasher empty. So this morning I only had to put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher.
2. I also made fudge last night (which was mainly because I wanted fudge, not because I felt that these people somehow deserved fudge)
3. To serve, I had a wedge of cheese, then around it crackers, and around that mini oranges, sliced apples, grapes, blue berries, cherry tomatoes.
4. Then I set out the cups, spoons, sugar, and honey for the tea,
And I was all done. I did mourn the fact that my three part serving dish that used to hold olives that I would marinate myself, or marinated mozzarella now held goldfish crackers, but it was still pretty to look at with a minimal amount of fuss.
I have stocked my freezer with all sorts of dinners, but I think my new goal will be to get some entertaining items in there as well. Maybe freeze some bread sticks, cookies, and cheese medallions so that when people show up I can have fresh baked goodies to offer (I loved being able to offer two kinds of homemade fudge!). Now if only I could master the art of small talk.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kitchen Chemistry

DH is out of town this week and I've been experimenting with kid pleasing meals. And it does work. Add a little ground beef, pasta and cheese to just about anything and my toddler with eat it. Unfortunately to my more adult taste buds this week has been a little uneventful. A kid pleasing meal is good every once and a while but a week's worth... not so much. So most of these casseroles are going into the freezer for lunch time ease and I'm going to spend the next two days experimenting with making sour cream, yogurt and fudge. He he he I've already made Penuche which some people know as brown sugar fudge and it is DELICIOUS! I used to make it as a kid and I hesitate to make it these days unless there are going to be people that I can take it to so that they will eat it. Once you eat some you have to keep eating more so I try to get rid of it as soon as possible. I'm excited to make chocolate fudge though, I've never done it before. It looks like it's the same techniques as making Penuche so hopefully it will turn out well. I always feel a little like Harry Potter in a potions class making candy. You've got sugar, milk, vanilla and butter, add a little heating and cooling, then rapid stirring and VIOLA! You've got fudge. Apparently there are some pretty crazy chemical reactions going on, seriously they should do this in chemistry class too! How much sweeter would it be?

Monday, January 25, 2010


Yeah I spank! It's weird that this has become almost a dirty little secret. That people who spank are seen taking the easy way, or are being mean to their kids, or are just ignorant. BUT once I admit to it almost all parents have smacked a butt or two in their day. They are often ashamed, or taken by surprise, or... I don't know. I always knew that I wanted to use spanking as an option for my kid. Before she was born, and as she approached the age where I started to think about discipline I did a lot of thinking, reading, and observing. So when it came down to it I had already decided when I was going to use spanking (in theory). Spanking is not the automatic punishment, nor is it the last resort (I don't know what the last resort is, thankfully I haven't had to go beyond a booty smack). I use a plethora of punishments, when necessary, but frankly Babes is a good kid, most of the time I just need to stay within our set boundaries and she's pretty obedient. It's annoying, but I follow up, almost every single time. So if I say, Babes pick up your toys, and she doesn't I don't just let it be, I walk over and engage. I'm not afraid to cause a scene either. If we have to discipline in public so be it (granted I haven't had to spank her in public, usually interrupting whatever it is that she's doing is usually enough to get her attention). She screams and shouts, and if we have to we'll leave the store only to go back when she's calm again. When I do have to spank it is usually because she is testing the waters and we have been through the other punishments and they have failed, OR I have caught her getting ready to play in the outlet. If she is spanked she usually knows why she got a swift smack to the bum.
I have to say I don't regret it. Yes, there are all those studies that say kids who are spanked hit more, are not as smart, are emotionally disturbed, become sexual sadists, etc etc. But I have determined after reading a bunch of stuff on the web and in books that "the experts" don't know jack. Today they say that kids should be breastfed, yesterday kids should be fed formula, tomorrow maybe they won't have milk at all they'll just start drinking juice from birth. One expert says your kids should sleep in your bed, another says they should sleep in their own crib not anywhere near you. The fact of the matter is that it is your kid, you have to do what works for you. Spanking may not work for your kid, just like time outs don't work for everyone. You have to figure out what your kid is like and what works for you and your family. Like I figured out what works for me and my family. There are no short cuts, parenting is a hard uphill slog through thick slippery mud where you've just lost your map and can't figure out if you've already been this way or not and you're really not sure where you are going you just know that you have to keep going.
Just so you know, as I was leaving the states I heard a report on CNN that said that spanking your kids (under the age of six) could possibly raise their IQ a few points. How's that for mixed messages.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Past is the Past

Lately I've become obsessed (OBSESSED) with my past. In my spare time (and not spare time) I've been going around and around in my head about people I've known and I've recently become convinced that I was an evil witch. I was completely self absorbed, didn't really listen and didn't really pay attention. I hope that I wasn't snotty or mean, but I bet I was. Personally, I think this is facebook's fault. All of these random people from my past keep popping up and I'm curious what impression I left on them. Of course they won't tell me oh yeah, you were the biggest SNOT that I knew, but I wish they would (or maybe I don't). So I never do ask, or rather I rarely ask, what do you remember about me. But I am curious. What DO people remember about me? Do they think "Oh yeah, that black chick that sat in the back" or maybe I was the mean kid or the smelly kid, and I just don't know it. Do I want to know? Why can't I just leave the past in the past?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year

So I have looked back on this year's blogging and have come to a decision. I am no longer going to pay for my own domain name. Yes, it's only $10 a year, but there is no need. So starting next month I am going to move my blog to a free space and slowly dismantle my old website (that I never did anything to).
What else will I do this year? I have no idea. I have tried to come up with a list of New Year's resolutions, but my imagination escapes me. I guess I could continue to work on my old standards. Write more, lose weight (when did this become part of my standard list, I am disgusted with myself I HATE dieting), get in shape (which should help with the lose weight part), get organized (HA! Never happens!), be friendlier (is it possible to change your own nature?).
Maybe a better thing would be to complete some of the short term projects that I have started and haven't finished. Like Z's 1st year book/and pics, start her 2nd and 3rd year book and pics, and maybe a 2009 family book. Finish Z's quilt. Finish DH's fish blanket. I don't know what else, I'm sure there's something though.