Sleepy Fern

Fern really loves to play and eat but hands down the thing she loves the most is to sleep. The odd contortions she puts herself into while sleeping never cease to amaze me. Here are a few of my favorites:

Last week of the semester

It’s the final week of our first semester studying Chinese. It didn’t start so well for me.

(I’m pretty dangerous on a bike.)

Thankfully the week (and my elbow) has gotten progressively better. For one Luke and I completed our end of semester assignment – to give a five minute speech in Chinese. Our speeches were both introductory speeches – to tell the audience about ourselves,  our families, where we come from, etc.  It took a lot of preparation and practice to do this.

Our speeches were both on Tuesday afternoon so we spent the morning preparing (and trying to calm our nerves). We went to the room where the presentations were held a bit early to watch the other speeches.

There weren’t any of our fellow beginners before us so hearing these close-to-fluent speeches was impressive but also nerve wrecking as we didn’t understand much. So we spent the the time reviewing our note cards.

Luke had decided to memorize his speech and go sans notecards which was pretty brave. Thankfully he was wearing his lucky socks.

When we finally presented we both did great. The hardest part was the 5 minute question time after as the audience was asking questions using vocabulary we didn’t know. They were most interested in Fern. In my speech I said that Fern is a Taiwanese cat and so she teaches me Chinese and I teach her English. During this part, I put up a photo on the powerpoint:

The crowd went wild.

We’re both really glad to be done with our presentations. Just two more days of classes and we’re on break.

To celebrate a job well done we went out for dinner to a small Cambodian place we stumbled upon near the night market.

The Perfect Granola Bar

Granola bars are pretty much non-existent in Taiwan. In New Zealand we relied on granola (or muesli) bars as a snack food in between meals. I’ve always known it is better to make my own bars but when they are cheap and readily available it was sometimes easier just to buy them. Now, here in Taipei, I have no choice but to make them. I recently found a particularly good recipe that doesn’t require any sugar that I thought I would share. These bars are quick and easy to make and will become a regular feature in our fridge.

Healthy Baked Oatmeal Bars (based on this recipe)

– 1.5 cups rolled oats

– 1/2 cup chopped walnut (or any nut you like)

– 1/2 cup dried fruit (I used 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup chopped dates)

– 1/4 cup seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, flax, etc)

– 1 tsp cinnamon

– 1 tsp  salt

– 1.25 cups skim milk (I used soy)

– 1 egg (I used 2 egg whites)

– 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F

2. mix dry ingredients together

3. mix wet ingredients together

4. pour wet ingredients into dry and stir well to combine.

5. pour into a 9×9 inch baking pan that has either been lined with parchment paper or sprayed with cooking spray.

6. bake for 40 mins.

7. cool and cut into squares.

I store mine in the fridge only because it is so humid here but I’m sure they would be fine left out or in a cupboard.

New Friends

One of the great things about learning a new language is the opportunity to make new Chinese speaking friends. About a month ago Luke was introduced to a Taiwanese man, the same age as Luke, who was keen to practice his English with someone. Just about every weekend since then Luke and Yeats have been meeting up to share a cup of coffee and talk in both English and Chinese. They get along really well so we proposed taking it one step further and going on a double date with him and his girlfriend, Claire.

So last night we met them for dinner on Yongkang Street.

Yongkang Street is packed with awesome restaurants and cool little boutiques to explore.

The restaurant Yeats picked was called 府岸海鮮城.

We quickly picked up from the interior that it was a seafood restaurant.

When Yeats and Claire arrived, Yeats called the waitress over and ordered the meal. This is just one of the many advantages of dining with locals-they know what is good to order.

The dishes started coming out…

My favorite dish, which is also the restaurant’s most famous, is some kind of fried rice with crispy baby shrimps on top called ‘Sakura shrimp and rice’, as it looks as vibrant as the Japanese sakura flower.

Throughout the dinner we talked mostly in English as they both have been studying it for 15 years. Towards the end of the dinner we switched to Chinese and it was quite hard. Luke and I managed to respond to some questions and also ask them questions in Chinese. They thought we sounded good so we were both quite pleased about that.

After dinner they took us to another place on Yongkang Street to sample Taiwan’s famous dessert, shaved ice.

You can pick from various toppings to go on top of your shaved ice. The most popular is mango (we were also very happy to find out that Taiwan has just entered its mango season).

We ordered the strawberry and mango shaved ice and Yeats and Claire had mango and taro.

We had a great night with Yeats and Claire and all agreed to do it again very soon.

Luke’s Birthday part 2

I asked my friend for a recommendation on where to take Luke for his Birthday dinner. I told her I wanted a really good Japanese Restaurant. Almost with out hesitation she told me she knew exactly the place. The restaurant is called: 魚道生日式料理 (not sure of the translation). Since it wasn’t really English-friendly, my friend had to book for us.

We arrived and took a seat at the sushi bar. There were no menus – all we had to do was to pick the set-menu we wanted (just the price as the food was all a surprise). After we ordered drinks and picked out menus the food started coming out. It was amazing. There were about 10 dishes each  all up in our set. Each one had a different kind of fish and flavor. Everything was beautifully presented and so delicious.

Here are a few snaps from our dinner:

After dinner we headed to a cocktail bar close by called, Fourplay. It was a great contrast to our serene dinner – it was boisterous and filled with a great weekend party atmosphere.

The cool thing about Fourplay is it also has no menu. You tell a waiter what kind of drink you feel like (what spirit, whether you like fruity, sour, sweet, etc and how strong you like your drink) and out comes a cocktail suited to your tastes. It was excellent. Luke went for a whiskey based, not sweet, and I went for a vodka based, sour drink. Both were very good and well priced too at around $9NZD. We’ll be back to both these places for sure.

We packed a lot into our Saturday celebrating Luke’s 28th Birthday, his first birthday in Taipei. It was a lot of fun and showed us new and interesting parts of Taipei. We came home after the cocktail bar totally exhausted but both agreed it was an awesome day.

Luke’s Birthday Part 1

It was somebody special’s birthday on Saturday so I was up early decorating, wrapping presents, and making banana bread and coffee.

Luke woke up pretty quickly when he found out presents were being served with breakfast.

After breakfast we set out to hike Elephant Hill, which is located a few blocks from Taipei 101.

The day was overcast but incredibly humid. We were a couple of sweaty messes by the time we got to the first look-out.

The view was awesome. The walk can also be done at night-time as the path is well-lit. I imagine it is even more stunning at night.

We cut our hike short because of the heat and headed back down into town. On our way back towards 101 we stumbled on a large outdoor market and had a wander around.

After the market we made our way to Eslite Mall near Taipei City Hall and found a vegetarian buffet to have lunch at. Luke was keen to have sushi but since I knew something he didn’t (that we were going to have sushi for dinner) I convinced him that vegetarian food would be better.

After lunch we came back and decided it was a good time to have cake.

I could only (safely) fit 16 candles on the cake. I told Luke the number of candles were meant to represent how old he really looks.

I am so glad I married someone with such powerful lungs. Now if only he could learn not to spit all over the cake when he blows out candles…

I made a simple vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. I was lucky to find sprinkles in Taiwan (which are a rare). I was told it’s also very hard to find candles so I am glad I brought some over from NZ.

To be continued…

Almond Biscotti

It’s always nice to have a sweet treat on a special holiday. On Mother’s Day, for our Mommas, I made Almond Biscotti dipped in chocolate. Sadly our Mommas are many many miles away from us and so aren’t able to taste these delicious morsels. So I thought the next best thing would be to post the recipe and hopefully someone living closer (hint, hint Natalie and Faith) will make these for them.

 

Almond Biscotti

Dry ingredients

– 2 C flour

– 1 C sugar

– 1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted

– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients

– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

– 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

– 2 eggs

Egg wash

– 1 egg white

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Combine dry ingredients into a bowl and mix well.

2. In another bowl, combine wet ingredients (i.e. everything except egg wash) and mix well.

3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

4. On a floured surface, turn out the dough. Knead lightly 7 or 8 times.

5. Divide dough in half and shape each into long round logs.

6. Place logs onto a baking sheet covered with baking paper and then flat logs out so they are about 1 inch thick. Brush with egg wash (egg white beaten a few times with fork).

7. Back for 30 minutes.

8. Remove from oven and cool.

9. Turn oven down to 325 degrees F

10. Cut the cooled logs into biscotti slices and place on baking sheet with one side of the biscotti up.

11. Bake for 10 mins and then flip each biscotti onto its other side and bake for another 10 mins.

12. Remove from oven and cool.

Dip in melted chocolate if desired!

A Rug for My Mama

Dear Mom,

I am so grateful to have you as a Mother. I am especially grateful for all the wisdom you have imparted on me over the years. One of the most important lessons you have shared with me is the importance of having a rug on a kitchen floor.

I know that some of your other daughters have chosen to ignore this lesson.

Shocking image

How can she live like this?

I know you find these images extremely upsetting as you have expressed grave concern to me and the occupants of these kitchens. And yet still they do not comply with your wishes.

On this Mother’s Day I have decided to raise the bar. You may get flowers, chocolates, and cards from my sisters but not from me. From me you will get peace of mind. Peace of mind knowing that I have a rug on my kitchen floor.

Rug dedicated to my Mother

I love you Mom and firmly believe that this act should promote me to your favorite daughter.

Happy Mothers Day!

Love Mel

Mid-Terms

We’ve both had our heads down buried in text books this week. Our language school doesn’t mess around. Being apart of a University, they go through all the usual University motions: copious amounts of homework, pop quizzes, mid-terms, presentations, etc. This week we had mid-terms.

I had three tests in total – one oral and two written. They were hard but I studied a lot and think overall I did really well. For me, the hardest thing about learning Mandarin is getting the tones right. Since there are 4 different tones (plus neutral tone) you have to remember which tone goes with what combination of letters to create which word. It’s very difficult coming from a language that has more classifications – more words for things, and no tones.

Despite being difficult I am really enjoying the process of learning a language full-time. We are both slowly improving. Every week we build our vocabularies and get a chance to test out what we’ve learned on locals over the weekends.

This weekend we have a number of errands to run as we continue to make our apartment feel more like home. One thing we will be doing is going to get some of our photographs and art prints framed. Professional framing is dirt cheap in Taipei. The only problem is that most don’t speak English. It will be the perfect opportunity to practice our Mandarin. And failing that, our exaggerated body language.

Our relatively boring week was made a bit more interesting by a little ball of fur. Fern is no longer the shy, quiet kitten we brought home last week. She runs the place now. She has explored just about every inch of the apartment. Her favorite thing at the moment (apart from long afternoon naps and attacking Luke’s plants) is water. She is obsessed. Whenever we turn on a tap she is there. She can watch it run for hours (not that we leave our tap on that long). I shouldn’t say that she just watches it because she actually plays with it. She’ll get right into the sink, getting her paws all wet, and will stick her face in the stream of water.

She’s stinking cute.

Last night we had a post exam celebration. Pizza and then out to the night market.

We stopped in at a bar near the market for a drink.

After our drink we came home and played with Fern a bit more before calling it a night.