Chinese New Year 2014

We stuck around Taipei for Chinese New Year this year.

IMG_0556We kicked off New Years with a hotpot lunch at our Taiwanese friend’s home.

IMG_0560Jude munched on tofu and enjoyed crawling around checking out all the different people.

IMG_0564The next day we went to a BBQ at our NZ friend’s house. There were two other babies to keep Jude busy.

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IMG_0603The rest of the week we spent doing more eating (homemade pizza, yum yum),

IMG_0612Cleaning up around the house (thanks to the cats…),

IMG_0557A bit of window shopping (I really love the cat ones!),

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Playing at home,

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And getting out and exploring Taipei. We went to a temple,

IMG_0566And to the Gongguan Water Museum.

IMG_0667In the spirit of all things new, Jude tried curry for the first time and was a fan.

IMG_0677We also spent a lot of time working on him being gentle to Fern. Him holding a cat toy actually stops him from clobbering her!

IMG_0626Luke and I also finished watching all of Breaking Bad (insanely good) and  started House of Cards (so far also excellent)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30

My 30th Birthday was last Sunday. I spent the morning like this:

IMG_0129Finally getting dressed to enjoy brunch at The Diner:

IMG_9925My first meal as 30 looked like this:

IMG_9927We returned home and found this cake on our doorstep:

IMG_9955Our wonderful friend made this and it was full of all the things I like.

IMG_9970Another friend dropped these off:

IMG_9964And later that night Luke and I toasted to a new decade.

IMG_9973My actual birthday was just the start of the celebration. On Tuesday a big box arrived from my Mom and Dad with this inside:

IMG_0065I also got a new iPhone from Luke (perfect for selflies of my 30 year-old-self):

IMG_0172Luke and I got all dressed up one night, got the babysitter in, and went to dinner at Osteria.

IMG_0176We ordered the Chef’s special set menu. It was amazing.

IMG_0182We were really impressed with all the components of each dish – super well thought out.

IMG_0188Dessert was the best tiramisu I have ever had.

IMG_0194It feels good be 30!

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Natalie in Taipei

My little sister, Natalie, recently came to Taiwan for a visit. She was only here for a week but in that time we covered a lot of ground. One of our first stops was Taipei 101.

IMG_8852We went early, at 9am, and ended up being first in line. It was a good thing too as it gets super busy with all the tour groups.

IMG_8846The view was awesome thanks to it being a totally clear, sunny day. I can imagine that if there was some cloud, or rain, the view wouldn’t be all that great. The one disappointing thing is that you can’t see much from the outdoor viewing deck because of the safety rails. So inside is the place to be.

IMG_8819 We decided to get a photo to remember the day.

IMG_9443I also took Nat along to Baby group one morning for coffee and cuteness overload.

IMG_8977We made cupcakes to give to a friend and to celebrate a belated birthday for Nat.

IMG_8983Luke babysat a few nights so we hit some of the nightmarkets including, Ximending:

IMG_8984Where we feasted on various ‘xiao chi’, small eats. Including, fried mushrooms, fresh mochi, and roasted corn:

IMG_8986For our dinner we stopped in a dumpling place where we had vegetarian pot-stickers and sesame paste noodles.

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One night we went out to Guting night market and got a hair wash after.

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On nice afternoon we drove up to Maokong, to our favorite teahouse, for tea,

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and snacks,

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and playtime.

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One hot afternoon, we took a short trip out to CKS Memorial.

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And to Yongkang Street for pearl milk tea,

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and mango ice.

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I treated Nat to a nice vegetarian meal as a belated birthday present.

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And of course, there was lots of Jude time.

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It was a great week and we hope Aunt Natalie will come and see us again in Taiwan!

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Three Recipes

Strawberry and Lemon Bars

I made these last week for the first time and they are delicious. The sour lemon nicely compliments the sweet strawberry jam and powdered sugar glaze.

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Ingredients 

Bars:

1 2/3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Glaze:

6 Tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
1-2 Tbsp  lemon juice
1/4 tsp lemon zest

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl.

3. Beat butter and sugars in a large bowl at medium speed until light and fluffy; add  lemon zest. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture until just combined; dough will resemble a coarse meal.

4. Reserve 1 cup dough for topping; use a sheet of parchment to press remaining dough evenly into bottom of prepared baking dish.

5. Place jam in a small bowl and microwave briefly (about 10 seconds). Whisk to loosen. Use the back of a spoon to gently spread jam over the dough.

6. Toss the remaining dough with 2 teaspoons water to form large crumbs and then sprinkle over jam filling.

7. Bake until top is golden, about 20-25 minutes. Cool completely in baking dish on a rack, then cut into bars with a sharp knife.

8. While the bars are baking prepare the glaze: Whisk together powdered sugar,  lemon juice, and zest in a small bowl.

9. Drizzle glaze over bars and let set before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge, or wrap well and freeze.

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Super Moist Vegan Chocolate Cake 

This is one of my go to cakes. Super easy and fast. I usually always have all the ingredients on hand and it comes out perfect every time.

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Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt

5 Tbsp oil

1 Tbsp vinegar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup cold water

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8×8 inch pan (or pan of your choice – I used my mini loaf pan this time).

2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt.

3. Make three deep holes in mixture, add oil to one hole, vinegar to the next hole, and vanilla to the last.

4. Pour water over the top and mix well.

5. Pour into pan and bake for approx. 20-25 mins. Test using a toothpick and when it comes out clean, remove from oven and cool.

I decided to cut them into little slices and make a cream cheese frosting for on top.

IMG_4795They are the perfect little snack bites of cake.

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Almond and Apricot Bars 

I love Larabars but they aren’t available in Taiwan. Thanks to my recent purchase of a food processor I have been able to re-create a similar bar at home.

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Ingredients
1 1/2 cup almonds (or other nuts, raw or roasted but definitely unsalted)
1 cup Medjool dates, pitted (I used regular dried dates and soaked for a half hour before processing)
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup coconut
A pinch of sea salt
Directions
1. Line a baking dish with parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are chopped (stop before they start turning into nut butter). Pour them into a large bowl.
3. Process the pitted dates, dried apricots and sea salt until forms a paste. (You may need to scrape the sides of the processor from time to time.)
4. Break up the fruit mixture and add the nuts to the food processor. Process until the chopped nuts are incorporated evenly into the fruit mixture. Return to bowl and mix in coconut.
5.  Spread the mixture into to the baking dish, and use your hands to press it into an even layer.
6. Place bars in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, remove, and use a sharp knife to cut into bars.
7. You can wrap each bar in plastic wrap or store the bars together in  tightly for individual servings.  Store them in the refrigerator or freezer.

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I put them in the freezer for a post-baby snack.

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Full Term

I’m 37 weeks pregnant  – officially full term! My actual due date isn’t until April 28th but he could come anytime. He’s done all his major development and is now just adding weight. The past month has been all about preparing for his arrival.

IMG_4515We took birth classes to help us get ready for labor and delivery.

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Sterilized baby bottles.

IMG_4680Finished organizing the nursery.

IMG_4537Spent time together.

IMG_4666Ate pork tonkatsu,

IMG_4665and lots of mochi.

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Then spent time at the gym trying to burn some of it off.

IMG_4699Did some  baking and put it in the freezer for easy postpartum snacks and meals.

IMG_4606Hung out with the cats.

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Took lots of photos of them,

IMG_4573and of course, of my gigantic belly.

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Two Years

Today is our 2 year wedding anniversary.

DSC_4049It’s hard to believe we have been married two years already. It has certainly gone by in a flash. Last year at this time we were celebrating in Thailand.

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This year we were homebound for obvious reasons. We were also unable to celebrate today as Luke had his wisdom teeth removed so instead we celebrated yesterday.

We decided to mark the occasion by  going back for a meal at No. 168 Prime Steakhouse. We celebrated my birthday there back in January and loved it so much decided to return. We ordered the 5-course set menu again, ordering slightly different items for each course.

To start –  Grilled Shrimp and Crab Cake.

IMG_4421Soup – French Onion and Clam Chowder.

IMG_4422Steak Mains.

IMG_4423Luke,

IMG_4425and Me.

IMG_4426Dessert – Strawberry Tart and Pecan Pie.

IMG_4428We enjoyed our meal just as much as the first time. Over dinner we spent some time reflecting on the big changes we’ve had over the past year.

We moved to Taiwan,

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Adopted two cats,

IMG_4418And perhaps the biggest change…

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(Me @ 34 weeks)

Cooking Up A Storm

The weather in Taipei has been very strange. Last week, for most of the week, the weather was hot. On Friday it was really warm all day and then around late afternoon the sky started changing color and we could feel the storm brewing. This didn’t stop us from getting out for some exercise. We headed down to the riverfront on our bikes and once at the bike trail, Luke got off and ran while I trailed behind him on my bike.

IMG_4171He ran for what seemed like forever.

IMG_4172Thankfully I had my headphones so was able to catch up on ‘This American Life’ podcasts.

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After the run we came home and after making a batch of healthy-ish cookies, we went out for pizza. The cookies, which had oatmeal and carrots in them, turned out really well. I will definitely make them again and possibly add some walnuts next time.

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Oatmeal Raisin Carrot Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
3. In the bowl combine the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Using hand blender, blend approximately 2 – 3 minutes, on medium speed. Add the egg, and mix until fully incorporated. At this point you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the vanilla.
4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the butter and egg mixture, and mix until just combined.
5. Strain the water from the raisins, ensuring that you remove most of it. Add the carrots, rolled oats, and raisins dough and stir.
6. Using a  melon-baller or small spoon, scoop each cookie and place it on an ungreased baking sheet 4 inches apart. Flatten each cookie slightly with a spoon. Place the baking sheet into the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10 – 12 minutes.  Cool for 15 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack. Cookies can be stored in the fridge or the freezer.

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Our Saturday turned out to be really busy filled with a few social engagements. So busy that we didn’t really get to have a proper dinner. So Sunday we both woke up pretty hungry. I was going to make pancakes but then I started thinking about scones and so decided to make them instead. Served with fruit and hard-boiled eggs and of course coffee.

I used an old recipe of mine: Cinnamon Sugar Scones

IMG_4200I rolled them out and baked them on my Silpat, (which I got for Christmas from my parents and absolutely love) and they turned out beautifully.

IMG_4202Sunday afternoon I went out for some bread and stopped in a department store close by. I was browsing in the kitchen appliance section when I noticed they were having a big sale on Kitchen Aid appliances. I have had my eye on a 3.5 cup Kitchen Aid food processor for a long time and finally it was at a price I could happily justify!

I tried it out as soon as I got home. First I used it to make dinner – chopping first an onion, then carrots, then peanuts, then coriander for my chicken lettuce wraps. And after dinner I used it to make us dessert. A recipe I have long been itching to try – Banana Soft Serve.

IMG_4228Basically you chop up a few frozen bananas, throw them in the food processor, and puree for 3-5 mins. Done.

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I went a step further and melted some chocolate and poured over top. Words cannot explain how delicious and how much like ice cream this simple concoction tastes.

IMG_4231And finally my belly at 32 weeks.

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For a bit of fun, here is my belly at 17 weeks. Incredible!

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Recovering From Our Busy Weekend

We had a really busy weekend over here and are in need of another weekend to recover!

We’ve been trying to go out at least one night every week on a date and so on Friday night we started with a drink and appetizer at a bar and then headed to a Szechuan place for dinner.

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At the restaurant we chose the two person set menu and asked our waiter to recommend which dishes to have for each course. The menu was all in Chinese as was everything our waiter said  and we weren’t familiar with some of the dishes he recommended. The first dish that came out we knew was going to be pork based but neither of us were quite sure what exactly it was.

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I tried it but wasn’t a fan. The sauce was nice and the texture was chewy but I couldn’t help but think that it might possibly be pig intestines. The remaining dishes were thankfully all familiar to us.

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We slowly scoffed them down in between big gulps of water as Szechuan food is mouth-numbingly spicy!

Saturday I was up early cleaning the house and making carmel corn. My friends were throwing me a baby shower, held at my house, and the carmel corn was to put in favors for the guests.

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We had a great time and I will post about it as soon as I get the photos my friend took of it.

Then on Sunday we had our first birth class. We’ll be doing four in total over the next few weeks. The first class in the series covered the ins and outs of going into labor. We both found the class really informative and are glad to have signed-up. It certainly makes us feel as though we are a bit better prepared for the big day. After class I was ready to collapse from exhaustion but couldn’t as we still had one more engagement plus a night of Chinese study ahead.

Our Taiwanese friends wanted to take us out to a hot pot lunch to celebrate the Chinese New Year and  the pending arrival or our new addition. They both can speak pretty darn good English but Luke and I are always keen to practice our Chinese so I spent the lunch exhausting myself even more as I searched for the right words and grammar patterns to use.

The food at the hot pot restaurant was excellent. We’re both big fans of this style of interactive eating.

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IMG_4093This week I plan to take it easy. I’m 31 weeks pregnant and feeling the effects of carrying around the extra 20 pounds. ‘Pregnancy brain’ is also starting to kick in (I think mostly due  to being so tired!).

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新年快樂!(Happy New Year!): Camping at Sun Moon Lake

Last week was the Chinese New Year here in Taiwan. Most Taiwanese get a whole week off work and spend that time with their families celebrating. Luke and I also had the week off and were kindly invited to do some things with our Taiwanese friends. On Sunday night we had a lovely dinner with one of my old Chinese teachers and her family. And on Thursday, we joined my current Chinese tutor and her family for a night of camping down in Sun Moon Lake. It was definitely the highlight of our vacation!

We left chilly, overcast Taipei around 9:30am on Thursday morning and made our way down the west coast stopping along the way for lunch.

IMG_3888The place we had lunch at was a huge rest stop filled with a large selection of restaurants and shops. There was even an area called ‘the Tunnel of Love’ with a graffiti wall for lovers. Coincidentally it was Valentine’s Day!

IMG_3892We made it to our camping destination sometime after 1pm.

IMG_0721The setting was beautiful- we were right on the lake. The sunny, warm weather helped too.

IMG_3895Our friends were already there and had a great set-up. In addition to my tutor, her husband, and their three kids, there was her Mom, her sister, her husband, their two kids and her brother and two kids.

IMG_0733The tent we rented was raised up on stilts and had a thin mattress pad lining the inside. So we just had to bring our sleeping bags and four pillows that I arrange in various positions around my body to make sleeping more comfortable.

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After we unpacked and organized our stuff, we all headed into the small town down the road and caught a ferry to take us across to the main town. Being Chinese New Year it was pretty busy around the lake. The line for the ferry was long but moved very quickly.

IMG_3896The view from the boat was really nice. The lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains.

IMG_3904Here’s us on the boat:

IMG_3905Once on the other side of the lake we all rented bikes and hit the bike trail. My bike was extra fancy as it was electric! Perfect for me in my tired pregnant state. I rode it like a scooter most of the way and was able to keep up with Luke.

IMG_3911We rode for about an hour in total.

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IMG_3914After biking we were driven back to camp where dinner was awaiting us. My Chinese teacher’s sister had make a couple of hot pots – one with a sour soup base and one with a spicy base. Both pots had various meats, fishballs, and veggies. I was a big fan of the sour base and ate so many bowls that I didn’t have room to try the spicy one.

IMG_3917The kids were super cute while waiting to get their bowls filled up.

IMG_3920I got lucky and in one serving got a Hello Kitty fish ball.

IMG_3924After dinner we played board games until almost midnight! The latest I’ve stayed up in a long time.

IMG_3929And in the morning, after a short walk, Luke and I returned to the campsite for birthday cake! A few days before it was my Chinese teacher’s son’s birthday so they brought along a yummy cake to celebrate with everyone.

IMG_0729After packing up we said our goodbyes and thank-yous and headed back to Taipei.

IMG_0736We had such a great time in Sun Moon Lake and can’t wait to return.

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Cuddly Cats and Two Recipes

While we were in the States we boarded Goose and Fern at this awesome place called ‘Cats N Life’ in Taipei. The facilities are very nice – super clean, and a good size . But the best feature about the place was that they had web cams in each of the cat rooms where you could watch your cats in real-time. How cool is that? So while we were away I would check in on them several times a day.

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It really set my mind at ease to be able to see them on demand 24/7 and know they were okay. I still missed them like crazy but I think the time together on their own actually brought them closer together. Since we’ve been back they’ve been super affectionate to one another. Here are some of my favorite moments:

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Apart from snapping a million photos of cats I’ve also been in the kitchen making lots of tasty things. Luke and I both recently had a hankering for lasagna. There is a very small  selection of italian ingredients available in Taipei supermarkets and of what you can find they are all super $$$. But I figured lasagna, a meal that would last us several dinners was worth the splurge.

So I went about collecting the various components to make lasagna – pasta sheets, sauce, mozzarella cheese, and spinach. The one thing I was unable to locate (a key ingredient) was ricotta cheese. Instead of giving up I turned my mind to thinking about substitutes. I opened our fridge and staring back at me was a block of firm tofu. Voila! My ‘ricotta cheese’! It turned out delicious, the ricotta was not missed at all.

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Amazing Tofu Spinach Lasagna

Ingredients 

-1/2 (12 ounce) package uncooked lasagne noodles

-1 (12 ounce) block firm tofu

-2 eggs

-1/4 cup milk

-1 big jar spaghetti sauce (or about 2 cups homemade)

-1 tablespoon dried mixed italian herbs

-2 cups shredded mozzarella

-1 generous bunch of spinach (cooked,  drained, and chopped)

-salt/pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add lasagna and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

3. Place about 1/2 cup of the spaghetti sauce in a separate bowl.

4. In a medium bowl combine tofu, eggs, salt, pepper, milk, remaining spaghetti sauce, parsley, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, and cooked spinach.

5. Spread half of the reserved spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.

6. Alternate lasagna noodles with the sauce mixture, ending with noodles.

7. Spread the remaining reserved spaghetti sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.

8. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

The other delicious thing I made this week was this:

IMG_3740It’s an Almond Cake using marzipan (which I love). Marzipan is usually an extremely  pricey ingredient here so I avoid recipes that use it. But I was at IKEA the other day to my surprise they were selling blocks of marzipan for $2! I’m kicking myself now for only grabbing one.

Anyhow, for the cake I followed this recipe (minus the almond garnish on top). It turned out beautifully and was gone within a day!