Wednesday, September 30, 2009

at Jyl's request...

New Additions...

A few weeks ago we bought some plants to 'spice' up our apartment...My orchid has now produced a total of 6 flowers!
We think it is a Phaelinopsis - one of the easiest orchids to raise.
Dan's peppers are nearly ripe, almost all are a dark red color.
We believe that this pepper is a Chinese Five Color Pepper Plant.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holiday's Galore


This Saturday is Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival. It marks the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of cooler weather. It's a time for families to gather and celebrate the past year. This holiday is similar to the celebration of Thanksgiving when families come together.

There are a number of legendary stories behind moon festival, but one that is familiar to most is the story of how Chang Er flees to the Moon. In the story a young girl, Chang Er, drinks a potion of immortality and floats to the moon. She now lives on the moon where she watches over her husband, who on the 15th of the eighth lunar month, prepares sacrifices to the moon and sends prayers wishing the best for his beloved.


It is a tradition for people to give others moon cakes. These sweet pastries are filled with a number of delicious fillings ranging from red bean paste and yellow egg yolk to jams, jellies, and dried fruits. I know the red bean and egg yolk sound bad, but they are actually quite delicious - very sweet. I read an article recently that said that recently bakeries have been competing to not only make the most delicious moon cakes but because of the way people can put on the pounds this time of year, also the most healthy options. (Just like Thanksgiving & Christmas!)

This year, Dan and I received a number of moon cakes as it falls the week of Confucius's Day/Teacher Appreciation Day. We received a box of moon cakes and a red envelope (a traditional gift giving item) from our school. The box contained a variety of moon cakes as well as other sweet treats. We also received home-made moon cakes made by a member of our staff as a Teacher Appreciation gift. Tonight I received yet another box of moon cakes, this time honey flavored.

These sweet treats have made great breakfast and midnight treats. We look forward to many more Chinese celebrations and hope to learn the stories behind them.

COMING SOON: Double Ten's Day (10/10) Chinese National Day

Taipei


After a morning of classes, we boarded the bus and headed downtown to catch a train. When we arrived at the train station, we wondered around the ticketing area in search of any ENGLISH. Seeing that we were confused, a young man asked if we needed any help. We told him where we wanted to go and he offered to help us buy our tickets. Micheal ended up being a great help throughout our trip to Taipei, from boarding the correct train on the right platform to purchasing out MRT Card in Taipei. After arrival, we thanked him and got his phone number so that we could meet up and buy him a drink back in Hsinchu some time!

Once in Taipei, we headed directly to our hostel - Amigo's. This literally hole-in-the-wall place was down a long alley-way out of sight. Nothing fancy of course, but cheap and somewhat clean. We only needed a place to sleep for the night - so Amigo's was the place.


Once we were checked in, we headed back into town to get some dinner. We spent almost an hour in search of the world-famous restaurant Din-Tai-Fung. Once again, Taiwan maps are unreliable...even those maps printed by the city of Taipei do not match the roadsigns posted in Taipei!! After circling back down the street it was to be on, we finally stumbled upon a crowd of people waiting outside the restaurant. As a hostess approached us and asked if we'd like to order, we asked what the name of the restaurant was...EUREKA!


The wait was about 45 minutes, but was well worth it for the meal...hand-made dumplings, rolls, and noodles! Super yummy! The best part was that it only cost us about $18.50US! A steal for such a wonderful meal!


Next we headed to the famous Taipei 101...what used to be the tallest building, now just shy of the Burj Dubai. As you could have guessed, the building has 101 floors. The bottom 5 floors are an upscale mall...places we never would want to nor could afford to shop! The 5th floor is where you catch the fastest elevator in the world to the 89th floor - a total ride of 40 seconds. Once at the 89th floor, you're free to roam the 88th & 89th floor as well as take the stairs to the 91st floor where, if the weather is suitable, you can visit the outdoor observatory. This was an amazing experience, as you are able to feel the strength of the wind and see the city minus the glare of the multi-paned glass.

We ended our day with a stroll through a famous night market near our hostel...were we were able to get a late night doughnut snack! =)

Sunday morning, we ventured our for some breakfast before checking out of our room. We found this cute little shop and hand danbing - a traditional Taiwanese breakfast egg omelet/tortilla type thing - along with my favorite nai cha or tea with milk. After eating, we headed back, only to find that we were completely turned around and had no map with us! It took us 2-3x longer to return but we finally found the hostel. We checked out then headed to our first stop for the day "Museum of World Religions." As we again struggled with inconsistencies on our many maps, we found that we were headed right back to where we had just been lost earlier in the morning! The museum is located on the 7th floor of a building, and isn't that easy to find - but once found, is a great way to spend an afternoon. There are 2 floors dedicated to the museum that feature artifacts and information for 10 of the world's most followed religions.
After the museum, we hopped back on the MRT and headed to the 2-28 Peace Park. This park is a memorial to a massacre that began on February 28, 1947 (hence the name). This massacre led to the start of Taiwan's martial-law era. The park is a beautiful place with numerous paths and patches of grass (although some dead due to lack of adequate rain) and a number of monuments and sculptures. We spent time just wondering around the park and relaxing.



Our final stop for the day was the Longshan Temple. We strategically planned our visit for 5pm, when hoards of people come to worship. As we arrived, there were a number of stalls set up outside the temple gates selling fruit, flowers, and incense. Upon entering the temple gates, there is a man-made waterfall with loads of fish - which Dan loved! Entering the temple, there are yet more incense and other worship memorabilia for sale. As we walked in, we began to hear the chanting...people from all walks of life come to worship a number of different deities. Most people worship Guanyin, the central Deity, however the temple enshrines 165 others.

As the rain began to fall, we sat in awe of this spectacular event. We marveled at the number of people and the abundance of food offerings. It was a great way to end out time in Taipei...upon leaving we headed back to the train station for some dinner and awaited our train.

Check out more photos on the photo page!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Everybody, DUCK!

Last Friday, Rita and Stephanie took us out for some meatballs and duck noodles. We headed to the market in hopes of finding oyster omelets (Rita's favorite), however the stand was closed when we arrived. Instead we sat down to try some meatballs.


These are not your average meatball...they consist of a jelly-gooey outer shell that is filled with some chunks of meat then covered with a sweet red sauce. Your meant to eat it with this short chopstick-like utensil with a fork prong on the end. It's very chewy and gooey!

Needless to day, these were not our favorite...we definitely enjoyed the meatballs at the festival more!

Next we headed to a famous Duck Noodle restaurant near the market. The meal began with a large platter of Duck served with pickled cucumbers. Meals in Taiwan are very communal, each person eats from a communal plate. We all began digging in with our chopsticks...



Next came the noodles. We ordered fried noodles as well as noodle soup. Again we all shared and ate from the same communal plates.



Finally came the blood. That's right, more blood. They serve Duck's blood in a sauce that was actually quite good. It has a very strong flavor, but tastes nothing like you would expect.



Dan really enjoyed the blood, I on the other hand had to psych myself up in order to try it. We both agree that it is definitely a group dish as we could never finish an order between the two of us.



Check back soon for more food adventures!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fruit of the week

While at the Rice Noodle Festival this past weekend we had the opportunity to try passion fruit for the first time. When we first met Michelle, she offered us a delicious drink that she had made with numerous fresh fruits (apples, lemons, oranges, and passion fruit). She cuts up all the fruits and adds Sprite and Orange Juice. It was awesome, especially with the passion fruit in it because it adds a slightly sweet and sour zing to it.


The passion fruit (pictured here to the right) is a small plum sized purple fruit. Unlike a plum, it is has a hard outer body.



To eat it, you cut the it in half and use a spoon to eat the fruit inside. The inside is a soupy, jelly-like fruit with black seeds throughout. It is very sweet, but the seeds offer a more sour balance when bit into. Apparently, most people do not bite the seeds, they just swallow the fruit together.

The most unfortunately part of the passion fruit is it's size...it's so small that you want to take your time and savor every bite.


Here is the shell of the passion fruit after we devoured the delicious inside! This is by far my favorite fruit so far! (Jess)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hsinchu Rice Noodle & Meatball Festival 2009

Today we had the opportunity to meet another American couple, Susannah and Aaron, who arrived in Hsinchu just a week before us. We planned to meet up downtown and head to the Hsinchu Rice Noodle and Meatball Festival. Hsinchu is famous for their rice noodles...so we felt this was a must see. Especially because we had heard that there was the "Longest Noodle" - a 39,000 mm long rice noodle.


After about an hour of walking - in various directions using our tiny map - we stumbled (literally) upon this very hidden festival. Upon arrival, we were greeted by some organizers who were surprised that we had found this festival and asked how we had heard of it. Apparently, while it's an annual festival, few know about it and it's a ways out of town (we later found out that the location is next to the rice noodle factory). They were in the middle of what we would call a "rice noodle cook-off". University cooking students were making beautiful culinary creations! Later we returned for the judging...


The festival consisted of a few stalls of delicious rice noodles and meatballs. As we walked past these stalls, we were handed meatball after meatball on a stick to try. We were asked by a reporter to pose beside a sign for her newspaper. We are celebreties!!


After the meatballs, we bought some rice noodles to try and sat down to relax while we ate. As we were talking, we noticed that a woman was circling us with a video camera - so we waved and said hello, but she didn't leave. Soon after, another woman invited us to watch a video of how the noodles and meatballs are made.


We were introduced to Michelle, Susan, and a few other women who were the makers of the video. They were super friendly and made some meatball bread for us as well as a delicious fruit drink. Michelle is a videographer, but also teaches a cooking class. She told us about her cooking, the bread, and the drink that she made with fresh fruit. Then she said that she knew the owner of the rice noodle factory and could take us to see the "longest noodle". We had heard about this noodle so were very excited about getting to see it.


When Michelle took us to the factory, we ran into the man who was behind the production of the longest noodle. He gave us a tour of the factory, which consisted of one machine amidst a warehouse of noodles and corn startch!? He happens to also be the artist who created the dragon head and tail that was a part of the longest noodle presentation (pictured at the beginning of the post). Apparently, it took over 300 students to hold the noodle as it came off of the machine!


After our tour, he wanted to show us another piece of his artwork, and lead us to the temple outside the factory. As we sat there, he pulled our scissors and black paper, and asked us to sit still. He was going to cut our profile! He was quite talented...completing each profile in less than 90 seconds! What a great surprise!















Back at the festival, things were beginning to close down. We told Michelle and Susan that we were going to head home. They said that if we would stay a bit longer, they'd drive us home! What a great offer, as we had little idea where we were and the distance back to town where we could catch the bus was quite far. We stayed a while and helped to decorate their stall. Meanwhile we were bombarded by a number of young Taiwanese students who were interested in speaking English with us. They spoke to us for a while and timidly asked for email addresses to continue to practice their English. Before they left, they insisted that we take a photo with them - it's unfortunately a bit blurry, but what a great memory! After this photo, we followed the youth to one of their parent's food stalls and posed for a picture as though we were serving the food!


We are so thankful for our new friends Susannah and Aaron and for such an amazing night. Everyday brings a new adventure and things to learn!

*for more photos from our day at the Rice Noodle Festival, go to the photo's page at the top of the blog!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fruit of the Week

Today, Dan and I bought our second new fruit, the custard apple.

We've decided to try a new fruit each week since we have a fruit stand right next door. Each week we will share about our fruit and our thoughts of it.

The Custard Apple is a soft fruit with a banana-pineapple flavor. It consists of "chunks" that each have a black seed inside. These "chunks" are similar to the shape of chunks of pineapple and the outer layer (once pealed) is soft and mushy like a banana. The flavor is great!! The unfortunate part is the mess it makes while eating.



Weekend Barbecue

This past weekend we were invited to a barbecue at our friend Anne's house. She offered to show us around for the afternoon before the party. So we took her up on in and went scooter shopping. Jesse and Gloria (also from work) joined us for our afternoon around town. They were great help in translating and inspecting a number of scooters. We have narrowed our search down to two scooters...we're now waiting to hear back from the dealers as to what the "package" will be from each. There are a number of fees necessary for transferring the registration and plates, and some dealers will cover this cost. Also, they may include such things as helmets and locks. We shall see; hopefully we'll have a scooter by the end of the month!!!

They also took us to what they call "Taiwan Coldstone." It's definitely not ice cream, however it was delicious. This cold treat is a bowl full of shaved ice with cream poured over it and topped with fresh fruit. Ours was topped with delicious mango and pineapple!! Yummy!



Finally, we arrived at Anne's beautiful house. Anne actually lives in a house, with a yard and all! It's very VERY rare for a family to have a house, but she has a generous uncle who gave her and her husband part of his garden/farm plot to build their home. They live next door to another uncle and the two homes are bordered on either side by gardens. We met Anne's children and extended family who all attended the Barbecue along with some other co-workers of ours.



While we enjoyed a large spread of delicious food for dinner, it was NOTHING like a Barbecue in the states. There were a variety of meats, vegetables, and tofu that were placed on the grill and smothered in Barbecue sauce - apparently this is why it is called a "Barbecue." Here are a few of the things we enjoyed...
  • pork
  • chicken wings
  • corn on the cob
  • bamboo shoots
  • clams
  • shrimp
  • tempura
  • tofu
  • Taiwan garlic sausages
  • Taiwan eggplant
  • pigs blood






The evening was spent with all gathered around the "grills" - small trays of charcoal with a grate on top. Everyone joined in with the "barbecuing" each adding more items to the grill and/or painting on a generous amount of barbecue sauce.









We had a wonderful time that evening - truly feeling as though we belong! What a great community to be a part of. We hope to have many more gatherings with these new friends.