Sunset Over Tamsui

Last Day in Taiwanimg_4061-1

End of the Line of Taiwan MTR Red Line

Taiwan is fairly easy to navigate with its MTR lines and its amazing people.

A first-time visitor cannot really get lost when traveling Taipei as the public transport system is efficient, and when one gets truly lost and confused, the Taiwanese people have, for my limited experience, been very nice and accommodating.

Most of the itinerary in Taipei have been a Do-It-Yourself, free-flowing one where we checked out the sites and took the MTR and walked around. There was no rush to go to all the recommended spots, and timetable to meet. Except perhaps on the last day, where we had a plane to catch, which required that we would not miss the Airport Express Bus.

Our travel mindset brought us to the end of the Red Line of the Taipei Metro, and we got to walk around Tamsui.

Tamsui was a pleasant surprise. We got to check out different shops, selling a variety of souvenirs, clothing, shoes, and a pedestrian street with different street food, as well as another street with restaurants facing the sea, with a great view of the sunset, and a great place to people-watch.

In a rush to get back to our hotel but still taking the time to catch the sunset, this unplanned side-trip was worth the time. Tamsui and its sunset was a cherry-on-top ending to this pleasant trip to Taiwan.

Taipei is definitely a must visit for me, and a must-return-to place as I have only started to enjoy this.



Mixing things up

Coffee Chocolate Chip

Coffee Chocolate Chip Insanity of a Shake

(Or how the quest to make sticky cinnamon rolls ended into a day of fun and games in the kitchen…)

I started the day wanting to make cinnamon rolls, to improve on my dismal previous efforts. I began by waking up my sleeping yeasts (i.e. activating my active dry yeast). The yeast refused to bubble, and I have tried all different methods and water temperature. Checking the package they were way past expiration.

Disappointed with myself for failing to note of expiration dates and wasting ingredients, I decided to rummage through all the containers in an attempt to discard all the expired items, and to make use of those that I could make use of; and also make a mental inventory of what I still had and what to use up quickly.

I discovered containers of iced coffee cubes in the back of the freezer. I remember freezing my brewed coffee one day with the reminder to myself to make coffee shakes one time. I forgot that note-to-self and forgot those glorious black coffee cubes until the other day. Further scavenging in the cabinets yielded dark chocolate syrup, a jar of condensed milk in the refrigerator, instant espresso, and a bag of chocolate chips.

Point of no return

Into the blender went the iced coffee cubes, together with more ice cubes, instant espresso granules, a generous splash of low-fat milk (just because it was the only type at hand), drizzle of dark chocolate syrup, and some more chocolate syrup, and a way more than generous helping of chocolate chips, and because I was in that type of mood, even more chocolate chips.

There was really no method to the insane coffee chocolate chips shake I ended making that day. I added what I felt like adding, which would be why I ended  adding so much more chocolate chips because after tasting the shake I couldn’t get the chocolate bits, which it turned out were simply at the bottom of blender jar. Not creamy enough? More milk. Too liquid, more ice cubes. I was even contemplating adding chocolate ice cream, which was also in the freezer, but a wise voice or B (my cousin), told me it was too much already.

Aftermath of chips

All the goodness

Nobody got to taste the cinnamon rolls originally planned for the day, but I ended up with a coffee chocolate chip insanity of a shake and we nurtured our brain freeze, sugar rush and caffeine overload.

Here’s to more foiled-baking-plan-days, and cleaning-out-the-pantry-kind of days.

Playing with Cupcakes

I admit it, I am not the most creative of people. Nor am I very crafty or good with my hands. So taking on the challenge of improving my piping skills is that indeed, a CHALLENGE.

I have always admired the people with mad piping and decorating skills, but never have I the inclination to practice or the drive. Until last year that is. Last year, I had started giving cupcakes as gifts for Christmas, instead of the usual store-bought gifts. It being Christmas and they being gifts, I was pressured to make the cupcakes look “pretty”. The first batches were nothing to write home about. They looked decent, and people tell me they look NICE and they do taste yummy (which makes up for how it looks, I guess).

That experience literally challenged me to one-up myself. I wanted my cupcakes to not just taste good, they should look really good too. Cue, months before Christmas and my piping challenge…to get from piping-challenged to challenging piping (cupcakes that wow!) OK maybe that’s to far-fetched for now, let’s go for cupcakes good-enough to eat.

Cupcake Jemma, over at YouTube, is charming and endearing, and is inspiring. The channel is full of nifty tips, tricks and all sorts of baking treats. She had a video on piping basics awhile back. She mainly uses buttercream, while I use stabilized whipped cream or stabilized cream cheese frosting, but the tips are spot-on and simple enough to be inspiring.

Gemma Stafford and My Cupcake Addiction also offers tips and tricks on decorating cupcakes, as well as level-up decorating techniques using fondant icing. Plus an old, old blog (as the last post was last 2012) which have nice, simple decorating ideas, which are right up my alley, was milk and honey cafe. Alas Sarah, the baker yoon, no longer blogs but her blog’s still up and I still pull ideas from there.

I took their tips and ideas and experimented with what I have. Right now I have a couple or random rag-tag group of tips and a package of disposable bags and I’m having a blast. Hopefully, by Christmas, with my piping practice, I would go from piping-challenged to tempting enough to eat.

Window to the Wonders of the World

This was a very quick trip around the world…around the wonders of the world. Welcome to Window of the World!

Window of the World is a theme park in Shenzen, China, in the Guangdong provice, where one can stroll around miniature copies of the different wonders and destinations around the world.

You can feel like Godzilla strolling through the buildings and sights (which what I would have wanted to do, had I not been part of a tour group, and if I was not zipping through the part in a old-timer trolley). Or it’s a cheaper alternative to seeing all the different sights, though in miniature. Or you can simply stroll around the theme park like any public theme park, as a lot of the people were doing, enjoying the open space, lounging around. Or you use the park as a checklist of all the places you’ve been to, and perhaps give you ideas for your next vacation (it sure beats simply looking at a map and picking a place). That last one was what my seatmate in the trolley was definitely doing…

Hong Kong Streetwalking

Never having done street photography, and having just gotten a new Rebel a couple of weeks ago, I decided to brave the streets of Hong Kong.

This is by no means serious street photography, but consider these as my test shoots. I call them street photos simply because these are my candid takes of my travel and of the streets of the cities I find myself in.

I ended up with a bit of blurry and off-focus shots. I had shots where, even I, could not remember what I was trying to take or did not know what was going on.  I also had lots that were blown-out or underdeveloped. I was grappling with the controls in the camera, and all the photo-techobabble. Plus this was my first day in my Hong Kong weekender. I did not really know my way around, and did not even speak the language. Some people ignored me, some people looked strangely at me, some were indulgent, some smiled and probably appropriately labeled me a tourist, and I even had one store-shop lady got mad at me, berating me and running me off.

I had a blast in street walking in Hong Kong. Watching the people go by was fascinating enough. I need to get back and savor the city some more.

Naked Focaccia

Focaccia with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip

Fresh baked bread and dip

Got baking last week and baked focaccia.

I tried out Sorted Food’s recipe on focaccia bread, and it was way easy to follow and almost fool-proof. Though perhaps I am even worse than a fool. The bread was good but it was lacking the air pockets that I associate with focaccia bread, and I must have done or haven’t done something that the dimples on top of the bread evened out (and I was more than vigorous in poking the tops before baking).

…and if you have noticed this bread is quite “naked”…I added too little salt and oil on top that i missed the salt flecks; and no herb as I totally forgot all about (bad baker me).

However in spite of that, did I say this bread was awesome? It was delicious, but I will definitely re-try and bake this again to tweak how it turns out.

Until the next time, happy eats!

Sweet Tarts

Sweet cravings and stash of walnuts and pecans lead to sticky sweet tarts.

I originally planned to make pecan pie, which evolved to caramel pecan pie, to caramel pecan turnovers or empanaditas, to caramel pecan and walnut tarts.

The tart shells were a go-to all butter pastry crust I tried out, years ago, from Gourmet magazine. It was my first foray into pie-making and I did not know what I was doing. Good thing, Gourmet had a how-to video on making the crust. Since then, this dough has been my go-to pastry crust.  The dough was made first, refrigerated, and later while the caramel was cooling, it was rolled out and baked in a mini-muffin pan.

The caramel in the tarts is more like a Mexican cajeta or a dulce de leche. Alton Brown, makes an easy to follow and simple, though time consuming dulce de leche, which I would have tried making had the caramel been pre-planned. As this was all off-the-cuff baking, this cheat’s caramel is made from a can of condensed milk. David Lebovitz has his take on dulce de leche using canned condensed milk, but is still too time intensive. Being impatient, placed the contents in a sauce pan, and judiciously stirred and stirred until the milk turned to a delicious dark brown color. Butter and milk was added to thin out the caramel and for shine. Toasted and chopped walnuts and pecans were stirred in, and the whole thing was left to cool.

All in all, a good way to satisfy a sweet craving with a sticky sweet nutty caramel in a buttery and flaky shell.

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Banana goodness

Consumption row

I finally got back to baking this weekend, and decided to bake a household classic.

My grandma and my mother used to bake banana bread. Overripe bananas in the house meant one thing, banana bread! Oh the memories of banana bread. I even remember eating banana bread in our old apartment; if I close my eyes I can still remember the smell of sweet ripe bananas wafting through the house as the quick bread baked, and I can still remember getting really impatient to take a bite while the bread was still hot.

I had all the ingredients for banana bread last weekend, and I was imagining a warm muffin with my coffee, hence, the baking foray.

These were made with lots of overripe bananas (so ripe that the skin was almost all black. The bananas were mashed, though leaving some chunky pieces which would bake into sweet and soft banana pockets but would make the muffins a bit wonky and lumpy. Two types of brown sugars, a dark brown sugar and a muscovado, were used for a darker golden color and a richer sweet taste.  In the last minute, toasted and chopped walnuts were added, for I found the stash of walnuts in the pantry. For easy portioning, and portion control, and quicker baking, these were scooped into a muffin tin.

The house has changed, the recipe too, and I am now baking instead of my mother, but I am still impatient to take a bite off the hot-out-of-the-oven banana muffins.

banana muffin bite off

big bite off the banana muffin

Memories of Summer

at the sand bar

Sagay Sand Bar

It’s summer somewhere else in the world, while typhoon season has begun in the Philippines.

While it’s humid and there is more threat of rain, I am dreaming of warm summer days, spent at the beach – doing nothing but soaking up the sun while floating in clear turquoise waters and hoping for more summer days like this.

The photo was taken at a beach vacation a couple of summers pasts; at a sand bar off the coast of Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Philippines. The sand bar is literally a strip of white sand shoal in the middle of the sea, with native bamboo and nipa sheds/huts and a lookout “tower”. People come for a day to enjoy the clear blue waters, and soak up the sun, and have a picnic. This was a drive by shot of my mother, which was taken while she was taking a walk at the tip of the sand bar and I was on an outrigger passing by.

So while summer is but a memory for me, summer is just starting for someone else in another part of the world. Here’s to summer and more summer days.