Wednesday, May 26, 2010

跆拳道 tái quán dào

跆拳道 tái quán dào Tae Kwon Do

A quick background on the sport: Taekwondo originated in Korea and currently stands as their national sport. With loose translation, it means "the way of the foot and fist" or "the way of kicking and punching." The sport highly emphasizes kicking techniques, which distinguishes it from other martial arts. The Koreans think the leg is the longest and strongest weapon and historically they thought the hands were too valuable to be used in combat.  

I've been studying Tae Kwon Do in Feng Yuan, Taiwan just over two months now. Susan and I take class with children ranging from ages 7 to 18 for 4.5 hours 3x a week (we're just so blessed to always be around children). We've had a great time learning different forms and kicks, and harassing the Taiwanese students, but one of the most humorous parts of class is the language barrier between us and our coaches.  

We tested in front of judges a few weeks ago in hopes we could earn our yellow belt. It can be a bit confusing to be given directions in Chinese, but we felt confident with the test. In fact after performing a series of kicks and forms, our coaches had Bai Die (Susan) and Shi Lian Yin (me) stand up and be recognized in front of 50+ students. We're only assuming and hoping he said positive things but it's always hard to tell without knowing Mandarin.

It was just the other day that we finally were able to tie our yellow belts around our white uniforms. 

Now that we have those, we are seemingly never satisfied and are now hoping to earn our blue belts before we leave in a month.             

Monday, May 24, 2010


I remember that air popper we had around our kitchen when I was young, but as soon as my mother and sisters found their true love (microwave popcorn), who knows where that device disappeared to.

Well, in the depths of this Taiwanese school some air-poppers have been discovered. Some of the teachers started using them and I thought I'd give it a try. Low and behold, I have fallen in love with this inexpensive snack not only because I am living on a meager wage but also because air-popped popcorn is nutritionally sound.

As most people know: plain popcorn and slightly seasoned popcorn are both low in calories (approximately 30 calories for three cups). Since I've forgotten from my college nutrition classes, I wanted to research what popcorn offers besides the low calories.

Well, USDA is always encouraging us to get more whole grain foods; popcorn is one of those! Popcorn is a great choice of a carbohydrate serving while also being high in fiber. Americans rarely get enough of the recommended amount of fiber in their diets (20-35g).

Popcorn makes up one serving of the starches recommended by the American Dietetic Association, and you might be surprised to know that it's serving size fairly generous. Three cups of popped popcorn is the equivalent of one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, and one cup of cereal. I don't know about you but I think three cups of food sounds better than just one.

So, if you don't have an air-popper (it's okay to admit that you do) popping kernels is easy to do on the stove. Just make sure you have a pot with a lid, a few tbsp. of healthy oils and kernels.

May the healthy popping begin!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

for all you chocolate cake lovers

More birthdays = trying new recipes
Chocolate Chocolate Cake

After finally finding cake mixes in Taiwan, I've been excited to use one of the cake doctor's recipes. This recipe book is a guide to making any ordinary cake into an extraordinary cake! (The author probably uses that tag line somewhere but I don't care to find it. )

I sort of followed this recipe and it was delicious but many substitutions had to be made.
-Chocolate cake mix: I had to use the only vanilla cake mix we could find in Taiwan. I added a 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and a few extra tablespoons of sugar as a substitute.
-Sour cream: I had to use vanilla yogurt (can't find plain yogurt) because sour cream is ridiculously expensive in Taiwan.
-Instant chocolate pudding: I had to use non-instant egg custard pudding and added cocoa powder to make it chocolate. 

Getting some tips from Martha, I made a buttercream filling for the center by following this recipe.

I had to picky about which of the many online chocolate glazes I could choose from because of my lack of ingredients (cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar). But I lucked out because this recipe made a glaze that is similar to my mother's infamous boston cream pie chocolate glaze (a favorite).  

A happy pseudo-birthday to Erin and Amy! 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

This is one decadent cake recipe. But after looking at the pictures and celebrating the birthday of a peanut butter lover, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try this cake. 

This cake gave me a few minor headaches in the wee hours of the morning. The batter is very runny and it never really set up well. The three separate cake layers stuck to the pan and all inverted when placed on a plate. It was my roommate Sunny who saved the 'look' by suggesting I serve the cake on a frisbee. 

The recipe calls for a lot of cream cheese and we don't have the budget to buy more than 8 oz. I ended up trying to compensate with more peanut butter. The frosting ended up looking like cookie dough (I in fact had too much of this 'frosting' so I added flour and made some candy pb cookies with the extra). To moisten the pb frosting, I added a cup of vanilla yogurt and a few tbsp. of milk. 

Looking at this cake you can already tell it's going to have a lot of flavor. I only did 1/2 of the amount of glaze that it called for because I only wanted it for decorating. Of course like all the others, I had to do all sorts of substituting to make up for the lack of ingredients. 
 -Semisweet chocolate chips: (the closest place to find those is 45 min. away at Costco), so I had to use their waxy, less flavorful chocolate baking chunks. 
-Corn syrup:  I substituted with liquid fructose flavoring. 
 -Half and half: I used this substitution recipe
With all of these adaptions it didn't quite turn out like the original images. My glaze was more of a shell around the cake. 

In aggregate, the cake was delicious but very intense. It needs ice cream or milk. It had a nice blend of different consistencies between the moist cake, creamy frosting and crisp shell. Peanut butter cups would have been nice to decorate with but when you don't have them, snicker bar chunks taste great too. 

A happy 23rd birthday for our one and only Brandon!

I have to admit I am looking forward to baking with normal ingredients when I live a normal life. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Snapping a photo every single day for 365 days was definitely not my original idea. But how many times do we actually do things that have never been done before? not many.

So, here is to the next 365 days entering my 25th year of life. check it out @

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

up north

A trip up north to Taipei and surrounding areas has been on my list to do for quite some time (yes, vacations and the planning of them are often on my list to do, but you'd do the same if you were here). 

I used the handy networking system couchsurfing to find Susan and me free places to stay while up in the capital. This was basically the only detail of our trip that was arranged; everything else was going to be finalized and configured as we went.

Just 45 min. south of Taipei, we visited the Wulai scenic park. 

We didn't expect our transportation to the scenic area to be these small child-like trains. 

The majestic images we saw in our guide books look a little different than the rather unsubstantial falls I'm in front of. 

We took a short tram ride up and over the waterfall to the top of the mountain. Of course, just like any other mountain top, there are activities awaiting (mini amusement park rides, hotel, unused swimming pool, 'lost boy' in neverland activities, etc.)

Susan and I took our own sweet time to do as we pleased at the top of Wulai. 

Cute Asian kids wearing matching outfits

Finding more waterfalls in this overdeveloped 'natural area'

After Wulai, we were able to meet up with our local Feng Yuan friend Lily in her college town Sanxia just outside of Taipei. We spent the night climbing up a mountain looking at fireflies.

We also climbed up one of the biggest Buddhist temples along the mountain, seeing this famous 60 ft. statue as we made our ascent. 

Susan, Lily and I are at the top of the temple overlooking the entire Taipei city valley. 

Just giving the Taipei 101 (world's 2nd tallest building) a small pinch

The next day Lily gave us a tour of her National Taipei University campus. 

Then we shopped till we dropped. (shopping seriously wears me out more than a full day of exercising)

We tried on hats, clothes, and accessories. 

The antique Sanxia village was perfect for finding the souvenirs we've been needing. 

Who knows why, but I was the only one who walked away with a purchased hat. 

That evening we met up with some more friends- Taiwanese and Japanese, ate Korean food, and talked about Thailand and southeast Asia. After dinner, my brain was slightly muddled to where my current geographical location was. 

This photo was with our last couchsurfing host. She made for one interesting night. 

Thank you Taipei county for keeping us entertained. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

you just never know

I've come to appreciate the perception of Taiwanese randomness and spontaneity. Without even putting my self in unusual circumstances (ok, discounting the fact that I'm living on an Asian island), the Taiwanese will surprise me with what I still consider to be adventitious.  My time on this island has never seemed mundane and this could correlate with the quirky things that are constantly occurring. Because I have lived in other countries and experienced other's cultures, I hope to not be ethnocentric or close-minded in regards to finding unusual things. 
My plain point is this is a peculiar culture but I ABSOLUTELY love it. 

Just a small sample luckily caught on camera (not in chronological order): 

Themed Restaurants:

The Modern Toilet in Taichung

Sitting on toilet seats at a bathtub table, eating our ice cream from a mini squatter.


This long procession was caught from my balcony window. 

In Taipei, this loud and grandiose birthday procession for a Daoist God distracted us from our street shopping. 


A natural hiking trail is an anomaly around here, they prefer staircases.

Hiking usually leads to a random physical activity at the summit (ie. weighted hula hoops).

Cute Apparel:

The only word to describe this is and most things here: cute

Bows are everywhere in Taiwan: on t-shirts, earrings, bags, headbands and apparently hair itself has adapted.

I am a sucker for some of that 'cute' stuff too. Just like this random local who paired her outfit with the white bunny.

Unplanned Events:

Upon visiting the famous Chiang Kai-Shek memorial building, we didn't expect there to be an earth day celebration where we tasted vegan foods from all over the world.

Or when we decided to get Cold Stone Ice Cream in Taichung and across the street a book fair offered free self-portrait sketches. 

One thing is for sure about Taiwan- you just never know what you'll find. That's why it is a requisite to leave the house with a camera and an open mind.