Friday, November 25, 2011

week 62_Thanksgiving in Taipei

Now that my adventures here have come full circle, this week I celebrated my second Thanksgiving in Taipei. Let's face it, Thanksgiving is probably the most American holiday next to the 4th of July (not exactly adopted by the locals...). Nonetheless, there must be some demand by expats to celebrate because this fall 2011 provided plenty of opportunities to enjoy turkey & all the fixins!

Not surprisingly, in these global times, Taipei residents who want to celebrate Thanksgiving should have no problem finding a feast. Let's face it - the world is a lot smaller than it used to be. Not only can I talk to people on the other side of the globe face to face, but I can also enjoy turkey & cranberries at home in Asia. I can't speak for the other cities in Taiwan, but in Taipei there were numerous vendors offering turkey dinners of all levels - frozen/fresh foods to prepare, carry out dinners to take home, or steaming hot buffets and set menus served to your table by gracious waitstaff. One of the English newspapers runs a full listing of Thanksgiving offerings each year - that seems to be the best place to get your information. This year I had a sampling of each. :)

Thursday was a typical work day (which of course felt a bit strange), so I worked steadily to ensure I would be able to bolt at quittin' time and make it to my dinner date! For lunch my co-workers suggested we check out IKEA, in case they might have a Thanksgiving meal. Of course --- being a bit dim-witted, it didn't sink in until we arrived that of course they wouldn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Western does not equal American... but I did get mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce with my meatball lunch ~ so that almost counts, right? 

IKEA Taipei Lunch:
10 Meatballs with Gravy,
Mashed Potatoes, & Cranberry Sauce

For Thanksgiving evening I joined some American friends at their home to enjoy a bountiful feast of delicious home-cooked food! I must say, it is terribly convenient to have great friends who offered to cook the entire meal, so all I had to do was show up and eat! Even still, I look forward to future Thanksgivings when I may have an oven again to cook my own turkey. :)

Delicious Thanksgiving dinner with friends!
Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Brown Gravy, Glazed Carrots, Green Bean Casserole, & Cranberry Sauce
My plate ~~~ Yum!
+ Pumpkin Pie for dessert!

The dinner was fabulous. I am lucky to have friends in Taipei who took time off work to make the holiday memorable and fix a delicious dinner! Even Ginger was there to keep me company...

Ginger keeping watch, hoping we might drop some turkey!

Nothing beats a great home-cooked meal to really usher in the holiday season. However, my honey was unable to get off work this Thanksgiving (remember - it's not a holiday here!). So on Friday when he did have the day off, we set out to try one of the Thanksgiving set menus at a western restaurant in Taipei: Carnegie's. Neither of us had been there before, though we have heard of it on numerous occasions. It was really nice to get to enjoy the evening together. He even dressed up nice so I had a hot date to show off for the evening ;)

Sadly, the Carnegie's Thanksgiving set menu left a lot to be desired! The best part of the meal was definitely the turkey! Some of the other items were very 'wanna be' dishes... they wanted to be authentic American food... but seemed to sort of miss the mark in menu selection and flavor...

Carnegie's Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner:
Salad with fresh fruit garnish and strawberry dressing or Clam Chowder (not pictured)
Turkey piled with (???) giblets, roll, 'creamed' vegetables,
White gravy, Roasted Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Coffee or Tea for dessert

Regardless, we are SO THANKFUL for each other ~ we had a splendid time. :)

Aside from the two Thanksgiving feasts above, we also had leftovers from both this week. I've been on a real cook-at-home kick since we moved into the new apartment, and I am loving it! The dinner with friends leftovers were delicious re-heated, but the Carnegie's leftovers I turned into a turkey and vegetable soup.

Soup anyone?

After the second turkey dinner, we strolled a little in town and did some window shopping. No Black Friday shopping for us, and no four day weekend, but it is my favorite season in Taipei and I am loving every minute of it!

View from our balcony. A perfect Sunday evening.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

week 61_Under the Weather

The weather was a little cold and dreary this week, and so was I! 
Sadly, I've been a little sick since last Sunday! Even though I've mostly recovered (still coughing), it consumed my entire week. At first, all I wanted to do was sit on our sofa and watch TV... but by now I am bored of the TV and just ready to be back to normal! Thankfully, today was the first beautiful weather all week (low 70's and sunny), and it was also the first day I felt mostly normal - with a cough. Last year December was my favorite month, but a few more days like today and November might be a contender.

Being sick in Taipei is such a different experience than being sick in Dallas or Oklahoma - so I guess that was the adventure for this week!

For starters, in Taiwan people are congregated in dense urban cities connected by public transportation, gigantic department store food courts, etc. My point being, that as opposed to a typical day in Dallas (when I might touch my desk, touch my car, and eat within the proximity of 2 other people for lunch), my typical day here includes a bus ride packed with others on my way to work, possible taxi rides during the day to and from business appointments, lunch in a crowded food court or restaurant where you are often sharing table space with strangers, and a bus or MRT ride home surrounded by countless more people... Contagious much??? It is probably for this reason that people in Asia frequently wear surgical face masks when they are sick or fear that they may be contagious... and with the week I was having, yours truly dawned a face mask too!

I still caught myself reaching up to cover my mouth when I coughed, but when you cover you mouth and cough you should really be washing your hands every time! When you wear the mask... you are not coughing the germs onto your hands and further spreading them that way. Smart.

Poster in the MRT station.
I think I have posted this pic to the blog before...

By Tuesday afternoon - in very unAmerican fashion - I decided that I should A. Leave the office and take sick days rather than try to push through as usual, and B. Proceed to a doctor's office immediately. I never had a doctor in Dallas and I lived there for 3 years... I think that lets you know I'm not usually one to schedule an appointment. Just tough it out and surely it will go away, right?!

Wrong. Anyways, Taiwan has a National Health Insurance which means that health care here is MUCH cheaper than the states and very accessible. I had recently noticed that there just so happens to be a "National Health Insurance, Chinese Medicine Clinic" on the same block as our apartment --- so I headed there for a checkup.

Once I met with the doctor, he took my pulse by hand and looked into my ears with a new tool I'd never seen. He asked if I'd been coughing and had a runny nose. Yes. This seemed so minimal compared to the typical appointment in the states: weigh you, take your temperature, blood pressure cuff, say 'ah', look in your ears, up your nose, listen to your breathing through the stethoscope, chat about what ails you..... I learned afterwards that this type of medicine is called auricular medicine. Similar to the reflexology foot massages or acupuncture, auricular medicine teaches that certain parts of your body are interconnected to other parts of your body - therefore for example, the doctor can determine what ails me by examining the inside of my ear which then relates to other organs.

Interesting to say the least.

After examining me, I was prescribed medication to take 3 x a day for 3 days. The clinics actually grind the powders and provide it to you on the spot. Then these square packets of brown powder can be mixed into a glass of water and drank as prescribed. All in all, total cost for the doctors visit and medication = $200 NTD (about $6 USD). 

Well, 9 doses and 3 days later I am not completely over it, but I can tell this cold is on it's way out. I also keep a few local convenience on hand in case I need them...

Left to Right: Nin Jiom Honey Loquat individual dose packets,
Tissues from 7-11 [6 packs of 10 tissues - 18NTD],
Nin Jiom Herbal Candy [95 NTD]
The Nin Jiom liquid medicine and candies are pretty popular here - these are equivalent to an herbal cough syrup and herbal cough drops. I keep them on hand in my purse for those terrible coughing fits that sometimes creep up. Neither tastes too terrible, they just remind me of a slightly sweeter cough syrup than others I've taken in the states. The ingredients are pictured on the packet in the center of the photo above. And of course... you can never have enough tissues!

This week: time to finally be back at 110% and to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday - I can't wait!!! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

week 60_Yongle Fabric Market, Dihua Street

With the start of November, we have officially entered the 'wet' season in Taipei. However, for this girl, that still means a great time to get out and about! The heat has finally let up here, and the "cold" has not truly set in yet (despite what local fashions might lead you to believe...). Scarves and winter coats for 65F? Really?..... I like the contrast of the rainy days to the hot, hot summers, and the rain here is usually a light drizzle to moderate rain - rarely the kind of weather that would truly confine me to indoors.

This weekend, I finally, finally, made it to the Yongle Fabric Market on Dihua Street to explore! I have tried to go many times, but my timing has always been off and so this was my first chance to truly meander the entire market and see what they have to offer! Markets are abundant in Taipei, and this is a market dedicated entirely to sewing related crafts.

For some great photos, check out another blog here
I've been scheming some creative ideas for our apartment, and I thought that finding a few fabrics could be the best inspiration! Seeing the market in person though, let me know that if I am truly seeking the perfect fabric, I should probably have a color concept in mind before I go --- and return without the husband in tow. The market had rows upon rows of stalls with every fabric you could imagine, plus all of the ribbons, trims, and accessories. With the thousands of options to choose from, I am absolutely certain that I could spend days there scrutinizing the unlimited choices one by one. This is the kind of place that could make even an engineer wish they were a seamstress!

Unfortunately the markets' scheduled hours (M-Sat 10am-6pm) mean that I won't be returning until next Saturday, but that gives me a week to zero in on the perfect color inspirations for our home. I cannot wait to go back! I have the feeling I may be spending my afternoon there next time :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

week 59_Death Star & Blood Cake

Last night my husband and I decided to check out another nearby mall/department store (there are SO MANY in Taipei!). I had walked past before and never wandered in, but when my husband got word from a friend that we had a mall in the city that looked like a death star, he wanted to check it out. So we set out to check out the Core Pacific City Mall - not too far from our neighborhood.

Taipei's very own death star, the Core Pacific City Mall

Even though I sort of figured it had to happen eventually (?) I guess (??) that I would inevitably try the local favorite, blood cakes!!! I didn't realize this was the moment...

I know I've featured many food entries on my blog, and that is because the food is so different here from everything I've eaten most of my life! 

I've tried some adventurous foods here in Taiwan (well, adventurous for a girl from Oklahoma/Texas!) and there've been plenty of foods that I have still turned my nose up at, and decided not to try. It's challenging knowing that the locals really enjoy these dishes and yet I'm turned off just by learning the name of the dish, or the main ingredients. Not sure there's any way around that though.

Core Pacific City -aka- the Living Mall, Food Court

One of the local favorite ingredients happens to be blood - pig's blood, duck's blood, etc - apparently each has it's own unique flavor. Even though it doesn't' sound appealing to me, the locals especially enjoy this delicacy, and prepare it in multiple dishes, so I have the opportunity to eat this anytime I choose.

Of course, I've never chosen to eat it...
But when my dinner last night came with a small blood cake on the side (blood/sticky white rice), I figured I should probably just bite the bullet and try it this once --- so the husband and I both took a nibble.

Tempura Dinner:
[left - Boat] : Fish sausage rings, Winter Melon, Corn, Blood Cake, Sweet Sauce, Miso Soup
[right - Bento Box] : White steamed rice, Cabbage, Fried Egg, Tempura Shrimp & Veggies,
Salad w/Thousand Island dressing

It was not for me. Then again, I'm also sure that this fast food version, served cold was probably a poor example of the snack that the Taiwanese have encouraged me to try and may not compare to the places the locals prefer to order blood cakes. Who knows.

Even though I initially thought I could blame my Western heritage for my impartiality to blood cakes, it turns out that is altogether untrue. I recently saw a show on National Geographic featuring an exclusive dinner at the US's Swedish embassy, where the featured entrees were blood cakes (of a different variety) and Surstr√∂mming (which sounds equally unappealing!). Come to find out, blood has been a popular ingredient in many European countries for a looong time! You can learn more about it here: