Tuesday, December 27, 2011

week 66_Christmas In Taipei!

I wrote this article for another publication, but figured it is about what I might usually post to the blog, so here you have it folks --- just a little bit about our first Christmas together in Taipei. :)

My desserts (L to R):
Cherry Wine Cake (x3), Pecan Pie (x2), Fudge, Apple Pie, Christmas Sugar Cookies

Sharing the Christmas Spirit

When it comes to the Christmas holiday, Taipei seems ready to share the commercialism and flashy decor, but for a foreigner spending my holidays away from ‘home,’ it’s the Christmas Spirit that I miss the most. In the south central US where I was raised the building anticipation prior to Christmas is almost tangible. Moods are light, hopes are many, and even the most cantankerous Grinch may surprise you with a moment of compassion.

For our first Christmas together in Taipei my husband and I took on the ambitious task of hosting a large Christmas feast. Being overseas for the holidays means missing time with loved ones and holiday traditions, but we decided that the best medicine for any homesickness would be to throw a traditional American Christmas lunch!

As foreigners in Taipei, we are lucky to have the world at our fingertips. This city truly offers the variety of dining and shopping from the world over.  Western foods, kitchen wares, etc. may be hard to find but it seems that anything can be found here if you know where to look. From City Super to Costco, from IKEA to Wellcome, the abundance of supermarkets selling western foods made it possible for us to prepare our favorite tastes of home! We may have substituted limited items and improvised a few recipes for convenience, but no grocery seems to be unobtainable in Taipei.

After days of planning, shopping, and scouting I now feel that I may be an expert of Western grocery items in Taipei. In the end, with our table overflowing and our apartment packed to the seams, I think our Taiwanese friends could feel our Christmas spirit. I almost laughed when a friend asked if we had a heated apartment. I answered “No, but we have been baking for two days, and now we’re trying to fit 30+ people inside!” Sitting down on the sofa to breathe our sigh of relief once the celebration had come to a close, my husband and I opened our presents under the tree – our apartment still smelling of turkey and pie, now further disheveled with mountains of disposed gift wrap and bows – it felt exactly like Christmas.

With the help of my Mom, Sister, and Aunts I was able to fix my favorite family recipes for the holidays. It turns out the only ingredients I was truly unable to find in the end were: 1. French Fried Onions, 2. Dark Corn Syrup, 3. Buttermilk --- but even these I probably would have found with more time and a few pointers from the expat community, not to mention I could have made one or more of them from scratch with more time!

Most importantly, I am just so thrilled to have shared the holidays with my hubby and pleased that we enjoyed ourselves so much. It was crazy cooking for 30 people and we had a blast doing it together! :) We are enjoying the week between holidays leading up the New Year's Eve. We live near TAIPEI 101 and they are famous for their New Year's firework displays! We are guaranteed to have some of the best seats in the house... so the next blog post may be a video :)

Merry Christmas to all! Hope your days have been merry & bright.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

week 65_Weekend in Macau!

As many of you may know, my husband has the pleasure of a December birthday... very near the Christmas holiday... so I like to differentiate between birthday and Christmas to be sure he gets to enjoy both holidays each year!

Look ~ It's the birthday boy! Here's to You Babe :)
[Margaritas at the Wynn Macau]
Dragon & light show in one of the (many) Wynn lobbies.
[28 foot dragon rises out of the floor in coordination with lights & music]

This year, for the BIG 3-0, we decided to take a mini-vacation for the weekend and checkout one of the nearby tourist traps: Macau! The flight from Taipei to Macau is approximately 1 1/2 hours and very affordable, so it was an easy destination for a 2 1/2 day trip. No visa or paperwork required, so we could just show up ready to have a great time! For those of you not familiar with Macau, it is a Special Administrative Region of China, which means it has been under Portuguese rule for the past few hundred years, until finally being handed back over to China in 1999 [similar to Hong Kong]. In particular, Macau is a tourist town and sometimes known as the Las Vegas of the East. That being said, it was the perfect location for a birthday celebration ~~~ and we tried not to gamble too much money away....!

The Venetian Macau

We stayed on the northern island of Macau at a 4-star hotel named Casa Real [there are 3 islands connected by bridges and reclaimed land], but also ventured to the lower islands of Taipa and Coloane to visit some of the other casinos ~ and to see the permanent ZAIA Cirque du Soleil show at the Venetian. Jason & I had seen Cirque du Soleil once before [in Vegas] and we are fans for life! The show was as amazing as anticipated, and we also thoroughly enjoyed seeing another side of the city. I even forced the husband to take his photo with some Playboy bunnies at the Bellini Lounge [poor boy], since we were at the Venetian and they were at the Venetian this month...

30's not so terrible, right? ;)
[He also had to go on stage so the band could sing Happy Birthday for him...]

When we weren't drinking, gambling, and carrying on the weekend long celebrations, we were out touring the town taking in some of the historic sites of Macau [and taking on the crowds]! Macau's population is around 600,000 but the streets are crammed full of tourists and tour groups. Because the Portuguese have been so present in Macau all signage and government documents are in both Chinese and Portuguese... but more importantly, there is some great European architecture [something Taipei is definitely lacking]! Walking along the alleys filled with shops and restaurants but also hills and sidewalk cafes and New Orleans reminiscent balconies and shutters had a very refreshing feel.

Busy tourist pedestrian area ~ we were sure to pick up a few trip souvenirs of our own!
Butcher on a back alley

The markets and shopping were colorful and entertaining - much like any Asian city - but the European architecture was a real treat. In our short weekend trip we squeezed in a few sightseeing side trips, but with more time, there were many more churches and temples to see.

The ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral
Inside another Cathedral [not St. Paul's, as the facade is all that remains after 3 fires]

All in all I think our weekend was the perfect balance of play and sightseeing. We didn't win crazy amounts of cash, but I think we didn't lose too much either... and seeing Macau for the first time together was a memorable experience for a memorable birthday.

Of course, I have a particular fondness for casino interior design because they can be so creative! Jason can tell you, I was just melting over the perfection of the Wynn... and the elaborate details of the many ritzy casino hotels!

L'Arc lobby, Christmas decor
[Me standing next to the longest drapes I've every seen!]

Wynn lobby, decorative table
Oh beautiful Wynn... I will come back to you! [Well, I wish anyways!]
Until next time...

Monday, December 12, 2011

week 64_holiday busy-ness!

The entire month of December this year is turning out to be packed! I didn't find time to blog this weekend, but I did finally find time to make it back to the fabric market --- even with the husband in tow :)

We picked out some fabric for new chair covers in our dining room [The 6 chairs and slipcovers came with the furnished apartment, but let's just say I'm not partial to white lacey chair covers with skirts and ruffles...]. I successfully conveyed the message of what I wanted to a vendor who is providing the fabric and the sewing, so now we just wait for a phone call to pick up our goods later this week! The chair covers turned out to be around $20 US each for the fabric and sewing work. I think they'd cost that much at IKEA too, but this way we get custom items however we like for our apartment.

Jason & I are also looking forward to an upcoming trip to Macau this next weekend for his 30TH birthday! There will definitely be photos and a blog post for that... :)

We are keeping extra busy this month, between planning Jason's birthday trip, a holiday lunch for lots of people, and of course getting ready for our own Christmas! Not to mention my mom & sister's upcoming visit to Taipei in Jan... busy!!! And loving it :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

week 63_Christmas Decorations!

Well if it's not Thanksgiving, it must be time for Christmas... right?!
I know that I have been a bit MIA this week on the blog, but that's because I have been spending my spare time Christmas shopping, decorating, and writing holiday cards!

Now that the turkey holiday is officially over, I am ready to move on to the next celebration!

Since the hubby and I will be spending the holidays here in Taipei this year (our first Christmas together in Taipei) I have been on the hunt for decor to make our little apartment feel festive! And surprisingly ~ There are more than a few stores selling holiday decorations :)

In particular, I have heard that the Tienmu area has some Christmas stores --- but I also hear that it is quite pricey. So for those of you in the mood for a taste of home without the imported price tag, here is an area I discovered with 7 or 8 holiday shops in a row!

Where to look for holiday decorations in Taipei: 
- Costco or other large foreign retail stores
- Party & Costume shops that bring in seasonal merchandise
- Japanese dollar stores (these especially carry a wide variety of holiday cards)

In truth, there is WAY too much tinsel and glitter at these stores, but I find that if you take the time to survey the goods, there are some more tasteful items to be found amidst the mountains of tacky Christmas stuff! Ha. :)