Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wandering: Taiwan, Jade and Flower Markets

"Ping Pong" flowers at the flower market.

We spent one Saturday morning in Taipei at the Jade and Flower Markets, located on Jianguo South Road.  I was in heaven: the flower market offered the fragrant, the unusual, the edible, and the beautiful.  If only I lived near a market like this!  In a metropolitan Taipei, residents create virtual jungles and gardens on their high-rise balconies.  And with this market, any garden is possible.

Grow your own pine bonsai.

Enormous dahlias, miniature lemon (?) trees.

Ceramic flower frogs and bowls for flower arranging.

Potted bushes and artful trees - some of them enormous!

The jade market adjoins the flower market so that you can walk from a lush garden into a tinkling cave of gems and crystals.  Not only can you buy jade at the market, but also jewels and pearls, strings of beads and antique carvings.  It is a fabulous place.

Carved pendants, bowls, even whole tea sets of jade
- hey, I spot jade mooncakes on the plate by the teapot on the tray!

A beautiful and delicate antique jade bowl.

Crystals pendants and bobbles.
Turquoise bracelets and beads, polished to a high shine.

A curious antique jade carving.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Making: Stella Slouchy Beret

Winter's over, but spring is chilly.  I don't want to look like too bundled up or ready to ski, so I knit Madelinetosh's Stella Hat, a slouchy beret.  It's a free pattern, knits up quickly, and very, very pleasing!

I did, however, use bigger needles than recommended (I used an 8 and 9 instead of a 6 and 8) to get gauge and because I have a big head.  I did 3 repeats but ended up with an enormous slouchy hat.  Like this:

 'Ey mon, give me some kibble!

I was either going to become Rastafarian or rip the thing back.  I finally did the hard thing and ripped it back to 2 repeats, finished it again, and was quite happy with it!

An easy pattern, keeps me warm, and stylish!  Raveled here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Feasting: Taiwan Street Food

I know I've blogged an awful lot about food in Taiwan before (here, here, here, and here!), but I really think enough good things cannot be said it!  And really, who doesn't enjoy some tasty street food?

What could be better than a place that serves up fresh cooked noodles to your specification?  Do you want pickled vegetables?  Tea boiled eggs?  Tender beef?  More hot sauce?  Hoisin sauce?  Bean sprouts?  Or do you want that with rice instead of noodles?  This was in Taichung, on the west coast of the island.  Mmmmm mmm.

Food-on-a-stick is always popular.  Convenient, mess free, and fun.  Here you can get boiled or fried mushrooms, squid, fish ball, and chicken, I believe, all on a stick.  This is in Tainan, also on the west coast.

Or maybe you just want to start your day right, with a typical Taiwanese breakfast o' champions.  This is it.  Hot soy milk, fried pork dumplings, and fried dough sticks (yeo tiau - literally "oil stick," not a pretty name but oh so good).  Add a sesame pocket bread (zhi ma shao bing) with lean slices of spiced beef and you are more than set.  In fact, you probably won't need to eat anything else for the rest of the day!  My sister and I ate this on the side of a road one morning in Gaohsiung (southwestern end of the island).

Fresh cut fruit - in this case, crisp green guava - is always available.  Don't worry, Taiwan is very, very careful about cleanliness and the washing of fruits.  Obsessively so.  I've always said, Taiwan is the best of both worlds: Japanese attention to detail and order together with Chinese lust and appetite.

What in the . . . ?  Oh, it's mochi!  Sweet rice dumplings, filled with sweet red-bean paste or lotus or fruit or anything else sweet and delectable, about to be dusted with ground peanuts.  To the right are two more coating options: black sesame seeds or white.  This was a Sun Moon Lake, which I must tell you more about . . .  Happy weekend, happy feasting!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wandering: Taiwan, Tea at Maokong

 It was on a rainy day this January that my sister and I wandered about in Maokong, a small town in the mountains south of Taipei.  Tea is grown on the slopes and, during the spring and summer, tea houses open up their balconies for visitors to gather and talk, sipping fragrant tea for long, long hours in the afternoon.

 Tea plants in the drizzle.  The tea variety here is probably Gaoshan Cha, 
"High Mountain Tea," a type of Taiwanese oolong that is grown at high elevation.

Tea leaves drying under the eaves of a shop.

Tea pots are at the ready on the terrace of a tea house, overlooking the valley.

I did mention it was January, right?  We were the only people at Maokong, looking to sit out and drink tea.  It was cold!  This is my sister, trying to keep her fingers and face warm with her tea cup.  The sieve-tray is used to catch all the hot water that is first poured over and into the tea pot to clean it.  Hot water is also  discarded into the tray from the first brewing of the tea, which is considered inferior and "dirty" compared to the second brewing, which is drunk.

Kettles all in a row.

Next time in Taiwan, if it's less chilly, I'll be sure to make another trip.  For those thinking of visiting (and you should!), the gondola is shut down at the moment, but bus 15 from the Taipei Zoo is quite direct (take the MRT to the Taipei Zoo station).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Making: Apple Tawashi

I stumbled upon a wonderful knit and crochet blog - it's now on my links list on the right of this page - Salihan Crafts.  On it there are some adorable amigurumi toys that I would love to try my hand at sometime in the future.

For the moment, since I am without immediate access to toy stuffing and the like, I decided to make the apple tawashi (dishcloth) instead.  It is a free pattern and you can find it here.  It really was an easy pattern, but clever and cute!  I'm not usually a crocheter, but I just looked up stitches and instructions at Lion Brand Yarn (great tutorial videos) and off I went.

The leaf I "designed" myself - that is to say, fooled around with the crochet hook until I was satisfied.  It went something like this:

sc2 dc3 tc2 dc3 sc2 on one side of the chain (the chain is the middle vein running through the leaf)
turn work
sc2 dc3 tc2 dc3 sc2 on the other side of the chain, so you have a symmetrical shape.  Ta-da!

Sew with tails onto both stem and apple body to make secure.

In the end, the tawashi was too big for a tawashi - I used an H hook and cotton yarn that was a bit thick.  I think it will exist instead as a pot holder for my sister.  Now to put it in the post to California...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Byzantium I Come Not From

No, I am quite happy to visit the magical place for only a short while - too long there and the whole fantastical world might lose its luster, or disappear like a mirage.

And here is Ray Bradbury's evocative poem, which has both magic and the sweet smells of home:

Byzantium, I come not from,
But from another time and place
Whose race was simple, tried and true;

As boy
I dropped me forth in Illinois.
A name with neither love nor grace
Was Waukegan, there I came from
And not, good friends, Byzantium.

And yet in looking back I see
From topmost part of farthest tree
A land as bright, beloved and blue
As any Yeats found to be true.

So we grew up with mythic dead
To spoon upon midwestern bread
And spread old gods' bright marmalade
To slake in peanut-butter shade,
Pretending there beneath our sky
That it was Aphrodite's thigh...
While by the porch-rail calm and bold
His words pure wisdom, stare pure gold
My grandfather, a myth indeed,
Did all of Plato supersede
While Grandmama in rockingchair
Sewed up the raveled sleeve of care
Crocheted cool snowflakes rare and bright
To winter us on summer night.
And uncles, gathered with their smokes
Emitted wisdoms masked as jokes,
And aunts as wise as Delphic maids
Dispensed prophetic lemonades
To boys knelt there as acolytes
To Grecian porch on summer nights;
Then went to bed, there to repent
The evils of the innocent;
The gnat-sins sizzling in their ears
Said, through the nights and through the years
Not Illinois nor Waukegan
But blither sky and blither sun.

Though mediocre all our Fates
And Mayor not as bright as Yeats
Yet still we knew ourselves. The sum?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New Year's Cake, Ranunculuses, and Wine-Dyeing

Well, this may seem like a random post, but I've decided that the unifying element is the color purple . . . that and these are all things that make me happy.

Chinese New Year's Cake (nian gao, 年糕) can be steamed, baked, or fried and include a variety of ingredients - and eaten whenever, even if it's a month past New Year's! While I love steamed nian gao, I don't have a steamer. But my mom has an excellent and simple recipe for baked nian gao, which also includes red bean paste and walnuts. Yum! Recipe at the end of this post.

Red bean paste is dolloped into the batter - see the deep purple goodness oozing out?

I love these Ranunculuses I picked up at the market.

Finally, we had a friend over for dinner the other night. In the middle of our lovely evening, he overturned a full glass of red wine on our roommates white tablecloth. Whoops. It's already been stained to bits by wine, however, and I thought: why not just dye the whole damned thing? I tried with leftover wine and some cheap cooking wine, with some vinegar added to make it set more. After drying the wine-saturated cloth, I then rinsed it thoroughly in scalding hot water. Don't know how permanent the results are, but I do like them!

A pale lavender cotton.

My Mom's Baked New Year's Cake Recipe:

1 pack of sweet rice flour (1 lb) I only trust Mochiko brand
1 cup sugar (I usually use 3/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup cooking oil
3 eggs
1 or 1/2 can of red bean paste
1/2 cup crushed walnuts, cashews, or pine nuts, or mixed (we prefer walnuts)
A little cooking oil or butter, some flour

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Oil and flour a 9x13x3 baking pan.
Mix 1 through 6 well, pour mixture into baking pan.
Use a spoon to scoop red bean paste and drop it onto the batter so that, when done, each piece will have some paste. The paste will sink to the bottom of baking mixture. DO NOT MIX.
Sprinkle nuts on the baking mixture.
Bake at 350 for one hour. A toothpick should come out clean.
Cut when cool. A buttered knife will cut better.