Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Baking Assignment

GF Pumpkin Bread

It's Halloween! Of course that means pumpkin. But if there must be a whole batch of baked something in my kitchen for a while, I want it to be something nutritious. And although not everyone will agree, for me that means low sugar, whole foods, and no grains.

Because I eat this way, I bake rarely, and I'm also wary. I've produced some strange and unexpected results from some very confident-sounding grain-free experts. Still, I could never have survived before the age of Internet searches and food blogs, and I have to thank Wellness Mama for creating an extra simple recipe I could trust enough to try (even if she did leave out the salt).

GF Pumpkin Bread (or muffins)

Prep: 10 mins
Bake: 25 mins
Yield: 9 pieces/6 muffins


  • 5 Eggs 
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree 
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour 
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional) 
  • 1/4 cup honey 
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, softened 
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon 
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg 
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves 
  • 1/4 tsp salt


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Breaking the eggs into a separate 
bowl first keeps stray shell
pieces from getting lost.

Place all ingredients except chopped nuts (if using) in a medium-sized bowl.

Using an immersion blender, mix until smooth and well incorporated.

Mix in the chopped nuts, if using. Batter will be thick.

Spread in a greased 8 by 8 baking dish (or greased or lined muffin tins).

Bake for at least 25 minutes (or about 20 minutes for muffins), until set in the middle. The color will only change slightly.

Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Considering all the powdery white substances I've purged from my kitchen, I should mention that leaveners remain essential; and this recipe is no exception.

Leaveners -- substances that produce carbon dioxide gas in doughs and batters -- make the final product light and tender. They may be either live yeast cells or purified chemicals, such as baking powder and soda.

In this recipe, combining my ingredients incorporated air into the batter. The baking soda enlarged the already present air bubbles to make the batter less dense, which is especially important when you're baking grain-free and you want a final product that's not alarmingly heavy or oily.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Turn

Now that Keith is gone, I feel some responsibility to keep this thing going. Perhaps I should change the name...

I was contemplating how my experience will change, being here on my own. It's hard to think of improving my Mandarin since I won't be here much longer. But then it can't get worse. I've been here over a year and am still challenged to communicate at all. I do get a little practice every day, mostly ordering tea or food. And still it requires huge patience on the part of whoever I'm talking with. Here I've translated a typical experience:

Me: Please give me a dirty cup of person pork milk tea.

Vendor: umm.... Ah. You want a medium bubble tea?

Me: Right. I don't want soup.

Vendor: No sugar?

Me. right.

Vendor: 25NT

I promptly hand over my 40 NT (because I've misheard), and the vendor kindly hands back my change.

Every once in a while I run into a person who actually refuses to understand me, even when I'm sure I'm saying something correctly, because I'm a westerner and they can't grasp the concept of someone who looks like me speaking in Mandarin.

But more often than not, people are unbelievably patient and understanding. They make suggestions, mime and try their high school English as I mercilessly mangle their ancient and respected language. I won't be able to do it for much longer, so I'll try to get out there a little more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Well, this's unexpected

So, to all of our four faithful readers, there's been an unexpected kink in this, our overseas adventure. First, let me 'splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up:

I had reapplied to Eastern Washington's grad program to finally finish my grad degree. I've been accepted; however, a key class they decided was necessary and vital for me to prove I understand before I get the degree is only offered in the fall, every two years. So I either get back to the States by this time next week or I don't go at all.

So, unfortunately, I have to get out of the country with a great deal of alacrity. Marie's going to be here for another couple of months, finishing her classes, clearing out our apartment, finding someone who wants three pounds of raisin bran I just bought at Costco... and I'm packing like mad.

I'm trying to guess what I'll need for a couple months on my own and what I should ship home 'cause it's cheaper than buying it again but it'll take a month to arrive and I don't want Marie to have to struggle with packing a lot of stuff as she's living and leaving on her own... that sound like an overheated microchip would be my brain.

I think my only major regret now is that I just discovered a good way to feel like I'm experiencing Taiwan: hiking and biking around the city. It feels like I'd barely started but I don't have time now to see more. We were even supposed to go on another rafting trip in a few weeks, and Marie and I had talked about going south to Kenting to the national park and beach there for a little vacation. But we don't have time for that either.

And of course, there's the separation. Right now, it doesn't feel like we'll be on opposite ends of the world. We've traveled enough and we have ways of communicating that it might feel like I'm in Cheney and she's in Seattle, I hope. We'll see.

In the process of packing I've come across fleece sweatshirts and jackets I haven't seen for months or longer, and I'm very excited to be going somewhere where I can use them. I did see Seattle is still running high seventies some days, but here, it doesn't get below 85 until three a.m. and then it's already warming up. I've forgotten what it's like to not be sticky. So there are good things ahead.

And of course, there's the language thing.

But now that I have to get out in a hurry, I'm suddenly feeling like Taiwan, like many places where you spend real time, has gone unexplored. In spite of the effort and time it suddenly feels like we've barely seen anything. I think that feeling's a given, between the nostalgia of living in a place for this long and that I've known for months that we haven't done or seen what we wanted, because of class schedules, cost, or heat. But it's still a poignant regret. And this possibly more so because it's not easy to think we could return.

So, last entry from me from Taiwan. I hope it's been worth reading.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The heat of September

September is Ghost month, it's an oooold tradition of appeasing ghosts and giving gifts to family who have passed on, usually in the form of money, but fake money. You can buy bricks of the fake stuff for next to nothing, but how, you ask, do you get it to the ghosts and family members? Why by burning it, naturally.

It's about 95 degrees and 60 percent humidity so it feels like a hundred and ten so it must be time to burn things!

This's one of a thousand of these things. Some are quite large. That's one on the right.

Even the companies get in on the act with tables of food offerings and a fire in front of the office to burn "money."

I know we grill hot dogs and hamburgers in the heat of July and August, but just picture walking down the street, any street, on your way to work, dodging from shade to shade 'cause that takes off ten degrees from the feeling of hundred plus heat, and then you walk by a full on fire burning blocks of paper, which as literature has taught us, is 451 degrees. It is, literally, staggering because you will take an involuntary step away from the heat, even if it means stepping into direct sunlight.

Now do it ten more times on your way to work. I am whining. It's hot here. It's just disappointing that we couldn't have these little oases of warmth drawing you nearer in November or March, instead they're driving people away.

But at least I don't have this job.

What d'ya do when you need a park lawn mowed? You get a bunch of guys with gas-powered weedwackers. Really. They get a half-a-dozen guys or so with these things, making noise like mutant yellow jackets taking over the city, and they go to work on whole fields. I've seen it several times and been agog and bewildered every time.

Did I mention I had Friday off? A class I've had for months on Fridays finally dissolved. I'd feel bad about not working and not making money, but I don't. I really didn't like that class.

Teaching 'tween-agers a foreign language until ten on a Friday night does no one any good. They're cranky and difficult and stubborn, not unreasonably but still, so it's hard to enjoy it week after week. So I was really glad to exchange it, even with the lost income, for an afternoon biking down the Xindian river.

I watched this guy work on flying his dragon kite for a few minutes. It seemed like an infuriatingly difficult thing to fly. I watched a couple times as he landed the thing and untwisted the tail. And it seemed to be all tail.

This corner gave me an idea of how crowded things must get on a weekend. There isn't an actual stop sign, but there is a line there so you know where to stop. And they have these road signs, just like for auto traffic. This says, if you're going to Gongguan go left, for Jingmei go right. They're neighborhoods and metro rail stops, and Jingmei is the name of the river you follow, so it's hard to say specifically what they're pointing to.

But the width of these "trails" is amazing. You can see the tip of a double-yellow line there. And they go for miles. Oh, and some places are paved in this great asphalt that gives your tires a whirring, whizzing sound like a high-performance engine revving. Nice touch.

I was really glad I went to the trouble of renting a bike. I haven't been on a bike for more than a year, so having another way to get around was a real treat. And things were nearly deserted. Very few bikes and people on paths and trails made for hundreds... or thousands.

It was quite hot and humid, but biking adds that breeze which makes this time of year tolerable, at least, if you're willing to work for it, so really, you sweat either way, but this way I got to see miles of park and river I'd never seen before, or would any other way.

And I went biking for two-and-a-half hours, for a 100 NT. If I haven't done the exchange enough yet, that's about three bucks. Good deal.

And this was just a riot. I love how signs in this town make as little or less sense than stuff in the States.

I saw this and came to a screeching stop 'cause I knew I had to take a picture. It wasn't that I stopped really fast, but the front disc brake was worn so it shrieked when I used it hard.

And finally, the only way to appreciate this is aurally. Turn your sound WAY up so you too can experience what Marie and I hear when parades and other traditional Chinese events take place in our neighborhood and down our street.

I know it's kinda mean, but can anyone find the beat that guy's clapping?!

This music's a local thing and we haven't gotten used to it. I've seen these lessons before and these are much more tolerable. I can't hear a difference between this and what they play in a parade, but in the parade they come down or near our street and they're electrified. So in the canyons of buildings it's loud, even inside our apartment, five floors up.

I like the hikes I've taken, getting away from the city and such, but biking here's a blast. It's so flat. I'll have to see if I can get Marie out in the heat before we leave.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sweatin' to the oldies (in Chinese)

More mountain climbing! Yay! Until you get about two-thirds up and then, phooey.

But before you go hiking, gotta have a healthy breakfast.

These are called "chicken paws" in the menu. They just gave them to Marie at a fried chicken place she goes to. She says they must like her to give her free food. I shouldn't disagree but I wonder if this isn't the fast food version of the horse head in your bed.

We chucked the whole bucket. Marie said we should leave 'em out for the local dogs, but I'm worried about local rats and cockroaches.

Speaking of: I've recently learned that window cleaner makes a surprisingly effective roach killer. Part of life in the tropics, you have to deal with the occasional roach. They get in through the AC. I've never seen Marie hide under the covers until a roach flew in the bedroom one morning. She said she heard it go "oooph" when it hit the far wall. I went for the cleaner while she left the room, somehow without touching the floor....

Really cleaner works 'cause we've only seen a couple this entire summer, tho' we still have a lot of summer to go, here. Something about drowning them in ammonia. At least the area's clean after it's dead, which's a plus when it greets you on the kitchen counter. And I should be grateful it just walked out in the light and found me and not Marie.

But who cares!

The educational part of my hike yesterday was how I had a map and a guide book and I still ended up on the wrong mountain. I think I was one mountain west of Yangming mountain. I was definately on Zhongzheng mountain but I must've made a wrong turn at Albuquerque, so to speak.

I was really glad to find these trail signs, even if they took me to the wrong mountain they were rather comforting. Tho' it's pretty funny to see them while you're still in town.

I love how people will build a row of three and four story apartments across the road from nothing. Sure, everyone wants the view, but I'm used to it being out the back of the apartment-house-condo.

I was aiming at "the tallest mountain north of Taipei" Yangming mountain. At not quite 1,200 meters I thought it'd be okay. I keep forgetting to convert. So I set out to walk up instead of taking the bus to a trailhead.

In my defense, I did get to see some really great scenery like this tower.

And this temple or something like it. And it was a really nice day. The high point was about 94 so with the humidity it felt like 111 (so says weather.com). But I had a lot of fluids and a hat and lightweight clothing. I spent my day dodging from shade to shade and I was fine.

I don't know what this building is, but it was amazingly yellow. It's like a like detergent ad. As in, "gee Marge, how do you keep your building colors so bright?"

I'm still working on getting details of what this place is, 'cause I want to know. It was just on the side of this suburban road on the side of the mountain. Obviously, it's not little, but it wasn't as eye-popping as most temples are with the bright colors and dragons. More like a hotel, but it's not in a good place for that.

This's how I spent most of the afternoon. Some group had cut and placed more of the footpath stones through this bamboo grove. It was kinda stifling in there, but it was shaded, so there was a trade off. And every few hundred feet the trail would cross a road and I could get a breeze.

The road for cars and scooters, which was not made for two cars to pass each other, weaved back and forth, while the hiking trail shot straight up the side. It was a great physical example of switchbacks versus straight-up-the-mountain hiking.

I kinda like the straight-up idea, but I found myself considering each stairway and if I wanted to go slower and longer. I took a couple short curves on the road. Fortunately, the park at the top was the only destination and Tuesday afternoon wasn't a big hiking time, and I could hear everything coming.

This's an example of how confused this city and country is about pedestrians, or how comfortable people are with traffic, I haven't figured it out, myself. I'm just really careful when I hike these places.

You can see next to that black-on-yellow arrow in the middle, there's a railing. There are benches there and even a trashcan (which's really unusual for Taipei) and the view is great, terrific even. So they want people to come and rest and look, but you can see the shoulders of the road... there aren't any. Weirdos.

I did finally make it to the parking lot at the top of the mountain. At the time I still thought it was Yangming and I thought a bus would stop there and carry me home. So I decided to dig in and climb just another five hundred meters for the view, even tho' the parking lot was pleasant and pleasantly breezy after an hour or more in bamboo groves.

But I did learn that when they say .5 km, they almost certainly mean, straight up. I found this sign after what felt like a half mile. It says, you have only walked .2 km, weenie.

I did meet this guy on the way up. He was very happy to sit and have me scratch him. He didn't want me to leave, but he didn't want to come up with me. I guess he'd seen the view plenty of times.

And it'd become a mantra for the day, "and what did I find when I got there? More stairs!" It was staggering after the afternoon, but it was worth it.

I did an entire 360 pan. The mountains behind this one are obviously larger. That was disappointing, especially how big they still looked. I had to save those for another day. Obviously it doesn't do as much in this small frame, but it's overlooking the entire Taipei basin and as the camera pans it goes from east to west. You can see all the way from downtown Taipei and 101 to Danshuei and the Taiwan Strait.

The amazing part is, I'm on the wrong mountain. This's only about 650 meters up. It sounds better when I say it's a little more than 2,000 feet, but until I got to the parking lot, I thought I'd climbed almost 4,000 feet. Talk about a let down, or a didn't-go-so-high.

But it was still a lot of fun. I did discover that by not being on the right mountain, there was no bus to take me back. I had to walk down a half hour before I found a bus stop, which took me to the metro, which took me home.

Oh, in the video, technically, I think you can see our neighborhood, if not our house.

And I saw this and I remembered mom telling me I needed to take pictures with people in them. So, there you go, ready-made self-portrait opportunity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Up the mountain

The typhoon thing has been really weird. It did so much flooding damage in the south but Marie and I went to the mall that weekend. There's a place called Miramar with a movie theater and shops and an arcade and so on. It's got a stop on the new MRT line, so we went to see the new route, which's an elevated train so it's like a really smooth, double-decker bus ride, instead of riding a fast earthworm.

It was rainy but it was only about 30 C (85 ish) after all the typhoon rain, so it was much more comfortable. Ironically, the 80 percent humidity made you want to move so you'd have a breeze.

We had lunch there, which was a little disappointing, only 'cause it was rather bland. Usually the steamed potstickers are tastier than that. Go figure. And we saw the ferris wheel, which's big enough they light it at night and can be easily seen from Taipei 101. It's like the Eye in London.

In retrospect, since there was a typhoon in the area, it made sense we didn't go for a ride (I'm pretty sure I saw a few people on it, but not many). But we were looking at it and Marie said, "I'll bet they aren't air-conditioned." And that's where we left it.

On our way back, we got donuts. Have I mentioned that donuts are a dessert or snack, here? Like, in the evening? They are. You want donuts for breakfast, you gotta plan ahead, and then not eat 'em when you get home. (That's the hard part.)

I haven't tried this–'cause Mochi rings are really chewy and I don't care for 'em; they're practically gum, there's nothing like 'em in food Americana–so I don't know if it's corn-flakes kinda corn or corn corn, but they do love corn here. And, you could be forgiven if you thought they like to misspell things (it says "Corn Curmb").

And this we saw when Marie was trying to find a keyboard for a friend . I've seen these pink guitars in lots of guitar stores, but I didn't have a camera. Mostly this's for my dad. I'm sorry he didn't get to see this while he was here.

Really, the best Hello Kitty is the Hello Kitty wine (I am not making this up) but this's a pretty good second.

But I finally went hiking again on my day off! Ha! I went to the same area I went last month. So in the photo of the trail in the woods, I came from the direction the photo was looking.

This was particularly entertaining 'cause I forgot to look at a map before I left home, so I wasn't even sure what stop I should get off at. I did find the stop, but the map in the station didn't have any details about where to find the other end of the trail (so I could do it backwards to make it seem different). So I just wandered up to where it said the trailhead was and I took the right fork of the trail instead of the left I took last time.

It worked out very well. The trails are marked, but really, once you get away from the city, which's pretty sudden, there isn't a whole lot you can do but follow the trail.

So after following a canal out of the urban area–chasing herons all the way–and going up the trail and lots of stairs and more trail but mostly lots more stairs. I found something that looked promising.

More stairs!

That's the city below (that's how far up I'd already hiked) and these stairs run up into the foliage and they keep going.

After these stairs, I found this edge just away from the trail, so you get an idea of how high I'd hiked. It took a little effort to get to, and I wasn't very close to the edge, mom. I stuck the camera out.

My best guess, with a little help from Google, I was somewhere from four to five hundred meters up. It's hard to be sure, but it seemed like even more.

I found this marker a little farther along. It says 4K+0M, but I don't know from where. I was really confused when I found this one five meters farther on.

So, I really don't know how far I went, but it took a couple of hours and 32 ounces of water.

Unfortunately, I didn't remember to bring any dry clothes for the 95 degree, sixty percent humidity day, but there was a breeze and shade, tho' that didn't stop profuse sweating.

But this's the amusing part of Taiwan. Almost 500 meters up a steep hillside, there's a Chinese inspired pavilion. Surprisingly, it's not painted bright red.

But! Because it's Taipei (second most people per square mile on earth, look out Calcutta!) there's a couple of guys there reading and napping on a Tuesday afternoon.

Just a little farther up the trail (it was mostly level at this stage) I found this shelter. The unexpected thing is it's completely made of concrete. Maybe some kind of plaster, but it's really solid. No water, insect, or mold damage on this thing.

There's also a little temple on the other side. I was going to take a picture, but it felt awkward 'cause, yes, someone had either come up the 500 meters from the city or from the town a kilometer on the other side of the hill to pray. And no, this's not accessible by car, scooter, or bus. If you own a goat, that might work.

But this's why I came up here. Babbling brook and no city noises or concrete walls. The little old lady (you can hear her humming) almost bumped into me as I was standing on the bridge. I guess not that many people come through. But she was funny 'cause she was up the trail, above me on the stairs, and she starts offering me some kinda juice box, a beer (no joke), and fruit. I'd have taken a video of the exchange but the end of that video was when my 2 gig chip filled up.

I'd have considered taking something, just to be polite (I think) and maybe make her feel better (I hope) but I was really afraid the juice box looked like it was asparagus (yes, asparagus juice, in a kiddie box, with a tiny little straw, bleeeech), and I've been kinda ill on beer lately (like an allergy, thank you very much), and the fruit, well, my bag was already kinda icky. I didn't think the fruit would be edible when it got home. Accepting anything felt kinda wasteful.

I kept thanking her and telling her I (politely) didn't want any, but I almost had to beat her off with a stick.

It wasn't hard with her, but we say "bu yong" a lot, which's the polite way to say "I don't want it" and I notice it's easier in a foreign language to be polite when someone's shoving a flyer in your face 'cause you don't really understand what you're saying. You just know this's what you're supposed to say.

I headed on down the trail towards the Outdoor Classroom of Water and Soil Conservation of Guizikeng. Incidentally, Guizikeng is the name of the trail and the area and the mountain.

There were a zillion gecko-salamander things that kept running underfoot, but way too fast to photograph. But this frog sat still.

For a moment I wondered if he was dead, 'cause I kept getting closer and closer but he didn't move or even blink. Then I nudged him with my toe and nothing. Then I brushed him with a leaf and nothing. Then I tapped him with my finger and POW! Like he'd been spring-loaded and just trying not to laugh. He jumped a couple feet up and a couple across, tho' he was going downhill. I went the other way, also pretty quick.

This's pretty funny. After being in Nebraska for a couple of months last summer and seeing a few more backroads than I remember, seeing a sign for a town pointing down this dirt path, it just made me think that there are still plenty of places where even Nebraska infrastructure seems pretty well done.

And really, this was just a path 'cause it was leading away from the hiking trail. It goes a hundred yards across these kinda peapatch gardens to an asphalt road that leads to the town Xiaopingding. Not like you'd ride your scooter over this narrow dirt road a mile or something.

Finally, I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. There's like a cottage industry here of people seem to survive on recycling everything (except glass, which has to be done industrially). So I wonder if this pile is a garbage dump (there's a golf course around the corner), a recycle center (leave it and someone will haul it away eventually), or someone's drop site before they sort it and take it to exchange for cash.

So that was my day off.

I didn't mention the ants who seemed out in force, or how pleased I am that I don't seem to be tasty to mosquitoes or ticks and I don't think there are ticks, here. And I didn't mention the huge spider I saw silhouetted against the city at a distance of twenty feet but I could still tell he was missing a leg. But that's how busy the day was, too many other things.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Weather the weather

To everyone who pays attention to the weather in this corner of the world: we're fine. We got two days off out of the the typhoon last weekend, which means a lot of money, but it was really great to have a three day weekend.

I got the impression that they don't like to shut down for two days because of the weather. I don't understand what it means when the city shuts down, 'cause the garbage trucks still came through. But that's when Kojen cancels classes: when the city says they're closed due to inclement weather (but in Chinese).

But I think the typhoon fooled people, 'cause it really looked on radar like the thing hit the island and squished into a big rainstorm. So it was pretty easy to just enjoy the cooler weather (80-85 and 80 percent humidity, don't ask me why it wasn't a hundred, that's what our little gauge said). We went out shopping on Saturday and saw a movie with friends on Sunday and found a great tex-mex place called Yuma.

But here's a little look at our experience.