I love my year in Taiwan. It has just all around been the best year I could have had after graduation, and I’ve loved exploring Taipei especially. Taipei has changed so much—the most visible sign is the abundance of cafes and restaurants sprouting up, all of them with an emphasis on design, which I really appreciate. Displays of handmade art and crafts are prominently featured in many places.
One of my favorite new discoveries is the Simple Market, located at the Xinyi Public Assembly Hall. It’s like Etsy come to life. Small local artisans display their work every Sunday afternoon in the center square of what used to be military family barracks. There’s usually live music accompanying the beautiful vendor displays: paper products, jewelry and other accessories, ceramics, baked treats, flora arrangements. The emphasis is on all things local and made with love in Taiwan.
Right beside the Simple Market is Good Cho’s, a coffee shop that sells amazing bagels and Taiwan-made goods, ranging from bags to decorative miniature Asian doors to wooden cookware. But my favorite is the ice cream parlor Midori, nestled inside Good Cho’s. Pass on the chocolate ice cream—Midori is the tops at the more unique flavors, like kumquat and chocolate-chip vanilla ice cream (pictured above) or the dragonfruit (which is more of a snow cone texture).
Farmers’ Market. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Backyard barbecues. Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival. Bought a forest green and wood picnic chair from the REI garage sale. Took my new picnic chair to the outdoor jazz concert series at Stanford. Garage sale hunting (favorite finds: a portable Weber grill for $4, unopened Wedgwood casserole dish for $7). The public library – got a new library card to replace the one I’ve had since second grade. Walking through the Redwood Grove Preserve. Walking behind private backyards to Shoup Park. Walked the creek bed in Shoup Park. Listened to Ye Olde Towne Band in Shoup Park for an entire afternoon, reading Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins on a beach blanket. This is the first summer we didn’t go to Half Moon Bay or any beach; it was too cold. Helped Esther move into her San Francisco apartment. Went to a dog park and a dahlia competition. Afternoon tennis. Picking fruit (plums, oranges, lemons). Picking lavender, getting bee-stung.
Read Aimee Bender (enjoyed). Read Catherynne M. Valente (enjoyed less). Read Jorge Luis Borges (grew on me). Read a whole lot of other stuff. Dropped off ARCs of now-released-books around town in a belated Rock the Drop. Drove myself to our old house. Saw the changes. Didn’t go digging in the front yard for that thing I buried, it was light out. Didn’t end up driving at night.
The Christmas celebration finally arrived at our household. We opened gifts before dinner and made gingerbread bears after. I got books for Christmas, of course: Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott from my sister, Cindi; Harlen Coben’s newest Myron Bolitar book, Long Lost, from my brother Paul; Dad gave me Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Sadly, I did not reclaim the title of Best Gift-Giver this Christmas; that’s a tie between Cindi and Paul. Which means I have lost out two years running now :( But! I definitely won Best Single Gift, which was a 36-page Snapfish photo album for the parents. To say it was a massive hit is an understatement. That’s right, siblings! Still got it.
Anyway, Cindi brought back a gingerbread making kit. Yes, it comes from Crayola (of all companies! I had no idea Crayola made such things, but yay!), and it had two sets of directions (for adults and kids) on the back. I’ve never made any sort of gingerbread before, but I love it – the spice of cinnamon, the soft chewy goodness. Generally speaking, I love all Christmas food, especially peppermint/mint.
Around the time I was tired of working on applications, and my sister was sick of studying for her Princeton finals, we both started craving for these red bean pastries that Mom used to make when we lived in California. I remember juggling the hot golden pastry ball from fingertips to fingertips, blowing on them, holding them outside the front door and waving it around in the air, and still burning my tongue because I could never wait to eat them.
The recipe, transcribed into my Moleskine for recipes. (Being a recipe book, my handwriting is much neater than what it usually is.)
Adapted from this recipe, which made flat pastries, but the ones Mom always made were round golden balls, so that’s what we went with. Instead of sandwiching the red bean paste (which we made, instead of buying a pre-made pack as recommended by the recipe), we just folded up the edges into a ball.