Colorado National Monument (What to Know Before Going)

travel

Do NOT underestimate this gem based solely off of its name. Although not deemed a national park, Colorado National Monument is worth the drive West from Denver and has one of the cheapest entrance fees for parks in the Southwest at $15/vehicle or $25 for a 7 day pass.  However, I highly recommend purchasing the annual park pass for $80 which lasts for 1 year and allows you to visit any National Park Service- affiliated park in the U.S. It was a great investment and definitely worth the money.  Continuing on… The monument includes multiple hiking trails that differ in difficulty and bike trails as well. There are no bodies of water in the monument and is mainly for hiking, photography, and scenic driving.

For the 1 day visitor who simply wants a summary of the monument, a drive through would take 1-2 hours, and this includes stopping at the major impressive points and taking photos quickly. For those who want a more in-depth summary of the monument, it would take approximately 3.5-5 hours, and this includes stopping at every point, taking photos, and walking down to the photography points (which are at the most a 5 minute walk). There is only one path to drive through the monument although a couple stops may require divergence into a smaller road. There are two entrances into the monument, a West entrance and an East entrance. Those who are entering from Colorado would likely enter from the East and those who come from Utah are would likely enter from the West. As I entered from the East, I exited from the West and a complete drive through the monument would take you towards the town of Fruita and Highway 70 on the way to Utah. The drive to Arches National Park from the monument takes approximately 1.5 hours and the drive there is barren, with only miles or crude land, so I highly suggest getting a full tank of gas before going into Colorado National Monument and filling the car up with snacks and water. Using the restroom in the monument before heading out would be a smart move.

From personal experience, I highly recommend the following stops, as they are extremely breathtaking and worth the stop, but of course if time allows, all stops are worth the stop.

1.) Cold Shivers point: the first major point when entering from the East side. The spot is just as it sounds. It will give you the cold shivers due to its high elevation and massive drop below your feet that was carved out from rapid waters. Beautiful and daunting photography spot.

2.) Echo canyon at Upper Ute Canyon Overlook: This one stop is the most memorable and fun stop in the entire monument; it is also not written on the monument map or labelled anywhere so this is sort of a hidden gem. There is a mummy-like statue that lays on the opposite canyon walls, but beyond that, the walls have the best ability to echo your voices. It is surreal and enigmatic in a way because it truly does sound like your twin is thousands of feet away from you, repeating your words a couple seconds after. I spent about 10 min here, yelling at the walls. This is a must!

3.) Artists Point: A very photogenic spot due to its array of rock colors, hence the name. The vibrance of colors will depend on weather conditions of the day, and is most colorful to the human eye on a day when clouds partially cover the sun.

4.) Independent Monument View: Stop here to see an odd rock formation that looks as if it were carved by humans.

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side view of Independent monument

5.) Grand View: Why would you even skip this stop when the magnificence is IN ITS NAME? It’s Grand.. no further explanation needed.

Thus, these are my top 5 stops, but once you visit the monument, you, of course, will eventually come up with your own top list.

Additional spots:

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Ute Canyon

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Balanced Rock

 

 

Low Fat Lemon Poppyseed Cake (Vegan)

food, healthy

Experimentation comes with frustration, wasted time, and wasted money. When attempting to make non-conventional recipes, trial after trial is crucial to get the perfect amounts of ingredients since food is all about the science and measurements behind it. Vegan baking is particularly difficult since eggs aren’t allowed and the animal fats are not able to make the baked product moist. Instead, alternatives like plant oils are utilized, and plant based butter simply isn’t as fragrant as animal based butter. With that being said, I truly appreciate all the vegan bakers out there, in making delicious recipes that are harmless to animals and better for the body overall.

Today’s lemon poppyseed cake is a delicious dessert that typically would require eggs and loads of butter or oil, but not today. You have stumbled upon a much healthier recipe that you can indulge on day and night!


Low Fat Lemon Poppyseed Cake (Vegan)

yield: 1 loaf

ingredients:

  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. vegan yogurt
  • 3 tbsp. vegan buttermilk (recipe HERE) OR 3 tbsp vegan yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c.  + 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tbsp poppy seeds

For lemon frosting:

  • 1/4 c powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 355 F.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, poppy seeds, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, buttermilk, vanilla, and lemon juice and let the mixture sit for a couple minutes.
  4. Pour the flour mixture into the wet and whisk until fully incorporated. Do not overmix as this could result in a tough cake.
  5. Pour into a 8 x 4 loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Bake the cake for 25-30 min.
  6. Take the cake out of the pan and let it cool on a rack for about 30 min. Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice and spread the glaze onto the cooled cake. Optional: sprinkle some lemon zest on the glaze.

 

lemon cake 2

The cake is best enjoyed after it is made, served with a cup of hot coffee or tea.

In making healthier dessert options, I’m hoping that more people can stop giving dessert a negative connotation. Dessert doesn’t have to be overly sweet and fattening. I believe that any store bought dessert tends to be far too sweet for my liking, which is why I no longer purchase desserts. I simply make them at home, alter it to cater to my tastebuds, save money, and have fun. It’s a win-win for me and I hope you all attempt to bake more at home.

Happy baking!

Tri Color Egg (A Taiwanese Specialty)

food, healthy

egg1

I could talk for hours after hours about my love for Taiwan; from its mountains and seas to its night market and decadent dishes, there is just something so impeccable about this island. Taiwanese snack foods have become a billion dollar industry all over the world, from bubble tea, to bubble waffles, from Asian bakery bread to braised pork rice… people of all colors love Taiwanese snack food. With that being said, there’s much more to Taiwanese food than bubble tea and bread. I’m ecstatic to share a Taiwanese specialty called “Tri Color Egg”. The three colors are black, yellow, and white. As you may have guessed, yellow and egg come from an egg (of course), but what about the color black? There’s a unique oriental egg called the “century egg” which CNN and many other news outlet report as one of the most disgusting foods ever. It’s such a wonder how tastebuds differ from people to people, because I think the century egg is delightful. Perhaps growing up with the egg in my cuisine has been an advantage, but it’s really not as foul as it sounds. It looks horrid, like something the devil would produce, with its translucent black outer skin and its gooey, vomit-like yolk, but I recommend everyone to be adventurous and try it!

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century eggs

Perhaps you’ve been grossed out and don’t want to read anymore….. but tricolor egg is a beautiful dish that will WOW your friends and family. Come on, give it a try 🙂


Tri Color Egg

yield: (9 x 9 x 2 in circle or square cake pan)

Special equipment: steamer OR a large wok-like pan to steam, steamable plastic wrap, cake pan or casserole pan

Ingredients:

  • 10 eggs
  • 3 century eggs
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp michiu (rice cooking wine)
  • 8 tbsp water

Directions:

  1. Line the cake pan with steamable plastic to prevent the egg from sticking.
  2. Separate the 10 egg yolks from white. In the egg whites, combine 1/2 tbsp sea salt, 1/2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp michiu, and 4 tbsp water. Whisk until combined, but do not whisk until too frothy. egg3
  3. Pour the whites into the cake pan. Cut each century egg into 8-10 long slices and line them in horizontal lines in the egg whites. Steam the egg covered on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the edges have hardened and the middle is still jiggly.
  4. While the whites are steaming, whisk the egg yolks and add 1/2 tbsp sea salt, 1/2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp michiu, and 4 tbsp water. Take a chopstick or skewer and poke small holes on the edges all around the egg whites to release some steam and  so that the egg yolk does not separate from the egg whites when poured in. Pour the egg yolk onto the egg whites and then let the eggs steam covered, on low for an additional 10-15 minutes. egg6
  5. Once complete, remove the eggs from the steamer and let it cool for an hour before serving. when slicing the eggs, you want to slice vertically or against the way the century eggs were placed. Since the century eggs were placed horizontally, cut the eggs vertically to get the bejeweled effect from the century eggs.

Tri color eggs are best eaten with rice or noodles, accompanied by vegetables and other dishes!

Grocery Sampling in Austria

travel

As our plane flew through a dusky violet sky and touched down at the Vienna Airport , I quickly sauntered to the baggage carousel to retrieve my luggage so that I could check-in to the hotel, grab dinner, and rest in preparation for nightlife festivities. Besides having booked a room at the Moxy Hotel which was within walking distance of the airport, all activities for the night were going to be improv’d. Within minutes of exiting the airport, I arrived at the Moxy Hotel Vienna which is extremely affordable for the quality. The eccentric, quirky, yet aesthetic hotel provides a surfeit of amenities such as printing, web surfing, hot drinks, board games, a gym, and much more. Keep in mind that Europe, unlike America, charges for almost everything, including public restrooms, napkins, and extra McDonalds sauce so the amenities provided in the hotel are quite rare. Thus, I recommend taking advantage of what is provided and enjoy your time at the relaxing hotel. I paid 95 Euros that night for 2 people, and it included breakfast. I got a good deal through Expedia, so a little bit of planning and the use of booking websites can save tourists plenty of money. Of course, if money is not an issue, then lucky you :). Below are some pics of the Moxy lobby that I absolutely adored. All through the late night, chill music played as friends and families drank, laughed, played card games, or worked on their laptops. The environment was very cordial.

 

 

 

Little was near the airport, mostly rental car stations, banks, and a few high rises. But off into the distance, a bright red and yellow sign caught my attention among  a sea of not so colorful signs. Something about it’s appearance just lead me to the conclusion that it was a grocery store and when I arrived, I took my time and went on a 25 Euro shopping spree to purchase some delectables. I certainly splurged and bought far more than necessary, but some interesting items caught my eyes and the inner food in me was eager to try some European goods. I did a taste test on the products and graded them:

  1. Head cheese– a nondairy cheese (not actually cheese) that combines meat pieces from the head of land animals and stuffs it into a gel that is then brined in a vinegar solution. The slab of head cheese was really cheap, approx. 2 Euros for the pack, and it looked a somewhat delicious pile of meat trimmings so I was very excited to give it a try. I cut a hearty portion onto a slice of pretzel bread and took a large bite… Bleghh, YIKES. I mean, it wasn’t terrible really… but the vinegar/mint/spice-like flavor was so offputting I really wanted to toss the whole pack away. I love vinegar, but something about this was horrid. I suppose that’s why head cheese was peasant food back in the days…

Appearance: 2/10        Flavor: 2.5/10

Image result for head cheese

2. Muscatel Grapes: These grapes were crazy expensive. At 7 Euros per pound, they better have curing properties. The small orbs were tinted light green and pink, and they smelled very sweet so I was pretty stoked to try these. And after all, how bad could grapes taste?

These grapes were hands down the best grapes I have ever tasted! They don’t sell these in the states so I’ve never heard them before but I later realized that Muscat wine is made from these, but the wine doesn’t taste that great… The grapes tasted like lychee Hi-Chew candies. So Sweet, I could’ve sworn I was eating candy!

Appearance: 9/10          Taste: 10/10

Image result for muscatel grapes

3. Paprika chips: Never heard of such a flavor before, but I was eager to give it a try. In general, paprika doesn’t have much flavor so I was wondering if the chips would be bland, but they really just tasted like barbeque chips. Nothing special and no surprises so I was a tad disappointed.

Appearance: 7/10             Taste: 7.5/10

Image result for german paprika chips

4. German Apple cider: I was certainly expecting a drink similar to apple juice, but I instead got a very alcoholic drink that tasted nothing like apples. I was basically drinking warm beer and as a “hater” of alcohol, I spat it out and gave the rest away to my brother. bleghhh I was fooled…

Appearance: 8/10         Taste: 3/10 (because I don’t like alcohol)

5. Currywurst: Who knew such a fusion food existed? I love curry and sausages are a German staple so I knew this was something I needed to taste. The wurst was pretty long and cost 3 Euros.

WOWWW!! I’m not a huge fan of sausages but this wurst was juicy, yet not too fatty, and the curry-ketchup sauce was so good. I wish I had gotten more sauce but the flavor was so potent that it was enough. Really a big fan of currywurst and I must emulate this sauce recipe at home.

Appearance: 7/10          Taste: 9.5/10

Image result for currywurst in bun

This concluded my taste test. I also ate pretzel bun sandwiches and tuna salads, but nothing special there so I did not feel it was necessary to grade them!

For the rest of the night, I spent 4 euros and bought a round trip train ticket to the Vienna City Centre. Night life was bustling as people sat at outdoor cafes under sun umbrellas as live music played out loud. I guided myself through the winding cobblestone roads for the city was constructed like a maze with marble and stone buildings in all directions. Even late at night, hordes of people were visiting St. Stephens Cathedral and buying gelato cones and wursts from food stands.

Short Film: A Winter Wonderland in Germany & Switzerland

travel

As I traveled through Germany and crossed into the most expensive country in the world (Switzerland), my already-prodigious adoration for mother earth grew even more. From sky-high snow caps to clear sheets of ice ideal for ice skating, the two countries had set the backdrop for cloud 9. Winter’s light and shimmering dust falling from a cloudy sky are things you dream of, and seeing the scene as reality was heart-warming. Thank you Germany and Switzerland for warming my heart in such an unforgiving cold.

Watch my highlights from my 10 day trip that wrapped up 2017 and rang in 2018. ❤

 

Featured Locations:

  • Mt. Titlis
  • Engelberg, Switzerland
  • Rothenburg, Germany
  • Titisee Neudstadt
  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Luzern, Switzerland
  • Zurich, Switzlerland
  • Riviere-Nipissis, France
  • Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Have any questions about travelling in Germany and Switzerland? Leave comments below OR posts recalling my travels along with tips will be coming soong 🙂

10 Days in Germany & Switzerland

travel

I spent 10 days in Germany and Switzerland, and experienced the European celebration of a New Year. We were surrounded by people in the cold streets, full of laughter and alcohol, and fun fact: people came up to my brother and I and asked to take pictures with us as if we were celebrities… lol. Maybe cause we were the only foreigners in the area. I was eager to leave 2017 behind because it was one of the roughest years of my life. With all that had occurred, being in the winter wonderland somehow gave me hope that 2018 could be much better. On the other hand, Mother nature never fails to impress and I witnessed the beauty of earth with my own eyes instead of pictures in a Nat Geo magazine. Well, with all that said, Happy New Year.

 

Blog posts of my travels in Europe coming soon….

 

Keep an eye out!

Soft Maple Cookies (Oil-Free, GF, Vegan, Refined Sugar Free)

food

I have recently been intrigued by a website called Feasting on Fruit, where the author, Natalie, creates mostly sweet but also savory recipes that uses fruit to replace the fats or the refined sugars. After watching some of her videos, I was a little skeptical of these recipes because some of the outcomes looked a little dry, but I decided to try a few of her recipes and was pleasantly surprised with how scrumptious the desserts were. It is so difficult to fathom that these desserts are good for you and made with natural ingredients. I was inspired by Natalie to make up my own recipe, and using her techniques, which often involves using a date paste as the fat and sugar, I came up with a soft maple cookie recipe that is out of this world. I highly recommend you all to check out Natalie’s site, and without further ado, let’s get baking!


Soft Maple Cookies

yield: 8-10 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 c. oat flour
  • 10 pitted dates soaked in hot water (any type of dates work)
  • 1/3 c. non- dairy milk
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
  2. Place the dates in a food processor and pulse while slowly adding in the non-dairy milk. Do not add all the milk in at once because it may splash all over the place out of the food processor. Then add in the maple extract. A sticky date paste will form.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the oat flour, baking powder, chia seeds, and cornstarch until evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour the date paste into the dry mixture and mix until a dough is formed.
  5. Using wet hands, roll the dough into balls and flatten to form a small cookie. You can decorate the top with some cacao nibs or sprinkle with nuts!
  6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Take out and enjoy!

These cookies taste best when they’re fresh out of the oven and piping with hot steam. They won’t have a gooey consistency, but will instead taste soft, moist, and cake-y. Let’s also not forget to mention that your entire kitchen will smell like maple 🙂

Soft maple cookies

 

 

 

Vegan Queso (No Cashews!)

food, healthy

When Vegans say nutritional yeast “really does taste like cheese!” I always mutter mmhmm under my breath and roll my eyes a bit. Cheese is cheese. I may be the biggest cheese lover in the world, so I WILL know if I am eating fake cheese. So the thought of some orange flaky bits being able to replace the gooey goodness of cheese seems too good to be true, but was it too good to be true?

…………………

OK. Yes. It was too good to be true and the nutritional yeast vegan queso was simply not up to par as the traditional non-vegan queso, but I do have to say it comes in a close second and serves as a wonderful guilt-free snack. I’ll still relish on my favorite Torchy’s show-stopping queso here and there, but nutritional yeast queso is something I’m going to eat pretty regularly since it actually contains the good stuff. The good stuff, you know? The B-vitamins, folate, zinc, and all other immune-boosting nutrients that trump all the saturated fat in real cheese.


Vegan Cheese (No Cashews)

yield: approx. 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. potatoes diced
  • 1 c. carrots diced
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar or lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (optional)
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder (opt.)
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder (opt.)
  • 1/4 c. nutritional yeast flakes

Instructions:

  1. Boil the potatoes and carrots together until soft and tender. I like to boil on high, turn the water off and let the remaining heat soften the vegetables to save energy!
  2. Drain the vegetables and let them cool a bit but not completely.
  3. Place the vegetables in a high-speed blender along with all other ingredients and blend until completely smooth and creamy.
  4. The texture should greatly resemble queso. It should be gooey and melty.
vegan cheese

look at that queso!

I’m not a food chemist so I don’t understand how this vegan queso gets its gooey consistency, but the resemblance with traditional queso is uncanny. Also, if you’d like to spice up your queso, by all means you may add a roasted pepper!! Now the holidays have rolled around, this is a great dip for parties so go ahead and deceive your friends!

Taiwan Day 13: My Luck to Visit Bayan Village (Now Closed to Outsiders)

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Crisp reflection at Bayan Village

A delicate layer of stratus clouds shrouded the skies above and reflected its image on the stagnant waters beneath, as subtle smoke piped continuously from the few homes in the quiet and unassuming village. Bayan village, indisputably beautiful, was an unknown gem in the Yangmingshan territory, distinct for its terraced fields running alongside mountains and its unique natural hot springs and waterfalls that provide so-called healing elements to the human skin. When word got out of the area, the village’s popularity grew and unpleasant hordes of tourists poured in daily, overwhelming the 20 inhabitants who were once accustomed to merely the sounds of nature.  We are all too familiar with the consequences of tourism, and indeed the inhabitants agreed to prohibit visitors to their village for issues reached unacceptable levels, including destruction of crops and use of the paths as restrooms. Despite my streak of misfortune in life, I fortunately experienced Bayan village 3 months before its unforeseen closure, and when I returned to the states, I spoke non-stop of Bayan, promising my brother that I would take him soon, only to hear it had closed….


My Experience: 

Access to the village was highly challenging for it is located in a conspicuous area in Yangmingshan, with few signs indicating its location and limited parking spaces nearby. Billy parked his sedan in a desolate spot and we were prepared to cross the street when an old man with a white undershirt and blue massage sandals approached us, requesting money in exchange for the parking spot. Turned out if the villagers were to be disturbed, they might as well make a little profit. We gave the man 30 NT and walked past a couple homes with washboards in a creek, food laid out drying in the sun, and vegetables growing profusely in garden patches. There was a miniature path of stone, hand-laid out over running waters and another local man simply sitting on a boulder, collecting an entrance fee in a bowl for the terraced fields/ sky reflection view. Imposing mountains fringed our surrounding and a murky body of water situated amid was an optimum canvas for the sky’s reflection. The sight was a thing of wonder, and luckily I had come on an unpopular day and time where masses of tourists were nowhere to be found, so all was far too serene.

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Smoke from a chimney

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View

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Large boulders in the water

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Intense reflection

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Not a model at all

Nearby the exit, an elderly woman sat underneath a rickety straw roof, showing off her vegetables and fruit, freshly picked this morning and grown traditionally by hand. Billy told me that her food was phenomenal and home-y, so we strolled over and bought two steamed corn and tea eggs, both scalding hot as I juggled them between my hands. Piping hot juice splattered all over as I bit into the sweet, succulent corn, and I rapidly continued to eat because the pain was worth each decadent bite. As we nibbled on the flavorsome tea egg to prevent mouth burns, we walked along steep, zig-zagged paths, enclosed by towering bamboo stalks and shrubs on either sides that forbid any breeze. The demanding trek to the hot springs required great stamina and at the half-way point, I wondered if I’d ever make it as I slowly but surely progressed down winding and deteriorating stone steps. But then my eyes glistened at the sight of flat land ahead of us (a huge relief from the prior tedious path) that was accompanied by a behemoth fumarole, filling the atmosphere with pastel yellow, sulfuric clouds. Based on intuition, it seemed we were approaching our destination soon, and indeed there was only an additional half mile descending down a serpentine path until the hot springs.

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Within the mountains

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Smoke from underground

Very highly likely there was an easier access to the hot springs, but Billy and I entered from a threatening path as we nimbly hopped from jagged stone to stone down hill, avoiding the steaming, cloudy water beneath us. Masses of steam engorged our bodies, obscuring our view ahead, and we weren’t sure if we could withstand the fumes, but a miracle occurred when we reached the bottom and regained our sights.

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Our dangerous path to enter the springs

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Clear water from the waterfalls

I witnessed a fictitious image with varieties of different sized natural springs and melanin-rich individuals bathing in the streaming water, soaking in the sun’s and water’s nutrients. The pale blue, almost grey, hot spring water was too hot for comfort, but it came in contact with crystal clear water from a waterfall nearby to form the optimal temperature for humans to enjoy a dip. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a swimsuit so I was semi- crestfallen, but I got to dip most of my legs into the pools and relish the setting, the people, and the sounds. And since Bayan village is no longer open, all that occurred on this day remains in my memories and in my photos. And I know I’ll read back on this blog whenever I need to recall the allure of this place.

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Cooling down next to a waterfall

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Cloudy hot spring waters

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Venturing

 

-Jamie