Seaside in Winter: Aegean Sea

travel

Today, the sun made a rare occurrence in Turkey’s skies as it peeped behind grey, stratus clouds. Understandably, people set foot outside of their rooms, cameras around their necks and phones in one hand, eager to snap photos of the sun and sky, which resembled an orb against a painted sky. I happened to be staying at the Pine Bay Resort which was one of many resorts in the area on the coast of the Aegean Sea, decorated with swimming pools, beach chairs, cabanas, and bars next to its backyard beach area. Due to off-season, Pine Bay’s beach resembled a ghost town with sand covered in thick sheets of dried sea grass, trashed with plastic products, and home to stray cats and dogs who scoured through the bits and pieces on the beach to make a living. The scene was no paradise to the public, but it was paradise to me. I get to enjoy a private beach without paying thousands of dollars? Call it a dream.

6:01, my watch read. Approximately 25 more minutes until sunset as the sky made its way through the left side of the color spectrum and the thick, dark, yet clean waves washed up against the sand. The sounds of nothing but water traveled to my ears and I called out to the two stray dogs who were joyously chasing each other along the coastline. They were clearly best friends as they refused to leave each other’s side, and thankfully they accepted me as they elegantly sat next to me. One looked like a mixed golden retriever and the other was likely part-cocker spaniel along with many other breeds. They could have been dangerous, but I immediately gained their trust as they took me on an unforgettable adventure along the Aegean Sea which included climbing up an incompletely-built dock, finding unique items hidden in the beds of sea grass, and using wood bark as chew toys. Amongst the conglomeration of items on the beach, I found a message in a bottle, conch shells, and washed up jelly fish. At the moment, I wished to read the message in the bottle, but figured I would leave it for the next person who finds it. I was in too good of a mood to read a message that possibly could have been despondent. Besides, there was a big chance that I wouldn’t even be able to read the message.

dsc00839

Close up

The minutes were passing by as the sky transformed from shades of pink, purple, and blue ’til nothing but city lights miles away could not be seen anymore. When the daily evening prayer rang across the sea and cities, I knew it was time to head home. With the two dogs leading, I ran quickly, splashing sand onto my legs and allowing the sea’s wind to blow through my hair….

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 🙂

Vegan Chocolate Lava Cake

food

I realized whenever people ask what my sweet craving is, my go to is chocolate lava cake. A warm chocolate lava cake with a gooey interior  that is so rich a decadent it puts you on cloud 9; YES HANDS DOWN THAT IS WHAT I WANT. I don’t want a regular chocolate cake, I want the LAVA!!! Now, I’ve been experimenting with lava cakes, trying to see if an alternative recipe can be made. Possibly a vegan one? Or low fat? Or gluten free? It has been difficult because the science behind the cake requires eggs, butter, gluten, etc. I’m still constantly experimenting, but I have come up with a glorious vegan recipe that is out of this world! I’m so excited to share it because it’s pretty darn good.


Vegan Chocolate Lava Cake

yield: 3 lava cakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. all-purpose
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 4 1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. margarine or oil
  • 1/2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c. cold water
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 squares of baking dark chocolate (I used Baker’s chocolate)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat  oven to 395 F. And lightly grease all all of the inside of 3 ramekins. Set them aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk sugar and water until completely dissolved. Add melted margarine (at a very slow rate and whisking rapidly to prevent chunks) OR oil. Add vinegar or lemon juice and lemon and whisk.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl.
  4. Slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry and fold or whisk gently until evenly incorporated. Pour batter into ramekins until 3/4 full and add 2 pieces of dark chocolate into the center of each lava cake.
  5. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes and cool on a cooling rack for 3 min. when finished baking.
  6. Dust lava cake with powdered sugar or a generous scoop of ice cream.
lava cake

Vegan Chocolate lava cake

The recipe easily serves 3 people with 3 scrumptious cakes, but I may have eaten 2 in one sitting, which I highly recommend against but I honestly could not control myself. And I’ve been craving a lava cake for so ages, so eating 2 in moderation is totally fine!

These lava cakes are the ultimate crowd pleaser and it’s difficult to fathom that they are vegan! What are you waiting for? It’s time to make this right NOW!

 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF)

food
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

almond flour cookies

Vegan AND gluten-free???? That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. As much as I love “treat yo self” days where I can enjoy a warm, gooey pizookie with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, my GI tract often feels discomfort from the gluten and lactose gone into those cookies due to my unfortunate food intolerance to the two. However, when I made these vegan chocolate chip cookies, I felt more energized and suffered no discomfort at all because everything that went in to the cookie was really clean, pure, and minimally processed!!


 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF)

yield: 14 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. almond flour/almond meal
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 flax/chia egg (3 tbsp. water + 1 tbsp. flax meal/chia seeds)
  • 3 tbsp. vegan sweetener (or honey if not vegan)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • dash of vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/4 c. dark chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine water and flax/chia and set for a minimum of 5 minutes for the chia egg to form.
  2. In a large bowl, combine almond flour, baking soda, and salt and combine well.
  3. Add the solid yet softened coconut oil, sweetener, vanilla, and egg until all the contents are mixed throughout. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees C. Form the cookies and place on a non stick baking tray.
  5. Bake the cookies for approx. 11 minutes or until the cookie is baked completely through.

These cookies are really to die for and I’ll often eat one as part of my breakfast or as a snack on the go. They also freeze really well so you could make a big batch and save them up, but I honestly finished all these cookies in just a few days :/

-Jamie

Power Smoothie Bowl (Vegan)

food
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Power Smoothie Bowl

To say that I love smoothie bowls would be honestly be an understatement. I enjoy having a smoothie bowl for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner to pack in potassium, fiber, and folic acid for the day! While I am more than happy to consume a bowl of sliced fruits topped with granola, there is something extremely refreshing about an icy, cold mixture that cools the body down during the sizzling summer days. The seemingly never ending list of smoothie bowl pro’s often conceals the fact that smoothie bowls are alarmingly high in sugar content (ahh!!), and I hate how my body feels lethargic when I consumer too much sugar. The fructose in fruit is all-natural, but consuming many grams of fructose does not benefit the body, and so I have concocted an flawless blend of fruits that keep the sugar content in a smoothie bowl relatively low. 🙂


 

Power Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c. frozen spinach or kale
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/3 c. sliced frozen strawberries
  • 1/3 c. non-frozen mango
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened (vanilla) almond milk

Directions:

  1. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or powerful blender until smooth.
  2. Top with toppings of your choice! I used fresh dragon fruit, mango, pumpkin seeds, unfrosted bran flakes, and chia seeds.
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Blend all ingredients together

The major sweetener in this smoothie bowl was the non-frozen mango, and it’s important to use non-frozen because it’ll make the smoothie bowl sweeter since it’s really the only sweetener here. Although bananas and strawberries can be sweet, they lose sweetness once they are frozen so they don’t contribute much sweet flavor to the smoothie bowl.

This power smoothie bowl kept be full for 5 hours and I felt exceptionally energetic after consumption!

1 Ingredient Almond Butter

food
Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Homemade almond butter

If only almond butter were as cheap as peanut butter, I would have jars after jars of almond butter orderly lined up on my pantry shelves. But unfortunately, a typical 12 oz. jar costs at least $7 and at the rate that I consume almond butter, I’ll be exceptionally broke in no time. However, I recently whipped up a batch of homemade almond butter at home, resulting in a jar made at a fraction of the cost of store-bought AND the recipe requires 1 ingredient ONLY. You heard that right, 1 ingredient almond butter? I was utterly shocked as well, but through experimenting, I found that the natural oils in the almonds is enough to make the spread creamy. No added sweeteners, fats, or preservatives. Need I say more?


 

1 Ingredient Almond Butter

yield: 12 oz.

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. unsalted almonds ( roasted or raw, doesn’t matter)

Directions:

  1. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and bake at 300°C for around 8 minutes. This activates the oils in the almonds and gives the almond butter a deep, decadent roasted flavor. Once baked, remove the almonds from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes to prevent heat from touching the plastic food processor.
  2. Pour the almonds into a food processor with a blade and process for 15-20 minutes. I used the “chop” mode and kept the processor running consistently. After every 2-3 minutes, I scraped down the sides with a spatula so that the mixture would all be on the bottom of the food processor. side note: the almonds will become a coarse texture, like almond butter. After more processing, the almonds start to look like a thick paste, and you’ll be tempted to add oil because it’ll look too dry, but DON’T, just continue to process for about 5 additional minutes. 
  3. After 20 minutes, the almonds should have become almond butter: thick and creamy, and your entire kitchen will smell like almond paradise.
  4. Store the almond in an airtight jar and store at room temperature. Because the almond butter is literally almonds, the butter can last for up to a year.

If you had enough patience to finally see the almonds transform to almond butter, I want to congratulate you!! It’ll be difficult for me to ever buy almond butter, knowing that I can save money by making it at home as well knowing that it is only made with 1 ingredient.

Enjoy you almond butter with toast, make cookies, or muffins, or simply eat it out of the jar!

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Processed almond butter after 20 minutes

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Store in an airtight container

Taiwan Day 14: Taiwan-Inspired Recipe: Hujiao Bing (Pork Pepper Bun)

food, travel

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

All throughout Taiwan, in obscure or conspicuous corners, some form of “bing” (bun) can be found, of either yeast-based, lard-based, or baking powder-based. The variations are infinite, where sweet or savory fillings include red bean, taro, lotus paste, daikon, pork, green onion, mochi, custard, and you’ll seldom find sweet and savory combos where sweet mochi compliments Chinese meat shreds impeccably.

I recall visiting Wen Zhou Jie Radish Pancake in Taipei, where sizable, deep-fried buns stuffed with daikon or green onion cost only 20 NT (0.66), and each bite comprised a burst of briny, earthy, flavor, with a crisp outer shell and fluffy interior, providing an oily “chapstick” covering for ones’ lips. This is a gem found only in Asia, and I wanted to emulate this style of pastry at home, so I haven’t devised an daikon recipe up to par, but I made an exceptional Pork Pepper Bun that I am thrilled to share.

These buns originated from the Fuzhou region in China, but due to its sweeping popularity in Taiwan, it is often dubbed as “Taiwanese Pepper Bun.” The bun includes a fat-free, yeast dough, filled with a meat filling, flavored with copious amounts of white pepper and as much green onions as the dough can hold. The more green onions, the better. Although a lot of white pepper goes into the meat, the bun does not taste extremely peppery, but rather has a nice subtle kick of spice. Hujiao bings also are decorated with an abundance of sesame seeds, thus a hujiao bing is not a hujiao bing without white pepper, green onions, and sesame seeds.


HuJiao Bing

yield: 16 buns

Ingredients:

For dough:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 c. 105-110 ºC water
  • 4 tbsp. 100 ºC water for yeast

For meat filling:

  • 1 1/2 c. ground pork (80% lean or a fattier meat works well)
  • 3 tsp. white pepper
  • 3 tbsp. michiu (Chinese rice wine)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 3/4 tsp. 5 spice powder
  • 1/2 tsp. minced ginger
  • 3 1/2 c. chopped green onion

For decoration:

  • 1 egg for eggwash
  • 3 tbsp. white or black sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Combine the 3 tbsp. water with yeast and sugar, and set aside for 10 minutes so the yeast activates.
  2. In a large bowl, pour the yeast mixture into the flour and knead with hand until a ball of dough is incorporated. On a floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 min. until it’s completely smooth and cover with a towel and place in a warm area, 85ºC-90ºC for 1 hour to let it rise. The dough will not double in size but it should rise a bit.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine all the meat filling ingredients except the green onion. With a fork, mix and mash the meat mixture for about 5 min. so that the protein in the meat breaks down a bit. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow it to marinade.
  4. Transfer the risen dough to a floured surface and knead for about 2 min. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces and place the dough pieces into the large bowl with a towel over it to prevent them from drying out.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 ºC.
  6. Working one at a time, roll the dough ball until the dough is 1/4 cm. thick. Scoop about 1 1/2 tbsp. meat mixture in and top with 2 tbsp. or more green onion. Pinch the opposite sides of the dough together and pinch the sides in the middle, working in a clockwise motion until the dough is completely sealed. Make sure it is completely sealed so the juices don’t come out while baking.
  7. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
  8. When all the balls are formed, beat an egg and use a pastry brush to brush on the egg wash.
  9. Top with A LOT of sesame seeds.
  10. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

It is best to enjoy these buns while they have come right out of the oven, but it is also good to know that you should eat these with caution for the meat juices can scald your tongue!

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

All the ingredients

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Portion the dough

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Roll out the dough

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Add the meat

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Add the green onions

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Seal the edges

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Egg wash

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Add the sesame seeds

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Good stuff

Enjoy!

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 12: Beitou Thermal Valley and the Best Braised Pork Rice Ever

food, travel
Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

“Hell’s Valley”

On this day, I was handed over to my other cousin, Billy, for a weekends’ worth of excitement. The motive of me being “handed over” was so that I could reunite with every single Taiwanese cousin while they took me on memorable road trips to their favorite destinations that embodies what they love about their country.

Billy drove from Bali (in Taiwan, not Indonesia) to pick me up from Kevin’s urban apartment, and when his aging, maroon Honda pulled up I enthusiastically greeted him and dumped my luggage in the trunk. Unlike Kevin, he didn’t ask me where I wanted to go- he knew immediately where to take me, and soon we were on our way to Beitou Hot Springs. The Beitou area consists of natural hot springs that continually emits steam, and some are open to people while others reach temperatures of 100 °C and are off-limits. We first visited the Hot Springs Museum which was an original bathhouse built long ago by the Japanese in European style so the inside had Victorian columns and baths but tatami rooms as well. Because the Japanese are extremely orderly and clean, we had to remove our shoes in the museum and put on slippers to keep the interior spotless.

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Hot Springs Museum

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

A tatami in the museum

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

We then headed out towards the Geothermal Valley, also dubbed “Hell’s Valley”, a bright emerald-colored body of water that is 90 °C, so very little life sustains in the water. The weather was already hot enough, but once near the edge of the Valley, the sweltering heat reached my skin and I began to sweat all over, especially on my neck where my long hair dangled freely. I felt audacious standing so near, knowing that a slight mishap could result in my death, but the uncanny Valley was quite mystical as subtle clouds of opaque steam arose and idled marginally above the still, emerald water. We wandered past other hot springs in the human-tolerable range, but all were rather empty because who would be in their right mind to step in a hot springs in tropical, Taiwanese, Summer weather?

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

An eerie Geothermal Valley

It was around noon when Billy told me of a fantastic “restaurant” that specializes in  braised pork rice (lu rou fan) and I was so down because braised pork rice is the perfect combination of carbs, fat, and salt, and I never turn down a braised pork rice offer. There was one minor issue with which he wasn’t exactly sure where and what the place was called, so we scoured around the Beitou area, driving through random roads as he tried to recall of the place in his head. We then arrived at a random, dingy and dilapidated building with a variety of food stands, clothing stores, and medicine shops on the inside. The interior had little electricity (and certainly no A/C), and was mostly lit up by windows on the walls and ceilings for sunlight to enter. Peculiarly, the place was congested with people mostly eating lunch or buying fresh fruits, meats, or seafood from the tiny vendors scattered across each floor. On a side note, the scene was chaotic, unsanitary, and dismal, but a scene like this is very typical of Taiwan so it didn’t bother me for I was accustomed to it. Billy and I sauntered around each floor, past multiple butchers, scanning from corner to corner to find The “restaurant”, but his frustrated complexion indicated that it was nowhere nearby. Eventually, he gave up and we sat down at another braised pork rice restaurant which he described as “not as good”. He wandered off to see what people were eating, when he ran back exuberantly and yelled “I found it!!” I stood up so abruptly that I experienced a minor whiplash, but proceeded on to follow Billy, who was now very much ahead of me.

The restaurant (a food stand really), called 矮仔財滷肉飯  was in a relatively depressing corner, however the food stand was not depressing at all. The chefs frantically sauteed and washed dishes as a line of forty something people waiting to order watched and an additional forty something people sat eating. I headed to the back of the line, which spiraled down a staircase where the food stand unfortunately was no longer in sight. Thirty five minutes had passed until we got to the front of the line, where Billy ordered several dishes but sadly had to switch a few orders since many of their dishes were sold out. But no worries because whatever we ordered turned out to be SOME OF THE BEST FOOD I HAVE EVER PUT IN MY MOUTH. I seriously don’t even know how to explain how scrumptious the food was, like does a 1000/10 tell you how tasty the food was? or the term “better than sex?” (whatttt) Yes, it was THAT amazing.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Braised pork rice

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Very traditional Taiwanese meal

We ordered two bowls of braised pork rice which on top of the meat, the chef had additionally included ample amounts of gelatinous skin and fat, and I think that was the wow factor of the dish. I’ve had hundreds of braised pork rice bowls in my life and I’ve never tasted a memorable one until this one. We also got 2.) a tofu chunk braised in the pork juices, so if the tofu is tasting like the braised pork, it’s got to be great, 3.) kongxincai (water spinach), sauteed and drenched in the pork marinade with meat chunks (Oh my lord so good), 4.) pork and winter melon soup (perhaps the best soup I’ve ever had. It was meaty but not oily at all- how do you do that?), and 5.) fatty pork slices with red sauce. The rice, tofu, and water spinach dishes all had the braised pork sauce, but they all had their own distinct flavors, which stumps me. And the soup, oh my, do not even get me started on the soup; it tasted nothing like the braised pork sauce, it had a special flavor that I cannot fathom either. As a food fanatic, I believe that a restaurant’s food is good when you can’t decipher what the ingredients are because you can’t imitate it at home. Thus, you’ll keep coming back to the restaurant to eat it. I now know that in the future anytime I visit Taiwan, I will ask to come back here to eat. I encourage you all to put this restaurant “矮仔財滷肉飯” on your bucket list!!

-Jamie