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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taiwan: Something for the Whole Family

For my family. Wish you were here in Taiwan with us. I'm sure you'd love it!

For my Mom, who shares my love for hot springs and massages. Of all the hot springs that bubble up in Taiwan, perhaps you would love the one tucked away in Jhihben most. The water flows into a huge pool that is outfitted with massage jets in dozens of individual stalls. So you can float through the naturally warm water to massage your feet, your lower back, your neck, and so on... so relaxing.

For my Dad, who has an adventurous spirit and an impeccable sense of direction, I'm sure you would love winding your way through all of the nature trails that go over the mountains and through the woods… where they end, nobody knows.

Maria, my sister, the dog lover. You would meet many of your 4-legged companions in Taiwan.

They roam the streets, sun bathe near monuments, and pass out in parks.

And really lucky ones, like Willow, have homes where they get to curl up under the kitchen table.

Nick, my brother, an engineer with an artistic bent, you would love to get your hands on some of this driftwood that has washed up on the coast. I'm sure you'd find all sorts of use for it.

And when you were done with that project, perhaps you would like to make a little side business by selling plastic bead keychains at the night market :).

And last but not least, for Nathan, my youngest brother who has an infinite appreciation for bathroom humor, I'm sure you would get the greatest kick out of riding the Diing Dong Bus.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Love is What Makes this World Beautiful

While in Hualien, Taiwan, Danny and I went for a visit to a the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation. I really didn't know much about it before going... just what I read on the Taiwanese Secrets travel site - there's a beautiful roof and free lunch. Free lunch!? I'm there.

It turned out to be an incredible organization founded by a Taiwanese nun in the 1960's - that has expanded from an initial local effort of running free clinics, to building a national network of hospitals and schools, to doing international relief work in times of crisis.

I was especially interested to hear about their relief work in Japan since the tsunami, (which includes preparing and delivering hot meals to the people who lost their homes), since I have been looking for a venue to volunteer once we return to Japan.

We missed the free lunch which was a slight bummer, but were recommended to try out the food at the Tzu Chi Hospital next door. I don't usually go to hospital cafeterias expecting much, so you can imagine my delight when we were served this miso hot pot (below). So fresh, nourishing and delicious!


Friday, March 25, 2011

Street Eats in Taiwan

Dumplings hot off the griddle. At just 30 cents a piece, a delicious daily staple of Taiwanese streets (Jingmei Night Market, Taipei)

Grilled pumpkin with drizzled honey (Wulai)

I Love Inari: Fried Tofu Pouches usually stuffed with Sweet Sushi Rice. This vendor did something a little different and stuffed some with sweet red beans which was equally as delicious! (Jingmei Night Market, Taipei)

Florence and Danny about to indulge in some candied fruit skewers: strawberries, loquats, and cherry tomatoes (Lehua Night Market, Taipei)


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Living Kansha

Kansha is the Japanese principle of using food to its fullest and the subject of Elizabeth Andoh's latest cookbook. Multiply the excitement that I felt when I received Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions in the mail from Amazon two months ago by at least 1000 and you can imagine how thrilled I was to receive a personal invitation from Elizabeth to stay with her several nights at her apartment in Osaka.

The circumstances were unexpected and unfortunate. The extended lack of control of a nuclear power plant 250 km north of where I had been staying in Izunokuni prompted my loved ones to plea my departure. I decided the risk was unknown enough and the ground beneath us still unstable enough, that I would err on the side of safety and head to Osaka the next day where I could catch a flight to Taipei and wait out the radioactive resolution from a safe distance.

Elizabeth and I had already exchanged several emails regarding my attendance at her cherry blossom cooking workshop in April, so as the one person who I knew in the Osaka area, I sent her an email seeking her advice. Without skipping a beat, she invited Danny and me to both come stay with her in Osaka several nights.

It was an honor and a joy to be invited not only into her home, but her kitchen, where kansha came to life. For example, four young bamboo shoots stretched to make an entire meal, where we began with an appetizer made of the tender artichoke-like tops of the bamboo tossed in white miso and sansho pepper leaves (pictured above). We then marinated the middle section of the bamboo shoots with a rich soy seasoning and cooked them into rice and dashi to make a sumptuous grain dish. And as a main course we braised the dense base of the shoots along with two kinds of tofu in a sake-soy glaze (pictured below).

You too can tap into Elizabeth's deep well of knowledge to make earnestly delicious Japanese dishes, by going to her website, www.kanshacooking.com, where you can sign-up to access select recipes from her workshops and cookbooks for free.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prayers for Japan

As I'm sure you have seen in the past few days, the news from Northeastern Japan has become even more heartbreaking since photos and video footage from those who were on the ground as the tsunami hit made their way to the media. Heartbreaking and horrifying.

I feel very much how I did after evacuating New Orleans in 2005, watching news of the city's unraveling from nearby Lafayette... not knowing at the present what to do besides pray. Pray that families are reunited, pray that no more lives are lost, pray for all the medical and rescue crews working.

The dangerous radioactive leaks from the plant in Fukushima is not yet under control, so I am staying alert to its condition. Right now I appear to be a safe distance away from the site, 250 miles. The best news source I have found for staying up to date on this situation is: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nhk-world-tv, where they are doing direct translations of the Japanese news.

Source of Above Photo: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/03/japan_earthquake_aftermath.html (Accessed 3/15/11).


Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami News

I had just gotten back to the Atsusaka's in Izunokuni when we felt the first of the mild tremors that this region received. We immediately flipped on the TV, and watched in shock as the effects of the 8.9 quake elicited a ravaging tsunami on the northeastern coast of Japan. Ms. Astusaka told me that a tsunami of this magnitude only occurs once a lifetime.

The only real repercussion here was the immediate shut-down of all public transportation. Danny was in the nearest city about 1 hour away teaching yesterday afternoon. Without a train to ride back to Izunokuni, Mr. Atsusaka graciously drove the 2 hours to pick him up and bring him home. We talked to the Atsusaka's daughter, Yuko, who lives in Tokyo (about 150 miles north of Izu) last night, after she finally got home from work. It took her 2 hours to make the walk back to her quake-ransacked apartment.

All this is to say we were spared the worst of this devastating disaster, and I will keep you posted as I find out more information.



Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Beds We Built

Last week, Danny and I rolled up our sleeves to cultivate the Atsusaka's front yard garden and add bamboo borders to the beds.

There's a bamboo grove just across the river from the Atsusaka's home in Izunokuni. With the help of Mr. Atsusaka and one of the town's naturalists, Mr. Totsuka, whom we now affectionately call Uncle Bamboo, we hand-sawed the bamboo stalks to fit the dimensions of the beds.

When I went back to the bamboo grove the next day, this bamboo stump had filled like a cup full of water. Pretty.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

a wedding, a shrine, a forest

Saw this beautiful wedding procession at a shrine in the middle of forest right in the middle of Tokyo! Had no idea that such an expansive forest existed in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.

Here's an excerpt about the shrine from the official website.

Meiji Jingu Naien
(Photo: Meiji Jingu Naien)

Welcome to Meiji Jingu!
Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is called Japan's ancient original religion, and it is deeply rooted in the way of Japanese life. Shinto has no founder, no holy book, and not even the concept of religious conversion, but Shinto values for example harmony with nature and virtues such as "Magokoro (sincere heart)". In Shinto, some divinity is found as Kami (divine spirit), or it may be said that there is an unlimited number of Kami. You can see Kami in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. From ancient times, Japanese people have felt awe and gratitude towards such Kami and dedicated shrines to many of them.

This shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken (their tombs are in Kyoto). Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914. After their demise, people wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever. So they donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and from overseas, and they worked voluntarily to create this forest.
This forest was carefully planned as an eternal forest that recreates itself. Now after about 90 years it cannot be distinguished from a natural forest, inhabited by many endangered plants and animals.

Thanks to the sincere heart of the people, this shrine was established on November 1, 1920.

... The most incredible thing is that I thought I was in an old-growth forest as I walking through; I had no idea until later upon reading more that it was actually planned and planted by people. Remarkable!


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