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Reasons to Miss America

Reasons to Miss America

I’m not Miss America (it would be unfair to the other competitors if I entered) but I’ve been in Taiwan for almost two years now, and that’s plenty long to start missing ‘Murica. I went through the culture shock phase a long time ago, and 95% of the time, I’m totally comfortable and content here in Asia. That last 5% will get you, though. If I had to say what I’ve been missing most?

5. I miss having a kitchen. I’m forever pinning recipes on Pinterest, but for what? My apartment in Taiwan has an electric kettle and a microwave, so all these cookies and cakes and lasagnas  remain homeless. I could get a bigger/swankier apartment in Taipei with cooktops and such, but it’s too easy to grab a box of dumplings that cost maybe US $2. Despite all the cheap, delicious street food, I’m pining to cook for myself again!

Cooking with Lola Dodge...What shall we microwave today?

4. I miss communicating. Being illiterate sucks, y’all. Mind you, it’s my fault my Mandarin is dire, but I miss the days when not every personal interaction was a disaster. I get food I didn’t want (one time a root beer instead of mushrooms), can’t correct the mistakes, and fluster cashiers left and right. Plus, I could be walking past the coolest stuff ever, but I can’t read signs or ask people what’s going on.

3. I miss writing events. How many writing conferences do you know of in Asia? The ones in my area are either huge international expos for selling foreign book rights, or writing retreats on islands. We don’t have the writing/reading oriented conferences like RWA or RT, and I’m bummed missing the annual reunion at my MFA alma mater (IYWM). It’s sad relying on the internet to connect with my writer/reader friends!

2. I miss my friends and family. When you leave the country, everything at home keeps moving on without you. People are getting married, having kids, and doing fun things that I can’t be part of. My awkward time zone doesn’t help much—I’m not even on Facebook at the same times as everyone else. #sadface

1. I miss American carbs. I crave macaroni and cheese and NY pizza like a woman possessed. Even though we have tons of Western food options in Taipei, they’re never quite exactly right. I miss things like buttery mashed potatoes and fudgy cakes that just don’t translate to the Asian palette. Of course, I’m not exactly starving with all the amazing dim sum and pastries around (I’ll start missing those as soon as I’m on the plane out), but sometimes you just want to eat what reminds you of home.

Pizza you are my one true love

I don’t think I ordered that…?

Being flexible is a huge part of living somewhere that you don’t speak the language. Because my Mandarin is wretched, I developed this habit of answering things I don’t understand with “hao” (good/okay). As you can imagine, blindly agreeing isn’t the greatest idea, particularly when it comes to food. I keep getting served weird things that I’m pretty sure  I didn’t order. But maybe I did?

What I wanted: I’m 80% sure I asked for soy sauce and ginger

What I got: A spine in my soup. Or a rib? I don’t know. Let’s pretend this didn’t happen.

I think there's a spine in my soup

Vegetarian in Taiwan

When the only vegetarian menu on the item is green salad ;__;

When the only vegetarian menu on the item is green salad ;__;

Is it hard to be vegetarian in Taiwan? That depends. It can be vegetarian heaven, or a nightmare depending on the day and how religious you are about your food. Before you come, know that:

1. Cross-contamination is not a thing. At most buffets you take a set of tongs and dish out what you want. When you go to a buffet with meaty items, assume that everything has touched everything.

2. Depending where you are, English translations are not reliable, and vegetarian can be a flexible term. The “garden vegetable” dumplings at my corner shop contain chicken, my favorite “vegetarian” soup place sells pig blood cakes, and I’ve noticed that a good few veggie brunches include ham.

3. The variety of textured tofu is crazy and will make you question everything. I’ve thought I made a tactical error any number of times only to find I’m eating something soy-ish. Probably. Hopefully.

4. Learning some Mandarin (or making Taiwanese friends) is a good idea. If you can’t ask, you won’t know for sure. Many restaurants have picture menus, but there’s a lot of grey area when you get into soup stocks and sauces.

5. Options abound if you know where to look. The Minder Vegetarian chain is great (get the vegetarian braising meats on your rice for an extra NT$30!) and Mia Cucina just became my new favorite digs in Taipei. Also look into less glossy, but more local, Buddhist-oriented buffets. Most sell by weight, so stay away from the sticky rice and dumplings and you can get piles of sprouts and greens for affordable prices.

Mia Cucina = heaven. Left: Thai fusion salad with grilled carrots, peanut, and pineapple. Right: Sweet mustard panini with cranberry, apple, mozzarella, and mustard sauce. *swoon*

Mia Cucina = heaven. Left: Thai fusion salad with grilled carrots, peanut, and pineapple. Right: Sweet mustard panini with cranberry, apple, mozzarella, and mustard sauce. *swoon*

If you’re a strict vegan and you don’t speak Mandarin, you’ll be cooking for yourself again. If you don’t mind picking the occasional slice of hidden ham from your food, you’ll enjoy it here, and your patience will be rewarded when you find Taiwan’s amazing vegetarian flavors!

Going Home (or Carbapalooza 2013)

I recently returned from a trip to New York. In one week, I managed to see almost all of my favorite people on a lightning visit to my old stomping grounds. I hadn’t been “home” to Upstate NY in a few years. Things change and things stay the same, but I still feel like I belong there, so it was a relaxing trip, despite the constant driving.

My childhood friend’s wedding warranted the flight. It was one of the most well put-together weddings I’ve been to. I should have expected as much. The bride is a super-planner and arranged a beautiful day. It was all amazing food and connecting with old friends.

Wedding at the Old Daley Inn/Crooked Lake House in Averill Park, NY. Beautiful...with mason jar flowers, and all!

Wedding at the Old Daley Inn/Crooked Lake House in Averill Park, NY. Beautiful…with mason jar flowers, and all!

I also put on a few quality pounds in carbs. It’s been years since I had a good bagel and NY did not disappoint. I cannot express the amount of bagels, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and Western food consumed.

Holy Trinity: pretzel, egg, & cheese, NYC pizza, and one giant pancake

Holy Trinity: pretzel, egg, & cheese, NYC pizza, and one giant pancake

It was lovely being somewhere that I’m fully able to communicate, and I realized how much I’ve grown from living abroad. I used to be incredibly introverted and scared to go new places when I didn’t know the way. Now, I realize I can get anything I need when everyone speaks English, and navigating Manhattan train stations is no biggie when I can get through the Czech Republic and Thailand on my own. Personal growth!

The only negative thing about the whole trip was my visit through LAX. Customs are the worst in America to begin with, and I was worried 2 hours wouldn’t be enough to make my connection. I was so right. After a lot of slow lines and some misguided directions, I was sprinting to my flight as it was boarding. WAAY too close for comfort.

In any case, it was lovely being in America again. I love Taipei, and I’m nomadic at heart, but going “home” filled a little gap in my heart. Now I’m replenished and ready to get back to work, writing, and traveling!

Taipei Time

I’m back to Taiwan, and living in the big city. Taipei is great. I flew in on a Thursday night, got my apartment on Friday, moved in and furnished it on Saturday, and started work on Monday. A little bit hectic!

Work is intense. I’ve never been in such a quiet office, and it needs to be quiet with the workload that everyone has. I’m going to be busy. Luckily I’m living and working in a great area right in the center of Taipei. It’s nice to have access to all of my favorite Taiwanese things again. Breads in particular : )

Version of pineapple bread from Saison du Soleil/Yamizake @ Q Square

Version of pineapple bread from Saison du Soleil/Yamizake @ Q Square…how I missed you, pineapple bread!

I’m finishing up Manhattan Ten #3, and Ivory releases at the end of the month—about a week and a half!

I’ll put up a giveaway next week. Maybe something practical like a bookish gift card, or maybe something fun like a box of treats from Asia? Check back later!

And for stopping by, some more gratuitous bread shots:

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Curry bun. It had meat inside, so I didn’t eat most of the filling, but what I had was delish!

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Egg bun w/ almond milk. It had a lovely egg salad mixture with tangy/sweet Taiwanese-style mayonaise. Recommended!