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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

The Quest for the Perfect Writing Cafe (in Taipei!)

Although I generally hermit away in my apartment to write, there’s a point at which one needs to take a shower and go out into the world. I’ve been searching and searching for the perfect writing cafe in Taipei, and I still haven’t found exactly what I want.

The Quest for the Perfect Writing Cafe

Cafe Showroom @Eslite Songyan, Taipei

As I write this, I’m sitting at one of the top contenders, but it’s not quite right (the music is too loud, and there’s a lot of foot traffic walking by, even if the cafe isn’t crowded). The problem with writing in Taipei is that cafes are so popular, and Taiwanese people don’t like to stay at home. Malls and brunch places are packed on the weekends, and because I still have a day job, the hours I can write are generally at prime time meal times. Some of the popular cafe/restaurants require that you spend a certain amount, or limit you to a 90 minute seating time. It’s not conducive to creativity, especially when the waitstaff are hovering and you feel packed in like a sad little sardine.

A perfect cafe should:

-Be quiet. Ambient noise is fine. Screaming people and children, not so much

-Have outlets. Otherwise, when the laptop battery dies, it’s time to go home.

-Have comfortable seats and roomy tables. No one wants to relive those wretched folding desks from college. We already have slouchy computer posture.

-Be low pressure. I don’t want to feel rushed to clear out or keep ordering food.

-Not be packed. It’s too hard to work with a million and one people moving around.

I can usually find places that hit 3/5 of these, but I’m always searching for the perfect 5/5.

The quest continues!

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!

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!

Dreamin’ 2013

BookhaulI’m back from Dreamin’ in Dallas and ready to hit the grindstone. It was a great con! I picked up a stack of new books and met with so many awesome folks. A couple of Seton Hill MFA-ers attended and it was lovely to catch up. Nicole Peeler signed some of her Tempest books for my mom, who’s now in love with Jane True. I also got to meet the lovely Rebecca Strauss IN PERSON, and found out there’s a Taipei book expo that I can attend. Who knew? Meeting up with LilyElement (my favorite blogger on the internet!) was another big highlight.

The overall theme seemed to be keep writing. That’s one that I need to hear lately! In-between packing and all the other things I need to do to get ready for Taiwan, I’m hoping to finish up my third Manhattan Ten novella. Then I need to get my act together and finish revising the novel that’s been on my desk for…longer than I want to admit.

Ivory (M-10, #2) releases at the end of April! Until then I’ll be a bit quiet on the site. If all goes well, I’ll either be writing or gorging on my favorite Texas foods!