Showing posts with label northern_cross_island_highway. Show all posts
Showing posts with label northern_cross_island_highway. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Weekend at Lalashan


A few weeks ago I was invited, on the spur of the moment, to Lalashan - a gorgeous mountain "recreation area" known for its snow peaches (large peaches with a honey-like taste) and persimmons. My student, Michael, was telling me about his planned trip and I mentioned I'd never been - I wasn't fishing for an invite - seriously! - and so he invited me along with his wife and their friends, many of whom I know from a few group outings I've gone on with them.

I had never had the chance to go to Lalashan because to get there, you really need to drive. There's a bus as far as Shangbaling, a tiny town perched on a ridge over Baling, several hundred meters below on the North Cross Island Highway, but you can't get very far out of Shangbaling unless you have a car. I don't, nor do I wish to drive (I would be willing to drive the North Cross Island Highway in a rental car, but I would not be willing to drive in Taipei city, and I'm not sure how I'd feel driving outside Taoyuan, so my options are quite limited). Lalashan for me until Michael invited me along.

I was supposed to study for Delta that weekend, but it was a rare chance to go somewhere it's hard to reach without your own transport, so I went. Brendan unfortunately could not join us as he had to work on Saturday (I didn't).


We stopped in Daxi for lunch - Daxi is famous for its well-preserved Japanese-era shophouses and dried tofu. One fun thing to do on the usually crowded old street is to try all the free samples.


Then we headed up into the mountains. Sitting in the back, I didn't have the guts to tell Michael that his fast, take-those-curves-by-the-horns driving was making me supremely nauseated.

We finally stopped in Baling for a cup of coffee and to meet Michael's friend, Wuya (Crow), and I stumbled out of the car. I am pretty sure I was puce-colored. At least I was chartreuse. This dog owns the road that passes through Baling.


It's HIS road!

Crow had cycled as far as Baling, and had pre-arranged with Michael to get a ride the rest of the way, to Shangbaling and then down the ridge to the homestay near the river at the base of the mountain. The homestay was owned by Michael and Fuzhen (his wife)'s friend's parents (the friend is named Teresa - I only know her parents as Chiu Ma and Chiu Ba).

The homestay has two lovely, friendly German shepherds and two cats who are so shy that I never did get to meet them. Our mutual friend Gary, who is shy around most people, had a special connection with the dogs.


We went because it was persimmon season, and the Chiu family was going to take us to their persimmon orchard across the river to pick as many as we'd like the next day. That's why I've had so many persimmons to experiment with in what I've now dubbed Jenna's Test Kitchen (other discoveries: cherry tomato salad with figs, capers, pomegranate seeds and roasted garlic with greens, dressed with fresh herbs, a touch of salt, olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar...and couscous cooked in chicken stock with butter and savory apple pie spice - apple pie spices with sweet paprika, black pepper and salt added).


Three great things about the trip:

1.) It was all Taiwanese and me, so I had a nice long weekend to speak nothing but Chinese in a fully authentic atmosphere. It was great practice!

2.) It was nice and cold, which meant fresh cool air more appropriate to the seasons where I'm from, and that I had a good excuse to make everyone my signature hot wine.

3.) Taiwanese-style socializing meant lots of free time to goof off - I could chat, or play with the dogs, or read for a bit, or futz on Facebook...there was no need to be "on" all the time.


Michael bought some chicken feet in Daxi. I said NO THANKS but the dogs were quite interested.


Teresa and her parents, the owners of the homestay, and Teresa's husband:


Gary and Michael play some online game - which meant lots of free time for me to just relax:


In the evening we played mahjongg (I'm a terrible player and they're serious, so I watched):


The most important ingredients in hot wine, and Fuzhen is quite enjoying herself after a glass:


Hot wine:

- 4:1 ratio of dark, spicy red and Fire Water cinnamon schnapps
- Shots of Goldschlager or an alternative to taste (I usually go with 3-4 shots per bottle of wine)
- For one bottle of wine: 4 cinnamon sticks, 6-8 cloves, 1-2 nutmegs well cracked, 1 star anise, 5-6 cardamoms cracked open. You can use powdered spices but I do not advise it

Heat together until wine is hot with tiny bubbles forming at the sides and steam but NOT boiling, strain out spices with a spoon strainer, serve with cinnamon sticks (your best bet for light drinkers is to put it, with the spices, into an insulated coffee/tea/hot water carafe, and let them drink it slowly out of small cups, don't bother serving with the cinnamon sticks).


The group included a pair of newlyweds, who got the best room at the homestay. For everyone who thinks Taiwanese people are prudish, I submit that that is simply not true. The next morning the newlyweds did not emerge - the husband came out to tell us that his wife "doesn't feel well" so they would skip the persimmon picking. Someone who was not there asked about them and the answer was "oh...they're busy...ha!". Crow was in the room below them and was asked, with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge, how he slept. When the husband finally emerged but his wife was still resting, Chiu Ba asked about her. "She's not feeling well." "Ah!" he replied. "You're too strong!"

Yeah, no, I don't think Taiwanese people are prudes at all, or at least you cannot generalize this. Despite what a lot of expats believe.

Persimmon picking was fun - not challenging, but fun.


We also stopped at a grove of trees whose leaves taste and smell of cinnamon (they may be cinnamon trees, but I'm not sure). You can use them as cinnamon substitutes in cooking, so we all picked a few to try. You can also chew them as a natural breath freshener.

Just below Shangbaling and visible from lower on the ridge is an aboriginal community with a very unique church:


Seen against the entire mountainside it looks like an ark on a cresting wave. Quite creative there.

Our persimmons:


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sauteed Persimmon and Smoked Duck Baguette: A seasonal treat

1240032_10152018931531202_1613492407_n I went to Lalashan recently - that'll be another post once I have more free time - with some friends right smack in the middle of persimmon season. I don't think I'd ever seen a persimmon in the USA (or I did, but I didn't stop to figure out what it was), but between mid-autumn and mid-winter in Taiwan they're everywhere. It's a great chance not only to eat them straight - yum! - but to mix them with yoghurt, bake them into breads (think banana bread but with persimmons), cookies and muffins, put them in fruit salads, but also to cook with them!

What I really wanted to try was a roast duck with persimmon glaze, but having never roasted a duck before, and not giving myself lead time to find a duck to roast - plus I'm not a fan of buying meat still on the bone and cooking it myself - the deboning part is never something I do gracefully - I ended up with a packet of smoked duck slices from City Super instead. 

What I made, however, was absolutely delicious, and a unique way to enjoy persimmon season in Taiwan if you're not into eating them raw, or just don't like them that way. It also just feels seasonally autumnal, in a way that's actually more authentic than pumpkin-based foods (which I also love).

It tastes best if made with just-ripe persimmons. Red and soft enough to have that intense spicy-sweet flavor, but still hard enough to slice up more like a peach than a tomato. A very deep nearly-red orange'll do ya.

You don't have to have this with duck, the two just happen to go very well together.

Makes 2-4 sandwiches

1 good baguette (try Lalos on Anhe Road between Xinyi and Ren'ai)
1 ripe persimmon (see above)
1 pack of boneless smoked duck slices - City Super at SOGO Fuxing Rd. has this, 150-200NT
Soft goat cheese - NT200 worth will do
A good lettuce - no iceberg, nothing too bitter, the sweetish one with green leaves and ruffled red edges does nicely
1/2 lemon (you only need the juice from 1/4 of it though)
Half a thumb sized piece of young ginger, pressed - MUST be young ginger and should be nearly pureed, you can do this in a garlic press
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika (NOT spicy)
a pinch of cinnamon powder
a pinch of clove powder, or 2 whole cloves
a pinch of nutmeg powder, or 1/2 a crushed whole nutmeg
(optional) a teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped and crushed slightly
Oil - any good saute oil, butter may be OK (haven't tried this)
optional: a teaspoon of crisp white wine
A heavy-bottomed pan

Oil your pan with just enough oil to coat evenly and to coat the spices, heat on low
Add crushed ginger and while roasting, prepare other spices
Add other spices, saute on low (DO NOT allow to burn) as you slice your persimmon into "sandwich tomato" style slices
Use spatula to move spices evenly around pan, juice your half lemon
Add 1/2 of the juice to the pan (using more is optional), add rosemary, make sure it's all really evenly distributed around the pan. If you have wine, add it now.
Lay the persimmon slices in this oil-spice-rosemary mix and turn heat to medium-low
Gently saute, occasionally turning, until persimmon slices get a bit transparent around the edges and turn darker in the center, and are well-coated with the mixture
Layer duck slices on top - your goal is not to cook these, but to warm them and mingle the duck and persimmon flavors - continue to saute for about a minute
Turn the duck slices once and saute for another minute, liquid should be more or less cooked off by now
Turn off

Slice your baguette and prepare pieces for your sandwich. Smear top and bottom with soft goat cheese. On the bottom, layer the duck and persimmon (I do duck on the bottom - it doesn't really matter) and then add lettuce on top.


YUM! Amirite?

I made a really nice cherry tomato salad with this - a carton of halved cherry tomatoes, several cloves of well-roasted garlic (some shallot would have been good too), basic Italian seasoning (parsley, basil, oregano) with fresh thyme and rosemary, the rest of the lemon juice, some thyme-infused aged rice vinegar, some rosemary infused good olive oil, a pinch of salt and a handful of capers. You could also add cubed hard cheese, roasted shallot, walnuts, whatever to this. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sweepin' the Toombz

Except we don't have any tombs to sweep so we rented a car over the weekend and drove across the North Cross Island Highway, based ourselves in Hualien and drove some more down the east coast, across the Ruiguang Highway (#64) and up the East Rift Valley before coming back via the Qingshui Cliffs and Luodong.

I haven't sorted through all of my photos yet, and a lot of them were taken from a moving car so they're not very good. But here's a smattering of what I've got (in backwards order):

One of the two Sao Ba Megaliths near Ruisui (East Rift Valley). Nice views, and they're kind of cool and maybe worth a quick look if you're in the area, but overall somewhat disappointing.

The cheese-tacular Tropic of Cancer monument. This place screams "pork barrel funding" (with pavilions and educational panels about the tropics, zodiac and latitude lines). Love it!

The scenic Highway #64 between Dagangkou and Ruisui. We encountered very little traffic here, and lots of lovely mountain views and unexpected animals (one mammal that ran away too fast to identify, and goats. Goats!)

Another view from the Ruiguang Highway.

Emily at Shihtiping. This was a nice stop though not as stunning as Yeliu in the north, and not as awe-inspiring as the views from the highway down the coast. Lots of tour groups here, though.

Some tidal pools at Shihtiping.

View of the coast from Shihtiping - this was one of the best parts of that stop.

View down the coast south of Hualien.

Cow Mountain Beach from the main road - it's a long, narrow drive down the hill to get to it, and the sand is burning hot when it's sunny.

These decorations were around the cafe and rest area attached to the beach. We didn't appreciate that with our burning feet on the sand, once we entered we couldn't even use their hose without buying a $50 ticket, but hey, you've got to make a living somehow. We did buy the ticket because we wanted cold drinks at the cafe.

The wind and sun do interesting things to my hair...

View north from Cow Mountain Beach

Rocks at Cow Mountain Beach

What I can only assume is Cow Mountain.

Emily at the beach.

We found a ...Wal-Mart! In Hualien! It's got to be a real Wal-Mart - the sign says so.

I like this sign along the North Cross Island Highway (this is somewhere past Baling) because one always pictures factories, airports, urban sprawl and betel nut shops when one thinks of Taoyuan. This shows that the county can be quite rural.

View near Baling. We stopped in one of the small roadside restaurants here (before Baling town) and had a delicious meal of mountain boar, local river fish and vegetables.

Some art depicting an aboriginal dance - I'm not sure what the deal is with the depiction of that woman, though. This area is heavily settled by aborigines.

Along the North Cross Island Highway, near the turnoff to Lalashan.

We did continue along down to Mingchi, Qilan and Luodong, but the fog was quite bad up there and we sadly missed all the best views.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Xiao Wulai

We went to Xiao Wulai (小烏來) on Sunday for a fun, somewhat exhausting trip. Xiao Wulai is one of many waterfalls in Taiwan but is often said to be the most beautiful, as unlike the others it can be viewed from a distance.

A trip to Xiao Wulai starts in Daxi (大溪) in Taoyuan county. Daxi is famous for dried tofu and a few old streets where much of the original colonial architecture is preserved.

Daxi also has a dog who apparently loves getting hit on the butt. Seriously, the dog went up to her owner and begged - begged - to be punched in the bum before presenting herself thusly.

I dunno.

I wonder where Kodos lives. (Google Kang and Kodos if you don't get the joke).

Taoyuan Bus Company (桃園客運)runs buses from Daxi to Xiao Wulai several times a day - but the information they give on the phone is worse than bad. I called the morning of our trip and was assured that there were irregular buses until about 3pm, and if we were willing to walk back to the intersection with the main road, a bus would come by to return to Daxi at 7pm. At 1:30 as we waited for a bus from Daxi, we called again. The guy I talked to assured me that the first guy doesn't know anything and not to trust him and that there were no more buses.

(I think they were the same guy.)

So we charter 2 taxis, which cost a pretty penny, because dammit I wanted to go to Xiao Wulai and I was going to go to Xiao Wulai.

On our way back, just as a side note, we not only passed a bus returning to Xiao Wulai that we were assured did not exist, but as we were preparing to leave a bus going to the falls - not just the turnoff 2km away but the actual falls - went by. Seriously. What the. Pffft. Taoyuan Bus Company: FAIL.

Anyway, along the way we saw some gorgeous butterflies and dragonflies:

And the falls were down several hundred meters worth of uncomfortably spaced stairs.

Sasha, Lilian, Becca, Joseph, Brendan and me.

We then hiked up about another hour to Dragon Phoenix Falls (not worth it) and the Wind Balancing Rock (not really worth it, either). What was worth it - the views and mountain scenery as we made the stiff, steep hike up the side of the mountain.

Wind Balancing Rock. Apparently this rock is worshipped as a god by some locals and aboriginal tribes. It's OK.

There are signs all over the place warning of poisonous snakes, and I know Taiwan has snakes, but other than a baby snake we once saw near Jiufen I've never actually laid eyes on one. This is the closest I've gotten to seeing a real, live, adult snake in Taiwan:

As we returned to the gatehouse, just in time to see a bus that doesn't exist roll by, the light improved a lot for picture taking.

That's Xiao Wulai in the corner.

The advantage to taking a taxi was that we could stop in a few places for photos, and we also stopped to buy some local alcohol (made from grapes but not wine) and Lalashan Honey Peaches, which are expensive but wonderfully scrumptious. We would have bought bags full but 3 of them cost NT$400 (a little over US $10).

We stopped again to take more photos as the sun set before heading back to Daxi and catching transportation to Taipei, where we had dinner at Jolly (near Nanjing E. Road MRT). Very good food and awesome on-site brewed beer.