Monday, December 11, 2017

Neapolitan-swirl Bundt Cake

Miss Nomad Foodie asked for a cheetah-print inside the cake, with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry-flavored cakes, so I made an attempt using my go-to yellow birthday cake recipe, Smitten Kitchen's Best Birthday Cake. I find this cake consistently turns out as described: moist, plush, with a fine, dense crumb, and buttery flavor. I did reduce the sugar by 10%, to 360 grams. For the strawberry portion, I took about a third of the batter and added 1 teaspoon of strawberry flavor and about 15 grams of ground freeze-dried strawberries (I ground Trader Joe's freeze-dried strawberries in a coffee bean grinder). For the chocolate portion, I added about 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder to the battery.

I thought the easiest way to create the print inside would be to use a bundt cake pan. Miss Nomad Foodie insisted on "strawberry, strawberry is my favorite" frosting, so I started with Celebrating Sweet's Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, since I wanted something more liquid than my usual cream cheese frosting but more substantial than a glaze. The proportions of ingredients were:

113g cream cheese at room temperature
200g powdered sugar sifted with
30g ground freeze-dried strawberries
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon strawberry flavor
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

I supposed I could've added more milk to make the frosting flow and drip more attractively over the cake, but it was fine for our purposes, and it had an intensely strawberry flavor.

The kids decorated the cake with Trader Joe's Candy Coated Chocolate Drops, which are like a slightly more natural version of M&Ms.

How did the cake turn out? Well the flavor and texture was great, but alas, the pattern inside was more of a marbled-swirl than a cheetah-print. Nonetheless, we had a happy little girl!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Top 10 Travel Must Haves for Long Flights with Young Kids (and Babies)

As someone who regularly (at least once a year) takes a round-trip trans-Pacific flight with two young children since they were breastfeeding infants aloneyes, as in the sole adult—here are my favorite must-have travel items that makes those long-haul flights easier.

1. Zo & Co Travel Totes

Oh my gosh, how I wish I'd found these earlier. I only just found out about them this past year while browsing Amazon, and I want to spread the word. These are a must-have travel organizer if you travel economy.

I thought the size of the pockets in the Original version were just right - the largest pocket held my Kindle Paperwhite in the standard Amazon Case perfectly, and the taller pocket on the right was just right for holding my travel mug. In the pockets on the left, I put in Babyganics Stain Eraser marker, spray hand sanitizer, lip balm, and my earbuds. The tiny pocket in the middle held a collapsible cell phone stand. The seat back pocket then held my bullet journal. 
This is an awesome way to keep track of all the in-flight essentials: smart phone, Kindle, headphones, water bottle, eyeglasses, and any other sundry items (hand sanitizer, dental floss, tissues, pen, lip balm, etc.). I used to hate just using the seat pocket, because if a put a water bottle in, the pocket would get overextended, causing all my other items to fall towards the bottom of the seat pocket, making finding my stuff in-flight harder. Also, at the end of a flight, I’d always be afraid I’d forget some overlooked item that had fallen to the bottom of the pocket, not to mention how uncomfortable it is to come across previous passengers’ trash. With this organizer, I arrange what I want handy in-flight before I leave my home, and then once on board, it’s a simple matter of pulling out the organizer and sliding it into place. Disembarking is made easier, as I just slide the organizer out and put it in my bag. In-flight, having everything at my fingertips is so much more convenient than bending over constantly to reach my bag tucked underneath the seat in front of me or opening the overhead bin.

There are sturdy metal clips built into the organizer that clips it to the seat back pocket. The organizer folds into thirds (there's a small piece of velcro to keep it folded) to make it easy to toss into a bag after the flight. I had looked at other organizers, but this one still retains the usability of the tray table, and is more flexible than a pouch. In the photo above, you can see it takes minimal leg room.

The kids version of the Zo&Co Travel Organizer comes in a quilted fabric and held both kids' water bottles, crayons, and a compact notebook for coloring. The carabiner clips were handy for holding the kids' headphones. You can see their backpacks tucked underneath.
They come in three versions: originalkids, and tech. The exterior dimensions are the same - the only variances between these versions are the number of pockets and fabric. The tech version essentially combines two pockets found in the original into an extended pocket to better fit a tablet. The kids version adds one more smaller pocket and an extra carabiner to the original version, but in a washable quilted fabric.

While you're at it, tuck in a small handled plastic bag into one of the many pockets. You can later clip it to the carabiner and use it to collect trash in-flight, to keep your seat area tidy.

2. Insulated Straw Water Bottle

We have the Thermos Foogo Water Bottles, which have lasted over six years now. I always ask the flight attendants to serve the kids drinks in their water bottles to prevent messes. I actually don't travel with wipes - just saving the wet wipes and napkins served during snack time and dinner - because preventing spills is easier than cleaning up after them.

I will note that the straw parts can get gunky if you're not vigilant about cleaning and drying them out, but replacements are readily available (I stocked up on a bunch awhile ago).

I myself travel with the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Insulated Travel Mug, which is easy to clean and has a flip-open lid with a lock, plus incredible insulation power. While the kids have their own Zojirushi bottles, the open sipper design makes it less ideal for in-flight use. Like the Thermos bottles, the rubber stoppers and sipper components are replaceable.

3. Skip Hop Toddler Kids Backpack

These are inexpensive, durable, hold a surprising amount, and come in a variety of fun styles. Until my eldest started grade school, he used this backpack everyday for preschool and kindergarten. At the airport, my kids carry their own water bottles, pillow, blanket, and amusements.

Skip Hop backpack holding the Skip Hop travel pillow, Zo&Co travel organizer, aden+anais muslin blanket, and Thermos Foogo insulated straw water bottle.
4. Skip Hop Little Kids and Toddler Travel Neck Rest

To go along with the backpack, you can get a coordinating pillow, or a different one. My kids like to use them while sitting up, and also while lying down. They've also used them on road trips. I once forgot to bring their pillow on a low-budget flight, that while short-haul, had turned into a red-eye because of weather delays. Never again.

5. Lightweight Cotton Zip Hoodie

You probably already have one at home. They're great for keeping warm when the air conditioning gets too strong. (As an aside, for warm-weather travel I adore Uniqlo's Airism UV Cut Zip-up Hoodie for myself. It's inexpensive, lightweight to be comfortable in hot, humid climates, and yet also surprisingly warm during spring and fall. The fabric is also so thin that it folds easily and compactly into your purse.)

6. Muslin Swaddle Blankets

Now there are lots of different brands; I got the aden+anais swaddle blankets when my eldest was a newborn, and this is one baby item that has held up. It's surprisingly warm, highly breathable, and the swaddle size means that it's big enough to be usable even though my kids are now 8 and 4. This also means that if your youngest is still asleep when your plane lands, you can scoop them up wrapped in this blanket. I've also used it as a makeshift sun shade. It's the equivalent of a pashmina for kids!
aden+anais muslin swaddle blankets (still used after all these years!) and Skip Hop travel pillow

7. Kids' Headphones

We have the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones for Kids - customer service was great about replacing our daughter's faulty headphones 6-months after purchase when we put them on one day and realized she could only hear out of one side. These are sized for smaller heads, and are adjustable, so adults can also easily check the volume and sound quality. The complimentary earbuds or headphones distributed by the airlines have never worked for them.

8. Snacks packed in Easy Lunchboxes

I'll pack fruit, crackers, and whatever will otherwise rot in my refrigerator if I didn't bring it with us in these handy compartmentalized containers by Easy Lunchboxes. They're easy to clean and stackable, so they take up less space when we're done with them. The compartments mean that if they're not feeling hungry during meal service, packing any leftovers from their airline meals (e.g. bread rolls, fruit) for them to eat later (although make sure all fruit and veg is eaten up before disembarking the plane and lining up at customs!) is easy.

9. Amusements

To be honest, I didn't start packing an tablet until this year, when my kids were 7 and 4. Usually, they're fine with the existing in-flight entertainment (remember, I'm flying international long-haul, not short-haul flights on an American carrier), crayons, and paper. The flight safety card once provided my son with at least 15 minutes of entertainment, as he deciphered the various exit points on the plane. The toy that has consistently provided the most amusement are the Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Pads. My kids have also enjoyed Wikki Stix, magnetic doodle boards, and the Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad (although the pad itself is rather bulky, and so has been disqualified for future flights). Bring paper and pen with you, and you can play tic-tac-toe, fold paper airplanes, or do other origami crafts.

10. Change of Underwear

Now that kids are fully toilet-trained, I only bring a spare set of underwear (tucked into the front pocket of their Skip Hop backpacks). During the toilet training years, because sometimes the line to the bathroom, especially after meal service, is long, I've only once had to change underwear and bottoms. If your child is bringing a hoodie anyway, that can substitute for a wet t-shirt. Keep things simple. When my kids were infants, I'd bring a spare onesie and leg warmers. I think I only changed my top once. I found I tended to pack more than I actually used.

Now, for babies, I'd also recommend:

11. Structured Baby Carrier

Even after my infants were well into their toddler years, I still got a lot of use out of my Boba Baby Carrier. The structured carrier meant that it was easy to put on (just two buckles to snap together), and given that you can carry up to a 45-pound child on your back, it's ideal for a keeping jet-lagged, overtired child calm while waiting in long lines at immigration and customs.

12. Nursing Cover

Breastfeeding was my number one tip for dealing with infants in flight, because they're not going to fuss if they're in their happy place, nursing in mom's arms. Now, while I generally didn't use nursing covers, I found them useful for flights because the rigid neckline provided air flow while also blocking out extra light (from all the signage such as the seatbelt light, toilet occupancy light, etc.) which can be distracting for an overtired infant. I was given a second-hand Bebe au Lait nursing cover, so that's what I used, but any one with a rigid neckline would do.

13. Skip Hop Pronto Changing Pad

This portable changing mat has thoughtfully-designed pockets so that you could tuck a number of diapers and wipes in to minimize the amount of stuff to carry with you to the toilet, as well as a handy strap that could hook the pad out of the way.

14. CARES Travel Harness

I only once carried my child's car seat in flight, and I vowed never to do it again. It was heavy, it was bulky, and I didn't get that much value out of it (my child did not sleep for more than an hour in the seat). However, good for toddlers is the CARES FAA-approved restraint system, which creates a shoulder strap with chest buckle restraint system. They're safer, and also less likely to wiggle about.

Friday, November 17, 2017

BraveTart’s Mini Egg Chocolate Cookies

The cookies were quite tender and broke apart easily, but I loved the flavor.
Rummaging around the refrigerator to make room for the products of this last weekend's cooking binge reminded me that I have bags of butterscotch chips stashed in the back of the refrigerator. I've been impressed by BraveTart's creations on Instagram, so I decided to check her site and modify her recipe for chocolate cookies with Cadbury Mini Eggs to use up the half bags of butterscotch and peanut butter chips I had on hand. Other substitutions: I substituted coconut sugar for the brown sugar, and used 2 ounces of white sugar instead of the 2.5 ounces called for (the sweetness was fine). I can't imagine using the full amount of sugar.

I had the kids add five mini M&Ms to the top of each cookie, after pressing the scooped dough with the pusher (from my food processor) dipped in cocoa powder - since the dough was very sticky

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Homemade Pizza, Revisited

I've made pizza often in the past, making dough from the recipe in Wildly Affordable Organic or King Arthur Flour's basic recipe. On a Smitten Kitchen kick, I decided to try her recipe. The kids rolled out the dough, so it was a bit thicker than I'd like, but the sauce was a revelation. In the past, I've just used jarred pasta sauce, but I tried her recipe which is simple - just drained canned whole tomatoes, whizzed in the food processor with a little salt and fresh garlic - and it made a huge difference.
Hawaiian Pizza, from the side
Since it has been awhile since we made homemade pizza, I forgot that I usually have the kids roll it between two sheets of parchment paper, so there was a big floury mess on the dining table when they had finished. Cornmeal also makes a superior substance to dust baking pans with, to prevent sticking.

I had leftover sauce, shredded cheese, canned pineapple, and Canadian bacon, so I made the pizza again today. The first time I followed her 22-hour recipe (starting it at night before I went to bed, for a lunch of pizza) and today I had only time for a 6-hour rise. I definitely recommend the flavor with a longer rise...although since I rolled out the dough today, it was much thinner. Also, I substituted whole wheat flour, for a proportion of 175g whole wheat flour and 200g bread flour.

kid-created pizza

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deb Perleman’s Carrot Soup with Meatballs and Spinach

Smitten Kitchen has always been a favorite, and her recipe for Carrot Soup with Meatballs and Spinach was another winner. After I puréed the soup with an immersion blender, the soup started splattering everywhere - I'm unsure how to prevent that from happening again. I liked the meatballs, of which I used about a 50/50 mixture of ground chicken and ground pork. Next time I might use all pork because the chicken was too lean. Also, while the kids complained that their carefully cut carrots had been blended into a mash, Miss Nomad Foodie chose to have another serving instead of the miso sweet potato and broccoli bowl that I'd prepared for dinner. A final note: I think I'll use butter to sauté the vegetables in next time because I like the flavor of butter in soup.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Red Dragon Fruit Bread

Master Nomad Foodie mentioned a classmate had brought bread made with dragon fruit. Dragon fruit is in season in the fall in Taiwan, and I love eating it because it's refreshingly, not cloyingly, sweet, and great for digestion (ahem). Anyways, at his request, I experimented with making dragon fruit bread following this recipe. (I looked to King Arthur Flour for guidance on the specifics of making baguette).

Lovely magenta color prior to baking.
The bread was fine - there wasn't a particular dragon fruit taste, which is unsurprising given that it's such a subtly flavored fruit, but there was the most lovely pink color. Unfortunately, the color dulled over time in the oven - I might have slightly overbooked the bread.

Duller pink color after baking.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think I tried this recipe, mostly to use up some leftover cream cheese. Alas, I wasn't impressed.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Weekend trip to Tainan, Taiwan

Over the long National Day holiday weekend, we traveled to Tainan to attend a wedding. Given the holiday weekend, we were thankful to have found a hotel room at a good price the week before through

We stayed at the Young Soarlan Boutique Hotel, which was perfectly adequate for one night. There was a refrigerator (handy for refrigerating the snacks we had brought down in a cooler), four bottles of water, an electric tea kettle, plenty of space for our carry-on luggage, flat-screen television, and desk. The bedding and towels, and the bathroom, seemed to be bleach-white clean. The air conditioning was much appreciated, as the wedding had been held outdoors bando-style in unusually warm weather.

At breakfast the next day, there was a small buffet of mostly Taiwanese-style breakfast offerings: rice porridge with sweet potato and typical porridge toppings, steamed rice, stir-fried noodles, various tofu and vegetable dishes, chicken nuggets, and steamed egg. There was also toast and steamed buns available. The only beverages on offer were coffee and tea.

My only two quibbles about the hotel were minor: the bed was firmer than I'd like (though this is generally true of Taiwan, and even the Shangri-la in Taipei is not immune to this problem), and that when we arrived to breakfast, there was a shortage of plates. I constantly had to ask the server for dishware, which he promptly refilled. To be fair, we had arrived towards the end of breakfast service.

As a side note, I must mention how much I like, for several reasons:

  • Finding rooms in relation to a specific part of town, such a certain district or landmark, is easy;
  • The booking process is quick and streamlined, and customer service has been great when we've had to use them;
  • Their Rewards program is awesome, with basically a 10% return, as they have a 1 night free for every 10 completed nights booked through them;
  • You can stack their Rewards program savings by going through a shopping portal, such TopCashback, which is currently running a 5% return on completed stays. I've used TopCashback for a few years now, and have been pleased with how well it works;
  • You can stack further savings on top of that by using a credit card that rewards travel spending;
  • Since it's an hotel room aggregator, you're not tied to a specific chain. While room upgrades and lounge access at a preferred hotel chain are nice, it's also nice getting a return on travel spending when that isn't an option.

Later, we caught up with friends at the 新化體育公園, which was a lovely park with lots of trees shading the playground area. Our friends told us that the park is rarely crowded. There's a public pool at the park, and while we did not swim, we took a peek. The pool is much more appealing than pictured, as in person it seems very spacious with a lot of natural light.

Lunch was nearby at Pa Pa Yummy, a delightful pizzeria with a comfortable, light-filled setting. The salad was ok, more Taiwanese-style, but we enjoyed the pizzas which seemed to utilize fresh, not canned, ingredients, such as the thinly-sliced pineapple on the Hawai'ian pizza.
The kids enjoyed the presentation of the freshly baked pita bread.
My favorite pizza was the most unusual one on offer, featuring honey, ricotta, and apples.

When we left, we bought a whole-wheat boule loaf with longan, which was a good reminder of the trip. Just across the street from Pa Pa Yummy and a few storefronts down is 筱庭杏仁豆腐冰, which is a wonderful shaved ice and almond tofu place. I highly recommend the almond tofu, which has the silkiest texture I've ever had for almond tofu, which can be served atop shaved ice. Delightful.

Overall, we had a great trip, even though the traffic on our drive back to Taipei was awful. 

Young Soarlan Boutique Hotel, 揚悅精緻大飯店- 台南館
No.487 Section 2, Jiankang Road, South District, Tainan, Taiwan

Pa Pa Yummy 柴燒美食基地


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Blueberry-Peach Crisp

We had picked a lot of blueberries on trip to Michigan that were unfortunately not that sweet for eating out of hand, so I combined them with home-grown peaches to make a crumble-crisp.
The recipe I followed was a mashup of this for the fruit and this for the topping. Blueberries and diced peaches were tossed with about 3 Tablespoons of sugar and 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch for roughly 4 cups of blueberries and 1 cup of diced peaches. I also squeezed half a lemon and added about 1 teaspoon of lemon zest. The topping was comprised of rolled oats, almond flour, coconut oil, honey, 2 dashes of cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. When I ran out of almond flour, I substituted wheat germ. Overall, family members liked the crumble, as it wasn't too sweet.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Shop Review: Lunada Bay Market

Lunada Bay is a beautiful neighborhood in Palos Verdes Estates, California. There are a limited number of commercial centers on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and probably one of the most charming ones is the Lunada Bay Plaza, which has a little coffeeshop, a few restaurants, and small businesses. In the summer, the Lunada Bay Homeowners' Association sponsors a summer concert series - I went to one concert last year and it was a lot of fun, with a beautiful green lawn, children dancing to music, and a few booths set up featuring some community organizations. 

Recently opened, the Lunada Bay Market is a small market with a selection of natural, organic, and high-end grocery items, beautiful produce, seafood, and meats, wine, and a deli counter offering a few salads, a handful of sandwiches, and smoothies. I ordered their tuna beet sandwich, which was comprised of tuna salad mix, diced beets, greens, radish, tomatoes, and cucumber on an oat french roll. The sandwich was tasty, and I like the idea of adding beets to tuna salad. Maybe Miss Nomad Foodie will be more inclined to try some foods if they are (naturally) colored pink?

tuna beet sandwich from Lunada Bay Market
In any case, it's a charming grocery store - bright and clean, and catering to the affluence of the surrounding area - and certainly a good option if you want something less corporate and with a more neighborly feel than the Trader Joe's up the street at the Golden Cove Plaza. All of the staff members I met were uniformly friendly and attentive.

2201 Palos Verdes Drive West, Palos Verdes Estates - 310-377-2025

Monday, July 10, 2017

Places I'd like to see in Columbus, Ohio

We just finished a short stay in Columbus, Ohio. On a future visit, I'd like to see:

  • the Scioto Mile
  • the Topiary Park, especially since Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is my favorite piece at the Art Institute
  • actually seeing the roses at the Columbus Park of Roses (we didn't get beyond the playground before it started raining)
I'd also like to return to the Columbus Zoo, which was really well done - definitely up there among the zoos that I've visited. I want to spend more time in the Heart of Africa section.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trader Joe's Avocado Citrus Greek Whole Milk Yogurt

I found this a little intimidating, since I associate avocado with savory guacamole, but this was quite good - a very creamy, tart yogurt with a citrus aroma. I'd get it again!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Coconut Quinoa Banana Muffins

I tried this recipe from Coffee & Quinoa as I've been looking for ways to use up quinoa in baked goods, and I had some overripe bananas. While the flavor was good, unfortunately the muffins (I baked muffins instead of a loaf to save time) were very dense. I think this is so because the recipe calls for baking soda, and I don't see an acid amongst the ingredients to activate the baking soda. I think I'll work on modifying Smitten Kitchen's Crackly Banana Bread instead, which I've baked before and is quite good.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dine: Bistro1979 at Hotel ICON (Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong)

I dined at Bistro1979 at the Hotel ICON as part of a corporate event. Bistro 1979 is a student operated restaurant of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). I was told that only guests of the hotel, as well as members of the PolyU community, may dine at Bistro1979, but the website indicates that anyone may make a reservation when the service is available, as with any restaurant affiliated with a culinary school. I highly recommend dining there if you get the opportunity.

We were served a fragrant slice of warm pumpkin bread with butter to start, followed by a tasty, if not particularly memorable, bowl of cream of cauliflower and celeriac soup. The soup apparently came with a sweet corn purée and buttered popcorn, but obviously I didn't really notice it. If I wasn't trying to control my intake of bread, I would've tried to filch another slice of the pumpkin bread - it was that good.

Grilled seabass fillet with beetroot purée, honey beans, brussels sprouts, and blue cheese crumble
I found the fish excellent - the fish itself I thought was almost Chinese in flavor, although all of the accompaniments were Western. While I didn't care for the blue cheese crumble, which was the dollop of sauce pictured on top of the fish, that was easily shoved to the side. What was called "honey beans" on the menu is what I'd call sugar snap peas. The vegetables were great.

Dulce de leche with pan-fried vanilla egg brioche and sweet potato sorbet
Dessert was my favorite - I'm not sure what was the dulce de leche part (perhaps the sauce on the sorbet?) but the brioche, in combination with the berries, fruit coulis, and sorbet, was awesome. This was the most memorable dish I had while I was in Hong Kong.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stay: Grand Hyatt Taipei

Recently, we had a one-night staycation at the Grand Hyatt Taipei. Due to Mr. Nomad Foodie's Globalist status with the new World of Hyatt rewards program, we were upgraded to a suite. I didn't take many photos of the suite, as those are plentiful on the web and the renovated rooms were as lovely as pictured, with a powder room to the immediate right of the entry, a spacious living area that led to the bedroom via a sliding door, and from the bedroom, a walk-in closet and spacious bathroom. I kept thinking, this would make a great bachelorette pad - in fact, I spent much of my stay fantasizing what (minor) changes I'd make if I indeed were a young singleton living in such a fantastic space (remove a TV, add a few bookshelves and perhaps a dresser).

The bed was quite comfortable, much more than the very hard bed I encountered when I stayed at the Far Eastern, and I slept well.

The bathroom was huge and took nice advantage of the odd dimensions due to the bend in the exterior hallway and the room's location in a corner of the building.

There was a fancy pants shower control that took me awhile to figure out but was actually quite clever once I did because the water came out quite quickly at exactly the right temperature. Here's where "upgraded" amenities are a minus for me: I actually quite like the June Jacobs line of toiletries at Grand Hyatt hotels, and found the Ferragamo Tuscan Soul line too strongly scented for my liking, as well as too musky - I prefer very light, citrusy, and clean scents. Scent is very personal, though, and it's hard to please everyone (another line whose scent I don't care for is Thann at Marriott).

I was impressed by the evening canapés offered in the club, as well as its breakfast spread. The evening offerings were quite extensive, and healthier than expected, with lots of vegetable heavy options and a minimum of fried items. The offerings during our stay: shrimp dumpling, sweet and sour soup, pork stuffed zucchini, roasted vegetables, apple chicken salad, roasted tomato salad, smoked salmon, and a salad bar with sugar snap peas. Unfortunately the tortilla chips were stale. 

The dessert choices were plentiful, and as characteristic of the Grand Hyatt Taipei (the dessert lineup at their buffet restaurant, the Grand Cafe, has always been a favorite), excellent: strawberry tart, lemon meringue tart, blueberry cheesecake, matcha red bean cake roll, Earl Grey madelines, and pecan tart. There was also a selection of freshly pressed juices: carrot, watermelon, grapefruit, and orange.

We also enjoyed the hotel pool on both days. The outdoor pool is heated, with a separate section for children's bit warmer than the main pool. The children enjoyed it greatly, and had to be dragged out. Although there's no lifeguard, the friendly pool attendant kept an eye out for my children while I put our belongings on a lounger. All the staff we encountered were hospitable.

The location is great, in the heart of the Xinyi District, so besides being adjacent to many great restaurants and a new food truck pod, one could also just walk around to soak up the atmosphere and be entertained by the buskers and people-watching.

We had a great stay--the kids ask to go back often--and I highly recommend the Grand Hyatt to visitors to Taipei.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Baking misadventures with The Food Lab's Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've long wanted to make J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies, and after Miss Nomad Foodie put in a request for Mommy to bake some cookies, I decided to pull out the ingredients. I browned butter. I weighed flour. I chopped chocolate. Then, when I returned to the kitchen after a brief absence, I found Miss Nomad Foodie standing by the sink, with the bowl of dry ingredients in hand, "look Mommy! I making cookies!" She had added water to the flour.

"I sorry Mommy, I helping you."

In the end, I added a cup of ground oats to soak up some of the excess moisture. The flavor was good, but the cookies came out with a fluffy, cakey texture - as if I had used margarine. Oh well.

I'm sure I'll try again soon enough. Perhaps Buzzfeed's version or Seven Spoon's version. One thing that I forgot to mention was that, inspired by Dorie Greenspan's newest chocolate chip cookie variation, I added a 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Monday, March 13, 2017

La Whale boulangerie (Taipei, Taiwan)

Once a month I am in a neighborhood of the Da-an district, and often I stop by this bakery that is catercorner to the parking lot I use. Prominently displayed in the shop is a plaque proclaiming the baker as a finalist in the 2012 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (World Bakery Cup) for Artistic Design, and certainly his viennoiseries have more flair than those in the typical bakeries around Taipei.

Clockwise, from the top: chocolate cinnamon roll with pistachio decoration, pain au adzuki bean (similar to pain aux raisins) with dried strawberry and pistachio topping, and what seems to be a brioche with coconut filling.

That said, while I enjoy picking up a few pastries when I'm in the neighborhood, I don't ever think back on a particular item and savor it's memory. They're pretty and tasty, but not memorable.

La Whale Boulangerie 阿崴烘焙工坊
Address: No. 3, Lane 193, Section 2, Fuxing S Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, 106
Phone: 02 2325 2218

Friday, March 10, 2017

China Airlines Family Couch Review

While travel bloggers were all aflutter in 2014 about the redesigned Business and Premium Economy products, complete with tea-tasting area and cocktail bar, on China Airline's new Boeing 777-300ER, as a mother of two young kids, I was most interested in their Family Couch product in Economy class.

I originally wrote this review in 2015 (but never published it), and continue to stand by it - this is now my preferred way to make the annual trip from Taipei to Los Angeles and back.

The Family Couch technology was licensed from Air New Zealand, where it is known as the Skycouch. In the first 10 rows of Economy, on the right hand side behind the exit row seats, are special seats that can be converted into a single lie-flat sofa bed by raising the footrests and armrests 90 degrees, and then adding a mattress pad. The Family Couch, in theory, allows passengers (up to two adults with one small child, or one adult with up to two small children) to lie down horizontally across the seat cushions and extended footrests. There are special seat belt attachments so that one can be safely strapped in while lying down.

Every summer, I make the trek with my kids, ages 5 and 2, across the Pacific between Taipei and Los Angeles. Paying a $200 surcharge each way to give my kids space to stretch out and sleep over a long-haul flight versus buying three pricey business class seats (and with two really young kids, I know that even with business class seats they would all end up in my seat anyway since those are spaced too far apart for their liking) sounded like a great deal. I hoped with the extra space, and me being close by, my kids would sleep well by themselves, thereby giving me more comfort. Plus, since this was a new product, when purchasing the tickets we paid a promotional rate of $190 (a 5% discount) for each leg.

When we arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport, the check-in area was a zoo due to multiple flights sharing close departure times. Signs directing passengers to the correct check-in counter were obscured by the long lines. The agent in charge of managing crowds seemed new because she didn't know where to direct me, either. Eventually, we managed to check in and rushed to our departure gate.

As an aside, traveling with two kids at the Taiwan Taoyuan Airport is easy because passengers with young children are directed to the priority/express lines through security and emigration. If only service was this family-friendly in the U.S.! And, while I didn't use them on this trip, the airport has some very nice nursing rooms with comfortable areas to relax, hot and cold drinking water dispensers, changing tables, and at the time I visited several years ago, complimentary diapers! The airport also features a Hello Kitty-themed lounge and gate.

In any case, I appreciated the express service through security and emigration as arrived at the gate to find boarding well underway. Boarding was quick and smooth. The airplane interior, in my opinion, looks much better in person than in photos - much more elegant than I expected. 

The Family Couch section is in the front rows of the Economy Cabin, just behind the exit row, on the right side of the plane.
Our seats were in Row 41. Per Seat Guru, Economy Class seats are 17-inches wide and have a 32-inch seat pitch and a 120-degree recline. Regardless of the official numbers, I definitely noticed a lot more space between my knees and the seat in front of me compared to domestic U.S. flights, so I'm sure taller passengers (I'm 5'4") would appreciate the legroom. 

The seats also featured an 11.1" touchscreen in the seat back. I noticed that the entertainment offerings had expanded dramatically from the past, with both preschooler-appropriate offerings as well as options that would be appealing to older kids. Nothing is more frustrating than a flight where the "family" entertainment options are only appropriate for grade-school kids.

The tray tables also had a unique half-fold design, so that it could folded down at half-length during snack time to allow additional space to maneuver. Both configurations have indentations to hold a cup. My tip to help prevent spills in-flight is to bring your own sippy cups and ask the flight attendants to serve drinks in there.

Pre-flight nursing session, and the unique half-fold tray tables.
At some point, the flight attended walked by and deposited, without explanation, a vinyl case with various seatbelt attachments and what appeared to be a blanket in a plastic bag. As I was still trying to get my kids settled and stuff put away, I didn't want to deal with an additional blanket but later realized it was the mattress pad. The mattress pad was really more of a thin picnic blanket, with corduroy fabric on one side and a smooth fabric on the other. Nevertheless, it was perfectly fine in unifying the sleeping space (and covering up nooks and crannies for crumbs to fall into...easier to brush off!). While the China Airlines website advertised a "toy for young traveler" for those traveling in Family Couch, we did not receive it.

(Note: on subsequent trips, we have received a travel-appropriate toy such as a memory card game; the toys seem aimed at young elementary school and kindergartener-aged children.)

The Family Couch "mattress pad."
My kids were soon buckled up and occupied with their Melissa & Doug Water Wow "coloring" boards, which I presented to them on the trip - best in-flight toy ever

Travel must-have: Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Books
We had a very smooth flight. I always order special meals so that we can be served first (and use the toilets before lines form after meal service!), and on this flight I had ordered a fruit plate for my eldest (a picky eater who loves fruit), a child meal for my youngest, and an Oriental vegetarian meal for myself. The meals were reasonably healthy and tasty, and I was glad that I finally figured out the best combination of meals to order that satisfied my kids.

Oriental Vegetarian meal on China Airlines

Child meal on China Airlines
After dinner, I set up the Family Couch, which was pretty straightforward. The flight attendant came over at this point and was helpful in pointing out the location of the anchor point for one of the seatbelt extensions. I really appreciated the extra space at this point, as my kids were able to spread out while watching the favorite programs (what little girl doesn't love "Frozen"?).

Stretched out comfortably and enjoying in-flight entertainment.
Soon enough the kids wanted to sleep and they were able to stretch out quite comfortably, and fall asleep relatively quickly. Unfortunately, I had to return the seats to the regular configuration just before the plane made its final descent, but still having the flat seat cushions and arm rests that rotated fully up was quite helpful. I myself played with my seat configuration, sometimes extending it fully, which was nice if I wanted to sit cross-legged, or just partially raised to use as a leg rest. For most of the flight, only the leg rests of my kids' seats were fully extended, and that was enough space for them.

I really enjoyed the Family Couch, and think it is an ideal solution for travelers with young kids. Depending upon your children, I think it's an even better option than China Airlines' Business and Premium Economy offerings, since the seats aren't in individual "pods" (my kids like to snuggle with mom!), and of course, it's much cheaper. Despite what the seat placard says, I wouldn't go for the Family Couch option if I was a single traveler or even a couple, because at most one would have 51" to stretch out across. I am really thankful to have this family-friendly option, and this product has definitely become a preferred choice for future flights.

One final point that I would note for travelers seated in exit row seats on the right side immediately in front of the Family Couch section is to expect more jostling. While I certainly stopped my kids from kicking the seats in front, with the extended leg rest, you're bound to feel more nudges from kids tossing and turning in the row behind. On my flight, the entire Family Couch section was filled with young families, so that would be something to keep in mind as a single traveler.

You might also enjoy this post: Top 10 Travel Must Haves for Long Flights with Young Kids (and Babies)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Do: Hua Hin Hills Vineyard Tour & Lunch (Hua Hin, Thailand)

We took the vineyard shuttle bus from their cellar shop in Hua Hin town (in the Villa Market shopping center), which was 300 Baht per person, which the concierge at our hotel had booked a few days before for us. Before we boarded the van, we were given a chilled bottle of sparkling water. We left at 10:30a. The drive was very smooth and pleasant, and took about 45 minutes.

Entrance to the Sala restaurant at Hua Hin Hills Vineyard

Upon arrival at the Vineyard, we were led to a table in the Sala, a modern building that showcased the scenic views beautifully, and presented with chilled glasses of grape juice.
View of the vineyards from balcony seating at the Sala.

About 15 minutes after arrival we were invited to go on a Jeep tour of the vineyard. The menu said it was a charge of 100 Baht per person, but we weren't charged, so perhaps now its complimentary. In any case, we enjoyed seeing the vines up close and hearing about which varietals are grown as well as how they're grown.

Back in the Sala, we enjoyed a delicious lunch. Note that there is a menu book as well a separate tapas menu, which we did not realize until after we'd ordered from the menu.

Marinated chicken coconut milk salad with lotus root and coconut vinaigrette
Spicy minced pork salad wrapped with bacon and apple sauce
Smoked duck breast with Tamarind nam prik
Phad Thai - stir fried rice noodle with river prawn along with two tasting flights, top row (L-R): one of the Shiraz, White Shiraz, and Colombard, and on the bottom row, (L-R): a Chenin Blanc and Muscat.

The Colombard was described as having "citrus aromas with a touch of green apple. Crisp acidity and clean, pure lemon and grapefruit." Mr. Nomad Foodie and I did not care for the White Shiraz.

The Chenin Blanc Late Harvest was described as "nectar-like aromas of dried fruits, orchard apple and white peach" while the Fortified Muscat was described as "lychee and roses" - we preferred the Muscat to the Chenin Blanc.

We also did a tasting flight, and particularly enjoyed the Columbard, Shiraz, and Muscat. If we'd had more time, we would've liked to do a hike or bike around the vineyard - there are marked trails - but the return shuttle was scheduled for 2p. All in all, it was a pleasant day trip.

Related post:
Review: Hyatt Regency Hua Hin

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Honey Oat Pain de Mie, batches 3-5

Each subsequent batch of honey oat pain de mie is more successful than the last. I have experimented with: 1) raising the percentage of whole wheat flour up to 45%, substituted maple syrup for honey (I prefer honey); adding spices (cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg), and adding raisins. I am getting better with timing the rises with my schedule. I am currently using 140-150g of water for each loaf, adding boiling water to the butter and honey. This melts the butter and lowers the temperature of the water.
The shorter loaf is batch #3 , next to batch #4.
Batch #5 is slightly higher than batch #4.