Leap of Faith

We all survived the typhoon, hurray! The rain wasn’t even that bad, it just got really windy. A couple of trees near the dorm fell over, but that’s all. Another one is supposed to be coming, I think, but I think it’s going to stay even farther away from Hong Kong than the last one did.

On Friday, after all the typhoon business blew over (hahaha) I went hiking on MacLehose trail, near Sai Kung. It was a perfect day for hiking: warm, but a little cloudy so the sun wasn’t beating down on us. We got caught in a bit of rain toward the end, but it was okay. The trail is over in New Territories, and has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.

It takes a little over an hour to get to Sai Wan beach, but the trail is super easy – just like the last time I went hiking, it’s a paved sidewalk almost the whole way. Sai Wan is also beautiful, and split in two parts by a big section of rocks. It’s pretty strange – one side is very clean, but the other side has trash all over the sand. It probably washes up there from other beaches or people dumping from boats… really sad.

After the beach, we veered off the path to get to what we were really looking for: Sheung Luk Stream. It’s got a couple pools, but the one at the very top is both the cleanest and the deepest.

If you climb up to the top of the rocks, the jump is about 20 feet. It took me a bit of convincing, but eventually I mustered up the courage to do it. Oh my god, it was amazing. The water was cool and refreshing, and I got such an adrenaline rush from the jump! Afterward I just kept saying over and over again, “I can’t believe I just jumped off a cliff.” Then I did it again.

To cancel out all of that physical activity, I had plenty of desserts this weekend. On Saturday, I went for dumplings with a local friend, and then afterward we got dessert. He went for grass jelly with fruit, while I chose what translates to “ice flower.” It’s sort of like halfway between ice cream and shave ice. So light and refreshing! I got strawberry, but they also had mango, chocolate, durian, and Yakult. The place was right by school, so I will definitely be going back.

After that – FIREWORKS. October 1st is China’s National Day, and Hong Kong had the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen in Victoria Harbor. Seriously, the entire sky was filled with fireworks for 20 minutes straight. I’ve never seen anything like it! They even had fireworks that formed the characters 中国 (China), but I couldn’t get a good picture. Apparently they spent something like $8,000,000HKD on the whole thing. Crazy. Also, the whole area by the water was PACKED. Seriously, the sidewalks were completely full and they even closed down the streets so we could stand there, it was insane!

Have you ever heard of rice pizza? Me neither. Today I went with a friend to a mall in Sha Tin and we had rice pizza for dinner. It’s literally just pizza but with rice instead of crust. She had been there before, but I had no idea what I was in store for. It was really good! One of the most interesting things I’ve ever eaten. And not nearly as filling or fatty as regular pizza, either. We got one with salmon and mushrooms, and one with chicken and mango. The salmon one was kind of cheesy, but I don’t think the chicken one had any cheese at all! I liked that one better. Mostly just because I love anything with mango. I couldn’t figure out how they get the rice to stay like that, though, because it’s not super sticky or crunchy or anything. Food mysteries.

After we stuffed our faces with the rice pizza, we walked around the mall until we were hungry again for dessert! We went to Honeymoon (not the same one as last time) and it was soooo delicious. I think other people had the same idea as us, because that place was hoppin. Seriously, the rest of the mall was pretty empty by that time, but Honeymoon was packed. Everyone wants dessert!

We got a “mango pancake,” which was a little dumpling-type thing with fresh mango and whipped cream inside, an icy sago soup with fresh mango, bananas, lychee jelly, and green tea ice cream (I love their green tea ice cream!!), and warm peanut/sesame tangyuan in black sesame and walnut soups. In the picture on the menu, the bowl is split diagonally with half black sesame soup and half walnut. I think they were rushing a little in the kitchen since it was so busy, so unfortunately our soup came a little bit mixed together. It still tasted great, but I really wanted to taste the walnut soup on its own! There’s always next time, I guess – makes for a great excuse to get more dessert!

I’m gonna come home super fat if I don’t slow it down with these desserts. Seriously.

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Kuala, not Koala

Just warning you, this is going to be a really long post.

I spent last weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not a long trip – just Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. Considering the limited time we had, we did quite a lot. It was a jam-packed, exhausting weekend.

Sidebar: classes are officially cancelled today because Hong Kong is under a Typhoon Signal level 8, meaning winds are at or above 63km/h and Typhoon Nesat is approximately 350km away. Gonna be honest, I’m a little freaked out… I’ve never been in a storm like this before!

First of all, remember back around Mid Autumn Festival when I was super sad I didn’t get to try more mooncakes? Especially the frozen kind? I had been hoping they would get cheaper after the holiday, but by the time I went to look they were all sold out. I was super depressed – I really wanted to try them! Well, guess what I found at the airport?

That’s right. Snowy mooncakes. The one on the left is strawberry and mung bean, and the one on the right is coffee with chocolate in the center. Oh my god, these things were worth the wait. The outside, instead of being a doughy sort of pastry like the regular ones, is basically just mochi. Yum!

Then came the flight. Four hours long, but at least the view was okay.

Friday morning, we got up early and made our way 13km outside the city to the Batu Caves. They’re these gigantic limestone caves that double as a Hindu temple. Some temple buildings and statues are outside the cave, including the 140ft gold statue of Murugan (I Wikipedia‘d that one) standing next to the 272 steps leading up to the cave. All along the steps are KAJILLIONS of monkeys. Tourists must feed them all the time, because they’re all over and they’re really comfortable around the people. I got some pretty close up pictures, and one even reached out and grabbed my ankle after I took its photo! This was extremely shocking because I’ve gotten so used to never seeing animals. Around Hong Kong, the only animals I see are bugs and pet dogs, barely ever even birds, let alone monkeys. Even hiking out on Lantau I never saw any animals! To come to Kuala Lumpur and see all these animals was such a change.

Once you finally get up to the caves, you basically just stand there in awe. I won’t try to explain how beautiful and just huge they are because I will never do it justice. Although I will say it’s the most perfect place for a temple if there ever was one. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

After we left the main temple cave, we went into what’s called the Dark Caves. Just like in Hong Kong, these people aren’t very creative with names. The caves are literally pitch black inside, and filled with all sorts of gross things like bats, cockroaches, centipedes, and the world’s rarest spider. They neglected to tell us all of this until after we paid for the tour. I swear, three hours later I still felt like there were bugs crawling all over my legs.

At the bottom of the caves, we found a small Indian restaurant for lunch. Well, to put it more accurately, the restaurant found us. One of the biggest differences between HK and KL, besides the animals, is the people in restaurants. In HK, the doors to restaurants stay closed and the people working there don’t really care whether or not you come in. In KL, they act like those annoying girls at the mall kiosks that sell curling irons. “Come in here! Our food is great! Are you hungry? Come eat! So cheap, so delicious, come in, come in!!”

See that? That would be rice with lentils and green beans and cauliflower and squash all on top of a banana leaf. The fact that they serve it on a banana leaf is ridiculously cool, but you know what’s even cooler? The fact that it’s all 100% vegetarian. Oh my god I love Malaysia and its high Hindu population. All the Indian vegetarian food I ate made me so happy. And those green beans were out-of-this-world delicious.

After the Batu Caves, we made our way back to KL and got on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s a tour bus where you can buy a ticket for 24 or 48 hours and it stops at all the different touristy locations within the city. You can get on at any stop, get off whenever you see something cool, and then get back on again when you’re done. It even has audio commentary about whatever you’re going towards next! It’s a really neat idea, but it only runs in one direction, which is a pretty big bummer. Anyway, we took it to the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden, and then to the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world.

Did I mention who I was travelling with? It was me, a girl from New York, and two girls from Japan. Everywhere we went, people would ask us where we’re from. “The two of us are from the US, and they’re from Japan.” “…but … why are you together?”

As a relaxing way to end a long day, we decided to go to a fish spa. What’s a fish spa, you ask? Basically you put your feet into a pool of small fish and they nibble off all the dead skin. Sounds wonderful. It’s just such a weird idea that we wanted to try it. Well, it took us so long to finally get to the mall where the fish spa was supposed to be, and then it was closed for remodeling! What a disappointment! We were able to, at least, find a really good Malaysian restaurant in the mall, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

We had everything the waiter recommended. A spicy chicken dish, prawns, pineapple fried rice, an egg “flower” (basically scrambled egg with vegetables), and some sort of veggie. I don’t know what kind of vegetable that was, but I wish I did because it definitely stole the show. The whole dish is really garlicky (my favorite), with both the stems and the leaves. The stems are pretty crunchy, like broccoli almost, and the leaves reminded me a lot of kale chips. Ugh, just talking about it is making me want to eat it again.

Saturday morning, we were up bright and early again, off to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Center. It’s located about two hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, so it takes a really long time to get there. We decided not to book a tour, since everything we read online said the only thing the tour is good for is transportation – once you’re there, it’s the same whether or not you’re with a tour group. So, we hopped on a train, took it to the very last stop, and then rode the bus for an hour.

We were in Middle-of-the-Forest, Malaysia, just south of I-Have-No-Idea-Where-We-Are. The bus only takes you so far, so after that you have to take a taxi the last 14km. The only problem is, once you’re that far out in the boonies, there aren’t really taxis, just people with cars who want to make an extra couple of bucks. Consequently, we were given a ride by a toothless old Malaysian man with an Aloha shirt and a 1980s Corolla. Don’t freak out, Mom. Somehow, going with him was the best decision we could have made – he must spend all his time waiting around for confused tourists in need of a ride to the sanctuary. Not only did he know the way by heart, but he also showed us where to buy tickets for the bus back to KL and was even waiting patiently for us outside the sanctuary when the activities were over, like a dad picking up his preteen daughter and her friends after a movie. All that for 60 ringgits? I’ll take it. Even if he had no teeth.

Once there, we watched a video about the elephant relocation program – basically, they move elephants that are pillaging farms to a new habitat. The only reason they eat the crops, though, is because their natural habitats are being destroyed to make room for the farms. It sounds mean, but I guess it’s better to move them than to have them killed by angry farmers. The elephants at the Center are trained to help move the “problem” elephants, since being around other elephants seems to help comfort them during the transport and keeps them from getting scared and possibly hurting people.

After being thoroughly depressed by the movie, we got to feed the elephants, ride them, and then “bathe” with them in the river. I felt bad for the elephants giving rides; they seemed so bored just walking in a circle over and over again. The ones in the water, though, seemed like they were having tons of fun with the people. They would spray everyone with their trunks, and loved splashing around. It was seriously one of the coolest experiences of my life.

After we became official “Elefriends” (their word, not mine) we made our way back to the city and headed over to Little India. It’s only about two blocks long, but packed with restaurants, produce markets, and tons of stores selling beautiful sari fabric. I kind of wish I had bought some.

We passed by a bakery called Venusitas that had the most beautiful, colorful displays in the window. It all looked so good, I ended up buying a box with one of everything just so I could try it all. Most of it was way too sugary for me, but still nice to have a bite or two. For the most part, they all had just a plain, sweet flavor, but some had hints of coconut, and one cookie was even a bit lemony.

Again, we ate delicious Indian food. We were accosted by a man in an orange polo shirt telling us we absolutely had to eat at his restaurant. We decided to trust him, and I had naan with two really good types of curry and one other sauce that was good but way too intense with the lime.

Finally, it was time to go back to Hong Kong. We had a little bit of time on Sunday morning before we had to leave for the airport, so we spent about half an hour at the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple, just a few minutes’ walk from our hostel. After this trip, I officially love Hindu temples. They are all so colorful and fun to look at! The statues are beautiful.

For our last meal at the airport, we went to Marrybrown, the Malaysian competitor to KFC. (KFC is a HUGE deal in KL. I’m talking way bigger than McDonald’s, and it’s not out of the ordinary to see KFC’s with two floors. I realized it’s probably because of the religious groups there – predominantly Hindu and Muslim.) Looking at the menu, my eyes immediately jumped to the #5 combo, a veggie burger with curly fries and a drink. Veggie burger?! CURLY FRIES?! Talk about exciting!

Well, at least the fries were good. What looked like a delicious veggie burger in the photo turned out to be hash browns and lettuce in a bun. Not kidding, hash browns. Straight up potato. No yummy Boca patty, no vegetables smushed into a disk, nope. A McDonald’s style hash brown. I got chicken nuggets afterward to supplement my “meal.”

I never thought in my whole life I would travel to Malaysia. It was never really on my “list,” you know? I didn’t know anything about the country until I booked the flights and started doing a bit of research! But I had such an amazing time and I am so happy I went. Can’t wait for more weekend trips like this one!

I have a new favorite food.

Sago. Well, sago pudding. This is my new favorite food dessert food. Sago is kind of like tapioca, and they put it into a cold, sweet soup. It’s so light and refreshing and not too sweet. I swear, I can eat that stuff everyday! They make lots of flavors with different fruits in the soup.

I’ve been having too much dessert lately. On Tuesday, I went to a dessert place called Honeymoon (it’s a chain, you can find them here) with some friends and a couple of local students. We had no idea what to get, so we told the local girls to just order whatever they wanted us to try. I didn’t get any photos, unfortunately, because it was right after class and I didn’t have my camera, but I will definitely be going back! We had a lot, so let’s see if I can remember it all.

  • Pineapple parfait, which was like really icy ice cream. Very light and sweet.
  • Durian mochi things. The local girls thought they would gross us out, but I actually liked it! I don’t mind the smell of durian like a lot of other people do. Durian is that big, spiky, smelly thing.
  • Mango sago with vanilla ice cream and pomelo (a type of citrus).
  • Tofu pudding with sesame soup and green tea ice cream. The tofu pudding is white, not quite as firm as Jello, and tastes like almonds; the sesame is black and thick with a nutty flavor; and the green tea ice cream was like forest green and tasted like TEA. I mean hardcore, straight up tea, not the sugary stuff at home. But honestly, take a second and imagine those colors. Black, white, and green. The presentation was beautiful when it came out, but when it got all mixed up in the bowl that stuff looked like Star Wars. I’m not kidding, intergalactic desserts here in Hong Kong.
  • A really eggy warm custard served IN THE EGG SHELL. I don’t know how they hollowed it out but honestly I don’t want to know. I want to keep believing it was magic.
  • These warm, mochi-like dough balls served with crushed peanuts and I think honey. You stick one of the balls with a toothpick and roll it in the peanuts. By far my favorite.

Needless to say, this dessert was basically an entire meal and I am SO SAD I didn’t get pictures. That’s why I brought my camera last night when I got dessert again!

This time it wasn’t at Honeymoon – we went to some hole in the wall type place here in Hung Hom, right by the dorms. We had mango/pomelo sago, strawberry sago, and a coconut custard thing.

The custard was so good! It was warm, which I wasn’t expecting, and not overly coconutty.

I love sago pudding. It is my new go-to dessert for sure. The mango one here was even better than the one at Honeymoon, I think, and walking distance from the dorm! I better not get fat from all the sago I’m going to eat.

My classes here have been riddikulus. (Yes, I did just say “riddikulus,” like the spell to vanish a Boggart.) My computer science classes are pretty awful. They’re on Monday and Tuesday evening until 10 o’clock at night!  Both are pretty big lectures, and all the students talk nonstop. Seriously, they just jabber away in Cantonese the whole time while the professors talk. Don’t they get upset or offended? That kind of disrespect would never fly at CMU. There were some other exchange students in my Artificial Intelligence class, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I am the whitest person taking Networks. People were staring at me like I didn’t belong in the room! They’ll just have to get used to me, I guess. At least I’m not blonde; then the stares would be even worse.

I found something else familiar at the grocery store the other day and decided to buy it. Let me know if you guys recognize this…

Disasters in Food

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m moving out in a week. A few days after that, I’m leaving the country. So the last thing I want to do is collect things in my kitchen.

I really wanted to bake today, but I only had about 2/3 cups of flour left and I didn’t want to buy more. I found a recipe for strawberry lemonade cupcakes I wanted to try, and decided to cut it in half – only make six cupcakes. My mom always says sometimes things can go wrong when you scale down a recipe even if you keep the proportions the same, but I figured, hey? It’s just cupcakes. It should be fine.

So I got my fruit…

 

And I made my batter…

And I baked my cupcakes (look, that’s me in the teapot!)…

And then I took the cupcakes out of the pan. This is when things went wrong. See, I really like using silicone pans – you don’t have to use paper liners or grease it or anything. If I had baked these with regular paper liners, all would’ve been fine. Sure, they would’ve been pretty messy to eat, but they would still taste good. But with this, when I took them out of the pan, they fell apart. The top half completely separated from the bottom on every single one! I even tried transferring them to individual silicone liners, but it still didn’t work right. But the cake still tasted good, so I decided to go ahead and crumble up the cake for cake pops. I should’ve quit while I was ahead.

So I crumbled…

And I made the strawberry lemon buttercream frosting, so delicious…

And then, as cake pops usually go, I mixed the frosting into the cake. Unfortunately, still flustered over the previous mishap, right off the bat I put way too much frosting into my cake. It turned to mush. But I thought, it’s okay. It sucks, but it’s okay. Let’s put it into the freezer for awhile and see if it helps. And it did! It helped a lot. So I made my cake balls, dipped them in white chocolate and had cake pops. I even photographed them all pretty.

Then I ate one. It was like sugar-butter on a stick. No wonder they were so mushy.

The moral of the story: Don’t cut already small recipes in half. And when you do, use paper liners.

Fresh Fruit Tart

This Fourth of July was the big unveiling of my boyfriend’s brand new backyard. It’s beautiful – a huge pool and jacuzzi, a seating area by the barbecue, a fire pit, and a gorgeous view. It looks like something out of HGTV. Anyway, I offered to make a dessert, and, always adventurous, I decided to take on a tart.

This tart was all drama. Well, not the tart, but the custard filling. The first recipe I tried was miserable – super chunky, and after I pushed it through a mesh sieve it was fine but there was hardly any of it! The second recipe was great, no chunks and more than enough. It was delicious but a little soupy, and the tart fell apart a bit when it was cut. Oh well, it tasted great. It also melted a little (I blame the heat) but it was fine after an hour in the freezer.

Another thing – I actually doubled the recipe for the crust because my pan is pretty huge compared to a normal tart pan. I made four mini tarts with the leftover dough.

Ingredients:

For the crust (original here):
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 C unsalted butter
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten

For the custard (original here):
 2 C milk
1/4 + 1/3 C granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 C cornstarch
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:
~1/3 C strawberry jelly – optional
~1/3 C Lemon curd (I used Trader Joe’s) – optional
2-3 C fresh fruit (I used strawberries and blueberries for Independence Day)

Special Tools:
Tart pan with a removable bottom

I didn’t manage to get a picture of the ingredients on this one, sorry guys.

Instructions:

For the crust:
1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
2. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix in.

3. Slowly pour in the beaten egg while mixing, and continue to mix until a dough forms.

4. Roll out dough to desired thickness and press into tart pan. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400F while dough chills.

5. Cover crust with foil and weigh down with pie weights, dry beans, uncooked rice, or raw nuts. (I used little glass marbles, but I’d like to try nuts – afterward they’ll be deliciously roasted!) Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, remove foil/weights, and bake for another 5 minutes.

For the custard (This is best done with a partner since there are multiple things happening at once, which is why I took so few pictures):
1. In a saucepan, boil milk and 1/4 C sugar over medium heat.
2. Meanwhile, sift together cornstarch and remaining sugar.
3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Mix in the cornstarch mixture. Continue stirring until the milk boils.

4. Once the milk boils, remove from heat. Slowly pour the liquid into the egg mixture, whisking constantly (this will prevent the egg from cooking).
5. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once boiling, remove from heat and continue to stir as the custard thickens.
6. Add the vanilla and butter.
7. If there are any little chunks of cooked egg in your custard, push it through a cheesecloth or mesh sieve.
8. Put the custard into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, putting the wrap directly onto the custard. This will prevent a film from forming on top. Put it into the fridge to chill for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

For the assembly (do this the same day you’ll be eating!):
1.
 If using, get out your jelly and lemon curd. Mine were both room temperature, but it might have been better if the lemon curd had been refrigerated.

2. Remove the crust from the pan.
3.
 Melt the jelly and a little bit of water in the microwave at 10 second intervals until liquid. Let cool for a few minutes, and, using a brush, coat the inside of the crust with the glaze. This will add a little bit of extra flavor and help prevent the crust from soaking up the custard and becoming soggy.

4. Chop your fruit as desired. I cut my strawberries into thin slices, but you could also just cut them in half.

5. Fill the crust almost completely with custard.

6. If using, spread a thin layer of lemon curd on top of the custard. Try not to let them mix, but it will be covered up with fruit and taste the same either way.

7. Arrange your fruit on top of the custard/curd, trying to cover up as much filling as possible. Brush a thin layer of the melted jelly on top to make it shiny.
8. Keep refrigerated until it’s time to eat! If it melts a little (like mine did, whoops) pop it in the freezer for an hour or so.

Strawberry Raspberry Muffins

Yesterday morning was unbelievably productive. I woke up at 9, went for a run, and made muffins all before my roommate woke up. Ha.

These are so summery! And not too sweet, which is a problem I have with a lot of muffins…

Makes 12 muffins. The original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup diced strawberries
1/2 cup raspberries

Instructions
1.
 Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, flax, oats, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a medium bowl, beat together butter and sugar.
4. Beat the egg, milk, and vanilla into the butter/sugar mixture.

5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix until a batter forms.

6. Stir in the fruit.

7. Evenly distribute in muffin pan and bake for 17-25 minutes. (Mine took closer to 25.)

I love these silicone liners! You just put them onto a cookie sheet when you bake. Super easy.