Monthly Archives: May 2012

All that we see or seem

The vibrancy of twilight often leads my mind astray and tonight was no different.

Wondering about the future and the past instead of choosing to engage in this moment, I stepped onto a path of surreal exploration and ultimate dehydration.

Sin querer, old memories were brought to light.

A blog post reminded me of the awesome movie “Waking Life.” (The blog post contains a link to the full-length movie).
– The post’s author reminds us that:

“The title is inspired by philosopher George Santayana‘s maxim: «Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.»”

Then, my brother’s email brought an inspiring quote of the long dead Persian poet Rumi.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. ”
Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273); Persian poet, mystic (Email of the day by Values.com)

Finally, my daily-poem-by-email brought me the Edgar Allen Poe poem that ignited my passion for wordplay, for poking my finger into the ether that composes reality, for taking a big bite of life and experiencing as much flavor as I can while the juices try to escape and run down my chin.

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

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Women on Subs – not an S&M discussion.

I am so proud to post this article: Women Chart a New Course Onboard US Navy Submarines.

What a time to be part of the U.S. military family – first DADT is repealed in September, now women are breaking barriers in the Navy by serving on submarines! I am proud to see the progress in the U.S. military. Women have already been serving on subs in other nations’ militaries, but that didn’t stop the negative chatter on the comment section of articles I read as the groundwork was laid for the US Navy’s recent initiative to become reality.

Norway led the way in 1985. Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Canada and Spain followed suit not long after Norway. Twenty-five (ish) years later – the U.S. is on board!

The article features a woman from…WISCONSIN! What a great pioneer. “Forward” is Wisconsin’s motto and Lieutenant Britta W. Christianson is leading the charge:

“After serving in the Navy onboard a Guided Missile Destroyer for more than 2 years, she volunteered for duty in Afghanistan, where she served in an important logistics and fueling leadership role with the Afghan National Police (ANP) as part of the NATO Training Mission. While deployed, she applied to the Navy Submarine Program, was accepted, and then reported to the USS OHIO, a Guided Missile Submarine, as the Supply Officer. Lt. Christianson is in charge of all the logistics that keep a submarine going — maintaining supplies, keeping spare parts moving and feeding the crew — hard at work, 24 hours a day. She has already completed one full deployment on OHIO and is the first woman to qualify Diving Officer of the Watch (DOOW).”

Go NAVY!

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What I love about TPE

First of all, Taiwan’s largest airport (TPE) essentially has three beautiful names:

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport

台湾桃园国际机场 (traditional: 臺灣桃園國際機場)

Táiwān Táoyuán Gúojì Jīchǎng*

*(for non-pinyin readers, this third name is in pinyin, which phonetically spells words using a system of accents that conveys the four to five vowel intonations that gives Mandarin Chinese its very lyrical and incredibly difficult-to-learn reputations).

The airport was a welcome spot to land after my 24-hour journey to Taipei from Catania (CTA) (the return trip took 30 hours). It was easy to navigate and it welcomed me to Taiwan in my own language.

This guy also provided a cute welcome.

On the return trip, I started out by exploring the TPE gates. There was a delightful educational display about Taiwan’s natural resources. It was right next to a series of Prayer Rooms. During my journey to and from Taipei, I encountered Camel sponsored smoking rooms (thanks a-freakin-lot Germany), Chinese tourism posters like this one,

Postal Logistics headrest sponsors (“Go Postal!”),

and all variety of multicultural combinations of food in my airplane meals (e.g., veggie rice stir fry, bread and Irish butter, fresh melon, Chinese beer, and a Tiramisu to finish).

Yet, Taipei was the only airport where I noticed the Prayer Rooms. There were symbols above each doorway indicating which faith was appropriate to which room. The Hindi and Muslim rooms requested removal of shoes, and the Christian room requested silence. Though not religious myself, I really like the idea of prayer room and I wished there had been a non-denominational/non-religious room for quiet contemplation. While I would be comfortable using any of the rooms for that purpose, at times I pause in order to respect those using them for the stated purpose. This desire to display respect (although nobody was around) extended to my reluctance to snap a photo.

However, I did not feel the same reluctance when it came to documenting the translation of the education series. The series of displays, like this one, prepared me for more quiet contemplation.

First, I contemplated spatial relationships.

Second, I contemplated translation choices.
“Its special gorge scene…leaves people all the gasps when they see it…” I thought that was a beautiful way to say it leaves people breathless.

Then, I contemplated the joy and delight of making crayon scrapings. I would not have noticed but nearly ALL the Taiwanese adults were having a great time making the scrapings. Never one to turn down an opportunity for simple joy, I wandered over to take a peek.


This German guy was peeking, too; he started scoffing, I hustled up to the table for my turn!

Here are examples of the carvings.

All European scoffing aside, I had a great time!

I remembered my trip to Taroko Gorge.

What? YOU don’t remember that trip? Oh yea, I haven’t blogged about it yet…

Then, I ventured to Taipei 101 and Sun Moon Lake – two destinations that didn’t fit into my itinerary (hey, family comes first!)

The thoughtfulness, cute factor and love of play evident in my short stint at the TPE airport reaffirmed all I had learned about Taiwanese culture.

Well, perhaps it confirmed what little I had been able to glean in a few weeks of light research and one week of trying to tap into the culture – that the Taiwanese are not only intelligent and resourceful, but they tend to live a life based in the principles of gratitude and graciousness. Gratitude for this very moment, and graciousness to the person next to you. It is a noble and exemplary way to participate in life. Xie xie, Taiwan.

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Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!

To commemorate Memorial Day, Dave and I traveled to Lipari, one of the Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie). We visited last Labor Day, too. This morning we are up with the sun and headed back to Acireale.

20120528-073641.jpg Dave looking for our hydrofoil ferry (“aliscafo” in Italian), in Lipari.

In my first eighteen years of life, I accompanied my family to my paternal grandfather’s grave on Memorial Day. Both of my grandfathers served in the military for short stints of time. However, we had a tradition of spending this holiday with my paternal grandmother. At the cemetery, we tidied up, Mom arranged the flowers, and we strolled by graves of other relatives en route to the Memorial Day ceremony at the center of the cemetery. It was a fine tradition and I believe my parents have continued it, even after my grandmother’s death.

Although Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died during military service, we can also show appreciation for anyone who has served, for the risks apply to all who put themselves in harm’s way. On that note, Thank You to all the former and current service members I have been lucky enough to know over the years. Thank you to my grandfathers, to my Dave who spent seven months in Afghanistan, to Dave’s new colleagues in EURAFSWA, to my new friend Troy who survived three IEDs during his multiple deployments, to Warren who continues to seek new ways to understand the ugly sides of the foreign cultures he has experienced while deployed, to Sara who endures the strife of the ER as a family doc, to all of my colleagues who served 20+ years and are now retired, to my cousins and uncles who have served, to my aunt Ingrid who endured an overseas duty station, and to all the wonderful JAGs from NJS and the PacNW who gave Dave an amazing welcome into a great community of attorneys. Thank you!

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Mr. Cheeseburger Face Man

Or is it “Mr. Cheeseburger Head Man”???

Cheeseburger FACE?

or

Cheeseburger HEAD?

That is the question.

No matter your answer, if you see this symbol whilst traipsing about Taiwan, you can feel secure that should you stop by for breakfast, brunch or lunch, you will enjoy traditional Taiwanese food, freshly prepared, served in a Western style format familiar to you, at low cost.

Here is another picture with poor lighting. Practice glancing at this quickly before you leave for Taiwan, that way you’ll always be able to spot Mr. Cheeseburger Head Man (JSP) as you are walking down the average Taiwanese street. Streets are filled with a lot of other neato things to look at, plus traffic, scooters, and people, so you might be distracted. And, let’s face it, you don’t want to be so distracted you miss Mr. Cheeseburger Face Man.

If you insist that it is Mr. Cheeseburger Face Man, then you are probably adventurous enough to try this.

I saw these jiggly white patties getting crispy on a griddle in Hualien and just had to try them. Maddie and I mistakenly thought it was some variety of tofu, so Maddie asked for tofu. The two women working the breakfast shop in Hualien looked at us with very confused faces. Maddie was speaking in Chinese, so we thought maybe she hadn’t gotten the tones quite right (each vowel sound has four or five tones that completely change the way the word is understood). Maddie then showed them the kanji characters from her handy phrasebook, and the confused faces stayed right in place. Then Maddie and I were confused! Instead of using words, Maddie walked over and pointed at the cake on the griddle and the cook added it to my breakfast sandwich.

This version was at Mr. Cheeseburger Head Man in Taipei, a hop, skip and a jump from Maddie’s apartment. The mysterious cake is made of turnips or white radishes and it is delicious.


Why yes, that IS a plastic sheath covering a plastic plate.

The crispy edge from sitting on the griddle gives texture points and flavor points to the otherwise flat flavor of the cake. The oil on the griddle probably helps a lot. The flatness of the flavor was hopefully due to the high ratio of turnip to “other” ingredients in the cake. I do not know what those other ingredients might be, but fillers are rarely good for you. The texture of the cake itself was a gelatinous cake. It was not so gelatinous to be Jello-like, and not so gooey as to be cupcake batter, somewhere perfectly in the middle. It got a little boring at the end of the serving pictured above, but when it was served in the middle of a hamburger bun with fillings, an egg and homemade tomato-vinegar sauce, as pictured below, it was delightful!

Listen to Mr. Cheeseburger Head Man and “Just Start a Powerful Day!”

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European Style Bakeries in Taiwan

Ciao tutti!

It is Thursday – a day to celebrate your life, your community and all the joys of living!

Let’s start talking Taiwan again. I’m nearly done with the photographic journey of my visit to this mountainous Asian isle. Below are pictures from Mr. Beard Bakery – a European style bakery located near my cousin Maddie’s first residence in Taipei. While I was somewhat familiar with Chinese style breads and pastries from various visits to various Chinatowns in the U.S., I did not expect to find European style breads in Taiwan.

Heck, I can’t find many of what I would call “European style” breads in Sicily! There is not a multigrain to be found, here. Semolina? Sure! Pecan flaxseed? Not so much. Besides my amazing family, darling colleagues, and the Olympic Mountains, Tom Douglas*’s pecan flaxseed bread from the Dahlia Bakery is probably the thing I miss most about Seattle.

Whereas Sicilian breads are lacking in grain diversity and flavor variety, Taiwanese bread choices are flush in both. Mr. Beard Bakery had a wide variety of European style breads, a dizzying array of grains, loaf shapes and flavors, as well as hybrid Euro-Asian offerings.

The chocolate chocolate bread was divine (second photo down in the link), a chewy crust with a cupcake-like inner soft core, the bread was a chocolate rush without being too sweet to eat another bite. And another bite. I ate half the loaf immediately. Did I mention these bites were punctuated by chocolate chips hidden in the dough? Yes. Those chocolate chips alternately stayed firm and melted just enough to create a rich chocolate vein. It was spectacular!

Here is Maddie, selecting a loaf of chocolate chocolate bread.

I also tried a sort of sourdough loaf with red bean paste filling, an example of the Euro-Asian hybrid. Red bean paste dessert wontons were one of my favorite desserts ever, thank you Muramoto! They led me to sample other red bean paste delicacies in a variety of settings and styles, with almost uniform results of enjoyment. Mr. Beard Bakery did not disappoint me, either.

The buns wrapped in plastic are other Euro-Asian hybrids, mimicking the Chinese style of stuffing creative fillings into bread. Since my first experience of this was a pork bun, I have called them “pork buns” ever since, no matter what the filling is.

Many cultures came up with the basic idea of a pork bun, which provided an edible carrying case for a high-protein filling. The carrying case is often a carb (bread, rice, etc.) that holds seasoned meats or vegetables. These portable meals were vital to manual laborers who worked far from home and could not return home for lunch, and did not have a snack shop nearby. The arancino is the pork bun of Sicily.

As you can see from the Mr. Beard Bakery photos, it was a magical place full of delectable baked goods. Per usual in Taiwan, the staff were also impressively friendly and gracious. While Mr. Beard Bakery is a unique bakery, the European style bakeries were everywhere in Taiwan. Yet another reason to stop what you’re doing right now and start planning your vacation to Taiwan.

*Tom Douglas recently won the James Beard 2012 Outstanding Restaurateur award! He runs a great group of restaurants in the Seattle metropolitan area, employing many wonderful people!

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Taiwanese Junk Food

I love junk food.

I really do. I think it says a lot about contemporary culture (marketing), food culture (types of common foods they turn into junk foods), and food policy (which highly subsidized agricultural product is included in all junk food; hint, in the U.S. it is corn!). It is also fun to see the magnificent ways food scientists have dreamed up for combining those cultural ingredients with fat, sugar and salt. If you haven’t noticed, those are the key aspects of most junk foods.

As much as I love junk food, I have to recognize that I am fairly good at moderation – or at simply subbing out an entire meal for junk food. The unspoken truth is that this inevitably leads to a junk food hangover. It is similar to an alcohol hangover, but less discussed. Luckily, I never hit upon the junk food hangover while in Taiwan. Junk food was a fun diversion, but I was busy eating all sorts of Taiwanese real food, too.

Nevertheless, I found a few favorites that I am sorry to leave in Taiwan, including seaweed chips and taro chips – I LOVE TARO!!!!!

It really is a small world after all. I recognized several multinational conglomerate brands.

And then, there were new brands with shapes and flavors that were a complete mystery to me.

All right, beer is not *exactly* junk food, but then again, it sort of is. Especially when it is Taiwan beer. This is Taiwan’s national beer and along with a few other similar variations, it costs significantly less than imported beers. “Imported beers” sounds so fancy and good, but unfortunately it usually means Heineken. Nothing against Heineken, just that it tastes like ass and I’d never pay extra to drink it. I love the Dutch, though!

A random sweet potato stand in an oceanside park we visited just outside Taroko Gorge National Park.

Sweet potatoes are a much beloved Taiwanese food. I approve!

Another non-traditional “junk” food – hard boiled eggs. I saw so many Taiwanese chowing down on hard boiled eggs that I know it is a very popular food. This photo was taken inside a 7-11 (ubiquitous in Taiwan). These are “tea eggs” – eggs hard boiled in black tea.

Right next to the tea eggs was a hot case that would hold hot dogs and the ilk in the U.S.; in Taiwan, there are various wontons and other rice paper wrapped goodies.

A whole new way to eat ‘steak and potatoes’! The texture of these chips was akin to that of any typical potato chip. The flavors were what stood out to me. The steak was unpleasant to me, but might please a big meat-eater. The sweet potato chips were good, but not as good as sweet potato fries, or other more-fresh versions of fried sweet potatoes.

The last five pictures document my favorite chips – Seaweed Strip Chips and Taro Chips.

The bag was adorable, too! The seaweed strip chips were light and airy, but somehow still crunchy. The texture was a bit like chewing on that green stuff in produce sections of the grocery store, except the seaweed chip melted as my saliva interacted with it. Crunch, crunch, melty crunch, swallow.

“Rich taste with nutrients from the sea plants!” Hah! I guess it is good for me after all…

Taro is such a diverse root vegetable. It is mild, yet its flavor is powerful enough to be the solo host of soups (taro soup is delicious if you haven’t tried it!). It adds depth and dimension to any stir-fry. Taro is also delightful in bubble milk tea, as the tea base. These types of bubble teas are almost in the ‘milkshake’ region, but you would never guess it was a root vegetable flavoring your tea. It also has a lavender hue, and lavender delights my senses.

The chips were durable, like homemade chips can sometimes be. Yet, they were sliced thinly enough to deliver a crisp crunch that surprised me. This version’s chips were liberally salted, which was a home run in my book. The biggest drawback is the fact that the taro root on the chip bag looks a lot like a big ring bologna in dark skin. Luckily, the flavor and color of the actual product were enough to make me forget all about ring bologna.

Junk Foods Not Pictured:
*Hi-Chew (yummy, yum, yum, yum – like Kool-Aid-flavored Starburst, but a little more like chewing on a balloon, (in a good way, Steph S.))

*Pea Crackers – a little dry, definite underlying pea flavor (think corn chips, but pea-like), crunch was excellent!

*Shrimp flavored chips.

*Bubble Tea. I actually feel shocked that I didn’t take one single picture of the best contribution Asia has made to my beverage options. You can get bubble tea in many a U.S. Chinatown, and it is spreading. Madison, Wisconsin even has more than one option for bubble tea. Bubble tea is cold tea (of a dizzying variety of flavors) served with tapioca “bubbles”. The concoction is sealed with a fancy machine, and then you are given a straw that is sharp enough to pierce the plastic seal (think Capri Sun), and wide enough to accommodate a tapioca bubble. Tapioca is traditional, though many bubble tea shops have other jellied products if you prefer something else.

*Milk Tea. Ditto the bubble tea reference above, and you can get the tapioca balls, too; this tea is about 50% milk and delicious.

There are so many other food experiences to share, night markets, European style bakeries, and more. Until next time…ciao!

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