Lunar New Year in Taipei & Next Adventure

As promised, I’ll be sharing with you how I celebrated Lunar New Year in Taipei. Today is the second day of Lunar New Year! 🙂

When I arrived to Taipei end of summer last year, I was excited that I’ll be spending Lunar New Year here, and was looking forward to it, because I thought it would be more festive than in Canada. To my shock, it is not as festive as I imagined it to be; even my local friends admit that Taipei is the least festive city during Lunar New Year. The main reason is that most of the people who usually crowd the streets and MRT stations are actually transplants. They live in Taipei because of work and when it’s Lunar New Year, they return to their hometown to celebrate it. I learned that over 50% of whom I assumed were local Taipei residents return to their hometowns. Therefore, the past few days have been eerily quiet and empty, since most stores close too. I’ve actually been enjoying the peace and quiet the past few days, with less people on both the streets and subway.

Nonetheless, there are some little festivities around the city to remind us that it’s still Lunar New Year, such as red decorations and Lunar New Year sales in stores that are opened during this holiday.

Below, I’ll share a few photos with you so you can get a feel of Lunar New Year festivities:

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Of course Taipei 101 Mall is decorated and it’s opened to tourists. 🙂

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Inside of Taipei 101 Mall

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Another department store with beautiful red decoration at front door

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I thought it was cool that even Krispy Kreme celebrates Lunar New Year and sells Lunar New Year themed donuts!

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Top row, sells a few kinds of Lunar New Year donuts, the monkey one is so cute! 🙂

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Of course lots of stores sell Lunar New Year decorations…red means good luck! 🙂

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Some typical New Year snacks Taiwanese eat as introduced to us by my Mandarin professor. 

 

I was very happy that my landlords invited me to go grocery shopping with them and experience the hecticness of buying food to prepare the two most important meals/dinners of Lunar New Year: New Year’s Eve & First Day. It was most crowded with people at the grocery stores and the markets. That was where I felt the most festive atmosphere! 🙂

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This is Hua Gao (literal translation: Flower High); it’s a very yummy sweet cake that is eaten during this time because it means in whatever endeavour you pursue (e.g. work place) you will be promoted to a higher level. 

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Busy Nanmen Market on New Year’s Eve

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I was told by many Taiwanese friends that I won’t be able to see a lion dance in Taipei, but they were wrong! On the first day of Lunar New Year, I was woken up by loud drum sounds so I quickly went to see where the noise came from. I was really thrilled to see the lion dance from afar, on my apartment balcony. This lion dance went on for about 20 minutes in front of the department store. Very festive indeed!!

Eating homemade New Year’s Eve and First Day of New Year dinners with my warm-hearted lovely landlords and their family was a very wonderful experience! I learned it takes them the whole day to prepare such a feast!

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New Year’s Eve Dinner

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First Day of Lunar New Year Dinner

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I found it very interesting my landlords decorated even a refrigerator door with red Spring scrolls. They told me that wherever there are doors, the red Spring scrolls must be put on. The Chinese character on the fridge door means “full”. The word full signifies that all year long one is never hungry, and have enough to eat. 🙂

Living in Taipei has been beyond what I expected…I’m filled with happiness every day and feel so blessed to have met so many warm-hearted and caring souls, and exposed to so many different exciting everyday adventures!!

I am now off on my next adventure, to New Zealand for my 200 hours yoga training and some travelling down under and some other countries for the next few months.

I will not bring my laptop while travelling, but when inspired by what I see and experience, will try my best to share with you via instagram. On the right hand side of my blog, I’ve added an instagram link (violet_everydaygirl), so feel free to click on it whenever you want to see where I am in the world! 🙂

Like this sweet dumpling soup that my landlords are sending me off with (they say it’s for good luck this year and will encourage me to be the best person I can be as only sweet thoughts and words will come from me), I wish you all a very sweet Year of the Monkey, and wherever you are or go, may only sweet and good things follow! ❤

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With love and gratitude,

Violet 

 

 

NYC: Ringing in the New Year at Times Square

To my dear readers,

Happy New Year from New York City! 🙂

For me, 2014 has been a year filled with ups and downs. To say goodbye to 2014 in a profound way and to welcome in the New Year, I decided to check off something from my bucket list. Something I definitely learned in 2014 was that life is too short; we have to go reach for our dreams! And doing the countdown in New York City’s famous Times Square has been a dream of mine since I started watching this spectacular festivity every New Year’s Eve with my family.

Words cannot describe how thrilled and blessed I felt to be able to experience one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration around the world with approximately 1 million people in NYC! Waiting for over 6 hours in the frigid temperature while soaking in the atmosphere and excitement in the air was well worth it for me. I want to thank my two good friends C & S for coming along with me on this fantastic adventure, even when everyone commented, including New Yorkers, that we were crazy for lining up in the cold for hours “just to watch a ball drop”! Yes, by midnight I could hardly feel my legs and feet even though I thought I was well-prepared in dressing warmly and I barely drank or ate anything for fear of using the washroom and losing my good spot in the “party pen”, but I loved every moment of being frozen! 🙂

It was fun to meet and chat with people from all around the world, who flew to NYC just to be in Times Square for the countdown; and I also gained a new appreciation for New York City’s Finest. NYC’s Finest did a stupendous job in keeping 1 million revelers safe! The police officers were all very professional, friendly, helpful, and strict when needed to be.

Before I end my New Year’s post, I highly recommend you to add NYC’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Countdown to your bucket list. It is an extremely safe and family-friendly event.  I will now share with you 10 tips to make the most of this experience, if you ever decide to do it. I hope you will bookmark this post for your future reference. 😉

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10 Tips for NYC’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Countdown:

1. Dress extra, extra warm!

If you are afraid of the cold, and trust me it gets extremely cold as the hours tick down to midnight, wear your warmest and thickest Winter coat/jacket AND snowpants, plus insulated winter boots (better yet, wear double socks too)! And of course wear insulated mittens/gloves and I know this ain’t pretty and I’m not kidding (I will do this if I ever return for the countdown again), I suggest you to wear a ski mask, instead of a regular winter hat!

2. Bring a blanket!

We saw quite a few people coming prepared with a blanket and we thought they were so smart. You can use the blanket to cover your whole body to ward off the freezing cold on top of your warm winter clothing or even use it to sit on the ground after you get tired from standing for over a few hours.

3. Eat a big meal before you line up!

This is very important as you don’t want to starve for the rest of the night; we found that our huge late lunch at 3pm in a restaurant lasted us until midnight. FYI: If you’re someone who prefers to eat a proper meal even in the frigid cold every few hours, rest assured that pizza delivery guys will be walking around the “party pens” to sell warm pizza. The pizza is sold in a box for $20.

4. Use the washroom before lining up & drink as little as possible.

Make sure you use the washroom before you line up because once you get into a “party pen”, you cannot go out of it unless you don’t mind leaving it, losing your good spot, and lining up all over again to get back in, which can take at least an hour. Also, drink as little as possible to prevent you from going to the washroom once you’re in the pen. FYI: Washroom options are quite limited in the Times Square area on New Year’s Eve.

5. Bring snacks and/or hot drink in a thermos.

If you like, bring some snacks if you tend to get hungry and a hot drink in a thermos to keep you warm. My friend C was the only one who ate our snacks since she said eating a little kept her warm; while I only drank tiny sips of hot water from my thermos to stay a bit warmer. FYI: If you’re lucky, you may meet a Tim Hortons delivery guy going around the pens to sell hot chocolate. One cup of hot chocolate is sold for $5.

6. Move around!

Since you’re stuck in the party pen for hours before midnight, even with warm clothing, you may start getting colder due to lack of movement. To prevent further freezing, I suggest you to move your body a bit like jumping up and down, marching your legs or if you’re lucky, and it’s not crowded in your party pen, walk around it as much as you can.

7. To line up early or not?

Depending on how serious you are in getting a good vantage point, you can start lining up in the morning, or if you are like us, and want to check out the city a little bit and enjoy a big hot meal before lining up, late afternoon works too. Even though we started lining up at 5:30pm, we thought we still got a pretty decent vantage point of Times Square from 50th Street, which is 8 blocks away from where Times Square is located on 42nd Street. The main area, 42nd Street to 47th Street, is usually packed by 3pm. Check this site out for more info:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/holiday-lights/2014/12/31/visitors-guide-new-years-eve-times-square-ball-drop/20824125

8. If you prefer the indoors, make reservations early!

 If you want to be in the vicinity of Times Square but do not like to freeze, a variety of restaurants, lounges and hotels with a good view of Times Square offer pricey viewing parties. Just make sure you make reservations early. FYI: For a cheaper option, you can also stay in a McDonald’s either on Broadway or Times Square and wait till midnight. We noticed many people doing this while we were in our party pen. Just make sure you get a window seat and stay there till midnight. 🙂

View from our party pen on 50th Street: These 2 restaurants seemed like good options to stay in for the countdown.

View from our party pen on 50th Street: These 2 restaurants seemed like good options to stay in for the countdown.

View from our party pen: Novotel Hotel seems like a good hotel option to stay in for countdown as well!

View from our party pen: Novotel Hotel seems like a good hotel option to stay in for countdown as well!

9. No backpack and alcohol.

To pass through the security checkpoints quickly and to be able to get into one of the closer party pens (if you can), do not bring any of these items.

10. Forget you are freezing, smile & have fun with everyone around you! 🙂

 

The new year is here and it’s a new beginning…I have more things to check off my bucket list this year!!

I would love to hear from you: What do you want to check off from your bucket list for 2015? 🙂

Wishing you all another wonderful year filled with good health, joy, peace, love, prosperity, many blessings and new adventures! ❤

XO, Violet 

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A Festive Fall Dessert: Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cake

When Fall arrives, all I think about is PUMPKINS!!  I really like the smell, taste and texture of the ripe pumpkins during this season.

I love this time of year when the leaves change into beautiful colours, and fruits and vegetables are ready to be picked and eaten; and it’s always fun to have a hot cup of apple cider after a nice outdoor hike or walk!  Another special reason that I love Fall is that many of my dearest family members and friends are born during this season, so it’s one joyful celebration after another.  Plus, Thanksgiving is one of my most favourite celebrations as it’s a time to gather with our loved ones and be thankful for all the wonderful things we have in our lives. 🙂

In honour of my favourite season and a few special friends, who have been with me through thick and thin, I made the following cake for their joint birthday party.

This scrumptious cake is gluten-free, dairy-free and is naturally sweet!

After a bite, one of my friends said that it reminds her of pumpkin pie.  If you’re looking for something different this year, I think this cake is the perfect replacement for the pumpkin pie at your Thanksgiving meal! 🙂

A cake perfect for any Autumn occasion or indulgence!

A cake perfect for any Autumn occasion or indulgence!

Makes: 1 cake

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Bake Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

 

Special Notes:

-To make it nut-free, you can skip the walnuts as topping.

-If you like, you can eat cake without icing, and that means you can eat it fresh and warm immediately! 🙂

-It’s best to refrigerate leftovers and consume within 3 days for best taste and texture.

 

For Cake

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients

2 cups Gluten-Free Oat Flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Oat Flour)

2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder (you can also make your own, see: http://thehealthyeatingsite.com/make-your-own-gluten-free-baking-powder)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

 

Wet Ingredients

1/2 cup honey

1 cup unsweetened pumpkin (I used canned pumpkin; or you can make your own fresh pumpkin purée, see: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/cooking_school/how_to_make_pumpkin_puree_from_fresh_pumpkins.php)

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 large egg, whisked

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 cup dark chocolate chunks

 

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Spray a round cake pan or Bundt pan.
  3. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  4. Combine wet ingredients in another bowl.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well.
  6. Slowly add chocolate chunks into batter.
  7. Spoon batter into prepared cake/Bundt pan.
  8. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost crumb free.

 

For Maple Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients:

1 cup vegan cream cheese, softened (I used Daiya’s Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread)

4 tablespoons vegan buttery spread, softened (I used Earth Balance’s Soy Free Buttery Spread)

4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups organic icing sugar

10 whole walnuts, semi-crushed or coarsely chopped

 

Instructions:

  1. Mix cream cheese, buttery spread, maple syrup, and vanilla into a blender/food processor.
  2. Add in the icing sugar one cup at a time into blender/food processor, until smooth.
  3. When the cake is cool, frost with the icing.
  4. Sprinkle with walnuts.
  5. Refrigerate cake for at least 2 hours before serving.
  6. Enjoy! 🙂

 

*I give credit to the following sites for helping me in creating this delightful festive Fall cake:

~Original Recipe for Cake: http://www.familyfreshcooking.com/2013/09/30/gluten-free-pumpkin-chocolate-chip-cake-recipe/#.UlNf79IQbmc

~Original Recipe for Icing: http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.ca/2005/12/maple-frosted-pumpkin-cake.html

 

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I wish you all an enjoyable and relaxing upcoming time with your family and friends! 🙂

 

xoxo, Violet

 

P.S. Love this quote for this season: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”—Melody Beattie