a teatray in the sky

學做鳳梨酥 (learning to make pineapple cakes)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Taiwan by firthefirst on February 21, 2012

much of chinese cooking is, to this day, shrouded in a ninja-like mysteriousness, unless you are a chinese woman over the age of 45, or a chef.  it probably has something to do with the fact that asian mothers are notoriously bad at communicating verbal instructions, and a lot to do with the fact that they don’t measure anything.  how much salt do I put in this?  how long should I soak the meat for?  what is the name of this vegetable?  you feel like you are conducting a telephone survey, but a lousy one, where the answers range from 1 to 5 but the description of the scale is left undetermined.  a typical learning-to-cook exchange may go like this:

dutiful pupil: “does it matter if we use chicken legs or chicken wings for this?”

asian mother: “four.”

confused pupil: “four what?”

asian mother: “uh huh.  and then you add black pepper.”

thoroughly lost pupil: “how much black pepper?”

asian mother: “I don’t know.  two?”

and you wonder why we’d rather stay upstairs and just come down when the food is on the table.  amazingly enough, Tina’s auntie in Taiwan, gatekeeper of the secret wonders of pineapple cake, offered to teach us how to make these treats of the gods.  at her home.  with real recipes.  how could anyone say no to that?  we went, and learned, and ate, and I photographed.  but to keep the ancient secret a secret (and to protect myself from being garroted in my sleep by a black-clad assassin), and to remain consistent with the asian art of teaching cooking, I won’t give you any sort of measurements to go with the photos. (more…)

Katsucon 18 – a foray into the world of anime geekdom and cosplay

Posted in 5D Mark II, Cosplay, Defrag, Photography by firthefirst on February 20, 2012

Tina and I took a weekend mini-vacation to celebrate her completing her first architectural licensing exam, getting away from Maryland by going all the way to Alexandria, Virginia.  while we were down there we spent some time at Katsucon 18, held at the Gaylord hotel across the river in Oxon Hill.  neither of us have been to any sort of anime/comic convention before so it was quite the intriguing sociocultural anthropology study.  while both of us are sort of out-of-touch with the contemporary anime scene (the most recent thing we’ve really watched being the first Fullmetal Alchemist series), I feel anyone with an open mind can enjoy the skill and energy that goes into the creation of the cosplay costumes on display at these cons.  the most exciting about attending an anime convention is, it’s as if all your childhood TV shows exploded into real life around you, with Spikes and Narutos mingling with EVAs and Boos.  a huge shout-out to John and Ashley for giving us a rundown of this interesting world.


在高雄 (in Kaohsiung)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Photography, Taiwan by firthefirst on February 20, 2012

we’ve all had moments in our life where we eat something so good that we tell ourselves (and our friends next to us, and the yelp universe) that we could “eat this every day.”  and that is a huge, Archer-esque lie.  the reality is, unless you’re my father with taste buds of stainless steel or you have survived prison internment, you couldn’t go four days of eating the same thing without craving something different.  and that’s the dilemma we find ourselves in every time we return to Taiwan.  it’s all so good, but it’s all so … much.  going down to Kaohsiung was a great break-within-a-vacation.  the same feeling of relaxed joy you get from loafing off, watching koi carelessly gyrate in a pond.


大溪 (Dasi), 小烏來瀑布 (Little Wulai Falls), and 三峽老街 (Sanxia market street)

Posted in Defrag by firthefirst on February 10, 2012

when you grow up as a kid in the states, you eventually become hardwired for certain holidays.  especially for the fall ones.  the entire spring semester, let’s be honest, is just a constant slog with an eye firmly fixed on the start of summer vacation.  fall is when each holiday seems to count.  Labor Day – the sensation of impending doom, the start of school.  Thanksgiving – an unparalleled, epic four day weekend, where marshmallows and poultry abound.  and of course, Christmas – it didn’t matter if you were Christian, Jewish, or otherwise inclined, you knew what Christmas meant.  you felt it in your bones.  it meant a week off from school.  it meant sales on wondrous things like video games.  in the words of Kanye West, it meant celebration, bitches.

so it’s weird spending a Christmas abroad, and not having that celebratory feeling.  until you realize how rare it is you get to see the family.  not the statistically average 2 parents and 2 kids nuclear family.  the mafia-style Family, the whole damn thing.  aunts, uncles, cousins, those exotic and legendary creatures known as grandparents.  with people spread all over a dozen time zones, it’s amazing that this sort of gathering can happen at all.  so yeah, I guess it’s like Christmas after all. (more…)

蘭陽博物館 (Lanyang Museum) and 基隆廟口夜市 (Keelung Temple Night Market)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Architecture, Food, Photography, Taiwan by firthefirst on January 19, 2012

Taiwan is definitely not up there on the list of architectural destinations, largely overshadowed by the money-burning frenzy that is the Chinese real estate market and the always-fresh-always-funky world of Japanese contemporary design.  I’ve had the lucky opportunity to work for an excellent architect in Taipei (LWM Architects) and I know that there has been a number of great architectural minds working diligently to improve the design environment in Taiwan for the last couple of decades.  the Lanyan Museum, by 姚仁喜 (Yao Ren Xi, Artech Inc.) is one of the newest examples of Taiwan asserting an architectural personality.  there are faint echoes of I. M. Pei still in the work but the building’s design language clearly responds to the landscape around it, instead of being a purely intellectual geometric exercise.  the interior is logically laid out yet provides a compelling promenade, and even the quality of the construction is meticulous (which is typically so hard to find in Asia these days).  there are some exceedingly bizarre moments (like an unwrapped structural member that emerges randomly from a wall, warty fireproofing and all) which stand out because everything else seems to be so well sorted.


福山植物園 (Fushan Botanical Garden)

Posted in Defrag by firthefirst on January 10, 2012

we spent the next day driving around Yilan county, basically from one end to the other, then back, then back again.  why?  because it’s not every day that you can get into the 福山植物園, the Fushan Botanical Gardens.  this entire facility used to be closed off to anyone without an academic permit, but now is available for public entry after a protracted stay on a wait list.  it wasn’t exactly the kind of weather that gets you amped up about looking at trees for an afternoon, especially after already spending a day looking at trees while getting rained on.  but I’m not going to be the debbie downer.  and neither was the 5D Mark II, which had spent the evening recovering from a waterlogged joystick (only letting me choose the center focus point – which is fine – or the lower left diagonal focus point – which is almost entirely useless) and was looking to get back in action. (more…)

拉拉山的神木 (The Divine Trees of LaLa Mountain)

Posted in Defrag by firthefirst on January 6, 2012

it’s interesting how the things that interest you change as you grow up (or get older, depending on how you like to look at things).  I used to like going back to Taiwan just because I knew it would be a week or two of food, food, and more food.  other than one trip around the island with my dad way back when, I’ve never really left Taipei.  I always figured, given that it’s almost exactly the same size as my home state of Maryland, how much could there really be to it?  but just as I’ve come to appreciate that there’s actually lots to do in the little Old Line State, I’ve also realized that Taiwan is full of diversity in its environment.  we repacked our suitcases the minute we arrived in Taipei, heading out [not so] bright and [very] early the morning after we arrived … sans Randy, who was unceremoniously dumped in Tokyo for no particular reason by United Airlines to spend a night in minibar purgatory. (more…)

happy new year, taiwanese-style

Posted in Defrag by firthefirst on January 5, 2012

just wanted to wish everyone out there a happy new year.  for me, 2011 went the way of the dodo in a flurry of plane, train, and automobile rides as Tina and I wound our way around Taiwan.  the blogging has been neglected for a while because of general craziness at work, but it’s something I do enjoy doing and intend to keep up.  in truth, the thing I like the most about running the blog is knowing why you come here: the food photos.  you like looking, and I like making you drool at work (although this does backfire sometimes, with me being the one that gets hungry).  so here’s a teaser of what’s to come:

game day

Posted in Defrag by firthefirst on November 7, 2011

it’s been a long, long while since I’ve been to a Terps football game, so I was pretty excited to snag some tickets just above the 25-yard line for this weekend’s showdown against neighboring UVA.  we had a decent first half with some exciting catches, outside runs, and forced turnovers, but ultimately several blown opportunities near the red zone came back to bite Maryland in the rear when UVA kept pounding it in through the second half.  personally, I still had a great time, especially since this year was going to be a painful rebuilding year no matter what. (more…)

mid-week lull

Posted in 5D Mark II, Animals, Birds, Defrag, Ecuador, Galapagos, Photography by firthefirst on October 6, 2011

in the middle of a long week … still some backlog to post up, including some Solar Decathlon action (go Maryland!), but not quite enough time to really hunker down and work on it.  so here’s another boobie photo from Galapagos.  I felt like the other boobie shots from the Day 9 post were a little over-saturated, especially in the yellow range, so I toned it down a bit for this one.  and now … back to work.