28 September 2010

iguazu falls, argentina

I went to las Cataratas de Iguazú at the intersection of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina expecting to see a pretty waterfall, take a few photos and head off. Instead, I was absolutely blown-away-impressed. I can see why Eleanor Roosevelt, upon seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time, said, "Poor Niagara!"

When you enter the park, you walk across the gigantic Iguazu River on these catwalks that don't feel particularly sturdy compared to the water rushing by not so far below.

Especially when you see the old catwalks that washed away in a flood in 1992:

But it's amazingly open, and you feel like you're walking on water.

As you approach the falls, you can see the spray coming back up from the splash of the waterfalls far below.

And again, you're on these metal platforms suspended over the water that make you feel like nothing is separating you from the thundering waterfall.

I was mostly impressed by the power of the waterfall. This was no pretty little trickle. It felt like the ocean was dropping right in front of (and below) me.

I loved the simple, barebones bridges and viewing platforms they had.

We spent the whole day just walking around, seeing Iguazu from different angles. Each side was lovelier than the previous. If Iguazu were a woman, her beauty would be legendary.

Going to the "lower falls" was a definite highlight of the visit, and you get to be (soaked) right at the foot of the falls. Perfect for a hot day of hiking.

The view was different but equally stunning:

Later, we could see the viewing platform from above:

Speaking of hiking, the trails were beautiful, and there were waterfalls of all shapes and sizes everywhere.

As if the majesty of the falls weren't enough, there were more butterflies of all colors and sizes than I'd ever seen, and they flitted around us with no fear at all. It made the waterfalls and forests feel enchanted. There was one I never got a photo of that had black and white stripes like a zebra with a bright red border. It was almost shocking to see.

There were lizards and monkeys in the trees, as well as coatis (leaner South American version of the racoon) all over.

The coati is a pretty neat animal. I didn't know this about racoons, either, but they're double-jointed and have ankles that can rotate beyond 180 degrees, enabling them to climb down trees face-first. My inner nerd thought that was pretty cool.

We really enjoyed the little town of Puerto Iguazu, and we found the cars and view from our room charming:

In the airport, we discovered just how seriously they take their tea:

We also liked that the National Yerba Mate Institute's hot water dispenser was located conveniently next to the battery recycling bin.

As luck would have it, we actually got an aerial view of Iguazu Falls when we flew out:

Next time I need to feel peaceful and get away to a mental paradise, this might be the image I conjure up:

23 September 2010

how to make mooncakes

I was inspired by my friend's beautiful blog and her recent post about mooncakes and street art in San Francisco. Here in San Luis Obispo, there aren't exactly Chinese bakeries on every corner, so I figured I'd have to resort to homemade mooncakes to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Festival, 中秋節).

And wikihow pleasantly surprised me by actually offering instructions on how to make your own mooncakes. They even have a video. Enjoy!

Moon cakes are traditional Chinese pastries that are made during the Moon festival (or Harvest Festival), which is celebrated in China, Vietnam, and other countries in Asia. Moon cakes are usually round and contain a sweet filling, with the most common one being red bean paste. This recipe uses a filling based on a preserve (jam) with dried fruits, for added sweetness.

Things you'll need:
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • Flour sifter
  • Floured wooden board or similar surface
  • 2 baking sheets
  • Parchment paper (baking paper)
  • 2 pastry brushes
  • Moon cake press
  • Wire cooling rack
  • Packaging boxes (optional)



  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (plain flour)
  • 3/4 cup dried milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (essence)


  • 1 cup apricot preserves (jam) (equivalent of one 12 ounce jar)
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut (desiccated coconut)
  • 3/4 cup raisins (or sultanas)


  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoons water


  1. 1
    Make the moon cake dough. In one bowl, mix the flour, milk powder, and salt together.

  2. 2

    Break the eggs into another bowl. Add the sugar, and beat together for up to 5 minutes. Pour in the melted butter, vanilla extract. Fold through all ingredients.

  3. 3

    Add the sifted, dry ingredients to the liquid mixture. Foldin to create a dough.

  4. 4
    Knead the dough. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Once smooth, the dough is ready.

    • Roll out a log; if chilling for better performance, wrap in plastic food wrap

      Roll out a log; if chilling for better performance, wrap in plastic food wrap
      Roll a log shape from the dough. If possible, at this point it is helpful to let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight, as this makes it easier to work with.

    • Cut into evenly sized rounds. There will be approximately 15 to 20 pieces.

  5. 5

    Make the filling. Mix the apricot preserves, chopped dates, coconut and raisins together in a small bowl. Use a fork to mash down any large, chunky pieces of apricot.

  6. 6

    Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC. Prepare two baking sheets by covering in parchment paper.

  7. 7

    Press each dough piece into a 3-inch (7.5 cm) circle. When stretching the dough, make the edges thinner and the center thicker.

  8. 8
    Add the filling. Press the filling into the middle of each circle. Gather the edges over to enclose the filling and pinch closed. Roll into a ball, then flatten.

  9. 9

    Prepare the moon cake press. Add flour to it to help ease the cake out after pressing.

    • Then, press each flattened circle in the mold to shape the moon cake. To remove each pressed cake, bang all four sides, until it comes out.

    • If you don't have a moon cake press, try to shape the cake as round as possible and use a fork or a skewer to draw a design. It can be as simple as making a cross or a series of lines, or more elaborate if you're patient. Another alternative is to press a design from a thoroughly clean stamp (from a craft store), chocolate mold, or similar mold into the top of the rounded cake.

  10. 10

    Brush each moon cake with egg wash. Place each cake about 1 inch (2.5cm) apart on a baking sheet. Once each baking sheet it filled, put them into the oven.

  11. 11

    Bake for 30 minutes or until the moon cakes turn golden brown.

  12. 12
    Remove from the oven. Leave to cool on a wire cooling rack. Once cooled, they are ready to serve or package.

    • Serve with Chinese tea.

    • Package in little boxes for distributing as gifts.


  • You'll need two brushes: one for the flour and one for the egg wash.
  • You can add any filling that you want to your moon cake. For a red bean filling, soak 1 pound of red beans in water overnight. Drain the beans. Bring 8 cups of fresh water to the boil and add the drained beans. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the bean skins break open. Drain the water. In a small saucepan, pour in some crushed nuts of your choice (walnut, hazelnut, almond, cashew, etc.), cooked beans, a little oil and sugar and cook until all moisture evaporates. Leave to cool before using; this can be very hot to touch!