Wanderlust Baked Pears with Ginger and Brown Sugar

After many travels, moves around the world, I finally found and signed an apartment in Vancouver this month. It has also been a while since I felt settled enough in a city to dish out my cooking things and set about making and writing. I have wanted to focus on writing for a while and am finally getting around to doing that. This post is the start of many and I hope my fire for writing, making food and photography will burn here for a very long time.

I wanted to open the series with something simple, something grown by my dad — who I inherited my wanderlust and love for food from.

Like most Asian children, I didn’t grow up very close to my dad. Mostly seen as an authority figure, my memories of him consisted of his long work shifts, the times I got into trouble for not practicing violin, and the stern looks I received when I handed in my report card. There are also good memories — family barbecue’s, road trips across America, and evenings where we would go on walks in the different cities he was based in. 

My dad worked in the police force. He traveled and moved often. I grew up fascinated by many of his stories. Capturing villains, conducting anti-terrorism training in America, and especially from the time he worked as a martial arts trainer in Saudi Arabia. They were like stories from another life — driving Buicks through sandstorms, riding camels, hunting lizards in turbans (he had a full on beard), and collecting desert roses that bloom in the wicked heat. It fascinates me that there are so many layers to a person and how they can produce a myriad of stories to last a lifetime.

When I first started photography, my dad and I did not talk for several years. Mostly because I knew my choice of a career in creative arts would be met with disproval (which I learned later was how he expressed his care towards me). We have both come a long way since then. Dad is now retired and spends his days tending to plants and fruit trees in his yard, all which he knows individually by name. I am finding my peace in life and work, and him in gardening. I treasure these moments now — picking produce from his garden, sharing stories and sharing meals with my many Chinese aunties and uncles.

Here is a very simple recipe for a sweet and light dessert with pears grown by dad. I used Japanese pears (the recipe usually calls for Bartlett pears), they tasted delicious just the same. Here is a dessert born from wanderlust, a love for family, and a longing for a place to call home. 

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Baked Pears with Brown Sugar and Ginger

Ingredients:

• 4 Pears (preferably barrette pears). Sliced in half with the seeds removed

• 1 tbsp fresh ground ginger*

• 1/4 tbsp cinnamon powder

• A squeeze of lemon juice

• 1 tbs brown sugar 

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

2. Place pears on a baking tray with cut sides up. Sprinkle ground ginger, cinnamon powder, lemon juice on pears. Top with brown sugar.

3. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender. 

4. Let the pears cool before serving, preferably with vanilla ice cream. Preferably with a friend. Enjoy.

*I use organic ginger since I find it to be more flavorful and pungent. It is irreplaceable for me in cooking now compared to normal ginger.

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Father-daughter photo from a travel assignment in Charleston, North Carolina. I took dad on as a travel buddy and it turned out to be the most dramatic assignment I’ve worked on (something like missing connecting flights and both of us getting super sick). A story for another time. But hey — dad turned out to be a great photographer.

sophia_hsin_dad_alaska_airlines_charleston.jpgThe image in blue (shot by dad) was featured in my first in-flight magazine. Read the article here.

Till next time.

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Postcards from San Francisco

san_francisco_sophia_hsin_Golden_Gate_Bridge_SunsetDusk at Golden Gate Bridge. 

San Francisco is the city of golden light. It is the place where you embrace the west coast the moment you step out of the airport. The air is not humid like New York, there are palm trees, bursts of colors, fog and sunshine. 

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You know you are in California when you take photos of bougainvillea and palm trees. san_francisco_sophia_hsin-98.jpg
Stumbled across the newly opened flower shop Marigold. A golden space.
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Cannot get enough of the flora and street art. 

San Francisco is bay windows, lemon trees by your door and Hispanic grandmothers chopping selling fruit spiced with chili powder on the street. It is tacos for three square meals and tracing the light from your morning coffee cup till it disappears behind the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is watching fluffy dogs leaping around in Mission Park with fresh nectarines in your bag and juice dribbling down your chins. 

San Francisco is the packed streets of Chinatown, the familiar smell, and the line up for delicious boba tea. It is the quiet across the water, the trains, the buses, the people that cannot block the chilly of summer and light that streams between endless buildings and museums that make up this city.

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Beautiful produce at Ferry Building Market. Explored the area with new friends, sampled six different kinds of peaches. A place where you want to eat and photograph everything. san_francisco_ferry_building_market_sophia_hsin-12A white eggplant!

San Francisco is where I crossed off another city on my list and went home with satisfaction knowing that my world grew smaller but my perspective enlarged. It is the city where you know you’d made it just to be there and the place where you remind yourself to stop, take in what’s around you, and know that at this moment you have never felt so alive. It is a moment to relive again and again. 

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Catching light at the Conservatory of Flowers
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Till next time, San Francisco. 

Some recommendations:

Ferry Building Marketplace: A mecca for chefs, food lovers and tourists like me.
Tartine Bakery: Everything is delicious here! Coffee, artisan bread, everything. I loved people watching here. Will visit again and again.
Pancho Villa Taqueria: Local taco place recommended by a friend. Though I have to say all the tacos taste good in the Mission District.
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre: I did a terrible job visiting museums on this trip but the stunning architecture caught my eye! Will visit for photos next time. Tell me how it goes.
Conservatory of Flowers: If you love plants, come here for a half day trip. Beautiful and photogenic too.
Boba Guys: I don’t even drink boba in Taiwan but this place was really good! Impressed with the quality of my matcha tea and almond jelly.
Buffalo Exchange: Not one for thrifting but loved this place like a grandmother at a fire sale. So many goods! Skip the trip to Nordstrom and make a stop here. Recommend 100%.
work: sophiahsin.com | social: @sophiahsin

A Recipe: Hedgehog Shortbread Cookies

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I have found in life that art happens during unexpected moments. For example, it happens through an idea you get on your morning walk. It happens during a conversation over Chinese noodles or on a day when your shoot gets canceled on account of rain. Art happens in those times when you find yourself stuck indoors, with no photos to edit and your to-do list (almost) done aside from figuring out your taxes.

That’s when you know you need to bake cookies. Because art is like a cookie monster. When you hear the cookie monster rumbling, you gotta feed it. Preferably hedgehog cookies.

So here they are. Brown, crunchy,  irresistible little devils covered with toasted pecans and chocolate. 100% hard work and 100% worth it.

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Not anymore

You will need:

• 1 cup non-salted butter
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1/4 tsp salt
• dark chocolate chips
• finely chopped toasted pecans

Directions:

1. Cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well. Add in dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and mix well.

2. Form cookies. Use an ice cream scoop if you’d like. Roll into ball form, forming one pointed end. Space out the cookies as they expand! Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes or when they are light brown on the bottom. Cool on rack.

3. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave (use 30-second intervals). Dip or cover hedgehogs with chocolate. Use a spoon to cover with crushed nuts. Scoop remaining chocolate into bag and pipe two eyes and one nose.

4. Enjoy!

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* Makes around two dozen hedgehogs
* For nut-free version substitute nuts with graham crackers

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Passing these out at my Amelia Hedgehog Book Signing. If you are in Vancouver July 21st do show up for one and come say hello!

Till next time.

Five Tips for Travelling Light

I have found in all my travels that I have never regretted packing light. There is a certain joy in knowing you have everything you need—or perhaps less than you think you need—on arrival at your destination ready for adventure and wonder.

So here are my five tips for traveling light—for short trips, long trips, backpacking trips or trips with a furry friend.

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1. Do your research
Head to the library and get a travel guide, learn the customs, get your shots, reach out to make a local friend, plan for all sorts of weather and plan for surprise.

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2. Simplify your outfits
I stand by the belief that a monochrome wardrobe is the way to go. Throw in a few pairs of jeans and choose pieces with textiles that breathe and dry well. Figure out the balance between casual and professional. A few things I never travel without: basic white shirts, running shoes, comfy yet professional pants (even better with pockets) and—if necessary—a dress for special occasions.

3. Skip the essentials
There is a tendency to pack everything you can imagine for unexpected situations on the road. I have found that extra battery packs, Q tips, toiletries or vitamins tend to weigh me down on the trip and return home unused.

Surprisingly, in most countries (especially Asia)—you are always able to find daily necessities, toiletries, and medication that meet your needs. India has pharmacies with selections that are second to none and able to treat any kind of ailment, though I advise bringing a local friend to help you with labels that get lost in translation. Save on your travel budget, luggage space and purchase what you can on location.

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4. Pack within a pack
I have found that separating the contents of my suitcase into individual packs helps with space and organization. There’s lots of great garment cases or packing cubes out there that you can use to organize all your worldly treasures.

5. Leave space for wonder
It is a wonderful feeling knowing you have space in your luggage for gifts and souvenirs—be it the Mexican dog sculpture you find at a market in Bali, an antique sculpture in Bangladesh or simply space to store your experiences and all the wisdom of the world.

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Go somewhere, be a tourist in your own city, take off to come home again and don’t forget to travel light.

Photos of me by Alisha Weng
Written by Sophia Hsin for Lojel Travel
Subedited by Megan Jenkins

Say Hello to A Hog Named Bob

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Hello!

A little update from Taiwan. Today was a very special day. I traveled out of Taipei into Keelung and came home with a new friend — Bob the Hedgehog!

I realized there will never a time when I feel ready enough for many things. Things like new cities, new beginnings or new pets. But the beauty of life is to make up your mind and move forward with complete courage while expecting the very best.

Taipei will be the eighth city I call home in my many years of life. I have never known where I am heading next and I figured that’s the way it will always be. Moving around so much also made me realize the importance of being present, of making home wherever I am, and to accept every challenge that comes up with a fully committed heart. Sometimes those decisions involve hedgehogs.

So now, I am excited to call this city home and look forward to what I can create here. I know there will always be limits that come with each place like geographic location, industry, and culture. But right now, I look forward to growing lots in this season — in boldness, in creativity, in kindness, and to believe that there is nowhere in the universe to be now but here.

With that being said, here are photos documenting this special day with Bob.

keelung_harbour_taiwan_基隆港_sophia_hsin-5A rainy day at Keelung Harbour. This was the city where I lived and attended music school. The concrete building on the right was where I held my elementary graduation concert.bob_the_hedgehog_sophia_hsin-4.jpg
Meeting Bob — the lightest colored hog among his siblings. Basically love at first sight.bob_the_hedgehog_sophia_hsin-2.jpgTiny Bob. Born December 12, 2017. Two days after Amelia left for heaven and a week away from my birthday. His hedgehog coloring is classified as “milk tea” or “white chocolate”. Both delicious.bob_the_hedgehog_sophia_hsin-3.jpgTo new amigos!

Postcards from New York II

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A quiet moment from Washington Square Park, NYC

Hello from Taipei, Taiwan!

I have this funny feeling that I have to be in a new city before I can process and write about the previous one. It is wonderful being back in Taipei. There is much inspiration in revisiting old places and some days it feels like I never left. Although it is interesting living in the grey area between a local and a foreigner — I have never felt more clarity that I am in the right city at this time of my life.

This season will be spent working on a personal projects (hint: hedgehog book) while taking on freelance photo shoots. Between jet lag, stuffing my face with Taiwanese eats, waking up super early and navigating this familiar and unfamiliar city — I am slowly discovering a handful of local and international creatives. Excited for the next season and trying not to book a flight to Japan anytime soon.

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Sunset with Lady Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park
Now, back to New York City — the city of creativity, art, thunderstorms, scorching metro systems, and galleries you can spend a lifetime exploring with crowds as dense as any major Asian city.sophia_hsin_new_york_yoko_kato_long_island_city-8sophia_hsin_new_york_yoko_kato_yokocca-9Studio visits with @yokocca
I love a social media friendship turned into an afternoon of conversation with homemade jam and chiffon cake. It was a delight being able to visit Yoko’s studio tucked away across the water in the quiet of Long Island City. yoko_kato_japan_new_york_city_family_portrait-1Akari and Kaisei are the most adorable active kids. I could have spent a long time taking photos of them.della_orrey_c3_brooklyn_new_york_portraits_photography-1Portraits with Della
Della Orrey — my boo, talented musician friend and sister in Christ. It was inspiring getting to see her work at C3 Brooklyn. Getting to experience New York from a local’s perspective was also an eye opening experience though I got reprimanded a couple of times for being too much of a tourist 🙂Hanging with the talented Mark Leubbers at Le Labo in Williamsburgsophia_hsin_new_york_queens_-6Chasing light on the streets of New York. The light and shadow on fire escapes get me every. single. timesophia_hsin_new_york_ineriors_guggenheim-1Interiors from the Guggenheim. I love you Frank Lloyd.sophia_hsin_new_york_nalata_nalata_photographer-7
Shop visits with Natala Nalata
It was wonderful meeting the shop owner and fellow Canadian in the city. The ceramic exhibition from husband and wife — Momoko and Tetsuya Otani was also a pleasure to experience.sophia_hsin_new_york_matcha_shop-10ichiyos_matcha_vancouver_bc_styling_photography-1Matcha Matcha
I am really getting into matcha these days and New York had so many matcha shops to offer. My favourites — Cha Cha Matcha and Ippudo New York. Here is a set of new photos I shot for Ichiyo Matcha in Vancouver too.

Next week I will be heading down South to tropical Kenting for a creative retreat. I look forward to spending time by the ocean, getting my feet in some white sand and unwind from the last season of work and travel.

Till next time x

Postcards from Virginia: A Holiday With my Irish Family

washington_dc_ Shenandoah_National_Park-3The wonderful view from Shenandoah Park, Washington, DC

Hello from Virginia.

I have been spending the last week in our cottage in the mountains with my Irish family, whom I met in China a few years ago and it’s been a jolly time. I feel fortunate to see to new places surrounded by family, and am learning lots about British culture and Irish tradition.

A few curious things I have learned about the Irish:

• Tea and biscuits are to be had at least three times a day
• The Irish find humour in everything
• Peanut butter is deemed a North American evil. The smell — just as rotten as veggie mite
• To be Irish you must have a love for potatoes and butter
• Every kind of fabric in the house goes under the iron. Towels, jeans, socks, sheets, ties, you name it

madison_county_usa_1Mornings around the breakfast table. Toast with butter and jam are staples.

Virginia is a peaceful county, it is a land filled with blue skies, sweet corn, and rolling hills dotted with animals. It is a nice change of pace from my previous week in New York. It is one of the first places in North America where I can hear summer cicadas that remind me of Asia — an unfamiliar yet peaceful place.

washington_dc_ Shenandoah_National_Park-4washington_dc_ Shenandoah_National_Park-10My Irish family. All three generations

We will spend the next few days visiting historical places, civil war monuments and local towns that hold much Southern charm. Most of the time it feels like I am taking a crash course in American history and but I am gaining an insight into a culture that is different than what I have learned from Hollywood films. It is an educational and eye opening experience.

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Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg. This place has the loveliest gardenscharlottesville_virginia_usa.jpgA little corner from Charlottesville, Virginia. A beautiful little town despite the recent riot

With all the negative news that comes from the media these days, I find myself especially thankful to be here. I am reminded that even though the world is not always a peaceful place, there is much good and beauty to be captured and look forward to.

Till next time.