The first word that I think of when I think of “cook” is “asparagus.” Although I don’t cook a lot, it’s probably my favourite food to cook. I enjoy the way asparagus changes from light green to a darker hue in the pan as it softens up. I like that asparagus has a strong enough flavour that you really don’t need to add anything to it to give it any more taste. Perhaps a bit of salt, pepper, maybe balsamic vinegar or a dab of mayonnaise afterwards. I even look forward to the way that asparagus affects the smell of my urine within a couple of hours after cooking. Anything that makes urine smell that strong must be packed with nutrients.
The way I travel has changed ever since the summer of 2018 when my wife and I traveled to 11 European cities in a month’s time. This type of travel used to excite me, but these days are gone — not just due to COVID-19, but also due to a different mindset with regards to travel. Ever since that summer I have found more of a desire to travel deeper rather than further. Travel can just be getting to know the same place from a different angle — it doesn’t need to involve going to new destinations. I can now travel every time I step out my door and enjoy it just as much as I would traveling to some far-off land.
Recently I have enjoyed reading picture books out loud once again. One of my favourites is “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” that tells the story of a donkey named Sylvester who finds a magic pebble that can grant him any wish. Of course stories that involve unlimited power usually involve some sort of grave mistake or danger, and this picture book is no different. Banned due to the depiction of police man as being portrayed literally as pigs, this story helps me appreciate what I have every time I flip through its pages and read it aloud.
Life has changed this year for me, just as it has for the whole world. In a way, I partly welcome the way that life has become a bit simpler than in the past. Adding routine to my morning breakfast, attempting to strengthen my core to protect my spinal column, taking care to wash my hands as soon as I return home, and not leaving the house without a “made in Taiwan” face mask — the little details stack up to form a day, the days months, the month a year. Everyday I’m thankful to be able to pay attention to the details and notice the tiny joys.
A handwritten letter or postcard to a friend or relative each week — I’ve pretty much kept this promise throughout 2020. I give myself 30 minute time slots during the week where I chip away and make small progress on each letter, slowly reaching out to friends from afar, taking my time with each and every stroke of the pen. Friendship needs time. So does Sunday brunch.
One of my favourite times of the week is Sunday brunch, and there’s not a lack of brunch spots across Taipei. We can scour the various Instagram accounts devoted to food and try our best to reserve a spot at a table at some far corner of the city, and we often do try to find a new location to explore. However, sometimes the best places are right under your nose. Ctrl+F Cafe is one of these places. In the past 2 months we’ve gone to Ctrl+F Cafe for brunch 4 times. Within 5 minutes walk from our home, we make sure to arrive just before 11, as tables always fill up before 11:30.
One of the things that makes the cafe so special is that it is consistent, and it doesn’t go for too much. The menu is not extensive, and there are three brunch sets to choose from: chicken, sausage, or smoked salmon. All three of these choices are priced equally at 290 TWD and include three slices of bread (the weakest part of the set, but still ok), cream cheese/walnut/honey spread (makes up for the not-so-special bread), a small cup of salad, scrambled eggs, and roasted potatoes with mushrooms. Each set includes a choice of hot/cold black tea, cafe Americano, or herbal tea, as well as a pre-meal drink of either lemon juice or milk. While I have not tried all three of the combinations, it’s hard for me to not order their chicken brunch. With only one small bone, I’m never disappointed at the healthy mixture of juices and spices each time I order it.
My wife has a slightly smaller appetite than mine and orders one of the four croissant sandwiches available. They are priced at a range from 200–260 TWD and include the following choices: vegetarian, mixed mushroom, smoked salmon, and thai basil chili chicken. These sandwiches also include a choice of drink, without the pre-meal milk/lemon juice. Once when we were feeling particularly healthy appetites we decided to give one of the desserts a try and ordered the homemade pearl milk pudding with tapioca on top. We were not disappointed, and I would return for an afternoon tea just to enjoy the dessert once again if given the option.
The first time we went to this cafe was actually not for brunch, but for dinner. I remember on that evening we just went there by chance, almost by accident it seemed. That was after first moving to Taipei, and it was a day before I had to take a flight to leave for a business trip. I don’t remember being impressed by the cafe at the time, and I think we were one of two tables that evening. For some reason, a couple months back we made the wise decision to give the cafe another go and try it for brunch — the word is in its name, anyway. This was part of traveling deeper, getting to know the same place, but from another angle. While not ostentatious, the cafe has not failed to let us down. The service is quick and reliable, and I’ve never left the table feeling hungry. The owner seems to welcome progressive political views and doesn’t hide his banners in the restaurant, giving it a slight “Portlandia” feel. I also really like the toilet for some reason as the flush mechanism whirls around almost like a garbage disposal in a sink. I enjoy watching the warp-speed rotation of the toilet flush almost as if I’m being briefly hypnotised by the plumbing as it whisks me away to a fantasy-land in my imagination. Each time I flush, I leave reality for a second until I can hear the sounds of the brunch cafe chatter outside the door. There’s something different about the sound of a Sunday morning brunch crowd. Strangers all, we are bound by the power of the weekend digestive catcher’s mitt that our collective stomachs have transformed into, expanding in time and space. Press “Ctrl+F,” find what you love, and enjoy a Sunday brunch right under your nose.