Genoise Sponge Cake Recipe

Low-Carb Genoise Sponge Cake:

4.5 ounces of flour substitute (I use 3 parts almond flour and 1 part coconut flour, plus 1 teaspoon of guar gum per each 1 cup of flour substitute)
2 ounces butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs
7 ounces sweetener (I recommend a mix of mostly erythritol or xylitol, with a little bit of maltitol or isomalt for structural support)
1 teaspoon vanilla

This recipe makes a 18" by 13" sheet cake or one 9" round cake.

"Set a saucepan big enough to hold your mixer bowl on the stove with an inch of water in it. Bring it to a simmer. Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt together into a medium bowl. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside.
Pour the [sweetener] into the mixer bowl, add the eggs and whisk to combine. Set the mixer bowl over the pan of water and heat the mixture until it’s warm to the touch (no more than 120 degrees). What you’re trying to do is simply melt the sweetener…don’t cook the eggs! It’ll only take a minute or so.
Remove the bowl from the heat and, using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on medium high until it’s very light and foamy, about triple its original volume (this will take up to ten minutes with a stand mixer). Add the vanilla and beat an additional 10-15 seconds.
Pour a cup or so of the egg foam into the cooled melted butter and stir it until it’s completely incorporated, then gently pour the mixture back into the mixer bowl (this eases the incorporation of the butter into the batter). Next, sprinkle the flour substitute mixture into the mixer bowl and carefully fold (instructions under the “Techniques” menu to the right) until the flour mixture and the butter mixture are completely incorporated. Gently pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until the cake is a pale gold color and springs back lightly when touched." -directions from JoePastry site linked above

Mikan (Mandarin Orange) Petits Fours Recipe

Mikans are a type of Mandarin Orange grown in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. They were in season when I stayed there this summer, and so I made some low-carb petits fours (tea cakes) flavored with mikan curd.

#1 Moist Sponge Cake:

#2 Mikan Curd:


Use mikan/tangerine/madarin orange juice for the citrus juice, along with the zest from the fruit you picked.

#3 White Mirror Glaze

(So, the recipe I used in the video of this dessert is a really bad one, so please ignore that recipe and use this once instead.)

#4 Assembly:

Slice the cooled cake into three horizontal layers. Place the first slice into the bottom of a container that fits it snugly and top it with a layer of chilled mikan curd (line the container first with clear cling wrap so that you can easily remove it later). Repeat once more, then top with the last layer of cake and freeze the entire dessert for at least 1 hour, or until frozen through. 

Remove from the container and trim or smooth down the sides until you like the look of the cake. Return to the freezer while you re-heat your glaze. Once the glaze has reached between 90-94F, take out your cake, place it on a stable item that is slightly smaller than it, with a pan or baking sheet underneath everything to catch the excess glaze. Pour the glaze over the entire cake, making sure to cover all sides. Let the glaze finish dripping off, then go ahead and smooth off the bottom edges and move directly to a serving platter. Put the cake in the fridge for an hour to defrost (will take longer if it is a larger cake) before serving. 

White Mirror Glaze Recipe

Low-carb White Mirror Glaze:

Adapted from this recipe: http://www.chefiso.com/p/white-chocolate-mirror-glaze-recipe

300g cacao butter (or sugar free white chocolate, just reduce the amount of sweetener used below)
150g water
350g erythritol/xylitol
100g cream
50g maltitol or isomalt syrup
a pinch of salt
20g powdered gelatin

Bloom the gelatin in an equal amount of cold water and set aside.
Heat the water, sweeteners, cream, and syrup until fully dissolved and well combined.
Remove from the stove and add the soaked gelatin, mixing until dissolved.
Pour this mixture over the cacao butter and wait about 5 minutes for it to melt. Using an immersion or regular blender, blend until smooth and emulsified.
Strain this through a seive and chill either in an ice bath or in the fridge, stirring regularly to prevent a skin from forming on the top.
Once the glaze has reached between 90-94F, pour it over your prepared and fully-frozen dessert. (The link above shows the original recipe and a video demonstrating this whole process.) Once it has finished dripping, smooth down the bottom edges and transfer to the final serving platter, then place in the fridge to fully defrost (1-4 hours depending on size).

Citrus Curd Recipe

No-sugar-added Citrus Curd:

1 cup of citrus juice
the zest of one large citrus fruit
1 large egg
2 large yolks
1/4 cup of erythritol or xylitol
4 tablespoons of cubed butter
a pinch of salt

Whisk together the egg, yolks and sweetener until fully combined, then add the zest and juice until well mixed. Heat over low flame, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and is just on the verge of boiling. If you have a thermometer do not let it pass 180F. Strain the mixture into a bowl and mix in the butter cubes and salt. Chill thoroughly before using.

Dense Vanilla Cake Recipe

Low-Carb Dense Vanilla Cake:

Adapted from the cake recipe here: http://joyfilledeats.com/tres-leches-cake/

(I made a one-portion version of this recipe, so just multiply the amounts if you want a larger cake(s)).

1 large egg
1 tablespoon of erythritol or xylitol (add more if not adding frosting/glaze/filling later)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence
1 tablespoon of cream
3 tablespoons of flour substitute (I use 3 parts almond flour, 1 part coconut flour, and a teaspoon of guar gum per cup of final mixture)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
Beat the sweetener, vanilla, cream and the egg until well combined. Mix the flour substitute, baking powder, and salt together in a separate bowl, then mix into liquids. Pour into a suitable baking pan or cupcake liner and bake for 10 minutes. If a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle does not come out clean, bake for an additional 5 minutes. Cool fully before slicing.


North American VS Chinese Dining Etiquette (Video)

Photo Credits:

American meal photo credit: a year at the table - 121 via photopin (license)
Black slippers photo credit: Slipper 347/365 via photopin (license)
Flipflips photo credit: Haivaianas 210/365 via photopin (license)
Bowl of rice photo credit: Stir Fry I made one Day via photopin (license)
Sandwich with soup photo credit: Strawberry & Goat Cheese Panini via photopin (license)
Meat and pasta photo credit: Boeuf Bourguignon via photopin (license)
Pour tea photo credit: Afternoon Tea via photopin (license)
Western plate setting photo credit: Presentation is Everything via photopin (license)
Bbq ribs photo credit: _BRK4798 via photopin (license)
Cutlery placement photo credit: life : bobbivie + wonderings #135 via photopin (license)
Chopsticks on bowl photo credit: Tonkotsu Ramen via photopin (license)
Chopsticks on holder photo credit: Chopsticks via photopin (license)


Sesame Sponge Cakes with Sweet Bean Paste Recipe

This is what we're deconstructing:

Fried Sesame Mochi Balls with Sweet Bean Filling 芝麻球

#1: Sesame Sponge Cake

1 batch of cake syrup (made with erythritol, stevia, or xylitol)
a few drops of sesame oil

Simply add a few drops of sesame oil (which is very strong stuff) to your cake syrup until it starts smelling like sesame, and then soak the genoise with it.

#2: Sweet Red Bean Paste

1 batch of homemade red bean paste sweetened with your choice of sweetener

Either fill small molds with the paste and then freeze before removing, or spread the paste in between layers of cake.

#3: Sesame Tuile Cookies

1 batch of tuile dough
1/4-1/2 cup of sesame seeds, depending on how much you like them
a few drops of sesame oil

Mix in a few drops of sesame oil, and then the amount of sesame seeds you like into the tuile dough until fully combined, then continue with baking directions to make tuile cookies.

photo credits:

Portuguese Egg Tart Spoons Recipe

Low-Carb Portuguese Egg Tart Spoons: 

This is what we're deconstructing:

Portuguese Egg Tarts 蛋挞

#1: My Pate Brisee Sweet Tart Crust Recipe OR your favorite sugar cookie dough recipe

Use bake-able spoon molds, OR form tin foil around a spoon to make a DIY mold. If you're not using a non-stick silicone mold, then you'll need to create a non-stick coating by first greasing it with a thin layer of butter or oil, then dusting that layer with flour or starch of some kind. Turn them upside down and tap them well to get rid of any excess flour/starch, then you're all set to add the tart dough.

Fill the moulds with the dough, then freeze for 30 minutes. Bake them in a pre-heated oven according to the instructions for the above recipe, making sure to check halfway through and removing them as soon as they start to turn light brown.

Cool completely at room temperature before add the custard "caviar".

(Bonus step: coat the spoons in white chocolate before adding the caviar, this acts as a "waterproof" layer if you're planning on setting the dessert out for longer than 10 minutes before eating. Longer than 10 minutes, and the "caviar" would otherwise start to moisten the cookie spoons, and they might even get a bit soggy.)

#2: Custard "Caviar" / "Pearls" Recipe:

1 batch (600 ml.) of creme anglaise vanilla custard sauce: recipe link
1 tsp. of agar agar powder OR 2 tbs. agar agar flakes OR 1 tbs. of powdered gelatin
1 large jar or bowl filled with very cold grain oil (any neutral oil liquid at room temp. NOT olive oil)

First soak your gelling agent for 5 minutes in an equal volume of cold water. If using agar agar, next boil in the microwave or over the stove for about 1 minute, careful not to scorch it in the microwave (just stir it often). Add to the room-temperature or warm custard sauce (NOT cold) and combine well. If using gelatin, melt it in the microwave on 10 second bursts, stirring in between, and stop as soon as it has all dissolved. Add to CHILLED custard sauce, mixing well.

Set out your very cold oil in a deep bowl or large jar, and dribble little spoonfuls of the custard sauce into it. It should form little spheres and float to the bottom. It's best to do this in batches and so that the spheres don't crowd each other and get squished. Strain the "caviar" through a fine mesh sieve (pour the oil into another large bowl and reuse), rinse them quickly in cold water, then store in the fridge until needed.

Bubble Tea Jelly Mooncake Recipe

Low-Carb Bubble Tea Jelly Mooncake: 

(based off of this recipe for mango coconut jelly mooncakes:

Milk Tea Cream Filling:
3/4 ts. agar agar powder
1 cup stevia-sweetened half and half (or full cream)
1 black tea bag or 1 tbs. loose-leaf black tea

Mix cool liquid with agar agar until combined, then bring to a boil over low heat and simmer for one minute, stirring. Turn off the heat and add one bag of black tea (one tablespoon of loose tea) and let steep for three minutes, or longer depending on how strong of a tea flavor you prefer. Remove the tea bag or strain out the leaves, and pour the liquid into small round molds (cupcake liners could work) while still hot (agar agar will set at room temperature, while gelatin won't set until chilled). Make sure the molds are small enough to allow the set filling to fit inside the mooncake molds while still leaving enough space for the outer jelly. Allow filling to chill at room temperature or in the fridge until set.

"Brown Sugar" Jelly Outer:
3.75 ts. agar agar powder
2.5 cups liquid (of your choice) sweetened with stevia and flavored with a few drops of molasses

Mix cool liquid with agar agar powder until combined, then bring to a boil over low heat and simmer for one minute. Pour into mooncake molds, filling only 1/4 to 1/3 of the way full. Let set, then add the cooled filling on top. Add the still-warm brown sugar jelly over top to fully immerse the milk tea filling and fill the mooncake molds to the brim. Set at room temperature (30-ish minutes depending on how large the mooncakes are, and how chilly your kitchen is) or in the fridge. Carefully remove and serve. (No need to loosen from molds using heat, agar agar sets much more firmly than gelatin, so it should remove rather easily.)


  • You can use any sweetener you like here, but since it is not needed for structure or mouthfeel, I recommend stevia because it is lowest in calories. (DO NOT use sucralose/Splenda or aspartame/Equal, google their toxicity)
Boba photo credit: 040; vivis via photopin (license)


Deconstructed & Remade: Popular Chinese Sweets

#1: Bubble Milk Tea 珍珠奶茶

This is one of THE most popular drinks in China. 珍珠means pearls and 奶茶 means milk tea. The pearls are chewy and made of tapioca starch. I think the Chinese slang word 'Q' (meaning chewy) might've been invented just to describe tapioca pearls.

Originally made popular in Taiwan, the best type is made with pearls stewed in brown sugar.

In English, this drink is also called Boba, Boba Tea, and Pearl Milk Tea. (It's popular in most of Asia as well as California, USA.)

I deconstructed this by making a brown sugar jelly 'mooncake' with milk tea cream filling.

-Bubble Tea Mooncake Recipe-

#2: Portuguese Egg Tarts 蛋挞

As the name suggests, these 蛋挞 originally came from Portugal, and their popularity in China started in what used to be part of Portugal's trading empire: Macau. Today these can be found in any Chinese bakery, as well as in specialty shops. The crust is traditionally puff pastry style, but often you'll see short crust versions, and the filling is a very simple baked custard.

I deconstructed this by making a spoon out of pate brisee tart crust and filling it with custard "caviar".

-Egg Tart Spoons Recipe-

#3: Fried Sesame Mochi Balls w/ Sweet Bean Filling 芝麻球

If you don't know what mochi is, educate yourself here (video).

These "sesame balls" are actually little balls of mochi, filled with sweet red bean paste (AKA anko or 豆沙), then rolled in sesame seeds and deep fried. Like anything fried, these are a million times better fresh, with a crunchy-crisp outer shell and chewy-sticky-sweet insides.

I deconstructed these by making sesame sponge cakes layered with sweet red bean paste and topped with crispy sesame tuile cookies.

-芝麻球 Sesame Red Bean Petits Fours Recipe-

#4: Black Sesame Tang-yuan Mochi Dumplings 黑芝麻汤圆

These start out similar to the sesame balls above, but they're filled with sweet black sesame paste, and instead of being fried, they're boiled and served soft in a sweetened hot water.

These are traditionally eaten during 元宵节 Lantern Festival, but they're available frozen in supermarkets all year round.

 I deconstructed this one by making LadyandPups' Black Sesame Mochi Ice Cream.

If you're new to Chinese desserts and flavours, and don't have access to these original treats, try out these deconstructed versions and start eating your way across cultural borders.


Photo credits:

Egg tarts photo credit: Portuguese Egg Tarts, Macau via photopin (license)
Boba photo credit: 040; vivis via photopin (license)
Tangyuan photo credit: Immigrant Nation via photopin (license)
Fresh sesame balls photo credit: 芝麻球 & 蕃薯球
via photopin (license)
Lantern Festival photo credit: festival of lanterns 6 via photopin (license)
芝麻糊 photo credit: 芝麻糊 sesame dessert
via photopin (license)
Tapioca Pearls photo credit: Black tapioca pearls via photopin (license)
red beans photo credit: Adzuki Beans via photopin (license)
Shaved ice photo credit: 1 via photopin (license)
Mochi colored photo credit: Sanshoku Dango via photopin (license)


How to Make A Layered Dessert | For All Diets (Video)

A Guide to Layered Desserts

There are five important aspects to a good layered dessert:

  • Flavour
  • Texture
  • Temperature
  • Colour
  • Shape
Obviously, the most important aspect is flavour. If your flavours are in flawless harmony, it won't matter how the other aspects are doing.

BUT if you want to give your dessert to anyone other than yourself or close family/friends, you'll need to pay attention to aesthetics. The old saying holds true; we eat with our eyes.

Taste and appearance are obvious aspects most people think of, but I find texture to be almost as important as flavour. Different textures in your dessert give contrast (though there should be contrast between your flavours as well), and keep your eating experience from getting boring once the basic flavours have been tasted.

For a more in-depth understanding of all this, I found this free (super short) baking textbook on plated pastry/desserts:

An example layered dessert breakdown:

Recipes from example dessert (for all diets):

I tweaked normal recipes to make every layer of this dessert low-carb and sugar-free. Click these links for the recipes.

Tuile Cookie/Biscuit Recipe

Tuile Cookie:

Adapted from this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/espresso-tuile-recipe.html#!

1/2 ts. salt
1/2 ts. molasses
1 cup erythritol or xylitol
1 cup isomalt or maltitol
1 1/4 cups flour substitute (I use 3 parts almond flour, 1 part coconut flour, and a teaspoon of guar gum per 1 cup of flour mixture)
6 oz. soft butter
1/2 ts. vanilla paste/extract
1 cup crushed nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degreed F.
Combine salt, molasses, both sweeteners in a bowl. Add flour substitute, butter and vanilla and mix well. Add crushed nuts last. 
Place the batter in a heaping tablespoons on non-stick baking sheet, 2 at a time. Bake for 8 minutes, watching carefully. Crumple 2 pieces of parchment paper and set on a dry work surface. Remove cookies from oven and immediately peel them off one at a time, working quickly while still molten. Drape them over each piece of shaped parchment paper. They cool and set very quickly, so if they stiffen up, place back in the oven briefly.


  • Sub the sugar and syrup for low-carb sweeteners, ideally more heat-resistant ones like maltitol, and isomalt in syrup form. Super-low-carb sweeteners like erythritol and stevia will not work well. This biscuit needs the sweetener to help with stability, so using something like stevia would produce a non-ideal result. (DO NOT even think about using sucralose/Splenda or aspartame/Equal, google their toxicity)
Nut allergies:
  • the nuts in this recipe are for texture and taste only, so they can be left out without any structural problems.

Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Recipe

Low-Carb Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough: 

Adapted from: http://willowbirdbaking.com/2011/03/20/three-safe-to-eat-cookie-doughs-chocolate-chip-sugar-and-cake-batter/

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup erythritol or xylitol or stevia
  • 1/2 ts. molasses
  • 1 cup flour substitute (I recommend almond flour or coconut flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (a few people have found this to be too much; if you want, just add a pinch and increase to taste. I add the full 1/2 teaspoon and enjoy it!)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (again, you might want to add this a teaspoon at a time to taste. I add the full tablespoon and enjoy it!)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (sugar free store-bought or homemade:http://www.forestandfauna.com/make-your-own-chocolate-chips/)
  • water

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, molasses and sweetener. Stir in the flour substitute, salt, vanilla and chocolate chips. Add water one tablespoon at a time (stirring between each) until the dough reaches cookie dough consistency.


  • Sub the sugar for one or a mix of low-carb sweeteners. I recommend erythritol and stevia since they are the lowest in carbs, and this recipe does not require the stability that maltitol or other sugar alcohols would provide (DO NOT use sucralose/Splenda or aspartame/Equal, google their toxicity). Make sure they are finely ground or a liquid, otherwise your cookie dough will be grainy.
  • The molasses only adds a tiny tiny 0.5 gram of sugar and is included to mimic the flavor of brown sugar which helps give chocolate chip cookie dough it's unique flavor

Chocolate Mirror Glaze Recipe

Low-Carb Chocolate Mirror Glaze: 

Adapted from: http://joepastry.com/category/pastry-components/chocolate-mirror-glaze/

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon) cold water
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon) heavy cream
5.25 ounces (3/4 cup) erythritol or xylitol or stevia
1.75 ounces (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) cocoa powder
Pour half the water into a small dish and stir the gelatin into it. Allow it to sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Combine the remaining water, cream and sweetener in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Take the pan off the heat and add the gelatin, stirring until it’s fully dissolved. Whisk in the cocoa until the mixture is smooth.
Strain the glaze into a glass bowl (metal will affect the taste). Allow it to cool for five minutes or so, until it’s right about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, before applying. The pre-made glaze can be stored in the refrigerator and re-melted in a double boiler or in the microwave (a few 5-second bursts on high heat) for later use.


  • Sub the sugar for one or a mix of low-carb sweeteners. I recommend erythritol and stevia since they are the lowest in carbs, and this recipe does not require the stability that maltitol or other sugar alcohols would provide. (DO NOT use splenda or aspartame, google their toxicity)

Classic Brownie Recipe

Low-Carb Brownie: 

Adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/cocoa-brownies-recipe.html#!

4 large eggs
2 cup sweeteners (I'd recommend half-half split of erythritol or xylitol, and maltitol or isomalt)
1/2 ts. molasses
8 oz. melted butter
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 ts. vanilla extract/paste
1/2 cup flour substitute (I use 3 parts almond flour, 1 part coconut flour, and 1 ts. of guar gum per 1 cup of flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
Whisk together eggs until fluffy and light yellow, add sweeteners and molasses and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and mix to combine.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes. Do not over-bake!
Cool completely, then refrigerate to chill. It will not cut cleanly unless chilled. You can freeze it for a short amount of time to ensure extra-clean cuts.


  • Sub the sugars for low-carb sweeteners, ideally more heat-resistant ones like maltitol or isomalt for structure, plus healthier sweeteners like erythritol, xylitol or stevia for extra sweetness. If calories/carbs need to be as low as possible, use a mix of erythritol and stevia, not pure stevia. This cake needs the sweetener to help with stability, so using only stevia would produce a non-ideal result. (DO NOT use sucralose/Splenda or aspartame/Equal, google their toxicity)

Creme Anglaise Custard Sauce Recipe

Low-Carb Creme Anglaise Custard Sauce: 

Adapted from: http://joepastry.com/category/pastry-components/creme-anglaise/

4 egg yolks
vanilla beans seeds (1 bean) or 1 ts. vanilla paste/extract
2 cups whole milk (for richer result use half milk and half cream)
1/3 cup erythritol (or stevia to taste)

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Meanwhile, mix the vanilla and half the sweetener in and stir until it has dissolved. Have the yolks ready in a medium bowl, add the rest of the sugar and mix well. When the milk mixture starts to simmer, start tempering the yolks by pouring about half a cup of it into the yolks and whisking it in quickly. Add about another cup of the milk mixture, whisk, then pour all of it back into the saucepan. Return the pan to low heat and gently bring the mixture up to 183 degrees F, whisking steadily. Check before it reaches this temperature by dipping a wooden spoon in and swiping your finger across the custard film. If the custard has thickened enough that your finger leaves a path, don't wait for the temperature to reach 183, directly remove it from the heat and strain it into a bowl. Allow it to cool to room temperature (use an ice bath if you're in a rush). Store covered, with plastic wrap touching the surface so a skin won't form. Chill at least a few hours before using.


  • I recommend erythritol and stevia since they are the lowest in carbs, and this recipe does not require the stability that maltitol or other sugar alcohols would provide. (please DO NOT use splenda or aspartame, google their toxicity)

Sable Crust / Tart Shell Recipe

Low-Carb Savory Tart Crust "Pate Brisee": 

Adapted from this recipe: http://joepastry.com/2010/making_pate_brisee/

10 ounces (2 cups) flour substitute (I use 3 parts almond flour, 1 part coconut flour, and 1 teaspoon of guar gum per 1 cup of mixture)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces chilled butter cut into pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

First, put half the flour and the salt in the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment and turn it on low. Add the butter a few pieces at a time. Add the rest of the flour and turn the mixer up to medium. When the flour has all been incorporated add two or three tablespoons of water and mix for 30 seconds or so. Pat the dough into a flat patty, wrap it in plastic wrap and and put it in the fridge for an hour.


Living Abroad: Don't be a Permanent Tourist

Your Goal: gain a new definition of normal

I've met two kinds of expats:
Tourist-trying to live home lifestyle
other- someone wanting a deep connection with the host country

It's ok to be a tourist, but don't tell yourself you're doing anything other than getting a scratch-the-surface vacation experience. Doesn't matter how long you've been living abroad, you have to be immersing yourself to be a "local".

#1: Food
        Eating Out: Depends on country, but if locals rarely eat out, you should rarely eat out. If you do eat out, eat at places with local cuisine. Foreign food is ok on occasion, but should not be daily, even weekly.
        Grocery Shopping- no expat or import stores (every now and then is ok),
        Try something 7 times before deciding whether you hate it or not, palate has to adjust.

#2: Transportation
        Taxis vs. buses vs biking vs walking, don't distance yourself from local people, unless only safe option is taxi.
Again, do what locals do. Depends on country, but if it's safe, take the bus, even if uncomfortable. It'll help you understand what average people have to go through, and more importantly, it'll force you to spend time near locals and listening to the local language. You may even get to talk to people.

Walking is good too, biking, if safe. Scooters, if safe.

Uncomfortabel does NOT necesarily equal unsafe. Figure out the difference.

#3: Socializing + Customs
       Spend a part of every day with locals. Doesn't have to be your whole day, but every day. Cultural adjustment happens best and fastest when you're surrounded by that culture in a social context, social pressures apply subconsciously.
When you spend enough time around locals, their manenrisms and the sounds of local conversation will become normal to you.

If your job recquires working with other expats, that can't be helped, but outside of work, make sure you're spending at least a small amount of time DAILY with locals. Once or twice a week won't cut it. The goal is to be as immersed as possible, which requires feeling uncomfortable for a good chunk of your dayy. These situations won't be uncomfortable forever,a nd the more you do it, the sooner you will learn and adjust. Finding a langauge buddy helps a lot, also helps you learn the language.
Having a community is what gives you both a cushion from culture shock, but also helps you immerse yourself emotionally, socially, not just linguistically. You'll never adjust if you focus only on what you're missing, skyping people back home, spending your whole day with other expats, etc.

expat communities are sometime necessary for sanity, I have one, and keeping home relationships strong is of course really great too, but I'm just saying that it shouldn't be your routine 24/7 daily. immerse yourself and build a new lifestyle in your host country, learn as much about it as you can, learn to love it, even if it takes a while. You don't have to give up your old life to gain a new one, you can have multilple lifestyles and cultures. All racially and culturally mixed people like myself have understood this since we were little. You can gain adjust yourself to multiple cultures, you're not stuck with one!! It is extremely difficult to completely 'assimilate" to a new culture, but adjusting doesn't necessarily require assimilation. I suggest that you aim for assimilation though, because that way you're at least aiming high.

Traditions, holidays.
People who travel a lot often partake in the flashy celebratory shallow level of holidays, but if you partake in these things year after year, connect memories of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, emotions to each holiday or celebration, you are doing the same thing kids do as they grow up with their home "culture". After repeated attempts at experienceing the things that are "normal" for the country, you become like local kids, you start gaining a feeling of connection to these holidays and celebratoins, as well as to others who have experienced these things.


         Learn the language. No excuses. It will take a LONG time to get good, but it won't take that long to be able to have a conversation as long as you are willing to be embarrassed and mess up a lot. Practice every day, and your brain will sort out the rest. Immersion is best, listen to music, radio, tv, movies, mimic what you hear, act like a toddler

Everything about learning a language changes your definition of normal. Doesn't matter how bad you are at it, normal humans are capapble of adapting. Language is crucial to having a deep understanding of a culture, that means being able to have a conversation. Basic questions do not count. Where's the bathroom, how much money, Hello how are you, where is..., etc.

When your environment has sounds that your ears and brain understand, the environment will feel more confortable and "normal", which will help you adjust to the culture as well.

Kids spend their whole childhood learning social cues and how to make small talk, how to express themselves. It's the same when you learn a language, it takes YEARs to get good at it, so don't be in a hurry, be patient.

After a few years/
My experience:

Everything I've explained above should be your goal for your first few years. Once you feel comfortable and adjusted, once you can speak the langauge decently or at least hold a conversation, once you've reached the point where you are familiar with all the popular local dishes and have tried them all multiple times, once your palate has changed, you start liking foods you thought were weird or even digusting when you first arrived, once you stop feeling uncomfortable when people do something that would be understood as rude in your home culture, THEN and ONLY THEN would I reccommend spending more of your day according to your home country lifestyle or any lifestyle different from locals. Again, you don't HAVE to assimilate, it doesn't have to be your goal, but think of any immigrants you know or might've met back home. Which ones do you think enjoy life more, the ones who've put in the years of effort to adjust to a new culture, teh ones who've got a solid grip on the langauge, or the ones that have spent years clinging to their old life, sometimes because of lack of help and resources, but often out of fear and homesickness. The best cure for homesickness is to make a new home. You don't have to give up your old one.