Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mini Spicy Asian Pork Burgers

The thing about cooking is that there doesn't need to be an exact recipe. For me, it's all about trial and error and in my case, there are few errors because Luke eats just about anything. Today, Luke called me from the airport and told me that he was bringing home fries. That inspired me to make burgers for dinner and that was how these Mini Spicy Asian Pork Burgers came to be.

I didn't follow a recipe. Basically, I took what I already had at home, threw them in a bowl, and cooked the patties on stove top. These mini burgers turned out juicy, spicy, and full of flavor. They photographed nicely too!

Mini Spicy Asian Pork Burger

- Ground pork
- Chopped green onions
- Chopped cilantro
- Chopped shitake mushroom
- Few cloves of garlic, smashed
- Few red pepper flakes
- 1 egg
- a splash of soy sauce
- a dash of salt and pepper
- few squirts of Sriracha hot sauce

No measuring spoons here; I eyeballed everything. I combined all the ingredients and cooked them over medium to medium-high heat. I made small patties because I wanted them to cook faster (to avoid drying out) and because they are just cuter and more fun to eat. I bought dinner rolls instead of regular-size hamburger buns. In addition to the chopped cilantro already in the burgers, I topped each with more cilantro, just because I feel better when I see more greens in my food.

No ketchup or cheese needed. Just eat it plain. Yum, better than Big Mac, if I do say so myself. =]

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Photoshop Fun With Flowers

Yesterday I came home to an "ahbow-less" home (he's on travel for a couple of days this week). But to my delight, I found a bouquet of bright colorful flowers greeting me instead (along with a yappy dog)! The flowers kept me busy for a while. Still learning to use my SLR, I took the vase from the living room, to the dining room, to behind the couch, and to the sun room, trying to find the perfect angle and light to capture these beauties.

Using Photoshop, I added a flower quote to the image (click to enlarge). Other than that, this photo is untouched.

Using this tutorial, I added a vintage tone to this picture. The colors are more muted and it does give a "worn" look. Again, click to enlarge to read the quote.

I edited this image as well, but I can't exactly remember the steps I took. I know I created a duplicated layer, played with hue/saturation, and blurred the image slightly. The end result? The colors are richer and more vivid. I like it.

When editing photos using Photoshop, there is a fine line between enhancing the images and distorting them (ie, making them unnatural and unrealistic). I still have a lot to learn, but I am pretty happy with what I did with these flower pictures. :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sugar's M&M Cupcake

Soon after I graduated from college, I joined a volunteer organization called Volunteer Fairfax. Through it, I occasionally volunteered to cook for the families that stay at the Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House provides a home away from home for families with children receiving medical treatment at a nearby medical facility. For those families needing a place to stay during the treatments (could be days, weeks, or months), the House provides lodging and home-cooked meals. In return, the House asks for a small donation, but if that's not possible, the stay is free. I thought volunteering to cook was for a good cause and worthy of my time.

It had been a while since I volunteered, but I decided to sign up a couple of weeks ago and this past weekend, I made Sugar's M&M Cupcakes (I totally just made that name up). Things have changed a bit though. Instead of the team captain buying all the groceries (team captains used to receive a $15 allowance to buy supplies) and setting the menu, the team members are responsible to bring their own ingredients needed to complete their dish. The House has lots canned goods, seasonings, baking supplies, etc; however, since I hadn't been there in a long time, I wasn't sure what would be available. At the end, I opted to bring nearly all the ingredients I needed. Next time, if I decide to volunteer again, I will probably just use whatever is already in the kitchen.

I blogged about Bakerella before. Her ideas are ingenious, even Martha thinks so! I found this recipe on her blog. It's a cake mix enhanced recipe. I just love utilizing the readily available cake mixes and add extras to make them my own. Why start from scratch?

The cupcakes turned out REALLY well. The other volunteers complemented on how professional-looking they were and that I could totally sell them. :) Another volunteer and I splited one and we both agreed that it was moist and while the icing was sweet, the cake wasn't, so it provided a nice balance. Bakerella made these cupcakes for Valentine's Day and she decorated them using conversation hearts. I used peanut M&Ms instead. I am so proud of them and now I am in the groove for making more cupcakes in the near future!

I hope these chocolate cupcakes cheered up the families!

Rich Chocolate Cake
- 1 (18.25 oz.) pkg. chocolate cake mix
- 1 (3.4 oz.) pkg. instant chocolate pudding
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line cupcake pans with baking cups.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except chocolate chips.
4. Mix 2 minutes on medium speed.
5. Increase speed to medium-high; mix 3 minutes.
6. Stir in chocolate chips.
7. Spoon into cupcake pans.
8. Bake at 350 for around 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean and cool.

Makes about 24 cupcakes

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1b. 10X powdered sugar
1-3 teaspoons milk, half and half or cream

1. Using a mixer, cream softened butter and vanilla with a mixer until smooth.
2. Add sugar gradually, allowing butter and sugar to cream together before adding more.
3. If you want it a little creamier, add a teaspoon of milk at a time and beat on high until you get the right texture.

Sugar Tips
- Use a small ice cream scoop to scoop the batter into the baking cups for size consistency.
- Use a pastry decoration bag and tip to pipe frosting onto cupcakes. The presentation looks cleaner and more professional.
- Allow the cupcakes to cool COMPLETELY before piping on the frosting. Mine were still a bit warm (time constraint; we had to be out by a certain time) and the icing lost its swirl due to the heat.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Time To Celebrate

It's official. I am completely spoiled rotten by Luke.

I blogged about Tiffany's Celebration Rings before. I think they are absolutely elegant and timeless. And I love the way they advertise it - "ring by ring, create a stack that tells your story." Marketing...I fall for it every single time. It's so true though. It's nice to have little reminders of the special moments of our lives.

So, I have been wanting to create my own stack, but waiting patiently for the right special occasion. I thought maybe my 30th birthday coming up... But nope! Luke surprised me with a little (pink) bling for our 5th anniversary! It's a band ring with full circle of diamonds and pink sapphires (my birthstone). It even has my name engraved. It's perfect! Ooooooh, I love it!! Ahbow, thanks to the infinity oh!

I can't wait for my stack to get higher and higher! =p

Luke also gave me this card. Inside, it read, "With you by my side, life is one long, wonderful adventure." Soooo true. Ai ni oh ahbow!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pad Ga-Prao Muu

I hadn't planned on making this dish today, but this morning, we decided to harvest another batch of our basils. After taking an inventory of what we already have in the freezer and pantry, I googled "ground pork basil thai", and this was the first link I saw. The directions looked easy and the picture made me drool. I decided to give it a try. I skipped the fried egg and instead of the holy basil that the author highly recommended, I used sweet basil because that was all I had.

A winner! This recipe is super easy and with the minimal prep work and cook time required, I will be making this again and again. I especially liked the sweetness of the dish. I love one-pot meals!

Pad Ga-Prao Muu (Stir Fried Pork w/ Sweet Basil )
* Make 1 serving

- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 2-30+ small thai chilies to taste
- 1/2 cup ground pork
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon black soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup sweet basil leaves

1. Using the side or back of a knife, smash garlic and chilies. Set aside.
2. Clean basil by picking off the leaves and discarding the stems. Rinse and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a pan until very hot on high heat. Throw in the chilies & garlic, and stir until browned. You should sneeze from the chili. (You may want to open a window.)
4. When the garlic is ready, add the pork. Break it up in the pan with your spatula, to make sure it cooks evenly. Fry until no longer red.
5. Add sugar, soy sauce & fish sauce. Stir and let absorb.
6. When dry, add the water and the basil leaves. Stir until basil is wilted, and serve on rice.
7. If you want to top with a fried egg, add a bit more oil in the pan, and allow the oil to get very hot. Crack an egg in the middle. If it’s hot enough the egg will bubble up and sizzle. When browned on the edges, flip and wait until browned on the other side. Remove and place on top of the rice.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Out With The Old, In With The New

After many many many years, my parents finally bought themselves a new car!

I accompanied my parents to Miller Toyota in Manassas today while Luke went off to class (last session of the spring semester!). The process was easy. My mom saw the special in the paper. The special price was for one particular car only. Once we got there, the salesperson took us out for a test drive in that particular car. The color was right, the price was (almost) right. Sold. Of course, my parents had done their due diligence and went to another dealership beforehand.

My parents with their new wheels - 2009 Toyota Camry LE in Magnetic Gray Metallic.

Say goodbye to our old family car. This 1987 Nissan Sentra was my mom's very first car in the US. She picked us up from the airport with it when we arrived to the US from Taiwan. The 5 us squeezed into this tiny car and my mom drove us to our new home. Ahhh, memories. Later, my brother Andy drove this car in high school and then in college (I believe the car got spray painted by a prankster at that time). The car has also been in at least one car accident and we never fixed the body completely because we thought, "why fix an old car?" Nowadays, this is my dad's mobile. The car has less than 80K miles on it, but it's just too old and unreliable. It breaks down every now and then and without air conditioning, it's uncomfortable to drive in the summer, especially with the vinyl seats. My parents are donating it to charity. It's bittersweet to say goodbye to something that has been with us for so long.

I took Pargo along. After laying all over the backseat of the new car and listening in on the conversations, Pargo gave us his seal of approval!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Five Years And Counting

Five years ago today, on our first official date, Luke took me to Little Fountain Café, a quaint and cozy restaurant in Adams Morgan. I still recall the specific details of that Friday night. From what we ordered to which pair of shoes I was wearing. We shared stories and laughs over dinner, as well as an umbrella under the rain. The meal was superb and the company was impeccable. We have been inseparable since.

Luke said that all we need to remember now is our wedding anniversary on 9/9. I object. Just because we are married now doesn't mean we forget the important dates of the past. So as simple as it may be, we went to Corner Bakery for dinner tonight (a little deja vu). I had my usual chicken pesto sandwich and Luke had chicken pomodori (a panini version of my sandwich). And this year, we shared a pecan bar (as well as stories and laughs).

Happy 5 Years, Ahbow! :-*

Note: Picture in the post was taken at the National Zoo in DC, on a Saturday in May 2003

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

"Am I blocking you?"

by Guest
Those were the first words my wife ever said to me. (^-^ )

It was 1996 and she had just turned 18 that day. We were both in our first year as undergrads down in Blacksburg, VA. A club we were both interested in was holding a car wash that day to raise some cash. While I was riding with my brother to the wash, I saw this cheerful looking girl walking on the sidewalk with another girl next to her. I was forced to do a double take as we drove by and twisted my neck to see the shrinking figures out the rear window. As I sat back down to face the oncoming road again, my older brother laughed and asked, "Did you see something you liked?" I just chuckled as a grin grew on my face. I wondered if they were heading to the car wash as well. I wondered if she would be heading to the car wash.

Sure enough, the two girls eventually showed up. I was playing it cool of course, pretending not to notice them. One was rather tall and had a beautiful smile. The other one was shorter and...well, I don't remember much about her. So we did our thing and helped wash some cars. I glanced over every now and then and she was speaking with folks that I didn't know. I mainly hung around other guys who brought their rides along and oggled at all the cool gear underneath the hoods. Yeah I know, sounds dumb, but its not like any of the girls were wearing t-shirts and getting all wet and stuff. Hell, the tall pretty one had a friggin sweatshirt on! A pink one, to be exact. The brisk fall weather had already settled in down in Blacksburg.

Eventually, at the end of the day, everyone gathered together for a group picture. And of course, the tall girl that wouldn't stop smiling stepped right in front of me. I was like, "WTF man!? You're blocking me! I want to be in the picture too you know!" Well, that's what I was thinking anyways. Noticing her own rude behavior, this girl turned around and asked, "Am I blocking you?"

"No", I said...

It took a while, but seven years later, we finally went on our first real date. Five years ago this very day, on another Friday just like today.

Happy Anniversary!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Everything Is Better With Cilantro

- We had salmon for dinner tonight. Yum.
- We harvested our cilantro and used it as garnish. Yummier.
- Our new camera rocks! Yummiest!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Summer Of Love No More

Day 5 - Haight-Ashbury, Union Square, and Cable Car Museum

My trip to San Francisco went by in the blink of an eye. Although it went by quickly, I had also did so much that by the last full day, I only had a few more places to visit.

By then, I had ridden the cable car, bus, and underground streetcar. However, I hadn’t taken the F-Market streetcar that runs above ground. The F-Market streetcars are beautiful, retro, and multicolored. They are actually from the 1930s and provide a quick and charming way to get up-and downtown without any hassle. My first stop of the day was to visit the Haight-Ashbury district. Haight-Ashbury could easily be reached by taking one of the buses, non-stop. However, because I wanted to experience the F-Market streetcar, I took the more complicated way to get there. :)

The Haight-Ashbury district is part trendy, part nostalgic, and part funky. It was the soul of the free-loving 1960s and the center of the counterculture movement. Today, there is a Ben & Jerry Ice Cream right in the middle of the main intersection. Yes, the Summer of Love is long gone, but it was still a fascinating place to visit and people-watch. The Haight offers ethnic food, trendy shops, and bars cover all tastes. There is something for everyone.

At the intersection of Haight and Ashbury (see the street signs)

Yes, I was very discrete when I took this picture.

I had more than enough time at Haight-Ashbury because I was waiting for Linda. I went to the side streets (more quiet and more Victorian houses) and even bought a book from The Booksmith (*gasp* I paid retail! Something I never do, but I wanted my own copy of Lonely Planet SF). By the time Linda arrived, I had walked up and down the street several times and read all the menus posted outside of the restaurants.

Scenes 'round the neighborhood.

We had lunch at the Citrus Club. From the outside, Citrus Club looked a little sketchy, but the Zagat-Rated sticker caught my eyes. The inside was much cuter and homey! We both had pho noodle soup and it was delicious and cheap. I don't know why I like noodles so much when I am away from home.

We then went to Union Square, the major commercial hub of SF. Major hotels and department stores are crammed into the area surrounding the actual square. A plethora of upscale boutiques, restaurants, and galleries occupy the spaces tucked between the larger buildings. On that particular day, there was an Art Fair showcasing local artists at the square. Linda and I were much more interested in that then the department stores.

We spent some time browsing and I bought a piece of artwork as souvenir. I even took a picture with the artist, Karin Diesner of Karin Diesner Designs . The sun was right in my eyes and my face was awful-looking, so I cropped myself out for your (the readers) sake.

This painting is now framed and hanging in our dining room.

On the way to the Cable Car Museum, we stumbled upon this snack shack. Yum, salty fried chicken. As I mentioned before, the Chinatown in SF is largely Cantonese-based, so it was great to find a little piece of Taiwan. I even saved some for Luke!

The Cable Car Museum is a free museum and fairly tiny, but here is where visitors can learn all about cable cars. I learned, 1) cable cars have no engines, 2) the cars run along a steel cable and that is what “moves” the car 3) the cars move at a constant 9 ½ mph – never more, never less, and 4) first cable car made its debut in 1873. I feel that much more educated now.

Shortly after the Cable Car Museum, Linda and I said goodbye and promised to keep in touch. That night, Luke and I went to Chinatown for dinner (again!), but no pictures because I forgot to put the memory card back in the camera after I took it out. After dinner, we slowly strolled back to our hotel, knowing that our trip was coming to an end.

As I've told many people, San Francisco was one of the best trips I've taken. The sights, the food, the weather, the people. Everything exceeded my expectations. I most definitely want to visit again and, next time, be Luke's tour guide!

Related Posts:
Hello There!
Under The California Sun
Two Happy Inmates
Steps and Tower and Chinatown! Oh, my!
The Wharf! Check! Pier 39! Check!
An Afternoon In The Park
The Painted Sugars

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Lens

The "lens" in sugarlens just went up a few notches!

Early last month, Luke pre-ordered our new toy - a new camera! More specifically, the Canon XSi, newly released just few days ago. After hearing rumors that the camera wouldn't be released until June, we weren't expecting it for another while. Imagine our surprise when Luke received an UPS tracking number for the package late last week! After much anticipation, we received the package today! Oh, welcome! Welcome to your new home!

Here it is, in all its glory. Also pictured is a 16GB SD memory card! We will be able to take over 2800 pictures on the highest resolution. Knowing us, that's probably still not enough. :) Photo taken by our now semi-retired SD800.

So to break in our new camera, we took a few shots around the house. And who is a better subject than Pargo? I am blown away by the quality of the photos. The camera isn't all that bulky either. In fact, it's a lot lighter than I expected. I can't wait to take it outside for a spin.

I've tried to capture Pargo yawning a dozen of times before with SD800, but they always came out blurry. Finally got it!

There is definitely a lot to learn. Luke already sent me a link to help me get started. Eventually, we will also need to get a new lens, but baby steps. Stay tuned for more pictures in the near future!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kite Festival & The Rest

I realized I never finished blogging about the day my mom and I had in DC for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. What happened next really weren't all that interesting to me, but I don't like to leave loose ends behind so I am going to wrap up the day in a rather short post.

Picking from where I left off, we walked towards the Washington Monument for the 42nd Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival. This year's theme was "China: Brush Strokes in the Sky". On top of giving away free kites for the first couple hundreds of visitors, there were festival booths offering demonstrations of traditional kite-making and explaining the history of Chinese kites.

The festival had just started so there weren't that many kites in the sky yet. When we finally left DC roughly 2 or 3 hours later, the sky was filled with them.

Because the theme revolved around China, there was even a lion dance. My mom and I were at the very front, and the lion got pretty close!

They asked for volunteers to hold the American flag for the opening ceremony. My mom volunteered and I stayed behind to take pictures.

Next, we drove to the National Building Museum for the Family Day. The huge space was decorated in pink and huge cherry blossom balloons floated between the pillars. It was my first time visiting the Building Museum so we took the guided tour. It was a good hour wasted. Ask me what I learned and I wouldn't be able to tell you. =P

In addition to this performance stage, there were many Japanese culture-related activities such as wearing kimonos and learning about brush painting.

The bulk of the activities, though, were geared towards kids. There were several Japanese arts & design stations for the children to play. At the origami station, my mom played with the kiddies and made this crane. Can you tell who was the major sponsor of this Family Day? That's right, Target.

After this crane was created, we left for home. Next year, I am going to skip all these events and just go see the flowers. I am not into these organized activities at all. Still, now I can say I've seen them and I've seen them with my mom. :) This wraps up the series, thanks for "spending" the day with us!

Related posts:
A Day Of Hanami
FDR, Jerfferson & More Blossoms

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Around The Capitol Hill Neighborhood

I am interrupting my regular San Francisco broadcasting to bring you some local news. Yesterday was a gorgeous 80 degrees in DC and in the spirit of my 101 in 1001 project (#7 specifically), my friend Vivian and I visited the Eastern Market in DC. I first met Vivian on our class trip to China. I didn't know many people in the group and as soon as I saw her sitting alone, I started up a conversation with her. We ended up spending a lot of time together during the trip. Vivian is a nice travel buddy; she doesn't complain and is up for anything.

The secret to finding a parking space in DC, I've learned, is to arrive before 10am. We did just that, and despite of many road closures, we found one easily. We had 2 items on the agenda - take the guided tour of the US Capitol and visit the Eastern Market. After we arrived, we immediately obtained 2 tickets to the free tour and received the 1:40-tour tickets. With a few hours to wait, we decided to go to Eastern Market and come back later for the tour. It was only a 15-minute walk to Eastern Market. To get there, we walked through the historical Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The brick sidewalks and handsome, yet modest, row houses with beautiful gardens made this walk really enjoyable. It was my first time walking this charming, 19th-century neighborhood and I will be back!

The weekend is the best time to visit Eastern Market. In addition to the regular South Hall (temporary relocated from the East Hall, due to a fire in 2007), where fresh meats, produce, seafood, pasta, poultry, baked goods and cheese are sold, there are also the flea market, arts and craft market, and farmers' market.

The arts and craft market had literally hundreds of exhibitors, with a wide selection of handmade pottery, jewelry, ceramics, and crafts. I tried on a few pieces of handmade pearl necklaces, but resisted my urges.

The farmers' market showcased fresh vegetables and fruits, grown locally. I even saw some homemade foods, such as salsa and hummus. The prices were twice as much than they are at my local Giant store, so I passed.

A handful of flower vendors with fresh bouquets of flowers.

I didn't like the flea market nearly as much as the other two. There were just lots of overpriced, useless "antiques". Needless to say, I left empty-handed. I don't know how people manage to find awesome antiques; I guess you really have to have the eyes for well as the wallet.

The South Hall is open for business Tuesday - Sunday.

I had actually learned about the Market Lunch, located in the South Hall, on PBS years ago and was intrigued immediately. I learned that people start to line up at 7am (the shop opens at 8:30) to avoid the long line. They weren't kidding about the line! Vivian and I stood in line for ONE hour. Originally I was going to get the crab cake sandwich, but saw every other person ordering the Blue Bucks (aka blueberry pancakes) so I changed my mind. Luckily, we were in line before 12 noon so we got to order breakfast despite the fact that by the time we ordered, it was after 12:30pm.

The loooong line. In the middle, where people sitting, is the communal table for customers.

After an hour of standing in line, we finally got to sit down! My lunch included, 1) Blue Bucks, made with blueberries and buckwheat, 2) The Brick, fried egg with sausages on a lightly toasted bun, and 3) a side of potatoes. All for $12.03. I asked Vivian for .03 and the man behind the register said, "we don't do that around here." So, it was $12 even. :) Expensive, I know, but it was for the experience.

Sittin' at the communal table. It was way too much food. Even after splitting the Blue Bucks with Vivian, I still couldn't clean my plate. The Brick, I thought, was very good. The pancakes were so-so, but I am not a sweets person to begin with. Next time I will order from the lunch menu. The breakfast seems to be more popular though. The line got a lot shorter after they stopped serving breakfast.

I don't really have a lot to comment on the US Capitol tour. They took us to 2 rooms - The Rotunda and the National Statuary Hall - and called that a tour. Tour was an hour long, but a lot of it went to getting the group cleared to enter (ie, walking through a detector like the ones at airports).

Left - The Apotheosis of Washington inside the Capitol dome
Middle - The Rotunda: the heart of the capitol and serves no legislative function, it is a ceremonial center where state funerals have been held.
Right - National Statuary Hall: at one point in time, this Hall was used to sell livestock (per the tour guide), nowadays, it's just a place to hold statues.

Finally a picture together before we left DC for the day. Thanks for coming along, Vivian!

Eastern Market
306 7th Street, SE.
Washington, DC 20003
(1 1/2 Blocks North of Eastern Market Metro on 7th Street)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!