Thursday, July 31, 2008

Handy Paper Sleeves

I go through phases. One week I exercise everyday. One week I bake up a storm. One week I vegetate in front of TV. Well, this week, I itched to get crafty. I discovered some neat free downloads at this cute site called The Small Objects yesterday, and today I made these handy paper sleeves!

If you like to make your own, click on over to the free downloads link above and follow the easy instructions. I printed mine on 80lb recycled sand specks cardstock and scored the dotted lines first to make the folds cleaner. I used a regular glue stick to complete the project.

These are great - now I can keep extra cash around the house or save those important sales style!

Happy organizing!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My DIY Cake Toppers!

I had so much fun making these cake toppers that I wanted to share how easy it was to make them! Since these topper will go on top of our one-year wedding anniversary cake, I made these in our wedding colors. I even dug out the orange table runners we used at our reception for photos. :)

First, I created the template in Powerpoint by creating 2" circles and typed in the words. Using a color laser printer, I printed the template on 80lb cardstock.

After I've printed, what helped me punch out the circles perfectly was to cut the tags out into little strips. I cut them out as a rectangle, as close to the lines of the circle as possible with a strip to the side for handling. I bought my circle punch* at AC Moore with a 50% off coupon. It was $8.50 and worth the investment.

I also printed a couple of wedding photos on cardstock and repeated the punching process.

I carefully glued two circles (1 "photo" and 1 "words") together, with a wooden stick in the middle. To hide any imperfections, I used a brown ribbon (leftover from wedding days) to pretty it up. Viola!

It will be a couple more weeks before I get to use these cute toppers. To keep them safe and clean, I put them in a glassine envelope. Looks professional, no? I didn't have much luck with my turtle cards, maybe if I listed these on Etsy, they might sell? :)

I am definitely going to make more of these for different occasions!

*Thanks to my hubs for exchanging for a new punch that has a cleaner cut!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Maybe, Maybe

This post is about kids. To have or not to have: that is the question. A question that I've been asked on a number of occasions, including at my wedding reception.

Along with, I imagine, every woman out there, I used to play a numbers game with myself. I'd calculate my "ideal marriage age", "ideal first pregnancy age", and my "absolute latest pregnancy age." My answers were - 25, 28, and 30. Ha!

Come this September, I will turn 30. At this very moment in my life, when someone asks me that question, my standard response is, "I don't know. Maybe eventually. But definitely not now." I am not mentally prepared nor I have the want or the need to have kids, which I think are incredibly important factors. I won't have kids just because "it's the next stage in life." No siree.

Society, however, thinks differently. It's the norm to have kids. There is no greater joy than parenthood! Possibly. But to each of their own, I say. What I get frustrated about is when people raise their eyebrows because of my choice (or the choice I've not yet made rather). They seem to think that it's selfish not to have kids. Well, I think it's most definitely selfish to have kid for reasons of social conformity when I don't know if I want them -- because that is not fair to the child, above all else.

Ultimately, plainly put, having kids is a big deal. Physically, emotionally, and financially. It means no more spur of the moment trips or occasional extravagant spending (such as our Lasik procedures). It means constantly worrying for the next eighteen years, or for the rest of my life for that matter. It means less time to myself. It means dealing with messy house and perpetually sticky cars. Of course, on the flip side, it may also mean countless hours of laughter, family road trips, and just have fun. Watching them grow and learn. I've heard parenthood is quite rewarding.

But notice that I have more negatives than positives?

So right now, I am feeling "maybe". It doesn't put me in an airtight box, and it doesn't expect anything of me. Maybe someday I'll feel differently, and maybe I won't.

How do you feel about raising kids? Who's in the same boat as me?

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

City Of Brotherly Love: Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens, located right outside of Philly, is a fantabulous place to view flowers, walk around, and just simply relax. In addition to flowers, there are sparkling fountains, peaceful lakes, small waterfalls, and a greenhouse. The landscaping is beautiful. I've long wanted to visit the garden and since we were right in the neighborhood, we made a last-minute decision stop by!

Overall, it was a great visit; however, it would had been even better if 1) it wasn't 100 degrees outside, 2) it wasn't between the hottest hours of 1-4pm, 3) it was the fall/spring. Unfortunately for us, we went when it was 100 degrees outside, between 1-4pm, and right in the smack of summer. We took 419 photos. Yes, 419. At $16/pp admission, we won't be back again. So we took pictures of anything and everything.

If you are thinking, hey, I want to visit Longwood too, but it's too hot out! Well, you are in luck. With the official Longwood Gardens Map & Garden Guide next to me as I blog, I will give you a play by play of where we walked and what we saw. Here I go!

1) This is the Topiary Garden where trees and bushes are clipped into cones, cubes, spirals and other shapes such as birds. Hmm...some of the branches needed trimming.

2) I was in a tree-hugging mood. :) At the Hillside Garden, we walked narrow paths, paved stone landings, and granite stairs to a small waterfall and Chimes Tower. We walked down the steps inside the Tower, too.

3) With no shades, we were so hottt (yes, 3 ts) by this point, but we marched on. Luke dipped his feet in the water to cool off and I tried to get as close as I could to a fountain to get some mist.

4) We saw the most colorful and vibrant flowers at the Idea Garden.

5) Longwood's Conservatory is one of the world's great greenhouse structures. According to the guide, it shelters 20 indoor gardens and 5,500 types of plants. I remember the peaches that smelled heavenly and Luke picked a giant lime from a tree.

6) Perhaps my favorite part of the entire garden - the waterlilies! The Waterlily Courtyard in the middle of the Conservatory featured aquatic cannas, cattails, giant waterplatters, lotus, hardy and tropical day-flowering waterlilies and tropical night-flowering waterlilies, papyrus and taro. They all looked the same to me, all very elegant and perfect.

7) The three large-scale treehouses were created by the country's best designers.

8) The meadow is one giant field, with native wildflowers, butterflies and birds.

9) Pictured below includes Italian Water Garden, Large Lake, and Flower Garden Drive. The grounds of Longwood is especially clean and well maintained. I think it's worth the hefty ticket price; after all, it encompasses 1,050 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows. I could've easily spent the whole day here on a cooler day. Oh, it also has more fountains than any other garden in the US and over 400 performances a year. Since this was a last-minute trip for us, we didn't catch any performances, though.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour as much as I had enjoyed putting it together! If you do decide to visit the garden one day, may I suggest spring or fall. I imagine with all the flowers in bloom in spring or the changing of colors in fall will make the garden even more spectacular. Enjoy!

Related posts: City Of Brotherly Love: The Beginning and City Of Brotherly Love: Being Tourists.

Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Rd
Kennett Square, PA 19348

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Friday, July 25, 2008

My First Post

by Pargo
Hi Pargo here. Look at these sweet pictures my mom took of me the other day. She was on her computer as usual and I "pawed" her for attention. So she put me in my big boy bed and put the bed next to her on the table. Seconds later, she had her big camera out and was all over my face! Sigh. So I acted cute and smiled for her. After a few snaps, she showed dad the photos + went back to her computer. Here are the pictures. She made them extra special with Photoshop.

Yay, it's Friday! I love weekends. I get to spend time with my mom and dad w/o their work getting in the way. Wish every day was a Saturday or Sunday. By the way, just like dad, I am going to be a guest blogger every now and then. Mom is really into it so I want to see what the fuss is all about.

xoxo, P

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thai Fried Rice

Fried rice is a good way to clean the refrigerator. As we don't usually have leftovers, Luke and I seldom have it, though. Earlier this week, however, I made extra rice in preparation to cook fried rice later in the week. It was a quick and easy meal. Took me no more than 15 minutes to make.

There are certainly many variations to this quick one-dish meal -- plain, with chicken, shrimp, pork, eggs, vegetables, or any combination of the ingredients above. I decided to make Thai fried rice tonight. And what made it Thai? Fish sauce, of course! It turned out great! We both really enjoyed this comfort food.

Thai Fried Rice w/ Pork and Basil*:

- Cooked rice, day old (a bit dry) is best
- Cooking oil
- Finely chopped garlic
- Crushed red chili pepper
- Chopped scallions
- Ground pork
- 2 eggs
- Frozen mix vegetables
- Few splashes fish sauce
- A pinch salt/pepper
- Garnish with basil (optional)

1. When the pan is extremely hot (smoking hot), pour in the oil and follow with chopped garlic, chili pepper, and chopped scallions. Stir quickly. It can get real smoky.
2. Stir in ground pork. If you see that there is juice coming out from your meat and pooling on the bottom and not evaporating, your pan is not hot enough. When the meat is cooked, set it aside or just put it on the side of the pan if you can.
3. Add the eggs and scramble the eggs until the egg is all cooked. Put the eggs aside or just push it aside and make some room on the bottom of the pan.
4. Add frozen mix vegetables. Add fish sauce and stir. Keep stirring until the vegetables are heated through. Add salt and pepper.
5. Add cooked rice and mix it well with the ingredients. Remember to cook on high heat and stir often. This will give the fried rice that "burnt" taste.
6. Serve hot with sliced basil leaves as garnish.

Making great fried rice requires a number of tricks:
- A wok - it is the best tool for fried rice. If you don't, it can be tricky but still manageable. I don't have one, but the fried rice still turned out mighty tasty.
- High heat - you want your pan as hot as possible. That's why it frequently tastes so much better at a restaurant.
- Dry rice - Making your rice a little drier than normal or using day-old rice keeps the rice from clumping together.

*The amount of ingredients can be increased or decreased based on your liking. If unsure, always start small, taste, and add more if necessary.

Recipe adapted from here and here.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

City Of Brotherly Love: Being Tourists

The drive from DC to Philly was less than 3 hours. Except for the occasional traffic at toll booths, we sped along. We passed by Baltimore and Delaware, and next thing we knew, we were in downtown Philly! It had been a while since my last visit to Philly (it was Christmas Day a couple of years ago - I remember frigid and empty) and while Luke's past jobs had taken him to Philly, he never really visited as a tourist. It was hott (yes, 2 ts), but we were very happy to be there!

The Reading Terminal Market is a great place to shop and food watch! Opened in 1893, this lively market has over 80 merchants offering fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods. The market does not take long to visit, especially if you are not there to shop or to eat. Regardless, I had lots of fun walking around and looking at food. The market has all sorts of food vendors, from Thai to Indian. We didn't stay for lunch, but did treat ourselves to a soft pretzel from an Amish vendor. It was only $2, much cheaper than Auntie Anne's!

The Old City is where all the educational touristy attractions are located. Of course we walked around the area. Did I mention it was unbelievably hot? Yi-Hsin bought us a round of ice coffee from Dunkin Donuts. We did not get tickets to go inside the main part of Independence Hall, but visited Congress Hall and Old City Hall. We also saw the Liberty Bell.

While waiting for the tour to start, I used the brick wall as the backdrop and snapped some pictures of K+Y. They turned out well!

Then we walked to Elfreth's Alley, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited residential streets in the country, dating back to the early 1700s. All the houses on the alley are well maintained and particularly charming. I really liked all the flowers and the bright colors of the houses. I am sure these houses are expensive now since the alley is a National Historic Landmark. However, back in the old days, the homes were lived by everyday people who built and sustained the City of Philadelphia.

I thought the Love Park would be a lot bigger, but pretty much the picture of me and Luke shows it all. We were there for merely 10 minutes, but saw 2 wedding parties taking pictures. Popular! I can see why - it's a pretty place with a fountain. However, there were tons of skateboarders! There is a sign that specifically indicates no skateboarding too. I guess rules aren't heavily enforced in Philly? With all the skateboarding, we didn't feel like staying for too long.

We made it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art after a very long walk. From there, we saw the famous Rocky Statue and skyline. There was a line of people waiting to get their pictures taken with Rocky. Everyone did the same pose; it was funny. My brother and I got our pictures taken too. :) Oh yes, while there, we saw at least 3 wedding parties. Ever heard of originality, people?! ;)

It was a day full of walking under the hot sun. By the time we got in the car to drive to my brother's, we were sweaty and sticky (and Yi-Hsin's feet were not happy with her (or her shoes) at all). Luke and I made a mental note to get K+Y a good pair of sandals soon.

Not pictured here are our dim sum lunch at Chinatown, a stop at Rite Aid for band-aids, and our mango/berry gelato that helped us cool off. All very important part of our trip, but didn't get an opportunity to photograph.

It was a fun day and we saw lots of stuff! Again, thanks K+Y for walking around with us! See, now you know how we vacation! :)

Coming up next, Luke and I go to Longwood Gardens!

Related post: City Of Brotherly Love: The Beginning

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Deciding On A New 'Do

For the past 3+ years, I’ve had the same hairstyle; medium to long in length, layers on the sides/back, and wispy bangs to complete the look. For the most part, I like the style. It’s easy to manage and the layers frame my face well. I don’t spend much time on my hair in the morning. I use volumizing gel to give it more body, shake my head several times, and run out the door. On a bad hair/hot/lazy day, I have the option to pull it back in a ponytail.

I am due for another cut soon. My hair is getting to the stage where the bangs have grown out and the rest of my hair just falls flat on my head. I could get the same cut that I’ve always gotten, or I could mix it up a little. I am thinking the latter. A lot of women grow out their hair for the wedding (as I did) and chop it off drastically afterward. I didn’t do that. But I could! I could do it now, just it time for my upcoming anniversary!

For my face shape, I always worry whether or not a certain hairstyle would make my face look rounder. Doing some research online, I found out this: "To lessen the appearance of roundness, cheekbones should be minimized with hair cut along the sides and towards the face. Haircuts falling just below the chin would easily do the trick. Soft, graduated layers will also make your face appear slimmer. Keeps your bangs long or side-sweeping." So it looks like having a shorter hairdo is definitely an option!

I am 90% convinced that I will chop off my long locks the next time I get a haircut. It will be refreshing, the last time I had short hair was in college. I searched online for inspirations and put together a collage (shown above). My most ideal hairstyle would be a combination of those.

1. Michelle Monaghan looks cute in this 'do. I especially like the length.
2. Reese Witherspoon always look perfect. I want bangs just like that.
3. Sandra Bullock has the girl-next-door look. Again, her bangs are just what I am looking for.
4. Luke has a thing for Anne Hathaway, but I just like the subtle waves in her hair.
5. Usually not a fan of Hilary Swank, but her hair here is my inspiration.
6. One of my favorite actresses, Julia Roberts looks pretty no matter what. This one is no exception.

I will wait a few more weeks before getting the cut. I want a fresh new style just before our anniversary, before we leave for Disney, and before I turn 30.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, July 21, 2008

City Of Brotherly Love: The Beginning

Our conversation went like this last Thursday night:

Me: What are we doing this weekend?
Luke: I don’t know. Do you want to take a trip somewhere?
Me: Okay! Where?
Luke: We could go to Philly and visit your brother.
Me: Okay!

Minutes later, I talked to my brother:

Me: What are you and Yi-Hsin doing this weekend?
Brother: Nothing.
Me: Luke and I are coming to visit. We want to walk around Philly.
Brother: It’s going to be hot, but okay, come on over.

It was hot alright, but that was the beginning of our last-minute impromptu trip to the City of Brotherly Love. We had a great time hanging out with Ken and Yi-Hsin, despite the scorching hot weather. The temperature was in the high 90s, but we still walked all over the streets of Philadelphia. Luke and I have been to Philly before, individually, but this time we saw a lot more than we ever did. Thanks for showing us around, guys! We really appreciated it!

I am going to blog about our trip over the course of next few days. First thing first though, a trip to Philly would not be complete without eating cheesesteaks. So of course we had some! My Philly Insider's Tip #1 - forget Pat’s or Geno’s in South Philly, the real thing is located 45 minutes outside of Philly, in a small town called Lansdale! Ray's Pizzeria and Steaks has the best cheesesteaks - tender meat and none of that cheese whiz junk. No wait + plenty of seating + abundant parking. A hidden treasure! Sssshhh...don't let the secret out!

How good does this look? Cheesesteak with mushroom topping. Double yum-0! We ordered an 18-inch cheesesteak to share.

A 14-inch meat lover pizza. It was greasy, but so delicious!


Stay tuned for more of our Philly adventures!

Ray's Pizzeria & Steaks‎
850 S Valley Forge Rd
Lansdale, PA 19446
(215) 855-9800

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Hot Weekend Coming Up (literally and figurately)

Why I Love My Camera Reason #49: Because I can effortlessly take blog-worthy shots such as this.

Happy Friday!

Luke and I are taking a hop, skip, and a jump over a few states this weekend. Needless to say, I will share all of it when I get back. Ciao!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Book Review: Tuesdays With Morrie

After my disappointment with The Last Lecture, I decided to read the ever-so-popular Tuesdays With Morrie. I picked up the book from the library on Wednesday on the way home from work, started reading on Wednesday night, and finished it before I went to sleep on Thursday. This book is a classic case of, "once you start, you can't put it down."

Tuesdays With Morrie is a touching and inspiring read. It is a true story about Mitch Albom and his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is dying of a terminal disease. For fourteen Tuesdays, Mitch visits Morrie at home to discuss life and its meanings. Each week they discuss profound things that are yet simple. They discuss the world, regrets, death, family, emotions, marriage, the fear of aging, forgiveness...and goodbye. Through dying, Morrie teaches Mitch how to live.

The biggest difference between Tuedays With Morrie and The Last Lecture is the personal stories. While Randy Paush (from The Last Lecture) often boasts of his accomplishments, Morrie leads a very normal life. He shys away from culture norms and finds joy in simple things.

In this short and sweet book, a dying man tells his student and all of us what really matters in life. It is not about fame, fortune, material things, but love, family, and friends. It teaches things that most people already know, but do not put into practice in everyday life. It tells us to cherish everyone and everything; love and compassion for others is the most important part of life. Everything else is secondary.

I whole-heartily recommend this book to everyone! Put this on the top of your reading list!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

M&M Fun

How would you customize your M&Ms? Mine would be Pargo, of course! After all, he's, simply put, the awesomest.

Things he is good at: smiling, barking at UPS trucks, begging for food, sleeping, snuggling, listening to commands, kicking in the bath tub, chewing on toys, looking cute, playing chase, walking on leash, protecting his mom, and giving kisses.

Pargo! He's the best.

Oh yes, these personalized M&Ms are pretty cool too. They'll print your own message, logo, or even photos on any of 22 shell colors. You can choose your own packaging, too. Fun gifts or favors!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Shortbread Cookies

These cookies were more complicated to make than the chocolate chip cookies, but with Luke's help, it didn't seem too bad. :) Instead of just dropping the dough on the cookie sheet, this dough had to be rolled out and cut out using a cookie cutter (I used a flower cookie cutter). The dough was sticky to work with too. I got about 13-15 cookies from the recipe and between those cookies, there were two sticks of butter! Okay, so these cookies are definitely not low-fat. Eat them with extreme caution! I love shortbread cookies, but it's unlikely I will make them again (maybe during the holidays though). I like to have good health much more.

Oh, but these cookies are so good and they they have this melt-in-your-mouth texture. Extremely silky and smooth. Eat them with jam or dipped them in melted chocolate. I like mine just as they are, though.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Shortbread Cookies:

- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a separate bowl whisk the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. latten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into rounds or whatever shapes you wish using lightly floured cookie cutter.

5. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until cookies are lightly brown. Cool on rack.

Receipe adapted from Joy of Baking.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wow, it had been a long time since I made chocolate chip cookies (or anything for that matter) from scratch. Nowadays I usually make cookies using Betty Crocker's cookie mix - they are easy and goof-proof. But this time, I challenged myself.

I was kinda of bored yesterday and my mind started to wonder. I thought: there are too many sticks of butter in the freezer and an opened bag of semisweet chocolate chips in the pantry. So I decided baking would be a fun way to occupy the afternoon. I found this recipe. The words soft and chewy caught my eyes because that's exactly the way I like my chocolate chip cookies. And probably unlike 99% of the population, I prefer less chocolate chips than overloaded with them. So instead of using a cup like the recipe called for, I used 1/2 cup.

The cookies turned out great! I am very surprised by how light the dough color is though. The cookies didn't brown much nor smooth out on the top. So they may look like they are still raw after baking. Be careful not to over-bake them just because they may still "look" undone! Baking for 8-10 minutes according to the recipe is the way to go.

The cookies are very tasty and I devoured them while they were hot. I like it that they are dough-y, less greasy (as compared to Betty Crocker), and not overly sweet that you feel your teeth rotting as you eat. I will definitely make them again!

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies:
-The recipe yielded 14 medium-size cookies for me, even though it was supposed to make 1.5 dozen.

- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add the salt, vanilla, and egg. Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

2. Drop heaping tablespoon-size balls of dough about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

3. Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, but still soft in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool on baking sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Book Review: The Last Lecture

The first time I learned about Randy Pausch was from my mom. She asked if I've ever heard of The Last Lecture and I shook my head. She said Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, a husband, a father, and diagnosed with terminal cancer. The first thought that went through my head was, "So?" Call me insensitive, but millions of people, with families, in this world are diagnosed with cancer. What makes this guy special? I quickly brushed her off and we moved onto a different topic.

A couple of weeks later, he appeared on Oprah (I was channel surfing). And because if it is on Oprah, it must be good (me being very sarcastic), right? So after months of saying I would read his book, I finally did. It only took me one night and the next morning to finish. It's a small book with short chapters. Each chapter tells a personal story, sometimes amusing, but always with a lesson.

The Last Lecture is filled with common sense advice about how to live your life. Most are cliches and have been said before by others in the past, but I find his personal stories interesting - especially the Disney ones. He's a man with lots of accomplishments (ie. being a Disney Imagineer!) and a positive outlook about life. I admire that.

Having said that, in the book, Pausch comes across as arrogant and self-serving. I understand that the book is intended to be a memoir for his children, and it should remain just that. We are given glimpses of his memories and life experiences, and, while fascinating at times, I found this autobiography did little to inspire me. Pausch draws life lessons from his own life experiences, but he does so in a way that seems to expound on his own greatness. For me, being humble is everything.

Skip the book. Watch the lecture if you are really that curious. I will unlikely watch/read anything Oprah-recommended again.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cutesy Cupcake Toppers

Whenever I am stuck for ideas, I turn to my two most valuable resources, Etsy and Flickr, for inspiration. I have been on a cupcake topper craze as of late. I am itching to make some! I told Luke about the vision for my big project and I think he said something along the line of being crazy and having too much time on my hands. Hmph.

Anyway, the collage above are just few of my favorites - aren't they just too cute for words? Since my cake decorating skills are far from advance, these would come in handy in spicing up my cupcakes!

From the look of it, in addition to creativity and patience, I will also need these tools/supplies to get me started: round punch, assorted scrapbook papers, glue dots, thin ribbons, access to color printer, and plain ol' cardstock. Time to go shopping.

From L to R - Baby Cupcake Toppers, Cupcake Toppers from THE POLKADOT COLLECTION, Giraffe Cupcake Toppers, Spring Baby Shower Cupcake Toppers, First Birthday Cupcake Toppers, Vintage Barnyard Cupcake Toppers, Customized Cupcake Flags, Birthday Party Cupcake Toppers, Map Cake Toppers, Owl Cupcake Toppers, Ann Taintor Cupcake Toppers, Birthday Cupcakes!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pargo + DC

A happy day is...
An early morning outing with hubby and pup.
Strolling in DC before the crowd shows up.
Posing for pictures. Soaking up the fresh air.
Capturing the moments.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fresh Basil Pesto

OK, I know I have been posting a lot about food lately, but eating was literally what Luke and I did all weekend. So here I go, but I promise this is the last food post for a while.

Our basil plants are doing extremely wonderful - so wonderful that I can't use them fast enough! I decided to make pesto to use them all up. And boy did it work. Our pots are nearly naked and it only made 1 cup of pesto.

I read that pesto can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days, or you must put it in the freezer. The day I made them, I put some on angel hair pasta; it was pretty good. Very light and nutty and perfect for a summer meal. It would be better if I had some kind of protein like grilled chicken to go with it. You can also have pesto on toasted baguette slices or homemade pizza. I put the leftover in the freezer for future use.

Fresh Basil Pesto:

- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts (I used walnuts)
- 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and black pepper to taste

1. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup. Receipe from Simply Recipes.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Taiwanese Chow Mein (台式炒麵)

Many many years ago, we had the best chicken chow mein (炒麵) in a tiny Chinese take-out restaurant in Woodbridge, VA. It was so good that even though Woodbridge is a well 45-minute away, we decided to visit again on one Saturday, only to find it was closed (not for business, just not open for the day yet). We never did try to go back again. To this day, we still talk about the greasy-yet-very-delicious noodles we had that day.

This past weekend, when I saw the spicy wontons in my Chinese cookbook, I also saw a mouth-watering picture of chow mein. I decided to continue my cooking extravaganza and made it yesterday for lunch. This recipe is so easy to make (and again, it is one of those recipes that you can tweak it however you like) and so tasty! Both Luke and I love it - although I stopped myself after one bowl and he went on to eat three bowls! Not to toot my own horn, but it's definitely as good as the chow mein from Woodbridge!

Taiwanese Chow Mein:

- 16oz oiled noodles (very important to use this exact noodles)
- ground pork
- dried shrimp (蝦米)
- sliced shitake mushroom (香菇)
- shredded carrots
- shredded cabbage (高麗菜)
- bean sprouts
- Chinese chives (韭菜)
- soy sauce
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup of broth

1. Blanch oiled noodles, strain
2. Heat oil, fry shitake mushrooms, dried shrimps, ground pork, cabbage, and carrots. Cook thoroughly and until soft. Add salt, pepper, and soy sauce.
3. Add broth and simmer.
4. Add noodles, bean sprouts, and chives. Mix well.
5. Serve!

*We are not a fan of bean sprouts and chives so we skipped them. In the future, I may substitute ground pork for sliced chicken or shrimps.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Spicy Wonton (紅油抄手)

Out of the blue on one cloudy day, I decided to spend the day in the kitchen. I flipped though one of my favorite Chinese cookbooks and saw a picture of spicy wontons. It made my mouth water so off I went to the grocery store, bought all the ingredients, and set to work.

It was an easy (although time consuming) dish to put together since I am pretty experienced at making wontons (I make the meat mixture and Luke wraps while watching a movie). We usually eat them in noodle soup or just plain soup. I like this new way of eating them, but just remember to eat in moderation! This is an excellent dish as an appetizer, but I don't recommend eating it as the main dish. It is extremely spicy!

Spicy Wontons:

- 15 to 20 wontons*
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 1 tablepoon of chilli oil
- 1 tablepoon of chilli paste
- 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
- roughly chopped coriander and green onion (as garnish)

1. Cook the wontons thoroughly and drain, set aside
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl
3. Add the wontons and toss well in the ingredients
4. Serve (in small portions!)

*I am sure everyone has their own version of making wontons. Mine consists of ground pork, chopped green onions, a square of tofu (to make the mixture less dense), egg, salt, pepper, sesame oil, and soy sauce. I don't have the exact recipe because I eyeball everything. Some people choose to add finely grind shrimp, which works very well. I sometimes add chopped ginger if I have any in the house. You can add and substitute anything, it's really up to what you prefer.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Movie Review: Wall-E

For years Luke and I had two free movies tickets that I had won at Tiffany's baby shower. Whenever a new movie came out (ie. Cloverfield, Transformers, Sex and the City, etc), we would want to use the tickets to see it...but we never got a chance to. Well, we finally used up the tickets yesterday, and they did not go wasted!

I like Wall-E a lot, but Luke loves it - the movie is now his new favorite Disney/Pixar movie, beating out Monsters, Inc. The story is simple and cute, but it also delivers an important message. The animation is so visually rich and well-crafted. Two-thumbs up from Sugarlens!

I am not going to give away the story, but I will say this. In addition to the cute robots, the movie has a subtle message about the nature of consumerism, resulting people into pampered, helpless, and overweight baby-like adults, being totally dependent on automatons and robots. We all know that this message has been told over and over again, in different forms. However, Pixar/Disney did it in a very lighthearted and charming manner in the form of a sweet, trash-compacting robot dutifully doing its job on trash-filled Earth. It is wonderfully done, without going overboard. Oh and yes, there is a love story in the mix too!

Luke already said that once the movie comes out on Blu-ray, he's going to invite everyone over to watch it. Also, Wall-E is ranked among his all time favorite movies Braveheart and Heat. Now that says a lot.

Go see it. Enjoy the story. Feast your eyes on the animation. You wouldn't want to miss it!

PS. I wouldn't mind spending a week on Axiom though, the facility and service looks a-ma-zing. :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chocolatey Peanut Butter Surprise Cupcake

I have been looking forward to make these for weeks, ever since I saw this. Luke loves anything chocolate and peanut butter so I knew this would be a winner with him. I didn't bake the exact same cake, but Bakerella definitely inspired me to bake up this sweet concoction. We are bringing these to a cookout later today.

Chocolate Cupcakes:
Use the Rich Chocolate Cake recipe. I skipped the semi-sweet chocolate chips this time.

Peanut Butter Filling:
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 3 tablespoons milk

I had a jar of Duncan Hines Whipped Chocolate Frosting in the pantry for the longest time, so I used that for my cupcakes. This will be my last time buying chocolate frosting though - the homemade tastes much better. Try the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting for yours.

1. Bake the cupcakes according to directions and let it cool.
2. In medium-size bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat peanut butter and butter until smooth. On low speed, gradually beat in sugar and 3 tablespoons milk. On high speed, beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute. If too thick, beat in 1 tablespoon milk.
3. When cupcakes are cooled, spoon filling into large pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip. Insert tip into top of each cupcake; squeeze as much filling into center of each as possible (top will bulge).
4. Generously frost each cupcake. If desired, use a pastry bag to pipe on the frosting for a prettier presentation.
5. Optional: Sprinkle the top with crumbled Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

6. Required: ENJOY!

*Warning* Eat few and far in between. Do not eat these cupcakes without a tall glass of milk nearby. Overall, I am very happy with the cake (very moist and not overly sweet) and the filling (simple to make, and gave the cupcakes an extra oomph). They turned out beautifully. Again, I would just change the frosting next time.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!