Friday, August 29, 2008

Genius!!

I really like this. Really really like this.

When I bake, I get stuff all over the counter. Flour, sugar, all sorts of powder. I am convinced that if I had these glass-front drawers, my kitchen would be squeaky clean.

Oh my goodness, my heart is going pitter-patter. Read more!

You may be thinking, bad idea, the drawers will get messy. Well, this is what The Pioneer Woman has to say about that:

"In the six-plus years I’ve lived here, I’ve never once found a critter in any of the drawers. I try to keep it pretty fresh in there; I use a pastry scraper to get out the last bit of flour, then I always remove the drawers and wipe them out with a hot, sudsy cloth."

She got it all covered.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Singapore Rice Noodles

Before we went on our first official date, Luke and I ate at a Chinese restaurant inside a local mall. I ordered Singapore rice noodles and he ordered beef noodle soup. Yeppers, I am amazed, too, that I can remember all these little details. Even more impressive, I remember saving the last shrimp to be eaten at the very end! :)

There are many varieties of rice noodles throughout Asia. However, I believe that only Singapore has the curry variety, though.

A plate of rice noodles at the restaurant is $8. Surely I can make it at home for a lot cheaper, right? Right! Not only that, mine was less greasy + more tasty than the one from the restaurant, if I do say so myself!

In the Singapore version, in additional to curry powder, shrimps and barbecued pork are other two common ingredients. I didn't have barbecued pork so I used plain ground pork. It worked well, too. However, next time, I will probably make char siu a couple of days in advance and use the leftover for this dish. I think it will make the dish even better and more authentic.

Now I need to learn to make beef noodles soup and Luke and I can have the exact same meal all over again...at home!

Singapore Rice Noodles:

- 2 large Chinese dried mushrooms
- 8 ounces rice vermicelli
- 2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice cooking wine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 ounces small shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1 cup cabbage, cut into julienne strips
- 1/2 cup carrots, cut into julienne strips
- 1/2 cup finely shredded scallions
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 cup homemade chicken broth
- 4 ounces Chinese barbecued pork, store-bought or homemade, cut into julienne strips

1. In a medium bowl, soak the mushrooms in 1/4 cup cold water for 30 minutes, or until softened. Drain and squeeze dry. Cut off and discard stems and thinly slice the caps.

2. In a large bowl, soak the rice noodles in enough cold water to cover for 20 to 30 minutes, or until noodles are limp and softened. Drain in a colander and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and the shrimp, and stir-fry 10 seconds. Add the scallions and stir-fry 30 seconds, or until shrimp have just turned orange but are not cooked through. Transfer the shrimp mixture to a plate and set aside.

4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoon vegetable oil and sliced mushrooms, and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add cabbage and carrots. Cook until tender. Add the curry powder and stir-fry 10 seconds, or until fragrant. Stir soy sauce mixture and swirl it into the wok. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil over high heat.

5. Add the drained rice noodles and return to a boil, stirring noodles to completely coat in curry mixture. Cover and cook over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until noodles are just tender. Add the shrimp and barbecued pork*, and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes, or until shrimp are just cooked through and liquid has been absorbed by the noodles. Serve immediately.

* Again, I didn't have barbecued pork so I substituted with ground pork. I cooked the ground pork thoroughly after I cooked the shrimps and set it aside, along with the shrimp mixture.

[Recipe adapted via The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen cookbook by Grace Young via Sunday Nite Dinner]

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Before The Summer Ends

I can’t believe we are near the tail end of summer! It seems not so long ago when we celebrated the beginning of summer by bird-watching at Chincoteague. How time flies! Halloween decorations are being stocked in stores (way too soon in my opinion), the days are getting dark earlier, and pumpkins and apples are appearing around the neighborhood. Soon my usual 20-minute commute to work will be 25 or more (darn those school buses). Trade in skirts for pants. No more sandals.

I love autumn (it makes me want to send someone a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils!), and while I have had a great and fulfilling summer, I want to hold onto the warm summer days for as long as I can and enjoy soaking them up to their fullest. Or at least, there is one more thing I need to do (or eat) before letting them go.

Warm weather calls for treats like sorbet, lemonade, and most importantly, popsicles. I find them to be the perfect summertime treat: fruity and refreshing. My favorite is strawberry popsicles. This classic treat will never go out of style for me.

Unfortunately, for some strange reason, I haven't had any all summer long! I am not worried though, because once we get to Disney (10 more days and counting), I will be sure to have a couple of my beloved Minnie’s Strawberry Fruit Bars before the summer ends!

(Not the most flattering picture of me, but I sure enjoyed that popsicle on that warm summer evening. Picture taken at EPCOT in 2006.)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shrimp Toast

Sitting in the office today, my mind started to wonder. Suddenly I had an urge to make shrimp toasts. I had all the ingredients so after I got home, I went straight to work.

The recipe was easy, very easy, to execute. Blend all ingredients, except bread, into paste using a food processor, slather the paste onto the bread, and fry. The result was marvelous! It tasted very good, just like the popular appetizer at any Chinese takeout restaurant. Yum. I really liked the shrimp flavor.

However, I won't make them again. At least not for just 2 people.

Why?

I made way too much. I used 10 slices of bread which yielded 20 shrimp toasts. I was done after 3 toasts. Luke had maybe 5. I made a trip to my parents' house and gave some away, but we still have a platter of them left in the house as I type. While the toasts were very good, I should have made less. All the shrimps I used could have been put to a better use elsewhere. Ditto for the bread.

So why don't I just make less next time? Well, these puppies are not low-fat or figure-friendly. Enough said.

Don't get me wrong, I think this is a great finger food for parties. Make them for a party and I am sure they will be a hit.

But, don't make them for just 2 people, and definitely don't make them the only dish for dinner. Lesson learned.

Shrimp Toast:

- 10 slices white bread
- 1 lb cooked peeled shrimp
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 large egg
- 2 tablespoon water chestnut
- 1 teaspoon ginger root
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoon corn starch
- 2 teaspoon oyster sauce
- oil, for frying

1. Cut bread from corner to corner twice, to form small triangles.* Set aside.
2. Using a food processor, blend all ingredients, except bread, until a smooth paste has formed.
3. Spread paste evenly on top of bread.
4. Heat oil in wok and fry toasts, shrimp paste side down, for 4 to 5 min, until golden. WARNING: WATCH THEM CAREFULLY. THEY MAY TAKE CONSIDERABLY LESS THAN 4 MIN TO BECOME GOLDEN.
5. Drain toasts thoroughly.
6. Enjoy!

*Tip: I did not do this, but baking the bread at 225 degrees for 30 minutes or until the bread is completely dry will ensure the oil doesn't seep into the bread. At least, this is what I read online.

Recipe adapted from here and here.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Getting Shopping Done Early

Usually I don't participate in the whole holiday-giving spirit, but I am feeling generous this year! :)

(To friends and family, please do not continue or you will ruin your Christmas present surprise!)

Yes, Luke and I got our shopping done early. Forget baklava, we are giving out bags of chips this Christmas! Can't wait to see the look on their faces!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sprinkles' Strawberry Cupcake

Whew! I literally spent the entire morning in the kitchen baking, but my hard work did not go wasted. These sweet little cupcakes turned out delicious! They are bursting with fresh strawberry flavor. I especially like the light pale pink color!

A couple of months ago, I saw Candance Nelson, Executive Chef of Sprinkles, on The Martha Stewart Show. Sprinkles Cupcakes, started in LA, is the very first bakery dedicated to just selling cupcakes. On the show, Nelson, along with Martha, was baking up a batch of Sprinkles' signature strawberry cupcake. It looked easy enough, so I filed the recipe away for future use. Fast forward to today, I went to the store and saw fresh strawberries on sale. I got some and set to work immediately after I go home.

I hadn't baked from scratch in a long time so it took me a while. I had to wash, cut, and puree the fresh strawberries too, so that added work. Usually I just dump all the wet and dry ingredients in one bowl, but because I didn't want to mess it up, I followed the directions exactly, which called for using several bowls....which meant more dishes to wash.

There are quite a few negative comments on this recipe, so I was a little bit worried about them being right. Well, they were wrong! The cupcakes are flavorful, but not artificially sweet. The creamy frosting added even more strawberry flavor to the cupcakes. The color is just gorgeous too! I will surely make them again.

(For those who may want to take a shortcut, Sprinkles sells their mixes at Williams-Sonoma. I would get the Red Velvet. The best part? The mix includes their signature confectioners’ “dots”. These little darlings would be a hit at dinner parties!)

Things I did differently:
1) I did not sift the flour because I do not have a sifter. Sifted flour are more airy and lighter than unsifted flour. Therefore, I believe the 1 1/2 cups of unsifted flour I used were too much than what the recipe called for. The cupcakes turned out just fine, but a little bit on the denser side. I recommend sifting your flour for a lighter texture.
2) For the cake mix, I used 2/3 cup of strawberry puree instead of 1/3 cup. This gave the cupcakes a stronger berry flavor. I highly recommend this!
3) I used 2% milk instead of whole milk.

Sprinkles' Strawberry Cupcake:

- 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed*
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
2. Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.
5. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.
6. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

Sprinkles' Strawberry Frosting:

- 1/2 cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed*
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
- Pinch of coarse salt
- 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

*It doesn't bother me, but some people may not like to see strawberry seeds in the cupcakes. To remove the seeds, simply strain the puree.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ma Po Tofu (麻婆豆腐)

I used to make this dish using a spicy bean sauce that is readily prepared to make Ma Po Tofu. I simply cooked ground pork thoroughly, added tofu, and added a few spoonful of the special sauce. If I felt like it, I garnished it with chopped green onion. Simple.

For some strange reason, I can no longer find the spicy bean sauce at my local Asian grocery stores anymore. This prompted me to make the dish from scratch. I browsed and compared a few recipes and they all seem to call for chili bean sauce (or hot bean paste or spicy bean paste or something similar). I found it without problems at the store for $2.99. Not bad at all.

This recipe is adapted from here and here. I am glad I cut back on some of the spice because my dish was already spicy enough for me! I really liked this dish. It had just enough flavor without being mouth-numbing (which is actually the way it should be). Still, the dish somehow tasted more authentic having cook it from scratch instead of using a jar. I highly recommend it!

Ma Po Tofu:

- 1 block medium/firm tofu (19 oz box)
- 1/4 lb ground pork
- 2 tablespoons chili bean sauce (辣豆瓣酱)
- 1 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoons chili oil
- 1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fermented black beans (rinsed and pounded)
- 2 stalks scallions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 slices ginger, chopped
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt to taste

Corn Starch Thickening:
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 2 tablespoon water

Pork Marinate:
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn starch

1. Combine salt, sugar, corn starch, and marinate pork for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, make the thickening by combining corn starch and water. Set aside.
2. Cut the tofu into small pieces, drain the water from the tofu. Set aside.
3. Heat up a pan and pour in the cooking oil and chili oil. Add the chopped garlic, chopped ginger, ground pork, chili bean sauce, and stir-fry until the pork is half-done.
3. Then add in soy sauce, fermented black beans, and stir-fry until aromatic.
4. Add in tofu and water; stir gently to blend the tofu (don't break them) well with the sauce.
5. Lower the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes.
6. Stir in corn starch thickening. Keep stirring.
7. Add in chopped scallions. Gently stir and blend well. Dish out and serve hot.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dressing Up Water

This little project was totally spontaneous. I stole this idea (i.e. template) from here.

I downloaded the PDF format of the pretty pink/purple set, opened it up in Photoshop to personalize, and saved it as .jpg. I used whimsical Grenouille font for all my labels. The .jpg file should be roughly 8.5" by 11", like a regular sheet of copier paper. I then opened a blank Word document and changed the margin to zero all around. Lastly, I just inserted my picture file into the blank document and printed using color laser printer. Caution: ink jet will make the labels bleed if they get wet.

With Luke's help, we removed labels for .5L bottles, cut out the sheets into strips, and reattached using the sticky from the bottle (lots will be left on it) and used glue stick to secure the ends. So easy! The labels are a little bit short in length. If I was doing this from scratch, I would make it longer to cover more of the bottle. But since I barely did any work to make this project, I can't complain too much.

This is a very cost effective way to add a little pizazz to your next party!

So what do you think? Have I changed much since I was a wee baby?

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friends

I have been thinking a lot about friends lately - not the popular sitcom, but my own social circle. Back in high school, I made friendships out of convenience. It was natural to become friends with people who I had more classes with. And because I was shy about my spoken English, I befriended with non-native speakers.

During college, I befriended with my dorm hallmates and people in the same major. I was also drawn to people who shared my ethnic background, with similar personality and interests. They were fun-loving and charismatic. We had lots of laughs and great times together.

Post college, I met a couple of friends through social organizations, grad school, or workplaces. While I still made friends who shared the same ethnicity, I also befriended those who were very different from me. They had diverse life experiences and learning from them had been incredibly eye-opening.

Now that I'm older, I am much more appreciative of quieter qualities such as thoughtfulness and reliability. You could be the wittiest and most engaging person I've ever met...but I no longer have the patience to put up with inconsideration and irresponsibility.

What kind of qualities do you look for in a friend?

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dry Fried String Beans (乾煸四季豆)

I love this classic Sichuan dish.

Then again, I love anything that has been fried.

To prepare this dish, the beans are first cooked in oil* until they begin to shrivel up, dry out and get some browned spots developing on their skins. What happens is the water cooks out slowly and the flavor of the beans is enhanced as the water is shed as steam. It changes the texture greatly as well–instead of being crisp like properly stir-fried beans, these are chewy and tender without being mushy and boring.

The result? I got beans that tasted nothing like beans. Added a gazillion calories to something that is meant to be healthy. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Dry Fried String Beans:

- 2 tablespoons oil
- 3/4 pound string beans, stringed, with ends snapped off, rinsed and dried
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- A pinch salt/pepper
- 1 tablespoon chicken broth
- 2-3 drops sesame oil

1. Heat pan on medium high heat until it smokes. Add oil.
2. Drop in string beans–make sure they are dry! Stir and fry until the beans dry out, shrivel slightly and begin to char to a dark brown in spots. Remove when they are quite wrinkled and somewhat charred, and drain on paper towels.
3. Crank heat up to high and add ginger and garlic. Stir and fry for 15 seconds until very fragrant.
4. Add ground pork and cook thoroughly. Stir in oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper.
5. Return the string beans to the pan. Add chicken stock. Toss vigorously over high heat until all liquids are reduced and absorbed.
6. Remove from heat. Stir in sesame oil.
7. Enjoy over white rice!

*Many restaurants attain the same texture in a much shorter period of time by dunking the beans into a deep fryer for a couple of minutes, but because I don't want to be left with a pot of oil, I "dry fry".

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Time to Destination

by Guest
Note: This is a mindless rambling whiney post. For the usual Sugarlens fare, please look elsewhere.

Anyone that has ever flown overseas should be very familiar with those three words. In the beginning, displayed right next to them is a counter that is simply too large for comfort. As you sit back to enjoy the takeoff and initial round of drinks (I'd include snacks here if I could, but since most airlines suck ass these days, all I ever get to chew on are the leftover ice chips in my plastic cup) the countdown begins. Then, if you're fortunate enough to be in a baby-free zone, you can doze off for a bit. As you awake, you realize your neck hurts, your hair is a mess, your clothes are all wrinkled and only 30 damn minutes have passed with another 10 hours or so to go.

For me, that phrase has meant many things throughout my life. From school to work to relationships. But right now, I feel as if I just wiped the crust from eyes and am staring at the damn counter. As the numbers come into focus, I realize that the journey isn't even half way over. It's too late to turn back, I'm in a plane thousands of feet in the air, so all I can do is close my eyes and wait for the end to come. Whether it's a with a boom and lots of screaming or with a safe landing, I just want it to end. That's exactly how I feel right now about my graduate studies. Some of the courses and professors are really engaging, but dealing with classes, homework, group work and real work work just sucks the life out of me.

I'm a whole year into the program now so I've put in too much time and money to simply walk away, but that's exactly what I want to do. I want to unbuckle my seatbelt, stand up, walk over to the emergency exit, pull the red bar, kick the door out and let the wild blue yonder suck my ass out. "So long bitches!" would come bellowing out of my mouth as the plane shrinks into a tiny speck. That may sound like a death wish, but at least I would be free again.

Free to do what? For one, freedom from being tied down to the DC metro area. Free to find a home and put down roots. And hell, even the freedom to start a family. Right now, these thoughts are just fleeting moments that grace my mind like some childhood memory. I can't really think about them for too long because my head and heart would say, "Not here, not now." I like my job somewhat and school isn't horrible, it's just that I'm here. Still here.

Luckily for me, I have a lovely wife who finds enjoyment in so many little things despite being married to a bitter man. Whether it's trying a new recipe or designing some new card or taking a summer afternoon nap, watching her always puts a smile on my face. And of course, there's Pargo. Now I'll admit, the three of us still manage to piss each other off at times, but what kind of family doesn't do that?

I guess this brief respite between the summer and fall semesters is making me think too much. Regardless, I'm gonna go stretch my legs for a bit and use the lavatory. Then I'll climb back into my seat and buckle up for the rest of the ride.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Spring Planting; The Circle Of Life

Part I, II, III, IV, V, and VI

We have been cooking with basils all summer long! It's a different feeling - growing your own food as oppose to getting them from the grocery store. If I ever have a yard, I am most definitely going to have a vegetable garden. :)

I was in and out all last week, while Seana was here. When I finally got the chance to check on my basil plants yesterday, I noticed flowers! At first I was going to pinch them off because I read that if there are flowers, the basil leaves will lessen in flavor and the plants energies will be channeled into the flowers instead of leaf grown. However, Luke stopped me, saying that the flowers will provide seeds that we can use in the future.

It's a circle of life! =]

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Photoshop Actions

Truth to be told, I am not savvy when it comes to Photoshop. I see great tutorials out there, but whenever I follow them step by step, I either up give up in frustration or my images are never quite as good. I wished there was an easy way (like in 2 steps) to achieve the end result.

Last night I played with making photos vintage-y looking. I tried them before and although happy with them at the time, I wanted a different look now. I searched for a tutorial online and stumbled across Photoshop Actions. I don't know how I didn't discover them until now. They are truly valuable for a beginner like myself who wants semi-professional photoshopped photos! Some actions are available for free, but for more advanced one, there is a fee.

A Photoshop Action is sort of like "macro" in Excel. If you perform a task repeatedly in Excel, you can automate the task with a macro. A macro is a series of commands and functions that are stored in and can be run whenever you need to perform the task. In Photoshop, the "macro" is referred to "actions".

There are lots of actions out there - I downloaded the Vintage Photo action.

Steps:
1. Download the action file, unzip, and drag the .atn file to the desktop.
2. From the Photoshop Actions window, load the .atn file.
3. Open a photo file and run the action.

Take this picture of Taipei 101, I simply highlighted the Vintage action and clicked play. It gave me the vintage-looking picture above in seconds. Pretty amazing. More importantly, the action plays right in front of you and shows you step by step of what it is doing - so more or less, you may learn a trick or two from watching it play.

I am off to search more actions to play with! Google "photoshop actions" and start your own collection!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

DC Cuppy Cakes

According to the Washingtonian, the best places for great cupcakes in the DC area are, in this order, Cakelove, Georgetown Cupcake, and Baked 'n Wired. Well, I beg to differ. Recently, with Seana in town, I tasted them all and here is my pick, in the following order.

I like Georgetown Cupcake the best. The little store is extremely cute, tucked away to the side of busy M Street in Georgetown. The shop is fairly new, only opened in Feb 08, but it's already very popular. There were only 3 people in front of us, but by the time we left, the line was out of the door. Granted, the store is tiny. Selling only cupcakes, it's a to-go place. They only have one small seating area, and it was taken when we were there. Georgetown Cupcake is DC's first and only cupcakery.

The cupcakes are freshly baked daily. Great customer service to boot. Georgetown Cupcake definitely get points in the presentation department. With cute frosting design and nice little garnishes, these cupcakes definitely look more than appetizing.

I ended up ordering Lemon Blossom, which is a light lemon cupcake with a lemon cream cheese frosting topped with a candied lemon peel. Seana ordered Vanilla & Chocolate, which is a madagascar bourbon vanilla cupcake with a whipped callebaut chocolate frosting topped with a fondant flower.

The frosting on the Lemon Blossom had a very light and airy texture to it. I thought it wasn't overly sweet, which is what I like. Combined with the fresh and moist light lemon cake, the cupcake was very good. I will say that I am not a huge fan of lemon cake on it's own, but I liked the combination of the cake and frosting. Seana liked hers as well. Although we shared our cupcake at Baked n' Wired, we did not do so here because the cupcakes were smaller.

Speaking of Baked n' Wire, this bakery comes in second on my list. As you see below, the storefront is nothing to write home about. It is located next to the C&O Canal in Georgetown, near the water. Besides cupcakes, the bakery/coffee shop also sell all sorts of baked goods and different varieties of coffee. It has a nice roomy seating area, a great place to hang out or surf (they have WiFi). The store isn't as bright - think swanky bar. However, we were more interested in the cupcakes anyway.

At $3.50 a pop, Baked n' Wired is the most expensive place. However, their cupcakes are big enough to share. Seana and I swapped half of our cupcakes. She ordered a strawberry (made with real strawberries) and I ordered red velvet.

The strawberry cake, while moist and rich, was thick, which isn't a bad thing. The creamy frosting added a lot of the strawberry flavor to the cupcake. This was our first cupcake for the day, and I really enjoyed it.

The red velvet was a bit frozen (the owner told us that she had just gotten it out of the fridge). Compare to Georgetown Cupcake, which all cupcakes were at room temperature, this was a turnoff. I was a bit disappointed with red velvet as it didn't taste much like it. The cream cheese frosting was too thick, but it could be because it was a bit frozen. I definitely think that the cupcake would have tasted better if it was at room temperature, but we didn't have the luxury of waiting. We only had 1.5 hours of parking and we wanted to walk off the calories.

Lastly, I rank Cakelove third. We went to the store inside Tysons Mall. Around the DC/VA/MD area, Cakelove has more than 6 stores! It certainly makes it easy for people to get their cupcakes, but I don't know if I would want to again. We went to Cakelove first, before all others. And while their cupcakes aren't bad, now knowing about the others, I would go to Georgetown Cupcake for my cupcake fix.

Cakelove doesn't provide many options - either chocolate and vanilla cakes. What makes the different varieties are the buttercream frosting flavors, such as peanut butter, coffee, strawberry, raspberry, and more. I got a strawberry on chocolate and Seana got raspberry on chocolate. Luke didn't even get a cupcake, he just got a slice of a random cake on display.

Since Cakelove's owner is a guy, I can understand the lack of cutsy-ness of the store. However, while Georgetown Cupcake and Baked n' Wired have their cupcakes proudly displayed on cute cake pedestals, Cakelove has them in refrigerated shelves.

When we got the cupcakes, the guy told us that it will be better to let the them defrost a bit before diving in. We waited for, oh 5 minutes. I wouldn't say the cupcakes tasted great, but they weren't terrible either. I thought the cake was a bit dry and the buttercream frosting was too buttery. However, it could have been better if it was at room temperature.

Ultimately, Georgetown Cupcake is the best in my opinion. They have the nicest store, the friendliest service, the prettiest cupcakes, and the cheapest price. And, most importantly, they give their cupcakes names, whereas the other two just have boring generic flavor names.

I have liquidated my Cupcake Fund so I am done for now, but I will be the first one in line to try out Hello Cupcake coming soon to Dupont Circle!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Blue + Yellow = Refreshing!

My friend is in town for a few days! Few things we did tonight. 1) Enjoyed yummylicious Italian food at OUR place, Maggianos. 2) Accidentally left the doggy bag on the floor of the restaurant. Darn. 3) I tried on some yellow heels at J.Crew. I think blue + yellow look nice together. 4) Two girls, but Luke was the one who walked out of with a bag of goodies. 5) Ate a couple of good-but-not-great cupcakes from Cakelove. Happy (early) Birthday, Seana! 6) Spent oodles and oodles of time catching up.

Thrilled to have you here, S!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Go Team!

The Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics is well under its way! The amazing picture above is from the incredible Opening Ceremony, which I, admittedly, fell asleep toward the very end. Not because of boredom or anything! The show was nothing short of specular, but my bed was just too comfy. =p

I am enjoying the women's gymnastics tremendously.

Enjoy the Olympics and keep track of medal count. Taiwan has won TWO! :)

{image source}

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What To Feed Your Pet

by Pargo
When I was a young pup, I was fussy about food (hence the reason why I am so tiny). My first dad hand-fed me roasted chicken because I wouldn't eat doggy food. I was so lucky. But then my now-parents adopted me and they put me a strict doggy-food diet. They weren't about to deal with my nonsense. I remember the very first night I spent at my new home. They put the doggy food in front of me and walked away. I sat in front of it for the longest time, trying to tell them that I wanted roasted chicken. But they just ignored me. I knew right then that my roasted chicken days were over. As days/weeks/months went on, I ate only when I got really hungry. And even then, I just ate a little bit, just enough so that I wasn't starving. Those were the days I wish I could forget.

Eventually, I got over my bad behavior. I know I get many of the important nutrients that keep my coat shiny and teeth healthy by eating doggy food instead of roasted chicken (or table scraps). At first, my parents fed me Royal Canin MINI Puppy 33. As I grew older, they changed my diet to Royal Canin MINI Yorkshire 28. Royal Canin brand is quite expensive! Pretty soon, my parents decided to switch up a bit and made a gradual change to some other doggy food.

I think dad was drawn to the colorful packaging of The Goodlife Recipe, but with it being a fairly new product to the market, mom didn't trust it to be healthy, so she picked up a bag of Eukanuba for Yorkies. I like both a lot actually! Both have chicken as the main ingredient, as well as whole grains. However, because the Eukanuba is specifically made for special dogs like me, it also has natural fish oil (for healthy skin and coat - very important) and the kibbles help me to maintain healthy dental hygiene. I have been on this diet for about 1.5 years now.

However, I think another change is about to come. I see new bags of doggy food in my box of goodies. I can't read well, but I think they are Iams Healthy Naturals and Iams ProActive Health miniChunks.

I hope they will never feed me this junk though. I don't like Rachael Ray and I don't want to eat anything with her name on it. Nope!

In addition to all these wonderful food I mentioned above, whenever I show my best behavior, I get treats such as Chicken Jerky Tenders (absolutely my fav - my tail goes crazy for them - it used to take me at least an hour to finish one, but now I am trying to beat my record of 10 minutes), breakfast cereals (I like Cherrios the best), and all sorts of table scraps.

Anyhoo, I know this is a rather boring post for humans without a fuzzy animal to love, but I believe these are very important information! I promise my next post will be more interesting! I like this blogging stuff.

Above all else, I love anything that's given by my dad!

xoxo, P

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pearl Balls (珍珠丸)

An old family friend used to makes these delicious steamed pearl balls for us when I was young. She would make them, freeze them, and bring them to us whenever she visited. As a kid, I especially liked the sticky rice coating!

These pearl balls I made tasted just like what I remembered! Now as an adult, I appreciate the water chestnut and the ginger more. The water chestnut adds the crunch and the ginger gives an extra layer of flavor. They are yummy, especially when served with chili oil sauce. Luke wasn't too impressed by them, though. Boo. But oh well, more for me!

The pearl balls freeze very well. So make extra, freeze them (uncooked), and steam them in the rice cooker while cooking rice on busy days.

Pearl Balls:

- 3/4 cup glutinous rice (also called sweet or sticky rice)
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 large green onion (spring onion) minced (at least 3 tablespoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated ginger
- 1 dry shitake mushroom (soak still soft and diced small)
- 4 water chestnuts, minced
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seed oil
- Black pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch, or as needed

1. Soak the glutinous rice in water for at least 6 - 8 hours (preferably overnight). Drain well in a sieve or colander. Spread out the rice on a baking sheet.
2. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients.
3. Prepare the steamer for steaming.
4. Take about 1 tablespoon of the ground pork mixture and form into a ball. Roll lightly over the glutinous rice and place on a heatproof plate. Continue with the rest of the pork mixture, placing the balls 1/2-inch apart. (You will need at least 2 plates).
5. Place the plates in a steamer. Steam the pearl balls over boiling water for between 25 - 35 minutes, until they are cooked through. Steam in two batches if needed.
6. Serve the pearl balls hot chili oil sauce.

Recipe adapted from here and here.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Waltograph Font

This picture has "dorks" written all over it. What were we thinking?! Sneakers, backpack, purse, and a water-bottle?! Nevertheless...

Joyce and Luke, circa 2003, Disney's Animal Kingdom

[Font: Waltograph]

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Goodbye Times New Roman

I don't know about you, but I am tired of Times New Roman and Arial. I want some excitement please! And I found it! Head on over to Da Font and get ready to spice up your life. ***rub hands together with glee***

This one here is called Mom's Typewriter and I just installed it on my laptop. How? First, save the zip file onto your desktop. Then, open the zip file and place the font file (.ttf) into C:\Windows\Fonts. The font should appear in the font drop down menu in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and most importantly, for me, Photoshop.

The fonts are nicely categorized, and there are some interesting choices. Some are quite nice, and others are rather hideous. One thing in common is they are all free!

Other free font sites include: WebpagePublicity, SimplyTheBestFonts, and AbtractFonts.

Or if you want to splurge for a fancier font, visit here. These are more whimsical and professional looking. The only problem is that they don't come cheap. Some people seem to think that it is worth every penny, though.

It's going to be a late night for me.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Being Physically Healthy

Back in February, I blogged about losing weight. My progress? I have lost a pound or 2, depending on the time of the day. Eh, pretty insignificant. But, on the brighter side, I did not gain the "Newlywed 10", which I guess I still have a month left before I can claim victory. =p

Regardless, according to this BMI chart, at 5'6", I am borderline underweight. So I am taking my goal to a different direction. Instead of focusing on shedding more pounds, I am moving on to getting physically better in shape.

For the past several weeks, I've started to walk more. On nice cool evenings, Luke and I walk for about 30 minutes a day. However, I need to get better about walking regardless of the weather. I would like to start walking in the morning before work, but I doubt I can get my lazy butt up early enough to do that. So to compensate, I go up and down the steps several times a day at work and stretch afterwards. Pargo has a habit of wanting to play chase right before bed, so I work up a sweat playing with him. Every little thing helps.

As for weight training, Luke bought these two weeks ago and I've been using them religiously every night. These body elastics work wonders! Both Luke and I have noticed slight improvement already! My arms are less jiggly, thighs are a bit slimmer, and my “belly gut” isn’t as prominent. I am not looking to become a body builder or anything, but I would like to be longer and leaner.

In terms of eating, Luke and I rarely eat out so we are healthy right there, but I know I need to add more veggies and fruits into our diets. Recently, I’ve been pretty good about laying off junk food. We bought 8 pounds of grapes last week and put them in the freezer. Since then, whenever I need a snack, I reach for grapes instead of chips. Junk food makes me sluggish, but grapes are so refreshing that I don’t even think I am depriving myself.

We have exactly 31 more days before Disney! I am going to continue this regimen until then. My goal is to have more energy and strength to roam around the parks when the time comes!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Don't Wanna Grow Up

Oy. It's that time of the year again. I am talking about my annual self-assessment for work. Needless to say, I don't look forward to it. My motto - just give me my 3% raise and save everyone a little bit of time. (To my boss: if you are reading this, I am kidding!)

But alas, I must put down some accomplishments down on paper and explain why I am a solid performer.

Do you demonstrate company core values? Sure I do, I am honest and friendly. Do you possess basic consulting skills? Absolutely, I know how to talk and write. How about you assignment performance? Well, the client never complained. Function skills? I am certainly not the dullest knife in the drawer. Frustrations about the job? I can give you a piece of my mind. Lastly, what are your career goals and personal development plan? Um, let me think (hard) about that one.

My past career aspirations have included grade school teacher, Sea World trainer, political scientist, chef, baker, family lawyer, web designer, graphic artist, cast member, animator, and illustrator. It never included, however, government contractor, which is exactly what I am.

Despite of my lack of excitement regarding my profession, I’ve been told by family and friends that I am lucky. I can see why. While my friends work overtime and (gasp!) bring work home, I seem to have an uncanny luck in landing stress-free positions (or maybe I just make it stress-free). Ha! (Again boss, this is all a joke!)

A lot of people think that work is just a part of life. It’s a mean to do what you really want outside of work. Agree. Then somebody provided this wisdom – find something you love to do and you will never have to work a day in your life. That makes sense. A coworker told me, “Family A through C and work D.” I like his philosophy, too.

In the end, it’s all about what I want. Do I want a job that provides discretionary income or a job that is fulfilling but may not pay as well? In reality, I think I can live with either. If managed wisely, the former provides financial security and sound (maybe even early) retirement. However, the latter provides personal fulfillment and happiness. Which one would you choose? Of course, the ultimate win-win situation is a job you love AND pays well.

If money was no object, I’d be more adventurous. Be my own boss! Have a little shop selling homemade (by me) cards. Open a little Bed & Breakfast in the country. Be the owner/baker of a charming bakery. Have a doggy-related biz. Be a professional photographer! Event planner! No matter what, I would have something that’s entirely mine instead of working for others.

Anyway, this is a massively scatter-brain-ly type post. I'm only musing aloud about my own career or perhaps lack of one. The more I write, the more I understand myself. And that’s all I could ask for in a blogging session.

Enough procrastinating, back to self-assessment.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bachelorette Week

Luke left for a business trip earlier today and won't be back until Friday. This means, I could indulge in some “secret single behavior” during my solo week!! For example, I could be that girl in the picture - sit on the kitchen floor in my jammies and finally give in to that tub of Haagen-Dazs mango ice cream screaming my name. Or better yet, I could sing and dance in my underwear. :)

But Luke probably wouldn't find me crazy if I did those things in front of him anyway. In fact, he would probably join me.

So, in all seriousness, I don't have any "secret single" things I imagine myself doing, but it's nice to get some "me time" once in a while.

Things To Do:
- Finish writing my annual self-assessment for work. This is something I have been putting off for too long and it must get done before next Monday.
- Go for a 30-minute walk everyday with Pargo. Monday, check.
- Watch Wedding Crashers. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie, but it's time to watch it from start to finish.
- Spend way too much time watching television.

Nothing too earth shattering so it will be a slow posting week as I take a break from blogging. Be back in a bit!

{image source}

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Siu Mai (燒賣)

One of my favorite dim sum dishes and now I can make it at home! I found this recipe a few days ago during my daily perusing of food blogs. I've always thought dim sum dishes were too complicated to be made at home. Well, her instructions couldn't have been simpler and the ingredients weren't foreign to me either. I decided to give a try, but changed up a few things based on other recipes I found.

Yet another wonderful dish! As usual I mixed the filling and Luke wrapped them while watching 101 Dalmatians (getting ready for our Dizzy trip!) Unlike the siu mais we get at the restaurants, we could really taste the shrimp in ours. The filling was moist and oozing with savoy juices. Wow, I made my first dim sum dish ever. This is a major milestone for me! :)

Siu Mai w/ Pork and Shrimp:

- 8 oz ground meat (pork or chicken)
- 4 oz shrimp (roughly chopped)
- 2 dry shitake mushroom (soak still soft and diced small)
- 2 stalks spring onions - finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp rice wine
- 2 tsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce

- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Salt and pepper
- Round wonton wrappers (I used Hong Kong style)
- Green peas or carrot cubes (for garnish)

1) Combine all the ingredients together except for wonton wrappers, peas and carrots. Mix well. Set it aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2) Put filling in the center of the wrapper and press the wrapper up around the filling so that it almost meet at the top. Make sure the bottom is flat.

3) Press a green pea or a carrot cube into the top. Arrange in the steamer on greased wax paper and steam over high heat for 10 - 15 minutes.
4) Serve warm with chili sauce.

Recipe adapted from here, here, and here.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Two Dresses and a Skirt

Oh my gosh! Yesterday I drooled over this dress, but without free shipping or extra discount, I didn't buy it. So. Glad. Because this morning, after Luke went off to class, I started browsing as usual and out of old habit, I hopped on over to J.Crew. Extra 30% off final sale! Sweet! I ended up getting two dresses and a lounging skirt for less than $60 shipped. =] That's 78% off the original price! Oh, how I love a good bargain.

The site doesn't indicate when the code "EXTRA30" will expire, so jump on it when you get a chance.

Hope you find something you like too!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!