Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dim Sum With Friends

I went to Mark's Duck House with friends today. This place serves the best dim sum in town, in authentic style with push carts.

We had a feast that included all the usual goodies: shrimp dumplings, shrimp & pork shiu mai, shrimped-stuffed jalapeno pepper, fried shrimp in seaweed wrap, fried imitation crabmeat & shrimp roll, shrimp and garlic chives dumplings, sticky rice, sauteed baby bok choy, and fried sesame balls. Whew.

All in all, I just wanted something exploding with salt, dripping with oil and glistening with sauce!

Everything was delicious as usual.

My friends and I chatted nonstop. We learned Meredith recently received a hefty raise at work. We congratulated Irena again on her engagement. Tiffany filled us in on her boys' obsession with Thomas. I told them about my crazy life with two dogs. It was soooo good to catch-up.

On the way out, we bumped into an old friend of ours from college! We made plans to meet up with her next time.

Ah, I was in need of some girl talk. And I got just that.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jamaica: My Candid Review On Xtabi Resort

We wanted a hotel with reasonable price, good location, and private access to sea. After extensive research and back and forth emails, we found all that in Xtabi. The booking process was easy - we received fast and friendly replies.

We were so excited about the hotel that we even looked up videos of the hotel on YouTube! Just to catch little glimpses!

Then we got there.

First, I will say that Xtabi is a budget accommodation. Having said that, we visited Jamaica in the peak of high season so even with budget accommodation, we paid a pretty penny for it. We read up on all the reviews on TripAdvisor before picking Xtabi and (almost) all reviews were positive - ideal location, helpful staff, good snorkeling, etc. While they are all true, no one mentioned anything about lack of cleanliness or mosquitoes!

We are not picky, but we do want the room to be clean! During our entire stay, we did our best to avoid touching the floor with our bare feet. We saw our cleaning lady dipping her mop into dirty water that was probably used to mop all other rooms. We even saw several mysterious droppings on the floor on several occasions. On the last day I saw a small gecko in the bathroom. It freaked. me. out.

The covers and curtains had strange stains on them, the towels were tiny + thin, and there were no toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, or lotion. Luckily I always pack my own when I travel anyway.

Prehaps the worst of all was the mosquito problem.

Unfortunately for hubs, the mosquitos seemed to ignore me and always went straight for him instead. Hubs had to sleep with bug repellent sprayed ALL OVER and under the covers every night. Even with that, he got bitten regardless. Poor baby.

But, except for our room, the hotel itself really isn't too bad.

The hotel ground is clean with flowers gardens. There is an open-air restaurant/bar. The restaurant/bar actually gets lots of outside guests during sunset because of hotel's prime location.

There are oceanside rooms with private sun deck and there is a garden-side two-story concrete cottages. We stayed at the latter, in room 16. Our room is one of the newest rooms and has air-conditioning, which turned out to be very important because of the mosquito problem. It does not have TV, radio, or telephone.

Xtabi provides free WiFi, but it only works outside on the patio. So every morning, in addition to opening the windows to let fresh air in (left picture), we also sit outside to get our Internet fix (right picure).

We spent countless hours at the pool. It was small, but there was never a crowd whenever we were there. I enjoyed using the pool floats and hubs pushing me aroud. :) Ahhhh...

Xtabi is split into two sides - the side where hubs is standing in the picture is where the front office, the pool, and our cottage are located. On the other side (oceanside) is the restaurant/bar and oceanfront cottages. Every day, we crossed the street to get to the oceanside for snorekling.

This is the office, with just one tiny desk. Through that open door in the back is the way to our cottage. Here is another negative comment I have on Xtabi - they charge for every little thing! From the in-room safe, to making a local phone call, to tap water at the restaurant. Bah!

On the oceanside, there are three caves to explore. Neato!

Ultimately, I do not recommend Xtabi based on our experience. We don't need fancy or over the top accormodation, but I do need clean. I want to feel like I am actually on vacation and be comfortable where I am staying. Our room at Xtabi did not provide that.

Next time (if there is a next time), we will definitely splurge on a better accomodation when on an island vacation!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kissing Keychains

Luke's sister went on a whirlwind trip to China last November and gifted us a pair of key chains when she returned. These key chains are ultra cute. I especially like the little details - pigtails on the bride and the "double happiness" character on the groom.

I've had many key chains throughout life, and these have got to be my favorites. Seriously.

Hubs and I changed out our key chains immediately.

But just yesterday, I found something else that made me swoon all over again.

When you put the two together, they “kiss” by means of a magnet that attaches one to the other.

Too stinkin' adorable.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Hubs

Today happens to be my best friend's birthday.

Hey babe, you rock.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2009

Today is Lunar New Year, year of the Ox. Last night, New Years Eve, we had reunion dinner with hubs side of the family.

We had the traditional fare - noodles to symbolize longevity/long life and fish to symbolize surplus/having savings. In addition, there were roasted duck and grilled pork. Everything was succulent. We doggy-bagged enough food for at least the next three days.

It was a cozy dinner of 7 adults, 2 kids, and 2 dogs. Pesto met the family for the first time. We watched Chinese programs on TV. We had the usual family chatter. I learned that my SIL is a master at finding bargains. Random!

At the end of the night, we received red packets!

Later as we were getting ready for bed, I told hubs about the experiences I had celebrating Lunar New Year in Taiwan as a kid. Relatives from near and far gather for a few days to play cards, make paper lanterns, eat sweets, and wear red clothes. It was all about having time off from school and having fun.

I thought to myself, someday, I want to visit Taiwan during Lunar New Year festivities as an adult.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Goodbye, Bunny.

We were just starting to get over Miracle but tragedy continued.

We have another casualty in the tank and, this time, the victim is Bunny.

It all started yesterday afternoon.

We don't know exactly what happened - by the time hubs saw her, she was badly injured, with nicks all over her body. Hubs did see tC (the blue cichlid) nipping Bunny on her mouth.

Hubs quickly put Bunny inside a separate container to let her rest and hopefully recover.

Meanwhile, we saw the two male cichlids fighting (pictured on the right - they fight by locking lips). Since Bunny and Easter grew up together, we assumed that he was taking revenge for what happened to Bunny. We didn't pay much attention to them.

When we went back to check on Bunny hours later, we saw little eggs all around her! Apparently, she had been spitting out eggs from her mouth one by one. Usually she would keep them in her mouth until they hatch, but I guess she needed to breath.

There was nothing we could do, so we went to sleep.

This morning we found Bunny passed away with 70+ eggs surrounding her. :( What a trooper for still delivering her babies while she was obviously dying. I am more amazed that she had all those eggs in her tiny mouth - I really have no idea where she had room to keep them all.

We buried Bunny in one of Luke's plants (a tree that has been with hubs since college) so she will be with us in spirits forever. Much like what we did with Miracle. RIP, Bunny.

As for the eggs, they are still in the container, inside the tank. There are ways to keep them alive and help them hatch at this critical stage, even without the female, such as tumbling.

Basically the eggs need oxygen - without it, they will become fungus and rot. Yikes.

Hopefully hubs will be able to work his magic.

To be continued....(crossing my fingers and toes)

Update (1/25/09): My in-house fish breeder came home from a long day of classes and got to work. Now the eggs gently tumble in the container with a little help from the air filter, which is exactly what they need to survive.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Free Signature Collection Item

What's your favorite scent at Bath & Body Works? Mine is anything apple.

Until 1/25, you can get a free Signature Collection item (lotion, body cream, shower gel, etc) with any purchase. Just be sure to bring this coupon.

I stopped by after work today and picked up a 10 fl oz bottle of Irresistible Apple shower gel, with a $1 purchase. Not a bad deal.

So if you happen to be going to the mall this weekend, hope this makes your shopping trip a bit sweeter. Thank you, Slickdeals.

Happy Friday!!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jamaica: The Food!

Because we didn't stay at an all-inclusive resort, we were on our own each and every meal. It was both good and bad. Good that we got to experience real Jamaican cuisine, but bad because I wasn't terribly fond of it. If we had stayed at an all-inclusive, I could've balanced it out with hamburgers and french fries, but instead, it was Jamaican food all the time for the entire week.

Our first meal (Christmas dinner) was at this open-air restaurant called On The Rocks. Many restaurants were closed that day and we walked about 20 minutes to find one that was decent-looking and open.

In Jamaica, fish is usually grilled or steamed, served with okra and pimento with some kind of sauce. The picture on the left was hubs dinner - I forgot what kind of sauce he had. The one on the right was mine (duh) and the fish was served with brown sauce. It was just okay, not sure what went into making the sauce. I liked it that it was healthy with lots of veggies.

Service was slow. While hubs and I had a good time talking and taking pictures, once the food finally showed up, so did the bugs. After all that waiting, we didn't really get a chance to enjoy our dinner and ate as fast as we could. Oh well, we got full and the view was good.

The classic Jamaica breakfast is ackee and saltfish. The yellow flesh of ackee fruit is fried with onions, sweet and hot peppers, fresh tomatoes, and salted cod, producing a dish similar to scrambled eggs in looks and consistency. It is served with spinach-like callaloo, plantain, and fried dumplings.

We had breakfast at our hotel, Xtabi, one morning and tried this classic breakfast for the first time. It was good....for the first couple of bites. Then it just became kind of blah. Hubs blamed it on the grease, but I just didn't like it period. The fried dumplings were tasty, though.

We went to Sweet Spice with hubs' friend, Paul, and his family. They were in Negril at the same time and picked us up from our hotel one night for dinner. We went to this little place that is known among locals as one of the best Jamaican restaurants in Negril. On the menu were more exotic dishes such as ox tail, goat, and conch.

I wasn't feeling adventurous so I had chicken curry. Hubs ordered curried goat. My chicken curry was exactly what I expected, although a bit blend. I tried the goat and thought it tasted okay, too. Again, mediocre food, but we were in good company!

Patties, flaky pastry case usually filled with spiced minced beef, are Jamaica's best-know snack. I think I had about 10 of them during the entire trip. They were soooo good! At J$70 (roughly US$1), they were cheap, filling, and delicious. Two of the most popular brands are Juici Beef and Tastee. We tried patties from both places. They tasted exactly the same - GOOD!

Royal Kitchen Vegetarian Cafe has great reviews both online and in my tour book. Since it was only a 5-minute walk from the hotel, I just had to try it. This Rastafarian Ital restaurant serves clean, pure, and natural food. Meals are exclusively meat-free.

There were no menus. We were served based on the fresh ingredients that were available that day. Our dinner included coconut-flavored rice and beans, mildly spicy soy chunks, ackee, callaloo, and stew, all naturally seasoned with herbs like rosemary. Definitely very healthy and wholesome.

But, as you can see the look on my face, I didn't like it at all. The look on hubs' face, though, was entirely different. He loved it! Needless to say, I didn't finish my plate. I left dinner hungry.

Just Natural is located right next to our hotel. It offers fresh Jamaican food in a beautiful shady garden. We ate there twice.

For dinner one night, I had lentil burger (not too bad) and hubs had fish & pasta. The best part of the meal was the freshly squeezed juice. So refreshing with a bit of honey.

We came back again one morning and had breakfast there. Hubs had the traditional Jamaican breakfast (he said it was much better than what we had the first time at Xtabi) and I had an egg burrito with tomato sauce and toast. The egg burrito was fine - nothing special.

With all these "weird" food, I craved for something familiar. So when we went to Choices, we got an egg sandwich and pancakes. Choices is a brightly painted outdoor cafe, popular with both locals and tourists.

Yummy yummy yummy! Pancakes never tasted so good.

Ah, 3 Dives. Thank goodness for 3 Dives. Thanks goodness for its close proximity to our hotel. Thank goodness for its jerk chicken. We dined at this little cliffside garden at least four times!

And every time we visited, I had jerk chicken with vegetable. Hubs had the same, except for our last visit when he ordered conch. When I ordered jerk chicken, I made sure to specify dark meat. It made all the difference! So juicy, so flavorful, so good.

I should mention that during one of our visits, the french fries that we ordered never showed up. Apparently, they ran out and never bothered to tell us. So we waited and waited for nothing. At another visit, we waited at least ONE hour for the food.

Regardless, I loved the place. Hubs and I spent a lot of time at 3 Dives, just chatting and enjoying the sunset.

After a week of Jamaican food, I was dying for some Chinese food! So when we had our layover in Atlanta on the way home, we anxiously ordered some greasy noodles and general tso's chicken and spicy pepper chicken. It tasted so sweet (not literally, of course!).

Jamaican food is definitely an acquired taste. Although I didn't really like the food, I still preferred this more authentic experience to an all-inclusive. And seriously, the patties and jerk chicken rocked. I need to find recipes.

I am almost done with my Jamaica trip report. I will review our hotel next and write a miscellaneous post to wrap it all up. Hang with me just a bit longer!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pesto...In Actions!

I took this picture of my little boy against our red couch the other day using my new lens.

Not too shabby, right? The picture is sharp with a little bit of softness. I like.

But, to learn how make it even better, read on!

Actions are a series of saved Photoshop commands that you can apply to your pictures with one click. I blogged about this before.

I have since then found a lot more actions - my favorites are from Pioneer Woman Action Set 1 and Pioneer Woman Action Set 2. Ree Drummond has created two sets of convenient actions for free. They are awesome and I apply them to nearly all my photos.

The above picture is straight from the camera and here is a sample of what actions can do. All with a single click. Eeeee!

My favorites are Seventies, Colorized, and Boost.

I am not embarrassed to admit that these turn out much better than when I tried to edit a picture of Pargo manually. :-P

Hope this helps give your pictures that little extra oomph!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration Post

What are you doing on this historical day?

Us? The usual. Laying on the couch, in front of TV.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon

We eat salmon often at home. I season it with salt + pepper and pan fry over medium heat. Although very good, I wanted to try something new.

I saw different variations of Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon recipe floating around the Internet and decided to give it a try.

The recipe here was my inspiration, but I changed it a bit.

The result? Quick, simple and easy to make! The honey sauce was delectable over steaming white rice. The fish was so tender. This will most definitely become one my regular salmon preparations.

Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon:

- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp honey mustard
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- one 12-ounce piece salmon steak/fillet

1. In a small bowl whisk together honey, soy sauce, mustard, ginger, and water. Set aside.
2. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a small non-stick skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot and cook salmon until golden and just cooked through.
3. Transfer salmon plate.
4. Add honey glaze to skillet and bring it to a boil. Boil the sauce until it almost caramelizes. Pour glaze over salmon.
5. Serve on a bed of sauteed baby spinach.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Deep Fried Pork Cutlets (とんかつ)

とんかつ (prounced ton-ka-tsu) is a popular dish in Japan, not only because it is very easy to cook, but also because it is a nutritious and wholesome meal. Although there are many restaurants in Japan that specialize in this Deep Fried Pork Cutlets dish, it is also often served as a family meal at home.

I had some Japanese bread crumbs in the pantry and pork loin in the freezer, so I made the dish tonight. Instead of deep frying, I shallow fried in a pan.

とんかつ is served with とんかつ sauce drizzled on top. I made my own sauce, too (recipe included in the post). It added some tangy and sweet flavors.

Dinner included とんかつ and a side of veggies. The pork was crispy and juicy. Oishii!

I will say that although とんかつ is easy to prepare, it involves lots of dish washing and preparation. At the end, everything turned out delicious so I will definitely make it again!

とんかつ:

- 8 slices pork loin (cut to 1/3" thick) - I cut mine thinner because I like them crispy
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs (Japanese Bread Crumbs)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Oil for pan frying

1. Pound meat with back of the knife to tenderize.
2. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the pork.
3. Roll pork lightly on flour until coated, dip in beaten egg, and cover in panko.
4. Shallow fry pork in heated oil until it turns brown (make sure oil is hot).
5. Take out pork and put them on a paper towel to drain the oil.
6. Slice pork into smaller pieces.
7. Serve with warm rice and tonkatsu sauce.

とんかつ Sauce:
(makes about 1/4 cup)

- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 4 tsp rice wine
- 4 tsp soy sauce
- 4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 4 tsp sugar
- 4 tsp honey mustard
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice

1. In a small saucepan, combine everything except mustard and allspice. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the mixture is reduced about 20%. Add mustard and allspice. Cool and serve at room temperature.
--

There are many ways to serve とんかつ. One of them is on top of miso noodle soup - exactly like what we had at a little Japanese restaurant in Oahu.

*For more pictures of とんかつ, click here.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Like Blogs: How About Orange

One of my all-time favorite blog to visit is How About Orange. The owner/designer, Jess, is quirky and fun. I love her writing style!

Much like Free Design Goodies, Jess scouts the Internet for free, pretty, and useful downloads such as greeting cards, gift tags, note cards, and more. Aside from that, her website has easy tutorials and all sort of other neat resources.

I am a fan.

Hubs birthday is coming up. I am not feeling creative lately so I am not up for making a card from scratch.

While there's always Hallmark, their cards can be pricey. And besides, it's what's written inside that counts anyway, right?

So I turned to How About Orange for ideas.

I hit jackpot with this.

I also found a couple more templates that I am bookmarking for the future, when the occasion is right.

Tree Greeting Card
Self-Mailing Note Card
5.75" x 4.5" Envelope Template

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jamaica: Excursion #2 Famous Vincent Glass Bottom Boat

While snorkeling was already good right by the cliffs outside of our hotel, we decided to take a boat excursion for more snorkeling adventure.

There are plenty of freelance boat operators in Negril - they drive their boats along the cliffs until they find customers. I read about Famous Vincent while reasearching online back home, so one morning when we saw his boat, we waved him down. Fare was negotiable. We paid $20 pp.

We headed to the open sea - past the cliffs, past the Seven Mile Beach, to the middle of nowhere. The water was blue and very clean. As our boat sped forward, from the glass bottom, I saw tiny fish and huge starfish.

After roughly 25 minutes of getting our faces splashed with saltwater, we arrived to our snorkel site. Vincent, along with his helper, made sure that we all knew how to snorkel and had the proper gear. After a brief lecture on "look don't touch" and safety, we were ready to be released.

The waves were strong. The first thing we had to do was "jump" down from the boat to get in the water (there were no steps). Right off the bat, I drank a mouthful of water. Fortunately, it was smooth sailing after that.

The hubs and I snorkeled side by side, pointing like little kids at the fishes we like. We stayed near the boat, but even with that we saw TONS of colorful fish and marine life! We ooooh-ed and ahhhhh-ed (in our heads) and snorkeled happily for 45 minutes before it was time to go.

I went back on the boat a few minutes earlier to take some pictures, such as this one of a man and his boat in Jamaica colors.

Famous Vincent was worth every penny because 1) we scored a 2 for 1 deal (a glass bottom boat is typically a tour of its own), 2) we got to snorkel in the middle of the ocean (new experience for us!), and 3) we saw the cliffs from a different perspective during the ride.

It was a fun morning!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fun = Fuzzy

See Pargo. See Pargo looking tough.

See Pesto. See Pesto attack.

Watch out Pesto! See Pargo fight back!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Marley & Me

"A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor. You give him your heart and he will give you his." -Owen Wilson, "Marley & Me"

I read Marley & Me several years ago and really enjoyed the book. Now with two dogs, you can imagine my anxiousness to watch it on the big screen. I finally did this weekend.

I thought the movie was sweet, simple, and light. Minus very minor changes, it holds true to the book!

This movie is about real life and real experiences. It chronicles the life of a couple - from newly married, to finding new jobs, to buying a home, to having kids, to moving across states - and how Marley remains the constant, always a little crazy, always infusing his bubbly personality into the family dynamic. It shows the ups and downs of growing older and finding out what is really important in life.

Yes, I cried at the end.

Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston have great chemistry together! Separately, it was refreshing to see Wilson taking on a more serious role and Aniston was simply amazing portraying her character full of emotion and charm. It was also nice to see McSteamy outside of Grey's Anatomy. :)

I recommend this movie to all the dog-lovers out there.

Pargo and Pesto, you are good dogs, don't let people tell you otherwise. Love you guys!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What We Buy And Eat

I really enjoy cooking. I love cooking simple, healthy, delicious, everyday meals.

Today, I thought I would share my grocery shopping routine and what we eat on a regular basis.

I go grocery shopping once a week, on Sunday mornings, when traffic is light and crowd is thin.

I go to a local Asian market and buy "staple" ingredients such as tomatoes, watercress, spinach, tofu, bok choy, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, onions, fresh fish, and meat. Occasionally, I buy "on-going" ingredients such as rice, noodles, tempura, and sauces.

On the way back, I stop by a grocery store (usually Safeway or Giant) to buy milk and fresh fruits. When they are on sale and I have coupons, I stock up on cereal, peanut butter, canned soup, cake mix, yogurt, and more.

I don't create weekly meal plans. On a typical weeknight, our meal consists of one vegetable (sauteed with garlic in olive oil) and one meat/fish/egg. With rice. Usually toward the end of the week, after all the fresh ingredients are gone, I make spaghetti, noodle soups, and Korean pancakes. In the winter, I make some kind of broth-based soup, too.

Each meal takes about 30 minutes to actually cook and put together. 45 minutes at the most. I very rarely make a meal that requires time during the day to prepare, except on the weekends when I have time.

For the most part, I am happy with what we eat. There are a few things I like to improve:

1. More fish meals. We love salmon, but it is an oily fish. I would like to buy white flesh fish such as snapper and experience with cooking them.

2. We already don't eat chunks of meat, but I like to see us eat one vegetarian meal once a week. Hubs is okay with that. I am the one who likes to have some kind of meat, either ground pork or chicken.

3. Eat more fruits. Have them at work and again after dinner.

What do you typically eat on a weeknight? Do you have a favorite vegetarian meal? Please share!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pesto Is My Little Brother!

by Pargo
This is a short post because I am so tired right now.

Tired from what, you ask? I am exhausted from playing with my new little brother!

I will be the first to admit that when mom + dad brought him home 11 day ago, I didn't care for him. Hmph, puppy. He was too bouncy, too hyper, too immature. I hated waiting for him to use the bathroom when we go outside.

I felt sad. I wasn't myself. I felt betrayed.

But now things are looking up. Pesto is actually pretty cool! We play together, eat together, and sleep together. I can't imagine my life without him. Yeah, I like him.

Oh, I am getting fatter. Pesto came with this delicious Bil-Jac puppy food. I don't know why mom never got it for me before. Anyway, the food is amazing. I lick my (um, Pesto's) bowl clean.

Ah, the good life. Time for a nap.

xoxo, P

[+/-] Extra Sugar!