Thursday, April 30, 2009

Clearance Fishes

You know how in the movie Marley & Me, Marley, the dog, was referred to as the Clearance Puppy because he was the cheapest of the bunch?

Few weeks ago, hubs and I bought some Clearance Fishes. We originally wanted angel fish, but at 6 or 7 dollars a pop, we passed. Instead, we saw some orange tetras marked way down to merely 70 cents each! So we scooped up 8 of 'em.

They are doing fantabulous. Together, they really brighten up the community!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spain Trip: (Madrid) The Sights, Part II

On the morning of our second day in Madrid, we took a short excursion outside of the city to El Escorial, an historical residence of the king of Spain. We spent a couple of hours there and returned to the city in mid-afternoon. This post details that particular afternoon and the next day. I will write about our trip to El Escorial another time.

Madrid's main park, Park Retiro, is very popular among tourists and locals. It is home to several sculptures, monuments, and a boating lake. People enjoy taking relaxing strolls there.

Oh my goodness, on the day we went, it was anything but relaxing. On top of the cold weather, it was windy (sand blowing everywhere!) and rainy. We walked for a bit, took pictures, and left.

Interestingly, a co-worker of mine recently spent a week in Madrid and she went to the park twice. On both occasions, she said it was 75 and sunny and super nice. I guess when traveling, it's all about luck!

Park Retiro isn't too far away from Madrid's famous art museums, Museum Prado and Museum Reina Sofia. During certain days and time, both museums have free admissions.

We timed it pretty well; by the time we left Park Retiro, the free admission was just starting at Museum Prado. However, when we arrived, we were greeted by this loooooong line of people waiting to get inside. On a good weather day, it would had been fine to wait, but we decided against waiting that day. It wasn't worth that much trouble to save a couple of euros.

After warming up at Starbucks (chocolate muffin never tasted so good), we decided to go to Museum Reina Sofia instead.

I like this museum! It's a treasure-house of contemporary and modern art. We saw the museum's most famous painting, Picasso's "Guernica". Paintings by Miró and Dali are also well-represented.

Sunday was our last full day in Madrid. We got lucky because Madrid's largest open air flea market, the Rastro, is hold on Sundays! I had lots of fun walking around, looking at antiques, and wondering who would buy such things. Some vendors sell brand new products, such as framed hand-drawn sketches of famous Madrid landmarks. At 10 euros, I am kicking myself for not buying any as souvenirs. Sigh.

We then spent the next few hours checking out some monuments around the city.

Gran Vía, one of Madrid's most famous streets. There are hundreds of businesses - upscale shops, hotels, restaurants, bars, and theatres

La Plaza de Cibeles and Cibeles Fountain

Puerta de Alcalá

We eventually got tired of walking and decided to try Museum Prado again. This time, we paid immediately and went in. Since we weren't going to spend hours and hours in the museum, we referred to the museum brochure for the must-see masterpieces. I am not an artsy person. In fact, I don't even take advantage of the abundant free museums in DC. However, art museums in Spain are somehow different and, as with Reina Sofia, I like Prado, too!

"Las Meninas" by Velazquez, the most famous painting at Prado.

Next to Prado is the Royal Botanical Garden. The plan for that night was to see a bullfight, and because we still had time, we visited the botanical garden on a whim. I took some pictures, but nothing great since there were hardly any flowers.

Few hours later, we arrived at Las Ventas only to find that we were too late for the bullfight! Ugh! I don't know how we got messed up, but I suspect daylight saving (it had just started that day) had something to do with it. So anyway, we missed the bullfight, but now looking back, it wasn't a big deal. Who wants to see poor defenseless animals getting killed anyway?

We still took a few pictures outside of the stadium, though.

Because we missed the bullfight, our evening was freed up to roam around some more.

We hopped on the metro and went to Plaza de España. From there, we hiked up to Templo de Debod and saw sunset from above.

Later, as we moseyed back to our hostale, we passed by the Royal Palace and caught some nice shots.

My itty bitty camera isn't so bad!

This is right next to the Royal Palace, I never did figure out what exactly it is. Pretty, though.

Casa de la Villa, originally served as both prison and Town Hall.

What a beautiful city!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pargo, The Gatekeeper

My dogs are funny. They are not really outdoor dogs, but yet, they love the idea of going out. Every time when they see us about to head out (they know the signs - getting dressed, fixing hair), they get all jazzed up. They start barking, as if they are saying, "c'mon, lets go!"

Sometimes we take them, and sometimes we don't. When we don't, and to keep the madness to a minimum, we have a gate blocking them from reaching the foyer. The last thing we want is two little dogs yapping and begging us to take them as we put on shoes.

Anyway, this weekend, hubs was coming home from school to pick me up for our date-versary dinner at the Corner Bakery. We planned for me to meet him outside so the dogs don't get excited seeing him come home, but then us leaving immediately.

I put up the fence and, as usual, the dogs were right behind it hoping that I would change my mind and take them. "No guys, stay."

What happened next amazed me no end.

As I slipped on my shoes, I saw Pargo single-handedly (um...paw-edly?) pulled the fence open in one fell swoop!

You have to understand that this is a metal fence, and Pargo is a 3.5lb little dog. The way he stuck his paw between the bars and pulled the fence open was just too funny. I had a good laugh.

To amuse myself some more, I put the fence back together and watched him do it again. And again and again. :)

Finally, I put my rain boot in front of the fence for double protection and this time, Pargo had no luck. I finished putting shoes on and left...but not before taking a few pictures!

I just love Pesto's expressions! Here he's looking at Pargo, giving him encouragement.

And here, he's just smiling like a cute puppy dog.

Ah, my boys. I love them.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekend Summary April 24-26

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

(Almost) Good As New

Our duvet cover had a huge, gaping rip right at the seams. Hubs said, buy a new one, but the sentimental side of me couldn't bear to throw it away. After all, I've had it for at least 6 or 7 years.

I am not a sewer. In fact, I couldn't even remember the last time I sewed something. But yesterday, I scrambled up the one needle and the one spool of black thread we have in the house and started sewing. I had a rip to fix!

Oh dear, I was horrible. I had trouble sewing in a straight line!

I started with simple single stitches, then hubs showed me his "double-whip-stitch" technique of looping back to make it more sturdy. Then I realized that I was going to run out of thread so I started doing single stitches again. Finally at the end, with some thread leftover, I went backwards and "double-whip-stitched" until I finished the thread.

It was a one big, hot mess.

But, at the end, the huge, gaping rip is gone. And when I flip the duvet right-side out, the imperfect handiwork is completely hidden. Crisis averted.

I fixed something! I felt so accomplished!

Now I can get a couple more years out of my beloved duvet.

My next project: make my own skirts and dresses!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Planting: Cayenne Pepper!

Anxiously waiting (and hoping) to see some red peppers...

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Taking Care of Rocks

by Guest
Just got done giving our little Homer a brain transplant. Since we'll be rolling around Ireland in a few weeks, I wanted to make sure the yelling and screaming between Joyce and I are kept to a minimum. And with the help of this guy, the rides should be much more enjoyable. I replaced his little memories of the USA with Western Europe, fired him back up and voila! I gave him a dry run from Dublin to Kilkenny and Homer led the way. Though I still feel we'll manage to get ourselves lost somewhere along the way.

I'm really looking forward to this trip and can't wait to get away. Joyce is just getting over her time in Spain, but I've been stuck here working and studying. Last weekend I had a horrible day in class. Sat around listening to a bunch of bs from one of the worst professors I've ever had. It was then and there that I decided to blow off the final class scheduled for Memorial Day weekend and take a breather. I called up the wife and said, "We need to plan another trip!"

When I got home that night, I popped open a bottle of Guinness to dull the pain in my brain and we decided among several places to go. Ireland won. But it all got me thinking as to why I was so upset with things. Work has been going nowhere fast these past few weeks with Sun having more layoffs. They decided to keep me around despite my request to be free and then all the buyout talks with IBM and Oracle starting to buzz around. Talk about a motivation killer. I've never seen such a downbeat sales force. And then to spend a nice sunny Saturday cooped up inside listening to some lady talk about stuff she had absolutely no expertise on, I just wanted to explode.

But I found comfort in this little story and maybe some of you will too...

Philosophy of Life

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in diameter.

He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He then asked once more if the jar was full. This time the students were sure and they responded with a unanimous "YES!"

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour their entire contents into the jar -- effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - things that, if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else. The small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued "there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.

"Take care of the rocks first -- the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented.

The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers."

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Daikon Cake (蘿蔔糕)

According to Wiki:

"Turnip Cake is a Cantonese dim sum dish made of shredded radish (typically Chinese radish or daikon) and plain rice flour. Despite the name, turnip is not an actual ingredient, hence the less commonly-used but more accurate name of Daikon Cake. It is sometimes also referred to as Radish Cake."

Whatever the accurate term is, I love me some cakes. When cooked right, they are soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside (from pan frying). They are also extremely filling so a few pieces always leave me stuffed.

Every so often, my mom or my mother-in-law would send us home with some homemade Daikon Cake. While they are all very good, I've always wanted to make my own. So after my mom talked me through it and I researched a bit online on my own, I finally gave it a try.

It was so easy (and delicious!)! Just mix everything together and steam. The most time-consuming part was the frying. For those who don't want to be bothered with that, it's actually not necessary. My parents eat it plain with soup sometime. They say it's just as good, but for me, I need that crunchy texture.

I've always believed that Daikon Cake was hard to make. Now having successfully made it, I feel I can cook just about anything! :)

Daikon Cake:

- 2 1/2 to 3 cups daikon, peeled and shredded
- 4 oz ground pork, lightly seasoned with salt and white pepper OR 1 Chinese sausage, finely diced
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, finely diced
- 2 cups rice flour (do not use glutinous rice flour)
- 1 3/4 cups water, divided
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 2 tbsp small dried shrimp, finely diced (optional)

1. In a big mixing bowl, combine rice flour, salt, white pepper, and 1 cup water. Mix well. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet and add shiitake mushrooms. Cook until fragrant. Add ground pork. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add daikon. Mix well. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.
3. Add daikon mixture into the rice flour mixture. Stir to combine.
4. Spread the combined mixture into a cake pan (round or square - just make sure it fits into your steamer) lined with wax paper.
5. Place cake pan into steamer, and steam at a medium-high boil for about 50 minutes.
6. Cool overnight in refrigerator. After cooling, cut the cake into slices and pan fry in a liberal amount of oil until both sides are golden brown.
7. Serve with soy sauce and hot sauce.

{Recipe adapted from here, here, and here}

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spain Trip: (Madrid) The Sights, Part I

After a long flight, we arrived in Madrid!

While most people would probably take taxi cabs from the airport to hotel for the sake of convenience, my mom and I hopped on the metro (3 connections!) and eventually found our way to our hostale. I was so proud of us!

After we dropped off our bags and freshened up a bit, we headed out to explore Madrid. The plan was to visit the Royal Palace, Puerta de Sol, Plaza Mayor, and everything else along the way. Our hostale was conveniently located so we didn't have to take the metro anywhere. Madrid is quite small and pedestrian friendly.

Previously in my recaps, I talked about the crappy weather. Well, the first day we arrived in Madrid, it was breezy and sunny (!!), but little did we know that it would be our only sunny day.

Puerta del Sol is Madrid's most famous and most central square. Lots of restaurants, hotels, and boutique shops nearby. Very vibrant and crowded. Spain's Kilometre Zero is located here - it marks the official starting point of Spain's 6 National Roads. And there are three statues at Puerta del Sol, the most famous one is the Bear and the Strawberry Tree.

Madrid's Royal Palace is the largest royal palace in Western Europe. It's beautiful and stately, don't you think? I really like this picture. :)

The interior of the Palace is richly decorated by artists.

After our visit to the Royal Palace, we took at break at Plaza de Oriente. Plaza de Oriente is very peaceful. The landscaped gardens are enclosed in a kind of semi-circular design. It has a number of statues of Spanish kings from the medieval period.

This spacious plaza is a popular place with visitors to the city, as well as with locals. There are many cafes that line the area.

On the way to Plaza Mayor, we saw many places selling jamon - Spanish cured ham. Seeing that a jamon sandwich was only 1 euro, my mom and I both had one. It was good the first bite, but afterwards it tasted gross and salty.

Plaza Mayor is Madrid's main square. It is located right in the center of the city, just a few minutes walk from the Puerta del Sol.

Despite the high prices charged by the restaurants and cafes under the arches that surround the square, this is still a great place to sit out, have dinner, people-watch, and enjoy free entertainment.

Since it was so nice out, my mom and I decided to have dinner there. I am glad we did because for the remainder of our stay, the restaurants didn't even tables and chairs set up due to the poor weather.

We walked around the Plaza and notcied that all the restaurants had, more or less, the same menu. So we randomly picked one and ordered seafood paella to share.

This time, instead of too salty, the paella was tasteless! I will do a whole post on what we ate while in Spain, but overall, I do not like Spanish food.

While eating, we were treated to singing and dancing. Fast forward to about 00:20 and say hi to my mom!



After dinner, we walked around some more and heard more music.

Finally, we ended the night with this shot of Puerta del Sol.

It was a very enjoyable first day! I didn't even feel jet-lagged, but it sure felt nice to finally be snuggled under the blanket for a deep sleep.

Next: I will show you the remainder of Madrid!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

diy detective invitations

Taking a break from trip planning, I found these super creative diy detective invitations on Cookie Magazine Nesting Blog.

These ingenious invitations were for a detective birthday party.

Tiny invitations were printed using microscopic font and placed inside mini glassine envelopes. Then, glassine envelopes, along with magnifying glasses, were individually tucked inside bigger envelopes. Finally, the invitations were sealed with some cute labels.

So inspiring! What a fresh idea! I love it.

I want to throw a party, detective-related or not, just so I can send out this exact invitation.

PS. Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry's today. I got a scoop of strawberry kiwi. Good until 8pm. Hurry!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Emerald Isle In T-25 Days

Guess what?!

We are going to Ireland!

Wow, I never thought I would be returning to Europe so soon.

It all started on Saturday when hubs said that he doesn't have classes over the Memorial Day weekend after all. After a delightful glee, I started my research. The contenders were sunny Southern California, a cruise in Alaska, or a self-catered tour of Ireland.

Even with last-minute deals, a cruise in Alaska is still incredibly expensive. Southern California is the cheapest option, but it just doesn't sound exotic enough. So we decided on Ireland!

We will fly into Dublin and leaving straight for the countryside. We haven't decided on the itinerary yet, but planning on using Kilkenny, Kinsale, and Dingle as our home bases. Hubs wants to relax and enjoy the atmosphere rather than hitting all the tourist spots. I think after my jam-packed Spain trip, I will be okay with that.

Although it would be such an unique experience to stay in a castle, we will spend most of our nights at homey B&Bs sprinkled throughout the country.

I am so excited! We have been talking about going to Ireland for years and I can't believe it's happening (so fast)! I can't wait to visit this photogenic country! I can't wait for this adventure with hubs! I can't wait!

{images 1 and 2}

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tulips Tulips Everywhere!

Today is 75 and gorgeous!

My mom and I drove into DC for the annual White House Gardens and Grounds Tour. There were tulips everywhere. So beautiful!

We saw the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, and the South Lawn of the White House. We even caught a glimpse of the new White House Kitchen Garden.

For entertainment, there was a band playing. It was such a nice day to be out. By the time we left the tour/city, the crowd was just starting to show.

Whew. We lucked out.

(I also took some pictures of the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. View them here!)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tomato Eggs (蕃茄炒蛋)

Tomato Eggs is a very simple, humble dish in Chinese cooking.

Growing up, my parents made this dish often. Now I make it about once every two weeks. We always have eggs in the fridge and I always load up on some tomatoes when I go shopping. So we usually have all the essential ingredients sitting at home. It's an easy go-to dish.

However, it wasn't until recently that I realized my method of preparing this dish was all wrong!

I would cook the tomato wedges first until soft, add eggs to the tomato mixture, and let it simmer until the eggs are done. That usually resulted in soggy eggs that had no shape and overall, a watery dish. It still tasted great, but lacked in presentation.

While browsing the other day, I found this and this. Interesting! Both recipes indicated that the correct way is to cook the eggs and tomato wedges separately, and then combine the two at the end. To make the eggs more flavorful, Rasa Malaysia even put sesame oil and rice wine in her eggs + sugar in her tomato wedges.

I gave her recipe a try, with tiny modifications.

Oh yum! I think I like Tomato Eggs even better now! Even hubs, who usually doesn't care for these subtle differences, said that the new version is better. :) I will definitely cook the dish this way from now on.

I hope you give this authentic dish a try!

Tomato Eggs:

- 3 large eggs
- 1 large tomato (cut into thin wedges)
- 1 tsp rice wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp chicken broth (or water)
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- chopped scallion (optional) {I didn't have any scallions so I used cilantro}

1. Break eggs into a bowl and beat the eggs until they break thoroughly. Add salt, pepper, sesame oil, and rice wine. Blend well. Set aside.
2. Heat up pan with cooking oil. Add egg mixture. Cook the eggs gently. You want the eggs to be in bite-size chunks. As soon as the eggs are cooked, dish out and set aside.
3. Add more oil to pan. Add tomato wedges. Add sugar and chicken broth. Lightly salt if you wish. Cook until tomato wedges are soft and have released their juices.
4. Add eggs back to pan. Stir to incorporate everything. Dish out, add chopped scallions (optional), and serve immediately.

Notes:
- The bits of skin should fall off the tomato wedges as they cook, you can then fish them out with chopsticks.
- If the dish is too blend for your taste, consider eating it with something spicy. When I prepare this dish, I usually have a vegetable dish and eat with plain rice.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Time

To understand the gravity of what I’m about to announce, you have to understand that Pargo and Pesto aren't exactly touch-feely with each other...even after four months.

Pargo, especially, has always been a loner. Although he has gotten used to his little brother, he doesn't like to be crowded or touched by him. He hates it when Pesto gets too physical/close while playing.

And although they both sleep on the bed with us, they sleep at the opposite ends.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this the other night. I carefully grabbed my camera and documented this amazing milestone.

My two boys! Snuggling together! (all together now...awwwwww!)

Who knows when this will ever happen again, but baby steps.

After all, everything takes time...

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spain Trip: (Barcelona) Montjuic Day

Although Barcelona is quite big, according to Rick Steves, tourists just need to focus on four major areas: the Eixample, La Rambla + Gothic Quarter, the Harborfront, and Montjuic Hill.

Previously in my posts, I talked about our whirlwind tour of Gaudi masterpieces (all in/around the Eixample district) and our stroll down La Rambla + Gothic Quarter. In this post, I will share some pictures of Montjuic and our short vist to the Mediterranean Sea.

Montjuic, a mountain park, was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympic games. Other attractions include Joan Miro museum, botanical gardens, a recreated Spanish village, National Art Museum of Catalonia, and the Montjuic castle. If you visit all the attractions, it would probably take you one full day (maybe two) to see everything.

To get to Montjuic, we took the metro to Parallel (btw, Barcelona's metro system is so easy to use! And cheap too!) and then the Montjuic funicular, which is integrated in the metro network, to reach the top. Very convenient.

Once we got there, we saw several botanical gardens (but the rain made them not particularly enjoyable) and Joan Miro museum.

However, we really wanted to see the Olympic Stadium and the view of Barcelona skyline. So my mom got the brilliant idea of taking the Montjuic bus (it circles the park) to get our bearing instead of walking aimlessly.

When we finally got on the bus, for some reason, it dropped us off at the bottom of Montjuic, Plaça d'Espanya! Oopsie.

However, it wasn't a total loss. At the bottom of Montjuic is National Art Museum of Catalonia. We did not go inside, but the building is a work of art itself! I wish it wasn't under construction.

During the summer evenings, when the Magic Fountain (pictured below) illuminates, it attracts visitors to watch a spectacular display of light, water and music. It's beautiful, I've seen pictures.

Still wanting to see the Olympic Stadium and the view of Barcelona from above, we decided to walk back to the top. On the way, we saw statues....

...and standing in front of National Art Museum of Catalonia, we saw this.
Once we got out of the museum vicinity, we saw signs everywhere that pointed us straight to the Olympic Stadium.

It looked awfully small when compared to the Bird's Nest. Then again, it was 17 years ago.

The Montjuic castle sits on top of a cliff, which makes it one of the best observation points for views across the city. In order to reach the castle, visitors can opt to take the Montjuic cable car. However, that would set you back $12. So instead, my mom and I walked up. It was steep and winding, but not dangerous. By then, the rain had stopped so it wasn't a bad walk. It only took about 10 minutes.

Due to its fortress-like appearance, the castle now houses a museum dedicated to anything military. I wasn't interested in that at all.

I was busy taking pictures such as this one below. The view took my breath away! I enjoyed looking out to the sea and the maze of streets. It was also fun identifying landmarks around the city. I saw La Sagrada Familia in the distance (not shown in the picture).

We eventually made our way down to the bottom and because the day was still early, we started walking around the city. We simply looked at the maps we got from the Visitor Center - you know, the ones that highlight all the tourist attractions in bold - and saw as much as we could on foot.

Among all the places we saw, I like Arc de Triomf. It has a big open space to sit and people-watch.

We actually went to the beach on our first day in Barcelona. It was a dark and gloomy day - definitely not beach weather. We said "hi" to the Mediterranean Sea and left pretty quickly. Lots of cruise ships leave from Barcelona, so hopefully I will see it again one day.

We were in Barcelona for just 2 1/2 days. I think the perfect itinerary would be 4 or 5 days. Even though we saw all that we wanted to see, I think an extra day or two would help us slow down and maybe do a short excursion from the city.

Overall, I recommend Barcelona as a great place to visit for some beautiful sights and rich culture.

Next: I take you to Madrid!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!