Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

"Are YOU dressing up? I am!! And I love it - can't you tell? I hope you get lots of goodies and cookies and candy and treats. I got a lot of treats just taking these photos so it's my lucky day! I ♥ Halloween if I'm gonna get treats like this every year! Dad thinks Mom's crazy, and I think I might too. But at least I get treats!

Gooooooooo Team!

I won my costume contest for my playgroup at Doggie Daycare for the 2nd year in a row wearing this cheerleader costume. It's pretty funny isn't it? I like to chew on the pom-poms/arms but then Mom makes me stop.

Even cheerleaders have to sit and take a break sometimes

I got to bring home a plastic pumpkin full of treats and toys and a Halloween bandanna as a prize! Dad is very proud even though he wasn't totally on-board about the costumes in the first place. But he's a competitive guy so he's proud if I win something.

Remember my costume from last year?

This was my pirate wench costume from last year. I won my costume contest at Doggie Daycare then too!

Minnie Lucca

And let's not forget the Minnie ears Mom brought back from Orlando for me. They're specifically for dogs and they fit me perfectly. I got more treats for wearing these too - so my Halloween has be pretty plentiful and awesome so far.

Tonight I get to go to my boyfriend Carter's house for dinner. He was at the Halloween party at our daycare too! But I didn't get to see him since I play in a different group. So I can't wait to see him tonight! Maybe I'll post an additional picture of us in our costumes later.

Trick or treat? (I did both)

Thanks for checking me out in my costumes! I hope you have a happy and safe Halloween! Woof!"


"PS: here we are!!:

Mom brought Mickey ears home from Disney World for Carter too, so that we could match like the cute couple we are! (that's Dad wearing his "costume" which is a Hulk t-shirt, in back)

Carter was a lobster. But doesn't it actually look like he's getting put in a chokehold BY a lobster?

And one final one of me. All the humans thought this was hilarious for some reason. I don't know why. I was just sitting there nicely, wearing my stupid costume and waiting for Carter to get ready for our picture!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for visiting!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our matriarch

The last couple of months have been SO busy for me. There have been happy things like visiting my best friend in Hawaii, throwing a baby shower for Ali, my cousin Courtney's wedding for which I was a bridesmaid and a trip to Disney World with my parents. But there have been very sad things as well like losing Carol. And just when the utter sadness over Carol had started to fade, we lost the matriarch of our family.

My Auntie Frances
Auntie Frances was my mom's oldest sister, but she meant so much more than that to our family. After my Pau-pau (mother's mother, in Cantonese-Chinese) died many years before I was born, Auntie Frances, whether intending to or not, became the family matriarch. She hosted Thanksgivings at her home for 20-some years, until the house became too small for our ridiculously sized family and we "little kids" would find ourselves dining in bedrooms.

Auntie Frances and my mom growing up in the Central Valley of California

My mom and Auntie Frances on our trip to China in 2000

Any and all the baking you see on my blog is basically descended from her. She was the first of the sisters to begin baking and not only bake - but do so as a perfectionist. Her sisters started baking because of her and soon mastered it; specifically, the art of mastering pie-crust. She was also the first of the sisters to learn to knit and was a beautiful knitter. She taught me when I was 8 years old and it's because of her my friends have gotten these gifts.

All five sisters almost 30 years ago

Making joong at Auntie Frances' house in 2005

Auntie Frances taught herself to make dim sum. I take that back, not make it - PERFECT it. She would work a recipe and try it and try it again until it was perfect. She would throw out batches and proclaim them "AWW-ful", but it was her way of making it right for her family. My Pau-pau was a "village cook". She didn't know how to make anything fancy. She didn't bake and she didn't make dim sum. But Auntie Frances did. She taught herself, even without influence from her own mother; and then she taught all her sisters. And when she caught wind that a couple of the cousins (myself included) were interested in learning to make dim sum, she hand-wrote cookbooks for us. HAND-WROTE. Full of: joong, nau mai fan, ha gow, cha siu bow, egg rolls, potstickers, Chinese almond cookies, gin duey, lo bok go, hom sui gok, ai lun gim, siu mai... To have all these recipes written FOR me in HER handwriting and with her drawn diagrams - it's absolutely priceless.

I had to throw this one in too: she is undoubtedly critiquing the
Thanksgiving desserts here (perhaps Steve is too?)

You see references to her all over my blog. From here and here and here and most importantly, here.

My mom, her sisters and most of the sisters' kids

A favorite I have framed in my house

I've been dreading the day one of my mom' sisters was no longer with us, for as long as I can remember. It's the beginning of something very scary that I know will come, but I want to push back against with everything inside me. These women have collectively raised me and really, raised all of us cousins. One of my cousins said it best that a handful of us are so much closer than cousins - we're like extended siblings. I suppose I can think of this closeness, and the loss doesn't feel so great.

The last time they all had the same hairstyle

My favorite picture of the sisters - it's been on my fridge for almost 5 years

The Girls in the 50's

As I write this, I feel the tears coming again, but really it shouldn't be that way. She lived a wonderful life and molded a beautiful family. We are who we are because of her. I have no doubt of that. We cook and bake, we create, we love, we welcome people, we live fully, we laugh, we cry. We are so because of her.

Our last Family picture with Auntie Frances; Thanksgiving 2007

Auntie Frances passed on just a week before her grand-daughter, Courtney's wedding. The favors at the wedding were Chinese almond cookies, made by my auntie a few weeks before she died. She was with us that night. Absolutely.

I will miss you so very much, Auntie Frances. But I will forever cherish what you've taught me. And I will teach my children. And I will love my family as much as you did and I'll do what I can to keep us close and strong. You were, and continue to be such a magnificent force and I'm so thankful to be in your family.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All pho me

I'm very much aware that I haven't completed a Daring Cooks challenge in a few months now. It was getting to be too much for me each month to complete both; and since I'm really a Daring Baker at heart - I had to accept my priorities. So these days I really only do a Daring Cooks challenge if it totally jumps out at me.

This Daring Cooks challenge totally jumped out at me: Chicken Pho!!!

Just add water broth

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

Things have been crazy around here and I hadn't even checked the forums for October's Daring Cooks challenge. That is, until Jen tweeted that she was making it one night last week and it smelled "fanfrickintastic". Needless to say, my interest was piqued. When I saw that the challenge was homemade pho, I was ON IT.

I had some leftover basil leaves I threw in after taking this picture, too

I completely, totally and absolutely ♥ pho. I have to admit, that while I eat a lot of pho, I turn on my white-girl switch when I do and just get eye round steak (tái). I'm not into tripe or fatty flank or beef balls or tendon or well-done brisket. I like my pho simple: some bean sprouts, basil, a squeeze of lime and those rare, thin slices of steak. {Simple and perfect} I used to think (well, and still do even though it's not really so necessary in recent years) that pho was the PERFECT food after a night of a few too many drinks. That soup feels so wonderful going into a dehydrated body. And the generous serving of noodles fills one up without being too rich.

Jaden's right, the flavor comes mostly from those seeds/spices

Believe it or not, I've never had chicken pho. But it too sounded simple and perfect. Like I said, I was ON IT. It's not really my style, but I opted for the "Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho" with canned broth, as opposed to making my own stock. Jaden's words seemed to support the idea that pho is mostly about the flavor in the spices than the flavor in the broth. And since I decided to whip this together on a work-night, I am absolutely not ashamed to admit I used Swanson!

Found fresh rice noodles in the refrigerated section ~~ This is my favorite (Thai) fish sauce

The recipe is perfection. Absolutely perfect. Jaden has hit it completely square on the head. I couldn't believe how great my house smelled while the broth was simmering. And it really was a very simple meal to put together on a work-night. Even with a quick trip to the Asian grocery store for noodles, cilantro and bean sprouts. I happily had everything else at home.

Look at that yummy flavoring goodness (after straining the broth)

I'd like to correct Jaden's recipe however. She claims this serves 4. But we shared it between the 2 of us. That's a typo, right? Or it needs to be corrected?... um. Seriously, I didn't eat lunch that day, so it's acceptable, right?! Who am I kidding... we're definitely little piggies pho the reals!! I downed an entire ½ pound of noodles and a ½ chicken breast and while I could barely breathe when I was done - it was worth it.

Since these noodles were fresh they took 10
seconds (yes, seconds) of boiling to cook

I'm lucky enough to have completed the pho challenge, but don't think I'll be sharing any chocolate (or otherwise) filled wontons with you this month. 'Twas the 2nd part of our challenge and let's just say... after that pound of food + broth, there was no dessert to be had. In fact, I think I was still full the following morning. Ok, so maybe Jaden's "serves 4" is accurate after all.

Oh. yes.

Pho crying out loud - go make yourselves some pho at home!! I still can't get over how fast and simple, yet perfect this recipe is. It was like we were eating at Pho Hoa, but at our own dining room table! Never again will I forget to check the Daring Cooks challenge until just days before post day. Thank you so much Jaden!

Who are you calling a little piggy?


Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho

Servings: Makes 4 servings (should I be ashamed to admit it made 2 servings for us?)


For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
[Lisa] we liked some basil too
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice

1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Knitty-bitty teeny-weeny

About a month and a half ago I picked up my knitting needles again in a MAJOR WAY. It had been about 5 months since I'd knit anything and prior to that probably almost a year. As most knitters know, it can be difficult to get excited about knitting in the summer - it's too hot to even imagine a knit item not to mention hold one on your lap every evening! So I suppose I blame the last 2 summers for my lack of knitting. Last winter - I have no excuse other than being in Africa for a month...which is a pretty poor excuse. But the perfect thing happened this year - a lot of babies started arriving! Knitting baby items is something I hadn't done yet. But they're the EASIEST knitting since they're so small and fast, and size doesn't have to be exact - just make it a tad bigger and they'll grow into it!!

Handknit "Merry Jane" booties for Lexi and Tali

They'll grow into the booties soon enough

The first babies to receive a hand-knit item from me were Andrea's twin girls, Alexis and Natalia (Lexi and Tali). I had been at Andrea's home 2 days before the girls were born and knew she was low on hats. She was prepared to bring them home from the hospital in poor-fitting and un-matching hats. *OVER MY DEAD KNITTING NEEDLES!* I had already started a previous project for the girls but I pushed it aside and started in on Nona's Newborn Hats [non-Ravelry] instead.
The hats fit perfectly... but they sure won't for long!

Newborn hats in purple and pink

As you can see, I changed the pattern a little. I made the hats a tad smaller (knit 4" before decreasing, instead of 4.5"), did a seed stitch trim instead of the ribbing, and added the stripes. I was really happy with the results and they fit the girls (~6 pounds each) PERFECTLY! It wasn't confirmed to me but I think they wore them home from the hospital. I certainly know they wore them in the hospital.

"We wore our hats in the hospital!"

Now onto that other project I'd put aside to frantically make the hats... a pattern I've had in my Ravelry queue for literally over a year - just waiting for a very close friend to have a baby girl; or two. Bekah Knits' Baby Merry Janes (non-Ravelry). Oh My Goodness these were just about the cutest things I'd ever seen. I started the booties on my flight to Hawaii in early September and that flight was the perfect length to make one bootie minus the sock. I spent my afternoon (quite tired from my early flight) finishing the rest. So 1 bootie perhaps took about 8 hours to complete. And I had 3 more to go...

The strap and button actually work - but it's still easier to
just leave it buttoned and slip the bootie on

CJ modeled them for me before they were gifted

I made sure to differentiate the booties with different colored buttons

I gave the booties to Lexi and Tali when I met them at 1½ weeks old. We couldn't help but play dress up with them and I personally think they're quite the little fashionistas! Hot off the knitting runway: hats and booties!

While they look like clown shoes on the girls, the booties stay on because of the stretchy sock. I love that they will fit for at least a couple months due to the stretchiness! I think Andrea the girls love them too.

"OMG I can't believe I just said that" ~~ "Oh well, let's laugh about it instead" - Lexi

For both the hats and booties I used all Rowan yarns: Cashsoft Baby DK, Cashsoft DK and Cashsoft 4 ply. LOVE these yarns. LOVE. They are {gentle} machine washable and so soft. And there are so many beautiful colors! Stay tuned for more knitting. I had to keep it all under wraps until I finally gave Ali her gifts, but I feel like it's all I've been doing lately!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

La la la la Ladurée!!

I almost skipped home from work last Tuesday singing a little "la la la la" tune and day-dreaming about perhaps the very best French macarons in le monde!... LADURÉE. Oh Ladurée... I was stupidly unaware of the French macaron the past times I've been in Paris. Perhaps because most of mainstream America was not yet all that familiar with the French macaron. It's been almost 4 years since I was last in Paris and I am now DYING to go back to just eat my way across all of France.

But I'm getting off topic...

Christmas came early for me, last week

I was in the office last Tuesday busily minding my own functional specifications documents, when I got a text and an IM and perhaps an email all at the same time: from my old vice prez's executive admin. "I have some cookies for you from Paris and you have to come get them right away." Yup. Just "some cookies from Paris." Madame Admin - cookies from Paris are most likely macarons and they deserve to be addressed with all sorts of respect.

Even the BOX is flawless and well made!

A few emails back and forth later, I got the full story. My old VP was vacationing in France, she returned the night before and was still on PTO, but called her admin to meet her in the parking lot and then deliver 3 very special boxes of Ladurée French macarons to 3 very special people in our office. It didn't even matter to me who the other 2 were, all I cared was that I was ONE! And people, this was a HUGE deal. She is a VEE-PEE. She is a BUSY WOMAN! I was touched beyond belief.

Are those angels I hear singing?

It's worth mentioning that I have made macs and brought them into the office in the past. When Ms. VP got ahold of one, I was worried she might dance a little jig right there in front of me. She told me how much she loves macarons and that mine tasted like the ones from Ladurée...and while I've heard the same thing from my parents - I still don't believe any of these people. I think they're just trying to get me to feed them more!

The hot new Christian Louboutin macaron (fig & date),
chocolate and caramel with salted butter

Needless to say, I hustled my derrière over to the appropriate building and picked up my little box of *sigh* Ladurée macarons. This wonderful woman. The folks at Ladurée informed her she MUST deliver the cookies the NEXT DAY and she MUST carry them with her on the plane and she MUST put them in the overhead bins where it is cooler. And she did all of this just to get us our little bits of cookie gold.

I shared with NO ONE!

I creeped around the office the rest of the afternoon, protecting my little box and calling it "My Precious". I finally snuck home early to revel in the excitement of this little gift that traveled 5500 miles to get into my hot little hands! The verdict? DELISH. The flavors were wonderful. The texture was perfect. I could tell they weren't QUITE as fresh as would be ideal, and even with all that care they were a bit cracked. But it was SUCH a fun day. And....err... dare I say... my macarons don't taste THAT far off. If anything - this exciting little package told me that I'm really not too far off the path. All the batches of macs I've made since last March, and I'd never even eaten a really good one. Well. Until now.


It would seem unfair to complete this post without telling others (my local friends only, I'm sorry I can't help non-Bay Area folks) where they can go buy quality macarons themselves. We of course do not have Ladurée or Pierre Hermé here in San Francisco [yet?] but we do have some other bakeries putting out a VERY good product. Anita and I scampered around the city a couple weeks ago gathering macarons for Jen. We wanted to do a Macaron Taste Test and boy did we. Here's what the general consensus was... Helen even threw in her 2 cents and being a Frenchie AND a professional pastry-chef, I value her opinion immensely.

Paulette Macarons (SF): Flavors are perfect here and the cookie is almost perfect. Recommend the cassis. (Helen's fave) I prefer a bit more "chew" to my macaron than Paulette's turns out. But then again, their cookies are shipped up from their Beverly Hills location each morning.
Miette (3 locations in SF): They're the original in SF for making French macarons; have been doing so for at least 4 years as far as I remember. Their macs are not fancy or sophisticated and tend to be a more "rustic" cookie. No food colorings and a less fine almond powder in the cookie. I probably prefer these the best in texture, but not in appearance or even flavor.
Pamplemousse (RWC): A VERY fragile cookie shell but good amount of chew. Recommend the yuzu. (Croissants are fantastic too!)
Patisserie Philippe (SF): A more rustic macaron with a "puffier" top and less fine ground almond - but great structure. (Anita's fave)

And for crying out loud - whatever you do, AVOID Cocola for macarons. I threw mine away after taking one bite. It was horrendous! Other people might disagree with me, but I have been CONTINUALLY disappointed with macarons from Bouchon - both the Yountville location and the NYC location. Very dry. Flavors were okay. La Boulange de Hayes are not so great either. The ones I tried were very soft and almost mushy.