Thursday, July 31, 2008

1,000 Cranes for Good Luck

I was browsing through weddingbee, one of my favorite daily reads, and stumbled upon this beautiful work of art by Stacie Tamaki. Named "Spring Cranes," this beauty is made out of 1,000 origami paper cranes hanging off a bamboo parasol frame (that number of cranes symbolizes good luck for the bride and groom).

above from Stacie Tamaki

I loved origami and especially folding paper cranes when I was younger, and this brought back such memories. Spring Cranes also reminds me of Preston Bailey's elaborate chandeliers covered by flowers. I often drool over his over-the-top deigns for weddings and parties.

above from Preston Bailey

All this gives me an idea for a craft project for the wedding...I may attempt something like Spring Cranes. Best of all, it can also function as a show piece in my future home!

Friday, July 25, 2008

I Thought I Had it Bad

I was blog surfing and ran into this:

image from Apertura Photography

Apparently, a couple got married after being in a 15 year relationship! The photo captured precisely what most people would think. May be I should borrow this idea...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fun with Silhouettes

Here's a project I'm working on possibly for the wedding...and most definitely my future home. I got the inspiration from my daily reads, Design Sponge and the Bride's Cafe.

Above from Design Sponge

Above from the Bride's Cafe

It just looked so fun that I had to try it! So I took a picture of my fiance and turned it into a silhouette in Photoshop.

All I have to do now is add some finishing touches...add a picture frame then I'm done!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What about the Groom?

Yeah, what about him.

Sure, he's an essential part of the wedding, but grooms are usually the silent partner in wedding planning, no? I hope mine isn't, but all the women I talked to who've been there tell me that it's better that they don't get involved. Whether he is or not, let's face it, there's not alot of pictures or resources out there to inspire grooms.

So in the past couple of days, I've been gathering tons of pictures to give my fiance an idea of the looks out there. He doesn't want to wear a tux + bow tie or jacket + khakis, so I skipped looking at those. Hopefully after this he will have a better idea of what he wants to wear on our day and the attire for his groomsmen. It took me a while to go through my daily reads (many many blogs). The following is an abridged version, with all photos from The Bride's Cafe:

photography from Amy Squires, Fred Egan, Aaron Delesie, Boutwell Studio, Carrie Patterson, Jasmine Star

What will it be? Black pinstripe suit? Grey suit? Grey pinstripe suit? Tux?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

I was just informed by my sister that it's our 20th anniversary in the United States. We first stepped foot here in July 1988. I can't believe it's been 20 years!!!

I still miss my real home. To me, Hong Kong will always be my home.

A Neat Surprise at Target

I don't venture into Target often (because most of the time it's a zoo there), but we had to do some minor wedding research there this weekend. I stumbled upon their wedding invitations corner...what a neat surprise!

They had boxed sets of letterpress invitations that you can buy and print at home for a pretty reasonable price. Whoever was in charge of this idea at Target is right on...letterpress is all the rage, and certainly not accessible for everyone because they are very costly.

The boxed sets come with invitations and response cards that have designs in letterpress. It's up to you to match the colors on your home printer. The quality of the paper and impressions weren't top notch of course, but their designs were very modern and their packagings were very attractive.

all images from Target

Not bad huh. I was so very very tempted...too bad I'm getting multi-language invitations.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Fiance is the Devil

He is totally sabotaging my diet. He fed me greasy pizza AND ice cream this weekend. Whenever I'm out with him, my diet goes down the drain. Thanks alot man.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Banana Nut Bread

I made a small loaf of banana nut bread yesterday using Martha Stewart's recipe. It's like a cross between bread, muffin or cake because it's not quite as dry as bread, but not as moist as a muffin, and has a similar texture to a muffin or cake.

I improvised a bit as always...this time I only added a bit of nutmeg, and I also left out the flax seeds (it's not something I have in my pantry). It turned out lighter in color than I imagined, but still pretty good!

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Little Photoshop Magic

I've been obsessed with cutting out people in my photos who weren't supposed to be there by using Photoshop. So I've been sorting through pictures I took in Paris last year to see what I can do.

I'm no Photoshop expert, but here's what I've done from playing around with the program. Clone stamp, clone stamp, clone stamp baby!

The original photo in the Louvre with a random kid

Above, after taking out the kid and adding a vintage tone

Above, after taking out the kid and adding black and white

Add a frame, and it's good to go on my wall!!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Sign?

Since I have less than 12 months to go til the wedding, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a software that helps with the whole planning process...from organizing your guest list, invitations, seating arrangements, calendar, etc. Apparently, they had the "couples version," but I was given the "professional version" for wedding planners in the business.

Should I take this as a sign that I should make a career change? My sister was joking that I will "not only plan your wedding, but bake your cake too!" Speaking of baking...I smell a banana nut bread coming!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unidentified Flying Chicken

Yup, that's the name of the Korean fried chicken joint. My fiance and I tried out Bon Chon about a month ago and we wanted to see if UFC deserves the five drumsticks rated by New York Magazine vs. Bon Chon's 2 drumsticks rating. So this weekend, we went to check out what UFC is all about.

UFC is located in Queens, the hub for many Korean fried chicken joints. The decor at UFC is modern and their logo is a cool cartoon chicken - this place was definitely hipper than the Bon Chon we went to in New Jersey. The menu at UFC is more extensive than Bon Chon - the wings come in 4 flavors (soy garlic, hot, spicy mustard and sweet & spicy) and the choice of sides goes beyond radish (salad, coleslaw). Also on the menu are french fries and paninis.

Unlike what we did at Bon Chon, we ordered the UFC chicken to go. However, we wanted to compare them on equal playing field, so we had a wing each while they were piping hot. We had ordered half of the wings in soy garlic and the other half hot (they were just a tad hot; very tolerable). The UFC wings tasted sweeter than Bon Chon, and the drumsticks were a bit juicier as well. It met my expectations in taste and non-greasiness.

We had the rest of the wings the next day after re-heating them in the oven. Surprisingly, oil dripped out of the wings after we took them out of the oven. I did not expect that given that I thought they were not greasy at all - perhaps this was chili oil. I didn't mind it at all though as they were still very tasty. They weren't as crispy as the day before, but I didn't mind that at all either.

After much deliberation, we concluded that we did not agree with the huge difference in rating between UFC and Bon Chon given by New York Magazine. Perhaps UFC should be rated at half a drumstick more than Bon Chon because of their juicer meat, but based on taste alone, the difference in rating should not be as wide as 4 drumsticks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chocolate Brownies

The third and final item from my baking marathon was Chocolate Brownies from a book I received as a gift, "Brownies to Die For! The complete guide for Brownie Lovers" by Bev Shaffer. This is a brownies-only cookbook. I had previously tried out 2 recipes from here - the first I tried was good, but the second recipe was bad. Given this experience, I stuck to the first recipe and haven't tried out other ones in the book.

This brownie recipe is a classic - fudgy interior, crunchy exterior. The only modifications I made to the recipe was to substitute in one ounce of extra bittersweet chocolate in place of unsweetened chocolate, and to add 1 tsp of instant coffee to enhance the chocolate flavor.

Plain and Simple Fudgy Brownies

4oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3C unsalted butter
2C granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4C unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1C chopped walnuts or peacans, lightly toasted

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13x9" baking pan.
Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to blend. Remove pan from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs and vanilla.
Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and nuts. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Brownies will be dry if over-baked! Cool pan slightly (or just until the brownies will no longer burn the roof of your mouth!). Cut into bars. Makes about 2 dozen.

Molasses Drop Cookies

My second batch of cookies were Molasses Drop Cookies from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics. I had some molasses sitting around from a Pumpkin Tea Bread (yum!) I made a couple of months ago, so I figured I might as well use them to bake something else.

The Molasses Cookies were pretty easy to make. I noticed though that the recipe didn't use any spices, so I added a tablespoon of ground ginger and some cinnamon. This may sound odd, but I also diced up some dried mangos and added them to the batter (I would've used candied ginger if I had some). As usual, I used about 2 tbs less butter than called for, and a bit less sugar as well. It turned out well - the ginger added some subtle spice, and the mango went well with the chewiness of the cookies.

One tip about baking these babies - don't use insulated baking sheets. These baking sheets are insulated to prevent the bottom of your baked goods from browning too much or being burned while baking. I did one batch on an insulated baking sheet, and the cookies turned out flat; they didn't rise at all. Below is the recipe from the book:

Molasses Drop Cookies
makes 2 dozen

8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2C packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4C plus 2 tbs molasses
1 1/4C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees on center rack.
In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 min).
Add egg and molasses and mix on medium speed until combined (about 20 seconds).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; add to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until combined (about 20 seconds).
Drop 2 teaspoons of the batter on the prepared baking sheet and space batter 3 inches apart. Bake for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with granulated sugar, rotate the cookie sheets and bake for 8 minutes more. Rotate the sheets again and bake until the cookies are just brown around the edges (about 6 minutes more).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Company after My Heart

While doing some wedding research, I found Paper Orchid. The company does laser cut products...invitations, cupcake wrappers, favor boxes, etc. They carry a variety of patterns (it's like a dream come true for me!). Here're just a few that caught my eye:

  • Invitation for a Chinese wedding (makes me wished my colors were red & gold!) I think this is perfect for those who want to steer clear of the typical Chinese invitations with cartoon characters.

image from Paper Orchid

  • Nautical themed invitation (so cute!)

image from Paper Orchid

  • Another lovely laser-cut invitation

image from Paper Orchid

  • Napkin ring (ain't it special?)

image from Paper Orchid

  • Butterfly cupcake wrapper (makes the cupcake too pretty to eat).

image from Paper Orchid

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

I must admit I may have over-baked yesterday (my arm is hurting a bit), but the oven was on already, and I had so much ingredients left over that I might as well...

My first batch were Cranberry Oatmeal cookies. This is a very trusty recipe that I found on years ago (they no longer have it). These cookies have been requested to make repeated appearances, such that I made a batch for a friend, and included some ingredients, sets of measuring cups & spoons and the recipe so she can make them for her hubby and their little bundle of joy who will be greeting them in a few months!

I have made countless dozens of cookies from this recipe, with some modifications of course - I tend to use less butter and sugar than called for, and I added some walnuts for crunch & texture. I've also made variations of this recipe - soaking the cranberries in orange juice or rum, adding some rum to the batter, etc. If you want the cranberries to maintain their tartness (which I like in this recipe), leave them as is.

A word about the cardamon and cloves - buy them ungrinded. The cardamon should come in pods, and the cloves should look like tiny wooden nails (the home improvement kind). It takes an extra step to grind them and all, but they stay fresher that way. Below is the original recipe from; I've added my take/modifications in parenthesis.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
serves 5 dozen

1C unsalted butter at room temperature (I use about 2 tbs less)
3/4C granulated sugar (I use a couple of teaspoons less)
3/4C brown sugar (I don't pack it that tight)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamon
(1/4 tsp cloves)
3C rolled oats
1C dried cranberries
(1/2C toasted walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugars with a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture and stir until well blended.
Add cranberries and mix.
Drop batter by teaspoon full onto baking sheet.
Bake 10-12min, or until golden.

Can't Get Enough of Patterns II

I blogged about my idea of using an ivy panel by Tord Boontje in my wedding months ago and guess what, looks like I'm not the only one! I found this image from a the blog of One Love Photo:

image from here

The ivy panels are not cheap anyways, so perhaps I'll resort to using plain ol'doilies from the grocery store. I sense a craft project in the future...

I think it'll be just as effective. I'll let you know how it turns out if I pursue that route.

Friday, July 11, 2008

All in a Day's Work

I spent most of my time baking today so I won't show up empty handed at my friend's BBQ tomorrow. So 3 sticks of butter, more than half a dozen of eggs, 3 recipes and 5 hours later, out of the oven comes 4 dozens of cookies and a dozen of chocolate brownies. Didn't I tell you before that I had plenty of ammunition?

Here's an inventory of what I made: Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies (from a rather trust worthy recipe I've used many times successfully), Molasses Cookies from one of my Martha Stewart cookbooks, and a Chocolate Brownie recipe from a brownies-only cookbook. Here's a preview of my first batch of cookies (more details to come!).

Can't Get Enough of Patterns

Does Martha do more than just eat? Yes. I realize I've been on a roll lately blogging about my latest eats. So I thought it would be nice to take a break from that this time around.

I've been doing a lot of wedding research online...looking at dresses, invitations, florists, blogs, etc. What I keep on getting drawn to are patterns - damask, lace, etc. So it doesn't take much to figure out that my wedding dress has got lace on it. Here's a sneak preview of my dress:

image from here

And as tempting as it may be to get invitations from Ceci New York, one of the most wanted stationers in the city, I have better self control than you think. That doesn't stop me though from admiring and drooling over their beautiful work, namely this one:

image from Ceci New York

Spot a pattern there? The purple is perfect too! And lastly, it's no surprise that my venue's got patterned walls:

I'm crossing my fingers that all this is not too much to make our guests dizzy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Move Over Colonel Sanders

Make room for a whole new breed of fried chicken chains from Korea. A good majority of them are located in Queens, but they have been expanding to the other boroughs and even New Jersey. There's Unidentified Flying Chickens, Kyochon, Bonbon Chicken, Kyedong, Bon Chon Chicken (the only one I've tried out so far), and so on. This recent New York Magazine article breaks them down pretty good. Oh, as if the names aren't creative enough, we passed by a place called Boom Boom Chicken.

image from Bon Chon Chicken

My first Bon Chon Chicken experience in New Jersey did not disappoint. This is not your ordinary fried chicken place. In fact, it's a whole new experience than the fried chicken joints you're used to - the setting, the flavors, the crunchy exterior, everything. All wings are made to order, so expect to wait 20 minutes to get your finger licking good chicken. They offer two flavors: garlic soy and spicy.

I had their garlic soy chicken wings and was pleasantly surprised by the light but tasty sauce on the chicken that did not make the skin soggy at all. The sauce was sweet but salty at the same time. The skin was crunchy, not a bit greasy at all, and the meat was moist. However, the meat did not have much chicken taste. All orders come with a side of pickled radishes, which you will need to clean your palate so you can consume more wings.

One down, many more other chains to go!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Found it!

We went to a Japanese restaurant called Douzo during our culinary journey in Boston this past weekend. The only reason we went there was to look for the sake that my fiance had raved about the last time he was there. He thought he found a similar one at a local wine store that I blogged about a while ago, but that wasn't quite it.

Douzo was nice and pretty huge. The decor was modern, and looked like it would belong in midtown Manhattan. It was one of those places that catered to the business crowd - good for unwinding at the bar after a hard day at work, or to singles - good for picking up hotties (a total meat/meet market.) The waitstaff was mostly Asian and dressed in all black. And of course I was mistaken for one of them!

Anyways, my fiance couldn't find the sake he was looking for on the menu, so we needed some help from our waitress. When asked by the waitress what the bottle looked like, he responded with "it had a cartoon character on the label." I thought that was odd. When the bottle came, this was what I saw:

Not quite a cartoon character I thought (I was expecting happy cartoons type of thing), but more like the devil, illustrated in bright red. Anyways, it was Nigori Genshu Sake from the Murai Family, served chilled, and described as having hints of coconut and vanilla. It had a milky texture because it was unfiltered sake. Sadly, I did not like it, and still didn't like it even after we added cucumber slices. Interestingly, the sake tasted like bananas after we added the cucumber. My fiance happily finished almost the whole bottle himself.

Other than the sake, we had a spider roll and spicy yellowtail roll (this was a late-night snack). The soft shell crab in the spider roll was barely warm (doubt it was fried to order), and the rice in the roll was not evenly distributed. The spicy yellowtail was okay. Overall, the rolls were average, but I did appreciate the fact that the seaweed in the rolls was not chewy at all. If the seaweed were chewy, I'd rate the place below average.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Yet another part of our weekend culinary journey in Boston...My fiance brought me to Gaslight in the South End of Boston. It's a French brasserie. He had drinks here last and thought it would be nice to bring me here as a reminder of Paris. The place looked pretty authentic, and had even served warm French baguettes to start off your meal. Their service was pretty authentic too - slow just like in Paris. What I didn't think was authentic was that they had gnocchi and ravioli on their menu (aren't they Italian?).

I tried out a drink that he liked here called Fleur de Lis. It was part of my research for our wedding cocktail, but sadly I didn't like it at all. This signature cocktail of Gaslight was made with "Parfait Amour Violet Liqueur, gin, Mathilde Peach, white grape juice and a champagne float." It was very purple and tasted to me like medicine. Surely, it's an acquired taste sort of thing.

We wanted a light dinner before our venture to Douzo, so we shared three appetizers (most of the time appetizers at restaurants are generally better than main course from my experience). We chose oysters, a beet salad and smoked salmon with blinis. The oysters were good - can't mess that up if they're fresh, can you. Salmon with blinis was the runner up - the overall combination of smoked salmon, red onion, hard boiled egg and capers was tasty. The only drawback was the blinis; they were not served warm like they should have been and were a bit too greasy.

Above, smoked salmon with blinis

As for the beet was my least favorite of the three. It was served with watercress, walnut, creme fraiche and dijon mustard vinagrette. It tasted flat - my opinion was that it needed more acid.

Overall, Gaslight does not seem like a bad place to meet up with your friends for drinks (they have quite an extensive list of cocktails) and oysters at the bar, or even dinner. I'd recommend it with reservation. Perhaps I'll have a more conclusive review if I pay them a visit again next time and try out their main course.

Kelly's Roast Beef

My fiance and I have been on weekend culinary journies lately, with the latest one in Boston. He took me to Kelly's Roast Beef, which is a chain that claimed to have invented the original roast beef sandwich. It is set up like a fast food joint - you order from an overhead menu at the counter; food is served on paper plates and plastic trays, and you eat with plastic utensils. The only difference is that they bring you the food to your table when it's ready.

I don't eat red meat, but my fiance said their roast beef sandwich was just okay. Perhaps his expectations were high because food in New York, we believe, is generally better than Boston. However, fine dining in Boston is pretty comparable to New York.

Other than roast beef sandwiches, Kelly's also specializes in seafood. So I had to try a lobster roll. Kelly's claim that each roll is stacked with the meat of 2 lobsters. The truth? The meat was piled pretty it is believable. In terms of taste, it was missing the fresh lobster taste (I had read somewhere that their lobster meat was frozen.) But hey, what can you expect from a chain? What was good though, was that the amount of mayonnaise was just right, and the bun (a bit over buttered for my taste) was very nicely toasted - it didn't get soggy at all within the 20 minutes of consumption. If you're into low carb, Kelly's offers lobster salads.

A well-stuffed lobster roll, which came with a bag of chips and a pickle

We also ordered a clam plate, which came with fried clams, fries and onion rings. The clams were sizable and not overly chewy, and the onion rings were pretty good. I heard their clam roll wasn't bad either.

A quite sizable fried clam from Kelly's fried clam plate

My overall verdict? If you're in Boston and have a craving for lobster rolls and fried clams, it's not a bad choice for a quick fix. But if you're in New York and would like a quality experience, go to Mary's Fish Camp or Pearl Oyster Bar.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Quady Essensia

For those of you who are dessert wine lovers, I got something for you. It's Quady Essensia. I had this orange muscat that was perfectly paired with the Brioche Bread Pudding from Chikalicious (my favorite place!) and just had to have it. I found mine (2006 Vintage) at Trader Joe's.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Once Upon a Tart

I'm a sucker for cute bakeries. I like enjoying a muffin or a scone on a nice day or on a wintery cold day with a cup of coffee or tea. When I see baked goods, I can be like a kid at a candy store. I want everything!

Once Upon a Tart is one of my favorites. The place is just the right size for quiet conversations, and there are also a couple of tables outside on a relatively quiet block. Their baked goods are always good and fresh...I have not had a muffin that you can tell was left out overnight (I have on several occasions at Connecticut Muffin).

Other than muffins, I also like One Upon a Tart's scones. Over the weekend, I had a Currant and Buttermilk Scone. I know the traditional scones are dry and more like biscuits, a perfect vehicle for jelly and cream. The scones in the US are usually more moist (no jelly/cream needed), and Once Upon a Tart makes a good version. Sadly, my fiance said their scones beat my scones. What can I say? I'm still a Martha in training.

The only thing Once Upon a Tart doesn't have though, is loosely packed tea. They serve Twinnings tea bags, which is definitely better than your usual Lipton, but I do enjoy a good selection of loosely packed tea. This was one of the reasons I liked Connecticut Muffin - they had Earl Grey, Darjeeling, English Breakfast... Hey, you can't have everything you want in life, can you? I think Once Upon a Tart is just fine. If I want the whole package, I'd head off to Alice's Tea Cup.