Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Test(bread) for Nordic Ware Reversible Grill Griddle

Target is totally disrupting our budget life because I always find something interesting to buy. The latest item is a cast aluminium reversible grill griddle from Nordic Ware. You can grill stuff on one side to achieve those pretty brown sear lines on your meat and vegetables; on the other side, you can pretend to be a chef at those (Name)'s Place/CafĂ© and cook up fried bacon and eggs and pancakes for brunch.
The instruction said two burners for maximum cooking capacity, so I lay it across my stove like this. It's too short if I did it width wise.
I did a bacon and egg sandwich for Panda in the morning, then a simple grilled egg mayo sandwich for lunch. I was quite pleased with the results from my test(bread).

To up the level for dinner, I tried to do pan sear salmon and teppanyaki pork slices at the same time since there was enough space on the grill griddle. The dishes were yummy but I ended up with oil splatters all over the stove! While I could use a cover for my frying pan, it's completely open for the grill griddle unless we buy a teppanyaki cover.

It's still fun to use the grill griddle for cooking, but I'd say the following tips could help:
- Control the heat/fire. Aluminium heats up rather quickly and you don't want to burn your food.
- I think butter splatters less than oil so use the former if you can!
- Wash both sides thoroughly after using. I saw butter marks in the shape of the burner on the OTHER side after I finished cooking. Not pretty.

I'm not sure how much this costs back home but Target is selling it at $29.90. It's a value buy, considering its dual functionality.

Monday, July 29, 2013

For the love of garlic: Gilroy Garlic Festival 2013

It's a party out there, garlic lovers!

Hot. Crowded. Overpriced. Or was it?

yelped Gilroy Garlic Festival the night before we were supposed to attend with friends. The annual event was celebrating its 35th year and the organisers expected even bigger crowds than last year's 100,000 visitors.

I told Panda, be warned that things are gonna be expensive, traffic will be real bad, and we will all be hot and sweaty like pigs.

Turns out, only the part on weather was true. Traffic was slow but not stagnant on US-101 and road signs led us easily to the free parking lots. Because of the heat, we didn't wait for the shuttle bus but simply took a 5-min walk to the entrance. We had already purchased our discounted tickets from the official website, so there was no need to stand in line and pay $17 per pax.

Once inside I was taken aback by the scale of the garlic festival; it was akin to a mega BBQ party in the midst of a forest. Food vendors lined the sides, tents set up everywhere, live performances at different areas. We didn't purchase the $1 programme guide so we were a little disoriented. I vaguely knew that there would be a cook-off for amateurs and a showdown for top chefs. But we were just too hungry, so we went straight for light snacks - garlic fries, crab garlic fries and key lime calamari.

Garlic fries and key lime calamari

Garlic fries with crab toppings

I was all ready to try other food like garlic corn, garlic bread, shrimp and ribs etc. Sadly, all six adults felt too full for anything else after the 'light' snacks - what a pity! We ended up walking around the craft stalls and drinking beer to quench our thirst. I bought a tin mug with the beer as a souvenir.

Checking out the arts & craft stalls

The cute Olympic bulb of fire

Garlic ice-cream was also a main feature and Joel and Jo took the lead to try it. I had the unfortunate experience of tasting it at a Vancouver ice-cream factory so it was a big no-no for me.  But the adventurous duo looked extremely pleased with their ice-cream challenge.

Say "garlic ice-cream"!

We hung around, watched some performances and checked out other merchandise before leaving the festival. I bought 3 large garlic bulbs at 50c each just to see how fresh they are compared to the regular ones. On our walk back to the car, we passed by this yellow grassy field. We decided to do the typical Asian tourists pose.

Spread your hands, please!

A selfie with my garlic!

Verdict at the end of the festival? Bring water, wear sunscreen, put on a hat and go with an open mind.

We had so much fun as first timers. Who knows, if the programme is attractive enough, we might come back next year if we are still around the area!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Samosas: a small taste of home

One of the things which I missed and am too lazy to make is curry puffs. Hot, chunky bits of curried potato + chicken meat wrapped in golden pastry skin like these from Old Chang Kee! There are so many outlets back home that it's almost like a 7-11. I used to buy one or two on my way home from work; most of the time the bag would be empty by the time I reached.

The closest substitute I can find in USA is samosa. Behind FC's post office, there's a India Cash & Carry - a small chain grocer in the Bay Area which sells all things Indian. I'm not a big fan of Indian food and the first time I stepped into the shop (just for fun), I was a little overwhelmed by the smell of spices and small flies hovering over the produce. It was only upon my second return (on Wini's recommendation) that I realised they sell samosas. Giant samosas at 75c each. A real deal!

Selling all things Indian
What's in a samosa?

The samosas are of course not as spicy as the ones back home but I suppose they cater to the local taste. They are also not sold hot, so you'll need to pop it in the oven.

Recent news has it that Charter Square, where India Cash & Carry is located, will be redeveloped. Retail space will be reduced so there might be a chance that you won't see this old grocer at the current location anymore. For those who wish to satisfy a samosa craving or buy Indian products, the nearby stores are in Sunnyvale, Fremont and Cupertino. Have fun shopping and good luck with that Indian dish!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bang bangs again

The first time I tried to cut my own bangs was when I was 3 or 4 years old.

I recalled sitting in one corner while my grandparents were busy playing majong. I recalled picking up a pair of scissors, looking into a small mirror and cutting my own hair. After that, I was caned so badly by Grandpa that I hid under the staircase and would not come out until Grandma offered me chocolates. He didn't cane me for cutting my hair actually. He canned me for lying in school and telling my teachers that my haywire hairstyle was cut by my grandparents.

Grandpa taught me not to lie. Perhaps also the lesson of not messing with your own hair unless you are sure you won't look like a wreck.

I cut my own bangs again this week cos it's been too long since the last haircut back home. Thankfully, my hairstylist gave me some pointers for a side swept a few months ago. I also trimmed the hair that's framing the face by taking a sizeable portion from the side (about 2cm in width), angling my scissors downwards, and sliding it down gently from below the cheekbone. My hairstylist does it slightly differently with more hair, but I am not so daring yet. 

I quite like the wispy feel. It looks neater too.

And I think Grandpa won't be too angry if he sees this.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Oh pretty (but wrong) stamp

Sis told me that back in our home church Rev Song will be stepping down as a pastor by year end due to health. I have always enjoyed his sermons and thought it was a great loss to the church. So I decided to send a card to him in case we don't have a chance to see him before he goes.
The sweet lady at the post office gave me a stamp which was different from the normal global ones I bought to send cards home. She said they just produced this; it's really cute - featuring Point Judith from Rhone Island, part of the New England Coastal Lighthouses series.
I happily admired the stamp at home, even took a few photos of it, before pasting it carefully on the envelope.
But horror of horrors when I got curious and went online to see what other designs there were for global stamps. Turns out, there was just ONE design for global stamps! The lady at the post office had mistakenly given me a stamp that was meant for USA only.
I am now contemplating if I should tear this stamp out and keep it as a souvenir, or just leave it as it is and stick a regular global one next to it. Would it confuse the postman?
Either way, I'll have to make a trip back to the post office again. Punishment for being overexcited about something pretty and not checking my purchases.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Who's tired of Napa Valley?

It's my nth time to Napa Valley. Yes it is. I always do the same route: Cafe Sarafornia at Calistoga, Sterling Vineyard, Castello di Amorosa, Oxbow Public Market, Mini Mango Thai Bistro.

Boring? Tell me after you've taken a look at the photos. 

Wild Cat Scrambler at Cafe Sarafornia
Pizza and cheese platter at Sterling Vineyard
8 element wrap at Mini Mango
Papaya Salad
Thai ice tea and that small bowl of Tom Yum Prawn
Green curry chicken
Pad Thai
Sauteed seasonal greens
Food is a major feature as much as wine at Napa Valley. So who gets tired of wine and these delicious oh-nom-nom-noms amid pretty scenery? Nobody! Plus, we have the company of the bubbly Low family today - Panda's newfound buddy loves free breadsticks as much as he does. I think it's because of him that we get frequent refills of free breadsticks.

Breadsticks can also be used as drumsticks to make happy music! 
It's only Panda's second time to Napa Valley. I've always wanted to take a photo with him in the vineyards under the sun but alas, 'under the sun' seems to be inappropriate today because I couldn't even open my eyes.

There I have it. My romantic closed eyes, sweaty photo with the hubs. Be careful what you wish for, so they said!

I'd like to think it's still a pretty photo. 

New nails

Did this last night at 11pm with the same Sally Hansen gelish set. The lines are not perfect but the duo colours add some colour to the outfit. :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Concerts in the park rock!

On our fridge was a brochure about the series of summer concerts in Leo J Ryan Park at FC every Friday. Since we had nothing to do this evening, we strolled to the park a little after seven, an hour after the concert started, to enjoy a little post-dinner music in the evening breeze.

BIG MISTAKE. We should have arrived way before the concert starts. We heard rock music from afar and as we drew near, what greeted us was a sea of people at the amphitheater. People young and old; dancing, drinking, eating, chatting, giggling, screaming. There were even some boats parked at the side of lake where folks just chilled with their wine. (Again, we were stumped by the sheer number of inhabitants in this community. Where were they hiding in winter?)

At first shocked and shy to what we thought was a quiet evening of music, we soon found ourselves wiggling along with the crowd and getting rather high. The rock-your-body vibes from the band 'Hot for Teacher' was contagious. The crowd got wilder with each song and went mad when the organiser announced that we are all gonna be on TV because a film crew is coming.

We only saw the second half of the concert but I was already telling Panda that if we have the chance to come again - there are four more - we will have to bring our picnic blanket and come earlier to get good seats. We don't get things like that back home. Youngsters think it's 'uncool'; the older ones think it's embarrassing to dance. We are indeed a self-conscious lot. Since we are here, we better take advantage of the freedom to just do our body wiggles and have lots of fun like everyone else!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Third time lucky

That's my make shift cardboard hair salon in the toilet. We ran out of white plastic table wraps which we used to lay on the floor to catch the falling hair. So we used a box big enough to sit Panda in and taped brown paper all around it. Recycled materials rock.

We managed to catch most of the hair - no clumps were found on the floor after the haircut! As for the hair that fell on Panda's body, I took a clear plastic bag (those you used to hold veggies and fruits), put my hand inside like a glove, and used it to swipe his back clean. I read somewhere that because of static, hair clings stubbornly onto plastic. And it worked perfectly.

It's my third time cutting hair for Panda. This time round, he looks less like an onion or an army cadet,  he looks normal. It's a big achievement.

I used the same set of hair clipper kit, #6 for behind, #8 for the top (lightly brushing instead of ploughing), #3 on the sides and finally, the bare shaver to clean the neck at the back. Of course, trimming around the ear with scissors.

Panda looks extremely happy after his haircut. He always does. Bye bye to that thick helmet of hair on his head!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Minion attack!

I woke up late on the sofa bed this morning (correction: afternoon) cos Panda was snoring away the whole night. Not that I blame him... he has a greater say now that he's the one who has to wake up early to go to work while I laze around at home.

Just when I was wondering groggily what to have for lunch, Panda texted me from office to ask if I want any lunch. Tears of joy. Was craving for McDonald's so I placed my lunch order of filet-o-fish and fries.

Along with my personal lunch delivery came a $1.90 surprise... a minion! I haven't watch Despicable Me 2 yet but I love these tiny yellow tubey looking creatures. They are stupid, crazy, lazy, hardworking, evil and cute at the same time.

Simply put, they are awesome.

I name most of my stuff, just like how I name my car, my suitcases, my GPS etc. I'm going to name my minion Pee, to honour Panda the real life minion in my life. And that's a compliment!

(P/S: Introducing Quil, a brother of Pee. They have been tasked to look after our toilet for now.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013



Where's everyone going with the colourful pails? Why's Panda filling up our recycled tea bottles? It's the Walk4Water event at Open Door Church!

Open Door Church organised an one-mile walk today to simulate the experience of villagers in rural Africa. MPPC (the mother church) will donate $25 towards clean water projects for every person who participates. It was only a short walk up the hill behind church to a 'water source' to collect water with our containers. I weighed my bottles when we were back at church. It was 2 lbs each but it seemed pretty heavy.

Living in developed countries, we often take water availability for granted. We have taps, we have bottled water, we even have water sources like lakes and seaside to enjoy.

Do you know that in less developed countries, even if the villagers have a well which they could use, the water may not be safe for consumption? They have to rely on trucks that transport clean drinking water to where they live. They drink from plastic bags. That said, with wells, hygiene conditions can be improved.

It's easy to find figures from the Internet. The number of people who die from water related diseases every year; the percentage of world population that does not have access to water and sanitation facilities. BUT, if we don't contribute in whatever small way we can, figures will always remain as... figures. Hopefully, with our short walk, more money can be donated to clean water projects in Jesus' name. Amen!

A Saturday at Santana Row

We didn't realise that San Jose has such a charming place, until we were introduced to Santana Row by the Leow family! It's like Santa Monica in LA, but so much better without the tourist crowd.

Mind you, it's still an upscale (read: expensive) place in terms of dining and shopping. For an afternoon of chilling and window shopping though, it's perfect.

In the evening we went Left Bank, a French brasserie, for dinner with the Leow family and friends. The ambience was great given that they were celebrating Bastille Day the next day. And there was live accordion music by a friendly musician!

For food, since we've just eaten lunch at 3pm, Panda and I ordered one serving of Poulet Roti to share. We mistakenly thought that we had double ordered when it arrived - the chicken was huge! Our friends' steak, salmon and pasta were more aptly portioned.

We ended the day with drinks from Fantasia, chit-chatting outside the tiny cafe and listening to the throbbing club music from El Jardin. When we left around 10pm, Santana Row was still abuzz with people enjoying the cool, breezy night. We love the vibrancy of the place, and will definitely be back!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What are your summer essentials?

Now that the weather is getting hotter, it's time to take special care of my skin and hair. Though we come from a tropical country, we need to get used to the heat again given that we've spent the last 7 months in US' cooling spring/winter season. And it's always such a dilemma. We want to soak up the sun and enjoy the long days, but the rays are so damaging!

I must say that my skin and hair survive so much better in cold weather than hot ones! So, my summer essentials are:

1. Neutrogena's Ultimate Sport Spray Sunscreen which I bought from Costco together with its Sport Face Oil Free Lotion. Both resist sweat, are oil free and provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Best of all, I can just conveniently spray it on.

2. Umberto Dry Shampoo. This is the only dry shampoo I found at Target and online reviews seem to be quite positive! I like how clean it makes my hair feel after sweating on a warm summer day.

3. Schwarzkopf got2b Beach Trippin' Salt Infusion Waving Spray. It works best when you have wet hair and you don't plan to blow dry it. That is, if you like the dry + messy beach look.

I've been wearing visors, caps and hats too just so that I can protect my face from the sun. Back home these are accessories... but here, they are definitely necessities!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why I'm on a hunt for dresses

Tell you a secret. I've been looking at white dresses like these.

When Panda and I had our wedding three years ago, we were on a tight budget and so our bridal shoots were really simple. We went to a place in China where we bought the basic photography package. The photos turned out fine (better than we expected!) but you can never imagine the process of making those shots! From time to time, we still joke about our 'experience'.

It was extremely painful to comb that princess-y hair... and check out Panda's overly thick brows! Haha.

When I first knew that we would be relocating to US, I was really excited - we could make use of the lovely scenery to take anniversary/couple shots! It doesn't have to be professionally done (since we are still on budget living!). I could DIY my own hair and make up, set up the tripod, and just have fun! The wineries at Napa, the city scape in San Francisco... all we need are just quirky ideas and loads of time.

And of course, nice dresses to go with the lovely photos!

Spring in Yosemite

So if anyone has nice dresses to recommend, please share!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fourth of July picnic and fireworks!

Photos galore! Of our simple two-person fruits and wine picnic by the lake... in contrast to all the big family activities happening around us. There we were, sitting under the smoking hot sun and basking in the smell of BBQ food that's cooking a few steps away.

We've always wanted to see what Fourth of July is like in US. It's after all the biggest holiday ever in celebration of the country's independence. So we packed some fruits and wine and snacks in a bag, and headed out to the lake near home. Little did we know that the right thing to do was to bring your own pit and call the whole village out to have an awesome BBQ! Everyone was cooking... so much so that there wasn't much need for the food stalls, except maybe for the shaved ice. I was tempted to get some too since we were melting under the sun.

In the evening we had a mini pot luck with new friends from EDB and watched the much anticipated fireworks right in FC. I couldn't capture the pretty blooming fireworks with my iPhone so I tried to take a clip. It's still blur but listen up for the atmosphere (sound effect courtesy of little Emma)!