Is there a right way?

FeaturedIs there a right way?

…Is there a right way to celebrate? Is this my dream wedding?…I didn’t really know the answer until now…

Two pre-wedding celebrations are checked off with one more to go… the one where we finally get to say I DO to each other and officially become husband and wife. ūüėÄ I wasn’t going to write a blog about our whole wedding journey but I thought it would be interesting to look back and read about how I felt one day.

With any newly engaged couple, the soon to be asked question by loved ones is when will the big day be?¬†Growing up, I always wished for a big wedding where everyone watches me wearing a beautiful white long-tailed gown walking down the aisle at a church or a chapel of some sort. ¬†I’m not sure when this beautiful big wedding wish no longer seemed appealing. Looking back, it’s kind of amusing to me that what I wished for as my younger self is nowhere near what I want today. So, we are planning for the extreme opposite of what I had imagined earlier: an intimate affair. Everyone has a different definition when it comes to the word “intimate”. Our definition (which I realized not initially, but way after) was that we wanted to remember our wedding as a celebration with all of our families and friends, filled with precious moments where we got to laugh, chat, and cheer with everyone who has attended. But how? It’s hard enough to have a dinner with 8 people and talk to everyone in an evening, how do we manage if we have 40, 50 or 60 people? So, this led us to the decision to split our wedding celebration into three separate events.

It was an easy decision, but it wasn’t an easy process to execute. We decided to have our wedding with our immediate families only and separate the celebrations with our distant families and friends in Toronto and San Francisco before the wedding. When we (except I’m reflecting on solely how I felt, not my fianc√©) decided to go with breaking up the wedding celebration to be more intimate, my first thought was that there will be LESS to plan and I won’t be as stressed as I would be if there is just one day to celebrate with everyone. We get to try more venues we like and have more tasty food. I haven’t seen much downs for doing it this way, just the upside.

In reality, the process kicked off with lots of questions coming from families and friends. We all get questioned all the time, and the difference is, when we get questioned by the few people who really matter, it challenges my already made decisions. It made me question myself a bunch. ¬†At the same time, I started to realize that there is a whole ton of things to plan for each of these three events. This led to a bunch of heart-to-heart conversations between the two of us, on why we are doing it this way. ¬†This is where I realized I had the wrong expectation. I lost track on the key reason, and went down the track of thinking that it was the easier route. ¬†Instead, the goal of keeping it small was so our guests can, and we can, appreciate each other’s presence in a much more enjoyable (less rushed) manner, instead of an evening racing by without having a conversation with most people. It is not because there is less planning work involved (he never thought there would be less work as I did). These conversations helped me feel much more at ease… that shaken up feeling was slowly disappearing, not entirely gone since I’m a contemplative person, always wondering about the what if’s…

Next, the planning started. For those who don’t know me well. I’m organized and also impatient. This means I wanted to get everything done in one night. Yea… seriously! For people who have planned any event, you would know that the sequential order to event planning matters. It’s almost impossible to kick off all the conversations and expect a response and decisions to be made immediately. There is always a back and forth. Nope, not in this impatient mind of mine. This led to our planning mainly done by my patient and organized significant other. This doesn’t mean I didn’t stress, it just means he will make sure I know he got the situation under control and I don’t stress about all ten things at a time. So I can BREATHE

The very first thing was to pick our wedding venue for the event with our families only, then we can work out the dates of the other venues. This was fun as we get to drive around to different venues around the Bay area and made it our weekend getaway. ¬†I will save the details of this for a future post as the wedding hasn’t happened yet. ūüôā Our next task was to come up with the guest list for the other two celebrations so we know the size of venue to look for. We both knew to keep it intimate, and we needed to be strategic with the invite list. It was difficult because I felt that if I invite “this” person, I should invite another person, which made it hard to keep it small. ¬†Then we went with the rule of “anyone whom we’ve spent time with within last year” and filtered on that. This made the decision much easier and the list much smaller. Also with only our immediate families attending the actual wedding, it also made me feel much more at ease and gave us a lot of flexibility for when and where to schedule the pre-wedding celebrations.

Our first celebration was with our friends and families in Toronto, in July. We researched a dozen of intimate venues, filtering primarily on menu and environment. We didn’t need a lot of space but really preferred dining outdoor especially since the weather should be nice. We decided to go with Auberge Du Pommier. Their seasonal menu looked really interesting and the presentation looked great. (Yeap, we are foodies, so the quality of food really matters A LOT. :)) They also had an outdoor patio, as well as private dining option, so it checked all the major criteria that we had in mind. YES, location confirmed.

Planning is done right? Nope… even for a small intimate (~25 ppl) group, we needed to think about the table and seating arrangements, decor, photographer, makeup artist, menu, speeches… Ahhh… I was stressed just by thinking about all this. Then there is the question of our outfits, which also gave me a headache because I didn’t know what we’ll be wearing. ¬†So… of course… the patient one came to the rescue by breaking up all of these tasks into our todo calendar in the coming weeks.

While we are kicking off one conversation after another for the first (Toronto) celebration, we are looking at the venue for the second friends celebration in San Francisco. We have an even smaller group for this celebration, so the options for this one are endless. I did mention that we were foodies right? So I guess it’s not too surprising that we picked Ramekins Culinary School to celebrate this one with our friends. ūüôā The date for this one was tricky as they had absolutely no weekends available except for one Sunday in August. Yeap, took it without thinking twice about it. Now the same questions apply, which vendors to work with, except someone told me NOT to think about it until July event is over and done with.

I learned that picking vendors is only a small part of the work. The actual work is working with each vendor to figure out exactly what is it you want. For the photographer, it would be a list of shots you like. For the florist, it would be the color and the types of arrangement you like. There is also the rentals for tables, chairs, plates, flatware, dinnerware, and decor, which also comes after you know exactly the type of setting you would like. For the menu, this one is probably the easiest part because we both have pretty high standard on food so if we are excited about the menu, then we were pretty sure our guests will most likely be good with it. ūüėõ For the makeup artist, this one was particularly scary for me because I don’t wear a lot of makeup and I seriously didn’t want to look like a clown. I did a ton of research on what looks natural, and a hairstyle that suits me. Point is, there is a ton of work involved, and I imagined it to be A LOT easier/simpler than what happened in reality.

Looking back, both events turned out MUCH and I mean MUCH better than I anticipated. Ilya (my fianc√©) is always optimistic about each event whereas I was more of a realist. I expect most parts to go smoothly, and some parts to not. Maybe that’s my way of preventing possible disappointment. Thinking back now, even if there were hiccups or things didn’t go as we anticipated, both events would have still turned out great. Most important part are the people, whom we are close with, who were all there for us, and neither the pretty floral arrangement NOR the perfectly prepared sous-vide meat mattered much.

Now, with the one and only wedding ceremony/celebration coming up, I’m reflecting on the last 9 months of planning, coordination, and telling myself not to get caught up in the little things. We all think wedding celebration is a ONCE in a lifetime event, and that’s mostly true. But wedding does not equate to marriage, the formality of a wedding can be done in many ways and in some case none at all. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a marriage. Don’t let what other people have done, or spread on social media, drive your own decision on what fits you and your partner. In our case, it was an interesting journey and, I will not lie, an occasional psychological battle for me. I’m glad we did it this way and stood by it. It makes me even more grateful thinking back to the times when I was shaken up, and he was there to remind the reasons why we did it OUR way.

We achieved exactly what we were going for – Intimate, Memorable and Fun! I wish I could say this is what I knew from the start… we chose the right way for us and I am having my dream wedding. I hope our friends and families enjoyed their time with us as much as we did ‚ÄĒ at the minimum, I hope they enjoyed the dining experiences. ūüėÄ

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Time catching @ Coffee shops, Tel Aviv Day 1

Sitting in a little cozy coffee shop on a rainy day makes me want to write a blog instead of code. ūüôā
Sunday, is a work day in Israel. It’s a perfect day to hop around the popular spots since most people are at work.¬†I’m jet lagged and¬†wanted to get some work done so I decided to hop around different coffee shops instead. I must admit, my first realization on this trip¬†is having a job that allows me to work from anywhere and everywhere around the world is pretty darn awesome. Knowing my own personality, it helps me relieve my own stress of frequent travel (definitely a first world problem!) and minimizes¬†impact on work productivity.

My first stop – Cafelix

A quaint little coffee shop that specializes in artisan roasting of specialty coffee. It offers a good selection. You can ask them for items that are not on the menu such as flat white which is my favorite. I checked out the location at Levinsky market. There aren’t many sittings here but if you are able to get the sitting upstairs, it’s a quiet two people corner that is tucked away from the crowd that goes in and out of the shop.

My next stop – Aroma Israel

One of the largest coffee chain in Israel. Don’t let the word “chain” fool you, they still is able to deliver quality. Israelis love their cafe shops and most of them would tell you this one is worth checking out. They also serve food here, so a perfect lunch spot if you are in the mood for some food with a dose of caffeine. Opposite to the previous experience, this place is huge.¬†There is no problem finding a seat (at the location I went)¬†for sure.

Sitting at these coffee shops helped me feel like the time has finally slowed down for me to enjoy the moment. This sounds kind of odd because 2016 was an¬†great awesome year, so much has happened especially in the last quarter. ¬†It’s exactly for that reason why¬†I feel like time has flew¬†by and I don’t know where all the week days/weekend went. There was an occasion constantly to look forward to and I forgot how to enjoy the moment in the process. I have¬†a craving to relive¬†some of the memorable experiences except there are more in the making. They do say “time flies” when you are enjoying what you do. But Time, can you slow down a bit for me to catch up with you?¬†

Has it been a year?

Has it been a year?

Wow, it has been exactly a year since my last trip to Japan. It really doesn’t feel like¬†365 days has gone by since I remember it like it was yesterday. This trip was almost¬†a culinary tour of three popular¬†cities – Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Can we¬†all agree that Japan has a sh*t load of delicious food that can keep anyone¬†busy for quite a while?

My most memorable and anticipated meal was at Sukiyabashi Jiro. For anyone who has watched Jiro Dreams¬†of Sushi¬†would know about the father and the son’s restaurants in Tokyo.

We dined at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi Hills, the younger son’s, Takashi (ťöÜŚ£ę), restaurant. The experience was impeccable! There are a number of reviews that has mentioned¬†the younger son’s restaurant isn’t as great as the flagship restaurant owned by his father. In my opinion, it was amazing! Maybe due to my novice knowledge of sushi. But hey! the only opinion that matters to oneself when it comes to food taste¬†is their own. Not to mention, the son and his sous chef both were extremely friendly, detail-oriented and the best part was they both speak English! We were able to get some explanation on the fish type/history/proper way to consume and other random interesting facts. It’s always an enjoyable experience for me when I¬†can communicate with the chef that is¬†preparing my¬†food.

We had 23 different omakase sashimi and sushi servings (captured most of them below), each one was mind blowingly delicious. I could barely move afterwards and yet my mind still wanted more. I seriously had never said more “mmMmmmMmmm” in my life!¬†Ôľą*ÔŅ£‚ąáÔŅ£*ÔľČ

















Chef: tasty?! Me(mouthful):MmmmMmmmHUmphhhh
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Can you tell how happy we were? ¬†ūüėÄ

Routeburn Hike

Routeburn Hike

This is a hike you would not want to miss out on when you are in New Zealand. It was¬†absolutely breathtaking; the trail was filled with beautiful alpine landscape and lush forests! I didn’t understand why people said they¬†loved it even though they hiked it through horrible weather condition for the whole three days. ¬†Now that I went, I am totally mesmerized by the scenery at every step. Fortunately, we were greeted with very pleasant weather so it made this amazing experience¬†even more unforgettable!

We hiked with Ultimate Hikes and I can’t recommend them enough! All the guides were very knowledgable and extremely friendly. This is a three days two nights hike totaling ~ 33 km ( 20 miles) with a climb of 1300 meters (4200 ft). Looking at the numbers, this is not a strenuous hike for advanced hikers. It’s definitely¬†a hike that an average person can do. With that being said, it was still a long hike for people who love photography¬†and that was us. ūüėõ It was so hard not to when it was so beautiful everywhere.


Day 1, it took us a few hours to get to the start of the Routeburn track¬†from Queenstown with a short stop at Te Anau. We hiked ~¬†12 km (7.5 miles) on the first day with an optional hike to Key Summit. I highly suggest checking out Key Summit, it’s very scenic. We had¬†the option of leaving our¬†backpacks with one of the guides before we¬†climbed the summit portion. This portion is not strenous and it’s about an hour return trip unless you take a long break on the top.


After the summit and lunch break, we passed¬†by another¬†highlight of the day,¬†Earland Falls. It’s one of the wettest section of the whole hike. We got pretty damp¬†passing through here and also decided¬†to take a break right by the fall with our snacks.¬†¬†The view was too pretty to not stop for a few minutes and take it all in, especially with a rainbow at the bottom of the fall, worth getting a little wet¬†for. ūüėÄ


After the fall, we had to go through a steep descent before getting to the lodge. I highly recommend bringing a trekking pole because your knee will thank you at the end of the day, mine definitely did! Oh my, Lake Mackenzie Lodge! Let me just prefix this with these Ultimate Hike lodges are the¬†BEST stay we had on this two weeks¬†trip! It’s minimal but it’s super comfortable and clean. It¬†had everything we¬†need and it was located¬†in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but breathtaking views! It made me wonder how the hell did they build such a nice lodge like this! Lake Mackenzie was right behind the lodge, hence the name. We went there both night and morning to check out the view. It was¬†rejuvenating, how can it not be when there is nothing but mountains, lake, stars and us. ‚̧

Lake Mackenzie Lodge
Love this mirror view @ Lake Mackenzie

Oh goodness, let me tell you about the food. The food was prepared so darn well, almost michelin star well IMHO. All the ingredients used were super fresh, meats were cooked perfectly (with sous vide) and desserts were made to perfection. After a day of breathtaking views we finished the day with a hot shower, delicious meal and a comfortable bed to sleep in. Boy, did we feel spoiled?!

  
Day 2, we started the day with delicious hearty breakfast. Did I mention the ingredients they used here were all natural, organic? The eggs were so tasty! The vivid colour of the egg yolks were not commonly seen in the U.S. unless you visit a local farmer’s market. I wish I had the stomach to eat two servings¬†of everything and that they gave me the choice to of course. XD


This is the most strenuous day out of all due to the optional section of climbing Conical Hill. We hiked out of the Lake Mackenzie which is an uphill climb, walked across the Hollyford Face to the Harris Saddle. The views were very pretty and we had to walk pretty fast to squeeze in time for pictures. Harris Saddle is where we had lunch at before we climbed up to the Conical Hill.

2/3 way to the top of Conical Hill
On top of Conical Hill
That’s Harris Saddle where we had lunch.

This is the most strenuous portion of the whole hike. It is optional but I’m so glad we did it. The view up on top is out of this world. With the clouds below you and an awesome 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains/lakes, I felt like I’m on¬†cloud nine. You get a great view of Martins Bay. The most difficult part of this whole experience is going back down. I thought going up was tiring, that’s before I realized that coming down was scary! o_O

From Harris Saddle, we trekked around Lake Harris before ending the day at Routeburn Falls Lodge. Similarly to the day before, the meal was prepared perfectly! The perk of these lodges were they had a full bar (almost). We had to get a bottle in celebration of surviving both days without any injuries! ;D

Woohoo… made it to our lodge!

Day 3,¬†it’s our last day on this trek. The weather was not cooperating with us. It was pouring so hard when we started our morning.¬†Interestingly enough, I was glad that it was pouring because I wanted to experience what other hikers talked about before. I can see how three days of trekking through rain can be a pain, my lower body was¬†totally soaked,¬†my waterproof hiking shoes were¬†filled with water. This is the easiest hiking day¬†of all three days. It’s only a half day hike. We passed by Routeburn Fall on the way out of the lodge heading towards Routeburn Flats. There were creeks¬†where we had to walk through that had calf-high water, hence the soaked shoes. The abundance¬†of beech trees was¬†interesting to see. Once we reached the Routeburn River, we were near¬†the end of the track and soon saw the bus that was¬†going to take us back to Queenstown. :/



¬†It was such an amazing and¬†memorable experience that we don’t mind doing over and over again. Now I only have pictures/videos to look back to, but the memory is still so fresh in my mind as if I was just there yesterday.

I hope when you¬†visit New Zealand, you also get to experience this fantastic hike and enjoy it as much as we did! Also, sometimes the person you are with also play a key role in that whole experience. ūüėČ

Love my view front, side, behind, below and above!<3

 

 

 

 

Save that avocado seed

Save that avocado seed

because you can grow a beautiful avocado plant with it!

I don’t know about you but I personally love avocados. I love eating them the way it is, or in salads, soups, sandwiches and even in desserts! I can’t name one situation where I don’t like to eat them.

Towards the end of last year, I was told I can plant the avocado seed and grow a beautiful plant with it. The gotcha is you just don’t know which/when seed will sprout, hence this is a test of your patience!

I decided to give it a try and for two weeks, the seed did not sprout. I was ready to throw out the seed before I went on my trip, good thing that I didn’t! It sprouted while I was on my trip, so when I saw it upon returning, I was super excited to see the little root peeking¬†out! ūüėÄ

It doesn’t take much effort at all to grow this plant as long as you¬†provide¬†enough water and sunlight (must). It’s a pretty plant. If you have a backyard then you can even grow your avocado tree! If you want to get the avocado fruit then that is a bit more complex because you need to cross pollinate in order to get avocados. Here’s a few snaps I had of my avocado plant.

  

 

It’s such a beautiful plant with very little maintenance!

It’s been awhile since I have¬†blogged. As one of my goals for 2016, I’m going to try to share more insights/experiences throughout the year. Definitely need to beat my last year’s record, so stay tuned!

My secret to making that creamy popsicle!

My secret to making that creamy popsicle!
I’ve been making popsicles left and right. It’s fun, tasty and healthy so why not right? Why make popsicles instead of liters of ice cream you ask? Well…

1) portion control – my weakest link…O.o
2) Every popsicle can be different from another!
3) They freeze faster hence I get to eat them earlier! ūüôā

SO this secret ingredient to all my popsicles is…..>>>>>COTTAGE CHEESE<<<<<

I love adding cottage cheese to these frozen treats. They add texture and creaminess and it doesn’t affect the taste you are trying to achieve.¬†Fruit popsicles taste awesome and they are always so refreshing!

Here are the basic ingredients I use
– Chobani or 365 (whole food brand) greek yogurt
– Cottage cheese
– Fruits of your choice
– Agave (optional)

Sometimes I get lazy, I just use flavoured greek yogurt with cottage cheese and it taste just as good! If you are curious about what are some of the combinations, here are my favorites (going from left to right in my pictures)

  • pineapple yogurt + rambutan
  • vanilla yogurt + fig
  • raspberry yogurt + logan
  • pineapple yogurt + roasted peach <- MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE!!

Give them a try! You won’t be disappointed. *Scout’s¬†honour* ūüėÄ

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Lavender Rosemary Shortbread

Lavender Rosemary Shortbread

I couldn’t help myself but bringing home two bouquets of dried culinary lavenders last weekend from Farmers Market. The smell pulled me in and they looked too pretty to not take home. ūüôā I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of lavender scent growing up¬†and¬†found it¬†a little overwhelming. In the past few years, this particular fragrance started to grow on me. It may have something to do with some of the delicious lavender treats I have tried.¬†It’s interesting how our taste bud can change our preference of smell, eh? ūüėõ

With all the lavenders I bought, I had way more than enough for just displaying them. Plus I don’t want the place to be trenched with the smell, that might kill the enjoyment of anything. So I decided to make some shortbread cookies! What do people think of shortbread cookies when it gets mentioned? “umm yummy…” then followed by “but it’s so unhealthy… all that butter..!” yeap I agree. I even thought twice when the idea first popped¬†up. Most shortbread recipes requires a whole ton of butter and sugar and I have read at least ten recipes on them. I thought well it’s either that I will feel extremely guilty while eating them OR I can risk wasting a batch and push for healthier alternatives. So I did and how did it turn out? well… read on ūüôā

I think I may have¬†pushed the limit of this recipe¬†further than some¬†people may prefer. But I promise you, it taste great at the end even though you may think it will turn disastrous throughout¬†the process. ¬†Here’s the recipe I used as a guideline and below is the actual measurement of the ingredients I used. I’ve substituted half of the flour with¬†whole wheat flour and some honey for sugar.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 C butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp fresh¬†rosemary
  • 2 tsp culinary lavender
  1. Mix all the ingredients together. Leave a few rosemary sprigs for decoration if you would like.
  2. Place the mixture¬†on a large piece of parchment paper and roll it out to about 1/3 inch thick. Don’t worry if your mixture looks all crumbly, this is expected. This is due to the reduced butter but you should still be able to roll it out to a pizza shape. Look at my picture below. ūüôā
  3. Let it chill in the fridge for about an hour or two.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 F.  Use a sharp knife to cut dough into 1 1/2 Р2 inch squares.
  5. (optional)Place a small piece of rosemary on some of the cookies. Put some granulated sugar in a small bowl and dip each cookie into the bowl and let one side be coated with sugar.
  6. Place¬†them on a baking mat or leave it on the parchment paper. Move them so they have a little space in between. They won’t expand much so you don’t need much space in between.
  7. Bake 15-18 minutes, until edges are a little golden¬†brown. Let it cool then enjoy the fruit of your labour! ūüėÄ

I tried to follow¬†the steps pretty much stated in the recipe link above¬†except I couldn’t on some of the steps due to the recipe alteration. Here’s a few difficulties I had to face with my changes.

  1. The dough was way too crumbly due to lack of butter. You can see from the picture below that it’s almost impossible for me to make a dough out of it, definitely can’t make a log shape. I had to make mine like a pizza with a roller.
  2. I rolled the dough on my baking mat and I couldn’t cut the cookie batter after because you shouldn’t be cutting on a silicon mat. I still cut mine on it but I really wouldn’t¬†suggest this. I just couldn’t move mine without crumble the whole thing. I should have put it on a parchment paper first before cutting then moved it to my baking mat. At least I know now! ūüôā
  3. Make sure you are fast at decorating, you should bake with cold cookie dough right out of the fridge. If you took long at decorating or what so ever then pop them back into the fridge until they get cold again.

Despite the crumbly dough I had to work with, I really liked this recipe. It wasn’t as greasy/sugary as most of the shortbread cookies I have¬†tried in the past! ¬†Even with the cut back on butter, these cookies were still crumbly and buttery enough! ūüėÄ I love the combination of lavender and rosemary together. I can imagine making many other tasty treats with these two ingredients! ‚̧

Update – 08/20

Another attempt of improving this recipe! With just a few more tbsp of butter, I was able to roll my dough and make cookie discs from them! If you don’t want to work with a crumbly mixture, instead of using 3/4 cup = 12 tbsp of butter, use 14 tbsps of butter! Just¬†two extra tbsps added enough moisture to allow the flour to stick together! ūüėÄ