Happy Lunar New Year

It's Vietnamese New Year today !  I wish you a blessing year with good health.  The sun is out and the weather is a few temperatures warmer than the last few wet and cold days.  Hope you're out soaking in some golden lights !


Bee got some "li xi" red envelopes (in our culture, kids get money in red envelope on new year's day) so she asked me to take her to buy candies.  To distract her from all the sugarbugs, I suggested we play dress up !  Bee were given many traditional dresses, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, so I thought Lunar New Year is the best time to break them out.  When and where else can she wear them to ?   The girls love it  :-)  not so much the dressing part but that they get to wear colorful clothes !  Kids love color !  I thought I dig out my dresses too and take pictures with them.

It was fun seeing how they look in all those dresses.  Bee never worn many of them.  They were just hanging out in her closet, waiting for a day like today.  I'm glad they still fit her.  Lovebug has to wear hand-me-down and they were a bit big for her.  Next year she'll fit them nicely. 

Getting the girls to stay still so I can snap a few pictures proved impossible.  They were also eating waffle :D  I have to quickly take the waffle away for a pic. then give it back to them.  Never the one to give up, so I just snap the camera aimlessly, hoping for some decent pictures.  Here are some:




Here we are in our Chinese outfits !






And here are our Vietnamese traditional dresses:






Chuc Mung Nam Moi !

Dear Darlings: Excellent sleepers

Dear my sweet darlings,

Thank you for being excellent sleepers !  You might think, "what's so great about that ?", but for me, it means I can rest.  You see, I've heard countless stories from other mommies, tired, exhausted mommies, who struggle to put their baby to sleep, so they too can sleep.  Their baby can't fall asleep for many reasons.  Sometimes it's because the room is too bright, too dark, it's noisy, it's quiet, it's warm, it's cold, there're distractions around, the baby wants to play, the baby isn't full, the baby is gassy, the baby is too full, the baby is stimulated, the baby is cranky, gassy, frustrated, the baby is tired, and sometime, the baby just don't want to sleep ...


With Bee, you can fall sleep anywhere and in any kind of environment !  Whenever it's bed time, you would simply close your eyes and sleep.  Just like that.  Sometime when we're out, like we would be at a restaurant, you would say to me "I'm sleepy", then fall asleep after saying that !  it's like magic.  I love it. 

When more teeth came in, I even brushed your teeth while you're half asleep !  your eyes are closed but you open your mouth to let me floss and run the brush around your mouth.  You even rinse with your eyes closed !  it's pretty awesome.



As for Lovebug, right now you fall asleep mostly while nursing.  If you ever wake up, a constant repeated firm pat on your bum will lull you back to sleep.  Sometime your eyes are open but it's not really "open".  You sleep like that, like your sister and like me !  We like we freak people out sleeping with our eyes open.

You did fall asleep one time while sitting in the Costco's shopping cart !  You just look at me and close your eyes.  I freaked out, thought something happened to you, but nope, you were tired and decided to go to sleep then and there.  No tear, no fuss, no need to be held.  Please keep that up !

Thank you for loving to sleep as much as I and your daddy.  I do enjoy sleeping next to you a lot !  I love holding you both close, watching you two sleep and kissing your foreheads.  Please don't grow up too fast. 


Sweet dream my sweets,


easy recipe : pan fried bananas in coconut oil with vanilla ice cream

The title of this recipe is pretty much self described !  Put a bit of coconut oil in a non stick pan, sliced up banana diagonally (for longer/bigger piece) about 1/4 of an inch thick.  Fried each side til golden.  Remove from pan and serve up with vanilla bean ice cream !  Yumo !!!!

I craved warm pie with ice cream but we got no pie !  Saw some bananas and thought of those deep fried bananas they always served up in Malaysian restaurant.  I don't want to deep fried so thought why not pan fried it for a healthier option.  Glad I tried it as it was nice with ice cream.  Banana burns easy due to sugar content in it so don't cook too long.  Enjoy.


flower girl


Bee loves to dress up !  Whether it's getting ready for bed or just for play, she's either in a dress or in tutus and her floral ribbons head wear. Such girly girl !

attitute of gratitute for 2014



A sermon at church yesterday gave me plenty of food for thought.  I can dissect the message in many ways and apply it in many areas of my life.  I will write more on this throughout this year.  I want to make 2014 a year of intentional thanksgiving.  A year of planned gratefulness.  PA's words "make thanksgiving a sacrifice" stuck with me.  We are blessed and we owe it to the ONE who made it all happened.  To have health, abilities, creativities, and heat and hot water in our home is truly a blessing !!! 


don't sweat the small stuff



I was complaining about someone out loud.  Just feeling frustrated.  Bee heard me then she said "But Jesus loves us, Jesus loves everybody, you, me, daddy, baby !  He made us". 

Hearing her said that made me feel bad for complaining.  It's not like I never messed up.  Yes, Jesus made us and loves us all the same.  If He can overlook my mishaps days in and out, perhaps I should extend that also to others.  Yes, I need to let go of the trivial things.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

easy recipe : chicken congee, quick and slow methods


God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble  Psalm 46:1


brown rice & quinoa chicken congee

When the cold weather comes knocking,  we most always have some kind of broth based food for breakfast or lunch.  One popular breakfast (or late night snack) item we enjoy often is Cha'o or rice porridge or congee.  It can be made plain with just rice and water and topped with anything you like ! Or you can add to the water, chicken or pork or prawn or clam or beef or with root vegetables like carrots, radish and baby potatoes.  The variation is endless.

There are also many ways to make congee !  Here is my easy, quick method and the slow version !

If you noticed, I use fish sauce in most of my recipes.  I never use to like it before but since I started cooking more often, I develop a taste for it.  It some how rounded out the flavor.  It's not fishy like the name or smell.  It has a nice deep salty taste.  I use only 2 types:   Red Boat & Viet Huong 3 Crab brand.  Red Boat has a rich flavor and twice the price of Viet Huong.  Hence I use Red Boat only for raw dipping and Viet Huong for cooking.


Easy Quick Congee (yield about 4-6 rice bowl)

Cooking time: about 35 min.

Ingredients :
- 4 cups of low sodium organic chicken stock (no chicken stock? just use all water then :-)
- 1 chicken breast or 2 boneless thighs, cut into strips
- 3 cups of water
- 2 cups of cooked rice (or 1/2 cup of washed uncooked rice < this will take a bit longer to cook that's all.  Add another 15 - 20 min. to simmering time)
- 5 slices of ginger (sliced into thin strips) more or less or if you don't like to eat ginger but want the flavor, then smashed a chunk of ginger, size of knuckle, then remove when done.  You can add more or less ginger depend on liking
- ABOUT 2/3 tablespoon of good fish sauce OR 1 teaspoon of sea salt (there's salt in the stock already (depending on the brand, sodium % in chicken stock vary), so go easy on this OR wait til it's done and add fish sauce or salt as needed)

Garnish (optional):
- chopped green onions and cilantro
- fried scallion
- thinly sliced ginger

Put broth, water, rice and meat into a pot.  Bring to broil, and let broil uncovered at med-high for about 10 min.  Then bring down to med-low (on the lower side) to simmer for about 25 min (with lid half covered).  Stir every 7-8 min. so rice doesn't stick to bottom.  As different type of rice soak up more or less water, so if your congee looks too thick, add another cup of water to it.  If too thin, then cook longer.

Turn off stove, close lid and let stand for about 10 min.  Congee should have the consistency like oatmeal porridge. 

Scoop congee into a large bowl or divide into small single serving bowl and sprinkle with green onions and cilantro.

Add salt and pepper as needed.


Chicken Meat Substitution:
- instead of chicken, you can add any type of meat you like:  turkey, pork, beef, fish, etc.  Sliced or minced.  You can also use fish balls or shrimp balls (whole, halve, or coarsely chopped) !  they're quite good too !


IF you made plain congee, just rice and water, here are some topping suggestions you can add to eat with the plain congee:

grocery store rotisserie chicken - shredded
- bbq pork, chicken, or duck
- cooked eggs
- pork floss
- Vietnamese ham
- salted radish
- pan roasted peanuts
- fried chinese donuts


COOKING TIPS & SUGGESTIONS:

- If congee is too thick to your liking, thin it out by adding more broth or water.  If add more water, don't forget to season it again with fish sauce or salt.

- If you had one of those store bought roasted chicken for dinner, use the left over and the carcass to make a broth and use the broth to make congee.  You can also just cook the left over with rice and water to make congee just remember to remove all bones from the congee before consuming.

- Left over turkey from the holiday makes awesome congee !!!

- Don't be afraid to experiment with it !  Try using turkey leg, or pork side ribs instead of the chicken thighs.  Ground turkey, chicken, or pork is good too.  Precook the ground meat with a little oil and scallion.  Break them a part to small pieces then add them to the water and rice to cook.


HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES:

- use 2/3 rice and 1/3 quinoa
- use brown rice instead of white rice (brown rice takes a bit longer to cook)
- add in finely chopped carrots, baby potatoes and/or green peas
- use vegetable stock instead of meat stock


Slow Cook Congee (yield about 6 big bowl or 10-12 rice bowl)

Cooking time:  1 hour and 15 min.

Ingredients:
- 6 chicken thighs back attached, bone in, washed, skin removed, excess fat trimmed
- 11 cups of water
- 1 cup of uncooked rice, washed
- 10 slices of ginger (sliced thinly) more or less, depend on liking
- 2 tablespoons of good fish sauce or 3 teaspoon of sea salt (more or less)

Garnish (optional):
- chopped green onions and cilantro
- sautéed scallion
- thinly sliced ginger

Put chicken and water into a deep pot.  Bring to boil, skim off foam on top.  Let broil at med-high for 5 min then bring down to medium low and let cook for 30 min.  Remove chicken from broth and put aside to cool.

Add the washed rice to the broth, bring it up to boil then let it simmer on low for about 50 min.  Stir every 7-8 min. so the rice doesn't stick to bottom of pot.

Turn stove off then leave pot on stove.

Separate the chicken meat from bone.  Shred the meat into small pieces.  You can choose now to either leave them out to garnish on top of the congee or put them back into the pot.

Stir congee around then scoop into bowl.  If you left the shredded chicken out as topping, you can add them on top of the congee now.  Sprinkle with green onions and cilantro.  Add salt and pepper as needed.
Check out  Cooking Tips & Suggestions and Healthy Alternatives in the above section for other variations !

Vietnamese nem nuong (honey garlic ham patties) recipe


This is one of Bee's and my fav. dish (and now hubby).  Just a right amount of sweet and savory !  It can be eaten as is, as appie, or as a meal with vermicelli and lettuce with Vietnamese dipping sauce or with rice !  In the summer, what I usually do is form the meat mixture into 1 1/2 inch meat balls, and then skew them into bamboo skewers and grill on the bbq !  they're always a hit and disappeared very fast !

If you make them into meat patties, it's less time consuming and they freeze very well too.  I usually make a big batch of them, cook until it's just done, let them cool , put in freezer zip lock bag and throw in the freezer.  To reheat, throw the frozen patties in the oven (250 C) for about 15-20 min to heat them through.

This is a recipe given to me by my mother in law, who got it from her sister in law.  In a way it's a family recipe !  and it's shared here with permission :-)   Enjoy !

Vietnamese Nem Nuong (honey garlic ham or patties)
(there's no exact translation for it :-(

Yield:  4 large patties (when sliced, serve 6-8 as a meal with noodles, lettuce) or 16-20 large meatballs or ~45 small meatballs (1.5").

Ingredients:

- 3lb of lean pork loin or shoulder or ground pork 
- 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder (I use 1 pack of Alsa baking powder brand)
- 4 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of honey (I usually add 1/2 spoon more of honey for added sweetness)
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 3 tablespoons of good fish sauce (I use the Viet Huong 3 crab brand)
- 3 teaspoons of black pepper (you can add more or less as per liking)

- 6-9 cloves of garlic, finely minced


Vietnamese honey garlic turkey balls !  I attempted to make the plate into a rabbit face for the girls :-)


INSTRUCTIONS:

- In a food processor, put all ingredients in EXCEPT garlic.  Grind everything together until well mixed.   Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

*** YOU CAN ALSO USE STORE BOUGHT GROUND PORK.  In a mixing bowl or pot, add all the dry/liquid ingredients (EXCEPT garlic) and whisk into a paste, then add the ground pork.  Put on a pair of food gloves and mix the meat well.  Cover & leave in the fridge for at least an hour.  

- Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small dish.

- Preheat oven to 350 C degree

- Take the meat mixture out of the fridge, then add in the minced garlic (don't mix the garlic in before because it will tint the meat a grey green color ! mix garlic in just right before baking).  When well mixed, leave aside.

- Take some olive oil from the dish and rub between your fingers, all over your hand.  This is to prevent the meat from sticking to your hands.  You can now either take the meat mixtures and form into meat balls OR make big patties out of them.  When forming the meat, make sure to add a little pressure so the meat will pack tight.  If you pack it loosely the patties/balls will have lots of empty pocket and won't be dense.

- If making patties, don't make it more than 1" thick.

- Grease a baking pan or lined the oven rack with tin foil, put the meat balls or patties on it.  Leave about 1 inches of space between each.

- Bake in the oven for 30-35 min.  Flip the balls or patties over to the other side after 15-17 min. in the oven so that it's golden all over !  You can grill them on the bbq too !

Note:  For a healthier alternative, as we don't eat a lot of red meat, I have made this with ground turkey and it turned out pretty tasty !  I also tried half chicken half pork and it turned out just as well ! 

If you attempted this, please let me know how it turned out for you.  I know some time different brands produced different results.  Love to hear your feedback !

how to make fresh almond milk at home


Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged,
for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
 

I made some homemade almond milk today.  Super easy and tasty !  If you know me, you know how much I like easy recipe ! 

Here's the short version:

1. soak raw almonds overnight
2. blend 1 cup of soaked almond with 3 cups of water
3. strain the blended liquid in a strainer lined with 5-6 layers of cheese cloth
4. gather and squeeze the cheese cloth to get all the milk out of the mixture
5. discard the almond meal
6. refrigerate the almond milk in fridge for up to 2 days

Enjoy your freshly squeezed almond milk !!!


Here's the detailed version:

1. Soak the RAW almonds (make sure it's raw) in filtered water overnight or up to 2 days. The longer the almonds soak in the water, the creamier the milk will be.

2. Drain the almonds and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water. You should be able to scrape the outer brown shell off with your nail that this point.  If it's still hard, soak them a little longer.

3.  In a Bullet blender or the standard blender, put 1 cup of soaked almond and 3 cups of filtered water.  If you like the milk creamy, then decrease to 2 cups of filtered water. 

4.  Blend the almonds and water at high speed for 3 minutes. Pulse the blender once or twice to break up the almonds, then let it blend continuously for two minutes.

5.  Put a strainer over a measuring cup and then line the strainer with 5-6 layers of cheese cloth*.  Pour the blended almond mixture into the strainer.  (*I boiled the cheese cloths for a couple of minute in boiling water to sanitize it before use)

6.  When the almond mixture stop dripping into the bowl, gather the cheese cloth together at the center and squeeze it with clean hands.

7.  Discard the almond meal (don't pour down the drain, it can clog it) then shake the cheese cloth over the kitchen sink to rid any left over.  Depending on how well you clean it after use, you can reuse the cheese cloth.  I reused my cheese cloth up to 4 times. 

8.  Repeat step 3-7 with the rest of the soaked almonds.

9.  Sweeten with organic sugar if you like it sweet.

10.  Pour the almond milk from the cup into a sealed container.  Refrigerate up to 2 days.

If the milk fat and water separated IT'S OK !  still good to drink.  Just stir it up before pouring out into a glass.

the sum of our year

Just like that 2013 came to an end.  We bid our goodbyes to 2013.  It was a bittersweet year for us.  There are joy and sorrow in all of our days.  It is life !

I was in my last trimester when 2013 marched in.  I was tired of being pregnant and was counting down each minute to delivery date ! Bee wants to be like me so she walks around with a balloon that she stuffed up her shirt.  Cute and freaky at the same time !  During this time, I was spent a lot of time "nesting".  I (forcefully) suggested to C that I needed the many rooms in our house repainted.  I also surprise him one day by telling him that I sold our dinning room set on craigslist ! 

In February we welcomed the birth of our 2nd daughter, Kadie Madison.  A whopping 7 lb 10 ounces baby.  Words cannot express how happy we are to have her in our lives, sleep deprived and all :-)


Bee celebrated her 3rd birthday !  I can't believe she's 3 and talking like a 15.  She now negotiates, questions my authority, asks a million of questions, gives herself time out, shuts the door to her room, and makes up her own rules !  In between, she smiles and giggles a lot, hugs often, and always say "I love you mama".  I love hugging her.  I wish I can freeze those moments.  The feeling of having this small child that I can still hold tight onto, that she can still fit in my arms is amazing.  Her smell, her touch, her skin, her kisses, her eyes looking into my eyes.  I'm in love with my daughter.  I don't want her to grow up.  I want time to slow down for us.


C & I became quite the home maker this year.  We planted vegetables in our little garden, refurbished a sideboard and did a lot of baking (mainly me!).  We picked and ate snowpea tips, peas, spinach and blueberries from our garden.  We also gathered our first crop of figs !  17 green Italian sweet-as-honey figs.  They were wonderfully delicious. 

 
As spring reaching to an end, our church closed its door and so begins the search for a new home church for us.  It was a huge change with mixed emotions.  Within weeks of that, my uncle passed away from a stroke.  Those 2 events casted a cloud of sadness over our family.  It was a tough time for us but we strive on, hanging to the Hope we know.  Christ gives us strength to move on forward.

Summer came rushing in with flurries of weekends at the beach, bbqs, and picnics.  We also took a short trip to the States, took both kids on their first camping trip and also spent some time on a cabin by the water.  It was nice.  It was time for us to rest, enjoy the beautiful nature God has bestowed on us, and reflect.  This year was also our 10th anniversary.  Almost 20 years since we dated.  I spent most of my life time with this lone man !!!!!  Wow, time flies when you're busy living.


As summer turns into fall, we get to celebrate with my 2nd cousin C, as she wed her lovely man J.  It was a hot day with cold drinks being served all around.  A beautiful wedding with thoughtful touches from the bride.  We danced until our feet hurt while the kids passed out from all the excitement.

This year I discovered that Bee has a knack for creative art !  She has quite the imagination and can express them through her drawing.  She also loves to sing and dance (mostly to Katy Perry) and loves to wear dresses !  She's definitely my girl :)


As the warm golden sun extended his stay, we finally decided on a church that we can attend regularly.  Things are looking up.  Then C was approached for new employment opportunity and became an associate for a local firm.  I'm really proud of him.  It was a huge blessing because we can see the footprints of how the Lord got C to where he is.  We are always grateful for all that's been given to us.

Autumn welcomes the birth of our dear friends' son, Brendan.  Lovebug now has a friend who's born in the same year as her. 

Thanksgiving came and bought with it a cold chilly blanket.  Within weeks, the town were hit with a cold snap.  We woke up one morning with snow covered ground.  Bee was beyond the moon happy.  We were out playing, singing, and making a snow man.  Lovebug was freaking out at all these white things flying around her.  She tried to lick them off the ground ! 


Christmas came with dinners with all the usual suspects.  However we got a special visit from our long time friend Aggie, who now lives in the UK.  It was such a delight to have her family over and meeting her baby Ben.  I like hearing Aggie talk.  She has interesting insights and a straight-shooter so one can expect nothing but truthfulness from her.  Quite refreshing.


I love my little family !  Love all the messiness that it comes with.  Bee and Lovebug bought so much joy and "ah hah" moments to our days !  Along with them are some hair pulling frustrations too :D  There's rarely a pocket of silent in our home.  Bee talks all.day.long !!!  Her favorite words are "I'm sad now" (when she doesn't get what she wants), "Never ever again", "I want you to hold me", "Jesus loves us", "Jesus loves everybody", "Jesus loves me so I can build house (bloks), I can swim, I can poo, I can pee" (I don't know what to make of that one but it's good to be thankful nonetheless), and her favorite line of all "That's NOT right!". 

This year was a learning curve for Bee.  She has a new sister whom she has to share not only her parents with but also all toys !  all the while learning alphabet, counting to 20, spelling her name, cutting paper with scissor, building with bloks, drawing, interacting with peers, joining circle time at strongstart & sunday school, etc .  Some days she's loving, some day she's frustrated and down right a meany.  I'm glad there are more of the former than latter.  Bee adjusted well with all the changes, more than I expected, and always ready to help with everything, from diaper change to bathing to carrying baby.   Every now and then she asks me to give baby away ! 

Bee also took swimming lesson this year and passed !  She loves the pool.  There's not an ounce of fear of the deep water in her.  Awesomeness !  On top of all of that, she kind of came out of her shell !!!  C and I heard her introduces her name, saw her plays and talks with other kids.  She's much more socialable !  We can drop her off at Sunday school now :D imagine that !  it's a big milestone for us all. 

As for Lovebug, she likes to scream when she's upset, happy, and sometime, just because !  She's  LOUD !  She's also a super baby !  So strong and sturdy.  She rolled over at 3 month, sat up at 5 and stood up at 6.  She started taking baby steps at 8 months and fully walk on her own at 10 months.  Amazing right ?  She's so easy and chill !  I also didn't have to make baby food because she gagged when fed pureed food.  She wants to eat what we're eating.  I'm a bit sad that she's so independent.  By year end she can feed herself, walk/run, climb on/off table, sofa and bed, and she can crawl up stairs.  She loves to open cabinets and play with the water in the toilet (so unlike Kaila who has no interests in those).  She's now 20 lbs !  I want to hold on to her as much as I can !

Our home is crazy noisy when the kids aren't sleeping.  Isn't every home with kids noisy ?  A mayhem from sunrise to sunset.  But amidst the chaos, a smile, a laugh, a giggle dispersed all anxiety away.  Kids have that affect on us.  They push on our boundaries and broaden them in ways we thought not possible.  Cliché this might sound, but my kids help me to be better person.  I'm so much more patience than I've ever been.  More crafty, more silly, more messy, more forbearing than I've ever been.  I cherish them.

As for C and I, we gossip about our kids often when they're fast asleep !  We fought over who we think is more like us.  We miss each other a lot.  Some day we just stare at each other and miss having the other person to our self.  We hug tight whenever we can.  A touch, a glance, a kiss, a smile keeps us connected.  We know it's temporary that we can't spend too much time together.  A baby and a toddler is demanding !  they want to spend time with us and we need to spend time with them.  Time is an expensive commodity that we're learning each day to spend wisely !  I don't know how we did it but some how we managed to find time for all as family, then as a couple, and alone time too  !!!  Thanks to my mom for stepping in to help here and there !  We appreciate her.

Overall, it's a good year.  We're grateful for each other, for our families, and our friends.  Doing life is sweeter with friends.  We look forward to see what the Lord has plan for us for 2014 !  Cheers !