Monday, December 8, 2014

Inspiration: White-On-White Kitchen

I've been dreaming of a new kitchen for more than a year now. While we've deferred our kitchen renovation until the spring, I've already been gathering supplies and placing orders for cabinets, countertops, and appliances--all of which has made me even more eager for the change to come.

Our kitchen is approximately 12ft wide and 20ft long, with a small open area for a dining nook on one side and the cooking area on the other. It's a modest size, which I find comfortably roomy and cozy. In its current state though, the kitchen is anything but inviting; it has old worn black cabinets, crummy white laminate countertops, and--perhaps the thing I find the most unappealing--an ugly black and white box-patterned laminate flooring. The black in the glaring laminate floors only enhances the black cabinets, making the entire room feel dark and dreary.

Food and cooking is such a big part of my life that it's really important to me for our kitchen to feel open and welcoming. If I'm going to spend hours in this space preparing food, testing recipes, hanging out with friends, and enjoying breakfast with my husband, then I want this space to be bright, clean, and happy.

To brighten up the kitchen and maximize the light, I knew from the get-go that I wanted white cabinets. The more I explored design inspirations, the more I fell in love with the idea of a white-on-white kitchen: white countertops on white cabinets. The look is so crisp and clean that it just makes me happy :)

Any concerns one may have about the all-white approach being too stark and sterile would be easily dispelled by cheering up the space with some colorful decorations and accessories, such as the lovely flowers used in the inspiration photos above.

At first I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go as far as using white appliances as well, but since our kitchen is not that big, I think going with stainless steel appliances would actually break up the all-white look I'm going for. In the inspiration photo below, I really love how understated and seamlessly blended the white appliance are with the rest of the kitchen (the L-shape corner and placement of appliances/sink/window is actually identical to the layout of our kitchen.)

Since white-on-white is what I want, then I'm fully committed! Here's a sneak peek at what will be going into our new kitchen: a white quartz countertop on white cabinets, and a white stove and dishwasher I ordered over Black Friday weekend with a decent discount (woohoo!) I can't wait for this whole vision to come to fruition in a few months!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving already?!

Wow, where did the season go?! I can't believe it's Thanksgiving already, it definitely doesn't feel like it. Maybe it's because of the weird weather we've been experiencing this year in Jersey; lately the temperature has been bouncing between low 30s one week and then right up to 60s the next. I feel like I haven't properly experienced autumn yet and it's already going to be December!

These past weeks have flew by in a blur. Fall is usually a busy season for me when it comes to events, but this year I purposely didn't book any event work for these months so that I can dedicate to finishing the work on our house. But as it happens, some way somehow, random things always come up and that has kept my progress on the house at the same "slow but steady" pace. Sigh. I'm learning to accept and work with that.

For now, a major cause for thanks-giving is that we finally have heat! This is huge, because up until a week and a half ago we were freezing our faces off and I couldn't figure out why our baseboards weren't working. I spent days tinkering with the furnace to no avail, then finally gave up and called in the professionals. A proper diagnosis and $$$$ later, we have a brand spanking new furnace and heat--wonderful, heart-warming, spirit-restoring heat!

Oh but there's a kicker. During the installation of the new furnace, this also happened:

That's the plumbing/heating guy telling me "now you know what a rain shower head is" as water is pouring out from the ceiling. They had discovered that a pipe had burst in two places. I was definitely not ready for that much excitement that day.

The good news is that the broken pipe is now fixed and that the whole thing happened in our unfurnished basement (had the leak happened anywhere upstairs, it would've been all over our furniture and just a complete nightmare.) The bad news is that now there is a giant hole in the ceiling I have to re-insulate and patch up. Just another thing I have to add to the already long To-Do-List for the house. It never ends!

Well, I guess all that will have to wait. For now, I'm just looking forward to a long weekend with family, good friends, and good food :) Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The No-Prep Lunch

Remember Lunchables? That was one of my favorite things as a kid. I loved having a Lunchables pizza meal; using a miniature spatula to spread marinara sauce onto a miniature pizza bread, sprinkling on a pinch of shredded cheese before finally topping the whole thing off with a single disk of pepperoni--what's not to love? Admittedly, I probably just enjoyed how everything was miniature more than how it actually tasted, but when you are a 10-year-old, you have very different requirements for what makes a "good" meal.

I still see Lunchables in the grocery stores now, though they no longer hold the same appeal--because I am an adult now, I eat real food with vegetables and fiber, and a "good" meal to me these days usually involves bacon or beer, preferably both. But, I digress.

What I do still envy is the convenience of a prepackaged lunch. So with that in mind, and along with a little inspiration from small-plates snacking, I've become quite the fan of what I call the no-prep lunch--kind of like the adult version of a Lunchables.

No exaggerations here, this really is a zero-prep-needed lunch; no mixing, cooking, or blending here. It's also pretty balanced and healthy, as well as easily packable, which makes it a perfect weekday lunch for work.  Here are my go-to portions:

1. Hummus. I love Sabra's single-serving size hummus, it's convenient and adorable and gives me a nutrient-dense serving of carbs, fiber, and protein.

2. Pita Bread. Some people prefer pita chips, but I like the soft chewiness of a pita bread. For those who don't have the time and effort to even cut up some pita, Trader Joe's has these awesome mini pita pockets.

3. Carrots. Good old baby carrot sticks. Ready to go straight out of the bag with a serving of fiber and vitamins.

4. Roasted Turkey. Pick your choice of protein. Mine is usually turkey, lean and tasty.

5. Cheese. A good meal needs a little fat. I don't always eat cheese, but when I do, it's gotta be spicy. Fiery habanero cheddar is a favorite.

6. Grapes. I love fruit and grapes are so easy, no cutting or peeling necessary. It's always nice to have a sweet and refreshing note as a part of your meal.

I also like these other options that require little to no prep, such as: Cherry Tomatoes, Mixed Nuts, Celery, Cucumber, Hard Boiled Egg, Apples, Peanut Butter, Strawberries, Blue Berries, Edamame

What's something you gotta have in your easy packable lunch?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Roasted Beets Salad

I've always heard about beets but have never tried them until fairly recently. The things I heard about them were always mixed; some say it's wonderful and tasty, while others swear it's disgusting. For a food to be so polarizing, I reasoned it must be one of those love-it-or-hate-it types--like cilantro (love!) or liver (also love!) So to be safe, I avoided trying beets and waited for an opportunity where my first beet experience would be optimal (I don't even know what that meant).

One day, I was having lunch with my friend Christina at the restaurant Park & Sixth in Jersey City. A roasted beets salad was on the menu and both Christina and our waiter were gung-ho about it. I was less enthusiastic, and told them about my reservations. It was then explained to me that the beets that a lot of people find disgusting are usually pickled beets (it even sounds gross) but that roasted beets are rather wonderful.

Fast forward to a finished lunch and a full belly, I was now a beet-lover! It was wonderful. Sweet, earthy, and with a meaty bite, roasted beets were delicious.

When I recounted my discovery to another friend, Coco, she heartily echoed my new-found love for beets and said she makes a roasted beets salad that she loves. I knew right away I had to learn the recipe, I needed beets in my life! And the result is no disappointment, this roasted beets salad recipe is easy and delicious. If you're a first-timer when it comes to beets, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Weekend In Big Sur

Phew! I needed a full week after Labor Day weekend to decompress from traveling and get back to my routine at home. Now that things are back in order, let me share with you some snippets from my trip :)

We flew into SFO on Friday night and on Saturday, drove down to Salinas for a pre-wedding lunch at the groom's family home. They live in a beautiful hacienda style home, I loved the warm terra cotta floor tiles throughout and ample use of exposed natural wood. It was welcoming and relaxed, made even more so by the gracious and hospitable hosts.

There was no shortage of drinks and good food. We literally ate for hours.

[ The groom's own home-brewed and aged cocktails ]

[ Juicy and sweet home-grown tomatoes, served simply and perfectly with olive oil and basil ]

[ Just a few of the many things that went into my belly ]

[ Creamy and delightful, mixed berry trifles ready to be devoured ]

[ Sadie the springer spaniel taking the lead on nap time ]

After we ate, drank, and napped to our satisfaction, we headed further down the coast to Carmel, where we'd be staying for the rest of the weekend. Getting to our--what I call--"mountain-top, ocean-side" abode was a trip in itself.

We first had to drive through a forest of redwood trees, beautiful and towering above us. As we ascended out of the forested canyon, the road became more and more narrow and the pavement gave way to lose dirt. The single lane dirt path snaked its way uphill in a series of hairpin turns and with more bumps than on a mogul slope. Thank God our rental car was a SUV! I don't think we could've made it otherwise.

But the view at the top was SO worth it.

The wrap-around deck allowed amazing views straight to the ocean. It was the perfect place for a cup of tea in the morning while birds sang to the sunrise. In the evenings, the views were even more stunning as the sunset painted the sky and the mist rolled in. Aside from the vista, the house itself was just as charming.

[ The house was surrounded by an abundance of fragrant lavender ]

[ evening comes ]

Thanks for a beautiful weekend, Big Sur! I will miss your sun, sky, and waters until we meet again.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Favorite Necessities for Plane Travel

Hooray for another holiday weekend! E and I are flying out to the west coast to attend his sister's wedding in Big Sur, CA. It's going to be beautiful and it's always great to reunite with family. I'm looking forward to the getaway--to just relax, unwind, and enjoy the sun, water, and food (isn't that the best part to traveling?)

After years of regular domestic and international travel, I think I've finally found my favorite plane outfit. Why do I need a "plane outfit"? Because spending hours being confined to a seat (not to mention all the extra time spent schlepping luggage around and waiting at the airport) necessitates clothing that will maximize comfort while holding up to a good day of work (doesn't flying feel like a long day at work sometimes?)

Flying in jeans was never an option; I like to move and stretch a lot, often hiking up a leg on to my seat or even sitting in half lotus position. I used to fly in basically an uniform of sweats: sweat pants with sweat shirt. It was super comfortable, but also super drabby.

Nowadays, my go-to plane outfit has evolved into a pretty good balance between style and function. 

 Why I love this outfit:

1. Leggings: black keeps it simple and classic, and is also great at hiding any stains from accidental spills while traveling. Even more importantly, it's just as comfy as sweats!

2. Chambray shirt: casual and comfortably lose, yet still delivering understated style--something a sweatshirt just can't accomplish.

3. Ankle boots: my favorite pair of rough and tumble boots. They're comfortable (comfort is a theme here!) and easy to remove at the security check. Extra plus, the low heel gives me a lift but still comfy for walking.

4. Scarf: a light-weight scarf is a must-have for me. It adds a touch of style but it offers even more function. Temperatures often fluctuate on the plane or at the airport, so throwing on a scarf or using it as a shoulder wrap is easy and effective for when I get chilly.

5. Sunglasses: nothing transforms a tired face than sunglasses. When my eyes look weary after a long flight, I just throw on my shades and suddenly I look more put together. It also doubles as my sleep mask.

6. Accessories: I like to keep it simple; just one necklace or pair of earrings does the job of kicking it up a notch.

Now for a peak inside my carry-on bag:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Living Room Makeover: Part I

I’m not sure if something qualifies as a “makeover” if it was never “made” to begin with. Nevertheless, I’ve been waiting procrastinating for a long time to get our living room in order. I won’t divulge exactly how long that’s been, but let’s just say it’s long enough to be embarrassing.

You see, when we moved into our new place, the old shelving units/entertainment system that worked perfectly in our old apartment no longer worked in the new space. It new wall is too big, the old unit now too small. The configuration also worked against the width of the space, a feature of the room that is actually quite fantastic. So I knew from the beginning that I wanted something new for our living room, which is why, as you can tell from the “Before” photo, we never even bothered unpacking.

My logic was that I would only have to pack everything away again in order to put in the new living room and then unpack for a second time. Why do all that unnecessary work? Let’s just wait until the new setup is put in, then we can unpack once and for all.

Well, the thing about waiting is that you could be waiting for a long time, longer than you’d expect or even prefer, because life happens. And while in the beginning you may be just waiting for enough free time to tackle the task, eventually you find yourself just procrastinating it because the longer you wait, the more daunting the task becomes. Before you know it, you’ve pushed it off for so long that trees have changed colors, flowers have bloomed and gone, and seasons have came to pass.

Thankfully, my cautionary tale changed course to a happy ending! This week I finally put aside all excuses and tackled the living room head on.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five Camping Must-Have's

Camping with friends at Hickory Run State Park, PA

City living is energizing and dynamic, but nothing compares to the refreshing liberation of being in the great outdoors. Being in nature, freed from the hustle and noise of modern life, you are allowed to slowed down, be in the moment, and take in the beauty that is the world around you. That's one of many reasons I enjoy camping.

Summer is a great season for camping and we try to do it every year. Aside from the fresh air and the beauty of nature, when you're camping, you're stripped of mundane everyday demands and forced to live simpler. Starting a fire, assembling a shelter, cooking a meal--camping necessitates being ever present in the moment to, essentially, ensure your own survival. In our modern times where we have dominated and mastered the world around us, camping humbles us to the basics and reminds us of our humanity.

"That's romantic and all," my more camping-averse friends would say, "but there's a reason why camping is called 'roughing it'--it's not much of a vacation!" That's only partly true. If you're simply miserable without modern luxuries (in the ways of wireless connection and frappuccinos), then you likely won't be able to find any enjoyment in camping. But contrary to what it may seem, camping can be quite comfortable, as long as you have the right gear.

Morning at our campsite in Arches National Park, UT

Last year, we went on a three-week road trip in the Northwest/West Coast touring the National Parks. We camped for almost the entire time (we stayed in hotels when it got too cold; even I have my limits!) I loved every minute of it. Having the right tools and gear made all the difference and a few have become my must-have's that I know I could never live without.

Here are my top five favorite camping gear (along with some of my own camping photo memories!) Whether you are new to the game or a seasoned camper, these are my tried and true tools in making any camping experience comfortable.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

One-Dish Meal: Celery and Pork Stir-Fry

I love one-pot or one-dish meals. A single recipe that saves me time in the kitchen yet still provides me with a well-rounded meal? It's a win-win, especially for when I'm too lazy busy to make a "proper" dinner. I also consider it an extra plus whenever a meal can be eaten with a spoon, like this one.

This celery and pork recipe is one of my favorites because of its versatility. It can stand on its own or be served as a side along with other dishes. You can easily swap out the pork with ground turkey for an even leaner meal. Both the meat and the celery share the spotlight equally, so this dish has the protein, the fiber, the flavors, and it goes great with rice--all bases covered.

For a vegetable, I feel like celery doesn't usually get the love. As a great soup base staple, it's often taken for granted. As a health food, it's often eaten as a snack only out of obligation. And then there's the celery that we only know as a lowly palate cleanser for buffalo wings. How sad!

This recipe is all love for the celery. Refreshing and crisp, it adds just the right bite to go along with the pork. For some, celery may be a bit of an acquired taste. But rest assured, this won't taste like you're eating a celery salad. In the words of my carnivorous and palate-wise husband, this dish is "Mmmigod SO GOOD."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Saying Goodbye To Chemicals

About two years ago, I made the decision to get rid of all the chemical cleaners we had in the house and start cleaning using natural, toxin-free ingredients. Before that, I've always heard people rave about the cleaning power of chemical-free ingredients that most of us already have in our homes, such as vinegar and baking soda, but I never felt the urge or the need to switch. I loved my citrus scented all-surface cleaner, my foaming action Scrubbing Bubbles, my never-fail streak-free Windex, and my occasional Febreze when I wanted our living room to smell like "Linen and Sky" (if you're wondering what sky smells like, it smells like wonderful.)

I was always aware that commercial household cleaners are toxic; the labels on the backs of those bottles often had extensive warnings about skin contact, eye irritation, and fumes. When I would clean, I'd usually have to leave the kitchen and bathroom fans running so I wouldn't get a headache. I would move everything off of all the surfaces before I'd even start cleaning so that the chemicals wouldn't get on the kitchen utensils or our toothbrushes (the mist from the sprays gets everywhere, even if it's not clearly visible to eyes.) But all these were relatively minor inconveniences, the real impetus for me to go chemical-free was that my body was starting to protest.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

3-Minute Microwave Steamed Fresh Fish

That's right, I said microwave! You may be skeptical that this appliance of convenience can churn out anything aside from popcorn and frozen tv dinners, but hear me out and you may just find yourself loving a new recipe that is fast, simple, and healthy.

I owe this recipe to my dad, who's been quite the master in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. My parents have always believed in the importance and value of a good home-cooked meal. When I was young, they worked long hours, but would still come home and make dinner from scratch (although there were, once in a while, a trip to Burger King).

It's no surprise then that my dad would find a way to simplify a popular dish. Steamed fish with ginger and scallions is traditionally made in a steamer, but who has the time for that (or a steamer, for that matter)? This microwave recipe is done in minutes and tastes just as tender and flavorful. It's a family favorite that we go back to again and again.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Me vs. Stuff

Last weekend, I was browsing through Netflix and came across a wonderful little documentary called "Tiny: A Story About Living Small." It follows one couple's journey to build a less than 200 sqft. home, as part of a larger movement of people who intentionally choose to live in tiny houses, challenging traditional home design and the standard of home ownership as a part of the American Dream.

I found the entire premise fascinating, the idea of people (sometimes entire families, with pets!) living in homes the size of a parking spot is simply amazing. Can you imagine the amount of ingenuity and efficiency that would be required? But what really touched a chord with me was the bigger questions raised by the film in regards to sustainability and our consumerist culture, two topics that have been on my mind a lot recently.

This past spring, my little family of four (two humans, two canines) moved to a new home. We had previously been living in a one-bedroom condo I've had since my single days. After our wedding, Ethan had moved in, I started working from home, and over the course of a year and a half it started to feel like the walls were closing in on us.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Frozen Watermelon Lemonade

Cheers, the holiday weekend is here! Looking for last minute ways to fire up your 4th of July party? Start here, with a frozen watermelon lemonade. Nothing is more quintessentially summer than watermelon (my favorite fruit), lemonade, and all that is good in a brain-freeze-inducing slushie form.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Red, White & Blue Jello Cups

The 4th of July is almost here! I'm looking forward to the grilling, the fun in the sun, and just a day to kick back with family and friends. And oh yes, the fireworks!

When it comes to 4th of July entertaining, the red, white, and blue are a must. I especially think it's a plus when the festive touch is the edible sort. Inspired by the idea of a patriotic jello (is there such a thing?) these red, white & blue jello cups would be a proud dessert to bring to any 4th of July party or to serve at your own.

I wanted to make this the perfect party dessert--minimal effort for maximum impact. The recipe is so easy (most of the work will be done by your refrigerator) and can be made ahead of time. Also, making jello in single serving cups means no portioning, scooping, or serving is needed, nor is cleaning up!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Finds

For those of you gearing up for some shopping this weekend, here are some of my recent favorite finds. Chosen for their style and function, I didn't realize these items also happen to be in similar color families until I was putting the collage together.

My usual go-to summer hues are vibrant pinks, citrus yellows, and delicious reds. But lately I've been loving the cool and relaxed shades of blues and greens Somewhere inside, I must be really yearning for the water :)

1. Hand dyed shibori linen pillow, $57.94, Etsy
I am a huge fan of shibori, a Japanese fabric dyeing technique (which most of us are familiar with as tie-dye). In classic indigo, the blue is so calming and reminds me of a deep well of pure, cool water. With the right pattern, like the one used for this pillow, a traditional style readily adapts to a modern home.

2. Tiki stacking glasses, $5.95 each, CB2
The moment I saw these drinking glasses in the CB2 catalog, I was smiling. How fun! Stacked together, they remind me of a totem pole, alone they're simply adorable. Perfect for any summer gathering, who wouldn't smile when they're drinking from these?

3. T-strap wedge sandals, $79, Nine West (currently on sale for $49.99, available in other colors)

I just got a pair of these sandals in the natural color and I love them. A 1.5in stacked wedge heel gives enough lift to lengthen your legs and dress up any outfit, yet are still comfortable enough that I could literally walk around all day in them. I will be pairing these with dresses, pants, shorts... you name it!

4. King cube silicone ice trays, $7.99 and up, (available in more than a dozen colors)

It's official: king size 2" ice cubes are a must-have for every kitchen. Tired of regular ice cubes diluting your drink? Problem solved, these will keep your soda or whiskey chilled and at full strength. Sick of drinking weak iced coffee? Problem solved, make coffee ice cubes with these and you will be icing your coffee with more coffee. Making a pitcher of iced tea? A bowl of punch for a party? Throw a couple of these in and you're set.

5. Woven tribal print clutch, $9.80, Forever 21
At less than $10, this is an easy pick for a summer accessory. The tribal print keeps it fun and the indigo and white keep it clean and understated, making it work for both day and night.

What's your favorite find so far this summer?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spicy Sichuan Cucumber Salad

Growing up in Chengdu, Sichuan, the summers were relentlessly hot and humid. The summers in NJ can be just as brutal. Whenever the temperatures rise, the last thing I want to do is to hover over a stove and put my sweat into making a meal (literally). That's why a Sichuan style liang ban dish is my go-to recipe for these hot summer days.

The literal translation for liang ban is "cold mix"; a liang ban dish is always served cold at room temperature. It is essentially a salad, usually with shredded or sliced vegetables, but cooked meats or noodles can also be used. It typically serves as a simple and flavorful side dish, much like a Korean banchan.