One of my recent adventures was at the Myakka River State Park which is located in Sarasota, Florida. There is a $6 entrance fee charge per vehicle. It’s a pretty big park; about 37,000 acres. There will be plenty of nature to explore. You’ll definitely see an abundance of alligators, birds, and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll spot a deer like I did. There is a list of things you can do such as camping, boating tours, fishing, and hiking just to name a few. I checked out the suspended canopy walk bridge which brings you up to a 76 feet climb to the observation tower which gives you a panorama view of the park. It’s a short distance but the view is beautiful. It was a little scary for me since I’m afraid of heights. I also checked out the bird watch boardwalk which I found to be quite peaceful. I was most excited to go into the field of beach sunflowers since I don’t often find a large field of flowers in the area I live in so I took advantage of that opportunity and took many photographs of them. Here are a few pictures I took during my visit. Hope you enjoy!
One of the things I miss the most when I moved away from home was my parent’s home cooking. I’d reminisce about the food I grew up eating. The pleasant aromas, the bright, clean, crisp flavors, and the abundance of textures just ponder my mind. Many of the Vietnamese restaurants didn’t offer a wide variety of family household meals on their menu. I would frequently wind up ordering a particular Vietnamese dish that did not satisfy my cravings for my parent’s home cooking I’ve been longing for.
My parents never taught me how to cook due to circumstances therefore, I had to teach myself. I started preparing more home cooked meals on a daily basis and eventually cooking became one of my passions. It also has made me appreciate my culture even more. I learned how to recreate some of my favorite childhood dishes that took me back home. I’ve also learned how to make other cuisines outside of my culture. I became more in touch with the foods I ate and more aware of how certain ingredients work with one another.
One of the first dishes I learned how to make was Cà Ri Gà which translates to Chicken Curry. This dish is a Vietnamese style yellow curry stew with chicken. There are so many layers of flavor that makes it seem complex but it’s fairly simple to make. It’s aromatic, comforting, and hearty. This curry compliments perfectly with toasted French baguettes but you can serve it with jasmine rice or vermicelli noodles. Although, I prefer mine with bread. There is quite a bit of prep work and it requires a list ingredients but the results are worth it.
- 6 bone in chicken thighs
- 6-8 potatoes (quartered into 1.5″ in)
- 4-6 carrots (sliced on a bias into 1″ in)
- 13.66 fl oz unsweetened coconut milk
- 4 cups water or chicken broth
- 4 tbs Madras curry paste or powder
- 1 whole lemongrass stalk (bruised)
- 2 tbs lemongrass (minced)
- 1 onion (sliced)
- 2 tbs shallots (minced)
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 tsp ginger (grated)
- 1-3 red chilies (chopped or whole)
- 6 kaffir lime leaves
- 2-4 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- cornstarch to thicken
- cilantro to garnish
- oil as needed
- salt to taste
- In a large bowl, combine half of the curry paste, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, sugar, salt and pepper
- Add chicken, coat with mixture; marinate for at least 2-4 hours or overnight for better results
- Add oil to a skillet on medium high heat; fry carrots & potatoes for about 2 minutes on each side in batches to form a lightly browned crust (This will help them hold their shape better while they cook but you can omit this step.)
- Remove and drain on paper towels; set aside
- In a large pot on medium high heat, add oil and cook chicken for about 3 minutes on each side; remove
- In the same pot; sauté sliced onions, bruised lemongrass, lime leaves, garlic, ginger, chilies, and curry paste for about 1 minute
- Add in 4 cups of water or chicken broth; bring to a boil
- Add chicken back in, turn heat on medium low, cover and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes
- Stir in coconut milk; allow to simmer for 15 more minutes
- Add in carrots and potatoes; cook until tender
- Turn off heat; adjust seasonings with fish sauce, sugar, salt and pepper.
- Add cornstarch slurry into curry if you desire a thicker consistency or let the potatoes break down
- Serve with bread, rice, or noodles
- Garnish with chilies and cilantro
I can’t believe how fast time has gone by. My niece, Evelyn is turning the big 1! It has been such a joy to watch her grow these past months! Isn’t it funny that she learned how to was walk just a week before her first birthday?! She is such a little explorer. She’s already getting into everything; putting anything into her mouth that’s within reach.
My sister and I wanted to do something a little special for her so we decided to go the extra mile and throw her 1st birthday party together. We narrowed down our ideas to a tribal theme. We wanted it to be girly with blue and purple as the main colors with hints of gold, pink, and white. Once we had our ideas set, we began looking for party supplies.
We check out Micheal’s and bought a few of the items that we planned on using for the decorations, such as the blocks of letters, banner papers/blank banner fabric, tassels, and a few other things. A quick stop at Party City to check out what they had to offer. We only ended up buying table covers with lace detailing. The last stop was at the Dollar Tree for the paper plates, cups, utensils, and flowers. The last purchases were ordered online from Etsy which were the invitations, dream catcher, and cake topper.
For the first part of the décor, I began implementing ideas of what style of letters I wanted to use, how to apply them onto the blank purple banners, and how to attach them all together. Obviously, we knew we wanted to have Evelyn’s name on there. I usually write down or sketch an idea I have envisioned on paper before I begin the process. I thought that simple letters with arrows on some of the letters would tie in with the theme perfectly.
I started to paint the letters free hand onto the banners with a thin brush and white pearl acrylic paint. It was a bit of a challenge gauging the placement and size of the letters since it was a bit difficult to remove the paint if I messed up, so I had to work very carefully. It’s kind of ironic how something that can look so simple require such precision and takes a lot longer than you presumed. I had my sister finish up most of the dots since I didn’t have the all of the supplies at home to finish the rest. Then I sewed the ribbon on top of each banner to hold the whole thing together.
My sister decided to paint the “ONE” letters since they came in white. At first she tried painting them a metallic gold color but that didn’t work out. The gold color made it look quite streaky even after a couple of coats. So she decided to paint that color over with blue and purple, which ended up looking a lot better because there were no more streaks. Meanwhile, I was trying to decide on how I would arrange the flowers before attaching them to onto the dream catcher. I removed the flowers from their stems then attached the floral wire to the ends on the back side of the flowers then intertwined them into the webs. It took a while, but I think the flowers gave it such a nice girly touch.
The night before the party, we brought all of the supplies out. I began setting the dining table. For the dessert table, I just taped the banner I painted, the tassels, arrange Evie’s pictures, and the letters. We also made some treats. My sister made the teepee cones. She had a difficult time attaching the pretzel sticks to the top. I figured there was a technique to it. You just have to make sure the chocolate becomes tacky enough before you attach them to the top of the cones or else you’ll be sitting there forever while holding them in place until they dry.
I started preparing the 3 layered rice crispy treats. Begin by microwaving about 20 marshmallows in 1 tbs of butter for about a minute and then add food coloring to create colors of your choice. (Be sure to make the color darker than you want because the cereal will lighten up the color.) Coat oil onto a square pan to keep them from sticking. (Also having your hands dampen with some water helps it from sticking.) Add in about 2 cups of cereal and fold it into the marshmallows to get them all incorporated. Then press down each color into a pan and let it set for about 1 hour. (This is the process I did for each layer.) After it has set, cut them into little cubes with a serrated knife and insert lollipop sticks into them. (Dip the lollipop sticks into some chocolate on one end to help it stick into the rice crispy treats better.)
The party turned out quite nice. Planning this party was a lot more relaxed. It was probably due to the fact that I had gained some experience since the last one and we had a better thought out plan of what we wanted to achieve. Even though I was a bit sleep deprived, this party was smooth sailing; such a breeze.
I’ve been planning to make these chocolate covered strawberries again but haven’t had the chance. Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I thought that it would be the perfect time to gather all my supplies and start assembling them. Taking the time out of your day to make something sweet and thoughtful for your loved ones will definitely make them feel just a little bit more special.
These chocolate covered strawberries are sure to impress but they are so simple to make. The finished product looks almost too pretty to eat as if you bought them from a gourmet shop without spending a fortune. They are so fun to make, they make such an adorable gift, and they’re also quite a tasty treat. The tartness of the strawberries compliments the sweetness of the chocolate. Hope your Valentine’s Day will be filled with lots of love or you could just treat yourself.
– Cupcake liners
– Squeeze bottle
– Block of styrofoam
– Chocolate(s) of your choice
- Wash the strawberries and pat them completely dry.
- Puncture holes that are about 1 1/2 inch apart into the styrofoam block with the skewers.
- Insert skewers about half way into the ends of each strawberry.
- Melt the chocolate in a double broiler on medium-low heat or microwave 8 oz at a time in increments of 30 seconds until running smooth; add a few tsp of oil if it starts to seize up.
- Pour the opposite type of chocolate into a squeeze bottle for drizzling contrasting decorative patterns.
- Dip and twist strawberries in the chocolate about 3/4 of the way, let the excess drip, place on the styrofoam block to dry.
- Drizzle over strawberries with a back and forth motion on both sides, dust sprinkles, place in fridge to set.
I would like begin my first post by sharing my baby shower planning experience. Anyways, this was my first time planning a party. I’ve actually never put together any parties that required at least some sort of planning. Everything was more of “let’s make this happen” without much thought. Oh dear, let me just tell you; it was beyond stressful. (Sigh…) We almost wanted to quit, but we persevered! I don’t think I want to throw another party for a while. Though, I don’t want to discouraged anyone because of how overwhelming planning a party can be. It may seem like a big task to tackle but end results are really worth all the hassle. I just hope that my experience can potentially help out or inspire anyone that is planning to throw their next party.
My sister and I began planning this party one month in advance before the actual event. We dedicated a lot of our time into this party. (Our heart, pride, and soul!) We must have stopped by a few different stores every week because we didn’t have a solid plan. Once we reach a decision of what we wanted to put together, things slowly started to fall into place. Since I’m the creative one in the family, I was given the majority of the “labor intensive” task. My sister was in charge of the goody bags, prizes, and placing the order for cake and food. Her fiancé funded the party and was in charge of the games.
The first thing on my list was to make the invitations. I couldn’t find any pre-made templates that looked exactly the way I envisioned so I decided to make the baby diaper templates completely from scratch. They were drawn up in a program called Cad. The invitations had to be revised many times before I was satisfied with the final results. The final touches had to be done manually. The tedious part was cutting them all, especially the scalloped tops. I also had to come up with a creative idea that would work opening up the invitations but still keeping it simple. My sister kept on nagging me to finish them. I did manage to get them out in a timely manner.
Next, I began working on the banner for the baby’s name. This project was more straightforward than the invitations because it didn’t require exact measurements for every side. I drew up the circles, scalloped circles, and all of the letters freehand. The letters were a bit tricky because I had to gauge what size they needed to be in order for them to snugly fit into the scalloped circles. Cutting out the shapes was a bit of a repetitive task. The letters required a bit more precision. The easy part was binding the shapes together. I just had to decide what I should use to pull the banner together as a whole.
One other small project we decided on was to make something cute for the utensils to sit in. We bought pink and white napkins that we decide to fold into bow shapes. I was uncertain if I should use the pink or white napkins. I figured that white would be a better option since that would provide more contrast against all the pink. After I folded all of the necessary supply, I proceeded to make the chevron patterned strips on Photoshop that would later be placed in the middle of each bow. The strips were printed on glossy finish paper.
The last crafty project I had to do was to create a picture that would later be placed in the baby’s nursery room. (Just for memories.) I decided to go with a baby elephant because I thought that it was a good representation of a new baby girl’s arrival and plus they’re adorable! I drew it by freehand and had my sister help me cut circles out of patterned paper; which are suppose to look like balloons. The family members are suppose to write down their blessings for the baby inside the circles. Once I got the outline of the elephant drawn out, I started to fill it up with color. I just had to figure out the placement of the circles.
The day before the baby shower, I arrived at my sister’s house in the morning to prepare for the big day. My foster mom also came down from North Carolina to help us. The first thing on my list was to add the final touches to all of the projects I did previously. Once that was out of the way, I started hanging up the décor on the ceiling where we planned to have our dessert table. I also had to figure out how we were going to set the table that we planned to have our guests eat on. We decided that we would cut out the pink table cover into heart shapes. I drew up the heart shapes, cut them out, and taped them onto the white cover that we had already placed on the table. Then, I proceeded to set the table.
Meanwhile, I had my youngest sister help make the chocolate covered pretzels and strawberries. Though, her effort was appreciated, she seemed like she didn’t want to be there and kind of rushed the job. So I had to finish the rest and make the ones that would be displayed on the dessert table. My mom helped clean along the way. She also set up the popcorn station. (Big thank you to her!) It took us the whole day to get it all figured out.
Finally, the big day has arrived! I was running on 4 hours of broken sleep but I didn’t realize how tired I was because so much adrenaline was going through my veins! I prepared for the day and was ready for it to begin. My sister’s fiance picked me up. We stopped by the store to pick up the cake. Everybody was starting feel a bit frantic to say the least. I guess they need me. (Aww…) I got there later than I had originally planned. As soon as I was there, I immediately began setting up the dessert table and photographed all of our precious work before our guests arrived.
After the party, I felt so relieved. All of this weight that we put upon ourselves has been lifted off. My sister’s fiance did an impeccable performance on the games. I was quite impressed that the majority of our guests showed up. The final product turned out more beautiful than I had anticipated. The best part of it all; we actually enjoyed ourselves after all the sweat and tears. Our effort was definitely rewarded. I received a few compliments. (*Blushes) I didn’t think I was capable of all the things I pulled together. Sometimes, you end up surprising yourself. Never set limits; you can achieve whatever your heart desires.
Thank to everyone that help contribute to the party; whether it was big or small. All of your effort was very much appreciated! It help lift off some of our load. Many of our ideas were inspired by Pinterest. Most of the supplies that we bought were either from the Dollar Tree, Micheal’s, or Wal-Mart.
A few things that I would like to suggest to anyone that is planning a party: 1) Have a solid plan of what you want to achieve before making your purchases; this will save you a ton of time, so you don’t end up visiting the store a million times like we had to. 2) Give yourself a decent time frame to plan before the actual day; this way you won’t feel rushed when the time is getting near 3) Include at least 3 games; like we did (We included Baby Jeopardy, Dirty Diaper, and Guess the Baby Food.) or your guest may feel obligated to stay longer than they may want. Lastly, don’t forget to photograph all of your hard work! Good luck and enjoy!
Just in case you’re wondering, we did provide hot foods for our guest. We served baked ziti, eggrolls, meatballs, potato salad, sausages, stuffed shells, and among other things that the guest brought.