Blueberry Season

It has been a very busy summer for us so we missed our annual wild blackberry picking outing at Oak Island. If you’ve never tried the blackberries from there, you are missing out. They are the best blackberries I’ve ever had! We would typically take home about 10-15 pounds plus whatever we ate along the way. Mulder even likes to join us and much on them as we hike the trail.

I did not want to miss out on the flavors of the berries so I picked up some blueberries and blackberries from the farmers’ market. Out of a half-flat container, I was able to make a pie, some ice cream, and of course the all-too familiar jam.

For the Blueberry Pie, I used my favorite crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The pie recipe was from All Recipes.

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The ice cream recipe was from White on Rice Couple.

After straining the puree, I added a bit of sugar on the remaining pulp until it thickened up into jam.

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All done in between taking care of 2-month old Immy.

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I think I’m getting the hang of this :-)

Filed under: Baking, Family, Foodie, Gardening, Mulder the Dog, PDX local, Travel | Tagged , , , , , |

Imogen’s Second Month

Lolo and Lola (my parents) met Immy for the first time on the 2nd day of August. I brought mom some flowers and picked them up at the airport. When mom first saw Immy, she was surprised by how small she was. She was excited to hold her for the first time.
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The next day, we moved into a new house. We loved the new house. It fits our needs better and it is much more comfortable and family-friendly. Mom and Dad liked the house too. We spent the week cooking, eating, watching movies, going around town but mostly just staying home with Immy. Mom really missed Immy when they left so I started sending pictures and videos on What’s App where the whole family can exchange messages and media.Lola and Lolo 119
It was also around this time when Marcel started a new part-time job in the evenings. Our plan was for him to watch Immy during the day then go to work most nights of the week. This arrangement worked really well for us.
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We also got more comfortable taking Immy out. One of those days we spent walking the trail at Commonwealth Lake Park. It was a nice day and it was the first time we felt like a family going out on a typical weekend.
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Filed under: Family, Foodie, PDX local, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , |

Imogen’s First Month

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Our first month with Immy was challenging as expected but it was such a beautiful time getting to know her. It was very rewarding to see her grow day by day.

Our days at the hospital were filled with chaos as nurses and doctors were checking on us around the clock. The good thing is they were always there for us when we did not know what to do. We were just learning how to care for a newborn and I was still trying to process what had just happened. Despite the hard work that my body just went through, I was up and about the day after delivery, even making a solo trip to Target on the fourth day. Amazingly I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight within two weeks. Giving birth gives true meaning to being a co-creator with God and he equips women’s bodies with all that strength.

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Marcel and I started with a 24 /7 watch when we brought Immy home. She was so small and delicate that we felt like we needed to do that. He would take the evening shift from 9 pm to 2 am while I took the morning shift from 2 am to 9 am. The person off duty got some much needed sleep in the guest bedroom. In reality I barely got any sleep because of constant feeding. I finally got some relief when we supplemented with formula. Marcel was able to feed her while I was sleeping. However, it added extra work for me too I had to make milk and was constantly washing bottles. In addition to that, there was laundry, cleaning, and cooking to do. I really wished we had extra help at that time but we were too busy to even think about it. Originally my mom was going to come but her visit was delayed until August.

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It is true what they say that sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and that advice served us well. We managed to survive the first couple of weeks and on the third week we felt comfortable enough to take Immy to my workplace for everyone to see her. They were very excited as many of my co-workers were already waiting in the lobby when we got there!

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When she turned one month old, Tara and Ryan were visiting. We also got a chance to meet Ryan’s parents together with his sister Heather and kids Cameron and Cole. All of us enjoyed afternoon treats and coffee/tea at Petunia’s Bakery.

It was also during this time that we got a video monitor and a bouncy chair. During the day, Immy will sit with us while we cooked and ate lunch. When she was in the crib, we had the monitor on to watch her. In the evenings we watched Breaking Bad on TV. We started feeling normal again.

Filed under: Family, PDX local, Work |

A Baby Story

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We had just moved into a new house when one day at work I started feeling queasy. I bolted to the bathroom and before I knew it I was throwing up. Everything I ate that morning started flashing in my head but nothing stood out. I rarely get sick from food or otherwise so my first thought was “maybe I’m pregnant” and just laughed it off. I went on to take my morning break with my co-workers but was still feeling queasy. They noticed that I was not feeling well and Genie joked “maybe you’re pregnant”. Later that week on Friday November 1st, I had dinner with my friend Sokbun at Taste of  Sichuan. We had a great time but the thought of being pregnant occupied my mind and I couldn’t wait to do a pregnancy test. On my way home I picked up a kit. I was so anxious to take it but Marcel was still at work. Well I could not wait so I tested and it was (+)!!! I was ecstatic but of course waited to tell Marcel until he got home. He was surprised but cautiously optimistic. The following weekend we went out to dinner with his mom who was in town for work. I was excited to tell her but Marcel thought we should wait. During dinner all I could think about was the pregnancy. At some random moment I just blurted out “I’m pregnant!”. She made a clapping gesture and smiled big. She told me it will all work out and  just don’t think about it. I held onto that advice for the entire pregnancy and it really made a big difference. For the most part, I enjoyed the pregnancy without too much worry.

We decided to keep a low profile to make things easier for us. Most people who are close to us knew but we did not post anything on Facebook. The entire pregnancy was pretty normal with a couple of  close calls towards the end. Even though I passed the 3-hour glucose test, the doctor advised me to watch my diet anyway to avoid developing gestational diabetes. She specifically warned me about eating too much rice and noodles. I was already having a hard time eating so that really made it even harder for me. Very few things were appetizing so I ended up eating a lot of bland food and breakfast type items such as cereal, waffles, and oatmeal. I also had high blood pressure but all other indicators turned out to be normal.

Our friends and family were very excited for us and three groups threw us baby showers – Filipino friends from work, my workplace, and the cake club. We have more stuff than we have room for and gifts are still coming. We were overwhelmed by the love and generosity of everyone.

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On the morning of summer solstice June 21st, my amniotic sac broke around 5 am. By 7 am, we were at the hospital. The doctor ordered Pitocin to induce labor around 3 pm. By around 6 pm, I got an epidural. I wanted to get it later but the doctor recommended that I get it earlier. She was right because soon after, Imogen was ready to come out. Pushing only took 45 minutes, rare I was told for first time mothers. Immy was born at 8:50 pm weighing 5 pounds, 5 ounces and 19 inches long with a head circumference of 12 inches.

Imogen, Week 1, D90 600As soon as she came out, I sobbed uncontrollably. I cried tears of relief, disbelief, pain, and most of all joy. The moment she was placed on my chest right after the cord was cut is a memory I will never forget. They say it makes it all worth it. They were absolutely right. I just laid there with her trying to process what had just happened. There she was moments after coming out of me. Truly an undeniable miracle. God is amazing. I thank the Lord for this precious gift of a miracle baby. All babies are miracles and God performs them everyday.

Filed under: Family, Friends, PDX local |

Travel Hacking Part II – Redeeming Miles

This is Part II of the post Travel Hacking

So after accumulating hundreds of thousands of miles, you might be wondering what to do with them. The obvious answer would be to book a domestic flight to anywhere in the US using 25,000 miles and call it good. While that is useful, you won’t be getting the best value for your miles. There is of course nothing wrong with that. I have taken many free flights to visit family around the country. However, if you plan carefully you can get a much better deal.

Look at these examples:
Most recently, I booked a one-way flight for my mom from DFW to PDX in first class for 25K miles, ticket value: $737. Valuation: $0.03 per mile.
Marcel, on a trip to Peru and Panama used 55K miles, also in First Class with a ticket value of $3500. Valuation:  $0.06.
I went to Las Vegas using 25K miles, with an economy ticket valued at $350. Valuation:  $0.014 (very low!)
The guy we learned this from, took a multi-city trip worth $14,000+, all on first class for 120K miles. Valuation: $0.12! (This is the best one I have ever heard)

What is valuation: Most rewards programs give you a 1% benefit. With airline miles, you can get as much as 6% or $0.06 reward per mile,  more once you become an expert.

Blackout Dates: These are pretty much gone nowadays. The only thing to keep in mind is like with any flight, availability varies. The earlier you book, the better.

Do miles expire? Yes but it is easy to keep your account active by filling out surveys, doing online shopping, etc.

Saver Awards

You also get the best valuation when redeeming miles out of season. Currently you can get a RT economy ticket to Europe for only 40K miles. In the summer, that would go up to 60K miles. Sometimes they also go on sale. One time, I got a RT domestic ticket for only 17.5K miles. Unfortunately, the opposite applies on peak seasons – usually July/August. Sometimes only first class tickets are available. This is when having a LOT of miles becomes very helpful. However, if you book early enough, you should be able to find something reasonable.

How to Redeem Miles:

Log in to your account, either on, or whatever program you are in. Select AAdvantage/Redeem Miles or Mileage Plus/Use Award Miles whichever one is applicable. You are also free to browse availability without logging in. The best part is you can put tickets on hold for 5 days while you are thinking about it or booking another ticket for someone else, either from another account or standard purchase.

Here is an example scenario: You have 100K miles for 2 travelers and want to go to Europe on Spring Break. In the spring, each ticket only costs 40K miles. Select the flight/s you want but be flexible. From DFW, British Airways flies non-stop to LHR (London). From DEN, you may need to go through Frankfurt Germany. BA is a partner airline of AA. Currently, their flights show up on Your flight might end up with 40K DFW to LHR then a train ride to CDG Paris.

It also helps to plan your destination so you can strategize which airline/s you want to use so you can focus on that program. I use most of my miles to go to DFW so AA miles are useful. Marcel likes to go to Latin America so United miles work better for him. Each program has different partner airlines that is why it helps to know where you want to go.

Don’t forget to enjoy the amenities of the First Class Lounges at airports. My United credit card gives me this benefit even if I book on economy class. I also get free checked bags and many other perks.

I would love to answer your questions, just drop me a line. On my next article, I will write about other ways to earn miles.

For further reading, see the Cosmic Adventure blog.

Filed under: Family, Travel, Web |

Leche Flan (Caramel Custard)

Leche Flan

Leche Flan

Leche Flan is one of my favorite Filipino desserts. Unfortunately it is so high in cholesterol and sugar I rarely make it. An appearance is only warranted when we can share it with a hundred other people. This is not one of those times but I have some homemade ube (purple yam) ice cream sitting in the freezer waiting for a companion. I’m sure my co-workers would be happy to see something sweet on Monday.

Now I’m curious about the nutritional value of this recipe. I’ll tell you after you enjoy a slice ;-) Besides, I like eating real food in moderation rather than counting calories.

Caramelizing Sugar

Farm-Fresh Eggs | Caramelizing The Sugar

Leche Flan
Adapted from various family and friends

1/4 cup sugar
8 egg yolks
1 x 14 oz can condensed milk
1 x 12 oz can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– Baking pan 9″ or 8″ round (Note: You could possibly ruin this pan when caramelizing the sugar. Keep this in mind as you might have to designate it for this purpose)
– Steamer big enough for the round pan to fit in

1. Pour sugar on the round baking pan.
2. Heat the baking pan directly on medium heat until the sugar starts to caramelize. Using kitchen tongs, swirl the pan to create an even layer. Let cool.
Caution: The pan could get very hot. Use kitchen tongs and/or pot holders. Keep the pan moving to keep the sugar from getting burned.
3. Mix egg yolks, condensed milk, and evaporated milk in a bowl using a wire whisk until smooth. It is not necessary to use an electric mixer.
4. Pour and strain the mixture into the cooled round pan.
5. Cover tightly with aluminum foil making sure the top is not touching the mixture or you will have an unwanted crater.
6. Steam for about 30 minutes. The flan is done when a fork inserted in the middle comes out clean. It will have the consistently of gelatin but will firm up while cooling down.
7. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. To serve, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the flan. Place a serving platter with the top down on the baking pan. Turn upside down and slowly lift the baking pan to release the flan.

Cooking Notes:
1. I use a steamer pot but have heard people successfully use an oven for steaming. I have not tried it myself so hopefully Google can point you in the right direction.
2. I like to use farm-fresh eggs which are known to have a higher nutritional value than commercially produced ones and they taste so much better. You can tell by the color of the yolks. These were from a co-worker who has a chicken co-op in her urban farm.
3. Some canned condensed milk contain artificial ingredients. Pick one that contains only milk and sugar.
4. Some recipes call for whole eggs but I prefer egg yolks only for a creamier texture. I also think whole eggs make it taste “eggy”.

Heart Leche Flan

Cookie Cutter Leche Flan

Nutritional Value (Calculated from The Daily Plate):

Serving Size: 1/16th
(Normally it would be 1/8th but this is richly satisfying you won’t need that much)
Calories: 140
Fat: 5.6 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams
Protein: 5 grams

If you have similar recipes or have any questions about the recipe please post it in the comments section.

Filed under: Art, Baking, Family, Foodie |

Abby and Ethan’s Corner

With all the technology available today, we are able to stay in touch with family as if we all live in the same town. My nieces and nephews are a source of joy and laughter so I am starting a series to feature them. This is a guest post from my brother Eric who writes about 3-year old Ethan. The artwork above was a masterpiece created by Abby.

Over the years the kids have provided us a hearty laugh over the things that they say or do. Here are some anecdotes I’ve been able to recall. We’ll start with Ethan.  This boy is really something else.

Upon turning 3, Ethan somehow got into thinking that he is more mature than we give him credit for. One day at the local play area another boy referred to him as a “baby”. Ethan with personality that matched his dad, blurted back… “I’m not a baby! I’m a kid!”

One day I asked Ethan “What are you going to do if a bad guy comes into the house?”  Ethan full of confidence stated “I will hit him on the leg with my bat then Abby will come and sing “Do you want to build a snowman…(from the movie Frozen)!”.

Whenever Ethan starts getting tired and ready for bed he would ask his mom to sing.. “Meme na Ethan, Meme na baby boy, Meme na Witheart.” You’d better get it right because he will set you straight!

One day Abby and Mom were having a discussion. Ethan interrupts and says “then you will say Lupra”.   The next most logical question then is… What in the heck is “Lupra”?   Ethan brimming with certainty says “Oh it’s Chinese!”

One day while waiting in the car for mom who was grocery shopping I tried to engage the kids in a conversation to alleviate some of the boredom. I said to them “Mommy is taking too long. Let’s go home”. NO!!! Mommy can’t walk that far!  Said the kids in unison. Ethan still furious that I would even consider leaving mom at the store says “How about you stay here Daddy?” I responded that it’s too far from home. “You can walk Daddy” Ethan says.

One day Abby was whining about something and was getting to be really irritating. It seemed like Ethan was getting irritated as well. Ethan with no warning slaps (gently of course) his sister in the face and says “snap out of it!”   Once we were done laughing we asked him where he learned that. He says “Oh I saw it on the Bee Movie”.

How fun it is to remember these anecdotes as they grow up!

Filed under: Art, Family, Travel |

Tiramisu Cupcakes

This is a re-post from my former food blog Purple Yamhill. I finally decided that I am not cut out for food blogging. I like the freedom of writing about anything and everything I can think of rather than about just one topic.
Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts but whenever I order it in a restaurant, there is usually something not right about it. By this I mean my personal preferences, not an error or lack of skill on the pastry chef’s part.  My typical complaints are – not enough espresso, the cream is too sticky or thick, maybe the ladyfingers are dry. I’ve had some awesome ones in Italy but this recipe is not meant to be authentic. It is simply what I like.
Although it involves a lot of steps, my version of tiramisu is still fairly easy to make. This recipe was inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in the book Baking: From My Home to Yours. There is barely a resemblance but this one is just as delicious.
I like soaking the cupcakes in a lot of espresso – two tablespoons each. They are barely held together by the liners but this makes for a moist cake without falling apart.
I used Wilton tip #1M to frost the cupcakes this time but I had to make another bowl of frosting as there was not enough. Usually, I would frost them with a spatula at about 0.75 ounces each. Two portions of frosting makes a lot so feel free to pile it on.
My co-worker Joyce let me borrow her craft punches so I can make the heart-shaped toppers. I had so much fun cutting them!
I made a lunch portion for my husband on Valentine’s Day using the tops I scraped off the cupcakes. As always, he loved it.

Tiramisu Cupcakes
Adapted from Baking: From My Home To Yours
Makes 24

Any yellow cake recipe that yields 24 cupcakes. Smitten Kitchen made a version of this.
I am happy with Dr Oetker’s Organic Vanilla Cake Mix. It tends to be on the dry side so it holds up very well to the espresso.

4 shots of espresso (1 ounce each) or more up to 8 shots
10-12 ounces of water
2 tbsp rum (or similar)
1 tbsp cane sugar
Note: All of the above should add up to 16 ounces or 2 cups of liquid. I have an espresso machine at home so I gauge the proportions by color.

Mascarpone Frosting:
Note: Double the portions if you want to use a decorative tip or like lots of frosting. The original recipe instructs you to add espresso but I like to keep the white color for contrast.
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
8 ounces heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp rum (optional)

4 ounces 70% Dark Chocolate coarsely chopped
Alternatively, you can use good-quality mini chocolate chips

Bake the cupcakes per the directions on the recipe.
Prepare the espresso mix by adding the sugar and rum to the espresso shots. Fill the rest of the 2-cup container with hot water.
Let the cupcakes cool completely.

Mix all frosting ingredients together on medium-high speed until light stiff peaks form. Some recommend that you whip the cream first but I’ve never had problems with it not setting up using my stand mixer.

To assemble:
Brush the cupcakes with the espresso mix. Use about two tablespoons each. Allow to cool completely.
Frost with the mascarpone mix using Wilton tip #1M or equivalent.
Top with the chopped chocolate.
Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld together.

TIP: I bake the cupcakes 1-2 weeks in advance and freeze them in airtight bags. I brush them with espresso, frost them, and top with chocolate the night before the event. They rest in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to meld together.

Filed under: Art, Baking, Cupcakes, Family |

Travel Hacking Part I – Earning Miles

Machu Picchu

Marcel and I earn a lot of airline miles without actually flying. As a result, we rarely have to pay for tickets these days. Many friends and family have asked me about this and I finally got a chance to write some things down about how we do it. Enjoy!

Summary: Travel hacking is a way to travel at a significantly low cost using miles and points earned mostly without actually flying.
Some people get really serious and earn millions of miles. We try to maintain a hundred or two hundred thousand miles with minimal effort.
Personally, I just enjoy accumulating miles like a savings account.

Here are some reference websites but if you get overwhelmed with all the information, skip them for now and read our method below.×5/beginners-guide-to-travel-hacking/

for inspiration and ideas

to find the latest deals

forum for general questions

This is how we did it for the last 2-3 years:

1. We signed up for two frequent flyer programs to access the most frequently used airlines.
American Airlines with partners listed here:
United Airlines with partners listed here:
The partner airlines are very important because you can redeem your miles from any of the listed airlines.

2. We checked out the best credit card deals that would give us miles on either American or United. We both applied for a card each but with some spending requirements you may have to spread it out.
For example:

Chase Sapphire (points transferrable to United)
Earn up to 45,000 bonus points – 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months and an additional 5,000 bonus points when you add an additional cardholder and make a purchase within the first 3 months.
In this example, you might need to wait until you meet the $3000 requirement before applying for another card. If you can spend $6000 in 3 months then feel free to apply at the same time.

Rinse and repeat the above 2-3 times per year or more and you will have 100K to 200K miles or more. In the fall, British Airways offers the best deal – 100,000 miles sign-up bonus. Again, you can use the said miles on any of the partner airlines. And yes, you can buy multiple tickets for a family from one account. This should not affect your credit score. Ours were not affected, even after we closed some due to the annual fee the 2nd year.

NOTE: Most annual fees are waived the first year. Before it renews, call them and ask them to waive the fee. On one of our cards the Citi AA, they waive the fee every year if we use the card 3 times a month.

3. Other ways to earn miles:
United Shopping Assistant – Click on the link within the United website, shop online using your United credit card to earn miles, pick up the item at the store or ship it.
For example: I bought a laptop for $450 from Best Buy. At that time, they have a 3x program. I earned 1350 miles. Some stores do 6x miles.
Dining – One time registration of your card on the United website and every time you dine at one of the listed restaurants, you automatically earn points. Usually 3x.

4. Other benefits: My United credit card gives me priority boarding, free checked bag, and free access to the first class airport lounge (2 passes per year), just by having the card. Some of these lounges have spas! All free. No kidding.

5. Hotels: We did not sign up for any as we prefer low-grade hotels such as Comfort Inn etc. If you like luxury, apply for the Starwood Card which gives you access to the Sheraton family of hotels. The bonus points of 25K will give you about 5 nights free.

With a little work, you will be traveling in style – for free! Just make sure your credit card spending is under control.

Next time I will describe how we redeem miles. The idea is you want to maximize the valuation of the miles. Stay tuned…

Disclaimer: Travel hacking is not for everyone. Make sure you read the fine print. Your mileage may vary.

See Travel Hacking Part II – Redeeming Miles

Filed under: Family, Travel |

Salty’s on the Columbia River

Last weekend we were on a hunt for seafood. Marcel’s mom who is currently working in Portland this winter was looking for a good place for dungeness crabs. That is always a tough question for us because there is none in the sense of what people imagine to be a good seafood restaurant. When we visit her in Florida, there are fish restaurants everywhere. My idea of a seafood restaurant is some kind of shack where they serve the catch of the day etc. The closest one we found in Oregon was Tony’s Crab Shack in Bandon. Sure, there are places like Jake’s Famous Crawfish, McGrath’s, SouthPark etc. but to me they feel like restaurants you can find anywhere in the country except that maybe the salmon and dungeness crabs are fresher. In which case, you still have to pay a lot of money. So, our favorite way to enjoy seafood is to cook it at home. I like to get live crabs from Uwajimaya where they have them all year round. They have three sources – Alaska, Oregon, and California depending on the season. We also like the wild Copper River Salmon from Alaska which Costco sells occasionally. Albacore Tuna is readily available in Astoria, OR. Marcel once had tuna fish and chips there and it was excellent!

We went back and forth picking a place but finally decided on Salty’s since it has a nice ambiance and view.

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Complimentary House-made Potato Chips.

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Lobster Bisque

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Calamari, Crab Cakes, and Coconut Shrimp

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Fish and Chips

Not shown here, we also had some seafood chowder and dungeness crabs. We had a nice leisurely meal on a Saturday and hope to find more places like it.

If you are looking for the best Fish and Chips in town, head over to the Frying Scotsman food cart.

Do you know of any good seafood places in Portland?

Filed under: Family, Foodie, PDX local, Travel |