happy birthday, mom!

Dear Mom,

Happy birthday!

This mother’s day, I saw a lot of “omg, my mom was right about everything” posts circulating online. I’m reminded of this every single day. You were right about everything and I only have myself to blame!

But then, I got a small “win” this time. You said you didn’t want a birthday party this year while I insisted that I was going to host one. Granted, a part of me felt a tiny bit guilty because it wasn’t what you wanted. But sometimes your daughter knows best.

Then came the day of the party. You were constantly smiling and laughing when you saw people that care about us show up and you ended up having a great time at the party. We got to catch up with relatives and friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. So next time, trust me when I say I’m going to throw you a party.

For your tropical themed party, I made a chocolate cake, filled it with matcha buttercream, and decorated it to make it look like a pineapple. I’ve been wanting to make a pineapple cake in so long, ever since I saw Lyndsay‘s on Coco Cake Land. Of course, mine ended up looking nothing like her’s, but I had wanted it to! I ended up using a different star tip (by accident) to pipe. And then I really over-thought the leaves, I meant to do the simple leaf cut-out and stick, but went and tried something different. Regardless, Lyndsay inspires my cake creations a lot!

Pineapple Birthday Cake

I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe (as I did for Jackon’s birthday) because it stays incredibly moist and delicious even when I make it ahead of time.

Matcha Buttercream
Makes enough to fill a 6-inch cake

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3-4 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons matcha powder
2-4 tablespoons milk

  1. Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and icing sugar together.
  2. Add in the matcha powder and mix until combined.
  3. Work on the consistency of the buttercream by adding milk, one tablespoon at a time until it is smooth. If you accidentally make it too runny, just add more icing sugar to balance it out.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

I then made a vanilla buttercream and coloured it yellow. I piped on a thin layer to create the crumb coat. Got to cover that Frankenstein.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

Then used a star tip (1M) to pipe all over it.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

It ended up looking like ruffles than stars!

Pineapple Birthday Cake

But that’s ok, it still created a nice texture over the cake.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

Pineapple Leaves
Makes 1

1 sheet green foam
1 small plastic cup
tacky glue
elastic bands
1 pen or marker

  1. Give the sheet of foam a rinse. Because I bought it from the craft store, there was some glitter on it, plus, there could have been dust and dirt, so it’s always a good idea to wash something that is going to come near food. Lay it out to dry on a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Place the plastic cup upside down. Wrap the foam sheet around the top, mark it with a pen or marker where the sheet forms a complete circle. Cut out spiky shapes (unfinished triangles) to the place where you marked it.
  3. Add a line of glue to the bottom of the spiky crown you just cut out. Carefully place it around the top of the cup. Loop an elastic band around it to hold it into place while the glue dries.
  4. Measure out the circumference of the cup about half an inch down. Again, mark it with a pen and cut out the leaves. Attach it with glue and hold it in place with an elastic band. Repeat until you’ve covered the entire cup and when you reach the base. Set it aside to dry.
  5. Once the glue has dried, carefully remove the elastic bands.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

I ended up using new elastic hair ties because to my dismay, I only had one elastic band at home.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

There it is, in it’s crowning glory.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

I decorated mine by adding a green ribbon around and tied it off with a bow.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

I hope you have a great birthday, mom. I can’t wait to spend it with you today!

And I know you’re worried, but we’ll get through this week.

Pineapple Birthday Cake

Love,
Sylvia

kimchi udon

Dear Schumann,

I don’t know if you’d like this dish, but I suspect that you will because you hate mixing cold food with hot ones. And in this case, everything is the same temperature – hot kimchi and hot udon noodles.

I was also reminded of you because of your recent trip to Korea and Japan where you said that the food – and udon – was tastier over there. More importantly, how you said the udon there wasn’t round like the ones we buy in supermarkets here. Well, I didn’t find any flat udon noodles, but this recipe caught my eye and it was well worth it. I gave it two taste tests, each a week apart and have decided this deserves a spot in my meal planning repertoire.  Especially because it’s so fast and easy to make, perfect for busy week nights!

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Kimchi Udon with Scallions
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 2 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup kimchi, plus ⅓ cup kimchi juice
2 tablespoons gochujang
½ cup chicken broth
2-3 pre-portioned frozen udon noodles
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 tablespoon furikake

  1. Boil water in a large pot.
  2. Turn your stove on to medium-high heat and put in 2 tablespoons of butter, the kimchi, and gochujang. Let it cook for about 4 minutes, give it a stir occasionally.
  3. Add in the chicken broth and kimchi juice, bring the sauce to a simmer, about 3 minutes.
  4. When the water is boiling, put in the frozen udon and cook according to the directions on the package.
  5. Drain the water using a sieve when the udon is done cooking. Then transfer it into the sauce. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Toss and coat the udon in the butter and sauce for about 2 minutes.
  6. Divide into two bowls, top with egg yolk or sunny-side up egg. Sprinkle with scallions and furikake.
  7. Mix the egg yolk in to coat the udon. Enjoy!

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The egg yolk is probably the best part. The first week, I fried up sunny-side eggs because I didn’t want to waste the egg whites. It was just as good because there’s some nice crispy texture and creamy egg yolk to go with it.

The second week, I did just the egg yolk as the recipe instructed and found it heavenly too. The hot udon noodles were coated with the creamy yolk and was just as delicious. Howard, who doesn’t like runny eggs at all, had to agree that the yolk made the dish. Validation!

04_KimchiUdon

We’ve also been obsessed with furikake lately. It goes great on plain white rice and as a salt substitute. Instead of seasoning with salt and pepper, I’ve been using this sesame seed, seaweed, ground fish, sugar, and salt mixture.

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Next time you come over, I’ll make you this. I’m starting to keep frozen udon as a staple in my freezer now. I don’t know understand the ramen craze that much, but if udon started becoming more popular here, I could get on that train. So far, Inspire Restaurant‘s udon carbonara, Kinka Izakaya‘s kimchi udon, and MeNami‘s salmon cream udon and black sesame udon have me going back.

06_KimchiUdon

Sincerely,
Syl

not quite blackout cake

Dear Jackson,

Happy belated birthday!

Your dearest mom asked me to make you a birthday cake, since I did the same for your sister when she turned two. Between you and me, I think your cake turned out way better. That’s a win for being the second child, trust me. And it’s all due to the fact that I didn’t have to work with fondant – yay! Your godmother is a bit rusty working with fondant now since the cake trend moved away from that sugary dough.

When your mom showed me the image of Blaze and the Monster Machines, I was like hmmm why couldn’t you be into something simple like Pac-Man? That I can easily make. Luckily your mom came to the rescue and bought two Blaze toys and candied rocks for me. All I had to do was repay her kindness by making her favourite cake combination – chocolate and peanut butter. I then pitched the idea of making the outer later a blackout with crumbs to continue with our outdoor soil and rocks theme. She was all for it.

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So that is how I ended up baking the night before your birthday party. Three delicious chocolate cake layers cooling on the rack. The next morning, I whipped up some peanut butter buttercream (and perhaps did lots of taste tests with a spoon) and assembled your cake.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
(Makes three 9-inch layers)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have your three cake pans ready, line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2. This creates a lot of batter, so make sure your bowl is big enough or use an electric stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine.
  3. Pour in the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually add in the water. Then mix in the vinegar and vanilla extract. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended.
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Take them out and let them cool completely on a rack. These cakes are very soft, so use extra care!

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Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
(Makes enough to frost a two 9-inch layered cake)

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups icing sugar
⅔ cup smooth peanut butter

  1. Make sure your cream cheese and unsalted butter are at room temperature. Leaving it out for 1-2 hours will work too.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.
  3. Add in 2 cups of icing sugar, mix well. Add the remaining 2 cups of icing sugar and mix until combined. Add in the last cup of icing sugar and mix. Doing this in portions helps prevent the icing sugar from flying everywhere.
  4. Finally, add in the peanut butter and mix until the frosting is smooth.

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Jackson, when you’re older, you should make this for your mom. Just take the first layer of the cake and place it on a plate. Add a layer of peanut butter frosting on top, about 1-2 centimetres thick. Carefully place the second layer of cake on top to sandwich it. Again, top it off with frosting. Then add frosting on the sides of the cake and frost until the entire cake has been covered. The best part is that it doesn’t have to look perfectly smooth because it’ll be crusted with crumbs after.

To make the blackout crumb, take that third cake layer and put it in a bowl and use an electric whisk to break it apart. Stop when it looks like soil and gently pat it onto the sides and top of the cake.

Totally worth it. You were so thrilled with the toys on top of the cake. And you seemed to enjoy the cake, but I know your first love is JELL-O. Just like your godfather!

Sincerely,
Syl

puffy heart pancakes

Dear Laura,

You’re my first posted letter of the year! I’m so behind on writing you because January and February just flew by. I was sick the first and third week of the year and then so busy on all those weekends we hoped to go snow tubing. And of course you had your epic trip to Japan, which inspired these pancakes in the first place.

Remember when we attempted to make turnip cakes (lo bak go) for Chinese New Year and Richard was “working” and “planning” the trip? We watched so many YouTube videos that day and one of them was those fluffy Japanese pancakes. To my surprise, my mother-in-law found some cookie cutters that she didn’t use that week and one of them was the heart-shaped one.

My original plan was to do a Valentine’s Day post with these, but that so didn’t happen. I made them the week after and then you jetted off to have a fabulous adventure. I think I told you that not going with you will probably be one of my biggest regrets this year. But now that I know the outcome of that trip, it was probably best we weren’t there to spoil any of Richard’s plans! 😉

I really appreciated the call (sorry for screaming if you had the phone right up to your ear) and I am so happy and excited for you and Richard. My mom’s already asking me when the wedding will be. A little too soon to tell I think!

I hope we have brunch soon or maybe get together to make Vietnamese savory rolled cakes (Bánh cuốn) that my dad recently taught me. I think you and Richard will like them a lot. But for now, here’s how I made pancakes to pretend I was in Japan with you.

Japanese-Style Pancakes
Makes about 15 to 20 small pancakes
From POPSUGAR Food

2 large eggs
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons neutral oil

  1. Take out a blender and add in the milk (the original recipe called for buttermilk, but I didn’t have any), eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Blend on low until combined.
  2. Add in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Blend on low until combined, but don’t over mix.
  3. Preheat your pan on medium heat. I used my crêpe pan because I wanted the flattest surface for the cookie cutter to sit on. I didn’t want batter to leak out from the bottom.
  4. Use a silicone brush and coat the inside of the metal cookie cutter with a neutral oil like grapeseed (the original recipe called for vegetable oil). Also brush the surface of the pan with oil. Place the cookie cutter on the pan and carefully spoon in batter to fill in half of the cookie cutter. Any more and it’ll overfill when it expands.
  5. Cook for 3 minutes and then use a large spatula or pair of tongs to flip. Cook the other side for another 3 minutes.
  6. Remove it from the heat and gently nudge the pancake out, it should slide right out if you oiled the sides. Then repeat by brushing oil on the sides and placing it on the pan and filling it with batter.

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These little hearts go out for you!

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As you can imagine, because I only had one metal heart-shaped cookie cutter, this took me forever. Six minutes for each little pancake, but they do look so cute!

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They’re so small that you can fit a bunch of them in a handful, yet when I showed this to my mom, she sent me an exercise emoji. Mom!

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Ahh, I missed you so much! I can’t wait to see more photos from your trip. Tell Rich to post them now.

Sincerely,
Syl

gingerbread cookies

Dear Readers,

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all get to spend time with loved ones, family, and friends. Howard and I have been really fortunate this holiday weekend to share a meal with those we care about. We went over to a family friend’s house on Friday for a delicious pot luck. There were so many good laughs and sneaky behaviours during our board game session. Christmas Eve was spent with Howard’s family where we cooed and ahhed over our little nephew in between hot pot. At 21 weeks old, he’s already mastered rolling! Christmas Day, we’ll be going over to my parent’s house tonight. We’re also looking forward to New Year’s Eve where it’s been tradition for us to get together with our best friends.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

I won’t be seeing my colleagues for a week, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss them! This year, I made some Totoro gingerbread cookies to hand out as a token of my appreciation. The reactions were pretty priceless. I love how Totoro brings a smile to everyone’s face.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Did I mention that I have never made gingerbread before? I remember decorating it in grade one or two, our classroom smelled so good. But we never got to eat them because they were used as decoration in our class and were rock hard by the time I could take it home. I don’t think I’ve even eaten gingerbread in the last decade, but we had a fun work event this year where I was in charge of the gingerbread station – I got to teach people how to pipe and watch them ice their own gingerbread man. This really inspired me to make some at home.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

The ones at work were from Bobbette & Belle which everyone was raving how delicious they were, so I cracked open their cookbook and got baking!

Gingerbread Cookies
Makes about a dozen cookies
Recipe adapted from Bobbette & Belle: Classic Recipes from the Celebrated Pastry Shop

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup fancy molasses
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, (they also add ¾ teaspoon of baking soda, which I omitted), salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves – whisk!
  2. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Pour in the molasses and vanilla, beat until well blended. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until the dough forms. Take the dough out, flatten it into a disc shape, and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (I left it overnight).
  5. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut out your shapes (freehand or by tracing templates) or use a cookie cutter. Place on the parchment paper, leaving about an inch between each cookie.
  7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Allow the cookies to cool before transferring them to a wire rack. The cookies can be stores in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

I actually made the recipe twice so that I would have lots of dough to work with. I made Totoros, trees, penguins, and polar bears. Howard took the bulk of it to work to hand out to his colleagues.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

You guys, I haven’t made royal icing in so long (probably 7 years)! I went out to get some meringue powder since I just don’t feel right about using uncooked egg whites. You basically mix meringue powder, confectioner’s sugar, and water until you get the consistency you want. Less water if you want the icing stiffer for creating borders, more water if you want it runnier to flood the area. It’s a lot of guesswork and experience, because it’s based on the feel when you’re working with royal icing. I started with the drier icing to pipe designs and outlines. It also acts as a good glue at this point, so I used it to attach sprinkles. Flooding was a bit trickier, but I think I got the hang of it! If only my outlines were cleaner!

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Totoro is moderately easy to make. You pipe two eyes and insert a black/brown sprinkle in. Then pipe a nose and a small dot on the top of his head. Most people add a leaf on his head, but since it’s Christmas, Totoro got a holly. If you have red sprinkles and green Christmas-tree-shaped sprinkles, you’ll be able to make a holly. I outlined an oval for his belly and then flooded it with icing. When everything was dried, I drew on his belly marks with an edible colour marker. You could pipe them on with black icing, but I trusted myself with the marker more!

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

I experimented with a lot of designs on the Christmas trees. Some just got zig-zag’s, others were outlines, played around with the sprinkle ornaments, and even tried some snowy ones.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

What do you think? I eventually got bored of doing the same thing over and over again, hence the variety. I don’t know which one I like best.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Thank you again for following along this year! I’m hoping to do a bit more crafting and baking in 2017. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Sincerely,
Syl