Friday, March 30, 2012

Lemon Squares

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When I think dessert, I think chocolate. Whatever dessert you bring me, it has to have chocolate in some forms. Except for pies, cobblers, crisps...or anything with fruits. But please, no chocolate ice cream, that's just too much chocolate. Dessert is complicated.

I have never been a fan of lemon squares (or lemon bars), simply because the ones I ever had came from a box and loaded with sugar. Nothing kills it more than artificial lemon flavor.

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Just so happened that lemon squares are one of Jake's favorites.
I made these squares with fresh lemon juice, zest, and more than half of the sugar.
The zing and tang reminds me of Summer.
I guess I could live without chocolate for a day.

Here is my pre-race night dinner. Homemade cheese pizza with broccoli.

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Pizza and lemon squares, I am ready to run.

Lemon Squares
(Recipe adapted from

1 all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/3 cup lemon juice (about juice of three lemons)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

  1. To prepare crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Stir flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Use a pastry blender, mix in butter, oil and lemon zest until blended and crumbly. Press the dough in an even layer in the prepared baking pan. Bake the crust until firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.
  3. To prepare filling: Whisk sugar, lemon zest and juice, eggs, and flour in a medium bowl until smooth. Pour evenly over the hot crust.
  4. Bake until set, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, at least 2 hours. Cut into squares with a lightly oiled knife. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Day In Life

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Lately I have been on a blogging block. I have good reasons though. First, I did my last long run today before the big race on Saturday. Now it's resting time, I worry that I don't hydrate properly on race day morning or that there is not enough portapotties and I will miss start time because I'm in the long line to go do you-know-what.

Second, the long wait for the internship match day is Sunday evening and I keep thinking the "what-ifs".

Third, I have been catching up on The Killing and Downton Abbey, two excellent shows with great characters and dialogues.

Finally, my master's graduate oral examination is coming up and I am trying to plow through four 2-inch binders of notes. Here I am, reviewing vitamin B6 deficiency and increase risk of cardiovascular disease with my hand-drawn chart above.
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It's interesting how the third item is taking priorities over the others.

Between all these things to-do, I made tuna salad.

Oh yes, tuna salad sandwich with provolone, tuna salad on crackers, tuna salad with veggies...

Perfect lunch for me to take a break from studying and worrying while I finish another episode of The Killing.

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Happy Hump Day

Simple Tuna Salad
Three 5oz tuna in water, drained
2 stalks celery, finely diced (or one stalk if you don't care for the crunchiness)
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup light mayo (or less, depending on your taste)
1 tablespoon capers with juice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything in a mixing bowl. Add more mayo if you like it more on the creamy side. Season with salt and pepper. Easy and simple. Serve on anything you can think of.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gardening 2012

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I absolutely love the wide aperture function and the ability to capture subjects in low light with the 35mm f/1.8 lens, but I am still having some problems getting up close. Thank goodness for those photo pros and geeks at Flickr that I am able to get to the bottom of this.

It turns out, there is a thing called minimum focus distance (great and simple explanation at This means the shortest distance at which the lens can focus on, starting from the camera body to the subject. The thing with prime lens (i.e. no zoom) is that I have to move around to get my subject in frame and in focus. One suggestion I got from some expert on Flickr is that I should try manual focus instead of auto. Eh. So I spent the afternoon mastering manual focus.

Cherry tomato seedling here.

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Thanks to the warm spring, I planted the vegetable seeds last week. The beans and herbs I started almost a month ago, pretty soon I will have some strawberries.

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This would be my second year gardening with containers. I have not only learned how to minimize soil spillage on to my neighbor below, but also how to produce vegetable efficiently in my small balcony. My unique vegetable of this year is tomatillo, though I am having trouble finding the seeds. Till then, I will keep photographing these seedlings with manual focus.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Spring!

This morning you might have seen this crazy girl dancing on the streets before sunrise, that's might be me celebrating the first day of Spring.

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Although with this 80s weather, it feels like August.
I have already started my vegetable garden on the balcony.
Here's my new friend Gnomeo Bucky standing next to the bean seedlings.

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My street is filled with these blossoms, the cause of my allergies.
Let's just say I had a box of kleenex with me when I took these pictures (ok, maybe not the whole box).

Happy Spring!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Training - II

Remember when I started training for the Keeneland Half Marathon back in January? Now I am in week 11 of the 12-week training program, this means the race is in two weeks. Yesterday I ran the whole course again and plus more, a total of 14 miles. I thought I almost died. It was the hardest route I have ever done. Praise the Kentucky rolling hills for its beauty, but there is nothing worse than running through the hills. I started out in Keeneland and followed the country roads with my little sweat-drenched road map. The weather was gorgeous but too hot for running long distance. I ran past horse farms after another, beautiful horses and their foals watched me, the crazy running girl. The whole time I thought it would so nice to take my camera for the run, or maybe I could get a water bottle with a camera attached to it.

Thank goodness for these magical glucose instant energy packs.
(Not an advertisement for GU Energy Gel, I am just simply saying how much I appreciate them)

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While running, I kept thinking why am I doing this? What is the point to all this pain and agony?
After 1 hour and 50 minutes, I was so happy to see my car.
Yes, water.
Yes, food.
Yes, I can finally stop now.

New running shoes. I am a stickler for brand-loyalty.
These new babies are Asics Gel-2160 (newer version is 2170).

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One and half more weeks of intense training then the real test starts early Saturday morning end of this month.

Yes, I can push through this.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Camp Nelson

On this gorgeous Saturday morning, we went to Camp Nelson just a 30 minutes drive South from us. It was a civil war era enlistment center for African-American soldiers as well as a refugee camp for African-American civilians. It was also one of Kentucky's largest supple depots and hospitals. Unfortunately none of the structures from the time survived, there were only signs and flags marking where things would be.

This is where Fort Jackson was.

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Lola, I mean O'Lola, wears her green proudly

At first I thought this was one of the buildings for civilians to live in, turned out it was a storage shed.
Apparently bed bugs was a big problem back then, people would wake up with blood on their chest as if they were sleeping with someone else in the bed. Routine cleaning was done on beds and living quarters, but during the day when the bed bugs are in hiding. Yuck!

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A reconstructed fort.

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By the way, Happy St. Patrick's Day!
While walking through the fields at Camp Nelson, I tried to find a four-leaf clover. Not much luch today. I remember the college days when St. Patty's day was a good excuse to stay up until 4am consuming lots of green beverages (not green tea!). Today it means a trip to McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake. Tonight I am having chicken soup with cabbage and apple (click for recipe) and this is as Irish as I am going to be today.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Photo Pal

This is my lovely friend Robin.
I met her last year when I just started my graduate courses.
I envy her awesome Nikon D7000, I offered an even trade with mine but she refused.

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We are photo pals.
Robin and I met up this afternoon at Ashland Henry Clay Estate to take pictures.
The weather has been crazily warm today with perfect light for outdoor shoots.

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These were taken with my new prime lens.
It does take a while to get used to the fact that I can't zoom in or out.
However, I love the details and colors in the photos.

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I have never gone on a photography session with anyone before.
It's interesting to see what others see as photogenic material in an area that I don't.
Robin took pictures of everything, like the design and hinges of a door or the texture of building sides. Things that I never once consider as "pretty".

Beauty is everywhere, it's only a matter of where you point your lens at.
That's what makes our photos define us.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012


Today I woke up at eight a.m....I mean nine a.m. Since then, I have been trying to find ways to get my hour back. Sunday mornings are special breakfast days, and today is whole-wheat pancake with homemade strawberry jam. By the time we finished breakfast and read the Sunday paper, it was already eleven. We then headed out to the Arboretum and enjoyed the gorgeous mid-60s weather.

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Where I spotted these!

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Wheeeeee! Spring is here!! Yipeeeeeeeeee!

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When we got home it was already one p.m. I planned on making birthday dinner and a birthday cake for my love one tonight. I spent probably three hours today in the kitchen trying to make magic. I managed to squeeze in lunch and watch the second half of Kentucky Wildcats SEC Championship.

I could really use that hour.

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I made Beatty's Chocolate Cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. After frosting and cleaning up the kitchen, I had to do my Sunday long run and then take the dog out for afternoon walk. By the time I was done with all that I needed a shower and get the meatloaf and asparagus into the oven. So where is this hour??

It turned out, dinner was delicious and so was the cake. We sang "Happy Birthday" and opened presents, and after I did the dessert dishes I realized it was only eight-thirty p.m. Whee! I am a superwoman (well, sort of). I even got time to blog and look at my pictures.

This was my busy Sunday. I enjoyed it like every bite I took of my chocolate cake. Even without that hour.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Homemade Oreos

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When my sister and I were little, we LOVED Oreos. So my mom, being a smart woman she is, bought boxes and boxes of snack-size Oreo packs for us to bring for lunch everyday. This went on for a few years, three Oreos for every lunch.

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Needless to say, that few years of Oreo overdose nearly made me not want to eat another Oreo for the rest of my life. Well, maybe not the rest of my life, but until a few years ago I was able to eat Oreo again.

It is still my favorite store-bought and packaged cookie.
It is the only ingredient that I will allow in my dessert, especially in vanilla custard from Culver's.

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A couple days ago was the beloved Oreo's 100th birthday.
I thought I would celebrate the birthday by making a homemade version of it.

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They turned out deliciooous! I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, the chocolate wafer came out a bit greasy. The cream, on the other hand, was the best part of all.

Homemade Oreos
Makes 30 to 35 cookies
(Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate wafers:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

Cream filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

1. Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, add egg. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients into butter/sugar mixture on slow speed. Continue to mix until dough comes together in mass.
2. Scope dough rounded teaspoon size and place on greased cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Slightly flatten the dough with palm of hand.
3. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes.
4. To make cream, place butter and cream in a mixing bowl. Mix at low speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract.
5. To assemble cookie, use a butter knife and spread teaspoon size cream evenly on one cookie then top of with another cookie. Continue to do this until all cookies have been sandwiched with cream filling

Happy 100th Birthday, Oreo!

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p.s. As you can see, I am still a kid at heart. Milk my Disney mug and cookies on the side just before bedtime.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Winter Wonderland

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I never thought we would get a snow "storm" in March. All it took was four inches of snow to get school to be canceled.
Just as I was getting excited to take tons of spring bloom pictures, I got something better.
It was the most beautiful sight to wake up to.
Fluffy white snow and clear blue sky.

A winter wonderland in March.

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Probably being part husky, Lola LOVES snow and the cold.
We had breakfast in a hurry then got dressed in snowpants that we haven't wore since moving from Wisconsin. We walked around the neighborhood and in the snow for an hour this morning, and Lola would stop every steps to take laps of snow. The snow reminded me of living in Wisconsin and we would be cross-country skiing now.

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Today was the best Monday I have had for a long time.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

All American Apple Pie

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I submitted my dietetic internship application about a month ago, it has been a long waiting game. While I am awaiting for interview opportunities, I am also thinking the what-ifs. The half-marathon training helps me think of the positives, that someday I can achieve my goals. Cliche, but true. Last Sunday I ran the entire race course, along the beautiful Bluegrass country roads and horse farms. I was pretty proud of myself for finishing the entire course of rolling hills. However, I did not enjoy the sore quads followed by few days later.

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Last week I got a bag of granny smiths at the grocery store. I feel like bags of apples could be hit or miss, and this time it was a miss. I used the apples to make an all American apple pie. I found this magical, flaky, and rich pie crust recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

Note to self: cut the butter more next time!

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 The pie tastes like Heaven.

Apple Pie Filling
2 to 3 lbs green apples (or other tart apples), core and slice to 1/4 inch thickness, cut the slices in halves.
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Let mixture sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Prepare bottom pie crust in a 9-in pie pan and pour apple mixture in. Cover mixture with the top pie crust (lattice, whole piece, or which ever design; make sure to cut openings for steam to escape through). Bake at 425 degrees for 45-55 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream.

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