Hello!  Sorry my blogging has been sporadic!   We just got back from a two week trip to North Carolina (visiting Duke University and the outerbanks) and Southern California. It was a special birthday trip for my twin sister and I, made even more fun that we brought our kids and hubbies along.   Zoey completed her 21st flight and has been quite a trooper with all the flying, driving, unusual sleeping arrangements and interruptions to her daily routine.  One day I plan to blog about some tips for traveling with young children.  Not that I am an expert or anything.   We’ve had many meltdowns and tears (mine, not Zoey’s) on these trips but afterwards, I’m always so glad that I pushed myself to go on these adventures.   I still get super nervous about traveling with a now very active toddler, but the more prepared I am and the more often I do it, the more confident I become and the more willing I am to jet off again.  Plus, Jeff and I love traveling and we want Zoey to experience new things! She loves it, too!

On this past trip, we flew across the country from San Francisco to Raleigh/Durham, which is a really long almost 6 hour flight.  The longest flight before this was our flight to Hawaii  when Zoey was 13 months old, but somehow that flight seemed more manageable because Zoey was less mobile back then.   We are taking advantage of flying as much as we can  since she is under 2 years old and free but that means these long flights with an active toddler on my lap can be painful for all of us.  I try to stock our diaper bag with small, portable, quiet activities like books, finger puppets and animal cards, hoping that some of them will hold her attention for more than a few minutes.  Recently, Zoey’s been showing an interest in drawing so for this past trip, I  made this portable chalkboard for her to doodle on:


This was the easiest, fastest and cheapest project I have ever done!   I used supplies that I already had and whipped it up in 5 minutes.  All I did was stick chalkboard contact paper (which I already had from making chalkboard frames from Zoey’s 1st birthday party) on top of a piece of thick cardboard.  I think the cardboard I used was from the bottom of a box and the perfect size.  You can also use foam core or whatever light but sturdy material you have around the house.

I wrapped the contact paper around the edges of the cardboard:



Then I took a piece of chalk and “seasoned” the surface:chalkboard_portable2

Wiped it off with a damp cloth and it was done!

We have a bunch of store-bought heavy chalkboards around our house but the beauty of this homemade version is that its portable and I don’t care if it gets damaged or lost on our trip.  The chalkboard is thin and lightweight and slipped easily into our diaper bag.  I just added a little box of chalk to go with it and this simple project kept Zoey entertained on the plane for a good chunk of time.  Here she is doodling on our flight to North Carolina:


You can see that Zoey also started drawing on my jeans but whatevs! I’m just glad she was happily occupied for a few minutes and not yelling “Outside?! Outside?! UP!!! All done!”

She also played with it on the 4.5 hour drive from Raleigh to the outerbanks and it kept her busy at restaurants, too!

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Parents of picky eaters unite!!  If you’ve spawned an offspring who refuses to eat and try new foods, I feel your pain!  I know your frustration because I have one of the pickiest toddlers when it comes it eating.  Especially worrisome is that Zoey is now hovering at 2% in weight and I fear she will probably fall off the charts at her next checkup.   The girl only wants snacks.  Sigh.  I kid you not, the moment her eyes open in the morning, the first thing that comes out of her tiny mouth is “Elmo?!!”  accompanied by frantic pointing to the television.  Once she is settled on the couch watching her favorite fuzzy red creature, she will then demand “SCHNACK!”.  This all starts at 5am in the morning, every morning, so in my bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived state, I have absolutely no willpower against this pint-sized firecracker so I cave and give her a little container of processed food so that I can snooze for a few more minutes.   Her love of snacks is especially aggravating to me when it seems to me like I spend my whole day either feeding her (or more likely begging her to eat), shopping, cooking or cleaning up after her untouched meals, all of which I try to make homemade, organic and free of sugar.   Anyone else out there relate?!

Our recent battle has been getting Zoey to drink cow’s milk.   This on-going saga has now stretched to a 4 month-long war.    She hates milk.  She spits it out, dumps it out, tosses cups of it on the floor.  I ‘ve tried every possible way to give milk to her- warmed up, cold, with strawberries blended, mixed with ovaltine, chocolate milk, in a smoothie, in a sippy cup, in a training cup, in a straw cup….. none of which have worked.    She’s starting to come around but its been a hard fought battle starting from her first birthday.  After 16 months, I’ve officially weaned Zoey (hooray!) and one of my fears is that she is not getting enough dairy in her diet.  She refuses cheeses and regular yogurt so one way for me to get more calcium into her  is to spin some yogurt in our icecream maker until its thick and creamy.  I then tell her she is eating “ice-cream”.   Kid falls for it every time.  She does not like yogurt but she sure loves her ice-cream!  It’s kind of like how I have to get creative with tricking getting Jeff to eat his vegetables ;)


Making froyo at home is super simple and requires very little ingredients, unlike making ice cream.  I blogged a whole series on my adventures in ice-cream making which not only requires a lot more ingredients but also involves a complicated, time-consuming custard making process.   Froyo is super easy, just throw in store bought yogurt into the icecream maker.   (You can also make your own yogurt to use, too.  I’ve tried making homemade yogurt before, using these instructions, but every time, it just wouldn’t thicken enough and the whole idea of live bacteria cultures freak me out.)  I wrote about making homemade tart & tangy frozen yogurt (similar to Pinkberry’s) last year.   This time, I decided to make plain vanilla froyo, which is a similar process but minus the sugar.

All I did was buy a 32 oz carton of vanilla yogurt:



I whisked in some pureed fresh strawberries into the mixture so that Zoey would get more fruits into that belly of hers:froyo_strawberry1 froyo_strawberry2

Then throw it into my cuisnart ice-cream maker for 20 minutes:

You can see how in just 20 minutes of churning, the yogurt turned all creamy, smooth and fluffy.  Yum!


I like to serve my homemade froyo immediately because the consistency at this point is a lot like soft-serve.  You can also freeze for enjoying later or freeze into popsicle molds, but it does harden a lot and you have to thaw a little bit to be able to scoop it out.    It’s much better when its soft and fluffy!

And Zoey gobbles it all up!   She loves her “ice-cream”!


Look at that happy face!

Click on the photo below to see how to make tart & tangy pinkberry-style froyo!




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Yesterday, I shared how I made a sushi cake for my friend’s birthday.  Today, I’m sharing how to make its equally yummy counterpart- a sashimi tarte! sashimitarte_title

If you haven’t read the sushi cake post (part 1),  click on the photo below to read that post first because it explains the basic ingredients and techniques that I used to make these “pastries”:


Unlike the triple layered sushi cake, the sashimi tarte is a single layer of rice and a single layer of sashimi on top.   I used another cake stand as the platter for this “tarte”.  Because this sashimi tarte is flatter and I wanted it to be easy to cut and serve, I first made a seaweed base layer:


The seaweed base keeps the rice from sticking to the cake platter.  I pieced together several pieces of seaweed and used the ring of the springform pan as a circle outline.  I used a pair of kitchen scissors to roughly cut out the circle shape.

As with the sushi cake, I used the ring of a springform pan wrapped in plastic wrap as a mold.  I put it on top of the seaweed base and spread  a layer of rice inside it.  Then I pressed the rice down with my hands, using a sheet of plastic wrap on top so that the sticky sushi rice didn’t stick to my fingers:


The rice layer should be pretty dense and even:



I removed the springform pan mold and then came the fun part:  layering on lots of delicious sashimi:


I used salmon and tuna sashimi to make a fun, colorful design on top of the rice.  I got my fresh sashimi from San Francisco’s Japantown grocery store.  I would be cautious buying raw fish from any sketchy places.  The sashimi is normally sold in a large block and slicing it up is a lot of work, I’m not going to lie.  Make sure you use a really sharp knife and slice perpendicular to the “grain” of the fish. Or rope your husband into doing it for you. *wink*  Also, when working with raw fish, be careful not to contaminate anything, wash your hands a lot and work quickly.  Keep the fish refrigerated until you need to use it and serve the dish immediately.

I ended up with this design on top:


I used sliced avocado to make a little rose in the center:sushitarte4

I contemplated leaving the rose as is, but since I had a lot of fish roe, I scooped some of the ikura roe into the center:sushitarte5

I’m sure you can come up with all sorts of creative, pretty designs on top.  I was trying to work as fast I as I could since I didn’t want the fish to sit out unrefrigerated for a long time.  I was also frantically trying to finish this during Zoey’s nap time so it wasn’t perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it.  I love how colorful this turned out!


It’s really fun working with food!  You can really make a lot of foods into a cake form.  Once, I made a meat cake for one of my meat loving guy friends.  It was meatloaf on the inside with mashed potato frosting on the outside.  Ketchup was used as icing.  There are so many possibilities!

I hope you enjoyed these tutorials on how to make a sushi cake and a sashimi tarte!



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Jeff’s super lucky because since we moved out to San Francisco 2.5 years ago, a bunch of his close guy friends have joined us over in the bay area.  One of them is his college twin and roommate Alan, who moved out here with his wife just a few months after us.  Alan really looks just like Jeff, just a skinnier version.  True story, Jeff was mistaken for Alan at Alan’s wedding, by his wife!  Alan’s birthday was over the weekend, so I celebrated by making him a sushi cake and tarte!!    He is a sushi lover and we often double date at Japanese restaurants together so I thought this would be a fun, delicious way to make him a special “birthday cake”, made entirely of traditional sushi and sashimi ingredients.  I ended up making him a cake and a tarte, enough to feed four people for lunch.  The sushi cake is three layers and the tarte is flatter.

The beauty of these “sushi pastries” is that they can be made in so many ways.  They can as fancy or simple as you want, involve raw or cooked  ingredients, multi-layered or single layered and the sheer variety of ingredients that you can use allows you to be really creative! There are so many options!  For the cake and tarte pictured, I used these ingredients:

sushicake_ingredients1 sushicake_ingredients2


  • Cooked sushi rice seasoned with a dash of rice vinegar and a couple pinches of white sugar. Sushi rice is short grain and stickier than other types of rice. Three cups of uncooked rice was just enough for these two cakes.
  • Seaweed sheets (nori) - bought at Asian grocery stores or even at the ethnic aisle of regular grocery stores. I buy mine at my local Safeway.
  • Condiments: sesame seeds, wasabi, mayo (I like the Japanese brand kewpie mayonnaise), siracha sauce for those who like spice, rice vinegar and sugar for seasoning the rice, soy sauce for dipping
  • Avocado & egg (I used 3 eggs to create an egg omelet)
  • Fish – raw tuna & salmon
  • Shellfish- precooked shrimp and imitation crabmeat
  • Roe- masago and ikura

These are the ingredients that I personally like in my sushi rolls so that is what I used but there are so many other ingredients  that you can use instead.  If raw fish isn’t your thing, you can also use baked salmon or canned tuna.  I actually made the cake with all cooked ingredients for any guests who may not like eating raw fish and the tarte is made of the raw fish.  Its nice to have a non-raw option for people.  Here is a list of other sushi ingredients that you can use, too.

With all the photos I took of this meal, I’m going to break this up into two posts.  Today, I’m going to show you how I made the triple-layered sushi cake. Tomorrow, I’ll explain the sashimi tarte!


For this sushi cake, I used a 12″ springform cake pan and a cake stand that I bought for the cookie bar at my wedding. The cake stands and platters I used for the cookie bar have really come in handy for fancy dinners and parties we have thrown in the past 3 years!


The springform pan is used to mold the cake.  I only used the outer ring, which I wrapped up in plastic wrap to keep the sticky sushi rice from sticking to the sides:sushicake4

Just make sure that you don’t cover the part where the latch is on the ring with plastic otherwise you won’t be able to release and open the ring later.

First, I made the fillings of the cake  which were to be layered between the rice layers.  The two fillings of this particular cake were made with imitation crab and shrimp, both which came pre-cooked.   For the crab filling, I shredded and then chopped up the crabmeat, then mixed with a little of kewpie mayo and masago roe.  This filling is similar to what you would get in a California roll.  For the shrimp filling, I peeled and chopped up with shrimp, then mixed with a little siracha sauce and mayo to create a spicy shrimp filling:


After the fillings were made, it was time to construct the cake!   I placed the ring of the springform pan on top of my cake stand and spread a layer of rice on the bottom.  In order for this cake to keep its shape, it needs to be tightly packed, so I pressed the rice down with my hand using a sheet of plastic wrap:



The plastic wrap keeps the rice from sticking to your hands. You can also use a rice paddle that is wet. The rice is so sticky, it can get messy really fast!!  You want to push the rice right up to the edges of the pan.  Make sure that its compact so that the rice is flat and dense, like this:sushicake6

Next, evenly spread the crab mixture across the rice:sushicake7

Spread another layer of rice over the crabmeat and press down with the plastic wrap again so that its compact. Next, spread the shrimp mixture across the second layer of rice:

Spread another layer of rice across the top of the shrimp and press down.  Once you have all your rice and fillings layered, gently release and remove the ring of the springform pan.  For this cake, I decided to cover the side of the cake with seaweed, so I cut strips of the seaweed with scissors and pressed into the side of the cake:



For the top of the cake, I made an egg omelet.  To make the egg omelet, I beat together 3 large eggs in a bowl, then slowly cooked on low heat on a greased frying pan, flipping it over when one side was cooked:sushicake1


Once the omelet cooled, I placed the egg omelet on top of the cake. The omelet wasn’t quite big enough to cover the entire cake, but that was fine because I layered sliced avocado all around the edges and it filled in the gaps:sushicake11



The flower garnish on top is made with shrimp and a dollop of wasabi paste:sushicake10
The fun part was decorating the cake!! The possibilities are endless!!  I can see so many ways to decorate and garnish the top: cut up strips of seaweed to spell a word, sliced cucumbers, sprinkled scallions,  sesame seeds, furikake mix…the sky is the limit.  One idea I had was to use the ikura roe (the bigger fish eggs)  to decorate around the exterior of the egg of the cake. They kind of look like orange “pearls” to me!


You can also use the mayo or siracha sauce to make elaborate designs on the top of the egg omelet.  I used siracha sauce to spell out Alan’s name:


I stuck a candle to the center of the cake and it was ready to go!!  A tasty, healthy, unique birthday cake for a dear friend of ours!



Tomorrow, I’ll share how I made the sushi cake’s counterpart- the sashimi tarte!




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Best Friends: Zoey & Rylie

by ilene on March 11, 2014 · 6 comments

in Uncategorized



My twin sister and her baby girl Rylie visited us last week!  They live down in Southern California so we are always so excited to see them whenever we can.  Our baby girls are only 6 months apart in age so its been a real joy raising them together.  Its been a lifelong dream of ours to have daughters together and we feel so blessed to share this experience with each other.  We hope that they will become BEST FRIENDS like their mommies when they grow up.   Zoey recognizes Rylie in photos and FaceTime and calls her “RyRy” while Rylie watches and giggles at Zoey and her silly antics.  Right now, they are too young to really play together but I think as they grow older, they will realize how special it is that they have each other.

I made them these matching shirts for Rylie’s visit!  I bought the blank long sleeve shirts at Baby Gap while they were on sale for $5/each and then ironed on the letters that I cut out using my Silhouette machine:


The back of the shirts say “Best” & “Friends”.  My sister and I had those trendy best/friend heart necklaces in 5th grade so I thought it’d be cute if our daughters had shirts like that.   I still have my half of the heart in my jewelry box at my parents’ house!bestfriends_shirts2

How cute are these cousins?!bestfriends_shirts3 bestfriends_shirts4 bestfriends_shirts5
Baby Rylie left last week and I miss her so much! She is the sweetest, cutest, happiest baby!


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