Friday, December 19, 2014

Garlic Shrimp and Shaved Ice on Oahu

Guess where we just came back from? Yes, Oahu. Yes, again. We were only there last year. Just before we decided to move to the USA, actually. With everything that had happened since then, it feels like ages ago! Going to Hawaii is an easy vacation from where we live since it's only a 5 hr plane ride away and affordable. Plus it was great to leave winter behind and go back to summer for a week :)

Unlike most of our previous vacations, this trip wasn't planned out very much. We went back to the same resort and we were already familiar with a lot of the things and places on the island from our last trip. Basically, I went back to my old notes and decided we were going to do everything that we didn't have time to do last time we were there. Easy peasy. I updated the list of restaurants I wanted us to try and added the address for Costco, since we're members now.

The Beet Box Cafe once again did not disappoint. It always surprises me how great the food looks and tastes when it arrives at our table. I mean look at the place! It's a whole in the wall and everything about it feels a little dirty and uncomfortable. But the food is healthy and delicious. Just like last time, this was our first restaurant stop shortly after arriving on the island. Makes total sense for us to come here for a good hearty meal after not eating very well on the plane and travel here. We feel satisfied every time we leave :)

One of the restaurants we wanted to try last time was not open when we arrived on the last trip. It had such strange operating hours that I decided to write down all the operating hours for all the restaurants I had on my list. Hawaii is a bit weird that way. Then again, I tend to pick shrimp trucks, whole in the walls and odd places to eat since that seems to be where the locals eat too. Ha!

Garlic Shrimp at Tita's Grill.

Kalbi ribs.

So the restaurant we finally got to try in the North Shore was Tita's Grill & Catering. The best garlic shrimp we ever had! Omg. Sure we ate there late after a day of hiking and going to the beach but I actually had high expectations from the place. We made it just an hour before their closing and we sat outside eating in a covered lit area in the dark. We ordered three platters: the garlic shrimp, the kalbi ribs, and the combo with the garlic shrimp and poupou chicken (something like that). They were all delicious. For $13 to $15 a platter, all the portions were quite generous. The ribs reminded me of Korean barbecue ribs. The chicken was deep fried, boneless and also very tasty. The shrimp was large and amazing. It's not just the seasoning on them but they tasted sweet and fresh like they were cooked live. It reminded me of the time I used to go shrimping in Victoria late at night. We caught shrimp and then went back home to cook them right away in boiling water. That's all we did and they tasted amazing on their own. Nothing beats fresh shrimp! Tita's Grill & Catering is now our favorite shrimp stop on Oahu :) Oh and their Polynesian bread isn't bad either. We bought a loaf for our breakfast.

There are so many great hiking trails on Oahu. Many of the family friendly ones are on the east side like Koko Head Crater, Diamond Head, and Makapu’u Point Lighthouse. Fortunately for us, our new favorite shaved ice stop is also nearby :) Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha at the Aina Haina shopping center serves shaved ice with homemade fruit syrup. That's right! It's syrup made from fresh fruit and there are no artificial flavors or colors. It's a pretty simple concept really but so many shaved ice places still use the artificial stuff. The real stuff tastes way better. Uncle Clay's has all the great flavors as well. Not a gazillion favors like Matsumoto's Shave Ice but maybe a dozen of the most popular local flavors. We particularly liked pineapple, coconut, guava, strawberry and liliko'i (or passionfruit). They also have interesting flavors like green tea and chocolate. Toppings like fresh fruit, beans, mochi and ice cream also made an interesting treat with the shaved ice.

We were very fortunate to have a resort with a full kitchen. We went out to eat for the first few days but then ended up packing snacks and eating in our room for the rest of the week. It was really nice to just go to Costco and then come back to the resort and cook or barbecue our dinner. We met up with some friends and ate at their place one night and then invited them for a barbecue at our resort later in the week. We did the same thing on the last trip too! But with different friends. Lol.

Hawaii always makes a nice and relaxing vacation. Now we have friends with kids there too and that makes it all the better. It's great for my 6 year old to hang out with other kids when we go on vacation. But even without anyone though, he's perfectly happy swimming in the pool, snorkeling at the beach and playing in the sand all day long. Even in the winter. Those lucky Hawaiians!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Shaped Appetizer Platter

Now that we live in the USA, we get to celebrate American Thanksgiving in November as well as the usual Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Today, the kids are having their Thanksgiving feast at school. The teachers asked parents to bring in a snack to share with the class.

Most people that know me would expect me to bring in a dessert. I figured a lot of people would bring in dessert so I decided to bring in something else. Unfortunately, it's processed food but it is finger food material and I know the kids will eat it. I also wasn't in the mood to prepare anything that would take a long time. Yup, I was lazy!

I found tons of turkey shaped platters on Pinterest and thought they were adorable. The veggie platters are colorful and awesome but I think I could only serve them at home. I know for a fact that there are some pretty picky kids at school who just wouldn't eat that. I hate to waste food so I decided on a cheese, sausage, and cracker platter. Almost every kid will eat that, right? Except for the one vegan kid in my son's class.

I was inspired by this photo of a cheese and fruit platter I found on Pinterest. I thought it was well presented and it had good colors to represent the wings of the turkey. I didn't want to use fresh fruit because I wanted to assemble it the night before and I didn't want the platter to be wet and soggy. I did use a fresh pear for the turkey though since it was a great idea :) As I was slicing up the pear, I tried to keep it as dry as I could with paper towels.

Pear turkey

For the turkey, I bought the smallest pear I could find since I didn't want it to take up that much space on my platter. I ended up buying a tiny seckel pear. I cut out turkey legs out of a yellow carrot and the turkey beak out of an orange carrot. The red thing that hangs under the turkey's mouth (snood and wattle) was made out of soft strawberry licorice. I cut and banged it into shape :) I carved off a part of the pear so that the beak could sit securely in the pear. It worked out great too because the licorice was sticky and stayed on well. You can use anything similar like red fruit roll ups. I only had licorice at home. I made tiny slits in the upper left and right of the pear and carefully stuffed it with black sesame seeds for the eyes. My finished pear turkey was so cute :)

The platter consisted of Tillamook medium cheddar cheese, craisins, beef and cheddar sausage, and brown rice and flax seed crackers. I stacked up three chunks of cheese and secured it with a toothpick. I also stacked up 3-4 slices of sausage. I wanted to fit quite a bit on the platter so I had to make everything slightly high. The only way I could secure the craisins were to pour them in between the sausages and cheese. The crackers were lined upright so that they would be high and secure. Because of the unexpected height, I had to raise the turkey as well. I used the other half of the pear that I had saved and I cut off a bit of the bulge so that it could sit flat on the platter. I placed my pear turkey on top. Done! Although it was a little uneven here and there, I thought the whole turkey shaped appetizer platter looked pretty darn cool. And seriously, I don't think I could have packed more stuff onto this platter. For a cheese and sausage platter, it was getting pretty heavy! Lol.

Here was the finished product. Hope the kids love it!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lego Birthday Party with Lego Themed Cake, Games and More

Happy 6th Birthday to my little boy! Today is his birthday :)

This past weekend, we celebrated our son's 6th birthday with a Lego-themed party. It reminded me a lot of the construction party we had when he turned 4. There are so many cool ideas for these themes in terms of decorations, fun foods, and games. Because of this, we decided on another home based party so that we could customize it the way we liked. One of the moms commented on how brave I was for hosting so many kids at home! There's nothing easy about it but I think we pulled it off just fine. Now we have six years of hosting home birthday parties under our belt! :) We're practically experts. Lol.

Every time we throw one of these parties, we want to tell ourselves "never again!" Although super fun for the kids, it's exhausting and stressful for the host parents. Kind of like camping really. Ha ha, it's so true :) We did look into several birthday venues but they were so limited for times, number of kids, what they could do, and their no food policies were a big bummer. Plus, they're terribly expensive and some just didn't seem appropriate for a Lego-themed party. Of course there are perks to having a party outside of the home but a Lego party just seemed like it should be held at home. Our son has been playing with Lego since he was 2 or 3 years old and now just felt like a good time to have a Lego themed party with his friends.

I started thinking about the Lego party after Halloween. Halloween was crazy because this year I joined the Room Parents at school to plan the Kindergarten's class Halloween party. I had no idea what to expect since it was my first year but it turned out that I had to do way too much. It just ended up that way because other parents were busy but it kind of taught me a lesson in volunteering. Lol. After that, planning another party was the last thing on my mind. But I forced myself to work on the Lego party. Oh, the things moms have to do for their children!

Kind of ran out of icing doing the crumb coat. Whoops.

We were a little uncertain about the whole party since only two kids had accepted their invitations a week before the party. My husband even suggested we cancel the party since there weren't enough kids. In the end, everyone we invited came to the party. This was what happened at our construction party too! Luckily, we only invited 8 kids, plus my out of town niece and nephew who didn't come. Nine kids between the ages of 5-7 in total. Totally manageable :)


I had so many ideas for decorations and we made the house so nice that we're going to keep the decorations up for at least another week. We cut out lego people on construction paper and made a couple of banners. My son suggested we also use them for the back of chairs with names on them so that the kids could find where they were sitting. Brilliant!

We had tons of color balloons everywhere. Half of them were filled with helium the morning of the party. The helium tank was leftover from our Ironman party last year and it still worked! Woohoo :)  I had a blue table cloth for the party but I was saving it for another table, which we ended up not using at all. Doh! We built a Lego wall out of colored construction paper. We printed a bunch of free graphics off the Internet and only had to photoshop a few things that were missing. Let's just say there is no shortage of resources out there for a Lego themed party. The Lego water labels were the most adorable things I found.

Mini Lego water bottles.

I bought yellow cups and drew Lego faces on them. Classic. We had Lego City lunch and dessert plates and napkins I bought from last year. I felt silly buying them so early but it was a good thing because they discontinued Lego party supplies all together shortly before the Lego Movie came out. What the heck?! Can you believe that?

Fun and Games

When the kids arrived, I had them color Lego Movie coloring pages while they waited for the others to arrive. They were actually really into this. When enough people arrived, which was around 20 minutes after the party started, we played Twister! I thought of Twister because it looked a lot like Lego and I knew it would be a fun game to start the party with. It turned out it was a good game to teach the kids the difference between their left and right. They are Kindergarteners after all:) The kids paired up and the last pair to be eliminated from the game were declared winners. For every game, we made Lego certificates for the winners. Every winner got a Lego certificate and a bag of mega M&Ms. Easy peasy.

The second game we played was the Lego memory game. We had 16 pairs of identical Lego pieces all randomly dispersed in rows on a couple of square tables. Each piece was covered by a muffin cup. I didn't have anything else that would work but I had a gazillion muffin cups. It turned out they were the perfect size and you can't see through them :) Each player uncovers two muffin cups. If they Lego pieces match, they remove and take them. If they don't match, they cover them back. Whoever ends up with the most matching pairs in the end, wins the Lego memory game. I actually really liked this game. The kids were very quiet but then cheered every time someone made a match. My birthday boy said that this was his favorite game of the party :)

The third game was the Lego building competition. The kids were each given a bag of Lego with identical pieces in them. They had to build four things. We had four certificates to give out for the building competition. I helped him a bit but my good husband was the one responsible for getting the building competition ready :) He came up with most of the games and assembled all the Lego bags. I photoshopped the award certificates. The first thing the kids all had to build was a race car. Then we would test their cars on a ramp my husband put together out of some Amazon cardboard box we kept. He wanted to buy a plank of wood and I told him to use that and it worked out just fine:) All the kids took part in this game.

The race track.

The second thing the kids had to build was a dinosaur. Only about half the kids participated in this game. Maybe they were getting tired by this point or they just weren't really into the task. Oh well.

Snacks and Lunch

Then we had lunch. This year, I decided to serve macaroni casserole. It's one of Tristan's favorites and it's similar to mac & cheese, except it has vegetables, ground beef, and potato chips. We had some picky kids that didn't want to eat it but that was expected. I also served pesto naan pizza. Apparently it was a bit too sophisticated for a couple of kids as well. No worries. We had veggies and homemade tzatziki dip, chips and lots of fruit so the kids could at least eat something for lunch. But it's a good thing we compost here! For drinks, we had cute Lego water and Honeycrisp apple juice.

More Lego Games

After lunch, we continued with our Lego building games. Next up was the tallest tower. Using as many pieces as they wanted, they had to build the tallest tower that would stand at least 5 minutes on its own. Most of the kids were into this game.

The final thing the kids had to build was a chair. BUT they were going to be blindfolded. Muahahaha. They had to do their best to find the pieces they needed to build a simple chair without using their sight. There were a couple of cheaters but most of the kids were good. Overall, I think this was a great game and it was awesome and funny to watch for the parents :)

Lego Birthday Cake and Desserts

Then we had dessert. Or more like a dessert buffet. We had the usual theme cake, cupcakes, and decorative sugar cookies. But we also had marshmallow Lego man pops. We had two kinds of cupcakes: white vanilla and nutella almond. Our boy went from loving chocolate cakes more to loving vanilla cakes more so the main cake was vanilla this year. I would have made everything vanilla except that it required way too many egg whites and I didn't want to deal with so many leftover egg yolks. I already made a batch of ice cream but I still have like 10 egg yolks to deal with. Ugh.

Notice the Lego firetruck transporting six candles for the cake.

I love the "6" cookies in the Lego font and logo. The Lego man coloring cookie was nice and easy too. The theme cake was awesome! Lego themed parties are like rainbow parties. We had so much color around the house, I just had to do a rainbow cake too. I used red, yellow, green and blue for the cake layers and then iced everything in between with lemon swiss meringue buttercream. Then the cake was covered in homemade marshmallow fondant in the same colors. Boy, did it take me a long time to cover the cake, brick by brick. But it turned out great in the end and it was delicious. It was very moist and the combination just blended well together. I might just use the same recipe for my Christmas cake this year.

I used candy melt Lego instead of fondant for the cupcake toppers.

The Birthday Boy.

Notice I now cut my cakes the "mathematically" correct way :)

The birthday Lego we gave my son to assemble for the party.

Confetti cupcakes and Nutella almond cupcakes.

Here is another shot of the pretty Lego rainbow cake in the cool sunlight.

Party Favors

For the party favors, I had a few ideas. I didn't want to give out minifigures because that would have been too predictable. I actually planned to buy everyone Lego Movie t-shirts but that was a fail. Then I ordered Lego books for everyone but it arrived one day late :( Doh. Another fail. However, I don't think they missed out on anything and I think the kids had enough stuff and enough fun at the party anyway. We ended up giving out Lego brick and Lego minfigure candies of all colors. Some of the candies had chocolate rice cereal inside. We also gave each person a silicone Lego mold so they could make their own candy or whatever in the future. Plus a big colored Lego sugar cookie. Enough food, you think?

Phew! We're so relieved to have survived another epic party. Thanks to the fact that I can do everything myself and I'm so good at bargain shopping (ha ha:), I estimate the cost of our party to be around $115. That includes the party favors as well. Plus we had so much leftover food I didn't even have to cook for a few days! It took two weeks of planning here and there to put this party together. Most of the work was done two days before the party. The night before the party I was up until 1AM finishing off the cake, making the last colored Lego candy using the molds and even cutting my husband's hair. All these things that had to be done before the party day!

My parents came over from Victoria for the party and helped a bit the morning of the party, which was a nice treat for me.  Now that they are gone, I finally have time to recover and organize my thoughts about it :) Overall, I'm happy with how it turned out and I think it was well received. The kids seemed happy too so pretty much everything was awesome! :)
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