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Welcome to Miss Strawberry's Cafe: October 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Life is short...make it sweet.

Sweet & Salty - Chocolate Mini Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Filling

I was very excited to support another bake sale for Pitt LiNK this weekend, especially after feeling inspired by Starbucks' new Fall Menu - Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and Toffee Mocha - they all sounded delectable. I wanted to bake each drink into cupcake versions.

I donned my new red apron and pink "Cooking Mama" bandanna and got to work. It was after spending most of the day baking that I discovered that the voicemail my father had left on my phone earlier brought news of my grandfather's passing.

My grandparents are from Korea, but during my childhood, I had the chance to cherish them
from close by when they lived near us in California for a few years.

Even though I knew he was in critical condition, I was still shocked and felt completely caught off guard by the news.

Four months ago, my grandparents had finally made it out to Hawaii from Korea for a long-awaited visit with my parents. They arrived on a Friday. My grandfather ended up collapsing from a stroke on the Monday that followed.

During this time, my parents and I were actually experiencing a severe rift brought on by my own immaturity and selfishness. Any grudges and disappointments we might have been holding against one another at the time completely evaporated in the instant my grandfather was so unexpectedly struck, leaving half of his body and brain completely paralyzed and ineffective.

With the acceleration of Miss Strawberry's Cafe lately, I had been pushing another motto a lot: "Life is short, make it sweet." It's really not just supposed to be some cute catch phrase. They're words I really take to heart, and the reality of those words hit me once again so abruptly this weekend. The words hit our family four months ago when my grandfather, who was completely healthy and normal just days before, completely lost his awareness and the control over his body.

This was my grandfather just a couple months ago.
I remember feeling so happy to see that signature smile of his...
the one that carries with it all the warmth that only a loving grandparent could exude.

It was only two weeks ago that he seemed to be making improvements. We heard from one of my uncles that he was at least able to recognize family and seemed very aware of his condition. My uncle knew, because my grandfather would hold his hand, not let go, and cry. He lost his ability to speak, so all that could be communicated was through the tears that rolled down his face.

Even though there's such a heavy sadness from only getting to see that wonderful smile of his in pictures now, we're grateful that he passed away peacefully and doesn't have to suffer anymore.


Having someone close to me suffer so painfully with stroke made me want to learn more.

Statistically, every 45 seconds someone will suffer a stroke.

On the Stroke Network's website, they indicate that a lightning bolt is the universal symbol for stroke, because it happens that quickly and unexpectedly.

A stroke happens when oxygen is prohibited from flowing to the brain, usually by a blocked artery or vessel from a blood clot. The less oxygen the brain receives, the more quickly it dies.

As with most other health conditions though, there are some prevention methods and risk factors that you could at least be aware of and help raise awareness about for others. Controllable risk factors include:

- tobacco use and smoking
- obesity
- alcohol consumption
- physical inactivity
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol

I found it chilling that among uncontrollable risk factors listed by the National Stroke Association, were: "being African American, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander." If you're from any of these minority ethnic groups, along with the uncontrollable factors of your age, gender, and family history, you have a higher risk for stroke.

Thankfully, there are several support systems in place for stroke survivors and family members of victims of stroke. There are organizations that not only work to raise funds and awareness but also promote advocacy and policy changes. The two already mentioned - The Stroke Network and National Stroke Association - are starting points that can at least get you more information on the third leading cause of death in America, and the leading cause for adult disability.

This page also provides a list of links for information on stroke and other neurological diseases and injuries.


After hearing about my grandfather's passing, I honestly lost all enthusiasm for the bake sale I agreed to help. But I continued to bake the following morning after hearing the news with my grandfather on my mind, knowing he'd want me to smile and continue being the "lovely granddaughter" he always believed in and adored.

I followed a recipe in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book for Salted Caramel Mini Chocolate Cupcakes.

It required me making the caramel....which was intimidating but fun and easier than I thought. Water, sugar, light corn syrup and heavy cream are all you need, plus a wooden spoon and heavy sauce pan.

This is when it started to harden. You should use it immediately after cooking to fill the cupcakes.

This particular recipe for salted caramel required me to use a special ingredient called Fleur de Sel, a French sea salt.

I was able to find this at a local Williams Sonoma store.

After baking the cupcakes, I used a knife to "core" a small scoop out of each cake and filled them with the homemade caramel. A sprinkle of sea salt on top followed by a whirl of dark chocolate frosting completed these sweet and salty bites.

You can add another pinch of Fleur de Sel on top.

When I tasted them, the hard caramel center was a bit of a surprise. The three different textures of the cake made it really interesting (icing, caramel, cake). I think it's a cake you'd either absolutely love or absolutely not at all.

The cakes tasted softly bittersweet with hints of saltiness in the background....I couldn't help but think how much they paralleled the sweet memories I shared with the only grandfather I ever knew and the salty tears I was now crying from missing him and the regret I feel from us not having been closer.

Life is truly but a minute here, and the next minute gone...

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Baking "Like A G6" - Empowerment through Entertainment

I want to highlight two "movements" today: Kollaboration and Far East Movement.

I first found out about Kollaboration pretty much near its inception. That was already 10 years ago, and I was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I was parched for Asian community. These were some of the first videos I saw that made me fall head over heels for what it was doing for the Asian community:

To see Asian talent being showcased on a legitimate stage truly was "empowering" like the movement had intended. It gave our Asian American community a voice and an audience to listen, watch, and be influenced to further the ripple.

It was founded back in 2000 by Paul Kim, more popularly known as "PK" (also a spin-off of his status as a Pastor's Kid, which he proudly proclaims). Though it initially focused on specifically supporting the Korean American community, it's grown into a huge movement supporting all talents of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage while impacting people of all races.

Where the movement can be seen as a glorified talent show, I think it's totally the contrary and completely meaningful than many might consciously realize. Malcolm X puts it far more succinctly and powerfully than I ever could:

"The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the mind of the masses."

Staying true to their mission - "Empowerment through Entertainment" - Kollaboration empowers the Asian American community by pushing them into the media, so that we can define ourselves.

"Stuckin fereotypes" - a phrase I've seen PK use. Like many other frustrated Asians, I was tired of our guys constantly being emasculated in mainstream media while us ladies were being exoticized, usually with a persona of submissiveness and timidity. Asians fall under the stereotype of being a "model minority," which might seem like a good deal, except it encourages a neglect and dismissal of the issues that our community does face. We're just like anyone else. We face abuse, poverty, crime, and diseases too.

Here is where Far East Movement comes in like a G6. As of just a few days ago, their song "Like A G6" reached the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart, and it's already reached #1 on iTunes. This is huge. They are the first Asian American group to hit mainstream.

I had thought in my head a couple weeks ago how I wanted to promote Kollaboration, and hearing about Far East Movement's rising success made me want to bake them into cookies. Well, more or less, that's how the idea came about.

If you haven't already, you can watch the whole process on this video. It's the first I've made for this blog, and if there's a good response, I'll make more :)

The members of Far East Movement - Prohgress, J-Splif, Kev Nish, and DJ Virman - are from Korean, Chinese/Japanese, and Filipino descent (respectively). They're actually good friends with PK and have performed at Kollaboration. Far East Movement kollaborated with Wong Fu Productions to jumpstart a similar movement of their own to uplift the Asian American community called International Secret Agents (ISA).

I've been to one Kollaboration show back in 2005 in New York, where I fell in love with the smooth voice and powerful audience command of Vudoo Soul. I've yet to see Far East Movement or an ISA show, but I'm sure I'll get to some day!

Back to the cookies. I love this book. It totally helped me with a lot of useful tips and tricks for baking and decorating sugar cookies. I modified the recipe they offer in their book to make the Far East Movement cookies. It'll produce really hearty cookies that are ideal for decorating.

I used pearl dust and shimmer sugar/dust to get that shiny effect that made the FM fashion on my cookies a little more accurate. Good thing too, otherwise J-Splif's attire was looking like ketchup and mustard before I dusted it with bronze and gold.

Far East Movement performs with these crazy astronaut helmets lit by blue and red LED lights

Like I said, this baking project started in my head a couple weeks ago, and I'd say it took me 3-4 days to completely execute over time. I actually started out with sketches so I could better visualize my idea and see what icing colors I needed to make. I made all the colors except for the white, where I cheated by using a Wilton icing writer.

I still like using colored pencils

I'm sure you're all also curious as to how I baked the Far East Movement logo. I actually print and cut out their logo to use as a stencil. I laid it over the bare cookie and dusted powdered sugar on top and then filled in the outlines with black royal icing.

In a recent KoreAm magazine article that featured the four-member powerhouse, I read something that really caught my eye about the members. The writer, Oliver Saria, wrote, "DJ Virman and Kev Nish had the atypical Asian American artist experience," referring to how their parents actually supported their endeavors. Prohgress and J-Splif faced the expected disapproval from their Korean parents but has since come around with their noted success.

Asian parents are notorious for pushing dreams of law and medicine onto their children, but it's only because most of them come from a terribly impoverished time where education was a reserved opportunity for the wealthy and elite. Being a lawyer or doctor don't seem like "hungry" occupations, unlike endeavors in the arts. Though it often causes rifts and tension between the two starkly different generations, the concern of Asian parents comes from hardcore love.

I kept wanting to try and do my own thing apart from my parents too, even though I knew all they wanted was the best for me. I'm glad they allowed me to set off soul-searching though, because even if I'm making some loops and u-turns, I'm coming out a far stronger and better person for it.

And lucky for us that Far East Movement came together and persevered.
Don't let anything hold you back either! You owe your talents to the world :)

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." - Henry David Thoreau

Far East Movement cookies with a glass of milk in a Batman glass. Can't get any better.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

You're worth it!

"...I am wonderfully and fearfully made..." Psalm 139:14

I've painfully struggled for such a huge portion of my short life before realizing my worth. Before I could remember, I had internalized a way of always calculating my worth based on external factors - mostly based on the opinions of those whose say I really cared about. We all want approval, whether it's from our family and friends, our boss and coworkers, or even from strangers passing by that we don't really even know that well.

It's about seeking acceptance and belonging, and in doing so, we all too often settle for so much less.

We are wonderfully, beautifully, fearfully made and don't need to seek the validation of others in order for our worth to be measured.

Each of us is precious. Our worth is immeasurable.

One of my very good friends and former allies from the Public Allies program recently became a Community Youth Organizer for an organization called Focus on Renewal (FOR Sto-Rox), which provides a variety of education services and advocacy for the McKees Rocks and Stowe Township community.

On Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, she hosted an event to help curb domestic violence called "I'm Worth It!" - a free day of pampering for girls 12 years and older. As the girls received free manicures, make up, and nutrition tips, they learned about the warning signs and risks of being in an abusive relationship. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to support my friend and such a worthwhile event and decided to bake some lovely cookies to spread sweetness to some lovely ladies.

1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

I was the one in four.

Several years ago when I was younger, I was in an extremely verbally abusive relationship that ended up turning into a physical altercation after I finally ended it.

From being cursed at and humiliated in the worst ways to constantly being provoked for a reaction and to being manipulated to always be the one to say sorry in the end, I stayed in that relationship far. too. long.

The first time I knew things were not right and should have ended it was when the comment, "She's not my girlfriend, she's my b*tch" was proudly said in front of all my friends. I wish I had a stronger will that wasn't so easily broken. I wish I had known my worth and cherished myself more. I wish my friends were more forceful in making me end the relationship, but I wish I had actually chosen to listen to them instead of tuning them out to the repeated defense of, "Everything's fine," "Everything's okay."

Looking back now, I do wish more than anything, that I had the inner voice convincing me, "You're worth're worth more."

But, as with every hump we overcome in life, I'm grateful that I can take what I experienced and empathize with others who go through the same struggles. I can support other women with genuine understanding and help them know that they have the strength to get themselves out of the wrong situations and learn to accept the right situations, because they are so worth it.

I share my personal story only to highlight that there are really faces behind statistics. Maybe one of you who read this went through or are going through something painful and need to hear that you're worth it. You deserve what you're worth, and your worth is priceless.

I baked 50 cookies for the precious 50 girls who were expected to show up at the event. Each cookie was uniquely hand-decorated, and reflect how beautifully unique each of those girls are.

Tell someone today how much they're worth.

Then tell yourself. :)

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I like it on the stovetop

As you may have already caught on from the many provocative Facebook statuses gone viral, it is the month of Pinktober.

Beantown Baker is promoting a wonderful idea, and I've just learned she's been carrying it out for the past three years now. Her blog is holding a contest called "The Power of Pink," in which she challenges food bloggers to make something pink to commemorate this very important month where we come together to recognize the grave impacts of breast cancer around the world and join to find a cure.

I immediately caught notice of her chocolate cookies studded with pink M&Ms and couldn't resist making a batch of my own. Raising awareness can be decadently sweet.

Miss Strawberry approves

Let's get real though, we shouldn't create breast cancer into just some pink cliche.

The origin of the pink actually came from a 68-year-old woman by the name of Charlotte Haley whose daughter, sister, and grandmother all had breast cancer. During the early 1990s, she made thousands of pink ribbons to distribute to people with cards that read "The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon."

Did you know that a woman dies of breast cancer every 69 seconds...?

Thankfully, there are hundreds of organizations that work to raise awareness and/or research cures. The one most everyone is likely familiar with is Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is an organization inspired by the late Susan G. Komen, who was a woman diagnosed with breast cancer but fought it with so much compassion that her sister vowed to continue Susan's fight by uniting people to raise as much funds as possible for research and to encourage prevention.

However, like I said, there are really hundreds of organizations that may not be as globally recognized and draw in as many millions of dollars but are equally significant in their activism.

A local organization here in Western PA called Adagio Health provides free screenings for breast and cervical cancer for uninsured women (along with a variety of other health services for women). Men and women are encouraged to get regular screenings; it's advised that you get one every three years after the age of 20 and every year once you reach the age of 40.

Pink desserts are lovely, but they're lovelier if they actually push you to dig deeper into the cause and push you to take care of yourself!

But...sometimes taking care of yourself can be treating yourself to cute and sweetlicious cookies (in moderation). *smiles*

Enjoy these and schedule that mammogram!!

Recipe adapted from one found on All Recipes.

I halved the recipe but kept the amount of vanilla to the full teaspoon, and I added half a tablespoon of coffee granules to enhance the chocolate. I used semisweet chocolate chips but may opt for milk or dark chocolate next time to tone down the sweetness. The pink M&Ms were only added on the top rather than mixed into the batter. P.S. These are the PERFECT cookies to be accompanied by a cold glass of milk!

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Life should be sweet for everyone

So I know many of you were wondering how the bake sale for Pitt-LiNK went...

Out of the 120 or so cupcakes and cheesecakes I made, only about a dozen were leftover! And the dozen or so quickly dwindled down after my roommates attacked them. :)

Vanilla Cupcakes, Chocolate Cupcakes, Raspberry Cheesecakes, and Oreo Cheesecakes were on drool-worthy display, as I womanned the table and yelled out:

"Cupcakes for North Korea!"

"Cheesecakes and cupcakes to help refugees!"

"Desserts for human rights!"

 "You know you want some!"

Some seemed frightened and looked the other way, several gawked at the desserts and regretted not having any cash to purchase the goodies, but many stopped for a bite and learned about North Korea and LiNK.

Trailer for the documentary Seoul Train

It felt great to bake for a good cause again; to be exhausted by efforts that were meaningful and had a selfless purpose. Though, I suppose it wasn't entirely selfless considering how much personal enjoyment I get out of baking :)

love at first sight

The cheesecakes were the goodies to sell the fastest, and they were the only treats I didn't get to taste! :( These goodies were the last batches I made in the evening, and they needed to refrigerate for at least 4 hours before I could try them. I ended up rushing out with all of them the next morning and didn't get one bite. But I guess that just means I'll have to make them again another time :)

The awesomely awesome part about the Oreo Cheesecakes were the whole cookies at the bottom of each one:

One man had eaten this right in front of me as soon as he bought it, and his "mmm"oan followed by, "Wow this is really gooood!" totally made my day.

These raspberry cheesecakes look all fancilicious, which they were, but the swirlies aren't hard to make at all. After adding three drops of the raspberry puree on top of the cakes, you just take a toothpick and swirl them around. If you want to get the heart shapes, you just connect the dots in a circular motion.

All recipes were from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes cookbook. I can personally vouch for the tastiness of the cupcake recipes in this book, as I've tried a couple other in addition to these four for the bake sale.

Top to bottom: Devil's Food Cupcakes w/ Dark Chocolate Frosting, Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes w/ Fluffy Vanilla Frosting (dyed blue), Oreo Cheesecakes w/ Oreo Cookie Crust, and Raspberry Cheesecakes w/ Graham Cracker Crust
I was able to taste test the vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, and they were absolutely delicious. I think I would've liked the chocolate ones to be a bit more moist, but the vanilla cupcakes made me do one of those "omgah" pauses where you roll your eyes back and just let out a long sigh of gratitude for having tasted something so good. I then busted out a little happy dance, which good foods often make me do.

It's somewhat ironic and sad that we get to indulge in such luxurious bites to help the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters all dying of starvation in the millions in a country known more widely for its nuclear threats than its insane violations of human rights. But, if we can use and leverage our privileges for the better, than we should consider them not only as our blessings to be grateful for but recognize the responsibility in our abundance and use our overflow to help others.

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the greater concerns of all humanity." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you enjoyed watching my sweets, please watch the video clips that I've posted about North Korea to learn more about the situation, and share the stories with people you know to raise awareness. It isn't just an Asian issue, a political issue, a North Korean's a you and I issue - a human issue.

Clip from Seoul Train about Han-Mi and her family who tried to escape North Korea

(Seoul Train is available to watch on Netflix if you're a subscriber. Otherwise, please buy it here from LiNK's website, as the purchase will help their cause. Watching this documentary was the first time I really learned what was happening in North Korea; it is a must-see.)

Other than raising awareness, there's another way you can help. We sold the cupcakes at the price of $2 each. For about the price of 4 cupcakes a month, you can make a huge impact on the life of a North Korean refugee. Learn about LiNK's 9 Lives Campaign here.

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