Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cooking with Jon and Steph - Homemade Wonton Soup

That's right - Jon and I made Wonton Soup from scratch!

It's really easy and super yummy. The best part about making homemade soup is that you don't get all the sodium and salty flavor of store bought soup.

-Generous 1 cup roughly chopped pork
-1/2 cup minced shelled shrimp
-1 teaspoon light brown sugar
-1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (we used rice wine vinegar)
-1 tablespoon light soy sauce
-1 teaspoon minced scallions
-1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root (we used powdered)
-24 ready made won-ton wrappers
-3 cups stock (we used chicken)
-1 tablespoon light soy sauce
-finely chopped scallions, to garnish


1) In a bowl, thoroughly mix the chopped pork and shrimp with the sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, scallions and ginger. Set aside for 25-30 minutes for the flavors to blend.

2) Place about 1 teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center of each won-ton wrapper.

3) Wet the edges of each filled won ton wrapper with a little water and press them together with your fingers to seal. Fold each won ton bundle over. (Jon said they looked like little food presents)

4) To cook, bring the stock to a rolling boil in a wok. Add the won tons and boil for 4 to 5 minutes. Season with the soy sauce and add the scallions.

Serve and enjoy!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

March Madness

No, this post is not about basketball. It is however a brief update of all the happenings of the Alston Family as of late. Since going to Washington DC, my new job has been kicking my butt. 52 hours of work last week, 48 hours this week, visiting teaching, going to school, an astronomy midterm and my primary calling all keep me so busy that by the time Friday comes around I am just too exhausted to do anything but sleep.

Oh by the way, did I also mention that I am still married and have a puppy at home? They are important too and lately I feel like they get the shaft. Jon is always so supportive though and regularly sends me uplifting texts during the work day like "I love you and all the hard work that you do!" and even with my crazy schedule he never complains but makes me breakfast, lunch AND dinner every day. He plans out the groceries and shops for them every week, as well as doing our laundry every Saturday. He listens to me vent about my work day when I get home, and he also encourages me to take time for myself to do the things I like to do. I couldn't have asked for a better husband :)

In the meantime, I wanted to let all of you know that we're still alive. I haven't been online at all the last couple of weeks let alone taken the time to blog. Finally this evening I took a little while to catch up on reading some friend's recent posts and figured it was important to post an update of our lives, even if it's crazy and brief. Mainly because Jon and I make these blog posts into a book at the end of the year and I think that it's important to take inventory of your life every now and again. See where you're going and where you have been.

Someday I will look back at this post and say "ah, remember when our life was like that?" It's why I'm such a big fan of journaling. Although you can imagine that journal writing hardly happens these days anymore either. It takes me a full week to write a one page letter to my sister in law on her mission. oy.

In the midst of all this, I had a really thoughtful visiting teacher and friend who offered to make us dinner one night this week. I really didn't think we needed it, but I can't turn down free food, and I remember hearing once that it's important to let people serve you, especially since it means that they are usually following a prompting from the spirit. So on Thursday we had delicious enchiladas and spanish rice and because of the "free" evening we actually were able to go to the temple together. It was just what I needed at the end of a crazy month. I'm so grateful that we were able to attend the temple and spend time together as husband and wife. And the blessings really go both ways because that night my visiting teacher found out that she was accepted into the Master's program she has been working to get into! Life is good.

Anyway, I should have a good cooking post up soon. I really want to show you guys this wonton soup we made! I hope you're all having a happy month and that heading into April we all have more sun :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Adventures in the District of Columbia

Steph was sent by her company to Washington, D.C. from February 27th - March 6th. The pictures and stories below chronicle her adventures...


It all started Sunday morning, February 27th. Work wanted me to be in D.C. by Monday morning so I flew during the day rather than taking the red eye.

Me and Jon at the Sacramento airport waiting for my delayed flight:

As many of you may know, I actually had a really bad cold the week before my trip - so the 6 hour flight there was miserable, and my ears wouldn't adjust to the altitude very well. I'm also pretty sure that the people sitting next to me wished they had masks so that they could avoid my coughing. As we descended into the international airport in Dulles, VA my right ear didn't pop at all, and although I tried everything possible it stayed plugged until about 8pm that evening.
The next morning I took a bunch of cold medicine and got ready for my first day of work in D.C.!

At least by the looks of things I didn't seem very sick, but by the end of the day I was exhausted :( Luckily I got to stay in one of our company apartments in Alexandria, VA. The community was GORGEOUS and my apartment of course had everything I could need.

The kitchen:

Bedroom (complete with a walk in closet that really could have been a small office)

Dining area:

Living room:

As you can see, I had a ton of space to myself. It would have been nicer though if I hadn't been traveling on my own :)  This was my view of the metro station outside one of the bedroom windows:

It was in walking distance which is really nice for all the business people who live in the area and commute into D.C. The apartment community I was in also had retail shops and restaurants in the bottom.

The area I was staying in is called Old Town Alexandria. Specifically my community was in the Carlyle area (named after the famous Carlyle House down the street built in 1753 which still stands today) Old Town is really cute and has a lot of restaurants and one of a kind stores. I especially loved the brick sidewalks:

The nice thing about being in D.C. for work is that I got to try a lot of new foods. Between client meetings, working in the field, and just not having a lot of options for buying groceries (since I would only be there for 6 days) I went out to eat more. Its very against the norm for me and by the end of the week I just wanted some pasta or a hot dog at home! I ended up being so sick on Tuesday night that I missed out on a great dinner in Old Town with coworkers. But some of the best things I ate were Bang Bang shrimp from Bonefish (a restaurant that we don't have out here on the west coast) and Matzo Ball soup from a great Jewish Deli in Maryland:

Amongst the sites that I got to see on our daily work trips were the Pentagon (which just looks like a big office building)...

and the George Washington Masonic Temple:

I also took one evening to go to the Washington, D.C. temple (which is actually in Kensington, Maryland). I didn't really have the ability to do a session while I was out there but just walking around the grounds was nice. It was pretty freezing cold though and with all the traffic it took me almost 2 hours to get there from Alexandria which is just 20 miles away.

One of the neatest parts of the temple is the funky stained glass:

I also loved the white marble and all the craftsmanship in the doors:

The temple was built between 1971-1974 and when it was dedicated it was named the "Washington" temple - later it was renamed "Washington, DC". You really can't even tell from the pictures, but this temple is HUGE.

On Friday I went into the office to work and then around 9:30 I decided to head into the district for some sightseeing. My coworker had given me a great map of the National Mall (which is the area between the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Building and includes the White House, Washington Monument, most of the War Memorials and a lot of museums and other galleries) and she showed me where the best places were to go. I had intended to go back to my apartment and then ride the Metro train into the city...

Well it turns out that my fears of traveling alone in a city I'm not used to and getting lost or disoriented were justified. I do not do well with directions. (Just ask Jon) I really try hard to stay calm and look for the signs on the road, but I'll be honest - driving in the D.C. area wouldn't even be easy if I lived there all the time. There's a lot of construction going on right now which blocks off some of the beltway on ramps and there are major freeways that criss cross and loop around all over the place. I heard the area called the "mixing bowl" many times while I was there. And it's the truth.

That being said, as I left the office I took one wrong turn and found myself on an HOV lane all the way to the Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River. (HOV lanes there are not like the carpool lanes in California. For one thing they are a whole separate section of the freeway between the North and South bound traffic. They are open in one direction during the morning commute, and open in another direction for the afternoon commute. Once you get on, there is no getting off until you are at the bridge into D.C. The purpose is to help the flow of traffic and get people into and out of the city quickly. People pay monthly to use these lanes.)

Well since I had accidentally driven myself into D.C. I decided to embrace the situation and park in a garage. It was also a good experience to see how people get around in the city. Driving there is a challenge since you have a normal city grid system with one way streets and then random old historic streets that cut diagonally across everything. Sometimes the intersections and "right" or "left" turns don't really make any sense. Once I finally found public parking I had them valet my car, got my parking stub and went on my way towards Pennsylvania Ave...

United States Treasury Building:

White House squirrel:

And there it is! The home of Mr. and Mrs. Obama:

I was able to see some workers planting the White House kitchen garden. There were also a lot of police, secret service and special agents around. The White House was sort of a funny building because I'd always heard that it was actually really small - and compared to everything else in the city you hardly notice it. It's only about 3 stories tall and there are so many trees surrounding it than unless you're right in front of it you really can't see it at all. There are gates everywhere and office buildings all around it. I pictured it being a lot more by itself like an estate with huge lawns. It's really just another building in the middle of a busy city. I really had wanted to see the White House dog or give Obama a high-five, but he never came out to say hi.
There were a LOT of memorials and monuments around the National Mall that I hadn't ever heard of. You really just picture the big ones when you've never been there before, but basically every street had a statue, monument, memorial, or some sort of historically significant piece of artwork. It was really too much to see in one day:

One of my favorite buildings was this:

Heck freakin yes! The National DAR building was just a couple blocks from the White House. Jon thought I was funny for being so excited over a society that I only like because of it's connection to a fictional character, but I know all you other fans of this show would have been ecstatic to see it in person too.

The other awesome thing about D.C. was the lamp posts and street signs. How fun is that to stand on Independence or Constitution Avenue? haha

D.C. also had police men on horses which I thought was pretty cool:

The Washington Monument was HUGE and could be seen from pretty much anywhere you are. Nothing in the district is allowed to be taller which is why for a city D.C. is actually pretty short. No skyscrapers. D.C. is also just across the river from the Ronald Reagan airport - so there were planes coming into land all the time:

I had the chance to walk around the WWII memorial, which is one of the newest memorials on the National Mall. There were awesome depictions of war scenes all around the columns:

The WWII memorial is in a large circular shape with one side representing the Pacific and the other side representing the Atlantic. There are quotes from past presidents about the war engraved in the stone, and a column with a bronze wreath represents every state and territory of the U.S. that participated in the war:

From there I continued down the mall towards the Lincoln Memorial. Although I was there before all the trees bloomed, it was still a gorgeous walk:

WWII memorial squirrel:

Lincoln Memorial:

(it was like seeing the back of my pennies in person)

Jon commented on how WHITE the building is, and it really was. It was really detailed too which I didn't expect. Above the columns on the building is engraved the name of every state in the U.S. and in roman numerals the year it became an official state. Mr. Lincoln himself was massive (about 2 stories tall I would say) and even the ceiling inside the memorial building was detailed and awesome. His famous Gettysburg address was engraved on one wall inside, and a civil rights address was engraved in the opposite wall:

Unfortunately for me the famous reflection pool was undergoing restoration while I was there, so my view back towards the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial was pretty brown:

From here I checked out the Korean War memorial, which was beautifully eerie:

The soldier statues are highly realisic and the black reflective wall that surrounds them has ghostly images of faces of soldiers engraved in it so that combined with the mirror images of the soldiers standing in the bushes, you feel like you are surrounded by the men who gave their lives as you walk past.

At the very end of the wall it states: FREEDOM IS NOT FREE

I also got to see the Vietnam War Memorial:

The realism in the statues of the young men who were there was really touching. This memorial also has a highly reflective wall which starts low to the ground on one side, becomes really tall in the middle, and then fades off again at the end. The name of every soldier who died at Vietnam is listed there:

Prior to this trip I had never felt like one of those people who was "Go America!" Or extremely patriotic. I like America and my dad was in the Army, but coming here and seeing these tangible representations of the things that people fight fr and the sheer number of those men and women who sacrificed their lives for everyone at home or abroad that needed help was really moving. Especially seeing people there looking for names of family members or leaving notes and flowers for the people they lost. It was peaceful and solemn like walking through a cemetary, but extremely honorable being surrounded by these great monuments to the forefathers and it made me realize what America is all about and what it is meant to be. It makes you feel like you're part of something great.

On my way back towards the Smithsonian, I saw a bunch of people looking towards the White House and when I looked over I saw a helicopter taking off from the front lawn!

 A second helicopter followed shortly and I watched them fly straight over my head:

I turned to my right and watched them fly past the Washington Monument and off towards Maryland:

My first museum stop of the day was the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Before going to D.C. I didn't realize that "The Smithsonian" is not one place, but many museums which are dedicated to different topics. "Night at the Museum" for instance is about the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (which I saw later)

In the museum of American History they have artifacts and a little bit of everything from, well, American History. Much more fun than a textbook though :) Check out this old dental chair from the 1930's - no wonder people had a fear of the dentist! It looks like a torture device.

There were sections of the museum all about science, inventions, entertainment, and transportation:

This 1948 Tucker Sedan was revolutionary for its time because of the safety features it incorporated into its design. For instance the headlights gave a wider range of view including a center headlight that turned with the steering wheel - where most cars previously made a sort of "cyclops" vision where you couldn't see an accident coming until you were practically in it. The car also had a padded dashboard and a "safety chamber" in the front for a passenger to crouch down in, in the case of an accident:

It was actually really fun getting to see all these things and how they developed over time since I realized there is a lot we have today that I take for granted.

I also got to see Julia Child's kitchen! Sadly there wasn't anyone there giving free food samples:

I really loved the movie "Julie and Julia" but seeing all these things in person and reading about her life just reminded me how revolutionary she really was. People did not cook at home the way they do now. We have Food Network (my fav!) and so many cookbooks that I feel that if I really wanted to I could make anything I want. People nowadays are more fearless with their cooking because of people like Julia Child who had the courage to teach people to cook in their homes. She was like the first Martha Stewart :)

Another cool section of the museum showed the homes and every day life of people from the first American settlers down to modern day living. One of the most eye opening displays for me was the laundry:

Yes, I've seen movies with people hanging their clothes out to dry and I know that we didn't always have automatic washing machines, but still seeing it all hanging there and reading about all the steps it took to wash a load of clothes made me really happy that now I just throw it in, add the soap, press a button and walk away. Most of the time Jon even does all our laundry for us, so I hardly have to do that. (And to think that I am grumpy when I have to fold it all! I really am blessed.)

The best part of this museum though was the display of all the First Ladies' innaugural ball gowns:

I had never really thought about it before, but from the time of Martha Washington, the first lady has had as much of an important role as her husband. She sets the standard for the social and fashion appearance of the country and is the face of our country as much as the President is:

Before you walk into the gallery there are drawings of each of the first ladies in their dresses like you would see in a fashion designer's portfolio. Betty Ford and Sarah Polk were two of my favorites:

I actually didn't take a lot of pictures inside this part of the museum because it had low lighting to preserve the materials and accessories, so I didn't want to use the flash on everything, and I also just felt like it was sort of disrespectul. The beauty of the dresses just can't be captured in a picture, so the few pictures I took were with my cell phone and I tried to lighten them up so you can at least see what the displays looked like. If you ever have a chance you should really go in person because it's amazing!

Mamie Eisenhower's pink ball gown

Michele Obama's white dress, Jimmy Choo's and jewelry

Families of the previous first ladies donated personal items like purses shoes and jewelry to the Smithsonian. The slippers on the left belonged to Abigail Adams.

I saw a lot of other neat things in the entertainment part of the museum:

Judy Garland's ruby red shoes from The Wizard of Oz (from the back)

Muppets! One thing that I thought was neat about this display was a quote by Jim Henson that all he wanted to do was be on TV, and puppets seemed like a good way to realize that dream. Was it ever!

Apolo Anton Ohno's speed skates:

Michael Jackson's Fedora:

Fonzie's Jacket:

Awesome old instruments - BUT they are not in the case because there was a string quartet actually using them for a rehearsal while I was there :) They had the music coming through from the concert hall over the speakers while we browsed around the other instrument displays. I loved it!

Outside on the street there were vendors everywhere selling hot dogs, pretzels and souveniers. D.C. also has a lot of food trucks that come into the district on the lunch hour and park on certain streets. Business people follow their favorite food truck's live feed on Twitter to know each day where the truck will be, what specials they have and what hours they will be open. Pretty fun to see the way that social media changes business!

My next stop was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I took this cool tiger picture for Jon :)

The main reason that I went to the Natural History Museum was to see the Hope diamond. It was huge!!

There were also some beautiful gems and jewels on display. These fine items were gifts from Napoleon:

Everywhere I went I was impressed by the details. Even the Smithsonian staircases were beautiful:

When I got outside again I realized that I had somehow lost my valet garage parking ticket and I hurriedly made my way back to the garage to make sure I could get my car. (My theory is that I was cursed by being in the room with the hope diamond.) Luckily I had no trouble getting back my car, and I went back to the office to work with my coworker Aly until about 8pm and we went out to an awesome Italian place in Old Town Alexandria for dinner :)

The next morning I rode the metro into D.C. It was actually kind of fun! It's not always underground, but in this station and under D.C. it runs all over the place.

I rode to the Capitol South station and checked out our Nation's most important office building. The details here and in every lampost even are amazing:

There were beautiful statues and neo-classical artwork everywhere:

The dome and reflecting pool:

I also saw the Library of Congress which was right across from the capitol building:

Complete with creepy foreign faces over the windows:

Every where I went there were police standing guard and keeping an eye on the buildings:

Inside the capitol building they had a real size plaster mold of the bronze statue of freedom that stands on top of the capitol dome:

Information on the model:

3 designs were made before this one was approved:

I couldn't take any pictures inside of the capitol museum, but it had a lot of really cool information on the Declaration of Independence, the purposes of the 3 branches of government, what the House and the Senate do, as well as models of Capitol Hill over the years showing the way it looked when George Washington was President, and how it is grown to look the way it does now.

One of the neatest things was seeing copies of original documents from the beginning of our nation that showed reasons for having our government and military forces set up the way that they are. In the late 1700's for instance there were two American ships (the Mary and the Dolphin) that were ambushed by pirates on the seas. The prisoners were held captive for 5 years at high ransom. Finally President Washington declared the formation of the U.S. Navy whose purpose would be to protect the seas and U.S. people and goods from being attacked anymore.

I also saw the Supreme Court building:

With AMAZING detail on the columns:

After I left the Capitol I walked the wrong way for a few blocks and saw some cute D.C. row houses:

All of D.C. has cute houses like these and awesome old school churches:

I also loved how the streets had "Historic District" signs on them:

Even the restaurants around Capitol Hill were cute - Like this one called "We, The Pizza" :)

After getting lost for about an hour and passing by a huge flea market, I made it back to the National Gallery of Art:

Inside we were allowed to take pictures but I just felt like it wouldn't do it justice. There's nothing like seeing original art in person. I just took a couple pictures on my cell phone.

Orignal gothic tempera painting from the 1300's:

You could even see cracks in the panels and paint sitting on the canvases. I loved it!

I even got to see one of Rembrandt's original self portraits and paintings by Botticelli of the Medici family of Florence. Some of the sculptures in the hallways I took pictures of:

My favorite thing of all was seeing this orignal painting called "Portrait of a Young Girl Reading" which my mom had a print of hanging up in our home growing up. The original was pretty big:

After wandering around the National Gallery for about an hour, I walked past the National Archives building and saw the Navy Memorial. From there I rode the metro back to my apartment. There was just so much in D.C. to do that I had to pick and choose what I really wanted to see. I could have spent so much more time there, but in the end I am happy with everything I got to see and do. It would have been a lot more fun if I hadn't been sick the whole time, but I guess that just means that I'll have to take Jon and go back again!

The flight home was much better, and it was great being back home with Jon. He had the apartment cleaned and had given Margo a bath so when I got home it was beautiful and he even made chicken cordon bleu from scratch for dinner :) What a chef! We had crepes for dessert and talked all about my trip. It's been decided that we're never going to spend a whole week apart again. It was miserable. At least I'm home now with my little family :) Margo was so happy to see me and has been cuddly all week:

Thus ends the stories and adventures from Steph's trip to Washington, D.C. Thanks for reading!

*Stay tuned for a cooking with Jon and Steph post to come soon
with a recipe for homemade wonton soup*