Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A taste of Duncan Hines

So, I've been selected for the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program with Duncan Hines. I'm really into trying out cake mixes because that's how I get my first taste of that particular cake, and after that, when I trial and err with online recipes, I know what to change to improve on the taste to either be better than the one I got from the cake mix, or get closer to the cake mix..

I believe every household that does a little entertaining once in awhile should have boxes of cake mixes stocked up in their panty. If you have guests coming last minute and need to prepare some food to share, you can whip up a cake in minutes and share them over coffee! I mean, like really, who doesn't like CAKE?! My friend calls me a carnivore. I say, CAKIEVORE! I can't live a week without cake. *guilty*

I was really in the mood for carrot cake, with all the cold weather, and spices in winter, I think carrot cake really gets me in the mood! I took this opportunity to grab a box of Duncan Hines Classic carrot mix. It's a new and improved recipe by them, and it belonged to the decadent range, where they add in a pouch of real ingredients! Decadent. Desserts are supposed to be like that right?

After I came home, I checked out the Duncan Hines website to see what other flavours of cake mixes were available, and was surprised to find out that they had a recipe in which they tweaked the cake mix to add a few more ingredients to make it different so you never get bored or feel traditional! I chose the Carrot Cake Chewy Oatmeal bars. And quickly got to work on the recipe.

Here's whats in the box. A packet of premixed cake mix, and a separate pack of real carrots and raisins!

They're all dried up at this moment... you just have to pour in hot water.... and..... TADAH!!!! It soaks up the liquid and plumps back into yummy juiciness!

Melt the other ingredients in a pot...... Stir well to mix it all up...

Mix your dry ingredients well.

Add the egg into dry ingredients then mix in the cooked sugar mixture., till well incorporated..

Bake, and refrigerate.

Stack as many as you can on a plate and sink your teeth onto all of them.

I would recommend taking it out of the fridge 10 mins before cutting into them. As you can see I cut into mine too soon, and it was a little hard, thus, the crumbly and uneven edges. Taste wise, biting into it when it was cold made it a little too hard for my liking. But after devouring the first 2 pieces and letting the last one warm up room temperature, I would say its awesome. I love oatmeal, and have been looking for a oatmeal bar recipe for quite some time. I failed in a few before. Too hard, too raw, too sweet, too sticky.But I'm glad I finally made a pretty good tasting oatmeal bar, and am excited to experiment with other flavours and oatmeal. Try it and let me know how it goes! Meanwhile, I'll be experimenting more in my kitchen! Till then!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Meal planning tips

Do you hate cooking? Does anxiety strikes when you have to cook a meal? Do you often open your fridge only to blank stare and not know what to do with the ingredients inside? Well, you're not alone. I often feel like that too!

Where I stay now, is very different from Singapore. None of the food places are within walking distance. Its quite costly to eat out. The simplest meals are a minimum of USD$10 per person, not including tax and tips. You'd still have to drive miles and miles out to reach to the town to get the better food. Sometimes, after adding all the costs and inconvenience up, its still better to cook and prepare whatever I'm craving for at home.

Having to cook all 3 meals a day, and sometimes supper too, can be quite tiresome. I have to keep looking and searching online for new ideas on what to cook for the husband. I'm quite fussy in what I put in my mouth, I need colours and variety. I hate repeating dishes so I try to find new recipes all the time to prevent that.

I find that meal planning really useful, as I have the entire list of meals I will be preparing the following week, therefore, on the weekends when I go out to get my grocery, I know what to buy. I have this weekly planner pasted on my wall that acts as a whiteboard, so I can just fill it up on weekends and see what to defrost and prepare on the night before.

Side note: Club Sycamore is what I call my house, because we throw the most "happening" parties in this area! Or at least what I try to make myself believe.

I used to print weekly planners online, and plan my meals ahead, then draft out my grocery list to bring out on my weekend grocery trips. That way, when meal times come, I won't have to tear my hair out to think of what to cook later.

I also take photos of the food I cook, and load it up to a folder on my Facebook. From there, I can see what I've cooked before, and if it turned out good, I can use it for inspiration for future meals when I run out of ideas. I will be posting my meal plans and recipes on this blog in the future as well. I figured if that help me, I'm sure it can help someone else as well. Plus, its also another way I can use as a reference when I need new ideas.

I have been trying out several recipes and writing them down to create my own recipe folder, where I experiment with new recipes and improve them to suit my own palette. Hopefully it will eventually be good enough to share on my blog. I haven't got to the stage of developing my own recipes yet, so I still do get alot of inspiration from other blogs, and my ever - growing cookbook collection.

I have alot of upcoming plans for this blog, and have been slowly changing the layout and planning out the things I want to write about and share here. Tried and tested recipes, travel tips and photos, and reviews of products I've been given to test out. I also plan to do a blogging marathon soon! There's like tons of things in my head I want to share here, and that blogging marathon will force me to post everyday. If you have a particular topic you want to hear my views on, feel free to drop me an email, or leave me a comment!

Check out my "Unfinished Biz" tabs to see my upcoming endeavors I hope to achieve.

Follow me on Twitter @natxwang to be updated on my latest posts, and my daily nonsensical ramblings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Testing the limits of the Nokia BH 905i

As with every purchase of a new gadget, I like to bring them all out for a good spin. I take pride in knowing my gadgets well, and testing them to their limits before deeming whether they are good for me, or whether I'd recommend them to my friends.

I've already talked about the physical aspects of this headset and compared it with the celebrity studded Dr Dre's Noise Cancelling headset.. So now let's talk about quality. Can the Nokia BH 905i provide?

1) Bluetooth Connection.

It connects well with my LG G2x and occasionally on my iPad 2.

When paired with LG G2X:

The music I get from my G2X is crisp clear especially with the DTS selected. The first time I heard some of my favourite old classics, I actually teared because I could hear the words so clearly.  I have tried connecting it to my phone and moving around the house and the music still maintains the quality with minimal breaking.

When paired with iPad 2:

When I paired it at home to watch my dramas on the iPad 2, I had no problems connecting or listening the entire hour of the show. Or rather few hours since I usually watch multiple espisodes of it. However, when I tried to connect to listen to my music library on the car, it breaks every 15 mins or so.  I'm not too sure if it was because there were too many interferences on the road, especially with the FM transmitter and radio turned on.

2) Style

I love black and I can never be the meticulous girl that keeps everything neat and clean at the same time, therefore, I bought the one in black. Also, another point to note, most electronics in white turn yellow after long term usage. Anyway, it matches my black G2X as well.

With its shiny metallic surface, it also does stand out quite abit, so I have no problems wearing it over my well blinged Ed Hardy cap to show it off. ;)

3) Battery life

Even with frequent usage of a couple of hours a day, I usually have to only charge it once a week, twice maximum. I've read it could last up to 11 hours of usage, and go on a week of standby with no problems. Of course, if you use the active noise cancelling function, its gonna suck up the battery quite a bit
4) Noise cancelling function

This is one feature I was most impressed with. When I showed the Nokia BH 905i to my friends, and they tried it on, they were shocked too. When you turn on the ANC function, you practically can't hear yourself screaming, let alone talking.

I've tried it while vacuuming the floor, and couldn't hear my super loud Bissell vacuum at all! On long road trips where the buzzing from the car, the radio, and crazy singing friends were all cramped in a vehicle, I could still enjoy the beauty of my music and not miss a beat of lyrics. I was singing to my favourite songs while the husband was Xboxing with Gears of War 3 with the 5.2 speakers and still not hear a single gun shot.

And I wasn't even on my usual noisy hiphop/RnB songs, mind you!

5) Bass/Treble Boost

There's a little button on the right side of the earphones where you press to boost your bass, or treble, or both! The boost did give a significant improvement on the song, and got me on my feet dancing! I know! A housewife dancing while vacuuming, and singing at the top of her lungs, imagine that! "Everyday I'm vacuuming!" *proceeds to do a lousy shuffling of feet*

6) Dual Voltage

Another thing to point out, its dual voltage. You can bring it to most places and all you'll need is a travel adapter, which you can easily borrow at hotels, to charge it. I was glad it was dual voltage, as it means that I can bring it back to Singapore not worry about needing to get a transformer just to use it. 

7) Ease of use

All the buttons are easily accessible and after using it for a couple of times its easy to remember where to press to navigate it to do what you want. 

8) Comfort
I've put it on for hours on long road trips, and watched drama serials on it, and still feel good to continue wearing it. No ear cramps, or aches with the head set on.


1) Old Nokia charging pinhead.

I really wished that Nokia would upgrade their chargers and change all of them to the standard usd chargers. These days everyone is up and about and traveling longer terms. When I go on roadtrips (usually 8 to 12 hr drives), I bring along my iSound external usb charger to keep my handphone and iPad 2 juices going. And I would have loved it if this headset could have been charged via that as well.

I'm very thankful that Nokia allowed me to trial this headset, as well as the mobile phone N8. I'm apologetic that I'm unable to review the mobile phone as I'm currently too dependent on the Android apps on my current G2X that I wasn't able to plug in my SIM card to trial the phone for longer usage.

But the good news is, given the trial period, I was confident enough in the BH 905i that it compliments the usage of my other gadgets, and allows me to enjoy the most mundane tasks with my favourite music. I bought it from Amazon after a week of trial!

If you notice the above photos, I still have the plastic on it! Didn't want to scratch the beautiful, shiny surface. So I do recommend the Nokia BH 905i, and if you intend to get one for yourself, you'll not regret it.

P.S. Nokia did not pay me to do this advert. I requested to trial this set on my own, wanting to justify if I should make this purchase. It ended with a happy purchase with my own money. The above is my own opinions of the headset. Feel free to post any questions and I'll try to reply them the best I could.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Learning photography

As I struggle to understand my camera and take better photos, I'm really thankful to have friends who have become great photographers themselves, guide me. Thanks to Daniel, who's doing his own wedding photography biz now. He provided me with good advice in selecting a camera and provided me info on the beginner settings in using my camera. And Ron, who gave me interesting new insights. I just realized that I could change the flash settings in my FZ35, adjusting it to make it brighter or dimmer according to the surroundings.

Have you ever taken a photo only to realize later, how the annoyingly bright flash add a eye stinging brightness to the object, making the subject's details bare visible with the bright glob of light reflecting? I just learnt we can better manage that by adjusting the flash. He also added in some useful tips on food photography.

Hopefully I'll be able to put these tips to good use on this long weekend.. Gonna pack my camera stuff and lug it all around. Hopefully coming back with some great photos to show. Till then! ;)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The quest for better music, Dr Dre Beats vs BH 905i. First impression.

I've been looking for a good headphones for quite a while now. I've seen my friends use headsets for quite sometime. Mostly to watch shows on laptops, enjoy great music, and have the privacy to immerse themselves in their own world, without disturbing others. I always chose the cheapest ear buds because I felt that these stuff will never last me more than a couple of months. I was also afraid of the comfort of having headphones, therefore, thinking earbuds are the smallest pieces to stuff in your ears, they should not be causing any discomfort at all.

However, trips to the gym and 10 hour long road trips proved me wrong. When you've had a hard bud in your ear, and running on the treadmill, and your elbow hooks onto your wires, and violently pulling it out of your ears, you'll know what I mean. Trying to sleep in the car on long road trips too. You feel your ears starting to cramp up after an hour of listening to music, and the sound of the cars disrupting your music. A lot of interferences and making the duration and cramp situation harder to bear.

Dr Dre Beats came into the market recently and promoted as having high definition music quality. At that time, I only knew HD videos, I didn't know anything about HD music. I also knew that Dr Dre Beats weren't so affordable. But when I first saw it in Best Buy, I knew I had to test it out. I plugged in my mobile phone, and played my favorite tunes. My jaw dropped, and I was in awe. I could hear crystal clear quality and the bass and the beats of the songs were awesome.

I love hiphop, pop and RnBs, typical of what you would hear in a club. My cheap earbuds allowed me to hum with the music, but the beats were always somehow distorted, and I had never enjoyed music, the way it was made in the studios, not until I tried Dr Dre Beats at Best Buy. Since then, I was on a quest to find better sound quality to allow me to enjoy my favourite tunes.

Thanks to Nokia, I had the opportunity to test out the awesome BH 905i headset, an amazing invention. If you know me, I'm quite gadget/tech crazy, and I always "want" the best gadget within my budget to fit my lifestyle. Consumers have no lack of great headsets to choose from these days, with BOSE, Sennheiser,  Dr Dre Beats, Monster, and the wallet friendly, Skullcandy thrown into the mix.

The solution to a long, tiring day.....
Pop in some good music, and lay back with some XingTea. My favorite canned drink at the moment. Not too sweet, flavorful, and healthier choice.

I think we all agree to a certain extent that, whatever music we listen to, does affect our mood a certain way at that moment. Dance music, makes us upbeat, ready to go, be it in a workout, or some physical task at hand. Classical music, allows our body to slowly wind down, and relax. Love songs, starts a beautiful night of romance. You get the meaning.

At that point in time, the Dr Dre Beats, HD Noise cancelling headset was top of my list to buy. But the price, was holding me back. And I also didn't like the fact that its wired.  My friend bought the Dr Dre Beats before my Nokia trial set came, and I had the opportunity to test it out, and compare both of them.

Headphones in the original hardcover they came with. Dr Dre Beats on the left, Nokia BH 905i on the right.

Both headphones fold, and  pack away nicely in the bag that they came with. The hardcover for both offer good protection for your headphones when you travel. I'm used to traveling with a huge tote bag to fit my camera, ipad, Isound external battery, and my charging wires all in my "handbag", so fitting in this pouches was not an issue to me. You can easily slide the bag into the glove compartment of the car on road trips. It fits nicely into the side compartment on the passenger door of my car too.

The accessories that came with the Dr Dre Beats. The neccessary wires, a separate wire with mic for connecting to handphone so you can talk with it.  And airplane attachment, so you can use your personal headset for long flights.

The accessories that came with Nokia BH 905i. Alot of different plugs and wires, for every possible situation that you might use your headset in. And it all fits into a small little pouch that fits into the protective case!

So this is my first impression of both headsets. I ended up buying one of them. And I'll be sharing with you my thought process of how I compared them, and why I bought it in the end.

Next up: Part 2 of comparison. Usage & Compatibility. Coming soon!