Two Toned roses
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Ma’s Korean Food and Botanical Garden Birthday Celebration in Norfolk, Virginia

Xak and I love the powerful combination of flours and flowers. 😄 After a long day of baking or enjoying baked goods at afternoon tea, we usually visit a botanical garden, an arboretum, or an estate with an impressive lawn, field, or meadow to take a nice stroll. Xak and I actually had our first official date at a botanical garden and chose to get married at that very same botanical garden!

While I absolutely love looking at the rainbow of colors in nature, I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to successfully raising plants of my own. This is the complete opposite of my mother.

While I struggle to keep even succulents from dying, Ma has loved plants since before I existed. When I was young, I would watch her lovingly care for the many daffodils, rhododendrons, and geraniums that bloomed outside my childhood home. As I got older, Ma raised bushes of snowball hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, and so many orchids that we have a room in the house that I call “the Orchid room.”

Much to Ma’s dismay, I can’t always distinguish a weed from a plant, however I truly appreciate the beauty of nature likely because I saw how much she loved flowers growing up. Ma sees plants and flowers as precious and takes very special care of them like they’re her own children. You will never find her happier than when she is surrounded by plants.

For Ma’s birthday this year, Xak and I wanted to make sure her day included her favorite things in life: chocolate, beautiful flowers, and tasty food.

We planned to head down to the Hampton Roads area to take Ma and Pa along to visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden, lunch at Hansang Korean Restaurant, and finally enjoying homemade scones and chocolate cupcakes. Hopefully this would be a very happy birthday. 🤞

The Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia

The Norfolk Botanical Garden is 175 acres of absolutely gorgeous blooms and exhibits and located next to the Norfolk International Airport. It’s actually the biggest botanical garden in all of Virginia and one of my favorite places to visit when I’m down in the Hampton Roads area.

There’s never a bad time to go to the garden. Something is also happening, whether it’s featured flower seasons (like azaleas), special events like the winter Garden of Lights, plant sales, or classes, or even just a place to relax and appreciate statues and fountains while peacefully walking the paths.

Ma loves this place and though she’s been here several times, she was thrilled to return here for the first stop on her birthday celebration. I was feeling a little nervous because our visit was occurring right between the end of peak azalea season and the beginning of rose season. However, I quickly realized, I had nothing to worry about at all.

Margaret Moore Hall Bicentennial Rose Garden

The Rose Garden is visible as you enter from the parking lot. It is massive and absolutely gorgeous. If you don’t visit gardens frequently, you might think roses only come in a few colors and one shape like the typical dozen of red roses purchased around Valentines Day.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden has over 300+ types of roses in different shades of pinks, yellows, reds, purples, oranges and many more. It is absolutely a jaw dropping sight and I nearly ran out of space on my phone taking pictures. 

As Pa and Xak ran off to a coffee food truck to get some lattes on this slightly cold and overcast day, Ma and I were walking down every aisle taking pictures excitedly oohing and aahing over the fullness of the petals and the stunning vibrance produced in nature. When Pa and Xak returned, lattes in hand, we immediately pointed out our favorite blooms so they could appreciate them too.

Note: I painstakingly only chose 6 pictures for this. There were seriously about a hundred more pics.

I think we spent about an hour alone in the rose garden because every rose was unique and truly wonderful. However, since we knew we would have to head to lunch by a certain time, sadly we had to leave the rose garden. After all, there was so much else to see.

The Azalea Quest and Journey to The Enchanted Forest

As we exited the rose garden, we decided to take a different path from our typical route. My last visit to this garden was in 2019 and there had been quite a few changes so it seemed like a nice idea to explore. We wanted to ensure we had time to view the azaleas before we left the gardens. The problem was, we weren’t quite clear which way to go.

Holding on to my trusty map that I had picked upon entering, I saw the Rhododendron Garden was in one direction. Azaleas are part of the Rhododendron family, so it made sense to me that the azaleas would be there. However, Pa insisted that we head to the Enchanted Forest instead since he claimed that was the home to many of the azaleas. In fact, he was so confident that he was willing to put a latte up for stakes.

We only had about an hour left in the gardens before we had to head to lunch and I had no desire to waste any time, but I begrudgingly headed in the direction of the Enchanted Forest to appease Pa.

At least I’ll get a latte out of this.

-me thinking to myself, walking the long path to the enchanted forest

As we headed in the opposite direction of the Rhododendron Garden and into the Enchanted Forest, we passed one of the most beautiful exhibits I have ever seen. It was a new garden that was not present in my last visit. I was actually stunned by how beautiful all of the flowers were. Even with my black thumb and not knowing what any of these flowers were, I can still recognize when a view is breathtaking.

Note: The last two photos were flowers we saw along the way to the Enchanted Forest. Again, I withheld uploading my entire photo library!

We eventually made our way to the Enchanted Forest, and lo and behold there were indeed azaleas. However, there were also azaleas right where I said there would be too! So in fact, Pa and I were actually both right. I don’t think either of us get the latte, but I am glad that we made our way into the Enchanted Forest or else I would never had seen this new area or some of the really beautiful flowers we passed.

Since we had a specific time we needed to go for lunch, we chose a few more areas to explore and each time Ma and I stopped for several cell phone flower photoshoots. Unfortunately, we were too early to see Xak’s favorite hydrangeas, but we were able to stop for a quick visit to the statue garden and to the eagle tribute sculpture.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I nearly ran out of space on my phone. I’m only showing about 1/1000th of the pictures I took! Trust me when I say it is an absolutely magnificent place to visit.

As we worked our way out of the garden (trying not to stop too many times for photos), we realized we had worked up quite an appetite. Walking around a 175 acre garden can do that to you. We headed to our next item checklist: tasty food!

Hansang Korean Restaurant in Virginia Beach, Virginia

For Ma’s birthday lunch, she had requested a Korean restaurant in Virginia Beach called “Hansang” which is the Korean word for “Always.” None of us had ever been here before, but Ma had a hankering for kimchi. Me, being nervous about everything, just hoped that this place would be good.

Since I live in the DC metro area, i have access to a ton of Korean restaurants and bakeries. Down in the Hampton Roads area, there’s not nearly as many. I’m the kind of person who likes to study menus intensely before visiting to make sure I know what to expect like how much do things cost, and what ingredients do they use. Although I have some good experience with Korean food, each restaurant has their own specialities and sometimes their own way of doing classics.

We pulled into a parking lot of an unassuming strip mall with no frill signs on the surrounding businesses. As we entered, I was quite surprised. The restaurant’s interior did not match the exterior at all. The room had modern decor with Kpop music videos playing on the tv screens and various Korean themed artwork. Off to a good start.

An employee walked us to a table for four and I noticed something interesting as we were seated. There was a mini kiosk with an interactive screen for customers to order their food, drinks, and even things like extra napkins and silverware. 

I’ve never seen something like this before at a sitdown restaurant. Typically you might pay at a table kiosk, but never actually ordered through it. Is this a common thing? This place seemed like an introvert’s dream! Food appears without you have to socialize with anyone!

I like this approach because you know exactly what you’re getting and you can ensure that your order is accurate and you know exactly what it will cost you. It might not be for everyone though, and I saw the servers talking to some customers as well.

Since I had advised everyone to look at the menu in advance, we all had an idea of what we would order and I punched in the items into the screen and happily clicked “Order Now.” We planned on getting the following:

  • Pajeon
  • Kimbap
  • Kimchi Jjigae
  • Spicy Pork Bulgogi
  • Gamjatang



While some restaurants do bread, Korean restaurants serve communal side dishes in little bowls. Depending on where you go, you might get a few, or you might even get 20 (I’m serious). At every restaurant though, I’m 99% positive you’ll always get kimchi as one of your banchan dishes.

At Hansang, we got four which included the following:

  • Eomuk Bokkeum (어묵볶음) – stir fried fish cake
  • Gamja Jorim (감자조림) – braised potatoes (yum)
  • Kimchi
  • Broccoli
I love that Korean restaurants serve you a variety of side dishes so you can try different things.

The first three are typical at most other Korean restaurants, with Ma pleased about the kimchi. However, I was quite surprised by the broccoli. I’ve never had this before as banchan, but broccoli loving Xak was thrilled. Shortly after, our first appetizer was served.


Pajeon (파전) is a scallion pancake: “pa” (파) meaning green onion and “jeon” (전) meaning a fried fritter of sorts. You can have different varieties of jeons, but I’ve seen pajeon the most on restaurant menus and I think it’s yummy!

This pajeon was tasty and I think everyone was glad I ordered it.

My parents have some knowledge of Korean food thanks to their hours of watching Korean dramas, but they have never had pajeon before. Pa was particularly intrigued since he enjoys making pancakes but not usually savory ones.

When the pajeon was served, I saw everyone’s eager and hungry faces staring at the crispy scallion filled fritter, conveniently pre-sliced into 8 pieces (2 for each of us) along with a serving spatula and a bowl of salty soy dipping sauce. I doled out pieces and everyone began to crunch happily. Pa, in particular, was quite excited at the thought of making savory pancakes at home. An inspiring first course.

Beef Kimbap

As our empty pajeon plate was removed, we were served beef kimbap (김밥) which is rice, meat, and vegetables rolled in seaweed. The word “kim” (김) means seaweed and “bap” (밥) means cooked rice.  

Xak loves making kimbap at home. After learning how to make it, he immediately bought his own bamboo mats to roll. It’s one of our favorites because of how snackable, delicious, and portable it is. When I visited Korea, it was available on practically every street corner and also very cheap. I think I could eat kimbap everyday.

Typically when Xak makes kimbap, he includes different colors and textures like crunchy carrots for orange or soft egg strips for yellow. We were happy to see the same in this kimbap along with some danmuji (yellow pickled radish).

The kimbap was good and Ma and Pa were fine with Xak and I having the extra two end pieces which we happily gobbled up. Now with the appetizers gone, we were ready for the main course!

Main Entrees

Kimchi Jjigae (stew)

Ma had ordered kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) which includes pork, thick slices of tofu, plenty of vegetables, and a nice spicy broth topped with green onions. Stews and soups are served with a bowl of rice. There’s a lot of different ways to eat stews with rice and despite what the experts say, I strongly believe the right way to eat it is the way that you choose to eat it. My personal preference is to eat some of the soup separately so I can appreciate the flavor on its own and then pour some of the soup onto my rice and eat it together as one bite.

Kimchi jjigae is a classic. You’ll probably find this at every Korean restaurant you go to.

Ma was pleased with the jjigae and I could see she was eager at the thought of picking up ingredients to make her own kimchi for later.

Spicy Pork Bulgogi

I love beef bulgogi, but this spicy pork looks great!

Pa has been to Korean bbq enough times to know that you can’t go wrong with bulgogi. Typically I love eating beef bulgogi, but we will always order pork bulgogi if Barb is around so she can enjoy it as well. The pork was sliced and marinated in a spicy sauce served alongside rice and looked quite delicious. I half hoped Pa wouldn’t finish so I could pick at leftovers.


However… the best meal in my opinion was 100% mine.

The word “gamja” (감자) means potato and “tang” (탕) meaning soup so you would assume this is a potato heavy soup. In reality, potatoes are only a part of this soup. It’s actually a stew with pork back bones, green onions, a spicy soup made of red hot peppers and it’s absolutely delicious. I love it so much and I will always order this if it’s available at a restaurant.

Unfortunately, most Korean restaurants around me do not have gamjatang (감자탕) on the menu which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I saw this on the menu. Interestingly enough though, the gamjatang was twice as much as every other entree (like the kimchi jjigae and pork bulgogi) because it is intended to be served for 2 people. Xak, knowing my love for gamjatang, agreed to also eat some as his entree. While he’s no where near as a fanatic as I am, he still very much appreciates the rare occasions when it’s available and also understands that I can and will eat gamjatang for two people if I needed to.

*Sizzle sizzle* I wonder when they’ll serve Xak’s gamjatang?

This restaurant presented our gamjatang on its own cooktop which is different from most places I’ve visited. However, it was an absolutely beautiful sight watching the soup sizzle and boil right in front of our eyes. We were given a ladle to scoop out the spicy soup into our individual bowls and tongs to distribute the pork bones. Xak prefers green vegetables (hello, broccoli), while I am obsessed with potatoes. We made sure each of us had some of everything but also loaded up on what we loved the most.

The food was so good and my only complaint was that I ran dangerously low on rice. An extra bowl costs $3. Since there is an endless supply of rice at Ma and Pa’s house, I decided I wouldn’t prove that I could eat two servings worth of gamjatang right then and there and that I would save some for later after making an entire pot of rice for myself. (So good!)

We paid via the kiosk, thanked the restaurant owners for the delicious food, and headed out to our next stop. What a great meal! 

The Asian Grocery Store

Since we were in Virginia Beach, I knew we would be heading to an Asian grocery store. Ever since I was little, my parents would frequently shop at Asian food stores to get specific ingredients. In American stores, you typically have one aisle for “international” food and variety is slim because they try to jam every nationality into limited number of shelves. You might find some of the more mainstream things, but definitely not all. 

Whenever my parents come up to the DC area, they always make sure to dedicate an entire day (and a whole cooler) to purchase groceries. The produce is usually cheaper, and you have access to so many more authentic ingredients. It’s also an excellent way to track down international Oreos!

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things were butter coconut biscuits and I would always try to sneak a package into my parents carts before they would check out. I haven’t been to an Asian food store with my parents in years, but they told Xak and I that we could get whatever we wanted! We both cheered and ran down to the candy and cookie aisle. Xak ended up choosing some Chinese lucky candy, and I tracked down the butter coconut biscuits. Yum!

YAY! These aren’t the exact same as what I had growing up, but close enough.

Baking Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes by RecipeTin Eats

Before we left to go down to Ma and Pa’s house, earlier in the week Xak wanted to make some special chocolate cupcakes to ensure Ma had something chocolate-y for her birthday. Although neither of us really make cupcakes, this seemed like the logical choice since traveling with a huge chocolate cake likely would cause unnecessary stress for both of us.

The problem was, we didn’t have any reliable go-to chocolate cupcake recipes. Whenever I don’t know what to do, I turn to RecipeTin Eats! Nagi (the owner of RecipeTin Eats) is extremely talented at writing out very detailed recipes, so even though we had never tried this before, both Xak and I knew that Ma would like it. Ok, more like we confidently hoped.

The recipe was called “Best EASY Chocolate Cupcakes” which sounded very promising. After all, we have made her mini cheesecakes, pavlovas, chicken sandwiches, and a ton more with a huge immense of success and none of those had “EASY” in the title!


The recipe does call for quite a few ingredients, but we surprisingly had almost all of them. The only thing we needed was 70% cocoa dark chocolate broken into small pieces. We found some 72% dark chocolate baking chips and hoped that that would be adequate.

The “Easy” cupcakes contained this many ingredients.

Making the Batter

The recipe involves melting butter and chocolate in the microwave and mixing it until it reaches a certain consistency. While that’s not hard to do, it’s easy to panic when something looks a certain way. Luckily, calm and cool headed Xak knew to just trust the process and be patient. Like most recipes, you separate the wet and dry ingredients.

The second half of the recipe included combining the dry with the wet and whisking until lumps are gone. I find that no matter how careful I am, I always have lumps. As I bitterly thought my previously lumpy batters, Xak’s lump-less batter was beginning to form nicely.

While I normally fulfill sous chef duties like measuring and prepping ingredients, for this bake I was too nervous to do much other than line the cupcake tins and take pictures. After all, this was Ma’s birthday cupcakes. I’m not trying to get eggshells in those.

When the batter was ready, Xak filled up the perfectly lined (😄) muffin tin and popped them in the oven. The recipe called for 12 cupcakes and we made… exactly 12. This was a good sign.

Frosting the Cupcakes

After the cupcakes cooled, Xak prepared the recommended chocolate buttercream frosting and then we decorated a few cupcakes with sprinkles. I know for a fact Ma and Pa are not huge sprinkles fans, but I could not resist because they made them look so festive! Hopefully they wouldn’t mind too much.

After the cupcakes had cooled, Xak and I had to try one… just to make sure we were serving something edible for Ma. And, because they looked awesome!!! Sure enough, the cupcakes were great! Another great bake from Xak, and another win from Nagi!

Dinner, Cupcakes, and Ma’s Botanical Garden

That night, for Ma’s birthday dinner, we had some of our Hansang leftovers and also a specially prepared meal for ME! Ma had made me some beef with okra and shrimp paste and plenty of rice which is something I LOVED as a child (and still do). It was gone before I could take any pictures.

When Xak served the cupcakes to Ma, Pa boiled some water for us to enjoy a cup of tea, which we served alongside Xak’s homemade scones and some Bonne Maman preserves for a wonderful treat. We also gave some Yorkshire Tea and Kedem biscuits to Pa since he enjoyed them so much during his first tea party with us.

The next day we had to leave, but not before Ma gave us a tour of her garden.

Not shown: the vegetable garden, the pear trees, Pugsly’s magnolia tree, the hydrangea bushes, blueberries, orchids, geraniums, everything else.

The last thing I did before we packed up the car was stop by “the Orchid room.” This is the room where our darling pug would run into to climb on the flowered patterned couch and “kindly alert” us when a visitor had arrived. This is also the room where Ma kept a lot of indoor plants including several orchids. However, it is also the home to my very first 18 count cross stitch project featuring some Asian blossoms that I gave to Ma for Christmas over a decade ago.

It was nice to see the old plants I was familiar with and several new ones flourishing. It was also nice to see that my art is still hanging up! Even if Ma is one year older, I don’t think her love for flowers will ever wither. Hope you had a Happy Birthday, Ma.

Bonus: Pancakes and Tea

After we got home, the next day I got a few texts from Pa. He had decided he wanted to make his own “Pa”-jeon (heh…) and added in some veggies to his pancake of the day. After frying it up, he also made a nice cup of the Yorkshire Tea that we had given him.

As I was browsing through pictures of the flowers I took from the trip, I saw the message and I nodded approvingly while sipping my own cup of Yorkshire Tea. Only I was enjoying it with some scones, a digestive biscuit, and my long awaited childhood treat of butter coconut biscuits. Delicious!!

Yorkshire tea, a Mcvitie’s Digestive biscuit, Xak’s cream scone, and two delectable butter coconut biscuits for my daily tea time. As good as I remember!

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