+ cucumber and mint cooler cocktail

Cucumber & Mint Coolers

Easy & Simple Tequila Cocktail

cucumber and mint cooler cocktail

This summer has been one of the hottest summers in the Bay Area in a while, and has had me craving something refreshing to fulfill my happy hour needs.

I love experimenting with different flavors, fruits and mixers and this time, I opted in for a flavorful mix of lemon, agave syrup and orange bitters. Check out the recipe below for a tequila-based cucumber & mint cooler!


Cucumber & Mint Coolers

Total Time: 25 minutes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Serves 1 glass

Ingredients

  • Tequila (any brand) – 2 shots
  • Cucumber & Mint Lemonade Cordial – 2 shots
  • Rosemary Leaves
  • Lemon Juice
  • Orange Bitters – a few dashes
  • Agave Syrup – 1/4 tbsp

Directions:

  1. Add 2 shots of tequila and 2 shots of cucumber & mint lemonade cordial to shaker or closed-lid bottle/container. Add in a few dashes of orange bitters and pour in 10-15 drops of lemon juice based on your preferences.
  2. Shake the mixture well. Grab a glass and add in 4-5 ice cubes.
  3. Pour in drink mixture and add 1/4 tablespoon of agave syrup.
  4. Stir well and garnish with rosemary leaves.

+ santa cruz brunch spread

A Guide To The Highest Reviewed Restaurants in Santa Cruz

I Went To The Highest Reviewed Restaurants On Yelp In Santa Cruz – And Here’s What I Thought

I Love Sushi

I really do love sushi so I naturally had to stop by here. The rolls are delicious and there are so many to choose from (literally pages of roll options). The fish tasted very fresh and the appetizers were great as well.

The staff is super friendly and may even take a shot of sake with you if you ask!

The Crow’s Nest

I’ve been going to the Crow’s Nest for the past several years since a friend introduced it to me. The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating with a beautiful view of the ocean.

I usually order the crab cakes when I come here. The hollandaise sauce is generally flavorful without too strong of a citrusy taste (lemon/lime) whike the crab cakes have a crispy exterior and a soft, melt-in-your mouth interior.

They have a lot of unique and tasty cocktails that you can’t go wrong with. My favorite entrees here include the scallops, seafood fettuccine and fish tacos. I’ve also enjoyed the butternut squash ravioli and the cioppino but have enjoyed some of these dishes more at other seafood restaurants.

Overall I love the ambience and scenic views, and enjoy the delicious cocktails. The food is great as well and it’s a great spot for a weekend brunch or a date.

Walnut Ave Cafe

I love Walnut Ave Cafe! There’s usually a bit of a wait (25-30 min), but there’s a lot to do around the area since they are located in downtown Santa Cruz.

My rating on the food pictured:

  • Belgium Waffle (with strawberries, grilled bananas & walnuts, and whipped cream): Delicious! They were very accommodating and let us add both strawberries and bananas as a topping. Nothing special here – just a good, traditional Belgium waffle.
  • Portobello & PepperJack Sandwich: This is the best sandwich I’ve had in a while and would definitely come back just to order this again! It was so flavorful and the mushroom and cheese melted in my mouth.

Zachary’s Restaurant

Zachary’s Restaurant is a family-owned restaurant of local UCSC alumni and Santa Cruz locals. With great eats and a friendly staff, this is a great place for a weekend brunch filled with comfort food. Plus it’s very affordable!

My ratings on the food pictured:

  • Zach’s Old Fashioned: Delicious poached eggs with crumbled bacon! This was probably my favorite dish here!
  • Miguel’s special salsa (hot) – Really love this spicy salsa and it went great with the eggs. It wasn’t actually very spicy in my opinion but had a bit of a flavor kick.
  • Sourdough pancakes: Pretty basic pancakes served with whipped cream, butter and blueberries. Nothing special here, but nothing to complain about!

Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room

Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room is located in downtown Santa Cruz and is perfect for when you are craving a little bit of everything. Just look at my impressive table spread above and take in the fact that we ordered all this food for two people.

My ratings on the food pictured:

  • South Seas Fish Tacos: The fish tacos were pretty good! I eat fish tacos pretty frequently and this was on par with other fish tacos dishes I like. Nothing too special here, but the fish tasted fresh!
  • Ahi Katsu Tacos: These were delicious! I loved the contrast between the outer seared Pablo crust and the soft, ahi steak in the middle.
  • Kona-Style Chicken Wings: The curry sauce was delicious and flavorful with hints of coconut and lime, but the chicken was a little dry and tasted as though it was frozen and reheated.
  • Tiki Torch Chicken Wings: Similar to the Kona-Style wings, the flavoring of the tiki torch wings (island hoisin sambal sauce – yum!) was delicious. However, the actual chicken meat tasted a bit dry on these wings as well.
  • Kingston Crab Curry: This was delicious and probably my favorite thing on the menu. It was overcast and a little chilly when we went so having a warm curry dish definitely warmed me up a bit. The curry was flavorful and paired perfectly with the seafood.
  • Mac and Cheese and Cheese: True to its name, the Mac and cheese (and cheese) was very cheesy! With the added bacon, it was tasty and proved to be great comfort food. No complaints here!
  • Blue Hawaiian Tiki Drink: Very tropical and delicious tiki drink! It was a little on the sweet side and the rum was blended in well so you could only taste a hint of it.

The Penny Ice Creamery

I know this isn’t a restaurant, but with a 4.5 star yelp rating and over 1,700 reviews, I felt I owed them a spot on this list. Penny Ice Creamery is the only ice cream shop in Santa Cruz that makes their ice cream completely from scratch in house. They have unique, rotating flavors like Cardamom Pluot, Basil, and Black berry Sorbet that use locally farmed and organic ingredients.

Their ice cream has rich flavors and unique combinations that will never leave you bored. I tried their Whisky Custard and Caramel ice cream (pictured above) and absolutely loved it! They also have another location in Capitola.

+ saratoga creek trail in san jose

Saratoga Creek Trail

Your Guide to a Quick Trail Along West San Jose’s Saratoga Creek

If you know me, you know I’m always trying to explore new places and find new hikes, nature trails, and outdoor activities to stay active and spend more time in nature.

A couple days ago, I went on a hike in Castle Rock State Park, and wanted to spend some more time outdoors today, without it taking up the majority of my day.

So I checked out Saratoga Creek Trail in West San Jose, for a peaceful walk just a quick drive away.

A few things to note about Saratoga Creek Trail:

  • The whole trail is about 1.3 miles and doesn’t loop back
  • The trail stretches from Mitty High School on one end to a little past Murdock Park on the other end
  • The path disconnects at Bollinger and Lawrence and continues across the street.
  • This is not a hiking trail, and is a creek-side path stretching along residential areas and several parks

If you are looking for a good hike, I would not recommend coming on this trail. The trail is completely flat, and not incredibly scenic (although you do walk alongside a creek for the majority of the trail). If you are looking for a new walking, running or biking route, this is a good 3-mile round trip option.

Overall, I found the trail to be incredibly peaceful and a nice shift away from my regular neighborhood walks. There were a lot of beautiful flowers, cattails, and other plants along the route and I stopped several times to take pictures. If you are looking to take nice portraits, the majority of the trail has very aesthetically pleasing nature backdrops and pretty decent natural lighting.

If you have young children, this is a great family-friendly activity for a quick walk and picnic at one of the many parks along the path. You can stop by Murdock Park or Sterling Barnhart Park, both along the path, or make a slight detour and stop by either John Mise Park or Rainbow Park.

On today’s walk, we brought a couple salads and sparkling watermelon juice from Trader Joe’s. I love Trader Joe’s sparkling watermelon juice, and even opted to create a fresh, homemade version (scroll down in the linked page and check out my recipe)!

Check out some nature pictures I took during my walk below!

+

Exploring Castle Rock State Park

A Guide to Hiking and Exploring Castle Rock

What better way to start Memorial Day Weekend than to soak up the sun? I couldn’t pass up this golden opportunity to spend some time outdoors. An almost four-day weekend? 70° weather? Some relaxing time in nature (that follows social distancing regulations, of course)? Count me in!

As a South Bay resident, I was scouting out hiking trails close enough to drive to within an hour, but far enough to feel like I was escaping my daily, mundane routine for a bit. And I came across Castle Rock – a park I’ve been meaning to visit for a while.

Castle Rock State Park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is a beautiful park filled with lush forests, sculpted sandstone, and panoramic views of the San Lorenzo Valley and the Pacific Ocean.

Don’t take my word for it – check out the beautiful views from Goat Rock Overlook on the Saratoga Gap Trail.

castle rock state park hiking lookout views

What’s in my bag?

Before going on a hike, I like to be prepared. Check out these few essentials I packed for a quick day hike!

  • Water bottle
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunscreen lotion (100 SPF)
  • Bug Bite Thing
  • Sunglasses
  • Flashlight
  • Pack of tissues
  • Light windbreaker jacket
  • Moisturizing lotion
hiking essentials

Visiting The Park

A few things to note about the park:

  • There is a $10 parking fee (vehicle day-use fee)
  • Currently no water available – you will have to bring your own
  • Plenty of clean, gender-neutral bathrooms available by the parking lot
  • Poison oak is found along the trail so be careful and resist going off path

One of my favorite things about Castle Rock is that you have a good mix of trail options that can accommodate hikers of all ages and levels. With easy trails around 1.3 miles to more strenuous trails up to 16.4 miles, you can choose how long and how far you want your adventure to last.

For my hike, I opted for a 3.5 mile adventure, starting with the Saratoga Gap Trail and taking a short cut through an interconnected trail to loop back on the Ridge Trail.

The trail starts in the lush forested area following Kings Creek. There are a couple bridges you pass as you zigzag your way through the shaded forested area. After about 0.4 miles, the trail ascends quickly to the waterfall lookout where you can see Castle Rock Falls.

Unfortunately, the lookout deck area is currently closed for safety reasons related to the current pandemic, but you can still see the beautiful views of the valley. Don’t worry – you aren’t missing too much. The waterfall itself is a thin stream over water running over a sheer cliff below the platform, meaning you can’t get a great look at it anyways.

As you trek further up the Saratoga Gap Trail, you are able to see stunning views of the San Lorenzo Valley and several red-tailed hawks flying around the peaks, hunting deer mice and other small rodents scurrying about and hiding in the thick shrubs along the trails.

The park is home to a variety of wildlife including bobcats, raccoons, peregrine falcons, and more. Throughout my hike, I encountered lizards, a deer, a deer mouse, red-tailed hawks, and several other species of birds.

castle rock hiking trail

After you pass through the interconnecting trail and reach the Ridge Trail, you are able to see steep canyons sprinkled with unusual rock formations and boulder-dotted slopes. The park itself is named after one of these unique sandstone formations, Castle Rock, which is a very popular rock climbing area.

Besides the 32 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, the park also has two walk-in campgrounds (first-come, first-serve), rock climbing routes, and picnic areas.

The rock climbing areas and the campgrounds are closed for now, but I’ll definitely be coming back here to experience Castle Rock at night.

In the meantime, check out some of my favorite pictures from my trip below and start planning your own adventure through this magnificent park!

+ brunch food ideas

Brunch Time: French Toast, Deviled Eggs, Potatoes + Dalgona Coffee

Honey Cinnamon French Toast, Deviled Eggs, Rosemary Breakfast Potatoes + Dalgona Coffee With A Twist

Whenever I get brunch, I just can’t seem to decide if I want something savory or something sweet. So naturally I end up ordering some of both. My go-to brunches usually involve something with eggs and french toast drizzled with syrup and some fruits to keep me feeling healthy.

I decided to recreate some of my favorite brunch dishes to enjoy the whole experience at home! Check out the recipe below for a full brunch meal to enjoy on the weekend!


Full Brunch Recipe: Honey Cinnamon French Toast With Blueberries, Deviled Eggs, Rosemary Breakfast Potatoes + Dalgona Coffee With A Twist

Total Time: 40-60 minutes

Honey Cinnamon French Toast with Blueberries: 5 minutes
Deviled Eggs: 20 minutes
Rosemary Breakfast Potatoes: 20 minutes
Dalgona Coffee with a Twist: 10 minutes

Number of servings: 3 brunch meals

Ingredients

Honey Cinnamon French Toast with Blueberries

  • Egg – 1
  • Cinnamon – 1 tsp
  • Vanilla Extract – 1tsp
  • Milk – 1/2 cup
  • Bread – 6 slices
  • Blueberries – 1 cup
  • Caramel or Maple Syrup

Deviled Eggs

  • 6 eggs
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • White Wine Vinegar

Rosemary Breakfast Potatoes

  • Small Golden Potatoes – 6
  • Spinach – 1 bowl
  • Rosemary leaves – 6-7
  • Olive oil

Caramel Dalgona Coffee

  • Instant Coffee – 2tbsp
  • Boiling Water – 2 tbsp
  • Sugar – 2 tbsp
  • Caramel – 1 tsp
  • Chocolate chips – 5 pieces for garnishing

Ingredients

Honey Cinnamon French Toast

  1. Crack an egg into a bowl. Add in 1tsp each of cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat well with a hand whisk.
  2. Pour in 1/2 cup of milk while mixing.
  3. Grab a slice of bread and dip both sides in the mixture.
  4. Place the dipped bread on a heated pan spread with butter.
  5. Dip another bread into the mixture and add it to the pan. Repeat with all slices of bread.
  6. Remove bread off pan when it becomes nicely toasted.
  7. Add blueberries and drizzle maple syrup or caramel.

Deviled Eggs

  1. Hard boil six eggs. To do this, add eggs to a large pot of boiling water. Cover and let it cook for 1 minute.
  2. Turn off the stove, leaving the pot covered. Leave it covered for 15 minutes to let the eggs continue to cook.
  3. Remove eggs shells from eggs and cut each egg in half.
  4. Scoop out the cooked egg yolk from each egg, gently, so you don’t cut the egg. Leave the egg white “cups” aside for now.
  5. Add cooked egg yolks into a bowl and mash well.
  6. Mix in 1 tbsp mayonnaise, and 1 tsp each of mustard and white vinegar.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and mix.
  8. Scoop mixture back into cooked egg white cups.
  9. Add any additional seasoning to the top and serve.

Rosemary Breakfast Potatoes

  1. Cut potatoes into small cubes (about 1/2 – 1 in).
  2. Add potatoes to baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder. Add rosemary leaves.
  4. Bake on 375° for 20 minutes, until crisp.
  5. Remove the rosemary pieces.
  6. Cook 1 bowl of spinach and add cooked spinach to the baked potatoes and toss.

Caramel Dalgona Coffee

  1. Mix 2 tbsp each of instant coffee, sugar and boiling water into a bowl.
  2. Use a hand mixer to blend well for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.
  3. Pour mixture over glass of milk.
  4. Drizzle in about 1tsp of caramel on the top and garnish with a few pieces of chocolate chips.
+ food documentaries and shows on netflix

The Best Food Shows to Stream On Netflix Now

The Best Food Shows to Stream On Netflix Now

In the last few months of our current global situation, I’ve found myself at home with more time to start cooking again, appreciating food more, and of course, finding more shows to binge on Netflix.

Check out this list below for some mouth-watering, hunger-inducing food shows to binge this week!

Restaurants on the Edge

Restaurants on the Edge is a show where food and design experts travel the world to revive failing restaurants by giving them a makeover and connecting them to their local culture. This show is really interesting because you learn about the local customs of each country they film in.

marblemedia's Restaurants on the Edge Gets Netflix Release Date ...

Cooked

Michael Pollan, acclaimed food write, explores how cooking transforms food and shapes our world. It explains the history and different aspects of cooking and its ability to connect us as human beings.

Catastrophic Reviews: "Cooked" on Netflix — Kitchen Catastrophe

Ugly Delicious

Ugly Delicious combines travel, cooking and history with a no nonsense approach – “All the flavor. None of the BS”. Each episode highlights a particular dish and explores how it is made in regions

What's New on Netflix March 2020

Street Food Asia

Street Food Asia is a documentary that explores some of the best street food across Asia including Bangkok, Thailand, Delhi, India, Singapore, and more! The show follows street food chefs through interviews and tells a story of how influential street food around the world.

Street Food: Asia | Netflix Official Site

Street Food Latin America

Similar to Street Food Asia, Netflix is releasing an addition to their Street Food series with Street Food Latin America. Coming to Netflix in July 2020.

Street Food | Official Trailer | Netflix - YouTube

Flavorful Origins

Flavorful Origins is a Netflix Original show that journeys through the culinary traditions and secrets of China. It also explores various cuisines with native Asian ingredients.

Flavorful Origins | Netflix Official Site

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Explore the cuisine and culture of different cities around the world with celebrity guests including Chrissy Teigen, Seth Rogen, Lena Waithe, and Kate McKinnon.

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner | Netflix Official Site

Salt Fat Acid Heat

Salt Fat Acid Heat follows chef and food writer Samin Nosrat who travels the world to explore these four basic key elements.

Salt Fat Acid Heat | Netflix Official Site

+ baked banana

Cinnamon Honey Baked Banana

Easy & Healthy Baked Banana Recipe

baked banana

Growing up, one of my all-time favorite desserts was fried bananas. To this day, it’s my family’s go-to dessert order at any Thai, Indian or other South East Asian restaurant.

As much as I would love to eat fried bananas every day, I wanted something healthier that I could eat guilt-free while still satisfying my cravings.

Check out my recipe below for this healthy and sweet, low calorie, oven-baked banana recipe!


Cinnamon Honey Baked Banana Recipe

Total Time: 15-20 minutes

Prep: 5 minutes
Bake: 10-15 minutes

Number of servings: 3 servings (1 serving per banana)

Ingredients

  • Bananas – 3
  • Cinnamon – 1 tsp
  • Nutmeg – 1 tsp
  • Honey – 3 tsp

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Grab your banana and use a knife to make a long slit across the banana. Slice the banana in half, length ways, along the slit and separate the two halves.
  3. Leave the peel on the banana – this will help maintain the shape while the banana bakes.
  4. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg across the banana. I used about 1 tsp of each for all three bananas. Add a very small drizzle of honey to each banana.
  5. Repeat this process with all bananas, and place on a baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-15 min. at 400°F.
  7. Remove and drizzle a bit of honey on top (I used about 1 tsp per banana). Let the bananas cool for 5-10 minutes and then serve.
    Optional: Serve with a scoop of ice cream of any flavor! (Vanilla, Coconut and Butter Pecan are excellent choices!)

+

Kale Pesto Angel Hair Pasta

Easy & Healthy Veggie-Filled Pasta Recipe

Pasta was once considered to be a dish for the wealthy and only available to Italian nobles. Fortunately, spaghetti, tortellini, ravioli and all sorts of other pastas have become household staples that we can pick up from our local grocery store on any given day, and cook up a luxurious meal fit for Italian aristocrats in less than 30 minutes.

Capelli d’angelo, or “angel hair” pasta, is one of my favorite types of pasta. A very light pasta with thin, long strands and great with seafood, veggies or light sauces.

Check out my recipe below for kale pesto angel hair pasta filled with veggies and healthy enough for you to stuff your face with carbs and cheesy goodness completely guilt-free!


Kale Pesto Angel Hair Pasta + Sparkling Watermelon Juice

Total Time: 40 minutes

Pasta: 30 minutes
Sparkling Watermelon Juice: 10 minutes

Number of servings: 4 plates & 6 glasses

Ingredients

Kale Pesto Pasta

  • Angel Hair Raw Pasta – 1/2 box (makes 4 servings)
  • Kale Pesto Sauce – 1/2 cup
    (we used Sonoma Gourmet – Kale Pesto with white cheddar pasta sauce)
  • Spinach – 8 cups
  • Arugula – 8 cups
  • Sliced White Mushrooms – 2 cups
  • Broccoli – 1 cup
  • Alfalfa Sprouts – 1 cup
  • Feta Cheese – 1/2 cup
  • Seasoning: Garlic powder, Onion powder, Chili powder, Pepper

Sparkling Watermelon Juice

  • Watermelon – about 1/4 of a 5lb. watermelon
  • Sparkling water (we used La Croix – Peach Pear flavor)

Directions:

Kale Pesto Angel Hair Pasta

  1. Boil salted water in pot on the stove.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add in the raw angel hair pasta. Turn the heat down to medium/low and cover with lid. Cook for 10-15 minutes depending on your preference (10 minutes for firm, 12 minutes for al dente, and 15 minutes for soft)
  3. While you are waiting for your pasta to cook, heat up a large pan and add the sliced mushrooms. Let it cook for 1 minute and then add in the broccoli.
  4. Continue cooking both for another minute, then add your greens. Add in spinach and arugula.
  5. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder and pepper. Keep stirring as you let it cook for a few minutes.
  6. Once the vegetables are doing cooking, turn off the stove and add the alfalfa sprouts.
  7. The pasta should be fully cooked now. Remove the pasta from the stove and drain. Grab a large bowl and transfer your pasta.
  8. Add in the kale pesto sauce and feta cheese and mix well.
  9. Serve completed pasta with vegetables. Improve your presentation by creating a ring with the pasta around the plate and adding veggies to the center.

Sparkling Watermelon Juice

  1. Take one watermelon and slice it into 4 equal parts. Grab one quarter and cut the fruit off the skin.
  2. Dice the watermelon into small pieces. Throw the pieces into the blender and blend until completely liquefied. Transfer into serving bowl.
  3. Pour 1/3 cup of watermelon juice into each glass. Add a bit of water (1-2 tbsp) and stir.
  4. Pour in sparkling water until the glass is full (optional: leave a bit of room for a few ice cubes).
  5. Add in ice cubes and garnish with rosemary if desired.
+

Watermelon Mint Iced Tea Margaritas

Easy & Fruity Margarita Recipe

On a warm summer day, nothing tastes better than an ice-cold drink. For me, my go-to drink of choice has often been a margarita. Something about the tangy taste of lime and tequila coupled with the sweetness of margarita mix has always left me craving a sip on a nice, sunny day.

I love experimenting with different flavors, fruits and mixers and this time, I opted in for a watermelon-based mixer. Check out the recipe below for watermelon mint iced tea margaritas!


Watermelon Mint Iced Tea Margaritas

Total Time: 25 minutes

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooling Time: 15 minutes

Serves 6 glasses

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Watermelon
  • Mint Tea – 2 Tea Bags (or Mint Leaves)
  • Rosemary Leaves
  • Lemon
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. Boil water in kettle or a pot on the stove. If you are using a pot, transfer to a pitcher once the water has boiled. Add in two tea bags of a mint tea of your choosing. If you have mint leaves, you can steep those in the hot water instead of using tea bags.
  2. Let the tea steep in the hot water for 5-10 minutes
  3. While the tea is steeping, take one watermelon and slice it into 4 equal parts. Grab one quarter and cut the fruit off the skin.
  4. Dice the watermelon into small pieces. Throw the pieces into the blender and blend until completely liquefied. Transfer into serving bowl.
  5. Cool the tea and the watermelon juice in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  6. Grab margarita/drinking glasses and rub lemon across the entire rim.
  7. Pour salt on a flat surface, like a cutting board, or a bowl big enough to fit your glasses. Place your drinking glasses rim down onto the salt, and keep rotating the glass until the entire rim is coated in salt.
  8. Grab the mint tea and watermelon juice from the freezer, as well as your tequila.
  9. Add 1.5 shots of tequila, 1/3 cup of of tea, and 3 scoops of watermelon juice (ice cream scoop size) into each glass.
  10. Stir well. Add 3-4 ice cubes and garnish with rosemary leaves.
+ chocolate making class

Uber Moments: A Chocolate Experience

I Took A Chocolate Making Class Through Uber Moments and Here’s How it Went

In case you missed it, Uber is test selling cooking classes and dining experiences through a newly launched program, “Uber Moments” on the Uber Eats app.

They offered various options such as a $75 class on making Chinese dumplings, a $55 five-course Nigerian dinner, and a $55 Ramen Making class.

Being a huge dessert lover, I ended up choosing the $50 Chocolate making class and absolutely loved it.

This class was offered at Z. Cioccolato, a chocolate store in North Beach, San Francisco famous for their fudge. We were taught by the owner himself, Mike, and had an intimate group of nine chocolate lovers.

To be clear, this class doesn’t teach you how to make chocolate from scratch (cocoa bean to chocolate) as that would take hours. We learned how to create different variations and flavors of chocolate and learned techniques to make them presentable.

The offer is no longer valid through Uber moments, but you can still book classes through their website: $50/person for a 2-hour chocolate making class or $85/person for a 4-hour chocolate team building class.

chocolate making ingredients

Surprisingly enough, there was a dress code requiring you to wear closed toed shoes and short sleeves. The process does get a little messy and may drip a bit of chocolate on yourself. They do provide an apron to prevent chocolate from spilling on your clothes.

A few other ingredients they provided for us include:

  • An assortment of nuts – cashews, walnuts and almonds
  • 3 strawberries
  • 2 oreo cookies
  • a pretzel stick dipped in caramel
  • 3 pieces of caramel
  • 1 scoop of peanut butter with white chocolate mixed in
  • 1 silicone cup mold
  • And of course, a large pot of melted chocolate.

We learned how to make turtles, peanut butter cups, dipped strawberries, dipped oreos and a heath dipped pretzel stick.

The dipped items were pretty straight forward – just dunk them into the pot of chocolate. When removing them, we made sure to shake off all the extra chocolate that didn’t stick on to avoid “pooling”, or excess chocolate puddles. Pooling doesn’t affect the actual quality or taste of the final product, but does affect the aesthetics and doesn’t look as presentable to the customer.

The pretzel stick was pretty similar. We first dunked the entire stick into chocolate, and then placed it in a tray full of crumbled Heath chocolate bars, scooping the crumbles and covering every inch of melted chocolate along the stick. It took about 5 minutes to completely dry and it was ready to eat!

The turtles were a bit longer of a process. We took a scoop of melted chocolate for each and used the back of our spoons to smooth them into circles and then immediately placed the nuts on the liquid chocolate. The chocolate solidifies pretty fast, and in about 10-15 minutes, we were ready to add the next layer. We flattened the caramel pieces and stuck them to the chocolate, and then added another layer of melted chocolate on top.

The peanut butter cups followed a similar procedure. We first created an outer layer or chocolate by scooping in a small amount and using the back of our spoons to evenly coat the inside of the silicone mold. After letting this dry, we added then scoop of peanut butter in and leveled the top. We added one more layer of chocolate to the top to let it seal.

Finally, the most fun part in my opinion, are the finishing touches – chocolate drizzles! You have to be confident and quick when creating your drizzles or else they may appear to be blotted or look a little messy.

chocolates, chocolate dipped strawberries, chocolate dipped oreos, caramel turtles, heath pretzel stick

Overall, I’m really satisfied with how everything turned out! I went a little overboard with the drizzling and ended up adding drizzles to every single item. The techniques Mike taught us were super easy to follow and practical, that I tried making some batches at home! Stay tuned to see how that went!

+

Skydive Monterey Bay: The Tandem Experience

An 18,000 foot jump I’ll never forget

Every few weeks, I get an urge to jump on a plane and fly somewhere new. Occasionally, I get an urge to jump out of said plane. 

A couple months ago, I finally acted on that urge and convinced a friend to join in my recklessness. Here are my first-ever experiences with tandem skydive.

FAQ’s

When I first tell someone I’ve been skydiving, here’s some of the first things I get asked – and what I think you should know before taking the jump.

“You can actually die from skydiving, right?”

Well, yeah. I chose to jump out of a plane 18,000 feet off the ground, and that comes with its own share of risks including death. They actually make you sign a comprehensive (read: very, very long) waiver to make sure you understand all the risks.

“What does it feel like?”

Have you ever stuck your head out the window while driving? You can feel the air pushing against your face, and it feels kind of windy even if it’s 100 degrees out? Now speed that up like 10x faster and that’s what it feels like.

“Were you scared?”

Honestly, I was more uncomfortable than scared. You wear a harness that awkwardly fits on your upper thighs and take off in a tiny plane, knee-to-back with the other passengers. When the time came to jump, I was honestly just glad to be getting out of the plane and into the air.

“How high did you jump from?”

18,000 feet off the ground. The highest option you can pick to jump from anywhere in the world! Call me adventurous or crazy – your pick.

Why Monterey?

I ended up choosing Skydive Monterey Bay, primarily for the breathtaking views and warm weather. I was able to find a $533 groupon for a Weekend VIP jump for two, so my base cost was around $277. That specific deal is currently expired, but you can find a few other options for Skydive Monterey Bay around the same cost.  I also chose to pay more and add on a photo and video package so my total cost came out to $477 ($277 base cost + $180 video package + $15 USB drive charge). 

If you have the means to do so, I highly recommend paying for a picture/video package to capture your once-in-a-lifetime experience (at least just for your first skydive if you’re adventurous enough to keep going). Unfortunately, you will not be able to bring your own camera, GoPro, etc. because there is a high risk it may fall off during the jump.

What to Wear

Skydiving is an extreme sport, but still a sport. So you need to dress accordingly. Depending on which location you choose, they may have their own requirements or restrictions. For the most part here are some general tips to follow:

  • Wear comfortable, athletic clothing.
    I wore a pair of Lululemon leggings, a cotton t-shirt and running shoes. 
  • Bring a light jacket.
    Even if you are in a warm city, it will still be much colder up in the air. It was around 90 degrees in Monterey the day I went, but it definitely felt more like 65 or 70 degrees in the air. I wore a thin Northface pullover and was very comfortable the whole jump. 
  • Avoid wearing any jacket with a hood.

What to Expect

Expect to spend at least a half-day. You should plan to be there for around 3-5 hours start to finish. When you book your reservation, you will be given a check-in time. Make sure you arrive early with enough time to fill out the extensive forms and waivers (I counted a total of 16 pages!) Keep in mind that skydiving has potential dangers, including injury and death, so you will have to sign off agreeing not to sue the skydiving company and equipment manufacturers in the case you do get harmed during the activity. 

After you fill out all the forms, you will be given your tandem instructor and broken off in different groups. Your instructor will help you get your eyeglasses and harnesses on.

In the Air

The plane is probably one of the most uncomfortable parts of the whole process. About 8-10 of you will be jumping out one after another, and after adding instructors and photographers, that totals to about 16-20 people crammed into a small plane. You are seated almost like you are going canoeing, expect no personal space. You are practically sitting on each other’s laps.

Once it’s time to jump, you somewhat waddle out to door and jump when your instructor tells you it’s time. It’s a really weird feeling, walking in your harness strapped onto someone else. I didn’t even feel like I actually jumped out of the plane. More like, walked off and fell.

Before you jump, you are told to maintain a “banana-like” position. I think I looked more like I was flailing in the air. While you are free-falling, it feels like a lot of wind and pressure is pushing up against you. I thought I could almost feel the skin on my cheeks flapping around (and the photos confirmed this).

Another thing they tell you is don’t try to grab onto your instructors hand. I’m not usually one for grabbing someone’s hand I just met so I laughed when they told me it’s more common than you’d think. And then my video came back where you could see me clearly reaching for my instructors hand as I was falling and him pushing my hand off. Twice. Oops!

The free fall lasts about 90 seconds (or so I was told – it definitely felt a lot longer). After this, your instructor pulls the parachute. You feel some pressure in your thighs from the harness pushing up against you until you slow down.

After your parachute is pulled, the rest of the journey is slow-paced. I really enjoyed this part for the incredible views. I could see the whole Monterey Bay Area from above – city, beaches, ocean and all! You drift closer and closer to the ground and land smoothly in a patch of grass.

Overall, it’s definitely a very strange experience that I definitely want to re-experience. Check out my entire experience in this incredibly cool and embarrassing video below! Highlights include:

  • Incredible scenic views of Monterey Bay
  • My face and cheeks flapping around as I free-fall
  • Footage of me reaching for my instructors hand and him pushing it away TWICE
  • Exclusive before and after interview with me!

Check out my one-sheeter to help you navigate through your first skydiving experience! If this is your second, third or even fourth time going, use it as a quick refresher!  (Coming soon!)

+ city center in vienna, austria

The Perfect Vienna Itinerary: 1 Day In Vienna, Austria

Vienna – Austria’s capital

Vienna is one of the most culturally rich cities in all of Europe – a city filled with imperial palaces, art galleries, and museums stocked full with the work of renowned Viennese artists. A city with a rich history of musical influence, home to countless famed artists like Mozart and Schubert. A city that has come alive with its food, art, and cultural heritage in the past few years, becoming one of the best travel destinations in Europe.

What to do & what to see

Vienna is divided into 23 districts – each one bringing their own charm. If you want the best experience, I recommend making use of the public transportation and traveling the city on foot. Make sure you have a comfortable pair of shoes to walk around in all day (I didn’t and regretted it immediately).

If you’re in Vienna for only a day, you must stop by the city center. The Vienna City Centre, or Old Town, is a gem for sightseeing. You can circle the city center on Ringstrasse which is a 5.3km long street that serves as the “ring” around the center. There is a special tram called “Vienna Rintram” that you can ride for a 30 minute tour. I preferred walking in the center so I could take my time exploring and stop to take some (read: a lot more than necessary) pictures.

In the center, there are so many castles, palaces, and historical buildings – The Imperial Palace, Hofburg, Stallburg, Kaisergruft, The Winter Palace of Prince Eugen – just to name a few. I was overwhelmed by all the palaces, museums, statues, and historical sites fit into a compact circle.

Besides the palaces in the center, there are two gardens – Volksgarten and Augarten which were both beautiful and a quick relief from the towering buildings in every direction.

Where to Stay

We stayed in an Airbnb really close by to the city center, with scenic views. The room we stayed in was clean and pretty spacious and our host, Frat, was very kind and hospitable. He was very accommodating and not at all intruding. He stayed in another room in the house, and was hosting a couple in the third bedroom. Just look at the amazing views from our room below!

What are the must-eat foods in Vienna?

  • Wiener schnitzel: Typically veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried. You can also substitute with other meat such as pork or chicken. We had some really good wiener schnitzel at Gutenberg.
  • Tafelspitz: Boiled beef served with apple and horseradish sauces
  • Goulash: A stew of meat and vegetables commonly seasoned with paprika. We tried some really good beef goulash at Gutenberg as well.
  • Palatschinke: Thin Viennese crepes usually served with different fillings such as cheeses or vegetables like spinach or mushrooms
  • Apfelstrudel: A strudel pastry filled with apples.
  • Topfenstrudel: A strudel pastry filled with quark cheese (curd) and sometimes topped with vanilla sauce.
  • Sachertorte: Viennese chocolate cake.

Where we ate:

Brunch: Breakfast Club

What we ordered:

  • Bonnie & Clyde: A mountain cheese toast with fried egg, bacon and pesto. Reminded me of a grilled cheese sandwich with a bit of a twist. It tasted great, but very similar to the type of brunch food I eat in California, so might have not been so authentically Viennese.
  • French toast with cinnamon, fruit, Nutella, whipped cream and sugar
  • Croissant served with a side of jam: Warm, flaky and fresh-tasting.
  • Espresso coffee: strong, black, and exactly the start I needed to the day after a very long 12-hour night train.

Total cost: € 20

Late Lunch: Gutenberg

What we ordered:

  • Wiener schnitzel (veal): Light, thinly breaded, crispy & overall delicious! Make sure you squeeze the lemon all over the top for that extra tang of flavor!
  • Beef goulash: The sauce was thick and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, and the beef was rich and tender. The potato cakes were great dipped into the sauce and were a great contrast from the meat.
  • Milk-cream strudel: So creamy and delicious! A bit on the heavier side.

Total cost: € 43

What is the night life like?

We went to a couple bars in the area around our Airbnb. The vibe was a lot different than the night life I’m used to in San Francisco, but it was very nice, relaxing, and fun. The bars gave more of a chill drinking vibe rather than a party-scene.

Biergarten:

This place was great & very affordable. They let you try tasters of different local beers for € 2.50 each, so we were able to taste a good selection of what they had.

Total cost: € 9 for 4 tasters

Unknown:

We couldn’t remember or find the name of this bar, but it’s located down the street from Biergarten, right next door to the Gelato place. It was a really cute, small pub with great artwork. They have some outdoor seating, but I preferred the cozy booths they had inside.

The staff was really friendly and they had a good selection of beer, wine, and hard liquor. The beer come in huge cans! I was expecting around a 12-16oz can, but we were served something closer to 32oz.

Total cost: € 7.40 for 2 very large beers

Sixta:

This was my favorite bar we visited that night. It is generally crowded, but we came pretty late as it was our last stop of the night. The staff was so friendly, and since we came at a time without a crowd, we were served personally by the owner.

He let us try a couple glasses of wine before buying them and gave really good suggestions based on my preferences. He also gave us recommendations of other bars and clubs for us to visit next.

Before we got our check, he gave us complementary shots of a hazelnut vodka that was honestly the smoothest vodka I’ve ever tasted in my life. It had a great aroma and was very flavorful, and I honestly would have been able to drink a whole glass of it like it was water.

Total cost: € 13 for 3 glasses of wine