Summer Winding Down

Summer Winding Down

The weekend my sister arrived to settle in the OC was also the weekend one of my lab mates was hosting a potluck at his house. It’s been years since anyone in our lab has gone out of their way to organize a lab get-together outside of lab, and so I have to give credit to my friend for taking on the challenge, haha!

Since my sister had the car now, she was invited so she could give us a ride ;).  Nah, she was welcome too. 

We carpooled with E and another lab mate and drove to West Covina east of LA. It took us an hour in headache-inducing traffic, and we were the last group to arrive. My friend who was hosting (let’s call him J) and his wife greeted us, and led us out to the backyard where the pool and food spread was. 
 
We got settled in with some plates of food, and sat by the pool while we ate. Everyone except E, my sister, and I made it to the pool sometime during our stay, but I was too lazy to even dip my feet in. 
 
We left around 4 in order to avoid traffic, and still faced stopped cars on all sides. By the time we dropped off my lab mate and E, it was almost 6! My sis wanted to get dinner since she wasn’t able to properly eat over the week due to stress from moving and settling in, and I was eager to oblige. I knew how much she liked Tocaya, so we paid their Venice location a visit. 
 
Tocaya, Venice
Tocaya, Venice
 
We found free street parking a few blocks away, and didn’t hesitate to park and power walk. Our hunger had caught up to us at that point, and we couldn’t afford to look at the menu for too long. 
 
A much cozier vibe.
A much cozier vibe.
 
I ended up getting a Shredded Kale and Quinoa salad, while my sis ordered the bowl she fell in love with during our last visit
 
Shredded Kale and Quinoa
Shredded Kale and Quinoa – quinoa & shredded kale tossed with white beans, avocado, chipotle-dusted almonds, chile lime pepitas seeds, pico de gallo & red-wine vinaigrette with chipotle-dusted tofu & vegan chipotle jack

My salad bowl was decent, but if it had not been for the dressing, it would have fallen flat. Even the tofu was slightly rubbery (and I prefer chewy tofu over the soft white kind!).

After dinner, we walked home with the humid beach air clinging over us, and despite there being no cooling beach breeze that night, we were able to sleep pretty soundly just from pure exhaustion.

The next morning, the weather was too great to pass up the opportunity to do something, so my sis and I hurried to lab soon after my long run. I had a ton of work to do, but she was willing to help me out and we were done in the afternoon. 

Destination O.T. Pasadena!
Destination O.T. Pasadena!
 
I let her pick where we should go for lunch, and after reading my “foodie bucket list” excel sheet (yes I have one, lol), Slater’s 50/50 in Pasadena sounded the most appetizing.
 
She drove, and while we did hit traffic passing by downtown, it was an easy, sunny drive to Pasadena once we got past all that. We found parking in Old Town on a side street, and walked over to the restaurant which was already packed with Sunday afternoon lunch-goers. 
 
Odd decor!
Odd decor!
 
We were able to get booth seating, and started off with Vampire Dip as an appetizer, and then decided to split the Veggie Burger because we predicted it would be a lot of food. Annnnd, we were right, haha!
 
Menu
Menu
 
The Vampire Dip was a cheesy, garlic concoction that was super thick, and its consistency was more like a melted cheese ball than a smooth bowl of dip. It came served in a bread bowl, with some flatbread crisps and veggies for dipping. 
 
Vampire Dip!
Vampire Dip!
 
I think the crew at Slater’s 50/50 knows how big their portions are, because our burger came to us already cut in half! 
 
Eat Your Veggies ~ veggie patty, red peppers, avocado mash, cucumbers, sage & garlic aioli, honey wheat bun
Eat Your Veggies ~ veggie patty, red peppers, avocado mash, cucumbers, sage & garlic aioli, honey wheat bun

My sis also felt like getting a shake, but finishing it was a whole other issue πŸ˜›

Half a burger was enough, not sure what my sis was thinking when she thought she could finish the shake!
Half a burger was enough, not sure what my sis was thinking when she thought she could finish the shake!

After getting our fill, it was mid-afternoon and I wanted my sis to have enough time to drive back down to the OC.

GOYO
So much yes.

Of course, I asked if we could stop by a nearby Grocery Outlet (this time the one in Rosemead), so I could get my cheap groceries for the week! My sis didn’t argue, seeing that she could benefit from the trip as well. Cheap food to off-set gas costs, haha!

Slater's 50/50 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Back in August…

Back in August…

Man, I have a TON of posts to catch up on! But if I procrastinate any longer, I proably won’t even remember enough about the pictures I have to write about them…better late than ever.

Also goes to show that being busy enough not to blog means that life things are picking up, and have me occupied in a good way. I have some big travel plans coming up in a few weeks (work-related, but still exciting!), and I’m looking forward to what that experience will bring.

In the meantime, I’ll reflect back on what I was doing in early August, right after my b-day celebrations and my sister’s arrival back in Cali. It was my last weekend with the car in my possession, but I didn’t have the desire to drive out too far…

Actually, there was a lot going on locally. The USC Village was something that was under construction for a long time now, near the downtown area. Since it’s grand opening was scheduled for mid-August to coincide with move-in day, some of the stores and restaurants had soft openings a week prior. One of the restaurants was CAVA…funny how I visited the Santa Monica location only days before!

CAVA, USC Village
CAVA, USC Village

For their soft opening, the CAVA at USC Village was giving away free food from 12-2pm! I stood in line with some of my labmates for almost 1.5 hours, but since I knew the kind of food we would be getting wasn’t some cheap meal, I had to begrudgingly admit that it was worth it.

CAVA Menu
CAVA Menu

Although…by the time we got inside and were able to place our orders, they had run out of flatbread. We all opted for grain bowls, and I had mine based with lentils, the spicy veggies and all of the other crisp veggie toppings. I think I opted for some lemon dressing this time around instead of the apricot sriracha, but it fit well with what ended up being a warm salad bowl.

Grain Bowl!
Grain Bowl!

I ate my late lunch with E before we continued on with our work day.

When Saturday rolled around, I first drove to Sprouts after a morning run to pick up a snack. I’ve been on a GoMacro bar kick lately (my latest bar obsession), and Sprouts carries their Everlasting Joy flavor, the proceeds of which go to help the homeless.

GoMacro Everlasting Joy
GoMacro Everlasting Joy

I love their chocolate chip/nut butter flavors, so this was an instant favorite of mine. I mean, coconut flakes added to either of those types of flavors can only make it better.

I worked in lab for some of the morning, and since E was also finishing up some stuff, we finished around noon and walked over to where I parked the car to drive off to lunch.

She suggested earlier in the week that we both share a Turkish Breakfast at Mama’s Secret, a cozy, Turkish establishment very close to Beverly Connection.

Anyone got $1,000 for breakfast??
Anyone got $1,000 for breakfast??

Maybe if we combined a good chunk of our monthly income, we could have split the $1,000 pancakes…but we weren’t feeling too rich that day, haha!

What we could afford vs. what we couldn't
What we could afford vs. what we couldn’t

Nah, the Turkish Breakfast and cheese-stuffed flatbread not only sounded affordable, but well-rounded and filling for two people.

The Turkish breakfast was served with an assortment of cheeses, veggies, turkey slices (that we left alone), and flatbread. The sauces/dips were filled in cups and included hummus, tahini, honey, jam, nutella, and a ricotta-looking cheese curd.

TURKISH BREAKFAST
TURKISH BREAKFAST

And of course we had some warm tea…

The cheese-stuffed flatbread was my favorite, even though it wasn’t part of the breakfast platter. It came out already cut out in small portions so it was easy to split.

One of the cheese-stuffed flatbreads they offered. I believe ours was spiced with parsley and basil.
One of the cheese-stuffed flatbreads they offered. I believe ours was spiced with parsley and basil.

I had no idea that these cheese-filled flatbreads were a staple of Turkish cuisine, but my friend confirmed this foodie fact. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of my new favorite dishes now!

E was meeting some other friends for a movie-in-the-park event (one that I actually went to myself for a friend’s birthday last year…) so I dropped her off before heading home. I felt tired enough to go to sleep early, but I did have a night dessert before turning in.

That Snickerdoodle Dough
That Snickerdoodle Dough

Nada Moo’s Snickerdoodle is cream was soft and creamy, but the lack of dough pieces was a huge disappointment and sub-par in comparison to So Delicious’ offering. Ah well, they tried…

What your current food obsession?

Have you ever had a Turkish breakfast?

Mama's Secret Bakery & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Birthday Weekend, Day 2

Birthday Weekend, Day 2

My friend stayed Saturday night, and since she planned to leave on Monday morning, we had another full day we could put to use for our enjoyment.

I let her sleep in while I completed a long run. The coach I’m working with had me transition to a forefoot form style of running, and I was definitely feeling it in my calves! My legs were wrecked for the rest of the day, but since we had a beach visit planned, I knew relaxation was part of the agenda for the day and my legs would get some much needed R&R.

We were off to Huntington Beach around noon, and with traffic, surprisingly managed to arrive around 2pm. Before heading the the beach, we decided to get a late lunch at Vegan Nirvana because we were super hungry.

Vegan Nirvana
Vegan Nirvana

From the outside, VN looked like an unassuming strip mall restaurant…

Stepped into the blue zone...
Stepped into the blue zone…

…but on the inside, the walls were painted a deep blue and had a strong cooling effect. There wasn’t too much seating and the walkways were narrow, and I think the management was confused on whether they wanted the interior to give off a oceanic or cosmic vibe.

Spaceships…or sharks…or both?

We had to wait for about fifteen minutes before getting a table, but my friend and I were able to look at the menu beforehand and decide on what we wanted. I knew from the get-go that their Ultimate Liberation dish was their star entree. It was a vegan fish tacos dish that was described to be an entree of fish-free fillet tacos topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, cilantro, and Chipotle sauce in corn tortillas.

Menu
Menu

My friend went for the chik’n tenders and that crispy dish sounded like a good choice to me.

They were super crispy!
They were super crispy!

We shared our entrees with each other, and agreed that our veggie meats overall were top notch quality. My friend even commented that the vegan fish tacos actually tasted like fish.

These fish-free tacos were delicious..
These fish-free tacos were delicious…

After lunch, we drove a short way to Huntington Beach. Several loops around a residential area later, we found parking. We were also fully prepared with some beach towels, but the closest we got to the water that day was a foot dip. Instead, we lounged on the sand and read/napped for about an hour.

Relaxation at its finest…

Huntington Beach!
Huntington Beach!

When it was approaching early evening, we decided to head back to the car and make our was more inland towards Fountain Valley: the Mecca of all those quirky dessert foodie trends you see on Instagram.

Birthdae Cake
Birthdae Cake

Birthdae Cake was our destination, and it was nestled unassumingly in a strip mall across from Albertsons.

It was a small establishment, and while there weren’t any lines out the door during our visit, the people that were there knew what they wanted and were content with what they got.

The wallpaper :P
The wallpaper πŸ˜›

I knew I had to get one of their iconic creations featured multiple times on the ‘gram. Their cookie dough ice cream sandwich was something I could not avoid getting.

COOKIE DOUGH ICE CREAM SANDWICH YES IT EXISTS.
COOKIE DOUGH ICE CREAM SANDWICH YES IT EXISTS.

My ice cream sandwich was birthday ice cream in-between two slabs of Cookie Monster cookie dough. The cookie dough slabs were sense, thick, and though they weren’t as flavorful as I imagined, they held up and didn’t fall apart/melt.

My friend got a simple ice cream cone, but we were both delighted by our choices. After our dessert for the day, we drove back to LA and spent the rest of the evening relaxing at home.

My friend dropped me off in lab the next morning before heading back on her way to Santa Cruz. Her visit only emphasized how fun and social this summer has been so far for me!

Did Summer 2017 fare well for you?

Vegan Nirvana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Weekend in LV, Part 1

A Weekend in LV, Part 1

My weekend trip to Vegas was planned on a whim, mostly due to the fact my bestie from Nor Cal moved there recently. BlogFest was also occurring the weekend I planned to visit, and there wasn’t any time-sensitive experiment holding me back in lab, so everything seemed to work out in my favor.

I worked some long days earlier in the week (including a 12hr stint the day before I left), but once Thursday arrived I was ready to for the desert country.

My MegaBus wasn’t leaving LA until 12:45, so I took it easy in the morning. I decided to take the weekend off from running since I knew the 90-110 temperatures in the Vegas heat would be unbearable to run in. After getting some coffee, I packed up the remainder of my stuff at home and then made my way to Union Station.

It was pretty hot in LA as well, so I was antsy until the bus came and we could finally sit down in an A/C regulated area. The bus ride was pretty uneventful, but I was able to fall in and out of sleep pretty easily. My body had been wanting to catch up I suppose!

Protein House, Las Vegas
Protein House, Las Vegas

I arrived in LA around 6, and my friend had just gotten off work so she was able to swing by and pick me up. I was expecting myself to experience a weather shock but the 105 degree temperature difference felt insane. She also looked pretty exhausted, so finding some place to eat for dinner was an immediate priority.

Menu
Menu

I had been wanting to check out The Protein House ever since it was featured on the Food Network in one of those undercover, we-fix-your-restaurant shows.

Pick-Up Counter and Protein Cookies
Pick-Up Counter and Protein Cookies

Many years later, I was standing in one of their locations with my friend, deciding which plant-based protein entree to get and a smoothie to complement it.

Counter and Shaker Bottle Rack
Counter and Shaker Bottle Rack

I ended up getting their Plant Power Bowl and the Chocolate PB Crush crush shake while my friend got a Spicy Thai Chicken Wrap and a Peanut Butter Dream smoothie. With her purchase, she was able to score a free shaker cup—something she said she probably will not use, haha.

My smoothie, her wrap
My smoothie, her wrap

Our food came out relatively quickly, and while our smoothies were flavorful and thick, both of our entrees were pretty dry. A little mix of some sauce and everything would have been dandy…

Plant Power Bowl ~ Organic Tofu, Grilled Portobello Mushroom, Quinoa, Chopped Garlic, Sweet Potato, Squash, Red onion, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Black beans, Chickpeas, Siriacha, Pinch Pepper & SeaSalt, Red Pepper Flakes
Plant Power Bowl ~
Organic Tofu, Grilled Portobello Mushroom, Quinoa, Chopped Garlic, Sweet Potato, Squash, Red onion, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Black beans, Chickpeas, Siriacha, Pinch Pepper & SeaSalt, Red Pepper Flakes

My friend was still pretty tired after we ate, so we just walked around the Town Square shopping mall a few miles off the strip since she works there. We spent an hour or so walking through Sephora and some of the other boutiques. Around 9pm, she dropped me off at my AirBnB which…was quite an experience.

The listing forgot to mention a few things…like the apartments were in a semi-sketch area (doubt that anyone would say that but…), the private room I was renting was opposite another private room housing two male guests and that there was a shared bathroom for both rooms, and that some rando would be sleeping on a pull-out couch in the living room my entire stay without a shirt on. Welcome to Las Vegas πŸ‘ŒπŸ½

But my room was clean and everything else seemed okay. It was a weird situation, but I could tolerate it for the weekend.

The next day was the second day of BlogFest and since my friend had to work all day, I spent most of the day at the convention center. I woke up at the crack of dawn, and was ready by 7:30. I decided to walk over, and despite the weirdness of the surrounding area, it was a safe walk over. Even though it was early in the morning, it was already hitting the 90s, and I couldn’t avoid sweating despite my attempts at walking slowly and under shade patches.

I was able to make it to the day’s earliest event which was the networking breakfast with a yogurt bar sponsored by Bell Institute.

Wecolme to Blogfest 2017!
Wecolme to Blogfest 2017!

I made sure to get a bowl of Good Culture cottage cheese topped with berries and a large mug of hot coffee with creamer.

Yogurt bar!
Yogurt bar!

I stayed for the keynote speech and the morning sessions, and around noon stopped by the expo to, ya know…pick up as many freebies as I can!

So many booths, gotta catch 'em all!
So many booths, gotta catch ’em all!

I grabbed enough protein bars, protein powders, kale chips, and other random items to fill one large reusable bag and my backpack. I was (mentally) tired to stay any longer, so I made the decision to walk back to my room in the 105 degree heat around 3:30pm. I wanted to rip off my skin and dunk my organs in an ice bath by the time I got back, but I survived. Opening the door and finding a half naked guy sleeping on a pull-out bed in the living room was awkward, but I retreated to my room and counted the hours until I could hang out with my bestie the next day…

Have you ever had an awkward hotel/lodging experience?

Protein House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Weekend One with the Sis

Weekend One with the Sis

The first weekend my sister stayed over was spent apartment scoping, food tasting, and shopping (for her, while I anxiously tried to plan my upcoming week in lab/submit a very important email…). It’s funny how this was a weekend in early June, and this post is only going live in mid-July… #PhDStudentLife

We drove down to Irvine after we went to lab. She was able to help me finish faster and with lab experience of her own, I could tell her to do something without worrying if she knew how to do it accurately, haha. We were on the road before noon, and had enough time to stop for lunch before her apartment viewing appointment. So Veggie Grill at the Irvine Spectrum it was!

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Because my visits to Veggie Grill have encompassed many of their locations, I like to visit when they have seasonal specials just so I can make sure I am trying something completely new. Their summer menu was featured this time around, and the Super Rica burger was calling my name…

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My sister went with her favorite Southern Fried Chik’n plate, as usual, but I did not regret my choice.

The Super Rica Burger, made with Beyond burger, chorizo queso, fire-roasted poblanos, cherry pepper, charred onions, lettuce, tomato, house made "corn nuts" + crispy fries
The Super Rica Burger, made with Beyond burger, chorizo queso, fire-roasted poblanos, cherry pepper, charred onions, lettuce, tomato, house made “corn nuts” + crispy fries

It had the perfect blend of spicy, creamy, and crunchy. I didn’t have fries on the side, but the coleslaw was not some poorly made side dish—it brought it’s out flavorful punch too!

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I guess I was hungrier than I thought, because I finished my plate entirely and helped my sister out with hers.

It was soon approaching 1pm so we made our way back to the car and drove towards the apartment complex she booked a tour at. The visit was alright, but the cons definitely outweighed the pros. Finding a place in the OC that was decently priced and clean was surprisingly not too easy a task, and I could tell my sister was feeling frustrated. I was able to propose a solution for her that didn’t solve the housing problem, but at least it took her mind off the issue for a little bit.

Churned Creamery, Cypress
Churned Creamery, Cypress

We were able to stop by Churned Creamery in Cypress for a tasting of their constantly-churning ice cream (the ice cream is in huge vats that are consistently being mixed through). They had number of options, including their unique CroCream: a croissant stuffed with ice cream and toppings.

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The servers were all super sweet ladies enthusiastic about ice cream. After sampling a few flavors, I went with one of their recommendations—Whiskey cream ice cream stuffed in a warm, crispy croissant and topped with Mochi cubes.

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The croissant was a flaky, golden brown on the outside and edges, but perfectly soft on the inside.

Whiskey Cream Crocone with mochi and strawberries β™₯
Whiskey Cream CroCream with mochi and strawberries β™₯

My sister of course got her chocolate fix with an ice cold, thick chocolate milkshake mixed with a scoop of Oreo ice cream. She could not deny that it was quite a dense and thick shake indeed.

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Looking at all the flavors of ice cream they offered, the possibilities seemed endless! It just so happened that we could have gone by their Irvine location (their grand opening was that day…), but the Cypress staff accommodated us on short-notice without a doubt.

We were back on the road and headed home soon after. Our plans the following day turned out to be similar—woke up, long run before going to lab, getting out and feeling crazy ravenous, and driving up to NoHo only to find out the restaurant we were planning to have lunch at was closed on Sundays…

We ended up getting veggie burgers at a chain restaurant, and then driving to the Glendale Galleria to find a graduation gift for our friend who graduated at the end of June. While at the mall, I made a stop at GNC and picked up the new Quest Hero bars.

Blueberry Cobbler was my favorite, with a vanilla yogurt coating and a fruity, chewy filling.

Blueberry Cobbler
Blueberry Cobbler

Vanilla Caramel was decent, but I thought the texture of the filling was pretty dry.

Vanilla
Vanilla Caramel

I could go without having another of the Chocolate Caramel Pecan flavor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a chocolate lover (such as my sister) found this to be their favorite of the three.

Chocolate
Chocolate Caramel Pecan

Even though apartment hunting was a bust on this particular weekend, at least we made the most of our dining out choices. And just having my sister for company made the weekend all the more enjoyable.

Veggie Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Week One With the Sis

Week One With the Sis

I’ve finally caught up on my travel posts, but coming back meant starting a crazy work schedule in lab. Summer is no time to slack off, haha. 
 
A lot of my time-intensive experiments were beginning at the end of the month, so the the two weeks after my trip were spent planning for the arduous weeks ahead. At least I had my sister with my for moral support. 
 
With no landlords in the house for the first week we were back, we had free reign over the kitchen. Scrambled eggs, with a side of bread and cooked veggies from a pan was our staple dish, and of course we accompanied it with snacks. 
 
Throughout the week, I sampled many of the snacks I brought back from our trip, including these Grenade protein flapjacks.
 
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The original Grenade bars contain gelatin so unfortunately, I haven’t been able to sample those, but these protein flapjacks were a decent option for vegetarians. One of the reasons I love the U.K.? The “suitable for vegetarians” logo…
 
grenade-coconutchaos
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I had the Coconut Chaos and Fused Fruit flavors, and while the coconut one was my favorite of the two, I thought the chewy but dense consistency of the bar made it seem more like a slab of dry cake rather than a flapjack (if we are using the word to refer to pancakes here, haha)! 
 
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The Cadbury’s Oreo Mint bar was an immediate favorite of mine, as it had a soft mint cream filling with a slight crunchy texture from the Oreo cookie pieces. 
 
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I also picked up a number of Nakd products, including a bar flavor that was new and some flavor-infused raisins…
 
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I didn’t think the Apricot Crunch flavor had enough “crunch”, as its texture and flavor consistency was similar to other Nakd bars, but it had a mild fruity flavor that seemed to distinguish it from the other bar flavors. Although, I must admit it’s been a while since I had a Nakd bar, so I can’t be too sure, haha! The cherry-infused raisins however were unlike anything I’ve ever had before.

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I’ve never been too keen on raisins, but these seemed to taste as if cherry juice was individually pumped into each raisin to give it a kick of flavor. I wouldn’t mind eating these to fulfill my daily fruit serving!

And then there were the chocolate spreads…

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This Cadbury’s chocolate spread was thinner than Nutella, but it literally tasted like a melted Cadbury’s milk chocolate bar so all was good.

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It made a packet of plain oatmeal much tastier, πŸ˜›

 This Malteasers Teasers spread won me over too.
 
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It had small crunchy malt pieces, and my sister and I added it to some yogurt with a broken Wispa bar (a bar I wasn’t too fond of chocolate-flavoring-wise, but it did have an airy, bubble filling.
 
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After a few days cooking and snacking from home, my sister and I had dinner out on a Friday evening since that’s when my landlords came back from their trip. It also happened to be a long, exhausting day for me at lab, so having my sister come pick me up from the train station and drive down to downtown SaMo was such a relief.

We had dinner at Wahoo’s Fish Taco, which surprisingly had plenty of veggie options. You could substitute tofu for pretty much any meat item, and so that made it easy when figuring out what burritos and tacos to get.

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It felt so great to be out on a Friday night with company, chatting about our days and looking forward to the weekend. I was going to drag her into lab with me (just for the mornings πŸ˜‰ ), but after that we had plans to go to Irvine to check on a potential apartment for her.

We split a burrito packed with tofu, rice, and black beans, and had tacos made to our liking. Mine was topped with a delicately-cut avocado.

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With the taco and half a burrito, my sister and I managed well. The meal was satisfying and just enough for both of us.

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Instead of walking over to the beach (it’s literally a few blocks away), we drove back home and transitioned into couch potato mode. We fell asleep immediately, but got up the next day feeling refreshed. The week had been a great start and welcome for June!

Wahoo's Fish Taco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Welsh Country

Welsh Country

Going into this Europe trip, I honestly didn’t think much of Wales as more than where my cousin and her family lives. We used to live in the U.K., and we actually did visit Wales when I was younger. I remember having a shirt from Wales with a bunch of cartoon sheep on it. It was one of my all-time favorite t-shirts.

On a Friday morning, we caught the Great Western Railway (GWR) from Paddington Station. It was easy to board, except we had to make it exactly on time. It’s not like Amtrak where they’ll wait for an extra fifteen minutes after the actual departure time before leaving…

At Paddington Station
At Paddington Station

Fortunately we caught our train, and settled in for the three hour ride. I was asleep for most of the ride (of course), but when we got to Wales, everything looked so bright and cheerful compared to the dreary gray and smoggy London we left that morning. I’m not sure why, but I just felt happier looking at the scenery. Signs in Welsh started popping up as we made our way through the Cardiff station.

When we saw our cousin, we immediately went into hug mode. It had seriously been SO long (like seventeen years…). She and her husband picked us up, and we made our way back to their house.

Welsh Land
Welsh Land

The roads, highways, rolling hills, and architecture is the houses were so amazing. It was like walking through a suburb with a strong Medieval history.

Our cousin had lunch prepared, and afterwards she, my sister, and I went to pick up her younger daughter from primary school. Imagine a peppy and petite Desi girl short enough to be five, but is actually eight, with a thick Welsh accent and that’s Little M. She came out in her uniform, saw us, and became very bashful. Her mom was like “Oh, so now you’re quiet!” She did open up to us soon enough though!

At home, we met my cousin’s older daughter, who I’ll refer to as Little P. She presented herself as quiet, but was very polite. We were all then introduced to Muffin, the baby of the family.

Just look at those adorable eyes...
Just look at those adorable eyes…

Apparently, her sibling won the title of “Best Pug in Wales”. Go figure.

The plan for the evening was to go for an hour drive west to the cliffs in Swansea. The car ride was absolute fun since the girls were so full of energy. They took a particular liking to my sister, especially Little M.

Drive to the cliffs
Drive to the cliffs

We parked near a lush green cliff and saw sheep not too far from us. The girls jumped out and ran manically towards them and the sheep bounded just as fast. It was a funny sight for sure. Near the cliffs was The Worms Head Hotel/Pub, we found a table out back, and ordered some plates of garlic bread and chips.

chipsandfries
Garlic Bread & Chips

Little M was adorably hyper, and would not stop chatting. We couldn’t help but laugh, even though her parents told her to calm down a bit for the consideration of others. I could see others were smiling though.

We didn’t go down to the cliffs, but we walked for a bit after, down a gravel-packed trail. There were a bunch of dogs, and the girls had to pet them all. When we got back to the car, it was almost 8pm but we just had to stop at Verdi’s Ice Cream before going home.

Verdi's Ice Cream Parlour
Verdi’s Ice Cream Parlour

Verdi’s was by the water, near a dock with a bunch of boats.

Mumbles, Swansea
Mumbles, Swansea

It was getting chilly, but it wasn’t too cold to deny ice cream. My cousin recommended the Turkish Delight ice cream, and I eagerly jumped at the chance to try a new ice cream flavor. It ended up being a winner for me.

Turkish Delight Ice Cream
Turkish Delight Ice Cream

The ride back was more quiet, since the girls fell asleep, but drive back while the sun was setting was a gorgeous sight indeed. Watching Wales turn down for the night only emphasized to me how magical this place was.

This weekend was certainly going to be a great one.

Have you ever visited Wales?

Verdi's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

‘Ello London!

‘Ello London!

We left for London bright (oh so bright…) and early on a Wednesday. There wasn’t time for a decent breakfast so I had some coffee and then helped pack all of our luggage into the car. The hour drive back to KEF seemed to go by quickly, perhaps due to the fact I pretty much dozed off for a good portion of the drive. Actually, I woke up right as we were pulling into Avis. 
 
Going through security was a chore. They took my bag for “examination”, but literally only took a piece of paper to “swipe” it, and then let me go. I guess I couldn’t have been be too surprised by this happening, considering the things going on, but I just found it very odd and unnecessary to hold up my time for no explicit reason. 
 
After making our way through Duty Free, we found our gate. We were flying with EasyJet, a British-based airline that had a very retro feel. The inside of the plane was literally transplanted from the 1970s. 
 
Before boarding, I had to do something about my gnawing stomach. Snacks were going to cost us on this flight, so I picked up a European candy bar to try. 
 
Lion candy bar!
Lion candy bar!
 
This Lion bar had a thick chocolate coating, nougat, and crunchy nut pieces. It could have totally been a breakfast bar…I mean, you’ve got your nuts…and then chocolate and caramel for taste πŸ˜‰ 
 
The flight was about 3 hours long, and my face was getting more oily by the minute. I arrived in London in much more of a tired-looking state than when I arrived in Iceland! 
 
We flew into Gatwick, and from there took an express train into London.
 
Gatwick Express
Gatwick Express
 
When we got off, we found a black cab to take us through the city up north to West Hampstead. What should have only been a ten minute drive took almost an hour due to traffic. With the heat, humidity, and dust, it was pretty tortuous. 
 
Seen on my ride.
Seen on my ride.
 
Good thing there were enough landmarks and people to watch to keep us somewhat distracted during our drive. 
 
We stayed at a hotel in the area for our first two nights in London. For dinner, we didn’t want to travel too far so we walked a few blocks over into the food/shopping neighborhood of West Hampstead. 
 
West Hampstead, London
West Hampstead, London
 
We were about to have Lebanese, but then I spotted Nando’s from afar. I had been wanting to go there since learning their only US locations were on the east coast and Illinois. Funny thing was, Nando’s practically ruled the U.K.—it was pretty much in every neighborhood! 
 
Nando's menu
Nando’s menu
 
There were a good amount of veggie options to choose from. I went for the quinoa salad topped with feta crumbles. My sis and dad got veggie and portobello mushrooms.
 
Nando's famous sauces.
Nando’s famous sauces.
 
My sister also got a side of mash that we were all intrigued by. My dad even asked one of the employees if he could know what was in it and they brought over a recipe book!
 
Yum, yum, YUM!
Yum, yum, YUM!
 
I was a fan of the halloumi cheese, and gobbled up the leftovers of my Dad and sis. 
 
β™₯
 
The next morning, I decided to go for a run, even though I knew the weather wasn’t going to be the best…and of course, it wasn’t. I ran 9 miles, but the entire my time my legs felt heavy, I was sweating profusely, and I was craving water. I can’t imagine how London runners do it, but if I ever want to live here in the future, I have to keep this in mind…
 
Running through hot and muggy London in the morning!
Running through hot and muggy London in the morning!
 
I made it back in one piece, quickly showered and got ready, and then headed out with my Dad and sis. We took a double decker bus into the heart of the city since a stop was near our hotel. We got off on Bond Street, and found a Selfridges to walk into. 
 
Selfridges Food Hall!
Selfridges Food Hall!
 
I headed straight towards the Food Hall, but had no idea what to get given the food stalls present. Ultimately, we decided to pick out some things from a bakery in the corner right near the entrance. Honestly, I wanted EVERYTHING. 
 
Oh. my. what. to. choose.
Oh. my. what. to. choose.
 
I was able to pick out one thing for myself, while my Dad and sis split a huge loaf of olive focaccia and a mini cake. My heart was full just looking at the pink-glazed, pistachio-topped chouxnut that lay before me. The texture was chewy,  and the cream filling had a vanilla flavor. My only regret was that it was tiny, and it was gone within a handful of bites. 
 
Strawberry and pistachio chouxnut
Strawberry and pistachio chouxnut
 
After breakfast at Selfridges, we began our tourist adventures. Our first stop was Trafalgar Square, and we made it there successfully via the Tube. If there’s one thing I learned from this trip, it’s to “mind the gap”, haha! 
 
When we reached TS, my Dad immediately noticed how there was a scarcity of pigeons. Apparently they used to rule the grounds, but there wasn’t one in sight. Also, there are a number of Bollywood movies that have had the romantic meeting of hero/heroine here. 
 
What pigeons?
What pigeons?
 
After taking some touristy pics of statues and next to them, we decided to go inside the National Gallery since it was right there. I was feeling very exhausted, and my legs felt super sore, so I sat out the exploration part. I was also very hungry, and found it was best to listen to my body even if it meant “missing out on art and culture”. 
 
But I was embracing the culture, in a way, by snacking on these U.K.-based Nakd Bites. I was expecting crunchier pieces, but each mini bite was soft and flavorful! I tried Coconut Bliss and Salted Caramel, both of which were rich in their respective flavors.
 
Nakd Nibbles
Nakd Nibbles
 
When my Dad and sis were done, our next destination was the London Eye. We were able to get advance tickets and save some time not standing in line. Ultimately, this spot is hyped up more than it should be. It was like riding on the slowest ferris wheel ever. The views were great, but the constant Coca-Cola plug wasn’t. 
 
London Eye
London Eye
 
When we reached the ground again, the three of us were more than ready for a late lunch. Out lunch plans turned out different than planned, but we ended up making a very popular choice in the end…
 
London: love, hate, or indifferent ?

Nando's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iceland, Day 2

Iceland, Day 2

Once we were well rested, we were ready to head out for dinner. We had to stop by another store, similar to Target or Wal-Mart, but the name started with a “H” and now I can’t remember it. Of course, it was hard to find anything under 10,000 Kroner ($10 USD), and even essentials like travel size shampoo, milk, and eggs seemed like pricey purchases. When in Iceland I suppose…

Before coming to Iceland, I didn’t think there would be too many vegetarian/vegan options around, but to my surprise, there were quite a number! Kaffi Vinyl got a lot of rave reviews, and I thought we should check it out sometime during our visit, and avoid any chance of missing out.

kaffi
Kaffi Vinyl

The cafe had a hipster vibe for sure. Everyone working and sitting down looked like they came straight outta Berkeley, haha.

kv
A hipster vibe here…

Even though the decor and ambience made me feel like I was back in Nor Cal, the food (and price tag) did not. The burger, noodle dish, and quinoa salad we ordered were familiar in name but with an Icelandic twist.

noodlesquin_Oa
Pad Thai and Quinoa Salad of some sort. Packed with veggie-based protein!

My burger was full in size and rich in flavor. It also came with a side of generously salted sweet potato fries.

kaffi__
“Dinner in Iceland was just as good too. Pricey, but oh so delicious! My meal was a black bean/quinoa burger topped with pickles, grilled pineapple, blueberry jam, and spicy kimchi sauce. Vegan in Iceland is definitely doable πŸ‘ŒπŸ½ πŸ”πŸŒ±”

After dinner, we walked around the city center again, going by souvenir shops before closing, and checking out the HallgrΓ­mskirkja church, apparently the tallest building (or it was?) in Iceland. It got chilly really quickly, so we immediately chose to head back to the BNB to get warm and get some shut eye.

β™₯

Our second day in Iceland started bright, but not too early. We struggled to make the room dark once 10pm the previous night hit. The sun didn’t set until 11pm and rose again around 3am…poor Icelandic people and their circadian rhythms!

I wanted to stay cozy under some blankets while sipping on Senseo coffee, but I decided to go out for a 5 mile run to get a feel for the landscape, and to shake out my legs from the previous tow days of exhausting travel. That morning, we also learned about the horrible attack in Manchester, and were a little bit concerned since we were flying to London the next day. Getting out for some fresh air certainly helped ease the anxiety.

We were lucky to have picked out an Airbnb that was so close to lush green hills and a walking/horse riding/running path that surrounded a clear body of water. My legs felt super heavy, but I pushed through and was able to do some intervals in Iceland, haha!

When I got back, my Dad and sis were ready to hit the road and I quickly got ready. Our first stop for the day was exploring Grotta. We were hoping to stumble across a hot spring during our trip, and according to the map this location was closest to the city.

Grotta was an expansive green and brown grassland, with a rocky path towards the lighthouse. There was a sign that prohibited walkers from crossing, but we went anyway. We saw some rebellious tourists climb over the rope, and we followed suit.

iceland1
Rocky in Grotta

We were successful in pinning down the lighthouse, but there was no hot spring in sight. It was a bummer, but we were hungry enough to move on from our disappointment.

iceland2
Lush, windy pastures

We ended up back at the Reykjavik city center for lunch. Honestly, it’s the most happening place in the city so it was no surprise we were back here again. We found a cheaper eatery in Noodle Station.

iceland4
Noodle Station

18 Kroner for two veggie pho bowls. Nice!

iceland3
Veggie Pho!

We were quickly warmed up and ready to head back outside. My sis and Dad accompanied me to a fish spa so I could check that off my list, haha! I’ve read so many reviews and articles about fish spas, and knowing that they are illegal in the US, I knew I’d only get the chance to go to one when traveling internationally.

This spa was owned by a gentleman who took extra care in making sure conditions were absolutely sanitary—especially for the fish! The walls were painted a deep purple and tranquil music was playing in the background.

I first had to wash my feet, then add some disinfectant to my skin before stepping into a tank. I then sat back while the fish got to work. And since it was my first time, the owner recommended I spend my 20 minutes with the baby fish.

fishs pa
Get to work fishies!

It was ticklish at first, but then I got used to it. I read about how some people had uncontrollable laughter the whole time because of how sensitive they are—I just held it in by smiling the whole time. Finally, my callouses runner’s feet were getting some RNR πŸ˜›

The three of us still wanted to see a hot spring before leaving, and so after my session with the fishes, we thought we’d head to see The Geysir, a part of the Golden Circle. It was an hour drive from Reykjavik, and we left around 3pm. I knew we were going to be tired as soon as we got there, but that comes with the territory of traveling! We tried to also keep on the lookout for sheep, since Iceland is famous for livestock roaming around the hills and trotting along countryside roads. We saw some in the distance, and the sheep stayed put.

We parked in front of the visitor’s center and upon stepping out so wanted to go back in the car and turn the heater on full blast. I was too sensitized by Cali weather—40 degrees Fahrenheit was just too much! I was able to get a warm cup of cappuccino and hold onto that to “trick” myself into thinking I was warm. Then we were able to walk towards the Geysir.

geysir
Geysers along the way…

There were smaller springs along the way, but we knew the one of interest was blocked off by rope and had a group of tourists anxiously waiting for it to erupt. We were waiting for at least twenty minutes, and literally after I said “this is getting ridiculous”, it erupted and splashed in our direction, causing the three of us to flee in different directions. It was a funny sight for sure.

statue
Funny/weird statue at a gas station on the way back to Reykjavik.

We called it quits after that and from there, drove an hour back to Reykjavik. I would intermittently fall asleep during the ride, but immediately perked up when we got to the city. For dinner, I gave a list of places for my sister to decide and she picked Kaffihaus Vesturbaejar.

kaffihaus
Getting cozy at Kaffihaus Vesturbaejar

When we parked outside, my Dad was like, “not another hipster place” and I was like, “Dad, I can’t control how these vegan-food serving places run their business!” But we were all pretty hungry so our restaurant style preferences took a backseat to what food was offered/what we could eat there!

burger
“After a day of trekking to the Grotta lighthouse, a fish spa treatment for my calloused runner’s feet (can finally check that one off the list 😁🐟), and a long drive to visit The Geysir, the fam and I were able to relax at Kaffihus Vesturbaejar, and split two “Veganbogaris” πŸ”πŸŒ± and fries 🍟 among the three of us. This was honestly my favorite meal of the Icelandic leg of our trip so far—just enough food and a pretty presentation πŸ’•”

We pretty much had one option—the Veganbogari. We got two and split them between the three of us. The portions were as perfect as the crispy exterior of the potato wedges that were served alongside the burgers. The creamy green aioli sauce was also perfection.

We drove back with full bellies and content with that we explored of Iceland. It was by no means an epic outdoor adventure, camping in the arctic tundra for days on end, but I feel it was a good introductory visit to one of the Scandinavian lands.

I won’t deny however that I was more than ready for London!

Have you ever visited Iceland (or Greenland)?

First Stop, Iceland!

First Stop, Iceland!

Our European adventure began on a Sunday morning, with a stop for bagels before heading to the airport. My Dad had a rental since we used it to move my sister’s stuff, so before heading over to our terminal, we dropped it off and took the shuttle from there.

Checking in and security was surprisingly not too bad! TSA Pre does have it’s advantages…since our first leg was a domestic flight to JFK Airport in NYC.

Our flight was about six hours long, but on Jet Blue, so we were set, haha. Once we landed, we realized we had to walk over to another terminal and go through security again (this time, a much more tedious process), before being able to find something to eat.

Options for food at JFK’s international terminal are all things mediocre and mundane. We ended up getting personal pizzas and a salad to “get our greens in”. It took about an hour between dinner and finally boarding on Icelandic Air.

When we did board, we were handed cute water bottles with the top part of the bottle shaped like a glacier. And the music playing was very Enya-like.

Glacier bottle?
Glacier bottle?

There were no free inflight meals or snacks, but we came prepared with our own. I mostly slept for the majority of the flight, so hunger wasn’t a huge issue. We reached Reykjavik (actually Keflavik) by morning.

Upon landing, we had to exit out of the side of the plane (in the cold…) and board a bus to take us to the airport. After going through immigration and collecting our luggage, we were able to grab a rental and head out on Icelandic roads.

Everything looked so dreary and foggy, but overall it actually felt quite peaceful. It was an hour drive from the KEF airport to Reykjavik proper, but we knew we were in “civilization” upon seeing large warehouses and more traffic.

The address to our Airbnb was so short, I was surprised Google Maps didn’t come back with an error message. We weren’t too trepiditious about the apartment we would be staying in once we got settled in.

Airbnb digs.
Airbnb digs.

Yeah the bathroom was tiny, but the rooms were simple, clean, and our host left us a good number of blankets on the sofa so we wouldn’t get cold. Plus, I think tiny bathrooms are part of the whole European living experience, haha.

After freshening up, we got in our rental and drove to the city center. It was freezing cold, and I wanted to make sure we knew exactly where our coffee/breakfast destination was before getting out of the car! Good thing we parked in front of Reykjavik Roasters.

Reykjavik Roasters
Reykjavik Roasters

It was like walking into someone’s kitchen/garage. Half of the space had a bakery counter and tables, while the other half was “storage” for large bags of coffee beans.

coffee
Eclectic decor, eclectic people
roasters
Bread and baked goods πŸ™‚

We first realized Iceland was pricey when we saw that the coffee would be 800 Kroner…$8 USD for a single cup of coffee. It was sticker shock for sure, but we knew we’d only be here for two days so we put up with it. Along with coffee, we split some fresh nut bread with cheese and jam, a cinnamon scone, and a coffee “jogart” parfait topped with honey and almonds.

Icelandic breakfast
Icelandic breakfast

Everything tasted so fresh and warm, and even though I was the one that had the coffee jogart, I gobbled up my piece and leftover crumbs left from the scone.

After our authentic coffee break, we walked a couple blocks towards the water. There was a huge walking path that was carved alongside the water, hugged by rocks. Walkers, runners, and photographers could all be seen walking along the trail.

icelandddddddddddd
A glimpse of Icelandic coast

We stopped to take pictures along the way, including one of what we thing is an abstract sculpture of a viking’s ship.

Before heading back to the apartment for a few hours of rest, we stopped at a shopping mall called Kringlan to see if we could grab some snacks that weren’t, uh, so pricey in comparison to the morning’s meal…

kringlan
Kringlan

We stepped inside a store similar to the dollar store, and came out with nothing since everything for sale was extremely overpriced for what it’s actually worth. It left me wondering, are Icelandic people just richer than the rest of us? Or is it really that much of a struggle to live here?

1500kroner
An expensive fish pilow

We felt more justified buying food, and when we entered Bonus, an Icelandic-based grocery store, we were able to make it out alive with our wallets not undergoing a huge drop in weight, haha!

bonus!
Oh hello Nutella!

After our purchases, we were able to rest up, and then head out again for dinner—at Kaffi Vinyl! More on that in the next one πŸ™‚

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