October Fun in the City – Indulging in Childhood Fun

Beautiful view of San Francisco from Dolores Park

October was a month filled with a few life changes, new experiences, and tons of fun adventures in the city! All throughout October, it was Indian Summer in the Bay Area, which meant that the weather every weekend was absolutely gorgeous! Obviously, I had to go out to the city to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather! Luckily, there is always something fun going on in San Francisco.

Listening to The Head and The Heart at Hardly Strictly!

The first weekend in October was one of the busiest San Francisco has ever had. With Fleet Week, a post-season Giants game, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival going on, it was estimated that a few million people came into the city that weekend! And you could definitely tell. The BART and buses were packed with people. My friends and I biked to Golden Gate Park, where Hardly Strictly was being held, and there were so many bikes parked there (some were even locked up to light poles) that we had to bike a mile further into the park just to find some open spots.

It was my first time attending Hardly Strictly and it won’t be my last! The free concert features bluegrass music, but also lots of other good music. We went to go see one of my favorite bands, The Head and the Heart. They were so good live! I had such a great time soaking up the rays of sunlight, jamming to some of my favorite songs, and enjoying the company of friends.

Looking out at the city and Pacific ocean from the top!

The next weekend, my friends and I ventured into the city to find the 16th street stairs that I had heard about through a friend and on Yelp. Leading to a very tall and steep hill in the Inner Sunset district of the city, these steps are decorated with small pieces of glass and tile to create beautiful mosaics of the sun, moon, and stars.

The famous 16th Avenue Mosaic Tiled Stairs

The following weekend was spent exploring the relatively new playground in Mission Dolores Park, which is a million times better than the playgrounds I grew up with. The playground is huge, with multiple slides, swingsets, and climbing things. It might seem a bit weird for a couple of 20-somethings to be playing in a playground, but we’re all kids at heart. With the difficulties we face as adults, sometimes it’s just nice to push all those troubles aside for a moment and pretend to be a kid again.

Dolores Park Playground

As I grow older, I’ve realized the world is really not as cut and dry or black and white, as we thought as children. With this realization, the world and people automatically become more complicated. Issues become more complex and one might realize that what he or she once thought were his or her beliefs may not actually be consistent with who he or she actually is or has become. Without us even realizing it, as adults, our actions have more weight and there is no longer anyone to tell us what is right or wrong or what we ought to do. Yes, friends and family can give you advice or help you think through and analyze¬†situations. But only you can make the decisions. That heaviness we feel with all of those decisions we have to make can be tiring and can make our shoulders and back sore. Sometimes, even for just a short moment, we need to cast off that boulder we carry and let go. Indulge in the lightness and freedom that we unknowingly enjoyed as kids. (But just for a few moments. After all, we’re now adults and have responsibilities. :P)

Playing like a kid with a giant parachute!

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Celebrating in SF – Giants Victory Parade and Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Celebrating the Giants’ World Series Win in San Francisco

It was awesome living in the Bay Area this past week, with the Giants winning the World Series and the gorgeous weather. (Sorry, not trying to rub it in people’s faces or be insensitive, especially after Hurricane Sandy. My heart does go out to all the people affected by the natural disaster this past week.) Even though I’m not a huge baseball fan, I was excited to celebrate the Giants’ victory. So, I convinced two of my friends to skip school with me for a few hours to watch the victory parade last Wednesday. I figured it’d be ok to play hooky for a bit since it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity, even though the Giants won the World Series two years ago. ūüėõ

In the crowd of people trying to watch the parade

There were so many people celebrating at the parade. We got there about 30 minutes late and we were so far back in the crowd that we couldn’t see much, especially me (I was at least a foot too short). However, despite not being able to see much, I still had a great time. I love being around people who are excited and passionate about something. There’s something so exhilarating and addictive about their energy.¬†But after a while, since we couldn’t see much, my friends and I resorted to taking pictures of ourselves at the parade.

Might as well take pictures of us since we can’t see the players

Unfortunately, I don’t own any Giants gear, so to be festive for the parade and Halloween, I painted my nails orange and black.

Black and orange

I also decided to bake some cookies for Halloween. I spent a while perusing Halloween desserts on Pinterest and foodgawker, but couldn’t find a recipe that was fairly quick and easy. So I decided to just make something seasonal instead: pumpkin oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries (aka the longest cookie name)

These cookies were pretty easy and straightforward to make. However, just to warn you, this recipe makes a ton of cookies. I baked four cookie sheets worth of cookies and some of them were pretty big cookies. Since I ended up with so many cookies, I took a third of them to a Halloween potluck and another third to my lab. I left the remaining third at home for my roommates, with a cute little note wishing them Happy Halloween. At each location, people gobbled up the cookies extremely fast – so fast that within an hour or two, they were completely gone.

I tried to draw a vampire, but obviously failed ūüėõ

These cookies aren’t too sweet, even with the white chocolate and cranberries, which is refreshing compared to the sweet Halloween candy I’ve been eating lately. Unfortunately, the pumpkin is rather difficult to taste. I’d say these cookies taste more like spice cookies (with maybe a hint of pumpkin) than pumpkin cookies. Either way, they’re a perfect dessert to bring to an autumn party or just a sweet way to end dinner. These cookies will definitely get you in the mood for fall, if you aren’t already. And be warned, these cookies will be devoured extremely quickly.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries
Adapted from My Baking Addiction and Annie’s Eats

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¬ĺ tsp. ground ginger
¬ľ tsp. ground cloves
¬ľ tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter; softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
3. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy.
4. Add the pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract to the butter/sugar mixture and mix well.
5. Add the flour mixture and combine until all ingredients are incorporated.
6. Fold in the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.
7. Drop 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets.
8. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

MIA… but for good reason

Sorry for that I’ve been MIA and not posting for most of this month! Life has gotten a little bit busier and I’ve been going through a few significant life changes. Don’t worry, nothing bad or traumatic. Some recent experiences have forced me to sit down and deeply think about my beliefs, who I actually want to be, and how I want to live my life. This self-reflection has been a bit difficult since I’m realizing the person who I actually want to be is fairly different than the person that I thought I wanted to be. But I am actually really enjoying this self-discovery. It’s made me feel much more confident in what I believe in. Not only have I become a stronger person, but also my friendships with certain people have strengthened and I’ve realized who I can really count on and who supports me.

Even with all these life changes going on, I’ve still been baking up a storm. Here’s a little preview of recipes to come!

Fig galette (made with fresh figs from my aunt’s tree)

Momofuku’s Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies (finally tackled a Momofuku recipe!)

Blackberry Slump

How do you get rid of green onions? Make Green Onion Sesame Rolls!

Fancy it up with Figs – Fig, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese Pizza with Balsamic Glaze

Being a female in the science and engineering world usually means you’re surrounded by men the majority of the time. Luckily, in my field, the ratio of men to women is about 60:40. And in my class specifically, the ratio is much closer to 50/50. But even though there’s a large number of girls I can talk to, we often don’t see each other much since we no longer take the same classes and are in different lab groups. Fortunately, we all like to get together once in a while to have a girls’ night! So last month, my housemates and I hosted girls’ night at our house, complete with grilled pizzas, dessert (ice cream and dessert pizza), nail painting, and a movie!

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Goat Cheese Pizza

Grilling is definitely the easiest way to cook a pizza. All you have to do is put the dough onto the grill for a few minutes on each side and then top the second side with your desired toppings. You’ll have pizza ready in less than 10 minutes! The dough gets these great grill marks and is both puffy and crispy. Who says girls can’t grill?

Pizza topped with caramelized onions, tomato, and mozzarella

We grilled several pizzas with different toppings: 1) a butternut squash, kale, and goat cheese pizza; 2) a corn, barbecue sauce, and mozzarella pizza; and 3) a caramelized onions, tomato, and mozzarella pizza. But the best one, by far, was the pizza topped with caramelized onions, goat cheese, fresh figs, and basil and then drizzled with a balsamic glaze. The pizza was devoured so quickly that I barely had a chance to snap up pictures and take a bite.

This fig pizza was so delicious!!! The sweetness of the figs and caramelized onions combined with the creaminess and tanginess of the goat cheese and the acidic balsamic glaze was a perfect balance of flavors. Also, the pieces of basil added a nice freshness to the pizza and I’m sure this pizza would pair well with a nice red wine.¬†With these toppings, you can elevate plain old pizza into a refined, fancy dish. Perfect for dinner parties, nice brunches, or girls’ nights!

Side note: If you can get your hands on fresh figs right now, definitely make this pizza! I’m very fortunate to have an aunt who lives nearby with a very productive fig tree and this season, she’s been picking tons of gigantic figs. I’m in fig heaven right now!

Fig, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese Pizza with Balsamic Glaze
Created from my imagination and similar to these recipes (Bon Appetit and Food.com)

Dough for 1 pizza (here’s the recipe I usually use)
Fresh figs (I used Black Mission Figs, but I’m sure you can use whatever kind you like)
1 Onion
Goat Cheese
Honey
Balsamic Vinegar and sugar (for balsamic glaze)
Basil

(I can’t really give you quantities of the ingredients since it all depends on how much you like each ingredient. Since I absolutely love figs, I put about 1 lb of figs on the pizza. Adjust the amounts to your liking.)

1. Make pizza dough and roll out flat (about 1/3 – 1/2 in thick).
2. Saute sliced or diced onions until translucent and slightly browned.
3. Slice figs and break goat cheese into chunks.
4. Dissolve a few tablespoons of sugar into 1/4 – 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Heat over low to medium heat until vinegar reduces and becomes thick. Stir occasionally.
5. Place pizza dough on to grill for 3-5 minutes or until slightly browned and dough has grill marks.
6. Flip the dough over to grill the other side. Brush the top with olive oil and quickly top with figs, onions, and goat cheese.
7. Carefully remove the dough from the grill after checking the bottom has cooked.
8. Sprinkle top of pizza with shredded basil leaves and drizzle with honey and balsamic glaze.
9. Slice pizza and enjoy! (Be warned, this pizza will be devoured within a blink of an eye, so make sure to get a piece!)

This post has been Yeastspotted.

Apple Picking in Sebastopol – Apple Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Growing up in the southwestern part of the US, I missed out on a lot of produce picking since the desert isn’t as fertile as New England or California, except for those Hatch green chiles. So when my housemates suggested going apple picking a few weekends ago, I jumped at the opportunity to finally experience the manual labor of harvesting fruit.

In college, I went berry picking once with one of my friends at a farm outside of Austin. Although we had an awesome time, we were more focused on just looking at the berries (and having a photoshoot :P) rather than picking them. So we ended up picking only a handful of them. This time though, my housemates and I were serious about the harvest. We traveled to an apple farm in Sebastopol, a town about an hour away from the Bay Area. The farm actually has more acres of Asian pears than apples, but they only let people pick apples. That day, golden delicious and jonagold apples were in season. We were led to several rows of trees weighed down with ripe apples and we went straight to picking. Since the apples were so ripe, they were pretty easy to take off the trees. Some of them were so ripe that they just fell of the trees as we picked off other apples. After only about half an hour, we had several boxes filled with apples and headed back to weigh out our bounty. We ended up picking about 35 pounds of apples that day!

The farm also had many blackberry brambles and let us pick some blackberries. If you haven’t picked blackberries before, let me warn you, it’s rather difficult. Choosing ripe blackberries is a difficult task in itself since most of them are either not ripe enough or too ripe (i.e. they get squished when you pick them). On top of that, the blackberries rest in thorny brambles and to get the best ones, you end up getting scraped and scratched by the thorns. I gave up pretty early, but my housemates soldiered on and ended up picking about 3 pounds of berries.

With its apples and asian pears, the farm makes and sells asian pear apple juice, which is very delicious and refreshing. In order to pick apples, we had to sign up for a membership, which basically meant buying 12 bottles of juice. In addition to the juice, the farm also makes several different jams using asian pears, blackberries, and other fruits. We bought a jar of plum amaretto jam and a jar of asian pear, lavender, blackberry ginger jam (that’s a mouthful).

With 35 pounds of apples, I went right to work at baking up something delicious using apples. It didn’t take much effort to find apple recipes. Apparently, everyone is in the mood for apples now – Baked by Rachel is even posting an apple recipe each day. That’s how I found this recipe for cinnamon apple pull apart bread.

Pull-apart breads seem to be trendy these days. I’ve seen pins of all varieties all over Pinterest, from sweet ones (such as lemon and cinnamon sugar) to savory ones (i.e. cheddar, beer and mustard). This type of bread is a bit more complicated than others I’ve made before since you have to cut the dough into strips several times and then try to pack those strips into a loaf pan. And with the cinnamon filling, it turns out to be pretty messy. It was also a little difficult keeping all of the apples together on top of the dough and in between the strips.

I’d like to say my bread baked up beautifully, but that was not the case. I let it rise for an hour, but perhaps this wasn’t enough time. When I baked the bread, the top browned, but inside seemed pretty undercooked. I baked it for nearly twice as long as the recipe says, but I think the bread was still a bit doughy. Perhaps it was because I used some leftover sweet dough that I froze and didn’t let it thaw enough before I used it?

Although I was pretty unsatisfied with the final product, my housemates enjoyed the bread. I had baked the bread late at night and left it out to cool, but when I woke up the next morning, 3/4 of the bread was gone! Later that day, they told me how delicious it was and asked for the recipe. So I guess the bread didn’t turn out that bad or my housemates like eating doughy bread. ūüėõ

Apple Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from this recipe

For the dough:
3 1/4 ‚Äď 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pkg or 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
4 tablespoon butter, melted
1/3 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the filling:
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups apples (I just sliced one large apple)

1. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of sugar in warm water and sprinkle yeast on top. Let rest for 10 minutes or until foamy.
2. Combine and mix the dry dough ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Add the yeast mixture and remaining wet dough ingredients to the dry mixture.
4. Mix the dough until it comes together. Move the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for several minutes until dough is smooth. Add additional flour as needed.
5. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to double in size, roughly one hour. (You can also refrigerate the dough overnight, but make sure to let dough sti at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to warm up before rolling).
6. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.
7. Prepare the filling by combining the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and butter.
8. Thinly slice the apples and roll out dough, on a lightly floured surface, into a 12 x 20″ rectangle (I just eyeballed this).
9. Spread the dough with the cinnamon filling and lay the apple slices on top.
10. Cut the dough into 6 sections, roughly 3 x 12″. Carefully lay sections on top of each other, this will be messy and dough will stretch.
11. Cut dough the into 6 stacks. Turn stacks on their sides and tightly pack into prepared loaf pan.
12. Allow to rise for additional 30-60 minutes or until roughly doubled in size.
13. Bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes. (I ended up baking for nearly 90 minutes.) After 30 minutes, cover with foil and continue baking.
14. When bread is golden brown, remove from oven, cool on a wire rack, and enjoy!

This post has been Yeastspotted and submitted to Bake Your Own Bread.

Sweet and Simple – Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Another installment of the birthday cake series! Like I mentioned previously, my class has a tradition of celebrating each other’s birthday with birthday cake. For another classmate’s birthday, I decided to make carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. A classic cake that everyone loves… unless you’re allergic to carrots or walnuts, I suppose. Luckily, no one in our class is, although one guy is allergic to hazelnuts, which means any nutella ideas are out :(.

Since carrot cake is such a traditional cake that everyone is familiar with, I knew I had to get it right, from the flavors to the decorations. Although the cake is straightforward, it does require a bit of work, specifically in grating carrots. Luckily, I live with housemates who are always willing to lend a hand. One of them (actually her boyfriend) grated all the carrots while another made the cream cheese frosting. With all this help, all I had to do was bake the cakes, assemble them, and decorate (the funnest part!).

I chose a classic design for the cake with piping along the outer edge of the cake and crushed walnuts coating the sides. Clean and simple is sometimes the best way to go. A lot of times I try make things more complicated than they need to be, but as I grow older, I realize that simplicity is oftentimes the better solution (and saves you a lot of¬†unnecessary¬†stress).¬†Even though complex and crazy recipes are more intriguing and exotic, they aren’t always the best. I’m an avid follower of Top Chef and a lot of times, the chefs get knocked for trying dishes that are too complicated and not executing them well.

Doing something a little simpler, and doing it well will usually earn you more points than doing something complex not very well. The same thing applies to life. As I’m growing older (and wiser, hopefully), I’ve realized that prioritizing one’s life is extremely important. There’s no way someone can have their hands in so many pots and juggle so many things (well, there are a few people I know who can do that and they are absolutely amazing). It’s much better to choose a few things that you love to do and do them well than to try to be involved in many things and not do the best job you can. Sometimes simplicity is the sweetest, just like this carrot cake.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from this recipe

For the cake:
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (for decoration)

1. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
2. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. Stir in carrots and fold in pecans.
4. Pour batter into two 9 in. cake pans (greased and lined with parchment paper).
5. Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
6. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
7. In a medium bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla smooth and creamy.
8. Place one of the cakes onto a plate. Frost the top with 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting.
9. Place the second layer on top and frost the top with 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting.
10. Place the third layer on top and frost the whole cake with the remaining frosting.
11. Decorate as you wish and enjoy!

Sticking with the Classics – Homemade Yeast Doughnuts

For some reason, I’m very intrigued by doughnuts, especially the specialty doughnuts that Doughnut Plant or Dynamo Donuts sell. It’s a bit weird since I don’t really like eating doughnuts. My dad was part of a doughnut club at his work and would have to buy bagels and doughnuts once every two months for it. I remember I always preferred the bagels over the doughnuts, which were too sweet and oily. However, I do have to admit that soft, fluffy glazed doughnuts (i.e. those from Krispy Kreme) are delicious.

My interest in doughnuts has led to an itching desire to make homemade doughnuts. But the act of deep-frying always scared me off. I recently decided to suck up my fear and finally make doughnuts for a welcome brunch my housemates and I hosted a few weeks ago. I figured it was the perfect event to try since everyone loves doughnuts and I wouldn’t be stuck with leftovers. I was so excited about making doughnuts that I bought a doughnut cutter!

Making doughnuts is pretty easy and all the recipes are basically the same. The dough is super simple and you just need to cut out doughnut shapes, then fry them, and glaze/decorate them. However, let me warn you, cutting out the doughnuts is extremely tedious. Since I was making food for at least 40 people, I made a large batch of dough. Little did I know just how many doughnuts it would yield. I probably spent 1-1.5 hours just cutting out circles of dough and then cutting out the doughnut holes. I ended up cutting out way more than 40 doughnuts. Luckily, unfried doughnuts can be frozen.

The only difficulty with doughnuts is that they are best when served hot and freshly fried. Now, that is perfectly fine when you’re only making a dozen. But when you’re making at least three dozen, it’s a bit harder serving them fresh. Thankfully, my housemates were wonderful in helping me. One of them did all the frying while another one made all the glazes. And a third housemate helped me glaze and decorate the doughnuts. It was pretty hectic but we managed to get the doughnuts out hot and fresh.

Despite all the craziness, the hard work was all worth it. When I brought the doughnuts out, everyone was so impressed and praised how beautiful they were. Here’s a life tip: putting sprinkles on doughnuts is definitely one of the best things you can do.

I would have liked to make some doughnuts with crazy flavors, but since I was cooking for about 40 people, I decided it’d be better to play it safe and make classic yeast doughnuts with the standard glazes: plain, chocolate, and maple. Even though I prefer the more exotic, non-traditional dishes and flavors, I have to admit that the classics can be pretty awesome too. And these doughnuts definitely confirmed that. It’s like what people say, when you’ve found a good thing, you don’t mess with it. (Or at least leave it to the pros to do that).

*Another photography tangent: How about these non-instagram photos (well, except for one… I couldn’t resist :P)?! My friend recently bought a Nikon DSLR and snapped up a few photos of the doughnuts for me. They look amazing! So clean and crisp. The quality really makes me want to invest in a DSLR (I’d buy a Canon)!

Homemade Yeast Doughnuts
Adapted from The Doughmesstic

1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/3 stick melted butter (not hot, just melted)
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying

1. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to rest around 10 minutes or until foamy.
2. Mix the milk, sugar, eggs, butter, and vanilla in a bowl.
3. Add the yeast mixture and stir.
4. Combine the flour and salt. Add the flour in 1 cup increments to the liquid mixture and mix until dough comes together. (You may use more or less flour than specified in the recipe.)
5. Knead the dough until smooth and place dough in a greased bowl.
6. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
7. Roll out dough to 1/3 in. thick and cut out doughnuts with a doughnut cutter or two biscuit or cookie cutters.
8. Place doughnuts on cookie sheets with parchment paper and let rise for at least 15 min.
9. Heat oil to 350-360F and carefully drop doughnuts in one at a time. Let each side cook until golden brown. Cooking time will vary based on the heat of your oil, but 15 seconds per side worked for me.  Remove doughnuts from the oil and pat with paper towels.
10. While they are still hot, dip the doughnuts in the glaze and decorate with sprinkles!
11. Serve immediately! Your guests will thank you. ūüôā

This post has been Yeastspotted.

Relaxing in Stern Grove with Ok Go

Ok Go at Stern Grove

This past Sunday, I went with a group of friends to see Ok Go at the Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco. Every summer, the Stern Grove Festival hosts free concerts every Sunday in this beautiful park. Actually, it’s not so much a park as it is a forest… with tall trees towering over you as you walk through and wooded areas that you’d find in fairy tales. (At one point, I half expected the trees to start talking like in Lord of the Rings.)

Sitting amongst the trees (and pretending to be wood nymphs)

We got there fairly early, about 2 hours before the concert started. However, that was definitely not early enough. Some people were hardcore and arrived at 9am to snag the best spots in the park, right in front of the stage. With all of the lawn occupied by serious concertgoers, we ventured into the woods to find a decent picnic spot. Although we were hidden behind several trees, we still had a pretty good view of the stage and enjoyed a nice picnic while we waited for the show to start.

I first started listening to Ok Go in high school, after seeing their famous treadmill video. However, my favorite video remains to be their “A Million Ways” video, in which they perform an amazing choreographed dance in someone’s backyard. I distinctly remember watching that video whenever I wanted to procrastinate doing homework and secretly longed to get three friends to learn the dance with me. However, I could never convince my friends to do it. ūüė¶

The concert was great! Ok Go is definitely a fun band to watch live. They do crazy things on stage, such as play one of the songs only using hand bells and shoot water-soluble confetti out of giant cannons. The show was so entertaining and a majority of the crowd was dancing and rocking out. It was a great afternoon filled with food, music, and friends. Not to mention, the weather was absolutely gorgeous! It’s days like those that make me absolutely, whole-heartedly love living in the Bay Area, despite all of the hardships and difficulties I’ve been facing in grad school. Even though grad school has been a tough journey, fun and relaxing days consisting of treks into the city and hanging out with friends make it much more enjoyable.

Impressing Foodies – Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Cake

I’m very lucky to have a group of friends who love to cook and bake as much as I do. Having these common interests makes it a lot easier to get along with them and share my experieinces. However, it’s a little more challenging when you want to cook or bake something for people who love food as much as you do. Take my friend’s boyfriend for instance. He’s a self-proclaimed foodie who cooks and bakes much fancier things than I do. In fact, he wooed my friend with a three-course meal on one of their first dates. (Which reminds me, I need to find a guy like that.)

Anyways, his birthday was coming up and she wanted to make him something impressive. We all know he loves salted caramel and chocolate ganache, so once I found this recipe from Bon Appetit, I knew it was the perfect cake for him. This cake is the definition of richness with two layers of chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache and salted caramel. It was definitely the hardest cake I’ve made so far since it had so many components.

The first layer topped with chocolate ganache and salted caramel

Since my experiences with caramel haven’t been that great, I was a bit worried about making the salted caramel. It’s really easy to burn caramel, so keep an eye on it when it’s cooking on the stove. Since my friend and I were both a little paranoid about burning caramel, we may have took it off the stove a bit too early. So, the caramel wasn’t as thick as we wanted. To drive off some liquid, we kept it on the stove on low heat for about 15-20 minutes. After that, the caramel was the perfect consistency.

Assembling the cake was both the funnest, but the messiest part. First, we spread a layer and piped a ring of chocolate ganache on top of one of the cake layers. Then, we filled with ring with a generous amount of salted caramel and placed the second cake layer on top. Lastly, we frosted the cake with chocolate ganache and decorated it with toasted almonds and drizzles of salted caramel.

The cake was decadent and delicious, but extremely rich. So much that I could only take a few bites at a time. You’ll definitely want to have a glass of milk nearby to help wash down the cake. The caramel could have been slightly saltier, so don’t be afraid to add more salt. If you’re looking for a rich, decadent cake, definitely try this one. However, be warned, it’s a fair amount of work, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Ganache Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit

For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1 1/4 cups almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped

For the caramel filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Large pinch of fine fleur de sel (we used fine sea salt)

For the chocolate ganache:
1 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups heavy whipping cream

For the chocolate cake:
1. Mix the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl.
2. Add the milk, eggs, and melted butter and beat at low speed until blended.
3. Increase the speed and beat for 2 minutes.
4. Dissolve espresso powder in 1 cup hot water and add to the batter.
5. Beat until blended (batter will be thin) and divide batter between 2 pans greased and lined with parchment paper.
6. Bake the cakes at 350F until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes.
7. Flip the cakes onto cooling racks. Peel off parchment and cool completely.

For the caramel filling:
1. Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in deep medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves.
2. Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes.
3. Uncover the pan and increase the heat to high.
4. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber.
5. Remove from heat and add cream (mixture will bubble). Then, whisk in butter, then sour cream, lemon juice, and pinch of sea salt/fleur de sel. (We noticed that our caramel was pretty thin still, so we left it on low heat for 15-20 minutes to thicken up.)
6. Let cool completely.

For the ganache:
1. Place chocolate in large bowl.
2. Bring cream to a simmer in medium saucepan.
3. Pour cream over chocolate and let chocolate soften for a minute. Whisk until chocolate is smooth. Cool, then cover and chill.

To assemble the cake:
1. Spoon 1/2 of the ganache into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip.
2. Pipe a ring of ganache around edge of layer.
3. Spread 1/2 of the caramel filling evenly inside ring.
4. Sprinkle the caramel with large pinch of fleur de sel and some almonds.
5. Top with second cake layer, ganache, ganache ring, caramel filling, fleur de sel, and almonds.
6. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Press remaining almonds onto sides and drizzle with caramel. Basically, just decorate it how you want to. 

Summer Blues


Summer is quickly coming to an end… at least it is for me, since classes start tomorrow! Eeks! How did time fly by so fast?

This summer, I traveled and ate my way through Boston, New York City, and San Diego.

Boston Done Right: Paul Revere, Cannoli, MIT, and the Charles River

Sights of the City: Times Square, Taxis on 80th St, View from Empire State Building, Downtown Manhattan

NYC Eats: Shake Shack, Chelsea Market, Momofuku, Doughnut Plant

Peaceful La Jolla

I also finally crossed off a few items on my baking to do list (but still haven’t tried making my own kimchi! need to do that soon!).

Purple Ombre Cake – Check!

Kolaches – Check!

And I spent valuable time and made amazing memories with my friends and family. Even though I was working everyday, this was actually one of my most fun summers.

To express my summer blues (and match my blue floral dress), I did a variation of blue ombre nails. I was inspired by this nail design from Miss Renaissance. I had slightly darker shades of blue than she did, but they worked well.


Although I’ll miss the laid-back, relaxing vibe of summer with the sunny days (well, only after the fog has burned off) and the rather peaceful feel of campus that comes with the absence of undergrads, I’m looking forward to what this new school year brings. Fall semester is always a fresh start for me – it feels more like New Year’s to me than January 1st. With a new season comes new friends, experiences, and memories. So, even though I’m a little sad to see my summer end, I’m excited to see what fall brings. Plus, I’ve been dying to make some pumpkin and apple desserts!