April 27, 2015

Abandoned houses in Malibu

A lot of the time when people think of Los Angeles, they think of Hollywood. They think of streets lined with cars stuck in traffic, beaches with sun-kissed lifeguards playing volleyball, and taco trucks. Most of that is true -- LA is filled with a lot of those things.

But people never associate nature with our city.

A few weeks ago, I went on a hike over in Malibu. On the way there, we drove through the Santa Monica Mountains -- and I had to stop to snap few photos. For anyone who says that LA doesn't have it all, I'd like to argue. LA is great. LA is awesome. LA can throw at you amazing views through the mountains right next to the beach, not very far off from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Our hike consisted of two parts -- the first part to the waterfall, and the second part up the mountain. The first leg of the trip brought us around two abandoned homes that were burned down long, long ago.

They were covered in little bits of graffiti and wildflowers, mounds of rubble creating pathways for hikers to come explore.

The first part ends with a little seat by a trickle of water (otherwise known as a Southern Californian waterfall). Most people stay there in the shade to rest before heading back. We had other plans, and joined the very few other people who went all the way up.

A couple of switchbacks later, you're brought to an amazing view. Mountains on one side, ocean on the other.

The journey back is a breeze -- going downhill feels like you have a jetpack strapped to your back and you're flying down. In about half the time it takes to go up, you're all the way down and looking at this ridiculous view.

I can't complain about living in LA.

Man, are we lucky!

Quick note: I likely won't have a post up this Thursday. However, I will be going hiking this weekend so I'll be posting about that next week. In the meantime, make sure you're following me on Twitter and on Instagram!

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April 23, 2015

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cakes

Earlier this week, I had a mini-meltdown. Or. I had a moment. Life has been a little bit stressful for me, and I have been feeling really stuck with everything. I had been so used to seeing where things were going that for the past year or two (after graduation), I've been a little bit lost.

And circumstances have made this past year alone especially difficult.

But! This time, I decided to do something constructive instead of moping around. I whipped myself up a batch of chocolate cakes with peanut butter frosting. It was my first time making cake from scratch, and it was so easy peasy that I want to make all my cakes from scratch now on.



I used the recipe from Ina Garten (also known as Food Network extraordinaire), but halved the frosting bit because the cakes are sweet enough by themselves. Personally, I thought the peanut butter frosting was overkill on the sugar but -- whatever you like is fine! Rock your own boat. Do your own thing.

I am in no way, shape, or form a food blogger, so forgive me for not walking you through the steps in detail. The recipe I linked is the exact one that I used, so I don't think you really need any input from me.

Except for the fact that you shouldn't use a shallow bowl like I did for obvious reasons when mixing, and a stand mixer would have worked tons better than a hand mixer. But laziness wins sometimes and going out to the garage to find what you need doesn't sound as appealing as improvising.

I'm not saying that I got chocolate all over my shirt, but I am saying that I had to throw it into the wash immediately afterwards.

I popped the batter into 12 cupcake tins and threw them in the oven for about 30 minutes. The original recipe calls for 20-25, but for some reason mine weren't baked all the way through yet so I had to wait a few extra minutes.

Maybe it was humid that day or there was too much wind, I don't know.

Honestly the science behind perfect baking conditions goes beyond me. Definitely not a baker, a cook, or anything except for an eater. Let me eat!

I waited for the cupcakes to cool before frosting one and immediately deciding that I wouldn't frost the rest of the cupcakes.

After I made the batch of cupcakes, I didn't really want to make more with the rest of the batter. So I buttered and floured a cake pan and dumped the rest in there, baking for about the same amount of time.

When I took the cake out, it was more like a brownie than it was a cake..but still delicious. In an effort to make the cake not look like a little sheet of peanut butter frosting, I used a cookie cutter to make little cakes  (or really tiered and frosted brownies).

Again: the peanut butter frosting isn't bad. It's just a little too much sugar for me. The cake is sweet enough on its own, and stands well by itself. The added layer is overkill for me. But! Definitely try it out. The peanut butter does go really, really well with the chocolate.

So with the baking of these cakes, I was a little less stressed and a whole lot heavier with sugar. Maybe there's a correlation there?

I ate cake with the intention of finishing up my Star Wars marathon, but I didn't make it there. I've recently wanted to re-watch the films based on the "correct" way to watch them -- which, according to the Internet, is episodes IV, V, I, II, III, VI. In that order. Episodes II and III are dull as bricks though so I am not keen on pushing through them...would it be bad if I skipped them altogether and jumped to Return of the Jedi?

Anyway. Have a great (almost) weekend everyone!

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April 20, 2015

Descanso Gardens

Over the weekend, I wanted to get out of the house. In an effort to make up for not spending a lot of time out and about during the week (and a little bit of procrastination from studying), I persuaded my parents to take a trip to see some flowers with me.

Unfortunately for us, the wildflowers in Southern California are beginning to wane -- the heavy rains and intense heat brought the wildflower season early, with an equally early end.

My dreams of seeing the poppy fields in Antelope Valley are put on hold for another year..but I heard that Descanso Gardens had a sprinkling of poppies, so we head over there instead.

Our first stop was the Japanese garden, a small area sprinkled with rock gardens and bridges. There are lily ponds with turtles and koi swimming around, traveling from pond to pond through connecting streams.

We walked further in and saw this tiny little train. It's called the Enchanted Train, and is mainly for children.

But don't let that fool you -- there were more adults than kids, and they looked like giants riding on the back of a train meant to take you to some fantasy land. Or into outer space, just like the Magic School Bus.

What was most impressive, and what is probably one of the biggest attractions of the gardens, was the rose garden. It may have been because they were the only flowers really in bloom, they stretch over as far as the eye can see.

There are gazebos and archways covered in vine roses.

We even saw a few weddings being set up around the grounds while we were walking around.

In a somewhat isolated corner of the rose garden is an area where this huge arches stand in four corners with benches in the center of them. In the middle of them all is lily pond with huge water lilies in bloom.

Creeping up the arches are actual grapes!

I can only imagine how they must look when they're full and fat.

I thought these were so interesting. They're called hummingbird sage, and they smell so strongly. We may or may not have pinched off a falling leaf and squeezed it between our fingers to see how fragrant the plants are.

We walked through forests where pine trees were both dying and growing -- brown, sunken trees sprouted bright green branches with bright pines.

After a long route around the grounds, we headed back towards the main entrance to look at one more area: the edibles. Not sure what that area was called, but this garden had tons of actual plants and trees that you could eat. Chard, mint, carrots, garlic, oranges, lovage, kale, artichokes, etc. They even had chocolate mint!

We were finally met with a hummingbird taking a bath in a fountain.

I took slow steps towards it, taking a photo every time I moved forward. After this shot I backed away quickly -- didn't want to disturb it and make it fly away.

On our way out we stopped by the gift shop, which had a nursery in the back. I saw this wall of hanging succulents and fell in love. I would love to do something like this -- pockets of soil covered by brightly colored plants.

Imagine if you also filled these with flowers!

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