May 10th, 2017 by | Tags: | No Comments »

To educate other Peace Corps volunteers in Cameroon on how to work with persons with disabilities, I created a training video.

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February 14th, 2017 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

I often say that my dream place to live is a city that has access to culture and an intellectual social life and also nature. San Francisco meets this criteria. San Francisco has diverse neighborhoods with a diverse population. As bustling as downtown San Francisco is, one can take a break from the noise by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and heading into North Bay, also known as Mill Valley, where there are green rolling hills and mountains, and silence exists. It’s important to note that there is no subway line heading to North Bay, but there is a subway line heading to the East Bay where there are some beautiful green rolling hills where one can sit, relax and read a good book.

When I was in third grade, I remember studying in depth about San Francisco in school because it was a city that taught us good lessons about the economy, immigration and development in America. As I toured the Bay Area, I had flashbacks of my lessons from third grade.

I spent a few days in East Bay with Alex and his friends, mostly relaxing and recovering from the Pacific Coast Highway trips. Then, as we traversed from East Bay to North Bay, we spent a day in downtown San Francisco. We kicked off the morning by having breakfast with a friend of mine. Then we went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum where we saw an outstanding contemporary art exhibit focusing on social issues from all over the world.

We then took a short Uber ride to Chinatown as we left our car in a parking garage for the day. We enjoyed a delicious Chinese lunch at House of Nanking, which included pork potstickers, pork dumplings and fried rice. All dishes hit the spot. My favorite was the pork potstickers, which were so crispy and tasty. Seeing Chinatown was a must-to-see because, when I studied San Francisco in third grade, we spent time learning about Chinatown because it represented an example of immigration influence in the US. As I toured Chinatown, I felt as if we were traveling to China, which made a more compelling reason not-to-miss the visit. It was a picturesque and exotic place to explore.

Alex and I, being stereotypical tourists, then took a trolly down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Riding on the trolley gave me good sights of the very steep hills in San Francisco! Alex and I talked about how we wondered if those hills are hard on car breaks and if people living in the city have to replace their car breaks often. After Fisherman’s Wharf, we picked up a half pound of sourdough bread, which was delicious. Then we walked over to Ghirardelli where we picked up a superbly scrumptious brownie.  After walking around at Fisherman’s Wharf, we stopped at The Buena Vista where America’s first Irish coffee was made. Alex bought a glass of Irish coffee which he enjoyed tasting.

By the time Alex and I finished touring downtown San Francisco, it was late in the afternoon. We returned to our car and got on the road to head to North Bay. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I remember learning very well in third grade about how the Golden Gate Bridge made a significant financial and environmental impact on the Bay Area. It was so surreal to finally see it in person for the first time in my life. It’s a stunning work of art that integrates so well into the landscape of the Bay Area.

We then stopped at a vista point in Mill Valley area where we were able to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a distance.  During the two nights we stayed in Mill Valley, we spent time exploring Mt. Tamalpais State Park and relaxing.

 

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San Francisco’s Chinatown makes one feel like they’ve escaped to an exotic place and also feel like they’re in China.

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House of Nanking offers the most delicious shrimp and pork potstickers.

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Eating sourdough cannot be missed in San Francisco as it’s one of the city’s specialities.

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Taste America’s first Irish coffee at The Buena Vista.

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Look at that big hill! San Francisco is indeed known for it’s large and steep hills.

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Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time in life is a surreal experience.

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Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from a vista point makes one realize how well the bridge fits into the city.

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Mt. Tamalpais is beautiful during any weather and any time of the day.

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The curvy roads give a good photo opportunity.

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The rolling hills make one scream, “I want to roll down them!”

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An Airbnb place in Mill Valley is picture perfect and makes one feel like living inside an advertisement.

 

Best Places to Eat in San Francisco:

House of Nanking || Located in Chinatown. Very delicious Chinese food for a reasonable price.

The Buena Vista || Located by the Fisherman’s Wharf. Taste their Irish Coffee.

Where to Stay:

Airbnb || Mill Valley || A picture perfect, cosy and clean private bedroom located in a home of a family near Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

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January 22nd, 2017 by | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

There was a time in my life when I dreamed of living in California even though I never visited California for the first time until I was 18 years old. When I was in high school, I dreamed of attending UCLA for college to study filmmaking. When I was in college, I dreamed of attending UC-Berkley for grad school to study documentary photography. I pictured California as a beautiful state with mountains dropping into the ocean and lots of sunshine. I can’t pinpoint how I exactly first learned about the Pacific Coast Highway, but it is likely through one of many travel publications I read regularly. When Alex and I discussed about what to do when visiting his hometown, Los Angeles, I told him that I really wanted to take a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway, as I have been dreaming for about a decade of witnessing the windy roads through California’s beautiful coast. Alex made the trip happen, and I am sharing my thoughts on my blog.

Alex and I took off from rainy LA in a nice little Prius car. We made our first stop in Santa Barbara where I got a delicious crab cake sandwich for lunch at On the Alley, a restaurant offering reasonably priced meals for those on a budget. We then continued on the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1, to San Luis Obispo where we spent a night in Madonna Inn and another night in an Airbnb.

During our two days in San Luis Obispo, we visited a Farmers’ Market where we tasted delicious barbecue meat and apple pies, climbed the “P” mountain, one of the mountains in the town, ate the most delicious tri-tips at Firestone, walked around the town center, and strolled at Avila Beach.

We continued our road trip after our two-day stay in San Luis Obispo. Alex and I were supposed to spend most of the day at Big Sur, but we encountered a road closure on the way that was not marked at all in Google maps and so we had to back track a bit and make a huge detour driving through the farm fields and passing all of Big Sur. Thus, we arrived at the north of Big Sur late in the afternoon, giving us only a few hours to travel south and photograph. Then we had to turn around and make our way back up north to the San Francisco Bay Area. I was so sad that I had only a few hours at Big Sur, a place that appears to be so magical at every turn. I felt rushed, having no time to be immersed in one of the greatest beauties on the planet.

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Alex was the most incredible boyfriend. He took his girl back to Big Sur two days later. This time, because we had most of the day at Big Sur, I was able spend quality time relaxing and soaking in the sun. More importantly, I was able to take time to view the scenery and take pictures.

Alex and I spent the following three nights after San Luis Obispo in East Bay with his friends and then two nights in Mill Valley. I will write a separate blog post sharing my experience in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful town on Highway 1 route.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful town on Highway 1 route.

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Pacific Coast Highway is full of green rolling hills (although this has only been recent).

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Isn’t this a glorious scenery?

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That mountain screams, “Please come climb up!” Serro San Luis Mountain which is located next to Madonna Inn has trails.

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San Luis Obispo truly offers the most stunning views of mountains.

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Madonna Inn’s rooms are epic! Treat yourself to a night of feeling like you’re in Switzerland by reserving the “Swiss Chalet” room.

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Doesn’t the restaurant look like you can feel like you’re a princess or prince? I told Alex that if I was a little girl and had known about Madonna Inn’s restaurant, I’d want my birthday party to be there.

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Avila Beach offers great dinning views.

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Seeing the colors of the cliff as the sun sets is magnificent.

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Avila Beach does offer quite a dramatic sunset viewing.

Elephant Seals can be spotted on the route, located just past Cambria.

Elephant Seals can be spotted on the route, located just past Cambria.

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Beautiful flowers are spotted along the highway, even in middle of winter. This is at Ragged Point.

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The drive is never ever boring.

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Never boring. The views from the car is always so enchanting.

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The sunsets on Big Sur are never boring.

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Big Sur offers a number of secluded spots to enjoy special moments with loved ones.

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Imagine spring time. There would be many more beautiful flowers.

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There are unlimited unparalleled views for picnic lunches.

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Seeing mountains drop into the ocean is so breathtaking.

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Pacific Coast Highway offers variety of sights and sounds to discover. McWay Falls is one of the most beautiful spots to witness.

Viewing McWay Falls, a waterfall right on a beach, was one of the most magical things to see on Pacific Coast Highway.

Viewing McWay Falls, a waterfall right on a beach, was one of the most magical things to see on Pacific Coast Highway.

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One of the most “photogenic” bridges in the world, Bixby Bridge, is located in the heart of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Everywhere we went on the Pacific Coast Highway, we were constantly blown away by the geographic formations of the coast.

Everywhere we went on the Pacific Coast Highway, we were constantly blown away by the geographic formations of the coast.

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We can never get bored of sitting and relaxing by the golden shores.

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Every minute of sunset viewing is a worthwhile at Big Sur.

Pacific Coast Highway leaves us with treasured memories that will last a lifetime.

Pacific Coast Highway leaves us with treasured memories that will last a lifetime.

Place to Eat in Santa Barbara:

On the Alley || Located by the water. Offers a good selection of sandwiches and tacos at a reasonable price for those traveling on a budget.

 

Places to Eat in San Luis Obispo:

Firestone || Located in the heart of the town. Makes the best tri-tips sandwiches in the world.

Farmers’ Market || Takes place every Thursday evenings. Wide variety of food vendors.

F. McLintock’s || Located in the town center. Offers a good selection of hearty breakfast dishes. Try their french toast which tastes like a cinnamon roll.

 

Where to Stay:

Madonna Inn || San Luis Obispo || A very unique hotel with imaginative interior design. Each room is individually decorated with a theme.

Airbnb || San Luis Obispo || Simple private room that includes all basic amenities.

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January 22nd, 2017 by | Tags: , , | No Comments »

When I think of Los Angeles, I think of Hollywood and food. When reading about traveling to LA, it’s often about the hottest food spots, studio tours and best shopping spots. I’ve been in Los Angeles for the past month visiting Alex’s hometown. One day, Alex took me for a drive to the mountains to see a sunset. It was was Los Angeles National Forest Park where he took me. I have never heard of the park until I saw the sign on the side of the road. As Alex and I rode through the windy roads and mountains, I was incredibly astonished by what the park has to offer. The mountain range appeared to be endless. I pulled up the app, All Trails, and learned that there are many trails in the park and also a hidden waterfall.

Alex and I returned to the park a few days later and drove to the top of Mt. Wilson, the highest mountain in the park. When we arrived there, we encountered the most magical scene. Right in front of us, there was a sea of clouds and we felt like we were floating in air. We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch and relaxing there.

We plan to return to the park to check out some trails to hike. Nonetheless, this national forest park deserves to be put on top of the list of places to visit in Los Angeles and also on top of the list of national parks to visit in the US.

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January 3rd, 2017 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

It was cold and many leaves have already fallen off when Alex and I traveled to Stowe, Vermont in mid-November. The scenery was so beautiful that made waking up 5:30 AM in the morning and standing outside in the cold a worthwhile to see a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. As we drove through the state, the vast openness was clear. On the rolling green hills, farms were spotted from there and there.  Vermont was a place where we can enjoy good local organic food.  Right before Alex and I took off to Montreal, we stopped at Michael’s on the Hill to take a three and half hour cooking class called “A Taste of Vermont.”  The name is quite self-explanatory.

Michael, the chef and owner of the fine restaurant, Michael’s on the Hill, greeted us in his restaurant with warm handshakes. He hailed from Switzerland, has received accolades including being Vermont’s first “Chef of the Year” and been featured as a chef on television and in publications. When I asked him why he chose to live in Vermont of all places, he said it’s because he appreciated the culture and mindset of people in Vermont. Michael ushered us into the kitchen of the restaurant where he had all the ingredients laid out on a table. Not all ingredients were local due to the season but many of them were local. For example, he said that the chicken and eggs came from a farm located down the road from the restaurant.

In this class, we learned how to cook butternut squash soup with bacon and cheddar cheese, skillet free-range chicken with apple cider sauce and mashed potatoes and maple crème brûlée. Vermont cuisine is not without apple cider, cheddar cheese and maple syrup! The main takeaway from the class is that all of these dishes may appear to be complex to make but they are actually simple. The simplest dishes are often the best and tastiest dishes. When we say simple, we mean that the number of ingredients is small. For example, maple crème brûlée consisted of only vanilla, eggs, cream and of course maple syrup.  However, the process of making the dishes can appear complex because one has to make sure that each step is done correctly and in a correct order.  If one step is done incorrectly, the dish can become messed up.  Michael also showed us different cutting techniques that would allow us to cut various ingredients with ease.

After cooking eat dish, Alex and I enjoyed eating them in the lovely dining room of the restaurant with Michael.  Each dish tasted so appetizing and fresh.  They matched well with the cold weather of Vermont as every one of them was warm, allowing us to warm up our bodies.  Alex and I left the cooking class feeling full and with memories of how Vermont truly tastes.

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Michael’s on the Hill, a fine restaurant located in Stowe, Vermont.

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Michael had all the ingredients laid out on a table when we first arrived.

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Michael shows us how to cut the vanilla beans for creme brulée.

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Michael shows us how to mix the ingredients for creme brulee.

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Michael shows us that we need to pour water on the pan holding the creme brulée, a cooking strategy to ensure that the dish cooks well.

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Michael shows us how to peel and cut the butternut squash.

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Michael demonstrates how to make a butternut squash soup with chopped butternut squash and apples.

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Michael shows us how to cut a raw chicken with bones still being intact.

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Rachel learns from Michael how to chop the raw chicken.

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A pot is cooking vegetables and some parts of chicken, ingredients that are part of the apple cider sauce for the chicken.

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Michael blends the cooked butternut squash and apples for the soup.

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Alex assists Michael in cutting the vegetables for the chicken.

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Michael pours cooked butternut squash soup into acorn squash bowls.

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Alex tastes the butternut squash soup with Michael in the dinning area of the restaurant.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon, Cheddar Cheese and Creme Fraiche.

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Chicken being cooked on a skillet.

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Mashed potatoes being served on plates.

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Skillet Free-Range Chicken with Apple Cider Sauce and Mashed Potatoes and Cooked Leaves

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Alex learns how to brûlée the crème brûlée with a torch.

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Maple Crème Brûlée

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