ChezSylvia Travels: Mount Desert Island, ME

MDI_Bar Harbor

The mosquitoes were plentiful and huge.  The spiders, always reminding me they are there.  The fog was constant, but beautiful.  The hiking was varied, views amazing.

Full Album:

MDI_Gorham Mtn

MDI_Cadillac MtnSunrise

MDI_Day Mountain Hike











MDI_BassHarbor Lighthouse




Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ChezSylvia Adventures: Labyrinth at Mohonk Mountain House

Long story short.  I took a random day off from work to drive up to New Paltz, NY to experience the Labyrinth at the Mohonk Mountain House.  There was rain and there were spiders.  But I overcame my fear of losing my footing and sliding into deep crevices and crawling through dark and probably spider infested spaces and squeezed myself through the famed crevice (also known as the lemon squeeze) to be rewarded with majestic, albeit cloudy and rainy, views.  It was worth the rain soaked hike back to the car.

Flickr Link here:



Mohonk_MountainHouse view

Mohonk_MountainHouse Putt










Posted in Photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ChezSylvia Travels: Raleigh/Asheville, NC

I took a mini holiday to visit a friend and her growing family down in Raleigh, then took a little solo side trip over to Asheville, North Carolina.  It was hot.  I melted, big time.

It was a lot to pack into 5 days, but I did my best.  My camera didn’t get out too much to play.  Mostly a function of the heat and having a tough time adjusting.  But a good time was had overall.  I miss my friend and it was great having the opportunity to catch up.

This selection of pictures are in no particular order.  For all photos, visit the album:
















Posted in Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Biking Death Valley

Panoramic View - Badwater Basin

I made myself take a vacation. No excuses this time. I was in need of a break. The problem was, what to do. I would be traveling alone, but I wasn’t so keen on keeping within driving distance of home. I wanted to escape winter.

Cesar's Palace - Vegas

Venetian - Vegas

I did some internet searching and after a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to splurge and booked myself on a biking tour of Death Valley. The tour was operated by Backroads. They took care of everything and all I had to do was show up in Las Vegas (with my pedals, shoes and biking gear).

Oliver is ready to ride - Death Valley

I showed up in Vegas and was whisked away with my 8 other tour mates for this trip.  Everyone was lovely, and the guides were awesome.  I was the odd man out of the group, but they never made me feel lonely.

The first day we rode to the Mesquite Dunes. It was my first ride on a bike since August. Those 23 miles were rough, but incredibly picturesque.

Seen on my ride - Death Valley

Elevation Sea Level - Death Valley

Mesquite Dunes - Death Valley

The second day, I got my tired butt back on the saddle and rode out to Badwater, located 282 feet below sea level. On my way back I decided to give the climb up to Artist’s Palette a try. It was rough. I made part way up before I ran out of gas and walked. I made it up to the top by the time the support van caught up with me. Once we made it back to the main road, I hopped back on the bike and rode the last 8 miles back to the inn. Total ride distance, 32 miles.

Seen on my Ride - Death Valley

Oliver at Badwater

Climbing Artist's Palette

Exhausted, we had one more day of biking to go. The third day was going to be a rough one. It involved an 18 mile uphill climb. By mile 1, my legs were crying uncle. At mile 10, when I hit the support van, I was ready to call it quits, but I decided to continue with one of my tourmates. She kept me going those last 8 miles. The van brought us up to the top of Dante’s View, and the view was amazing. Breathtaking really (also it was cold up there). I ate lunch sitting on the pavement ledge and soaked it all in. After lunch, we were driven back to our bikes and road 18 miles downhill back to the inn. The best 18 miles ever.

Dantes View - Death Valley

On our last day we went for a hike in Golden Canyon. To see the rocks up close and climb to see some of the vistas was the perfect way to end a trip to Death Valley.

Golden Canyon Hike

Oliver in Golden Canyon - Death Valley

Golden Canyon Hike

Golden Canyon Hike

That afternoon, on our way back to Las Vegas, we made a quick stop at Death Valley Junction. It was previously a ghost town until a woman came through and bought the Amargosa Opera House and restored it. Shows are still performed at this little opera house, and we had an opportunity to learn more about it.

Amargosa Opera House

Amargosa Opera House

I’m really glad I made myself go on vacation and continue to expand my solo travel horizon. I spent a lot of the time on my bike, alone, away from the others with only an occasional car passing me on the road. That feeling of solitude coupled with the sound of the wind and gentle creek of my bike keeping me company was soothing in an unexplainable way. There is something to be said about the feeling you get when you are alone in the desert. I didn’t think about work, I didn’t think about any of the conflicts I was avoiding or trying to work out in my life. All I kept thinking about was how amazing this was and how lucky I was to be able to experience this, while trying to soak in as much as I could of the majestic views.

This was the trip I needed. I cannot wait for winter to be over, and I can get back on the bike again.

Golden Canyon Hike

Visit my Flickr page for all the photos I managed to capture on my trip.

Posted in Biking, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Frozen Brownies

I think I’ve hit my 3/8 life crisis. Is there such a thing? If not, there is now. While in my quarter life crisis, the biggest question was, now that I’m out of school, what am I going to do for the rest of my life? At the 3/8 life crisis, the questions become (for me), Is my career going in the right direction? What next? Marriage? Kids? How badly do I want those?

Too many questions! The answer: I need a brownie.

I tried to make these Chocolate-Stout Brownies from a recipe I found from Bon Appetit magazine. I actually thought I’d make them for a Superbowl party I was going to. However, they didn’t turn out the way I wanted. Mostly because I decided to not listen to my gut (never a good idea).

I followed the recipe more or less to the letter. Except, instead of Guinness, I used Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. I also cut the sugar to 1 cup. I also used 60% Cocoa, bittersweet Ghirardelli Chocolate.

When reducing the room temp stout, I found that part way, it started smelling really bitter and burnt. Despite my stirring. So, I stopped the reduction early and only got it to reduce to 3/4 cup.

I baked it according to the directions, for 35 minutes. At the end of 35 minutes, the center was strangely still jiggly. The tops was cracked and brownie like and the toothpick test came out clean, but that center was not set. I got nervous. I left it in for a few more minutes, but was so afraid of overbaking it, I decided to take it out. Maybe the 40 minute rest will let it set, and maybe it was supposed to be more fudgy.

I finished off the brownies after adding the top layer and letting it cool. When I cut into it, the center did not set as I had hoped. It was still very much underbaked.

Stout Brownies

I was so disappointed. What was I supposed to bring now? I ended up quickly thawing a sheet of puff pastry I had in my freezer and churning out some mini cinnamon sugar palmiers. But what do I do with this brownie mess? I put it back in the pan, wrapped it up and threw it in the freezer. I had four bars of good chocolate invested in this, I couldn’t just throw it out. I was running late, so this was a problem for future Sylvia to figure out.

A couple of days later, I decided to face the brownies. I took them out of the freezer and broke off a piece and tasted it. It was amazing. It was cold fudgy chocolate goodness. A touch grainy in parts, but for the most part, all that underbaked brownie batter set up in the freezer and it was like eating frozen fudge. So, I divided up the pieces, wrapped them up and threw them in a bag and in the freezer.

Stout Brownies - frozen

For dessert/snack/stress eating time.

Posted in Beer, Dessert | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

2014 is Done!


With 2014 coming to a rapid close, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.  Or, as many others might refer to it, reflecting.

“You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough” – Joe E. Lewis

It’s been quite a year.  A year of changes big and small.  A year of continual growth and transformation.  A year of victories, set backs, and general shenanigans.  A year like any other year really, except it felt more special.

I took a huge leap of faith in the beginning of the year and threw myself into job that makes me operate way outside my comfort zone almost every day.  I continue to try solo traveling.  Still very stressful, but always rewarding.  I still have to learn the art of conversing with strangers.

“I don’t need a boy to pay attention to me, I pay attention to myself” – Tina Belcher

I am still in the process of learning how to make new friends.  I don’t make friends easily.  I am friendly with people, and make acquaintances well, but to go from someone I know to a friend is a tough transition with me.  I don’t make it easy, that’s for sure.  But this year I started letting some more people in.  I’m not good at telling people how I feel about them, but hopefully those who strong armed their way in know how much I appreciate them for doing so.

I did a lot in 2014.  Even though I only accomplished one of my goals set for the year. Setbacks happen and I accomplished many other things that make up for the others. I still had a ton of fun and collected yet another year of wisdom, bumps and bruises to build upon.

There are many things to look forward to in 2015 (like Clueless turning 20…20! #ifeelold).  Hopefully this momentum from 2014 carries through and picks up a bit.  There are many adventures to be had, lessons to be learned, books to be read, cakes to be baked, moments to photographed and memories to be made.  I’m looking forward to it!

“Live every week like it’s Shark Week” – Tracy Jordan

Posted in Life | Leave a comment

Chicken Soup for my Chinese Soul

Chicken Soup

I’ve been watching a lot of Mind of a Chef: Season 1.  In this season, it’s basically all about David Chang, the mastermind behind Momofuku.

Besides making me want to drop everything and eat all the ramen in Japan, watching all these episodes has definitely given me a lot more appreciation for cooking and chefs, while also a great insight into who David Chang is and how easy he makes everything look.

A lot of the dishes he and other chefs illustrate on the show look super simple to make, but we all know if we tried it at home it would not work the same way.  However, there was one dish he made that piqued my interest and I thought…I can do that.

It was his Chinese Chicken Soup, that he made in the episode titled Simple.  Boiled down, it was basically, boiling up a chicken in one pot, and the vegetables in another and you got yourself a soup.  By dressing the chicken separately, it adds an extra layer of flavor to the end product without over cooking the chicken.  So simple!

So, I decided to try it.  With some help from this post by Dula Notes, I made broth that actually tastes like something!  I was proud, and I will most definitely keep making chicken soup like this from now on.

Chicken Soup (Based on Mind of a Chef and Dula Notes)

Break down a whole chicken (about a 4 pounder) and put into a large pot with 16 cups of water, about a tablespoon of salt and tablespoon of black peppercorns and bring to a boil then let simmer for about an hour.

In a smaller pot, put in 2 white onions (peeled and quartered), 2 shallots (peeled and halved), 3-5 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed), 3 carrots (washed and halved), 3 scallions (washed and halved) and cover with 8 cups of water and bring to a boil then let simmer.

After an hour, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and set aside to let cool down enough to handle.  Once cool enough, remove and shred the meat into another bowl and return the bones and excess skin back into the pot and continue to simmer for another two hours.

Keep an eye on both the chicken and veggie pots and add water as needed during the two hours.

Once reduced, taste and adjust seasonings for both as needed.  Skim the chicken fat and set aside.

Strain the vegetable broth and set aside.   Strain the chicken broth into a large bowl, then add the vegetable broth.

Chicken Broth

Dress the chicken meat with soy sauce and sesame oil to taste.

Cook the the egg noodles in some broth.  Pile some chicken in a bowl, add the noodles and top with broth, hard boiled egg and some scallions.  Drizzle some of that chicken fat on top for extra yumminess.

Dive in.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment