A Story of French Polynesia

A Story of French Polynesia

While I could write for ages about my experience in French Polynesia, I want to tell you a story of Tahiti through the lens of my camera.

Flying from Toronto to Pape’ete was a JOURNEY! Well worth it, don’t get me wrong… but nonetheless, a journey. From Toronto, we flew to San Francisco, then from SFO to Pape’ete with a budget airline, French Bee. Honestly, a really great airline for the price.

Once we landed in Pape’ete, we took one last flight to Bora Bora, where our paradise adventure began. We actually had no idea we were headed to Bora Bora, as it was a last minute itinerary change by the tourism board. Honestly, it was probably the best change we could of asked for, because Bora Bora was breathtakingly beautiful. The water was crystal clear, and the volcanic mountains were large and vast.

With our luggages, we boarded a water taxi and headed to a nearby beach for lunch.

aaaaaaand had myself some fresh coconut water… when in Tahiti, right?

Of course, I had to give myself a peachy Bora Bora moment once we got to our accommodation for the night. While most people stay on the water in over-water guest houses (which can be VERY expensive), we got the opportunity to stay at a bed & breakfast called Villa Rea Hanaa.

Listen, I understand the hype with over-water guest houses… but I mean COME ON. The view from my room was spectacular, the art was local, and their accommodation is a fraction of the price of over-water guest houses.

But before we left Bora Bora, we took a ride to a top lookout point on the island, and enjoyed the views. Breathtaking. My favorite thing about Bora Bora is the island’s diversity in terrain. There’s vast mountainous spots that capture your attention, yet flat and accessible areas where local’s come together to share their culture.

All I have to say is that Bora Bora is far more than a luxury vacation spot; it can be a destination for true adventure, without breaking the bank.

With a 1-hour flight from Bora Bora, we arrived in Mo’orea (Air Tahiti is the primary flight service throughout French Polynesia)! We stopped at a nearby resort for lunch, which was a unique experience, as most of our trip revolved around staying in local guest houses. It was really cool to see the over-water guesthouses up close, pictured above.

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Here are a couple drone shots from Mo’orea. The incredible thing about flying a drone in French Polynesia is that the wind is almost non-existent; which, if you own a drone, you’ll know that wind speed is a big factor in restricting flight. If you’re planning to visit French Polynesia, I would highly recommend investing in a consumer drone! Your shots will be AMAZING.

Later that day, we checked into our Mo’orea accommodation, Hotel Hibiscus. It’s labeled as a 2-star hotel, but honestly felt more like a 3.5 star. Don’t get me wrong, the accommodations at Hotel Hibiscus are quite simple, but you didn’t come all the way to Mo’orea to hang out in your room. The accommodation offered everything I needed (hot running water, clean room, simple breakfast), in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

This is when I learned that the coral reef is very sharp… I landed myself many cuts on the bottom of my feet. If you’re going to swim in French Polynesia, bring water shoes. Lesson learned.

Also, you can now call me Queen Mikey.

At the end of our second day in Mo’orea, our Tahitian tour guide took us to try-on traditional Tahitian Grand Costumes. I was hesitant to call this a costume, but our guide (and the locals we spoke to) reassured us that these are called Grand Costumes. They’re made using the fibers of the hibiscus tree, and can take weeks to make. Since the hibiscus tree’s fibers are so strong, each Tahitian Grand Costume has a lifespan of about 50 years!

Next on our itinerary was visiting the remote island of Ahe. The island is so remote that it only has 2 accommodations (we, of course, stayed at one of them). Our accommodation was called Pension Chez Raita, and was by far the most memorable part of my trip. I mean… check this place out…

HOW IS THIS PLACE REAL??? The water is calm and still, and the water doesn’t make much sound. Everything is quiet and peaceful.

By far, one of the highlights of visiting Ahe was fishing my own lunch! YUP! We went to the middle of the lagoon, fished our lunch, and had it prepared for us about an hour later. It doesn’t get more fresh than that!

The island is shaped like a hollow circle, surrounded by the ocean with the lagoon in the middle. For lunch, we simply travelled by boat to another point on the island. All I have to say is that there were palm trees EVERYWHERE! It was spectacular.

All in all, visiting Ahe was like entering a postcard. It didn’t feel real, because everything felt perfect. In our digitally-driven lives, it can often feel difficult to unplug and enter a quiet space (especially on vacation!). In Ahe, there was limited internet connection, and quiet spaces were practically everywhere. It made relaxation easy!

I would totally recommend visiting Pension Chez Raita in Ahe with your romantic partner. If you’re looking for a getaway, away from the modern world, Ahe is the place to go.

With a budget airline out of San Francisco, and accommodations that don’t have to be luxury, French Polynesia is getting more and more accessible for the average traveler. With that in mind, I can honestly recommend the Islands of Tahiti as a must visit with your romantic partner. The remoteness offers the perfect balance of beauty & disconnect from the modern world.

Happy traveling, friends.

-MR

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Cannabis

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Cannabis
Disclaimer: This post is meant to further educate and inform people about recreational cannabis. As I write this, recreational cannabis is legal throughout Canada. I wanted to write this post right after legalization, as many newbie cannabis consumers will rightfully have many questions about the basics.

Remember when Michelle Obama famously said about Republicans: “When they go low, we go high!” Well… Canada might be going just a little higher!

It’s a historic time for Canada, as we become the second country (and first major economy) to legalize the sale and possession of recreational cannabis. It’s a long time coming for Canada, as Canadians have been (illegally) consuming cannabis for many years. In 2017, Statistics Canada found that 18% of Canadians consume cannabis; of course, it’s widely believed that this number is closer to 30% – 35%, as many people might not disclose their activity.

I find the outlook on cannabis very interesting, especially because it varies depending on your geographic location. I know that people in the U.K. are a lot less friendly towards recreational cannabis than Canadians (I have no source for this, just experience from speaking to my friends). Regardless of the location, it’s a fact that cannabis is far less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol, when looking at its effect on responsible adults.

While I may not be a cannabis pro, I do enjoy consuming cannabis in a responsible manner. This includes consuming in my apartment, after I’ve completed my work, with no intention to operate any motor vehicles, or make any important decisions. I treat cannabis the same way another Canadian might look at a glass of wine or scotch.

Now, there are a few things I wish I knew about cannabis before I started. It would have taken away a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around it!

1. You may feel NOTHING the first time you consume 

Yep! As you may have heard, it’s surprisingly common to not actually get high the first time you try cannabis. What’s even more surprising is that no one’s quite sure why!

There are theories, of course: firstly, you probably didn’t consume cannabis 100% properly the first time, which is totally understandable. But those beginner’s mistakes don’t necessarily account for everything. Some experts also think there’s a “sensitization period” during which you won’t feel high. That’s because THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, can cause your brain to increase its amount of cannabinoid receptors. You’ll have to wait for your body to create enough receptors in order to feel high, which might take a couple of tries.

Remember, cannabis is not (and should not) be compared to drugs like heroine. Don’t feel that you’re going to lose control of your body and inhibitions just because you consumed some cannabis. The main feelings you’ll get are relaxation, laughter, followed by a bit of the munchies!

NOTE: If you’re someone who experiences mild to severe anxiety, please consume cannabis slowly. Start with a very small amount, and work your way up!

2. INDICA vs. SATIVA vs. HYBRID : Which do I choose?!

Cannabis has three strains: indica, sativa, and hybrid (both combined).

Sativa grow taller and thinner than Indica strains. Sativa strains originated in the equatorial countries of Columbia, Mexico, Thailand, and South East Asia and thrive in warmer weather. The leaves of Sativa are much more narrow than those of Indica, and are typically a lighter shade of green. Think of Sativa cannabis sort of like products with 25% less salt. It’s still cannabis, but the psychoactive effects are more muted, and don’t last as long as indica. This is why most people tend to smoke Sativa during the day!

Indica are short and stout in composure (2-4 feet tall), and typically yield smaller (1.5 to 2.5 ounces per plant), higher quality crops (~18% THC) than Cannabis Sativa. The plants are believed to have originated in the Middle East (Pakistan & Afghanistan), and thrive in cooler environments. Indica strains are typically darker green than sativa and have shorter, fatter leaves. When you’re thinking of Indica, think of in-da-couch; when you consume Indica cannabis, you’ll be sinking into your couch, feeling much more relaxed, lethargic, and hungry.

Hybrid cannabis has a few different categories: Sativa-dominant, Indica-dominant, and 50/50. I think those are self-explanatory? Basically, one has more sativa, one has more indica, and one has an equal share of the two! If you’re a beginner, I’d stay away from hybrids; it’s best to go for an indica or a sativa, as you’ll know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

3. Edibles 101

For this section, I have to already assume that you’ve found someone to bake and sell cannabis edibles to you. Unfortunately, I don’t have any tips for sourcing edibles, as they’re very difficult to regulate and sell in a safe manner. When you bake an edible, you have to merge cannabis’ THC into a fat, like butter or oil; because of this, it can be difficult to measure each edible’s individual THC %. If you bake a tray of “weed brownies,” it’s very likely that some brownies might be more potent than others.

Regardless, the main rule for consuming cannabis edibles are to TAKE THINGS REALLY SLOW. In my personal experience, it takes about 1.5 – 3 hours to fully feel the THC effects of cannabis edibles. This is due largely because the food product needs to make it to your liver, in order to process the THC.

Please don’t consume edibles by yourself! Have a friend or family member nearby, incase you accidentally consumed too much THC. DON’T WORRY: you’re not going to “overdose,” but rather, your brain’s cannabinoid receptors will get overloaded with THC. Your body will need to filter out the THC over the course of a few hours, so having someone nearby never hurts.

4. How much cannabis should I buy?

Whenever I walk into my local dispensary and see a new customer (they usually state that it’s their first time), I always hear them struggling with how much cannabis to buy.

Cannabis is sold by gram, but you might hear buyers using terms such as quarter ounce (7g), half ounce (14g), and ounce (28g). If it’s your first time purchasing cannabis, stick to 1 gram! While it might sound and look like too little, you only need to consume a pinch of ground cannabis at a time.

In regards to pricing, these can vary depending on the strain. Just like there’s various kinds of vodka (Smirnoff vs. Greygoose), there’s different levels of cannabis. In my experience, cannabis ranges from $8 CAD – 18 CAD per gram, with some exceptions. This is pretty self-explanatory, as the cheaper cannabis has less THC, and the expensive cannabis has more THC.

All in all, head to a legal dispensary or legal online store and spend $8 – $10 on 1 gram of cannabis for your first time.

5. What are some tips for smoking cannabis in a safer way?

Overall, cannabis consumption is quite safe for adults, although there are questions surrounding its safety for those under the age of 25 (with developing brains). However, there are some things to keep in mind, in order to make your cannabis consumption as safe as possible!

Tip #1: Buy hemp twine! By using your lighter to light hemp twine, you won’t be inhaling the small amounts of butane that transfer from lighters. Once your hemp twine is lit, you can use it just like you would with a conventional lighter.

Tip #2: Try vaping! Instead of smoking joints, or buying a bong, try investing in a vaporizer. Vaporizers are devices that heat cannabis flowers or oils at temperatures low enough to melt fatty cannabis resins and oils without burning plant material. Once melted, these resins transform from their solid form to a type of steam. This steam is the vapor you exhale after using a vaporizer. Heating at lower temperatures has several benefits. However, when purchasing a vaporizer, it is important to opt for a device that allows for temperature customization.

Tip #3: DRINK WATER! If you’re going to indulge in the arts of cannabis, make sure to chug a bunch of water before the occasion like you’re about to play in a high school state championship game.

Tip #4: Know your limits, and never apologize for turning down cannabis from your friends. If you’re stoned out of your mind after one hit, feel free to pass on the joint in rotation. Your mission was to get high for the first time, not melt your entire face off. Know your limits and act accordingly.

Tip #5: Never, ever, under any circumstance, smoke cannabis & drive. You’re endangering the lives of others, and your own.

Happy 420, and consume responsibly!

-MR

WHERE I STAYED: Thailand

WHERE I STAYED: Thailand

Throughout my 8-day adventure through Thailand, I stayed at 4 different hotels / resorts. They were all beautiful and unique in their own way, which is why I wanted to share some additional photos of my hotel experience with you!

Thailand can be quite expensive to fly round-trip, especially for a Canadian like me. However, their accommodations are quite inexpensive, especially for the quality, service, and amenities that you receive in return. SO, here’s my personal review of four different hotels / resorts in Thailand…

CHIANG MAI – 137 PILLARS HOUSE – 4.5 / 5

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During my stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, my group and I stayed at the 137 Pillars House. It’s located in the heart of Chiang Mai, so you really can’t do much better in regards to location.

While checking into the hotel, we were offered chilled sweet tea and cold facial towels. Especially in August, the temperatures in Thailand are quite humid, so the chilled welcome package was very much appreciated.

  • ROOM SIZE: Perfect for two, feels very intimate
  • BED: Very large, romantic bedposts, solid wood
  • BALCONY: Very large, perfect for relaxing with morning coffee or tea with a loved one
  • VIEW: Covered by trees and branches, gives the room a private feel
  • BATHROOM: *Huge* bathtub, indoor & outdoor shower, private toilet section
  • OVERALL: Incredible!! My only constructive criticism was that the hotel rooms were not very modern (this may not be important for many people, though!)

Bonus point! I had no idea of this prior to checking in, but every room receives a butler service. Now, I’m not a very high maintenance person, so I didn’t see the need for this… until I got back from the Patara Elephant Farm. Upon arriving back to the hotel, my shoes were filthy with dirt and dust. My butler offered to clean my shoes, and return them the following morning before check-out. LET ME TELL YOU: my shoes were *spotless* when my butler returned them. Definitely a nice touch on an already spectacular hotel.

 

CHIANG RAI – ANANTARA GOLDEN TRIANGLE – 3.5 / 5

Upon driving a few hours North-East towards Chiang Rai, we arrived at the Anantara Golden Triangle. If you’re looking to visit the Golden Triangle, which is a unique spot where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet, this is the hotel to stay at!

  • ROOM SIZE: Standard, more functional than elegant
  • BED: Standard, with a variety of pillows offered
  • BALCONY: Standard
  • VIEW: Breathtaking, with a clear view of the Golden Triangle
  • BATHROOM: Connected to the main bedroom area, with an *ENORMOUS* bathtub/shower, easily the highlight of the room
  • INFINITY POOL: Quite beautiful, with a view of the Golden Triangle, and attentive service to bring you beverages or food (if desired
  • OVERALL: Great! My only constructive criticism was that the hotel rooms were a bit outdated, and could use some modernizing.

 

FLIGHT – CHIANG MAI > PHUKET – 5/5

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While we primarily used a mini-bus to get from location to location, Phuket was a bit too far away to transit by bus. Instead, we used Bangkok Airways! Bangkok Airways is an affordable, boutique Asian airline, that really reminds me of Porter Airlines (those who are Central / East Coast Canadians will get the reference!). They have a premium lounge available to all of their passengers, filled with drinks, snacks, and sandwiches! Nowadays, when it feels like airlines are constantly cutting down on premium perks, Bangkok Airways does it RIGHT.

I’d highly recommend y’all use Bangkok Airways if you’re travelling in Thailand.

 

PHUKET – PARESA RESORT – 5/5

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Let me introduce you to the pinnacle of elegance in Phuket, Thailand: The Paresa Resort! Perched on the seaside slopes, amid tropical forests, over azure blue waters and a picturesque panorama of the Andaman Sea, Paresa is an oasis of tranquility and unrivalled luxury. A secluded retreat to get away from it all and enjoy an island escape!

  • ROOM SIZE: Large, plenty of space to run around!!
  • BED: Large, and notably the most comfortable bed I slept in during my Thailand trip
  • BALCONY: 10 / 10! A large, wide balcony with a private infinity pool, two reclining chairs, and an outdoor shower oasis
  • VIEW: My view was *slightly* obstructed by a large tree, but I’m really stretching to find something wrong here. The view is breathtaking, with a great view of the ocean.
  • BATHROOM: Easily the largest bathroom of all the hotels, it’s about the same size (if not larger!) than the bedroom. Perfect for couples, there’s two sinks, closets, showers, with a shared toilet and tub!
  • OVERALL: A perfect spot for an oasis getaway in Thailand! My only constructive criticism is that my breakfast took about 20-25min to arrive at their restaurant, with only a few other guests present. Other than that, it was a perfect experience.

 

BANGKOK – BANYAN TREE BANGKOK – 4.5 / 5

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Our final hotel during the 8-day Thailand trip was the Banyan Tree Bangkok. With 61 floors, this hotel has everything you could possibly need. While the three previous hotels could be labelled under the luxury category, the Banyan Tree Bangkok was slightly more family-friendly. However, the ambiance, service, and cuisine at the hotel made it feel like the most luxurious family-friendly hotel I’ve ever been too!

  • ROOM SIZE: Larger than standard, but no balcony
  • BED: Large and comfortable! I had no trouble sleeping on the bed.
  • VIEW: While there isn’t a balcony, the views from the room are spectacular. I don’t know if you’ll find a better room view in Bangkok. Towering over the city, the hotel is the second-largest building in Bangkok.
  • SENSES: The Banyan Tree Bangkok is all about sensory pleasure. My room had both an daily incense and essential oils kit, which scent changed from day-to-day. It was a marvellous touch that, in my opinion, elevated the hotel from family-friendly to slightly luxurious.
  • BATHROOM: Cozy, but quite functional. It might be tough for two people to get ready at once, but definitely not a deal-breaker for the hotel.
  • POOL AREA: As hectic as Bangkok can be, the hotel pool area is a quiet oasis where you can swim, sleep, or just sit back under one of the many trees surrounding you.
  • BARS: There are two bars at this hotel, both located on the upper floors.
  • OVERALL: The Banyan Tree Bangkok is THE place to visit if you’re staying in Bangkok. Especially if you’re someone who enjoys taking advantage of every hotel amenity, this hotel has carefully thought out how to offer you as many perks as possible.

 

If you’re planning to travel to Thailand in 2019, consider these hotels! While I visited some different areas of Thailand, most people visit Bangkok — so with that in mind, I would definitely recommend the Banyan Tree Bangkok. I just wanted to make an extra note that I completely felt at home during my stay, and I know y’all would have an equally pleasant experience.

Happy Travelling! ❤

-MR

Disclaimer: My trip to Thailand was covered by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. For more information, please visit: http://gothaibefree.com/

Top 5 Insta-Worthy Spots in Thailand!

Top 5 Insta-Worthy Spots in Thailand!

Last month, I embarked on a 8-day press trip to Thailand with other LGBTQ+ media. Since we were only in Thailand for a little over a week, I wanted to try and capture as much of the country’s beauty as I could. I mean, if I’m going to travel for 24+ hours, I’m GOING to get some insta-worthy shots to share on my social media.

A lot of us in our new digital age can relate to this desire to capture social-media-friendly images. Pictures that tell a story, capture people’s attention, and (briefly) take them alongside your adventure. SO, here’s my top FIVE insta-worthy spots in the beautiful country of Thailand…

#1: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, the Doi Suthep Temple is a sacred site to many Thai people. On top of that, the sites are straight out of a postcard.

The images above are from the lookout point that is immediately adjacent to the sacred temple, which is why my shoulders aren’t covered in the photos. When I stepped back into the temple area, I ensure to cover my shoulders to respect the Thai traditions.

The lookout point is BEAUTIFUL, and must-visit in Chiang Mai. We were lucky enough to reach the lookout point during a light rainfall, which created a double-rainbow in the distance. The best part about this location is that the breathtaking views do all work for you. While I shot with a 10-22mm wide-angle lens, a smartphone would create a similar impact. The vastness of the clouds, mixed with the mountainous backdrop is sure to WOW your family and friends as they scroll through your vacation feed.

Accessibility Note: Please note that you have to climb about 100 steps to reach the temple. From what I witnessed, there wasn’t any accessibility spots.

#2: Patara Elephant Farm – Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Imagine this: you arrive to a sanctuary farm, and all you see are elephants, jungle green space, and waterfalls. The Patara Elephant Farm is located in Chiang Mai, and is a must-visit (and ethical!) elephant sanctuary. You’ll get a chance to meet, feed, and bathe their elephants, which is a life-changing experience in itself!

Not only that, but the people at Patara Elephant Farm take professional photos of you during the entire experience — for free! Now, I obviously took a few photos of my own, only because I was keen to share the experience on Instagram shortly afterwards. However, for no additional charge, you can enjoy the elephant experience without worrying about snapping shots or video footage along the way.

The farm has thousands of acres, filled with aesthetic waterfalls, lakes & ponds, and beautiful elephants that are quite friendly.

I know “likes” on Instagram can be a bit of a self-serving thing to talk about, BUT! It’s interesting to note that my shot from Patara Elephant Farm went mini-viral (at least for me!) on Instagram. It garnered over 10,000 likes, with almost 100,000 impressions. I think those numbers are more of a testament towards the beauty that you’ll experience at Patara Elephant Farm. Next time you visit Thailand, definitely have this on your list!

#3: The Golden Triangle – Chiang Rai, Thailand

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Located a few hours away from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai’s ultimate Insta-Worthy spot is the Golden Triangle: a unique border spot where you can experience three countries (Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos).

The location of these photos were at our host hotel, the Anantara Golden Triangle. The hotel’s primary selling point is their breathtaking view of the Golden Triangle. They offer an aesthetic infinity pool, which I think helps to amplify the grandness of my shot. Standing on the edge of their infinity pool, you have mountains, trees, and two different countries in the background!

I wanted to highlight some spots in Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai, because so many people skip over to tourist hot-spots such as Bangkok & Phuket (which are GORGEOUS!). If you happen to have some extra time in Thailand, be sure to visit these spots & share their beauty on social media.

#4: Wallflowers Upstairs – Bangkok, Thailand (Old Town)

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Walking around in Bangkok, it can be quite difficult to find the hidden gems amongst all the noise. Trust me when I say: Wallflowers Upstairs is one of those hidden gems! Located in the Old Town of Bangkok, this café is a literal hole-in-the-wall. Once you start moving up the café’s spiral staircase, you’re teleported to a Tumbr-worthy, botanical paradise! There are plants everywhere, cradled by the antique and slightly run-down benches and table tops (it feels really aesthetic though!). When I say “run-down,” I mean it in a positive way; this café is truly one of a kind, and will feed ALL your #CoffeeGoals on Instagram.

To make matters even more aesthetic, the café, in addition to selling coffee items, sells a delicious Rosé Soda. I mean, COME ON. Can it get more aesthetic than that?! I think not.

#5: Vertigo Bar – Bangkok, Thailand (61st Floor!)

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Travelling through a new-age metropololis like Bangkok, it can be difficult to find locations that truly capture the city’s beauty. Let’s be real, the “concrete jungle” of New York is Bangkok’s baby brother; when you’re out on the streets of Bangkok, you’re surrounded by buildings, cars, and pedestrians. BUT, let me introduce you to the Vertigo Bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Bangkok — one of Bangkok’s other hidden gems!

Located in the heart of the city, the Vertigo Bar is the second-highest point in Bangkok.  Grab a drink or dinner, and snag one of the most astounding views in Bangkok.

Pro tip: If you want to elevate your shot, use a wide-angle lens to fully capture the immenseness of Bangkok’s size & beauty. If you don’t have a wide-angle lens, simply purchase a wide-angle smartphone attachment. You’ll be glad you did!

Happy Exploring, you cuties!

-MR

Disclaimer: My trip to Thailand was covered by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. For more information, please visit: http://gothaibefree.com/

 

Using Digital Media For GOOD!

Using Digital Media For GOOD!

Happy July, everyone!

Last month, I had the opportunity to create social awareness around Capital One’s Digital For Good Summit — which is a free event designed to empower charities and non-profit organizations to use technology as a force for good. The Summit aims to help bridge the technology gap these groups are facing by providing attendees with access to tech leaders and like-minded peers they might not have access to otherwise.

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As a Communication Studies major myself, finding tactics to thrive amongst the growing changes in digital media is a huge passion of mine. When I started my first Communications Studies class in 2012, only a handful of my peers used social media. By the time I graduated, there were countless courses on topics that pertained to social and digital media. In *four* years, we went from low awareness of digital media, to teaching about it in classrooms.

Imagine what it must be like to be a charity or non-profit in the last handful of years. While changes in digital media have been favourable for private organizations to reach a larger audience, charities and non-profits often fall behind due to lack of funds or resources.

Early last month, I had the opportunity to spend the day at the People With AIDS Foundation (PWA), to learn about their struggle in today’s digital divide. After spending just a few hours at the organization, I learned that PWA is often the first point of contact for young HIV+ individuals in Toronto. Their services play a crucial role in guiding vulnerable Torontonians towards a sustainable and accepting life with HIV. However, fast changes in digital media haven’t left the organization with much time to grow and adapt. In fact, 74% of Canadian charities believe a growing tech gap threatens the long-term success of their organization. Charities like PWA provide vital services for so many HIV+ people in Toronto, including many of the LGBTQ+ community, who are often at a higher risk of becoming HIV+.

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Myself & Mike from the People With AIDS Foundation (PWA)

SO, this brings me to the Capital One Digital For Good Summit. Through the Digital for Good program, Capital One is able to utilize their network, talent and resources to close the tech gap in communities. Capital One’s work in this area focuses on supporting charities with their tech infrastructure and preparing people for 21st century jobs. It was a lot easier for someone like me to adapt to new changes in digital media — I mean, I literally went through an academic institution while these changes were occurring. However, for charities and non-profits that weren’t as lucky, they’ve needed an educational and supportive resource to help their organization adapt to an ever-changing digital world.

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The summit featured a series of panels from various figures in the Canadian & international charity community. Additionally, one of the speakers was Shiza Shahid, NOW Ventures & Co-Founder of Malala Fund. As a young entrepreneur, Shiza Shahid has found a way to harness the power of social media to literally change the lives of young women all around the world. See below for a snippet of her speech!

As well, one of the featured organizations was Kids Help Phone, who I learned uses AI word-recognition technology as part of their services. They utilize word-recognition technology to streamline the most vulnerable people who contact their services. In my opinion, having charities and non-profits who have already adapted themselves to digital media was incredibly helpful to those who attended. When there’s like-minded people from similar background in one space, it can often become easier to ask the right questions. I equate the Capital One Digital For Good Summit as a similar event to YouTube’s VidCon — at it’s core, the event aims to bring likeminded people together for thoughtful discussion, and a goal to find resolutions.

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Even though the summit is over, the conversation doesn’t stop! If you know a friend or family member who works at a charity or non-profit organization, invite them over for a coffee! I think a lot of us have crucial knowledge about digital and social media that they’d love to learn about.

— MR

Disclosure: This blog post was made in partnership with Capital One & their Digital For Good Summit. All opinions are my own.

How I Reduce Stress (as a stressful person)

How I Reduce Stress (as a stressful person)

Okay everyone, let’s get a little more personal in today’s post. While I’ve shared an abundance of my life on YouTube over the past six years, everything goes through an editing phase. I take out my “ummmms” “ahhhhhs” and general feelings of frustration when filming doesn’t go my way. Luckily, I have editing programs that take out all those annoying snippets, so you don’t have to see them!

I’m a (recovering) stressful person. Throughout my life, I’ve always found it difficult to remain calm in situations of pain, discomfort, and disappointment. Remember that movie, Mean Girls? There’s a scene where Lindsay Lohan describes her inability to stop talking as “word vomit” – I’d say that’s the best way of describing stress. You feel stressful emotions coming up, but you find it near impossible to relay those feelings in an unhealthy, stressed way.

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a few different ways to reduce my stress level, and I want to share them with you. These are approaches and products that work for me & my life, so feel free to let me know any of your own tactics in the comments section below!

Stress Reduction Tip #1: Shut those lights!

Whenever I’m feeling stress, and this could be for a variety of reasons (lack of sleep, back pain, arguments), I always find that placing myself in a quiet & dark place is ideal. Especially in today’s world, we’re constantly staring at LCD screens with plenty of ongoing stimulus; while we might think that distracting ourselves from stress would be the solution, it can often make things worse (especially for me!).

Here’s what I do! I place myself in a small, dark room – this could be a bedroom, or even a bathroom – and I play rain sounds on YouTube. The darkness from the room allows my eyes to get a stimulus break, and the quiet white-noise from the rain sounds calmly distracts my mind momentarily. After 15-20 minutes of calmness, I usually find that my stress has reduced, and I’ve received a new perspective on the situation. So much of the time, our stress holds us back from seeing alternative perspectives.

Pro Tip: if you type “ASMR” on YouTube, there’s a whole community dedicated to calm sounds that may help reduce your stress!

Stress Reduction Tip #2: Go for a sweat!

Specifically, a yoga sweat! I started taking hot yoga a bit more seriously over the last six months, and I try to attend one class a week. There’s a reason I recommend hot yoga over traditional workouts or cardio: you can’t access your phone! Most hot yoga studios have a no-phone policy, which can be great for social media obsessed people like me! 🙂

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Additionally, the heat from a hot yoga class feels incredible! It allows your muscles to warm up and stretch out much easier than a traditional yoga class. After a hot yoga class, I’ve often experienced a lower heart rate and a better nights of sleep – and sleeping is what?! FUNDAMENTAL! Contrary to what you may expect, the strenuous exercises do actually result in a reduction of stress.

Stress Reduction Tip #3: Use the right products!

This month, I’m trying Icy Hot® muscle pain relief products to show you some of the benefits they provide for muscle pain. Since a lot of my job involves sitting (while writing, filming, editing, and posting), it’s quite easy for me to experience back and shoulder pain.

The Icy Hot® Advanced Pain Relieving Cream has 16% menthol and 11% camphor, which are the highest allowable amounts on the market, making it the strongest pain relief cream available with those ingredients. They also offer a Medicated Patch & Medicated Spray, depending on which format you prefer to use.

Predictably, I had some lower back pain about two weeks ago. My shoulders were quite sore from the previous day’s workout, so I didn’t want to overextend my arms and shoulders to apply the cream or patch. I was so ecstatic that Icy Hot® offers their muscle pain relief products in a spray format, which allowed me to apply the product without much effort. Soon after applying, my pain was reduced in half, and shortly after that, I didn’t feel any discomfort at all. The product starts off cool, then switches to hot (then back and forth a few times), which helps keep your mind off the pain!

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For me, less muscle pain is less stress. I’d highly recommend trying their products next time you feel muscle pain. #RELIEFISICYHOT (Always read and follow the label) 

Stress Reduction Tip #4: Get that fire going!

This may seem like an obvious tip for some, but lighting essential oil candles can be so so so calming for our bodies and minds. In the same way as a dark room can help distract and calm our visual senses, essential oil candles are incredible for our aroma senses.

My favourite essential oils are lavender, sandalwood, and rose! If candles aren’t your thing, you can get the essential oils themselves & massage a drop or two into your temple area of the scalp. Feel free to tag this tip along with tip #1 for added relaxation! 🙂

Stress Reduction Tip #5: Don’t do it alone!

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Almost always, I find that talking about my stress can make me feel less stress. I’ll often chat with my partner, Chris, or call my parents over the phone if I’m feeling stressed about something that just won’t let up. Often enough, I find that talking about what’s going on in my head can help put situations into perspective. What initially felt like the end of the world feels more like a minor setback when I put things into perspective. If you don’t get an extra perspective, you just become an echo chamber for your own negative thoughts. Even if physical pain is causing your stress, it’s much easier to feel like you’ll never get past the discomfort if you do it alone.

I know I mentioned ASMR already, but there are a handful of great “ASMR role plays” on YouTube targeted towards people experiencing stress. If you feel like you need some personal attention, but don’t have a partner or loved one to talk to, some digital “attention” might do the trick.

-MR

Michael Rizzi is a 24-year-old YouTuber & blogger from Toronto, Canada. Follow his blog for up-to-date & fresh content on a weekly basis!

This post was sponsored by ICY HOT. All opinions are my own.

For any questions, concerns or comments regarding the ICY HOT product line, please contact: ch.canada-ConsumerCare@sanofi.com

“Queer Eye” Antoni Inspired Avocado-Stuffed Pierogies

“Queer Eye” Antoni Inspired Avocado-Stuffed Pierogies

For many LGBTQ+ folks, the Netflix revival of Queer Eye has been momentous. Five confident, queer people helping their fellow men through the trails and tribulations of life. For years, we’ve had representation in pop culture through a very narrow lens: the fashion commentary on the red carpet. On Queer Eye, we’re chefs, stylists, life coaches, builders, and (of course) fashionistas! Admittedly, even Tan France’s fashion commentary goes well beyond clothes, often aligning personal style with confidence.

Okay, Michael, enough blabbing about Queer Eye. Let’s talk PIEROGIES.

Last week, it was released that Queer Eye’s Antoni will be moving forward with a cookbook publishing deal. While announcing his deal, Antoni made reference to “Avocado-stuffed pierogies,” and I was in A-W-E. Why hadn’t anyone else thought of that?! The whole foundation for a pierogi are its soft, creamy filling; and what’s softer, creamier, and more ON TREND than avocados? Genius, I tell you.

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Now, I couldn’t wait for this “avocado-stuffed pierogi” recipe, so I went ahead and made my own version. My goal was to make tasty pierogies for my partner and I, and maybe get the attention of Antoni while I’m at it. SPOILER: it maybe works, so stay tuned for the entire blog!

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THE DOUGH, DUH!

Making pierogi dough is very simple, so don’t feel intimidated by it. Here’s how to make a simple & straightforward dough:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of warm water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Simply combine all the above ingredients in a large bowl! You’ll need to get your hands involved, as the dough will be dense. Keep an extra 1/4 cup of water by your side to adjust the consistently. The ideal consistency feels dense, yet soft. Leave the dough covered in a bowl for 30 minutes before use.

THE AVOCADO FILLING

The filling is time consuming, yes, but it’s not difficult. You’ll need about an hour to complete the filling.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled & halved
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 50g – 75g of feta cheese
  • 1 container of plain, greek yogurt
  • Salt, to taste
  • Margarine or butter, as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed

Step 1: Dice a white onion, and place in a medium-heat skillet with 3 tbsp margarine & 1 tbsp olive oil. The oil addition to the margarine will ensure it doesn’t burn, as oil has a higher burning temperature than margarine or butter. Begin stirring the pan every 3-5 minutes, until the onions become translucent after 20-25 minutes.

Step 2: While the onions are becoming translucent, place the halved potatoes in a salted pot of water. Begin boiling. The potatoes should take 30-40 minutes to cook through.

Step 3: After the onions become translucent, place the temperature to LOW, and stir every 7-8 minutes. This will give the onions enough time to slightly caramelize before each stir. The onions will need another 30-40 minutes during this process.

Step 4: Take the potatoes out of the pot, and mash in a large bowl. Set the bowl aside for 15 minutes to cool. Once cooled, add 2-3 tbsp of plain, greek yogurt & stir until combined. Add 2 diced avocados & your feta cheese.

Step 5: Once the onions are caramelized, add to the potato mixture. Grab a large spoon or  spatula and FOLD the mixture together. It’s important that you don’t vigorously mix the ingredients, or everything will mesh together as one unison flavour. If you FOLD the mixture, you’ll have bites of avocado, caramelized onion, and feta cheese individually! YUM!

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Step 6: Roll out your dough to about an 1/8 of an inch, and cut circles using a wider glass cup. Place a ball of the filling on top of each circle, then begin to close each pierogi. I could write forever on how to close them properly, but just watch Martha Stewart and her mother do it! They explain it PERFECTLY!

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Step 7: Boil 6-7 pierogies at a time, for about 3 minutes. Serve with a dollop of plain greek yogurt or sour cream!

Optional Step 8: Fry the pierogies in 1/2 tbsp of margarine for added crispiness!

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Honestly, these are a solid 10/10. The acidity of the feta cuts through the fattiness of the avocados, so it’s not overwhelmingly creamy! If you make this recipe, be sure to tag me @mikerizzi 🙂

DID ANTONI GIVE HIS APPROVAL?!

After sharing my cooking experience on Instagram (and tagging @antoni), we exchanged some words! Turns out his tweet was a complete joke!! He never meant to put avocados in pierogies, but his mad scientist ideas led to this tasty recipe. I’d say that’s a win for stomachs everywhere.

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Until next time, this foodie is OUT.

-MR

 

Conquering My Paradise Bucket List

Conquering My Paradise Bucket List

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to go on Club Med’s first Canadian media trip, to see why this longstanding resort brand has managed to sustain such popularity. I’ll start off this blog by saying that I’ve been to about 5 all-inclusive resorts in my life, and they almost always have the same problems: sub-par or average food, sub-par or average entertainment, and a crowded resort grounds. I was a bit skeptical going on a media trip to Club Med, as I wondered if they could move past the average experience I’ve had at past resorts. Spoiler alert: THEY DID.

Before I left for my trip, Club Med asked me to create my ideal bucket list for the trip! I’m not much of a bucket list kind of person, but I thought I’d give it a try & get in the Club Med spirit. Without further adieu, here’s how I conquered my Paradise Bucket List, while having the best resort experience in my life!

Bucket List #1: Shoot Beautiful Drone Footage

could write a big paragraph of how happy & excited I was to take beautiful & colourful drone shots for the first time, but pictures speak louder than words.

The surroundings at Club Med were so perfect and serene, it made creating drone footage a little too easy!

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Bucket List #2: Go Sailing

When I first got my itinerary, there was one item that stuck out amongst the rest: sailing. I’ve always wanted to go sailing, ever since I was a little kid. There’s something so aesthetically nautical about sailing, but it can be difficult to sail when you live in the concrete jungle that is Toronto!

I was the only one in my group to want to go sailing, so I convinced our Club Med representative, Julien, to take me sailing (it worked!). We took the sail boat about 400-500 metres from the shoreline, just far enough to get into a serene vibe.

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Club Med actually had a LOT of different water sports in addition to sailing, such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. I’ve been to a number of all-inclusive resorts, and I can honestly say I was impressed by how many “included activities” were available. I ended up going kayaking after our sailing activity was over!

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Bucket List #3: Try Acrobatics at Creactive By Cirque du Soleil

I think the most unique part of Club Med is its acrobatics centre, called Creactive. The family-friendly playground is a great addition to the resort, as it gives both kids & adults a fun escape from traditional activities. I don’t know about you, but I’m not the kind of person that can sit on a beach for 7 days… I need alternatives! At Creactive, there’s over 30 different acrobatic activities, so if you’re travelling in a group there’s something for everyone’s interests.

SO! Let’s talk about my experience with Creactive’s playground. Well, instead of talking about it, just watch…

Bucket List #4: Get Some R&R

Whenever I travel to a sunny destination, there’s always the necessary visit to the spa! There’s something about a spa visit on vacation that’s like peanut butter and jelly… they just work together. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Club Med has a men’s only spa, where they have trained staff to deal with men’s haircuts & spa services. Now, I’m VERY picky with my haircut, so much that I only go to a very specific barber 40 minutes from my apartment. I can honestly say that I received one of the best haircuts at Club Med’s Men’s Spa by L’Occitane.

Bucket List #5: Make Friends (ahh this sounds so sad, but hear me out!)

Since this was a media trip, I often don’t know anyone else while travelling. On this specific trip, I was the only person to not know at least 1 or 2 people, which can be super intimidating! I get a lot of questions around solo travel, and since its part of my job, I’ve experienced it a number of times.

It’s taken me a while to get used to the idea of making friends while travelling, but I’ve gotten the hang of it – and I’m starting to enjoy it! When you’re travelling with pre-established friends, you’re always on someone else’s schedule. Whether the bulk of your friends want to swim while you want to tan, there’s always a struggle between what the majority wants, and what you actually want to do. Travelling solo, and making friends along the way, gives you the perfect balance. You don’t necessarily feel bad when you turn down an offer to hang by the beach, or play volleyball, but you always have the option of joining in on the group later.

For myself, this trip had the perfect balance of group activities & solo time, and it was rooted in the fact that I travelled alone. So I’d challenge you to try travelling solo to your next destination, but be open to the idea of making a friend or two along the way. You never know who you’ll meet!

A big thank you to Club Med for including me in their first ever Canadian Influencer Media Trip. The memories will last a lifetime!

-MR

 

 

 

 

How to Create A Colourful Instagram Feed (and why you should!)

How to Create A Colourful Instagram Feed (and why you should!)

HELLO WORLD.

I’ve always been a very colourful person, both figuratively and literally. I was that drama kid in high school who wore the brightest colours, skinniest jeans, and most florescent shoes (and I slayed all of them!). It’s weird to look back at your younger self and realize how similar you still are. While I may not be an explosion of mix-matching colour, I still love bright & positive hues that bring happy feelings to people.

When I was younger, the only way I could express my colourful style was at school (thank god we didn’t have boring uniforms!). Nowadays, we have platforms like Instagram, where your feed can be a canvas for positive vibes. You don’t need to have piles of money or fancy equipment, either; most of us have smartphones that capture sharp photos, perfect for sharing on social media platforms.

I’ve been experimenting with colour over the last year, and I’ve finally found a balance that works for me! So in this blog post, I’m going to discuss some different ways you can integrate more colour into your feed – and why you should!

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer by any means! Just a kid who likes telling stories with his pictures, and learning along the way. 🙂

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My Instagram feed, Spring 2017!
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My Instagram feed, Spring 2018!

Tip #1: Start colour hunting in your city!

Colour hunting has really changed how I look at any given city I’m visiting, or even my own! I love walking down artistic districts, such as Queen / Ossington area in Toronto. There are so many fun colour walls in the city that are super easy to make Instagram-worthy. It’s a great way to start integrating colour into your feed because the walls do all the work! The tough part is actually getting outside & finding colours that work for you.

When I started looking for colour walls last year, I tried finding bright prime colours from the LGBT pride flag! Check out some of my first colour wall shots from last year.

 

 

All the above pictures were shot on my iPhone 7 Plus. However, I would have gotten comparable quality from any other android device! Style over technology ANY DAY!

The best part about colour walls is that any day can be a colourful day! It’s actually better to shoot these kinds of shots on a cloudier day, because the light won’t be harsh against your face, or cast shadows in an unflattering way.

Especially during the Fall & Spring months, when weather can be unpredictable, colour walls are a great way to start showing some hues on your feed. Not only that, but your shot will stand out amongst the darker & greyer shots that often fill Instagram’s live feed during the colder months of the year.

Pro tip: Not all colour walls are equal. Check out the wall’s quality & cleanliness; it might look colourful from afar, but if there are excess stains or wear&tear, it could make your feed look messy.

Tip #2: Tell a story with your shot!

Listen, I’ve mastered the “laughing in front of something aesthetic” shot. I’ve done it a thousand times, but I’m bored at this point. Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend on Instagram, where creators tell a story with their shot. In this way, you may not be adding physical colour to your feed, but you’re bringing a sense of vibrance and fun to Instagram!

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Taken somewhere in Los Angeles, June 2017

So, how does one “tell a story” with a picture? Start by taking in your surroundings, and figure out what kind of mood it puts you in. Are you jumping off a boat, with the least bit of care or stress in the world? CHANNEL THAT! (see below hehe). On the other hand, are you amazed by how grand a building is? Maybe try snapping a shot from below, where you’re looking up at the giant structure. Even if its brief, people will create a story in their minds about what’s happening around your shot.

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I love this shot! It’s so fun, and you can’t help but wonder what kind of conversation was going on between my friends on the boat. 🙂

Tip #3: Follow other colourful creators!

Whenever you need inspiration, it’s always best to look how other creators approach their content. Below are a couple of my favourite colourful creators!

 

A question you might ask is, “how do I get inspiration without copying someone else’s images?” The best way to find inspiration with integrity is to develop your own style first.  Some colourful creators put a focus on style & fashion, others look to interior design. Establish the kind of content you want to produce FIRST, then find the most colourful way of displaying it. For myself, I love telling colourful stories through travel and lifestyle. While I love brightbazaar‘s feed, I wouldn’t suddenly start a plethora of colourful design pictures, because it wouldn’t feel authentic to myself! In the same way, I love how colourful colormecourtney‘s page is, but her colours are a bit too saturated for my own feed. In this way, I feel inspired by these two without feeling the urge to copy.

Tip #4: Use the right photo editor!

In my experience, photo editors like Adobe Lightroom are very important when creating a colourful feed. There are plenty of apps available to Apple & Android phones that work great, but Adobe Lightroom lets you edit your image’s individual colours / hues.

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If I simply put this image into a regular image editor on my iPhone, my only option would be to increase its vibrance or saturation. As a white guy with reddish/orangeish undertones on my skin, that would make me look like an Oompa Loompa! As well, a lot of daylight shots will feature yellow undertones from the sun, which aren’t everyone’s ‘cuppa tea. Photo editors like Adobe Lightroom, where you can edit each hue individually, corrects these problems!

Tip #5: Preview your feed before posting!

When you’re creating a colourful feed, it’s important to plan your layout before posting. Certain colours just don’t sit well beside each other (literally), so having a clear picture of your feed before posting is suuuuuper helpful. Personally, I use the UNUM app because it’s free (woooo!) and let’s you modify your feed relatively well. For a free app, it does all the prep work I need!

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// michael rizzi


Michael Rizzi is a 23-year-old YouTuber & blogger from Toronto, Canada. Follow his blog to stay up-to-date on fresh content!

My Booze-y Mint Sangria

My Booze-y Mint Sangria

Happy March, everyone! We survived the cold & boring months of January & February… so I think it’s time for a little celebration. What better way to celebrate the warmer weather than a pitcher of sangria! While sangria can be a bit more of a summer drink, here’s my recipe for Mint Sangria – it’s less sweet than usual, making it perfect for the Spring season.

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Here’s what you’ll need to make ONE pitcher of Mint Sangria:

  • 1 bottle of cheap white wine
  • 1 can of apple cider, preferably a less sweet brand!
  • 2 handfuls of strawberry halves
  • 1/2 navel orange, segmented
  • 1/2 grapefruit, in 2 quarters
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 2 lemon wedges
  • Fresh mint, as much as your personal preference (I like lots!)
  • Club soda

love this recipe for a couple reasons. Firstly, it’s not overly sweet, which is perfect for a Spring afternoon with friends. The bitterness of the grapefruit helps to balance out the sweetness from the berries. Secondly, it’s very booze-y! Since I’ve replaced most of the club soda with apple cider, this sangria has more alcohol per glass (wooo!).

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What time of white wine should you choose?

Go for a drier and less sweet white wine, like a Pinot Grigio! It’s important that you don’t use a sweeter wine like Moscato, because the fruits will bring enough sweetness to the drink. As well, always buy the cheapest wine! No point in spending a bunch of money on wine that you’re going to use for sangria.

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Should I mix the ingredients in any specific order?

Take your pitcher and add all your wine & cider first, so that you have a better understanding for how booze-y your sangria is going to be. Next, add all your fruits & squeeze the fresh lime into the pitcher. Load up the pitcher with as much fresh mint as your heart desires, and let it sit in the fridge for at least 8 hours. I don’t add my club soda during the soaking process, since the drink will loose much of its fizz. Instead, top off each glass with the club soda to give each drink a fizzy kick!

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Optional step: Grab yourself a big jar with a straw, and have yourself a booze-y time!

Thirsty yet? Have a go at my Booze-y Mint Sangria, share it on social media. Make sure to take @mikerizzi!