20 Ways to Celebrate the Arrival of Spring In and Around Irvine

The rainy season (for the most part) is behind us. And in its wake, it’s left the hillsides greener, the skies bluer and who can forget the epic #superbloom of wild flowers blooming in Southern California right now. It feels like spring. It’s time to start afresh, get some spring cleaning done, wear pastel colors, host an Easter egg hunt, and maybe even eat a few Peeps. Here are 20 ways to shake those winter blues and celebrate the arrival of spring in and around Irvine.

The view from our tractor tour of Tanaka Farms
The view from our tractor tour of Tanaka Farms

  1. Easter Eggstravaganza at Irvine Park Railroad
  2. Super bloom at Walker Canyon (ending soon!)
  3. The new veteran’s museum and memorial, Heroes Hall at the OC Fairgrounds
  4. Save a life (or 3)! Donate blood with UCI at their Irvine or Orange location.
  5. Oo Toro Sushi restaurant in Irvine
  6. Very Eric Carle and Bubble Fest exhibits at the Discovery Cube
  7. LEGO monthly mini model build and minifigure swap at the LEGO store at South Coast Plaza
  8. Egg-cellent Egg Hunt at Etnies skate park in Lake Forest
  9. Easter Egg Hunt at Tustin Sports Park
  10. $3 movies at AMC Woodbridge 5 in Irvine
  11. Galaxy Bowling at Irvine Lanes
  12. Open Jump at Pump it Up in Irvine
  13. Farmers Market Yoga at the Great Park
  14. Spring Hop Carousel Party at the Irvine Spectrum
  15. Flag Football with Club Waka at the Great Park
  16. Strawberry or U-PICK Tours at Tanaka Farms
  17. Mountain Bike Clinic—Terrain Skills at Irvine Open Space Preserve
  18. Kayaking the Upper Newport Bay by Newport Bay Conservancy
  19. Bloom Season Tours at Keys Lavender Farm
  20. Cruffins and donuts from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse at The District in Tustin
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20 Ways to Enjoy the Holiday Season In and Around Irvine

The holidays are just around the corner! There’s no right or wrong way to spend your holiday season—some people love going all out, I’m talking spending the entire month drunk on hot cocoa and candy canes, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas on heavy rotation and Christmas decorations galore. Others like to spend this time of year relaxing, unwinding and reflecting. Whatever your plans are, I hope you find some inspiration from this list of holiday activities to enjoy in and around Irvine. Happy Holidays!

Christmas Tree at the Irvine Spectrum
Christmas Tree at the Irvine Spectrum
  1. Irvine Park Railroad’s Annual Christmas Train
  2. Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
  3. Odysseo
  4. Irvine Museum
  5. Selfies with Santa at Irvine Spectrum
  6. OC Chill Ice Rink at Irvine Spectrum
  7. DUCK the Halls Family Events
  8. Nightly Tree Lighting at Irvine Spectrum
  9. Santa’s House at Fashion Island
  10. Photos with Santa at Roger’s Gardens
  11. Christmas Countdown at Pretend City
  12. Whale Watching with Newport Landing
  13. OC Farm Bureau Farmers’ Market at Mariner’s Church
  14. Winterfest OC at the OC Fair
  15. CHOC Holiday Toy Drive and Donation
  16. Light Show featuring 65,000+ LED lights (Fountain Valley private home)
  17. Holidays at Disneyland Resort
  18. Santa’s Village and Santa’s Express Train at South Coast Plaza
  19. Snoopy’s Holiday House in Costa Mesa
  20. Science of Gingerbread at Discovery Cube
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Heart Matters: An Irvine Company Designs a Heart Valve that Saves a World War II Veteran

Two Southern California gentlemen born decades apart. One is Michael A. Mussallem, Chairman of the Board and CEO of one of Irvine’s largest companies, Edwards Lifesciences. The other is Dr. Lester I. Tenney, a World War II veteran, survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March and former prisoner of war of the Japanese military. Their paths would cross seven years ago when Lester was told that he had only one year to live.

Michael A. Mussallem (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences) and Dr. Lester Tenney
Michael A. Mussallem (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences) and Dr. Lester Tenney

Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine

Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE: EW) is a medical technology company headquartered in Irvine specializing in heart valves and monitoring devices for the circulatory system. Edwards takes its namesake from engineer Miles “Lowell” Edwards who became interested in healing the human heart due to his own childhood experience with rheumatic fever which can cause scaring of heart valves and heart failure. 1)http://www.edwards.com/aboutus/OurHistory

We have the privilege on a regular basis to meet many remarkable patients whose lives have been saved and improved as a result of their treatment with one of our therapies, and it is our single greatest motivation and inspiration at Edwards. – Mike Mussallem, CEO of Edwards Lifesciences

He teamed up with Dr. Albert Starr and developed the first known successful mechanical heart valve ever implanted into a human patient. Edwards founded Edwards Laboratories in Santa Ana, California. Following restructuring, Edwards Lifesciences spun off and became an independent and publicly traded company in 2000. Today, one of the company’s most notable technological innovations is their transcatheter aortic heart valve.  2)http://www.edwards.com/aboutus/OurHistory

Lester Tenney, a WWII Veteran Receives Edwards’ Transcatheter Aortic Heart Valve

During World War II, Lester served in the US Army in the 192nd Tank Battalion. In the spring of 1942, following what would be one of the largest surrenders in US military history; Lester was captured in the Philippines by the Japanese Imperial Army. He was forced to walk the Bataan Death March and put to work as a slave laborer until he was liberated in 1945.

Lester Tenney in Fort Knox in June of 1941 (Photo courtesy of Lester Tenney)
Lester Tenney in Fort Knox in June of 1941 (Photo courtesy of Lester Tenney)

In his 1995 memoir, My Hitch in Hell, Lester recounts his harrowing story of surviving the Bataan Death March and then being sent to Japan to work as a slave laborer for a Mitsui coal mine. More recently, he wrote The Courage to Remember, a book on how he was able to overcome his post traumatic stress syndrome from his wartime experiences. In his book, he says that he found peace by letting go of bitterness and hatred. He concludes that the act of forgiving others was a gift he gave to himself. “Because of forgiveness, I am a prisoner no more.” wrote Lester.

In 2009, decades after his liberation, Lester was invited to lead a delegation of former POWs to Japan to receive a long-awaited apology from the Japanese government for the inhumane treatment they suffered during World War II. But at 90 years old, Lester’s health was failing.

Lester’s cardiologist told him that he needed a new aortic heart valve but because of his age, he was not a candidate for invasive open heart surgery. He was told if they did nothing, he would have maybe one year to live. Unable to accept this prognosis, Lester began researching less invasive treatment options.

I feel my life was saved by entering the Heart Valve Trial of Edwards Lifesciences. I was very lucky to have found them when I did. Thank you Edwards for these seven extra years. – Lester Tenney

“I believe strongly that we must be in charge of our own body. We can’t go through life giving that responsibility to someone else just because he or she is a medical doctor. We must be a part of the team that takes care of us. In fact, we are the most important piece of this puzzle.” says Lester.

He found out that Scripps, a hospital near his home in San Diego, was conducting a new clinical trial of the Edwards transcatheter aortic heart valve replacement (“TAVR”) treatment. Using this method, a patient is able to receive a new heart valve via a catheter instead of by open heart surgery. In the spring of 2010, Lester became a member of the clinical trial and received an Edwards heart valve. Today, the TAVR treatment has become a widely available option for patients needing an aortic heart valve replacement.

Just months after this life saving procedure, Lester traveled to Japan and received an official apology from then Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. Looking back, Lester says “I picked up seven years that I never would have had.”

Patient and Innovation Focused Culture at Edwards

What does it take for a company to achieve breakthrough therapies for patients such as the TAVR? CEO Mike Mussallem says you have to accept the very real risk of failure on the path to success.

You once said, “I think if you really want to be an innovator in this world, you need to have the willingness to reach and the willingness to fail.” How has this philosophy helped Edwards reach for new breakthroughs in medical technology?

Mike: The recognition that we need to reach and be willing to fail comes from our patient- and innovation-focused culture at Edwards. We became an independent company 16 years ago because we wanted to be able to innovate more quickly and effectively for patients, and invest more resources in research and development.

Edwards Lifesciences headquarters in Irvine, California(Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences)
Edwards Lifesciences headquarters in Irvine, California (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences)

Whenever we do bold things and pursue truly breakthrough therapies for patients, the opportunity for failure is real and we need to be able to tolerate failure. Only in failure can we learn and find the answers to the big healthcare challenges that we pursue.  We embrace a “shots on goal” mentality as we innovate, which means that we’re going to have some misses on our way to success. We know that when we keep our focus on patients, and partner with clinicians to address the unmet needs of their patients, we will drive meaningful change together.

Setting aside the medical technology aspect of Edwards for a moment, when people think about the word “heart,” it’s a very symbolic word. Expressions like “heart’s content,” “heart and soul” and “young at heart” come to mind. What does this mean to you and to Edwards to specialize in healing the human heart?

Mike: Our work at Edwards is personal. We have the opportunity to touch the lives of individuals all over the world with the work that we do. This means that people like Lester have the chance to fulfill a lifelong goal.

Lester speaks at Edwards headquarters in Irvine on Patient Day in 2015 (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences)
Lester speaks at Edwards headquarters in Irvine on Patient Day in 2015 (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences)

It is an honor and a great responsibility to create, hand-assemble and provide heart valves to people all around the world to save and sustain lives. We spend every day looking for answers to how we can better treat patients with heart valve disease and address unmet patient needs. Our 13,000 global employees are focused on patients first, and we come to work every day knowing that helping patients is our life’s work, and life is now.

It was Edwards’ transcatheter aortic heart valve technology that enabled Lester to travel to Japan to receive a long-awaited apology. You once said, “[o]ur work is personal, and it impacts people individually.” To ask the opposite question, how do patients like Lester impact you in a personal way?

Mike: Lester is an amazing person and an inspiration to me personally, and to many at Edwards. I’ve had the honor to spend time with Lester and his wife, Betty, and it is a privilege to know them. This is a man who persevered in conditions that few people ever face, and even fewer could survive. Lester had incomparable mental and physical strength – yet decades later, he found his life threatened by a heart valve disease that could be solved by new technology, if he could get access to it.

Mike visits Lester at his home (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences)
Mike visits Lester at his home (Photo courtesy of Edwards Lifesciences)

It’s humbling to know that our transcatheter aortic heart valve was able to restore his health, and enable him to travel to Japan to receive an apology for WWII veterans for the tragedies they suffered during the war.

 We have the privilege on a regular basis to meet many remarkable patients whose lives have been saved and improved as a result of their treatment with one of our therapies, and it is our single greatest motivation and inspiration at Edwards. I have photos of many of these individuals on my shelf in my office, and we have many more lining the halls of our offices at Edwards, to remind us all daily of the reason for the work we are doing.

Lester and his wife, Betty
Lester and his wife, Betty

“I feel my life was saved by entering the Heart Valve Trial of Edwards Lifesciences. I was very lucky to have found them when I did. Thank you Edwards for these seven extra years.” says Lester, a member of our greatest generation.

Editor’s note: Lester passed away on February 24, 2017 in Carlsbad, California at the age of 96.  Read his obituary on the NY Times here.

To learn more about Edwards Lifesciences, visit: www.edwards.com

Connect with Edwards on social media: Twitter | LinkedIn | YouTube

References   [ + ]

1, 2. http://www.edwards.com/aboutus/OurHistory
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Finding Fall in the OC

Temperatures are finally cooling down a bit here in Southern California. Even though we don’t get snow and rarely get to break out the heavy coats around our neck of the woods, that doesn’t mean we can’t fully embrace the fall season! Here are 10 ways to find fall in and around the OC.


  • Go Apple Picking: About 90 minutes from Irvine is the heart of Apple Country. You can harvest apples to your heart’s content, get lost in a corn maze and take in the gorgeous scenery. We went to Los Rios Rancho and loved how time seemed to slow down as we picked apples. Afterwards, we relaxed at their diner and enjoyed a heavenly apple cobbler without counting calories. (Well, for the most part.)

    Los Rios Rancho Apple Farm in Yucaipa
    Los Rios Rancho Apple Farm in Yucaipa
  • Halloween Activities: We are looking forward to Spooktacular (sold out) at the Great Park this year. There’s also Trick-or-Treating at Pretend City and Halloween Zoo-Tacular at the OC Zoo. For those with more refined tastes or if you’re just a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, there’s a screening of Frankenstein at the Irvine Barclay Theater on October 30.

    Jack the Orange Balloon
    Jack the Orange Balloon
  • Beach Camping: Now that temps have dipped a bit, it’s the perfect time to slip away from the busy city life for some picturesque hikes followed by nighttime stargazing and hot cocoa! Imagine enjoying this sunset view of the Pacific Ocean from Crystal Cove Moro Campgrounds. Weekends tend to fill up early so pick a few days to play hooky from work and go midweek. Don’t forget to use coupon code MORO30% for 30% off until March 23, 2017.
  • Enjoy Soups and Stews: Who says you can’t enjoy hearty stews in 80 degree weather?! Have you tried out ramen at the new Shin Sen Gumi location in the Woodbury Town Center? If you’re looking to try a new beef stew recipe for the coldest of Southern California nights, here is our absolute favorite. Giada’s Beef and Butternut Squash Stew that boasts 222 five star ratings.
  • Pumpkin Everything: Oh my gourd! It’s pumpkin season! You know what that means, time to enjoy all things pumpkin! Our current favorites include Pumpkin Spice Latte (a fall staple), Petite Pumpkin Spice Cookies and Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli, both from Trader Joes.

    Trader Joes haul
    Trader Joes haul
  • Visit a Pumpkin Patch: As a follow up to #5 above, we had to visit a pumpkin patch! We love visiting Tanaka Farms because you get to see rows and rows of pumpkins growing on vines. They also have a corn maze, wagon rides, petting zoo, snack shop, u-pick pumpkins and too many photo op areas to list! Our other local favorites include Johnson Brothers and Irvine Park Railroad.

    Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch
    Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch
  • Baking Pies: Pumpkin, apple, cherry, pecan… what’s your favorite pie?! It’s time to perfect those lattices and indulge in some apple pie a la mode! Here are a few of our favorite pie recipes that we’ve tried over the years. Grandma Ople’s Apple Pie, Perfect Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie by Smitten Kitchen.

    Apple pie
    Apple pie
  • Brew your Own Beer: Oktoberfest anyone? Brewbakers in Huntington Beach is a really cool spot where you can custom brew your own beer, learn about the beer brewing process and of course bring home your own case of beer. Even kids can join in the fun by custom making their own sodas!
  • Race a Porsche at the Porsche Experience Center: It’s not quite the Autobahn but it’s as close as we get in Southern California. Coming soon!

    Porsche Experience Center
    Porsche Experience Center
  • Take a Family Photo: Gather up your family and get a great shot for those holiday cards! Here are some ideas of places in Irvine where you can do your photoshoot: Jeffrey Open Space Trail, a popular spot is right where the trail starts at the intersection of Grassland and Lamplighter or walk onto the trail and take a left to take some photos by the tunnel, Woodbridge area by the bridge in North or South Lake, Great Park by the carousel for a fun carnival feel or at the entrance of Palm Court, Irvine Regional Park, and also, literally any park in Irvine! In our experience, lighting trumps location so try to catch the sun when it’s low on the horizon or if you have to shoot midday, stand just inside the shade for softer lighting. Bonus points if you can find a bright surface in front of you to bounce light on you and a darker background to make sure the people being photographed are the main focal point of the picture. Stay tuned for more tips on how to take the best family pictures!
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CUCINA enoteca: An Irvine Favorite for Rustic Italian Food with a California Twist

If you’re in the mood for California inspired Italian food, CUCINA enoteca is a must-try restaurant in Irvine. CUCINA enoteca is part of the Urban Kitchen Group collection of restaurants located throughout Southern California.  Under the leadership of owner and principal, Tracy Borkum, Urban Kitchen Group boasts five locations in the Orange County and San Diego metros.

CUCINA enoteca in Irvine
CUCINA enoteca in Irvine

Tracy Borkum’s Vision for the Urban Kitchen Group Collection of Restaurants

After multiple successful restaurant ventures in San Diego, Tracy’s first entry into the Orange County restaurant scene was with CUCINA enoteca at the Irvine Spectrum.  For this location, Tracy wanted a restaurant name that would encompass an integral part of their concept: wine. The name CUCINA enoteca loosely translates to kitchen + wine repository. As you enter the restaurant, you’re greeted with CUCINA’s impressive retail wine shop that features over 200 specialty labels from European to Americas with an emphasis on Italian and Californian varietals.

Retail wine section at the CUCINA enoteca entrance
Retail wine section at the CUCINA enoteca entrance

[I knew] I would be solely responsible for not only my achievements but also my failures. – Owner, Tracy Borkum

Urban Kitchen Group’s mission statement is: “to successfully craft the perfect dining ‘trifecta’: exceptional food and superior service in an imaginatively designed environment.” As you dine at CUCINA enoteca, you can’t help but notice that in every corner, with each dish and in all aspects of the restaurant there is so much personality. From the bohemian-chic fixtures to the presentation of the dishes (you can get roasted garlic burrata in a mini mason jar), it’s all very CUCINA enoteca. 

Founder and prinicpal, Tracy Borkum (Photo courtesy of UKG)
Founder and prinicpal, Tracy Borkum (Photo courtesy of UKG)

In taking the leap to go into the restaurant business, Tracy drew inspiration from her parents who were also both entrepreneurs. “[I knew] I would be solely responsible for not only my achievements but also my failures.”1)http://www.sandiegometro.com/2011/03/women-owned-business-owners-are-driven-by-an-entrepreneurial-spirit/ Since its opening in December of 2011, CUCINA enoteca has become an Orange County favorite for “Cal-Ital” cuisine. So much so that in 2014, Urban Kitchen Group opened a second Orange County location at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

Honey roasted eggplant and herb goat cheese pizza
Honey roasted eggplant and herb goat cheese pizza

The Urban Kitchen Group’s mission statement “to successfully craft the perfect dining ‘trifecta’: exceptional food and superior service in an imaginatively designed environment.”

How did you come up with the idea of combining a restaurant with a wine shop?

Tracy: The restaurant-to-retail component was crafted throughout initial discussions of what the ‘look and feel’ of the space would offer. From furniture to lighting to candles and soap, everything is available for purchase. An obvious extension of the restaurant-to-retail concept was further carried out through the retail wine shop. Every bottle on the menu is also available for purchase to take home and enjoy.

CUCINA enoteca main dining area
CUCINA enoteca main dining area (Photo courtesy of UKG)

Why is the first word all capitalized? 

Tracy: When developing CUCINA, it was always our goal to expand the concept to multiple markets. The capitalization of the word ‘CUCINA’ fits in our brand of growing CUCINA concepts (CUCINA enoteca Irvine, CUCINA enoteca Del Mar, CUCINA enoteca Newport Beach), each with its own special identity. CUCINA is the trademark stamp that ties it all together. The most recent concept, cucina SORELLA, follows a different styling due to the “little sister” translation. cucina SORELLA is a spin-off on the other CUCINA concepts, offering a smaller more intimate setting which is fitting for its name.

If it’s no calories, it’s no fun! – Chef de Cuisine, Tony Trujillo.

 The CUCINA family of restaurants has several locations, what makes the Irvine Spectrum location special?

Tracy: CUCINA enoteca Irvine holds a special place in the CUCINA family as it was the first expansion of the CUCINA brand in the Orange County market as well as the first location that we were able to build from the ground up. It was also our first venture into a retail setting, a model that we have carried through our other locations and fits perfectly with our restaurant-to-retail concept.

CUCINA enoteca patio dining area
CUCINA enoteca patio dining area (Photo courtesy of UKG)

CUCINA has a way with Italian food, whether it’s their Italian comfort-food lasagna or “blistering leopard spots intended” rustic pizza. CUCINA manages to deliver authentic Italian while adding a fresh Californian twist.

Lasagna al Forno
Lasagna al Forno (Photo courtesy of UKG)

What is the inspiration for the California inspired Italian cuisine that one can enjoy at CUCINA enoteca?

Tracy: Combining the freshness of local California produce with the tradition of delicious Italian cooking, continues to be the inspiration behind CUCINA enoteca and all CUCINA concepts. Fresh, local fare leads our inspiration and allows us to create inventive twists on classic staples – there’s always something new to discover. 

Chef de Cuisine Tony Trujillo

Tony Trujillo is CUCINA enoteca’s in Irvine’s Chef de Cuisine.  If you’re in the mood for some seafood, feast your eyes on this beautiful Faroe Island salmon that Chef Tony Trujillo was preparing during our visit! “If it’s no calories, it’s no fun!” joked Chef Trujillo.

Chef de Cuisine of CUCINA enoteca, Tony Trujillo
Chef de Cuisine of CUCINA enoteca, Tony Trujillo

Strolling through the Irvine Spectrum, you’ll find CUCINA enoteca front and center in the Edwards Courtyard across from the Edwards movie theaters. True to Socal (and Irvine) form, the restaurant has a laidback and approachable vibe without any sacrifice in quality for their full-of-Italian-goodness food.  Have we mentioned desserts?! Their airy nutella zeppole is the perfect way to end your meal on a balmy Southern California night. Cheers!

CUCINA enoteca at the Irvine Spectrum
CUCINA enoteca at the Irvine Spectrum

CUCINA enoteca
Irvine Spectrum
532 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618

Connect with CUCINA restaurants: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.sandiegometro.com/2011/03/women-owned-business-owners-are-driven-by-an-entrepreneurial-spirit/
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