Holiday Gift Guide for the Women in Your Life

I did a holiday gift guide last year, and it was so much fun. Here are my thoughts for a special 2016:

1. A Weekend Getaway — I love going on simple, low-cost getaways instead of doing gifts. It's a great memory and you can support local folks by shopping through sites like airbnb. For my birthday in June, we went to Linville Falls and stayed in the sweetest and tiniest little cabin. During the day we played frisbee, swam at the falls, and hiked. It was beautiful. 

2. Square Print Set — This is a very sweet way to look back on your year or life together. You can get these from Artifact Uprising, and they are great quality. Other places, like Parabo Press, may have them for cheaper, and sometimes free for your first order. There's lots of fun ways to display these at home. 

3. Jewelry — I feel like if you are successfully able to pick out a piece of jewelry for someone, you really know their style. Etsy has the coolest jewelry, and you can find some really affordable options. My favorite shops this season are Permanent BaggageDani Barbe, and Cartouche

4. Clutch — I don't usually like buying a lot of things that aren't purely practical. But for some reason, I'm sometimes tempted by cool and simple clutches, especially for holiday parties. If you are not on a all...the clutch pictured above is a really beautiful unique option. But I've also seen some really cool ones at Target that are 1/10 of that price. 

5. Donate or Volunteer Together — You could donate all your old blankets and jackets, spend a morning at the Soup Kitchen, buy gifts for a family in need, take food to a Ronald McDonald house...there's literally endless options. But it would be a special experience, that's a gift for you and someone else.

Nutella & Cookie Dough Ice Cream Bars

I made my first recipe video ever. It's definitely not perfect, but it was a fun experiment. Either way, these ice cream bars are SO good...too good honestly. Everyone loves Nutty Bars, and their heads basically explode when they have them in this ice cream bar combo. Nutty bars, nutella, cookie dough, ice cream, omg.


  • 1 Package Nutty Bars
  • Nutella 
  • Any flavor ice cream, softened
  • Cookie dough, room temperature


  1. Line an 8x8 inch baking dish with saran wrap. (seriously, don't skip this step)
  2. Halve the nutty bars and line them in the dish.
  3. Spread nutella all over this layer.
  4. Spread room temperature cookie dough all over the nutella.
  5. Spread softened ice cream all over the cookie dough.
  6. Top with remaining nutty bar halves.
  7. Freeze overnight. Then use the saran wrap to help you remove from dish. Cut and serve! 

Guatemala & Belize in 15 Days

Time: 15 days
Cost including flights: $1300* (flights were $375, flew into Guatemala City and out of Belize City)
*We could have cut cost easily, but we chose to "splurge" a bit on our vacation. Things in Guatemala are inexpensive. For one person, we generally spent $10-$15 per night for accommodation, $15 per day on food, and then when you factor in transportation and activities, it will add up to the full amount.

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Day 1 – Antigua
You'll probably fly into Guatemala City. Guatemala City is not safe, especially if you don't know someone there. When you leave the airport, there will be a handful of buses transporting everyone to the most popular destinations. Grab one to Antigua. 

Antigua is a classic, Spanish-style, cobblestone town, lots of people rave about it. I prefer the more outdoorsy part of travel, so this city wasn't my favorite part of the trip, but it's definitely worth at least a day. If you want to stay longer, check out the volcano El Fuego! For just the day, walk around and explore the city, check out the chicken buses, and set up your ride out of town for the next day. 

Ate at: Ta'cool ★★★☆
Stayed at: Villa Estela ★★★☆

Day 2-4 — Lake Atitlan
I made a few mistakes when booking our time at Lake Atitlan. Luckily, I made them, so you don't have to. First thing to note, this lake is gigantic....when reading the guidebooks, I thought it would be easy to boat or walk to all the towns around the lake. I was very wrong. You really can't walk from town to town easily. And even in the places you can, it comes with a warning...AKA bring a group and hike during the day. You can boat from town to town but its about 10-15Q each time, and boats only run until 5pm. So wherever you stay, plan to be there for the night. 

We stayed at La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz for the first two nights. The place itself was beautiful, with delicious food, and a nice communal area to hang out that includes a pool table. However, beware, the staff is clicky, and not that pleasant. But the real problem is this place isn't easily accessible and the town itself, Santa Cruz, doesn't offer much. There is a town square at the top of the very steep hill, with some delicious, albeit dirty-looking, pizza stands. We watched some kids play soccer there one night. There's also a cooking school there called CECAP that has wonderful food and smoothies. 

I would actually recommend staying in San Pedro, which is where we stayed on our third night. We randomly found Hotel El Gran Sueño and it was perfect! Highly recommended. This town is more of what I expected with bars and restaurants and travel agencies. Book your bus out of here the day before you are ready to leave. We took a 5am shuttle to Lanquin. 

You should: rent kayaks! It was only 7Q per hour. And from San Pedro, if you take the kayaks right, you'll come across a flooded building. You can kayak into the building and climb to the second story.  
Be careful: This is a tourist hotspot and people will take advantage of tired travelers trying to get where they are going. We got WAY over charged multiple times for boats because we didn't do our research. Boats to and from each town should only cost 10-15Q unless it's after hours. 

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Day 5 — Lanquin
Lanquin itself is a small, very rural town. The bus ride there from the lake (12 hours long) is mountainous, curvy, bumpy, but lovely. People come to Lanquin to see Semuc Champey. The bus from the lake will drop you off in a muddy area and then a picup (pick-up truck with metal hand rails in the back) will come pick you up and take you to your hostel). 

We stayed at El Retiro and had a lovely time. The grounds are beautiful, and they have a great bar with a wonderful menu. You most likely won't venture into town, so pick a hostel you want to stay at all night. You can also reach Semuc Champey, from Coban, but it's two hours away, while Lanquin is only 45 minutes so I would highly recommend Lanquin.  

Tips: Bring bug spray!!!! Also, there are no ATM's in Lanquin so come prepared. 
Stayed at: El Retiro Lodge ★★★

Day 6 — Semuc Champey
This was truly one of the best days of my life. It was unbelievely fun. We spelunked in bat caves, swung on massive rope swings, jumped off a 30 foot bridge, and swam in crystal clear terraced pools. We organized this trip with our hostel, El Retiro, for 185Q (about $24) round trip including transportation. You only had to buy your own lunch. 

Get the full story of this epic day here! If you go to Guatemala, DO NOT miss this! You can book your travel out of Lanquin at your hostel the night before.

Day 7 — Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce is a crazy town, tons of shops, busy streets, very over-stimulating. The town itself isn't that beautiful so I would recommend staying in a hostel along the river like the Hotel Kangaroo. Just know that these hostels only run boats into town until around 5pm so find a hostel that will be fun to stay at all night. 

Two common things to do from Rio Dulce are a day trip to Livingston, which I recommend skipping,  and a day trip to Finca El Paraiso and El Boquerón Canyon which I would highly recommend! Check out more on this here. As for Livingston, the guidebooks make it sound like this really cool mix of cultures, as its a place where the Garifuna people live, however it's hard to get a sense of that in the 2 hours that you are there during your day trip. Plus it was swelteringly hot. The boat ride to Livingston from Rio Dulce is kind of nice, but overall not worth it and you'll see enough of the river when you boat to your hostel. 

Stayed At: Hotel Kangaroo ★★★☆

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Day 8 — Finca el Paraiso + Boquerón Canyon
So after you spend a day on the river hanging at your hostel and maybe going to Livingston, on Day 8 you can visit the hot waterfall and the canyon, thorough details here. This was an amazing experience, especially the canyon. If you go to the canyon, and the guides tell you it's safe, go on your own and swim into the canyon!

You can fit these sites into one day and take a bus out of town to Flores in the afternoon. There are a couple of different choices, one thats comfortable and one that's not. =) We took the less comfortable option, which is fun to look back on now. I stood for the first hour while Gui squished onto the floor, no AC of course, and for the last few hours I Gui and I shared one seat. 

Our first American fast food of the trip, Burger King.

Our first American fast food of the trip, Burger King.

Day 9 — Flores
Leaving Rio Dulce Town around 2, you'll arrive in Flores between 6pm and 8pm depending on the bus. Have a plan or some patience once you get into Flores. Your bus driver will most likely be fast-talking, persuasive, with a "cheap" hostel with "views of the lake." He may even try to force you to sign up for your next day adventure right then and there. We were tired and made this mistake and ended up over paying a bit to get to Belize. Just have your wits about you, and be willing to say no, or I'll think about it. It's worth noting that if you do want to pay a bit more, you can get your whole ride from Flores to Caye Caulker packaged up nicely together including the boat road all the way to the island. Any travel agency can do this for you 1-2 days in advance.

Flores is a cool little town/island on a big lake. You can take boats to the other towns across the lake. I wanted to visit the Petencito Zoo on the other side of the lake. It has mixed reviews, however, so do your research. 

Flores is a cool place to hang out at and chill along the water at night; grab some ice cream and listen to music. It's one of the more touristy places we went and can be very hot inside the city where not much breeze gets in. It's nice, but the real reason to see Flores is so you can see Tikal....

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Day 10 — Tikal
We chose to do the Sunrise Tour. You can choose sunrise or sunset. That meant we got up at 3am, so we could get to the park while it was still pitch black, walk through the jungle hoping not to step on any spiders, and make it to the viewing spot just before the sunrise. They really have the schedule down to a science. 

Tikal was really beautiful, and has a most interesting history. Take advantage of the knowledge your guide has, as they don't have time to tell you everything, but usually love answering questions. 

You'll have a good bit of free time to walk around the park and explore the ruins. It can be exhausting walking up and down all the stairs and rocks so bring good snacks!

My favorite part of Tikal were the animals! We saw SO many spider monkeys, toucans (amazing), kudamundi (omg), and heard many howler monkeys. Listening to the forest wake up was really beautiful. 

What you'll pay: Tikal was the most expensive excursion we booked on the trip. I think it ended up coming out to about $50/person for everything. That includes transportation and park entry, but not lunch. You can make it through the day on snacks if you want to. 

Day 11–14 — Caye Caulker

Cake Caulker is an awesome way to end the trip, and it's very different than Guatemala! We spent our days swimming, napping, biking, exploring, and our nights drinking with new friends, petting the local dogs, and buying $3 Chinese food from Dragon Palace and having a date on a dock out under the stars.

The island is about 5 miles long, but was split in two by a hurricane and there's nothing on the North side of the island. So you can easily explore the whole place in a few days. Check out The Split for swimming and the Lazy Lizard for drinking. All places have happy hours!  

The motto here is "Go Slow" and you should do just that! 

Ate at: the Sports Bar. ★★★★★ I can't remember what it's called but it's the only sports bar on the island. It's really fun and so delicious. I had this amazing chocolate cake there. 
and: Bamboo Grill. ★★★★ This place had the best fried fish ever. Whatever they used for the crust was magical.

Night life: The Reggae Bar is pretty much the only place opened after 9pm. It's wild there but it's the place to be late night. 
You should: snorkel! ★★★★ There are a ton of dive spots around. They'll take you to the Great Barrier Reef and Sting Ray Alley where you will seen tons of sting rays and swim with the nurse sharks! 
and: canoe! ★★★★ Dirty McNasty's had free canoes, so one night we paddled out to the Split and watched the sunset in our canoe. It was so beautiful, and a special memory. 

Stayed at: Dirty McNasty's ★★★★☆ If you are looking for a party hostel, look no further. The accommodations aren't great, but they'll make sure you have a good time. Free rum punch at 7pm, ping pong table, pool table, cheap breakfast the next morning. We had an awesome time. 
and: Barefoot Beach Belize Resort ★★★★☆ This place has a completely different vibe. We stayed in our own little hut which had air conditioning! (the first time on the whole trip). It was definitely luxurious compared to everywhere we stayed and it came with bikes which is necessary because it was on the far end of the island. 

Day 15 — FREE DAY
This free day is "baked" into the itinerary so you can add it in wherever you'd like to stay an extra day. However, I kept this free day in case something went wrong; transportation isn't always perfectly reliable so you should remain a bit flexible if possible. Our trip ended up going perfectly as planned, so we got to use this extra day at the end of our trip in Belize! 

Finca El Paraiso & El Boquerón Canyon

Let me just say, these two sites are extremely underrated in the guidebooks on Guatemala! Everything I read barely glanced over them, but these are a must see, trust me! 

Finca El Paraiso

This is a hot waterfall...yes hot, painfully hot at the top, actually. But don't worry, you won't have to touch that part. First things first, you can visit both these sites from Rio Dulce, you should visit both in the same day, and the whole entire thing including all transportation and entrance fees is about 70Q, around $9! Insane. 

Gui having fun in the water. 

Gui having fun in the water. 

This is the top of the waterfall. The water is VERY hot!

This is the top of the waterfall. The water is VERY hot!

Grab a collectivo from town. You'll most likely be dropped off at the Sun Dog Café when you get into Rio Dulce, and they can tell you where to get the collectivo. But ask any collectivo driver, and they will help you out. The ride is about 10Q. 

They will take you to your first stop which is the hot waterfall. You'll pay an entrance fee of 5Q. You'll walk back through the woods along a river which flows from the waterfall. You'll begin to smell the sulfur. Once you arrive at the waterfall, you can drop your things off to be watched by the guard. The guard can also help you explore the many wonders of this waterfall including the cave, jumping off from the top, and the white lava mud bath! 

Swim around and play at your leisure, make sure to find the creepy small cave. When you are ready, ask the guide to take you to the white lava mud. You'll crawl up an awesome steep path, using vines to help, to reach the top of the waterfall. Up top, the water is nearly boiling, and not safe to stand in. You'll walk back a ways into the woods and the guard will disappear further back, and come back with a ball of white mud. He'll use the hot water to thin the mud and lather it all over your skin for a natural spa day. Later, when it comes off in the water, your skin will be baby soft. This experience was so fun!

Gui's first spa experience

Gui's first spa experience

Covered in the white lava mud

Covered in the white lava mud

When we were done, the guide brought us back and showed us where we could jump from the top (video here) of the waterfall back into the water. Sadly, we were the only ones of about 15 people there who took advantage of this whole tour! Everyone missed out on the jumping and the mud because they didn't want to make the climb. So make sure to ask the guard! 

Once you're done, head back out to the road, and jump on the next collectivo to El Boquerón. It should be about 10Q. 

El Boquerón Canyon

This was so $#%! cool. And you know what's crazy? Everyone I spoke to said I could miss it, that it was nothing that special. But that's because they didn't go deep enough into the canyon! Yes you can just pay the entrance fee (10Q) and just take the 10 minutes boat ride into the canyon until your young guide drops you off onto the "beach" (15Q)....but what no one will tell you is that if the water is low enough, you can walk deep into the canyon! Hours into it in fact! 

WARNING: This is NOT a guided tour. No one goes back there with you. Sometimes the water is deep enough that you must swim. You will be swimming against currents, climbing over rocks, etc. It was exhilarating, but at times a little frightening, and I did wonder if we didn't return if anyone would even come looking. With that being said, if you are careful, this is a stunning experience. 

We ended up adventuring in about an hour until we got to a point where we couldn't figure out a safe way to keep going so we went back. It was amazing to be alone (well me and my boyfriend), nothing with us, our belongings left in the canoe with the boy who dropped us off, swimming, walking, looking up at the high canyon walls, wondering if anyone or anything was around us. My boyfriend, who has been skydiving (something I would never do...I think) said adventuring deep into the canyon was the craziest things he'd ever done. 

Overall, well well worth it!

The ride back into town is about 20Q and there you have it! If you are in Rio Dulce, do not miss these amazing sites! 

Semuc Champey

I just returned from an amazing trip to Guatemala and Belize. I'll be posting my full itinerary soon, but wanted to go in depth on some of the highlights of the trip. The first thing I want to talk about was our adventure to Semuc Champey which was undoubtedly one of the most fun days of my life (and I promise I've had a lot of fun days!).

What It's Like

Semuc Champey itself is seven tiered pools of crystal clear green waters. You can swim in all the pools and the way to access the next one down is just to jump in, or "slide" down small waterfalls. It's one of the most stunning and unreal places I've ever been. 

When you go to Semuc, if you take a tour which I highly recommend, it's an all day adventure. From Lanquin, you ride on curvy and bumpy dirt roads for about 45 minutes, standing in the back of a pickup truck holding onto steal rods. 

You'll start your adventure in the K'anba Caves. They are caves with a few bats and lots of water which you sometimes have to swim through, but mostly can walk through. You'll scale rope ladders up waterfalls, jump into black waters from 15 feet up, and slide through a small tunnel into the abyss all in this adventure. 

Then your guide will take you to a rope swing, video below, and then a waterfall which turns out is the very end of the seven pools. You can swim to the waterfall which is so fun because the current is tough to fight! 

After this, you can do some river tubing down the river until you reach the 11 meter bridge which you can then jump off of. Of course I had to do it. I was very proud of myself; I don't think I realized how high it actually was because once I started falling it felt like forever! Be careful here, you definitely want to pencil in. Landing anywhere on your side will end in large body bruises! 

Then your guide will say you can hike to El Mirador which is a nice view point of the pools from above, however I do not recommend this. It's a difficult hike alsmot straight up for 30 minutes and then 20 minutes down to the pools. This leaves you with only an hour to experience the pools. The view was not a worthy trade-off, and if I had to do it over I would prefer to spend more time in the pools. 

El Mirador, the view from the top

El Mirador, the view from the top

How to Get There

We stayed in Lanquin which I highly recommend. We booked our tour through our hostel the night before. You can also stay in Coban but its almost 2 hours away from Semuc, where Lanquin is a nice 45 minute back-of-a-pick-up-truck ride away! 

You can get a nice massage (or shower) from the waterfalls that cascade in between each pool!

You can get a nice massage (or shower) from the waterfalls that cascade in between each pool!

Where I Stayed & What I Paid

We stayed at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin and paid 150Q which is about $20/night for a private hut, but they have much cheaper accommodations as well. Bear in mind there are NO ATM's in Lanquin so come prepared. The amazing all day trip to the caves and Semuc which included transportation there was about $25 US. Astounding, right?! 

If you have any questions about this adventure, leave a comment below!

World's Best Brownies

I've been searching for the best brownie recipe for quite some time. If you are going to do boxed brownies, you get Ghirardelli, or anything called triple fudge...always. But if you feel like making them from scratch, these are the way to go. They are like the dense, fudgey brownies you pay too much for at the cute but over-priced bakery. They also have a thin layer of frosting on top that is almost a ganache-consistency that adds another level of flavor and helps keeps the brownies moist. And besides that extra complexity of making the frosting, these brownies are really simple. You won't regret trying these. And you won't miss the box. 


  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Frosting Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened, bordering melted
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar


1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square pan.
2. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large sauce pan.
3. Transfer melted butter to a large bowl and stir in the 1 c. sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla. 
4. Next, beat in 1/3 c. cocoa powder, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 cup baking powder. 
5. Fold in the chocolate chips, and spread into prepared pan. 
6. Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Do not over-bake. 
7. While the brownies cook, make the frosting. Combine all the ingredients and stir until smooth. Frost the brownies 5 minutes after they come out of the oven. 

6 Unexpected Items You Need on Your Backpacking Trip

Packing is one of my favorite parts of the trip-planning-process, partly because I'm a freak for organization, but also because it means you are getting very close to the trip! This is a great place to start, but I actually think there are a lot of things on there you don't need to bring. Don't bring items "in case" (like an umbrella) can buy that stuff during the trip if you do end up needing it. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible, around 20 lbs at the most. I'll definitely be taking all 6 of these things on my upcoming trip to Guatemala and Belize! 

1. Headlamp — I brought this on a whim to my first backpacking trip to Europe and wouldn't travel without it again. From late night trips to the hostel bathroom, to the random cave adventure you didn't expect to go on, this is a very useful item! 

2. Quick Dry Towel — These towels are super thin and light; they won't take up much space in your bag. They are great for water-related adventures, but also at hostels. Every now and then you need to rent towels and you can avoid the hassle and the extra expense with one of these. 

3. Journal — You need a journal! Just trust me, you need a journal. 

4. Nylon String — I use this mostly for laundry (in use in Peru here), and since it's virtually weightless and very small, it's no problem to add it to your bag. But I have no doubt the string will also prove valuable for more than just laundry. 

5. Carabiners — I mostly used these to attach random things to my purse, like my water bottle or scarf, but these end up coming in handy for a million things you'd never expect! 

6. Suction cups — I use the netted bag from my quick dry towel for my toiletries (shampoo and such). Throw a suction cup or two in the bag as well and use it in hostel shower to hang the toiletry bag from so you don't have to set it on the floor.

Chocolate Croissants

I've been wanting to make croissants for a long time, months probably. But these things take time....and so I had to wait for a weekend that was fully open. I started these on Friday night and then on Sunday morning had a very flaky, buttery, and chocolatey breakfast in bed! It took about 20 minutes Friday night, about 4 straight hours on Saturday, and about on hour on Sunday. The back-breaking work is on the middle day. You need a lot of energy to roll these out! Luckily I was able to bribe someone into helping me for a little bit; but honestly I did most of the work. 

This was a really fun weekend project that I would definitely recommend! Although after all the rolling out, my whole body was sore for 2 days! Also note, I usually like to roll things out with a bottle of wine (or a beer can on bad days) because I don't own a rolling pin. But you definitely need a rolling pin for this one! 


• 1 1/4 cup warm milk
• 2 1/2 tea. instant yeast
• 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tea. salt
• 2 1/4 sticks butter
• 1 egg
• chocolate chips (optional)


1. In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup of flour, yeast, and warm milk. Let the bowl sit for 20 minutes so the yeast can bubble. 
2. Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups of flour, sugar, and salt, and stir until combined. Place the dough on a floured surface, and knead for about 2 minutes by hand. Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

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3. Once dough has rested in the refrigerator, prepare the butter. Cut cold butter length-wise, about 1/2 inch thick and lay them on parchment paper in a square about 7x7 inches.
4. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll into a uniform slab. Uncover and cut edges as needed, placing scraps back onto the top. Roll again, and continue until you get the 7x7 inch square of butter. Place it back into the refrigerator while you roll out the dough.
5. Remove dough from the refrigerator and roll into a 12 x 12 square on a floured surface.

6. Place the cold butter slab in the center of the rolled out dough, at an angel as shown.
7. Pull each corner of dough over the edge of the butter.
8. Press lightly to seal the butter in the dough and expel excess air.

9. Roll out to a rectangle about 12x24 inches. I enlisted a bit of help for this part!
10. Fold 1/3 of the dough over itself.

11. Fold the bottom third of the dough up.
12. Place the dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Play with the cats during this hour. 
13. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place on a floured surface so it is perpendicular to the rolling pin. Repeat steps 9-12 two more times. 

14. Remove the dough from the fridge, and cut it in half length-wise. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge while you work with the other half. 
15. Revel in all of your hard work that is now layers and layers of butter and dough!!!
16. Roll the dough out into an 8x15 inch rectangle. Cut into even triangular shapes. 

17. Take a triangle, and very gently roll it out to about 10 inches. It's easy to squish or break the dough at this point so be delicate. If you want chocolate croissants, insert chocolate chips now at the bottom end of the triangle. 
18. Roll the triangle from the wide end up until you form a crescent shape. Bend the legs inward to form the C. Repeat with remaining triangles. 
19. Place all your croissants (12-14) on a cookie sheet (covered) and let them proof overnight in the fridge. 20. Remove the croissants 2 hours before you intend to bake to allow them to come to room temperature.  
21. Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the egg and paint some on each croissant. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate, and bake for about 5 more minutes if necessary.