Thursday, February 28, 2013

I took another painting class at Blush N Brush in Georgetown tonight.  While I had already taken this class before, it's not really a class but more of an independent study.  It's the very popular Paint Your Pet class that is offered every couple of months.  I was a guinea pig for the first offering of this kind of class, and was very impressed with the paintings everyone did!  So much talent.  Tonight was just the same.  While we are given a pencil sketch on the canvas based on a photo we sent a few weeks prior to the class, we are pretty much on your own the whole three hours - with the two instructors wandering around to answer questions and give advice.  While I think I got some things right in my painting, I feel like I made Web's face super fat!  And I think the painting I did of him in the first class is better than this one - maybe it's the Van Gogh fall leaf hillscape or maybe that I couldn't shade his eyes just right to be looking up and to the right, I don't know.  Oh well, you be the judge!
Inspiration Photo - Fall on Skyline Drive

For reference, here's what I painted at the first Paint Your Pet class - now hanging up at my parents' house...

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 by Julie

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

For the past few months, I've been showcasing a cupcake design and not a cupcake flavor for the cupcake-of-the-month posts.  In selecting this month's cupcake, I was going to continue the trend and do something romantic and frilly, like making icing roses in soft pink to lay atop piped ruffles.  But then I saw a post by one of my favorite bloggers - Sprinklebakes - for sparkling champagne cupcakes and realized it was perfect.  It gave a nod to the whole romance of February and Valentine's Day, but didn't go overboard and remained singularly focused on the one highlighted ingredient. And I liked the idea of challenging myself with a scratch cupcake instead of cheating with box cake mix, like in past posts when I knew the cake wasn't high priority since what was on top of the cupcake mattered the most.

Good news, while this cupcake calls for a lot of champagne, there should still be just enough left in the bottle to pour yourself a glass and toast to a job well done!

Sprinklebakes has a lot of details and photos on her post (click here), so I'll let her explain all of the steps.  Make sure to read everything before you start each of the components - unlike me who missed the part about reducing the champagne before adding it to the buttercream!  Let's just say that with a cup of champagne in your frosting, there is no amount of confectioner's sugar you can add to make it anywhere near thick enough to be even close to a buttercream.  I paid for that mistake because I had to forfeit my glass of champagne from what remained in the bottle to make a new batch of buttercream.

Posted on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

This morning I was trying to figure out something to make for breakfast, and it dawned on me that even though I absolutely adore eating dutch babies (aka german pancakes) -- and always pressure my friends to meet at Original Pancake House for brunch over all other places -- I never make them at home.  And there's no real rationale why not because they couldn't be easier to make.  So, I'm doing this post to share with you my breakfast from this morning.  I actually had to make two dutch babies because the first one came out too thin and dry, so I increased the volume by 50% in the 2nd version.  Apologies for the "ok" photos - I hadn't planned any set up so this is just how my kitchen looked before I baked the dutch babies and before it ended up in my belly!

3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
Dash of nutmeg
3/8 tsp salt

For the pan: 2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2. Beat together all of the dutch baby ingredients in a bowl until smooth
3. Once the oven is preheated, melt butter in a 9" glass pie pan in the oven
4. When the butter is fully melted (try not to brown), pour the egg mixture in the pan
5. Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes and DO NOT open the oven door during the cooking process or the pancake will deflate.  Use the light to check for overbrowning of edges, and turn the oven down to 425 degrees if looking like they are burning.  I found my dutch baby was done early in my oven
6. Take out of oven and serve immediately
7. Optional garnishes:  confectioners (powdered) sugar, fresh squeezed lemon, fresh or defrosted frozen strawberries sweetened with sugar, sautéed cinnamon apples, whatever else you crave

My style: I'm a simple powdered sugar girl

Posted on Sunday, February 24, 2013 by Julie

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

 Hey!  Who let a unicorn into my house?  More importantly, why did said unicorn insist on leaving me a present for when I got home?  Didn't his owner potty train him?  Just kidding!

I first saw the concept of a unicorn poop cookie through the daily deal website,, and laughed so hard.  Nothing is better than being introduced to something super clever - and delicious.  The person who thought of this is brilliant because when you really think about it, it is so obvious that unicorns wouldn't poop like normal animals.  Of course they would poop rainbows, sparkles, pearls, stars, and confetti!
Making the cookies is a very easy process.  If you want step by step instructions with photos, check out this website:

Starting with a basic sugar cookie recipe (a slight modification to the classic Ethel's Sugar Cookie recipe found in the Betty Crocker Cookbook), you prepare the dough then divide it evenly into the number of colors you want.  I went for a simple four colored rainbow, using gel food coloring only to keep the water content low. I recommend Americolor Soft Gel Paste if you can find it.  I buy mine at a local cake supply store, but it is available online at places like Amazon.  The colors for the unicorn poop were a combo of Deep Pink and Soft Pink, Electric Yellow, Electric Green, and Sky Blue.  I needed two small squirts of each color except for the blue - it is a rich hue and a little goes a long way.

Unicorn Poop Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup shortening (e.g. Crisco)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1. Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar
2. Add eggs (one at a time) and vanilla
3. Combine dry ingredients and add half to the wet mixture until combined, then add the remaining half
4. Separate the dough, evenly, and color with gel paste
5. Place each colored dough ball into a ziploc bag and chill at least an hour
6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
7. Take 1/4 of each colored dough and roll on a lightly floured surface into long dough snakes
8. Combine the dough snakes into one cohesive snake, then gently lift off the surface and twist the colors together.  With my four colors, I stacked two colors on the bottom and two on the top.
9. Use this rainbow snake to form the desired poop shapes (hint: pinch off the end that lands on top!)
10. Place on a lined baking sheet (silicone preferred) and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Carefully watch to ensure the bottoms don't brown too much [Note: Recipe online says bake 12-14 minutes, but my oven was browning them at the 11 minute mark]

Wilton Sparkle Gel in White

PLUS (one or all of these suggestions)
Sprinkles of choice (check out this Wilton medley)
Wilton Sugar Pearls
Disco Dust
Wilton Cake Sparkles

Using the sparkle gel as the glue, spread a light layer of the gel on the cookie with a brush (or your clean finger, if you're without a brush).  This gel will not dry completely and remain tacky, so the lighter the coat the better.  Apply decor of choice - whatever you think a unicorn would poop out.

Posted on Saturday, February 23, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, February 18, 2013

This month is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, as opposed to my recent themed favorite lists. I've been so busy with multiple projects - planning upcoming trips, home redesigning, various art projects, baking, building my house out of legos (you heard me!), etc. - that I've been struggling to fill out this list for the month because my brain is so scattered.  Each of the five items are related to something that I've been up to, so if you've kept up or know me well, you shouldn't be surprised at what I selected.

1. Epiphanie Camera Bag (Ginger in Slate Blue) - I was looking for something inconspicuous to tote my DSLR around when I go to places like New York City.  This is definitely NOT going to be the bag I will be taking when I go abroad to India and Nepal in April.
2. Incase DSLR ProPack - So if I'm not going to take my new camera purse to India and Nepal, I needed to find a lightweight and secure backpack for my gear - for two major reasons.  First, security in crowds is very important when traveling with expensive equipment, and this bag is fantastic because the only way to gain access to the lenses is through the zippered flap that rests against your back (or front, if you're like me and wearing it like a dork in public markets).  There is also an easy zipper at the top of the bag that is directly placed over the section that holds your prepped camera, allowing you to get ready quickly to capture the big shot, if one arises. And don't forget the room for an iPad and a 15" laptop (no, I will not be taking a computer with me).  Regardless of these safety features, it still does not afford you the opportunity to be lax in knowing what and who is around you in a crowd...there are still straps that can be slashed!  Second, the bag I needed to find can't be heavy because it's going to be used to trek up into the mountains for several days, and the last thing I need is a burdensome bag!  Granted, the sherpa will have my second bag, but still, I will have enough to worry about during the climb (e.g. altitude sickness, general exertion at high altitude, and scary bridge river crossings).  Since I'm not planning on filling this bag entirely with equipment, I think can put a water bottle in the back as well.

3. Brownie Brittle (I get mine at Costco!) - If you like brownies and have not tasted this yet, you need to go out and buy yourself a bag!!

4. What I'm listening to on repeat right now - surprise, it's Mumford & Sons!  What do you expect from a girl who went to see them at back-to-back shows?  By the way, how great is this tour poster? I got one for my house because it works perfectly with my other vintage adverts.
 5. Learning how to play guitar on YouTube - Taking guitar lessons has been on my resolution list for several years now, but I never get around to actually finding a teacher.  After such a fun concert experience last week, I thought I'd take the old guitar out of its case and see if it still works.  I found these videos to help me assess just how rusty I have become since college and to get some immediate gratification from being able to (sort of) play a new song or two, thanks to their simple tutorials, while I wait to find someone who can actually teach me lasting skills.

Posted on Monday, February 18, 2013 by Julie

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Friday, February 15, 2013

I learned that a friend knew someone who had an extra ticket to the second Mumford & Sons show in D.C. on Valentine's Day, last night.  While I hesitated to go back and fight the traffic and crowds two nights in a row, when I found out it was a general admission ticket, I knew I had to go and see the band up close.  My photos ended up being more of a montage to Marcus Mumford because the other three band members are so animated when they play -- I couldn't get a single photo to be in focus in the low light conditions.

And I was rewarded for knowing the show's secret - that the band removed themselves from the stage to head to a second, tiny stage at the back of the floor for two of their encore songs.  So I positioned myself right up front for that experience!  Of course the main stage show didn't falter and continued to be truly amazing!  Here are the videos I took of the four part harmony songs they sung for the encore:

And my favorite part of my favorite song plus a few other song bits:

I also found this video on YouTube that is fascinating if you're interested in learning more about the evolution of the Mumford & Sons sound.  Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovett do a fantastic job of eloquently and thoughtfully expressing their opinions on being in a popular band in the era of social media, the origins of the group and influences, and their passions for live performance ("we use our albums as adverts for our shows").  It's always impressive to find musicians that are introspective and exhibit their obvious intelligence through their words and behaviors - and by starting a book club?

Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 by Julie

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Honest people on Craigslist who don't scalp their tickets for the win!  I had been looking for tickets to the D.C. Mumford & Sons dates, on their East Coast February tour, from they day they went on presale.  No joke!  The online ticket resellers are out of control these days, monopolizing the systems on sale dates so that real fans can't buy tickets at face value.  Thankfully, I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad the night before the first of two shows and got a single ticket - just enough for little ol' me.
If you haven't heard of Mumford & Sons yet, well why not?  They just won a Grammy for Album of the Year last weekend for pete's sake!  Admittedly, they have a sound that is not mainstream, but it is, nonetheless, very beautiful.   Each of the four band members are extremely talented, both musically and vocally, but of course the most magnetic voice of the group is the soulful and distinct one of Marcus Mumford.  The concert was absolutely brilliant!  There is just something about watching a music show that is obviously not manufactured or overworked (save some basic lighting effects).  Plus their style really lends itself well to a show that's all about a pure folk rock/celtic rock/bluegrass/"something all of its own" sound blend that is equally entertaining, engaging, and energetic - even on the slow songs.
The band surprised everyone in the audience for the encore by coming to the rear of the floor and surrounding a single stand microphone to sing two a capella songs, before returning to the stage to sing one of their most popular hits.  What a great night!  Can I go to the 2nd show tomorrow?
Note: apologies for the camera phone images!  It's all I brought and the battery died right before the encore.

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 by Julie

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Think these desserts look yummy, then rest assured they are no big whoop(ie) to make!  To start out, I purchased a heart shaped baking pan from Wilton (found at Target) because no way was I going to cut out individual hearts!  
To make life even more simple, I used a boxed cake mix for the cake, though I could have used the recipe that came with the pan.  I then used the pan instructions for the filling:

6 oz butter, softened
1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow fluff/creme
1/8 tsp salt

1. Whip butter with an electric mixer until creamy
2. Add sugar and salt to the mixture and beat until smooth
3. Add marshmallow fluff and vanilla, mix until combined

I decorated it with a little valentine color confetti, rolling the sides and pressing the confetti into the filling.  There it is!  All done!  Now time to get a sugar rush and whoop(ie) it up!

Posted on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Decorating cookies is an artform.  It really takes a steady hand and an eye to make things look good.  And I am still trying my best to practice so that one day I will be as good as my mom (see past cookie posts here and here) or others I admire - check out Bake at 350 and Sugar Belle for decorating masters.

I decided that for Valentine's Day, I would whip up a batch of my mom's butter cookie recipe that is perfect for cutting shape cookies and some royal icing in order to make conversation heart cookies.  There are tons of recipes out there for both, and no one is necessarily better than the other.  For the cookie dough, the key is to chill the dough long enough - you can even chill it overnight.  Just make sure to separate the dough so you can roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper and then stack all the rolled out dough on a cookie sheet to chill, wrapped in saran wrap so it won't dry out.

Decorating cookies is a multi-day process in many cases.  For these cookies, I made the dough Friday night, baked the cookies Saturday morning, outlined and flooded the cookies Saturday afternoon, then piped the letters on Sunday morning.  It really takes a day for a flooded cookie to dry properly so that it is not susceptible to caving in on touch.

While the outline and flooding is not perfect, I'm really happy with how well these turned out!  And what a super cute Valentine's Day present for your special someone!

Posted on Sunday, February 10, 2013 by Julie

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Now these are some hearts you're going to want to half and shove in your mouth.  If you're a fan of thumbprint cookies, you will love these because each are made with not one, but two balls of buttery dough.  And for the baking challenged, they are super simple to make!

Heart Thumbprint Cookies (based on a recipe from Better Homes & Garden)


  • 1/2  cup  butter, softened
  • 1/4  cup  granulated sugar
  • 1/4  cup  packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  tablespoon  milk
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla
  • 2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1 jar raspberry preserves (or whatever flavor you prefer, so long as it's red)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Cream together butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in a stand mixer
3. Add egg and beat
4. Add baking powder and salt, and mix to combine
5. Add milk (I used almond milk, and it turned out fine) and vanilla, mix
6. With the mixer on slow, add the flour in 1/2 cup at a time until fully incorporated with the wet mixture

7. Take the combined dough and two roll balls 3/4"-1" in diameter in your hand.  Press the two balls together, gently, so they are side by side.  Press your thumb or index finger into the center to create an indentation, then drag your fingers along the outside of the pressed dough to gently shape the tip of the heart bottom.
8.  Place cookies on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet (ungreased), leaving 2" between cookies.
9. Bake for 7-9 minutes, until the edges are light brown, then remove and put on a wire rack.
10.  While the cookies are still warm, spoon or pipe the preserves into the indented heart.


Posted on Friday, February 08, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

It's been a few months, so I thought I would make the four hour (traffic permitting) trip up I-95 to NYC for the weekend to see some shows on Broadway and meander around the lower half of the island a little.

I also got to try out a new hotel, and absolutely fell in love.  It is the perfect location for a theater-driven weekend schedule, and they are extremely dog-friendly - no fees, special pet welcome pack with a bed and bowls, and a treat jar behind the front desk.  Even the doorman remembered my dog's name every time we left for a walk. The hotel itself - and I should probably remember to mention that it was The Muse hotel (Kimpton property) - was very nicely decorated and clean.  Note:  The fat shih tzu was not part of the decor. Unfortunately, this hotel is usually out of my price range during all other months but January and February - I got a fantastic deal this weekend - so the likelihood of me being able to return again this year is not high.  But who knows...
First on the show agenda was The Heiress - starring Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), and David Strathairn (look him up, you'll recognize the face).
The play is based off of the Henry James novel, Washington Square.  Set in the 1880s, the story centers around a shy daughter of a prominent New York doctor, Catherine, who doesn't have many suitors because of her lack of charm, grace, and beauty.  Meanwhile, she must live with her father who is disappointed, and a bit resentful, that his daughter has grown up to be nothing like his wife, something he feels his daughter owes him since she was the only one who survived the childbirth process. One day, a distant cousin of her own cousin's fiancee is introduced to Catherine.  He is poor, having spent all of a recent inheritance on a lavish holiday in Europe, and is dependent on his widowed sister's hospitality.  Upon seeing the grand state of Catherine's home, the audience begins the back and forth journey of guessing whether he decides to pursue Catherine for her money and his preference for opulence or for love.
After the show, I decided to wait by the stage door to get an opportunity to meet the actors.  This is a great thing about NYC and Broadway - the ability to express your appreciation directly to the actors.  Both Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens were very friendly and took time to visit with everyone who had waited in the windy cold that night.  I thought it was funny that Dan Stevens signed the playbill with an arrow pointing to his shadowy character.
The next day, I decided to visit Washington Square and tour the Merchant's House Museum, located a few blocks away, to round out the play experience. Washington Square is next to the NYU campus and houses the famous arc de triomphe-like NY landmark.  This was the setting for the previous night's play, though none of the original homes remain. At 29 E. 4th Street, what would have been "uptown" in the mid-1800s where the wealthy lived, is the former house of Seabury Tredwell, a successful merchant of imported hardware.  The house was built in 1832 as a spec house by the genteman who lived next door.  It was purchased by Tredwell in 1835 for $18,000, a very large sum for the time, and remained the family's residence for over 100 years.  A majority of the items inside the house are original family possessions, and the museum serves to educate the modern public on what life was like in the 1800s - no heat, no plumbing, no running water, coal fireplaces, gas lamps, etc.  Admission is $10, and all tours are self-guided (large notebook of stories is given) or there is one 2pm guided tour.
The second Broadway night was spent seeing the 2012 Tony Award-winning musical, Once.  Based on the 2006 movie of the same name, this show tells the story of an Irish musician who is down on his luck and finds hope from a stranger, one day, who hears him playing in the street.  This stranger is a Czech woman who has her own problems, but has an infectious enthusiasm for music and inspires the guy (literally, the character's name is Guy) to pursue his dreams and record his songs.
I wish I had known that, before the show, the cast has a regular jam session on the stage, and the audience is encouraged to join them and drink a pint (or whatever the theater is allowed to serve) on the pub set as they sing and dance their way through Irish folk songs.  I would have arrived a lot earlier than my normal 10 minutes before the show!

Posted on Sunday, February 03, 2013 by Julie

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