Sunday, March 31, 2013

My friend claims he makes some of the best waffles around - and I have to agree.  The recipe is a bit more complicated than a basic Belgian waffle recipe, and it's definitely not diet friendly, but if you're up for the challenge and calories, then you should give this recipe a try!


3 large eggs, separated and room temperature
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1. In a bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar together.  Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, butter (cooled slightly so as to not curdle the eggs or buttermilk), buttermilk, and vanilla.
3. Stir in the flour mixture into the wet mixture.
4. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff, but not dry.
5. Fold in 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter.  Then fold in the rest of the egg whites.
6. Cook in a waffle iron based on the specific directions for your appliance.

Of course you can top the waffle with traditional butter and syrup, which is my favorite, but if you're up for a delicious adventure, use some Biscoff cookie spread on your waffle for a gingerbread/graham flavor that tastes great.  You won't regret it!  Or sauté some apples with cinnamon, sugar, and butter.  YUM!

Posted on Sunday, March 31, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, March 25, 2013

My major trip of the year is finally booked.  I'll be heading to India and Nepal for two weeks in April!  I have to say this is the most challenging trip I've ever planned, even though it will be a relatively short adventure.

First, it's sort of out of my comfort zone.  You would think with my adventures in Southeast Asia, I would be more accustomed to crowds, but I'm still wary of being swallowed up and put in a bad situation.  Also, I'm aware that my hair color will attract attention, as proved to be the case when in Indonesia and I was targeted for photo ops.  Of course recent news about violence against foreign women in India is also not helping the nerves.

Second, I'm working with a new tour company as opposed to the one I love and always use in Southeast Asia (remember, I'm traveling solo here).  I'm glad I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where using a private tour company is an option -- India is running about $250-300 per day for a personal guide, driver, meals, admission, and 4-star accommodation.  Honestly, when you think about it, that's not a whole lot more than some cruises once you pay for excursions.  And it is a thousand times more convenient for me than a group tour because (a) I'm not one who follows a planned itinerary to the minute because I always finish quicker than other people, (b) it provides flexibility to do additional stops or off-the-beaten path stops that I want to see, and (c) it allows me, as an amateur photographer, to get to the places I want to see at the right time for lighting.  I found a company, after several inquiries made based on a list I got from my friend in Delhi at the embassy, that does private tours and, conveniently, has a US office in Texas where I was able to speak to an American that lived in India for 3 years who gave me assurances that this company would be able to provide everything I was expecting.  I guess I just can't remember how anxious I was the first time I used Exotissimo in Asia in 2008, where I was convinced I would arrive in the Ho Chi Minh City baggage claim, no one would be there to pick me up, and I'd be out a couple thousand of dollars.  That trip, by the way, ended up being breathtaking and very educational, exceeding my expectations.

New Yorker Cartoon
Third, getting to India and Nepal is a big pain!  There are so many flight options, and many of which were on airlines with whom I had never flown.  I finally broke tradition and asked the tour company to assist me with finding the best flight plan.  As a bonus, their flight plan has me on the gigantic Airbus 380, an experience unto itself!

Four, contrary to my Pacific Northwest upbringing, I am not an outdoorsy person.  The idea of trekking for 4 days in the mountains of Nepal to go see Mt. Everest is completely out of my circle of competence.  In fact, I recently went to REI and I think the guy helping me couldn't believe that I was looking at large backpacks (to be carried by a sherpa, mind you!) and not trying to get by with a regular school-sized backpack.  He thought I only needed one change of pants and two t-shirts.  Ha!  He doesn't know me!  Well, I've taken his guidance into consideration, but I'm going to definitely stuff that little backpack to the brim for all scenarios!

Finally, this is the first trip I've actually had to consider training for - meaning doing extra cardio to help improve my blood flow efficiency in anticipation of the high altitude trekking.  I'm also scheduled to see a doctor about preventative measures - besides super hydrating and advil for headaches.  I keep telling myself that even marathon runners can get altitude sickness, so best to be prepared.  Just in case, I've purchased travel insurance for the first time ever as well, should I need medical attention or evacuation.

Oh and let's not forget the packing logistics nightmare! Temperatures will be 70-90 degrees in India, then 20-60 degrees in Nepal - between Kathmandu and the trek.  Lightweight conservative tourist clothes for India, then chafe-free comfy climbing clothes for getting to Everest. Intrepid Travel, who we are using for the Nepal portion, provided me with a starting point for basic items to pack (HERE).  Out of the ordinary items I need to acquire or remember to set aside from my own supplies is below (this is a working list, subject to change).  Wish me luck on jamming all of this into my various pieces of luggage - checked and carry-on!!!

  • Visa - very important to plan ahead for this, and actually you shouldn't make any reservations until you have it.  I'm lucky because I live by the embassy and got one in 24-48 hours, but it could take up to two weeks to get a visa by mail.  Follow all the instructions HERE
  • Long skirts (to cover knees), capris, or maxi dresses
  • Cardigan sweater and/or lightweight hoodie (to cover shoulders)
  • Scarf or shawl (multiple uses)
  • Closed toe shoes
  • Mosquito repellant (US brands are stronger and cheaper)
  • Hand sanitizer (lots!)
  • Immodium - trust me, if there's even a remote chance of me catching "Delhi Belly" then this will be worth its weight in gold!  I'm going to try to avoid street food and uncooked veggies, no iced drinks, limit my meat, and use bottled water for everything, but sometimes things happen.  Remember Samantha's Mexico experience in the Sex and the City movie??  Exactly!  I felt compelled to explain to the cashier at Target why I was buying a 48 count box of anti-diarrheal medicine.
  • Sunscreen (cheaper in US)
  • Pack-Safe travel safe bag (I've never used one before, but someone highly recommended getting one for all travel destinations if you're wanting to leave valuables in a hotel room)
  • Slash proof camera strap
  • Sleep sack
  • Pepper spray - on the suggestion of my friend currently living in Delhi because of recent news stories on the dangers for women in the country and because I have blond hair and will stand out.
  • Camelback (3L) bag and bladder
  • Treking conveniences - trail food, biodegradable TP, sanitary wipes, hand sanitizer
  • Water purification tools - UV sanitizer and iodine tablets (backup), plus extra batteries
  • Solar iPhone/iPad charger (in case there is no convenient electricity at the teahouses where we are staying - charge while on-the-go)
  • Something for leach removal?
  • Packable down jacket
  • Waterproof lightweight rain jacket and pants (just in case!)
  • Non-cotton long sleeve shirts
  • Thermal gloves
  • Silk thermals
  • Body glide for the potential chafing
  • Blister prevention and repair (aka more Body Glide, bandaids, and Neosporin)
  • Microfiber towel
  • Ziploc bags for toiletries
  • Hydration powders (bringing Nuun)
  • Backpack waterproof covers
  • Hat(s) - baseball cap and winter cap
  • Flip flops for tea house bathrooms
  • Physical book - I've heard eReaders may crap out at higher altitudes
  • Inflatable mattress pad (Thermarest)
  • Leatherman tool
  • Visa - get on arrival at the airport
Medical Preparation
  • Shots to consider:
    • HepA and HepB vaccines
    • Typhoid vacine
    • Polio booster (if not already taken as an adult)
    • Japanese encephalitis vacine
    • Rabies vacine
    • Tetanus-diptheria (if not done in the last 10 years)
  • General antibiotic (quinolone) - Cipro, Levaquin, Zithromax
  • Acetazolamide for altitude sickness prevention
  • Full prescriptions of needed regular medicines
  • Anti-diarrheal and headache medicine (as already mentioned)
  • Dramamine for the plane ride from Kathmandu to Lukla that is expected to be turbulent
  • Over the counter allergy, cold, and pain relief
Photography Equipment
  • Telephoto Lens
  • Wide Angle Lens
  • Extra batteries 
  • Extra memory cards
  • Warming bag for batteries (keep warm in colder temps)
  • Hand warmers
  • Rain bag for the camera
  • Graduated neutral density filter to help balance exposure on the mountains

Posted on Monday, March 25, 2013 by Julie

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Continuing on with the March/Irish theme this month, I had a short train of thought that led me to my next baking idea.  Of course, March means St. Paddy's Day.  Which means beer.  And what goes perfectly with beer?  Soft pretzels!  So I decided to tackle the mild challenge of making homemade soft pretzels.  Let me tell you, they are delicious!  Paired with a beer cheese sauce, well what could be better?

Soft Pretzels (from Alton Brown)
Makes 8 pretzels

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt (I just used kosher salt - tastes the same!)
1. Bring water up to a temperature between 100-115 degrees (no more or it will kill the yeast).  Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. 
2. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. 
3. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. 
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. 
5. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. (Try putting it in the oven with the oven off but the oven light on)
6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees 
7. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
8. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.  (I reduced it to 5 cups of water and 1/3 cups baking soda)
9. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. 
10. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
11. Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. 
12. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. 
13. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. 
14. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Beer Cheese (modified from The Curvy Carrot)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups beer (whatever you have or taste you want)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch nutmeg
2-3 cups cheddar cheese, grated (I used a sharp cheddar and a cheddar/pepperjack blend for an added kick)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
2. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
3. Add a pinch of salt and the flour, stirring to coat the onions completely, and cook, stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes.
4. Slowly add the beer to the roux, whisking constantly.
5. Next, slowly add the heavy cream, again, whisking constantly and breaking up any clumps of flour that may have formed.
6. Bring the mixture to a gently simmer, and add the cloves and nutmeg, and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
7. Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in the grated cheese, adjusting the amount of cheese to your desired taste and thickness.

Posted on Saturday, March 23, 2013 by Julie

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Here are the five things that have caught my attention recently.  All but one are fashion related because there's something about spring and changing from the heavy and dark clothes of winter into fun and lightweight spring clothes and accessories.
1. Quinoa Pasta - higher in protein and I almost think it's just as good or better than standard pasta.

2. French Connection Pumps in a great shade for Spring!  I actually found that they didn't work on my feet, but the ballet flat was a really cute alternative.

3. All of the Helmut Lang sweaters that Lea Michelle's character has been wearing on Glee this season.  Casual and chic!  This one was from the recent "Guilty Pleasures" episode.  You can find a few of them on ShopBop.  Others are older and would have to be searched for on eBay.
4. Knits from Ella Moss.  Seriously the softest cotton knit fabrics out there, it seems!  I especially like this maxi dress from her Spring collection.

5. These floppy leather cross-body tote bags are fun and sophisticated.  The FC Lady Tote by Foley + Corinna come in several colors so you can find one that suits your preferences!

Posted on Friday, March 22, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Paddy's Day!  A day filled with gold, rainbows, and lots of beer.  For this month's cupcake of the month, I thought I'd focus on the first two - rainbows and pots of gold.  Using a boxed cake mix in french vanilla (white batter so I could dye it), I prepared the batter per the box instructions then separated the batter into 6 bowls.  I dyed each bowl of batter a different color of the rainbow using the following Americolor Gels:

  • Super Red (120)
  • Orange (113)
  • Lemon Yellow (107)
  • Electric Green (162)
  • Sky Blue (103)
  • Violet (122)
Using a teaspoon, I layered the colors (one spoonful per color) in the cupcake pan liners, then baked the cupcakes as directed.  The decorations were made using a can of whipped cream cheese frosting colored with Electric Green and pots of gold made from melted white Wilton Candy Melts, died with a black and yellow gel and piped into shapes on parchment paper, then refrigerated to harden.  Make sure to make your pots of gold thick enough because they are delicate.  On a similar note, make extra pots of gold because inevitably there will be annoying breakage!

Posted on Sunday, March 17, 2013 by Julie

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's National Pi Day today, so to celebrate the wonders of math, I give you....

The first 50 digits of pi:


And some pie!

Rather, one of the easiest and tastiest key lime flavored pies in the world:  mini key lime ice cream pies.

First, your grocery list is just five items:

(1) 2 packages of prepared mini graham cracker pie crusts (Try Keebler brand) - this should make 10-12 pies
(2) One pint of a very good vanilla bean ice cream (I like Haagen Dazs)
(3) One bottle of key lime juice (I like Nellie and Joe's)
(4) One can sweetened condensed milk (I like Eagle Brand, reduced fat ok)

Optional garnishes:  Heavy cream to make whipped cream, key lime halves (thinly sliced)

1. Melt ice cream (leave it out or 30 seconds in the microwave)
2. Mix together 2/3 cup key lime juice and can of condensed milk
3. Fold ice cream into juice/milk until smooth
4. Pour into prepared crusts
5. Freeze
6. Garnish

SEE!  EASY AS....PIE!!! 

Posted on Thursday, March 14, 2013 by Julie

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

There's something about this time of year where I only want to read books that are high on the entertainment scale and low on the brain power scale.  Maybe it's my way of giving my brain a little winter hibernation time?  Anyway, not surprisingly the majority of my recommendations fall into my "lazy weekend" category - still read them, but they're probably not going to be contenders for a future book club meeting.

Lazy Weekend

The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

This is the latest release by one of my favorite "chick lit" authors.  I just love all of her characters - and their crazy dogs.  And the settings inspire me more and more to do a leisurely road trip through New England and upstate New York.
I've also been spending time re-reading the other nine books penned by Kristan Higgins - inspired by how much I enjoyed this new book.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I never knew that Mindy originally started out on The Office as a writer and not as the character Kelly Kapoor.  It makes sense, though.  She is hilarious, and I love her new show - The Mindy Project.  While this isn't on the scale of Tina Fey's book, as far as funny goes, it was still entertaining and had some parts I had to highlight, like:
  • Alternate Titles for This Book: 
    • When Your Boyfriend Fits into Your Jeans and Other Atrocities (she actually used this in her new show)
    • Always Wear Flats and Have Your Friends Sleep Over:  A Step-by-Step How-To Guide for Avoiding Getting Murdered
    • Sometimes You Just HAve to Put on Lip Gloss and Pretend to Be Psyched
    • There Has Ceased to Be a Difference Between My Awake Clothes and My Asleep Clothes

The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street

If you're a fan of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, you will like this alternative viewpoint to all of the events in the book and discovering just when Mr. Darcy figured out when he was in love with Elizabeth Bennet.  Cute book and very easy read!

Skip This

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I feel bad that I'm giving this book a "SKIP" review.  The basis for the story is a good one.  A former war correspondent is tasked with writing an article on the occupied channel islands during WWII, and she discovers an interesting cast of characters that survived the German occupation by creating a book club.  It's the format that bothers me.  The whole book is written as a collection of letter and telegram correspondence between all of the characters - author, residents of Guernsey, publisher, author friends, etc.  It got overwhelming to keep track of everything and really muddled up the story.  

Posted on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, March 11, 2013

I baked these German Chocolate Brownies for my Improv Comedy class tonight because I brought my champagne cupcakes to class two weeks ago and my instructor made the comment that German chocolate cake is his weakness.  Which got me thinking about how to make a something in German chocolate miniature.  Since I had already done the cupcake thing for class, and making a full blown cake was out of the question, I started searching around Pinterest for ideas.  The result is a combination of two brownie recipes.

The funny thing about German chocolate cake is that, contrary to popular belief, it does not originate from Germany.  It is actually an American cake that uses a sweet dark baking chocolate formulated by Sam German for the Baker's Chocolate Company in 1852.  And the name of the cake was originally German's Chocolate Cake, obviously.  Who knows where the apostrophe and "s" went over the years!

The recipe for the brownies below is an adaptation from this website and the frosting is an adaptation from My Baking Addiction.

German Chocolate Brownies 

  • 2 (4-ounce) bars of Baker’s® German’s® Sweet Chocolate
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (regular or unbleached)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13″ baking pan with parchment paper and a light coating of cooking spray
  2. Microwave the chocolate bars and butter in a large microwaveable bowl for 1 to 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Remove from microwave and stir chocolate and butter together until chocolate is completely melted.  Add sugar to chocolate-butter mixture, blending well; then add eggs and vanilla, blending well. Add flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until just combined.  (You can also use a stand mixer with a whisk attachment for this, transfering the chocolate/butter into the bowl after it is melted.  Just make sure not to overmix.)
  3. Spread your batter evenly into the prepared 9×13″ pan and bake for 30-36 minutes, or until top middle of brownies is set and toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean–it won’t come out completely clean because of the chopped chocolate in the batter.  Cool brownies completely before adding the frosting…
Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled (see How To Toast Nuts)
  • 1 1/2 cups flaked coconut, toasted (see How To Toast Coconut)
  1. Toast pecans and coconut 
  2. In a large saucepan combine evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolk and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5-7 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, pecans, and coconut. Spread on brownies while still warm.

Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Well, this weekend did not go exactly as planned, but I made the best of it.  The way things were supposed to happen was that I would arrive in Quebec City, Canada around noon on Friday, meet my friend who took a different flight up, tour around the Vieux-Quebec part of town, then check in to our reservation at the Hôtel de Glace ice hotel, built every year during the winter months.  Then Saturday, since they recommend you spend only one night in the ice hotel, we would check out, go skiing, and enjoy a night at the famous Le Château Frontenac hotel.  Instead of that fantastic itinerary, though, the actual experience went a little more like this:  delayed flight, missed connection, rebooked for next flight, that flight is cancelled, rerouted to Toronto then hope to make my connection on a different airline, that flight to Toronto delayed, arrive in Toronto, don't make connection because bag never shows up in customs, get booked on the first flight out in the morning, learn that my bag is en route to Toronto but only after I had already gone through customs and was barred from going back in to retrieve said bag, spending the night by the airport after 2 hours of waiting for my bag, then finally making it to Quebec City about 22 hours after I was supposed to be there.  I'll put my lessons learned from that debacle at the end of this post!!!

Fortunately, my friend was able to spend the night at the ice hotel, and I made the best of the situation by going there for a visit the next day so I only missed out on the ice bar drinking, hot tub, sauna, and sleeping on a bed of ice part of the experience.  From what my friend told me, while the idea is great in theory, actually prepping for and spending the night in a room with temperatures in the 20s is not 100% fun.  The hotel makes everyone go through a training class on how to prepare for bed because it's imperative you wick away as much moisture as possible in order to stay warm in the heavy sleeping bags.  And while you can pretty much cocoon yourself in that sleeping bag, your face is still exposed and your body knows that something out of the ordinary is going on, so it may not be the most restful of sleeps.  Then waking up and having to put on cold clothes is no fun either.  Here are some of the photos I took on Saturday of the common areas, including the ice luge (fun!), bar, some of the themed luxury bedrooms, chapel, and outdoor hot tubs:
Ice Luge
Dance Floor
Fancy Seating Area - look at those wall carvings!
Part of the bar
Giant square shot glasses (approximately 3 inches square)
Random ice art (3 naked legs?) in the middle of the floor - I tripped over another one in the same room
Gorgeous Chandelier

Luxe Room
The fanciest room in the joint

Outdoor Pre-sleep Hottubbing
Hallway of Rooms
Check out this video I made of my ice luge adventure!
As I said before, my visit began 22 hours late and we made every hour count until we had to catch our flights home the next day at noon by going straight to Mont Sainte Anne for some skiing.  The snow conditions were not ideal, with the south side of the mountain being more of the "mashed potato" snow you find in spring skiing.  I suppose it could have been worse and been super icy.  The north and west side of the mountain was a little better snow-wise but more crowded because of the snow on the south side.
After pushing our quads to the limit on the slopes, we made our way back into Quebec City, stopping at a gorgeous waterfall along the route - Chute Montmorency.  The St. Lawrence river was amazing as well because a large portion of it was frozen over and had, what looked like, little frozen waves.  I wish I could have taken a photo, but there was no safe place to stop on the busy highway.  
I chose for us to stay at the historic LChâteau Frontenac hotel that dominates a bluff in Vieux-Quebec and overlooks the St. Lawrence river.  This hotel was opened in 1893 as one of several luxury hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad and has hosted many famous guests, including Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Quebec Conference of 1943.  Much like the Waldorf Astoria and Plaza Hotel in New York, a stay at this hotel isn't motivated by its out-of-this-world luxury accommodations.  In fact, the rooms, while nice, are somewhat dated.  One would want to stay at Le Château Frontenac for the history, the ambiance, and the location.  
In fact, the hotel is located in the Vieux-Quebec neighborhood and is situated directly next to the funicular that takes you down to the oldest part of town.  Staying in this area affords you access to great restaurants and some shopping, though mostly souvenir shops.  We opted to eat dinner at a place on Rue Saint-Jean called Les Trois Garçons, where we dined on gourmet appetizers and burgers (baked brie, a BLT burger with goats cheese, honey, and candied nuts, and pulled pork sandwich with a side of fries and a maple rosemary mayo for dipping) and treated ourselves to a shared slice of maple sugar pie that was super sweet - like eating five maple bar donuts in a row.  But you can't go to Canada without having something maple-flavored, right?  Or is it maple-flavoured?

Funicular down to the oldest part of Quebec City
Cobbled streets of Vieux-Quebec
Presence of French architecture - The Parliament Building
While I was able to compress a lot into 24 hours, it was obvious that having that extra day for exploring would have made this trip a lot better - and given me a beautiful sunny day to work with for my city photos instead of the thick overcast/fog we experienced this morning before leaving for the airport.     
B&W of Le Château Frontenac across the park
I believe that I've probably traveled more than the average person, so I feel comfortable in saying that this flying to and from Quebec City is one of the top three worst airline/airport experiences in my life.  Ironically, another one of the top three is also a trip to Canada.  Did I do something to offend Canada at one point in my life?  Sheesh!  What were some of my travel lessons learned from this trip.

(1)  Never opt to take a connection through Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).  The size of the airport makes it very difficult to be flexible with last minute rerouting, finding customer service, etc.  Also, on the return home through customs, you have excessively long walks from each stage in the entry process, plus the security rescreening is extremely inefficient and was causing several passengers to be in jeopardy of missing their domestic connections.  Hint (suggested by TSA agent):   If the security line in PHL after customs (located in Terminal A) is ridiculously long, just find a way to leave the airport, grab an airport transport bus that circles around the terminal loop (e.g. Airport Employee bus) and get off at the appropriate terminal.  I had to get to Terminal F for an earlier standby flight and the security line was empty!  Yahoo!  And I got on as standby, which got me home earlier but I still had to return to the airport to get my bag that did not get rerouted in time.
(2) Sign up for flight alerts.  Had I not received the phone call telling me my rebooked flight to Quebec had been cancelled, before it was even showing up that way on the status board, I would not have been able to jump up from my seat and be first in line to reroute my itinerary.  In the end, this did me no good, but I was the only person on my flight who had even a remote chance of getting to Quebec that night.  Others were being told all flights on all carriers were sold out and the next flight that was direct would be on Monday.        
(3) US Airways has lost a future customer.  They messed up my rerouting reservation with another airline three times - where it would show up as confirmed in their system, but would not be in the other airline's system. Fortunately, I got to the Toronto airport early and was able to remedy the situation before getting the news I could not be on the first flight out on Saturday.  Also, the small size of the US Airways fleet makes them very susceptible to inclement weather.
(4) The new "Airport Traffic" cause of delay, I am convinced, is a scam and, I suspect, is simply a ploy for the airlines to divert financial responsibility for delayed and cancelled flights to circumvent the penalties that they would be forced to pay.  If there was truly an airport traffic issue, then we have a much bigger systematic situation where we have too many planes in the sky.  And the thought of that frightens me.

OK, after all of that "lessons learned" bit, I'm going to go and think about the cool shots I missed out on drinking out of giant square ice shot glasses Friday night.

Posted on Sunday, March 10, 2013 by Julie


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You know the saying, March comes "in like a lion and out like a lamb?"  Well, today was a giant daddy lion of a day!  Fortunately, the "snoquester" storm was a bust and more like a "rainquester" because it allowed me to dip out to the local ABC store and get a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream.  Why did I need that?  Because it's March!  And March means it's time to love everything Irish for a month.  To celebrate Irishness, I decided to make Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Irish Cream Ganache and Buttercream using a recipe I found on Sweet Pea's Kitchen (copied below with a few modifications).  They came out great and - warning - are very rich!  Hope you like dark chocolate!


  • 1 cup Guinness stout
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
For the Ganache:
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon Bailey's Irish Cream
For the Bailey's Buttercream:
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 box (approx. 4 cups) powdered/confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 4-8 tablespoons Bailey's Irish cream, based on flavor preference
  • Heavy cream
Making the cupcakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine Guinness and butter. Add the cocoa; whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt; set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sour cream until combined.
5. Add Guinness mixture and beat to combine - if mixture is still warm enough to be concerned, just to make sure, add a little at first to temper the eggs before adding the rest. Mix in dry ingredients on low speed until incorporated.
6. Fill the cupcake papers about 2/3 full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly. 
7. Bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 15-17 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

Irish Cream Ganache
1. Place chocolate in heatproof bowl; set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat cream until simmering. Pour over chocolate, let sit for 1 minute, then stir until smooth.
3. Add butter and Bailey's;  stir until smooth and combined. Set aside until cool and thick enough to be piped. stirring occasionally.
4. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a paring knife or apple corer to cut out a small circle in the center of each cupcake. Remove the core.
5. Transfer ganache filling to a decorating bag fitted with a small round tip (about ¼ inch). Pipe the filling into each hollowed cupcake.  This may be best left as the last step once the buttercream has been piped on the cupcake.

Irish Cream Buttercream
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium high until light and fluffy.
2. Add powdered sugar and beat until incorporated. Add Bailey's a few tablespoons at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
3. Use heavy cream, a little at a time, to improve consistency if you have already incorporated all 8 teaspoons of Bailey's
4. Transfer frosting into a large decorators decorating bag fitted with a preferred tip and pipe desired pattern between the rim of the cupcake and the ganache filling.

Posted on Wednesday, March 06, 2013 by Julie

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