Saturday, November 30, 2013

Improv Everywhere is a NYC based group that organizes large crowd scenes and pranks in public places of large cities.  They have a touring movement called the MP3 Experiment that made its way to Washington D.C. today, November 30th.  When I found out about it, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to experience this for myself. 

First, you had to read through the instructions.  The main requirements were to: (1) download an MP3 track, but try your best not to listen to it before the start time; (2) wear a top or jacket that is either red, yellow, green, or blue; and (3) bring a bottle of bubbles.  Exactly at noon, outside the Smithsonian Natural History Museum on the National Mall, we were told to gather and press play on our smartphones or MP3 players.  From that point on, we received about 37 minutes of instructions that included lining up behind a non-participant and walking behind him/her, a human version of twister, freeze tag, dance party, simon says, grass observation, square dancing, mute button game, and - of course - bubble blowing.  It was really fun how everyone just said "yes and" to everything - so much positivity and agreement...and smiles!  From an improv technique standpoint, it was very energizing!  And then, the looks and smiles we got from the people on the side who had no clue what was going on were priceless!

Waiting for the noon start time
Follow and mimic an unsuspecting non-participant

Square Dance Time!

Grass Observation Time

Dance Party!

Dance Down Low

Point to the Capitol

Human Twister

More Grass Time

Confused but highly entertained observers

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 by Julie


Friday, November 29, 2013

This is a great alternative to the traditional apple pie for the holidays, especially since we always seem to never really have room for dessert, if we are being honest, yet still cram piles of pie in our mouths. Based off of the french apple tart, or tarte aux pommes, I've modified the recipe a bit to give it more of an American apple pie taste, with a surprise: a glaze made with orange liqueur!  Oh la la!

Also, to make life a whole lot easier during the stressful holiday feasts that we prepare, I'm going to give you some great news...I baked this with pre-made pie crusts!!  Yep!  I used a 9" square tart pan with the removable bottom, and it took one roll plus just a smidge more from the second roll of pre-made dough, so unfortunately there's some dough waste unless you can figure out how to use it in another dessert.

Tarte aux Pommes - "Americanized"

1 box of 2 pre-made pie dough (I prefer Pillsbury)
6 granny smith apples
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 Tbsp flour

For the glaze
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-2 Tbsp triple sec or other orange liqueur

1. Take the pie dough out of the refrigerator and let it warm up, about 15 minutes
2. Press the dough into the tart pan, set aside
3. Peel apples and slice thinly, about 1/8", and place in a large bowl.  Also consider squaring off edges to better fit in the square pan.  If using a circular pan, they will fit without that cut
4. Toss lemon juice with the apples to prevent browning
5. Mix sugar, cinnamon, and flour in a separate bowl, then use the mixture to toss with the apples
6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
7. Arrange the apples in rows in the tart pan
8. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes, watching to make sure the crust doesn't burn (cover with foil if it does)
9. Make a simple syrup on the stove by combining 1/2 cup cold water with the sugar in a small sauce pan and bringing the mixture to a boil, until all the sugar is dissolved
10. Add in the orange liqueur and stir generously.  Set aside, off the heat, and allow to cool
11. Once the apple tart is cool, brush on the simple syrup glaze to coat the apples and make them look shiny

When you are ready to serve, this particular shaped tart is very simple to cut, following the rows and cutting each into the thirds, thus serving 12 people.  These are not particularly hearty portions, but if you've had a big dinner, this dessert is perfect to provide a little something sweet to finish off the meal and to give you all the flavors of apple pie without getting even more stuffed.

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 by Julie

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

This Thanksgiving, I was searching for a recipe that embodied the flavors of the holiday but wasn't a traditional pie.  The result was this pumpkin and butternut squash bread pudding with a bourbon pecan sauce from Food & Wine.

Pumpkin and Butternut Squash Bread Pudding with Bourbon Pecan Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, additional melted butter for brushing
1 pound challah bread, cut into 1" cubes
1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
14 oz. canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the sauce:
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp bourbon
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Cube the challah bread and toast on a large baking sheet for approximately 5 minutes
3. Cut the neck from the butternut squash.  Peel the neck and cut two 3/4" thick slabs.  Slice on a mandoline, medium thin setting, to create the strips for the lattice.  Cut remaining squash, bulb and leftover neck, into 1/2" dice.
4. In a skillet, melt 3 Tbsp of butter and sauté the diced squash over high heat until lightly brown.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and glossy.  Cool.
5. Butter two 9", deep-dish pie pans - glass or ceramic.
6. In a large bowl, whisk 1 cup of sugar with the eggs, milk, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.
7. Add the sautéed squash and toasted bread to the mixture and gently toss to soak the bread.  Spoon the soaked bread into the buttered pie plates and top with the strips of butternut squash in a lattice pattern.  The squash will shrink, so make the strips a little longer than the shape of the pie.
8. Brush the "lattice" with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
9. Cover with parchment and bake for 30 minutes.
10. Uncover and bake for 30 more minutes, until the tops are golden and the puddings are set.
11.  Let the puddings rest for 15 minutes.

You can make the sauce and serve, or cover the bread puddings and refrigerate overnight.  Just rewarm for approximately 15 minutes at 300 degrees F.

For the sauce, melt the remaining butter and whisk it with the bourbon, confectioner's sugar, and toasted pecans.

Posted on Thursday, November 28, 2013 by Julie

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This idea was inspired by The Bearfoot Baker's Chevron Turkeys.  I loved the layered cookie look, with the modified daisy cutter as the feathers and an upside down acorn cutter for the face.
I couldn't find a daisy cutter at my local store, so I adapted with a paw print cutter instead.  I also opted not to commit to a stencil design, not knowing if I would ever use it again.  Instead, I was happy doing the design by hand with a toothpick, dragged through some dots of royal icing before the flooded feather area hardened.  

The whole process spanned over two days because of the drying time for the feathers and the many different pieces and colors to the faces.  Plus making the cookies themselves! These are my favorite turkeys of the bunch because they ended up having such personalities:
This one looks like the yellow turkey is saying "Pick HIM!" and the orange turkey says "WHAT!!!"

I feel like this turkey looks like he's standing on a stage telling jokes, "And then a turkey walked into a bar..,"
This turkey looks like he's about to wet himself! 
This turkey looks like a tough guy....and for some reason also reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield.

Posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by Julie

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Just because Starbucks has switched from the Pumpkin Spice Latte to the Gingerbread Latte, it doesn't mean that you have to quit all other pumpkin flavored goodies.  Maybe all of the stores have switched over to Christmas decor and Santa has arrived at the mall, but gosh darn it, I WILL have my Thanksgiving because it is one of my favorite times of the year!  And I love any excuse to use my nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon with canned pumpkin.  So, to celebrate the best flavor of fall, I found this soft cookie recipe on that is perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or a snack.

Iced Pumpkin Spice Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside
3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer
4. Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined
5. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined
6. Add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredients, a third at a time making sure it is fully incorporated
7. Drop on a silpat or parchment covered cookie sheet.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Cool cookies and glaze.

Glaze Ingredients
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Whisk together and add more milk if the consistency is too thick.
2. Drizzle glaze on cookies or dip the cookies in the glaze and let them drip through on the cooling rack onto wax paper for easy clean up.

Oops...someone took a bite out of this cookie during the photo shoot!

Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 by Julie

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Yep, it's turkey lurkey time!  I saw these peanut butter cup turkey cookies on Bake at 350's blog last week and knew I had to make them!  They could not be easier.  Just make use of your favorite peanut butter cookie recipe for the cookies.  I made mine a little larger than normal (dough ball was maybe 2" in diameter before being smushed flat) to accommodate the peanut butter cup size.  Her blog calls for peanut butter frosting, but that seemed like overkill to me.  Instead, I just got a few cans of cake frosting from the store, on sale because of the holiday next week - hooray, and used my Americolor gels to make the red, orange, and yellow frosting.

Putting the frosting in piping bags with star tips to start, I glued on the peanut butter cup body, then made the feathers around it.  White chocolate chips, pressed upside down into the peanut butter cup, make great eyeballs, with an edible black pen to make the dot.  Switching out the piping bag tips on the red and orange bags (a little messy, but convenient), I then made a beak and a snood (yes, that's what that red thing is called that hangs from the base of the beak!  I always thought it was called a gobbler!).

Posted on Saturday, November 23, 2013 by Julie

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One of the great things about New York City is all of the free options for entertainment, specifically seeing the magic of some of your favorite TV shows live, in person.  For me, that list of shows includes Jimmy Fallon and Comedy Central's two "news" gems - The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Jimmy Fallon
This applies to the current Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show, but I can't imagine it changing much when he starts his engagement as the new host of The Tonight Show in February 2014.  Instructions for tickets are on this website.   I had luck trying about 6 weeks in advance first thing, as soon as the phone lines open up.  If the dates were not available yet, I would just try back every day thereafter.  The day of the show, you will have to pick up your tickets in advance of the show at the NBC Studio Experience store in Rockafeller Center.  I would suggest getting there by 1pm, earlier if the guests are very popular.  You will receive a ticket with a number and a wristband.  Come back to Rockafeller Center at the time they indicate.  You will then line up and be escorted to the studio by NBC pages. The taping I saw, Jimmy was spot on and did not require any edits.  Such a talent and such a fun show!

The Daily Show and Colbert Report
The first thing you will need to do to get tickets is ignore the ticketing websites.  You will need to have or create a Twitter account at least two months in advance of the dates you desire, follow @Spiffomatic64, and prepare to monitor your feed for the release announcement of your date.
For The Daily Show, once you have a ticket reservation, you still are not guaranteed a seat.  There is a two stage ticketing process the day of the show.  First, you must stand in line to get your ticket.  The tickets are officially given out at 2:30, but the line can start as early as 12:30-1pm.  Once you get your ticket with a number, you are set loose for two hours and told to return to the line, in numerical order, at 4:30.

Back in line, corralled by your ticket numbers, you get the security speech and the bathroom speech. Definitely take advantage of the bathroom because you won't be able to go once you're in the studio. You are ushered into the studio in order, but your number does not necessarily mean you will get the best seats.  By 5:30-5:45pm everyone should be in their seats, at which point you are allowed to take photos of the studio.  The warm-up comic comes out around 6:00pm, followed by Jon Stewart for a short Q&A. Taping starts at 6:30pm and will end as early as 7:00pm, if no retapings are required.

For Colbert Report, the ticketing process is a little easier.  There is just one line, thankfully.  We had luck arriving at 4pm, but you also should consider the time of year and the weather conditions.  At about 4:30pm, studio assistants came out and processed the line, checking for reservations and giving out numbered tickets.  You are then asked to have at least one person in your party stand in line at all times, but you can switch off and go get food.  

Around 6:00pm, we are ushered through security into a waiting room with two TVs playing "best of" Colbert clips.  Finally, they call everyone's tickets by number, and you are directed to your seats.  Again, the number does not necessarily mean your seats are good.  A warm-up comic comes on to ramp up the energy, then Stephen Colbert comes out for a quick Q&A before starting the show.  The taping was really fun, especially seeing Colbert cracking up while the hilarious video packages were playing, yet still getting it together just seconds before the camera is back on him.  Now that's comedic talent!  

Posted on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 by Julie


Friday, November 15, 2013

A James Bond themed party??  Sign me up!  I am absolutely crazy for anything Bond.  If I catch a marathon on TV some random weekend, I just chuck my productivity out the window.  DC's Brightest Young Things hosted a party tonight at the International Spy Museum in conjunction with the current exhibit celebrating 50 years of Bond villainy.

The event organizers thought of everything, including a mechanical shark ride (like a bucking bull), a Solitaire impersonator to read your tarot cars, and a secret martini bar serving the traditional shaken, not stirred martini.  While all that would definitely catch my attention, when I arrived at the party, I beelined for the one thing I wanted to see most of all - Richard Kiel, a.k.a. JAWS from "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker" was there, in person!  That alone made my night!  Alas, the metal teeth synonymous with Jaws remained in the display case behind Mr. Kiel.

Posted on Friday, November 15, 2013 by Julie

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

If you're into photography and have not heard of Antelope Canyon, specifically Lower Antelope Canyon, get online and book a flight right now.  Located just outside Page, Arizona on Navajo lands, you will get amazing colors from these random slot canyons.  I went to Lower Antelope Canyon only because it is less crowded.  If you can show that you have a DSLR camera and a tripod, you can skip the tour and pay $36 for a 2-hour photography pass.  When you come out, if you need more time, you may be able to pay again and get an additional 2 hours.  When you're in the slot canyon, be sure to look up, look behind you, look for interesting focal points, etc.  On a sunny day, you are guaranteed some amazing color.  If you want to check out Upper Antelope Canyon, that is by tour only.  And the famous beams of light tend to be best in the summer months.

When in Arizona, you have to visit the Grand Canyon.  My visit was extremely short, due to time constraints, but it was enough to scope out some of the viewpoints and get some sunset shots. Unfortunately, the red shuttle route was closed for controlled burning, so the best sunset spots were not an option.  I ended up at Mather Point, but didn't like it and moved on to Yavapai Point for this sunset shot below.  While at the other viewpoints, I took panoramas on my phone for reference.  After having been in Zion, I found the Grand Canyon to be a little underwhelming.  Don't get me wrong, the vastness of the scenes and the heights are out of this world, and this is just the South Rim, but I just enjoyed the sandstone in Utah a little more, plus the great foliage.

Lipan Point

Morah Point

Grandview Point

Mather Point

Posted on Saturday, November 09, 2013 by Julie

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