Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's New Years Eve, and I just realized that I'm part of the last group to celebrate the transition into 2015, as I'm spending the holiday out in Hawaii.  It sounds like a warzone outside because apparently Hawaiians love their fireworks tonight!  Anyway, just like the year before it, 2014 was overwhelming with adventures - both major and minor.   Some of my favorite things included getting to ski a ton, visiting one of my favorite cities - London - twice, re-exploring places I've been to gather new perspectives, and really upping my photography game.  I also beat my record and flew over 56,000 miles, and probably made a land mileage record this year as well with road trips.    

As for the 2014 resolutions, not surprisingly, I didn't complete everything I set out to do, but I hit the major ones. For the second year in a row, one of my resolutions was to take a photo of five interesting places.  This year, I was really happy with many of my photographs, so it was hard to be constrained to only five, but here they are:

1. Abandoned farmhouse in Palouse, Washington

2. Maroon Bells at sunrise outside Aspen, Colorado

3. A reflection of the Space Needle in Seattle on the exterior of the EMP building

4. Old harbor in Ghent, Belgium

5. Haystack Rock at sunset at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Sadly, the one resolution I was really hoping to keep ended up fizzling out.  I had wanted to meet up with friends I had not seen in over 2 years yet we live in the same metro region.  It seemed so silly that I was keeping up with peoples' lives over social media and not talking to them directly to hear their stories.  I was able to get together with two friends early on in 2014, but just scheduling those was super hard.  Then I just got really busy and lost track of time!  I still do want to make more of an effort in maintaining strong contact with friends this upcoming year, though I'm not going to bother with a resolution, lest I just disappoint myself again.

Finally, the other major resolution I wanted to accomplish was doing a 365 day photography project on Instagram.  While I ended up getting bored with it quickly, mostly because the photos I was taking were not as good as I felt they should have been because I was feeing pressure to take one of anything just to fulfill the daily minimum, I did finally start to really use my Instagram account and have discovered some fantastic photographers on the app that have inspired me by their compositions, destinations, and processing.  If you are curious what I posted, check out my Instagram and follow me!

So what about 2015?  I am thinking that I'm going to be resolution-less.  I still want to visit two new countries, which are already booked.  I also want to do a third round of photographing five interesting places.  My friend just told me that those can't be resolutions if I know I'm going to do them and they follow a pattern.  OK, well then I am thinking that I'm just going to let whatever happens in 2015 happen, and have fun while doing it.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

Here's to finishing out another great year in 2014.  Happy new year everyone!

Posted on Wednesday, December 31, 2014 by Julie


Sunday, December 28, 2014

I wanted to make a treat for my friend who is a big fan of the taste combination of peanut butter and chocolate.  I was all set on brownies with Reese's chips, then my mom asked if I had ever had these bars.  It's a recipe modified from the popular Cake Mix Doctor.  A recipe from a box of cake mix?  That's is fine by me because that eliminates a lot of mess and ingredients!  The result is a chewy mess of peanuts and gooey chocolate that satiates any peanut butter/chocolate craving!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars


  • 1 box plain yellow cake mix (Do not use "pudding in the mix" versions!  I know Duncan Hines makes a non-pudding box.)
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 12-oz package of milk chocolate chips
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped, unsalted peanuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  2. Line a 9x13 baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil across the pan and out each side for handles to lift the bars from the pan after cooling.
  3. Spray foil with cooking spray to prevent sticking
  4. Melt the stick of butter, set aside
  5. For the crust, place the cake mix, peanut butter, melted butter and eggs in a bowl and beat on low speed for 1 minute.  Mix will be thick and a little greasy.
  6. Reserve 1 1/2 cup of the crust mix for later
  7. Spread the remaining crust  mix over the foil lined pan, pushing with your fingers until it is pressed evenly into the bottom of the pan.
  8. For the filling, place chocolate chips, 2 Tbsp butter, and condensed milk in a microwavable bowl and melt the chocolate in the microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, stopping to stir frequently to prevent the mixture from curdling.  
  9. Stir in vanilla to the melted chocolate mixture, then spread over the crust.
  10. Top the chocolate layer with the reserved 1 1/2 cup crust mixture, crumbling it up with your fingers into crumbs the size of peas.
  11. Scatter the chopped peanuts over the top.
  12. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  13. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before removing with foil handles.
  14. Place on a hard board (cutting board) and chill in the refrigerator 15-20 minutes or until the chocolate is set.
  15. Cut into bars and eat!

Posted on Sunday, December 28, 2014 by Julie


Friday, December 26, 2014

Must Read

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I picked up this book because it has made the top of several Best Books of 2014 lists, and I was not disappointed.  The story flips between two characters: an orphaned German boy with a gift for mechanics, especially radios and transmitters, that gains the attention of the Nazis who see a use for his talent; and, a young, blind french girl who is forced to flee Paris during the Nazi invasion with her devoted father -- a locksmith at the geological museum who has a secret.  Focusing on the summer of 1944  in a small town on France's northern coast where both characters coincidentally reside, the author builds their stories through chronological flashbacks that you just know are going to lead to an intersecting point. Imagine the vast amount of talent it takes to successfully write from the perspective of a blind girl. Anthony Doerr does a beautiful job creating a very descriptive and captivating narrative.  He selected two complex characters driven by needs the average person cannot understand, placed them in horrible situations, and masterfully captured the beautiful simplicity of decency.

Lazy Weekend

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

If you've read my other book posts, you know I adore Jojo Moyes.  I struggled not giving this book a "Must Read" rating for that reason, but the story was not as enthralling as her other recent books.  I think the reason is that instead of focusing on one main couple, she told the stories of four roommates - all war brides from Australia being sailed to England to meet up with their husbands after the war is over.  Having four spotlights detracted from the strength of one very good story.

Skip This

The Andy Cohen Diaries by Andy Cohen

I like Andy Cohen.  I like the shows he has produced for Bravo TV.  I did not like this book.  I found the tone of the writing to be a little arrogant, especially with the name dropping everywhere.  I thought this book was going to be much more centered on inside scoop on his daily dealings with the crazy people from his reality TV shows.  Oh well!

Posted on Friday, December 26, 2014 by Julie


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wishing you a very safe and happy holiday season for you and your family from me and mine!  It's been a very busy but very fun year, and I'm looking forward to bringing you all  new adventures and delicious baked treats for 2015.  Thank you!

Posted on Wednesday, December 24, 2014 by Julie


Saturday, December 20, 2014

I haven't done much holiday baking this season, but I did decorate a few cookies.  During this time of year, I prefer to switch from a butter cookie base to gingerbread because that's the quintessential taste of Christmas, I think.  I did about five cut out shapes, and ended up liking three of them.  The silly cartoon Christmas lightbulbs are very easy to make, and you don't even need the little red Santa hat to still make a great design.

As for the other two cookies that turned out well, they are my own personal snow dance for more mountain snow!  It's been a slow start to the ski season, and I was hoping to get some time on the slopes out west this month, but sadly it's looking like that's not going to happen anytime soon.  I guess I will just drown my skiing sorrows with these ski postcard cookies and snowflakes.

If you want the recipe for butter cookies and royal icing, you can find them by following this link. Any gingerbread cookie recipe should work for these particular cookies.  The decorating tips I used were a #1 for detail and #2 for borders.  For the icing flooding, I used standard Wilton squeeze bottles.  Clear sanding sugar was sprinkled on the Santa hats.  As always, I recommend using Americolor gels for the coloring.  And a great website for cookie cutters and other supplies is Karen's Cookies.  Finally, for the best tutorials on cookie decorating, visit The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle.

Posted on Saturday, December 20, 2014 by Julie


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Oregon coast is a beautiful stretch of the western coastline of the United States.  Not surprisingly, with Oregon's rainy reputation, the weather can be very temperamental and ruin photography plans. So, it has taken me a few tries to get these photos, and while I am not 100% satisfied with the results and want to return to some spots to try again, I think that they still provide great visual representation of the regional features.  Of course, I am very happy with the glowing sunset on Haystack Rock in the photo above.  It is one of my favorite photos, and I have it hanging on my wall at home.

Just north of Lincoln City is Devil's Punch Bowl State Park.  There is a great ocean well cut-out that is visible from the viewing area next to the parking lot.  I had some neutral density filter problems on this shot, so I didn't get the long exposure I was hoping to achieve.  

Seal Rock is a small town south of Newport that is the location of a grouping of large rock formations that, with a little imagination, look like giant elephant seals.  The photo, while not ideal, still captures a typical day on the Oregon Coast - lots of grays and greens, with some mangy seagulls to add to the image.

And now the infamous Thor's Well off Cape Perpetua.  This is an often photographed salt water fountain best seen at both high tide and sunset.  This is a spot I will have to revisit because not only was high tide nowhere near sunset that day, but it was storming and the water was wild.  It still made for a photo full of movement, but I resorted to making it a black and white image to compensate for my dissatisfaction with the grayness of the day. 

Finally, here are a few images of the Oregon Coast that highlight the great rock shapes formed over thousands of years from ocean movement and the beautiful evergreen trees that line the shore.  And, not surprisingly, gray skies in every one of them.  Oh Oregon, you have not changed one bit since I grew up there; and, while I miss some things, I certainly do not miss all that rain!

Posted on Tuesday, December 09, 2014 by Julie


Sunday, December 7, 2014

It's that time of year again.  Time to stress out over what to get for your favorite people, that is!  Well, I'm here to help.  I scoured the internet for some ideas that I think are great and step away from your typical types of gifts.  Hope you like my ideas too!

First, who doesn't love the craft beer trend?  Why not consider this Craft Beer Caddy for the beer lover in your life...

I saw this Unicorn Mug and it made me smile, plus it's big enough for a nice mug of soup for a cold winter day.

Speaking of convenient food serving items, how about Personal Fondue Pots, for those days where you are craving melted cheese but don't want to make a big pot.

This Funny Squirrel Feeder is great for someone who loves animals but loves to laugh even more.

This Wine Handbag makes me want to shake my head, then turn around and buy one for all my fashion-loving friends.

If your preference is for a reusable wine purse with a tap, check out the Wine Purse with a drink bladder that attaches to the tap.

Now here's a great stocking stuffer for a shoe lover...I might modify this saying to say "...wear cute shoes that also don't kill your feet after one hour"

A nod to my favorite holiday movie...A Christmas Story.  How cute would these be wrapped around a tree?

How about for a lover of surrealism art...a Dali clock for a shelf.  

And for the bibliophile that is looking for new authors...a book subscription service.  I know I get overwhelmed when I'm looking for a great new book.  Why not leave the decision to an expert?

Or for the avid reader who wants to show off their favorite classic books on a t-shirt, check out the clothing and gifts from Out of Print Clothing.  This company was co-founded by a person I grew up with, and they even use an old library card as the clothing tag with signatures from others that I know. More importantly, they donate a book for each item purchased to a community in need.

For the time constrained traveler, a guide on how to cram an amazing vacation into a weekend.

Again, for the shoe lover a fashionable winter boot wedge from Sorel.  These are currently in my closet, FYI!

Got a music lover in your life who needs some new tunes, get them The New Basement Tapes album. Five songwriters were given a box of Bob Dylan lyrics that have been in storage since 1967.  They each wrote songs to accompany their favorite lyrics and recorded them to make this album.

And finally, a convenient way to actually print out your iPhone photos...

That's it.  All my ideas for the winter holiday season!  Good luck with your shopping!

Posted on Sunday, December 07, 2014 by Julie


Saturday, November 29, 2014

As we head into the holiday season, here is a perfect gift to give to coworkers, friends, neighbors, and family.  These chocolate almond toffee pieces are a family tradition in my house, and though they take a fair amount of time to prepare, the recipe can be repeated (not doubled) to yield more and the toffee can be frozen for future gifting.  The key to success with this recipe is using good ingredients - good butter and good chocolate!  Since the steps are all important, I've added some photos to better explain the process.

Chocolate Almond Toffee

  • 2 3/4 cups blanched almonds (the grocery store or Trader Joes sells these in bags already prepared and slivered - don't get the sliced almonds, it must be slivered.  Also Trader Joes may even sell them pre-toasted, so look for that.)
  • 1 Tbsp butter (salted or unsalted, for greasing the pan)
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 10 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • Candy thermometer
These ingredients will yield half of a baking sheet of toffee.  If you want more, you will need to repeat the recipe.  A half sheet will get you at least 4 gift bags of toffee.

1. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
2. When cool, take 2 cups of the almonds and coarsely chop them (if you bought the slivered bag of almonds, you can choose to leave them that size or halve them).
3. Finely chop the remaining 3/4 cup of toasted almonds by hand or with a food processor, and set aside for after the chocolate step.
4. Butter a jellyroll baking sheet and set aside.

5. In a saucepan, combine the 1 cup butter, sugar, light corn syrup, and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.
6. Using a candy thermometer on the side of the saucepan, continually stir the mixture until the liquid reaches 300 degrees.  This is going to take at least 15-20 minutes, so be prepared!  You must get the liquid to this temperature because that is a "hard crack" state, and anything less will be a "soft crack" state and too chewy.
7. When the mixture reaches 300 degrees, remove from the heat immediately to a heatproof surface and quickly stir in the 2 cups of coarsely chopped almonds.  The toffee hardens fast, so you need to get through the next step while it is still pliable.

8. Pour the toffee onto the buttered jellyroll sheet, and spread until it covers half of the sheet.  It should be at least 1/4" thick.

9. Let the toffee cool at room temperature for over an hour.  When the toffee is cool to the touch, gently lift it up off the sheet and transfer it to a piece of parchment paper, which can then be placed back onto the baking sheet.
10. Carefully melt half of the chocolate (5 oz.) in a glass dish in the microwave, then immediately spread on one side of the toffee.

11. Sprinkle the finely chopped nuts on the chocolate while it is still hot.
12. Let the chocolate set on the one side for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, then refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

13. When the chocolate is hard, flip the toffee over and repeat Steps 10-12 except leave it in the refrigerator at least an hour to set.
14. After the completed toffee has been thoroughly chilled, bring it out of the refrigerator and break it with your hands into pieces about 1 1/2 to 2 inches big.  There is no perfect way to break this toffee, so just have fun and sneak a few of the tiny pieces that don't make the cut into your mouth.  Yum!

For gifts, wrap 8-10 toffee pieces in a cellophane bag and tie with a festive ribbon.

Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2014 by Julie


Friday, November 28, 2014

This cake, to quote my mom, is"buttery, coconutty, sweet goodness in my mouth!"  With a simple butter cake recipe and caramelized sugar/toasted coconut topping, this is a quick, no-fail treat.  The recipe I use is one that was passed down from my great grandmother, so I wasn't surprised when I did a little research on the origin of the name and saw the cake referred to as an "old fashioned" dessert many times.  The best explanation I found for its history was that is was devised in the 1940s when cakes were still made from scratch, so simplicity was preferred.

Lazy Daisy Cake


For the cake:
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the topping:
  • 5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 7 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1 3/4 cup flaked coconut

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat to a boil: 1/2 cup milk and 1 Tbsp unsalted butter.  Cool slightly.
  3. Butter an 8" square baking pan.
  4. Beat 2 eggs with an electric mixer for 5 minutes until thick and pale yellow.
  5. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla to the eggs.
  6. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt.
  7. Gradually add dry mixture to the egg mixture.
  8. Pour in warm milk and beat the batter well.  Batter will be thin.
  9. Spoon into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. While the cake is baking, prepare topping.
  11. Start by melting the butter (try a glass dish in the microwave).
  12. Melt the brown sugar into the butter, stirring continually.
  13. Add milk to the sugar/butter mixture.
  14. Stir in the coconut.
  15. When the cake is finished baking, remove from the oven and turn the oven temperature to broil.
  16. Spread coconut topping over the top of the cake while it is still in the pan.
  17. When the oven is heated to broil, caramelize the sugar and toast the coconut carefully - watching it until it turns light brown and bubbly.  (consider watching it with the oven door open)
  18. Allow to cool in the pan.  The cake can be cut and served from the pan, or use a board to flip it out before flipping it back upright onto a platter or cake stand.

Posted on Friday, November 28, 2014 by Julie

1 comment

Friday, November 21, 2014

I've been trying to write a post on Cincinnati for the past couple of years because I travel there at least one time a year to visit family.  For some reason, however, I never get the photos I want to express the history and interesting sites.  I finally just said, forget it and post what you've got!  So, here are some images that show how just how charming and quaint a big city can be.

When I travel, I always seek out the historic buildings.  In Cincinnati, a great place to start is Historic Fourth Street - both the east and west districts.  Here you will find remnants of Cincinnati's Central Business District from as early as 1860.  It's not hard to close your eyes and picture everyone as they were 100-150 years ago, shopping and going to work, and it reminds you to appreciate the preservation efforts that have allowed these buildings to remain and speak to our enormously vast history.  They are true architectural treasures.

Look at the details on the former Gidding-Jenny department store above.  This building, located at 10-12 West Fourth Street, was built in 1883 and Rookwood Tile covers the facade, depicting colorful fruit, flowers, and faces.  This building has special significance to me because my grandmother purchased her wedding dress at J.M Gidding & Co. after the war was over before traveling out to meet my grandfather in California.

Historical exterior elements have also been saved at the former Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, a 15-story, neo-Renaissance building built in 1927.  It is now a luxury apartment building.

At 49 East Fourth Street is the former Dixie Terminal, the end of the old streetcar line.  The building was completed in 1921 and housed an arcade of shops in addition to the terminal.  The exterior is decorated with Rookwood tiles inlaid in the entrance arch and around the entry doors.

Over the Rhine is another historic district that is the center of Cincinnati's beer history.  Cincinnati's OTR once was the largest German-American neighborhood in America, as many of the city's mid-19th century immigrants and their descendants lived here.  Not surprisingly, the German tradition of brewing lagers transferred over, expanding the small beer industry in town that was established by English settlers.  By 1860, there were 36 breweries in the city and 17 of those resided in the OTR district - including the big four: Jackson Brewery, J.G. John & Sons Brewery, Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, and John Kauffman Brewing Company.  Other popular Cincinnati brewers were John Hauck, Lion and Hudepohl, and two breweries from across the river: Wiedemann and Bavarian.  Sadly, prohibition, the Great Depression, and the rise of the national commercial giants like Anheuser-Busch and Miller spelled the demise of the Cincinnati beer industry.  Fortunately, with the recent rise of craft brewers, Cincinnati is reviving its brewing history and bringing back old labels, such as Christian Moerlein, Hudepohl, Burger, and Little Kings.  There is even an Over the Rhine Brewery Tour that takes you on a walk around the neighborhood and into the remaining historic brewery buildings and their underground tunnels.  If you want more information on the history of the OTR brewing industry, check out this article I found.

The OTR neighborhood is also home of the famous Findlay Market, which is the oldest continuously operating farmer's market in Ohio and the only original public building still open in town.  Other historic buildings in the area mostly date back to 1860-1900.  The neighborhood today is still in transition after years of falling into disrepair.  Not all of the streets are safe, so be aware of your environment as you are driving or walking around.

One other historic building I wanted to point out is the Literary Club of Cincinnati, located at 500 East Fourth Street.  The club was founded in 1849 and is the oldest literary club in existence.  It has hosted many famous authors including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Robert Frost.  In addition to authors, other speakers including U.S. Presidents have presented.  The current home for the club is a building from 1820 that the club has occupied since 1930.

Of course, I can't write a post on Cincinnati without mentioning two of its food-related gems:  Dewey's Pizza and Graeter's Ice Cream

Cincinnati has many more historic districts that I hope to visit the next time I'm in town.

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 by Julie