Thursday, January 30, 2014

The crockpot is a lazy cook's best friend.  It's baffling how easy it is to dump ingredients into it, then hours later you have an amazingly delicious meal.  This soup is going to blow you away.  You don't even have to like thai food to take delight in the flavors this soup presents.  I am not a person who particularly enjoys spicy food, so the sweet and citrusy base is perfect with little embellishment.  For those who like more kick, adding jalapeños and red bell peppers as additional garnishes works great.

My friend passed along this Thai Chicken Noodle Soup recipe to me from the website and I made some slight modifications.


3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can be frozen)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons freshly minced ginger
2 (13.5 oz.) cans of coconut milk
4 cups chicken stock
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
4 oz. thin rice noodles
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
2 limes
Cilantro for garnish
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Added garnishes:
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced

1. In your crockpot or slowcooker, combine the coconut milk, chicken stock, soy sauce, chicken, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
2. Cook on high for 3 hours.
3. Remove the chicken and shred with two forks on a large plate, then return the chicken to the pot.
4. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
5. Bring a pot of water to boil on the stove, and cook the rice noodles per the directions provided (approximately 4-5 minutes).  Drain and rinse with cold water.
6. In the microwave, place the bean sprouts in a microwave safe bowl and heat 30-45 seconds until tender but not too soft.
7. In the bottom of each serving bowl, place some bean sprouts and rice noodles in a generous pile.
8. Ladle some of the thai chicken soup into each bowl until full.
9. Garnish with cilantro leaves and fresh lime juice.  Add bell peppers and jalapeños if desired.

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 by Julie

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I love London.  It is my absolute favorite city to visit because it feels like home.  Having spent a year in England for university years ago, I really got to know the city well.  Since then, I've returned as often as I can because it is just a 6-7 hour flight to Heathrow from Washington D.C., 8 hours for the return flight.  No big deal!

This past weekend, I had two and a half days to fill in London, arriving on the overnight flight on Friday morning and departing late afternoon Sunday.  I knew that I wanted to meet up with old friends for dinner one night, and go see a play with my cousin in town for school another night, and travel to Bath for a day trip.  The rest of the time, in addition to visiting London Beatles sites, I had a strange hodge podge list of places I wanted to visit, none of which are on the tourist trail.  Some of the sites were inspired by a search for off the beaten path areas and others by a recent episode of "Getaway" on Esquire Network with "Parks and Rec's" Rashida Jones.

Little Venice: A short walk from the Warwick Avenue tube station, this intersection of Grand Union and Regent's Canals should more aptly be named Little Amsterdam because of the houseboats.  If the weather is cooperative (it wasn't for me!), you can stroll down the tow paths along the canals and enjoy the scenery and cafes.

Regents Sound Studio: On Denmark Street near the Tottenham Court Road tube station,  don't be fooled into thinking that this is just any old guitar store.  This store used to be an independent recording studio and was the place where The Rolling Stones recorded their first album in 1964.  Other groups - The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Black Sabbath, etc. - also used the studio here.

Portobello Print and Map Shop: Located on Portobello Road near Notting Hill Gate, famous for its antiques market, this map shop's proprietor is very friendly and is a self-described map geek.  I've shopped here before and found some antique maps depicting Australia as New Holland and Thailand as Siam.  This round, I purchased some maps from a 1734 atlas that show California as an island and provide rare details of the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia and Maryland.

Penhaligon's Perfumery: Penhaligon's has been a perfume house since the 1860s and claims to have been the supplier of perfume to Queen Victoria.  Royals since then have worn Penhaligon scents as well.  The flagship store is in Covent Garden, established in 1975, after the original buildings were destroyed by WWII bombing raids.

K2 Phone Boxes: Located just inside the gates of the Royal Academy at 50 Picadilly these iconic phone boxes are the original 1926 wooden K2 design and cast iron prototype by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott that were later replaced by more familiar K6 box in 1935.

Hatchard's Bookshop: Founded in 1797, this is London's oldest bookseller and counts Kipling, Wilde, and Byron as former customers.  It's location at 187 Picadilly is the original location. Make sure to explore all five floors.

Duke's Bar:  James Bond author, Ian Fleming, considered this one of his favorite bars, and it is rumored that this is where he coined the term synonymous with 007 - "shaken, not stirred."  If you're a Bond fan and are inclined to try his signature martini at Dukes, be prepared to pay nearly £20 for one drink! 

Recreating Mumford & Sons Album Artwork: Pimpernel and Partners is located at 596 Kings Road, and it was in this building's front window that the members of Mumford & Sons posed for their first album cover.  Being the huge Mumford fan that I am, of course this stop was going to make the list! Today, the only difference is the change of exterior paint color on the building to the left.

Pizza by Candlelight at Soho Joe's:  Try finding a restaurant in SoHo on a Friday night that can seat 5 people without a wait and when it's raining...good luck.  Fortunately someone in our group knew about Soho Joe's, and they had one open table.  This casual dining restaurant distinguishes itself by its gourmet pizzas at very affordable prices for Central London (£10!) and comfortable decor that includes candlelight at every table.

Ron Weasley, Skyfall's Q, Mr. Bates, and Merlin on a West End stage in the play "Mojo": This play was quite the collection of popular British male actors!  Though some scenes were weird, and the speech was sometimes so quick and thickly accented so as to only be able to understand about a third of what was being said, there were three characters that were portrayed really well by their respective actors. Daniel Mays' "Potts" and Colin Morgan's "Skinny" were full of energy and forced the actors to really stretch outside of their normal selves.  The spotlight and scene stealer was by far Ben Whishaw's "Baby," who was a troubled and emotionally scarred man who often seemed bipolar.  It had to have been the most fun character to play out of the six.  Unlike other stage door experiences in London, it was very crowded because of the large number of Harry Potter fans there to see Rupert Grint.

Sadly, then there was the inevitable end to the journey....Paddington Station to Heathrow

Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Julie

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Monday, January 27, 2014

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first trip to the United States in early February 1964, I decided to spend some of my time in London last weekend doing a self-guided walking tour of some of the best known Beatle sites.  Ideally, my tour would have included a lot more sites, such as more filming locations for their two films, but I was constrained by time.  And, unfortunately, my planned tour was reduced even further because of a horribly miserable rainy and windy day, but I still made it to most stops.  Anyway, here is my version of a London Beatles Walking Tour:

Start off the day by taking the Jubilee Line to St. Johns Wood station.  Just outside the station entrance on your left is the first stop of the day, the....

1. Beatles Coffee Shop - not an actual Beatles history site, but a great spot to fuel up for your walking tour with some coffee drinks and snacks.  Walk across the street and continue straight on Grove End Road to....

2. Abbey Road Crossing, one of the most popular photo spots for Beatles fans.  Be very careful with the cars, they do not like stopping for all of the tourists.  Just up the street from the crossing is the famous....

3. Abbey Road Studios where most of The Beatles' recording magic happened!!  Walk down the road, past the crossing, to the next intersection at Circus Road, make a left and head up the road to Cavendish Avenue where at...

4. 7 Cavendish Avenue you are standing in front of Paul McCartney's actual home that he has owned since 1965 and still occupies today when he is in London.  When you're done taking your photos, head back to the St. Johns Wood tube station and take the Jubilee Line to Baker Street.

5. The London Beatles Store is located just north of the Baker Street tube station and next to the Sherlock Holmes attraction.  This is the place to get all of your Beatles gear, though the selection of original 1960s memorabilia is very small.  For that, you may have to make your way up to Liverpool, an easy overnight trip that I highly recommend to any Beatlemaniac!  Head back towards the tube station but turn right at Melcombe Street to...

6. Marylebone Railway Station where the first scenes of The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" film were shot.  You can see the glass canopy in front of the station and Boston Place on the right side of the station are still there for you to reproduce the running scenes should you wish.  The next stop is a little less than a half mile south of the station at...

7. 34 Montagu Square where Ringo Starr held a lease for several years in the mid- to late-1960s, though only lived there briefly in the first year.  Paul recorded  several demos here, including "I'm Looking Through You," and John Lennon hosted his infamous "Make Love Not War" sit-in with Yoko Ono.  Backtracking a little bit to Crawford Street, turn right and head towards Baker Street where at the corner with Paddington Street at...

8. 94 Baker Street, The Beatles' Apple Corps opened up The Apple Boutique for 8 short months from December 1967-July 1968.  The building was painted in late 1960s hippie fashion with rainbows and other psychedelic imagery before complaints were made and the mural was stripped from the bricks in May 1968.  It's another half mile on the walking tour before you reach...

9. 57 Wimpole Street, the home of Paul's then girlfriend Jane Asher's family in the 1960s.  Staying on the top floor, Paul famously woke up from a dream with the tune of "Yesterday" in his head and wrote it down using the lyrics "Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs..." as a placeholder.  Moving on to SoHo, the next stop on the tour is...

10. The London Palladium where The Beatles entertained a crowd of crazed fans, recognized as one of the first episodes of Beatlemania, as part of the Sunday Night at the London Palladium lineup on October 13, 1963.  Also in SoHo is 17 St. Anne's Ct., the home of...

11. Trident Studios, where the new 8-track recording technology convinced The Beatles to abandon Abbey Road Studios for the recording of "Hey Jude," as well as other songs from The White Album and Abbey Road records.  Finally, the last stop of my walking tour was...

12. 3 Saville Row, the site of The Beatles' last concert, performed on the rooftop of this building. Sadly, it's now being turned into an Abercrombie Kids store.

If a self-guided walking tour is not your style, you prefer a guided tour, and your schedule in London is flexible, I would suggest you check out the popular London Beatles Walking Tour.  I took this tour about 15 years ago when I was living in England.  It's changed a little bit because the city has changed, including the demolition of the EMI Building where the early and late 1960s stairwell photos were taken of the band, used on their Blue and Red greatest hits album covers.  Enjoy your walk!

Posted on Monday, January 27, 2014 by Julie


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I just got back from my third consecutive, and fourth overall, Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.  This trip was, by far, our best one yet - aided by our cumulative prior experience, where each year we have figured out more secrets to having fun, seeing films, and people watching.

Rather than buying individual tickets, we went for a ticket package this year.  Buying a package guarantees an earlier purchasing time, which turned out to be a great deal for us - securing tickets to premiere films.  These are the films you want to see because many of the stars and production crew are present to answer questions after the screening.  Our first film was "Laggies," starring Kiera Knightly, Sam Rockwell, and Chloe Moretz.  The movie was cute and had several laugh-out-loud moments.

Our second film premiere was "A Most Wanted Man" with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Defoe, and Rachel McAdams.  I was not very impressed by the plot, but my friend felt some of the intended suspenseful elements.  And the actors did a great job in their roles, but sadly the director never brought the story to life for me.  The second premiere experience was not completely lacking in excitement, though, because there was a surprise addition to the audience - Bradley Cooper snuck in with his girlfriend Suki Waterhouse.  Bradley Cooper!

So that covers the films.  With our package, we received two grey credentials that got us into several of the festival venues - unfortunately none of the invite-only parties and swag areas.  One of the credentialed areas was the Sundance Channel HQ, where we were able to catch a panel discussion on the intersection of independent film and television featuring Aaron Guzikowski (creator of Sundance Channel show The Red Road), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Conan), Paul Riser, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Of course, no Sundance experience is complete without a solid dose of people watching.  This year, we were primarily back at the same spot on Main Street by the Town Lift - refueling after a good day of skiing - and the celebrities were walking by us.

Having already seen Christina Hendrix, Jason Momoa, Tom Sizemore, and Julianne Nicholson in the Salt Lake City baggage claim the day before, the morning started out with a sighing of John Lithgow and Alfred Molina on my way to the ski lift near one of the festival photo tents.  Additional stars spotted include (pictured below): Kate Hudson, Lance Bass, Diane Kruger, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, John Slattery, Evan Handler with Tim Daly, Jason Ritter, Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning, and Cheryl Hines.

I love that my friend caught me talking to and taking a selfie with Zach Braff while he was on his way to his film screening party at the restaurant next to our restaurant.  Of course, if I had to identify the celebrity photo coup for the weekend.... was, without a doubt, getting a photo with the most infamous member of the UK boyband One Direction: Harry Styles. After we took this photo, the mayhem started - the teenagers and associated screams multiplied like rabbits.  By the time Harry made it to his car, it was surrounded. What a phenomenal thing to witness!  Absolute insanity, though a smaller scale than what he is used to, I imagine, being that we were in the mountains of Utah and not a major city.  Regardless, hopefully this firmly secures my title of "Coolest Aunt" in my pre-teen niece's eyes.

Additional celebrities spotted but not photographed: Sam Shepard, Shiloh Fernandez, Jim O'Heir, Molly Shannon, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, Lea Thompson, Ian Brennen, and Don Johnson.  The latter was not very nice at all, and I wanted to tell him that he is a has-been that is only popular because of his two cheesy cop shows a long time ago.  Fortunately for him, I'm the nicer person.

Now we've covered movies, special events, and celebrity spotting.  The last part that makes the Sundance Film Festival so great is some of the best skiing in North America!  As an added bonus, this past weekend was the U.S. Olympic Team qualifying events for Slopestyle and Halfpipe.  We were watching the guys fly off the jumps and do amazing aerial maneuvers as we skied down the mountain and took the lift back up.  Taking photos from the lift proved to be a bit challenging, as I'm sure you can imagine.  What a great way to get into the Olympic spirit, though!  I wanted to do another Olympic-related thing, but was prohibited by time and cost.  At the Salt Lake Olympic Center, they have a trained bobsled driver that will take you down the Olympic bobsled run.  I was very tempted after seeing reviews that mentioned it cost only $60, but when I looked it up, it was $200!!!  Perhaps that's an off-season rate?  Anyway, it was still a fantastic weekend without the at-speed bobsled ride! Maybe next time.....

One last photo: a morning sun rising and moon setting, overlooking the mountains of Park City: left to right ski resorts - Deer Valley, PCMR, Canyons.

Posted on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 by Julie

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