Sunday, February 23, 2014

Visiting Bath is a very easy day trip from London should you be short on time.  From Paddington Station, it's just an hour and a half train ride and trains run frequently.  If you have some extra time, though, I would recommend staying in the Bath region for a night or two in order to thoroughly explore the area with trips to, perhaps, Glastonbury or Stonehenge.

During my latest long weekend in London, I had to opt for the shorter trip, so I hopped on an early morning train and was at the Bath Spa station by 10:30am, giving me plenty of time for a leisurely walk to Bath Abbey - the starting point for the 11:00am weekend only Jane Austen Walking Tour. If Jane Austen is not one of your favorite authors, there are still many reasons to visit Bath. The historic Georgian architecture for one!  And there is a free guided walking tour that meets in front of the Pump Room by the Abbey daily at 10:30am (also 2:00pm Sunday-Friday).  It was my preference, for this trip, to get exposed to the era during which Jane Austen was a resident of the town and was inspired to write some of her novels, most particularly Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

After an introduction from the guide and a brief discussion about the Abbey Courtyard - including mention of the Abbey's angel ladder with the angels symbolically going both up and down - the tour's first destination is a walk through the famous Pump Room, where regency period residents of Bath would gather for gaming and socializing. While at the Pump Room, one could also drink some water from the hot springs, with minerals that were thought to help restore your health.  When you consider that the water was pumped up from the baths below, and then consider the sanitary nature of those baths, the sick people coming to use them, and the hygiene practices of the time, the logic of the healing power of the water is diminished in my opinion.

The King's and Queen's Baths were just two of many bathhouses at the time that benefited from the local geothermal hot springs.  The West Gate area mentioned in Austen's novels contained most of them. This area in Persuasion was described as a bad area with many prostitutes.  A few decades earlier in the 18th century, that would not have been the case because the aristocracy were frequently visiting Bath prior to the shift to Brighton when King George IV declared his preference for the sea. Bath was still very fashionable when Jane Austen lived there, just not to the extent where it was the main destination for the upper crust.  The West Gate neighborhood also was the location for the White Heart Inn, a major travel hub for coaches mentioned in Persuasion, and Cheap Street, a busy coach thoroughfare to the main road to London.

Jane moved to Bath with her parents and sister in 1801 when her dad retired and his health started to decline.  She was in her twenties at the time, and like her sister, was unmarried; therefore, Bath provided the women with exciting social opportunities while their father sought the waters at the baths.  The Austens leased a property at 4 Sydney Place that was across the river yet still within convenient walking distance, over the Putney Bridge, to the shopping district and the venues for socialization, such as the Parade Gardens and Lower Assembly Rooms - both mentioned in Northanger Abbey.

 River Avon and Putney Bridge

Great Pulteney Street with 4 Sydney Place around the corner on the left 

Parade Gardens and Lower Assembly Rooms

Guildhall near the shopping area of New Bond and Milsom Streets 

After her father's death in 1805, the Austen women lived in progressively smaller accommodations based on what they could afford until being forced to leave Bath six months later, then finally receiving a permanent place to stay with her brother, Edward, on his estate in Chawton in 1809.  It was in this estate cottage that she wrote her most famous novels during the 8 years prior to her early death in 1817.

The last part of the walking tour takes you back across the bridge and up the hill to the Georgian architectural majesties of the Royal Crescent and The Circus. On the way to the tour's final destination, the Jane Austen Center, you will pass the Assembly Rooms where Jane attended countless balls and social gatherings.

I know it may be more appealing to take the free Bath tour, but I would highly recommend paying the extra money for the Jane Austen tour if you have any interest in one of Bath's most famous residents.  As a bonus, it appears that the Austen tour tends to be a smaller group, so you can be assured to get all of your questions answered. There are many more stories that our guide told, but I failed to mention here primarily because I was one of the people peppering him with questions!

Posted on Sunday, February 23, 2014 by Julie


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Despite the quantity of baking posts on my blog, I'm trying to reduce the amount of sugar in my diet this year.  I have seen several recipes for crock pot applesauce on the web, but they all call for an addition of brown sugar.  I find that honeycrisp apples are so deliciously sweet on their own that using them then reduces, if not removes, the need for sugar.  Here's my take on a skinnier version of crock pot applesauce...a fantastic dessert!

Skinny Crock Pot Applesauce


8-9 Honeycrisp apples (or other sweet apple)
2 Tbsp Cinnamon

1. Peel and core the apples, then chop into large chunks
2. Place all apples in the crock pot and stir in the cinnamon
3. Cook for 4 hours on high, check after 2 hours for taste and add more cinnamon (or brown sugar if preferred)
4. Let cool a bit then purée the apples for a smooth applesauce, or lightly mush for chunkier sauce.  I like the chunkier version.

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by Julie

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Despite my having attended the London Summer Olympics in 2012, my preference has always been for the Winter Olympics.  I love all of the skiing, and I am especially enamored with the new ski slopestyle event and the young American guys who swept the podium.  Then, of course, there's the ice skating - who doesn't love watching that?

One of the sports I have never really understood, though, was curling.  So, to be a part of the Olympic action, I headed up today with a friend to the Potomac Curling Club open house event to learn more about ice shuffleboard...ahem, I mean curling.

The first thing we learned is that it is darn slippery on the ice!  The actual club members doing the instruction were wearing special shoes with a teflon coating that removes even more of your grip but makes it easier to glide on the ice for the stone throwing and the sweeping.  After getting a feel for the stones, we actually got to try to throw one down the alley (or whatever they call it) to the "house" or target.  Even with a PVC pipe contraption to assist with our balance, throwing the stone was really hard.  And you don't get a real understanding of the length of both the throwing section and lane as a whole on the TV broadcast, nor do you realize the balance it takes to glide through the throwing motion.  I have a much better appreciation for the difficulty of this sport after today.  As for sweeping, well since we didn't have much control with our throws, the ones I was assigned to sweep traveled way too fast, thereby defeating the purpose of sweeping the ice. On some other, shorter practice throws though, I did do a little sweeping, and it's definitely tiring even at that distance.  I can't imagine doing it for the entire lane!

So, am I a contender for the 2018 Winter Games US Curling Team in Pyeongchang...the odds are low, but there's always a chance!

Posted on Sunday, February 16, 2014 by Julie


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I finally saw the Despicable Me movies over the holidays with my niece and nephew, and they were great!  I mean, don't get me wrong, the movies of my childhood will always rank high even if their animation is technologically inferior and the scripts were less witty.  Movies for kids these days have the great advantage of being not only entertaining for young audiences, but sneakily entertaining for adults too.  Anyway, when I saw these genius minion cookies holding conversation hearts for Valentine's Day, I knew I had to make them ASAP!  These were originally designed by SweetAmbs.

Inspiration Photo
My cookies turned out a little bigger because I didn't have the circle cutters, and mine are missing the silver accent on the goggles because my shimmer dust didn't work as well as pearl dust. Nonetheless, they are adorable!!

Posted on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 by Julie

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sometimes I feel I am so lucky to live in the great city of Washington D.C., especially tonight.  On this day 50 years ago --Tuesday, February 9 --The Beatles rolled into town, after arriving in the U.S. and playing on The Ed Sullivan Show, to play their first official U.S. concert.  Tonight, I got to listen to a Beatles tribute band play the exact same set list starting at the exact same time (8:31pm) inside the former Washington Coliseum (also known as the Uline Arena).  Even one of the concert's original opening acts, Tommy Roe, opened tonight!

As a huge Beatles fan, who will fully admit to actually allowing a tear or two to form (like a 1960s screaming girl fan, without the screaming) after I met Paul McCartney a year and a half ago, tonight was an event that I could not miss.  In fact, I already had tickets to another tribute band concert for tonight before learning of the DC Preservation League's plans to reenact the actual concert.  Yes, I'm such a fan that I deluded myself I could be in two places at one time.  Just kidding!

Also on display before the show was the collection of photographs taken that night in 1964 by D.C. native Mike Mitchell, including the iconic backlit photo of the Fab Four.

Original Setlist:

  • Roll Over Beethoven
  • From Me to You
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • This Boy
  • All My Loving
  • I Wanna Be Your Man
  • Please Please Me
  • Til There Was You
  • She Loves You
  • I Wanna Hold Your Hand
  • Twist and Shout
  • Long Tall Sally

YouTube video highlights of the actual concert...

And some photos from the 50 year tribute show...

Tommy Roe singing "Sweet Pea"

"From Me to You"

A little "Twist and Shout"

"That Boy"

"All My Loving"

After the original set list was played and a costume change was made, Beatlemania Now continued the entertainment with some songs from Sergeant Pepper and other later Beatles albums.

The concert promoters wanted authenticity so much that they even made sure that the weather was equally as cold as that night, so that everyone in the arena had to dress in their heavy winter clothes and left with blocks of ice for feet because the large doors were left completely open to the elements that dipped into the 20s by the end of the concert.  Too bad the large snow storm they ordered is going to arrive one day too late.  All proceeds from the concert will go towards preserving and redeveloping the Uline Arena, which from what I witnessed, is some help it desperately needs!

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 by Julie


Monday, February 10, 2014

My friend asked me to show her how I make my decorated cookies, so we sat down over two days this weekend to go through the process from beginning to end.  First, we settled on a simple but stunning design I found last week from Hayley Cakes and Cookies in Austin, TX.

Inspiration Photo

Starting on Saturday night, I had her prepare the cookie dough and roll it out to 3/8" sheets for chilling, then she was left to cut the shapes and bake them.  On Sunday, we started at noon with making the royal icing, mixing in our colors, then getting them to outline consistency.  For the first step, we made the heart outlines and let it dry for about an hour.  While they were drying, we mixed a flood consistency of the two fill colors.  Once the cookies were flooded, we allowed them to dry for about two and a half hours, long enough for the top to not crack when we then drew on the lips and mustaches - finally finishing around 5:30pm with only the overnight dry step left.  A great design for a first time decorator, I think, because it walks through all of the steps, covers both outlining and flooding, and demonstrates what a lengthy process these cookies can be!!

I call this cookie arrangement "The Ladies Man"...

Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Here's an equally romantic substitute for the real thing this Valentine's Day - chocolate covered strawberry....cookies!  This design was originally posted by a great cookie blogger, Sweet Sugar Belle.  After making the cookies, the royal icing steps started with the red strawberry first.  Once the red layer was completely dry, I flooded the brown and white chocolate bottoms.  The leaves were made using a #67 tip, and the seeds were a #2 icing tip.

I liked making these cookies because they were smaller in scale, but still pack a big impact.

Posted on Saturday, February 08, 2014 by Julie

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

These cookies were another Munchkin Munchies inspiration, like my recent Super Bowl cookies.  I completely agree with her assessment, they are a great wow cookie with very little effort.  She used a scalloped circle for the outside shape, but I wanted to get deep into the Valentine's theme, so I opted for heart within heart.  Make sure your cookie dough is rolled out in between parchment paper before it is chilled.  These cookies work best when the dough is cut cold because it's much easier to punch out the heart from the middle and swap it for another color.

For a great sugar cookie recipe that works every time for these cut shape cookies, I actually use the same recipe as Munchkin Munchies - lots of butter!

Posted on Thursday, February 06, 2014 by Julie

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm starting off the Valentine baking season with these Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes.  I was inspired to make this flavor combination by a gift I received recently of raspberry flavored sugar.  I thought a completely raspberry cupcake would be too much, so why not add the fresh, tart flavor of lemon into the mix.  Looking online for recipes was challenging because there are so many options.  I toyed with doing a lemon curd center, but then found this recipe from Sweetopia that incorporated fresh raspberries.  I'm happy with the end result, flavorwise, but I think there is one modification I would do with the raspberries.  Instead of folding them in the batter, I would drop 2-4 berries (depending on the size) into the cups after the batter had already been poured.  I was using some very large berries, so some of the middles were a little too soft for my liking because there were too many raspberries.  Other than that, it's a good cupcake!

Raspberry Sugar

Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes


1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 cups raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on high until fluffy
3. Beat in eggs, one at a time
4. Add lemon zest and lemon juice and mix
5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, and salt - and add 1/3 of the mixture to the stand mixer and combine.  Add some of the milk and combine.  Alternate until all dry and wet ingredients are incorporated.
6. Pour batter into cupcake liners in a cupcake pan, about 1/2 full.
7. Add raspberries - 2 to 4 depending on their size
8. Fill with additional batter until 3/4 full
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
10. Let cool on a rack before adding raspberry buttercream icing

Raspberry Coulis


1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
12 oz. or 2 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
2 Tablespoons cold water
1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch 

1. In a pot on the stove, make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil over high heat, then reducing the heat and stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.
2. Add the raspberries and cook on low until raspberries are soft, approximately 8 minutes
3. Dissolve cornstarch in the 2 Tablespoons of cold water, then pour into the raspberry mixture and cook an additional 3 minutes
4. Place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and pour the raspberry mixture through the sieve to remove all of the seeds.  Discard the seeds
5. Cool the coulis then put in the refrigerator until needed.  This coulis can be frozen for up to a month

Raspberry Buttercream


1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
6-8 cups of confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup raspberry coulis

1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter by beating it for 2-3 minutes until smooth
2. On the lowest speed, alternate between mixing in 1 cup of confectioner's sugar and a portion of the wet ingredients.  Start with the total 6 cups of confectioner's sugar and add more for your desired consistency of the buttercream.

Posted on Tuesday, February 04, 2014 by Julie

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

I first saw these football field cookies on Munchkin Munchies' blog, and I knew they would be perfect for Super Bowl Sunday this year.

The crowd was made by flooding a section on each side with white royal icing, then pouring the rainbow sprinkles over and gently shaking off the excess - kind of like a glitter and glue project!  The field is flooded a few hours later after the "crowd" has dried."  All other detail work had to be completed when the whole cookie was dry.

There are versions of the alternate field/crowd design with a sideline perspective floating around the web as well, most using the larger nonpareils for the players on the field.  I'm not a fan of the fruity flavor of the larger nonpareils, in fact I think they ruin the taste of the cookies, so I opted to keep it simple and only make those cookies using the special color blend of sprinkles that included Seahawks colors of navy and electric green.  I couldn't find a similar mix with Broncos colors, and there was no way I was going to separate out orange and navy from the rainbow mix!

Munchkin Munchies Inspiration Design

Posted on Sunday, February 02, 2014 by Julie