Sunday, March 30, 2014

In addition to my POPSUGAR monthly box subscription, I also wanted to try out the Escape Monthly travel-themed box.  Each month, the idea is that you will receive a destination-specific box with goodies from that country or city.  In addition, each month, one subscriber will be selected to win a vacation to the current month’s theme destination. Escape Monthly will pay for the winner’s airfare from a major U.S. hub and two nights of accommodations, up to $1000. Winners are selected randomly from our members.

Cost: $49.95, but with a coupon code (code: YOURESCAPE) they are currently offering a perpetual $10 off each month, bringing it down to $39.95.

The March box was Ireland themed.  I'm going to be honest, I was pretty underwhelmed.  First, silly as it may seem, I was most excited to get an Ireland guide book like past boxes contained.  There was none.  The food was ok and the bath items I probably won't use.  I'm going to give it another month, which is supposedly Mexico for April, and reassess my subscription.

Food Items

Hogan's Brown Irish Soda Bread ($8.99)
Bewley's Irish Creme Coffee ($2.99)
O'Neills Shamrock Shortbread Cookies ($2.79)
Follain Orange Marmalade with Jameson ($8.99)

Bath Items

Human + Kind Family remedy Cream ($31.49)
The Seaweed Bath Co Bath Powder ($3.89)
Garden of Ireland Linen Wrapped Soaps ($7.50)


Auld Sod Shamrock Seeds ($3.95)

Total value of products = approximately $70
Total value of products I will likely use = $9


Posted on Sunday, March 30, 2014 by Julie

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Friday, March 28, 2014

When I was a girl participating in the annual Girl Scout cookie sale to get my 100+ box patch, I knew these peanut butter and chocolate delights as Peanut Butter Patties.  Also, I think the boxes cost $2.50. Well, now they are $4 and are referred to as Tagalongs.  They are still delicious little fat bombs, and I still succumb to a box or two every cookie season.  This year, I thought I would do something different and use them in a cupcake creation.

I would love nothing more than to lie and say that the chocolate cake was made from scratch, but it wasn't.  Though I had every intention of them being a from scratch treat, I was using a chocolate cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart and when I went to take them out of the oven at the 20 minute mark, I saw that they just imploded.  It was definitely a leavening issue, I think.  There just was no saving them.  Fortunately, my neighbor was over and said she had a box of devil's food mix at her house.  With a big bowl of peanut butter buttercream sitting on my counter, I begged her to go get it!  Of course, she got some of the finished cupcakes in the end, so really she got her box of cake mix back.  Anyway, there's my confession - these puffy chocolate domed cupcakes are from a box.

The story that these photos don't tell is the surprise inside of these cupcakes.  With my recent discovery of Salted Caramel Peanut Nougat Chews, I got to thinking how much I loved the peanut butter fluff that comprised one of the layers.  When the cupcakes were cool, I took out a little of the core and replaced it with a modified version of the PB fluff that was made from:

  • 1 - 7 oz. can of marshmallow fluff or creme
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

I opted not to add the confectioner's sugar in the original recipe because there was going to be plenty of that in the buttercream.  Just put the PB and marshmallow in a microwave safe bowl and heat it up about 60 seconds to mix them together well, then spoon the mixture into a piping bag before it gets too cool, snip off the end of the bag and squeeze into the hollowed out cupcake cores.

For the buttercream, I used:

  • 3 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 pounds confectioner's sugar
  • 7 Tablespoons of heavy cream

I beat these all together, carefully, in a stand mixer.  The buttercream was piped onto the cupcakes with a large star tip.  To finish off the top, I placed half of a Tagalong cookie and some chocolate sprinkles.

Posted on Friday, March 28, 2014 by Julie

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On the first weekend of the Savannah Music Festival 2014, I got to see the Punch Brothers in concert...finally!  I first saw them live last September when they were the unofficial house band at the Coen Brothers/T Bone Burnett benefit concert: Another Day Another Time.  I was so blown away by their talent, I went home and downloaded several of their albums.  But that wasn't really a Punch Brothers concert.  So, it was nice to actually hear some of my favorite tracks played live, having only seen them perform "Rye Whiskey" and "Auld Triangle" at the benefit concert.

It's hard for me to classify their style of music.  The instruments are undoubtably bluegrass.  The musical training sounds jazz, country, folk, bluegrass, and classical.  So combined, I guess maybe progressive bluegrass/folk?  Whatever, what I do know is that it's just fantastic!

The lead singer and award-winning mandolinist, Chris Thile (pronounced Thee-lee) started playing when he was 5 years old and was in a band when he was 8 - Nickel Creek, an older iteration of which just released their first album in many years and will be touring to sold out crowds this spring.  Noam Pikelney (a.k.a Pickles) on banjo has also won an award for his playing and, when not with Punch Brothers,  he tours with some of the most in demand session musicians in Nashville - a show I got to see last fall!  Gabe Witcher on fiddle is also highly sought after by Nashville.  Prior to Punch Brothers, Chris Eldridge already had plenty of accolades and awards on his shelves for his guitar skills and is now often touring with Julian Lage.  Finally, the unassuming Paul Kowert on stand up bass is the backbone of the band's expressive sound.  I'm excited that I'm going to be seeing Noam Pikelney and Chris Eldridge again in April at the Charm City Bluegrass Festival.  A piece of Punch Brothers is better than no Punch Brothers at all!

Their songs are, for lack of a better word, mesmerizing.  There are the ones that are upbeat bluegrass where your mind struggles to chase the notes being played like they are an olympic sprinter - just so fast!.  Then there are the slower songs that feel like you're being told a story, aided by Thile's very expressive face. We were fortunate to be treated to two new songs at this show that were received very well: "Magnet" and "Mint Julip."  Of course, in addition to the music, Noam Pikelney seems to have on-stage banter and comedy down to a T!  The best part is that you can tell that they enjoy entertaining and they enjoy being on stage with each other, which makes the performance that much better.

Filming and photography was very limited at the concert, so I wasn't able to get a whole song to share with you - getting kicked out wasn't worth the risk, considering seeing this show was my reason for coming to Savannah in the first place.  Instead, check out the following clips for a taste of Punch Brothers:

"Rye Whiskey" - a Punch Brothers favorite

"This Girl"

"Patchwork Girlfriend" with a jam session

A Punch Brothers spin on The Cars' classic, "Just What I Needed"

OK's a snippet of video from Savannah...

Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 by Julie

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

As I mentioned in my previous post about Charleston, the inspiration for this mini-break location was the Savannah Music Festival because the schedule included a performance from a progressive bluegrass band I am really liking right now: the Punch Brothers.

Here's a little snippit from their concert, with a separate post to follow tomorrow.

I also said previously that Charleston and Savannah have been on my travel short-list for a while, so it was about time that I finally found a reason to head south!  Of course, similar to Charleston, I had very limited time to spend in Savannah and had to make the most of every minute.  In the end, I definitely thought I saw enough to know that I need to make another trip to the area now that I'm familiar with the beauty, the food, and the shopping.  


Once again, I had to decide my mode of transportation for touring the city.  And, once again, I settled on a walking tour.  Though the pedicab "Trips for Tips" option was a close second.  Savannah Dan's tour was ranked very high for tours on Trip Advisor, so the choice was simple.  Also, who wouldn't enjoy listening to a man in a traditional Southern seersucker suit and bow-tie with a Georgian accent? Sadly, I was not able to take one of the many ghost tours of this, allegedly, very haunted city.

Punch Brothers > Ghosts

The tour started in Johnson Square near the gold domed City Hall.  Savannah Dan (try's fun to say!) led us up Bull Street through several squares/parks, then over to Abercorn Street down to Reynolds Squares.  In Savannah, it's all about the squares and the historic buildings on the square.

And the Girl Scouts of America... at the birthplace of the founder, Juliette Gordon Low...

...and at the Andrew Low House where Juliette lived with her husband, the son of Andrew Low who died in 1905, until she passed away in 1927 of cancer.  A weird fact I uncovered in my research was that at her wedding, a grain of rice lodged in Juliette Low's ear and punctured her eardrum.  She suffered from hearing loss for the rest of her life.  Next time you get a bad wedding gift, remember that story and think that it could be a lot worse!

And the churches...

And an orange house with green shutters...

And a statue by the same artist that designed the Lincoln Memorial...

And more squares and architecture...

And finally, Savannah is all about a little old movie called "Forrest Gump" where a feather blows in the wind past a church steeple only to land on a bench in Chippewa Square next to Forrest waiting for a bus to see Jenny.  Of course, the bench was a movie prop where the small brown sign is located today. And the normally counter clockwise-flowing traffic had to be shifted to clockwise for the movie.

Once again, a friendly reminder to not touch the iconic Spanish Moss hanging from the trees, lest you desire to get a nice itchy case of chiggers.  Also, I was told to be wary of traveling south of the historic district at night, particularly Forsyth Park.  I wanted to take a night photo of the fountain, but after hearing a local tell me to rethink that, I did.


Zunzi's (108 E. York St.) - featured on two Food Network shows and most recognized for their "Godfather" sandwich.  The lines can get long at times, but there are two location options.

The Olde Pink House (23 Abercorn St.) - this restaurant is located inside a Georgian mansion built in 1771 with a history as a home and as a bank.  Today, the restaurant occupies the main and top floor, while a neat, naturally-lit tavern is in the basement.

Leopold's (212 E. Broughton St.) - this ice cream store was established in 1919 by the three Leopold brothers and is now run by one of their descendants, Stratton Leopold, who is better known as a Hollywood producer for blockbuster films, like Mission Impossible 3 and Sum of All Fears.  There is usually a long line out the door, but it moves quickly.  I got Lemon Custard because it was the same recipe as the original 1919 flavor.

Back in the Day Bakery (2403 Bull St.) - a small cafe and bakery with a vintage/shabby chic theme is located far enough outside of the historic district where you will need to drive or take a pedicab.

Lady and Sons (102 W. Congress St.) - I would think that this Paula Deen restaurant is a must for any fans visiting the city.

Crystal Beer Parlor (301 W. Jones St.) - this former Prohibition-era speakeasy and illegal hooch distributor supposedly was the first American eating establishment to serve alcohol after the repeal. Today, you can get typical American bar food and they have a decent beer list that includes some local craft beers.

Lulu's Chocolate Bar (42 MLK Jr. Blvd.) - if you're looking for dessert, this was recommended by a life-long Savannah resident.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room (107 W. Jones) - the line forms early for this family style seating eatery.

Kayak Cafe (1 E. Broughton St.) - a convenient cafe near all the shopping with fresh Mexican food.

B. Matthews (325 E. Bay St.) - this was a recommendation for brunch, but I didn't end up making it to my reservation.  If I did, I had planned on getting the waffles!


Villa Savannah (109 W. Broughton St.) - part Anthropologie, part West Elm, part Z Gallerie, you can find some great home decor and cute outfits or accessories...a one stop shop!

Savannah Bee (104 W. Broughton) - they have a honey tasting bar with lots of samples!  A great spot for gifts to bring home with you.

The Paris Market & Brocante (36 W. Broughton St.) - this store is very cute! Lots of rustic gifts and home goods. Fun to browse, even more fun to buy goodies!

Satchel (311 W. Broughton St.) - at this store you can get a personal handbags designed for you or you can go ahead and design your own. The finishing time depends on the complexity.

24e style (24 E. Broughton St.) - a contemporary furniture and home decor store where you may just stumble upon something really neat, like an jet engine cover coffee table.

E. Shaver Bookseller (326 Bull St.) - Savannah's oldest book store.

shopSCAD (340 Bull St.) - art and home goods created by students and graduates of the local design college, Savannah College of Art and Design.

Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by Julie


Monday, March 24, 2014

I felt I needed a mini-break after what has seemed like an abnormally long and cold Washington D.C. winter. When I saw that one of the bands I like, the Punch Brothers, were going to be performing at the Savannah Music Festival, the target destination for this mini-break was identified.  Having never been to the region, but having always desired to go, I was excited to finally have the excuse!  I know, but this post is titled Charleston, right?  Well, I think of the two cities as a pair - if I go to see one, I need to see the other.  With limited time, though, I had to employ all of my skills as a speed traveler.  Since the concert was on Saturday, I had to zip through Charleston as stop #1 on the mini-break.

So how do you do Charleston in less than 24 hours?  Easy!  First, do your research.  I like searching for other travel blogs in addition to consulting pages like Trip Advisor for ideas, but as a photographer, I also look for the most photographic spots by searching google images.  It's no coincidence that I spent my sunset in Charleston at the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park.  And the following morning I was waiting for the sun to rise, freezing my butt off, at the seawall next to the Historic Charleston Foundation in order to take a photo of the mansions of E. Bay Street.

Next, I find a way to see as much as I can in a little amount of time.  Charleston's pedicabs are a great option, at $5 for each 10 minutes.  However, there is a strict law that does not allow unlicensed tour guides to take visitors around.  You must have a specific destination for the pedicab, then you can get out and rehire the pedicab to go to your next destination.  As an alternative, I chose the Free Tours by Foot morning tour.  Being on foot is better for me than the other option of a horse-drawn carriage because I can position myself to take the photos I want to take.   Plus, I know I've mentioned in other travel posts about how much I love the "pay what you think it's worth" walking tour in a new city. There are other walking tour options, but I feel like when a guide is working for tips, they try harder.

Charleston has a fascinating collection of architectural styles - art deco, beaux arts, Bahamian porches, single house, double house, Georgian, Victorian, etc.  If you were lived the historic district, at any point in history including today, living south of Broad Street was what you did when you had money.  Of course, these days you need to have A LOT of money to live south of Broad because of the mandates of the Historic Charleston Foundation - the first American historical preservation society.  If you buy a home in historic district, you must maintain the home or restore it using original materials - no freshly cut lumber for you!  A home cannot be purchased then demolished.  All changes must be approved by the board of architectural review. Finally, there's the high cost to insure the historic buildings.  I saw many homes for sale that still are showing damage from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 because it was just too costly to fix.  There is a house on S. Battery for sale around $5 million, but probably needs $10 million just to restore the building.  Fortunately, all of these strict preservation rules have created a feast for the eyes for anyone visiting the charming city of Charleston.  I tried to see as many of the historical homes as I could, but also found some that I enjoyed even without the history of former residents attached.

Charleston Homes

The Pink House (Tavern) at 17 Chalmers St. is one of the oldest buildings in Charleston and still has the original roof tiles.  It's for sale now for just under $1 million...if you're interested.  Of course, with the restrictive construction rules, you're stuck with the bathroom remaining where it is today - in the back yard!

Aiken-Rhett House built in 1820 and located at 48 Elizabeth St. outside the historic district.

The Calhoun Mansion is an example of Victorian construction, at 16 Meeting St.

A Single House with Bahamian porches to capture summer breezes for cooling purposes.

Take notice of the rod iron gates everywhere, most of which were created by celebrated artist Philip Simmons.  This crane is one of his rare designs.  He is more noted for his hearts.

Nathaniel Russell House at 51 Meeting Street. - I wish I had time to take the tour of the inside. I've heard the spiral staircase is gorgeous!

The "Wedding Cake" house on the corner of S. Battery and Meeting St., now a bed & breakfast.

Edmonston-Alston House at 21 E. Battery was one of my favorites!

A random house with a wraparound porch that I really liked.

Another random house I really liked!

Rainbow Row on E. Bay St.

One more random mansion on E. Battery.

There are tons of churches and historical buildings that you shouldn't miss on a tour either, such as the Circular Congregational Church at 150 Meeting Street.

Side-by-side churches along Charleston's Gateway Walk.

A pink French Huguenot Church at 136 Church St. is the only independent Huguenot church in the United States.

It's hard to miss the gleaming white steeple of St. Michael's on Meeting Street.

St. Philip's Episcopal Church is the home of the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina. Across the street behind the graveyard you will see a small stucco building that was once the powder magazine and is one of the oldest structures in Charleston.  Also, in the graveyard across the street is the grave of America's 7th Vice President: John C. Calhoun.

The Dock Street Theater on Church Street is actually a reconstruction of the original theater on that site, likely destroyed in the great fire of 1740.  Using the shell of the former Planter's Hotel that was on the site but was in serious disrepair, the current interior is meant to represent the layout of a traditional colonial theater.

This big yellow building is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon at 122 E. Bay St.

If you're looking for souvenirs, look for this building because it is the former meat market and is the start of the Old City Market.  Do you see the animals sculpted into the frieze to designate it as the meat market?  It's at the intersection of Meeting and Market Streets.

Finally, here's an oddball building - the former city jail that looks more like a castle.  (21 Magazine St.)

After the tour, I drove out to Magnolia Plantation for a quick walk through the gardens and swamp before heading south to Savannah.  Other day trip options I considered were Boone Hall Plantation, Fort Sumter, and Cypress Gardens (where they filmed the famous "The Notebook" boat scene with the swans and sunken cypress trees...before the rainstorm...oh you KNOW what scene I'm talking about ladies!!).  I would suggest getting to Magnolia Plantation in the morning because I experienced more crowds, from buses dropping off loads of people, in the afternoon.  Also, while in the gardens, refrain from touching the spanish moss in the trees.  While beautiful to admire and iconic to photograph, note that spanish moss is notorious for being infested with red mites - also known as chiggers.  You do not want to have a case of chiggers!  Fortunately, I'm not speaking from experience.


When time is limited, you have to already have in mind where you want to go for food.  I had received several recommendations from friends, and ended up making reservations ahead of time to make sure I got into my restaurant of choice.  Fortunately, Charleston has a foodie favorite reputation.  Here are three options that were recommended to me:


I'm not really big on souvenir shopping, but the obvious place to go if you're interested is the stalls at the historic Old City Market.  For more traditional boutiques and chain stores, head over to upper King Street.  Limited time is favorable to your wallet - no opportunity to browse!

Posted on Monday, March 24, 2014 by Julie

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