Friday, May 30, 2014

I have to say this first...I thought cakepops were going to be easy.  I thought wrong!

Cakepops have been on my baking to-do list for long time, yet my bags of sticks and bags of different colored candy melts stayed on the shelf taking up space.  Well, I finally saw a design that inspired me. This time of year, May/June specifically, will always remind me of my summers going to a local farm to pick strawberries with my mom.  I use the term "pick" loosely because that implies that what I picked ended up in a box in our car to take home.  But, I was a kid who loved strawberries!  And I'm not talking about any strawberries, but Oregon strawberries that are bursting with a moisture/flavor factor that you can never get in grocery stores.  So, while my mom would pick 4 flats, my child labor resulted in, on average, maybe 1-2 flats, mostly because I ended up eating at least a flat right off the vine.  And this was not an organic farm since it was the 1980s.  So take that ingested pesticides!  I survived!

Anyway, the queen of cakepops - Bakerella - posted a strawberry cakepop design using a heart mold, and I knew this was going to be my first adventure into the world of cakepops.  I couldn't find her mold for purchase, so I found an alternative one that worked as well, I think.

The foundation of a cakepop is simple, but if you want the instructions, check out Bakerella's basic recipe.  Start by baking a box of grocery store cake mix in a 13" x 19" pan per the directions on the box.  When cooled, take the cake and crumble it up into a big mixing bowl.  Take a can of icing, also from the grocery store, and mix it into the crumbles to get the cakepop mixture.  For this project, I rolled balls of the mixture (about 1.5") then put them in the refrigerator on a tray lined with wax paper to chill before pressing them in the mold.  Once cool enough, I pressed each heart individually and put them back into the refrigerator to chill again.  I then melted some red and white (3:1 ratio about) candy melts, took the hearts out of the refrigerator, dipped the lollipop stick into the candy melts, and slowly inserted it into the bottom of each heart.  Once again, I chilled the pops (the instructions say to freeze, but chilling worked ok).  It's the dipping part that frustrated me.  I couldn't get it to stay smooth.  Maybe the candy melts were too hot, maybe I was making the layer too thick.  I was frustrated to say the least!

For the decoration, once the heart was dry, I melted white candy melts and carefully made the dots with a toothpick.  I then melted lime green candy melts, took a tic tac candy (any kind, but I would use a fruit, not mint flavor), and glued it to the top by dipping the end of the tic tac in the candy melts.  After it was set, I took a clean toothpick, got a big glob on the end, placed the glob next to the "stem," then drew the tip of the toothpick through to get the leaf look.  I then "painted" the stem green with the candy melts.

While overall, not very happy with the final result of maybe 3 or 4 good pops, I think that there are some other designs with which I'd like to challenge myself in the future.  I'm not giving up yet!  Though ultimately, while cute, I'm not a huge fan of the taste because it's a little too moist in the middle with all the frosting needed to bind the cake into the shape.  Perhaps, this is something that would go over well at a kid's birthday party, since kids will gobble up most sweet treats!  

Posted on Friday, May 30, 2014 by Julie

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I am a fanatic for strawberry lemonade - especially the bottomless offer at Red Robin!  When I first saw this recipe, I questioned the addition of cream to one of my favorite drinks, but I should know not to judge a book by its cover!  I'm not sure what makes this a "Farmer's" lemonade, but it sure is good!

Farmer's Lemonade


1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately 12 lemons)
1/2 cup sugar
6 cups water
1 16-oz package of fresh strawberries, stemmed and pureed
1 cup heavy cream
Lemon slices for garnish

1. Place the lemon juice, sugar, and 1 cup water in a large pitcher
2. Stir until the sugar dissolves
3. Add 5 more cups of water, strawberries, cream, and ice

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 by Julie

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Somedays you want a great refreshing drink to enjoy on a hot summer afternoon.  While it's not quite sugar free, this drink does give you probably 2-3 servings of strawberries.  The recipe comes from the Eat, Live, Run blog.

Strawberry Agua Fresca


1 pound fresh strawberries
2 1/2 cups cold water
3-4 Tablespoons sugar
Juice of 2 limes

1. Destem the strawberries and slice in half
2. Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor
3. Strain the strawberry puree through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds
4. Pour the seedless puree into the water and add the sugar and lime juice
5. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and serve with a garnish

Posted on Monday, May 26, 2014 by Julie


Saturday, May 24, 2014

One of the best things about living in Washington D.C. is that you don't have to go very far to find an adventure.  In this case, I made a quasi-scavenger hunt of little known and often overlooked attractions that are very interesting if you just stop and take the time to learn about them!

1. Original boundary marker of DC (Old Town Alexandria)

This is the source of the idea for this whole post.  I found a random stone, enclosed by a tall iron fence, one day when I was doing an after-work walk with a neighbor.  Shadowed by the giant Masonic Temple and the busy rails of the train and Metro lines, this tiny piece of history stands unnoticed by the many people who drive by it everyday on Russell Street in Alexandria.

When Washington D.C. was once a 100 square mile territory, where the Potomac River ran through it and was not a borderline, this was one of the milestones that marked the southwest side of Washington D.C. as it was first surveyed by Major Andrew Ellicott.

Sadly, after reading more about the many remaining boundary markers around the region, I discovered that this stone in my neighborhood (designated Southwest #2) is a replica, since the original disappeared before 1900. Not satisfied with a replica, and armed with my new knowledge, I went to the Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria to find an even better boundary marker - the Southwest Corner.  And it is an original!  Well it's either the 1791 stone or a replacement from 1794 but old nonetheless.  The inscription has worn away because of the location and the 200+ years of water running around and over it.

You can view the stone through a glass window at your feet or get on the ground, reach around the seawall with your camera, and hope you (a) don't drop your camera in the water and (b) blindly angle the shot so the stone is in the photo.  It took me a few very dirty tries.

2. Surratt Boarding House/ Chinese Wok and Roll (Chinatown)

Imagine my surprise when I go to my friend's favorite karaoke place in Chinatown only to see a plaque next to the entrance that says it was once the boarding house owned my Mary Surratt, infamous for housing and aiding the conspirators who plotted to kidnap Abraham Lincoln - including John Wilkes Booth who, of course, assassinated him instead.  The address today is 604 H Street, but 150 years ago it was 541 H Street, and the conspirators spent many days and nights plotting in the attic rooms that are still there today.

Former boarding house of Mary Surratt in 1890

Wok and Roll Chinese Restaurant Today

3. Capitol ruins (Rock Creek Park and National Arboretum)

Here is a great example of D.C. hidden history.  In 1828, the original East Portico of the Capitol - the backdrop for the inaugurations of President Andrew Jackson through Dwight D. Eisenhower - was constructed using 24 Corinthian columns and other sandstone blocks and decorations.  The design of the East Portico survived several expansions of the Capitol building and enlargements of the capitol dome.  However, in 1958 the Architect of the Capitol started the process of replacing the East Portico with a new design that afforded the structure a more proportionate look and complemented the final, multi-level dome feature.  I look at the two photos below, and I honestly can't tell the difference, though.

East Portico in 1846
East Portico today

The location of the remains of the original East Portico that played such a great role in the history of the United States for 130 years may surprise you.  Randomly, many of the stones can be found stacked up or tumbled over miles away in Rock Creek Park.  

To get to the ruins, just ask your GPS for directions to the Rock Creek Park Horse Center, then park in the parking lot.  Walk towards the red stables, and the path is just beyond.  You will reach the ruins in less than a quarter mile on your right.

The majestic columns from the original East Portico now have an honored place in the National Arboretum. Twenty-two of the columns are arranged as if they once held up the roof of a Greek temple. The remaining two columns are also located in the National Arboretum, but they are broken and on their sides, blending into the landscape.

4. Black Aggie (Howard T. Markey National Courts Building in Lafayette Square)

I first heard about Black Aggie while waiting for my car to be fixed, watching a random Travel Channel show on "haunted America."  This shrouded statue is associated with some nasty folklore, that includes death and injury.  The sculpture design originally was commissioned by Henry Adams, great grandson to John Adams, to honor his wife who had committed suicide.  Later, Felix Agnus - founder of the Baltimore Star newspaper - wanted to be larger than life in death, so when he bought his family plot, he purchased an unauthorized duplicate of the Adams Memorial and joined his mother in the family plot in 1925.  Somehow a myth was born that a witch was buried under the statue, and residents would claim that the eyes would glow at night, and if you sat in her lap, you would die within two weeks.  Not surprisingly, the statue was adopted by fraternities for hazing purposes that has resulted in more stories to prop up the urban legend of Black Aggie. Check out more info on this link.  Now Aggie sits, randomly, in the inner courtyard of the National Courts building just yards from the White House on the east side of Lafayette Square.

If you want to see the original statue commissioned by Henry Adams for his wife, commonly called "Grief," it is located in the Rock Creek Cemetery.

5. Marine Barracks - Friday parade 

Photo from the Marine Barracks website

For my last piece of hidden D.C. history, I chose the Marine Barracks on 8th St. SE because it is an often overlooked site with a history that dates back to Thomas Jefferson, who personally selected the plot of land near the Navy Yard.  The site is the oldest United States Marine Corps post, built in 1801, the official residence of the Commandant of the Marines since 1806, and home to the United States Marine Band since 1801.  In the War of 1812, while the British burned the city of Washington D.C., it is said that the British spared the home of the Commandant of the Marines out of respect for their bravery at the Battle of Bladensburg.  That home is the only original structure on the post, and it is argued to be the oldest public building in continuous use in the capitol city, though some disagree and say the White House is a year older.

On Friday nights in the late spring through the end of August, the Marines in residence perform music and precision drills to a select audience who requested and were granted tickets.  This parade begins at 8:45pm and runs through 10:00pm.  If you are unlucky enough not to plan in advance, there is still a chance to get a seat by waiting in the standby line near the main gate. Otherwise, an alternative is the Tuesday sunset parades in the summer at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington.

Posted on Saturday, May 24, 2014 by Julie


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Today's baking inspiration comes from the How to Cook That website.  I've been wanting to try out a "surprise inside" style cupcake for a few months now.  And while I'm not 100% satisfied with the result, it was a great learning lesson.  Plus, the cupcakes were for a friend's birthday who is gonzo about Mickey Mouse.  So even if the cupcakes didn't taste as good as I would have hoped, and even if the Mickeys resembled more of a teddy bear because I made the head part too big, and even if the cupcakes tipped over during rush hour traffic trying to deliver them to her house...well, I can call it a success because the thought was there, which is the most important part about a birthday present, right?

Like I said before, I'm not completely gaga over the taste of both the chocolate and vanilla cakes, but I recognize that for this type of cake, a dense cake works better to maintain the shape of the object inside.  If I were to do it differently, I would definitely have made smaller Mickeys to allow more room for the white cake border.

For the recipes, I'm not going to copy them down here because it's just as easy for you to click in the beginning of this post.  I do want to highlight a great video the blogger put together to walk you through the process.

For more on surprise inside ideas and instructions, check out the i am baker blog or just buy Amanda's book on Amazon.

Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 by Julie

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Must Read

How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets by Garth Stein

I can never forgive Garth Stein for making me cry the most I have ever cried with a book, while reading "The Art of Racing in the Rain."  If you have not read it, and you are a dog owner, beware.  That's all I'm saying.  Fortunately, I forgave him just slightly so that I could enjoy reading another of his books that was, thankfully, not a tearjerker.  The book starts at a funeral, with Evan hiding and watching from afar.  It was the funeral for his high school girlfriend.  Unbeknownst to Evan, the reason for the irrational breakup of the young sweethearts was because his girlfriend was pregnant.  And the young boy standing next to her family at the funeral was her son....their son she had kept a secret.  The book follows the journey of a new father and the struggles he has with the news and with being a father to a 14 year old boy who just lost the only parent he ever knew, of trying to make something of his stalled life to be a better person for this boy, of trying to protect his son from an abusive situation.  Great storytelling with very believable relationships, emotions, reactions, etc.

Lazy Weekend

Spin by Catherine McKenzie

How far would you go to get your dream job?  In our popular society with the obsession over celebrity, in exchange for a position she's been dreaming of all her life, Katie agrees to check herself into rehab to get the inside scoop of another rehab resident - an uber-popular actress not unlike a Lindsey Lohan.  But what happens when you start to actually like the person you are assigned to publicly expose?  This is definitely a simple weekend read on a nice rainy day.

Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes

I am a huge fan of Jojo Moyes books; however, while enjoyable, I was a little underwhelmed by the plot on this one.  Of course, when you realize that it's telling the back story to a book you've already read, "The Girl You Left Behind," it becomes a little more intriguing from that perspective.  But, ultimately, I kind of wished that the two storylines in this book were shortened and somehow made a prologue to the complete novel (which is fantastic, by the way!).

Skip This

Spun by Catherine McKenzie

This novella is a follow-up to "Spin" that I mentioned before.  Instead of following Katie, we are now enveloped into the crazy world of a post-rehab movie star Amber Sheppard.  While I liked the character in the original book, this story wasn't really strong in this short book, and it kind of felt like Catherine McKenzie realized that about half way through.

Posted on Sunday, May 18, 2014 by Julie

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

It's that time again to open my monthly POPSUGAR box. This month's selection wasn't a "wow," but it certainly wasn't bad.  The theme was prepping for summer, so the items were geared towards fun, sun, beaches, getaways, etc.

For any vacation, you may want something to help you get your "zzz"s during the longer days, something to bring some pizzazz to your hands and feet, and something that reminds you of the smells of the tropics.  The Kerry Cassill eye mask is made of soft cotton to help you with your nap needs (suggested retail: $24).  Obsessive Compulsive nail polish in the color Pool Boy will push you out of your pedicure color comfort zone (suggested retail: $10).  Finally, the bottle of Smell Bent St. Tropez scent brings the tropics anywhere you are with jasmine and coconut (suggested retail: $45).

If course, summertime also means more outside time, and possibly even beach time.  So, this box had three "healthy you" choices as well.  First, the Zing Anything Citrus Zinger water flavor infuser bottle will help you join the craze for flavored water and stay hydrated (suggested retail: $17).  I do like lemon and orange flavored water! Next, from the Bravo TV show, Toned Up, the two fitness instructors created a two workout DVD to help you tone up for swimsuit season (suggested retail: $15).

Last, the food goodie of the month is Hi I'm Skinny Sticks in multi-grain sweet onion flavor (suggested retail: $4).

Total value of the box is $115, but take out the perfume (I always find perfumes to be overpriced, and I'm too obsessed with my Penhaligon's Elizabethan Rose scent to wear anything else) and I still got double the value.  I'm really liking this box subscription, in addition to my monthly Whimseybox.  I actually ended up canceling my Escape Monthly subscription and my Birchbox subscription because the selection of items was just not worth it to me.  

Posted on Thursday, May 15, 2014 by Julie

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One of the best places to visit in Washington D.C. is the FREE national zoo.  In the past two years, the zoo has been baby central.  First came the two cheetahs, now two years old (Gat the Cat pictured above).  Then came the infamous baby panda, Bao Bao, that had me spending way too much time watching a grainy black and white live camera feed.  I think that Bao Bao is now around 8-9 months old. Then, most recently, the zoo welcomed baby lion cubs!

So, when Mother's Day rolled around last weekend, we finally committed the time to make the trip in to see all the babies.  It was a warm day, so getting there late morning left us with some sleepy animals for sure.  The only activity was primarily from the elephants and the new set of otters that were enjoying a refreshing swim and play time while their mom and dad caught some "zzz"s in the hollowed out log.

And while dad the lion was taking a "cat nap" in the warmth, unfortunately the new cubs were sheltered inside.  I've heard that they have more swimming lessons to take before they can be left to safely wander the lion enclosure with its water feature.

Since my real objective for our visit was to finally lay eyes on little Bao Bao, we followed the masses through the Asia Trail only to see mom chomping on a mid-day snack while the wily little Bao Bao maneuvered herself up a tree to frustrate all of the gawkers, including myself, trying to get a good photo of her.  I was left with a blurry face and dangling rear legs as my only options.

I guess I'm just going to have to go back to the zoo real soon before it gets too hot!  That baby panda is too cute to resist!

Posted on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 by Julie

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Here's a nice, festive treat for Cinco de Mayo this year. This is a creamy and tart gem from the UK's Nigella Lawson, with a minor modification to make it more like the margarita recipe, borrowed from my Aunt, that I love to make for parties.  The best thing about this recipe is that you don't need to churn it or process it in an ice cream maker.  Just whip it up and freeze overnight.  As a way to step it up a bit, I made a dessert caviar topping that was inspired by one of my favorite blogs: Sprinklebakes.  They look hard to make, but if you have the tools and understand the logic of jello, you can do it!!

Margarita Ice Cream

  • 1 cup frozen limeade concentrate, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons tequila
  • 3 tablespoons cointreau (or triple sec)
  • 1 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar (or powdered sugar)
  • 2 cups heavy cream

  1. Pour the limeaid, tequila and cointreau (or triple sec) into a bowl and stir in the sugar to dissolve.
  2. Add the cream and then softly whip until thick and smooth but not stiff.
  3. Spoon this into an airtight container to freeze overnight. This ice cream does not need ripening (softening before serving), as it will not freeze too hard.

Dessert Caviar (Yield: about 3/4 cup caviar)


  • 2 to 3 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 - 1/4 oz. packages powdered gelatin (or 4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 fluid oz. hot liquid (1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp) i.e. hot coffee, or other liquid heated on the stove-top or in microwave.  For this margarita caviar, I used limeade concentrate (from a frozen can) and heated it up.
  • Ice
  • 1/4 cup salt for water bath

  1. Before you go through the instruction list, I suggest you check out the video on Sprinklebakes' website to get a better idea of the process.
  2. Place oil in a 9x13-inch metal pan (or similar size) and store in refrigerator overnight. The oil must be very cold for the gelatin to set properly.
  3. In a medium bowl mix the gelatin and water until thoroughly combined and no lumps of gelatin remain. Let stand while you prepare the hot liquid.
  4. Warm 3 oz. liquid on the stove-top or in a microwave until very hot but not boiling. Pour liquid over set gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin is melted.  This may take a few minutes and you can break up the gelatin with a spoon for quicker dissolve.
  5. When gelatin is completely melted transfer liquid to a squeeze bottle. You can also leave the mixture in the bowl and use a medicine dropper or syringe to draw the liquid for dropping.
  6. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes, if it's too hot the gelatin will not set properly and the "caviar" will be misshapen. It should be just barely warm - almost room temperature.
  7. While you wait for your mixture to cool, prepare the oil for the ice bath. Transfer chilled oil to a 1 quart container (preferably metal because it will aid cooling, but glass will work too).  Prepare the ice bath. Make sure the bowl you are using for the ice bath is larger than the container holding the oil.  Fill bowl with ice and then add water until the bowl is two-thirds filled. Add 1/4 cup salt and stir until mixed.  Rest the container of oil inside the water bath.
  8. Begin dropping gelatin mixture into the cold oil, 1-3 drips at a time. The amount of drips will vary according to the viscosity of the oil and type of dropper you use.  As you can see in the video it took three drops for one caviar pearl to form. You'll know the correct amount when the mixture forms a ball that rests on the surface for a moment then sinks to the bottom.  
  9. When half the  mixture has been used, wait for 3-5 minutes then scoop the caviar into a mesh sieve to drain. Place caviar in an air-tight container or a canning jar with a screw-tight lid. Resume dropping the gelatin mixture into the cold oil until all of the mixture is used. 
  10. When finished, place caviar in a canning jar or in an air-tight container with a little of the oil poured over top. It keeps the caviar moist for up to a week.  Plus, if you don't like the idea of oil being on the caviar you can rinse it in a sieve under cold water before placing on the dessert.  
  11. When stored with a little oil poured over and placed in an air-tight container the caviar will keep for up to 10 days.

Posted on Sunday, May 04, 2014 by Julie

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