Friday, September 26, 2014

 

This past weekend, I had family visiting Washington D.C. which gave me the perfect excuse to head out for a nighttime photography excursion!  Plus, I've only posted one other time on D.C. night photos, and that was over a year ago, so it was about time for another - especially since I'd like to believe that my photography skills have improved, even just a little bit, since then.

We only caught the tail end of the sunset, but still captured a good amount drama to backdrop some wide angle shots of the Lincoln Memorial. While there are tons of destinations along the National Mall for quintessential D.C. night shots, we took our time focusing only on the west end - Lincoln, the Reflecting Pool, and the Korean War Memorial.


I find that it's important to really play with the Lincoln Monument because there are so many angles, textures, and framing opportunities.  Of course, you will need your tripod and wired remote for all of these! I've really been getting more into HDR - or high dynamic range - photography effects, so you can see some of that in the Lincoln exterior shots.  I also took advantage of the shadows and the thin clouds and bumped up the saturation of the subtle colors being projected on the monument by monument floodlights.


Processing photos, while tedious, can also be a fantastic experience because sometimes you never know what you end up capturing with longer exposures.  And in this case, I was pleasantly surprised to get some stars hanging out above the detailed top of the Lincoln Memorial.


The columns bordering the monument provide some great opportunities for leading line compositions and for framing up the other major stars of the mall - the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument.


Of course, it's a requirement that you shoot Lincoln, himself, though note tripods are not allowed inside the monument for safety reasons.  I found that an open aperture and a good wide angle lens gave me enough flexibility with the lower light conditions.



Just down the steps, en route to the Reflecting Pool, we came upon a salsa social dancing group performing for fun.  When I saw that they were wearing glowsticks as bracelets, necklaces, and belts, I wondered how to capture that beautiful moment.  I opted for an approximately 1 second exposure, which complemented the movement of the dancing, as portrayed by the moving colorful lines from the glowsticks.  And, of course, the gorgeous background of the Reflecting Pool just grounded the scene and said "This is D.C."  I honestly don't mind that the people are blurry because that was the moment and it invites you to preview my memory.



This next shot is a reorientation and crop of the previous image that isolates a couple and makes it more personal.


Finally, we wandered to the southside of the National Mall's west end to see the Korean War Memorial because I had explained to my cousin that this was my least favorite of the Mall installations. With no disrespect intended to Korean War Veterans or their descendents, or to U.S. Veterans in general, this is the scariest "tribute" I've ever seen, especially at night.  The men of all branches of service are depicted as if on winter patrol in Korea, wearing their heavy weather gear.  I think it's the way the sculptor did the eyes that gives me the creeps because they seem very hallowed out and almost zombie-like.  Anyway, I invite you to visit for yourself, in the day or at night, to see what you think.  




Posted on Friday, September 26, 2014 by Julie

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014


My friends recently had a baby, and I wanted to bring them something in addition to the present I had already bought.  Not having kids myself, I would imagine that the first few weeks with your first baby are pretty hectic - getting used to a totally unfamiliar routine - and the last thing on your mind is making food.  So, I thought it would be nice to bring them something that they can snack on.  Of course, I am not a great chef, but I can certainly bake; therefore, I set out to find a simple and delicious recipe that also was gluten free so that the new mom could enjoy a sweet treat as well.  The fact that the recipe I found was a modification of gluten free boxed cake mix just made my day all the merrier!

Gluten Free Vanilla Coconut Cupcakes


Ingredients

For the cupcakes
  • 1 box of yellow or white gluten free cake mix (try Whole Foods if it's not in your regular supermarket)
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk, full fat/regular (again, Whole Foods definitely has this)
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored vegetable shortening (I used regular because it was in my pantry and I'm lazy)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325F
  2. In a stand mixer, put the box cake mix, coconut milk, vegetable shortening, eggs, and coconut extract in the bowl and mix on alternating low and medium speeds
  3. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full
  4. Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
For the buttercream
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 Tablespoons 2% milk

  1. While the oven is still on, toast the coconut flakes that will later be used for garnish
  2. In the stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy (2-3 minutes, medium to high speed)
  3. Add the sugar and extracts, and 3-4 Tablespoons of the milk - beating on a low to medium speed until the sugar is mixed in.  Once combined, beat on high until creamy.
  4. Add more milk until you reach your desired consistency
  5. Pipe on the cupcakes with a large tip of your preference
  6. Sprinkle toasted coconut in the center


Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, September 13, 2014


I have become a big fan of salted desserts in the past few years, and one of my favorites is a salted oatmeal version of a chocolate chip cookie that is available at a restaurant near my house.  So, a quick search on the internet, and I found this recipe that produced some similarly delicious cookies!  And they were very easy to make, so there's no excuse not to try this at home.

Salted Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups rolled oats, not quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup flour, all purpose
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (I found this at Whole Foods)
  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • Additional sea salt flakes for sprinkling

  1. Heat oven to 375F, placing the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
  2. Cream together the butter, shortening, and two sugars in a stand mixer, beating until fluffy on medium-high.
  3. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients (oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon) and the 1 tsp of sea salt flakes.
  5. Add the dry ingredients, gradually on a low speed, to the wet ingredients in the mixer until combined. 
  6. Stir in the chocolate.
  7. Line baking sheets (silpat or parchment) and use your fingers to create 1 1/2 inch balls of dough.
  8. Sprinkle the cookies with more sea salt flakes.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway through.
  10. Cool completely on a cooling rack.

Posted on Saturday, September 13, 2014 by Julie

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Thursday, September 11, 2014


Must Read

Where She Went by Gayle Forman


The sequel to the emotionally moving If I Stay, this book takes place three years later and is told from the perspective of Adam this time.  You discover that the decision to live was not the only one Mia made after recovering from her car accident.  She also followed her dreams to Julliard, while Adam's fame continued to rise with his band.  Their lives intersect one night while they are both in New York, and their story continues...but does it end the same way?

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes


Once again, Jojo Moyes proves she is a master of storytelling, creating very realistic characters with whom readers can easily empathize and support.  In this book we follow a struggling single mom who has managed a tolerable life for her stepson and daughter, but can't afford to really give them everything they deserve.  When her daughter, a math genius, is offered a spot at an exclusive private school where she can get the attention she needs and not have to deal with the public school bullies, financial reality deals a crushing blow to the family.  Enter the millionaire software developer CEO who, by means of his own insecurities and desire for affection, gives insider information to his high school crush and is laying low at his vacation house in town during the investigation.  And, no, he doesn't pay for the girl's tuition...that would be too easy.  But he does connect with the family, and it's through that connection that they realize together they can solve all their problems.

Lazy Weekend

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon: Books 1-4



It's funny that I'm categorizing these books as a lazy weekend because it is going to take you more than a weekend to finish one of these thick novels!  I actually read the first four books in this series (comprised now of eight books with more to come) a few years ago, and with the release of the television series on Starz, I decided to refresh my intimacy with the story.  Outlander starts out with Claire, a war nurse who is rekindling her romance with her husband, Frank, after five years apart during WWII.  They decided to take a second honeymoon to Scotland because her husband is a historian specializing in the Jacobite movement in the early 1700s.  While in Scotland, Claire spends her time collecting plants because she has a special interest in botany and medicinal properties of plants. When she sees an unfamiliar plant, one day, at the base of a mystical stone circle, she returns the next morning to get a sample.  That's when she investigates a buzzing noise coming from the center stone, touches it, and travels back in time from 1946 to 1743.  Within minutes, she finds herself in the middle of a skirmish between a dragoon of English soldiers and Scottish highlanders. And this is where her real journey begins as an outsider, in more ways than one, who is wrestling with efforts to get back home and new reasons to stay...well one very handsome reason.  I stopped reading after Book 4 because I finally felt like there was a good break in the plot with sufficient resolution.  At this point in the series, the number of characters to follow was starting to get complicated, and I understand from reading synopses of Books 5-8, the plot does not progress much further, yet even more character story lines are introduced.  At over 4000 pages, I think four books is enough for me!


Skip This

Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me by Rachel Bertsche


I struggled with how I wanted to classify this book, and ended up shifting it from Lazy Weekend to Skip This.  It's not that it wasn't good, but it's a question of whether I would disappoint my friends if I recommended it to them and they didn't like it.  In the vein of other "experimentalist" books, such as those by author A.J. Jacobs, Rachel decided to pick the qualities she most admired of major female celebrities and try to emulate them in her own life.  As a subplot, Rachel also told the story of her own marriage and fertility issues that just never really resonated with me.  While the concept was good, I think the main flaw is that celebrities are not normal people so it seems foolhardy to try to emulate them when you don't have their resources.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison


This was a recommendation from my cousin who likes fantasy/paranormal novels.  She claims that the series gets a lot better, but I felt like this whole book was spent laying groundwork for a plot and not focusing on the plot itself.  There is the classic "bumbling" female crime solving character, some crazy sidekicks, and the handsome or intriguing male characters, but this simple theme got really convoluted, in my opinion, by the environment which was filled with fairies, witches, vampires, pixies, and the list goes on and on.  So, no, I'm not going to read the 2nd installment of the series since this one was so hard to follow to begin with!

Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2014 by Julie

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Sunday, September 7, 2014


It feels like I haven't baked something in such a long time.  This weekend, I wanted to bring something to a high tea themed event, so I decided to make a bite-sized sweet treat.  Sugar cookie bars have been on my to-do list for a while now, and they are very easy to make, so it was settled.  I sourced several different recipes and ended up with the one that required less flour, since my stock was low and I was being lazy about going to the grocery store.

Baking is without a doubt a precise activity when it comes to ingredients and measurements. Fortunately, buttercream is a little more forgiving because when I absentmindedly reached into the cupboard to grab the vanilla extract, I took the coconut extract instead.  I didn't realize my mistake, of course, until I watched clear liquid, not brown liquid, pour into my buttercream.  I balanced out my mistake with the vanilla that was supposed to be in the bowl and hoped for the best.  The end product was actually quite delicious, assuming you like coconut as much as I do.

Coconut Sugar Cookie Bars

For the bars:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the buttercream:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 lb (16 oz) confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract (if you don't like coconut, then another tsp of vanilla or consider almond)
3 Tablespoons milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a 9x13 baking dish with parchment paper
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until fluffy
4. Beat in egg and vanilla extract lightly
5. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the wet, one third of the dry mixture at a time
6. Spread dough evenly in the parchment lined pan
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges show signs of browning
8. Let cool completely before frosting
9. For the buttercream, in an electric mixer, put all the ingredients in the bowl and mix until combined.  Add additional milk if the consistency is too thick.
10. Mix in preferred coloring, then spread on top of the cooled cookie block.
11. Decorate with preferred sprinkles and cut into 1" square cookies

Posted on Sunday, September 07, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, September 6, 2014



Today, some girlfriends and I decided to get out of the house and go exploring.  In July, I had used my time in Charlottesville to check out the popular craft breweries down in that region.  This time, I stayed closer to home and went out to Loudon County, or LoCo, Virginia.  More known for its selection of wineries, the brew industry has taken off in the past few years in this area north and west of Dulles airport.  This is a great day trip out of D.C. for the beer enthusiast, especially perfect when you're visiting and want a break from the historical buildings and museums.  Round trip total for the tour today was just about 6 hours.


Our first stop of the day served two purposes:  beer tasting and lunch.  A good beer tour should start with some food in the belly!  Just north of Dulles is Ashburn, Virginia and Lost Rhino Brewing Company.  Here, you can choose from a flight pre-selected by the brewer or make your own five choices.  If you're lucky, you may have the choice to taste the Bone Duster beer - an amber ale brewed using a yeast taken from whale bone fossils found in Virginia.  At first, I thought the beer had actual bone dust in it, so I was relieved to hear it was a yeast instead.  Alas, that beer was sold out today.

Also located in Ashburn is the Old Ox Brewery, but we didn't stop there today because we only just learned of it while talking to the brewers on our tour.  Add it to the list for the next trip!


The second tasting room we visited was in historic Leesburg, Virginia.  Located a small outlet in an area called Market Station, Crooked Run Brewing is the place to go to talk beer.  The brewmaster himself, Jake Endres, was pouring the flights for us, which included a Blackberry Saison, a Red Kolsch, and a Raspberry Dark Saison - all made from locally sourced ingredients.  The tasting room is dog friendly (yea!), and if you're lucky you may see the owner's dog wandering around and greeting customers.




Just six miles down the road from Leesburg is Purcellville, where our final two breweries were located. The first, Corcoran Brewing Company, is hidden on the lower floor at the rear of a medical building. The tasting room was large, and they had twelve beers on tap.  I remember tasting Corcoran a few years ago when the brewery was still located on the grounds of the vineyard with the same name.  Not surprisingly, their operation outgrew that building.  Like Lost Rhino, you can get a flight of five selections of your choice.  And (yea!) Corcoran is also very dog friendly - inside and out!


The final taproom of the day was just a one minute drive down the road: Adroit Theory Brewing.  My first piece of advice is to expect the unexpected.  And in that spirit, my second piece of advice is to read the full description of the beer before your order it because likely your IPA is not a normal IPA.  The brewmasters at Adroit are passionate about experimenting with ways to infuse different flavors into their beers.  Their offerings included beer aged in brandy barrels, red wine oak barrels, and a brown ale with peppers.  On the menu, they had a list of upcoming brews that included a Breakfast Cereal Tripel, Mushroom Soup Stout, and a Pecan Bar Porter.


If you're still craving more, while in Purcellville, consider checking out the Cacoctin Creek Distillery for tours and tastings of their whiskey, brandy, and gins.  You can also order a flight of cocktails if your preference is to drink your hard liquor mixed and not neat.



 Enjoy your tour!

Posted on Saturday, September 06, 2014 by Julie

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Labor Day, the day we all call the last day of summer in the U.S., was on Monday, but I thought I would still share with you one last yummy cocktail since the warm weather will be with us for a few more weeks.

By adding the delicious elderflower liqueur to a traditional Greyhound cocktail, you get one of my favorite drinks!  I'm assuming that the name assigned to this recipe is mocking the perceived "girliness" of elderflower liqueur, taking it from a masculine greyhound to a puffball pooch, but trust me this drink packs a punch - especially because it doesn't taste like alcohol at all going down.  It's great on a hot summer day, or on a regular old day, or at thanksgiving dinner...whenever.  Did I mention it's one of my favorites??

Bichon Frisé Cocktail

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. St Germain elderflower liqueur
2 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
Ice 
1 lemon wedge

1. Combine the vodka, St-Germain, and grapefruit juice in a cocktail shaker.  
2. Squeeze the lemon wedge into the shaker, then drop into the shaker.
3. Add ice. 
4. Shake vigorously and pour over fresh ice into a chilled cocktail glass.

Consider using ruby red grapefruit for a flavor and visual twist.

Posted on Wednesday, September 03, 2014 by Julie

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