Monday, October 27, 2014

OK, I couldn't help myself.  I did one more apple baking project this fall season!  This is a recipe that is perfect for people who are not bakers and who love the taste of an apple turnover.  Except for putting the pan in the oven, there really are no actual baking techniques involved.  And, there's hardly any prep at all!

These baked apple cups, adapted from the Foodiecrush blog, are a perfect dessert to preview the delicious pie I know you're going to make for Thanksgiving dinner.  The portion is just right to complement a hearty fall meal as well.  The recipe below uses the whole box of puff pastry sheets, but you can certainly halve it to make less cups.  Enjoy!

Baked Apple Tarts

Yields 18 servings


  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling
  • 3-4 large apples, not tart, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp zested lemon rind
  • Optional: Vanilla ice cream

  1. Thaw the puff pastry dough.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Spray two cupcake pans generously with vegetable oil cooking spray.
  4. Unroll and cut each puff pastry sheet into 9 equal rectangles, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with a small amount of granulated sugar.
  5. Place each puff pastry piece into a spot in the cupcake pans, gently pressing the dough evenly to the bottom to create your cup shape.
  6. Cut the apples into wedges, then using a mandolin (it's much easier and faster, trust me!), thinly slice the apples with skins left on.  Cut the thin apple slices into quarters so that they fit easily in the cupcake pan.
  7. Combine the apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a bowl and toss.
  8. Divide the apples evenly in the prepared dough cups.
  9. Bake for 17 minutes, check for any burning of the puff pastry, then put back in the oven for 2 minute intervals until the puff pastry is golden brown.  While the cups are baking, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Using a fork, carefully lift out each baked apple cup and place to cool on the parchment sheet. The juices from the sugared apples are going to be scalding hot right out of the oven, but we want to get them out because if there is any juice that leaked during baking, we don't want the dough to sit in it while cooling.
  11. Serve with optional vanilla ice cream.

Posted on Monday, October 27, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park...been there, done that.  I fought the traffic to get out there from Washington D.C., the long line to get in the gate, the slow pace inside the park, and the crowds on every viewpoint.  So, for my fall foliage fix this year, I decided to get out and walk.  Of course, I still drove all the way out to Front Royal, VA because that is the place to go for the variety of colors and quantities of trees one desires from landscapes in autumn.

The trail I selected was the Buzzard Rock North hike in the George Washington National Forest because it was an easy up and back that wasn't too long, since I'm a novice when it comes to hiking. Plug the coordinates into your GPS (38.93773, -78.28855) and get there early because the parking lot is small, maybe only holding 15 cars.  

The trail is pretty obvious, with some rockiness, but no large boulders to maneuver around.  I would still wear good hiking shoes because the leaves can be slippery - wet or dry.  If you seem lost on the trail, trees are marked with a white stripe to keep you on track.  The first viewpoint points west and is of farms and nice slopes of trees.

There is also a beautiful river bordered by trees to give your photos a nice leading line.

Climbing along the ridge line of Buzzard Rock, there's an overlook just below the trail that looks to the south where you can capture more fall color.

Total climb took no more than two hours, and that was walking at a casual pace and with stops along the top for photos.  I saw a lot of families with smaller kids with them, so it seems like a good intro hike - for novices like me and kids!  Get out and capture the leaves before they are all gone!

Posted on Saturday, October 25, 2014 by Julie

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Friday, October 24, 2014

One can never have enough variations of snickerdoodles, I think.  So in keeping with the fall baking theme, I thought I'd try a pumpkin flavored snickerdoodle adapted from a recipe published on Center Cut Cook's blog.  I added one more ingredient and altered some of the instructions, and they came out great.  A little fluffier than my normal snickerdoodle, with a hint of pumpkin flavor so it's not too overwhelming.  Note, you will have to set aside a good chunk of time to make these because there's a chilling period for the dough.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles 

Yields approximately 3-4 dozen

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • For the topping:
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  1. In a stand mixer, cream together the 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar with the butter and vegetable shortening, scraping the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated.
  2. Beat the eggs in one at a time.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, cream of tartar, nutmeg, baking soda, salt).
  4. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well, repeat until all mixed together.
  5. Stir in the pumpkin purée.
  6. Place the dough in the freezer to chill for about 90 minutes so that it is easier to roll into balls and maintain its shape.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  8. In a small bowl, make the topping by stirring together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  9. Measure about 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of dough, depending on your size preference, and roll into a ball with your hands.
  10. Roll the ball in the topping mixture until completely covered.
  11. Place the balls on a parchment or silpat lined, ungreased baking sheet.
  12. Bake for 12-14 minutes, taking out when the edges of the cookies just start to brown.
  13. Place cookies on a cooling rack, and allow them to cool completely.

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014 by Julie

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oh, yes, it's APPLE SEASON!  More specifically, it's sweet and juicy honeycrisp apple season.  I bought about a dozen giant apples at Costco this week, so I've been searching for ways to incorporate them in new baked goods.  Perhaps you spotted my Appledoodles the other day?  Next up is this apple pie bread I found from blogger Cookies & Cups.  I skipped the optional biskoff cookie crumbles and glaze, keeping it simple.  Though, I'm not opposed to trying this recipe again with the alternative preparation in the near future.

A couple of things I noticed after the bread was sliced.  First, it's a very dense bread, so don't be surprised.  Second, I think I should have somehow removed some of the moisture from the grated apples, perhaps by patting it with paper towels.  The grating process of the honeycrisp apples generated a lot of liquid heavy shreds, and that probably contributed to an observed longer baking time and denser bread.  Finally, I am actually curious if it would taste better without the dried fruit, and even the walnuts.  Try it yourself, and tell me what you think!

Apple Pie Bread


For the bread:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded, peeled apples (4 medium or 2 extra large, Costco-sized)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or raisins (I used cherries)
  • 1 recipe of the streusel topping

For the streusel:
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer, beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Beat in sugar until combined.
  3. Add buttermilk and baking powder, beat until combined.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until combined.
  5. Add flour and salt, beat until combined.
  6. Stir in apple, nuts, and dried cherries (or raisins). 
  7. Make streusel topping by combining the ingredients in a small bowl and using a pastry blender to cut the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in walnuts.
  8. Spoon or pour batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle streusel topping over batter.
  9. Bake for 60-65 minutes or until an inserted wooden toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  11. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  12. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Posted on Saturday, October 18, 2014 by Julie

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

I don't know how I stumbled upon this recipe for an apple enhanced snickerdoodle, but I sure am glad I did!  I was a little worried because I haven't used instant pudding powder in a recipe before; and when the cookies were baking, they didn't spread as I expected.  But, then I remembered how when I bake my Peanut Butter Kiss cookies, I have to press and flatten the balls down right out of the oven before adding the kiss, so that worked with these cookies as well.  I can tell you this much, regardless of how they look with or without the flattening, they taste delicious!  Take advantage of the fall apple harvest and make these soon!

Oh, and try to eat these within a day because the moist apples impact the, already soft, cookie quickly.



  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 box (3.4 oz) instant vanilla pudding, not prepared (I used sugar-free and it tasted fine)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 cup apples, peeled and diced small
  • In a separate bowl, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, combined

  1. In an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and two sugars.
  2. Add vanilla and egg and beat until smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, pudding powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the wet, a little at a time, mixing until combined.
  5. Stir in apples and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
  7. Roll approximately 2 Tablespoons of dough into a ball.  Roll the ball in the bowl of cinnamon and sugar until generously coated. 
  8. Place coated dough balls on baking sheets and bake for 12-15 minutes.
  9. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet, as they will continue to bake while cooling.
  10. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014 by Julie

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On my way back from a quick trip to New York over the holiday weekend this month, I finally made the detour to Nazareth, Pennsylvania to take a tour of the C.F. Martin & Co. factory.  If this name isn't familiar to you, Martin is a producer of, what are considered, some of the finest handcrafted guitars, favorites of many famous musicians including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, and - more recently - John Mayer, Marcus Mumford, Dierks Bentley, Ed Sheeran, and Kenneth Pattingale from The Milk Carton Kids just to name a few.  I've read its a well known fact that if you play guitar and don't already own a Martin, you are wanting to own a martin. Fortunately, I fall into the former category, thanks to a conversation with Marcus Mumford (D-28 owner) in summer 2013 that led me to take his suggestion and get one.

C.F. Martin & Co., established in 1833, is family owned and has been managed by six generations of Martins.  The guitar making trade was first learned by Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. at the age of 15 when he was sent to be an apprentice to Johann Stauffer in Vienna, Austria - a renowned guitar maker at the time.  C.F. Martin Sr. moved to New York City in 1833 and set up his shop on the Lower West Side.  While he was relatively successful considering the immaturity of the musical instrument industry in the 1830s, he was never comfortable in New York, having been used to living in the countryside his whole life.  When his wife visited a fellow instrument maker in Nazareth, Pennsylvania in 1838, Martin was easily convinced to move his operation to the smaller town.

While not the original factory on Main and North Streets, the current C.F. Martin & Co. factory is just outside of the main part of town and offers guided factory tours Monday through Friday from 11:00am to 2:30pm.  In the visitors center, you can also take your time exploring the Martin Guitar Museum, buy some souvenirs in the 1833 shop, play some standard Martin guitars, or wait your turn for the private room with the higher end and limited edition guitars.

While I still have a lot to learn about guitar construction and a far greater amount to learn about playing my guitar, in general, I still enjoyed the opportunity to witness the production and craftsmanship of Martin guitars on the factory tour.  I was amazed at how long each stage of the production process took and how many people were involved in the effort of making a single guitar.

In the wide-angle photo above, you see the wood cutting and planing room where the pieces of the guitar body are produced.  That room smelled so good with all the spruce and mahogany that goes into most of the Martin guitar products.

In these next two photos, workers are hand gluing the rosette inlays around the soundhole and hand sanding the bracing on the top panel.

After the wood is bent for the sides, the rim is assembled with the ribbon lining at the bottom.  While some of the necks and headstocks are machined, others in the custom shop are sometimes made by hand.

Look at the gorgeous inlay detailing on the edges of the tops.  This is right before the bodies and necks are assembled, before heading into the varnish and polish stage.  What a fascinating tour!

Alas, I realized after I got home that I missed out on two other C.F. Martin & Co. pieces of history while in Nazareth.  Housed in the old factory building at 10 W. North Street is the Guitarmaker's Connection, a place to buy guitar making kits and tools.  And, next door to the original factory is the C.F. Martin Sr. homestead where he first crafted guitars after moving into town.  Oh well, I guess I have a reason to go back, and perhaps you won't make the same mistake I did!

Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 by Julie


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

If you're visiting Washington D.C., there's no doubt that a tour of the U.S. Capitol is on your itinerary. Perhaps you've contacted your Senator or Representative in advance to secure a reservation - which I highly suggest because you get to skip an often long line.  Or maybe you don't mind the wait for tickets in the daily public tour line so your agenda can be more flexible.  Either way, your tour will start out with a film, after which a red-coated guide takes you to the Rotunda, the crypt, and the old meeting room for the House with its less than ideal acoustics.  If they are open, you may also be taken to the Old Senate Chamber and the Old Supreme Court room.

While seeing these rooms is impressive and not to be missed, having been on the tour before with red coat guides and with interns from the offices of Representatives, I definitely know when fun facts and locations are omitted.  So, after the tour, I approached the guide with my visiting family members to see if we could somehow gain access to the Rotunda so I could show my cousin the piece of the Berlin Wall that is on the base of the Reagan statue, as well as take a peek into the Supreme Court room that was skipped on our tour.  Little did I know that we were about to get an hour-long private tour of both the Senate and the House wings! Thankfully Congress was not in session, otherwise this would not have been an option.  I can safely say that I have never been in the Senate wing before because I would certainly remember the gorgeous details - from floor to ceiling.  Every turn was a new visual adventure!

Here's where I have to stop and thank my cousin for allowing me to use her photos on this post since I did not have the good sense to bring my own camera, thinking this would be just another ordinary Capitol tour.  I did get some decent shots with my new phone, though...

Many of the rooms on the Senate wing are decorated with hand painted landscapes, medallions, murals, and friezes by Italian artist, Constantino Brumidi.  Arriving in the United States in 1852, he started painting the U.S. Capitol interior in 1855 and continued until his death in 1880.  While Brumidi designed all of the artwork, he did have a team of painters who assisted him with the actual painting. Over time, Brumidi's work was slowly hidden under layers of paint, dirt, and varnish from subsequent redecoration of the Senate walls.  A restoration project is currently underway that is, thankfully, returning the rooms to their 19th century beauty.  

The landscape medallions in the Senate Reception Room are all inspired by the Pacific Railroad congressional report, published between 1855 and 1861, proposing routes for the future transcontinental railroad.   Within the report were lithograph landscape scenes done by artists who traveled with the railroad surveyor party.  These scenes are great representations of the western United States before convenient transportation allowed for more rapid settlement.

And here is a bust of the man, himself - Constantino Brumidi.

When we finally made our way back across the Rotunda to the House wing, after the opulence of the Senate, it was a little disappointing with its black and white marble.  Don't get me wrong, it was still beautiful, especially the details on some of the iron stair railings, just less colorful.

If Brumini was the Senate's art highlight, the highlight of the House wing for me was this retro painting of the first African-American woman in Congress: Shirley A. Chisholm.  I love the pose she chose for her portrait that depicts her as a no nonsense leader ready to make a difference.

So, to sum it up...

  • Never assume you can't be surprised by something that you've seen many times before.  Every event is a new adventure.  
  • Try to see the U.S. Capitol when Congress is not in session, perhaps arranging a private tour with a Congressional intern just in case you aren't lucky enough to get a red coat guide like we did.  No, you won't see any activity on the floor, but you will see much, much more!  Watch CSPAN if you think you missed out on legislative events.  
  • If you can, book ahead with your Congressman or Congresswoman to skip the line.

Posted on Tuesday, October 07, 2014 by Julie