Tuesday, March 31, 2015

This winter season has been amazing and I'm sad to see it go.  Of course, I cheated a little and missed out on some of the coldest and snowiest days in D.C. while I was in Norway, where it was ironically above freezing all but one of the days.  I was very fortunate this winter to get some time in on the slopes.  I just love to ski for hours, then undo the boots and enjoy a relaxing aprés ski drink with friends.  I also find immense beauty in snow covered trees and pristine white mountain tops. Sometimes I wonder why I still live so far away from real mountains, but then I remember how much I love the history that surrounds the D.C. area and the convenience of the excitement of NYC.  So I guess I will continue to carve as much time out as I can to fly out west to the Rockies or Cascades while staying put, for now.

This winter marked my first time skiing at Crystal Mountain just outside of Seattle.  Normally, when I'm out in Washington State, I've gone to Steven's Pass or Snoqualmie Pass, but the Pacific Northwest had a very abnormal snow season, and when I was out there over Christmas, it was slim pickings for what resorts were open.  Crystal was really fun, both messing up the fresh corduroy and skiing the limited amount of powder on a crowd-less Christmas Day.  As long as you stayed on the upper trails, the slopes were covered.

At the top of the Rainier Express lift or gondola at Crystal Mountain, if the weather is cooperative you have a perfect view of the gorgeous Mt. Rainier.  It's hard to convince yourself that you're seeing this 14,410 foot monster mountain because you feel like it should be taller.  If you've ever seen a cityscape of Seattle with Rainier in the background, it seems like there is nothing remotely close to its height. This photo was taken at only 6,870 feet, so why isn't Rainier double the size?  Hmm...One day I'll finally reconcile these two perspectives of the mountain, but for now my brain is still perplexed.

And then there was Colorado...I love this place more and more after each visit!  I was lucky to get some skiing done in Summit County at Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin this winter as well. Three resorts all within 20 minutes from where I stayed....ahhhhh, paradise!!!

And to top it off, I was able to see some of the best halfpipe skiers compete as well this season.  It is a thrilling experience to stand next to these superpipe walls and have the competitors soar 15-20 feet above you - twisting, flipping, turning, and somehow landing on an icy wall.  The majority of these guys were all participants at the inaugural freestyle skiing halfpipe competition at the Sochi Olympics last year, including Olympic medal winners David Wise and Gus Kenworthy.  Here are some of my favorite shots I got off of my iPhone - yes, my iPhone!!!

Gus Kenworthy, above, warming up during practice.

Alex Ferriera setting the bar high on the first run of the day with some crazy tricks, super high amplitude, and fast speeds.

Olympic halfpipe gold medalist David Wise finishing a run that would get him to the top of the podium....yet again.  He is incredibly confident and consistent to watch.

Torin Yater-Wallace doing a flat spin trick off the pipe wall.  I'm still trying to learn all of the terminology, but I feel like even after I know the names of the tricks, I will never be able to know what's being performed because they are done so fast in person.

Aaron Blunk trying to catch the leaders, camouflaged in the resort building below the pipe.

Finally, every stray dog's best friend and the best overall freeskiing competitor in all disciplines - slopestyle, pipe, and big air - Mr. Gus Kenworthy doing a 1080 with a hand grab as the last trick of his run.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and this winter I had an ending for which I was not prepared. It's always important to be careful in spring ski conditions because you never know when some sloppy slush is going to catch you off guard.  I was doing a cut through to get from one run to another, and while turning to avoid some exposed rock, I twisted my knee and fell.  I was surprised that it didn't hurt at all, but I was worried about the sounds my tendons made during the fall.  When I slowly made my way down to the run, I realized quickly that I had lost a significant amount of lateral stability in my knee.  Fortunately, the lift was only a short ride away, close enough for me to ski to on one foot essentially.  And a member of the ski patrol happened to be coming down the mountain at that moment.  We rode the lift up together (we were on the back side of the mountain, so we needed to go up before going down).  At the top, I took off my skis and had issues walking, so he wrapped me up in the toboggan for my first ever sled ride to the base. Of course I videoed my ride, well until the snow spray kept hitting me in the face!

After a few days of rest and ice, it's looking like minimal damage to my knees since I can walk and finally see my kneecap again after days of swelling, thank goodness!  And the remainder of the trip wasn't a total wash.  We tried new craft beers at Broken Compass in Breckenridge that were very tasty.  As an added bonus, Broken Compass is completely dog friendly, so the pooch got to hang out with us.  And, we also bought some super tacky ski-themed t-shirts. All in all, a pretty fine evening.  Can't wait to come back next year!

Posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 by Julie

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Saturday, March 28, 2015


Last year, my friend traveled to Japan and brought me back an adorable set of cherry blossom cookie cutters.  We've been working together to build up both of our cookie decorating skills, and it's the beginning of cherry blossom season here in Washington, D.C. so what better time to try out these cookie cutters!  There are several versions of cherry blossoms, but the ones along the tidal basin in D.C. are the palest of pinks with these fantastic sometimes mauve, sometimes lime green pistil in the center.  We flooded the petals by making individual heart shapes and letting them dry enough to maintain the distinguishing lines before making an adjacent heart shape.  Once the pink flooded areas were dry, we hand painted the green pistil and the yellow stamen with toothpicks, dragging the green out from the center.  The pink is Americolor's Soft Pink and, to keep it pale, I squeezed some coloring onto a plate and used a toothpick to slowly add the color into the white royal icing - a little went a long way. The green is Americolor Electric Green and the yellow is Americolor Egg Yellow.

Of course I didn't want to limit my decorating to the flowers, so we made a few rectangle shaped classic "tourist shot" of the Washington Monument framed by cherry blossom trees as well.  I love how great the cookies look on my antique milk class cake stand, don't you?  Yea for Etsy's wide variety of beautiful things!

Posted on Saturday, March 28, 2015 by Julie

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It's the tail end of Girl Scout Cookie season, so I had to get a cookie-themed cupcake on this month's baking agenda.  Last year, I tackled my favorite cookie - the Tagalong, or when I was selling them, the Peanut Butter Patty.  This year, I decided to make a cupcake after one of the most popular cookies: the Samoa.  I'm ok with a samoa, but it's not my preference.  I just don't know how much or if I like the combination of chocolate and coconut.  The recipe inspiration was from Cooking Classy, modified for my laziness.

Samoa Cupcakes


For the cupcakes:
  • Box of Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix and ingredients from the back of the box (typically, water, vegetable oil, and eggs in some combination)
For the caramel sauce:
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp water
  • 6 Tbsp salted butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
For the caramel buttercream frosting:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp caramel sauce 
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the toppings:
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup toasted coconut
  • 1-2 boxes of Girl Scouts Samoa cookies

  1. For the caramel sauce, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the sugar and water over med-high heat, whisking constantly to dissolve sugar.
  2. When the sugar liquid reaches a boil, stop whisking and allow it to boil until it reaches a dark amber color, swirling the pan occasionally.
  3. Once the mixture is dark amber, immediately add the butter and whisk until the butter is melted, then remove from the heat.
  4. Wait a few seconds, then carefully pour the heavy cream into the saucepan and whisk to combine.
  5. Whisk until the mixture is smooth, then allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a glass container to cool completely.
  6. While the caramel is cooling, make the cupcakes per the directions on the box and allow to cool on a wire rack.
  7. For the buttercream, with a stand electric mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.
  8. Add powdered sugar and blend on low speed until the mixture comes together.
  9. Add 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp of the cooled caramel sauce you made and the vanilla.
  10. Whip on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.  Buttercream can be thinned with more caramel sauce.
  11. Pipe on the buttercream to the top of the cooled cupcakes using a large circle tip and pastry bag.
  12. Toast coconut in the oven at 350 degrees until just golden brown.
  13. Crush the toasted coconut in the remaining caramel and stir.
  14. In a glass microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips and heavy cream using 50% power in short (less than 20 seconds) heating bursts, stirring after each time until the chocolate mixture is smooth.
  15. Using a spoon, create a layer of the caramel toasted coconut sauce.
  16. Immediately follow up that layer with one of the chocolate ganache.
  17. Top the cupcake with a Girl Scouts Samoa cookie.

Assembling these cupcakes did not go as smoothly as I had hoped.  Writing this post, I'm thinking back and wondering if I could have made my life easier by just purchasing a jar of caramel sauce and a jar of chocolate sauce from the ice cream section of the grocery store.  Something to test out for next time. Let me know if you try this shortcut, and how it turned out for you!

Posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 by Julie

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

After coming back from Norway, I realized that I need to get out more in the Washington D.C. region to do some photography day trips to satiate my need to be creative and continue improving my photo workflow.  Of course, it would be easiest, at least in the beginning and rather than going out on my own, to find a conduit that would give me easy access to photography events that are already organized and that would put me in a position to meet other like minded folks. I've found a couple of groups, mostly off of the Meetup.com site, with whom I've decided to engage.  My first outing was this Saturday morning.

We met up in Columbia, Virginia - between Richmond and Charlottesville - at a "truck graveyard." The owner of the land collects vintage trucks and farm vehicles, that I am assuming are beyond repair upon acquisition, and allows people to come and photograph for a small per person fee.  The trucks look as old as the 1930s, and range up to maybe the 1980s but that's maybe just one firetruck.  There are tow trucks, heavy duty trucks, tractors, police trucks, firetrucks, etc.

So much to explore and photograph!  Since it was my first time, I opted to just keep the wide angle lens on and use my tripod to get several images that I could blend to create an HDR photo.  In some cases, I took 10 exposures and combined them using the Nik Software HDR Efex Pro 2.  Other photographers on site were taking abstract and macro shots, but most of them had been there before and already had the typical truck body shots.  

We only had three hours on the site, and the time went by fast.  I had plans to stay in the Richmond area for the afternoon to explore that city's rich history, but as is often the case, my plans unexpectedly changed when I somehow got a rock in my radiator and had to get that replaced and my coolant leak fixed before I could even think about driving the remaining 100 miles back home. Despite that time setback, I did find time this weekend to go through and process all my photos, so here are the rest of my favorites from this truck graveyard photography field trip!

Posted on Sunday, March 22, 2015 by Julie


Friday, March 20, 2015

I wanted to share with you some of the things that I have been obsessed with or am extremely grateful for recently.  

1. Black Mirror from Netflix - Yes, I finally re-subscribed to Netflix, well the streaming service at least. I stopped my subscription years ago when Netflix went from providing the streaming TV as part of the regular DVD service to charging for both, raising the monthly rate to continue the same service level by around 60%.  They are making a lot smarter choices now actually providing more value for the streaming service by producing exclusive content and access to limited content.  I am already obsessed with one example of this limited content: Black Mirror.  It's a seven episode British series that embraces the spirit of The Twilight Zone to present stories that attack the impact modern technology is making on society and how people behave. The writing and storytelling is very sophisticated and successfully captures the potential perils from the continuation of observed negative technology-driven behavioral trends.   Yes, some of the situations seem extreme, but like The Twilight Zone, it depicts a scenario that is still an easily conceivable reality.

2. Nikon 24mm f/1.4 wide angle lens - I posted this photo of my camera after 5 hours in sub-zero temperatures in Sweden on my Facebook page.  Look at all the frost!  This lens is a perfect lens for shooting the aurora borealis because it is faster than the other, variable focal length wide-angle lenses.  So long as I checked my focus remained sharp on manual focus, I was really pleased with the performance.

3. YakTrax are winter weather lifesavers.  I brought them with me to Norway, but my expedition boots were so thick that they couldn't quite stay on.  On regular winter boots, however, these traction devices for your shoes allowed me to walk my dog during an ice storm with no issues and no falling. They are not that expensive and can really prevent some serious and costly injuries!

4. Bantam Bagels - I first posted about these stuffed bagel balls in my post about a NYC Greenwich Village food tour.  My friend/tour buddy sent me more Bantam Bagels for my birthday, and it was such a treat!  You can buy them from either QVC or Bantam Bagels Online and they are shipped frozen.

5. Stainless Steel Cut Map - I saw this and thought it was a beautiful way to present a city map as a work of art.  People who know me or have visited my home know that I am a fan of maps, especially historical maps that depict countries as they were previously named - like New Holland instead of Australia.  Though this is not a historical map, I like the sleek design and how it looks more like an abstract piece if you cover up the lettering at the bottom.

More favorite things:

Posted on Friday, March 20, 2015 by Julie

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Still trying to find good uses for my 6-pack of Guinness I got at the grocery store last week, I turned to my absolute favorite baking site:  Sprinklebakes!  And she didn't let me down.  Once I saw the gorgeous photos of her Guinness Pretzel Truffles, I was intrigued.  Plus, I've been sharing a lot of my recent baking projects with my coworkers, so small bites are perfect to transport to the office.

Dark Chocolate Guinness Pretzel Truffles


  • 12 oz. Guinness Extra Stout
  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into Tablespoons and softened
  • 3/4 cup finely pulverized pretzel rods (food processor)
  • 1 cup crushed pretzel rods for rolling the truffles

  1. Pour 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Guinness in a small saucepan.  Set aside.
  2. Pour the remaining Guinness in a separate small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook until the Guinness is reduced to around 1 Tablespoon, approximately 15-20 minutes, being careful to not let it burn when the liquid is nearly reduced.  Pour into a small bowl.
  3. Put the chopped chocolate in the saucepan with the 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp Guinness and turn on the burner to medium-low.
  4. Leave the chocolate alone until it starts to melt, then start to stir slowly with a wire whisk until the chocolate is smooth.
  5. Add the butter - 1 Tbsp at a time - to the melted, smooth chocolate and whisk gently until all of the butter is melted and incorporated.
  6. Add the 1 Tbsp reduced Guinness and stir, then add the pulverized pretzels and stir in completely.
  7. Pour the chocolate truffle mixture into a bowl and refrigerate until firm or overnight.
  8. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper.  Scoop out the truffle mixture and make 1 inch balls, rolling in your hands, and place on the wax paper.
  9. Chill the truffles in an air-tight container until ready to roll in the crushed pretzels.  Wait to do this as the last step so that the exterior pretzels are at their crunchiest!
Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 by Julie

1 comment

Sunday, March 15, 2015

St. Paddy's Day is only days away, which means I impulse bought a 6-pack of Guinness on my last grocery run, and I've been trying to find fun new ways to make a stout-based baking project.  There's the standard combination of stout with irish cream, which I've been happy with in the past, but I am a sucker for salted caramel, so when I found this recipe from The Hungry Housewife it jumped to the top of the list!  I opted to make mini bundt cakes instead of one large one so I could share these yummy treats more easily.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Guinness Mini Bundt Cakes

Yields: 36 mini bundt cakes


  • 1 cup Guinness extra stout beer
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salted Caramel Glaze
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • Fleur de Sel (or flaked sea salt)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray pan with cooking spray
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the Guinness and butter to a light boil, then add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla.
  6. Add the butter/Guinness mixture to the wet ingredients slowly and beat until just incorporated. If the Guinness mixture is still hot, only initially add a little bit to temper the eggs before adding the rest at a constant, slow stream to prevent the eggs from "cooking."
  7. Add the bowl of dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat until just combined.
  8. Gently fold the mixture with a spatula to ensure all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.
  9. Fill the mini bundt cake wells 1/2 full with batter.
  10. Bake for 17-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes until turning the mini bundts out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  12. Cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  13. For the salted caramel glaze, in a medium saucepan, bring the butter, dark brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.
  14. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
  15. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
  16. Add 1/2 cup of the sifted powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.
  17. Continue to add and whisk in the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, making sure that the sugar lumps are broken up and the glaze is smooth.
  18. Remove the cakes from the refrigerator, place on a serving plate and drizzle the salted caramel glaze over the cakes.
  19. Sprinkle the fleur de sel or sea salt flakes over the glaze.

Posted on Sunday, March 15, 2015 by Julie