Monday, June 29, 2015

I'm not even sure I can call this a recipe.  It's more of, hey I have leftover whipped cream from last night, what can I do with it?  Then I remembered seeing a photo of a strawberry shortcake modification using a glazed donut, and voila!  I can use my whipped cream!  Here is everything you need to make this sugary treat:

  • glazed donuts, quantity up to you (I have a Krispy Kreme nearby)
  • fresh strawberries, thinly sliced and unsweetened (trust me!)
  • whipped cream, just cheat and go buy a tub of Cool Whip

Cut delicately.
Smear gently.
Artfully arrange layers.
Smear gently.
Softly place on top.

There...that's a recipe right?  You can guess what ingredients I am referring to in those five sentences? Here is one of my tips for these glazed donut strawberry shortcakes: eat something very savory before.  Don't lick the whipped cream spoon or spatula.  Don't even eat a slice of strawberry. The glazed donut is going to make your sweet meter go off the charts.  Also, consider the alternative of slicing the donut into small chunks and making a parfait.  They are pretty darn messy!

Posted on Monday, June 29, 2015 by Julie

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

I've done a lot of New York City weekend trips, but this past weekend may have been one of my favorites.  This weekend was the 17th Annual Del Close Marathon.  For those who are fans of or are part of the world of improv comedy, the name Del Close should be a familiar one and the Del Close Marathon may also be on your radar.  If either one of those is the case, then bear with me here.

First, Del Close is considered a father of improvisational comedy.  He began his career in the late 1950s performing with the famous Compass Players before moving to Chicago to perform and direct at Second City, where he worked with people like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy.  His legacy, however, emerged from his teachings and the influence he had coaching top sketch and improv comedians in the 1980s and 1990s, many of whom found their own fame through avenues such as Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central (Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, and many more). Del Close co-wrote a manual for improvisational techniques with his partner, Charna Halpern, called Truth in Comedy while teaching at Chicago's ImprovOlympic (now better known as iO or iO Chicago). That manual is still considered one of the best sources for written instruction on best practices for improv and contains lessons that transcend the comedy environment.

Twenty five years ago, some of Del Close's students at iO formed the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch and improv comedy troupe - most notable members being Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Adam McKay, and Horatio Sanz.  After moving the troupe to New York City in 1996, their hard work not only landed them a UCB television show for three seasons and their own individual successful careers in comedy - SNL, Veep, Parks and Recreation, etc. - but the UCB Theater has become the top theater for performance and for training in New York City.  It also has a major following at the Los Angeles annex - UCB LA.  While Chicago may still reign supreme for improv comedy and teaching, UCB is a very close second - I would say even surpassing The Groundlings in the Los Angeles arena.

The Del Close Marathon is an annual weekend NYC event that is in it's 17th year.  This year, the fun began late Friday afternoon with the press conference.  OK, it was less of a press conference since the team of Poehler, Besser, Walsh, and Roberts had been doing press leading up to the event, rather a fun introductory event that was more like an improv show for fans there for the weekend and for performers on the weekend's schedule.  This year, that schedule included over 630 shows on nine stages - two of those stages (UCB Chelsea and UCBeast) running 24 hours a day for the duration. Popular alumni who have found success in TV and film returned to the city to perform with old troupes and to form new crazy teams. Other performers were accepted through a formal submission process and traveled from all over the U.S. (Washington DC, Boston, Nashville, etc.) and from overseas (London, Finland, etc.).

Die hard marathoners know the tricks to the event.  The first trick is to know when tickets go on sale for the premium shows.  Most shows at the theaters are covered under the admission wristband that is for sale at the DCM box offices ($35) on the first marathon day.  The premium shows, however, were about $20 additional for each show - unless you wanted to try your luck getting in for free through the standby line.  The hottest premium ticket is, consistently, for UCB's most popular troupe: ASSSCAT.  This is the longest running show at UCB and is performed in both LA and NYC every weekend.  For the marathon, you can expect the famous founders to be in that cast.  Other premium shows were for other popular UCB troupes (Convoy, Gravid Water, Baby Wants Candy, fwand, etc.), writing staff from great comedy shows (The Daily Show, Key & Peale, and Comedy Bang! Bang!), or highlighted successful alumni (Nick Kroll, Horatio Sanz, etc.) and guests.

Social media is the next piece of advice.  Del Close Marathon has their own app for phones that have schedules and performers.  It's a great way to plan out your time before the weekend.  Next, follow @DCM_lines on Twitter so that you can get regular updates on how many people are in line at each of the venues.  This actually ended up being influential on our decisions for Saturday night.

Before I forget, I want to apologize for my less than ideal iPhone photos coming up.  When one is used to the better quality photos from a DSLR and good lens, these photos make me want to cringe. Anyway, going back to the Friday press conference I mentioned earlier, that event was held at the UCB Chelsea flagship theater and was included in the wristband admission, as were all UCB Chelsea shows all weekend.  The line for UCB Chelsea was consistently the longest at all times over the weekend because typically most of the best shows were scheduled for that stage.  The line began on Friday morning.  I had friends who planned to get there at noon and wait for many hours with snacks and games on the sidewalk (and umbrellas for the sun).  Many people want to know when to get in line, but it's just a gamble that is contingent on a bunch of factors and varies every year.  The theater, located in the basement of the building, only has capacity for maybe 150 people - seating, seated on the floor around the stage area, and standing room combined.  If you do not get into the theater, you have to wait for room to become available.  After the press conference, an above average turnover exists because of the departing press members, so you may still get into the first block of shows if you missed out on the press conference.  People inside the theater are only told they have to leave at designated theater cleaning times.  Typically, the audience will stay for the entire block, so the line outside will have first priority for the next block of shows, as the exiting audience must go to the end of the line.

Fortunately, luck was with me this weekend, and I got into the theater for the press conference and stayed through the first block.  First, the press conference was amazing.  Amy Poehler was missing from the founding four, but that didn't stop them from telling stories which then inspired an improv scene that involved playing Twister with a directionally-challenged person who didn't know right from left.  As this was being performed, I heard someone walking fast behind stage to my left and voicing her anger about something.  Seconds later, Amy Poehler comes on stage and (jokingly) gives the two Matts and Ian a hard time for starting the press conference without her, not waiting two minutes as she was stuck in traffic.  From that point on, it was an hour and fifteen minutes of laughter and Q&A.

After a brief 15-minute break, the first Del Close UCB Chelsea block of shows commenced, with each lasting 30 minutes.  First up was Five Dudes that included Bobby Moynihan (SNL), Charlie Sanders, Chris Gethard, Eugene Cordero, and Zach Woods (The Office, Silicon Valley).  They had a very fast-paced and physical show that made me empathetically feel exhausted for them!

The second troupe to perform made my mouth fall open with awe.  North Coast is a NYC-based Hip-Hop improv comedy group that makes up raps on the spot then uses them to influence and exit scenes.  North Coast was joined by Chris "Shockwave" Sullivan, who is one of the best beatboxers in the country and a member of the popular hip-hop comedy group Freestyle Love Supreme, created by Tony Award winner for In The Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda (now on Broadway starring in his newest creation, Hamilton).

The third troupe was one of UCB LA's most popular shows - JV.  They were followed by a duoprov that starred Ellie Kemper from "The Office," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and "Bridesmaids" and her friend, Christina Gausas.  After the two finished their set, a huge team of people came on stage to form The Law Firm - a UCB NYC troupe.  This performance included special guest appearances by Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Adam Pally (Happy Endings, The Mindy Project).

The first block of UCB Chelsea shows ended with a hilarious duoprov with Middleditch and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies).  Their half hour ended up with a ridiculous hat stacking competition (yes, and!) that put the two into escalating physical situations in the scene to see who would lose their hat stack first.  Thomas Middleditch came out as the clear winner there with incredible (cranial?) balance!  "Hat me!"

With everyone kicked out of the theater for cleaning, and a huge line waiting outside for the next block, it was time for me to walk three blocks to the SVA Theater where some of the premium shows were being held.  I had tickets to see UCB LA's Convoy (with special guests: Thomas Middleditch and Jason Mantzoukas) and, what was billed as, The Cast of Silicon Valley but was really Middleditch and Zach Woods.  Despite the lack of the other SV cast members, those two put on a fantastic performance that included a crazy hotel manager, three demons in the same scene played by Middleditch, the birth of a demon spawn, a reanimated special needs kid, and so much more to delight your funny bone.  Convoy successfully had the audience laughing as they put five friends, away on a guys weekend, on one giant improvised jet ski that took them to a ridiculously expensive boat and ended in a horrifying tubing accident.  Mantzoukas was perfection when it came to playing the straight guy in the scene always clarifying and validating the ridiculous.  It never ceases to amaze me what an intelligent and comedically inclined imagination can create if given the opportunity and support in an improv scene. Really inspiring!

The plan was to get to more shows on Saturday night, but we were foiled by the rain gods and our lack of preparation.  The lines for the theaters were long for the blocks of shows we wanted to see that fit in with our non-DCM NYC schedule.  It was also pouring rain and cold - not a typical late June scenario and I was wearing flip flops (= cold and wet feet).  We were monitoring the line situation on Twitter until 2am Sunday morning, as well as the weather radar.  Both were not good enough odds to compete with our comfy hotel beds.

So, while one can argue that I didn't have a full DCM experience, I have to say that for my first time at the marathon, my improv comedy needs were pretty satiated.  I came home very satisfied with the entertainment experience and inspired as well.  Plus, it didn't hurt that I ran into Ben Schwartz, Ellie Kemper, and Thomas Middleditch in the theater lobby.  Not surprisingly, they were the nicest people and didn't mind taking the time to talk.  I honestly think that is because of their roots in improv comedy, where the fundamental behaviors are to show support, embrace agreement, and be a team player.  It's easy to be humble and hard to be mean when you're a member of the improv community - regardless of the level of fame and success.  This Del Close Marathon may have been my first, but I know it will not be my last!

Posted on Sunday, June 28, 2015 by Julie


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Despite my love of baking, and my joy of making and photographing things for this website, the thing most people don't know is that I always try to give away my baked goodies to friends, neighbors, and coworkers rather than keep them in my house.   When it comes to baking, thankfully more often than not for my waistline, I always try to think about how I can make smaller versions or individual portions. That's probably why I love cupcakes so much.  They are like getting a taste of cake without the cake.  I also love the idea of small bites from a presentation perspective.  Perhaps you've seen from other baking projects this month that I'm presently enjoying the idea of making deconstructed candy bar cookies.  Since summertime makes me think of yummy strawberries and strawberry shortcake, I decided to take the shortbread thumbprint cookies I made for my Deconstructed Twix cookies and make them into Strawberry Shortcake Bites piled high with diced strawberries mixed with fluffy whipped cream.

Strawberry Shortcake Bites


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt  

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups strawberries "diced"

  1. For the shortbread, cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until smooth.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and beat in.
  3. Gently mix in the flour and salt.
  4. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten, and cover with the plastic wrap.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
  6. When chilled, roll 1-1.5" balls of dough with your hands, then use a small spoon (I used a 1/4 teaspoon) to press into the top of the ball firmly then use the edges of the spoon to expand the "thumbprint" well.
  7. Once all of the balls have been shaped into the thumbprint cookie shapes, place on a cookie sheet, cover in plastic wrap, and place back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  9. Line cookie sheets with silicone baking mats.
  10. Bake one sheet of cookies at a time on the bottom rack for 8-10 minutes, until the edges are lightly brown.
  11. Let cool on a wire rack.
  12. Slice up strawberries into small "diced" pieces. Pat dry with a paper towel.
  13. In a bowl with an electric mixer and whisk attachment, whip the heavy whipping cream on high until peaks form.
  14. Add 1/2 cup confectioners sugar and vanilla to the whipped cream, then continue beating on medium speed until stiff peaks form.
  15. Mix the whipped cream with the strawberries and spoon onto into the cookie wells.

Posted on Thursday, June 25, 2015 by Julie

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Monday, June 22, 2015


Buried in the forest of Eastern Pennsylvania is probably the most iconic building designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  A strong believer in organic architecture, Wright created Fallingwater such that it incorporated natural elements into the building materials and has walls that are actually built into the rock along the river canyon.  Then, of course, are the distinguishable cantilevered, staggered levels that project over the cascading water of Bear Run.

Fallingwater was a design commissioned by the owner of Pittsburgh's Kaufmann's Department Stores. Edgar Kaufmann owned the property on Bear Run and wanted to upgrade the accommodation on the land when the cabins began to not meet their standards for a country home.  The design was completed in 1936 and construction finished a year later.

The best way to visit Fallingwater is to make a tour reservation in advance, especially during the high season (summer).  I did not do this, so I was limited to a grounds pass that allows you to walk around and next to the house, but just not inside.  Of course, the numerous windows afforded enough peeks into the interior design.  I slight downhill hike will lead you to a gorgeous upstream view of the home.

Access to the structure requires you to walk down a path from the visitors center, which is a good walk but not too steep, so keep that into consideration when visiting.  What goes down must also come back up!  So what do you think?  Does this style of architecture suit you?

Posted on Monday, June 22, 2015 by Julie

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Yesterday, I met up with some photographers in Waterbury, PA to photograph an old woolen mill that was built in 1806.  It was shut down in the 1960s, but has since been reopened with a smaller scale operation, weaving traditional Pennsylvania wool blankets.  The equipment that is still being used today has not been replaced in over 100 years.  The looms date back to the 1870s, and the other machines were manufactured in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The water wheel that used to power the mill no longer exists, but you can still look at the empty space where water from the small river still rushes through and imagine how loud it had to have been in the mill so long ago when the wheel was there.  I took a ton of photos, but these were my favorites.  I hope you enjoy them!

Posted on Sunday, June 21, 2015 by Julie

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I think I can finally say that I am not a fan of working with caramel.  It is messy, sticky, difficult to clean up, and can burn your skin if you touch it when it is molten hot.  That being said, it was worth it to make these cute and delicious deconstructed Twix bar cookies.  Thankfully, I skipped the step of making my own caramel, just melting Kraft caramels.  Just like a Twix, the three layers are shortbread, caramel, and milk chocolate.  The inspiration for these cookies is from The Recipe Critic.

Deconstructed Twix Thumbprints


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt  
  • 1 package Kraft caramels (14 oz) 
  • 1/2 bag of milk chocolate chips (6 oz)

  1. For the shortbread, cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until smooth.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and beat in.
  3. Gently mix in the flour and salt.
  4. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten, and cover with the plastic wrap.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
  6. When chilled, roll 1-1.5" balls of dough with your hands, then use a small spoon (I used a 1/4 teaspoon) to press into the top of the ball firmly then use the edges of the spoon to expand the "thumbprint" well.
  7. Once all of the balls have been shaped into the thumbprint cookie shapes, place on a cookie sheet, cover in plastic wrap, and place back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  9. Line cookie sheets with silicone baking mats.
  10. Bake one sheet of cookies at a time on the bottom rack for 8-10 minutes, until the edges are lightly brown.
  11. Let cool on a wire rack with wax paper placed below the rack (for later chocolate step).
  12. In a microwave safe dish, slowly melt about 1 caramel square per cookie.
  13. Using a small, heatproof spoon, carefully drop liquid caramel into the well of the cookie and gently push to the edges.
  14. In a microwave safe dish, melt the chocolate chips, 5-10 seconds only at a time, stirring after each interval until melted and dripping freely off a spoon.
  15. Pour the chocolate into a squeeze bottle or use a spoon to stripe chocolate across the caramel and cookie.
  16. Allow chocolate to harden before placing cookies into a storage container.

Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 by Julie


Sunday, June 7, 2015

It's been about two years since the last set of Gentlemen of the Road stopovers took place.  If you're unfamiliar with these music festivals produced by the Grammy award winning Mumford & Sons, they are the band's way of bringing together their favorite music groups and organizing other fun at destinations that focus on rural towns or small cities who want to celebrate with Mumford fans and who want an opportunity to share their community - culture, food, drinks, etc.  This year's Gentlemen of the Road tour first stopped at Seaside Heights, NJ.  While this town has been a popular beach area for locals, it gained notoriety when MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality show descended on its sandy banks with the outrageous characters of Snookie, J-Wow, The Situation, and Pauly-D.  The town was also in the news in the past few years when Hurricane Sandy ripped the boardwalk roller coaster away from the pier and took it out into the ocean in October 2012, followed less than a year later by a massive fire that destroyed the boardwalk - much of which had only been recently repaired of its hurricane damage.  

When selecting towns for 2015 stopovers, Seaside Heights was recommended as a town that could benefit from the promotion of a GOTR concert weekend that could bring up to 30,000 people and their associated lodging and incidental dollars to the area.  Mumford & Sons took over the boardwalk this past weekend and put on a great show, brought a lot of smiles to fans' faces, and started off the summer tour season for their new album with a bang!

The boardwalk, in addition to the arcades, food/drink, and shops that are there permanently, was lined with vendor tents for several blocks.  There were also several painted pianos, which served a purpose I found out later, an opportunity to learn how to play a banjo from Deering Banjos, and a chance to test your strength on a traditional sledgehammer game.  There was also a convenient boardwalk exit/entrance that allowed you to access the Casino Pier amusement park rides and games that were the backdrop to the beach stage.

The GOTR organizers continued the passport book tradition with a Seaside Heights scavenger hunt, where you had to find the GOTR representatives and do an activity to claim a stamp on your passport.  The banjos and sledgehammer game were two options, as well as playing one of the painted pianos or crafting a hemp bracelet.  I also got a stamp for playing free games of skeeball at the arcade - twist my arm, I love skeeball.  The hardest stamp to obtain was the "R" because you had to find a wandering person asking trivia questions.  Once you got all the stamps, you were awarded a key to attach to the keychain we received with our ticket wristbands.  You then took the key to the treasure chests and got the prize in the box your key opened.  I wasn't a big winner, getting the smaller prize of a guitar pick designed for the stopover.  They also took our information down so we could be entered for something later in the year...crossing fingers!

And then, there was the music!  Unfortunately, I seem to have potentially lost my SD card from my camera that had Day 1 concert photos.  That day began with The Very Best, followed by Blake Mills and Dawes.  The headliner for the evening was Alabama Shakes.

We stayed out after the concert and found a local bar that was playing live music - Jax Garage.  There were rumors about a special performance that night, so we had our hopes up.  Then in walks Winston Marshall from Mumford & Sons, accompanied by the members of The Very Best.  Winston took the stage to play drums for his friend who was singing some pub tunes on his guitar.  We were able to join the party upstairs and hang out with Winston a little longer.  

Day 2 started out early with gates opening at 11am and music starting at 2pm.  For the people hoping to get a spot up close to the stage, they were lining up for hours on the boardwalk until they were set free.  It was hilarious watching people sprint in the sand for those coveted positions, and I was envious of their viewpoint.  I stayed up on the boardwalk because of my recent knee surgery.

The sun decided to finally come out in the afternoon.  The music commenced with an introduction from Mumford & Sons' Ted Dwane and Ben Lovett, then Little May and Jeff the Brotherhood played their sets, respectively.  I ended up spending a good portion of this time trying to hunt down that elusive "R" stamp.

The third act of the day was The Macabees from England.  They were joined on stage, late in their set, by Marcus Mumford for one song.  Everyone in the beach crowd screamed in excitement.

The Vaccines took the stage after The Macabees.  The Vaccines have often toured with Mumford & Sons in the past, so I had heard them before.  After The Vaccines, Jenny Lewis performed with her band, and even asked a group in the audience if they would share their pizza with her - she was hungry for a slice apparently.

The last act of the day before Mumford was Oklahoma's own The Flaming Lips.  I had heard two of their songs before, "She Don't Use Jelly" from 1993 and the more recent "Do You Realize."  Well, what I definitely realized is that the band puts on a show - not necessarily the one you would expect though. The lead singer is the conductor on this train to crazy town.  Wayne Coyne entered the stage wearing a maybe 20 foot long "cape" of taped together large, silver mylar balloons.  It seemed like each song had its gimmick - confetti guns, more mylar balloons, inflatable mascots dancing, a bubble that Coyne rolled in across the fingers of the crowd to a small platform on the beach.  The performance definitely kept you wondering what was going to happen next!

As the sun finally set, the crowd swelled on the beach.  Blankets were folded up, and the mass seemed to push forward and fill all the gaps.  By the time Mumford & Sons were announced, I could not see any beach - my view was just one giant crowd.  And that wasn't even counting the thousands of people standing on the boardwalk, like myself.

After 8:30pm, Mumford & Sons took the stage and played for a little under two hours, covering twenty songs.  Their set list included favorites from all three albums: 

Snake eyes 
The Cave
Lover's eyes
I Will Wait
Only love
Lover of the Light
Thistle & Weeds
Awake My Soul
Tompkins Square Park
Ghosts That We Knew
Just Smoke
Below Your Feet
Dust Bowl Dance
Hot Gates
Little Lion Man
The Wolf
Atlantic City

It was a great beach party and the crowd was excited to finally see one of their favorite bands after what felt like a long hiatus.  I had seen the band perform earlier in April at one of their secret gigs in New York, so I had heard the new music before live, but since it was pre-album release and we didn't know anything about the songs, the performance this weekend was more fun because I could sing along to the new material.  We went out again after the concert was over, same place - Jax Garage, and were lucky enough to run into Ted Dwane.  I had never met Ted before and was happy (and not surprised) to find him as genuine and personable as the other three.

So, to finish out this post, I wanted to share with you two videos I took from the Mumford & Sons performance: (1) "Just Smoke" from the new album, Wilder Mind, and with a little pre-song instruction from Marcus; and (2) the big group finale song "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen. And, of course, tons and tons of photos!  Clearly, I had a hard time editing.  I think they are chronological, so see if you can match the set list to the song captured in the photo.  I hope you enjoy them! 

(FYI: The ride behind the hole in the stage curtain was called Moby Dick, but often in the photos the Moby was cut out.  What remained was not meant to be offensive in anyway - just a moment in time.)

Posted on Sunday, June 07, 2015 by Julie