Friday, April 29, 2011

Best of the Week #18

Phew. It has been a week. Sorry for the no-post-Wednesday and Thursday. In my defense, since Tuesday afternoon my office has been likened to the 1980s Congo, Nazi Germany, and a Raymond Carver short story. So. There’s that. (Leave it to me to come up with inappropriate genocide references…jeesh.)

But in the big picture scheme of things, everyone and everything is ok. And my adult points are off the charts, so that’s a win…
And it’s Friday! Guess what I’m doing tonight? Running a race! It's the last Crystal City 5K Friday, so at 6:30 pm I will be lining up to test myself...oof. I haven’t raced a 5K since about this time last year, so this should be interesting...I'll report back on Monday.
In Best of the Week news, my most popular post this week was Lemon Filled Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, closely followed by Fun Facts about DC Monuments (h/t DC Blogs).
Quote of the week comes from LLC via gchat:
so believe it or not, stress eating chocolate chip cookies and coffee does not magically increase your Chinese language abilities or otherwise solve problems
And another (this time actually wise) quote from LLC, that I think can apply to a lot of situations:
You are just in there having a clear-sighted conversation about your realistic needs.
I found this Amazing Fact Generator that can kill an embarrassing amount of time…2 new facts to add to my repertoire of ridiculousness: 
The S in Harry S Truman didn’t stand for anything; Truman had a middle initial but no middle name.
Orang means “man” in Malay and hutan means forest so orangutan means “man of the forest.”
Food-wise, on Monday 6x6 and I took our Swahili teacher to dinner at Ghana CafĂ© – always a delicious win! 

And after a horrendously humid workout on Tuesday night, SpeedyKate, Jessica, and I chilled out at Los Cuates. Their chips and salsa are fantastic – very fresh and chunky.

I must admit, I’ve been to Fro Zen Yo twice already this week…what can I say? It’s delicious! My favorite flavor combo is the cappuccino/dulce de leche swirl with cake crumbles, nuts, and hot fudge. Swoon!

And I made this cake (but in cupcake form) as a going away present for one of my co-workers. 

Hope you have a great weekend! Think me some fast thoughts tonight! :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cake of the Week: Lemon Filled Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

The weekend before last I hosted a bridal shower. The bride loves yellow, so yellow cupcakes were pretty much definitely going to happen. 

And not just any yellow cupcakes. No no, this had to be epic. I put my thinking clothes on (i.e. running clothes), called in some reinforcements for inspiration (i.e. Sister1) and came up with the ultimate bridal shower banquet battle plan. I made Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting.

Lemon is delicious. It’s one of the few cake flavors that can rival chocolate in my cake-loving heart – and once you get lemon curd involved watch out! These babies might just knock chocolate out of the park.

I made my own lemon curd – it’s easy, just lemon juice, egg yolks, sugar and butter. But you can also buy it in a jar at the grocery store, I found it in the peanut butter and jam section.

For the cake I did Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake recipe, and added the zest of 2 lemons. And for the frosting I made my standard cream cheese frosting with the addition of one lemon’s juice an zest. De-freaking-licious. 

(Go here for the printable recipe.)

Lemon Curd
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons)
2 tbsps grated lemon zest
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick butter), cut into 1/8-in slices
Add 1-inch of water to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. In a medium metal bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar for about 2 minutes until smooth. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest until combined. 
Place the mixing bowl on top of saucepan (the bowl should be wide enough to fit on top of the saucepan, but shouldn't be touching the simmering water). Stir the mixture constantly with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as you stir, until it begins to thicken, and will coat the back of a spoon. This will take approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. 

Whisk in the butter, one slice at a time. Wait until each piece almost disappears before adding the next. Spoon into clean glass containers and allow to cool with a piece of plastic wrap laid on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
Refrigerate until needed. This lemon curd will keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

Best Yellow Layer Cake
Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake (I have yet to audition the cupcakes, shame on me)
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Zest from 2 lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tins with papers.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla and lemon zest. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Scoop batter into cupcake tins. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then take out and cool on racks for 1 hour.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
½ block cream cheese (i.e. 4 ounces)
¼ cup butter (i.e. ½ stick)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Juice from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons milk, as needed

Start with your ingredients at room temperature.
Beat the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Beat in powdered sugar, adding milk as needed to reach a spreadable consistency.

To fill the cupcakes, use a small knife to cut a hole in the middle of the cupcake. Pop out the cone-shaped cake piece (go ahead and eat them all! I won't tell anyone!), and fill with lemon curd. 

Then frost. Enjoy!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weekend Report: Lounging in the Park and Easter Eggs

Lying around my apartment all day makes me feel guilty – like a tv-watching lazy bum who should be out and about. But lounging in the park all day is a different story entirely – that’s doing something! 

On Sunday I went to Meridian Hill Park, listened to the drum circle, read a book, finished 2 crosswords, studied Swahili, and worked on my tan – makes me sound productive right? Look at all those verbs! 

(This is the view from lying on my back, looking up through the branches.)

The day before on Saturday I did quite a bit of apartment lounging, but it was after a 10-miler with my team, so I felt totally ok with it. 6x6 and I have been running about 11 miles every weekend, slowly fighting our way into shape. We meet on New Hampshire Ave. and chug along for an hour and 40 minutes. But this week I felt ambitious enough to run with SpeedyKate. That lasted all of 4 miles, at which point I realized that 7:45-minute-pace was not sustainable for me quite yet. I slowed down but still had a good run, finishing my 10 in about 85 minutes.  After the run I returned home and Comcast finally came (hallelujah!), enabling me to watch 3 episodes of Top Model in a row…(don’t judge).

I awoke to a hot Easter Sunday here in DC, perfect weather for church, brunch, and a day at the park. LLC, PhotoMan, LOTR-Emily, 6x6, and I did brunch at Tonic in Foggy Bottom – LLC and I split a mushroom omelet (meh, a bit over cooked), and Challah French Toast (huge and yum!).

Then it was off to Meridian Hill Park – us and the rest of Northwest DC put on some shorts and attempted to do something about our extreme winter whiteness.

And when I got home, exhausted from the sun, I was excited to see my roommate setting up everything necessary for dying Easter Eggs. Easter Egg hunts give me anxiety (flashbacks to my childhood), but egg dying is creative and crafty and fun. 

And Easter Egg dye has come a long way since my sisters and I put a few drops of food coloring in water and created patterns with rubber bands – we had metallic and stickers and marbled egg dye.

I’m almost embarrassed at how proud I am about our results…anyone have a good Deviled Egg recipe? 

Oh, and the Funfetti Cakeballs were amazing. Obviously! (More on those later.)

Hope you had a good weekend too!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Best of the Week #17

I worked the Google like a pro this week, and have many many things to report!
My most popular post was Red Velvet Brownies – everyone loves these (and for good reason!)

Note that I just said “The Google.” The Onion has something to say about that on that subject…
"The popular search engine Google announced plans Friday to launch a new site,, to appeal to older adults not able to navigate the original website's single text field and two clearly marked buttons...All you have to do to turn the website on is put the little blinking line thing in the cyberspace window at the top of the screen, type ',' and press 'return'—although it will also recognize,, and 'THEGOOGLE' typed into a Word document."
I happen to subscribe to Popular Science’s newsletter (surprise - bet you wouldn’t have guessed that one!) this week they presented “an in-depth look at sports' craziest geoengineering projects.” For example:
Qatari engineers recently announced a project to develop solar-powered artificial clouds to shade the 2022 World Cup from the country’s unforgiving summer sun. One remotely steerable cloud comes with a hefty price tag - $500,000 - just to cool the field by 10 degrees.

This is cute, from The Cutting Edge of Ordinary:

And so is this, from Delightful Bitefuls

In the foreign aid world (because if you follow you’ve probably noticed that I can’t let a Best of the Week go by without getting at least a little socially conscious), sad news this week! Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools (aka the guy who builds schools for girls in Pakistan) was accused of many things, including lying, fraud, etc…
Much has been said by many people who know more than me.
But what has me most concerned is this final point. Using charitable “awareness raising” (fund raising) material in our schools.
Whether it’s TOMS A Day Without Shoes or CAI’s Pennies for Peace, schools and teachers are using what are essentially commercials for a charitable product to teach children about the larger world and philanthropy. As is the case with most commercials, these “awareness raising activities” often distort or over-simplify the problems faced in ways that benefit their own organization.
This is extremely worrying as the children brought up on these myths and misconceptions are going to turn into businessmen, philanthropists, and law makers. What decisions will they make if they have a very distorted view of what the world is like and how to really help.

Kristof points out that recent allegations aside, Mortenson was right about a lot of things:
He was right about the need for American outreach in the Muslim world. He was right that building schools tends to promote stability more than dropping bombs. He was right about the transformative power of education, especially girls’ education. He was right about the need to listen to local people — yes, over cup after cup after cup of tea — rather than just issue instructions.

And the great Chris Blattman says: 
I also worry that a Three Cups of Tea scandal sends shock-waves around the globe, while outfits like UNDP (where 4.1% of funds going to programs, let alone 41%, would be a freaking miracle) get away scott free.

Sign. So sad.

As you’ve probably heard, Monday was the Boston Marathon. Congratulations to my friend Chris who ran it for the third time in a row!!! 

World records were set…but they don’t count...
Boston Marathon officials say they will apply to the international track governing body to have Geoffrey Mutai's winning time of 2 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds certified as a world record. (source)

It rained last weekend, and the Georgetown Waterfront flooded. Like WOAH! I'm so bummed - what you're looking at is one of my favorite restaurants (Farmers and Fishers) under water! (I could have used a terrible pun there but I didn't. Too soon.)

I don’t have a smart phone because a) I live under a rock, and b) I don’t like when people contact me…this NYT article brings up interesting points about phone etiquite:

“I’m fine with people stepping aside to check something, but when I’m standing in front of someone and in the middle of my conversation they whip out their phone, I’ll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they’re going to be rude, I’ll be rude right back.” 

"A silence falls over the group and we all engage in a mass thumb-wrestling competition between man and little machine."

These pictures in The Atlantic are really powerful: Surrounding the small town of Dadaab, Kenya, is one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world, now home more than 332,000 people, mainly from Somalia. (source)

Question for my readers – did you grow up eating dessert every night???  Because I definitely did. And none of that "fruit slices are dessert" business either...we did the good stuff! I saw this conversation about it and it got me wondering how "normal" my family is...

This handy list of cooking and baking substitutions is worth bookmarking. I am constantly running out of vital ingredients mid-cooking. 

Guess what I'm making this weekend? Funfetti Cakeballs!!! Oooohhhh YEAH!

Have a wonderful weekend! And Happy Easter! (Read about Easter in my family here.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fun Facts About DC's Monuments

My big-ish-for-one-person apartment is quite full this week because I have houseguests! My aunt, uncle, and cousin are staying with me and seeing everything DC has to offer. (Seriously, I thought I was an intense tourist…but they beat me and my mama!)
Tonight we’re going to dinner at some DC classic restaurant (Founding Farmers? Old Ebbitt Grill? Ted’s Bulletin? I can’t decide!), and then doing the Monuments at night.
I’m brushing up on my tour guide fun facts, and was reviewing this post I published way back in September 2009. Back then I had about 20 readers on a good day, and I did some solid research for this one…so here it is again!
Arlington National Cemetery
  • Approximately 20 graveside funerals are held there each day.
  • The Amphitheater is for special memorial services held on Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
  • Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee and his family is located atop a hill, providing one of the best views of Washington, DC (I guess we should have made the effort to walk up the hill). Arlington House is now preserved as a memorial to Robert E. Lee, who helped heal the nation following the Civil War.
  • Every time a soldier is buried, an Arlington Lady is present. There are about 65 Arlington Ladies, and since 1973, the Arlington Ladies have ensured that no Soldier - old or young - is ever buried alone.
  • Nearly 5,000 unknowns now resting in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • As of Dec. 7, 1995, there are 1,996 Jewish military service members interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

  • The Tomb of the Unknowns, aka the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, overlooks DC, was dedicated in 1921, and contains the remains of soldiers from WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day and each hour (each half-hour in summer) there is a changing of the guard ceremony with a special march and salute.
  • Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.
  • New sentinels must learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans
  • First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed. Only 400 Tomb Guard Badges have been awarded since it was created in February 1958.
  • The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is a temporary award until the badge-holding sentinel has honorably served at the Tomb of the Unknowns for nine months.
  • There are three reliefs, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three reliefs are divided by height so that those in each guard change ceremony look similar.

The Changing of the Guard Ceremony
  • An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard.
  • The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once.
  • All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor.
  • The Walk: The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-gun salute.
  • The guard's gloves are wet to improve his grip on the rifle
  • An average tour at the tomb is a year.

Some FAQ
  • What is the small green tent next to the tomb for? "The Box" is used primarily during wreath-laying ceremonies for the Sentinel to retreat to while flowers and Taps are being presented.  There also is a phone with a direct line downstairs to the Tomb Guard Quarters - this is used in times of emergencies or just to notify the next shift of something.
  • What happened to the soldier that was in the Tomb from the Vietnam War? The remains of the Vietnam Unknown Soldier were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. It has been decided that the crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant. (Further Background)(News Article from the Department of Defense)
  • How many Sentinels have been female? There have been 3 female Sentinels.

  • The tradition of saluting can be traced to the Middle Ages practice of placing oneself in an unarmed position and, therefore, in the power of those being honored. The cannon salute might have originated in the 17th century with the maritime practice of demanding that a defeated enemy expend its ammunition and render itself helpless until reloaded -- a time-consuming operation in that era.

FDR Memorial
  • August 1955 – Congress established a commission to create a FDR monument
  • Design was approved in 1979
  • Completed in 1997
  • Designed by Lawrence Halprin, who also designed Sea Ranch in California, San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square, and the Walter & Elise Haas Promenade in Israel, a 1-1/2 mile stone walkway overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. 
  • Mr. Halprin's major focus, and one for which he has become famous, is the participation of people in his landscapes.
  • Since Roosevelt was elected to four terms of office, Halprin created four "rooms" to represent the twelve years of Roosevelt's presidency.

  • Piles of rocks in the third room representing the horrors of war
  • A large fierce waterfall with large blocks of granite scattered around symbolize how the war was tearing the country apart.
  • The embossed images on the pillars in the second room representing the negative and opposing views to FDR’s “New Deal” projects
  • The waterfalls and reflecting pools representing FDR’s connection with water as his contraction of polio happened after a swim when he was sitting around in the cold (FDR said “water brought me to where I am”, and went to Warm Springs, Georgia to heal himself).

  • The waterfalls and reflecting pools in each room encourage contemplation and meditation on a turbulent period of American history.
  • PS - Though it is tempting to take posed pictures with the different figures in the Memorial -  RESIST the urge - people find it very offensive and disrespectful!

The Lincoln Memorial

  • Kind of ironic that it is modeled after the great Parthenon of Athens – Athens/Ancient Greece was definitely a slave state...
  • The reflecting pool is currently being renovated/rehabilitated and will be under construction for up to 2 years. (More info here.)

Korean War Memorial
  • Construction began in 1992 and was completed in 1995

The Wall
  • A 164-foot mural wall is inscribed with the words, "Freedom Is Not Free"
  • The wall is etched with 2,500 photographic images of nurses, chaplains, crew chiefs, mechanics and other support personnel to symbolize the vast effort that sustained the military operation.
  • Check out this site to see how the images on the wall are organized by service.
  • All of the images look straight out from the wall over the platoon of statues; the soldiers they were there to support.

The Figures
  • A platoon of stainless steel soldiers in the "Field of Service" walk through juniper bushes and granite strips, symbolizing the rugged terrain of Korea.
  • All four branches of the military (army, navy, Marine Corps, and air force) are represented
  • Fifteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, two are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer.
  • They represent an ethnic cross section of America with 12 Caucasian, 3 African American, 2 Hispanic, 1 Asian, 1 Indian (Native American).
  • When reflected in the wall, there appears to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel (For those of you who don’t know, that is the dividing line between North and South Korea), and the 38 months of the war.
  • Three of the statues are in the woods, so if you are at the flagpole looking through the troops, you can't tell how many there are, and could be legions emerging from the woods.

  • The United Nations Wall (very low wall) on the opposite side lists the countries that provided troops, medical support, or supplies to help South Korea.
  • All these elements point toward the Pool of Remembrance, forming a triangle.
  • In the south side of the memorial, there are three bushes of the Rose of Sharon hibiscus plant, South Korea's national flower.
  • You can walk out into the pool area on a peninsula symbolic of Republic of Korea, which is a peninsula.