Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Trip to Carmel California

carmel by the sea

we recently took a trip south to beautiful carmel and monterey. if you ever vacation in northern california, you must make a trip and explore these coastal towns! carmel is charming and casual and i finally was able to relax and just enjoy the setting.  if you can't visit in the near future, but would like to see the charming homes in the area, there is a book that highlights the fairytale cottages of carmel. here is the link: Fairy Tale Cottage Book  in addition to window shopping and eating, there was another element of ocean life that was ever present on our trip.  my kids were so lucky to be able to view sea lions, otters, and cormorant birds. i hope you enjoy the following photos and thanks for visiting the happy happy nester.  don't forget to sign up for my blog so that you don't miss out on future posts.

carmel's pastry shops are incredible and the window displays are reminiscent of italian stores. of course, this was our first stop when we landed in town.  

i love this basket with the cute ribbon.

lovely hanging basket with succulents.

one of the quaint store fronts.

the manzanita in the vase is stunning. we stayed at this hotel, the monterey plaza.

i love the napping positions.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Parchment paper

gingham parchment from world market

i'm always checking out the latest products at the very cool store, world market.  the other day, i was surprised to find this gingham parchment paper for baking.  well, instead of using it for baking i'm making cute care packages. it quickly transforms containers from bland to very cute. all you need is a plastic produce container that your store bought fruit and vegetables come in. 

we all have these containers in our home, so now here is a way to upcycle them.  i cut off the lids and use the bottoms for this project.  

all you have to do is cut a sheet that is bigger than the container.  with the right side face down, place the baked pastries in the center of the paper.  wrap the parchment around the tasty treats and then place it in the plastic container.  next, wrap with cute coordinating ribbon and decorate with flowers or a tag, just have fun creating.  

i've been using these pretty containers for my daughter's friend's birthday gifts.  lately, she wants to bring a little treat to school for these occasions and this is the best solution packaging up these edible gifts. so now, i always have these materials on hand for those last minute gifts.  have fun creating these cute care packages and thanks for dropping by!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sunbrella is the Best for Outdoor Cushions

outdoor furniture

now that it is starting to get warmer and we brought our outdoor furniture out from storage, i recently replaced our 2 year old outdoor dining chair cushions. i bought our set at jcpennys and i knew that these cushions weren't going to last very long.  but at the time, my husband was very nervous about spending money on a new outdoor dining set. he thought that our rusty 15 year old table and chairs were fine and didn't need replacing.  well, i did buy a set but tried to be financially wise in my purchase and as predicted the cushions barely lasted 2 years since they were not made out of sunbrella fabric. of course, the original description of the material promised no fading or staining.  hmm 

last summer we just lived with the ripped faded cushions. but  this spring, it was apparent we needed new ones, so i researched all the various companies who sell replacement cushions.  i also, talked to a local seamstress and her cost was $45 per cushion and i had to supply the material and inner cushion. eventually i decided to order our cushions from ballard design since it was actually cheaper than having them custom made. so we made the plunge and bought 12 cushions.  the hardest part was choosing the right color for our outdoor dining set.  

as you can see from the above photo they have a crazy amount of choices. i would have loved the stripped cushions, but since our measurements were not standard and i had to place the upper cushion horizontally and the bottom cushion vertically, i had to buy a solid color.  anyway, i'm very pleased with my new cushions and i'm quite certain we'll have these cushions for many, many, years and they won't fade or stain.  we have a sunbrella umbrella that is some 20 years old and the material is still bright as the original color!  so i guess what i'm saying is that sunbrella is worth the investment. thanks again for visiting and don't forget to sign up for my emails and updates!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I love the Container Store!

containers, containers and more containers!

i found you can't have enough containers these days!  so, in may of last year i organized one of my cabinets full of dried fruit, nuts and other foods.  it felt amazing to get that project done, but i still had another major one to tackle...my baking supplies.  my flour and sugar were in disarray and needed to be organized with a system that stacked nicely. as you know the containers store is like a candy store to anyone who likes containers!  my husband jokes that i have containers for containers.  well, i found this nice system that each lid is designed to house another one on top. accordingly to the container store website this system is their own product and the sticker says...Modular.  so once you figure out how many you need and how many will fit in your cabinets, just clean and fill.  

i actually like this system for my baking supplies, like flour and sugar since the opening is so wide i can measure everything right over it and not spill on the countertop! they don't lock down, so be careful when using them. despite not locking they do have a seal that keeps the bugs out!

next you'll want to check out my chalkboard labeling project.  here is the link: organizing project
i like to make my own labels since the stores only sell like a few labels to a package and they are all different sizes and you don't have enough to do a big project.  i think i made something like 25 for this pantry.  also, if you buy the chalkboard paper roll it is so much cheaper than buying a small package of prefab ones. it isn't too time consuming to make your own if you cut like 3-4 sheets at a time.  also, you never know what else you can cover in chalkboard sticky paper!!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Vitamixer Smoothies

vitamixers are amazing...

i've been drooling over the vitamixer for a while now.  everytime i go into costco, i stand and watch the demos and then happily accept the samples.  :o)   i'm sure my kids were tired of me constantly checking the vitamixers at every store that we visited.  well, i finally took the plunge and bought one last week.  it is an incredible kitchen appliance and has helped me eat more fruits and vegetables throughout my day.  i have made some fruit smoothies as well as a yummy peanut butter ice cream that has no dairy in the ingredients!  my daughter and husband don't tolerate milk all that well, so it is fun making ice cream that they can enjoy!  i can't wait to try out the many recipes you can find on the internet.  

here is one recipe that i created.  if you like mangoes you'll like this smoothie.

1 peeled orange
1-2 frozen mangoes
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup pineapple/coconut juice
1 -2 cups fresh spinach

blend in vitamixer and enjoy!

here is my vitamixer model....

i bought mine at costco, but they have them on amazon:  vitamixer

Monday, March 31, 2014

America's Test Kitchen Gluten Free Cookbook

gluten free cookbook is fabulous!

about a year ago, we realized that my daughter definitely has issues with gluten so we decided to eliminate it from her diet.  we immediately saw positive results, so we have continued on with our new diet!  we are going to see our allergist in april, so we'll hopefully know more about her allergies.  in the meantime, from time to time it is nice to have a few little treats for her since she is on a restricted diet.  my friends were talking about this great cookbook and so, i immediately went out and bought it.  America's Test Kitchen Gluten Free Cookbook is amazing and if you are a gluten free household, this book should be among your library!  i have made the sugar cookies and the pumpkin bread and both taste like they have wheat in the recipe. there isn't the gritty rice texture to these sweets.  the cookbook goes into great depth about their research and testing and it is cool to learn about their various baking and cooking results.  they have their own gluten free flour blend that they share in this book.  i had asked our local gluten free bakery about their flour and they have the recipe under lock and key.  so, to get America's Test Kitchen's flour recipe, i was so tickled pink!!!!  i now have a big batch of it in our kitchen and it is ready for all my baking adventures!  i would highly recommend that you buy this cookbook, and even if you aren't gluten intolerant the recipes are incredibly yummy and good for you since there is no wheat in the food! here is the link on amazon:  cookbook link

this pumpkin bread is moist and just perfect!

the cookbook isn't only about desserts, they have pizza dough, bread, casserole recipes and much more!  thanks for visiting...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sushi making

spicy tuna roll

my family had many dinner celebrations in which my aunties would bring tupperware containers full of fresh sushi.  oh gosh, it was such a treat to feast on all the yummy japanese food.  my aunties almost always brought the sushi so, my mom rarely made it. I know how to make some japanese food, but i have very little experience making sushi.  one christmas, my husband gave me a gift certificate for a sushi making class, but for whatever reason i didn't attend.   in the meantime, i would watch the sushi chefs at restaurants and try and learn their techniques. the roll that i've posted here isn't too difficult, probably the kappa maki is the easiest, it only has a fresh slice of cucumber in the middle.  this roll will have two things in the middle, fresh ahi and baby romaine lettuce leaves.  so normally, sushi is made with the rice and other ingredients on the inside and it's surrounded by seaweed or nori.  this roll is made with the tuna and lettuce still on the inside but it is surrounded by the nori with the rice on the outside.  so, here goes....hopefully my directions and photos make sense.  thanks for stopping by... 


1 cup uncooked japanese short grain rice.  if you want the sushi rice and can't find it in your local grocery store here is the prime link on amazon:  sushi rice
2-3 sheets of seaweed (nori), here is the link:  nori
5 ounces fresh Tuna (Ahi) roughly 2/3 cup when diced
baby romaine lettuce (use this if you like a little crunch in your sushi) cut in strips

sauce for the rice:

1/2 cup rice vinegar ( i also use regular white vinegar since my husband is allergic to rice vinegar)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt

spicy sauce for the tuna:  

1 tablespoon mayonaise
1 teaspoon for Sriracha sauce

first, cook the rice according to the package.  i cheat and have a rice cooker which makes cooking rice so easy.  here is a link to buy one, amazon has a few and the smaller one is out of stock.  this one got great reviews:  rice cooker

but if you don't have a rice cooker here is what you do:  

1 cup of dry uncooked rice equals enough rice for 3 rolls.  to clean the rice, place rice in a medium sauce pan (you might prefer a sauce pan that has a clear lid so you can see the rice cooking) and run cold water over the rice. with your hands, stir around the rice in the water and then drain the starchy water. next add fresh water again and stir and drain.  do this process until the water comes out clear, something like 4 times. when you are done washing the rice, add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water. now over high heat, bring the covered pot to a boil. this will take about 3-5 minutes.  i hear the important thing about making rice on your stove top is not to open the lid.  so refrain from doing this at this point.  :o)

ok, reduce the flame to low and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the water is absorbed by the rice. then after it is done take it off the stove and let it sit for 10 minutes, i usually make mine in the rice maker and it dings a bell when it is done.  if i were to open the rice maker at this point (yes, i have done this) the rice is not ready yet.  so, it must be the same for the both ways of making rice.  this step kind of steams the rice and the it gets fluffy.

let the rice cool down to room temperature. 

 so, next you'll want to prep everything before you start making the sushi.  

note the rice paddle.  this is an awesome plastic rice paddle that rice really doesn't stick to!  you have to get one, you'll be so happy with this purchase if you cook a lot of rice.  also, the plastic doesn't damage the rice and also, doesn't react with the vinegar when you make the sushi portion of this project.  if you don't have this rice paddle a wooden spoon will do, but a metal spoon will react with the vinegar.  here is a link for the rice paddle:  rice paddle

here is something that i saw them do in the sushi restaurants, they covered the bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap.  this keeps the sushi from sticking to it.  i'm kind of a hack when it comes to small details, so my plastic was very tight and i did a sloppy job.  :o)  here is a link for the bamboo mat:   sushi bamboo mat

i trimmed the baby romaine lettuce into little strips that will be placed in a line when making the sushi.

at this point you'll want to make the vinegar sauce for the rice.  place the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan over low heat and mix until the ingredients are dissolved.  take off stove top and let it cool down a bit.  once the rice is at room temp, you are now ready to add the sauce to the rice.  just drizzle it over the rice in small increments, don't toss the whole thing in at once.  after each installment, mix in the sauce well with the rice.  you'll want the sauce to coat the rice, but not make the rice fall apart into separate grains.  i'm pretty sure i only used half the sauce, so if you want to save it for another batch you are ready! 

dice the tuna into small pieces.

here is what the sriracha sauce looks like and here is the link if you can't find it in your local grocery store:  sriracha sauce

then mix the mayo and Sriracha sauce together.  

just had to include this nice photo.  :o)

here is what the tuna mixture should look like.  it is somewhat mushy.

ok, there is a funny story that goes along with this photo!  i like to toast the nori a bit on my stove top burner.  this is optional, it just kind of brings back the packaged nori to life!  well, in order to get a photo of this, i had to hold the nori over the flame....so of course it caught on fire!  so, if you choose to do this step, you just kind of quickly (very quickly) run the seaweed over the flame and do it to both sides to lightly toast it.  you'll notice the sheets are now crisp rather than soft. the package of nori will probably say that it is toasted but you'll notice the sheet are kind of soft.  but again it is your choice whether you want to do this step. 

once the sushi rice is made you have all the above steps complete, you are now ready to start. oh yeah, you'll want a bowl of water for dipping your hands in so that the rice doesn't stick to your fingers.

place the nori on your bamboo mat.

then cover the rice onto the nori sheet and spread the rice around with your wet fingers. see the wet fingers come in handy?!  :o)

you'll want to cover the nori with a somewhat thin to medium layer of sushi rice.

so, since we are going to make an inside out roll, you'll want to flip the rice and nori over on the mat so that the rice is now on the bamboo side.

so now you can't see the rice and you have the nori facing you.  next, you'll want to put a line of the tuna mixture the length of the nori.  note in the photo, my tuna line is incorrect...it should be lined up with the bamboo sticks, in the photo i'm going at a 90 degree angle to them.  this is important since you'll want to roll the line of ingredients with the bamboo mat.  you'll see what i mean in the next photo.

so place a line of romaine lettuce leaves and start rolling.  see how i'm rolling the sushi with the same way the bamboo sticks are lined up? 

you'll want to squeeze the bamboo up against the sushi to get it tightly wrapped.  just keep rolling....

once you have it rolled the sushi up, place plastic wrap or waxed paper around the roll and then cut it.  the plastic or wax paper keeps the sushi from falling apart with you cut it with a serrated knife.


once cut, unwrap from the plastic or wax paper and now you are ready to place on a plate and eat!  if you like fresh black or white sesame seeds you can sprinkle a few on the outside.

don't forget you wasabi and fresh ginger! thanks again for stopping by!!!

tada!  i hope i didn't lose any of you in this sushi making 101!!!!  also, if you want to make it easy and don't want to attempt inside out roll, just place a line of fresh sliced cucumber in the middle of the rice and nori. this is called a kappa maki roll! yummy, this is my daughter's favorite roll, it is simple and fresh! enjoy...