Friday, October 24, 2014

Woodland Theme Table Decorations

A Guest Post ~

My dear friend, Colette from Coco in the Kitchen is a multi-talented kind of gal. She can whip up the most creative and delectable dishes as well as design her own company logo! In addition to all her many gifts, she is such a caring and thoughtful person. Recently, I had my annual breast mammogram and she supported me through the whole thing! What's more amazing is that she is a breast cancer survivor who has the most positive outlook on life! I feel so blessed to have her as a friend, and I hope you love this post and her website as much as I do!  Here is the link to her blog: Coco in the Kitchen

Sit back and get comfortable and enjoy her intimate writing style and gorgeous photos, and make sure to leave a comment for her! So, without further delay, I would like to introduce Colette...


Bringing elements that echo Nature into the home creates a relaxing environment. Anyone who hikes, camps or fishes will agree. One of my favorite bedtime rituals is to flip through magazines. Last week, I was on the look-out for inspiration do a guest post for my friend Janine of the Happy Happy Nester blog. I met her on Instagram, if you can believe it and while we have not yet sat face-to-face over coffee and pastries, we talk daily and share ideas. Janine has a very refreshing sense of style that conveys her happy spirit. I was not sure what I was going to do for her blog, but I knew it had to be something very special. 

Images spread across the pages of magazines fill my head with big ideas that sometimes creep into my dreams. This happened last night. I woke me up in the wee hours somewhere between 2 and 3 am with a brilliant idea - setting the dinner table. After all, it is always good to be prepared. That is how a candlelit woodland-inspired tablescape came to be. In the spirit of Autumn entertaining, this theme sets the scene for a casual, but festive meal. 

Various elements that I imagine finding along a hiking trail collected onto our dining table: Spongy, green moss, twisty twigs and pot-bellied pinecones. The Anna Lee Native American mouse family standing in a bird's nest (there is a baby in a papoose on the mommy's back) recall our history and a season of thanks-giving. A cedar plank made a good home for a fresh loaf of bread and a knife dug into the bread from above mimics a wood ax resting on a tree stump. 

Tealights cast a warm glow over the table and create a soothing mood. Flameless LED tealights are now readily available and safe around kimono sleeves and little hands. 

Place settings are marked by large letters cut out of wood and placed onto a charger plate. Tiny pebbles collected from visits to the seaside add a bit of nostalgic whimsy. Stacked river rocks here and there add a zen-like charm. A glass of ruby-red wine is always an inviting sight. 

Waiter! There's a BUG in my soup! A cozy soup is most appropriate to enjoy the last of summer produce. Zucchini, parmesan cheese, cannellini beans and fresh herbs come together in warm bowl of a creamy, emerald blend. A bit of Halloween comes to join the party. The sour cream spider web and raisin spider make sure the mood remains anything but too serious. Get the recipe and how-to instructions here

A lucky find at a charity sale years ago was a Pilgrim Bear Couple carrying a pumpkin candle holder. They fit in nicely in the woodsy setting. A red ceramic pomegranate salt cellar offers two kinds of red pepper flakes from homegrown crops. The pomegranate is a common symbol of love and family in the Armenian, as in most other Middle Eastern cultures.

A patina-covered Buddha bust resting in a birds nest adds to the serene Eastern feel among stacked pebbles, branches and vibrant green moss. 

The overall composition of the table decor is stunning, but free-form. I spent a good portion of several hours reshaping the look of the table, moving things around, adding some things, removing others. The silver-toned birch tree trunk vases add more height and interest to the table. They are wedding presents and a beautiful tribute to the metalworking craftsmen of my heritage. 

Every seat has a different view that offers topics for conversation and promise a vibrant social gathering. 

The mood changed as the day progressed and the sun cast ever-changing light over the table. By nightfall, the twinkling tealights were more apparent and their golden glow cast welcoming shadows over interesting curves and bends of objects on the table. The objects and their positions also changed. The Native American mouse family gave way Pilgrim bears which later gave way to the Buddha head and birch trunks. The look and feel of the table morphed and each time, presented a different, yet equally charming venue for a home-cooked gathering.

Hopefully, you are inspired to raid your cabinets maybe even your kids' toy boxes for interesting things to set your own themed table. It may be difficult for you to match some of the items like the clay pomegranate salt cellar which is a souvenir from Armenia that my parents brought for us. The Native American mouse family is an Anna Lee original and is now discontinued. I found mine on ebay and am sure you will find something, too. Don't forget to take photos of your beautiful table and share with me. I cannot wait to see your ideas.

This time of year, we think back to what we learned from history books about the early days of our country and all the blessings in our lives. A woodland-inspired table makes a cozy setting to gather with those people who are the best gifts we have ever received and invites them to come back and stay with us again. 

 Where to Find Things 
*Cedar plank = foodsafe, found in the supermarket meat section to be used for roasting salmon. 
*Moss, pebbles, wooden letters, cinnamon-scented pinecones, twig nest, tealights = local craft supply store 
*Manzanita branches = 
*Metal Buddha bust = 
*Birch tree trunk vases = Michael Aram Collection 
*Serving items = 
*Native American mouse family, Home Goods or ebay 

Thanks so much for visiting! We hope you found this post inspiring and create your own Woodland Themed table decor! I know that Colette has given me a bunch of fun and fresh ideas for my next table setting! Leave a comment and don't forget to subscribe via email so you don't miss out on future blogpost. 



Friday, October 17, 2014

Apple Varieties

apples, apples, apples...

autumn would not be so festive without apples. when my husband and i lived in southern vermont, i remember visiting many apple orchards. one farm we frequented, mad tom orchard was in the little town of dorset. after we picked apples, my husband would fly fish in the nearby mad tom creek which made the whole trip complete for both of us. in new england, the apple of choice is the very yummy macintosh. since i grew up on the west coast i wasn't too familiar with this variety. mostly, i remember macs that were kind of mushy and tart. but, when they are fresh off the tree, there is nothing as crisp and yummy as a macintosh apple! nowadays, there are so many apple varieties, that i thought it might be nice to review a few of the popular ones out there. also, i thought it would be great to provide a chart that assesses the various apples for baking and cooking. it also interesting to note that each region of the united states has local varieties, so sorry if i've left out some types.

so this blog post will be divided into three parts. 

         ~ first, there is an interesting quiz about apple facts
         ~ second, a summary for a few apple varieties as well as a helpful cooking chart 

         ~ third, a candy apple recipe

~ a funny note about the nester ~ 

this is a story about the nester's husband. as a child, he and his buddies
would raid an apple tree in his neighborhood. the poor old ladies who owned the apple tree 
had a bakery where they sold fresh homemade apple pies! 
actually, i'm not sure if this a funny or a sad story. :o)

part 1 ~ an interesting quiz about apples!

the apple has many interesting facts! 

do you know which country produces the most apples?

do you know where the apple originated?

true or false, granny smith and fuji apples can be stored up for a year?

what chemical do the apple seeds contain?

true of false, there are 7,500 varieties of apples?

answers ~ 

questions 1
no worries if you don't know that answers, but if you got them all correct, congrats!! if you thought that the united states produces the most apples, it is actually is china! 

question 2 
the country of kazakhstan lays claims to the first apple. there is a southern city called almaty that is literally the ancestral home of the apple. the word alma translates to apple. when we were visiting and adopting our son in kazakhstan, we would buy little bags of apples from the street vendors. when we returned home to our little apartment, we would boil the apples and add a little sugar to make a delicious applesauce. at that time we had no idea that almaty had apple trees that go back to ancient times.

question 3
it is true that the granny smith and fuji apples can be store up to one year. i guess apples are stored in a chamber with high amount of carbon dioxide to prevent the ripening of the apples.

question 4
apples seeds contain cyanide. in small doses it is not toxic unless consumed in extremely large amounts!

question 5
yes, there are 7,500 varieties of apples! so many to choose from!!!

part 2 ~ review of apple varieties

jonagold ~

today was the first time i have tried this apple! it is amazingly sweet and has a medium crispness. it originated from a new york state agricultural experiment in the 1820's. it's a cross between a golden delicious and a jonathan apple. it has an aromatic honey like flavor with tangy sweet side without acidity. this is a very yummy apple for eating fresh. i think i have a new favorite apple.

gala ~

first grown in 1974 by donald w. mckenzie. it is a cross between a golden delicious and new zealand apple called, kidd's orange red. it appears there are something like 25 different variations of the gala apple! they are sweet and aromatic and it almost has a spicy flavor. they are a small apple and fit nicely in a child's hand! 

braeburn ~ 

in 1952, the seedling was discovered by a new zealand farmer, o. moran. it is thought to be similar to a cross between a granny smith and a lady hamilton. i found that when i tasted it, i got a very strong burst of flavor. it is tart and somewhat sweet, kind of close to a new england macintosh! one thing is for certain, it is very crisp. 

fuji ~ 

it originated as a cross between two american apples, the red delicious and a virginia ralls genet. it was developed by growers in tohoku research station in the late 1930's in fujisaki, japan. it was introduced to the public in 1962. contrary to opinion, it is named after the town rather than mt. fuji! it is a very sweet, crisp apple, and of course is popular in japan. it appears that they are something like 19 varieties of fuji apples!

miniture honey crisp ~ 

i'll review the normal size honey crisp. it originated at the university of minnesota, and was originally thought to be a blend of the macoun and honeygold apples. but later, it is known that one of it's parents is the keepsake apple. the honey crisp was first introduced in 1991. and interesting fact about this bi-color apple and it becomes redder when grown in cooler climates. i love how sweet, firm, and tart it is! 

part 3 ~ homemade candied apples

i'm not sure how i've not made either candy apples or caramel apples, so recently i tried a few recipes. the first one had me freeze the apples overnight. the idea is that when coated with the hot candy, it will quickly harden it. well, maybe that works for some people, but definitely not for me. once the apple thawed, i had a runny mess of syrup. hmm... the second recipe used the caramel candies and the microwave. this one still was somewhat gooey. so i finally abandoned the caramel apple mission and i found a candy apple recipe that worked. also, it's cool that they are just so ruby red and pretty! i made 3 recipes and finally the third one was a charm. i ended up making some changes and here is my version.

candy apples

3 - 4 medium apples

2 1/2 cups of white sugar

1/4 cup dark corn syrup

3/4 cup mineral water ( i couldn't find plain so used berry sparklingy water)

2 drops of red or black food coloring ( i saw someone had made black ones, they looked amazing)

1. wash and the dry apples. next pluck out the stem and place stick in it's place. make sure it is securely placed into the apple.

2. cover a baking sheet with wax paper or aluminum foil.

3. in a medium saucepan mix sugar, mineral water and dark corn syrup. bring to a boil and then reduce to medium to low heat. at this point you'll need a candy thermometer. now stir the sugar. this part should take about an hour. the temp should reach 300-310 degrees fahrenheit. it is tricky to get it just right... to test the readiness, have a glass of cold water on hand at the end, and when the temp gets close to 300... drop sugar in the cold water and you should get the sugar to make strings. don't pull the mixture off the stove until this happens.

4. take off the stove and add the 2-3 drops of red food coloring. quickly, swirl the apples in the sugar and place on the wax paper. don't be afraid to swirl until you get a good layer on the apple.

5. when placing it on the wax paper, make sure the apples aren't touching.

* if you like this recipe and would like to make more apple desserts, check out this post: french apple custard tart

a local store ~
we have this wonderful chocolate store. well, my good friend monica, told me to hop on over there and buy one of their caramel apples. so, since my little fiasco in the kitchen left me wondering what a good caramel apple taste like, i took my friend's advice and bought a few gourmet apples. we ate two of the three caramel apples for dessert tonight and we were all amazed how delicious and unusual they were. i wish i could send you some to taste!

interior of the chocolate store ~

our little town is just adorable and this shop is one of many of the cool ones to peruse. they make all their candies by hand and of course they taste amazing!

caramel apples ~

there were so many too choose from, but i came home with these three. the one in the front is inspired by apple pie, the one to the left has peanut butter and chocolate, and the one to the right is a snickers inspired apple. yes, the front apple has a cinnamon sugar coating! i found it interesting that they used a granny smith apple, i guess they last longer and stay crisper!

well, i hope you enjoyed this post as much as i enjoyed researching and writing it. i'm sorry that i can't somehow send you some caramel apples, but maybe this will persuade you to find your own store that sells gourmet caramel apples. enjoy the fall apple season and if you have a nearby apple orchard, visit and pick your own fresh apples. i think i'm going to get my family to take a road trip to the little town of apple hill. doesn't that name sound so quaint? anyway, thanks for reading my post and i hope you return or subscribe!



Friday, October 10, 2014

The Best Chai Tea Latte

chai tea lattes and a few other teas

now that the weather is cooler, i'm craving the warm teas and hot coffees. well, my favorite tea that warms me up with both creamy goodness and delicious spices is a chai tea latte. my first introduction to it was in latte form, so it was quite creamy and smooth. i thought it would be nice to compare the different brands that are out there in the stores. also, i created a powder chai tea mixture that is easy to make and only requires adding warm milk to it. i hope you find this post interesting and helpful and if you haven't tried chai tea lattes,  you need to start this yummy new habit!

~ a funny note about the nester ~

my kid's played with a cute polka dot tea set when they were toddlers. 
they both enjoyed having little tea parties, but mostly it included a 
blueberry tea that contained gobs of sugar and milk!

chai tea latte ~ tazo
this tea comes in a carton and to make a cup, just add 1 part tea to 1 part milk of your choice. i found this chai a bit heavy on the ginger, that's why i photographed it with the ginger snap cookies! :o)  it is sweet and has a nice taste and if you like ginger than this is the chai tea latte for you.  here is the link on amazon: tazo tea

chai tea latte ~ starbucks
a starbuck's employee told me that tea is heavy on the spices. but i found that it was lacking in spices and cream and was just overall weak in favor. i guess it is a popular among people and if you like a weaker tea then you'll like this version!  

chai tea latte ~ the coffee bean & tea leaf
this is a west coast company that started in los angeles california in 1963. the founder herbert hyman started his company after honeymooning in sweden and tasting their amazing coffee. he wanted to bring a better coffee to the united states and so he started his company. 

i regard cbtl as having the best chai latte ~ 
i usually buy my chai tea latte in san francisco since they only had shops in the city. but recently, the company opened a store close to my home. so i was so excited to hop on over there to order my favorite drink! well, i think the employees didn't quite make the chai quite right. my drink was weak and lacked the usual vanilla and spice! of course, i was disappointed since i love this chai.  

flavored powders ~ 
i was first introduced to this vanilla powder through cbtl chai tea latte. they add it to their drinks. my swedish friend was very familiar with this powder and she gave me a genuine swedish box of it. i thought it is interesting to note that the founder, was inspired by the swedish coffee and probably was introduced to their vanilla powder too! this product is so yummy and has a malty richness that makes their drinks so yummy! here is the amazon link: vanilla powder

chai tea latte ~ oregon chai
this drink comes in dry packets as well as in liquid form. as far as instant chai tea goes, i believe this is probably hands down the best! it is delicious on the creaminess and spiciness! just a well balanced tea! here is the amazon link: oregon chai

chai tea latte ~ my recipe
i came up with my own recipe and it's easy to make. the great thing about this recipe is that you can make a big batch and have it on hand! it has a nice hint of vanilla and a great blend of spices. also the cool thing about this recipe is that it makes a big batch to share as gifts during the holidays!

happy happy nester's chai tea mix

makes 9, 8 oz jars

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups powdered non-dairy creamer
1 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
2 cups unsweetened instant tea (make sure it also doesn't have added lemon flavoring)

3 teapsoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice

1. in a bowl or a food processor add all the ingredients and blend till smooth. if you want your mix to be a fine powder, blend in a food processor.

2. i like my chai tea latte thick and creamy, so i suggest mixing one cup of warm milk (soy and almond milk are yummy) to 3 tablespoons of chai tea mixture. 

3. don't be afraid to play around with the recipe to satisfy your own taste buds!

chai tea latte ~ 
full of wonderful spices and aromas!

chai tea latte storage ~ 
i put my dry mixture in a cute glass container to be placed in our kitchen's coffee/tea drink station. a mason jar would work just as well. 

black tea ~
pg tips decaf and caffeine is a smooth black tea. it is strong but yet not acidic. i know that this tea is popular in england. and i think there is a reason for this since it is so yummy. we always have our tea containers full of pg tips tea! pg tips

black tea ~ harney and sons
i once told my husband that i wasn't an "early grey kind of gal!" well, i never heard the last of this! whenever i want a cup of this great tasting early grey, he always mentions that i'm not an early grey fan! as you can see, harney's and sons got me hooked on this type of tea! here is the amazon link: harney's tea

green tea ~ 
yamamotoyama genmai -cha is not your average green tea. it not only has green tea, but bits of puffed roasted rice. the rice gives it a nice flavor and depth to the tea. also, i'm kind of biased about this tea since it bears my maiden name! here is the link on amazon: green tea

i hope this tea post is helpful and if you haven't tried a chai tea latte, that you now will. it is a yummy dessert tea that is great to have during these cooler days and nights. if you have a tea that you like, i would love to hear from you. thanks so much for visiting and don't forget to sign up with your email for the latest posts!



Monday, October 6, 2014

Paper Crafts Inspiration

paper crafts ~ lately, i've had paper on my mind. i just love all the creative things everyone is making from book pages. it almost doesn't seem right to make things with this paper since my husband is an author! so of course, i've been hesitant to tear apart a book, but i think i finally have the courage to tackle this fear and make a garland for the holidays. today, i went to the thrift store and bought a used hardback book for this project. the thing i realized is that not all paper in books appear the same. some are very yellow/brown and other's are cream colored. i found it very funny that i was focused on the color of the paper rather than the story! Also, i was scrutinizing the type too, since it varied from small to large. oh well, i think the page color is pretty important to my room decor rather than the type size. anywhooo... i'm going to tackle this project in the next week or so, but i thought i would share with you the great photos that i found. i'm sure you'll be quite surprised at these beautiful paper crafts, so go out and grab an old book and just maybe your project will be done before mine!

~ a funny note about the nester ~ 

it took my husband something like seven years to write his young adult novel, "the witches of dredmoore hollow." when the publisher asked for a sequel, he laughed at the thought of devoting another seven more years to writing! well, let's just say his book is not a part of a series. :o)

photo:the nester

gorgeous garland ~ this paper garland is from the on her website she has a great post of all the projects she made with paper. this garland is just stunning!

photo: house and home

photo: house and home

photo: martha stewart

photo: miss mustardseed

well, i didn't tear the pages out of my husbands book, but it is mostly sold as an ebook. for those of you that would like to buy it, here is the link: the witches of dredmoore hollow, it is a wonderful book and is reminiscent of roald dahl. it is a perfect halloween book to read to your children! 

so, stay tuned for my paper garland post, i hope to publish it sometime in the next week or two. if you don't want to miss out, make sure you subscribe to my blog, that way you'll receive the posts via email. thanks for visiting and let me know what you think of the post. happy crafting everyone!


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