Friday, July 25, 2014

Homemade Chai tea concentrate

Between chai and I, it was pretty much love at first sip. My summer Starbucks drink of choice was an iced soy chai for many years. Then, a few years ago, I was afforded the delectable experience of a homemade authentic cup of chai tea made by a woman whose family had come from India. This stuff was the real deal.

And I fell even deeper in love.

In the past year, Jim and I have developed a love of Indian food, a cuisine I'd previously deemed icky and refused to even try. In trying different restaurants, I've learned that everyone seems to have a different take on the milky tea beverage. Some I love and some, usually the sweeter ones, I really quite dislike. But being exposed to so many different variations of the same drink got me to thinking. Maybe I could make my own variation too.

After experimenting a bit with different spices, I came up with one I love.


Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

6 cups of water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
10 cloves
2 star anise "stars"
small chunk of fresh nutmeg (you can substitute for 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg)
1/2 tsp ground ginger (or a small piece of fresh ginger)
8 tbsp loose black tea
3 tbsp honey

If you  have a mortar and pestle, use it to crush your spices. I do not have one, so I just broke mine up with my hands and/or the flat side of a knife blade. Add the spices and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Put a lid on it and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and add the tea leaves. Cover and let steep for five minutes. Strain the tea into a large pitcher and discard the leaves and spices. Add the honey and stir until combined.

I store mine in mason jars and mix it with soy milk when I need a "fix." Of course it never lasts this long at my house, but it will keep for about a week in the fridge.

It's delicious either hot or iced and pairs perfectly with a good book or a close friend. Or both.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Ball

The Beekeeper's Ball, like a luscious slice of bee sting cake or a glass of good pinot noir, needs to be savored. 


I learned this as I tried to rush through it in order to finish this review in what I thought was a timely fashion. In fact, I think I'll be reading it all over again because of such rushing in the beginning. And because it was just that good.

Isabel Johannson was done with love. She'd allowed herself to be swept away once and it had almost ruined her.  No, she didn't need a man. She was perfectly fulfilled with the life she had: living amongst the apple trees and rolling hills of Bella Vista, planning her sister's wedding and getting to know the grandmother she'd never known she had, and on the verge of making her dreams come true by opening a cooking school where she could share her true passion with others. 

Enter Cormack O'Neill, the journalist hired to write Isabel's grandfather's biography. He's not looking for love either, or anything that will tie him to one spot for very long. He'd been married once, and the experience was not one he wanted to repeat.  But Bella Vista has a charm he can't seem to pull away from and he's not sure how much of it is the beauty and magic of the place and how much is the beauty and magic of Magnus' granddaughter.

The Beekeeper's Ball is a story of love's power to make our lives shine, even when we thought we had everything we needed. The relationships within its pages teach us that family isn't only about blood but about the love and connection between people.  

Isabel's story is one that I can relate to in many ways. She learns, throughout the course of the book, that there is still room in her life for a different kind of joy than she'd ever experienced. When I met my husband, I made it clear to him that I didn't need him. I wanted him in my life because I enjoyed his company, but I needed no one to make me happy. I could handle it on my own, thank you very much.  It wasn't until we fell in love that I realized he'd become inexplicably tied to my idea of what happiness truly was.

 Isabel, likewise, learns that even though her life seemed to be in perfect order, there was still room for more joy. And when that joy was suddenly taken from her, the things she thought were all she needed suddenly seemed lacking. 

I highly recommend the Bella Vista series, The Apple Orchard and The Beekeeper's Ball to anyone who needs a reminder that happy endings do exist. And to anyone who just likes good books. These ones were awesome!  

A few of my favorite quotes from The Beekeeper's Ball

"I know that in spite of my trials, I've been blessed in ways I cannot begin to count. I discovered that life does not always give us what we think we want. Life tends to give us what we need." -Magnus Johannsen

"The whole world was there for her, just waiting for her to begin." -The last words of the book, as Isabel realizes that her life is located in Bella Vista, but its up to her to fill it.

A little note regarding Susan Wiggs: 

I've been asked many times who my favorite author is, and frankly, it's impossible to answer.  Names float to the forefront of my head including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen, Gregory McGuire and Alan Bradley. I am so in love with books that my top ten list changes almost every time I read a new one.

But safely nestled in at least my top three lives Susan Wiggs. She writes the kind of books I can read over and over again when the world gets too scary or sad and I need a healthy dose of happy endings.  Susan understands the human heart, what makes it tick, what can shatter it to pieces and what it takes to put it back together. 

If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out her Lakeshore Chronicles series and definitely read the Bella Vista books.

Do you have a favorite author whose books you read again and again? Do share!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doing what I love

I know I promised you a book review...yesterday. I'm awful, right? But I did so without thinking 24 hours ahead to the fact that we had a wedding!

And I'll get to the book review...probably tomorrow. I do, after all, want to make sure I do it justice and not just throw some words down simply to get it done. I did really enjoy the book.

But in the meantime, I'm editing wedding photos and tearing up all over again as I relive this couple's "First Look," so I'll share a few photos with you and write the review when my head clears of wedding fog.

I believe that the couple should see their "First Look" photos before anyone else does, but here is the moment I set them free to share a few private minutes together before the rest of the day's crazy began.

 These two were so sweet, so in love and so kind to Jim and I. It felt more like we were photographing a friend's wedding than a client's.

Here's one of them from a little bit later. Look at all that love in their eyes!

And, for your viewing pleasure, here are a couple more from other weddings this season.

We have been so lucky to work with such great people this year (and in years past!). It's such an honor to not only watch them profess their love in front of their families and friends, but to be able to capture those moments for them. 

 I love that photographing weddings is something I can do with my own husband. I feel like working together in this way brings us closer together, strengthens our bond and gives our relationship something unique. He's the perfect "second shooter." He knows me, anticipates what I need and what I'm going to do, and frankly, he's a pretty awesome photographer himself!

We are so excited for the rest of the 2014 season and for the weddings we've already booked for 2015. I love what I do and I'm so grateful to those people who put their faith in me to do it!


Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: The Apple Orchard

Well I finally managed to finish The Beekeeper's Ball, the book I told you I was reading to review. At first I wanted to just finish it, to get it done so I could write the review by the time it came out (I received an Advanced Reading Copy from the author, Susan Wiggs), but then I realized I was stressing, I wasn't enjoying the book, it was a chore, not a luxury, and I stopped. I slowed down and read the book at a pace that allowed me to savor it.

"But the title of this post is 'Book Review: The Apple Orchard,'" you say with a bewildered look on your face. "What's all this about The Beekeeper's Ball?"

Well that's why I ended up rushing in the first place. I received the ARC of The Beekeeper's Ball before I actually read The Apple Orchard, and since it drives me positively bonkers to read a series out of order, I had to read the first one first.

And since I loooooved it, I'm going to share my review with you before I review The Beekeeper's Ball, okay?

Good, now that we've got that all straightened out.....

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs


I was hooked as soon as the back of the book informed me that this story takes place in Sonoma County. For those of you who don't know, I earned my bachelor's degree at Sonoma State University and fell head over heels in love with the area. There's something magical in those rolling hills. The smell of fresh cut grass and wildflowers, the feel of the coastal air making its way in from the Pacific Ocean, it relaxes and refreshes me in a way no other place can. When I learned that Susan Wiggs, one of my favorite authors, had written a book that took place there, I knew it would be love at first word.

And I wasn't disappointed.

Tess Delaney in your average overworked, single metropolitan girl. She has the job of her dreams at an auction house in San Francisco, and she's convinced herself that her career is all she needs to be happy.

Unconcerned with sentimentality, she skates through life without getting too attached to anyone or anything. Of course, that is, until she finds herself in the hospital with an anxiety attack and a handsome stranger who has come to tell her she has a family and a history she wasn't aware of mere miles away. 

Reluctantly, Tess boards a small airplane piloted by the handsome stranger, and heads for Archangel (the magical little town of Susan's own creation), a family she never knew she had and happiness she never realized she was missing.

Intertwined with Tess' story, we are whisked back in time to Nazi-era Denmark where the story of how Magnus (Tess' long-lost grandfather) survives the war and finds himself the proud owner of a 100-acre apple orchard in California unfolds before us.

The Apple Orchard is classic Susan Wiggs. She has a way of describing things that brings them to life on the page. You can almost see the rows of apple trees and blue skies for miles, taste the mouthwatering honeys, cheeses and cakes and smell the apple blossoms and ripening grapes that make up the Bella Vista estate.  She seamlessly mingles historical fiction with a modern love story and leaves you hungry for more, in every sense of the word.

Fortunately, there's The Beekeeper's Ball to feed that hunger.And tomorrow I'll tell you all about it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Beautifying our yard

One of the many things the Mister and I have been up to as of late is building ourselves a garden. Last year we planted tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers and strawberries in pots and while we were ecstatic to have fresh veggies, it just wasn't quite enough for us.

Behold, three weeks worth of work and all the garden our little yard will hold!

Whadya think?

We built the whole thing ourselves from a big ol' pile of wood in our garage. We have two 2x10 ft and three 2x8 ft raised beds and the arches you see hold our herb garden (the one in the back) and our cucumber and bean plants (the one in the front).

After this photo was taken, we purchased these for each of the posts. They're solar and they make our yard glow at night.

We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, yellow squash, zucchini, jalapenos, some other sort of pepper Jim picked out, pumpkin, watermelon, cantaloupe, fennel, basil (sweet and purple), Italian parsley, sage, thyme, dill and oregano.

Here are some of our first veggies, a cute little tomato and a cucumber that we just harvested this morning.

We can't wait to finish sprucing up our outdoor space so we can spend some time outside this summer! The rest of our plans include finding a nice table a chairs and planting around the rest of the yard. We are also on the hunt for a cute little fountain to put in one corner and some other lights because it's not quite bright enough in the dark with the post lamps.

Do you plant a garden every year? If so, what are your favorite fruits/veggies/herbs to grow?

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