Sunday, October 12, 2014

Applepalooza 2014

In what I hope will be the first of many days spent canning with Strider's mom, I have affectionately named this past Friday the 2014 Applepalooza! Though it was no big deal to her, it was a truly epic experience for this canning newbie. I've been excited to learn how to can for a while, but as I pointed out to her, it isn't the kind of thing you ever really get the hang of by just reading about it. 

To start off, we gathered our materials and washed our combined bushel of apples. That's right, a "bushel of apples", as in not a math word problem, the actual measurement of "a bushel" (which may I add, I definitely thought was only used on elementary school math worksheets, not in real life). Purchased from a nearby orchard, our bounty cost a total of $16.

With a plan to gift some "apple pies in a jar", I set to work cooking up enough filling for six pies using this recipe from last fall: Caramel-Chai Apple Pie. Yummm! Meanwhile Strider's mom used a tabletop apple peeler/slicer/corer contraption which we both agreed was one of the handiest fall baking inventions ever.
Working in two batches, we combined 12 apples with a pot full of filling in a large steel bowl. Then, using a canning funnel and a measuring cup for scooping, we filled the jars until just below the bottom rim line.
After all the jars were filled, we cleaned up the rims, secured the jar rings, and started heating up the water in the canning pot. All six jars used up a little over half of one half-bushel of apples...also known as one peck (also not just an obsolete term utilized by sneaky math teachers - who knew!)! 
Once the water was boiling, we gently lowered all six jars into the rack. Upon reflection, we realized that we could have probably fit a seventh jar in the center but that six had worked out better for the filling recipe conversion math.
After 30 minutes at a rolling boil, we used canning tongs to very carefully lift each jar out of the bath and set them on the counter. Then began the wait...the agonizing minutes of anticipation and eagerness to hear six "POP"s that would chime the successful sealing of each jar. 
As we waited, we set to work on Apple Project #2: Homemade Applesauce!

After spending a good while chunking the remaining apples into pieces (with cores and skins included), we filled a large pot with apple chunks and just a bit of water and set it over med-high heat. Once the entire pot of apples had cooked into mush, Strider's mom showed me how to use the hand-crank food mill to separate the applesauce from the cores and skins destined for the compost pile.
We worked for a while with success. But it all came to a grinding halt (excuse the pun) when the (admittedly a bit outdated) food mill conceded defeat to the apples and broke completely in two. With two huge pots of apples still to go and a giant mess in the kitchen, we switched the oven off and drove to the restaurant supply store that happens to be less than 5 minutes from the house. (An incredible blessing in location!) After purchasing a newer style mill, we made fast work of the rest of the apples.
You can see from the picture above how the mill separates the pulp from the sauce as you turn the crank. Interestingly enough, the apple sauce in this picture looks much redder than the other as there were more red apples cooked down in this pot. Working in smaller batches, we combined all the applesauce into a large stock pot so all the different kinds of apples' sauce got mixed together.
Using old whipped topping containers, we separated all the applesauce out into freeze-able amounts. Though we did add a little sugar to the sauce (probably 1 cup for the whole stockpot so still loads less than store-bought), it was actually sweet enough that you don't necessarily have to add anything. When it was all said and done...
...we ended up with 17 containers of applesauce! I added a quick swirl of cinnamon to each container then we arranged them all into the freezer. Strider's mom assured me that it stays delicious for a long time when frozen this fresh and that this amount usually lasts them all year. After numerous taste tests, I can assure you that it definitely won't last a year in our freezer, but it's easily a much more nutritious and cost-effective method than the snack cups Strider and I usually enjoy at home.

Don't think we forgot about those jars either. Sadly, only four out of six sealed properly. One, we believed we over-filled in our eagerness, and another had an issue with the lid -- both great lessons to learn from for next time. Plus, I used the contents from one unsealed jar to make a test pie Friday night, and the other got transferred to a plastic container and frozen for another fall baking day...definitely counting it still as a win!

Add some homemade tags with baking instructions on the back and voila! nifty gifts to send home when my sister and her husband come to visit in a couple weeks. Homemade apple pie canned with local PA apples less than 24 hours from the about $4 per jar to make, this was an easy and extremely fun gift to put together! Canning the pies only took around an hour of hands-on time as well so if you were feeling particularly industrious, you could make many more than this in just one afternoon.
Canning is a whole new world to me but with lots of farm markets nearby and a wealth of canning knowledge in Strider's mom and Grammy, I look forward to seeing what our pantry looks like this time next fall!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

fall crafts & not-so-fall crafts

As apartment decorating winds down and we settle into our new routines, the oncoming chill in the air is inspiring fall scented everything and lots of crafts. Thanks to some Joanne's coupons from a sweet friend, I picked up a few pieces of autumnal fabric with a quick sewing project formulating. After a couple hours of work, I have a simple seasonal apron to hang in the kitchen, just waiting for a pumpkin roll to be made. (Tutorial to be posted eventually when I'm feeling a bit more inspired.)

In another stroke of autumn excitement, I snagged a grapevine wreath from Hobby Lobby for $5 as well as a couple cheap pieces of leaves/flowers/etc. Add a little hot glue and leftover ribbon for a fast and inexpensive DIY wreath.

Although not strictly fall-related, here's a snapshot of the latest project (completed today). For just the cost of the scrapbook background paper, I used extra white photo frames to showcase some treasured family history. I mounted each recipe card on plain white cardstock then taped them to a piece of vintage-style striped paper. After hot gluing two pieces of vintage cutlery leftover from another project, I called it done. Simple and heartfelt.
(Note: photo shot at a weird angle because of a background glare issue)

Four amazing chefs represented: my aunt Terri, my "Mammaw",
my dad, and Strider's paternal grandmother Anna

Last but not least, here is the reveal on the crates project I hinted about last week...our very own convertible entertainment center. Inexpensive, rustic, and definitely not from Ikea. 
I purchased the crates at a local farm market here for less than $7 each. They are extremely sturdy and after a little sanding and wood stain, they were the perfect addition to our living room. Bonus- when we get a bigger TV (Strider is dying to ditch the 19"), we can just rearrange the crates. No fuss, no big console commitment. I love everything about this project...okay, excluding the 6 spiders I battled with the dust-buster while doing an initial cleaning.

More later, feeling a bit flat at the moment. Positive note, I started a fantastic new book today and will look forward to sharing that soon as well!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Toto, we're home. Home!

It's official -- we're now residents of Pennsylvania, with our very own apartment and utility bill to prove it! 
The "before" of our new front door. We haven't quite figured out what
we want to do with it yet, but very exciting nonetheless!
And with two days off last week, I managed to get every box emptied, flattened, and out the door so actually feels like home. We're still working on the internet connectivity so posting/engaging online is tricky at the moment, but I do have a few fun apartment crafts to show off:
DIY key rack right inside the front door. All materials from Hobby Lobby. I stained/painted/sanded the wood plaque then hot glued the cross and knobs to the front.

In celebration of my first real pantry ever (at our last place we used a converted coat closet), I transferred most of our dry goods to various sized glass jars and made kraft paper tags for everything. They don't photograph well inside the pantry but make me surprisingly happy to see all in a line. 

Some homemade bathroom wall art using a spare frame we already had. Total cost = 25 cents for the for me! Lettering was done using this method.

 And for a super sneak's our craft room with a mysterious wooden crates project underway.

I promise I'll have more soon, but for now...I'm off to cook dinner and keep crafting! (Plus, watching gobs of Gilmore Girls because I finally succeeded in getting Strider hooked!!)

Friday, August 29, 2014

tractors and taters

We made it! The truck has been returned and a mountain of our stuff now occupies half our parents' garage. We spent all week sorting out employment and housing stuff, but we're almost finished with those things as well. We found an amazing apartment and after some great recommendations on our behalf (thank you friends!), we got it! The landlord is repainting so we can't actually move in for another two weeks, but at least there is a timeline there with an incredible new home for us at the end. Incredible as in furnished washer/dryer and central AC kind of incredible...pinch me! 
In the meantime, we've been trying to be helpful squatters. This morning, Strider's mom let me help make and can homemade salsa. My first actually canning experience - totally awesome and definitely taking pictures next time. Then, we headed over to help our grandparents dig up their potatoes. New to me, it was surprisingly fun and quick.
Pappy on the tractor
Strider's Uncle manned the plow...see those yellow "rocks"...potatoes just rolling right out of the dirt!
Once the rows are plowed, hands get dirty very quickly.
The buckets were filling up fast!
No middle man needed. Plus, Strider got to wear his snazzy work boots!
Apparently pretty good haul for just five rows...looks like tons to this first-timer!
Grammy and Strider's mom handled the last of the lima beans while we finished up the 'taters.
Load them onto the truck...
...and drive 'em around to "the cave" where they can be stored in the cool and dark.
After we were done, we sat on the porch and shelled the peas. The hard work was rewarded with ice cream sandwiches and lemonade. Plus a sneak peek at Grammy's freshly canned peaches. Yum! Plus, check out this view -- imagine a blanket and a good book under that tree, huh!
Work starts Monday but it's been a very fun week of adventures, exploring, getting lost, and realizing just how small you feel in a new place. But also how exciting the unknown can be! Looking forward to so much more to come.

Friday, August 22, 2014

goodbye, NC!

For 9,581 days (aka my whole life), I have called North Carolina home.
And although in some ways, it always will less than 24 hours...

40 boxes + 1 truck + 344 miles = a whole new adventure!

In the meantime, I'll indulge in a little NC nostalgia and listen to James:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

foodie books galore

Somewhat by happy accident, all the latest books on my nightstand have been food-related. And of course, nothing makes you want to rush into the kitchen and starting cooking up a frenzy more than an inspiring foodie novel. Sadly though, nothing staunches that inspiration like your entire kitchen being packed up in boxes. (Our big Moving Day is T-minus 1 week!!) Instead, my big kitchen challenge last week and this week is to create menus that systematically use up all our current pantry stock while limiting additional purchases. It's going well so far but definitely making things a little more interesting on the planning end. It feels a bit like a depressing reality time for "Eat Your Way Out of Your Home"!! (Terrifying but no doubt soon-to-air on A&E.)

Tangents aside, I've been devouring foodie books left and right and can't wait to organize our new kitchen (wherever that may be) and get back to cooking. In the meantime, I highly recommend these fabulous finds:

Thoughtful and self-reflective, she shares her life journey of loving food and the signature dishes and cooks that shaped her foodie passion. Wonderfully written, a bit sad at times, but enjoyable and inspiring for sure with great recipes to keep and try.

I am ashamed to admit that I'm just now getting around to reading this, but finished it this morning in a state of utter sadness to turn the last page. Julia Child's My Life in France is absolutely stunning, lovely, brilliant, quirky, human, and fun all in good measure...very much like the author herself. I read Julie & Julia a few years ago and wasn't terribly impressed, though I do adore the movie adaption of the two books together. Now that I've finally gotten around to My Life in France, it will be a welcome addition to my permanent collection for future re-reads. All around, just tremendously enjoyable!

Next up on the foodie to-read list is Life is Meals by James & Kay Salter. A random treasure picked up at our local book consignment shop, I am intrigued by their 365-day layout and was hooked from the first few lines. Hopefully, it will prove to be number three in my accidental but wonderful foodie reading saga.

Last proper kitchen adventure pre-living-room-full-of-boxes was Buttermilk Cake with Marscapone Cream and Fresh Berry Compote...not at all a bad way to wrap up our last few days in this kitchen!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

hand lettering 101

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of type design. And although I don't have access to software to do so at the moment, I also enjoy dabbling in graphic design. It's easy to see that Photoshop and other advanced software have made creating stunning, unique designs endlessly possible. However, if you want to see some serious skills, look no further than old-school Disney credits. Peter Pan debuted in 1953...definitely no Photoshop back then. Can you believe the talent of those type designers and background artists?!
Though I have almost zero experience doing so, the idea of creating beautiful "type" without any actual typing is quite intriguing. So...I decided to test the waters with a simple journal cover makeover. 

To start, I found the journal I wanted and measured the available design space. Using a pad of graph paper, I blocked off the square where my design needed to fit and roughly sketched the proverb out. I came across this verse a few months back and for a perfectionist like me, it is a great perspective to remind myself of. (Also, pretty appropriate for my first attempt at something new!) On the right, you can see the grid lines I drew on the journal cover to transfer the design over and (hopefully) keep the proportions correct.

Next, I re-drew the verse onto the journal, cleaned it up a bit, and traced over it with Sharpie.

The final step was to embellish the letters a little and add a simple free-hand design on the folding cover flap. It certainly isn't perfect but given the subject matter, I'm very pleased! 

Definitely more time-consuming than some Photoshop projects, but hand-lettered design is going in the "fun crafts to practice" column! Any experience with hand-lettering your own projects? Tips for a noob?