Monday, November 3, 2014

A Black Ceiling? Absolutely!

What's one way to jazz up a boring room? Look up! Create an elegant black ceiling easily.

Black ceiling

We were blessed to have a large bedroom with tall ceilings in our last house. But, something about it just didn't feel right.

Even after painting the walls a soft yellow, the room still felt sterile and uninviting.

There were interesting architectural details built into the ceiling, but the monochromatic color scheme made them disappear. (Please excuse the laundry basket and baby gate in the photo above. Real life sneaks into my photos sometimes!)

I needed a change, and it needed to be bold! Typically interior designers will advise against dark ceilings, claiming that it makes the room feel smaller. But, in this case I decided to break the rules.

Since we had some black furniture in the room I painted the ceiling a dramatic flat black. The result was a fantastic black bedroom ceiling!

Black Ceiling

Suddenly the room felt inviting. The lovely crown molding and raised ceilings came into focus. The space transformed from boring to interesting.
Great things can happen when you use your artistic license the break the rules of design!

Black bedroom Ceiling

Thank you for stopping by, and remember to be bold! Try creating your own romantic and dramatic space with a black bedroom ceiling!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dried Apple Garland Tutorial

For a fun and festive touch of fall, create your own dried apple garland!

A few days ago, I found myself with an abundance of apples, so I decided to make canned applesauce. But, during the process I came up with another idea.
Using slices of apples, I made a dried apple garland to decorate our home.




Here's the How To:


I cut slices directly around the core. So that they would be easier to string I made them pretty thick. They were roughly 1/4" to 1/8' thick. I tried to keep them as uniform as possible. 

I alternated which direction I cut the apples, sometimes slicing them longways (so that to stem remained). Other times I cut from the side, in order to reveal the star shape made by the seeds.


Then I lined cookie sheets with parchment paper and laid the slices out.

Then I placed them in the oven, on a low 240 degree heat.

While they were baking I used the time to make canned applesauce (link to that post)

The apple slices need to bake for a long time. After about 1 1/2 hours I pulled them out and flipped them all over.

Then I let them bake for about 2 more hours. I checked them periodically to be sure they weren't getting too dry. You want them to still feel a little spongy. If they are too dry, then you wont be able to thread them later, because they will just crack.
Finally, remove the cookie sheets from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes.


To thread the dried apples together I used a large sewing needle and embroidery thread. 

Tie several knots at the end to keep the apples in place, and gently push the needle through the slices.

Sometimes I alternated between sliced that had been cut longways, and slices that had been cut sideways.

Finish off the end with another couple of knots, hang, and enjoy!

Over time they will slowly dry even more, and soon you will have a beautifully preserved garland to enjoy!

I love the way the sunlight makes the star at the center of the apples glow.

Left-Overs Idea

I ended up with way more dried apples than I needed for this project (I made a lot of applesauce!). But rather than tossing them, I decided to use them in our autumn "nature table" display.

Stack dried slices on wooden plates and trays, or place them in a bowl with acorns for a delightful seasonal display!

Thanks for stopping by!

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Canned Applesauce Tutorial

It's apple season! We live in the land of Martinelli's. There are apples everywhere! Neighbors, friends, and even our own front yard, have have all been gifting us with lovely apples. Now the question is... 

What the heck do I do with all of these apples?
Enter, a comfort food classic: 

I was so fortunate to receive fresh from the orchard apples. All in all, my newly acquired apples filled a 5 gallon bucket! I knew there was no way we could eat them all in time, so I decided to try preserving them by canning applesauce.

Canned Applesauce Tutorial

First things first, you need to wash and dry all of your canning equipment. You can use canning stuff like this. Or just use a cheaper version like the one I use and your own large pots.
I like to use mason jars, any kind will do.

Load jars and lid rings in the dishwasher and run it through a cycle. Wash on hot, and be sure to use a heated dry setting too. We want to kill any junk that could be living on there. While that's running, use the time to prep you apples.

The experts recommend mixing at least 2 different types of apples. Also (for some reason) tart apples (like Granny Smith, usually used for pies) aren't recommended. I used a bunch of different kinds of apples, I have no idea what they were. Some were red, some green, and some reddish green. Some may have even been Granny Smith, but, oh well. Applesauce is a forgiving creation!
I did a lot of research, and found that some people insist on peeling their apples first, and other people don't peel them at all. So, I decided to do a little of both. Since we'll be pureeing them all later, a little peel in the mix won't really matter.

I peeled a little over half of the apples, and I did a better job with some than with others. Whoops. But, I have to say, there is something so satisfying about mastering the one-piece spiral peel! Hurray, i'm an apple peeling master!
Then I cut the core out of them, and cut the rest roughly into quarters. If you have one of those cutting/ coring doohickies this job would go a lot faster.

*Side Note* 
Some of the apples I cut a crosswise section (about 1/4" to 1/8" wide) to use for a subsequent decorating project (a dried apple garland). This step is not necessary, but can be a fun side project since you have so many apples handy. See the full tutorial here

Back to the apple sauce... You can cook your apples in a slow cooker, or in a large stock pot on the stove.

Since I had so many apples, I decided to try both. I filled the slow cooker with cut apples, a little lemon juice (to prevent browning), and about 2 cups of water. Then I turned it on high.

Next, I filled my biggest pot with cut apples, about 2 cups of water and a few dashes of lemon juice. Once it began to boil, the pot method worked much faster.

After about 5 minutes boiling in the pot, my apples were soft and mushy (some recipes say this can take anywhere from 5-20 minutes).

Next, you need to sterilize the jar lids. Completely submerge the lids in a pot of water and boil them for 10 minutes. Leave them in the warm water until you are ready to use them.

Then, I removed my apples from the heat, and strained them in a fine mesh strainer. Most recipes omit this step, but I wanted to be sure that I didn't end up with watery applesauce.

It's a good idea to further sterilize your jars too. Submerge them in a pot of water and bring to a rolling boil. 

While those are heating up, it's time to blend baby blend!
For this step you can use a blender (be sure to leave room for heat expansion!), a food processor, or something called a "food mill" (I'm not familiar with this one, but everyone says you can use it).

I opted for the food processor. Fill it about 3/4 full of cooked apples and blend until you reach your desired consistency. You can leave it a little chunky, or blend it until it's smooth.

Since I had bits of peel in the mix (as a result of the above stated peeling laziness) I opted for a velvety smooth texture.

Next, using a jar lifter or tongs, remove your jars from the boiling water and put them on a heat proof surface. I use wooden trays, but you could even just lay down a few dish towels and put them on those.

Return all of the blended apples to a large pot and gather additional ingredients and supplies:

-Lemon juice
-Canning equipment like this (or the one I use this) or tongs
-Optional Ingredients: Sugar, Brown sugar, Spices (like Cinnamon, Allspice, Ginger, Nutmeg etc.)

Real lemon juice is not optional. The acidity helps with the preservation process and adds a nice tart flavor. For this large batch I used about 9 tablespoons of lemon juice. It might have been overkill, but I'm a little paranoid about safety.

Then I opted to add about a cup of brown sugar and a cup of white sugar. This is completely optional. But I wanted mine to be full of sweet goodness, so I went for the calories. I also read a tip about adding butter, so I tossed in a couple tablespoons of that too. Yum, fatty goodness!

Bring your applesauce to a boil, stirring often or even constantly. But watch out! Keep a lid handy. Once this stuff starts to boil it goes everywhere. I had globs of applesauce land as high as the fan above my stove! Cover it, quick.

Leave it on low heat and begin to fill your jars. A funnel isn't necessary, but it sure does help! Ladle jars full of applesauce, leaving 1/2 inch of "head room" (empty space) just bellow the rim.

*Variation* When I had about half of the jars filled, I decided to add spices to the remainder of the applesauce. That way I ended up with 2 versions, a mild "kid friendly" blend of plain applesauce, and a spicier adult version.
For the spiced applesauce I added generous amounts of cinnamon, ground allspice, ground ginger, ground cloves, nutmeg and several dashes of white pepper (to give it some kick).

Once all of you jars are full, run a rubber spatula, or the tool that comes with your kit, around the edges of each jar a few times to release any air bubbles. Trapped air can interfere with the preservation process.

Wipe edges and rims clean using a damp paper towel or a clean damp dish towel. Any left over apple residue can interfere with the seal later.

Wash your hands! Then using the magnetic tool, or tongs, remove the round lids from the pot of water and place them on the top of your jars. Be sure to line them up correctly. 

Then screw on the bands, but not too tight. Just until you feel resistance. 

Place your jars of canned applesauce in large pots for processing.

Fill the pots with enough water to cover the jars by at least one inch. Place the pots back on the stove. 

Bring water to a full rolling boil.

Once they begin boiling, set timer (or watch the clock) and boil them for a full 20 minutes. This will seal the jars.

Turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the water for 5 minutes. Then using your jar lifter of tongs, gently remove jars from water and pace on a heat proof surface to cool. 

At some point now you will begin to hear the satisfying "pop" of the lids sealing. I love that sound; it's so delightful!
You may not hear it until they have been sitting out for a while, that's ok too.

Let jars cool for 24 hours, and check each one for a seal.

Checking for a seal: The little bump on each lid should have flattened out, and you shouldn't be able to push it down.

One thing I've noticed is that after processing there is a dingy film left on my jars. It might just be because our water has a high mineral content. But, whatever the reason it isn't pretty.
So, to clean it off I usually just wet a rag liberally with white vinegar and wipe them off.
*Note: I use white vinegar to clean everything! It's so handy, cheap, chemical free and leaves all surfaces sparkling clean!

As you can see in the photo a good cleaning can drastically improve the appearance of your processed jars. They are much better for gift giving! 

I was surprised that a 5 gallon bucket full of apples didn't yield more applesauce. It cooked down and condensed quite a bit. 

5 Gallons of Apples

The last step is to find some cute labels, and decorate the jars of canned applesauce however you wish, For giving gifts sometimes I like to tie a ribbon or a piece of jute twine around the jar.

Then arrange them, take pretty pictures, brag on your blog about your creation (tell me about it!), and enjoy!

Store your canned applesauce in a cool dry place, for up to 2 years. 

Thanks for stopping by!

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