Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Time is Here

Hello, and Season's Greetings, Readers.
I hope everyone is having a good, not too stressful Christmas/Holiday season. 

My month has had it's moments, but I've managed to adjust, and sail on.

I was excited come December 1st to pack away the Fall decor and be able to get out the Christmas stuff.

 The sheetrock is torn off this wall so we can get to the plumbing in the bathroom on the other side of the wall, so I covered it with a sheet and borrowed the idea - likely as seen on Pinterest - of hanging Dollar Tree plastic table cloths.

The (Gemmy) Santa that J rescued from the dumpster at work before someone threw him away. I think he's awesome....even if his head does fall off sometimes, lol.

The "gift" is an old framed print wrapped in Dollar Tree wrapping paper/ribbon/bow.

My Grannie's old ceramic vase holds branches from the yard to display some of my old glass ornament balls.

The mantel decor didn't go so well. Couldn't get it to come together.

Little red tinsel tree with cinnamon-applesauce ornaments, and a little gingerbread couple hanging out below.

My "snow village" didn't work out too well, either.

Charlie Brown tree by the tv, because it made sense....Charlie Brown Christmas was one of the Christmas programs we watched on tv every year when I was growing up.

My little collection of Nativities, and a Church. Another 'I can't get this to arrange right' issue.

J's fireman-Baby Jesus print, with the glass cross from a basket from his Daddy's funeral.  
My Aunt made me the lighted glass block a few years ago, and the oil lamp I bought as a souvineer from Jamestown, VA last year. 
It's all something of a "This Little Light of Mine"/Christmas Star/Jesus is Born theme.

And a fuzzy picture of our Christmas tree.
With the new camera I bought myself on Black Friday in hopes of being able to take better pictures.

We've been doing some work in our ugly stairwell - got one wall of sheetrock up - but haven't been very excited to do the other side and finish it yet....

Anyway I saw this Stairway Christmas Tree - on Pinterest, natch - and wanted to give it a shot.

It's made from shelf-liner paper. You can use white or any color, I just had white with pastel polka-dots in my stash-of-stuff, so that's what I used.
(The whiter looking parts on it is reflections from the glass of the door.)

It's the first thing you see when you come in the carport door. The three or four visitors I've had have thought it was pretty neat.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Apples, Apples, and More Apples

My Dad also had a bumper crop of apples in his orchard this season, and I ended up with a ton of them (or seemed like it anyway, lol). 

Needless to say, I've not being doing a whole lot besides peeling/coring/chopping/slicing/cooking/canning apples these past coupla months.

 I've mentioned before how I like to try to use as much of the apples (or pears) as I can get out of them.

Previously I'd used the peels/cores to make Apple Cider Vinegar. While that worked out good, turns out, I just don't use ACV (even if I should), nor do I know anyone who does.

So I Searched and found out that you can make jelly out of the apple scraps, and not only jelly but apple sauce, apple butter, and fruit leather.

I started out making Apple Pie Filling (Click link for recipe).
Apple chunks go into sterilized jars, the cores and peels go into a stock pot.

Add water to just under the top of the apple cores/peels. (After I did this once, I started using apple juice in place of water for a more "apple-y" flavor.)  I put the pot on to boil for about half an hour.

While the cores/peels was boiling, I made my apple pie filling syrup stuff, filled the jars, put on lids and rings, and processed in water bath for 20 minutes.

When the cores/peels cooked down, I poured them into a piece of muslin fabric in my colander.  I used muslin instead of cheesecloth to keep my juice more clear, without any fruit bits getting through.

I let it drain for awhile, then gathered the edges of the muslin and mashed and squeezed as much more juice through as I could.

After I squeezed out all the juice I could, I put the remaining apple mush into my foley food mill and squeezed out any good fruit puree, leaving seeds and peels behind.

When I was done, I had nearly 4 quarts of apple juice, 2 pints of apple sauce, and some fruit leavings that my chickens think are pretty darn good (or they just eat pretty much anything anyway).

With the juice, I made Candy Apple jelly. (Click for recipe)

It has Red-Hots cinnamon candies in it, giving it that gorgeous red color.

Then there was the applesauce.

It did not look good, and it did not taste good (to me).  I came thisclose to dumping it in the chicken scrap bucket, but decided to try doctoring on it first. Figured I couldn't mess it up any worse.

Using my recipe for applesauce using apples, no peels/cores, I added sugar and then it tasted much better. Apparently I'm not an unsweetened applesauce fan.

It was still ugly, though, and no one was going to eat it the way it looked, no matter how it tasted.

I attempted to disguise it by adding spices to make it into apple butter.
It may make a good apple butter in a pinch, but since I was making real apple butter at the same time, the difference was obvious.
This was more like a spiced apple sauce, than apple butter.

I put the jars of applesauce/butter in the fridge, figuring I'd end up throwing them out before it was over, and moved along to the next thing, dehydrating.

I didn't know much about dehydrating, and sat down to research info...during which I learned that applesauce and even apple butter can be made into fruit leather/fruit roll-ups using the dehydrator.

I spread(ed) the apple sauce/butter onto parchment paper on my dehydrator trays (I use this dehydrator ), and dried at 175° for...many hours, 8? 10? 12? 
I started at about 6-7 hours, same as regular apple slices, but kept having to add time, I lost count how much.

It finally dried out.

Here they are rolled up, cut in half.

I tasted them, and was not a fan. Again, figured I'd end up throwing them out.
Before I did that, though, I let John and Ryan taste them, and they liked them just fine.

So I cut them (with my regular kitchen scissors - regular scissors I bought the Dollar Tree that I just keep in the kitchen drawer) into approx 2-3 inch widths.

They take them to work for snack, and have pretty much gobbled them all up already.
J shared some with his co-workers and they even liked them. 

So to re-cap, I got apple jelly, applesauce, apple butter (or, spiced applesauce) and/or fruit leather roll-ups, all from the parts of the apples that people usually throw away, the peels and cores.

I also got apple juice, but used it for jelly or substituting for water in boiling subsequent batches of apple scraps, because as far as drinking it, I wasn't a fan. Hahaha. 
Others would probably consider it delicious.

In addition to the apple pie filling, I made crockpot apple butter (Click for recipe and free printable labels).

Then I decided instead of canning more apple pie filling, I wanted to dehydrate apple pieces to use in a pie filling later.  Dehydrated apple pieces would fit more to a jar, taking up a lot less room, and probably last longer than the canned pie filling.

For this job, I busted out the handy-dandy apple peeler/corer/slicer.

Soak the slices in a mixture of water and lemon juice to keep them from turning rot-colored-brown.

What happened then was....
Some time back, I had tried slicing apples, sprinkling with cinnamon, and drying them in the oven.
We did not like them at all. (I meant to go back and try cinnamon and sugar, but just never did.)

Anyway, I didn't figure we'd like plain old dried apples with nothing on them at all any better.

Maaan, I spent hours - days! - working on peeling, slicing, drying, and cleaning up the mess after, several dozen apples (There's about 10 apples in that half-gallon jar in the picture above).

That's right, John or Ryan picked up one and ate it and that was all she wrote.
They load up quart size baggies full with dried apple chips to take to work with them.
I'm like, "Do you know that's like FIVE apples in that bag?!"

So, yeah, can probably forget making apple pies out these babies. They'll be gone in another week or so.

At some point I also made some Apple Pie Jam. I don't even know. 

I made it through canning most of the apples into pie filling, jam, or butter, but I ended up shoving a lot of the cores/peels into freezer bags and stowing them in the freezer to mess with later, after I've recovered a bit, lol.

(It doesn't look like from the pictures here that I canned nearly as much as I actually did. There is/was a lot more. I shared a good bit of it with my family.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Happy Halloween

This year's Halloween decor.

 Mother Spider on the ceiling of the small foyer inside the carport door/at the bottom of the stairs/between the kitchen and dining room.
Her Spider Babies running along the door, inside and outside (startled some JW's, lol). 

Mother spider is made of black crepe paper streamers (Dollar Tree), two black balloons (Dollar Tree) - one blown up larger than the other, and two circles cut from red card stock paper (you could also use regular paper colored with marker).  All secured with scotch tape.

The Spider Babies are Dollar Tree spider rings, with the ring part cut off, and a small magnet glued on. (You can read about how I made them Here and Here.)

The mantel:


White ceramic urn - Free, inherited - made by Grandmother in 1960's
Sticks/branches - Free, picked up out of yard
Window - Free, salvaged
Clear Oil Lamp - Free, gift/inherited - given to me by Mother-in-law, belonged to her Grandmother. (I did have to replace the chimney glass that was missing/broken/gone.)
Oil Painting - Free, gift - painted for me by an artist friend from Colorado
2 Pumpkin candles, Pumpkin Mug, Black Cat Halloween Sign - Free, freecycle
Handmade Clay Jack-o-lantern - Free, gift - Made by youngest son in 5th grade, won a prize in School Art show

Vintage Blow-mold lighted jack-o-lantern - 50¢ at thrift store
Red glass (compote?) dish - $1.00 at flea market (Long time ago, I used to pick these dishes up for $1.00 or less at flea markets or yard sales. Now they cost $15+.) (Red plaid pj pants fabric scrap = $0)
 I found the black table runner at Dollar Tree for $1.00. It was just the right size for my mantel. They also had red and green ones, good for Christmas.
Skeleton head - $1.00 at Dollar Tree
Pumpkin dish - about $8.00 at Walmart, but you can usually find these cheaper at thrift stores or yard sales.

I found the black candelabra(s) (there are 2) at a yard sale years ago for $1.00.
I made the plastic canvas jack-o-lantern years ago.
The crazy-faced jack-o-lantern was (is) a toy, bought to entertain my youngest son years ago.
I forget where the wooden/smiling j-o-l came from, but I've had it for years, also.
The other plastic, lighted j-o-l's I believe came from the Dollar Tree over the years.

China Cabinet:

Hobnail oil lamp - 75¢ at yard sale
Black roses, Dollar Tree (When I bought/made these, they didn't sell black roses, so I spray painted red ones. Now they sell black ones, around Halloween time.) In the matching ceramic urn, made by Grandmother in the 1960's.
Wine bottles were free, filled with food-colored water...I bought a package of stickers at Dollar Tree, but you can also print your own from the internet.

Skeleton - 10¢ at yard sale
Welcome Witches and Ghouls sign - Free, freecycle
Black scary netting stuff, Dollar Tree
I made the painted, wooden "ghost rising out of scary books" figure menia years ago.
Spider candle holders from Dollar Tree.
Trick or treat animated bowl, forgot how much, from Walmart, long time ago.
Also, lighted pumpkin on top came from Walmart, long time ago, before I shopped thriftily.

I found this big jack-o-lantern bucket/planter at a thrift store just last month for $1.00. Turned out to be just the thing for holding my small collection of children's Halloween books.

The buffet, which did not turn out well.
There's not much co-hesiveness here, or levels of height, or...whatever else decor aspects are missing.

The wall behind the buffet is torn out while we work on the plumbing of the bathroom on the other side of the wall, so I hung a white sheet to try to hide the worst of the ugliness of it.
Our kitten kept climbing the sheet and tearing it down, and running across the buffet to make her escape.

We were also getting ready to go on a two week vacation in our camper in a few days, so I didn't have a lot of time to mess with trying to fix this, so....this is how it is.

For all my excuses as to why it didn't turn out didn't turn out that well last Christmas either. I apparently have difficulty decorating a buffet top for some reason.
I'd say "decorating a flat surface", but the fireplace mantel is a flat surface and I think I do okay with it, so I don't know what the problem is exactly.

I glued a magnet to the underside of a plastic bug (from a package of bugs and stuff from the Dollar Tree). A magnet inside the lampshade - not glued - holds the bug onto the lampshade.
(In case I didn't explain that very well, see this post.)

I think the skeleton bookmark came from the same package as the bug.

"Little Scary Dude", that I made years ago when they still sold the cheap, plastic costumes and masks. 
I used a hooded shirt and pair of jeans of my son's, safety-pinned together and stuffed with newspapers, then dressed it in the costume.
Just found the "eyes" within the past couple of years, at Dollar Tree. 
Have meant to add shoes for ever, but just never got around to it, and now all the smaller sized shoes are long gone.

Yes, that's Kitty-Kitty on LSD's lap.
We were looking for her one day, and couldn't see her when she was laying down with her eyes closed, she blended into the black costume.
Silly Kitty.