Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kiki's Cocoa

This evening I got a chance to go on a walk with TJ & Kiki to the Rose is one of our favorite places to go. Sadly, when we arrived today we found that the roses have all been pruned and tied in preparation for winter. Kiki and I talked at length about our sorrow over summer ending. We decided, however, that there is nothing to be done and we'd best focus on the GOOD things about winter, instead of making ourselves sad. #1 on Kiki's list? HOT COCOA!
We're all out at our house, so we made a trip to the grocery store immediately and gathered up the supplies to make our own. Kiki hadn't done this with me before and it was a fun, easy project to do, if she's goign to be the one drinking it, it gives her ownership. Here's our (super simple) recipe:

24 oz. box of dry/powdered milk (we used a 25.6 oz. box)
1 c. non diary creamer
2 c. powdered sugar
16 oz. instant chocolate drink mix

In a LARGE bowl (in our case, an icecream bucket) mix all the items together.

Getting a little help from TJ!

She was pretty sure it was going to overflow!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Applesauce Season

In W-town we are blessed with one apple tree...normally that wouldn't work in terms of pollination, but, thankfully, the neighbors also have an apple tree so we're good to go.

The interesting thing is that our tree has a cycle of producing every-other-year. Last year we had about 4 apples on the entire tree. This year the tree was so laden with apples that the branches were laying on the ground...a very good problem to have. Many people stopped and asked if we were going to do anything with the apples...I think the for-sale sign made people think we weren't planning to use them; but, trust us, we were! (Of course, we told the people who asked that they were welcome to help themselves...there was PLENTY to go around!) Even with sharing, we still picked around 5 buckets full, plus the hundreds that the kids ate straight from the tree!

The first year we had apples I made apple pies like a crazy-person; even prepping apples and freezing them to make apple pies in the winter! That was a fine way to use them, but, unfortunately, only The Spouse likes apple pie! This year I decided to make something that more of my crew likes...Apple Sauce! I did some researching around on the Internet and also tried to remember what I'd seen my Mom do....she used to make no-sugar-added-applesauce for my kids when they were babies...always helping me save money. Love her!

The link I most often referred to can be found here. It's from Pick Your Own.Org and it has a lot of great info, as well as awesome answers to a lot of FAQ (many of the same questions I had!)
I did NOT have many of the supplies they suggested, however, so I thought it might be helpful to share how I made applesauce using just what I had on hand...I'm willing to bet there are lots of people like me out there. :)

So, here you go:

Apples...I just used the ones off of the tree; which are quite tart.
2 large pots (1 for cooking apples. 1 for holding processed apples)
1 super-large pot (for boiling water and putting the jars into to seal them)
Sugar to taste (because of the tartness I used around 1.5 cups per pot...The Spouse kept tasting until we found the right amount)
Cinnamon to taste
Cutting Board
Slotted spoon
Jars with lids
Wire cooling racks
Oven Mitt

Sterilize your can do that in the dishwasher if you have a 'sterilize' setting or you can clean them and then boil them in a pot of water. Keep them in the dishwasher or in the pot until you actually use them to minimize exposure/germs.

Wash your apples

Cut your apples up; you do NOT want the stem or the seeds. They can be sent to compost.  I left the skins on.

Put the apples into a pot with a little bit of water in the bottom. Cover the pot and turn the burner on "high". Let the apples cook until they are soft and took about 8 minutes. Watch to make sure you have enough water to cook the apples. While I was waiting I cut the next group of apples for the next batch.

Use your slotted spoon to scoop the cooked apples into your want to leave as much of the water behind as you can. I kept using the same water for each batch; it got appley goo in it and I felt like I wasn't wasting that way!

Blend your apples to your desired consistency...because the peelings are still in there, you might want to blend longer than normal.

Pour your blended apple into the 2nd large pot.
I did not have enough at that point to fill my pot, so I did another batch.

Add the sugar and cinnamon to the mixture, making sure to stir it completely. This is where you need some extra clean spoons so you can taste test your mixture. I liked it plain, so I canned some jars that way. The Spouse liked it plenty sweet, so we did some that way too.

Using your ladle, put the applesauce into your jars.
Leave about a 1/4" of space.

Put the lid and ring on your jars.

Put the closed jars in your Super Large Pot of boiling water. For pint jars you want to let them boil for 15 minutes; quarts for 20.

Use your tongs and oven mitt to take them out. I found that if I lifted them out with the tongs and set them on the cutting board that was right next to the pot, I didn't have to worry so much about the hold the tongs had. Once they were out, I used my oven mitt to pick up the jars and place them on the wire cooling racks.

Let the jars cool. In the cooling process, they will seal themselves; you'll be able to hear them "pop" when they do and you'll see that the center of the jar is pulled down. I finished this project right before bed and got several starts while I was falling asleep as the jars "popped"!

Unscrew the outer ring of the jar to let the water that is trapped dry. If you don't do this it will rust, which would be a bummer. I let mine dry and then put them back on; I've read that you could leave them off, but I figured why have to remember where I stuck the rings?! I'll just keep everything together until I use the applesauce and THEN put the jars and rings back into the box they came in.

NOTE: In reading I found out that the inner part that goes on top of the jar is NOT reusable. Once it has done a seal it should be discarded; you can purchase JUST that part for future canning.

Happy Applesauce Season!

My little helper who woke up in the middle of the night to cook with me. :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Vinyl Cutting Simple and Easy

Have you seen all the neat projects you can do with a Silhouette or the Cameo? Yup, me too. Do you have a Silhouette or Cameo? Me neither. (If you do...lucky you!)  ;)  I decided to figure out how to make neat things without one...and without the fancy supplies. Tonight's project was a little gift for a friend who is very passionate about a certain vote happening in Minnesota.

Here's the steps:
1. Find a logo or design you want to create.
2. I put mine into a word document and printed as a "mirror".

3. You hear a lot about "vinyl"...essentially? It's CONTACT paper. For reals. You can get it at the Dollar Tree...and in a lot of really neat prints...I chose to use a "stainless steel" I'd picked up awhile ago.

4. Cut your vinyl to the right size and feed it into your printer.
5. Print the image

6. Using an Exacto Knife, cut out your design. Depending on the size of your design, your steadiness of hand, and your desires you can decide if you're cutting out each letter to peel and stick on the item or if you're cutting away the letters from the overall design.

 7. Clean the item you plan to adhere your vinyl to. In my case, I cleaned the glass with rubbing alcohol to give the image the best possible chance of sticking. A more common location to stick your vinyl might be pieces of wood, or even right to a wall.
8. Adhere your item.
   *Obviously your item is not water-proof and the vinyl should only be wiped gently if cleaning is needed. This jar is from the Dollar Tree.

OPTIONAL step 9:
I *finally* used my 40% off coupon for some etching cream at Michael's....I LOVE IT!! I still have 1/2 a bottle and have done a TON of projects...showing that despite the high cost, you do get a lot of miles out of it.

To finish the project I washed the design one last time with rubbing alcohol, then gooped on the etching cream. I left it to set for around 10 minutes; I like to let the cream get to a nearly dry state before I rinse it off with warm water.

10. Once rinsed off I took the vinyl off.

Ready for sending. :)