August 31, 2010

A little collection of mugs.

I gave away our perfectly matching set of Ikea mugs about a year ago after succumbing to my ever-growing thrifted mug obsession.

Mugs

It was bad. I couldn't pass the mug aisle without hearing their pitiful little cries.

Having been someone who always resisted collections of any sort, this was a big step for me. It felt as if I was opening the Pandora's box of collecting things (there was definitely some validity to that fear), but I couldn't stop myself.

We now have a formidably sized collection of pretty little mis-matched mugs, and I am quite proud. They provide well for our hot beverage addictions, and they look good with my morning toast.

Another little mug

What do you collect - with or without shame? :)

August 30, 2010

My camera...

has fallen sick.

I knew it was coming. The poor thing has been acting a little funny for the last two months, refusing to flash. Not that I use flash very often, but it was still a troubling sign. As for now, I can coax it into taking a picture here and there, but always with the utmost reluctance. Maybe I will work up the nerve to open it up for a peek inside.

Anyway, this is all very bad timing because I just ordered my new sewing machine! After researching for days, and talking about it for months, I finally placed the order. This particular machine - the Brother CS6000I - seems the 'best bang for the buck,' as they say. I wanted a machine for a beginner like me, but I didn't want it to scream This machine is for beginners!

Maybe it still does, but I think we will have lots of fun together after I teach myself a thing or two.

That's one more 'to-do' off my Summer To-Do List. Everything else is most definitely "in-progress." Matt and I started our pickle and jam making about a week ago, but there are still plenty of jars to fill...

Homemade pickles. Nectarine butter with vanilla bean.

And we are in the middle of several little painting projects. We might get into a big project or two before the summer is out if we're feeling ambitious. There's always something to improve upon around here. I love it. :)

August 27, 2010

Homemade apple butter.

Two weeks ago, Matt brought home a paper sack full of fallen apples from his grandparents' house. He said, "Well, either you can make apple butter, or I'll make us some pie."

I love Matt's pies, and apple pie is one of my favorites (who am I kidding - they're all my favorite), but I had been itching to make apple butter ever since I dipped my paw into a jar of the homemade stuff last summer. Before that moment, I'd never tried apple butter from anywhere other than those little Smuckers packets you find at restaurants for your toast. And let me tell you, commercial apple butter cannot compare to the homemade stuff. That's how it usually goes, isn't it?

Apple butter.

That sack of apples made about seven pints of apple butter. I was a little shocked that the yield was so plentiful, but I wasn't complaining.

Also, the consistency of my final product was a little runnier than I had imagined. I thought maybe I hadn't cooked it down long enough, so I wanted the opportunity to try again. As a result, Matt brought home another forty pounds of fallen apples from his generous grandparents to experiment with.

Yea, he's a pretty nice guy.

And we were definitely going to need more jars.

Apple butter.

The funny thing about jars in our home is that we seem to be flooded with them - we hide them in our closets, our cupboards, and under our sofa. Even so, in the midst of apple butter making, we realized that we were out of the regular-mouth pint jars that are perfect for jams and fruit butters. And so we took another trip to the store, scratching our heads in confusion, to buy another pack.

Folks, 40lbs of apples yields about 45 pints of apple butter. Each pack contains 12 jars. You do the math. And before you wisely suggest it, our local thrift stores can't seem to keep up with us.

Anyway, five batches later, the apple butter is now resting happily on our kitchen shelves, awaiting visitors who will 'ooh' and 'aah' at them while shouting, "Pick me! Pick me!"

Just kidding. We'll gift them out whether our friends and family like it or not.

The apple butter recipe I followed lies somewhere between what is offered by Simply Recipes and Food in Jars. I liked the recipe from Simply Recipes because I didn't have to peel the apples. A food mill sounded much more suited to my situation, and I liked the fact that the peels and cores lent pectin and flavor. The Food in Jars recipe is more specific about the canning procedure, and gives options for a chunkier fruit butter if I ever decide to peel and chop my apples instead of milling them.

We made our apple butter in five different batches, and tried a slightly new variation on the cook-down duration and spice ratios each time. While all of the batches came out well, the recipe below indicates my favorite in terms of taste and texture.

Apple Butter
8 lbs apples
2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups water
Around 8 cups sugar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (one large lemon)
Salt
4 teaspoons freshly roasted and ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground cardamom

Procedure
Quarter, stem and seed the apples, cutting off any damaged parts (you don't need to skin them because they will later be processed through a food mill). Place them in a 5-quart (or larger) pan with the cider vinegar and the water. Turn heat on high, stirring occasionally. When the liquid begins to boil, lower the heat to medium and continue to stir the apples every five minutes or so until they are soft and mushy.

Run the softened apples through a food mill. Measure the milled apple sauce, and return to your pan. Cook on medium heat until the sauce begins to bubble, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Keep the lid off so that the water can evaporate out.

Add 1/2 cup sugar for every cup of apples (8 lbs of apples would generally yield me about 16 cups of sauce after milling, which is why I listed 8 cups of sugar to the recipe list). Add the juice of one large lemon.

Dry roast your spices whole in a small saucepan on medium-high until the aroma hits your nose. Shake the pan so that the spices do not burn, and continue to roast for another minute or two. Take the spices off the heat, and cool. Once cooled, grind your spices in a coffee grinder and add to the pot. Taste and adjust accordingly. If you don't like cardamom or cloves or allspice, simply omit those spices from the recipe.

Stir the pot every five minutes or so, making sure to scrape the bottom to prevent burning. Cook for ~3 hours until the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency.

If you want to can your jars for long-term storage, read up on the proper canning procedures. Otherwise, funnel your apple butter into sterilized jars and store in the refrigerator.

August 24, 2010

Office Space: Papering the Closet Doors

I've been trying to find ways to organize and brighten up our office space, and considering how things were before...

Closet doors - before.

it has been no easy task. We live in an apartment, so our ability to customize and paint is really limited. But then one day the notion popped into my head to paper the closets. I always knew I was a little obsessed with paper, but plastering squares of it up onto our closet doors seemed a little questionable. Still... I couldn't get the idea out of my head.

I decided to just go for it.

Closet doors - after.
Closet doors - after.

And I really like it! A roll of scotch tape later, and the closet doors are fully papered. So far, so good, but I have to be extra careful while opening/closing. I know this is just a super temporary solution, but it really looks and feels so much better.

I'm thinking that it's time to paint that dresser white, white, white.

August 16, 2010

On tomatoes.

San Marzano

I cannot believe that it's mid-August already. It seems like the season has come and gone without a stable indicator by which to measure the passing of time. June was rainy, July's heat was generally mild, and we haven't had any of our usual thunderstorms. I guess I should know by now that mother nature doesn't always choose to cooperate with my expectations.

And August? We're finally in the heat. I hate anything above 85°F, but my tomatoes and peppers are loving it. We have fruit on our yellow gooseberries as of yesterday...

Yellow Gooseberries

Late is better than never! They look pretty small in the photo, but they'll actually grow into something fairly sizable. Not huge, but not cherry tomato-sized either.

I'm so glad these plants decided to live. They were the only two survivors from our attempts to start from seed, and then they proceeded to scoff at the June rains. They remain runt-sized amongst the others, but I'm almost certain they'll out-produce. If you're looking for a plant to boost your gardening ego, yellow gooseberries are highly recommended.

It's our Brandywine (Sudduth's strain) plant that has me worried. It has yet to fruit. This whole gardening year has been slow for us, and I feel like we're running out of time.

What about you? What are you harvesting/growing, and what seems to be successful for you so far?

August 9, 2010

Coconut rice.

Coconut rice.

I love rice. Especially aromatic rices like basmati and jasmine. I'd probably like jasmati rice, too, but the hybridization thing seems a little weird.

Anyway.

This coconut rice stuff is good. It can be made with unsweetened shredded coconut as an accompaniment to Thai curry, or it can be made with the sweetened stuff and eaten for breakfast with a little fruit.

Or you can eat it on its own. However you'd like, really. Think outside the box.

Coconut rice.

Coconut Rice
1 1/3 cups jasmine rice
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/4-1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened - up to you)

Procedure
Rinse the rice in a fine mesh sieve with cold water. Drain the excess water and pour the rice into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the water, salt, and coconut milk and stir to combine. Turn the heat on high until the mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover with a lid. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Pour the rice into a serving dish and sprinkle with shredded coconut. Mix lightly with a fork.

Serve immediately.

August 4, 2010

A little update.

Things have been a little strange around here lately. Patterns and schedules have changed, and now that Matt has graduated, we can both be a little more spontaneous.

We went to the beach last Thursday...

Cape Meares - the Lighthouse.
Cape Meares Cape Meares.


It was fun. We were just there for the day, which means lots of driving, but the scenery was nice. And the best thing about road trips? Listening to music and singing like you don't have an audience.

We also stopped by my grandma's old beach house at Cape Meares...

The old house.

She doesn't own the place anymore, but it's nice to see that the current owners are finally taking care of things. We came by last year and everything was overgrown and ugly. They've painted it, and the fire pit is now fully functional.

I miss the place - so many good memories. And you can see the ocean from the deck because it's only a couple hundred yards away. I wonder if they've redecorated the interior.

In other news, I have been working like crazy on my writing. I've been trying to make a schedule for myself that I'll actually stick to. I tend to dive into things too hard until I burn myself out, so I need to make sure I balance work, play, and sleep. I've been waking up super early every morning, but the inspiration bug is obviously still asleep at 7am because things don't ever really start happening until 5pm or so. I have always been my most creative and productive at night, but I'm trying to flip that switch. Wish me luck? Hah.

The fluffy feline has been giving us hell. He stands with all fours in the litter box, but somehow manages to miss every. single. time. It's perplexing! This used to be a rare occurrence. Once a month, maybe? But now it's every day - sometimes twice. It's time for us to invest in a dome litter box.

Oh, and we've finally set the date for our wedding: September 3, 2011

It's so far away.