Matchbox Gifts

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My mother is absolutely obsessed with match boxes and the things you can put in them, so I kind of had a lightbulb moment when trying to figure out a present for her birthday last week (normally I handle the cake but this year my dad insisted that he had it under control). If you have a mother with a similar fetish, maybe this will work out for you for a nice Mother’s Day present.

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For my mother’s wee giftie, it was just a silly little thing: I decided to give her MAGIC BEANS. But instead of magic beans it was actual bean seeds that she could plant shortly in the garden. And then we could eat the beans. I also gave her some rosemary seeds because I killed her rosemary tree while she was in Florida.

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I love these little tiny glass jars you can get at the dollar store.

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Don’t worry, I DID label all the little jars.

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I decided to make a matchbox from scratch so I could ensure it was the right size to fit my beans. In order to do that I downloaded a template from the internet. I cut it out and used scrapbook paper (it’s a decently stiff cardstock) for my boxes.

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I used a craft knife to get things exact, but it’s a pretty easy template to cut out.

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Then a little bit of strategic adhesion with craft glue.

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And the beans, they fit! They’re a little loose though.

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So I padded the bottoms of the boxes with a bit of felt.

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I broke this photo. It’s okay, though, because it wasn’t a very good one anyway.

 

Then tied up both boxes with pretty ribbon to give to my favourite mother!

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Match boxes (even custom-made ones) are a great creative way to package up smaller gifts of jewelry or what-have-you. Keep that in mind the next time you’re doing some complex wrapping and you don’t have a perfect box to hand.

Last-Minute Gifts: Home Made Coffee Liqueur

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Okay so it’s not THAT last minute, because it takes a week to percolate, but if you do it NOW it will be ready for Christmas. Plus it’s SOOOO easy you can finish it in minutes and then spend the rest of your time procrastinating about your other gift ideas. And for me I could make it with stuff I had on hand, which was nice.

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First, you need 700 ml vodka. It doesn’t have to be super fancy vodka. I have three open bottles here. For the record, none of these were originally mine. I just keep finding new booze in my cupboard. I swear.

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Next, you need 200g whole coffee beans (I doubled the recipe so this is 400g, don’t freak out).

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And some SPICES: 1 vanilla bean, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 15 whole cloves. That’s it.

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Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds, and chuck it and the rest of your ingredients into a large sealable container. I didn’t have anything that would fit anything over a litre so I used my camping water container (which holds like 20 litres). It’s a bit of overkill, I know. But you want to be able to give the liquid a good shaking, and then store it in a dark place for a whole week. I figured with the dark sides of the container I could leave it somewhere accessible and that would remind me to shake it every day. Because that’s the other thing you need to do: make sure to shake the container at least once a day.

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After the week is up, find yourself some appropriate bottles or jars. Since I used bottles for the Krupnikas I decided on jars for this, for variety’s sake. Wash them carefully (use Star San or other sanitizer if you can). This recipe makes about 1 litre of liquid, so plan accordingly.

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Strain the vodka through a sieve into a bowl for now (I used my trusty produce bag as a strainer to get all the wee bits that may have come loose in the shaking process). Do what you will with the boozy spices.

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In a large saucepan (that will hold the final amount of your liquid), dump 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water.

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Stir over high heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.

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Add in your coffee/vodka and give it a good stirring before removing from the heat. And now your liqueur is ready to go!

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Pour the liquid into pretty containers, seal, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.  Aside from just drinking it straight or mixing it into the Pie’s favourite White Russians (or Trav’s White North), you could drizzle it on top of cake and ice cream and it would be amazeballs.

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Team Project: Beeswax Art

Beeswax Painting

I still had a huge amount of old beeswax sitting around, leftover from way back when we made teacup candles.  Just blue, though.  Three shades of blue.

Beeswax Painting

I also had a 24″ x 24″ piece of hardboard that I bought back when I had a different sort of idea for the tree branch coat racks.

Beeswax Painting

Beeswax Painting

We can’t waste these things, right?  Well, here’s what the Pie and I came up with together, and I don’t think I would have been able to do this solo. This was our initial plan. A beeswax painting of an ocean scene, a fishing boat attached to a fishing net.

Beeswax Painting

Some hemp string will stand in for rope, and this onion bag will be our net.

Beeswax Painting

But first we had to prep our “canvas”. I took the board outside and sprayed it with Gesso.

Beeswax Painting

Then we needed to prep our supplies. We took the three colours of wax, ripped up the sheets, and jammed them into 3 large canning jars.

Beeswax Painting

Then we plopped them in our canner.

Beeswax Painting

Of course, being full of wax sheets, they floated and tipped over and some of them got some water inside them (which will actually be important later on). So we had to wedge them in place with other jars filled with water and a round wire rack on top.

Beeswax Painting

We brought the water to a simmer and slowly the wax began to melt. As it opened up more space in the jars, we tore up more wax and dropped it in.

Beeswax Painting

Beeswax Painting

And while we were working on that, we also laid out our work area with lots of newspaper.  And I mean several overlapping layers.

Beeswax Painting

Finally we were ready to pour some wax. We wrapped dish towels around the jars to protect our hands.

Beeswax Painting

The initial pour was a little nerve-wracking because we didn’t know what we were doing.

Beeswax Painting

The second one was a bit better, and we started trying to move the wax around a bit before it hardened.

Beeswax Painting

Eventually we ended up with a solid layer covering all the white stuff.

Beeswax Painting

We didn’t end up liking the texture we’d put into the wax with our hands, but we did discover two interesting side effects. We discovered that when we poured the wax at the same time we got these cool marble patterns.

Beeswax Painting

And remember that water that got into the wax? Well it showed up again when we were at the bottom of the jars, and resulted in these neat bubbles.

Beeswax Painting

We decided to do a second layer of wax, now that we kind of had an idea about how this was supposed to go. While we waited for it to melt, I laid out where I thought our fishing net and line would go. It was easy to warm up the wax with a hairdryer and then simply press the net into place.

Beeswax Painting

The original plan was to make the fishing boat out of origami and then just press it into the warm wax, but we changed our minds and decided on an aluminum boat — because many of them are made out of aluminum in reality. Fortunately we had a few tin cans in the recycling and a nice pair of tin snips.

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We elevated one side of the canvas so that the wax would flow in the same direction. Gren helped.

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Then we poured, using lighter wax up where the sky would be and darker wax in the deeper part of the ocean. We poured some over the net as well to make it look partially submerged.

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A close-up of the marbling and bubbles in the boat’s “wake.” Those bubbles are full of water, not air, so we needed to pop them and dry out the water.

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While the wax was still warm, we cut it away from the stuff that spilled over the edges of the canvas using a sharp knife and a hairdryer to keep the wax pliable.

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Then I heated up a section of the wax and pressed in our little aluminum boat.

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The finished piece.

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We will be spraying it with a sealant to protect it from scratches (there is already a corgi foot print at the top of it) and then we will mail it home in time for Christmas!

Beeswax Painting

Put a Lid on It!

Put a Lid on It!

Like my mother, containers are my passion.  Bowls.  Vases.  Tins.  Boxes.  Jars.  I love them all, vintage ones especially.

I used to have a number of vintage jars to store various items in my pantry.  The Pie has broken two of them (*I* only break things that are new and expensive), but I’ve got some left.

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The lids are a little finicky, though, I guess from years of denting and twisting and probably a faint patina of rust and grime on the lid itself.  It’s hard to get everything to thread properly sometimes.

So my trick is pretty simple.  I take a piece of paper towel and I put a drop or two of vegetable oil on it.

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Then I rub it on the inside edge of the threaded part of the lid, making sure that it doesn’t come into contact with anything that might touch the contents of the jar.

Put a Lid on It!

It’s the same sort of logic as spritzing cooking spray on a recalcitrant zipper.  A little lubrication goes a long way.

Put a Lid on It!

Crystal Cascade

Crystal Cascade

My niece vacillates between wanting to be President of the United States and wanting to be a princess. She can probably be both. She’s a smart kid. A smart kid who likes things that are pretty and sparkly.

So once I can figure out how to package this properly, I’m sending it off to her for Christmas.

You’ll remember that I experimented with cutting rings when I learned how to use my glass-cutting kit a while back.  Of course, I broke way more rings than I succeeded in creating, but finally I managed to make enough to have this work out the way I wanted it. I have some rings from a ginger jar, a salsa jar, some beer bottles and two wine bottles.

Crystal Cascade

My first step was to gather my gear together: the rings, some sturdy fishing line, a pair of scissors, a strong stick, a towel, and a bowl of warm water and vinegar.

Crystal Cascade

The water and vinegar help to remove any residue on the glass from my cutting process.  Gets rid of fingerprints, too.

Crystal Cascade

So now I have arranged the rings in the order in which I want them.

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And I used the scissors to score some lines on the stick, to hold the fishing line in place and keep it from sliding off under the weight of the glass.  I will put a dab of glue on each knot afterwards just to be on the safe side.

Crystal Cascade

Now to tie everything together.  I used reef knots, to ensure everything was super tight.

Crystal Cascade

Then I attached it to the stick and looped some more fishing line on the top to use as a hanger.

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The full deal, though the light could be better.

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A cascade of pretty colours!

Crystal Cascade

A Vintage Arrangement

I made a wedding cake this weekend.  And it is AWESOME.

Unfortunately, I’m too tired to post about it right now so you’ll have to wait until Wednesday.  And actually, at this very second I am preparing to hurtle at 650km/h across the North Atlantic to return home to the Pie and Gren.  So some patience, please.

My parents’ garden is in rare form this year following a chilly, wet spring, so of course any excuse to cut some of the lovely flowers and bring their delicious scents inside is a good excuse.

This is a centre piece I made for a dinner with my Uncle Squeaker.  Peonies, my favourite flower in the whole world, make for great arrangements.  You can keep them tall and elegant in a huge wide vase or cut them off completely to float them in a bowl.  They’re just the best.

Here, however, I cut them short and stuck them in vintage canning jars.

And photographic fluid flasks. 

I even stuck one in my great-grandmother’s coffee jar.

Then of course some iris in old medicinal tonic bottles to add a bit of height to the arrangement.

And that was it.  Don’t let not having a big vase stop you from making a big (floral) statement.

Rubber Grips (or, my husband is a genius)

Have I mentioned to you recently that my husband is a genius?

Well he is.  I swear.

When I came to visit him in St. John’s I discovered that a good many of our condiments and jars had rubber bands twisted around their lids.

You know, the nice thick elastics that you get from broccoli and other greens at the grocery store.  The same ones they use to keep lobsters from trying to kill you.  We keep them because they’re handy for stuff.

The reason the Pie puts the rubber bands on the condiments is to make the lids grippier so that they’re easier to remove.

How genius is that?

Sweet and Sour Pineapple Relish

My grandmother came over for coffee yesterday (which for you is about ten days ago) and brought with her about two dozen canning jars she didn’t use anymore.  As well, she brought me an early Christmas present: Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew’s Complete Book of Preserves & Pickles.  Today the book is already covered in stains, just like every good cookbook should be.  I am in love.

Each recipe is simple with regard to ingredients and the instructions are straightforward.  I’ll prove it to you by showing you a fantastically easy relish I made in less than an hour.  I am relishing my first attempt at this particular preserve.

I tripled the recipe in the book and came out with 7 250mL jars of relish.

Open and drain 6 14oz cans of crushed pineapple.  You can use rings, which drain faster, but then you have to cut them up.  Reserve about 1 1/2 cups of the juice.

Set the pineapple in a sieve over a bowl and leave that for a while to get all the drippings.

Chop up 12-16 green onions (scallions), and mince 6 jalapeno peppers.  The recipe calls for red chillies but I didn’t have any.

Pare the rind from 3 lemons and juice them while you’re at it.

Put the lemon rind and juice in a large saucepan (I prefer a maslin pan for the evaporation) together with 9 tablespoons white wine vinegar and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar.

Heat on low, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to a boil.  Cook like this on medium, stirring, for about ten minutes or until the syrup has thickened slightly.

Add in the chopped onions and peppers, together with your reserved pineapple juice as well as any that has dripped out while you were waiting.  Cook this for about five minutes, until things get quite syrupy.

Increase the heat and add the pineapple.  Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Can according to your canner’s instructions.  We’ve got some tips on canning here, as well.

This relish keeps for about three months, and, once opened, should be kept in the refrigerator.  Great with chicken, pork, and white fish.

 

Making Mincemeat (Outta You)

Mincemeat is to the winter holidays what chocolate and beer are to the Stanley Cup Playoffs (I’m serious.  Cadbury Mini Eggs and a microbrew during the finals is to die for).  Originally a combination of dried fruits, spirits, fat, and meat, over the centuries the meat part has all but disappeared from the recipe, and now it’s more of a dessert type of thing.  It does still employ three of the age-old methods of preserving, however: fat, sugar, and alcohol. 

I have adapted Allora Andiamo’s recipe from Jamie Oliver‘s website and it is incredible.  I quadrupled some things, and other things I just chucked in the amount I had, so it’s not particularly faithful to Ms. Andiamo’s original recipe but I give her full credit.

In a very large bowl I chucked the following, by weight:

275g raisins

55g dried blueberries

475g dried cranberries

575g candied orange peel

250g blanched almond slivers

400g finely chopped marzipan

474g (1lb) shredded butter (put the butter in the freezer, then grate it, or break it into chunks and run it through the food processor until you have fine crumbs)

1kg apples, finely chopped (I left the skins on and used a variety of different kinds, whatever I had lying around)

juice and rind of 5 large oranges

juice and rind of 2 large lemons

1kg soft brown sugar

3 teaspoons almond extract

8 tablespoons rum or brandy (I used both, of course)

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons ground nutmeg

6 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

Give that a good stir, cover it, and leave it somewhere to marinate for about 24 hours.

The next day, distribute the mincemeat into casserole dishes (or, if you are clever like me and used a metal bowl, don’t bother), cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 225°F for 3 1/2 hours.

I stirred mine halfway through, just to be thorough.  And also because I don’t trust anything on its own in an oven for three and a half hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  The liquid will thicken as it cools so make sure to stir it occasionally in order for the syrup to coat all the fruit. 

Before it completely cools, pour into sterilized jars and seal — can according to your canner’s instructions, or check out our tips to canning here.

Store in a cool dark place for about 3 weeks before using. 

Barbecue in a Bottle

This recipe has been adapted with thanks from PickYourOwn.org, who set out all the steps for this delicious tangy tomato goo, including the entire canning process.  For other tips on canning, check out some previous posts here.  I doubled the batch laid out below (of course) and ended up with about 8L of sauce.

In a very large pot, start simmering 5 14oz (796mL) cans diced tomatoes.  This is roughly equivalent to 16 cups or 4 quarts (I did the math).  In one of my batches I substituted one can of crushed tomatoes for diced.  It didn’t seem to make much difference, save I had less seeds in that one.

Once those are going strong, chop and chuck in 4 stalks celery, 2 onions, 3 red peppers, 2 jalapeno peppers, and 2 cloves crushed garlic (or garlic-in-a-jar).

In addition to that, add in 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon sea salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

THEN add in 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, 1 cup brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups 5% (white) vinegar.

Remember you can adjust any of these flavourings to suit your own tastes.  I added extra cayenne and brown sugar, as well as a few dobbles of sweet chilli sauce and a can of tomato paste.

Simmer everything for about 30 minutes or until it’s all softened.

Now here you have two options.  If you have tremendous patience, you can run the cooked sauce through a food mill, which will remove the seeds and give you a lovely velvety smooth sauce.

If you’re me, you can use an immersion blender

Tomato sauce will end up everywhere, and you will still have seeds in your slightly chunkier sauce, but you will end up with more sauce for preserving.

All you have to do at this point is cook down your processed sauce until it’s the consistency that you like.  Just keep an eye on it and stir frequently to avoid burning.  Remember that the sauce at this point is thick enough to interfere with proper convection so stirring is essential.

Pour into sterilized jars and can according to your canner’s instructions.  And that’s it!