Adventures in Beeting

I’ve always been a fan of beets. There’s something earthy and humble about them – all purple and concentric once you peel back a few layers. Pickled beets have been a particular favourite of mine, although until this year, I had to rely on the canning skills and kindness of friends to get my fill. My kitchen usually celebrated their arrival with a nice chocolate beet cake. But no more! This year I tackled the beet beast and managed to can 18 jars, all sliced to (almost) perfection. Here’s what I learned along the way…

1. The ingredient list is short. Just vinegar, salt, sugar and water – plus, of course, the purple beauties themselves.

image

2. Beets aren’t nearly as attractive raw and untrimmed as they are cooked and with their tails cut off.

image

3. Beets are tricky to peel with gloves on – so much so that I’d risk purple-stained fingertips to do it without them.

4. Beets are even trickier to slice into near-perfect 1/2 inch thick rounds. Gloves are also over-rated in this exercise.

image

5. There’s nothing more satisfying than filling a lot of jars with beety goodness.

image

6. Even if you end up with dozens of jars, once you’re found out as a keeper of beets, they’ll be gone before you know it!

image

7. And then you’re left with only fond memories and beet stains until next season :(.

image

Happy beeting, friends!

The Canning Season

I dabbled a bit in canning last year after reading a delicious-sounding recipe for peach salsa. It was quite an adventure, given that I ‘made do” with whatever equipment I had in my kitchen  (i.e. nothing!) at the time. The salsa, nonetheless, turned out well and I was pretty enamoured with canning. Enter Christmas, and a wonderfully thoughtful beginners’ canning kit gift from my in-laws, and I was simply counting down the days to the late summer harvest.

In August, I began reading foodie blogs in earnest to prep for the season. It was on several of them that I was invited to enter a contest to win a copy of a new (and highly-touted) book by Canadian blogger, Amy Bronee, aptly named The Canning Kitchen. And whaddaya know? I won!

image

So began my season of canning! Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing my experiences with canning five different recipes this year. And today, I’ll start with the one that was the easiest – crunchy dill pickles.

As with all my canning adventures, I began at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, where I picked up my straight-from-the-farm ingredients – a huge bunch of dill, 1/2 bushel of pickling cucumbers, and seriously fresh, locally-grown garlic. I had the rest of my ingredients on-hand at home, including pickling vinegar (it’s just white vinegar with 7% acetic acid) and pickling salt (available wherever canning supplies are sold).

Can I just say that this recipe couldn’t be simpler? I scrubbed my cukes in water, cut them into spears, tossed them into my jars with dill and garlic, and covered them in the boiled brine (vinegar, water and salt). For you sticklers, here’s some visual inspiration…

image

image

image

Of course, I followed the processing recommendations in the recipe – which was a snap with my new-fangled canning supplies. I could fit 10-500 ml jars at a time in my pot and rack combo, and removing them from their 20-minute hot water bath was so much easier with a jar lifter.

image

In terms of difficulty, this recipe and process was easily beginner-proof. I’d recommend it to newbie canners just starting out for sure! And the results? 15-500 ml jars of crunchy dills that are ridiculously sought-after by family and friends (really!). Just the confidence booster I needed to set the stage for the rest of my canning adventures!

image

So don’t let fear of the unfamiliar hold you back –  if I can do it, anyone can (get it?)! Happy canning :).

The Gallery Wall

A little over a year ago when I was decorating our main floor, I really became enamoured with the idea of a gallery wall. It’s meant to be a collection of cherished pieces that may or may not include pictures… and that’s what I loved about it. I’m not a fan of hanging family photos everywhere, but I do enjoy thoughtful vignettes as art within my home.

With the space over the couch earmarked as my gallery, I set out collecting some visually interesting pieces that would add texture to the room.

I started with existing pieces, including my ‘rustic clock’ – a steal I discovered at Homesense about 10 years ago that has followed me to countless homes over the years.

image

I love the weathered wood and metal accents, which play well next to the decorative iron piece I found at a thrift shop for $2 a few years later.

My main floor has a fairly neutral colour scheme of grey, beige and blue, so I wanted to introduce a pop of colour. Orange has always been a favourite of mine, and it fit well with my existing colours. While perusing the gift section at Chapters one day, I stumbled upon some darling greeting cards that really spoke to me. One even had a picture of a dachshund (ahem!) wearing an orange sweater… it was love at first sight! Using some basic frames I had around the house, I cut the cards to size and created some fun artwork.

image

image

You’ll notice the cute sconce in the picture above. It was a delightful $10 find at the annual Christie Antique Sale in Dundas (if you haven’t been, you must check it out!). It was originally white, but I found the orange I wanted on a paint chip at Home Depot and had a ‘sample’ pot mixed for a mere $4.50.

image

With the leftover paint, I tackled an existing metal piece from my guest room – the heart in the middle was red, but a quick paint job and it fit with the gallery perfectly!

image

The ‘A’ print was the only real, ‘new’ piece I added. It was a fun & frugal ($9.99) acquisition from Target (oh how I miss their decor department!) and a fitting nod to our last name (Armstrong).

The final gallery wall result looks pretty spiffy and never fails to illicit comments from guests.

image

And I have to say, it makes me happy whenever I look at it – with nary a family photo in sight!

The breadbox project

I grew up in the ’80s, and when I was a kid we always had a breadbox on our countertop. It provided a nice, dark space to store baked goods (and kept them fresher for longer) plus helped to keep the counter clutter-free. As an adult, I could never find a box that suited my tastes (thanks to the ’80s orange and green theme from my childhood), but I loathed the fact that I stored all of my baked goodies in an upper cabinet by the stove. Enter my penchant for yard sales and DIY projects :).

Last weekend I scored a sweet (albeit, uninspired) oak breadbox at a neighbourhood yard sale for a measly $2. I had visions of making it fit with my grey, black and white backsplash and black appliances, and thought a quick update would fit the bill. I picked up some glossy black craft paint at my local dollar-esque store for $2.50 (not everything is a dollar in dollar-esque ville) and found brushed nickel cabinet pulls that matched my existing ones for only $4.99 at the hardware store. So for less than $10, I give you the great breadbox project!

The original oak breadbox.

The original oak breadbox.

Tools of the trade.

Tools of the trade.

After one coat of glossy paint, it still needed some work.

After one coat of glossy paint, it still needed some work.

The finished product!

The finished product!

The cheap & cheerful paper project

I have a confession to make. I love paper. Wrapping paper, stationary paper, sticky note paper, even plain brown Kraft paper. I see infinite possibilities with paper, and I don’t even make origami. So it stands to reason that I love the Dollarama and all the paper it has to offer. I also love a few boutique places in Toronto – including The Paper Place on Queen West. It’s like paper-heaven on earth. And since they have small samples and left-overs at discounted prices, I never break the bank feeding my paper addiction.

Now, what to do with all that gorgeous, colourful paper is sometimes a challenge. But I’ve found a cheap and cheerful project for mine. I frame it, like the artwork it is. It’s a fantastic way to create inexpensive (and beautiful) décor pieces for any room, plus it makes the most of some fabulous paper designs.

As for the framing itself, I don’t blow the budget. The examples I’ve used below are all from my local Dollarama, where I paid $2 each. Some of the paper I used is from there, too. So let your creative juices flow, my fellow DIYers…the sky’s the limit!

 Image

 

Image

 

Image

Image

 

Image

A weekend wallpaper caper

I have to admit, I haven’t been much of a wallpaper lover in recent years. I got caught up in the ease and convenience of painting (who doesn’t love to change the entire look of a room in a couple hours?), and looked down my paint-splattered nose at the work wallpapering takes! But I recently became enthralled with wallpaper I found online from a UK retailer and knew that a weekend of paste, sweat and tears was coming my way.

I have to preface this post with huge thank you to my brother-in-law, Richard, who was really the hero behind this little powder room makeover. He’s an experienced wallpaper guru, and definitely proved his prowess last weekend, particularly with a birch tree motif that was not a beginner-level matching job! And so, Sir Richard…I am eternally grateful :).

Without further ado, I give you my ethereal birch tree powder room – a thing of wood nymphs, forest fairies and nature at its best.

I like using rustic elements like wire baskets to keep things organized in the space.

I like using rustic elements like wire baskets to keep things organized in the space.

I continued the rustic theme with a hook and shelf combo that holds extra towels and some decorative plants in galvanized planters.

I continued the rustic theme with a hook and shelf combo that holds extra towels and some decorative plants in galvanized planters.

A lucky find! Birch bark candle by Homesense.

A lucky find! Birch bark candle by Homesense.

I opted for basic black and white prints for artwork, mounted in white, matted frames. Nature prints fit the space.

I opted for basic black and white prints for artwork, mounted in white, matted frames. Nature prints fit the space.

Another small DIY project - Dollarstore frame and printed-at-home b&w flower prints.

Another small DIY project – Dollarstore frame and printed-at-home black & white flower prints.

Affordable, durable & stylish – my weekend DIY project

This past weekend, my hubby and I tackled a rather unexpected DIY project. We recently (ok, a month ago!) moved into our new house and have been discussing affordable solutions to our ho-hum, builders’ beige finishes. We really weren’t planning on installing a new countertop to replace the current laminate one for a while (that would just be wasteful), but I was disturbed that my Julia Childs impersonations in the kitchen were leaving stains on the painted wall behind the stove. Knowing we will eventually rip out the countertop made us reluctant to install a sparkling new tile backsplash.

Enter the delightful blog advice from Rhiannon’s Interiors last Friday, where contact paper and peel-and-stick tiles were discussed as affordable alternatives. DING! Made total sense to me. So off to the home improvement store I went, and came home with SmartTiles in Keystone Mosaic. They are gel-based (and very convincing-looking) peel-and-stick tiles that can be removed without damage by heating them up with a hair dryer. Genius, I say.

Here are a few pictures of the project.

Tools of the trade. The Exacto-knife was handy to cut the larger 10 x 10 sheets into smaller strips when needed.

Tools of the trade. The Exacto-knife was handy to cut the larger 10 x 10 sheets into smaller strips when needed.

The tile sheets were remarkably easy to stick onto the clean wall.

The tile sheets were remarkably easy to stick onto the clean wall.

My grease-splattered nemesis...the wall behind the stovetop! But no more - the tiles are easy to clean with a damp cloth.

My grease-splattered nemesis…the wall behind the stovetop! But no more – the tiles are easy to clean with a damp cloth.

The finished product! Convincing and very stylish...all for about $250 and 6 hours of our time.

The finished product! Convincing and very stylish…all for about $250 and 6 hours of our time.

Birch tree wallpaper – beauty from nature

Beautiful birch trees provide a graphic and striking backdrop.

Beautiful birch trees provide a graphic and striking backdrop.

There’s nothing I love more than bringing the outdoors in. With wallpapers and other wall coverings making a comeback, my vote is for this graphic birch tree print with a subtle metallic background. It will be gracing the walls of my new powder room soon! While Cole & Son offers a similar print in their luxury line (3 rolls for $950), I found my rolls at a UK retailer on eBay (3 rolls plus shipping for $94.00).