Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

This is the centerpiece that is going in the middle of my table for Thanksgiving.  It is really quite easy to make, doesn’t take a lot of time and other than the glue sticks, is practically free with upcycled materials and help from mother nature!

Rustic Woodland Candle Centerpiece

Gather pine cones, acorns, seeds, nuts, anything organic.  Have the kids help.  If you are lucky, like I was, you will find a stump where Mr. Squirrel dispatched a couple of pine cones looking for the nuts!  It’s so much easier that way. Otherwise, find a few large pine cones and snip off the scales with heavy duty scissors, or rip them off with pliers.

Rustic Woodland CenterpieceThe other parts to this project are a base and a candle holder.  For the base, I used the round cardboard that comes under one of those we-make-it-you-bake-it kind of pizzas.  You can make the base any shape you want, but circles, ovals and rectangles are easiest. You can also use wood or even posterboard, though the posterboard might be a bit floppy.  The bigger candle holder is simply a washed tin can that used to hold chicken breast meat. This size holds those jars with candles in them.  You can see in the picture that you can also use a tuna can, which holds a pillar candle. Caution:  never leave a burning candle unattended – especially around these flammable items!

The first thing to do is glue a rim of the pinecone scales around the top of the can.  You can glue them next to each other or overlapping, which ever you choose.  The scales I am using came from a Ponderosa Pine.  Some call it Yellow Pine. I have also used Sugar Pine before.  Make sure you glue the scales at least 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the top of the can. Then, after finding center of your base, glue the can down.

Note:  You can use white glue on this project – especially if kids are helping – it just takes a bit longer to dry.  If using white glue, put a rubber band around the can, then slip each scale under the rubber band with a dollop of glue.  The rubber band helps keep the scale on the can until the glue has dried.

Now you will want to place the pinecone scales all around the edge of the base.  I let mine hang over about 1/2 inch so the cardboard won’t show.  This is where a lazy susan would come in handy.  Wish I had one!  😀Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

Now you glue the actual pinecones around the rim of the can.  You can make them all stand up like tin soldiers, or let them tilt a bit this way and that. Sometimes they have a mind of their own, but it doesn’t matter because imperfection is beautiful…  right? 😉

Then glue pinecones around the edge, covering the ugly side of the scale.  Don’t worry about some gaps showing here and there.  Those will be covered later. Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

Finally, fill in the middle with the rest of your pinecones.  Most of the pinecones I used are from a Douglas Fir tree, which I find to be the easiest to work with.  No sharp spiny points to prick my fingers, but you can see a few little prickly devils in the mix.  I like the variety!

Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

Now, gather all the rest of your woodland finds.  These are what you use to fill in the gaps. This is where the magic happens…  when it starts to look really lovely!  I wish I had some eucalyptus buttons – those are beautiful on this centerpiece project, but I just couldn’t find any this time.  Incense Cedars make beautiful fleur-de-lis like things, junipers make the beautiful silvery-gray balls.  Of course, there are several colors, shapes and sizes of acorns you can use – with and without caps.  I have even used liquid amber balls, seed pods, walnuts, hazelnuts, clove pods and star anise before (I have made several of these). Just make sure it is “natural”.  Have fun with it and keep filling in until you are satisfied with the results.

Rustic Woodland Candle Centerpiece

You may want to glue a piece of felt or thin cork underneath, which protects any finish below the centerpiece.

These can be saved year after year, but don’t be surprised if you find little pieces of stuff that looks like sawdust about and around the centerpiece when you get it out of the box next year.  It won’t hurt anything – it’s just the remains of the sawdust from the worms in the acorns (that have long since died)!  Turn the whole thing upside down and give it a few pats, or use your blowdryer to blow it off, replace any pieces that fell off, and enjoy!

Too late to make this for your Thanksgiving table?  That’s okay.  Just spray paint it silver or gold, or add sparkly ornaments, or glitter, or sprinkle on some fake snow.  Or all of the above! Then, you will have a beautiful Christmas centerpiece!

Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Rendering Tallow

A few weeks ago I bought about 15 pounds of untrimmed tri-tip roasts.  My plan was to trim the fat off the meat and make Beef In Red Wine Sauce – which was fantastic! Now, what to do with all the fat trimmings?  Render it down into tallow!  I used to do this years ago, when I was learning a few homesteading skills.  My purpose for rendering the tallow at that time was to use it in deep fat frying. Unfortunately, that’s when we started hearing more and more about how bad it was to fry food in animal fats, so I stopped doing it. What a shame. Of course, the trend is sliding the other way, and now it apparently isn’t so bad after all! 🙂 However, I hear that tallow also makes a wonderful soap, and since I have always wanted to learn how to make soap from scratch, my first step into soap making will be to render a nice batch of tallow!

Here we go!

How to render tallowI started out with a big bowl of fat that I had kept cold in the refrigerator, which makes it easier to work with. The first step is to cut most of the meat off the fat.  You don’t have to get every single piece, but I understand that too much meat left on the fat will give your tallow just a tad bit of an odor. If you are cooking with your tallow, this isn’t such a big deal, but since I want to make soap from this tallow, it was essential that I get most of the meat off.  Of course, I guess if I wanted meat scented soap…

Don’t laugh!  I hear bacon scented anything is the rage now! 😉

Once the fat is clean of the last bits of meat,How to render tallow to make soap you can either cut it up with a knife into small chunks, or use your food processor to get smaller chunks, or do as I did and grind the fat in a meat grinder.  For me, this was the easiest and quickest way.  Whichever method you choose to get small pieces of fat – keep your fat cold or even frozen!  If the fat gets warm, it is really hard to work with, as I’m sure you can imagine. Besides, the smaller your pieces of fat are, the faster it is rendered, which means the less energy you will use to render it!

 

As you can see, I started with 3 pounds, 5-3/4 ounces of ground beef fat.tallow for soap making Warning:  rendering tallow or lard can be a stinky enterprise!  If you want a sweet smelling house, render outside! 🙂  I love canning and cooking outside, so rendering the fat outside is fun for me anyway. How to render tallowPlace the pot over medium low heat – not too hot, but warm enough to melt the fat.  You also don’t want it bubbling so rapidly that it will make a terrible mess.  Trust me.  Keep it down to a happy simmer.  Once you start to see some fat separating, give it a good stir, then stir it about every 5 minutes or so. How to render beef fat The whole process takes about 30-40 minutes, depending on how big (or small) your fat pieces were to begin with and how much fat you are rendering.  What you want to see is that the pieces in the pot are starting to look crispy when you lift them out with a spoon, and the fat in the pot is an amber color. Pull the pan off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes while you prepare your jars.  I like to wash my jars out, fill them with water and pop them in the microwave for a few minutes.  I then take out the very hot jars (careful), pour out the boiling hot water and dry them quickly.  Not only does this sterilize the jars, but now I have hot jars to pour a hot liquid into!  Never pour a hot liquid into a cold jar or, worse, cold liquid into a hot jar!How to get pure beef fat Next, just pour the melted fat through a strainer into your jar or bowl.  Be very careful while doing this, because we are talking about molten lava  very hot melted fat at this point!how to render beef fat  Not a time to have kids and dogs running through the kitchen!  You can see that I got almost exactly one quart (four cups) of beef tallow.  Since I am going to use this tallow in soapmaking, I wanted to get out as many impurities as I could.  When you look at the bottom of your bowl or jar, you may see a thin layer of “sludge” at the bottom.  Since I didn’t want any sludge impurities in my soap, I poured about a cup of hot water into the hot fat, stirred it a bit, then let it set.  Since fat floats, and the impurities fall to the bottom due to gravity, once the fat solidifies all you have to do is lift it off the water and pour the water and impurities down the drain.  rendering beef fatWipe off the bottom of the now creamy white solidified pure tallow with a paper towel to get the water off, pop into a freezer bag, and throw it into your freezer.

Done! Getting pure beef tallow from fat

Perfect for soapmaking!

Now I need to find a good recipe to make soap.  Hmmm…. I’m thinking one with goat’s milk and/or olive oil would be fun to start with!  Do you have any good, easy (remember, I’m a first timer) soapmaking recipes you think I should start with?

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Canning Recipe Book

Lately I have been doing a lot of canning, which is strange for me since I don’t even have a garden growing this year.  But, what I do have are fruit trees and a husband who likes to fish for salmon, so I have been canning jellies, fruit juices and salmon.  I also canned some chicken, chicken broth and beef – when I found them on sale. All of these recipes can be found by clicking on the tab above ‘Preserving Food’.How to pressure can chicken A lot of my recipes come from the few cookbooks that I own, including my favorite The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  But I also like to try recipes that I find online, such as this one for canning apple pie filling, and this one for canning crunchy dill pickles. The thought occurred to me the other day, as I was waiting for my internet service to come back up again:  What would happen if I couldn’t get on the internet anymore?  Sure, I would have all the recipes in my books, but the ones I find (and have found) on the internet would be lost.  You never know when something might happen to your computer, either!  Just a simple fan could put your desktop out of commission for a week or even two!  Or your laptop could be (heaven forbid) stolen! And then there is one of my favorite canning e-books that isn’t even in print – it’s on my Kindle. I decided to print out all of the recipes I find online that I would like to try.  Either I copy and paste them to a word document then print, or, if the website has the option, I just hit the print button for the recipe.  I started doing this about a week ago and now I am starting to accumulate a lot of recipes! I found an old binder that wasn’t being used and decided to use it as my canning recipe book.  To make the canning recipe book look nice, I covered it with some cute fabric I found in the discount bin of my fabric store. personal canning book This is easily done by just drawing the outline of the binder on the flip side of the fabric (some people call it the wrong side), fold the fabric to the inside of the binder and fold each side under just where it meets the metal spine that holds the rings.  Sew those folds first.  I used a decorative stitch because I’m still learning how to use my new machine.  Besides, it’s pretty!Personal canning binder Next, sew the top and bottom together.  Turn inside out and insert the binder. Easy, simple, done.  And it looks nice!How to cover a binder with cloth The local dollar store has sheet protectors – sixteen for $1 – so I bought a couple packages of those. They were necessary as I am a very messy cook! 🙂  I loaded up the binder clips with the sheet protectors and placed all of the recipes I have already accumulated into the binder.  Niiiicccceeee Hmmmmm… Something is missing. Dividers!  Back to the dollar store. Cloth binder cover Now I have a great place to slip all those recipes without them floating around in the ionosphere, where they invariably get lost!  And if the internet is down (again) or my computer is on the fritz (God have mercy), I will have the information I need at my fingertips. Cover a binder with cloth This turned out so cute I think I will make another one for all the pages I print out on making cheese, homemade taco sauce, soap, etc..  I think I will call it my homemaking binder! How do you keep all of your printed recipes and tutorials?  Do you worry that some day you may not able to retrieve them when needed?

 

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Pretty Storage Box

My husband and I recently updated our bathroom because we will be putting our house on the market soon.  I find it ironic that we have painted, replaced and spruced up almost everything in our house so that someone else can reap the benefits! 😉   But our home is almost 24 years old and we are the original owners, so a lot of things needed sprucing up!

Fabric over cardboard box

Our newly refurbished bathroom. It  feels naked and needs some bling!

In our bathroom we installed a new vanity, floor tile, lights, shower doors and all new shower and vanity tile!  Now it’s time to stage the bathroom.  Following the advice of numerous real estate agents (and a few staging blogs), we used neutral colors (white) for everything that is permanent and are using color only in the paint, towels and accent pieces.

Cardboard Storage Box

This box fit into the space pretty well – tall enough to hide the contents and not too wide. Perfect!

The middle of the new vanity has two shelves.  I plan to put some towels on the top shelf, to bring in color.  The towels I am planning to buy are just a shade darker than the wall color.  On the bottom shelf I needed something that also brought out the main accent color, but I wanted it to be useful and not just a pretty dust catcher.  At first I thought I would put a basket in there, but couldn’t find the right size or color. Nope – not even IKEA had the right size or color!  Nothing seemed right.  Then I realized I had a cardboard box lying around that fit in the opening pretty well. So, I decided to cover the box with fabric that would coordinate with the towels and paint color.

Fabric covered box

The bottom color – Celtic Grey – is what we painted on the walls.

At my local fabric store I found some fabric in the discount bin (50% off – wahoo) that would be enough to cover the box (just about 2 inches less than a full yard) – and it was the perfect color!  I don’t like everything all matchy-matchy, so when I saw this fabric which is about two shades darker than the paint color – SOLD!

After pressing the fabric to get all the wrinkles out, I measured the length needed to cover the sides and cut the fabric to that length, adding one inch for the seam.  I also cut the fabric tall enough so that it would fold over the top of the box to the inside. Then the box was placed on top of the remaining fabric and a line drawn around the bottom, plus a 1/2 inch seam all around.  This piece will cover the bottom of the box.

Covering a cardboard box with fabric

I pinned the fabric pretty snug, then sewed the seam.

First, the seam for the fabric covering the sides of the box was sewn.  I made sure this was the right size by fitting the fabric over the box.  Nice and Snug. Perfect!

Now I pinned the side fabric to the bottom fabric and sewed that into place.  The corners can be tricky so take your time.  I found it easiest to cut a slash in each corner as I was pinning the pieces together.  Then, when I was sewing the seam, the fabric stretched a bit so I could get sharp corners.  Before putting the fabric on the box, I sprayed the box with a bit of tacky glue and let that dry for a few minutes.  This helped the fabric adhere to the box, especially on the inside, but it sure made it harder to get the fabric on!  I think next time I will only spray the inside of the box. This project went really fast and only took about 1/2 hour to cut out the two pieces and then sew them together!

How to cover a cardboard box with fabric

I had this drawer handle that I didn’t use from a previous project, and it was the perfect finishing touch to the box!

Once the box was done, I felt it needed something else.  A handle!  I had an extra drawer handle that would work great on this box and seemed to be the perfect finishing piece!  It had the same rubbed bronze finish as the handles and pulls on the vanity, although it was a slightly different style and size, which seemed to make it all that much more special!   At first I was just going to punch a hole with an awl through the fabric and cardboard,so I could screw the handle on, but the fabric started to pull!  So instead I had to actually cut tiny holes in the fabric (easier said than done when it is stuck with glue to the cardboard – I ended up using a razor blade), threaded the screws in from the inside of the box and screwed them into the handle.  What is great is that the screws also help to hold the fabric down on the inside of the box!

I can store a lot of things in the box that I wouldn’t want out in the open, keeping a “spa-like” atmosphere in the bathroom.  Aaahhhhh….

How to use fabric to cover a cardboard box

Here is the fabric covered box in place with some matching towels.

I found some nice fluffy towels at our local BB&B store that were almost an exact match to the fabric!

Pretty Storage Box 8

So…  whaddya think?

 

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