Beer Advent Calendar Tutorial

We found Candy Cane checking out the books on Thing 2’s bookshelf this morning:

Today I decided to make a beer advent calendar for the husbeast at his request, even though we’re already a few days into December. (What can I say, I am running behind in a few things.) I’d seen them advertised online, but they’re not available commercially anywhere around here that I’d seen. I’ve also seen them for wine and for little airline bottles of liquor. I honestly think the best thing would be to build a divided wooden case with 24 little hinged doors on the top and reuse it year to year, much like some of the older traditional advent calendars (only larger). However, I’ve totally run out of time for that, so I went for a cheaper, quicker alternative.

I started with twenty-four different beers, which conveniently fit into a standard flat. Now, a proper box with those little cardboard dividers would have been optimal, but those only tend to be available for bottles. Because I didn’t have a proper box, I needed a second empty flat.

Using a craft knife, I cut about 1/2cm in around the edge of the box. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since it will be hidden.

Then I put the cardboard ring I’d created around the top of the cans of beer.

Next I wrapped the case of beer like a gift. I normally would hide my seams along the bottom of the gift, but since I couldn’t turn it all upside down without it all falling apart, I put the seam along one side instead.

Using a Sharpie and a ruler, I drew a grid above the cans of beer. I could feel the edges of the cans through the paper, so I could easily figure out where the lines should go. Then I randomly numbered the grid from 1 to 24.

My husband tried opening the advent calendar at first by punching holes in the paper, but it tore too easily into the other sections. We found that the best bet is to use a craft knife or scissors to cut a hole a little smaller than the grid markings, so as to keep the paper from disintegrating.

Once the calendar is opened, it’s possible to see the kinds of beer from the side of the case, or to displace everything inside by picking it up. This can be solved by making a cardboard grid and putting it inside the box before the cans. But if you’re not too picky, it works just fine — and my husband, for one, is too happy with his calendar to really care.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

It feels like the Christmas season is finally in full swing! Now that my last market of the season is complete, I can actually concentrate on our family celebrations at home.

I introduced you last year to our household’s Elf on the Shelf, who was named Candy Cane by my kids. As she does every year, Candy Cane showed up on the first day of December, along with the advent calendars.

On December 1st, Candy Cane appeared on the family room mantle, bringing with her a suitcase overflowing with tiny outfits.

On December 2nd, she hid away in our old china cabinet and tried on her outfits in front of my grandmother’s antique hand mirror.

On December 3rd, she spent time in the kitchen making hot chocolate.

And today, December 4th, she absconded with some of the kids’ LEGOs, including some minifigs from their advent calendar, and played with them by the window.

In addition to hunting for Candy Cane every morning, an essential element of this part of the season is making Christmas gifts. I was thrilled last week when Thing 1 came back from Guides with this lovely mason jar full of chocolate chip cookie mix. Each member of the troupe learned about following a recipe and got to measure out and package their own ingredients. I thought it was a great learning experience, and the girls had a lot of fun! (You can find the recipe on Very Best Baking if you want to make one of these jars yourself.)

Thing 1’s experience with making the cookie mix made me think. I do all kinds of canning, so why am I not making dried mixes in jars as well? These aren’t just good Christmas presents, they’re fantastic for teacher appreciation, housewarmings, new parents, sick friends, poor students and young adults moving out for the first time… I already have two books that devote a large portion of their contents to the subject: Company’s Coming: Gifts from the Kitchen (Jean Paré, 2001) and Jazzy Jars: Glorious Gift Ideas (Marie Browning, 2002), and as someone who makes preserves I have lots and lots of jars, so why am I not using them? I honestly think it’s because I have too much choice (I know, not the most horrible thing overall), and I’m having a hard time narrowing it down.

So my question is this: what is your favourite recipe for a dry mix in a jar?

Knitting Vero

It seems like all of my spare time recently, what little of it I have, has been spent with yarn and needles in my hands. My current project takes ten balls of Vero 100% wool in colourway Rose Bower, and even though I’m five balls into a ten-ball project, the pile of yarn doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

I don’t know how I manage to knit all year round, but I never seem to have what I want done in time for the holidays unless there’s a crush at the end. On top of this project, I’d like to make Christmas stockings for my family (we’ve had store-bought until now), and I want to try my hand at knitting at least one fleece-lined Mimikyu hat from Pokémon Go — although heaven knows if I give one to one of the kids, I’ll have to make a second. There’s 43 days until Christmas, I can do that, right?

Hope springs eternal.

Food Mills and Apple Butter

I spent most of a day over the weekend processing the apples we’d picked. It took me that long not because it is a difficult process, but because I had almost forty pounds of fruit to go through. Apples can be kept over the winter in a cool, dry place, so a couple of months in my basement meant that they were still perfectly fine. However, I wanted to turn them into preserves, both for my own pantry and as Christmas gifts.

Back in May I picked up an immaculate second-hand food mill for $7.99, and this was my first chance to try it out. Well, it worked like a charm! No more spending hours and hours peeling and coring my apples before cooking. I just had to cut them in quarters, and then run the lot through the food mill once it was all cooked soft. It saved me so much time. I really wish I’d found a food mill years ago!

Then I cooked the resulting applesauce down with some cinnamon and honey in a slow cooker for about 24 hours, until it had halved in volume. This was just under half of the applesauce that I made; the rest will go in another batch. As you can see, it starts really light-coloured before the cinnamon is stirred in and it starts to oxidize.

This was the end result: just over two litres of apple butter. I’d estimate that about 17lbs of apples was rendered down into these nine tasty little jars. I still have another batch to go, with one medium-sized container of applesauce in the freezer to be used in baked goods over the winter. There are some lovely recipes for applesauce quick breads, yeast breads, and cakes out there that I’d like to try (or re-try)!

Spicy Green Tomato Chutney

I spent most of yesterday evening and well into the night putting up the last of the green tomatoes — not only my own, but a whole bunch of them from a friend’s garden as well. Sadly, I waited a bit too long and some of them had spoiled, but I did have a satisfactory result nonetheless.

That’s twenty 250mL jars of spicy Green Tomato Chutney, the recipe for which can be found on page 208 of The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (2012). I’ve made a few versions of this chutney over the years (I believe I have at least four versions in different cookbooks on my shelf, let alone the ones that can be found online), but this is by far my favourite. I was really happy with how it turned out this year! I made it a little hotter than usual by including the jalapeno seeds, but otherwise I kept the recipe the same. I labeled mine as “spicy” this year, and it does have some heat, but given that chutney originates in India, it’s not the spiciest one out there by far. To me, it’s just spicy enough to pack a nice punch.

Chutney is supposed to be savoury and sweet and spicy all at the same time. Preserving says this version is especially good with eggs in the morning, but I would say that it is great on a sandwich or grilled cheese or burger, with cold cheese, with most meats, with roast potatoes or other veggies, as a dip or a glaze… Basically, if you want to take the flavour of anything savoury up a notch, chutney is perfect. And now I have five liters of it, some of which will stay in my pantry, and some of which will become Christmas gifts.

Happy Birthday, Little Brother

My (rather late) package to my little brother arrived in the mail at his house today, so I can finally write about what I made him. My brother is a technophile, but sadly I can’t afford to buy him the latest and greatest gadgets on the market. Instead, I hope he will be happy with socks.

I knit these socks out of, um, well, I lost the ball band so I don’t remember the name of the yarn. They are a lovely hand-dyed merino sock yarn, though! They’re stretchy, comfy, and warm for this incoming winter. The pattern is a toe-up one that I devised years ago that is particularly great for using up absolutely all of a ball of yarn. First, you divide the yarn in half; then, with each ball, knit the foot, and then knit upwards from the ankle until you run out of yarn. I love it, and I keep meaning to write it down for others in a way that is actually readable. Right now, the pattern lives in my head and on the back of a slowly-deteriorating envelope. I know it’s best to get patterns and recipes out there where others can use them, so I’d better write it down soon!

This hilarious F-bomb was most definitely not a pattern of my own devising, though. This pattern was recommended to me by a friend; it’s The F Bomb by Jenifer Spock-Rank, and it’s available for free on Ravelry. I knit it out of leftover scraps of black, red, and cream Dalegarn Baby Ull. I doubled up the yarn and used a 3.0mm needle so it wouldn’t be ridiculously tiny. Those little threads you can see in the picture are actually fibrefill stuffing — that stuff sheds almost as badly as faux fur!

Teapot Herbs

A couple of months ago I was in the middle of selling a lovely Sadler “Brown Betty” teapot to a customer. I had already made the sale, had cash in hand, and was just wrapping it up in paper for safe transit. We were chatting while I packaged, and she said, “Oh, I have a teapot just like this at home, but I dropped the lid and smashed it. I just had to get a replacement.” To which I replied, “Oh yes, it’s always the lids that go first.”

And then I dropped the lid.

Of course, it fell straight down onto the concrete floor and smashed into tiny little pieces. The customer and I stared at each other mutely for a moment, and then I asked her, “So… Do you want the brown and green one instead?”

So I returned home that day with a pretty little teapot with lots of life left in it, but that is unsalable because of a lack of lid. “What am I going to do with this?” I thought. But then it occurred to me that Mother’s Day was coming up, and that my mother loves tea, so maybe I could make her something? I ended up using the teapot as a little herb planter. I planted basil inside, two different varieties.

Mom liked the gift so much that I’ve started hunting down lidless teapots to use as planters for different herbs. So far I’ve found her a metal one that obviously used to be used on an open fire, and one of those vibrantly-painted ones that’s a tea-for-one set with a pot on the top and a matching cup on the bottom. I think that after a while we’ll have a full-fledged herb garden, possibly even branching out to flowers or seasonal arrangements after a while. It really pleases me that we now have a use for these otherwise-unusable items — and now the hunt is on for more teapots to rescue. This should be fun!