Friday, November 16, 2012

Adventures in Dehydrating: Kiwi

My husband received a food dehydrator from his mother for Christmas last year.  In the past year we've dehydrated lots of fruits and some meat for Jerky.  And during those experiments, most of what we dried turned out great.  Of course, it's always trial and error when cooking, and that's especially true of dehydrating because of all of the factors that keep recipe books from having definitive times, widths to cut things, and even temperatures to set your dehydrator at.  Much of these estimations and ranges have to do with your dehydrator--they don't all have the same motors or settings.  Air temperature and humidity also play a part, and so do variations in the food you are drying (ex: different types of apples grown in different climates harvested at different times are going to have different water content).  That being said, I hope I can share a few of the things we've learned about dehydrating by showing some of the things we have been successful at drying.

HyVee (our local grocery chain) had kiwi on sale for 5 for $1 last week.  So we'll start with Kiwi!

My husband filled a produce bag with 20 kiwi.  When he brought it over to the cart, my eyes grew larger as I thought of all of the peeling, but it only took us about a half an hour to peel and slice them.  In our few times drying kiwi, I have learned some tricks about prepping them--which is generally a slippery ordeal.  First, slice the ends off of your kiwi with a knife and peel your kiwi like an apple (in a spiral around the fruit).  This is faster, easier, and a bit less slippery than peeling pole-to-pole. Next, though a mandolin/v-slicer works fine, we've found the easiest way to slice kiwi is with a wire hard-boiled egg slicer. It slices them the exact right thickness to achieve a slightly chewy, but a little crisp, kiwi.

This batch of kiwi dried quickly on the fruit setting (135 degrees).  It only took about 12 hours and yielded a not-quite-full quart-sized Ziploc bag of kiwi.  These dried kiwi will stay preserved for months--but they never last that long. :)

In a household of two (plus a dog), drying fruit is really handy.  It allows us to take advantage of sales to stock up and we avoid the problem of dealing with spoiled fruit. They also make great healthy snacks--most of which can double as dog treats (but fruit is full of sugar--so give in moderation).  Our dog loves this kiwi almost as much as my husband does.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Painted Glass Ornaments

Several years ago, I was shopping at the Ben Franklin in Wilmar, MN (yeah, that long ago), and I saw a flyer for a craft project where you drip craft paint into a glass ornament and swirl it around to create nifty marble effects.  Well, that day I bought some glass ornaments and grabbed the flyer.  I then went to grad school and moved 3 times before I actually completed the project....but the ornaments survived the moves and I finally did the project. :) 

All you need for this project:
Glass ornaments
craft paint
a tray lined with paper towels to let the ornaments dry in

My craft flyer from 2002 said I should clean the ornaments out with rubbing alcohol before I painted them, and since these were older ornaments, I went ahead with this step to remove any dust.  If your ornaments look clean, you can probably skip that step.

Next, take the metal caps off and drip some paint into the ornament.  The amount you see in the photo below would probably be plenty to cover the ornament if you were patient. I am not patient, so after some swirling, I added more to cover the gaps.  Then I poured out any excess paint and set the ornament in the tray to dry and be turned at regular intervals. Start out with turning them every 20-30 minutes two or three times, and then when the paint appears near dry, you can start turning them every couple of hours or so.

The slow movement of the paint as it dries is what really swirls the paint.  If you want your paint less swirly--use less paint, super swirled--use more paint.  Of course, too much paint will mean colors may mix and you may end up with voids if you leave your painted ornament without turning it for too long.  I ran into this problem after they set overnight.  So I had to add a tiny bit more paint to cover up a couple of empty spots.

When they were all dried, they turned out pretty nifty, even if I feel like I used a bit too much paint and left them in one position for a bit too long.  The project turned out to be very forgiving, and I look forward to making more with a little less paint and starting earlier in the day so I can keep an eye on their drying. And since I have more ornaments that I bought last year, I can give it a whirl, or a swirl, again sometime soon.

These glass ornaments are tough to photograph.  I ended up reflected in many of the photos--the one below was my favorite reflection.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Snowflake Punch Ornament

I saw an adorable ornament on Pinterest made with flowers from a paper punch pinned onto a Styrofoam ball.  I thought a ball covered in snowflakes would be even more Christmas-y....that and I have a snowflake punch, some nice blue scrapbook paper, and a spare Styrofoam ball on hand.  I love crafts where I don't have to buy anything!

This project requires:
a Styrofoam ball (I bought mine at Wal-mart)
a shaped paper punch (mine is a snowflake, but you could do stars or flowers--whatever you prefer)
a ribbon to hang the ornament
and a scissors

After I gathered my supplies, I punched a bunch of snowflakes out of some light blue scrapbook paper.  I had planned on using white card stock to contrast with the blue, but the thickness was a bit much for my cheap paper punch (which was most likely picked up in the dollar bin at Michael's), so I ended up using plain old copy paper.  It was a bit flimsy but worked fine.

After you've punched a bunch of snowflakes, start pinning them in a random but alternating pattern.  Try to get the pin in the center of the snowflake to keep things looking tidy.

When you're finished filling in with snowflakes, pin a ribbon to the top of your ornament so you can hang it from your tree.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Transparency Christmas Ornaments

Last year I picked up a couple of boxes of plain glass ornaments at Hobby Lobby or Michael's at 50% off after Christmas.  So this year, I get to figure out what the heck to do with them.  My first project was to print out a couple of designs on transparency paper to create a cool translucent effect.  Of course, the real trick with this project was getting decent photographs.  The rest of the project was super easy.  

I had some leftover printable transparencies lying around from back when teachers still used overhead projectors (5+ years old).  You may have better luck photocopying your designs onto regular transparency film as I have no idea where you can get ink jet transparencies anymore (perhaps office supply stores or here).  I found a few designs online that I thought would work.  The first was a black and white silhouette of a nativity scene.  The second was a snowman with a blue background (think snow globe effect). The third one I found was a snowy scene that didn't print out very well on the transparency as it was mostly white--so it got nixed from the project.

After I printed out my images the approximate size of the ornaments (mine were 3 1/4 inches), I found something about the right size to draw a circle around the design.  My choice was a Star Trek glass.

After I had circled the images, I cut them out with a scissors. I made sure to cut off any of the pen markings by cutting inside the lines.

Next I rolled the transparency up so that it could be slide into the ball. It pops right open once you get it in the ornament. If you cut the circle too big, you should be able to pull it out with a tweezers (but it will probably take a bit of finagling).I pushed my transparency image around with a chopstick and then added some fake plastic snow using a funnel. I had to push the image forward and put snow both in front of and behind the image.

When you're done, decorate with a bow, or hang it right on your tree. Because these ornaments are so transparent and reflective, it was difficult to take photos that showed what they really looked like.  I hope you get the general idea because I feel like they turned out pretty cool and took very little time and money to make.