My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

How to Can (Apple Butter)

So in my last post, I described how to make some delicious, slow cooker apple butter. Once you make your own batch you’ll have to decide how to store it. You can just freeze it and it will keep in an airtight container for six months. For longer shelf life, you’ll have to look at canning your preserves. Now, I am an armature canner myself but (spoiler alert) all of my jars sealed perfectly so I feel confident sharing my method with you.

I should reveal here that I do not own a traditional canning pot. I use a big pasta pot and it works just fine. More on that in a bit.

To make my life a little easier I purchased this kit from Wal-Mart. It contains a funnel, an air bubble remover, a magnetic lid lifter, and a jar lifter. None of these items is mandatory but they sure cut down on time and mess. Time to start canning!


First, I sterilized my jars. The jars can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher but if you wash them in the empty dishwasher and keep the door closed afterwards, they will stay hot until you’re ready to use them. Then you can remove the jars a couple at a time as needed.


While my jars were in the dishwasher, I took the seals (lids) for the jars and put them in a small pan of water. I heated them until hot, but not boiling. I left the seals in the water until each jar was ready.

Next, I filled my canning pot about half full of water. I heated the water until boiling and put in a clean tea towel. This stops the jars from touching the bottom of the pot and replaces the traditional canning rack in most canning pots.


I filled each jar leaving the recommended head space, (in the case of apple butter, 1/4 inch space left between the preserves and the top of the jar.) I used my funnel to make this process a lot less messy.


I placed the seals on the jars using the magnetic lid lifter.


Next, using my trusty Ov-Gloves (oven mitts with rubber grips on them,) I put the rings on the jars. I only tighten them finger tight. You really don’t have to crank down hard, snug is fine.


Then it was time to place my jars in the pot of boiling water. I used the jar lifter to transport them in and out of the water. When placing them into the pot, I made sure there were no folds in my tea towel so the jars didn’t tip over. I also placed them so they weren’t touching. Don’t crowd the pot or your jars might not seal.


I kept an eye on the pot to be sure that the canner is maintaining a full boil. You may also need to add boiling water to keep the water level up. I boiled my jars for the required time in the recipe, (10 minutes in this case.) After 10 minutes I turned off the heat and gave the water a minute to stop boiling. Then I moved each jar to a dry tea towel on my wood counter top. Wherever you rest your jars, make sure it is heat proof and that the jars are spaced a few inches apart.

Now for the nail-biter, will the jars seal? Resist temptation to tough the jars or press the lids at this point. Just wait for that satisfying pop. Two of my jars sealed right away. Three more sealed two minutes later. The last jar didn’t seal for almost five minutes. My house has never seemed so quiet. The good news is that if one of your jars doesn’t seal, you can still eat the apple butter, you just have to store it in the fridge and use it first.


Store your jars in a cool, dark, dry environment. I use my basement pantry. Happy canning!

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

Well, Fall is truly here and the apples are ready for harvesting.


I’m making and canning apple butter. This post will cover my apple butter recipe and I’ll talk about how to can it in a later post. I used my slow cooker for this recipe and it leads to a lot less stirring and worrying!

I like jam well enough, but in my mind nothing beats apple butter. It’s like creamy, smooth apple pie filling. It’s great on toast or tea biscuits, or even as a glaze on pork.

Yield: About 6 250 ml Mason jars. You can freeze or can the apple butter.


5 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced (any varieties you prefer) HINT: 1 pound apples = 3 cups prepared apples.
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract



I used Granny Smith, Gala, McIntosh, and Honey Crisp apples. They are all great for cooking and a mix of apples gives the butter a better balance of sweet and tart.

Now, to prep my apples, my mom sent me an apple peeler-corer. She’s the best.



This baby was amazing. It cut my prep time in half and wasted less of the apples this way.

I placed the prepared apples in my slow cooker. You can double or half this recipe, but 5 pounds fits my slower cooker exactly.


In a medium bowl, I whisked together the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. I sprinkled it over the apples and stirred gently to combine.


Then I cooked the mixture on low for 10 hours. Do not open the lid or all the steam will escape. No peaking!

At hour 10 I added in the vanilla extract, breaking up any large chunks of apples that remained with a potato masher.


I covered it back up and cooked it for an additional 2 hours.

At the 12 hour mark I used my immersion blender to puree the apple butter until smooth. If you want the apple butter thicker, you can continue to cook it on low with the lid of the slow cooker slightly ajar so that steam can escape. Keep in mind that apple butter thickens as it cools.

And voila, perfect apple butter. Up next, how to can your apple butter.



Art Assignment 37 Paper Weaving

I have always wanted to learn how to make those woven paper hearts people make for Valentines Day or to hang on their Christmas trees. I did a little research and learned they are called Danish paper hearts. Apparently, they were “first described by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen in his 1845 story ‘The Fir Tree’,” ( Now people around the world make them and fill them with treats for their loved ones. This sounds right up my alley. I decided to make two paper hearts for my niece and nephew’s upcoming birthdays, (their birthdays are close together so we’re having one big party for both.)

If you want to make your own paper hearts, the template I used can be found here. This is the beginner version so it’s a good one to try with kids.

Attempt one: Meh, it’s not bad but I bet I can do better.


Much better! Using smaller weaving strips really improved the look. This one is for my nephew.


This one is for my niece.


The weaving looks pretty neat inside as well.


Now to fill these hearts with some birthday treats. Not the healthiest choices, I’ll admit, but everyone deserves a special treat on their birthday.


Besides, part of the job of being an auntie is getting to spoil them a little bit.






Art Assignment 36 Scramble Scrabble Dinner

I love completing art assignments, but this one was a bit of a disaster for me. I’m going to document it anyway because I tried it and the end result was still pretty tasty. Either way, if some of your art assignments haven’t turned out so well, I hope you’ll sympathize.

First, I had trouble finding people to play the word game with me. Most of my friends are teachers and this assignment happened to fall within report card time so everyone was pretty swamped. I had no choice but to use my wifely charms to get Nick to participate with me. It helped that I promised a tasty treat at the end of the game.

Here are our word lists:

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In an effort to maintain simplicity (we thought,) we chose this small selection:


So we decided to make grilled nectarines and salted caramel ice cream, topped with toasted almonds. Sounds yummy, right? Yeah, but not so simple once we got started. I headed to the store to pick up the ingredients. So in addition to falling in a busy time, November may not be the best time to plan an art assignment involving fresh produce. I know we are living in a much more global world, but some foods are still mostly seasonal (at least in Canada). I just didn’t realize nectarines were one of them.


These are the only nectarines I could find and they cost me $6.99. Ouch. Well, in the name of art I bought them. I assembled the rest of my ingredients and got ready to cook.


Nick and I headed to the kitchen with a recipe for salted caramel ice cream from David Lebovitz. Now, I should say that I have made a number of Lebovitz’s recipe in the past and they have been amazing. However, this recipe was really complicated. Don’t believe me? Check it out here.

So Nick and I were in the kitchen whipping egg yolks…


and melting sugar.


Looking good so far…


The sugar looks properly melted to me.


And there it is. As soon as the butter hit the pan, the acrid smell of burnt sugar filled the kitchen. We had over-heated the sugar.


The caramel was bitter and frankly, so was I. I felt very discouraged. I thought about starting over but Nick and I were both a bit tired out by round one. I stomped back to the store and picked up something to salvage this art experiment.


So Nick toasted some sliced almonds…


And I grilled the nectarines. I think this was the prettiest part of this whole assignment.


We put it together into this delicious dessert. Sorry for the slightly dark photo but it was getting late by this time.


So that was the end of our crazy cooking experiment. Maybe using store-bought ice cream was a bit of artistic plagiarism, but we ate the evidence so that’s the end of that!


Why We Remember

Today is Remembrance Day. It is an important part of Canadian culture. WWI formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. That’s why every November 11th at 11AM we observe a moment of silence. To learn more or attend a Remembrance Day event in your area, visit Veteran’s Affairs. Please join us in honouring our veterans.

Perfect Pumpkin Seeds

Whether you’re carving a Jack O Lantern or making a pie, you’ll likely have some pumpkin seeds kicking around this fall. Here’s my recipe to turn them into a delicious, healthy snack.


Pumpkin seeds

Olive oil (enough to lightly coat the seeds)

Salt (to taste)

Pepper (optional)


After carving my Jack O Lantern, I rinsed all the pumpkin goo off the seeds in my colander. Then I let them dry on a clean tea towel. Once they were dry I preheated the oven to 350F.


I placed them in the bowl and added enough oil to lightly coat the seeds. I sprinkled on some salt and pepper and tossed to combine.


I spread the seeds evenly onto a parchment lined baking sheet and popped them in the oven.


I baked them for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Once they were cooled, Nick and I started snacking on them. If you have any left over you can store them in Ziploc bags. Happy snacking!


Homemade Applesauce


I love making my own applesauce. It’s easy and I can adjust the taste to my liking. Today I’m going to show you how to make your own applesauce. I’ll be making a small batch to put in the fridge, but you can easily make a double batch and can or freeze it for long-term storage.

On a recent drive into the countryside, Nick and I stopped into McCully Hill Farm.


I purchased some Gala, Empire and Spartan apples. You can use any blend of apples that you like. I suggest you use both sweet and tart apples that are fairly soft for easy cooking.



  • 3 to 4 lbs of apples (about 7 to 10 apples, depending on the size), cored, and quartered
  • 4 strips of lemon peel (use a vegetable peeler to strip 4 lengths, zest only, not the pith)
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp lemon juice (more or less to taste)
  • tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar (to taste)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt


Start by coring and cutting up the apples. I leave the skin on mine but if you like a smoother texture you can peel the apples first.


Use a vegetable peeler to peel four large strips of lemon peel.


Place the cored and quartered apples into a large pot with the strips of lemon peel, the lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, sugar, water and salt. You might want to start with half the sugar at this point and add more to taste later.


Bring to a boil on high heat, then lower the temperature, cover the pot, and maintain a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the apples are completely tender and cooked through.


Once the apples are cooked through, remove the pot from the heat. Remove the lemon peels. Use a stick blender to blend up the sauce to your desired texture. Add more sugar to taste. If too sweet, add more lemon juice.


I poured mine into Mason jars to store in the fridge and freezer. You can also freeze this sauce in plastic containers and keep it in the freezer for up to a year.


This sauce is rich and delicious. The combination of the spices and the lemon in it make it more complex than the store-bought stuff. Try it for yourself and enjoy!




Novels and Art

Sometimes when I need some time to myself I go swimming. Being under the water blocks out distractions. My mind wanders and sometimes wild ideas find me.

I was swimming yesterday when I thought What if you could have your favourite books illustrated by your favourite artists? Now this goes deep into my book-nerd brain but stick with me for this thought experiment. Choose one of your favourite books, (for me, Alice in Wonderland,) and have it illustrated by an artist of your choice, (Salvador Dali, for instance. Imagine his take on the Mad Hatter’s tea party or the Queen of Hearts.) You could have the artist add details in the margins or full colour panels. They would even create a new cover for you. 

I’d love to run a dusty little book shop that somehow provides this service to bibliophiles. I had so much fun matching my favourite stories to artists I love that I thought I’d include some more of my ideas below.

Klimt illustrating Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin. 

M.C. Escher illustrating Kafka’s Metamorphosis.


For an all Canadian example, how about Lorne Harris illustrating Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush?


Train Spotting with illustrations by Andy Warhol.


Monet adding full colour panels to The Secret Garden.


Rossetti providing illustrations for The Complete Works of Shakespeare, (or at least Hamlet.)


Good work brain! We had fun today. Let me know in the comments which book and artist you would choose for your library.

The Cloud Challenge

The video below will teach you all about clouds. There is a great challenge at the end of this video where you take a photo of some interesting clouds by laying on your back and looking up and behind you. By doing this you end up with an upside-down landscape, (and some weird looks from your neighbors). This puts more focus on the clouds in your photo. Try it out. It’s pretty neat.

I took a photo of the recent super moon. I also wanted to get pictures of the eclipse but unfortunately soon after I took the first shot, the sky clouded up in my city and I missed the whole eclipse. I watched the NASA live stream, but it wasn’t quite the same.

However, my first photo did seem to fit this assignment pretty well. I took an upside-down photo of this cumulus cloud holding up the moon. It looks to me like the cloud is presenting the moon to my neighborhood. If you turn it around the other way, it sort of looks like the moon is an eye and the cloud is a bushy eyebrow.

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To see more amazing cloud photos, check out


Making my own Art Assignment

I’ve been watching The Art Assignment on YouTube and completing the assignments. I use being creative as a way to relax and get out of my head. So, I decided that I would make my own art assignment for a change.

It all started when I found this jar in the basement:

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I can’t remember what was in it before, but I wanted to do something creative with it. The smooth glass just looked so inviting. It was crying out for a purpose.

So then I found a bunch of stuff in junk drawers and corners around my house.

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Here is the final result:

My idea here was to use the technique of found objects to create something beautiful.I’m quire pleased with how it turned out. However, I also want my art to be a bit more interactive so I’m going to display my Jar of Wonders on my desk at work. For those of you who work with children or teenagers, you know that some of them are going to ask what the jar is for and I’m going to tell them it’s art. It’s up to them to interpret it after that. I will also have a number of precocious students who ask if they can have something they like out of the jar. I’m ready for that response too. If they want to take an object from the jar, they have to replace it with an item of equal value, not monetary value but artistic value, (which I will explain to them as the coolness value.) So, for example, how cool is my neon snap bracelet from the 1980s? What are they willing to give up that is as amazing as a tiny glass Hello Kitty bead I picked up in Taiwan? They will have to bring something in and argue its artistic value to me and if I am convinced, we will swap the items. That way the piece stays fluid and students have permission to interact with the art in a way that is forbidden in most galleries.

The idea for the Jar of Wonders comes from the French objet trouvé and involves taking objects that already have purpose and turning them into works of art. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp have created art using found objects, (see illustrations below.)

Still Life with Chair Caning, Picasso

Still Life with Chair Caning, Picasso

In this piece, Picasso used the seat of a cane chair as the basis for his still life. This forced a discussion of the blending of the mundane experience of everyday life with the high experience of art; the mass-produced elements blending with the skillfully crafted artistic ones. This was considered unusual as the art world of the time strictly separated the low, common experiences from the elevated experiences presented in artistic works.

Fountaine, Duchamp

Fountaine, Duchamp

In this well-known piece, Duchamp presented a signed urinal at the Society of Independent Artists, in 1917. The Society rejected it as not being art, despite the fact that the rules of the exhibition stated that any work would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. Again, this raises the question of if and how common objects and experiences can be part of art and of how commonality can still elicit strong emotions from an audience.

If you want to try this Art Assignment, see the instructions below:

  1. Find an interesting container.
  2. Fill it with your own found objects. You can use any materials that you like and arranged or affix them to your container using any method you prefer.
  3. Find a great place to display your found object art. You can make yours interactive (like I did) or not.
  4. Document your work and/or your process. Tweet it to me @JenMcAwesome
  5. Kudos from me (I’ll post your work on my Twitter and Blog to share with everyone).


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