Sunday, January 30, 2011

A very dehydrating experience

Last week I finally decided on my CSN Stores product review. I ordered my Nesco/American Harvest FD-60 Snackmaster Express on a Sunday and found the package waiting on our porch that Thursday. Not bad!

It looked just like the photo, and the size was good -- not too big, not too small. It also came complete with instructions and recipes. I didn't have time to use it until the weekend though, and I decided to start out with something pretty easy, and hopefully fail-proof.

I skimmed through the fruit-drying instructions and decided to make some dried apples and a fruit roll-up (since it also came with one fruit roll-up tray, and, well, I just love fruit roll-ups).

I had bought some large honeycrisp apples and sliced them into pretty thin slices. I also dipped them in some lime juice to try and prevent too much browning. I sliced two apples and ended up filling two trays.

I had also read that you can make a fruit roll-up by just pouring applesauce onto the tray, and it doesn't get much easier than that! But I also decided to puree a little bit of banana to mix in with my applesauce. Then, I poured the mixture onto the tray. The instructions said to make the layer 1/4" to 3/8" thick, but it was hard to tell how thick mine really was.

Then, it was time to put the lid on and start drying. The guide on the lid is pretty self-explanatory, indicating that fruits should be dehydrated at 135 degrees. I set the dial, plugged it in, and that was all. Luke thought it was kind of noisy, but I really didn't think it was too bad.

Now, the hard part was waiting. Using a food dehydrator is the ultimate exercise in patience, but I was just hoping it would be worth it in the end. The chart in the instruction book said that it could take anywhere from 4-10 hours to dry apples. Not very helpful. I would have to check them periodically and try to judge it by the "How to tell when your food is dried" guidelines.

And, we're drying....

... and we're still drying...

 Five hours later, I decided to take the apples off. They seemed sufficiently leathery and pliable. Oh, and my photos now have a radioactive orange glow for some reason.

And the taste test results? Delicious! The apples were sweet and tart and had a nice, chewy texture. My only complaint is that they didn't last long enough! Luke and I devoured them in a matter of minutes. I guess it's easy to do that when they shrink up and lose all their moisture. I would have to dehydrate a lot of apples if we wanted them to last very long around here! But that's beside the point. The point is, they're yummy and they make a healthy snack.

The fruit roll-up wasn't quite ready, so I left it in longer and took it out about an hour later after I couldn't wait anymore.

It was a little tricky getting under it to peel it off the tray, but then it was pretty easy. Turns out, it wasn't quite done in one area and left some gooey stuff. Impatience prevails again. But it was nothing a little soaking wouldn't clean up.

The fruit roll-up was also pretty tasty -- not too sweet, since it was mostly applesauce. You could taste the hint of banana, though. Luke was very impressed, especially since he'd never had homemade fruit roll-ups before. I can't wait to make some with strawberries or peaches when they're in season.

Overall, we're quite satisfied with the dehydrator's first performance. Plus, clean-up was really easy because these particular foods didn't make much mess. I'm pretty excited about all of the possibilities!

Thanks again to CSN Stores for giving me the opportunity to do this product review! I would definitely purchase from them again, based on this experience.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

All Dried Out

I think I finally decided what to order from CSN Stores for my product review. And it's totally different than anything I originally had my eyes on. There were so many different home decor items (wall ledges, picture frames, accent tables, etc.) that I loved, but I don't necessarily have a place in mind for them right now and I didn't want something that would just sit around in a box for months.

So I started thinking along the lines of kitchen items instead and began browsing through the small appliances. They had anything from toasters and blenders to waffle-makers and espresso machines... and then I saw the food dehydrators. This isn't something I've necessarily been looking for or anything, but it has crossed my mind once or twice. We used to have one when I was little and I just remember loving the fruit roll-ups! I think it would be a great way to make healthy snacks and eat more fruit (and Luke, of course, is excited about the idea of making jerky).

The Nesco/American Harvest FD-60 Snackmaster Express appeared to have some of the best reviews on CSN, and I also found other positive reviews for it on Amazon. So, I think this is the winner!

Hopefully, it's an appliance that we'll actually utilize on a regular basis instead of neglecting it and letting it collect dust on our pantry shelves (*cough*...not that we have any other appliances like that...). You can be sure I'll let you know how my first dehydrating experience goes!

Does anyone else have a food dehydrator? If so, what's your favorite thing to make?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bathroom Makeover: Part II (and giveaway!)

After some minor paint touch-ups and re-accessorizing, I'm finally done with the hall bathroom! But first, let's reminisce with the dark and dim Before:

And now, the lighter, brighter, better After!

I really like this bar of soap. It was kind of my inspiration for the new look.

So besides the paint color, what else changed in here?
  • Replaced chrome towel bar with oil-rubbed bronze towel bar (which we already had on hand from our old apartment bathroom)
  • Replaced chrome toilet paper holder with new oil-rubbed bronze holder
  • Replaced shower curtain with new white curtain that lets more light into tub
  • Minimized clutter by taking old, mismatched towels off etagere and putting them in storage until needed

Combined with the new wall color and crisp paint lines (thanks to ScotchBlue Painter's Tape with Edge-Lock Protector), these changes all made a big difference and really helped to pull the bathroom together. I was able to save money by keeping the neutral rug & toilet seat cover and one set of towels in here because they still coordinate with the new color scheme. Also, there was no need to buy a new soap dispenser or other decor/accessories.

Here's the cost breakdown:

Paint: $35 (Behr Premium Plus Ultra in Mojito/satin finish; Home Depot)
Toilet Paper Holder: $15 (Walmart)
Shower Curtain: $16 (Bed Bath & Beyond, with $5 off coupon)
Total Makeover Cost: $66
FYI - I love the Mojito paint color and can't believe I found the perfect shade of green. It has just enough yellow mixed in to make it bright and cheery without being obnoxious. I also think it would be a fun color for a kitchen. It looks great combined with deep browns, black, chrome, white, etc... Ok, I'm done gushing over this color now! (And no, I was not paid by Behr to say any of this.)

So, what are your thoughts on the before & after?

3M, who graciously provided me with the painter's tape that I used in the bathroom makeover, has offered to give away a roll of ScotchBlue Painter's Tape with Edge-Lock Paint Line Protector to 16 of my readers! I know all you painters out there would love to get your hands on this stuff!

All you need to do to enter is:
  • Be a follower of my blog
  • Leave a comment on this post (and just for fun, you can let me know what project you'd use the tape for)
  • Make sure you have a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win.
I'll accept entries until Tuesday, January 25, at 5 p.m. CST.

Enter away, folks!


Weekend Bloggy Reading

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blinded by the Light

You might remember my window woes from last month. While I received some good suggestions, I still haven’t fully envisioned what to do with this wall of windows. However, I did decide that we needed to bite the bullet and at least get some real blinds up to replace the temporary paper shades. I figured it could be my Christmas present – that was all I really wanted, how boring is that?

Old paper shades. Ugh.

After browsing through the window treatment options at Home Depot once again, we decided that spending several hundred dollars for custom blinds was not going to be in the budget. That left us with the boxed blinds that you can cut to size. We chose faux wood, which hopefully won’t be a decision that we regret in the future. We got white to keep the room lighter, plus we also have other white doors and trimwork in the house, so the blinds don’t look out of place. Luckily, we found a size that matched our windows almost perfectly (35” x 72”), so we didn’t even have to trim them!

But before we could put them up, the two-year-old paper shades had to die come down. Initially I was worried that they would stick to the trim and leave gooey paper residue, but they peeled off pretty easily. I must say, removing them was quite satisfying!

Nekkid windows

The installation process for the new blinds went surprisingly smooth as well. Luke worked on that while I touched up some paint in the bathroom, providing assistance as needed (and taking photos of him hard at work, of course).
One down, two to go!

About three hours later (including a break for lunch), our blinds were installed!

We still don’t have the valance pieces up yet because they need to be trimmed down a little bit so they’ll fit inside the window frame. But I just couldn’t wait any longer to post about them! It’s amazing how much more natural light we can get; I got so used to the temporary shades which always covered the top half of these south-facing windows. And at under $30 a pop, these blinds were pretty economical, so I don’t know why it took us so long to finally get some.

Phoebe approves.

Our living room feels almost like a “real” room now, but it’s still missing the warmth and homey-ness of curtains. I’d like to try making my own if it means saving money, so I think I’m going to take a field trip to Hancock Fabrics to see if I can find some inspiration there. Anyone have any suggestions on colors, patterns, types of fabric, etc? (If I do make them myself, I’ll be using the no-sew method and ironing the seams!)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bathroom Makeover: Part I

For those of you who have been dying to know the paint color I selected for our hall bathroom, wait no more. In my search for a lighter, brighter color, I began gravitating toward greens. Maybe for some of you, this wouldn’t be a very big deal. But for someone like me, who tends to make “safe” choices, it was a bit of a bold move!

I knew that there were many ways that I could go wrong with this particular color: too pastel, too putrid, too pukey, too fluorescent, too garish… you get the idea. After comparing many paint samples and testing out a couple of them on the wall, I decided on the winner: Behr’s Mojito. The name alone was appealing enough, and I felt surprisingly confident that it would be just the shade I was looking for.

After clearing everything out of the bathroom and taking off the door, I started taping off the trim, bathtub, and sink with 3M ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape with Edge-Lock Protector (graciously provided to me by 3M in exchange for a review of their product). Maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed like it had extra sticking power even as I was pulling it off the roll. I accidentally ripped it down the middle a few times, but I think that was from pulling it off too carelessly in my haste.

The taping itself was a little tricky in spots, only because the builders who painted all the rooms themselves did a sloppy job and had gotten red paint onto the trim, tub, mirror frame, and ceiling (see below). Apparently they didn’t feel the need to use tape, or to paint the the trimwork before putting it on the walls. So no matter how good of a taping/painting job I did, I’d still have to go touch up the trimwork with white in the end.

Also, when I tape, I prefer to do it in shorter, overlapping strips as opposed to trying to get the whole length of trim, etc. in one long strip.

UGH! Just look at the sloppy painting job on the trimwork and ceiling corners.
This would be a blast to fix.

Finally, it was time to paint!

This was the first time I’ve used Behr Ultra Plus Premium Paint & Primer. It was $35 for a gallon (satin finish), and had the consistency of a very thick pudding (pistachio pudding, for that matter).
After my white touch-ups on the ceiling had dried, I taped off those corners and used the new brush from my 3M painter’s kit to cut in all the corners and taped edges. I had hoped that maybe the paint & primer formula would be able to cover the red with one coat, but I soon realized how foolish that was.

Unfortunately, my photos don't do justice to this color. Next to the red, it just looks beige.

Painting the rest went pretty quick with the roller (also provided in my painting kit), except our 10-foot ceilings added a little extra time and effort. Getting behind the toilet took some additional neck-craning (to get behind the tank, I slid a piece of plastic sheeting on the backside and taped it on, then just shoved the brush as far behind it as I could).

Also, I used a small artist’s paintbrush to get in the narrow space between the sink’s cabinet drawers and our door trim.

The ceiling now looks a hundred times better than before. Woot!!

The room was undergoing a big transformation after one coat, but unfortunately a second coat was needed, so it ended up taking me most of the weekend to finish up.

I still had to touch up a few tiny red spots here and there (mostly due to our textured walls), but the two coats were enough to sufficiently cover the old paint. And I ended up having a little paint left to spare for any future touch-ups.

I was super-excited to start peeling the tape up. It came off nicely, and left a very clean line along the trimwork, tub, and ceiling. The only place it got a little messy was the grout around the sink. I’d say that’s probably due to a couple factors: 1) I was trying to cover up the red paint that was on the grout before, and 2) I don’t think crumbly grout makes a very good surface for adhering to.

As far as the 3M Painter’s Tape with Edge-Lock Protector, I was very satisfied with the results. With that said, I also feel like I wasn’t able to use this product to its fullest potential on this particular project. For instance, it would be great for achieving clean stripes, blocks, or other patterns. I think I'm going to try another smaller project with this tape in the near future.

Anyhow, I’m still in the process of getting the rest of the bathroom put back together and accessorized, so you’ll have to wait just a little longer for the full “before & after” reveal. And don't forget, I'll soon be having a giveaway for a roll of ScotchBlue Painter's Tape with Edge-Lock Protector! In the meantime, here's some handy product info:


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