Have you ever used a coffee Toddy to make cold brew coffee? If not, welcome to the ’90s, Mr. Banks! Cold brew coffee is perfect for the warmer months because it's always ready and always cold. It's not as acidic as making a brewed coffee and pouring it over ice... and it tastes about a hundred times better, too.
Toddy coffee systems aren't found in most stores, so you might have to find one online. They are usually about $35 (find them here). Two great things about the Toddy are that it doesn't use any electricity and that all of the parts (filter and plug) are reusable, so it's easy on the earth and easy on your wallet. :) Basically, you are soaking your coffee grounds in cold water and filtering it out, so all you will need is water and coffee, and in this batch, we're infusing it with toasted coconut. One batch of Toddy cold brew concentrate kept cool in the refrigerator will last you about a week, depending on how much you drink per day and how much you made in your original batch.
Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, makes one batch.
16 oz* of coffee ground on coarse. This is very important! Ask your barista to grind it on coarse for you—don't use a grinder at home, because it won't grind the coffee evenly. Smaller grinds will clog your filter. 9 cups of water (cold or room temperature) 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
*Most of our favorite coffee beans only come in 12 oz bags, such as the one we are using today. If you buy a 12 oz bag of coffee, make sure and only use 6 3/4 cups of water instead of 9 cups.
Before you get started, toast your coconut and allow it to cool completely so you can crunch it up into smaller pieces. To toast it, put your coconut in a pan (you won't need oil), and stir it over medium heat until the coconut is browned. Perfect! And it smells heavenly.
If you've never used a Toddy before, rinse your filter out a little bit. Place your filter in the bottom of your Toddy, and insert the plug from the bottom of the Toddy (not inside). You'll need to be able to pull the plug when your Toddy is full of coffee. ;) Next, pour your coarse grounds into the Toddy, and add the toasted coconut shreds, giving it a good stir.
Add your water slowly. I usually add two cups at a time and then pause a minute. Make sure all of your grounds are wet and that you don't have any dry grounds on top.
The next step is super easy—just cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature. The actual time you need to let it sit is variable—I've heard some coffee shops allow theirs to sit for 10 hours, and some up to 24 hours. We allowed our batch to sit for 15 hours, and it turned out great.
Once you come back to your batch, hold your Toddy over your glass jar and pull the plug! Place the Toddy over your glass container and let it drain. It'll take between 10-30 minutes. If it looks like it's having trouble draining, you might need to grab a spoon and stir the grounds around the filter area.
And you're done! You now have a full batch of cold brew concentrate. Treat this concentrate like espresso—you can drink it as is, but take it easy, or you'll get the jitters. Here are a few other ways you can use your cold brew concentrate!
To make your iced coffee, just pour 1 part cold brew concentrate to 2 parts filtered water in a glass, and add ice. Easy and so good.
Are you a latte gal like me? Great, because cold brew lattes are super delicious. Pour 1 part concentrate to 2 parts milk or almond milk, and add ice! The toasted coconut makes the concentrate mildly sweet, so it's kind of perfect just on its own, but you can always add a simple syrup or agave nectar if you'd like to sweeten it up.
And your cold brew coffee doesn't have to be iced. If you're more of a hot beverage person, but you like the taste of cold brew, you can mix 1 part cold brew concentrate to 2 parts boiling water, and you'll have a nice little Americano situation.
Have you tried any other infusions with your cold brew coffee? You could try lavender, cinnamon sticks, or vanilla bean too! I love experimenting with our Toddy at home, and I'd love new ideas, so let me know what you try. xo. Sarah
Credits / / Author: Sarah Rhodes. Photography: Elsie Larson and Sarah Rhodes. Photos edited with Sunday from the Folk Collection.
Recently Josh installed these fun wood walls in our dining room (don't worry—we'll be posting more about that soon). I'm in love with the look and the way it warms up our space. Now I'm on the hunt for a little more decor to finish it off. White hanging planters felt like an obvious choice because I love plants, and the dark wood looks really pretty with the white planters as an accent.
I decided to make my own, and I'm glad I did because it was really easy. Each planter took me less than an hour to make (not counting the spray painting, I guess) and cost between $10 and $20... niceee!
Supplies: -rope (I just used our leftovers from this project) -3 plastic planters (I used 4" and 6" sizes) -Crop-A-Dile tool -scissors -measuring tape
*A quick note about the planters. Be sure to choose plastic planters with built-in drainage on the bottom (meaning they are intended for indoor use and will not spill water on the floor when you water your plants). I found my planters at Target in the gardening section. They were gray (and I was set on white), so I spray painted them.
The process is simple enough to "eyeball it," but just in case you want to know my exact measurements, here you go!
Step One: Use your Crop-A-Dile to punch two holes in your planters, equally spaced on opposite sides. Since my rope was a little thicker, I punched four times to create a larger hole. You can see here that my hole isn't perfectly shaped, but don't worry, your rope will cover that.
Step Two: Cut a piece of rope a foot or two longer than what you think you will need (I used 10 feet for my 4" planters and 13 feet for my 6" planters). Fold it in half and tie a knot in the middle.
Step Three: Next you will start the process of attaching your three planters. If you are unsure about how much rope to leave between each planter, see the two I made below to use as guides. String the rope through the inside of each planter, and secure with a knot on the outside. After each set of two knots, hold up your planter by the knot at the top to make sure they are not lopsided. It takes a little adjusting, but if you check after each set of knots, you'll get it all put together quickly!
Step Four: After you have tied off the bottom on your rope, use tape to secure theends of the rope before cutting it. Some ropes fray more than others. Use white or clear tape if you don't like the pop of color.
When planting, just set your planters down flat like this. Don't stress too much about getting your rope dirty. You can brush off any dust or dirt at the end.
A small but important detail! Be sure that your soil line is lower than the holes for your rope. If the soil is too high, water will spill out from the holes when you water. I learned this the hard way. Ooops. It was an easy enough fix, though; all I had to do was remove a little soil from the bottom of the pot.
These are the rope measurements for the larger 6" pots (they are 6" tall and have a 6" mouth). I decided to try double knots on this one, just for fun!
These are the rope measurements for the smaller 4" pots (they are 4" tall and have a 4" mouth). For my home this size is a little more perfect.
I'm so happy with these! I'm considering replacing a few of my porch planters with these three-tier planters this year. I had fun fixing up our porch last year, and I'm ready for phase two. This year I have something a little more colorful in mind.
I don't think I told you guys this yet, but we decided to forgo our garden this year and put ALL our energy into unfinished house projects. I hope that will translate to lots more posts too. I'm excited to share the progress as we go! xo. Elsie
P.S. I hope you are more careful with your cactus potting than I was—ouchhhh!!!
Credits// Author and Photography: Elsie Larson. Photos edited with Imogen and Norma from The Folk Collection.
We are so happy to welcome Lynne Knowlton to the blog today to share her treehouse with us!
"The treehouse is nestled amongst the trees in the backyard of our 100-year-old home in rural Ontario, Canada. Having a treehouse is both serene and energizing all at once.
"It all goes back to a time when we were kids, and we tucked ourselves in blanket forts made from sofa cushions and cardboard boxes. We had secret handshakes, water balloons, and clubhouse passwords. No one else was allowed in our magical fort, unless, of course, they knew the secret password.
"We built our treehouse as a getaway. A big escape. We all have moments of stress and feeling crazy tweeked. My goal was to create a space that children and adults would love, a space that they could feel good in. It evolved into a treehouse for grown-ups.
"It’s no big secret that our economy is tighter than bark on a tree... excuse the pun. Building a treehouse that’s eco-friendly, with green living in mind, meant that we could be creative and save moola along the way.
"Most of the treehouse is made from reclaimed, upcycled items. The walls of the treehouse were created from a reclaimed barn. Some of the walls are barn board, and one wall is built from the barn tin roof.
"There is a big ol' red slide on the side of the treehouse! The slide was reclaimed from a school playground and was originally destined for the landfill. It’s fun; even my 85-year-old Grandma loves it.
"We have lived in our home for 11 years but only just built the treehouse a few years ago. The space started as playhouse for our four children but evolved into an adult-sized treehouse.
"Being creative and hugging trees (especially ones with tree houses in them) feeds my soul. There is nothing like the sound of the trees, the smell of the air, and the beauty of the fireflies at night."
I have to admit that when I first realized that marbling was back in style, I was totally surprised. It's not that I didn't like marbling to begin with, but I had just kind of forgotten that it was an option. But once I saw the array of products in pretty, swirly rainbow hues, I was like, "Oh, right! Glad you're back, marbling; you deserve it!" Our pal Elise made some really pretty cards recently, and we started wondering how this technique would look on a photo. So as part of our Canon USA collaboration we made some large marbled photo art!
While the options of how to marble (and what to marble) are varied, this nail polish version is pretty much as easy as it gets, and you can marble paper, wood, slick surfaces—just about anything! Since marbling is at its best when done in colorful hues, we decided that a bright marble pattern would be the perfect addition to a black and white photo.
Supplies: -nail polish in several shades (don't use quick-dry if possible). We used bottles of half-used polish from our collections, ones we hadn't touched in over a year. -disposable container (I used paint liners) -disposable stick to stir paint -Canon Fine Art Paper, "Photo Rag" -plastic gloves to protect your hands
Step One: Print photo. Choose a photo that has a good amount of white space, meaning you won't have to cover an important part of a photo, like someone's face. We printed ours with the Canon PRO-100 on their "Photo Rag" paper, which worked much better than traditional photo paper on this project. We highly recommend it.
Step Two: Add a couple of inches of water to your container. If you are going to dip an object, use a container that can hold enough water to submerge your object, but you only need a shallow container with a few inches of water for objects that just touch the top of the surface.
Step Three: Unscrew all the tops to your nail polish containers, and place them next to the water. Using one color at a time, pour some polish into the water at different spots across the surface. Once you have all the colors poured, use the stick to pull the colors across the surface until you get a mix that you like. You'll have to work really quickly when pouring the colors and stirring them. It helps to have another person pour the colors with you—the less time the polish sits before being transferred to the object, the better the end result will be.
Step Four: Once your pattern is where you like it, carefully place your photo into the area you like the best, and pull the photo straight up to remove. If you missed a spot on your photo, you can dip it again in another area that still has some polish remaining. You can also make a new batch of polish marbling to dip into again, but you'll want to start over and change the water first. Once you have dipped all the spots you like, allow the photo to dry flat.
So pretty, right? The marbling has such a magical and fresh feel that it's a perfect way to add some color to almost any object, and it definitely gives these already pretty photos a boost to the next level. xo. Elsie
Credits// Author: Elsie Larson, Project Assistant: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Elsie Larson and Sarah Rhodes. Photos edited with Stella from The Signature Collection.
Hi, guys! It's Mandi here to talk to you about how you can affordably improve your photography with the use and understanding of prime lenses. When I first bought a DSLR camera (digital camera with interchangeable lenses) in 2008, I didn't really know what I was doing. My Canon Rebel XTi came with a standard low-quality zoom lens, and because of that, my photos weren't up to the quality I had hoped.
I quickly became a student of digital photography and learned that the lenses you use can dramatically improve your photos, even if your camera isn't baller (and mine wasn't). Back then, I didn't even know the difference between a prime lens and a zoom lens—all I knew is that I didn't want to waste my hard-earned money on the wrong lens. And man, oh man, lenses are expensive, you guys! I searched online for lenses based on reviews and cost, and that's what led me to prime lenses.
WHAT ARE PRIME LENSES?
So what are prime lenses? You may be used to zooming in and out with your camera when taking photos, but prime lenses don't zoom—they stay fixed at one focal length. In simple terms, a focal length is the distance between the subject and the "eye" of the camera.
So why buy a lens that doesn't zoom? Well, for one, they are much less expensive than zoom lenses because they have less interchangeable parts. Want a nice lens that will help you shoot in low light and give you beautiful photos with great shallow depth of field?* Well, a zoom lens rarely goes lower than f/2.4, which is a big difference from the f/1.4 of my prime lenses. What's the big deal about the f-number, you ask? The lower the number, the shallower the depth of field and the better your ability to shoot in low light. That's a big deal to me as a photographer. Zoom lenses with nice glass and low f-numbers can easily run way over $1,000. Or you could give up the zoom function for a prime lens for $100-$500, depending on the quality of glass. What a deal, right?
When I was lens shopping all of those years ago, I thought it would be silly not to save money and gain quality by getting a prime lens. I mean, who needs zoom? I can always use my feet too zoom, right? And I could always add more prime lenses in different focal lengths as I got the money. The decision seemed easy. Well, I'll admit—it's a bit more complicated than that.
*In simple terms, depth of field is when your subject is sharp in focus and the rest of the image is blurry.
WHAT LENSES DO I USE, AND WHY?
If you're in the market for a lens upgrade for your DSLR and want the best lens for your money, I highly suggest you consider purchasing a prime lens. I've really enjoyed each of the three prime lenses I've purchased and would love to tell you all about them to help make your shopping decisions easier. Here are the lenses I currently own:
Your camera type should be the first thing to consider when deciding which prime lens you should get. If you have a lower-end DSLR, it probably has a cropped body, versus the more expensive full-frame cameras. This difference in camera sensor sizes isn't something I knew about when I purchased my first Canon Rebel, which is a cropped-body camera. I was blown away when a friend showed me how a picture taken from the same spot with the same lens as mine looked on his full-frame camera. The comparison made it seem like my lens was zoomed in—but prime lenses don't zoom! His full-frame camera captured so much more! To see this difference for yourself, check out the comparison images above. They were both taken with a 50mm lens from the same spot, but you can see the dramatic difference between the two sensor types.
What does that mean for cropped-body camera users? You should compensate for image cropping by purchasing a lens with a shorter focal length, such as a 28mm or 30mm lens, instead of the 50mm lens that was used in the above images. A 30mm lens would probably end up being the most used lens in your camera bag—a great lens to start out with. But if you want to branch out and expand your lens collection, read about the uses and quirks of each of my prime lenses as I explore their use with different subjects.
CONSIDER YOUR TYPICAL SUBJECT MATTER
Another important factor when selecting a prime lens should be your subject matter. What kind of photos do you plan to take? Let's explore each of the subjects I usually shoot and how each lens performs.
Food photographers usually like to get up close and personal with their subject matter, which would make an 85mm focal length ideal (as shown above). This lens appears more zoomed in than the 30mm or 50mm lenses I own, so it's great to get detail shots without having to move in closer to the subject. Of course, you can use a wider angle lens,* but your image will not be the same. Let's discuss the differences below, as shown on a full-frame camera.
*A wide angle lens has a shorter focal length which allows for more content in the frame of the camera, but also results in distortion or light loss/vignetting around the edges of the image.
In the above images, you can see how I had to physically move closer or farther away to capture the same image with three different prime lenses. The content of the photo ended up generally the same, but because of the quirks of each lens, we see some differences.
The 30mm lens is so wide that it acts almost like a fish-eye lens, causing dramatic distortion—the foreground of the image is enlarged and the background becomes much smaller. Distortion is more of a concern when shooting up close to a subject. The problem lessens the farther you move from the subject—but we'll discuss that later.
The 50mm lens has less distortion than the 30mm lens, but you can see that compared to the 85mm lens, there is still actually a bit of distortion when shooting so close to a subject. The 85mm allows less of the background in the image (great for food or small-scale product photographers) and no distortion. It's my favorite lens to use in detail shots like this.
Portraits can be varied in style, of course, and the lens you use will make a big difference in both the style and the content of your photo. The photos below show basically the same image, taken from the same spot, with three different lenses.
As you can see, the 30mm lens allows more content into the photo. This is great if you'd like to feature a beautiful background or if you'd like to have the person in your portrait be shown from head to toe and don't have much room to physically back away to take the photo. But take note that when using a 30mm lens on a full-frame camera, you will experience vignetting.* The 50mm lens makes for a prettier composition, in my opinion. It takes away less of the background and allows for a more intimate capture of the subject, while still sharing details like what she's wearing or holding. Want to get even more intimate, though? Then the 85mm is your guy. It gets right in there, cutting out most of the background and focusing in on the subject. The 85mm is also a great lens for taking candid portraits at parties. People don't realize you're taking their photo from so far away, so they let their guard down and you can capture their natural smiles and laughter. This is a method I use a lot when photographing wedding receptions.
*Vignetting is also referred to as light loss. It is when the corner edges of the image are darkened because of the presence of the lens wall in your camera's sensor. Vignetting can be somewhat corrected with photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom, but even with digital manipulation, you will lose some of the detail in your image.
If you're a blogger, chances are you're taking some photos from above. You know the gig—artfully styled sections of citrus for a margarita recipe, or maybe some scattered supplies for a DIY project. The type of lens you need for this kind of shot depends on your sensor type (cropped or full-frame, as we discussed before) and the area of your subject matter.
I usually end up standing on top of my table to take this kind of photo, but with my 30mm lens, I end up with my toes in the photo. I've found that for my purposes, the 50mm lens gets enough in the photo, but if I'm taking an aerial shot and need to get a lot in the frame, I'll switch to the 30mm lens and just watch out for my feet.
I rarely use my 85mm lens in aerial shots, because you just don't get a lot in the frame. But if the subject I'm shooting is on the small side, I might use it to lessen the distortion that you might get with a 30mm or 50mm lens.
Lifestyle photography varies so much, so really, any lens works great for this kind of subject! It just depends on what you want in the moment or how tight your quarters are. You'll probably resort to a wider angle lens like a 30mm if you're at a restaurant, whereas if you're outside in an open field, you have plenty of space for any lens you want.
Just like with portrait photography, if you want more of the background in your photo, a 30mm lens is great. For more intimate shots, use something more "zoomed in," such as an 85mm lens. In between? Grab a 50mm lens. Choosing a lens for lifestyle photography is pretty simple and depends on what kind of composition you're interested in.
Shooting interiors is a little bit tricky. It's difficult for a camera to capture the essence of a room like our human eyes can. When we see photos of homes on blogs, we see only a small portion of the space, because we're limited to the camera's eyes.
When I take photos of my home, I usually use both my 30mm and 50mm lenses. The 30mm is helpful to get more of the room in the shot, but it results in some distortion and vignetting, so I prefer to use the 50mm lens if I have space. I rarely ever use my 85mm lens for interior shots, but if you want to capture a vignette, it's a great lens to use because you end up with no distortion.
TRY IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT!
If you're still not sure what kind of lens you need, why not rent one for a fun weekend of photography experimenting? If a friend doesn't have what I'm interested in, I rent equipment from lensrental.com to see how I like something. While I love all of the lenses I've acquired, the one I use the most is my 50mm lens, but back when I had a cropped-body camera, I most frequently used my Canon 28mm f/1.8 lens (may she rest in peace). I lost that lens (GASP—I know.), but it's comparable with the Sigma 30mm lens I purchased to replace it.
If you're interested in even more photography knowledge that I frequently put to use for my projects here at A Beautiful Mess, check out my recent post about using artificial lighting. And if you have any questions about prime lenses, ask them in the comments section below, and I'll do my best to answer them for you!
Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson, Photos edited with Spring and Valentine of the Signature Collection.
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