Monday, October 8, 2012

Lumberjill Karen

We heat part of our house with a wood stove.  That means throughout the year we need to get some trees and split them.  Hubby has done all of the chopping....up until this year.  Last year he taught me how to chop wood and I've been a busy beaver ever since!  Here's a picture of two trees that were already felled that he got a forest products permit.

This is a picture of my maal leaning against a section I chopped in half.  This wood is oak which should be really hard to split.  It had been down for about a year so it was super dry which made it feel like pine.

I started stacking the wood in front of the compost pile.  I soon moved it when I realized I wouldn't be able to stack it very high.

 Here's the pile after I had been chopping for awhile.  A little progress was made!

 The small pile back by the long logs is the stack that son #2 chopped.

 Here's son #1's pile.

Above and below:  This is what I accomplished on this day.

And this is what I have chopped so far in 2012! Pretty impressive, eh?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

 Have you ever wondered how vanilla extract is made?  or why it is so expensive for that matter?
Last year Grandma Virginia taught me the secrets to vanilla extract and I brewed enough to (about 30 four ounce bottles) to give away as gifts.

ingredients and supplies:

Vanilla Beans
Glass jar (preferably a dark jar)

coffee grinder
cutting board

Vodka.  Buy the cheapest vodka you can find.  What I've learned is that expensive vodka's add favoring to make theirs stand apart from the rest.  We don't want that, we want the cheap stuff that doesn't have a taste.

Pour the vodka into your glass jar.  Here I am using a 1/2 gallon canning jar which holds 8 cups of liquid.

Vanilla bean.  I have been experimenting with the beans.  Last year I bought whole beans from Beanilla for about $1.00/ bean (shipping factored in).  Beans are expensive because they have to be hand pollinated.   I've also bought some at the local Penzey's store (~$8.00 for 3 beans). This time I found a different website Amadeus Trading Company that sells dried vanilla beans.  Since the beans are dry I got more beans then when buying them whole.  Either type will work, any seller will work.  Do your research for the best possible price for the amount of beans you want.   I will tell you how to make your vanilla for which ever type of bean you purchase.

Here's some of dried beans I bought.


You will need 4 beans per cup of vodka.  For my 1/2 gallon mason jar I used 32 beans.

Dried Beans.  Use a coffee grinder and grind the beans.

Regular beans.  Split beans length wise or use whole.

Pour ground beans into vodka.
If leaving beans whole or split just put them into the vodka.

The ground beans will turn the vodka dark immediately.  Whole or split beans will slowly turn the vodka dark.  I have found that the whole or split beans do not reach the dark color that the ground beans do.  This does not mean it is any less of a vanilla extract, the fullness of the flavor is still there.

Finally, you want to date your jar, especially if you have more than one brewing at a time.

steep vanilla in a cool dry location for at least 6 weeks, shaking it up every few days.
The longer it steeps the better it will be!

Helpful hints
To strain the vanilla use a cheesecloth or a french press before bottling.  If you are making the vanilla for yourself you can use the vanilla straight from the mason jar.

Remember vanilla can be used for more than just cookies.  I put mine in pancakes and waffles too even though recipes never call for it.

 The whole/split vanilla beans can be reused (BONUS! when they are so expensive!).  You can also add more vodka as you use your vanilla up.  Just give it some more time to steep.  I haven't had my ground beans long enough to know if I will be able to reuse those.

***USE more vanilla than the recipe calls for.  I don't measure anymore.  I just dump it in.  I would guess I use at least 2x's as much as recommended.  Vanilla has such a mild taste that you aren't going to  give your food an overwhelming taste like you could for example with garlic.

Here's an overview
4 beans
1 cup vodka

steep beans in vodka for at least 6 weeks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake

Tomorrow is my youngest son's 5th birthday.  He decided he wanted a Thomas the Tank Engine cake.  I borrowed the pan from my co-worker/friend and made the cake on Saturday.  Sunday evening I made the cake and it took me about 2.5 hours.  I have finally gotten smart and bought more than one tip of the same size so I don't have to keep washing out the tips and couplers when going from one color to the next.
I have told my youngest and the other two boys for that matter, that they are not allowed to keep growing up.  Do they listen??  NO!  My middle child has grown so much this summer that his jeans look like high waters.  Don't they understand that Moms need to hold on to their babies??

 Here's the cake after it has cooled.  This pan had good definition which makes it easier to find where I need to be when decorating.

 The background icing.  I have such a hard time icing the corners or bumps.  I can't get enough icing there and when I go to smooth it out I wind up taking most of the icing off.

 All of the outlines are now piped in.

 Ohh, it is starting to take shape!!

 Getting close!!

 Ta Da!  I did it!  Youngest son was not so happy that Thomas's face was so dark.  I didn't realize how little black coloring I needed to make the gray.  I kept adding more frosting to try and make it lighter.  It got to a point where I was just wasting the frosting so I went with what I had.

Happy Birthday to my Baby Boy!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A date with my hubby

We went for a week long vacation in Eagle River, Wisconsin last week.  On one of the afternoons I went shopping down the strip by myself.  I started off going into an antique store... voluntarily!  You may not know this about me, but I really dislike history.  I hated history in school and somehow managed to eke by to get the grades.  Well, lately I have been intrigued by the Edwardian Era (early 1900's) and want to make/assemble a costume from that time period.  See, I bought an antique sock knitting machine back in January.  It's dated 1908.  This darn machine has really pulled me into the era and I have been reading about the era on the internet and getting an idea of the fashion of the time.  The reason why I am interested in the Edwardian era fashion is that in conjunction with the historical society I will, at some point in the future, give a demonstration of my sock machine.  What better way to do it than in period attire!  Back to the present. I found this hat at the antique store.  It was priced at $22.00.  I asked if she could give me a better price and she said $18.00.  I said, "sold!"  I realize that this hat is most likely not of the right time period, but I think it could pass for what I need it for.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the flowers on top.  The flowers are faded pink and rather quite pretty.

 So, once I had the hat I had to wear it!  I suggested to hubby that we go out to dinner at the local supper club.  He readily agreed.  I found a babysitter and worked on putting my attire together.

Now, here's the second story.  I also love to shop at second hand stores.  Saver's is my favorite.  I particularly like to buy skirts and dresses.  Usually these items have very little wear as compared to say, T-shirts.

 I found this dress at Saver's. Surprise! It still had the original tags on it.  The label is Apt. 9 so I think that is Kohl's.  It was priced at $134.00.  The original store marked it down to $99.99.  Saver's priced it at $29.99.  I tried it on and wow, it fit perfectly!  I opened my stall door and asked the next lady if she thought it looked good and if it was worth $30.00.  She said, "yes!" and proceeded to hand me an extra coupon she had for 20% off.  I paid around $25.00 for the dress !  Woo Hoo! Way to go, Karen!

 The dress has been hanging on the back of my bedroom door just waiting to be worn.  I had no particular event in mind when I bought it.

Once I bought the hat I knew which dress I was going to wear with it! I also knew that hubby needed to take me out on a date (:

 I brought the hat to work to show Foster Grandma Virginia who is 78 years old.  She loved it!  She also told me that she has an antique hat pin she's been wanting to get rid of because she keeps poking her fingers when digging around in her jewelry box.  She offered to give it to me.  Wow!

 She brought the hat pin to work today and I tried it with the hat.  Yikes! It's sharp!  I yelped and she laughed saying, "I remember those days!"

 Next is the hair.  I still own a hairdini (remember those?) and the directions.  I whipped it out and practiced putting my hair into a french twist.  I then styled my hair this morning as you see it here with the french twist.  I did have my bangs down for the day and pulled them back to put on the hat.

 I am unsure if I am wearing real pearls or not.  I have real and fake, but I sure can't tell them apart.  No matter to me, the pearls added a nice touch.

 Last night I redid my finger and toe nails because I can't wear peep-toe shoes and have a bad pedicure. Not after all this work anyway!

All of this because of a HAT!

 I did want to wear black gloves.  I had the right glove, but no left one.  White gloves just didn't go with the rest of the ensemble.

 Alright, I am no model, I can't take a decent picture to save my life and I have gotten a little soft in the middle.  Despite all that, I SO enjoyed getting all dolled up.  I really think I was born in the wrong decade (or era).

 I love this picture (above) even though it was taken between poses.  I just like being able to see the top of the hat.

 Again, I can't model, but they are cute and funny pictures anyway, right?

My darling husband.  No other person could "get me", wait cross that out, could put up with me the way he does.  Love you, Sweetie!

EWWWW, Get a room!

Again, this was a between the poses shots that hubby snapped of me.

Thank you to 5th Street Photography for taking the first 9 photos.  Here's a link to their site: