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.