Thursday, June 16, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is something we use a lot of around here. In fact, I am a big believer that you should always add more to the recipe than called for. Especially in waffles and chocolate chip cookies. That being said, it's hard to be extravagant with something that costs so much.

A few years ago, I spotted an article in a Martha Stewart magazine with a surprisingly simple tutorial on making your own vanilla extract. You split 3 vanilla beans, drop them in 1 cup of vodka (unflavored here, of course), and wait 3 months. We have discovered that the longer you let the extract steep, the more intense the flavor. Voila! Homemade vanilla extract! But I wondered if we were really saving any money. Here's the break down:

The price of pure vanilla extract can vary widely. I've priced it at anywhere from $0.81 to $3.25 a fluid ounce, with an average cost of $0.88 a fl. oz. Of course, this is one area where I firmly believe you get what you pay for. We spent a total of $33.00 for vanilla beans and vodka. I purchased Madagascar beans this time, which were a bit more than the mexican beans we used last time. We'll have to wait and see if the flavor is noticeably different. So for our $33.00 we got 50 fl. oz. of extract (or will have come October); that's $0.66 a fl. oz. I'd say that's a great deal, considering I know exactly what's in it (and NOT in it). At that price, and with 50 fl. oz. hanging around, I feel like I can afford to be extravagant in my baking. Well worth it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Strawberry Season & the Plethora of Mint

So this year we haven't been out picking our own berries. Instead we unloaded the freezer of most of LAST YEAR'S berries and made jam. A perfect thing for frozen berries, I might add. And this year's strawberry jam is a little different than last year's.

We have a mint explosion in the back yard. I hate to call it a "problem," as I love the mint and find it is useful (unlike the grass). But you know how mint is, right? It takes over. Like now. And so I find myself pulling up mint every time I go out into the garden. I've been drying it like crazy, and if you happen to be on our Christmas list, I dare say you might be receiving some mint flakes this year. (We'll try to include ways for you to use it.) Then I had a brainstorm. What about Minted Strawberry Jam? It sounded good to me, so I did a wee little Google search, and low and behold, many others feel the same way! I added a tablespoon of fresh, finely chopped mint to the berries, and oh my word, it's heavenly!

And since it's been a while since I've done any design work, I went ahead and designed a faux vintage label for our jam, a la Trader Joe's:

I'm going to have to start getting the smooth sided jars if I want to keep labeling them this way, and as far as I'm concerned, that's just what I'm going to be doing! *Sigh* I love the start of canning season.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wacky Wednesday: International Clothesline Week (Not Easy Being Green -5-)

I love the idea of the clothesline, the wash flapping in the summer breeze, the sun bleaching out the impurities in my linens, the fresh smell of the laundered clothes. But somehow, I never actually get out there and do it. True confession: we don't even have a clothesline in Indy. I'm not sure where we'd put it. And we tend to do our laundry at night; not too conducive to line-drying. And let's face it, if its not convenient, we more than likely won't do it.

But in researching this, and doing the math, in reality, we would only save $9 a month. (It seems like there are other things we could do that would make a bigger dent.) Honestly, it's worth it to me to use the dryer with such slim savings. Especially since I decided to practice Clothesline Week one week early, as we were up at the lake and would have the opportunity. Here's the deal: It took all afternoon (7 hours) for my clothes to be dry and then they were mostly dry. That $9.00 a month seems to be the cost of doing business with all the baby wash we do around here. I can't imagine using the line every day - and what do you do when it rains, or gets so humid your clothes won't dry?

To be frank, I'm more concerned with the impact of using all that energy on future generations. I was recently reminded of the Great Law of the Iroquois - which holds that any decision made must take into consideration the children seven generations in the future. It's a worthy world view, and high time the "white man" take this sort of thinking to heart. What will the use of all this energy mean for those people 200 years in the future? I shudder to think of what the world will look like then if we continue to use our resources as we do now. We could be bleeding ourselves into extinction.

Yeah, it's not easy being green.