DIY Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Sugar Extract

vanilla extract prep

vanilla extract prep

I am prepping for Christmas today. I prefer to use homemade vanilla extract and vanilla infused sugar for all of my baked goodies and treats. These only take minutes to prepare but months to reach perfection! The first week of June is my personal deadline for prepping vanilla goodies for the Christmas season. Other cooks may say you need less time for extracts and infused sugars but six months suit my preferences.

My vanilla devotion may be on the extreme side…

Vanilla Extract

finished bottle of vanilla extract

finished bottle of vanilla extract

One bottle of vodka at least 70 proof (or 35% alcohol) and five vanilla beans or so. I prefer to use 100 proof vodka. You can also use rum, bourbon, brandy or sherry. I plan to get a bottle of rum or bourbon ready soon for making Christmas candy.

Carefully split the vanilla bean (I use grade A Madagascar) down the middle. I try to only cut one side of the bean but nothing bad will happen if you cut all the way through. Then drop the bean into the bottle of alcohol. About five beans per bottle is plenty for a six month wait time. If you want the extract ready sooner then add more beans. Keep the bottle in

new bottle ready to marinate for six months

new bottle ready to marinate for six months

a cool dark spot and give it a shake once in a while. I consider the extract ready to use once it smells like warm wonderful vanilla instead of alcohol.

After six months the extract can be poured into another bottle or into several little bottles for easy Christmas gifts. I then pour another bottle of alcohol into the bottle with the beans because it is so much easier than fishing the beans out! Cut and add one more bean and store for another six months. I’ve only used the beans twice for making extract. Rebottle the new extract and shake the old beans out this time around.

Wrap the used beans in a paper towel and leave out on the counter to dry. Once they are dry I will store some of them in the refrigerator and use them to make chai. Another wonderful use for the used pods is in making vanilla infused sugar.

Vanilla Infused Sugar

vanilla sugar prep

vanilla sugar prep

Vanilla sugar is another easy trick that will make your homemade treats even tastier. If I have a used vanilla bean (or three) then I will simply bury it in about three cups of sugar in an airtight container. After about a month the sugar will have a nice hint of vanilla that is wonderful in teas and makes the best snickerdoodles.

If I am using a fresh vanilla bean then I carefully split the bean and scrape out the teeny tiny seeds. The seeds are mixed with the sugar in an airtight container. Then just bury the open bean pod in the sugar too. This sugar will be ready to use in a couple of weeks and will begin to turn a lovely shade of light brown.

Cute containers of vanilla sugar also make nice and easy Christmas gifts.


Sophrosyne: Ginger for Mum

My sweet bloggy sister across the grand pond wanted to know how I take enough ginger to keep the arthritis pains at bay but not get heartburn from ginger tablets. I do not take any vitamins or pill form supplements. I’m not really opposed to vitamins and such…I just don’t like how much they cost and all the research involved to know which brands are actually useful to the body. I looked into it a few years ago and just got overwhelmed by all the conflicting information. I’ve chosen to avoid all that confusion by learning which foods contain the nutrients I need.

Learn how to process ginger here.

Ginger is an amazing little plant and for me it does wonders in battling the effects of inflammation. It takes about three weeks before I really noticed the effects. At first I added ginger to my smoothies but you need a much better machine than mine to get it blended properly. I would like to experiment juicing with it but I have to save for a juicing machine first. My family does not like the taste of ginger so I cannot cook with it. But I have found a few ways to enjoy ginger without assaulting my family’s taste buds.

Everyday I enjoy a cup of masala chai. I make a big concentrated batch on Saturday or Sunday and enjoy a nice warm cup after a hectic and busy homeschool day. I collected several recipes from online and played around with them until I found the combination I like best.

My Chai

6 cups water, four inches of ginger (peeled and sliced), 1 cinnamon stick, 1 and 1/2 teaspoon of anise seeds, ! tablespoon of peppercorns I give them a few whacks to bust them up), I/2 tablespoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, I sliced orange (peels and all).

I bring all of this to a boil and then simmer for about thirty minutes (I love how my kitchen smells when this is simmering) before removing from heat. One time I had a used vanilla bean pod that I had used to make extract and put it in the pot to simmer with the other spices. That was my very favorite pot of chai!

I then add 10 tea bags to the pot and just two tablespoons of sugar. Sometimes I add a bit of vanilla extract. I let the tea steep about thirty minutes or so. I then squeeze out the orange and strained the liquid. This is my tea concentrate and I keep it in the refrigerator. I plan to experiment with different teas like green or rooibos in the future.

When I want a cup of chai I bring 3/4 cup of the concentrate to boil in a small saucepan. I remove it from heat and whisk in 1/4 cup of half and half. I like to get it a little frothy. I pour it into my favorite cup and enjoy.

The last time I made it I forgot to add the sugar. I loved it without the sugar so I won’t be adding it to any future pots. I have tried some of the spice mixes available on the market but they are always too sweet for my taste or have way too much cinnamon.

Easy Ginger Salad Dressing

I’ve been trying to have a salad everyday for lunch and this is my favorite dressing.

1/2 cup olive oil, I/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of grated ginger, I clove diced garlic, a pinch of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Keep it in the refrigerator and give it a good shake before using. If you like your salad dressing a bit on the sweet side then add a tablespoon or two of honey.

Crystalized Ginger Salad Dressing

One time I was out of ginger but I had some candied (or crystalized) ginger on hand. It is the same recipe as above except I diced up about a tablespoon of crystalized ginger slices. My kids thought I had lost my mind but it is tasty.

I have never made crystalized ginger since I can get it fresh for a good price from the Mennonite shop. If I decide to make it myself sometime I would use this recipe from Alton Brown.

Beef and Ginger Broth

I usually buy beef broth for this but I plan to start using steak bones to make my own beef bone broth in the crockpot.

4 cups beef broth, 2 cloves diced garlic, 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of chili flakes, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of salt (check to see if it even needs salt first!) Bring this to a boil and then simmer about fifteen minutes or so. I like the broth by itself but it is also good with rice noodles and any vegetables you want to throw in. If you cook the vegetables in the broth you may have to simmer it longer until the veggies are the way you like. I prepare any noodles separately and ladle the broth over top.

Those are all of my current ginger recipes. I found two more beverages on-line that look interesting: Golden Milk and Turmeric and Ginger Iced Tea. I haven’t tried them yet. I plan to make a ginger syrup next for making a ginger fizz.





Becoming a New Creation

Ellie's book!!!

Ellie’s book!!!

Welcome to the start of my new blogging series on adjusting to a healthier lifestyle. In June I embarked on a journey with some fellow bloggers to lose weight and learn about making healthier choices in food and exercise. Since then I have lost 11 pounds and gone from a size eighteen to a fourteen. I hope to continue to gradually lose more weight and learn to take better care of myself and my family. I’ll be using the book “Life’s Too Short to Eat Bad Cheese…Nutritional and Life Lessons God Teaches Us” by Ellie Marrandette. Ellie writes over at New Creation Ministries and I encourage you to click on over and get to know her a little. (She is one of my very favorite bloggers and I am blessed to call her friend.)

At this point in my weight-loss journey I need help keeping focused on my goal. The newness of the endeavor has completely worn off. I believe committing myself to a weekly post and working through Ellie’s book will not only help me stay focused but also motivated. I’ll work and pray through a chapter each week and then come back here to share my thoughts. I also plan to share any helpful recipes, goals, weight, progress and even when I fail.

The book suggested I choose a verse from Scripture to motivate me. A verse I could turn to when I feel discouraged, tempted or worthless. I grew up feeling like garbage…as disposable…worthless. Every rejected desire for love and security from my parents drove those feelings deeper until they became a part of me. I think these feeling will always be somewhat permanent. This rejection is the root of my emotional eating. A void I have tried to fill with many things over the years including food. I’ve referred to it as the black hole in my soul. So, I wanted to choose a verse to confront this worthlessness. Ellie says that “God doesn’t make JUNK!”

My verse…well four verses actually is Psalm 139:13-16

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

I will meditate on these verses this week. While my kids practice their penmanship I will write these words. I will write them until they are seared on my heart.

027 (464x640)I promised to share my smoothie recipe with you. I specifically chose anti inflammatory foods for my smoothie to combat arthritis in my hands and other effects of inflammation in my body. First I soak a teaspoon of chia seeds in water for about five minutes in the bottom of my blender’s one serving cup. Once those have gelled I add two apple juice and ginger ice cubes. (My smoothie machine is terrible and cannot blend the ginger root well. It left ginger threads in my smoothie…yuck. I borrowed my friends juicer and juiced the entire ginger root with just enough apples to fill two ice cube trays.) I then add half a frozen banana, handful of frozen blueberries, handful of pineapple chunks, and stuff the top with as much spinach as I can get into the cup. I then fill the it about half way with almond, soy, coconut or cashew milk…which ever one happened to be on sale. Once blended it is a very dark purple-black color. My kids call it the “Black Death” which I think is really funny…in a warped sort of way. This smoothie is usually my breakfast and I noticed after drinking it for about two weeks the swelling in my knuckles decreased and I do not take ibuprofen nearly as much for pain. It’s not just food it’s medicine.

As Promised…Recipes

I promised a few people I would share some of my Christmas treat recipes…so here goes…

This first recipe is for Bourbon Balls but we always called them Snockered Snowmen. You can also use rum, brandy, orange liquor, whatever you like… I actually do not like these but they are popular with many people.

1 box vanilla wafers, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup dries coconut, 1 can condensed milk, 1/2 cup liquor (your choice)

First, crush the vanilla wafers into small crumbs. Stir in the cocoa and coconut and then add the liquids. Sometimes I toast a cup of pecans in a skillet and then run them through my processor and mix them in too (but I didn’t this year). After your dry ingredients are mixed stir in the condensed milk and the liquor. Mix well and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in refrigerator overnight.

The next day roll the candy into teaspoon sized balls or so and then roll in powdered sugar. You can also roll them in candy sprinkles or freeze them a bit a dip in melted chocolate or almond bark. These candies need to be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Millionaire fudge is a classic recipe. To a stand mixer add 3 packages of semi sweet chocolate chips (I’ve been known to substitute milk chocolate chips) and two 7 oz. jars of marshmallow crème. Then in a sauce pan bring 4 and 1/2 cups of sugar and 1 can evaporated milk to a boil. Keep stirring and boil about six minutes. Pour the hot mixture over the chocolate chips and marshmallow crème and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Fold in 1 and 1/2 cops chopped pecans. Cover counter with waxed paper and drop about two tablespoons of fudge on paper. It will set up as it cools. I store mine in the refrigerator between layers of waxed paper.

Peanut Butter Muffin Blossoms. I found this recipe at Brown Eyed Baker.

Pecan Kringle Sticks can be found at Taste of Home. These were my favorite this year but they are best right after cooling and are best eaten the day they are made.

Winter Mint Chex Mix

2 cups pretzel sticks, 2 cups Cheerios, 3 cups Corn Chex, 2 cups Rice Chex, 2 cups peanuts, 1 package of mini meltaway mints (or other candy if mint isn’t for you), and 1 bar almond bark. Mix everything except almond bark and mints in a really large bowl. Melt the almond bark and pour over cereal mix and stir to cover. Then mix in mints (or other candies). Pour out onto waxed paper to cool then break up and store in baggies or Christmas tins.



Weekly Wrap-up: Apples, Dried Corn and Manhood

Littlest entertaining himself during guitar lessons

Littlest entertaining himself during guitar lessons

Tomorrow is Littlest’s birthday party (actually birthday is Monday). We will be celebrating three years of his life. He wants a Batman birthday cake. Later today I will bake a cake and make buttercream icing in various colors. Then I will turn over the project to my amazing husband and he will make Littlest’s dream for a Batman cake come true. The guys at work tell my husband he has to surrender his “man card” because he decorates the childrens’ birthday cakes. Well, I am not sure exactly what that means…I am a woman and will never truly grasp why men speak to each other as they do…nor do I really need to. My husband is an attentive and playful father to his children and my very precious unmerited and undeserved blessing from God. I honestly believe Jesus placed me in my husbands arms and chose him to be my knight in shining armor on this earth. He is my everything and I often pray that when it comes time to meet Jesus we can do so together. I cannot imagine the pain of leaving him in the arms of Jesus and having to live in this world without him. He is my man and that is all the “man card” he shall ever need.

Yeah…I got a little off topic there.

Middle Boy playing in the corn pit

Middle Boy playing in the corn pit

Our church celebrated 120 years of ministry this past weekend. The kids had a great time playing games and running all around the church property. I enjoyed listening to the singing and  blue-grass music. Middle Boy’s front tooth has been ready to come out the past couple of weeks…he’s had that snaggle-tooth look. He played in the inflatables with such abandon that I was pretty sure the tooth was going to come out at church. But no, it did not. Then I was certain his tooth would get lost in the corn pit as he cannonballed himself into it…but no…didn’t happen. Instead his tooth came out when we stopped at Wal-Mart on the way home. Now he can wish for his two front teeth for Christmas this year. Middle Boy thinks it is pretty cool that a Dum-dum sucker fits perfectly in the spot his former front teeth occupied…for some reason his stunt makes my skin crawl.

at the church 120 year celebration

at the church 120 year celebration

I’ve slowly worked on the apples this week. I put up about sixty apples in storage. I picked the most perfect apples and wrapped them in paper towels and then in a plastic grocery bag and stored them in the fridge. I am hoping they will at least last us through February. The imperfect apples I made in to a gallon of applesauce and we’ve been munching on the others. I still have more apples to process and they may just become applesauce too. I can make a half gallon in my crockpot at a time so I could likely finish up this weekend. I’ve also have a dehydrator on hand…dried fried apple pies are good.

sick day

sick day

Wednesday night Littlest fell asleep at church and ended up sleeping in the nursery the entire time. My friend Mrs. Cuddle-me (Littlest gave her that nick name for the blog) carried him to the van for me. When we got home I realized he had a little fever which made me feel bad. Hopefully, no one else will catch his cold. Yesterday Oldest wasn’t feeling well either so I called it a sick day. We did watch a couple of educational shows on Amazon and Netflix so the day wasn’t a total washout. If you happen to be studying the Pilgrims right now the documentary called Mayflower Pilgrims on Amazon (free if you have Amazon Prime) is pretty good and goes nicely with the book Pilgrim Stories. I spent the time making applesauce muffins and apple chips.

Apple Chip Recipe

Slice apples really thin or think if you like chewy apple chips. I then simmered them in simple syrup until translucent. (Simple syrup is one cup of water and one cup of sugar brought to a boil.) I put the apples in the pot when the syrup boiled and then turned it down to a simmer. I simmered the apples about ten minutes (but that will depend on your apples and how thick you cut them) and then drained them a bit before arranging them on a cookie sheet. Bake until golden for crisp apple chips or take out of the oven when first starting to color for chewy chips. Mine baked for about twenty minutes. The chips are soft when they first come out of the oven but crisp up nicely as they cool. I salted the second batch before putting them in the oven and we liked those a bit better.

Last week we finished our study of astronomy from Apologia. We celebrated our accomplishment by snacking on astronaut food during game time. I can’t say it was something I’d ever want to eat again but it wasn’t horrible. The kids loved the dried ice cream and it did taste good but I could not get over the texture. I feel so sorry for the scientist who have to live on this stuff in the space station.


Avocado: Green Butter

the beginnings of a great egg salad sandwich

the beginnings of a great egg salad sandwich

Up until a week ago all I knew about avocados was they were used to make guacamole. Just so you know…avocados are not a staple of Appalachian cuisine. Ha! There’s two words you seldom see together! Serve up a mess of slow cooked pintos and ham hocks with fresh green onions, a slab of cornbread smothered in butter and mustard greens on the side…now that’s what I call supper. Sadly, my family does not agree…they all have some mysterious bean aversion. Give me an avocado…and I have no idea. I didn’t know anything about them or how to chow down on the little green vegetable..or fruit…whatever.

A while ago Ellie at New Creations Ministries asked if we liked avocados on her chemical personality test. I could not finish the quiz because I had no clue if these were yummy or yucky. So the kids and I set off on an adventure to discover avocados. I am always trying (and failing) to get them to try new foods…especially green foods…so this was my opportunity to set a good example.

We discovered that avocados (Persea americana) are considered a fruit not a vegetable and are originally from Puebla, Mexico. They are now grown in tropical climates worldwide. Like the banana the avocado matures on the tree but ripens off the tree. These are called climacteric fruits. How’s that for a vocabulary lesson?! The avocado is ready to eat when it gives to a little squeeze. It it feels too mushy then it is over ripe. I bought a firm one and just waited until it felt a little soft…about four days.

Now, how to eat the little green fruit? Well there are all sorts of ways and recipes on the internet but I did not find anything all that appealing. I do plan to try some on a taco one of these days. For the most part I prefer simple and quick recipes. Ellie suggested that I try some with lemon juice and I liked it but only Littlest was willing to try the green cube. He ate it but did not ask for another piece. Sparkles said it looked and felt like green butter but she wouldn’t taste it. I needed to come up with a way to serve it that my children would at least try. Turns out I was making egg salad sandwiches for lunch that day. So I mashed up some of the avocado and added it to my recipe. The avocado was so creamy that I only needed a couple of tablespoons of sour cream  to get the right consistency. That was the best and healthiest egg salad sandwich ever..that I’ve made anyway. Turns out my idea to add avocados to egg salad wasn’t so original…I found several on Pinterest. Here is my version:

6 boiled eggs-chopped
1 stalk celery-chopped
1 avocado-mashed
dill pickle-chopped or use relish
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne…my daughter does not like anything spicy so I just put hot sauce on mine
2 tbsp sour cream  or plain yogurt…I had to give of mayo after losing my gall bladder
Mix all the above together and serve on toasted (home-made if you got it) bread. Yummy! Even the kids thought the green egg salad was good.

Now I just have to figure out how to incorporate avocados into my version of Appalachian cuisine. Just so you know…avocados turn brown after a while. So eat up all of the egg salad right away!

Linking up with Jam Hands: Recipe Sharing Monday

My Oatmeal Recipe

Mornings at my house are not easy. Talking to me before I have indulged in a cup of coffee can be hazardous…just ask my kids. Most mornings they ask me if I’ve had my first cup of coffee before asking me for breakfast. Sad…I know. But for the past few months I have been getting up extra early and reading scripture…sometimes exercising…so no one has to encounter their coffee deprived momma. I also try to keep simple and quick breakfasts on hand for those mornings when I need extra sleep. I used to buy packets of instant oatmeal but the cheapskate in me had to find a better way…

I buy my oats in twenty-five pound bags from the local Amish store…local as in a forty-five minute drive. We go four or five times a year and I stock up on flour, cheese, butter, oats, sugar, and other pantry staples. When we get home my husband cuts the cheese into smaller blocks of cheese and preserves them in wax. I never would have thought to do that and I like watching him in the kitchen…working in the kitchen with my husband is one of my favorite experiences.

Here is the recipe for one batch of Ready Oatmeal…I usually prepare three batches at once.

Roast 10 cups of rolled oats at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. After the oats have cooled put about three cups of them in a food processor with 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and process until powdery. Mix this in with the rest of your oats in an airtight container. (I no longer have a food processor and just powder up small batches with my smoothie blender.)

To serve. Mix 1/2 cup of ready oats with 1&1/4 cup hot water in a bowl. Cover bowl with a plate (or whatever will hold the heat in) and let sit for about five minutes or so. uncover and eat.

When my kids were smaller I ground most of the oats but as they have gotten older they prefer a little more texture to their oatmeal. My oldest like to add dehydrated strawberries to his oatmeal while it is steeping in the bowl.