Homemade Vanilla Extract

Making vanilla extract at home is almost unworthy of a blog post because it is so easy, but bottling and gifting it is so cute, I couldn’t resist. This year, I decided to make a bunch for my work family and friends that I usually don’t give gifts to, but always wish I had, and it worked out perfectly.

Makes 15 (4 oz) Bottles

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 lb Vanilla Beans
1.75 Liters Alcohol  (Vodka, Bourbon, Brandy, or Rum)
Patience (2 months worth)

(If you aren’t making this in bulk, or making a different quantity,  I’d plan on using 3 or 4 vanilla beans for every 8 ounces of alcohol.)

EQUIPMENT:
2 quart-sized jars with lids
Scissors
15 (4 oz) bottles
Avery brown kraft labels & printer
Small Funnel

DIRECTIONS:
Separate the vanilla beans into two equal sized piles, one pile for each jar. Using your scissors, split the vanilla beans lengthwise, leaving the top 1/2 inch connected at the top. Place the vanilla beans in the jars and fill to the top with alcohol (I used Trader Joe’s “Vodka of the Gods”. While I know you can use any 80 proof alcohol, from what I can tell, Vodka seems to be the standard.)

Close off the jar and store in a cool dark place. This should live in your cabinet for at least a month, giving it a shake about once a week, before you plan on bottling it.

BOTTLING:
Once the vanilla extract is ready, open the small 4 oz jars and place 2-3 of the vanilla beans directly in each. This will allow the extract to continue to infuse, as well as allow the user to add small bits of vodka to the bottle to create an “everlasting” vanilla extract. Of course, it wont last forever, and the beans will run out of oomfuh… but we will just call it everlasting because that just makes it seem so much cooler. Using a small funnel, add the extract to each of the bottles. Some people prefer to strain it, but that just seems like crazy talk, so don’t do that. That’s like removing the goldflakes from the Goldschlager…

LABELING:
I created my labels in Photoshop directly and printed them onto the Avery kraft paper; however, there are many free sites that exist for label creation. There are even some free templates available that can be customized, if you’re not savvy in design. If you’re really at a loss, I have my label saved in Photoshop. While I won’t create a totally new custom label for you, I am willing to update mine with your info and send you the jpg, if you’re really good at begging and tell me I’m pretty.

One last note: I’d recommend not putting the labels on the bottles until they have been filled, or they might not look so pretty in the end. 

COST:
Bottles: $15.75
Vodka: $10.99
Vanilla Beans: $54.00
Labels: $5.29
Total: $86.03
Total per bottle: $5.74

Cheap, good quality, and pretty… just like me.

 

Homemade Bathbombs

Okay, I’ll admit it. I buy Lush Bathbombs for my 3 year old daughter. Am I wasting my money? Yes. Do I feel like the best mom in the world? Maybe. Would I up my cool-mom points by making them myself, a little smaller, and with smells she (errr…I) like? Absolutely. This was my first time making them and they were so easy I feel like a fool for not just buying the supplies and doing it myself from the start. I don’t know what the cost savings would be on these, but I can tell you it is much less than the kajillion dollars I spend in that store. I made a few of each size, and made one roll that we sliced, and they all turned out great. I learned a few lessons on the way, and I’ll share those as well.

This recipe will make 2 – Large 3 inch balls and a little extra. I opted to keep the recipe small so that I could play with different scents and colors, but you could very easily double or triple it and make a larger batch.

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup Epsom Salt (fine)
1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup citric acid
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tsp coconut oil ( olive oil / almond oil )
1/2 tsp water
1 tsp essential oil
Pigment powder or 1-2 drops food coloring

OPTIONAL ITEMS
Bathbomb Molds or Saran Wrap
Flowerbuds / tea / petals etc… 
Shrink wrap
bags (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Combine all dry goods in a bowl (Epsom salt, citric acid, baking soda, cornstarch, pigment). Stir.
2. Combine all wet goods in a bowl (melted oil, 1/4 tsp water, essential oil, food coloring if not using pigment). Stir.
3. Add wet to dry slowly. The dry goods will fizz when wet, just try to stir quickly to minimize fizzing. You should have a consistency that is not wet and is not dry. From my experience, if you stir well, 1/2 teaspoon is perfect.
4. Add a few pinches of flowers/herbs/glitter/whatever to one side of the sphere molds and pack the mixture tightly on top of it. Do the same with the other side sans flowers. Then, add a little extra in the middle and cram those suckers together tightly. You can also use saran wrap to make a tube, and then cut the mold into slices, if you don’t have the molds. I didn’t try it, but I would guess you could pack these into cute cookie cutters too; I think I will try that next time.

5. Let them dry. After a few minutes (I just start on the next batch), you can CAREFULLY remove the molds from the spheres and marvel at your mad skills. You should plan on letting them dry for 24 hours before using or shrink wrapping them.



In case you were wondering, we made a Peppermint Eucalyptus (purple), Lemongrass (grey), Pomegranate Vanilla (peach) and a Mahogany / Fir (green). This is the green one in action:

Slime Slime Slime Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmmeee

Slime. I really don’t know what it is about slime that all kids love, but I can only guess it somehow correlates with their love of boogers. The problem is, I really don’t to pay 10 bucks for a small bucket of slime, when I can feel like Bill Nye and do it myself. This recipe is quick, easy,  and is a great base recipe for many slimy concoctions.

INGREDIENTS:
5 oz Clear Glue
5 oz Water
1/2 cup Liquid Starch
Glitter (or food coloring, or confetti, or whatever else you want to stuff in it)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Mix equal parts glue and water. It’s easiest if you squeeze out a 5 oz bottle in to a cup, refill the bottle with water, and empty it into the cup. Stir.

2. Add Glitter/fun. Stir.

3. In a separate bowl, measure 1/2 cup of Liquid Starch. 

4. Slowly stir the glue/water mixture to the starch, a little bit at a time. You’ll quickly see the slime taking shape. Continue to stir until you have added all of the glue, then switch to kneading with your hands. At first, it will seem that the slimy is extremely sticky and wet… Just keep kneading, just keep kneading, just keep kneading kneading…

That’s it. The first time I made this I put the glue/water in the bowl and slowly added the starch, and it just seemed so wet, I threw it away, twice. The third time I did it the other way around and it worked perfectly. It takes 5-10 minutes of playing with it before it stops being messy and has the right consistency. At first, Kennedy was completely grossed out by it, but once Nivek emerged from his teen-hole and started playing with it, she was sold. I did notice that it liked to stick to clothing, so keep that in mind for when you start throwing it at each other.

Bonus: If you modify the recipe by adding twice the glue to water, you have flubber.

DIY Backyard Kids Teepee

My backyard is currently under attack, and has probably been under attack for the last 50 years. What was once probably a cute little one foot wide wall of bamboo, is now a mini forest trying to overtake my backyard (and my soul). Seriously, it would not surprise me if I woke up impaled by a bamboo stalk that has come up though the floor, through my mattress, through my pillow, and right out of my eye socket; these little bastards are no joke.
On the up side of things, while trying to slowly reclaim my backyard and remove all of the dead bamboo, I decided to make Kennedy a little teepee from the stalks and a few randoms I had lying around the house. I will say that it took a little longer than I expected because I had to pull, trim, and cut each of the shoots down individually, but since I was already planning pulling them, it wasn’t too awful.

The process was fairly simple:

First you will need to prep the bamboo by pruning off all of the little branches and cutting all the bamboo to approximately the same height. I started by taking a thick piece of twine (anything rope-like is fine) and connecting three shoots together in a triangle. You can see the basic triangle in the photo above. From here, you will want to eyeball it to be sure that the triangle isn’t lopsided and is roughly the height that you were hoping for before moving on.

Then I started working my way in a circle, leaning the poles on the connected three. After I added quite a few shoots, I took another piece of twine and wove it between every few branches. From there, I kept adding more stalks until I had a one every 4-5 inches apart when looking at the floor (and yes, that is my daughter being a terror and dumping pine shavings all over the ground. Bless her heart).

From here, I wanted to make sure that it was sturdy enough to deal with a toddler. Once I realized that was an impossible dream, I found an old curtain and cut it into one long continuous strip that was roughly 6 inches wide. In order to do this, it’s easiest if you cut it in a similar fashion as the diagram below, but you can do it however makes you happiest.

Picture1

I then took the long strip, cut it in half, and started weaving from top to bottom. I found it easiest if you folded the strip in half around the front poll, and then crossed them every few shoots. I did not weave every shoot, but I did try to weave different bunches with each pass so that they wouldn’t stay grouped together. Once finished, I found two old table clothes that I could use for the bottom half of the teepee wall. I used the bottom wrung of the woven fabric to hang the tablecloths from. I simply made a small 1/4 inch slot every foot or so and attached the tablecloth with the twine. I am sure this could be done much more gracefully with sewing buttonholes in the fabric and using something less stained, but I’m not trying to sell this to The Land of Nod, now am I. No.

Lastly, dig out those Holiday lights and something cozy to sit on and abracadabra, you too have a cozy little summer reading nook for the little. If you do decide to make one, send me pictures, or curse me out for my vague instructions. Either way, i’d love to see what you come up with.

This Old House – Garden Edition

When we moved into this house, one of the things that we were most excited for was being able to have our own little urban farm. With many hours out in the yard, seven cubic yards of soil, two cubic yards of compost, and a new fence… one of our major yard renovations has been completed. Of course, this fails to account for the many hours of weeding, planting, and pruning, that have also taken place. As of this moment, we have two lemon trees (1 Meyer / 1 regular), two plum trees, two grape vines, one orange tree, one teenage pomegranate tree, and 1 baby espalier apple tree which has 6 apple varieties. I really want to throw a peach and pear tree into the mix, but I know realistically I definitely do not have that sort of space (Do I? hrmmmmm….)

Before:

It’s a bit funny, it is not until really looking at these photos that I realize how much work we have actually done. We aren’t completely done yet, but most of the work left is minor.
As you can see, we had a ton of weeding to do. We removed all of the chicken wire and gates and added fresh compost to the boxes. Simple right?

This was by far the bigger project. Due to the fairly dramatic grade in the soil, Matt and I had to level the area with a butt-ton of soil and create a temporary retaining wall. Of course, this couldn’t be done without first moving the coop temporarily and then back again. SUPER FUN. ANNNNNND…on top of it all, I wanted a new coop. The chickens are still on egg-strike from all the moving, so hopefully we will be forgiven soon. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to buy a new coop and build a fence for your chickens, only to have to go to Trader Joe’s for Easter eggs to dye. Jerks!

Just for perspective, here is a photo taken from the other end of the yard, by the dog run. You can see the fence to the chicken run on the right in the distance.

It feels good to be home.

First Attempt at Painting a Peg Doll

A few months back I bought this set of peg dolls and some paint on Etsy with the thought of painting many of our family and friends for Kennedy to play with. This first painting of a peg doll was really entertaining, but definitely a trial and error process. I wasn’t trying to do anything fancy or paint anyone in particular; I just wanted to get a sense of how it would go. The peg dolls themselves are fairly smooth, but could use a nice going-over with fine sandpaper before starting. I really liked being able to use the small paint kit, so that I didn’t have to deal with a lot of set up preparation or clean up after. Overall, the process was fairly straightforward: Sand. Sketch. Paint. Polish. I really liked the way that the head turned out, but will certainly put more thought into the clothing portion next time. I’m really excited to try to make people that I know, more than anything. I do think that I will buy some Kokeshi peg dolls, which have a larger head, because I like the finished look of them better. Once I have painted a few more and feel like I have the process down, I’ll post more about the details (like not selecting the part of the doll head that has a big ole crack in it), but for now I am excited to see what I can come up with.