Homemade Vanilla Extract

For years I have been wanting to make homemade vanilla extract.  I never got around to ordering the Madagascar Vanilla pods that are highly suggested to be used in all the recipes.  Maybe I thought they were too expensive and I couldn't rationalize paying shipping on top of it.  Anyway, I put it on my wish list of things to do and forgot about it.

Saturday I visited a new favorite spice store.  This place smells wonderful before you even step in the door.  What do you know, they had a jar of fresh Madagascar pods sitting on the shelf behind the register.  I bought 5.

I have never purchased fresh vanilla beans before and wasn't prepared for the overwhelming wonderful smell they emit. Of course it smells of vanilla but this was so pure and fresh.

If we had smell-a-net right now, your nose would be glued to the screen.  I started with 5 beans.

I took some bottom shelf vodka (from what I have read, vodka does not interfer with the flavor of the vanilla.  You can use rum or bourbon should you choose.)  You may notice that the end result is not in this canning jar.  I decided to go with smaller jars after I took this picture.
Begin by slicing open the beans.  You will need 5 beans for 1 cup of vodka.
Sealed the jars and set them on a shelf in my basement.  Now the waiting begins.  Once a week, I need to flip the jars and at the end of 8 weeks, the homemade Vanilla Extract will be ready to be used.
I have read that you can replenish the amount that you use with more vodka.  I will keep you updated on the progress of the vanilla extract over the next 8 weeks.

Canning Zucchini Relish, reduced sugar recipe and review

         It's that time of year again, the time where zucchini is coming in at full force. The time of year that you can check your plants one day and see nothing then the very next day, you find a mutant two footer. 
         With the overgrown mutants, I love making Zucchini Relish. Quite a few of my blog visitors have asked about a low or reduced sugar recipe.  Until today, I haven't had a clear answer as to what the taste impact would be by reducing the sugar.
          I started by reducing the amount of sugar by 1 cup (the recipe calls for 3 cups total).  I let the complete mix process for 20 minutes and gave it a taste test.  Typically I have a hard time staying out of the relish before its processed but not this time.  I found the relish tart.  Much too tart for my taste. 
          I couldn't can it that way. My family would never eat it and it would go to waste.  I figured I attempt to stay the reduced sugar route and added a 1/2 cup more.  This made the recipe tolerable with a passable amount of sweetness.  In my opinion, if you are wanting to reduce the amount of sugar, only reduce it 1/2 cup.
          Conclusion, even though I have tried to reduce the amount of sugar in other canning recipes, this one is simply not one to mess with.  It is beyond good and the most excellent addition to any chicken, hot dog, hamburger and more. 

Here is the orginal recipe.  It is wonderful and makes a wonderful gift...that is if you can part with it.

Crochet for beginners

I have been taking crochet classes at a new local yarn store since June.  My mother taught me the basics of crochet as a child but much of those lessons were forgotten. So I thought.

Apparently crocheting is like riding a bike.  You never really forget and it comes back to you relatively quickly.

I created a couple videos (I have more in the works) featuring the basics of crochet so that if I ever forget again, I will have the ability to look back and see how it's done. Fall is right around the corner so I am sharing them with you as crocheting provides great fall and winter projects.

Well here they are! Nothing fancy, just the down and dirty.


The land of the green

I left my home the other day to head south to Nashville and Murfreesboro, Tennessee area for a tradeshow for work.  As I was leaving my brown lawned home (ok with the exception of my weeds), I invisioned that I would be encountering a virtual dust bowl as I headed south.  For some reason I just figured that south of us would have simply not received as much rain.

I visit the Nashville and Murfreesboro area about once a year.  I love it here.  I love how friendly everyone is, how it is common practice for children to refer to adults as sir and ma'am.  How gentleman hold the door for women and there is a general respect for one another.  I love the history, this area is a civil war buff's dream come true.  I love the historic homes, the rolling hills and the meat and threes.  I love the honky tonks, the country music, that wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots and a tee shirt is acceptable clothing where ever you go, even if it is out at night.  Most of all, I love how people blend the question "How are you" into one word, "Ha-u."  I always come back home saying that.

Murfreesboro reminds me of Scottsdale, Arizona in a way.  The area that I generally stay in either city is generally in the newer developments with well manicured lawns, large shoping areas and great restuarants.  Scottsdale happens to be another favorite city of mine so when you mix in the southern charm into an already neat area, this town is always a joy to visit and will remain at the top of my list of favorites.

Upon my arrival, I was stunned to see how green everything was.  Even several hours away, I started to take notice of how green the hwy ditches were, that the fields were green and the trees looked healthy and full.  The green continued as I arrived in Murfreesboro.  Below is a picture from my hotel room.

I can't even count how many times I commented on how green things were around here.  I wish I could take it back home with me!  I didn't realize how much I missed seeing green lawns, fields and ditches.  Oh well, I suppose that just as I leave the area that I love, I will have to leave the green grass behind as well.

Canning Berry Juice Concentrate

As mentioned in my previous post about how to peal a peach, I recently went to my favorite u-pick.  Not only did I come home with peaches, I also picked what the farm calls, a variety pack. Big delicious blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.

I managed to get through canning all of the peaches and raspberries over the weekend.  Last night I wrapped up the blueberries and blackberries.  Prior to canning, my 5 year old instructed me to freeze at least 1/2 of the blueberries so we can use them in smoothes.  Who am I to argue with a child who wants to make sure she has nutritious smoothies, so I did just as I was told.  

I didn't want to make any more jam or preserves so I opted to make berry concentrate following the suggestions from Mother Earth News.  I figured we would be able to enjoy wonderful summery drinks this way or use the concentrate in our smoothies.  My 5 year old would be happy.

The process was quick and easy and as a sweetener I used local honey.  These 1/2 pint jars will end up making 24 ounces of juice when diluted with water.

I would be interested to hear about other juices that some of you have canned.  Recipes seem to be difficult to find yet easy enough to do.  Please feel free to share below any tips below.

How to peel a peach

I took last Friday off to work on things around the house.  Instead, I visited my favorite u-pick as it rained and the weather was beautiful. I'm easily distracted.  I ended up picking blackberries the size of quarters, raspberries, and blueberries for 3 hours.  Ok, I admit, I ate some too.

When I went to pay for my goodies, the farm employee asked me if I wanted any peaches.  Um YES!  Around our state, our fruit trees bloomed early and then were killed off by a late frost.  So to help this farm out, a sister farm from Missouri brought their peaches for us peach deprived to enjoy.

I bought a lug, that is a 1/2 bushel and they were delicious!  My daughter could attest to that as she has eaten 8...that I counted.  She may have snuck some in without me knowing but it is difficult to discourage her from eating fruit.

On my way home from the farm, thoughts or wonderful peach recipes were running through my head.  I ended up making raspberry and peach jam, peach nectar, frozen peach slices for smoothies and canned diced and sliced peaches.  

For all of these recipes, one thing must happen.  The peach must be peeled.  If you haven't peeled a peeled a peach before, you would be surprised how easy it is to do.  Much like peeling a tomato, it only requires three steps.

1.  Place peaches in boiling water for 30-60 seconds.  

2.  Remove peaches from boiling water with a slotted spoon and place them in ice water.

3.  Slide peels off with your hand.  (Mutant hand not required)

Easy right!  You can save the peels to make peach honey if you choose or something else incredibly wonderful.  Enjoy!

Worm murderer

That is me.  I apparently have a green thumb but not a brown one.  My worms, save a handful, have perished.  Being that I carefully followed the rules on how and what to feed them, I failed in the department of their environment.

I had been placing the worm home under my deck, in the shade, out of the direct sunlight.  This rule I broke a couple days in a row a several weeks ago.  During one of the warm spells, I moved the worms indoors as they should not be outside in temps over 80 degrees.  When I moved them back outside, I set them on my deck, in the sunlight and forgot to move them for 2 days. The temps were in the 90's during that time.  Yep, you got it...fried worms.

So I am off to purchase more.  I feel so bad that I failed them and a little frustrated with myself as I should have some good compost to work with by now.

The worms that survived the heat torcher, are now residing in my basement as the temps outside have been nothing below 90 degrees.  I have noticed that other critters have come along to join them.  Unwanted bugs.  If any of you have a worm farm, could you offer suggestions on how to keep the unwanted away from my bin?  I do have the understanding that the worms will have to be inside permanently during the winter so I would like to elevate this problem now.

I am looking forward to suggestions...while I go visit the worm store.

Tips from my followers

I have been terrible at posting regularly and I have a gazillion things to share.  Today however, I want to share with you a collection of tips that a couple awesome followers have posted on my blog.

1. Ms. Christal posted on my Zucchini Relish canning recipe an alternative.

       "I've made two batches of this so far. Very, very good. I halve the amount of sugar and used 1/2 summer squash, 1/2 zukes in my second batch."

I love the idea of using less sugar and what a great way to use up some of the summer squash.

2.  On my cucumber bread recipe, an Anon person suggested to grill the bread using seasoning salt and a George Foreman.  Doesn't that sound delicious!  My husband does this with banana bread and it is amazing.

3.  I received a very nice email from Michelle regarding my lack of strawberries (mentioned here).  I have since torn out the plants.  They really were not in an ideal location and would shoot off their little plants everywhere I didn't want them.  Anyway, here is Ms. Michelle's tip on now to get a fantastic strawberry harvest.

     "I read an article from the University of Minnesota and it said to put a balanced fertilizer on your patch 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 on before they bloom and then not again until next year.  I followed that this year and have a freezer full of jam."

Ms. Michelle sent some images of the before and after.  With her permission, I will share the images with you.  Check back for the update.

Anyway,  I love hearing all of your wonderful tips.  We all can learn from each other so I hope you find them just as useful as I have.

Vertical Potato tower and garden ramblings.

I was inspired to revisit growing potatoes vertically this year. Especially after seeing so many wonderful gardeners posting their inspiration on the massive time suck Pinterest.  I think my buddy Max would have been proud to see this creation. 

As you can see the potatoes are growing nicely out of the top and if you look close you can see the sprouts starting out the side as well.  They seemed to appear over night which for a gardener that checks her garden daily, those new finds were quite exciting.  I can hardly wait for the big reveal this fall.  I promise to take lots of pictures.

Have you planted potatoes this year and how did you plant them?

I haven't planted everything yet.  I still have carrots and zucchini, parsnips and beets.  So many things beyond that I can't wrap my mind around how much work I have left to do.  Herbs in particular desperately need to be planted. 

Beyond that I was a complete failure in terms of starting seeds this year.  I tried and tried and tried but between the 3 months of wedding decoration, I neglected them and they would get started and then die.  Then we decided to gut our living room so my time was focused elsewhere again.  The seed to die process happened 3 times.  So I have to go out and buy peppers which I haven't come to terms with as of yet.  At least I tried. 

I have been harvesting strawberries.  Just little guys and a handful at a time.  I believe that this will be my last year for strawberries and they have become more of a nuisance and really do not amount to anything other than a very small snack. 

Other than that, look below at how beautiful my sage is.  I just love my sage bush but a BUSH it has become.  I underestimated how incredibly large this sucker will become and need to trim it down.  Not that I will mind having all of that sage for tea.  YUM.

Oh, pray for rain.  While I will not complain about the absolutely incredibly wonderful weather we have been having, we are going on 2 weeks without rain.  My rain barrel needs filling although my 5 year old would much rather get soaked with garden watering duty. 

Tattler Lid canning update

I have successfully completed three canning batches using my new Tattler Lids.  It was a rocky start...only because I didn't follow directions but once I got it, nothing but sweet success.

The first batch of stew did not seal.  This was of no fault of the Tattler Lids, just me not taking the time to firmly tighten the metal rims after I removed the jars from the canner.   Since the seal and lid are thicker than the standard metal lids, extra care needs to be taken to ensure that the lids are tight to allow them to seal during the cooling process. 

Word of warning.  In my last post, I mentioned that I was concerned that I didn't get the seal laid down properly along the rim of the jar.  On one jar, which was hissing when I removed it from the canner, was not properly sealed.  I move the metal rim a bit and the pressure made hot soup spray out the side.  This again was my own fault and no one was hurt.  I figured out that the rubber should be placed on the lid, THEN placed on the jar to ensure that it is laying properly.  This probably is in the instructions which of course I barely read.

The first unsealed batch I cleaned up and sanitized more lids and processed them again.  Much to my relief they were firmly sealed when I checked on them the next day.  I ended up doing 9 quarts of stew, 7 pints of stew and 5 quarts of beef chunks.  All sealed wonderfully.

In the picture above you can see what the lid looks like.  I'm not sure if it is evident but the lid is indented, indicating that it is sealed.  The lid is very thick and since it is made of plastic, the pop noise that we canners love, never happens.  However the indentation is quite visible.  The red seal also is visible under the lid.  The instructions mention that you should use the opposite side when reusing.  That the side you used prior will be evident.  This portion of the instructions I did read.

I can see how Tattler Lids will grow to become synonymous with canning.   You know, like Kleenex is to tissue or Bandaid is to whatever they are called.  I can hear future conversations such as "How many years have you used your Tattlers?"

I admit that they are expensive to purchase upfront.  I purchased 240 to start with but after working with the lids and am able to see their durability, I can see that this was an investment that will pay off in the future.  Much like spending extra for a good canner.

Canning with Tattler Lids

Tattler lids
Our family orders a 1/4 of beef every year from a co-worker of mine.  This gives us the motivation to clean out our freezer and to find those things that are buried by seasonal items that are crammed in every nook and cranny throughout the year.  Instead of throwing out anything, I decided to break out my industrial size stock pots and make beef stew.

About a month and 1/2 ago, I purchased the reusable Tattler Lids.  Tonight was the first night that I was able to use them.  To be quite honest, I was a little hesitant to use them as they are a little different than what I have used and trusted.  They are thicker so the rim doesn't twist down as much.  I also found that I spent a lot of time making sure that the rings for the lids sat evenly on the rim of the jar.  I was so nervous that I would have them slightly off and the jar wouldn't seal correctly.

Then I discovered that 1. once the lid was on the ring sat correctly and 2. on the wide mouth jars, if I put the ring on the lid then placed it on the jar, the process was much easier.  My soup is currently in the pressure canner so I do not have an update on how they sealed but I promise to give an update tomorrow.

Some positives are that the process to can and prepare the lids is the same as the metal lids. Minimal learning curve.  The Tattle lids are thick and sturdy, I can see how they will last.  I am really looking forward to getting over my hesitation and having the trust in my standard metal lids to transition over to my new prized Tattlers.

Red Wigglers

In my last post I was debating exactly the steps I should take to officially have a worm composter.  Should I build my own, should I just order a prebuilt one, etc?

When I figured in the time that it would take put one together and granted I don't have a lot of extra time, I splurged and purchased a prebuilt, 6 layer, outdoor composter, complete with 1000 red wigglers.  No one is more excited than my 5 year old daughter.  Her recent fascination and complete lack of fear of anything slimy that lives in the dirt makes a mama proud.  I see a future show and tell, involving dirt, worms and compost.  That will be a fun day.

Anyway, according to the site that I placed the order, they ship out every Monday and that the worms usually take 3 days to arrive.  So in my excitement I figured that the worms would be here today since I ordered last week.  I have been saving scraps of veggies instead of dumping them in my compost pile, let banana's go bad (and they are still sitting on my counter) and have been saving paper to be shredded for their bedding.  My daughter has been sharing my excitement and has asked every day when they will arrive.  Of course, we counted down the days and she went to school this morning thinking that by the end of the day, we would have 1000 new critters.

Boy was I wrong.  The company did in fact ship the worm composter this week, BUT the worms will not arrive until next week.  This is actually quite smart because I would hate for the worms to arrive before their home does.  Admittedly I am a little disappointed that we have to wait another week.  I know my daughter will be too but I'm sure once they arrive, the extra wait will be forgotten.

I will keep you updated on our adventures with the worms.

Getting dirty and vermicomposting questions

We have had beautiful weather these past couple days.  With the nice weather, I finally had a chance to go outside and start digging in the dirt until it was too dark to see.  I loved it and I truly missed it.  I love having my boots caked with mud, my jeans and shirt covered in dirt.  I love that when my husband walks by me, he takes care to wipe the dirt from my face.  

What I love more is that my daughter thinks that the garden is her playground.  She literally rolls around in the freshly tilled soil.  Buries herself in the dirt.  I love the fact that the garden is just as much a part of her as it is me.  She is my gardening partner.  

This year, my daughter and I have decided that we need to have a worm farm.  She was making worm homes out of broken pots and dirt.  I figured it was time to expand and give her a learning experience.  Traditionally I would make my own and from what I researched the process seems pretty easy.  I have to admit that I am very tempted to just buy one that is already made and go from there.  

I have heard that you can also place 5 gallon buckets throughout the garden with holes in the bottom which allows the worms to go out into the soil and fertilize along the way.  I would love to know if this works well so if any of you out there reading this have any advice please let me know.

I want to do something that is as easy as possible as my time is limited.  Especially during the summer.  Is a prebuilt one the way to go as far as sorting the castings and the tea?  I would love advice on where to start, what to do, etc.  I have access to an unlimited supply of composted cow and horse poo but I would rather not shovel and haul if I can avoid it.  Vermicomposting at home seems like the way to go.

My Cousins wedding

After 2 1/2 months of my glue gun and me being attached at the hip, my cousin was married to her sweetheart last night.  The wedding was one of the most beautiful I have ever attended.  My cousin simply glowed. 

 I think I ended up making over 700 flowers by hand out of burlap, paper, cupcake holders, coffee filters, and doilies that my aunt made. My other crafty aunt worked her hands to the bone making pinwheels, doilies and other beautiful hand crafted beauties.  We had a craft day where others would help make flowers, cut the burlap for tables and jars and give our glue guns a run for their money.  In fact, one couldn't take the constant gluing any longer and croaked.

For me, being part of her wedding in the way was an incredible honor, a lot of hard work and in the end, a lot of fun.  She mentioned at the reception that due to the help of everyone involved, she was able to have a stress free day.  What an honor to be one of many that helped her be able to enjoy her wedding day and not worry about anything.  My cousin, one of the most beautiful people, inside and out, that you could ever be blessed to meet, was able to enjoy herself on her wedding day.

The reception hall turned out exactly as she had envisioned in her dreams.  She said that she had always imagined her wedding this way, just never thought she could have it.  I will never forget that I had a part in giving that to her. 

Now as I give my glue gun a rest, here is what some of what the reception looked like. 
The glowing P at the head table was a stencil that I made, then cut out of dark paper and back lit with Christmas lights.  It looked incredible when the lights were dimmed and is one of the first things the guests saw when the entered the reception all.  Pinwheels hung from the stage to match the pinwheel wall.  
Here is one of the 150 bouquets that I put together.  No two were the same which made it easier to put them together.  You can see two of the handmade burlap flowers in the arrangement.

Burlap for table runners. Twine to tie the napkins, Burlap, ribbon, card stock with a P stamped on them, then cut into circles around the mason jars. Handmade and silk flowers in the jars.

Matching flower arrangements placed in an antique tin.
This Pinwheel board was approximately 7 feet wide. 
A close up of the pinwheel board.
This was a cupcake stand that my aunt made using this beautiful glass and matching plate.  A little gorilla glue and you have a beautiful stand. 

An old window screen from our house turned into a just married sign for the gift table.  The sign was made of burlap garland, card stock and twine. 

This is part of the entrance.  We tried to hide the "Women" bathroom sign by hanging kissing balls, pinwheels, lace from the ceiling.

The other side of the entrance.
A jar with flowers under the guest book table.

This is the arrangement next to the card box. 

The card box made out of an antique suitcase. 
This is the view from the head table.

What the photo wall looked like from the head table. 
The guest book table and gift table. 
This is a salvaged shelf that I used next to the photo booth. 

The photo booth.  My cousin lined up a photographer and an entire table full of props for those who wanted to take pictures.

The guest book table.

Many complements were made in regards to the decorations and those who spent countless hours putting it together were able to sit down and relax and watch a fantastic couple celebrate their big day.

How to make burlap roses

I have been asked quite a few times to create a how-to on making burlap flowers.  These beauties I am also incorporating into the flower arrangements at my cousins wedding. 
They are quite easy to make although they make take a few trys before  you have the process down.

Things you will need:
Hot Glue gun and glue
OR needle and thread.

-Try to cut the burlap along the weave to prevent any loose ends
-When creating large flowers, try to keep the "petals" towards the top. Hot glue the petal to secure shape.
Oh and if you have any scrap material laying around or extra ribbon...turn it into a flower using this same method.

Here is my first how-to video. Please excuse my voice as I am getting a cold. 

Enjoy and have fun!

How to make Ribbon Flowers

With my cousins upcoming ribbon flowers, I am making a variety of flowers by hand.  One style of flowers are ribbon flowers.  These are relatively easy to make and are incredibly pretty.
The above are a handful of the flowers that I made using Ombre style wired ribbon.

The supplies that you will need are

Wired Ribbon
(I recommend thin wire over thick wire. It is easier to work with and easier on your hands if you are doing multiples.)
Hot glue gun and/or Thread
(I have found that using hot glue is faster when doing multiples.)

Cut your ribbon.  To make the size of flowers above, I cut about 1 1/2 feet of ribbon. 

Start by pulling the wire out of one side of the ribbon while gathering the ribbon down the wire. 
TIP - Fold the edge that you are not pulling from over to prevent the ribbon from sliding on the wire

Pull the wire from both ends, gathering the ribbon tightly in the middle.
TIP - do not cut the wire off until the flower is complete.  The ribbon may slide off of the wire otherwise.

(please forgive my nasty glue thumb)

Start with one end of the gathered edge.  Fold a small amount over and secure with hot glue or thread.  Fold it in the opposite direction (kind of like a zig-zag) and secure with hot glue or thread. 

Begin wrapping the wired edge around the zig zag or center, gluing or securing with thread along the wire edge. 

Be sure to pull the material down to keep it out of the way while wrapping.

Here is another flower that has an edge that is easier to see.

You will want to secure the edge is not gathered in some way.  I hot glue the edge down to keep the wire in place. 

Open the flower up by moving the flower layers around.  Ta-da! You have a ribbon flower.

You can glue a backing on to the underside of the flower and affix it to a barrette.  This is one I made for my daughter.

Here are others that I have made using clearance Christmas ribbon.

I hope you have fun making these.  I know that I have.  I am working on a video on how to make burlap flowers.  I know! A video!