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Knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement from a Christian perspective is my goal. I post a weekly commentary, which could be about world events or the events of my week. Other days I might share stories, recipes, homemaking tips, book reviews, political talk, biblical truth, or other blogs and websites I like. This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

100% HOMEMADE VANILLA IS WORTH THE WAIT

I just got back from another day of shopping.  Feeling like I accomplished a lot.  Mostly I was looking for items to use in my homemade gift baskets.  The Goodwill store really came through for me.  I found some beautiful glass sugar bowls with lids for a dollar a piece.  I don't think those gals at Goodwill know what they have sometimes.  I hear stories of people finding valuable treasures in that store.  One girl said she spotted a familiar piece of pottery in the exact color she loves.  When she turned the piece upside down and saw the name engraving, she knew it was a collector's piece from the very collection she buys.  They were only asking two dollars for it, and she knew it sells for fifty.  "I couldn't get out of there fast enough," she said.  She thought they might discover the pricing error and ruin her rush.
 
I love the rush of finding treasures like that.  Some people get a thrill from buying pricey items.  My thrill comes from knowing that I'm practically stealing it.  But not really.  I'm planning to use the sugar bowls to hold my homemade vanilla sugar.  I'm also planning to give homemade vanilla as gifts.  And last night I watched a video on how to make tea cup candles.  Can't wait to try that.

I have these beautiful Victorian teacups that I found at an antique store.  They are so elegant and expensive looking because of the splashes of gold, the pretty patterns and  bold floral designs.  Some of the cups even have pedestals or little feet under them.  I fell in love with those teacups as soon as I saw them, but they've been collecting dust for years.  I'm finally going to put them to more practical use and make some candles out of them.  Teacup candles are so pretty when they're lit.  I'm sure the gals I give them to will be tickled with them.

Today I had no problem finding the paraffin wax to make candles, but I couldn't find wicks with anchors on them, so I'll share the teacup candles another time.  I like to try these things myself before explaining how to make them.  But I have tried making homemade vanilla, and that's the recipe I'll be sharing today.  I heard about vanilla sugar and I have a recipe, but I haven't made any yet.  But those sugar bowls are going to be so happy when they're filled with the wonderful scent of sweet vanilla.  Vanilla sugar is a great gift for people who put sugar in their coffee or tea.  My husband adds my homemade vanilla to his coffee and loves it.

So why make your own vanilla?  Lots of reasons.  First of all, store bought vanilla is very expensive and when you realize what you're getting, it kind of makes you mad to pay the price.  Did you know that artificial vanilla flavoring, imitation vanilla flavoring, natural vanilla flavoring, vanilla extract, and pure vanilla extract are all names that can be used to describe wood pulp that's made to taste like vanilla.  If you buy vanillin, you're also getting a cheaper, lower grade vanilla substitute.  Most store-bought vanilla contains 35% alcohol.  Real vanilla should contain 100% alcohol.  Vanilla manufacturers thin their extract with water to make a bigger profit.  If you want the best tasting vanilla, you need real Bourbon Grade A vanilla beans and you need to let them soak in 100% alcohol for three months.  But oh, is it worth the wait!

Besides the exceptional taste, one of the benefits of using pure100% alcohol vanilla is that it will make whatever you're making or baking, ice cream especially, softer and smoother.  I add two Tablespoons to a batch of ice cream, but not so much you can taste the alcohol.  Your ice cream will be softer since alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than most freezers are set to.  You can make homemade ice cream and then put the leftovers in the freezer, and it will be amazingly soft and easy to scoop the next time you eat it.  Okay, I'm sure I convinced you that it's worth the trouble, so here's the recipe.  Have fun.

You will need
12 vanilla beans about 7-8 inches long (bourbon grade A)
a fifth of 100 proof vodka (NIKOLAI is fine. Quality doesn't matter so go cheap)

Open your vodka bottle and pour out about four ounces.  It's up to you what you do with the excess.  Cut the vanilla beans down the middle with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds (caviar) with a dull knife.  Use a funnel or carefully drop the seeds into the vodka bottle.  Then add the remaining vanilla bean skins.  Put the lid on, shake, and store in a cool, dark place.  I put my bottles in a paper bag in the back of the fridge, so as little light hits them as possible.  Light is not a friend to vanilla and it shouldn't be stored near any heat source.  Every few days shake the bottle well and then put it back to sit and steep.  When your vanilla is done steeping after three months, you can grind the vanilla skins and use them in your baking as well.  Some people prefer to strain the vanilla when it's done steeping, but I love those flecks of vanilla bean in the liquid.  If you prefer a stronger infusion, you can let the vanilla steep up to 12 months, but who could wait that long for something so good.

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