Want to fill your kitchen with heavenly scents? Want to create something fun and excellent quality and out of the ordinary to use in your own kitchen or give as a gift?

Make homemade vanilla.

It’s so simple and one of those fun projects that I’ve been wanting to do for ages. We were given a lovely bottle for Christmas two years ago but I’d used and reused the vanilla beans till there wasn’t any life left in them.

I bought fresh vanilla beans before Christmas and finally pulled them out of the cupboard.

Given the fact that it took all of fifteen minutes (and made the kitchen smell amazing for hours and hours) it’s pretty ridiculous it took this long to make!

Vanilla beans and alcohol= delicious pure vanilla extract

There are a whopping two ingredients you’ll need for your homemade extract: vanilla beans and alcohol. Can’t get much simpler than that….you just have to choose what kind of beans and what kind of alcohol.

Vanilla beans: there are several kinds of vanilla beans, but Bourbon (also known as Madagascar) is the popular scent we’d all instantly recognize as vanilla and the type I bought. Then there’s two grades: A and B. Grade A beans have more oil and are considered better for cooking. However, the grade B beans are generally preferred for making extract.

[I ordered my vanilla beans here or you can order certified organic and fair trade vanilla beans here.]

Alcohol: vodka, bourbon, tequila…any should work fine (just don’t use inedible rubbing alcohol!) I made one batch with vodka and one with bourbon to experiment. The bourbon lends a fun bourbon-esqe flavor, but if you’re after the true vanilla flavor, vodka is the way to go.

 (Whew, how’s that for making a simple recipe a bit more complicated!)

For a strong vanilla extract, use 1/4 pound of beans (approx. 25 beans, but it can vary a lot) to 1 quart of alcohol.

Slice the vanilla beans down the center, leaving them attached at the end if you think it looks pretty.

Place in clean glass jar. Cover completely with alcohol. Screw the lid on tightly and store for one to six months in a cool dark place stirring regularly (daily…or weekly…or whenever you happen to remember.)

Label and date, at least if you tend to forget exactly what and when you bottled as quickly as I do.

Start using when the extract smells vanilla-y enough to you. As you use the vanilla, you can add more alcohol. The vanilla won’t be as strong, but I kept reusing the vanilla beans we were given till they lost most of their potency.

Once they’re satisfactorily extracted don’t throw them away! Turn the beans into vanilla sugar. [Recipe coming soon.]

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWalking RedeemedGrace Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

 [Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]

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Recipe: Hearty Protein Bars

Slightly-crunchy with the perfect touch of sweetness, these protein bars are one of my favorite snacks. (If I’m in a hurry they work for breakfast too!) Unlike many store-bought protein bars, they’re jam-packed with nourishing whole foods.

Since first reading about these bars a couple years ago, I’ve made them dozens of times and adapted the recipe to suit our tastes. One of the great things about this recipe is its versatility! If you don’t have, or care for, one of the ingredients there’s usually at least one way to substitute.

Ingredients

All measurements are approximate. 

  • 2 cups almonds (soaking them increases their flavor and digestibility)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup oatmeal (thanks for the idea, Mom!)
  • 1//4 cup flax seed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • dash of salt, optional
  • heaping 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • heaping 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T honey
  • 1/8-1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 T coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Blend almonds, raisins, oatmeal, and flax seed in a blender until fine.
  2. Pour into a bowl, add the coconut flakes and salt and mix well.
  3. Over low heat, melt peanut butter, coconut oil, vanilla & honey in a saucepan.
  4. Add to “dry” ingredients and pour into an 8×8 pan.
  5. Refrigerate until firm.
  6. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil over low heat and spread over bars. Refrigerate, cut into delectable pieces, and enjoy!

Due to the coconut oil, these bars are best just out of the fridge. 

For those interested, Country Life Natural Foods–has wonderful prices on bulk coconut flakes, organic raisins (just barely more than Aldi!), oatmeal, and much more.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWalking RedeemedGrace Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

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Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Cake

Fall is here, and with it the delightful smells of soups, stews, and pumpkin!

This moist pumpkin spice cake is a family favorite and tastes even better a day or two after you make it. Plus, if you don’t polish it off in a day or two, it freezes well for later.

It’s not exactly healthy, but are cakes supposed to be healthy?

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Cake

adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients

  • 1- 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups oil (I use light olive)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (it’s so yummy fresh!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2+ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/ 2+ tsp. allspice
  • 1/2+ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2+ tsp cloves

Instructions: 

  1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour 9×13 pan.
  2. Mix wet ingredients.
  3. Mix dry ingredients and add to wet. Stir until moistened.
  4. Pour into pan and bake 30-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted near middle comes out clean.
  5. Cool and top with spiced cream cheese frosting, if desired.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe: 

  • 1 /2 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • Powdered sugar

Instructions: 

  1. Mix together cream cheese, butter, and spices
  2. Add powdered sugar to make a smooth frosting. If too thick, add a couple drops of milk.

Frosting Tip: for years I painstakingly tried (and failed) to get the frosting perfectly smooth across the top of my cakes. Instead, now I “swirl” the frosting. It looks cute and takes so much less time. :)

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking RedeemedOur Simple Country Life, & Proverbs 31

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How to Make Kefir Water

Lime flavored kefir water, garnished with fresh mint. 

When a dear friend offered me a glass of homemade kefir water, all sorts of alarms sounded in my mind.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. It sure wasn’t a drink that tasted like an amazing sparkling limeade.

What exactly is kefir water? It’s a slightly sweet carbonated drink that’s simply bursting with probiotics. You make it by letting kefir “grains” (a gel-like combination of yeast and bacteria) sit in sugar water and minerals for a couple of days and ferment into a drink that’s refreshing and incredibly good for you.

We eat homemade yogurt regularly, but I’d been wanting to add more probiotics to our diet. After that first drink, kefir water was an obvious choice!

My friend gave me a kefir starter (thanks so much!) and I’m having a hard time keeping up with demand even with doing a gallon at a time. My 22-month-old’s name for kefir water is simply “nummy!”

We don’t even have pet fish, just pet bacteria. Thankfully, they’re about as low-maintenance as fish, plus you get a yummy drink out of them!

Kefir water recipe

(Makes one gallon—so far the gallon hasn’t lasted more than a few days! You can also half the batch.)

Ingredients

  • Heaping 1/2 cup kefir grains*
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup raw natural sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. 
  • Small handful of organic raisins or other dried fruit 
  • 1 eggshell or trace minerals, optional 
  • 1 gallon water [Spring, well or filtered tap water are the best options. Distilled water has lost so many minerals you'd want to add trace minerals back to the water.] 
  • Flavorings, optional

Instructions

  1. In a glass gallon jar, dissolve the sugar in a little water.
  2. Add the raisins, kefir grains, eggshell/minerals (if using), and finish filling with water.
  3. Cover with cheesecloth or a tea towel and rubberband securely.
  4. Let sit on the counter for 2-4 days. If it tastes good after two days, proceed. If you want more of the sugar “eaten”, let sit for another day. Don’t let it go too long though, especially in the summer, otherwise once the grains run out of sugar to eat, they beging to starve.
  5. Removed the raisins and eggshell and toss. Strain out the grains to start a new batch.
  6. Start a new batch immediately or store the kefir grains. 
  7. You can drink the kefir at this point, but it tastes much yummier if you let it carbonate for a day on the counter. To carbonate, pour into sturdy glass jars, leaving plenty of headspace for the kefir water to expand. I leave a good 2+ inches, to be on the safe side. Add fruit, juice, food-grade essential oils, or vanilla (if desired) for flavoring. Seal tightly and leave on the counter for a day. 
  8. Refrigerate or drink immediately over ice.

Tips and tricks: 

  • If you don’t have a local friend who can give you a starter, you can order dehydrated water kefir grains online from Amazon or a kit (including minerals and a strainer) from Cultures for Health
  • To store the kefir grains, mix 1/4 cup of sugar with filtered water. Add the grains and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 
  • Kefir grains love the added minerals from eggshells, but the thought of tossing in a raw eggshell groses me out. Instead, save the eggshells when you make hardboiled eggs and store them in the freezer. Just pop one out when it’s time to make another batch of kefir.
  • Different natural sugars contain different minerals. My friend recommends using 3/4 natural cane sugar and 1/4 sucanat. I haven’t bought any sucanat yet, and the kefir is surviving fine on just the natural cane sugar, but I’m sure it would make them even happier to add sucanat.
  • You can get organic raisins in bulk from Country Life Natural Foods for only a few cents more per pound than Aldi’s raisins. Grapes are on the dirty dozen list, so as you can expect, conventionally grown raisins tend to have quite a bit of pesticide residue! 
Have you made kefir water? If so, what’s your favorite flavoring? 
[Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]
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Don’t you just love it when you can very simply make a food healthier and tastier at the same time?

I love raw almonds, pecans, and walnuts so when a dear friend told me she’d been making the “crispy nuts” from Nourishing Traditions, I was a bit skeptical. Why on earth should you soak almonds or walnuts when they’re so tasty raw?

Our first batch of crispy almonds–the kids can’t seem to get enough of them! 

Not only does soaking and drying them increase the natural flavor (they’re very tasty!), the soaking process makes the almonds or other nuts easier to digest.

Soaking mimics the practice of many native cultures who traditionally soaked and dried the nuts they collected before eating. Thankfully we’ve got ovens instead of having to depend on the sun to do our drying for us!

How to Make Soaked Crispy Almonds

Mix a tablespoon of salt with filtered water. Add 4 cups of almonds and let soak for about seven to twelve hours.

Drain the almonds. The skins pop off very easily at this point, so if you want, pop some (or all) of the almonds out of their skins. I prefer the taste with the skins on, but skinless is nice for baking.

Spread on a glass or stainless steel pan. Try not to let the almonds touch. Let dry 12-24 hours in a 150 degree oven and stir occasionally. (Ours doesn’t go quite that low, so I would heat it to 170, leave the light on and turn off the oven.)

After about 20 hours, they still weren’t as crispy as I’d like, so I left the oven on at around 170.

Once they’re thoroughly dried, cool and store in a air-tight container. Much as I love raw almonds, I have to agree that they’re even more flavorful soaked and dried.

My friend said they’re practically addicted to the “crispy walnuts” so that’s what I plan to try next. The only difference is that once dried, walnuts still need to be kept in the fridge because of the high amounts of triple unsaturated linolenic acid.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedOur Simple Country LifeProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

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