DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract

Of all the DIY projects to try, homemade vanilla extract is among the easiest. It just takes two simple ingredients, but makes a rich, fragrant extract to use in your kitchen or give as a lovely gift.

Plus, your kitchen will smell simply delightful for hours and hours after you make it.

Homemade vanilla extract is delicious and delightfully easy to make! It only has two ingredients, but makes a lovely addition to any recipe (and amazing DIY gift!)

Vanilla beans and alcohol= delicious pure vanilla extract

How to Make Homemade 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. You can also order certified organic and fair trade vanilla beans and cute glass jars from Mountain Rose Herbs]

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.

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

Nourishing Protein Bar Recipe

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.

Looking for a delicious & sustaining snack (or breakfast!)? Try these nourishing protein bars.

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.

Nourishing Protein Bar Recipe

Ingredients

All measurements are approximate. 

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.

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 Redeemed, Our Simple Country Life, & Proverbs 31

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.]

Why & How to Soak Almonds (& Other Nuts)

Crispy soaked nuts not only taste more flavorful, they are easier for your body to digest!

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 my friend Kathryn 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?

Want to make raw almonds (and other nuts) even tastier and easier to digest? Follow these simple steps to soak and dry them.

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

Not only does soaking and drying nuts increase the natural flavor, 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. Soaking them dramatically increases the ability of our bodies to absorb the nutrients.

Thankfully we don’t have to depend on the sun to do our drying for us!

Soaked Crispy Almonds Recipe

Ingredients/Supplies:

  • Salt
  • Almonds (or other nuts)
  • Filtered water
  • Large glass bowl or pan
  • Dehydrator OR an oven you can use for at least 12 hours

Instructions

Mix a tablespoon of salt with filtered water. Add 4 cups of almonds and let them soak in a glass pan or bowl 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.

Dehydrator Method for drying

If you plan to dry almonds regularly, consider investing in a dehydrator. It makes the process SO easy (and of course has countless other uses, like preserving herbs, making homemade fruit leather, drying apple chips, etc. I received a L’Quip Dehydrator for Christmas and love the fact that you can control the temperature and fit so much on it. )

Once your almonds are thoroughly rinsed and patted dry, spread them out on the trays of your dehydrator. Turn on and let dry for 12-24 hours, testing every few hours. Once they’re thoroughly dried, cool and store in a air-tight container

Oven Method for drying

Before I had a dehydrator, I just used the oven. 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.


Turn raw nuts into even more of a powerhouse by soaking and drying them. Not only does it increase flavor, it helps your body absorb the nutrients better.

Make soaked crispy almonds

Much as I love raw almonds, I have to agree that soaked crispy almonds even more flavorful soaked and dried.

Not only do they taste richer, soaking the nuts makes it much easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.

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

Discover the Wonders of Your Own Backyard (& a Backyard Quiche Recipe)

Thanks so much for your prayers and kind encouragement these past weeks/months as our family battled sickness after sickness. I am so grateful for each of you and so grateful to be feeing better again! (Plus I’m so excited to have the time and energy to blog again!)

I love the first spring in a new home. It’s so fun to watch the yard and see what surprises come up: a sunny patch of daffodils, a bush that’s radiant with flowers, or a tree whose unfolding leaves are so beautiful.

This year though, I’ve determined to do more than simply enjoy the beauty. I want to learn about the trees and flowers and even the weeds in our yard. I want to learn about them, and teach my children about them.

photo credit

Why?

Learning about the incredible variety of weeds that stubbornly grow beneath our feet, makes the grandeur of Creation come alive before your fingers (or toes). Plus, while you investigate the wonders, you’re soaking up Vitamin D from the sun and breathing in the fresh spring air.

Did you know that the early American settlers brought weeds to plant in the new world? That’s right. Millions of dollars a year are spent trying to eradicate the dandelions and other weeds so prized by the early settlers. (Read why dandelions are so loved here!)

For our neighbor’s sake, I’ll try to keep the dandelions at bay in the front yard, but dandelions, onion grass, plantain, red clover, wood sorrel, and the variety of other edible and medicinal weeds are more than welcome in our fenced-in, pet and pesticide-free backyard.

The children and I have had so much fun finding the weeds native to our yard, marveling at their uniqueness, and learning about them. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many of them are edible and even really good for you. (Always make sure, of course, that there are no inedible or poisonous look-alikes!)

To celebrate the arrival of fresh spring dandelions, we decided to make a “Backyard Spinach Quiche.” It was delicious, though next time I plan to add quite a few more dandelion petals.

Backyard Spinach Quiche

adapted from Better Homes & Garden

Ingredients

  • 9 inch single pie crust (I replace the shortening with real butter and love it!)
  • 8 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream 
  • 1/2 cup cream or milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen spinach, thawed (or 3 cups fresh spinach or fresh backyard greens!)
  • petals from 2+ dandelions, thoroughly washed
  • 10-20 pieces onion grass, thoroughly washed & finely chopped (or 1/2 cup onion)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup crumbled bacon or diced ham, optional
  • 2/3 cup cheddar or mozzarella cheese
Instructions
  1. Bake un-pricked pie shell at 450F for 10 minutes, or until dry and set. Reduce oven to 325F.
  2. Stir together remaining ingredients
  3. Pour egg mixture into baked pastry shell. Cover edges with foil, if desired.
  4. Bake at 325F for 45 to 50 minutes, or until knife inserted near the middle comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWild Crafting WednesdayWalking RedeemedProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

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

Recipe: Mrs. Thompson’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Chocolate, peanut butter, and oatmeal. Some of my very favorite foods.

Before moving, I tutored Literature and Western Civ to a small group of high schoolers. We had many wonderful discussions of great literature and historical exploits over cookies.

It was fun. Not only because the topics were wonderful and I had amazing students, but because just about anything discussed over a plate of cookies is fun.

My students liked the cookies, but when I brought out a plate of Mrs. Thompson’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars they really got into the discussion. (After a brief bunny trail in which we agreed that foods named after a person are among the best.)

Follow me over to Little Natural Cottage to get the recipe! 

Buckwheat Pancake Recipe

Buckwheat is not a grain. It’s not even a grass. It’s a gluten-free fruit that is “high in digestive protein and contains all eight essential amino acids,” according to Making Babies.

Delicious gluten-free pancakes that are light and fluffy. They can also be made without eggs.

Buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup and chopped pecans on top. Yumminess! 

Thankfully, no one in our family has any food allergies (that I know of!) and I really hope that continues. But, adding a greater variety of whole foods into our diet seems like a prudent, and yummy, idea.

Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free and used to be a fairly common part of people’s diets until the last century. (We’re reading Farmer Boy and buckwheat pancakes are one of Almanzo’s favorite breakfasts!)

After watching Shoshanna make buckwheat pancakes in Making Babies they looked so yummy that I just had to see if I could turn our favorite whole wheat pancakes into buckwheat pancakes. It definitely worked!

I’ve made them four times in the last two weeks because they’re so easy and my kids keep asking for them. Plus, I ran out of eggs and they turn out light and fluffy even without eggs! [Check out 12 more of my healthy breakfast alternative to cereal!]

 

Buckwheat: a “fruit” that’s high in protein and naturally gluten-free

Buckwheat Pancakes Recipe

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook with inspiration from Making Babies and Almanzo

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buckwheat
  • 1 T. sugar or honey
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt (I just started using sea salt regularly and love it!)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk OR milk plus 1/2 T vinegar to make your own sour milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg OR 1 T ground flax plus 1 T additional water
  • 1/4 cup oil (I use light olive oil)
Instructions
  1. Start heating up the griddle.
  2. If making your own sour milk, add 1/2 T vinegar to the 1/2 cup of milk and let it sit.
  3. Meanwhile, mix together the dry ingredients
  4. Then add the remaining wet ingredients to the sour milk and mix well.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just moistened.

  1. Fry your pancakes. I usually make a “test” pancake just to make sure I have the griddle at the right heat. (The batter should sizzle softly and the top of the pancake should bubble and be lightly “glazed” before you have to flip it.)
  2. Serve with hot maple syrup and chopped pecans. (I like making yogurt-based shakes to go on the side for added protein!)

Note: apparently, even buckwheat can cause allergic reactions in rare cases! Read more here.

Have you made buckwheat pancakes before? Or tried any new recipes you love? 

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

Easy Homemade Chicken Broth

Chicken broth is one of those super foods that is high in nutrients, thrifty, and simple to make yourself.

The problem is, especially if you’re using a whole chicken, you have to touch a raw chicken.

There are two things I’m paranoid about. Raw chicken happens to be one of them. (Poison ivy is the other, in case you were curious.)

Making it the way I used to meant going beyond touching to cutting up a raw chicken. (You don’t want to know how much vinegar I used cleaning up the sink when I was done.) Which meant I really didn’t like making chicken broth.

Yes, one’s upside down on purpose. I heard that cooking the breast-side down would make it more tender, so I experimented. We couldn’t really tell a difference. 

Then my mom told me she’d started doing: just bake the chicken, eat it for dinner, and cook the bones.

Brilliant, right?

You still have to rinse the raw chicken and pat it dry, but then all you do is season it and stick it in a pan to bake. I can handle that amount of raw-chicken-handling.

I usually bake two chickens at a time, to save time. Once the chicken is baked, serve for dinner.

After dinner, quickly debone the chicken (any little pieces of chicken are just going to make the broth better. Don’t stress about being too thorough!) Save the meat for future meals.

To make chicken broth

  •  Toss the bones into a crockpot.
  • Add water and seasonings and any or all of the following: onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms, and eggshells (why eggshells? They’re a great source of calcium. Read more here.)
  • Then, add a couple tablespoons of vinegar. Not enough to make it taste like vinegar, just enough to help draw the calcium out of the chicken bones and eggshells. (According to this article, government studies show nearly 86% of US children are calcium deficient!) Calcium from chicken broth is a good way to help our children avoid being part of that 86%.
  • Cook the bones on high in the crockpot until they’re boiling, then turn it on low overnight.

In the morning, cool and freeze (or use to make a soup for dinner!)

Note: a good bone broth is gel-like, which indicates you removed lots of calcium from the bones.

Linked up at Living Green, Healthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable WaysWorks for MeNatural Living, & Simple Lives

Homemade Pumpkin Purée and Pumpkin Seeds

photo credit

Though I gladly eat pumpkin all year round, I was excited to see fresh pumpkins in the store again.

Not only are pumpkins loaded with nutrition, it’s so easy to make fresh pumpkin purée (and pumpkin seeds!) yourself. Plus, it’s a fun project for little ones to help with.

We past our first fresh pumpkins out shopping recently and Rose begged for me to get one so she could make pumpkin seeds. I obliged.

In order to make good pumpkin puree, select healthy-looking pumpkins and wash the outside thoroughly.

Cut the pumpkin into thick slices and remove all the seeds and string.

Place the pumpkin slices in a large pot. Add a couple cups of water (I like my puree thick, so I don’t completely cover them), bring to a boil and then simmer for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the pumpkin starts to stick to the pan, add more water. Once the pumpkin is soft, remove from heat.

Cool slightly and then scoop the soft flesh into a blender. Blend thoroughly.

Now you have fresh pumpkin puree to use in your favorite recipe. Place extra into freezer bags for use all year long.

While the pumpkin cooked and cooled, let your five-year-old remove every last seed from the strings, rinse the pumpkin seeds, and pat dry.

Place in a large pan, toss very lightly with oil/butter and your seasoning of choice. (I just used sea salt.) Bake at 350 for about 30-45 minutes, stirring regularly until the seeds are golden brown.

Store the seeds “for winter.” Though my children are highly attached to the idea of preserving food for winter, “winter” usually lasts all of three days around here.

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 Feminine Adventures

Now it’s your turn! Jenn and I would love to have you join us for our weekly Thrifty Thursday Blog Hop! Posts about living frugally, thrifty tips and tricks, money-saving DIY projects and gardening, frugal recipes, and encouraging posts on financial stewardship are all welcome. Link up to either of our blogs–your post will be displayed in both places.We’d be very grateful if you’d share only thrifty-themed posts. (Read full guidelines here.)