Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Bottle of Vodka and A Few Vanilla Beans

In  my many travels through blogland I am always finding new ideas.  Many of these ideas are in the edible form.  What can I say I enjoy eating, however as time  has progressed with me, I have had to learn to eat lighter and make sure that what I do consume is as healthy as it can be.  One thing that has always gotten me is the amount of perservatives that go into so many of the processed foods these days.  If I can not pronounce it I am a bit skeptical as to if I should be letting it enter my body. 

Because of this I am always on the look out for new and inventive ways to cook, store, or create anything that I may use in my kitchen.  Recently I ran across a blog post on making your own vanilla.  Now let me say this before I go any further, vanilla is one of my most absolute favorite flavors as well as one of my favorite smells.  In fact when I was little, I used to sneak in the cupboard and smell the vanilla all the time.  One day I took a sip thinking that its flavor would be just as glorious as its aroma.  I quickly learned that this is not the case. 

Vanilla is derived from the Orchid plant. One flower produces one fruit. It was first grown in Mexico and translated it means little pod.  It was brought out of Mexico to Europe in the 1520's by Cortez.  Today one can find a number of different varieties of bean:  The Bourbon bean or Madagascar bean, The Mexican bean, The Tahitian bean, and the West Indies bean.  Many may think that the term french vanilla also describes a type of bean.  This is not so.  This term is used to describe anything that has a strong vanilla aroma and contain vanilla grains.  Vanilla is also said to have some medicinal uses.  It is said it can be used as an aphrodisiac and also a remedy for fevers.  However, this has not been scientifically proven. 

With the fact that vanilla is the second most expensive spice, next to saffron, I found the possibility of making my own a cost saving adventure.  Also the fact that I would be creating the mixture myself  I felt it was more fresh and thus lest additives.  Anyone who uses fresh spices also knows the wonderful difference from those purchased in stores.  The freshness allows you to use less as the flavor is much stronger.  Again another money saving reason. 

The recipe is quite simple although if you do look it up on the internet you will find a variation of amounts to use.  I basically took an overall sample from all to create mine.  First get you a bottle of alcohol, such as vodka, rum or gin.  I choose vodka as it was the most tasteless therefore creating a cleaner vanilla taste. However, I have spoke with some who used rum and simply loved it. 

The number of vanilla beans to use is where most recipes vary.  I have seen 2 for one bottle of alcohol to 3 beans per cup of alcohol.  I myself used 4 beans.  Take your vanilla beans and with a sharp knife slice them down the middle, exposing the wonderful aroma and vanilla paste inside.  You can just put the uncut bean inside yet I feel the slicing of them allows more flavor to be drawn from it.  Screw on the lid and place the bottle in a dark cool place (a pantry works wonderful) for aproximately 8 to 10 weeks.  Occasionally shake the bottle to help the flavor blend.  Soon your clear alcohol will turn a nice amber color. 

When it is time use your vanilla you will need to strain it via a cheese clothe to catch all the lose seeds that have come out of the beens and also the beans themselves.  If you would like to keep some of the seeds you can strain through a sieve to just remove the bean.  When bottling I put a fresh bean in each bottle to continue the process of flavor.  One bottle can last up to years as each time it starts to go down, simple top it off with additional alcohol and allow to sit .  You will not have to let it sit as long as before as the flavor will already be present. 

There are many places to purchase vanilla beans yet I suggest you go online and purchase them in bulk.  It is much cheaper and they are just as good and sometimes better.  Purchasing them in the grocery store is very costly as you can only purchase one at a time.  This is so simple and a wonderful way to have wonderful tasting vanilla as well as a great gift idea. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Change Would Do Me Good

We have lived at our current location for few years now and have always been blessed with the yearly visitation of our Candians.  About this time of year you can see them return even though I am sure they have been around somewhere during the earlier months.  Yet it is the time when love is in the air and nature begins its routine of courtship and eventual propagation.  I have always been amazed at the constant routine that the Canadian has.  Each year they return to the same place.  This is not the first time I have seen such behavior. 

I remember a neighbor once who had 2 geese whose wings had been clipped in their back yard.  Each year they would have their duckings and raise them as any good parent would.  When the time came and the urge increased the young ones do as most wild geese do and fly south.  Yet every spring once again they would come home to visit. 

Likewise we fall into our routines of choice.  Some we follow on a daily basis not even realizing that such actions are routine.  Yet still we persist.  Yes, sometimes we are taken off track and the activities of our day may change.  And yes, at these times we usually feel out of place and somewhat off track.  Yet as soon as we fall back into the norm we are accustomed to our lives return to that even keel we all love to sit in. 

I have been challenged to think about my routine.  Not only on a daily basis yet in an overall view and ask myself if possibly a change is needed.  I have come to realize that I am quite a person of routine and am not a very happy camper when out of it.  Yet I think that change and evolvement is a good thing and is needed for a constant growth.  Therefore as spring approaches I am urged to ask if maybe some personal spring cleaning is needed.  Definitely in my home I know this is true.  Yet likewise in my personal home (me) I am sure some dusting and rearranging would not hurt either. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monday Ramblings... A Day Late

Hope that all of you had a wonderful Valentines Day.  Falling on a Sunday, I am sure caused it to be a very buy weekend for many.  I am sure the weather in many areas did not help matters either.  I have to admit that Vincent and I are not too celebatory on Valentines Day.  I think it is way over commercialized.  Although do not get me wrong, I love to receive flowers and chocolates, I just do not think that there needs to be a specific day that is singled out as the time one needs to show one how much they mean to them.  We had a nice evening at home with a bottle of wine and a bunch of our favorite foods, watching the Olympics... Guess the fact that we are getting a bit older could have a bit to do with that...

Today is Fat Tuesday or Madi Gras.  Likewise we are spending a quiet day at home.... No over the top celebration planned here.  The usual housework and daily chores will be done.  I do like the colorful masks though that appear at this time.  I will admit that I have one in my closet on the top shelf... I purchased it one year yet am sure that I will never wear it...Although at the time I bought it I knew I would. 

Spring is trying so hard to pop out here.  I have seen the robins around and my tulips and such are inching out further and further each day that the snow remains away and does not cover them.  It seems that we get our share of snow every 2  or 3 days... This week looks to be cold yet sunny though and I intend to take advantage of it.  As they have already said that next week is to bring yet again another storm or two for us.  I know that spring will be here in its own time yet I have never been more ready for its arrival. 

Of course the grandkids love the snow.  It means playing outside and building a multitude of snow men, as well as days off from school. What could be more fun than that, but going back into the house for cocoa and cookies... Hope this finds all of you in good spirits...and good thoughts...

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Prelude to Spring

I heard a short piece last night on television that said if all went as it appeared it would that after tomorrow all 50 states would have snow on the ground. Something that I guess is somewhat of an oddity. This has definitely been a different year for many of us in regards to the weather of the winter season. A number of areas have received record snowfall amounts , some of which have broken records that are over 100 years old. I have not checked yet to see if the storm that passed over us yesterday and dumped 10 inches on Dallas Texas (which may I say is totally unheard of) continued with its mission as it crossed over the southern states. The northern side of Floridia was even supposed to have snow.

There are many who are eagerly awaiting Spring's arrival as they gaze out their front window only to see a mountain of snow in front of it. Once again our place is covered with a blanket of snow and although we were forecasted a warm up of 40 and 50s through the weekend. However starting this morning, the skys are still gloomy and it is still cold outdoors. I have decided to stop whining about the absence of the warmth of the coming Spring. Definitely I have found that such behavior does not do any good in bringing it any quicker. Mother Earth knows her plans and she is executing them as she sees best. I have to trust this.

I have decided to look for the good and the beauty in the current coldness. No I am not able to go out and do the work in my yard as I would normally be doing, preparing it for the coming flowers, and planting new ones. I have not been able to enjoy any afternoons on the back porch soaking up the early sunshine and just enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. Yet, I have seen a tremendous abundance of birds this winter. The weather has lured them into my feeders and they have become quite tame frolicking on my back porch throughout the day. Each time I go and make my rounds filling the many feeders I have throughout the yard, they call to me and at times ask why it has taken so long. The quail have even been lured out to beneath my little oak where I leave them cracked corn and seed.

Yesterday as I was in town purchasing feed for my many feathered friends, I noticed that the store has gotten their ducklings, chicks and baby rabbits in. I am such a sucker for little animals. If I had my way I would have all of them.... Spring is coming. Her pace is steady and strong. No she is not coming with a grand entrance or a gradual warming processional yet still she comes. One day we will wake up and realize she has already arrived. The warmth of the sun will hit our face, the smell of the newly bloomed flowers will flow past our nose and our eyes will see she is everywhere.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

The sun finally decided to come and visit.  It was a much welcomed guest.  It seemed like the gloom of winter has stuck around way longer than usual.  A brief snow storm yesterday gave us an enjoyable day inside watching the big fluffy flakes fall although none of them stuck.  The yard is a so wet from all the precipitation we have received that it melted on contact.  Yet today the sun is in full bloom.  I am ready for spring to come and start its dance.  The daffodils and tulips are poking their heads out of the gound just waiting for the chance to rise up and show their beauty.  I noticed several Robins in the yard the other day, another sign that Spring is around the corner.  Or so that is what they say.  Yet I would take any wives tale now as an explanation that the weather will be getting warmer  and the clutches of winter will finally be loosed and gone.

My seeds which I planted indoors some time back are doing quite well... They have sprouted up nicely and hopefully in not too long I can think about transplanting them... I am so eager to get into the yard and start working.  So many plans I have for this summer... There is some clean up to be done after the ice storm yet really the damage was minimal.  I found a great buy on Pampas grass at a local nursery and plan to purchase some for a natural fence in the front of the house.  I am also eager to see the new bulbs bloom which I planted last fall. 

It seems the colder weather has kept us indoors much more than normal therefore I have been cooking much more than normal.   Not a bad thing if there are several around to eat all that is cooked.  Yet when it is just Vincent and I, it is not a good thing.  I am eager for the farmer markets to open again.  I always love the fresh local produce. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Long Thaw

It seems that all I have wrote about as of late has been the weather and the clutches it seems to have us in... It finally melted (most of it) a couple days ago.  There is still some snow here and there yet most has finaly melted to leave wet puddles throughout the yard... Which means that I am still not able to get out into the yard and do much... This looks to be the way it will be for a while.  We are to have a chance of more snow this weekend into Monday.  Winter has sure decided to pay us a long visit this year.  Yet as I have heard the ground hod did see his shadow therefore spring will be late...

I have already planted some of my herbs and flowers inside.  They are growing nicely... Not sure when I will be able to put them out the way things are going... There is much clean  up to do with the ice we had.  Although most of it is just loose sticks and such.  We were lucky to not have lost any major limbs or trees.  The bunnies and birds have been having a wonderful time in all this... I do not think I have seen so many bunny tracks in some time.  I have been trying to put out extra food for them as well as the fat squirrel that frequents my feeders at times... I purchased some peanuts in the shell for him as he likes the challenge as well as the nuts inside. 

There are a few slight signs of spring... The ducks have once again come to our pond.  My daffodils and lillies are peeking out of the ground, at least they were before the snow hit.  You can see the buds beginning on the redbud trees as well as the elms. The birds are starting their yearly mating dance with one another... You get the picture... Spring will arrive in time I know.. I just truly can not wait for it to get here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Still Cold

The sun did not come out as the weather men promised over the weekend so we are still in the icy clutches of winter.... The last  2 evenings we have had heavy fog which gives us a very thin misting that turns to ice on top of that which we already have.  Yesterday the fog lasted all day long and it looks to do the same today.  I still am amazed at the fact that we have been able to keep our power throughout it all.  Yet believe me I am quite thankul.  I can only think that it is due to the fact that after the last ice storm there was much tree trimming in the area as well as some of the electrical lines put underground.  The lights did flicker again early this morning around 2:30 am yet came right back on. 

The snow we recieved earlier covers the ground still much like it was when it first arrived.  Underneath it is a nice layer of ice.  Walking on it sounds similiar to walking on an iced over lake.  The Tempertures are to be above freezing all week long, yet with the absence of the sun this allows melting to occur at a slow rate.  the one good thing about it all.. Maybe the groundhog will not see his shadow tomorrow.....