Friday, October 8, 2010

Vanilla from Scratch

Apparently I've stumbled on something that is quite popular; making your own vanilla. I had just commented to Andy the other day about making our own vanilla since we go through it so fast between making ice cream from scratch every Family Movie Night and the hot carob drink I make almost daily instead of coffee. He, of course, was all for it and said to look into it. So I did what any modern day person does I went to the library and looked up vanilla in the card catalog. What??? Ummm, no, not really. Our library doesn't even have a card catalog. Do you even know or remember what a card catalog is? Anyway, I got on the internet and googled, how to make vanilla or something along that line. I found tons of websites with lots of information. Basically, it is vanilla beans and vodka put in a jar and letting it sit, easy peasy. So I ordered my beans from my normal spice company and waited for them to come. After they arrived, other things interfered with getting it done. Things like: salsa, school, green beans, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and school. I started to work on it last week while the kids were a science labs, but realized that I needed to get some things yet, namely the vodka and some gallon or half-gallon glass jars. Andy is on the road harvesting and the kids had my RAV so I waited.

Wednesday of this week for youth group, A1 got to take the big red truck, instead of my RAV, because I also needed some groceries and other things. We had been too busy with things for school that I needed to be home for in order for me to even run out. I'm sure you all understand that. The cupboards were looking like Old Mother Hubbard's. That doesn't work well at all with two teenagers in the house, one of which is a growing 13 year-old boy. So my Mom Time night was turned into errand night. I purchased 1/2 gallon ball canning jars and 1 bottle of vodka. The vodka I purchased is made from rye and is a Polish Vodka, called Sobieski. I hopped over to Wikipedia looking up vodka so I could give you a few facts. I know it is not the truest source of information, however, my Encarta is on the other computer in the office and I'm just too tired to go get it. I have to put something in here that is school like. Anyway, Wikipedia states:

Vodka may be distilled from any starch/sugar-rich plant matter; most vodka today is produced from grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat. Among grain vodkas, rye and wheat vodkas are generally considered superior. Some vodka is made from potatoes, molasses, soybeans, grapes, rice, sugar beets and sometimes even byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing. In some Central European countries like Poland some vodka is produced by just fermenting a solution of crystal sugar and yeast. In the European Union there are talks about the standardization of vodka, and the Vodka Belt countries insist that only spirits produced from grains, potato and sugar beet molasses be allowed to be branded as "vodka", following the traditional methods of production.[20][21]

Since we have a potato and gluten allergy that will keep one of us from eating this during shots, it didn't really matter which type I purchased. I will just have to remember that during the restricted time after allergy shots that not everyone can have vanilla in items. I never realized before that we probably shouldn't have been using it. Even I am still learning something new everyday.

Okay, the beans were opened and counted, much to my disappointment, there wasn't quite enough beans in my package according to 3 different sites that I looked at. So I got online and looked again. This, is a God thing. I was checking through my email that afternoon when my feed came through for Heavenly Homemakers and she had brought up making vanilla. Apparently, I just can't get away from it. Since this is a blog I like to read I thought to look up where she gets her beans from. So I followed her link and then did another search, trying to figure out if I really needed organic beans. I try to avoid pesticides in things as much as possible. My search led me here: Amadeus Vanilla Beans. This site is great!! It is loaded with information about the different types of beans and what they are like. I had also checked to see pesticide usage in vanilla growing. A lot depended on if it was wild or plantation farmed. My vote, go organic. The prices at Amadeus Vanilla Beans were awesome, so I ordered 2 pounds of the organic vanilla beans. We are going to have vanilla coming out of our ears. Possible gifts for Christmas to be given, however, it technically won't be at its best flavor in time to use it at Christmas.

So how am I making mine you wonder after that lengthy explanation. Hang on because here we go.

Before you begin any cooking project we must first discuss this, the safety of washing our hands with soap and water. Be sure to use both and scrub for the whole song of "ABC.." or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." (This is to be thought of in the tone and manner of Norm Abram of New Yankee workshop who begins every episode with first we must discuss safety, and no more important rule then these, the safety glasses) Can you tell I'm married to a woodworking guy? Guess what? I now get to listen to it even when he is on the road for work since A2 watches the show regularly. Okay, back to work.

First you will need to gather the ingredients:

1/2 gallon or 1 gallon jars that seal, if you can find amber colored it is suppose to be better for your vanilla. I just have mine put in the back of the pantry cabinet in the dark.

1.75 liters of 35-40% proof vodka- your choice of type and expense.

40 vanilla beans/per 1.75 liters of vodka(this is a half-gallon size jar)

Make sure that your jar and lids are cleaned with soapy water and rinsed well. Now comes the smelly part. Yes, smelly. While I love, love, love, did I say love, the smell of vanilla after the first initial whiff it doesn't smell so good close up. You are going to use sharp scissors to slice open each bean from one end to the other, leaving about 1/4" to 1/2" not sliced. Place the sliced beans into the jar, nothing fancy, just put them in.

After you are done slicing, do not wash your hands off because you will have lots of tiny beans on your fingers and your scissors.

Open the vodka and pour it into the jar over your fingers, rubbing them under the vodka to rinse the beans into the jar. That part is easy, the scissors are trickier. You need an extra hand, or you can just wipe the scissors of with your fingers and rinse under the vodka again.

Put the lid on the jar after all the vodka is in and place in a dark cabinet. One of the places that I was at said that you could use the vanilla as early as 4 weeks, but that it would continue to age and get better as it sits. This particular site makes theirs a little different. Fell free to go check it out. Other places side to not use it for 6 months. The other personal decision to make is to filter or not to filter. I think I'll probably take the bean pods out at 6 months, but not coffee filter out the beans themselves. The above link also suggests shaking it daily the first week and routinely after that. Guess I need to go shake my jar tonight.

I think, we'll wait at least 8 weeks for this first batch of a half gallon. The gallons that I make when the new beans come in we'll wait for 6 months on. I hate to keep buying vanilla when we have some sitting here. Now I'll know to always keep some "cooking" in the cabinet.

I still have to research jars for making gift, but I really like that idea. Google is your friend. I've peeked, but not really compared a lot yet. I thought I'd let you all choose what you want.

Have a great time making yours! I'll let you know how mine tastes in a few weeks/months. I may try not shaking some of the next batch to see what the difference is in taste. A science experiment in the making, I can see it now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Attitude Adjustments and Rotten Tomatoes

Attitude and tomatoes, what do they have in common? Both attitudes and tomatoes can have a sweet, savory and full of sunshine flavor in common; like when children are getting along and listening to their parents, or when we are listening to what God is telling us and doing what He asks of us. Think back a couple months to that first luscious tomato that you picked from your garden. It was warm from the summer sun and when you sliced it that sweet, tangy sent wafted up into your nose filling you with intense, mouth-watering pleasure. A different tomato, a month or so later, that is laying on the ground is now not quite the same. Oh, it may still be warm, but not necessarily from the sun, but from decomposing. It won't smell sweet, tangy and savory if you slice it. In fact you may be lucky to be able to pick it up because it is now rotting and slicing it will likely send you scrambling for some fresh air, while your mouth is watering for a whole other reason. Attitudes can be a lot like those tomatoes, one day sweet, savory and intensely pleasurable to our hearts and ears, only to turn on us in a day or minute or week to the rotten, yuck that fills us with disappointment, anger and frustration in how to deal with it and correct it.

We've had to adjust some attitudes around here just this last week or so. Things had finally come to a head and Momma wasn't happy. We all know how true the saying is, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Things weren't so sweet and savory on the obeying, respecting and listening front with not just one, but both kids. With Andy on the road, I was quickly getting to my wit's end. Maybe, just maybe, had it not been going on for more than a week or two, I might not have had to go to such drastic measures. I had been tired from fighting off a sinus infection and being Mom and Dad both, a daunting job for which I'm grateful to not have to do on a full-time basis. First, God gave me an attitude adjustment from my sweet friends on Facebook whose husbands are serving in our military. They didn't even say anything, other than posting how they are dealing with their days, doing what needs done, getting things done, and occasionally they'll have a rough day of missing their sweetie and post that. Wake up call for me, who gets to see her sweetie a couple days, thank you to a boss who doesn't want them logging too many hours in the combine for safety reasons, each week. I decided I have no room to whine, not much. Then I'm reminded of my girlfriends who are single parents and do this daily 365, 24/7. I do exactly what my Father in Heaven has been waiting for, I call Him up for some ideas. He is so awesome at answering. We had just harvested everything that was ready in the garden the day before, picking all the green Roma tomatoes and pulling up the cages, composting the plants, dug potatoes, picked the peppers and green beans. I knew when we quit that there was still some cleaning up to do, but thought I would get it later. God said, nope the kids can get it later. Have them pick up the rotten tomatoes from the beds if they continue with the bad attitudes. The battle plan was drawn, prayers continued to go up, not only from me, but also from my dear friends.

The next morning they emerged from bed one on his own, the other had to be woke up for breakfast. At breakfast I let them both know that today, starting right then, the attitudes would need to be adjusted or I had big plans for them in order to help straighten them out. There would be no disrespectful tones, facial expressions or actions, that I expected them to be polite to each other and to absolutely not try to be the parent, but remember that I was the parent and let me deal with it before they try to parent. Boy was I tired of saying, "You aren't the parent I am." I couldn't even inhale to start talking usually before they were parenting, you know? I sent them up to make beds, straighten rooms, brush teeth, get dressed for the day and be back down for Worldview class. So far so good. Everything was done on time. During Worldview, the first one fell;caving under the disgruntled frustration of not wanting to do school. I was able to calmly state that after class he would need to see me for the work I had planned. Not more than maybe 10 minutes later the other one fell to the parenting issue. Calmly a second time I stated that after I was done with the first the second one would get her assignment.

Inside I was grinning from ear to ear, waiting to see how this would play out. I took the first one out to the garden and said you will need to choose one of the two beds that had tomatoes in them. So the bed was picked.

"Your job," I stated, "is to pick up all the rotten tomatoes out of the bed and put them in a bucket. I want even the tomato skins that are there picked up as well."

Nodding of the head, "Okay, I'll go get my gloves...".

"Oh, no, you don't get gloves." A perplexed and kind of yucky look came over the face. "I want you to feel the squishy, slimy, yuck of the rotten tomato. As you put it in the bucket I want you to think about how gross and yucky that feels. That is what God feels like and I feel like when you are disobedient and disrespectful to me or when you try to parent. So as you throw the bucket of rotten tomatoes in the trash can, because we don't want any of the disease that may be there to get into the compost and come back next year, I want that rotten attitude thrown in the trash as well. When you are finished, come get me to check it, if it is all done right, then you can get back to school."

A big sigh, and shoulders have slumped a bit; the work began. It didn't take long, maybe 15 minutes at the most and I was back out checking the work. An excellent job had been done, not one bit of tomato remained. I told him that he had done and excellent job and to remember the rotten tomatoes when he wanted to have that rotten attitude. I also let him know that I had other, nasty jobs in my head for repeat offenders, just in case he wondered.

I go in and get the second child and repeat the instructions for the job at hand. Again I was asked about gloves and again I explained the whole rotten attitude concept into the trash can and wanting them to feel how yucky that really feels. A resigned sigh, this time, however, no rolling of eyes, and the work was also done excellently. I praised the worker again and sent her in to get started on some other school work.

I did have to get my half-bath cleaned later that day. Notice I said, have to as I sit here chuckling. Care to guess which one took on that wonderful task? Yep, that would be the strong-willed one. The awesome news is that the rest of the day went so much better.

The sweet, tangy, pleasurable scent of a good attitude, like the fresh sweet tomato is still permeating our house. The rotten tomatoes are in the trash can which will get taken to the curb on Monday night, by one of the kids, not sure whose on for that night, since Andy will be on the road and it is usually his job. I'm hoping to continue to grow some excellent attitudes over the coming year to fill our lives and hearts with. I want those to shine for Jesus and not the rotten tomato attitudes.