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How to Make Vanilla Extract and Fall Garden Update

diy vanilla extract

Christmas is coming up in just a few  and now is the perfect time for making your own homemade vanilla extract. It is very simple to make and much more economical than buying vanilla extract in the teeny tiny bottles from the store. All it takes is vanilla beans, vodka, a bottle and some time. 

vanilla beans

There are lots of different kinds of vanilla beans from different regions including Madagascar, Tahiti, Mexico and Tonga. My personal experience with making vanilla extract involves using grade b Madagascar vanilla beans that you can buy online. You can get grade a, which is whole vanilla pods free of any dents splits or marks. I went with grade b. Grade b is vanilla pods that may have dents tears or marks on them and are slightly cheaper. You are cutting them up anyway so to me it didn’t matter if they had imperfections.

What you’ll need:

  • a jar that seals well, like a mason jar
  • about 3-4 vanilla beans per cup of vodka(My experience has been with grade b Madagascar beans)
  • vodka (any type will do) I have also heard that you can use brandy or rum, but I have not tried it
  • a dark place to store your vanilla
  • at least 2 months to allow it to age

How to make your gourmet vanilla extract:

  • Use a sharp knife and carefully slit your beans down the middle to reveal the grainy insides of the bean
  • Cut the beans into sections that are small enough to lay flat at the bottom of your jar (use 3-4 beans per cup of alcohol)
  • Pour the alcohol over the beans and securely attach the lid
  • Give the jars a good shake
  • Set the jars in a dark place and shake it about once a week or so for 2 months. The extract will keep indefinitely. You need to make sure that the beans stay covered by the alcohol or they may mold. But, as long as they remain submerged, you’re good to go.

See how the alcohol darkens as it ages and mingles with the vanilla bean?

vanilla extract

For the vanilla you’re keeping for yourself you may want to just use an old maple syrup container that has been cleaned and sanitized. If you’ll be giving the extract as gifts you may wish the purchase cute containers to give it to family and friends. I’ve seen plenty of nice little mason jars at thrift shops and big box stores that are reasonably priced or you can look to buy some online like the ones below:

Even if you don’t use them all for vanilla gifts they’d be great for storing food or craft supplies. Or, I have another gift idea coming up that you could use some of these jars for as well.
 
 
You can get a pack of about 6 of these cute little jars for about 15 dollars.
 

These are a little more pricey, but they would be great for storing vanilla extract or even personal servings of kombucha or water kefir!
 
 
If you go with a plain jar you can always add your own personalized labels to jazz things up. Check out the great free printable  at My Baking Addiction.
 

 

To make the gift extra special you could include a few of your favorite recipes either hand writeen or typed up. One of my favorite christmas presents ever was a collection of hand written recipes. A few recipes using vanilla that I love include Amazing Whole Grain Brownies, Baked Blueberry Oatmeal and Healthier Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

Enjoy your vanilla making! I bet you’ll never go back to the store bought stuff :)

Fall Garden Update

And as far as my fall garden it is coming along quite well. I’ve been meaning to update for a while. The broccoli did especially well. You can see that it kind of overshadowed the beets and the spinach and they haven’t gotten quite as large as expected due to the shade from the broccoli-zilla plants.

broccoli

I was so proud to have my best kohlrabi that I have ever grown that were so beautiful and looked absolutely delicious… and can you guess what? This innocent looking little (80 pound!) dog stole them right out of the garden and ate the two very best ones!!!!! 

dog

But we have lots of gorgeous little sugar snap pea blossoms…

sugar snap blossoms

And some little peas

peas

And God really always amazes me with all of his beautiful creations. Look how those little stringy bits grow so beautifully and intricately. They’re like a little work of art :) ” For from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.” – Wisdom Chapter 13:?

vines

 

Are you growing a garden? Dreaming of a spring garden?

Have any tips for making vanilla extract or a source for cute bottles?

 

Salmon Egg Salad

salmon egg salad

Ah, cliches.. Necessity is the mother of invention- or should that be frugality is the mother of invention? One way or the other I made this salmon egg salad up to use up some ingredients I had on hand and I was so impressed that I wanted to make it again for lunch the very next day. 

Salmon (canned or leftovers), chopped up hard-boiled egg, cucumber, dill and some sour cream and kefir cheese make this probiotic rich salad. In case you’re wondering what kefir cheese it, it is simply kefir that has been strained to make it really thick. In case you’re not familiar with kefir it is a fermented dairy beverage that is like yogurt only better-  a super dose of sneaky probiotics in your lunch :)

Salmon Egg Salad2

If you’re not familiar with kefir you read about how to make kefir and  uses for extra kefir grains. And if you want to make this salad but don’t have any kefir then you can easily sub in sour cream or I think a thick greek yogurt in place of the kefir cheese would be excellent.

One of my favorite ways to cook salmon is foil baked salmon.

Salmon Egg Salad

Salmon Egg Salad

Ingredients

  • 7.5 ounces flaked salmon (either leftovers or canned- I used this canned salmon)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, diced up
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons kefir cheese (or thick yogurt or sour cream)
  • scant cup of diced cucumber
  • heaping 1/2 tablespoon fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • salt and pepper to taste- don't skip it!

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Serve atop a salad, on bread, with crackers or just eat it with a fork :)
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What’s your favorite quick and easy salad?

Make an Easy, Cheap Square Foot Garden Grid (& Fall Gardening Update)

 Garden1

It may seem like a weird time of the year to be posting about how to make a garden grid as the majority of people are  probably winding down their gardening for the year. But with our move earlier this year and all that has been going on with that, we really didn’t have time to much of a garden this spring. I’ve heard that out here in Northern Texas fall gardening can actually be the best of all, so I’m giving it a shot!

fall garden

I just got our new raised bed built according to the principles proposed in All New Square Foot Gardening. The basic gist of it is that you build a frame at least 6 inches deep, install weed cloth and fill it with a mixture of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 coarse vermiculite and 1/3 compost. Once that is done you’re supposed to make a grid to divide the bed into 1 foot square sections. With square foot gardening there are no rows and there is also little to no weeding! :)

arches

In the past I’ve always stapled string onto the frame of the bed to  make my grid, but eventually the string rots away and then you’re left with a bunch of useless staples. While waiting in line at our local Sprouts I was thumbing through Texas Gardener and saw a raised bed where they used arches and simply tied their grid material onto the little arch.
 I was able to get a box of about a bazillion of them for about 3 bucks with the nails at our local hardware store.  Now,when it needs to be replaced you can simply cut the string and tie on new string for an easy, quick and cheap square foot garden grid. I used yarn since its what I had on hand, but it would also work well with garden twine and I was even thinking of trying to use fishing line as a longer lasting alternative. 

arched nail

The garden seems to be coming along so far. There are some small broccoli plants we bought…

broccoli

 

beet seedlings of 2 different types. Ironically only 1 kind has sprouted.

beets

Some spinach…

spinach

Kohlrabi sprouts of both the purple and green variety. If you’ve never had kohlrabi it is a crazy looking plant that is shaped like a ball with leafy sprouts growing out. This one is fun to grow simply for the cuteness. But, in my opinion it is delicious peeled and cut into wedges and served with a veggie dip. (See a picture of grown kohlrabi)

kohlrabi

Itty bitty carrot sprouts of the tender sweet and red cored chantenay varieties

carrots

And one of my personal favorites- sugar snap peas!

peas

Texas gardening is so different that what I’m used to! We’ve got some pretty succulents growing in the midst of a barren place. Isn’t it amazing how plants can flourish in all different conditions? These grow in such dry and parched conditioners and yet they are known as the icicle plant :)

succulents

One of the everbearing strawberry plants is turning out flowers in the midst of 100 degree temps…

 

strawberry flower

I’ve been pinching off all the flowers to let the plants root, but decided to go ahead and let this little fruit form :)

strawberryfruiting

 

Do you have square foot gardens? What do you use as a grid material?

 

 

Allergy Friendly Funnel Cake, Health Foods You Should be Replacing, DIY Laundry Detergent and more at Whole Foods Wednesday

Welcome! If you’re new here, thanks so much for stopping by. Whole Foods Wednesday was started as way for bloggers to share posts that help encourage others in a nourishing, healthy lifestyle the contributes to good health and to be a place of inspiration for those looking for recipes, tips and interesting articles.

What can I share?

  • Whole foods recipes (Read more about real food)
  • Natural living tips
  • DIY cleaning solutions
  • Homesteading
  • Gardening
  • Exercise 
  • Share up to 4 recipes/tips that you haven’t shared here before.
This showcase is all about featuring you! As a common courtesy of link parties, please include a simple text link back to thischickcooks.net or add a button to your post or sidebar. You can get the code for a button by clicking here.

 

Is there anything I can’t share?

Please, do not link up any recipes  include highly processed foods such as:
  • no white flour
  • no refined sugars (white and brown sugar)
  • white flour based pasta, bread etc…

 I hate to be the food police, but I would like for this recipe swap to be a source for finding nourishing and healthy solutions that make us feel our best. If you see a recipe in the link up below that does not follow those standards, please leave a comment or contact me to let me know.

Hostesses

Whole Foods Wednesday is on 2 blogs every week! Halle over at Whole Lifestyle Nutrition also blogs about real food, healthy living and gardening tips and co-hosts Whole Foods Wednesdays. Be sure to visit her and say hello!

PS- If you’re viewing this post via email, click over to the website to see all the awesome recipes everyone shares and try to visit a few of the blogs who linked up and leave them a comment. I know we all love comments :)
 

Last Week’s Reader’s Favorite Posts

Every week it is so fun to see what you all have shared! Here are just a few of the most clicked links from this past week. 
  
DIY Laundry Soap from Annie’s Place was our most clicked link.
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Replace those Unhealthy “Health” Foods from My Sister’s Pantry was the second favorite.
 
 
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Our 3rd most clicked was Allergy Friendly Funnel Cakes from Peeling Back the Onion Layers.
 
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Time to show off your fabulous recipes and tips! Happy Wednesday and have a blessed day! :)