Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DIY Vanilla Extract: Bottling

About a year ago, Bonnie and I embarked on a journey toward DIY vanilla extract.  It has been a successfully journey so far, except in the blog department! :)

So now that we've already bottled 2 batches and are about to bottle the third, it's time for some documentation!

In the initial post, I shared the shopping list:
  • Vanilla beans (whole) - from Penzeys
    • You can also find these at World Market, Fresh Market, or numerous online sources
  • 2 oz. amber bottles - from Elwood Thompson
  • Vodka - from wherever you buy vodka
    • General ratio is 4 beans for each 750mL of liquid
  • Printable labels - we used brown kraft labels by Martha Stewart at Staples
  • Optional:  ribbon for the neck of your bottle
First, a correction:  the original post shows that we only bought 4 2 oz. bottles each.  If either of us had done the math (usually my job and I failed) we would have known we needed way more bottles than that.  We needed 10 bottles for the 750mL of vanilla we brewed.  If you want larger bottles (they come in 4 or 8 oz. but that's as large as I'd go if they are gifts), do the math :)

Once our vanilla extract had been brewing in a cool, dark place for about 90 days, during which it was shaken every time we did laundry (good way to get into the routine of doing it - thanks for the tip, Bonnie!), we got to bottling:

For bottling, you'll need a strainer and some coffee filters so that the beans don't get into the extract bottles.  If bean particles in your extract is your sort of thing, skip this step go straight to the next one.

Pour the vodka/bean mixture through the filtered strainer:

The filters may become clogged, but we just switched them out between pours and all was well.

Then use a funnel to pour extract into each bottle...

...cap them and then comes the fun part!  The labels have an online template, so we just plugged in our text, a vanilla bean jpg and turned the font to brown to match our bottles:

Once we added the labels, we added some purple gingham ribbon for a little country touch, and voila!

LOVE! :)

Spring in my step

Winter sucked.  It snowed a lot but not enough to get out of work or school.  Except that one time.  Not enough! :)

Then spring came.  Then winter came back for a while.  Then it was spring again.  When we were fairly sure there would be no more frost, we headed to Lowe's, armed with a gift card, to pick up some cheerful flowers to add some color to the dreary deck.

We got dahlias:

Gerbera daisies:

And some strange cactus-not-a-cactus plant.  It's awesome

I repotted them and grouped them on my little Ikea table for a little shot of greenery among the patio furniture and wood.  They make that corner so cheerful and I can see them from the kitchen, so every time I walk by the back door I can enjoy them. :)  nerd.

This guy could barely wait for me to repot them.  He must have been hungry for some pollen!  He left me alone, so I left him alone, but I made Dave take his picture.

My deck box lilies came back too!  See, I can grow stuff!  Well, one thing :)

It's amazing what little water can do for a plant :)

I also reorganized my potting bench, but I won't bore you with the details, just:

Shower for Baby Brown

Baby Shower #3 for this year:  Check!

Ashley has probably been planning this event since she met Daniel, so she had a very clear idea of what she wanted:  DIY/ pink / white / burlap!

Instead of doing cheesy baby shower games, we created onesie- and headband-making stations so the guests could make a handmade gift for the baby to enjoy.  Jackie made adorable onesie cupcakes from a plain onesie, a burp cloth, and some burlap, so each guest chose one, unwrapped it and let their creative juices flow!

We had fabric markers, fabric, and paint to create decorations, and I was so impressed at some of the finished onesies!
made by, from top left:  cousin paige, me, sister paige, livi

As they were completed, they were hung on a clothesline to dry:

At the headband station, we laid out plain headbands in just about every color, plus a bunch of fabric flowers, pearls, and rhinestones.

So much fun!  Spoiler alert - Eleanora HATES them so far!  Or maybe she's just hungry ;) :

For decorations, Jackie made a HUGE banner that spanned the entire front window by the food table - so sweet!

Georgia wasn't able to attend, but sent this awesome diaper cake with her mom and sister - Baby Brown's dad is obsessed with Jaws and is an avid fossil hunter, so this shark-themed cake was so appropriate!  And adorable!

Ashley is using Ikea's origami fabric for Eleanora's nursery, so she created a message board using the same fabric and asked everyone to sign it as a guest book.

There was a great turnout, and Ashley received so many wonderful gifts!  We had a great time and were all so excited to meet Baby Brown! :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Berry's Produce

One of my favorite things about spring is the re-emergence of farmers' markets and roadside vegetable stands!  

Richmond is sorely lacking in this department.  One weekend last summer Dave and I went downtown to the famous 17th Street Farmers' Market and there were like 3 booths there, and only one had vegetables.  Said vegetables had Dole and Chiquita labels on them.  WTF.

Chesterfield Berry Farm is a trek for us, but it is one of the rare places in this town where you can get strawberries in the spring and pumpkins in the fall (even if they also carry Dole and Chiquita "home-grown" products in their markets.  Last weekend, Dave and I hit up their new market in the old Memories Galore (RIP) space at Brandermill.  Dave wanted to find some fresh cilantro and I wanted some strawberries.  We found both, but I was very disappointed in the quality of both.

I didn't take any pictures (you're welcome) of the wilted strawberries with gnats flying all around, or the wilted flowers gracing the sidewalk out front.  Sure, their prices are great!  But, you get what you pay for, I guess.  We won't be back.

So since that was a bust, Sunday morning I headed out to Mechanicsville to my most favorite vegetable stand, Berry's Produce!  They are so friendly, always have a great selection of veggies, and everything looks so fresh, clean, and scrumptious!

I took a lap around the entire place to see what they had before I went crazy picking stuff up!  That was rough! :)  I had a menu planned in my head, so I knew I needed 2 baking potatoes, several small potatoes for a stew, strawberries, and some pecans if they had them.  And they delivered!  All locally grown, none sprayed, and great prices!
Everything is so nice and organized!

These guys tempted me, but I have to remain faithful to my kitchen windowsill variety :)

$2.50 a quart!

89 cents a pound, what?

In addition to their veggies, they have a great selection of herbs, flowers, and yard accessories like flags and rain gauges.  I just love this place.  It's a bit of a distance from south side, but it's worth it to get locally grown vegetables with great customer service.  Plus it's just fun to get in the car and take a road trip with the windows down and music blaring on a lovely, breezy Sunday morning.  That's my church! :)

Check them out on Facebook and visit their website to see the very famous visitor they welcomed last summer. I hope their business booms this year from the publicity of that visit! Love this place and they deserve it! :)