Friday, March 2, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I had the opportunity to travel to the spice islands of Indonesia last year and I came home with lots of fun memories and some vanilla beans. They were cheaper there than in the United States and looking back I wish I'd bought a lot more. I didn't know then what I would do with them but once I found out how easy it is to make your own vanilla extract I was so glad I had the beans. As with most homemade items this is wonderful stuff and adds great flavor to your baked goods.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
8oz glass jar with a tight fitting lid
3 medium or 1.5 large vanilla beans
vodka (or any liquor more than 40% alcohol)

Sterilize the glass jar in the dishwasher or boiling water. Slice the vanilla bean with a sharp knife lengthwise to expose the seeds. Place the beans in the jar and cover with liquor. Close the jar tightly and shake a few times. Place it in a cool, dark place- I used the back of a cabinet.  Leave the beans in the liquor for 8 weeks but shake the jar once or twice every week.
After 8 weeks remove 20% of the liquid, about 1.5 oz of beautiful vanilla extract. Top off the original jar with more liquor and shake again. You can add 1 or 2 more vanilla beans a year to the jar and if you keep "feeding" in this way the extract will last forever. You can remove the older beans when the jar gets too crowded.
Nicole & Joe in Bali, Indonesia


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why I Buy Organic Produce... Sometimes

I would love for all the produce I buy to be organic. The term organic is used by the USDA's National Organic Program to certify food that is produced without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, radiation or sewage sludge. I prefer for everything my family eats to be free of pesticides and without genetic engineering.
source: treehugger
I've got 4 main reasons why I prefer to buy organic:
  • Higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • More flavor
  • Lower levels of pesticides
  • Better for the Earth- environmental preservation 
I learned a few years ago that different fruits and vegetables have different amounts of pesticide on and in them. I prioritize what produce to buy (and grow) organic based on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 lists from the Environmental Working Group (EWG.org). The Dirty Dozen is a list of the twelve dirtiest fruits and vegetables and the Clean 15 is a list of produce least likely to test positive for pesticides based on the "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce"

EWG reviewed 51,000 tests for pesticides that the USDA and FDA conducted from 2000 to 2009 on 53 popular fruits and vegetables. After analyzing these tests EWG ranked the produce on overall risk of pesticide exposure so shoppers could buy fruits and vegetables with consistently lower overall levels of pesticide contamination.

I don't just look at the Dirty Dozen list but also the Clean 15 list to help me decide what to buy organic. If you choose to eat 5 servings of produce a day from EWG's Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen, you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations. Eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is MUCH healthier than eating no produce at all.

It's just too expensive for me to buy all organic produce. Since I know which fruits and vegetables contain less pesticides I choose to buy everything from the Clean 15 conventional instead of organic. 

Here's the list I use to help me determine when I want to spent more money on organic and when not to.

EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Dirty Dozen
Buy these organic
1
Apple
Apples
2
Celery
Celery
3
Strawberries
Strawberries
4
Peaches
Peaches
5
Spinach
Spinach
6
Nectarines
Nectarines
– imported
7
Grapes
Grapes – imported
8
Red Pepper
Sweet bell peppers
9
Potatoe
Potatoes
10
Blueberries
Blueberries
– domestic
11
Lettuce
Lettuce
12
Kale
Kale/collard greens
Clean 15
Lowest in Pesticide
1
Onions
Onions
2
Sweet Corn
Sweet Corn
3
Pineapple
Pineapples
4
Avocado
Avocado
5
Asparagus
Asparagus
6
Peas
Sweet peas
7
Mango
Mangoes
8
Eggplant
Eggplant
9
Cantelope
Cantaloupe
- domestic
10
Kiwi
Kiwi
11
Cabbage
Cabbage
12
Watermelon
Watermelon
13
Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes
14
Grapefruit
Grapefruit
15
Mushrooms
Mushrooms

Is organic important to you? What foods are you willing to spend more on?


organic produce from my 2011 garden


Monday, February 27, 2012

Weekly Goals 2/27-3/4

I'm getting back into goal setting and realizing this blog is a great forum for accountability. I'm planning to post my goals and their progress each Monday. 

This weeks goals:

Family/Mothering Goals
1. Help kids finish homework by 5pm on week nights
2. Finish reading Manager of Their Chores & make master chore list

Personal
3. Review seed catalogs, order garden seeds & write a blog post about it
4. Go to gym 2-3 times
5. Read The Swiss Courier by Tricia Goyer & Mike Yorkey
6. Volunteer at the food pantry 1 morning & drop off food donation

Home Management
7. Fill box for goodwill
8. Follow 15 minute daily cleaning schedule
9. Finalize Azure Standard order by Tuesday at 4pm
10. Make laundry detergent & write a blog post about it

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Menu Plan 2/27- 3/4

I've been making a weekly menu plan since reading Organized Simplicity last spring. The weeks when I'm too busy or lazy to get to it do NOT go well at all. We like to sit down as a family for dinner time most nights and having a meal we all enjoy is important. Having dinners planned out makes that much easier.

I plan out my meals a month at a time on Google Calendar and then look at what I've tentatively scheduled each Sunday night to adjust it for that week.  Sunday night I write out the evening meals and activities for the week on a dry erase board in the kitchen for everyone to see.

I'm going to start posting my weekly menu plan here to help keep me on track and accountable and I'm linking to Menu Plan Monday at I'm An Organizing Junkie.


Weekly Menu Plan 2/27- 3/4
Monday: Baked Chicken, baked potatoes, stir fry veggies
Tuesday: Baked Tilapia, rice, steamed broccoli
Wednesday: Tacos
Thursday: Crockpot Chicken with carrots and potatoes
Friday: Chicken Noodle Soup
Saturday: Pizza
Sunday: Leftovers & Burgers
Snacks: Honey Walnut GranolaMaple oat heart sconesGreen Smoothie

Check out my friend Karen's blog for a great description on how she does her menu planning.

Do you menu plan?