Driven to Extraction!

Homemade mint extract

Here is my cupboard with:  Top left – 0range extract. Bottom – lemon extract, mint extract and vanilla extract.

The other day I was making my home-made coffee additive – again!  Let’s just say that my dearest hubby really, really likes my homemade vanilla coffee additive!

Ummmmmmmmmm…………………  You want some coffee with that dear?

Oh – you don’t know how to make your own coffee additive?  That wonderful, easy to make stuff that doesn’t have this preservative or that chemical in it, and doesn’t cost a fortune at the grocery store?  Well, for the sake of time, let me give you the link where I found the recipe I use:   Homemade Flavored Liquid Coffee Creamer.

You’re welcome! 😉

Homemade vanilla creamer

Getting ready to make some more homemade coffee creamer! All you need is sweetened condensed milk (it’s just milk and sugar), half and half, and vanilla. Get the real vanilla extract or make your own – see below!

You can see in the recipe that it takes one tablespoon of vanilla extract to make the coffee creamer – and when you are making this recipe twice a week – that adds up to a lot of vanilla, folks!  Since I like to use the “real” vanilla, this can get mighty ‘spensive!

So, when I saw an article recently on making your own vanilla extract I got all excited and couldn’t wait to try it!  Here is a link to the article that I read explaining how easy it is to make vanilla extract: The Prairie Homestead.  Yes, it is expensive to buy the vanilla beans and the vodka, but three vanilla beans makes a pint of extract!  The best part is that once you have used up your extract (or nearly used it up), you just add more vodka to the vanilla beans!  It will take a bit longer the second (or even more the third) time around to extract the vanilla flavoring from the beans, but goodness gracious, this is WAY more inexpensive in the long run!  And, since alcohol is a preservative, your extract will last indefinitely on a cool dark shelf!

Making lemon extract

Making lemon extract couldn’t be simpler! See those five “naked” lemons on the left? Those will soon be lemonade sweetened with stevia syrup! Waste not, want not!

But then I saw another article claiming you can do the same thing with lemons! You can click on that article here:  My Frugal Home. Woweeee!  I LOVE lemon extract!  I grew up with my mom making the best candies at Christmas using only 1 pound of butter, 1 pound of powdered sugar, and different extracts for different flavored candies!  My favorite was, and always will be, the ones made from lemon extract with the toasted walnuts pressed into the top. 🙂

Oh boy – stand back – I’m not sure where this will all end up, but I can’t be stopped now!    At this time I have the vanilla extract, lemon extract, orange extract and mint extract just extracting away in my cupboard!  Now I want to find a recipe for almond extract.  I was just at the store and saw some star anise – I wonder if that would make licorice extract?  I think I’m gonna try!  Or, how about banana extract?

Mint extract made from vodka

Here is a handful of fresh mint leaves, just waiting to have their minty fresh flavor extracted into vodka!

If you have another extract recipe, please let me know!  Either give me a link to your post in the comments, or if you don’t have a blog just leave the recipe in the comments!  Thank you so much in advance!

My next trick is to experiment making a coffee creamer with NO sugar, but instead using my homemade stevia syrup.  If you would like to see how to make stevia syrup/extract, click HERE.  I’m not sure if I will use half and half or cream with that,  I will just have to experiment a bit to find out which tastes best!

Thank you so much for reading this article!  If you have any questions, comments or suggestion, please feel free to comment!  I try to answer each and every one!

 

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Acorn Flour Cookies

Okay.  So I finally did it!  I made some cookies with acorn flour!

It did take me a while to get this last batch of acorns to release their tannin.  I got the last batch of acorns from a different oak tree on our future homestead, and apparently the acorns from this tree were really, really full of tannin.  I will avoid that tree next year if there is an abundance elsewhere.

Nonetheless, after 12 days I finally got to the point where the acorn meal didn’t pucker my mouth anymore!  Let me tell you – that is a very unpleasant pucker!

acorn flour cookies

I found that putting the acorn meal next to the wood stove dried it out better than putting it into an oven!

In fact, I think I am figuring out a way to tell if most of the tannin has been removed by using our swimming pool water tester kit!  You see, tannin is acidic and it makes sense that when I get most of the tannin out, the pH level would rise – Right?  Anyway, I am testing the level of the acid with the freshly crushed acorns versus the acid level of those that have been leaching for 10-12 days to see if I can figure out an optimum level of pH. I sure hope this works.

So, on to the cookies.  Some of my fellow bloggers and commenters out there (thank you very much) suggested that I investigate some of the Italian and/or Mediterranean recipes that use chestnut flour!  Apparently chestnut flour and acorn flour are pretty much interchangeable.  So, I did some investigating at the library and on-line and found some cookie recipes using chestnut flour!  Actually, I found a lot of recipes using chestnut flour, but the majority of them used wheat flour also.  Don’t get me wrong – that’s perfectly okay – just not what I am trying to do!  I want to be able to use both acorn flour (which is free and in abundance on our future homestead) and/or almond flour (I already made a spice cake with almond flour – delicious!) and not have to rely on wheat flour.  Why?  Not really because of the gluten in wheat flour.  I am not gluten intolerant and I don’t have celiac disease. And it’s not really about the fact that some grains are GMO’s now, although I am completely and wholeheartedly against GMO’s. Wheat flour is relatively cheap and at this time GM wheat is not being sold commercially – that we know of.  However, Monsanto has developed a GM wheat, and it’s only a matter of time folks. No, for me it comes down to self-sufficiency.  I want to be able to use what I have outside of my front door for my food. Acorns are free.  They grow on huge trees that give us shade, house a myriad of critters, provide firewood and building material.  You don’t have to water the oak tree, fertilize it, prune it or spray pesticides on it.  The only thing you have to do is gather, remove the nuts, leach the nuts and then eat them. And they are good for you!

So, here we go!

The first recipe was a sort of shortbread cookie with chocolate chips in it.  I know, chocolate chips aren’t growing on trees outside my front door, but I am in the experimental phase of cooking with acorn flour and that’s what the recipe called for. I figure, if I like the recipe, I can always tweak it later!  Besides, who can resist chocolate chips!

Here is the recipe I came up with:

1 cup acorn (chestnut) flour

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

2-3 tablespoons strong coffee

Mix all ingredients together.  Knead for about 1-2 minutes, until all the flour is incorporated.

acorn flour cookies

The cookie batter was pretty crumbly, more than I think a shortbread cookie should be. But, it did hold in a clump when pressed together.

Roll into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for about 1/2 hour.  Remove from refrigerator, slice roll into 1/4 inch slices and place on cookie sheet.  Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes.

All went well with this recipe until I got to the part where you have to roll the log.  It was pretty crumbly, so I kneaded it for a little longer and that helped.  But, after it had chilled for 1/2 hour in the refrigerator, I tried to slice the log and found that this was impossible!  The whole thing just kept crumbling!  I let it warm up a bit, rolled it again and thought that maybe if it was a bit warmer it would slice easier.  Nope!  The chocolate chips were the problem!

acorn flour cookies

This cookie recipe was very crumbly, and the chocolate chips made it impossible to cut!

Now – who would have ever thought that chocolate would be a problem!

So, I decided these would have to be bar cookies.  I pressed the whole mess into a small baking pan, scored it (just in case the “cookies” turned out to be hard, like biscotti or concrete) and then cooked it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.   I let them cool down in the pan because I was afraid they would be really crumbly, but when I took them out of the pan they actually held together quite well.  Now it was the time for a taste test.

acorn flour cookies

My modified “shortbread” cookies made out of acorn flour!

Um – no

Well, let’s just say I won’t be making this recipe again!  It was dry and bitter!  🙁  Did you know that coffee has tannin in it?  Well it does.  So does chocolate, to a certain degree.  It seems that these two ingredients worked together to bring out the tannin flavor of the acorn flour!  I must say, the look on my hubby’s face was hilarious when he tried these.  I have been know to experiment with recipes before and I am quite famous for my sweet and sour chicken livers and my smoked salmon lasagna – and not for the right reason.  These were ghastly culinary failures in epic proportions.

I think this acorn bar cookie may have trumped my previous culinary infamy!

On to recipe #2.  I didn’t have much faith at this time in cooking with the acorn flour, but I had gone to the trouble to make the flour (and have 2 more batches waiting in the refrigerator), so I figured I wouldn’t give up just yet.  This one is more like a chocolate chip cookie recipe, yet again uses no wheat flour:

6 tbls of soft butter    1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla       1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt         1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg                           1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chestnut (acorn) flour

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

acorn flour cookies

Well – they look like cookies, they smell like cookies, they bake like cookies………..

Instructions: Cream the butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon and vanilla together.  Drop in the egg and mix until the batter is lump free, about a minute. Add the flour and baking soda and mix just until the flour is completely moistened.  Add the chocolate chips.

Drop 2 inch balls onto cookie sheets with plenty of room for the cookies to spread out.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from cookie sheet to a cooling rack after about 5 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen cookies

acorn flour cookies

Success! These cookies are really good. REALLY GOOD!

Don’t they look pretty!  All festive and such with the blue plate and pumpkins!  Hahaha – that’s my feeble attempt at staging the picture!  Anyway……  we gave these a taste test.

Heavens to Mergatroid!  Hallaleujah!  I think I actually heard a few angels singing in chorus somewhere.  These things were GOOD!   Wow!  Really GOOD!   🙂     🙂

Okay.  So you CAN eat acorns!   Yup.  There’s no stopping me now!   I have a few cake and bread recipes I want to try.  And I still haven’t given up on making acorn noodles.  I think I will also try adapting some of those almond flour recipes and see if they will work with acorn flour!  Once I figure out some good recipes using acorn flour, I want to start trying them with the stevia syrup I made (see instructions how to do that here) or honey, instead of the cane sugar.  Wish me luck!  I will let you know how it goes!

Thanks for reading!  Now I have to go and do the dishes!

 

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Irons in the Pot

I have had a lot of irons in the pot lately.

First of all, my garden won’t let go of me!  It is still producing vegetables, despite the date on the calendar!  It is true that I live (for now) in the Sacramento Valley of California and our weather is pretty mild in the winter, but jeeze louise – it’s time for the summer vegetables to stop growing, don’t you think?

Tomatoes blooming in November

Heaven’s to Betsy – it’s November 7th already – STOP BLOOMING !

And I still have hoards of tomatoes ripening on the vine.

Tomatoes on the vine in November

Ppffftt, and I was worried all of my tomatoes wouldn’t ripen before winter.

This zucchini got a late start (I had to replant because of the squash mosaic virus – see HERE) and I wasn’t sure it would produce anything, but here is it’s fourth zucchini growing, and it’s November for Pete’s sake!

Zucchini blooming in November

Can you believe the zucchini is still blooming? In November!!!????

I have also stopped picking my McCaslin green beans (I have enough frozen green beans in the freezer for a year) and so the ones still on the vine are being allowed to mature and dry.  They will be used in soups this winter.  I already have a quart of dried beans with much more to come!  Those plants are amazing.

Green beans to dried beans

McCaslin Heriloom green beans drying on the vine. What a wonderful and prolific variety this turned out to be!

On top of all the gardening, I have been experimenting in the kitchen.  My biggest project has been working with acorns, and you can see the latest post about some of my experiments HERE.  It takes 10 days to leach my acorns to get all the tannin out and a few more days after that to produce acorn flour.  My next culinary adventure with the acorns will be making shortbread cookies!  I’ll let you know how it turns out……. or doesn’t!  🙂

Leaching tannin from acorns

My refrigerator filled with acorn pieces and acorn meal slowly leaching the tannin out. My acorns are pretty bitter and full of tannin, so this is a 10 day process for me. Oh, the big jar on the left – that’s minced garlic.  I sure wouldn’t want to mix the two!

And then I read that you can make your own extract from lots of things.  My first foray into the “extraction” world was with stevia extract/syrup, which turned out great.  You can see that article HERE.  Now I am trying a lemon extract, using a tutorial from “The 2 Seasons“, and will follow that with orange extract, almond extract and vanilla extract.  I just need more vodka!     🙂

DIY Lemon Extract

Making lemon extract with lemon peel and vodka. The recipe suggested a little bit of sugar. I think I will wait and add my homemade stevia syrup to taste!

Between doing all of this, I am also working on some K-Cup Advent Calendars for my grandchildren.  You can find the tutorial to make one HERE.  My dining room table hasn’t seen the light of day for a few weeks because I can’t find more than a few minutes here and there to work on these!

DIY advent calendar

Oh my. Such a mess, but so much fun!    🙂

Up on our future homestead we have been working some summer and fall weekends on building an outhouse.  It’s finally at the stage where we can use it, but it certainly isn’t done.  We still need a front step, trim on all the outside corners, a rain gutter so we can collect water into a storage tank for summer irrigation, and then finish off the inside with a sink, mirror, and some tile work to make it easy to clean (easier than just plywood!)

Building an outhouse

A fully functional outhouse! Wahoo! We still have a long way to go with all the finishing details, but at least now it is useable and safe!

Speaking of bathrooms, probably the biggest iron in the pot, these days, has been the remodeling of our master bath.  In the end, it will be a complete gut job.  We are going from two rooms to one and replacing everything!  Originally there was a divider wall with a pocket door between the shower/toilet room and the sink room, which just made them both seem so small.  We are putting in new cabinets, new shower, new sinks, new tile counters, new lights and a new tile floor!

Bathroom remodel

In my mind this is going to be a beautiful bathroom…..some day soon I hope!

So, you can see, I have had a lot of irons in the pot.  But, truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

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Plaster Wall Stencils

wall jewelery

This is one of the finished walls in the dining room.

Several years ago I was gazing into my formal living and dining rooms, forlornly, because I just couldn’t figure out what to do with the huge expanse of wall space due to the cathedral ceilings. Especially in the dining room which has one wall that is about 14 feet tall and 20 feet long.  I could have filled it up with family pictures, but to make a picture grouping look right I would have had to buy a lot of frames for a cohesive look, along with the mats inside the frames, and yadda, yadda, yadda.  What I had was a little bit of time – but not much money!

I’m not sure where or how I got the idea, but it suddenly struck me to stencil around the top of the walls something that was pretty but wouldn’t stand out too much.  I didn’t want anything real busy and I didn’t really want to be stuck with certain colors either.  I went to my local craft store and saw some nice stencils, but nothing seemed just right.

Then later, inspiration hit me!

Oak Stencils for plaster on walls

These are 4 of the 6 stencils cut out of tempered hardboard 3/16″ thick, then coated on both sides with polyurethane to make them nonstick.

Why not make my own stencils!  I love oak leaves and they could be a neutral color on the wall.  I wanted them to make a pleasant backdrop, but not be the focal point in the room.  Well, folks, if you have ever made your own stencils, you know it isn’t that hard to do.  But I just couldn’t get it right.  I couldn’t get the proper shading of color that I wanted, nor could I get it to blend into the wall enough so that it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb!

Later that day I saw a segment on either Martha Stewart or Christopher Lowell, it was several years ago and I don’t remember which, where they used stencils and joint compound (you know, that stuff that you put on walls to hide cracks and seams and looks and acts just like plaster) to make a raised stencil on boxes.  It was beautiful!  Why couldn’t I do that on my walls!

Joint compound with stencils

In the process of painting the wall a warmer color, but just lightly brushing the darker color over the leaves.

So, I drew out six patterns of oak leaves and had my husband cut them out of thin tempered hardboard (3/16″ inch thick) board with his jigsaw.  He did a great job.  Then, I coated the entire stencil with polyurethane front and back and in all the nooks and crannies to make sure there was no bare wood, just a slick surface.  Once that was dry I was able to start my experimental wall jewelry!

All you need is a wide putty knife (I found mine at the dollar store) and some joint compound.  Get a dollop of joint compound on the putty knife, and holding the stencil up on the wall with the other hand, plop the joint compound inside the stencil, level it off with the flat side of the putty knife, then pull the stencil off of the wall.  Pull the stencil straight off, not up or down, or you will ruin the stencil.  Then, with a pencil, I drew in the vein lines.  Done!  It was so simple!  When the joint compound dried, it developed little cracks here and there, which just added to the beauty of the leaves.  Once the leaves were on, I used a cake decorator tip and bag to make the branches and stems.  This brought continuity to the leaves and made kind of a lacy effect, sort of.

DIY plaster wall stencils

This is a close-up of one of the leaves. You can see that just brushing the leaf with a fairly dry brush actually brings out some of the contours of the leaf.

Painting the wall with the leaves was actually the hard part.  First I painted the entire wall an off white color, but decided that wasn’t quite the color I wanted. It was too light and a bit cold feeling. So I painted again, but this time I left the leaves the off white while the rest of the walls were painted a warm tan-ish color and then just barely, with a fairly dry brush, whisked just a bit of the warmer color over the leaves.

Plaster Wall Stencils

This is a completed wall in the dining room. You can see how the “branches” trailed right around the corner onto the next wall.

There!  Just what I wanted!   It looks good day and night!   I like it so much I’m thinking of doing something similar in my bathroom, except using starfish and seashell stencils, all around the bottom 2 feet of the walls!  This same technique would also look good with ivy leaves or grape leaves.  In a child’s room wouldn’t it be fun to add birds or butterflies!!??

Fair warning:  If you plan to do something like this, know that it is likely to be permanent!  I was able to chip off a few that didn’t turn out right with a sharp putty knife without damaging the wall, but removing a whole room of these plaster stencils would be a very daunting task!

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