Making Vanilla Extract

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I’m not sure exactly how making vanilla extract came on my radar. It probably came from buying some at the store and experiencing sticker shock. I do a lot of baking, so I go through it pretty quickly.

I poked around the internet for recipes and mostly found ones on sites that sold vanilla beans. I suspected that the amount of beans they called for was pretty high because they had a product to sell. I am able to buy vanilla beans at my wonderful import shop Sahadi’s.

I decided to begin with a small (200ml) bottle of Tito’s vodka and 3 vanilla beans, cut in half lengthwise and again widthwise. I started that on 8/4 and put it in a dark cupboard to steep. After a month and a half I realized that I had been too cheap with the vanilla beans and bought 3 more. I cut them up the same as before.

It’s now 2 months later and the scent of the vanilla extract is heavenly. You can get into which type of vanilla beans you want to try. For now, here’s a basic recipe.

1 small bottle (200ml) of vodka

6 vanilla beans cut lengthwise and widthwise.

Drop the beans in the vodka and let sit in a dark cupboard for 2 months. Re-bottle into small cute bottles and share with your friends. Or horde it yourself and share your baked goods.

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Soaking in the color

Our fall foliage has pretty much come and gone. The days are getting shorter and colder. I can still find bits of color here and there and am trying to soak in as much as I can before the monochromatic days of winter. Here are some photos from the Osborne garden this week.

How to Make Felted Acorns

felt acorn-1The next time you are taking a walk in the woods, and the ground isn’t covered in snow, you might want to gather some acorn caps to make felted acorns. It’s a quick and simple project and looks nice on a little dish, or tied to a present, or even as an ornament. I thought they would be fun to make into a garland, but haven’t engineered that just yet.

To make the felted balls, you will need either wool roving or a rustic-style of yarn. The more processed the fiber, the less likely it is that it will felt. Think itchy wool, and you’re halfway there.

You will need a bowl of warm, soapy water. I used dish soap. Make a loose ball of yarn or roving about the size of a peach pit and dip it into the water. Squeeze the excess water out and start to roll the ball between your palms in a circular motion. Keep going until you can see that the ball is beginning to felt, which should happen in just a minute or two. Roll the ball until it is the perfect size to fit in your acorn cap.

Wait for the balls to dry and then glue into the cap with a little fabric or craft glue.

Poached!

IMG_2096Fall is the time to look for hen of the woods mushrooms. They are also known as maitake. They are be found under oak trees. A few weeks ago I was poking around the oak trees at one of the gardens I work in and saw this. It is the very beginning of one of these tasty mushrooms. You can even see the acorns in the lower corner. As much as I wanted to pick it right then and there, it just wasn’t ready. I asked for permission to come back in a week to get it. Only problem was that a week later someone else had beaten me to it. Grr. That is why mushroom hunters are so secretive about their spots. It is too frustrating to know there is a delicious mushroom there and then have someone else take it.

10686621_10204871179796121_5837764285071799126_nOur friends saw this sign over the weekend. I need to make one!

Rhinebeck Weekend

IMG_5397This past weekend was the NY Sheep & Wool festival. I go up with my knitting gals and stay at the gorgeous home of one of their parents. The festival is for all things sheepy and fiber-related. There are sweet animals to look at, beautiful fall foliage to gape at, and lots of tempting goodies for sale. It’s fun to get to know the breeds that provide the yarn I love to knit with.

It’s also fun to flex your knitting muscles and wear one of your knitted creations. This cardigan was hot off the presses. I sewed the buttons on during the car ride up to Rhinebeck. I’m very happy with how it turned out and think it fits very well. Everyone’s knitwear at the festival was stunning. It’s great to see so much creativity in one place.

And now I’m back in Brooklyn with a little wool for my spinning wheel. Can’t wait to get started!

Crocus Follow-up

sept 2014-1A while back, I wrote a post about planting Crocus sativus in my garden. The original bulbs were a bit dried out, so the wonderful people at Marde Ross & Co. offered to send me replacements in the fall. These were nice, plump beauties.

Since planting them, there has been a squirrel massacre. I keep seeing bits of chomped on bulbs sitting on top of the planter. I had them so perfectly protected before with the old bulbs. Not sure why I dropped the ball so badly this time. Hopefully I will have 1 or 2 come up.

Monarchs

sept 2014-2Today I was gardening at Brooklyn Bridge Park up by Jane’s carousel. There is a very tiny, but pretty garden there that is a rain garden. There is a lot of swamp milkweed in the garden, which is one of my favorite milkweeds. But in addition to being very pretty, it is also a host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies.

sept 2014-3While I was weeding I noticed a monarch caterpillar. I was very excited because monarch butterflies are in decline. It was wonderful to see that the monarchs found a perfect spot filled with their favorite (and only) food. A minute later I noticed another one. sept 2014-4Aren’t they beautiful? And then I noticed that this garden was filled with these beauties. sept 2014-5There was a monarch butterfly flitting about as well. But it was teasing me and I never got a photo of it. I just enjoyed watching it dance happily over all the milkweed.

Still here

IMG_1854A lot has been going on with my volunteer gardening at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Besides working one day at the Osborne garden, I am now working one day in the Native Flora garden. It’s a nice mix of formal beds and action-packed nature. The Native Flora garden attracts all kinds of insects, birds and butterflies, that it’s almost as much a study of animals as plants when I’m there. Below is one of the many praying mantis I saw one morning.IMG_1842

IMG_1838Earlier in the summer, when I was in the Osborne garden, I noticed bright red fruit on one of the trees. The tree was a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) tree, which is actually related to dogwoods and not cherries. As many of you know by now, my first question was, “Are they edible?” The answer is a hesitant yes, unless you are from Iran, in which case you get a hearty yes. I read that you could make jam with the berries, so I got permission to gather a bunch that had fallen to the ground. The ones on the trees aren’t quite ripe.IMG_1839I followed a recipe I found online for jam, which I can’t say was a complete success. The taste was wonderful. Cooking the fruit took out the mouth-puckering tannin feel that the raw fruit has. The recipe I used called for way too much water. My preference in making jams and preserves is to cook the fruit as little as possible. What I ended up with was a delicious fruit syrup. Perfect for pouring over yogurt or ice cream.

Next year, I will stick with a more traditional jam recipe. If you run across one of these trees, do give the fruit a try.