Perpetual Vanilla Extract

I recently saw a video by Ina Garten on making homemade vanilla extract. She showed a jar with the most beautiful brown liquid in it and claimed she has kept that bottle of vanilla going for thirty years. THIRTY years!! That’s almost as long as I’ve been married! I like things that last. Plus, has anybody else noticed that vanilla is suddenly even more outrageously priced than ever??

Disclaimer: There are several product/store mentions and suggestions with at least one direct link. None of these are sponsored and I receive no kickbacks for anything mentioned. It’s just me, sharing my opinion and research.

My favorite bottle of vanilla extract at Costco is currently $34.99. I don’t drink alcohol, so I had no idea how much vodka would cost, but I figured there is no way the ingredients to make vanilla extract (vanilla beans and said vodka) – and factoring in how long it lasts – can be less cost-effective than that tiny bottle.

I did a little research at Winco and Costco. I did not bargain-hunt or shop at my local grocer. I am a working woman and my time is just as important as costs, but I didn’t want to just buy the first, expensive thing either. I figured between Winco and Costco, I’d have a pretty good idea of the range of costs and quality of products at most of my local grocery resources.

I started at Costco. They had a large bottle of vodka for $12.99. I have a 1.5-pint mason jar  (24 oz.)to put the vanilla in, so I figured with that bottle of vodka, I could make three or four jars. Cool concept if I had thought ahead about Christmas presents (it’s best to let the vanilla extract sit about six months before use), but I hadn’t. The vanilla beans at Costco are $15.99 for five beans. That’s about $3.20 per bean.

Then I headed next door to Winco. The vanilla beans there were $9.81 for two. Yes, TWO. Which made their beans about $4.91 per bean. So, at this point, Costco definitely won the vanilla bean war.

As for the vodka, I found a smaller – but still large enough – bottle for $5.40. My research showed that as long as it’s at least 80 proof, any vodka will do.

We bought the vodka at Winco and then headed back over to Costco for two vials of vanilla beans – plus a couple of other things; it IS Costco, people! Besides we had walked back and forth between the two stores so we needed snacks. 😉

I happened to have a vial of vanilla beans I had purchased at Winco a couple of months ago for some homemade vanilla bean ice cream that never happened, so once I got home I did a quick comparison of beans:

Ummmm…. Wha….??? The straight across cost comparison between Winco and Costco just got a whole lot more complicated. Or simpler, depending on your point of view. For me, once I saw the difference in quality, The Costco won again. Praise to The Costco…

Technically you want between 12 and 24 vanilla beans per jar of extract. I had three beans at home already (the Winco vials use to have three, but now only have two), so I purchased two vials from Costco. That gave me a total of 13 beans. I plan to add a few more in a couple of weeks – after my budget recovers from the initial set up.

The actual process for making the extract is ridiculously simple. First, you add the beans to a clean jar…

Make sure the jar is tall enough to handle the beans without bending or breaking them. You also want enough room between the lid and the beans so that the beans can be completely covered in the vodka.

Then, pour in the vodka…

Add enough vodka to cover the vanilla beans.

Cover tightly, label and store in your pantry.

That’s it!

If I factor in the cost of the jar, it cost just over $40 to get my vanilla extract start going.  I have a bit of vodka left over to top off the jar as I use it. That gives me 24 oz. of vanilla extract for $40. My favorite extract at Costco that currently costs $34.99 has 16 oz. in it. I’ve already saved some money! And everything I’ve read said the flavor is incredible. I’ll keep you posted on that. Better yet, try it yourself and let me know how it goes.

While you technically can use homemade vanilla extract after aging for as little as one month, every source I read said to wait at least six months for full flavor. After that, you can not only use the extract itself, but you can snip off the end of the beans and squeeze out the seeds, as needed. I’m super excited for that first batch of Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream this summer!

Reminder: There are several product/store mentions and suggestions with at least one direct link. None of these are sponsored and I receive no kickbacks for anything mentioned. It’s just me, sharing my opinion and research.

Basic Modern Calligraphy Toolkit

I began learning calligraphy when I was in my teens – yes, that was quite some time ago. 🙂 I love the beauty of a well-practiced hand. But, I also love the new more freeform modern calligraphy and hand-lettering styles that have hit the hobby circles. While I mostly use my skills for my own personal use, I’ve had a number of opportunities to create professional pieces and to teach classes and workshops. So much fun!

I’m working just short of full-time at a counseling clinic now, so there isn’t as much time for calligraphy or teaching. But I still get lots of questions about what tools I use and how to get started. I decided it would be easiest to create a blog post I can direct people to. That being said, there are SO MANY resources out there! The calligraphy and hand-lettering communities are super generous. Following is MY favorite resources for getting started. I’ll add lots of links – these are not sponsored; they’re just my favorites. Feel free to leave questions or comments about your favorites below!

Paper:

Rhodia DotPad Notepad

The DotPad is my favorite practice paper – hands down. There are small, light dots to give guides, but they don’t hold you back from being more creative. The paper is super smooth and won’t rough up your pens. Copy paper is just not at all good for your pens. You will go through pens and nibs about twice as fast as you would when using DotPads or Marker paper.

Canson Marker Pad

Marker paper has no guides – though the pads usually come with a guide sheet you can place behind the sheet you’re working with. I’ve used Marker paper for final projects before and love the clean, crisp, white look.

JetPens is probably my favorite place to get supplies. They consistently have what I need/want and their price point is awesome – especially when you factor in shipping. If you order just $25 worth of supplies (who can’t get to $25 at an office/hobby supply store??), they ship for free.

Writing Implements:

Honestly, my favorite tool for practice is a pencil. Talk about versatility and forgivability! You can start with the basic words, add thickness here and there, drop or raise your descenders and ascenders, and erase as you go. It’s awesome! Any soft pencil will do – just look for the ones with white erasers (they won’t leave yucky red marks). Or, better yet, get a Kneaded Rubber Eraser at any hobby store, including my favorite JetPens.

And then there are pens…

The Fudenosuke Hard Tip Brush Pen is my workhorse. These pens go and go and go! The tip is extremely resilient and gives a consistent look. Light touch = thin lines, press firm = thick lines. It’s a durable yet beautiful piece of art in and of itself! Plus, it now comes in…

 

COLORS!!

If you’d like to try your hand at the pen holder and nib, I recommend two great starter tools: The Oblique Pen Nib Holder :

and the Nikko G Nib:

Both are sleek and easy to use. So much so that most of my calligra-friends use them daily and in their professional projects. There are lots of great options out there once you get familiar with these basic tools, but you may find you prefer these for most of your work moving forward.

If you decide to try the Oblique and Nib option, you’ll need a great, dependable ink. I would highly recommend Higgins Calligraphy Ink.

Now here is where I will have to stray from JetPens. I love Dinky Dips for holding my ink while I’m working. They are the perfect depth for the nibs. The only place I’ve found these specific jars with screw top lids is at PaperInkArts.com. They also have slightly larger sizes of jars which are great if you’re working on a larger project and don’t want to keep refilling the Dinky Dip. Unfortunately, I can’t use the pictures from their site, but if you click on the link you’ll see them. I haven’t found anything I like as much as the Dinky Dips, so even though I have to pay for shipping, I place an order once a year or so for 2-3 bags of them. I end up sharing ink a lot and I have lots of colors, so I use them constantly and need new jars regularly. You may find one bag will last you a long time.

That’s all you need to get started! I’ll share links to favorite books and sites for guides and exemplars next time. Have fun!

*Just a reminder: This post is NOT SPONSORED and I get no kickbacks. Just sharing my favorites.

Transparency

 

Tuesday I had a super rough day. I’ve been facing some hard stuff the last couple of years and recently had an experience that set me off big time. I’ve been dealing with the fallout and working to sort through the emotions and lessons. Some days I handle it pretty well. Some days… not so much.

Tuesday was a “not so much.”

The amazing thing, though; God is real and He’s watching.

I know this because on that very day two people reached out randomly and literally said, “I see you and love you.” Neither person is what I would call a close friend. One is a friend from church, the other an associate at work. Both are good people that I rarely talk with. Partly because of seasons of life, partly because of hectic schedules, partly because I’m a retreater.

They didn’t ask for more information or try to get me to share. They just let me know I’m important to them. My co-worker did not accept my, “I’m fine, how are you?” She just looked at me a moment and then said, “Can I give you a hug and pray with you?” And then she did exactly that. Right there in the reception area. She let me know that I was important enough for her to stop everything and ignore the hustle for a moment to reach out.

I am forever grateful.

My dear church friend reached out through text. Again, no expectation. Literally just, “I see you. I’m concerned. I miss your smile. I am thinking of you and praying for you.” So simple. So huge.

Thank you.

It just doesn’t take much at all to let one another know that God loves us.

I’ve been terrible about it lately. The reaching out thing. I’ve been so overwhelmed and afraid and wrapped up in my family. Trying to hold onto what matters most. Life is not easy for any of us.

But those little tender mercies make it all worthwhile.

God is real and He loves you.

He loves me.