Friday, May 29, 2009

Homemade Vanilla Extract

( UPDATE 2/17/12: I now sell fresh, raw vanilla beans on my Etsy shop SimplyClaudine! )

Two years ago, I learned how to make vanilla extract. I love it! Homemade vanilla is so much better (and far less expensive) than store-bought extract. And it's very, very simple. Here's a basic recipe and a link to a reputable vanilla bean store online with a special offer! Free shipping if you enter the promo code "mayspecial" hurry! If you buy the Tahitian package, you should have enough beans for one batch, but I just ordered the combo pack. One of my water recipes calls for a vanilla bean, so make sure you order plenty!

How to make vanilla extract:
Take a bottle of cheap-o vodka and pour it from the plastic container into 2 large quart size mason jars. Rinse off your vanilla beans. Split them open down the middle, leaving them attached at the tip. Drop 4-6 beans into each mason jar. Cover tightly with a clean lid and ring. Place somewhere dark and cool. I keep mine in a kitchen cabinet. Give the vanilla a shake once a week. It will take at least 4 months for the vodka to turn into usable extract. So if you're hoping to give these as gifts for the holidays, plan accordingly...start now! The longer it sits, the better.

When you're ready to use it, strain out the vanilla bits and bottle the vanilla. For a unique presentation, add half (or whatever amount) of a fresh vanilla bean to the container. Lovely and useful!

I'll post pics later.

One million thanks to my friend Tracy for reminding me of my love for vanilla extract and my need to blog about it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Turtle Mama, part II

She was back this morning, presumably laying more eggs into the hole...and digging up more of the yard. I was able to get a picture of her this time. Box turtle or snapper?

Here's a picture of the nest too (sorry, I have no idea how to arrange photos here). Yesterday you could see one of the eggs in there, covered mostly with mud. Today, it looks like she peed in the hole and maybe laid more eggs. (That's what I read, I know, it's kinda icky but hey, that's nature!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Yard Turtles

The family and I went out to dinner this evening. As we were leaving the driveway, my husband asked if that round thing on the grass was a turtle. It was indeed, almost as big as a freaking dinner plate. She was hovered over a hole, and I wondered if she was laying eggs. I got out of the car and looked in the hole, which seemed to be filled with these big white glops. I thought they were too big to be eggs, we've seen remnant shells on the driveway before and they were much smaller.

Low and behold, next thing you know, she pushed an egg out of her behind. I mean, probably not literally her "behind", but that's what it looked like. Those are some big eggs! I'm guessing she laid about 10-12 of them in that hole, pushing them down gently with her back leg each time. So freaking cool to see that, and to be able to give that experience to our daughter -who laughed hysterically when I yelled, "OMG, she just shot an egg out of her butt!" because it completely shocked me.

We're hoping the eggs survive, I may fashion some sort of "cage" over the hole so predators don't eat them. But I'm on the fence about whether or not I should interfere with natural selection and nature's fate and all that. From what I have heard (and I'll do more research), turtles lay eggs and then just leave them, never to return. The babies who make it, hatch and go happily on their merry way. Weird, no? In any event, we've got some investigating and observing coming up this summer...there looks to be at least 1 more turtle egg hole in the yard!

Another thing I found out is that the incubation time for turtle eggs is anywhere from 45-90 days, depending on the type of turtle. Of course, I have no idea what kind of turtle this one was, so that's more research we need to do. Can anyone say homeschool activity?!? That ought to keep us busy for a day or two, now that preschool is out. And by early fall, maybe we'll be lucky enough to have a handful of baby turtles to watch as they leave our yard to start their own lives.

Got anything cool like that in your yard? Leave me a comment and tell me about it!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I sure do love a good facial. I try to do them at home for myself, but finding the time makes it difficult. As a splurge for getting our tax refund, I treated myself to a facial in town at a salon which uses my favorite products by Repechage. Ah, it was bliss. Pure bliss. And my face looks and feels super clean. So now, I'm motivated to keep things clean and do mini facials at home at least once a week. In reality, it doesn't take that much time to pamper your face if you break it down into simple steps.

These are the steps I use for my home the interest of full disclosure, let's keep in mind that I am not a cosmetologist, esthetician or dermatologist. I have no training in giving facials and I'm probably not qualified to give advice on them. I'm just a girl who likes facials, who used to get a lot of facials, and who now can't afford facials so I mostly do them at home. That being said, here we go. Whee!!

1) Cleanse
Rid your face, neck and upper chest area of dirt and oil by using a gentle cleanser made for faces. Rinse with warm, not hot, water.

2) Exfoliate
This step is important because it removes not only dirt and oil build-up, but also clears away dead skin cells and stimulates circulation. All are very good things.

3) Steam
I like to stick my face into the steamer (or use a sink full of hot water with a towel over your head) during the exfoliation stage after the scrubbing and before the rinsing.

4) Mask
Depending on your skin type and needs, there are a variety of masks you could use. Me? I like a calming clay mask because I have sensitive, yet blemish prone skin. Leave the mask on for 5-15 minutes and rinse off using a warm, wet washcloth.

5) Tone
Swipe a cotton pad or the tip of a washcloth soaked in toner over your entire face, avoiding the eye area. I recently discovered Witch Hazel for toning and I love it.

6) Moisturize
The final step in your facial is to moisturize the skin with a cream of your choice. Remember my water post? Skin needs moisture, so load it up after a facial. Drink water and use a moisturizer.

Pamper yourself!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Look what I found in my backyard! No. I'm kidding. But, a dear friend of mine was kind enough to send me this picture of a real, live local eagle. In central Indiana, who knew?! Apparently, eagles around here aren't that unusual, but I've never seen one.

So my friend took me to see the nest. Whoa, those things are huge! When I was there, we didn't see the bird. Darn. However, my pal was lucky enough to not only catch an amazing shot of this eagle, but she also saw it's mate AND some babies in the nest. How freaking cool is that?!?

Let's face it. You just can't get any cooler than an eagle. Seriously, they are indeed the most awesome bird alive...and for a while there, things weren't looking so good for our national symbol. In 1940 Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which made it illegal to shoot at, kill, or poison the birds. Things were ok for a while ...until the pesticide DDT came along. It got into the food chain and eventually caused the birds to lay eggs with thinner shells (which, you know, can't be good) and the eagle numbers dropped dramatically.

After DDT was banned in 1972, eagles began to recover. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1967, and the modern act in 1973 - and the bald eagle was among the first animals named on the protected list.

On June 28th, 2007, they announced that the bald eagle had been taken off the federally protected list. YAY! However, laws still prohibit killing and harming eagles or their nests or eggs. So, that's good for the eagles.

There you have it. Many thanks to National Geographic for the info about eagles. :)

And if you'd like to check out my friend's website, here's the link. She and her husband are - by far - two of the most talented photographers I've ever known. Very cool stuff.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bountiful Garden

I love fresh produce. Even better is when it's locally grown, organic....and free!

A good friend of mine has been working very hard on her garden (which is extremely impressive), and now the cool weather crops are ready to harvest. So, she invited me over to gather some herbs and veggies. What a feeling of accomplishment it must be to see actual plants and FOOD coming up from the ground where once there was only dirt and tiny seeds.

Today I came home with lettuce, mustard greens, chives, green onions, something that smells like cilantro but is more wispy (ideas anyone?), fancy french radishes, and a garlic bulb to put into the ground at my house.

Technically, it's not free....she paid for the seeds and fertilizer, etc. She also paid for these crops with her blood, sweat and tears. But for those who love to be outside and work in the earth, it's a small price to pay. And being able to share our bounty with friends makes it even sweeter! For my part, I will share my homemade jam and sugar scrub (and a couple tall nonfat caramel machiatos) in exchange for the ability to image, even for a few minutes while I feel the warm sun on my face, that I was the one who toiled away in the garden to produce such an impressive harvest. I'm certainly looking forward to later this summer when the potatoes, tomatoes and corn is ready!

Aside from the single garlic bulb in my side-driveway plot of garden (and I use the term garden very, very loosely), I have a small patch of strawberry plants (either the deer or the rabbits keep eating the flowers before they can mature). I also have one of those upside-down tomato planters on my deck that I'll fill with tomato starts with basil on top. For a garden novice, it's a start.

Are you making a garden this summer? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Water - Pure & Simple

We just returned from a wonderful cruise, my husband and I. At dinner, our table-for-two was right next to a beautifully large round window that overlooked the ocean. Being on the ship for 6 days, it got me thinking alot about water....and the fact that I totally do not drink enough of it.

You've heard the idea that we should all drink eight 8 oz. glasses per day. Or maybe you've heard that you should cut your body weight in half and drink that many ounces of water per day. (No, I won't tell you how much that would be for me, so don't ask.) Personally, I think it's more a matter of personal hydration - everyone is different and hydration needs are too. Unfortunately, the problem is that most of us don't realize when we're actually thirsty...and we either ignore it or mistake it for hunger.

So today I'm vowing to increase my drinking water intake and I'll going to share a few of my favorite natural water-flavoring recipes to make things more interesting. If you've got a good one I missed, please leave me a comment...I'm always looking for creative ways to flavor water.

With all these recipes, the longer you let them steep in the fridge, the more flavor you'll get. I'm using a big 32 oz. Tupperware mug for these recipes, with ice. Feel free to adjust for your personal taste!

Simply Lemon - add a slice or two of lemon (or lime) to water. Please be sure to WASH the fruit first.

Citrus Burst - add a squeeze and a slice of fresh orange plus a peeled slice (quarter size) of ginger to water.

Minty Fresh - add a few sprigs of mint (you can probably get this fresh from someone's garden, mint takes over like crazy and most people would love to share!) to your favorite citrus water.

Vanilla Orange - add half of a fresh vanilla bean (split open) and 2 slices of orange to water. (in a pinch, a teaspoon to taste of vanilla extract works too)

Cranberry Orange - toss in a few crushed fresh cranberries and a couple slices of orange to water.

Refreshing Cucumber - add just a few thin slices of cucumber to water for a unique refreshing flavor, and it's even better with a bit of mint.

Raspberry Splash - crush a few and leave some whole, but toss some berries into the water....yum!