Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Vanilla & Almond Extract

If you're an avid baker like me, then you use a lot of vanilla extract throughout the year.  In the past I would bring my own bottle to the store and fill it up in the bulk section, but that is expensive; and imitation vanilla....nope, not in this house!  One day I decided to make my own!  Here's how you do it:

To make vanilla extract, you will need:
12 ounces of vodka or rum
2 vanilla beans (sliced and cut into 1-2 inch pieces)

*I recommend going to a food co-op or natural food store to purchase the vanilla beans in the bulk section.  You will pay about $2.50 per bean.  The beans should be long and somewhat moist with a strong aroma.  If you go to a regular grocery store, they are typically sold in a skinny plastic tube and they are much shorter and somewhat dry. *

In a bottle, add the sliced and cut vanilla beans to the alcohol.  Every couple of days, shake the bottle.  Store the bottle in a dark place.  After a couple of months, the extract is ready to use.  I've read everywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months for fermentation.  The longer the mixture ferments, the stronger the flavor.  The beans can always be kept in the jar(s) to intensify the flavor even when the fermentation is finished.  Some people keep adding more alcohol to the beans and continue the fermentation process because the beans still have more "juice" left.

I have made vanilla extract with vodka and rum.  I prefer the vodka because the rum smell never seems to go away no matter how long the extract ferments.  Just a personal preference, that's all.

I enjoy this extract so much, that I give it away as gifts!  It sounds silly, but some people really do enjoy these kind of quirky practical gifts.  I purchased one dozen, 4 ounce jars from Mountain Rose Herbs located in Eugene, OR.  These are the perfect size for gifts.  To give it that added touch, I made cute labels.

To make almond extract, you will need
2 cups brandy or vodka
4 oz. peeled, blanched almonds.

1. To blanch almonds, pour boiling water over the almonds in a bowl.  The water should cover all of the almonds.  Let the almonds sit for 1 minute, no longer.  Drain the hot water, rinse the almonds with cold water, and rinse again.  Pat dry and slip the skins off.

2. After the almonds are blanched, grind them up very small. (I used a food processor.)

3. Add the alcohol and ground almonds to a bottle.  Shake the jar every couple of days and store in a dark place.  The amount of time needed for the fermentation is the same that I wrote about vanilla extract.

The bottle on the left is vanilla extract and the bottle on the left is almond extract.  You can see the almonds and vanilla beans sitting on the bottom of the bottles. 

These are the 4 oz bottles that I use for gifts.  

These are vanilla beans.  The bottom bean is 7.5 inches long!

These are the labels I attach to the jars for gifts. 

Conservation Classroom Presentations

Part of my job as a Resource Conservation Manager for a school district is working with students.  With school budgets shrinking, there are fewer teachers and assistants to help coordinate staff and student Green Teams.  It's sad really, because teachers don't have the time to talk about recycling or energy conservation when they have no staff support.  Because of this reduced time, I am often used as a babysitter (for lack of better words) so the teacher can grade papers or whatever.  When teachers aren't actively participating in the presentation, some students put in less effort and goof around and disrupt the class.  From a presenters standpoint, it's inconsiderate of the teacher to not discipline the students and it's a waste of my time.  I push forward though and still visit classrooms with only a few being bad eggs.  For the 2011/2012 school year, kindergarten classrooms average 28-32 students and a high school classroom class size averages 37-45 students.  Teachers really do feel stretched and having outside presentations takes away from extra tutoring time with students.  A friend recently asked me to post information about my presentations.  Below you will find powerpoints, presentation outlines, coloring sheets, and games.  Some of you may feel inspired and use the materials, but please let me know if you do use them (general courtesy to the creator's time and generosity).

Pedal Power
This presentation is by far the most popular request from teachers.  I have even taken it to conferences and after school programs for other school districts.  I created this bicycle generator from scrap materials found on school district property.  Only the wires, voltage meter, and plywood were purchased to complete the ensemble.  Even the motor was taken for an old floor scrubber being scrapped for parts.  Because this project was virtually free, it only conducts DC power (AC power would require an inverter which costs a lot of money).  Here is an outline of the presentation.

This hands-on presentation is mainly for 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students.  Students are given energy efficiency and energy source workbooks provided free from Energy Star (  All students have an opportunity to ride the bicycle that generates electricity to a fan, a pair of lights, and a water pump.  I made posters for the energy sources and ways to conserve.  I cover up each item on the posters and have the students guess the correct answer.  The presentation covers: 
-how electricity is made
-where our energy comes from (renewable vs. nonrenewable resources)
-why it's important to conserve energy
-examples of how to conserve resources

Join the Lorax!
This 20 minute presentation for grades K-2 is based off the book, The Lorax by: Dr. Seuss followed by a book discussion and ways we can help the environment.  Energy Star ( graciously provides Lorax-themed posters and activity books free of charge through their website.  These are given to classrooms as a reminder about the book and how to help the environment.

    Be a Recycler!
This presentation is for grades 2-3 and teaches: 
-The 3 R's
-Why we recycle
-What can and cannot be recycled
-Examples of how we can reduce our waste
-Disposable vs. durable matching game

Here are some coloring sheets I give students.

This presentation is for middle and high school students.  Students are given a worksheet a few days before I come to their classroom.  I show a powerpoint, and then do a family feud game. The powerpoint addresses these main points:
-Difference between non-renewable and renewable resources
-Definition of sustainability
-World population and consumption by region
-Lifecycle analysis
-Prevention vs. recycling
-Solid waste hierarchy
-Reducing waste and making choices
-Inspiring others to reduce their waste

The Buzz on Bees and Pollination
The honey bee presentation is not work-affiliated but very popular among the younger students learning about bugs and pollination.  This past week I had the pleasure of presenting to an after school class. Students really enjoy seeing me dressed in my coveralls and head net.  I pass around my smoker, bee brush, and a frame of drawn comb with capped honey.  Each student can dip a pretzel in a jar of honey to eat.  To keep things simple, the power point slides do not contain a lot of words.

Coloring Sheet
Color Sheet 2

Plastic Bag Ban

Finally, the City of Portland, Oregon has officially banned plastic bags in groceries and major retailers with pharmacies.  I have been waiting for such an ordinance for quite a while, and as of October 15, 2011, plastic bags won't be allowed in stores (with exceptions for meat and bulk items).  This new law seems too good to be true, but I really hope retailers charge more for the paper bags because they do cost more to purchase and paper bags have a larger carbon footprint than plastic bags.  I don't think I need to elaborate on why mandating reusable bags is important.  By now we should all know the effects plastic bags have on our oceans and the obvious fact that plastic is made from oil.  For more information about plastics and its effects on ocean life, go here!

I have been following the Ban the Bag for months now and I am disappointed how close-minded some people are.  Blogs and newspaper editorials complain that the lack of plastic bags will leave a person in complete turmoil when picking up their dog's poop, lining their trash can, or transporting their wet swimsuit. C'mon on, really?  I finally ran out of single use plastic bags from the grocery store after 10 years of using cloth bags.  I use the plastic bags from toilet paper for trash cans and cereal bags for kitty litter.  When you look around, you will see single use bags everywhere besides at the grocery check out.  Think chip bags, newspaper bags, shipping bags, etc.  I am very excited about this new law and hope that the mass majority will jump on the bandwagon of using cloth bags rather than the paper alternative at the check stands.  If anything, a few soggy broken paper bags from carrying ice cream and butter will convince shoppers that cloth is much more durable.

Here are few news articles and videos about the new law:

2011 Harvest List

Here is my 2011 harvest list.  I indicated next to each item where the fruit or vegetable came from.

Strawberries: 2 gallon freezer bags, fruit leather, 1 pie (grew)
Rhubarb: 2, 9x13 pans of rhubarb crunch (grew)
Blackberries: 10 pints blackberry jam, 5 gallon carboy of mead (gleaned in public area)
Blueberries: 8 pints blueberry pie filling, 2 gallon freezer bags, blueberry muffins (grew & gleaned in woods)
Cherries: 26 pints pie filling, 9 half pints jam (u-picked at farm)
Peaches: 7 quarts canned in syrup (bought)
Beans: 34 quarts (grew & bought)
Asian Plums: 1/2 gallon of plum wine (gleaned from friend's tree)
Tomatoes: 11 pints tomato soup, 25 quarts stewed, 7 quart bags in freezer, 15 pints salsa, 8 half-pints tomato paste (grew and bought)
Apples: 7 quarts applesauce, 2 jars dehydrated apple slices, 7.5 pints apple pie filling, 11 quarts apple cider, apple crisp (gleaned in public area)
Grapes: 6 quarts & 1 pint grape juice (grew)
Pears: pear crisp, 17.5 quarts pears in honey syrup, 12 half-pints pear butter, 4 half pints pear honey, 4 gallons Perry wine (gleaned in public area)
Carrots: 8 quart freezer bags full or sliced carrots (grew)

This summer Jon got really ambitious and made homemade berry soda. Here's a list of varieties we made:
Sparkling cider

Total cost for all of the above food=$157.00 (that's even adding an extra $30.00 for miscellaneous things like sugar, peppers, and cornstarch).  I didn't have to purchase any jars this year, and surprisingly I still have 3 dozen left.  There isn't an accurate way to track the cost of canning lids because the Tattler lids can be reused.  This summer was by far the best for foraging and gleaning!  Jon and I are both good apple and pear tree scouts now and see them everywhere we go.  Every time I find a tree in a public area my heart jumps; I get so excited with the idea of preserving more things for free and knowing that the fruit won't fall on the ground and rot.

Some of you may notice the various pie fillings that I made this year.  I made plenty for when we go camping and cook Hobo Pies over the fire.  The pie filling can also be used for making turnovers and pie in a jar gifts!

Below are a few pictures of my preservation adventures!


Apple Pie Filling

Dehydrated Apple Slices



Tomato Paste




5 gallon carboy of blackberry mead

Carrots from our garden.

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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