Monday, December 02, 2013

Vanilla Sugar

Last year, I set out to make my gift giving even easier than baking a ton of cookies and passing out tins. I found a site, that I can't seem to find again, that had a list of a ton of things you can make in jars and give as gifts; things like muffin or cookies mixes, spice rubs, hot chocolate. Among them was this little gem: vanilla sugar. I had never heard of it before and the recipe is incredibly easy. I couldn't find any vanilla beans, however, so that instantly took it off my 'easy to make' list. But I spent the next year casually searching for a store that carried vanilla beans, knowing full well I could have just ordered them online and been done with it. 

My mother, who I had informed that I was hunting for vanilla beans, found some at Mom's Organic Market. Based on her description, it was one whole bean cut in half for $6. She also found them at Costco, of all places, 10 whole long beans for $11. I'll take it! I already had mason jars on hand from an earlier concoction, and two unopened bags of granulated sugar (not including the open bags!) in the pantry. The recipe I followed called for one bean to two cups of sugar. My jars held almost exactly that, but I used just a touch less than two cups of sugar so there was room to shake things up to mix. 

Gather your beans!

 First, slice open your beans length-wise. I was reading something that said to use the back of your knife. I'm not sure why, but that's what I did. It was more like pressing the dull edge into the flesh of the bean, and it sliced right open.


Next, you want to remove the seeds. I was expecting vanilla to be something like green beans: a long bean pod with little beans. Not so. It's more like sticky black dust. Again, use the back of your knife to scrape off the seeds.


Good vanilla beans should be moist and fragrant, not dry. The moisture made the tiny seeds very very sticky. They stuck to the cutting board, the knife, and my fingers. It made me think of glitter and how it gets everywhere!

A pile of tiny, sticky seeds

I then sliced the bean in half, so they would fit better in my jars, and put the bean and seeds in the jar. If you use raw vanilla seeds for cooking, save your bean pods! You can throw them in your sugar without the seeds and they will still impart their lovely vanilla flavor.

In the jar

For my first jar, I put the vanilla seeds and bean in the jar and poured the sugar over it, mixing occasionally. The seeds will clump together though. In subsequent batches, I slowly poured my sugar into a measuring cup and mixed the seeds with my knife as best I could. Then that mixture gets poured over the beans in the jar.

There's sugar in the jar!

Next, cap your jar, give the thing a shake and leave it to marinate! It is recommended to shake the jar periodically so the seeds and vanilla flavor from the bean get distributed thoroughly. According to my readings, it will take about two weeks for the vanilla to permeate through the sugar and be ready for use.

Jars of vanilla sugar!

You can add more sugar to your jar as it starts to get low and shake it up every now and then to mix and incorporate the flavor. Some sites say the beans should be replaced every two years and some say they can stay in the sugar indefinitely. My beans had a two year expiration date, so I'll probably follow that. We'll see how it goes.

I'm excited to try my new sugar! But I have to give it time to get to its full flavor. Some of these jars are probably going to end up as gifts. I need to make some labels. And I still have five beans left, but I'm out of jars! I think I'll try vanilla extract with the rest of my beans.

I know this isn't actually a cake, but it could be used in cake. That counts, right?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sitting to Write

But write what?

I feel like I've been very silent on the goings on in my life of late.  But what is there to report, really?

My house, while still under contract (that same one from October) hasn't actually sold yet. This isn't news if you've been following my updates on Facebook. Our first closing date was November 15th, but my buyer took so long getting the inspection and appraisal done that the septic and well tests were delayed (because my Realtor said we weren't going to spend the money on them until we heard that the buyer was happy with the asking price when compared to the appraised price, because the buyer could have backed out after appraisal and I would still have to pay for those tests, get it?). So, settlement got moved back to November 27th. On November 22nd, I heard from my Realtor again who was very angry as she reported to me that we would not be going to settlement on the 27th and we wouldn't have been ready even if we had those tests done because there was some problem with the buyer's loan. Something about additional paperwork that wouldn't be ready until mid-December. We were assured that the loan would be ready by then, so the new tentative date would be December 13th. Unfortunately, I'm out of money to pay the mortgage now. Someone, and I know not who, mentioned renting my house to the buyer for December so her rent could pay my mortgage, but no one thought that was a good idea. On November 26th, I called my Realtor again and she reported that my buyer got a shiny new lender and this lender was on the ball and everything was ready to go: the only reason we weren't closing was because of the Thanksgiving holiday. I now have a new contract addendum that states settlement will be "on or before December 6."

The truth is, I'm so thoroughly stressed about this whole mess I can barely think of anything else right now. It's messing with my sleep. It's one of the reasons I'm not eating very well (more on that later). I'm putting on fake smiles when people ask how I'm doing. It's hard to get excited about anything. Now, everyone is in holiday mode and I'm just meh. I can't see over this hurdle. Mortgage, from the Old French: mort - dead; gage - pledge. Dead pledge. It surely feels like this pledge will be the death of me sometimes. Still, I've admitted that I'm swimming in a great big pool of stress over this, and I sometimes even answer with "not fine" instead of fake smiles when asked. That's got to be progress, right? Though, this particular stress is more numbing than anything. I'm not used to my body handling stress this way. I'm not sure it's an improvement over other ways my body tends to deal with stress.

Sure, there is a plan: sell my house, buy our house, plan our wedding. But everything moving forward from here starts with selling my house. Or otherwise detaching myself from that mortgage responsibility. Selling, of course, is ideal because it means some money in my pocket to put towards those other two points of the plan and saving my credit. But this is it. I'm out of money now. If it doesn't sell this month, foreclosure will commence.

Another reason I haven't been eating very well is because my oven blew up. Again, if you're following along on Facebook, you already know this. I was preheating the oven to roast a delicious pan of fresh vegetables when it started to growl (the oven), then to hiss, then to smoke, then there was a POP! and it spewed some sparks and more smoke. I turned it off, grabbed the fire extinguisher, then opened the thing to find a good three inch piece of the bottom element had burned off. This, for some unknown reason, took out the range too. The only thing that works is the broiler element, and that does not help us. I told Dav I couldn't handle the added stress of a non-functioning oven right now, and he said he'd deal with it and I didn't have to worry about it. That's great, but I do have to worry about how to cook decent meals without a working oven or stove. We bought a few microwave dinners and have been eating out a good deal. I've been trying to get things I can make cold or heat in the microwave so I can still cook, mostly. I'm hoping the toaster oven can roast some Brussels sprouts for us this week, but we'll see. And then holiday baking, which has been my gift of preference for several years, comes to a halt before I even get started. Dav replaced the burned element and it still didn't work. I'm still not sure if the landlord is going to service it or replace it, but she knows about it and I got the impression that a replacement will happen. But then, the blow up was almost exactly a month ago. My year to fit into my wedding dress is not off to a good start. I really am trying not to stress about it, I have enough stress around me right now.

Obviously, I haven't reopened my Etsy store yet like I said I was going to. Most of my yarn, like almost everything else in my life, is packed away in storage. And by storage, I mean Dav's mom's basement and in various rooms in my parents' house. Our family have said they are happy to help us, for which I am very grateful, but I don't like my crap being in their way like this.We just don't have the space for it all right now. So, reopening my store and trying to make some extra cash is just going to have to wait. I am yearning for my yarn, though. Yearning for yarn.

I'm kind of doom and gloom today, but it's really not all bad. My betrothed and I keep a pretty cozy and harmonious home, despite the fact that this one is temporary and so much is in this crazy state of transition. I'm still holding out hope that I'll be able to come back Friday evening at the latest and declare that big looming obstacle out of my way. Then we can sit down and work out what we can actually afford on a house and get the search started. It's not all bad. Really. No matter what happens, I'll get past it, and there's a small voice in my mind that every now and then gets a little louder and reminds me that things usually do work out for the best. It's hard to listen to it right now, but I know it's there. Just waiting for the inevitable "I told you so."