Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vanilla Extract, DIY And A Giveaway

Update: Congratulations, Peg, and thank you! See the finished product right here.

The other day, A. and I sat across from each other in a cafe downtown for a wonderful lunch of fragrant pad thai, which was so large that neither of us could finish it. We asked our waitress to wrap up our portions, but she must have misheard because she accidentally threw them away. We said, "oh well," but the restaurant surprised us by making us both new pad thais. Really, two whole new portions. It struck me then, just like that, how lucky I am that my parents braved insanely difficult times and brought me here, that I can sit in a restaurant with white tablecloths and ice clinking in my glass, that the sky is blue and that I could pay the bill with money that I, myself, had earned through honest labor. And that someone made me a new pad thai. I gave it to someone else so that she could eat it and I promised myself that I will give more often to people who are in need, even if it's one sandwich at a time. It meant so much to me, who has so much. Pay it forward, I said to myself.

What does this have to do with making your own vanilla extract? Well, let me tell you. I finally gave in to my inner voice and bought wonderful Mexican vanilla beans. Excited and a little nervous, I picked up the first bean with shaking hands, split it carefully and added good, old-fashioned ingredients that I know have nothing to do with "corn syrup." I made three bottles, and I want to give one of them to one of the people who reads this blog on the condition that when you receive it, you do something nice (can be something very little, like a hug or a cup of hot soup) for someone else. What, did you think I do things with no strings attached? It doesn't work like that around here, don't you know. :) Just make a comment on this post and 8/10 weeks from now, when my extract is done, I will randomly select one comment and that person will receive a holiday gift in the mail to start their New Year on a dark, rummy, flavorful, amber vanilla note. If you are feeling so inclined, also tell me the kinds of things people have done for you that have inspired you to pay it forward.

Just in case, here is the (easiest in the world) recipe:

DIY Vanilla extract
3 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka (can be very cheap vodka, although I just used what I had - Absolut)
1-2 T dark rum (to taste, I used 2)

Split the vanilla beans down the middle with a sharp knife, leaving them attached at the ends (split the third vanilla bean completely in half). Scrape out the seeds and place the beans and seeds in a 9-10 oz container with an airtight lid (or you can divide between two 5-oz containers, like I did) and pour the vodka inside. Place the container in a dark, dry place (like your pantry) and let the extract infuse for 8-10 weeks, shaking the container slightly once a week. When the extract is a very dark amber color, pour the rum into your container(s) and swirl it around a bit. Your extract is ready to be used! The vanilla beans are so strong that you can even top off the container with a little more vodka once you've used up some extract. It should regain its color and intensity shortly. I made more than enough for me, my mom, and also one of my readers, so go ahead, leave me a comment, and I cannot wait to share the fruits of my labor with you.

29 comments:

Bonbon Oiseau said...

i just found your blog via nadia's..it's wonderful! and what a nice time to find it...beautiful sentiment and vanilla extract!
love it!

Helene said...

I love what you did. I'll like to make meals and bring them to persons in need. Nice post.

Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing this great recipe! I have a plethora of vanilla beans and I've been wanting to make extract myself.. then I can share the abundance of goodies that I'll be making with it! :)

Anonymous said...

I am assuming the vodka goes in with the vanilla beans at the beginning. Are my eyes too old and I missed that line? Sounds like a gerat recipe - can't wait to try, thanks!

Irene said...

Heh heh, maybe it's me who's getting old! The vodka goes in with the beans. :) You'd think I would get the instructions for a 3 ingredient recipe right, wouldn't you!

lexibot said...

I've been dying to make some vanilla extract, it looks fantastic!

Anna said...

My friend made us some vanilla extract and it's the gift that keeps on giving because after we use some, we just add some rum to make up the difference. It's probably not as strong as the store-bought type, but it's pretty cost effective. It's also nice because he's in the Peace Corps now, but he can keep on infusing our baking with vanilla even from Nicaragua :) Maybe over then entire two years!

Patsyk said...

I'm so happy I found your blog via foodgawker! I've been wanting to make my on vanilla... and you've inspired me to do jus that!

gastroanthropologist said...

I've recently moved to a very big city where extracting a smile from a stranger is often one of my tasks. This is a really nice post. It just makes you feel warm when people you don't know do nice things for you.

Mike said...

Have not seen an vanilla extract recipe with dark rum in it before. Gotta try it.

Thanks.

nadia said...

this sounds lovely. it also great to know that some places still take of the customer with pride! I am very lucky to experience little bouts of kindness form others! once my husband and i where on holiday..we went to a very expensive place...but had planned it(we where very young) anyways..someone picked up the tab and even bought us a bottle of champagne-when we asked who it was they said "it's anonymous but they thought you guys where a darling couple" now k and i at-least twice a year pick up the tab for someone..

okay i went on!

Lyra said...

What a great idea!! Now I just have to find some vanilla beans. :D

Hannah Sivilay said...

I had no idea you could make vanilla on your own, well it figures you can, i had never thought about it though! What a fabulous idea, i can't wait to try some.

Hannah

Bethie said...

Lovely blog. I am on the hunt for good beans and pretty jars. Thank you for the recipe.

ikkinlala said...

Thanks for posting this story - I've been having kind of a bad day, and it's good to read about the nice things people do for others.

Bryna said...

This is a timely post as I've just purchased 50 beans recently and am always looking for more recipes for them. ;)

LE said...

Wow, this might inspire me to actually buy some alcohol other than Sherry for cooking purposes. LOL! I think you know me well enough to know how big a step this is.

When I was a little girl, my family would make the trip from the southwest back to Indiana to see family. My mom had a place she would stop to buy Peppermint Oil. She used it to added to the icing that she used on the wedding cakes she made. When I got married, since my mom had passed away years prior, I begged my sister to make my cake and use a few drops of peppermint oil, just like our mother. It's something I will never, ever forget. I will always be grateful to my sister for giving in to my pleadings and making such a wonderful memory.

mysweetestday said...

i really want to make my own vanilla extract but it's kind of hard considering i live in a dorm where alcohol isn't permitted (even if it's only for baking purposes!). and that's so sweet of you to "pay it forward" haha. i don't have a specific instance in mind, but whenever a stranger holds the door when i'm carrying a bunch of stuff, i always want to do something nice for another random stranger.

Happy cook said...

On my last trip to India i bought 75 vanilla bean so
I made and have kept home made vanilla essence some 3 weeks ago and is in a dark place in my pantry.
I am curious to know how it will trun up

Peg said...

Great ideas, a personal story & lovely photos -- no wonder I keep coming back to your page. Thanks, Irene!

Ellie said...

I'm so lucky that you're my sister! :)

Leanna said...

I had never even heard of people making vanilla extract until about a month ago. Maybe I will give it a try too.

Vera said...

Irene, this is a touching post! And a very nice gesture to share.

Irene said...

I recently discovered your lovely blog and have been slowly reading through every entry.
What a great post!

Psychgrad said...

What great service for them to make a whole new order for you guys.

My inspiration for paying it forward is less to do with what nice things people do for me and more to do with nice things I see people do for others. There is a blogger in my city who talks about some of the homeless "regulars" in the area. She mentioned bringing one a hat for the winter. Recently, I've started to learn how to knit, so I've been knitting hats, both for the enjoyment of it and with the intention to donate a bunch to a local shelter.

Taste said...

Beautiful little bottles. When my partner, Nic, and I arrived in Vancouver, we did a one month road trip down to San Diego. One of our first stops was in Oregon at a tiny diner on a back road. It was cold, snowing and our first taste of a real winter, coming from Australia. We had a great big meal and slices of homemade pie. Next to us was a table of locals in their 60s and 70s. They were talking to us and fascinated by our Aussie accents. We talked for about 20 minutes about the area and our plans etc. Anyway, they said goodbye and left. We got up to leave about 15 minutes later and went to pay the bill, to be told by the server that they'd paid it for us! We were stunned and really humbled by such kind strangers who didn't want any thanks.

Irene said...

Thank you for telling me these stories. It's just really nice and gives me a very warm feeling to know that there are people who still do not hesitate to do nice things for others, and that this, in turn, inspires others to do the same.

My friends and I visited Venice around the Jewish holiday Sukkot. After a full day of sightseeing, we wanted to get back to the train station, but it was dark and we got lost. Suddenly, we came upon a group of Venetian Jews who were having their Sukkot meal outside. They invited us -- complete strangers -- to share it, gave us a tour of the Jewish neighborhood, talked to us and told us about their lives and finally, hours later, one of the men showed us the way to the train station. It was 10 years ago, but I still remember it very clearly because of their kindness and the beauty of their souls.

Dave, Jen, Olive & Elle said...

The most pay it forward thing that has ever been done for me is the option my husband gives me to stay at home with my darling girls. We read books, take walks, go to parks, bake, sing, dance, laugh, cry and grow together. My hope is that by the sacrifices my husband and I make to raise two little women will make them two extraordinary ladies some day.

Thanks for reminding me of that!

Anonymous said...

WOW!! Just last week I discovered your wonderful blog. And just this week I have come across a couple of recipes for homemade vanilla extract. Just last night I was selecting bottles to try my own extract from an online bottle company. I would love to taste yours! And how lovely to read about doing nice things for others. P.S. You are well out of Hollywood.