** This article first appeared in the October 5th Edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper **
There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see a post on Facebook with the face of Will Farrell as Elf with a subtitle reading something like ‘Just 322,584 minutes until Christmas.’ I usually roll my eyes. I like taking my holidays one at a time. If I started worrying about what to get my wife for Christmas one minute before Christmas Eve, I might very well have a nervous breakdown. With Halloween about a month away, even I have to concede there are a few really solid reasons to start talking about Christmas. First off, I get as excited about peppermint-flavored everything as your typical 20-something does about pumpkin spice. Not only that, if you were to walk into a Fred Meyer or Target right now and go to the Halloween displays, you only need to let your eye wander just a bit further down the aisle to find the Christmas lights. Let me tell you, I do have an opinion about that and I will talk about it. To be fair, though, this is a better time of year to hang Christmas lights than, say, November, because it’s still reasonably warm outside and there’s no ice to worry about.
Among other things, Christmastime is a busy time filled with cooking and gift giving. When it comes to Christmas baking, it’s usually the old favorites or family traditions over and over again, and, while I’m always game to try something new, I’m a big fan of traditional. It’s comforting in the dead of winter. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for gifts. Every year, I’m stretching for something to give to friends. I want make sure I’m unique and thoughtful, and that I give something that’s worth receiving. Unless it’s a knobby and ill-fitting pair of badly knitted wool socks. Homemade gifts are the best, provided you’ve got time to do it. Which brings me to why I’m talking about Christmas well in advance of Halloween. It’s because making your own vanilla extract takes time, about eight weeks.
– Good quality vodka OR good white rum (not spiced) OR bourbon. Vodka makes for a neutral vanilla extract, anything else will add other flavors, which could be fun.
– 7 whole vanilla beans – you can get bundles of 25 Madagascar vanilla beans online for around $40
– 1 8-oz. bottle with a cork for aging
– Decorative bottle with a cork or stopper for presentation.
Cut 7 vanilla beans lengthwise to expose the inside, scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife, slice in half or smaller to fit in the bottle if necessary. Place the beans in the bottle. Add 7 oz. alcohol of your choice and about 1 oz. of water (preferably distilled or spring water) to the bottle. Make sure the beans are fully submerged. Provided you use standard 80–proof alcohol, the alcohol content should be about 35 percent. Seal the bottle and shake. Place in a cool, dark area and shake about once a week. Keep it there for eight weeks. Transfer the liquid to a decorative bottle with a stopper and you have vanilla that is totally giftable or can be used in your favorite Christmas recipes.