Archive for category DIYing

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you bake, you’ve probably shelled out a pretty penny for vanilla extract. Nothing beats that extra sweetness and flavor in a cake, frosting or cookie! At $8.99 a pop for the cheap-o corn syrup stuff or $20+ for the really good stuff, its pricey. You can be like my friend Joey and buy a gallon at Sam’s and yes, that should last you a while.  But what if you could easily make your own at home?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Now when I say easily, please know it doesn’t take much effort, but I didn’t say fast. If you start now, you could have some ready for Christmas cookies! I’ve had the one above going for about 2 months and it’s not dark enough yet. Luckily I’m patient and have plenty of store bought vanilla bean paste to last a while. I find that we are pretty disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Have you ever spent much time thinking about how vanilla extract is made, what makes it wonderful and where it comes from?  If you just want to hurry up and get your extract started (the sooner the better…) then skip down to the recipe. Otherwise, stick around and I’ll share what I know about this amazing “bean”!

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla beans actually come from an orchid. Crazy right?  I just saw the Vanilla Orchid in person at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (the orchid greenhouse is the best part!)  To get high yields, orchid farmers hand pollinate the flowers. Once formed, the beans are cured and fermented for up to a year to allow the aromatic flavors to develop. (Now you know why it costs so much!) Commercial vanilla extract uses grain alcohol to dissolve the flavor compounds of the vanilla.  The FDA requires a very set ratio of vanilla bean to water to alcohol in order to label it vanilla “extract”.  From what I’ve read, it takes up to two full years for vanilla extract to reach its full flavor. We won’t be quite so precise (or patient) with ours.

I put my jar in the pantry where its very dark with the door closed.  I see it there and I remember to shake it up.  One of the things I read that I’m excited to try is that as you use the extract, top it off with vodka. Supposedly the extract will stay flavorful for 7 years. I also can’t wait to try the same approach with lemon peels, lavender and other flavors that might make a nice extract for baking!


Ideas for Decorating an Apartment: Vinyl Wall Designs

Renters can decorate too, or so that’s what I’m telling myself.

After owning a home that we completely remodeled, living in a (very new) rental is somewhat of an adjustment. We were used to spending nights and weekends on DIY improvement projects and now we don’t know what to do with ourselves!Target Birds & Branches Vinyl Clock

I love to scour the Target endcaps for cheap clearance finds. On one fateful trip, I found this glorious “Birds & Branches” clock for just $6.24 (check the tag!) and it had to come home with me.  That was back when we owned our place and I never did find the time or the right place to hang it… Until now!

Target Clearance Price Tag

Our new rental has tons of style with pretty moldings, high ceilings and lots of details… but it doesn’t necessarily reflect anything about us or our taste. The blank wall above the fireplace was screaming for some art and this clock was the perfect size.

What’s great about it is that when we’re ready to move, the vinyl peels right off.  We even hung the clock part with a thumb tack so as to make the tiniest hole possible.

Removable Vinyl Wall Art

The clock came with extra birds that we felt would clutter the look.  My uber creative hubs had the idea to put one bird above the window molding for some added flair.

See him way over there on the right looking back at his buddy on the clock?.. No? Ok, I’ll zoom in:

Vinyl Wall Art

Overall we are excited to be city dwellers and have accepted the fact that we just have to get creative in our decorating. Stay tuned for more ideas as we slowly put together our new place!

Out with the 70’s

I mentioned earlier that we are in the midst of a master bath redo – in fact, we are nearing the end of  5-year  whole house DIY makeover.  Everything from the kitchen, to the floors and even the ceilings have been updated and there’s not a single light fixture in our house that was around when we moved in.  Call us crazy, but we have really loved taking our first house, a 1970’s contemporary, and updating it to suit our needs – one little step at a time.  With everything else pretty much wrapped up, our master bath was the only eyesore left:

This was just a few days after we moved in, and as you can tell, we had already decided the wallpaper had to go (little did we know how painstaking that would be). And this obsession with brass was prevalent in all the fixtures in our home – now completely eliminated!

We have done every project on a budget. Shopping clearance and online sales, choosing smart materials and putting in the time to learn the DIY ropes.  And we’ve been rewarded with a house we love coming home to (or in Jason’s case working in).  So needless to say our approach to the master bath was no different.  I love to start with a plan, so here is a mood board I put together of the products we were able to score at a discount thanks to some good sales and some out of the box (literally -thanks Ikea!) ideas.

The demo is done, as are the floors and trim. Last weekend we painted everything a calming blue and next weekend we are onto vanity construction. This may take a while since these aren’t vanities at all. We bought two Ikea Engan dressers and will be modifying them to accommodate plumbing for the vessel sinks as well as a slate mosaic countertop.  I guess we inherited more construction traits from our dads than we thought.  Stay tuned for more DIY adventures!

Quick Tip: Paint Can Upgrade

Want a simple way to make painting easier? Poke holes in your paint can!

No seriously,  grab a hammer and a sharp nail and punch a couple holes around the inner most rim of your open paint can. It will allow any excess paint from pouring or brush-wiping to drip back into the can. This conserves paint, prevents spillage and makes it easier to get the can open next time because you don’t have all that extra paint in the rim to unstick!

Paint Can Manufacturers -if you’re listening – go ahead and add this feature in the factory and save us the trouble!

Another option is this cute little blue plastic pour spout that snaps on the rim and also helps keep paint out of the rim.  As you can see, we used both options to keep our paint can rim nice and clean.  We are in the midst of remodeling our master bath (DIY of course).  Look for more posts on that project in the near future!

The B&B Dream

I have this crazy dream, a daydream I guess you might say, of buying a rundown old property in Florida and restoring into a Bed & Breakfast. I recently bought a book on how to run/open/manage a B&B just to satisfy my curiosity.  The main premise in the book is that you shouldn’t rely on the B&B for your main income.  People also say that old homes are money pits.  I’ve also heard if you want to operate a B&B you should do it after the kids are grown and not have any pets.  We haven’t even started a family yet and I couldn’t imagine living without a fluffball to snuggle with.

Even with all the doubts and naysayers, I can’t get the idea out of my head.  I guess the B&B I have in my minds eye just puts so many of my passions and talents to good work (except that whole chemical engineering phd thing…heh).

I often wonder if it could be a process… I work for 20 years in research and then we purchase our getaway. Will I be too tired then?  Or could we buy a place soon and while we’re working at our day jobs, spend many years renovating it with the intention of making it into a B&B later?  I don’t want to just buy something – I want to rehab it and bring it back to its 100 year old glory.  I want decorate each room with a purpose and a vision,  to do it all on a budget, and blog about it all the while.  I want it to have an organic garden and fruit trees that we harvest from for breakfast.  I want it to have a compost bin, some rain barrels and energy saving windows. (Jason really wants double flush toilets.) Like I said, tough for me to get it off the brain.

Scouring and using the advance search feature to look for 51+ year old places for sale has only made me want to do it more.  Although, admittedly, I went into a few places that I liked on the internet and they are in oh-so-much-worse shape when you see them in person.  Here are a few I’m drooling over right now (click the links to see more photos):

Classic style, built in 1903, 4500 sq. ft., in Tampa, FL

Spanish style, built in 1920’s, 4291 sq. ft (including guest houses!), in West Palm Beach, FL

Victorian, built in 1910, 4300 sq. ft, near the water, in St. Petersburg, FL

Succulent Smörgåsbord

Reading the title, you probably thought I was talking about a pork buffet, but I’m really referring to plants here… Succulents! These are hardy little guys that can live without much water or maintenance (i.e. my kind of plant).  Just don’t leave them out in freezing temps or extreme shade and you are good to go!

The best part about them is they are SO easy propagate.  My first succulent came from a window box in the “horseshoe” on USC campus. I broke off a small piece, came home and stuck it in the dirt and it has turned into this over the last 4 years:

Since then my sweet hubs will surprise me with a new plant during a Lowe’s/Home Depot adventure. Mom and I swapped a couple of plants and recently my sister in law Jenna graciously shared some new species from her collection with me. Then, I gathered up a few more that were growing wild at Jason’s mom and dad’s new place (aka the Beaird Ranch).

All these new guys needed a good home, so I grabbed some Miracle Grow Citrus, Palm and Cactus soil and I fixed up some pots I had laying around.  A few years ago I snagged these beauts at a community garage sale for a buck a piece. They were pastel, one baby blue, one lime green and one pale yellow. Always intending to paint them, I grabbed a can of Rustoleum Painters Touch in a dark navy blue.  Here is the final product:

I am thrilled with how they turned out and I can’t wait for the plants to grow up so I can share my collection with others.

Someday soon, I will catalog each of the species growing in here and share that with you too!

Bath Salt Sand Art

For a while, bath salts and bath gift sets were all the rage.  I had accumulated a few packs of salts and, although I love soaking in the tub, its not something I get the time for very often.  Inspiration often hits me at random moments and usually with found objects. My family lovingly calls this “Amy Art”. I saw some kids doing sand art at the Grant Seafood Festival (mmm fried scallops) and that was my jumping off point for this project.

Ok, back to bath salts.  The bottle was leftover from lemonade we took on a picnic one day. I made a little funnel with wax paper and then poured each bath salt in carefully, making sure each was level before I poured the next color.  One of the packs came with a little wooden scooper so I tied that on the bottle with raffia just for fun.  I love that it corrals all the salts in one place, makes a nice relaxing visual element in the bathroom and was basically from stuff I had on hand. Super cool that the bottle has a built in rubber stopper to keep everything fresh. Now I get to enjoy the salts, even when I’m too busy for a bath!  Suddenly I have a craving for fried scallops and ice cold lemonade…

Quick & Free Photo Swap

Jason’s sister Jenna gave us an awesome stacked picture frame several years ago as a gift.  It originally came with black and white placeholder images of Italy and I have been meaning to swap them out in favor of real photos for way too long now.

We take most of our pictures digitally, and rarely do I get the chance to print out the good ones.  Since I didn’t have any photos handy, I opted for a different approach. My latest issue of Garden Design Magazine (a freebie from an online deal) had vibrant pics of several varieties of Mums which I cut to fit each frame.

Sometimes the quick projects like this are the most rewarding. We now have a colorful, in-season update to our photo frame and it didn’t cost a thing!