Vanilla is delicious, let’s be real. It’s the second most expensive spice (after saffron), and yet we use it quite commonly. The pods are the expensive part (the store where I work sells them for $12.75/oz). They’re wonderful when used as is (e.g., blended into a smoothie), but the extract is much more cost effective. Even more cost effective is making your own vanilla extract! Especially since you can reuse the pods many times for many batches. Making vanilla extract is so easy! You can get a high quality product for little cost.

The only two ingredients you’ll need are

  • vanilla beans (I used 2)
  • vodka (I used 8 oz.)

I choose to use organic of both of these. The amounts of both really depend on a) your budget, b) the amount you want, and c) the ultimate taste you want. What I mean by c) is this: the longer the extract brews, the richer and more intense the flavor. You need less beans if you have time to let it brew a while, but you can accomplish something similar if you use more beans for less time. That said, you can reuse the beans at least a few times, and more beans will get more re-uses.

You will also need:

  • a container

Fortunately, I had a dark glass bottle from some store-bought vanilla that I reused. You can use anything as long as it has a lid, and it’s kept in a dark place or is like mine and has dark glass (or both). I’ve gathered that the “dark place/glass” part of making extract is pretty important, as light can compromise the quality.

First, slice the vanilla beans lengthwise so that the insides are exposed. The tiny beans inside are where the real flavor is, so some people choose to scrape the beans out with a butter knife (or something similar) to give more access for extraction. If you do that step, though, make sure to still put the pod in.

Second, put the beans in your container and fill with vodka. Give it a good shake.

Finally, let the vodka and vanilla sit in a dark place for 4-6 weeks. Again, the time until finished product depends on the vodka:vanilla bean ratio and your personal preference. The key to good extraction is agitation, so make sure you agitate it at least once a day, if not more. Some will roll the jar with their foot while reading or surfing the net. I decided my extract was done when I couldn’t smell alcohol anymore. I used Indian vanilla beans (each cultivar does have its own flavor) and ended up with a rich, complex flavor.

Vodka (or another spirit) can be used to make extracts and tinctures of lots of other things: herbs, for one. Tinctures (herb extracts) can have great health benefits. Lavender extract is also a nice addition to some dishes. Explore! Create! Let me know what you come up with!

These days, “green” is seriously on trend. From house cleaners to toilet paper, you can gain street cred if you buy products that don’t deforest the Amazon or put pollutants into the world’s water supply. You’re eligible for more cool factor if you carpool or bring your own bags to the store. Energy efficiency is a big topic in the green world these days, from dishwashers to light bulbs, for our purchases and how we use them. But what about our own energy? What about the energy that we produce? I’m talking about the energy that powers our brains, our hearts, our legs and arms, the energy that gets us out of bed in the morning, the energy that we run, jump and play with, that we file papers and search for jobs with. Yes, in the national conversation, energy efficiency is a big topic. But have we taken it beyond its context?

This conversation first began in my head as a bike rider. I realized it wasn’t as efficient as a biker to ride as if I was driving a car. Drivers can start, stop, and accelerate as they please; the physical exertion for each is virtually indistinguishable. As a biker, however, I began noticing inclines and declines where, in a car, I had never noticed them before; and coming to a complete stop on my bike at a stop sign is much more physically demanding than you might think. The traffic laws are based on a car’s world, and the bikers are just living in it.

This conversation was continued when I worked at a busy French bakery. I was schooled on constantly keeping my “to do” list on-brain so that, for example, I wasn’t just going into the kitchen to drop off dishes, but also to grab more silverware, give the manager a message, get milk out of the cooler, and grab a new rag. In a two-story cafe where I had the run of the place, personal energy efficiency was precious (though the calf muscle I gained from all those stairs was enviable).

We discount our personal energy because we don’t have to pay for it directly like we do gas or electricity. But we do pay for it, every day. Most obviously, we pay for it in groceries, but we also add to and deduct from it through our activities and actions. Sleep is often undervalued. In an age where we as humans are working and competing with computers, who work around the clock, sleep doesn’t seem as important when our “peers” require none. Aside from our primary sources of energy (sleeping and eating), there are restorative practices (for example, meditation, yoga, reading, and puzzling (crosswords, etc.) that can do a lot to recharge our batteries. Even more discounted, though, than those activities that restore our energy are those that deplete it. Here, I mean stress, mostly. This is an era of unbelievable stress. Did you know that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a 14-hour work week (figuratively speaking) and the rest was spent in leisure? Stress as a concept was practically nonexistent. Humans weren’t meant to function with so many deadlines and on such tight schedules. As before, we are competing with computers, which were made to multitask. It’s a lot we’re contending with.

There’s a disconnect between our lives and our bodies. There’s so much we’re trying to accomplish, and expectations we’re faced with, that we’re just trying to stay afloat. We get lost and can no longer feel how frazzled and depleted we are. If we bring the principles we assign to home appliances into our lives we will have much clearer brains and be able to function so much better in this world of competition. In the end, we are not computers or robots, but that is the reality of the situation, so the best we can do is optimize our “software” to best work alongside these machines of near-perfection.

What are your thoughts on personal energy efficiency? Are you efficient with your time? Do you stress out like I do about everything that needs to be done and end up not doing any of it because you’re so stressed out? What are the ways in which you cope or optimize yourself?

I have been swept up in plans to move at the end of this month to that great city, Chicago, so I have barely gotten through the ac’s of the Dictionary in my yearlong effort to read this 1550-page tome (not counting the essays at the beginning, which are in roman numerals, but count for 50 additional pages). In the first nine days of my journey, I have made it only to the (pathetic) ninth page. Nevertheless, here are some highlights:

Abdominous

I’ve learned an excellent way to call someone fat without them knowing: refer to them as “abdominous.” Now doesn’t that sound like it just might be a compliment? “Afternoon, Carlson. You’re looking supremely abdominous today.” Nope. It means potbellied. (Italicized side-note: why is WordPress underlining “abdominous” like it’s not a word? It’s in the dictionary, people! Come to think of it, why is WordPress underlining its own name? What kind of a company is this??)

Abecedarian

I was surprised to learn that this word has Latin roots, and was not, in fact, made up like I thought.

In reading the essays, I learned something I can’t believe I never thought about: how old the English language is. I don’t know why, but I always thought it was relatively modern. Nope. Turns out English dates back to 8 A.D. 8 A.D. Jesus Christ, that is old. Here is a joke in Ye Olde English: “Sum mon him pantode wingeard and betynde hine ond dealf anne seath and getimbrode…” I’m just kidding, that’s not a joke (it’s Mark 12:1). Apparently, they had a very rich vocabulary. Yes, so do I. I regularly pepper my conversations with “betynde” and “getimbrode.”

Abednego

Number 1 on my List of Names That Shan’t Be Considered When/If I Have a Kid, or LONTSBCWIHAK (pronounced lonts-back-wee-hack). Abednego’s brothers got off scantly better with Meshach and Shadrach.

Abfarad

Okay, people, if you’re at home thinking, “Morgan is a lazy bum, she certainly should be past page nine,” let me present you with the definition for “abfarad”:

A centimeter-gram-second electromagnetic unit of capacitance, equal to the capacitance of a capacitor having a charge of one abcoulomb and a potential difference of one abvolt. It is equal to one billion (10⁹) farads.

Okay, yeah, got it.

Absquatulate

Now, that just sounds like a sound effect. Like the sound you get when you squish a particularly large fly, or a mosquito that has been having too much You cocktail. It actually is slang for “to move off hastily; depart quickly and secretively to avoid apprehension.” Not a sound effect, but still a nice word.

 

Welcome to 2011! I rang in the new year with my best friends, doing one of my favorite things (dancing). The first time I wrote the year was on the time-log sheet at work–had to be in at 9AM (ack).

Last year, I resolved to make more mistakes. If I wanted to do something that I anticipated judgment about, I did it anyway. If I wanted to do something and didn’t think it’d go over well, I did it anyway. This year, in a similar vein, is my Year of the Gut; I want to listen to my gut and act on it, untainted by the opinions and influence of others (including my logical brain). I must listen to myself.

Also, I am currently finishing The Know It All by A. J. Jacobs, a memoir written by a man as he read the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have always been a lover of books and of expanding my knowledge, so this challenge inspired me. For now, I aim to read the dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1981, if anyone cares). Then, when I begin haunting the Chicago Public Library, I plan to tackle the Britannica.

My last resolution is part of WordPress’ push to help users blog more often. I am aiming to blog at least once a week. If you want to participate check this out and let me know we’re in this together!

I am extremely excited about the prospects of 2011. Here’s to all the best; may you be profitable, successful, and live a life you’re proud to look back on.

Perhaps this will become a series.

I eat raw food. In my mind, I eat 100% raw and living foods, but it never adds up that way (and it needn’t). The main reason I eat raw food is probably the main piece of advice I now perpetuate: it just feels right. So much of our culture and society encourages a complete disregard for human nature, our instincts, our bodily functions, and our “guts”. For instance, if you think about it, why does our hair get greasy? Is that a question you’ve ever asked yourself? I’ll write more on this later, but the answer is: so you don’t have to have a hair care routine, essentially. Have you ever seen an ape use shampoo? Our bodies do such a phenomenal job of keeping us healthy that it’s appalling how much we refute them.

Now, this advice, “do what feels right,” can get a little hairy; it only applies to certain people. By “certain people,” I mean “those who are clean.” Most people in this country are, symbolically, “wearing earmuffs” over their sense of what’s right for them. These earmuffs are a result of upbringing, culture, our friends and family, the media, stress, and so many other factors. If you are wearing the earmuffs and listen to what your body’s telling you to do, it will probably tell you, “Sit on your ass, but not before brewing some Easy Mac and grabbing a cookie.” It’s pretty obvious that our clean, un-earmuffed ancestors never would have heard their bodies saying such things.

As I see it, there are two approaches to taking off the earmuffs and getting clean. One is fast but intense, the other is more gradual. The first “fast” option is a cleanse. You can pick up a whole-body cleansing kit at a natural foods store (make sure you talk to someone there who’s knowledgeable), or research reputable cleanses (again, check this out with knowledgeable people). I know a lot of people use the Master Cleanse. I used the second option:

Eating an all-raw diet puts your body into a constant mode of detoxification. Doesn’t that sound nice? Your body has always got the bad stuff on the move, rather than letting The Yuck sit in your body and fester. All I did was a full-on switch to raw food. I’ll tell you: I was a little loony for a few days. Before the switch, I used to eat a lot, and often. Raw food is so nutrient-dense that, after the switch, I would get my requirements from a small amount of food, but my body would keep telling me I was hungry. I’d drink water to stave off the pangs, and I will tell you there was not one hint of yellow in my pee. I was hydrated as all get-out, I had just eaten, and yet my body kept telling me to eat. After a few days, my body learned and got over sugar cravings, excess-food cravings, and my intense eating schedule.

I know that we all have things going on, we’re all busy, we’re all stressed out, but if you really want to detoxify, you’re going to have to do something that will seem extreme. A raw food diet in itself is already far from how most Americans eat. But listen: all you can do is try. Every person is different and needs a different diet. Try this out, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. I’m confident that if you get your body clean and you listen, you will know what to do. That does not mean your body will tell you, “Eat only alfalfa sprouts and kale the rest of your life.” But it might.

In conclusion, I Eat Raw Because my body told me to.

When I got a website last summer, I did my research (or so I thought). I looked into guaranteed uptime, and all those numerous factors I’ve completely forgotten about since. I thought I had found a good solution to my needs when I found DreamHost.

Positivity before negativity: I never had space issues–I was always able to put up whatever I wanted. Mostly, I love their selection of “one-click installs;” that is how I came by running my site on WordPress. DreamHost makes available many more themes and options than a regular for-free WordPress user. I was able to create a site easily that got tons of compliments. The customer service is prompt and, up until recently, was always able to help and/or solve the problem.
Now for the bad: as I said in my previous post, I began having unexplained technical problems with my site at least three weeks ago. First, I noticed I wasn’t able to get onto my site from my laptop–the connection would time out. After a quick survey of my friends, I learned that some of them could access it and some couldn’t. There didn’t seem to be any consistencies from browser to browser and operating system to operating system. One by one, pages began disappearing, and where I had been able to access my site from a different computer in the house, I was no longer able to. It gets weirder: this whole time, I wasn’t able to get onto DreamHost’s user panel, nor my WordPress log-in for my site. The one thing that remains functional is my email, though I won’t have that once I switch hosts.

Throughout this shenanigan, customer service was entirely unhelpful. They consistently left some questions unanswered, and the ones they did answer garnered the same solutions over and over, despite my saying I had tried them already and they hadn’t worked.

All in all, I felt very disrespected by DreamHost. They didn’t acknowledge my complaints, and what they did recognize was entirely unhelpful. DreamHost offers a great package of stats, programs, installs, etc., but the people are an even bigger part of the experience. If there isn’t a team behind my site on whom I can rely, what good is the service?

UPDATE: I did write to DreamHost about the whole fandango, and was refunded for two months. Best to leave on a positive note.

My website mysteriously began having problems a few weeks ago. First, I wasn’t able to access it from my computer. Then, pages began disappearing. I wasn’t able to access my host’s website, either. Now, the website is completely unavailable. That is why I have switched to a WordPress-hosted site, as least for now. I will be posting a review of my time with DreamHost. I’m just glad to be back on the ‘net!