She calls herself Lauren but is also known as Mom, Gramma, Lar, and, once upon a time, Peach. An ex-suburbanite who moved to the wilds of the Sonoran Desert and decided to raise fiber animals, fowl creatures, 3 halflings, and one pint-sized farmer without a clue as to how. Join Lauren as she learns how to file alpaca teeth, shear a horny goat, raise 3 teenagers and 1 grandchild while cooking dinner and doing the laundry with her other six arms.
Somewhere in my clouded memory banks, I recall tales of repressed fifties housewives, overwhelmed by expectations of perfection in all things, surreptitiously sneaking generous sips of vanilla extract, 35% alcohol by volume, to make their days bearable. While searching the internets for references to all things Mother’s-little-helper related, I came across this blog extolling “The Glorious 1950’s Housewife” and became so incensed that I almost forgot what I sat down to write about in the first place. This woman is deluded:
“These housewives would always wake up at least two hours before their husbands, so they could shower, do their hair, put on make up, and wear really nice dress and high heels.”
“A belief of always looking their best, when “he see’ s you first thing in the morning”, was of utmost importance. They made it a point to never, ever have morning breath or look sleepy.”
(I won’t even get into her apostrophe catastrophes or other grammatical and spelling errors.)
“Men made the money back then and it was important for their wives to create a haven of peace once their husbands got home. Strong daily efforts to make him comfortable were routine. Like having him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.
“It was also important to make the evening his, while still incorporating your relationship and keeping a budding romance alive. Complaining or arguments were very scarce or kept to a minimum. The obvious goal was to try to make your home a place of peace and order, where your husband can relax and be happy.”
I believe these housewives were strong, organized, respectable, and quite happy.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. This woman belongs in Pleasantville, broadcast in black and white before Tobey McGuire came along and turned the more progressive populace into living color. Maybe she’ll romanticize the Antebellum South next, comment that the slaves enjoyed picking all that cotton in sweltering heat because the gracious white folks put roofs over their heads and fed them almost as well as they fed the livestock. How they didn’t deserve being more than 3/5 of a person, after all, and how they needed a good whippin’ from time to time to keep their baser urges in check. Oh, and they hated their families so it was a good thing the plantation owners were kind enough to take those burdenous chillens away from them.
But I digress, I came here to teach you people how to make vanilla extract at home, better tasting and less expensive vanilla extract. Now I’m afraid to do it without sounding like a fifties housewife, never mind the foolish woman who romanticizes her; but I’m going to tell you anyway.
Almost a year ago, while perusing the aisles of our local big box warehouse store (read Costco), Hubby and I discovered vanilla beans in test tubes. Because I am drawn by all things unique, I had to purchase said vanilla bean encasing test tubes or live the rest of my life in denied misery. Once home, they sat in the spice cabinet for nine months. If I was younger and had more energy and untied tubes, I could have conceived and birthed a baby in the time those beans were wasting away in their adorable glass tubes.
Then, one day,I ran out of vanilla. And remembered the tales of miserable vanilla-swigging fifties housewives. This memory was joined by a vague recollection of making one’s own vanilla at home and the knowledge that my liquor cabinet was well-stocked (because I mainly drink beer and wine) and my course was set.
I rattled through the Corner Cabinet of Rampant Disorganization and, just before Narnia, found an old maple syrup bottle to repurpose, dusted off the neglected test tubes, and pulled out the Absolut.
I suppose one could use inexpensive Vodka for this endeavor but, personally, I think life is too short to drink, or create vanilla from, cheap booze.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
Split three vanilla beans lengthwise, leaving one end intact, put into a lidded glass jar or bottle, cover with vodka, and let sit for six weeks to two months, shaking two to three times a week.
Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Why are we all not making our own vanilla? Are we afraid that, if we do, the bottom is going to fall out of the extract market, causing the recession to dip again never to recover? Because this is beyond easy. The hardest thing was washing the inside of the old maple syrup bottle. AND, like sourdough bread starter or that horrid fruit fermentation that my mother kept for years in my youth, it never runs out! But instead of feeding it, you just give it a little more vodka when the level of extract drops. And who doesn’t need a little vodka now and then? It makes the world a better place and, unlike this poor soul here whose mother was probably one of those “strong, organized, respectable, and quite happy” fifties housewives, you still have enough vodka to pour yourself a drink instead of emptying the spice aisle and making a spectacle of yourself.
In the past week, a week of emotional ups an downs as witnessed by yesterday’s morose posting, I have made a dozen muffins six times. For those of you who are rusty on your times tables, that is 72 muffins. All were eaten, none went to waste.
Jessica started it all last Sunday.
“I’d really love some blueberry muffins.”
“You would, huh? How do you plan on getting those blueberry muffins?”
“Um, you’re going to make me some?”
So bake muffins I did. And cinnamon rolls. And popovers. I baked myself into a fugue state in which the memory of recent unfortunate job-centric events disappeared and were replaced by the scents of delicious fat and sugar-laden carbohydrates.
Have I mentioned that I am (was) following a slow carb diet on which I lost ten pounds in two weeks? Did you know a day of drinking beer and eating baked goods causes all that no-bread-allowed suffering to be for naught? I need my manna from heaven. Or the grocer's.
My yen to bake has passed for the moment but my family’s yen to eat has not. So I am off to the kitchen once more, not at five a.m. and not donning a white paper cap, but still feeling a bit like the dead doughnut man. “Got to make the muffins.” The pint-sized farmer has requested orange. Thanks be to the gods of variety.
Thus far this week, I have substituted chopped frozen strawberries and a strawberry-banana mixture for the blueberries. I also added a skosh of vanilla because I like it. I’d photograph them but nary a one remains.
Yield: Makes 12 muffins Active Time: 25 min Total Time: 1 hr
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 1 cup packed light brown sugar 1/2 cup whole milk 1 large egg 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups blueberries (7 1/2 oz) Special equipment: a muffin pan with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups; 12 foil or paper muffin liners
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Put liners in muffin cups.
Whisk together butter, brown sugar, milk, and egg in a bowl until combined well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add milk mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries gently.
Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
Grease a 6-cup popover pan with the 1 teaspoon of butter.
Place all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender and process for 30 seconds. Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the popover pan, each should be about 1/3 to 1/2 full. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the popovers to a cooling rack and pierce each in the top with a knife to allow steam to escape. Serve warm.
Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls
Try not to eat them all. Especially when everyone is asleep and you’re afraid your family will eat all that remains the next morning before you awake so you devour two around midnight. Don’t do that! Better yet, pass them out to the neighbors and be thankful for the temporary memory loss that a day of hardcore baking provided.
1 cup water
1 large egg
3 ¼ cups bread flour
4 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp dry milk
¼ cup butter
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
Add ingredients to bread machine in the order listed and run under the dough cycle. Place dough on lightly floured board and divide into three pieces. Roll each into 8 x 9 rectangle, dot surface with butter, and sprinkle on a mixture of ¼ c brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon (divided into thirds as well). Sprinkle raisins as preferred.
Roll jelly-roll style, pinch seam to seal, and cut each third into eight pieces. Place on greased baking sheet, cover with damp towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until size doubles, approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
Bake at 375 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes. Glaze with a light mixture of confectioner’s sugar and milk.
Four years until I’m at the age Daddy was when he died, he was 52 and, in another month, I’ll be 48. This weighs heavily on me, more than it should. My inner self-loathing gets the better of me and I think of all the success he had, all the success I have not.
Last week, my neighbor Michelle suggested that I need Ritalin. Ritalin, like I have ADD and can’t focus on anything. But that’s wrong. I can focus on a myriad of subjects, hobbies and creative interests, reading, knitting, farming, painting, sewing, glasswork, writing, computer programming for Chrissakes. I just can’t stay interested in them for long periods of time and I don’t know why. I tell people I bore easily and I do but it’s more than that. I’m interested in learning to do something, I figure out how, and then I am no longer interested. My intellectual curiosity has been met. I know a moderate amount about many, many things, Jack of All Trades, Master of None.
This flaw of mine has gotten worse in recent years. I’m afraid my time is drawing nigh and, if I can’t discover that one thing, all this life will be for naught.
Yes, I have beautiful brilliant children who, without me, would not grace this world with their presence. Yes, I’ve made a lot of things that I have sold or given as gifts, objets d’art and craft that I’m reasonably confident are admired.
But honestly? I’m almost 48. Instead of a career, I pick up bartender and server jobs for needed household-running funds. I’m terrible with money management; I fail as a homemaker. Laundry piles flow like lava out the laundry room door, dog hair rests in clumps in the corners, windows are dirty, floors are worse. I’m a good but inconsistent cook. I have a good but inconsistent life.
When Daddy reached 50, and before he was diagnosed with the melanoma that would kill him, he commented that he had made it farther than his own dad, a binge-driven alcoholic who went to “dry out” and failed, no “rehab” in those days, at least not in its current incarnation. Part of my father doubted he would make it to 50. Perhaps, that is why he worked as hard as he did, became such an enormous success at a relatively young age. I haven’t done that.
Years move faster as one ages. Tempus fugit and all that. And I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid to not live.