I never realized what you could do with the stuff! Here is my latest projects with it:
Vanilla extract! You get the beans and use them for stuff like homemade ice cream. It makes those little tiny black specs and tastes really good – especially with my homemade butterscotch sauce. Then you put the used beans in vodka! After a couple weeks it’s vanilla extract – the expensive kind! A tiny bottle costs around $20, and the picture above is 10+ bottles. It tastes wonderful. The fudge Jill made with it had a delicious, distinct flavor. No, there isn’t anymore left.
Following on the heels of the extract theme, I decided to pick some mint leaves from our tiny garden and use them the same way. This makes a drink very similar to a mint julep – just add some sugar syrup and ice. Jill loves it, and it functions pretty much the same as it did in 1952.
On the left is my first attempt at limoncello. It’s the zest of two lemons. After this picture was taken, I then filtered out the zest and combined with sugar syrup to taste. It’s about the same process as the mint julep, and also tastes amazing. Very lemony.
All of these projects out of one $18 bottle of vodka!
Jill and I finished a batch of blueberry wine today. Nothing but blueberries, sugar, water, and champagne wine yeast (Lalvin EC-118). My brewing is minimalist due to laziness and the desire to control variables.
Right out of the primary it tastes amazing. Fairly sweet, as all my blueberry wines have been, and a distinctive flavor and beautiful color (it dyes things a bluish purple):
I’ve also had problems in the past with blueberry wine being cloudy. I was very careful this time not to disturb the fermenter, and even gave it a few days in “racking” position to let it settle completely. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t even rack to a secondary. Yes, I’m that lazy, and don’t have a lot of room for another five-gallon container in our small place. I just filter and bottle right from the primary. It seems to work fine!
After years of trial and error, I’m getting pretty good at this. Not because I’m an expert (I know very little), but because I’ve learned what works for me. Like many hobbies, it starts by leaning on the foundation of other helpful experts, and then gradually branching out. Imitation -> Assimilation -> Innovation
My winemaking is simple, like my other crafting hobbies. Just champagne yeast, fruit, and sugar in the correct proportions. No additives, no preparation of fruit, no boiling anything, no backsweetening, no sulfites, no pectin. I don’t even rack into a secondary fermenter, I just filter and bottle right out of the primary.
Because my recipe is so darn simple, I can vary the kind of fruit I use. I can use grape juice right from the grocery store, as in this example, or frozen fruits like blueberries, strawberries, or peaches. As long as the amount of sugars remains the same, the resulting wine has the same amount of sweetness every time!
My latest completed batch came from a frozen fruit mixture of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. It’s delicious! The sugar content of the fruit is right on the label, so I don’t have to guess when I calculate proportions.
After some trial and error, I’ve made three different candles!
Left: Roughly half bacon fat, half soy wax (you can also use beeswax). Alice and I made this together. I tried 100% bacon grease, but it’s just too soft at room temperature and doesn’t hold up the wick as it burns. This and the middle candle both use wooden wicks, they are from a cheap bag of fondue sticks and work great. Does it smell like bacon? Not really, if it does it’s very subtle.
Middle: 100% butter! Just melted and poured. The simplest to make. The wooden wick makes it crackle and pop as it burns, which is nice. Another way to make a wick is a small wooden skewer wrapped in a bit of paper towel, shoved into the butter.
Right: Thick cotton wick + hole cut in mason jar lid + cute jam jar = olive oil lamp! Took a bit of tweaking because it would not wick the oil up all the way from the bottom. In the end I added a bunch of water, which is heavier than the oil and settles on the bottom. This keeps the oil near the top and wicking into the flame. This is my favorite because olive oil burns clean and lasts a long time. You can adjust the height of the wick/flame, and you can refill it just by unscrewing the lid!
All of these use common household fuels you have lying around, are easy to make, and end up being much cheaper than buying candles or lamps + paraffin. You can add scent with essential oils. All of them burn very clean, no black smoke.
I was poking through my audio plugins and discovered that somehow I had installed Cardinal Synth. It’s a “free and open-source virtual modular synthesizer plugin”. It acts like a virtual synth rack and has hundreds of built-in modules to arrange however you want. In this one plugin there’s a whole world to explore!
So I started exploring. I know only the basics of building synths but was able to come up with this:
It looks complex but that’s the magic of it, you build one thing at a time and just patch ins and outs. Before long you have created a monster. This whole thing uses about 5% of my processor. I ran it all night just for fun, no memory leaks or performance hiccups.
What does it do, you might ask? It’s an ambient music and ocean sound generator. Here’s some sample audio of what it does forever:
Not perfect, but for a first effort I’m proud of it. I’ve learned a bit about VCOs, VCAs, and oscillators – far more than I would have if I had to buy all this stuff! The only thing that isn’t actually generated is the seagulls (you did hear the seagulls, right?).