Each year I like to create some little handmade item that The Dormouse can help with to give away as Christmas presents to friends, colleagues and acquaintances and random people who drop by with a gift and I don't have anything to give back. I've done small bottles of Russian Spice Tea, Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin seeds, and a host of other things that sounded like a good idea at the time but turned into waaaay more work than I intended.

Here's what I'm doing this year: Homemade vanilla extract.

It's the easiest thing in the world too, but you have to start now.

This is where I got the recipe and they have a much more elegant description of how to make it than I will have here, so you might want to click on that link. But here's the jist:

Buy a bottle of Stoli and a dozen vanilla beans. Actually, I got Smirnoff, I just like saying the word Stoli -- stoli, stoli, stoli. I found Vanilla flavored Smirnoff and decided to try that. I'm hoping it doesn't backfire on me.

Here's what you have to know about vanilla beans that surprised the heck out of me: they are dayamn expensive. Seriously a dozen beans is gonna run you at least forty bucks. I had no idea. I went to Whole Foods to pick them up and found them on sale for about $4 bucks a bean, but I could have paid as much as $8 a bean for beans from Papa New Guinea, Tonga or some other far away place. Some regular grocery stores like Giant also carry whole vanilla beans, but they are much more mangier and anemic than the ones I found at Whole Foods and about the same price.

OK, now you pretty much have everything you need. Here are the very complicated instructions:

  1. Cut each of the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and shove them into the bottle of vodka.
  2. Put the top back on.
  3. Put the bottle on the windowsill. Shake it occasionally.
  4. Forget about it until Christmas. (the beans need to steep for about two months)

The end.

OK - not really the end, because I have yet to get The Dormouse get involved in the project. When she's in the house over the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm having her draw pictures and write "Homemade Vanilla" on some mailing labels. Once the vanilla is through steeping, I'll pour it into small decorative bottles. Then we'll stick The Dormouse's label on them, tie a ribbon around them and voila... instant homemade Christmas gifts.

I'm most looking forward to giving them to uptight church ladies who have no idea that real vanilla extract is about 80 proof anyway.

This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by Klutz.

Edited to add: If you're just reading this and are considering this as a project, I've posted a follow-up here. It might be helpful. It might not. It might just give you something to occupy your time while you're waiting for your porn to download.