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Instant Pot Vanilla Extract—One Week from Start-to-Gift

For nearly a decade I’ve been making vanilla extract for Christmas gifts. And every year I find myself scrambling because it’s a process that requires two months minimum—six is better. But all that has changed since discovering how to make vanilla extract using my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Instead of months, Instant Pot vanilla extract takes just one week from start-to-gift!

Mary's 2013 homemade Madagascar vanilla extract

 

For me (and friends and family on my gift list), vanilla extract is still the perfect homemade holiday gift. The difference in taste is extraordinary. And now that pure vanilla extract has become so expensive (more on that in a bit), it’s like pure gold!

Processing homemade vanilla extract in an electric Instant Pot pressure cooker gives it the intensity of aged high-quality store-bought vanilla in a fraction of the time. Now our perfect homemade gift can be a perfect last-minute gift, too!

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5 Other Ways to Use a Slow Cooker that Have Nothing To Do with Food

They’re bulky and take up precious cabinet space, but we’ll never get rid of our slow cookers. They can be such a lifesaver those days when time is scarce and we just want to make a big batch of something deliciously comforting to get us through.

White vintage electric slow cooker aka Crock Pot

A slow cooker, aka Crock-Pot®, is one awesome household appliance for hands-off cooking. If you have one (a recent study says at least 80 percent of us do) you may know what a great time- and money-saver it is. Surprisingly, your slow cooker is good for other tasks that have nothing to do with eating.

For the projects that follow, you may want to find that old vintage slow cooker gathering dust in the garage so that you have one dedicated for non-food projects. Or pick up a second liner (inner pot) for your multi-cooker Instant Pot.

Re-make candles

We all have old candles that are lopsided or have holes burned through one side. Rather than toss them in the trash, toss them in the slow cooker instead.

Once melted, fish out the old wicks and gather your heatproof containers. Tie a weighted candle wick (you can find these at any craft store or online) on a pencil laid across the container’s rim and let the other end dangle into the empty container. Carefully ladle the melted wax into the container without disturbing the wick and allow to cool. There you go, new candles!

 

Lit candles in jars in both blue and white

Homemade soap

Looking for a great homemade gift idea? This could be it! Homemade soap is wonderful because you can customize your soap bars with the scents and ingredients you prefer.

While there are many recipes and instructions available online, you can skip the tedium with a clear melt and pour soap base. It’s detergent-free. An hour in the slow cooker plus essential oil (20 drops lavender essential oil would be an awesome choice) plus colorant and any variety of botanicals and you’ve made your own beautiful soap products.

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6 Awesome Gifts of Summer to Make Now for Christmas

Even if you didn’t have an abundant garden this year, don’t worry. You can still make these wonderful gifts of summer to hold onto for Christmas. You can find everything you need at a local farmer’s market.

How wonderful it will be when you welcome the holiday season knowing your gifts are ready to go.

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Photo credit: AFamilyFeast.com

Freezer jam

Mix 2 cups crushed fresh strawberries with 4 cups sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir one package dry pectin into 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers. Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Freeze and store frozen until ready to give. Makes 5 pints.

Isn’t that a cute label for “Christmas Jam?” It’s a free printable HERE from AFamilyFeast.com

MORE: Peach Freezer Jam

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Best Creative and Inexpensive Homemade Gifts!

Whether it’s something from your kitchen, craft room, woodworking shop, or computer, there’s nothing like a homemade gift. A tree ornament, plate of cookies, box of fudge, note cards—these are just some of the homemade gifts with universal appeal.

I love homemade gifts both to give and receive. No wonder I have so many favorites!

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Shaving Cream

Seriously. Quite similar in process to the lotion above, you can make a big batch in one evening.

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3 Fun Ways to Avoid the Heartbreak of Post Holiday Stress Disorder

Who among us hasn’t at some time during the hectic days of December said those old familiar words, “Next year I’m going to get started earlier!” I don’t know what you meant by “earlier,” but today seems about right.

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Here for your consideration are three ideas meant to encourage you to head-off the heartbreak of post holiday stress disorder brought on by procrastination, under-planning, and overspending. Read more

A Homemade Gift You’d Actually Love to Receive

Gifting friends, family, co-workers teachers and others with a jar of your own signature luxury hand and body lotion will definitely put you on the map. It’s that good. And what better time than this weekend to get a head start on Christmas gifts.

 

 

Not particularly crafty? No worries. If you can assemble, empty, stir and mix well, you’ve got what it takes to make dozens of these gifts start to finish in a single evening. And the best part? About $3.50 per gift, depending on where you buy the ingredients and containers.

 

 

Here’s the routine: Purchase the specific ingredients, mix them together, divide between your choice of small containers, apply a label or gift tag, embellish with a ribbon and there you go. Done and in no time flat.

To make this lovely hand and body lotion you’ll need:

Ingredients

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Tools

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Electric mixer or hand whisk
  • Gallon-size zip-type or another plastic bag

 

Instructions

1. Empty the five ingredients into the large mixing bowl.

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2. Using an electric hand mixer or whisk, whip together until well incorporated, about five minutes.

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3. Fill a large zip-type bag with the whipped lotion. Close the top. Using scissors, snip off a small portion of one of the bottom corners  to create a simple “piping” bag.

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4. Fill jars or containers of choice by gently squeezing the bag so the lotion extrudes from the snipped corner. I use these  4-oz. plastic jars in cobalt blue with black lids.

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5. Give your signature lotion a name. Create small labels or tags with your message of choice.

6. Embellish as desired.

That’s it. Beautiful, homemade gifts that will be so well-received because you have just created a very high-quality lotion. Because all of the ingredients except for the shea body cream are unscented or nearly so, your lotion will have a very light, subtle scent—certainly not overpowering or offensive. Simply lovely.

This recipe as stated, yields about 16 4-oz. jars of fine hand and body lotion. Your mileage may vary depending on how long and vigorously you whip the lotion. Be careful to not make it too fluffy. I find that no more than five minutes is ideal.

 

You may also enjoy:

When Holiday Debt Hangs On Long After the Gifts are Forgotten

Best Creative and Inexpensive Homemade Gifts!

12 Things You Can Do Now to Get Ready for Christmas

 


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Just Maybe the Best Homemade Holiday Gift Ever

When the holiday season arrives, the best gifts just might be from your kitchen. And when those gifts are extra decadent, well that just makes them even better.

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A couple of years ago I got the crazy idea to take my homemade gifts of food beyond cookies, cakes and pure vanilla extract to bacon. Seriously. More specifically Bacon Jam.

Yes! And I have to say that with all the challenges you’ll discover as you read to the end, Bacon Jam is quite possibly the best holiday gift ever. I say that because it’s what local friends and family clamor for.

Bacon Jam

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces (note 1)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (note 3)
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, more or less to taste
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup (the real deal, please)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Note 1: Ignore the molasses in the photo.

Note 2: I’ve tested substituting bacon crumbles for bacon and wasn’t thrilled with the result. Your results may vary, which means crumbles are certainly an option.

Note 3: May substitute apple cider vinegar for all or part of the balsamic vinegar, which is what I do now after considering my own taste and feedback from my recipients. However, either will give you great results.

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The first step is to cut the bacon crosswise into one-inch pieces and cook them in a large skillet, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon is lightly browned about 20 minutes.

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Tasty Treats from Your Kitchen Make Great Gifts

Whether you have five or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list this year—don’t panic! You do not have to be crafty or know how to cook to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen.

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You’ll never go wrong giving a consumable (read: edible) gift. It does the job without contributing to your recipients’ stuff-factor.

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. Our favorite: Clear cellophane bags online for about 6 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for bags like these that are printed with holiday motifs). Or find similar at craft stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Stores and Hobby Lobby, and at cake and candy supply stores.

Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin! Read more