Fall Threads

Fall Threads - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Fall Threads - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Fall Threads - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Plaid jacket :: Superdry from thredUP
Lace blouse :: Zara last season
Straight leg jeans :: AG {on sale!}
Black ankle boot :: Kork-Ease
Location :: Brown School Playground, Newburyport’s South End

I’m almost always wearing something second hand. It’s a great way to save money and be green. I spend way too much on food to pay full price for clothes — except shoes! If you missed my Shopping to Save post last Spring, head over for my top 10 tips for shopping thredUP, my favorite online consignment store. This plaid jacket was a total score for $20! Plaid plus fur? Yes, please! What Fall threads are your favorites?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Under the Monkey Bars

I just finished making my latest batch of homemade vanilla extract. You won’t believe how easy it is to make it yourself. You don’t need to be at all crafty for this DIY! The taste of homemade vanilla extract is lighter and smoother than the store bought version, and you’ll know exactly what’s in there.

I’ll never forget the first time we made vanilla extract 3 years ago. Sweet Pea and I were on our way to the liquor store to buy vodka when my Mom called. She asked Sweet Pea what we were doing that day. Sweet Pea yelled from the backseat, “We’re going to buy VODKA!” Of course she asked why I was bringing a toddler to the liquor store. I quickly explained through red cheeks that we were picking up supplies to make homemade vanilla. It was that awkward moment though…when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Out of the mouth of babes!

Homemade Vanilla Extract - Under the Monkey Bars

Anyway, vanilla extract is made by transferring the flavor of vanilla beans into alcohol. Vodka is the best type of alcohol for making vanilla extract because of its neutral flavor. I’ve heard that some people use brandy or rum, but keep in mind the flavor will be different. We use vanilla extract almost daily to flavor plain yogurt, bake muffins, make pancakes, and in smoothies. I wouldn’t want these things to taste like rum. Not for monkeys!

Two items to consider when choosing your alcohol: 1) Pay more for glass bottles to minimize BPAs transferred through plastics. Here’s why. 2) Buy gluten free alcohol if you or anyone you bake for follows a gluten free diet. Store bought Nielsen Massey Pure Vanilla Extract is gluten free, but there’s added sugar on the ingredient list. When you make it homemade, your vanilla extract won’t need any sugar. This time I used two 750 ml glass bottles of Luksusowa Potato Vodka. I found some less expensive corn-based vodkas but thought it would be best to avoid corn since vodka isn’t labeled for GMOs.

There are many choices for vanilla beans. I’ve used Tahitian vanilla beans and a few varieties of Madagascar vanilla beans. I recommend buying grade B Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. These beans are cheaper than grade A beans because they contain less moisture and are not as pretty. The flavor is the same so don’t worry about what they look like. These beans are perfect for a homemade vanilla extract, and will save you some money.

It takes 2-3 months for the vanilla beans to break down in the alcohol. If you get your ingredients asap, you can pull off homemade vanilla gifts for the holidays! Give a beautiful amber bottle of homemade vanilla extract on its own, or add items to make a gift basket. Create a festive gift box with a high end pancake mix, whisk or mixing spoon, pure maple syrup from the farmer’s market, and fun napkins. Homemade vanilla extract makes such a thoughtful holiday gift.

Making homemade vanilla can save you money. I broke even on this batch. Before we went gluten free, I could buy cheaper vodka for less than $10/bottle. If you buy your amber bottles in bulk or reuse them, that will also contribute to your overall savings. To me, homemade always tastes better especially because it’s made with love, and it’s a fun activity for little monkeys.

Got monkeys? They can help! Monkeys can put the halved vanilla beans into the bottles. They can also be in charge of shaking the bottles a few times a week. That’s a fun chore! When the vanilla is ready, ask your monkeys to line up the bottles and hold the funnel while you pour the homemade vanilla extract. Sweet Pea is still my helper whenever we make homemade vanilla. 

I made you a little shopping list of supplies you may not have on hand. Click the links to save you time and minimize trial and error when making your first batch of homemade vanilla:
Stainless steel funnel with detachable strainer
Vanilla beans, package of 25
– Amber glass bottles: 4 oz pack of 12, 8 oz pack of 6, or 8 oz pack of 12 — depending on what size/how much you decide to make
– Handwrite your own dishwasher safe label stickers or order custom “homemade vanilla” labels (I still have a few sheets left from my original order!)
Sharp knife
– Eco-friendly, made in the USA cutting board (I’m replacing all of ours with these)

Like wine, vanilla extract matures with age. You are going to love making your own homemade vanilla extract. Let me know how it comes out!

Homemade Vanilla Extract
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  1. 2 bottles (750 ml) of 80+ proof vodka (40% alcohol)
  2. 24 Madagascar vanilla beans, grade B
  1. Using the funnel, remove approximately 1/4 cup of vodka from each bottle to make room for vanilla beans. You can always pour out a little more after you put the vanilla beans in. If you drink vodka, have a decanter ready to save what you pour out!
  2. Slice each vanilla bean lengthwise along one entire side of the bean. Use your sharpest knife and bare down really hard.
  3. Place the beans in the vodka bottle, replace the lid, and shake.
  4. Write the date you made the vanilla on the vodka bottle with a sharpie (so you don't forget!).
  5. Store the vanilla for 2-3 months in a cool, dark room.
  6. Shake the vanilla once a week to agitate the beans and speed the extraction process.
  7. After 2-3 months, pour your homemade vanilla extract through a funnel into six 8 oz. amber bottles or twelve 4 oz. amber bottles. Add labels and store or give!
Adapted from DIY Natural
Adapted from DIY Natural
Under the Monkey Bars http://underthemonkeybars.com/

This and That…

This + That - Under the Monkey Bars

What are you reading? I just finished Beautiful Ruins, a novel by Jess Walter. It wasn’t what I expected at all – my favorite kind of book. Walter weaves a tapestry with each chapter, adding more depth to his story, taking you back and forth in time from Hollywood to Italy. An unexpected ending makes this novel shine even brighter. A must read!!! My favorite quote: 

Embrace the sweet lovely mess that is real life.

Life gives you lemons; make lemonade. I’m making this Blender Lemonade asap with coconut sugar. Brilliant, right? I’ll let you know how it turns out on Facebook. Summer’s not over yet!

Speaking of which…10 Things You Should Toss by the end of Summer

You might need these closet cleaning and organizing tips if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get busy cleaning out your closet. Some good tips in there. I usually do a big purge for Fall and then again in Spring. You?

This is an awesome article that I totally relate to right now: How to go from skinnies to boyfriend jeans. If I’m going to make the transition, I definitely need a how to guide. Slide 11 is speaking to me.

Who else needs a cheat sheet for texting and internet acronyms? IKR!

There’s a big event coming to my neck of the woods! The first ever Savor Newburyport looks to be nothing short of amazing for anyone who likes eating, shopping, and exercising. Wait, that’s me! Definitely check it out if you’re local. 

Happy Hump Day guys! 

Best. Sandals. Ever.

Red Yokono Wedge - Under the Monkey Bars

Cadiz Red Wedge Sandal :: Yokono

Brown Yokono Wedge - Under the Monkey Bars

Cadiz Brown Wedge Sandal :: Yokono

You know when I find good things, I share. I’m obsessed with these sandals!!

I made room in my suitcase for my first pair of Yokono wedge sandals a few years ago on a trip to Madrid. I’ve worn them so much that I had to get some new colors and styles this summer. I searched high and low, finally finding an online store in London that ships to the States! The new sandals are just as comfortable as my original pair…and now I have 3 🙂

Why are these sandals the best sandals ever? I knew you’d ask!

Yokono shoes are handmade in Spain. There’s no break-in time because the leather is super soft like butter. My original pair looks almost new. These wedges are just the right height for every day wear and light as a feather. I can walk in them for miles with no blisters (which is huge for me because of my foot issues). They don’t have that “I’m wearing sensible shoes” look either – you know the ones. Yokono shoes run true to size; I wear a 36 or 6 1/2. And there’s a ladybug on the bottom. How fun is that?

It would be amazing if a store like Nordstrom would offer Yokono shoes in the States. Hey Nordstrom: This brand is IT! Can’t wait to see the boots in Yokono’s Fall line up.

What’s your favorite summer sandal? Share in the comments!

Blender vs Juicer

Blender vs Juicer - Under the Monkey Bars

People ask me all the time which I prefer: blender vs juicer. They say, “Which should I buy? Which one is healthier?” Both appliances will boost your fruit and vegetable intake and add more nutrition to your diet. It’s tough to eat six to eight servings a day without a smoothie or fresh juice. Let’s break it down to help you decide which appliance is best for you and your family.

Blending produce into a smoothie preserves the beneficial fiber of the fruits and veggies. You might hear nutritionists say that fresh smoothies are healthier for this reason. I find it easier to pack a smoothie to go because most recipes keep for several hours and sometimes even overnight. These mason jar tops are perfect for traveling with smoothies! 

Smoothies are a great way to hide veggies! Sometimes smoothies can be more fruit based, obviously depending on the recipe. Be mindful to add at least one veggie to every smoothie. Cucumbers taste so fresh in a smoothie and avocados will  make your smoothy really creamy. No excuses! You can add healthy fats, seeds and protein to your smoothies, like coconut oil, almond butter, chia seeds, ground flaxseed and natural protein powder.

Beware that smoothies can increase the sugar in your diet if you use sweetened yogurt, store bought juice, frozen yogurt, or ice cream. That’s called a milkshake, people!

Juicing can help you transition off store bought juices. This totally worked for us so it can be done! I haven’t bought juice at the store in 4 years. To maximize the nutrients of your fresh juice — especially green juices — drink them within 15 minutes of juicing. And fresh juice is best on an empty stomach, like first thing in the morning or 2 hours after a meal.

Juicing is better at getting larger quantities of veggies into your belly. I’ve never sat down and eaten a raw beet, 8 raw carrots, an apple, 2 celery sticks, 4 leaves of raw kale, and a slice of fresh ginger — but I can drink it in my juice! My monkeys love fresh apple and ginger juice when they’re sick. Much better than a bottle of chemicals (not pointing any fingers but you know what I’m talking about!).

You may have heard that some of the fiber is removed from the fruit or vegetable in the juicing process. This is true. However, you can use the fiber-packed pulp for other things. I don’t like to waste anything so I frequently use my juice pulp to bake, add to soups, rice, or meatballs. When you pay extra for organic produce, don’t waste it!

Which appliance will you will use more often? Don’t let a big blender or juicer take up precious space on your counter if you’re not going to use it. I juice about twice a week and make smoothies at least 4 to 5 times a week. I also use our blender to make sauces, soups, pesto, and pancake mix.

Which appliance will you be willing to clean? My blender is super easy to clean. Fill it half way with cold water, add a drop of soap, and let it run for a minute. It literally cleans itself! On the other hand, juicers are a little more complicated to clean. I rinse the juicer parts off immediately and then wash them by hand when I have a chance, usually a few hours later. It’s not hard to do, just takes extra time. I’m willing to clean it because fresh juice makes me feel so good.

What kind of blender should you buy? I can’t recommend one over another because I have not tested them all. But I can say that I totally love my Vitamix! I have this model. Make sure you buy one that fits under your counter (some don’t!). You can use a high-speed blender to make juice, but it will be very thick and pulpy even with extra ice and water.

What kind of juicer should you buy? I have a Breville Juicer. It’s one of the fastest on the market because of it’s wide feed tube. I can literally drop a whole apple in there — no chopping required! This high-speed juicer leaves less pulp in your juice (perfect for little monkeys!). You do loose a smidgen of the fiber and nutrients with a high-speed or centrifugal juicer, but I don’t have the patience for the slow or masticating juicers. A few of my friends have this juicer and love it. I’m willing to loose a bit of nutrition for speed. It’s literally only a small percentage.

The Verdict? Both appliances serve a purpose in our home. They allow me to mix it up on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. We can make a breakfast smoothie one day, a green juice the next, and a chocolatey treat smoothie another day. Ask yourself: Which would you use more? Do you have room for both? Blending and juicing your fruits and veggies will make sure you get your six to eight servings per day and leave you feeling healthier than ever! You’ll have extra energy and less cravings. Either way, you can’t go wrong.