Sunday, January 8, 2017

A New Year and a New Project

Though I haven't been keeping up with posting, I have completed 3 more tasks on my DayZero list since I last blogged.  And, I've also set myself a new open-ended challenge to work on that may earn some posts as well.

The first batches of vanilla - started in early June
The same bottles two weeks later

One of the on-going items that I decided was complete was my experiments with making my own vanilla extract.  I started the process in early June with 3 bottles.  I started 12 more smaller bottles in late June to give as gifts and try some different flavor combinations.  I tried using vanilla beans from three different regions - Mexico, Madagascar, and Tahiti - some bottles had a single source of beans and a few had blends from different regions.  I also used a variety of spirits - vodka, bourbon, rum, and even tequila - for the extract agents.  I used a little of the Mexican beans in vodka formula for the last of my Christmas baking, and it seemed to work quite well.  I also gave about half of my bottles away as Christmas gifts.  Though the process does take some time, it is incredibly easy and doesn't require much attention.

I also reorganized all of my recipe clippings before I started my holiday baking.  I went from three 1" binders with lots of loose bits of paper sliding out to six binders - 3 of which are 3" size.  It is SO much easier for me to find the recipes that I am looking for now.  I even separated the cookie recipes - since I have so many - into a binder of things that I have tried (with my notes on how they turned out) and another binder of ideas to try at a future time.

My last completed goal was to keep a gratitude list for a month.  I did this through the month of November in the daily journal that I've kept for years.  It was an interesting task; I did find at least one thing to be thankful for every day (although there were some stressful days in that period).  My conclusion at the end was that I am most grateful for small things in my life - my silly and affectionate cat, my family, small kind gestures from friends and co-workers, etc. - it seems that our culture promotes the big things in life as those to aspire to (winning the lottery, etc.), but I found it is the little day to day moments that really add up to make your life better.  So, I am trying harder to make time for myself and things that make me happy as well as being mindful of those moments when I can add something to someone else's life.

All of these goals are sort of combined into my new big side project - being a better baker!  I love to bake but have resisted watching any sort of food shows until recently when I started using them as a distraction while I exercise.  And, I have succumbed to the charms of the Great British Baking Show; I love how each baker seems to be concentrating on doing their personal best rather than the all out competition aspect, and I learned lots about areas of baking where I don't have personal experience.  I thought "well, maybe I haven't been giving other baking shows a fair chance."  So, I watched some others and was appalled on several levels - so much competition, lots of gimmicks, and the bakers don't seem to be all that knowledgeable about multiple areas of baking.  So, I decided that personal knowledge is a good thing and have made myself a list (which quickly became huge) of skills and recipes that I want to gain to become a better baker.  If I manage to complete a recipe a week, it will take me two years to get through it all ... I actually think it will take even longer than that because some of the things listed are probably going to need multiple attempts and there will certainly be weeks when I don't have time to make something.  Let me be clear - I'm not prepping to be a baking contestant, I just want to be better at something that brings me (and hopefully the individuals who help eat my experiments) joy.  So, expect to see a few baking posts mixed into my Day Zero adventures in the upcoming months.

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