Saving money and keeping life simple – naturally!

Simple and inexpensive vanilla extract – Make your own! March 12, 2013

Filed under: Cooking — Shannon @ 10:28 pm

vanilla-beansSo I got sick of buying EXPENSIVE vanilla extract a few years ago. I decided there had to be a better way. I do a lot of baking and cooking from scratch so we’re always going through so much of it and at a high price tag.

It’s very easy to make your own – and MUCH less expensive! All you need is a handful of vanilla beans, vodka and a clean canning jar or old tomato sauce jar.

In the beginning I bought a higher grade of vodka such as Smirnof. Not top of the line, but not your bankers club variety. After doing this a while I tried the cheaper vodka without compromising the quality.

All you do is slice your vanilla beans lengthwise, just not all the way through. Put them in your jar and cover with enough vodka to fully cover the vanilla beans. If you don’t have enough vodka you can also cut them in half and then lengthwise. Put the lid on – and stick it in a cool place out of sunlight – I store mine on a shelf in the basement. Give it a shake when you think of it – I probably do once a week, sometimes its once a month.

The one catch to all of this is it does take time. I’ve used the new vanilla after a few months of putting the batch together. Ideally it should sit for 6 -12 months. Once you get started, its easier cause it will take you not go through a whole mason jar of vanilla in a short period of time.

I keep two or three jars going at a time. When I take some out – I pour in more vodka and rotate that jar to the back. I now use vanilla extract generously and don’t cry when a little gets spilled.

Give it a try – you can be free buying vanilla extract in as little as 2 months and on your way to saving some big bucks!


Simplifying your shower curtain liner February 18, 2013

Filed under: Cleaning — Shannon @ 9:19 pm

So in our master bedroom we have just a shower stall, not tub. When you buy the liners for the shower, it is made for a tub – way too big and ours just got all bunched up and was a breeding ground for mold. Yuck!  So after fighting with cleaning the shower curtain liner – I decided to cut it down to size (literally). I just measured the size of the shower opening and added 2-3 inches to make sure it stays closed on the sides. Cut it down with a pair of scissors and voila! My new shower curtain liner that fit fabulously.

If only the liner could be cut in half and make two – giving you more bang for your buck. Our opening was just a little too big to pull this off. But maybe your shower would work.

One more tip on the shower curtain liner. I throw this in the wash with my bath mats. The mats help to scrub the liner and get it clean and it’s less work scrubbing a shower curtain liner. I’m not sure if anyone enjoys that job.

I buy a pretty nice liner at Big Lots for $5 – I haven’t had to replace it for 3 years so I think that is money well spent. In the past I would replace it more frequently when it would get funky.


Shower Cleaner with Vinegar February 10, 2013

Filed under: Cleaning — Shannon @ 3:07 am

Vinegar is my best friend when it comes to cleaning. Instead of buying the expensive shower spray – the stuff you spray on after a shower to keep the shower cleaner between cleanings – I use a combo of 50/50 Water to white vinegar. Just put in a spray bottle – I use one from the dollar store and you have a very inexpensive shower cleaner. Keeps your mold and mildew at bay as well as cuts down on the soap scum. Plus no harsh chemicals – give it a shot!


Ice Cream Cake Tutorial

Filed under: Cooking — Shannon @ 2:47 am

Making your own ice cream cake is easy, you just need to plan ahead. I’ve seen this done so many ways – one layer, two layers, with layers of cake in between your ice cream layers like Coldstone Creamery cakes. The possibilities are limitless! Just pick your favorite ice cream flavors and any toppings. Here are the steps to make your own yummy ice cream cake at a fraction of the cost of a store-bought cake. I can usually make a large cake for under $10!

Gather all the items you’ll need to make the cake:
1-2 containers of your favorite ice cream flavors (depending if you are doing one layer or two)
Plastic wrap
Aluminum Foil (Not pictured)
Spring foam pan
Box of cookies (or you can bake your own)
Large container of whipped topping (We’ve made this with homemade whipped cream it’s just an extra step in making the whipped cream)
1 stick of butter

First divide your stick of butter in half.


Next melt 1/2 your butter. You can do in the microwave or on the stove. Always cover in the microwave because if you melt it too much – it will bubble and can cause a big mess! Just do a little at a time. Typically mine melts in under 2 minutes.


Now take your first container of ice cream and remove from the freezer. I let mine sit out on the counter for about 15 minutes. I’ve heard of others leaving it in the fridge and others microwave it to get it soft. The goal is to get the ice cream to a softened stage but not melted. Just enough so its flexible enough to be pressed into your pan.

Now line your spring foam pan with plastic wrap. You’ll want to cover the bottom piece separately and then add the side piece. Make sure to make your plastic wrap large enough so it could wrap around the sides and top of your finished cake layer. I usually leave another 4-5 inches on each side.


Here is when I added the side of the pan. Spring foam pans work best if you plan on making a layer cake. You could also do a one layer cake in a regular pan and just not remove the cake from the pan. Ice the cake in the pan and all!


Next crush your cookies in a food processor. I’ve also done this with a gallon zip lock bag – just use a rolling-pin or spoon to crush the cookies. The overall goal is to crush your cookies – I like the food processor because it’s fast and easy. I always seem to spring a leak in a zip lock bag and it can make a big mess. I did notice when making this cake that the store-bought cookies seem to be coming in smaller containers so to finish my cake I had to buy one more container of cookies. Might be best to buy two – you can also use the extra cookies as decoration for your cake. You can always bake your own cookies if you want a more homemade experience. For lack of time in this case, I did not. You could also use your favorite candy bar as a substitute for cookies.


Next mix your cookies and melted butter. It should look something like this:


Then line the cookies along the bottom of the pan. At this point you can also add your favorite ice cream topping. I personally like carmel so we added some of that to the top. Be creative and add whatever makes your taste buds happy! Now stick in the freezer for 10-15 minutes so it can get hard.


Now add your ice cream. It should be slightly softened by now but now completely melted. It will take a little work to press into the cake. The key is to not melt the ice cream too much, just so its flexible enough to work with. The cookies will be pretty frozen so they shouldn’t come up with the ice cream while you’re spreading it.


Your finished cake layer should look something like this. Now freeze overnight to ensure its hard.


I cover my cake with aluminum foil when I put it in the freezer – keeps all the yuckies out!


The next day take out your cake – let it sit out for 5 minutes or so. I use a rubber spatula and run it around the outside of the cake to loosen it up. Then you should be able to remove the outside of the spring foam pan.


It will look something like this….


Remove the cake from the base of the spring foam pan. It will be frozen solid so you can pick it up and move it without the pan. Now cover this layer with the plastic wrap on the bottom.  I always add another piece of plastic wrap on the top to make sure the entire cake is covered in plastic wrap. Then I cover it again in aluminum foil. Again one pice on the top and one on the bottom. Put it back into the freezer and get started on your 2nd layer – just repeat the above process. Or you can just use one layer. That’s up to you!

Next I assemble my cake just like any other layer cake except I do my first layer of icing in whipped topping. Put it in between the two layers and all around the cake. It will help keep all those cookie pieces from showing through on your final icing. I typically use some wax paper beneath the cake to keep my cake platter clean.


This is what mine looked like when it was done adding the whipped topping.


Return it to the freezer and smooth it out later or just eat it like this. I like to take it one step further and put a layer of regular icing on top and ice my cake. It is a little more tricky to ice an ice cream cake since it melts. You just have to work quickly or in short spirts.

This is what our final product looked like for my daughter’s 5th birthday party


This is always a crowd pleaser and really simple to do. As you see, you just need to plan ahead as freezing time is the biggest obstacle. I typically plan at least 3-4 days in advance. You can make this go a lot faster if you have two spring foam pans that are the same size. That way you can make both layers at the same time.  Just make sure they are the same size or you’ll have a weird looking cake.

Here are some of the favorites I’ve had requests for:

Chocolate chip cookie dough cake – 1 container vanilla ice cream, 1 container chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, carmel and chocolate syrup

Mint Chocolate Chip cake – 1 container vanilla ice cream, 1 container mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate syrup

Oreo cake – 1 container vanilla ice cream, 1 container cookies and cream ice cream, Oreos, and chocolate syrup

You can use any cookie or candy – any type of ice cream or toppings.