Living and Lifestyle

Kohlman: Gifts from your kitchen mean so much more

These early December days are when I start planning my edible holiday gifts.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been baking up squares, bars, cookies and other sweet confections to give away to loved ones. I love seeing the look in their eyes as they carefully unwrap the bow and peer inside the box of goodies. Flashes of delight appear across their face as they bite into a caramel or shortbread cookie. Sure, Black Friday can get you some big deals, but if you want to be a big deal to that special someone, spend some time in the kitchen and whip up something tasty.

If you love to bake like I do, the price of pure vanilla extract in the grocery stores is bound to give you a small heart attack. It’s a scary world out there for vanilla lovers. Since a cyclone hit Madagascar in March, prices for vanilla extract have shot up from $70/gallon in 2015 to $500/gallon today. If you’re thinking that pure vanilla extract is like liquid gold, you’re not far off. Giving the gift of homemade vanilla to that special baker in your life is an act of love. You will have to shell out some big cash for vanilla beans, which are also insanely priced, but the good news is you can use the cheapest vodka on the shelf. Just open the vanilla pods, place them in a jar or glass bottle with the vodka, and shake. The longer it sits, the better, and the baker who you are making this for will love you forever.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

6 whole vanilla beans

500 mL vodka

Carefully slice the beans open lengthwise. You just want to cut them open, not cut them in half completely. Use your fingers or knife to gently open the beans up, exposing the seeds inside. Place the beans in a clean glass bottle or jar. Pour the vodka over, screw on the cap or lid, and shake well. The extract can be used after four weeks (be sure to shake the bottle/jar occasionally to help with the infusion), but the vanilla will taste better the longer it sits. Once the vanilla extract is used up, the beans can be dried and then blended with some granulated sugar to become vanilla sugar. Makes 500mL of pure vanilla extract.


Any baker would love to get a gift of home made vanilla.

Renee Kohlman

One recipe that I turn to every December is Caramel Popcorn with Roasted Nuts. For years and years, my mom would make this popcorn at Christmas. Package it up in pretty tins for her kids, she did. This popcorn is buttery. No, it is very buttery. And heaving with caramel and roasted nuts. You’ll want to go for a hike or a skate or a jog around the block after heavy consumption of this stuff. Making the caramel is like a fun science project and requires your undivided attention. There is tremendous bubbling, especially when you add the baking soda and booze, but don’t be afraid. This is all normal. After that, you’re almost done, and given that this makes a rather large batch, you can keep some for yourself and pack it up to give away. Everybody wins! Just between you and me, this has been known to very sneakily find its way into a movie theatre over the holiday season. Shhhh! Don’t tell!

Caramel Popcorn with Roasted Nuts

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