New reader contest: Let’s get crafty!

Unique, homemade gifts can be fun to make and more personal and meaningful for the recipient. Western Producer readers are invited to enter our Creative Gifts for the Holidays contest to win a great prize.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Natural vanilla extract is superior to artificial extracts and a good gift for any cook.

  • 3 vanilla beans
  • 3 c. 40 to 45% alcohol vodka or bourbon 750 mL
  • 3 decorative jars 250 mL

Wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse and pour boiling water over and in the jars.

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise through the top layer of bean. Scrape seeds or vanilla caviar into a hot jar.
Cut scraped bean pod in half crosswise and add to jar. Repeat procedure with remaining beans and jars.
Place vodka in a saucepan and heat over medium heat for five minutes or until thoroughly heated, do not boil. Pour vodka over bean pod and seeds in each jar. Cool to room temperature.
Heating the alcohol helps to speed up the infusion process.
Cover jars with tight-fitting lids, store at room temperature for at least a week, shaking daily, before using. Some prefer to let the beans soak for several months to a year.
For a gift, strain the liquid into clean decorative bottles with tight-fitting lids.
Solids can be put into another bottle with more vodka and store for several months, or the solids could be air dried and added to granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar. The bean seeds could be added to ice cream, cakes or icing.
The vodka-based version has the purest vanilla flavour. Both extracts turn a rich brown over time, but the bourbon-based version may be darker.

Kid’s craft bag

Make a simple craft bag to keep kids entertained.

  • 2 – 8 1/2 x 11 in. sheets fabric backed foam 21 x 26 cm
  • contrasting yarn
  • roll coloured duct tape
  • craft needle
  • craft items for bag

Place a strip of duct tape over the short edge of one piece of foam to finish edge. Place this edge, foam side against fabric side, three inches from lower edge of bottom piece. Use two half-inch (one cm) pieces of tape to secure the pieces together.
Measure and mark 2 3/4 inches (seven cm) in from side edges. Thread needle with a 39 inch (one m) length of yarn and double knot ends together. Start at the bottom making one-quarter inch (.5 cm) stitches from lower edge to top of duct taped edge.
To finish on backside, thread yarn through stitches and secure with a knot around original knot. Repeat on second side. Fold foam sides together to create bag. Fasten edges together with duct tape. Cut the extending top edge of foam off and finish edge of opening with duct tape.
Using a large nail and hammer on an old board, make two holes at the top edges of the bag for the handle.
Using three six foot (two m) lengths of yarn, thread through holes at one end so yarn is now three feet (one m) long. Tie a large knot, then divide yarn into three sections and braid a handle to desired length, knot.
Thread three of the yarn strains through the holes on the other side of the bag, tie a second knot and trim yarn to length.
Add crayons, pencil, notebook, stickers or little toys to bag.

Canada 150 Maple Cookies

In keeping with Canada 150, these cookies make a truly Canadian gift. Add the recipe and cookie cutter to complete the gift.

  • 1 c. butter, softened 250 mL
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar 250 mL
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. real maple syrup 250 mL
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. maple extract 5 mL
  • 2 tsp. baking soda 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 4 1/2 c. all purpose flour 1.125 L
  • maple leaf cookie cutter

In large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add egg, syrup and extracts and mix. Combine soda, salt and flour, mix, then add to butter/sugar mixture. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Sprinkle a pastry board or clean counter top with flour. Roll dough to about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thickness. Using a maple leaf-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies.
Carefully transfer to cookie sheet and bake four to six minutes. Cool completely on cooling rack.
Another option is to roll dough into one-inch (2 cm) diameter balls, press flat with a maple leaf cookie stamp or a fork. These may take a little longer to bake.
Once cooled, ice one maple leaf cookie with the filling and then place a second cookie on top to create a sandwich or serve individually.


  • 1/2 c. butter, softened 125 mL
  • 2 c. icing sugar 250 mL
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. maple extract 2 mL
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract 5 mL
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup 30 mL

Cream butter with a mixer, add salt and one cup (250 mL) of icing sugar and beat. Add flavourings and maple syrup.
Beat again until mixed, add icing sugar until thick enough to spread and hold shape when placed on a cookie.
This subtle vanilla scented sugar can be used in any baked goods, whipped cream, hot chocolate, coffee or tea.

Vanilla sugar

  • 3 c. granulated white sugar 750 mL
  • 4 vanilla beans, split and scraped

Combine sugar and vanilla bean scrapings in a medium bowl. Wearing disposable gloves, slowly rub together scrapings until well disbursed. The bean pods can be added to the sugar or used to make vanilla extract.
The vanilla and sugar will age over time and become more fragrant and delicious with a light brown colour. Allow to sit for at least a month but longer is better. For gifts, remove pods and pour sugar into decorative glass jars and label. Source: Adapted from

Tension Tamer Bath Salts

  • 2 c. epsom salt or dead sea salt 500 mL
  • 1 c. coarse crystal sea salt 250 mL
  • 1/2 c. baking soda 125 mL
  • 6 drops bergamot essential oil
  • 6 drops sweet orange essential oil
  • 3 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 – 12 drops blue food colouring (optional)

Mix salts and baking soda in a glass bowl using a metal spoon. A wooden spoon or plastic bowl will absorb the essential oils.
Drop in essential oils randomly over the salts. Stir thoroughly to mix. Add colouring to all or a portion of the salts.
Store in a dark glass container. Let cure at least 24 hours before using.
Use about one cup 250 mL of salts per bath. Source: www.easy-aromatherapy-recipes.

Creative Gifts for the Holidays Contest

Share your innovative, homemade gifts ideas and photos with us to be entered in a holiday gift draw Nov. 15.

Submit entries to:

TEAM Resources at
or Box 2500, Saskatoon, Sask. S7K 2C4.

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