Making Vanilla Extract for the First Time

Today I tried my hand at making vanilla extract. I have wanted to do this for many years now. Vanilla extract is one of my favorite ingredients while baking, unfortunately it is also incredibly expensive. Every so often I will see vanilla beans available in the store, remember that I want to make it, and then inevitably get distracted by some kind of sale. While I have never done vanilla before, I have made other extracts. Every year there are always various herbs tincturing in my cupboard.

In 2020, I purchased a set of vanilla beans to make my own extract… but they got lost in the pantry for a couple of months. When I found the tubes again I was not sure if they were still usable. So the beans ended up getting discarded. Now I know that vanilla beans are actually fermented before shipping which makes them last for several years. It was definitely a learning experience.

Here I am, in 2023, with two new tubes of vanilla beans. The flavor profile of the finished vanilla extract will depend on three things. What country did the beans come from, what type of alcohol was used, and how long were the beans in the extract. Vanilla beans from different parts of the world will have different flavors. Vanilla is like coffee in that regard. I purchased Madagascan vanilla from Costco. The two tubes cost me $18. There are a total of ten beans, five in each tube. Vanilla from Madagascar is renowned for having a very full body flavor whereas Tahitian vanilla has a more floral flavor.

The alcohol used to make vanilla extract should be at least 80 proof (40% ABV). In the United States, proof is calculated by multiplying the alcohol content by 2. So 40% alcohol has a proof of 80. This can vary country to country, always be sure and double check. Any time I make an extract I use Blue Ice vodka. Blue Ice vodka is made here in Idaho and is made of potatoes. Bourbon, rum, and brandy can also be used as long as they are at least 40% ABV. As a matter of personal preference, I shy away from making extracts using grain based alcohols. This is because alcohol made from grain often contains glyphosate from the herbicide Roundup. While I don’t feel comfortable using alcohol made from corn, wheat, or soy, my friend in Wisconsin uses 100 proof bourbon as her base and is always happy with the outcome.

The last component is time. The longer an extract sits, the more intense the flavor. It is recommended that vanilla sits anywhere from two months to a full year.

Making vanilla extract is incredibly easy. First, remove the vanilla beans from their packaging. Mine were in glass tubes. I saved the tubes to use in crafts later. The beans smelled divine. Next, I placed two horizontal cuts in each bean. These cuts were 3/4 of an inch from each end. Then I sliced the beans lengthwise in-between the two horizontal cuts. I wanted to allow the alcohol easy access to the inside of the vanilla beans while still allowing the beans to hold their shape. This will make removal easier after the extract is mature. The beans were leathery and tricky to cut. Be sure to use a sharp knife. They also left a fairly dark residue on the cutting board, however it was simple enough to clean up with bleach.

I placed the vanilla beans into my clean jars. I used two different jar sizes. One batch of five beans went into a quart jar (32 oz) while the other batch of five went into a 12 oz jar. This is because I ran across extremely conflicting advice on how many vanilla beans were needed to make vanilla extract. The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery recommends 2 vanilla beans per quart (32 oz) of alcohol. Sally McKenney of Sally’s Baking recommends 5-6 vanilla beans per cup (8 oz) of alcohol. I decided to do an experiment. When September rolls around I will find out which I prefer! The vanilla beans were slightly too long to easily fit in the 12 oz jar so I ended up chopping them in half.

Next, I poured my vodka into each jar using a canning funnel. I heartily recommend canning funnels to anyone planing on making jam, pickles, extracts, or just using canning jars. As with any extract, be sure that the vanilla beans are completely submerged in the alcohol.

Finally, I put new lids and rings onto my canning jars, labelled them, and set them aside. Tinctures and extracts should always be placed away from sunlight in an area that maintains a stable temperature. Shake once a week, or whenever you remember to do so.

This batch of vanilla extract should be nice and strong by September, which will be just in time for baking season. A little goes a long ways. Most of my recipes call for a teaspoon or less of vanilla. Now to wait. I am incredibly excited with how easy this was to process and my hands now smell amazing.

We are Upping The Loot Ante For Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves!

The end of March marks the release of a magical and hilarious adventure, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves in theaters! Inspired by the epic role playing game, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves features a charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers who undertake an epic heist to retrieve a lost relic. However, things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people. Fans will be able to see the movie in theaters March 31, 2023 starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, RegĂ©-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Chloe Coleman, Daisy Head, and Hugh Grant.

We have been preparing for the movie's release by upping our LOOT ante! Yup, we are rolling that nat 20 and posting our fantastic items for fans to enjoy! To showcase your love of the monsters in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, we have enamel pins for sale featuring the gelatinous cube, the owlbear, and the mimic (my favorite!)

Owlbear enamel pin

Gelatinous cube enamel pin

Mimic enamel pin

Or if you are needing to find that lucky die, we have Mystery Loot Bags that contain an entire matching set of 7 resin dice in a random color and 1 random metal dice. Everything in the Mystery Loot Bag is...well...a mystery, not even we know what you will get. It is a fantastic way to increase your dice hoard and start a metal dice collection!

Our online store also features handmade dice bags, dice keychains for that lucky d20, and monster loot bags that contain a pin, which converts into a mini fig! Locally, at our events, we also have DND stickers, dice mats, dice tubes, creature inclusion dice, and more! 

If you need something snuggly, we have crochet monsters like the Demogorgon! I suppose snuggle and Demogorgon don't exactly go together, however, I crocheted this monster, which means he is cute and huggable! So yes, it is a snuggly Demogorgon.

The loot is here and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is coming to theaters! It is time to get ready. Whether you order online, or shop locally, we will help you roll that nat 20 by finding the perfect loot!

Our Two Year Anniversary Celebration will have MAD Savings!

March 23, 2023 is our two year Anniversary! Yes! Cutoff Crafts has officially been in business for two years and we are so excited! 

These last two years have been a fun journey of attending craft fairs, selling online, and getting to know the community through our fantastic, 8k members and growing, group, North Idaho, Events, Fairs, and Markets. The love and support has been phenomenal and we look forward to many more years!

Last year, we celebrated out anniversary with a party at a local craft fair. We had balloons,  games, and more. It was fun for all and we truly enjoyed the festivities.  This year, to celebrate our second year in business, we have an exciting announcement! 

This year at the Rathdrum Craft and Farmers Market April Fools Day Craft Fair, we are giving every shopper a Mystery Anniversary Discount (MAD)! This is no joke, the discounts are real!

How does MAD work? 

It's simple! Come by our booth April 1st, 2023 between the hours of 10am and 3pm. When you make a purchase at our booth, right before we take payment, we will have you roll two dice. If you roll a pair, that will be your MAD amount! So you roll two 3's, you will get $3.00 off! We then minus the discount from your total and tell you the new price for your items!

Only one MAD roll can be applied to your total purchase price

Limit one MAD roll per person.

No items are exempt from out MAD Savings! We will have jewelry, crochet toys, keychains, fossils, stones, dice, and more! it is going to be a fun day of discounts! Hope to see you there! and the Joy of Cartography

It is no secret that I absolutely love games. I have been playing board games and video games for almost my entire life. Currently I am running a couple of tabletop games. Now these are wonderful collaborative storytelling opportunities for the entire group. Every player comes together to add their piece to the shared narrative.

I adore tabletop games for the chance to really stretch the imagination. However, I also love providing props. It helps the players visualize where their characters are in the world as well as cleans up confusion during combat.

Normally, I use a combination of battlegrid tiles as well as premade laminated maps. These work quite well for most situations. However they are rather expensive options. Terrain tiles and map sets can rack up a bill quite quickly. A cheap map set runs over ten dollars. A tile pack may run up to fifty dollars. They are also limited by what was printed on them. A swamp map will always be a swamp map. It may be adjustable. Paizo as well as Wizards of the Coast tilesets are well known for being able to swap into a wide configuration of dungeons.

Unfortunately, while being pricey they are also rather bulky. I often end up lugging around a large bag devoted entirely to map tiles, especially if the players are not sure where in the fantasy world they want to go!

Last week I was getting ready to host a game session. It was going to be a bit different from those I had run in the past. The gameplay called for poking around the town like a game of Clue or Among Us. I wanted to be able to pass out tourist style maps to each player so that they could take their own notes and follow along. While I could build the entire town out of terrain tiles, I would have had to build it on the floor as there was no way it would fit on my table.

I started looking for a map maker. First I considered just using a randomly generated map. There are quite a few robust map generators but none of them had the feel for what I was after. I truly wanted the type of map that you pick up at a visitor center. Then I attempted to build a town layout in Photoshop. Definitely not my finest work. After two hours of getting nowhere I had resigned myself to just using grid paper and drawing it by hand. One last stroll through the internet led me to Inkarnate.

Hands down Inkarnate is the best program I have ever seen to create maps.

It was ridiculously easy to get started and I quickly got lost in designing exactly what I wanted. Inkarnate works by allowing the user to build the basic backdrop they want to use and then by dropping “stamps” of various objects and terrain features. These stamps range from trees to glowing crystals, swords, sharks, people, volcanoes, chunks of cheese, and so many more. It feels very much like working with a digital sticker book.

This first map is of Three Sticks, the town that my party is currently playing in. As a complete and utter novice it took me 4.5 hours to build. It was built entirely with layering stamps atop one another. It portrays exactly the feeling I was after.

This second map is of a volcanic island chain. I wanted to really stretch myself and learn the various mechanics of how the program functioned. This took roughly 8 hours. It was a wonderful learning experience as I delved into the deeper aspects like how “masks” work (they define the terrain layer) and how the different transformations and filters could be layered to achieve effects that would not normally be possible. The final product has almost a “cutscene” feel like from a video game.

Finally this third map is of a tavern built in the woods. It is a completely basic battlemap and took less than an hour to build.

All maps that you make are stored in your own personal account. In addition, paid accounts have access to a massive library of maps created and published by members of the Inkarnate community. There are three options for using Inkarnate. Free Accounts can create maps using a limited array of stamps. Monthly Accounts pay $5 per month and have access to all the features. Yearly Accounts cost $25 per year and again have access to all the features.

What is so wonderful about the program is the sheer flexibility to render different styles of maps. Whether they are for writing a novel, the simple joy of cartography, or playing a tabletop game, the maps are extremely visually appealing and easy to make.

Earlier I discussed some of the trouble with tilesets. Tilesets can be cumbersome, expensive, and hard to keep straight. Inkarnate maps are digital but they can be exported and printed out.  I took the map of the village Three Sticks, cut it into pieces using Preview, printed out the individual sections, cut them with scissors, and taped them together. The result turned out fantastic!

I was also able to print out individual maps and slip them into protective sleeves to hand out to all the players.

If tabletop games are up your alley be sure and check out our selection of dice and dice bags in the shop!

How to Make Compostable Seedling Trays Out of Egg Cartons

Here in the mountains of northern Idaho, we often get a “false spring.” The sun is shining and melting the snow. Birds and insects start emerging and fill the woods with beautiful song. This “season” normally lasts for 2-3 weeks where it is immediately followed with a deluge of snow and temperatures that plunge well below freezing.

I find that false spring is the perfect time to start my seedlings! Many plants like peppers, tomatoes, celosia, and snapdragons, do best with a lengthy growing season. Since our summers can be fairly short, a great workaround is to start these seeds indoors. 

Seedling trays, however, can be rather expensive. A great craft project for the frugal or crafty gardener is to make your own! They are super easy to make, fully compostable, and take maybe 10 minutes to craft.

How to Make Compostable Seedling Trays


Egg Cartons

Drip tray




First, you will need some egg cartons and a drip tray. The drip tray will catch the excess water that may run through the soil and hold it like a reservoir. This lets thirsty baby seedlings and dirt wick the moisture back up later. I save my drip tray each year so I can reuse it again and again. A drip tray costs $2-$3 at a hardware store, nursery, or feed store.

Step 1 - Cut the lids and latches off of the egg cartons. The latches and lids can be recycled, saved for tinder, or composted.

Step 2 - Cut the egg cartons to fit the drip tray. Feel free to get creative and fill every little nook and cranny! This is the brand new seedling tray.

Step 3 - Check the dirt, wet if necessary. I bought my dirt as the local Dollar Tree. It was good quality organic soil by the brand “Organic Harvest” and cost me $1.25 per bag. Fully filling a seedling tray took 1 bag. Bagged soil carried by stores may be rather dry if it has been sitting for a while in a low moisture climate. This bag had a fair bit of peat moss in it and so was incredibly dry! I poured it into a glass mixing bowl and soaked it with water. Let the dirt sit and soak. Stir to speed up the rehydration process.

Step 4 - Spoon clumps of moist soil into the egg cartons. I use an actual spoon but any scoop-like tool will work. I’ve used just my hands before!

Step 5 - Add seeds! This is my favorite part of the process. Some seeds can be rather fiddly. One trick to help with these tiny seeds, when only a few are needed per cell (the individual dirt filled egg slot is a “cell”), is to wet a toothpick. Place the tip of the wet toothpick on the seed in question and it will cling to the toothpick. Then simply pierce the dirt with the loaded toothpick to the desired depth. The seed will get lodged in the soil when you remove the toothpick.

Be sure and read the seed packets for information on the preferred depth to plant the seeds as well as when to start them indoors. Seed packets will often state a desired timeline. For instance a packet of tomato seeds might say, “start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost.” The Farmer’s Almanac website has a wonderful Frost Date and Growing Season tool to find your personal last frost dates (

Step 6 - Flag the seeds. It is always good to identify seedling trays in some fashion. I make my flags out of index cards, tape, and a pen. Popsicle sticks are another great option. If the entire tray is going to be one type of plant you can also just write on the tray itself with a permanent marker.

Step 7 - Enjoy the baby seedlings! 

May your garden be full of life and bounty this year! No matter if it is a tiny pot in the windowsill or a sprawling farm, take joy in knowing that you helped bring a plant to life.

Cutoff Crafts Welcomes Valloween this Valentine's Day

Chocolate or sour
Smell the flowers
This February 14th
Valloween will be ours
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

This Tuesday marks the 24th Valentine's Day of the millennium, where we all celebrate love, care, and devotion by giving gifts of jewelry, stuffed animals, chocolates, and flowers. It's a day for couples, for families, and for friends to show a special someone just how much they mean to us. This year, Valentine's Day is taking on a new tradition with a hashtag we, here at Cutoff Crafts, recently learned about. Apparently, there is a movement by those who love Halloween to combine their passion with The Day Of Love, producing the hashtag #Valloween. Let me just say...We Approve! 

Valloween appears to be the best of both worlds; monsters and love collide to make something special. Honestly, this isn't a new concept: Frankenstein's monster needed a wife, Dracula had brides, Imhotep sought to resurrect his love, Gill-Man wanted a girlfriend, and many other monsters looked for love in all the wrong places. It simply makes sense that Halloween and Valentine's Day combine into a brilliant hashtag.

This Saturday, Feb 11, 2023, Cutoff Crafts will be at the Silver Lake Mall for their Valentine's Day Craft Fair! Our booth will feature many of our regulars such as cute crochet toys and dazzling sterling silver jewelry. However, this year, we will also be sporting items in honor of Valloween.  We are excited to announce items that will send that loving chill up your spine with a possible kiss of the goosebumps. Check out the images below for a sneak peek of some of our items.

For those seeking the perfect gift for their loved one, we will be featuring our fantastic chainmail bracelets in Halloween and Valentine's Day colors. Each will be adorned with a gorgeous sterling silver clasp. These beautifully designed bracelets are handmade by our expert chainmailer, Michelle, who works diligently on the bracelets by forming a chain one ring at a time in a variety of patterns.

The Plague Doctor will also be visiting our booth in adorable crochet fashion. After all, who would be better to help fight the plague of love than the plague doctor? Each crochet plague doctor features a top hat and bird mask. We will have only a few in Valentine's Day colors, so if you want a pink or red one, be there early!

Continuing our awesome dive into the dice world, we will be featuring a limited quantity of adorable Valentine's Day Dice for all those lovers of DND and RPG games. Each Mystery Loot Candy Heart bag will come with 2 random enamel candy heart pins and 1 large metal d20 die in a random color. Each pin will come with one of 12 possible Valentine's Day sayings, such as, "Chaotic Adorable" or "stop Dragon my heart around". The Metal d20 die will be a random color and feature a double heart as the Nat 20. The bag is designed to look like a box of candy hearts and includes a TO and FROM section making it an easy gift.


Cutoff Crafts Joined an Alliance with Foam Brain Games!

Happy 2023, everyone!

Here at Cutoff Crafts we are thrilled to ring in the new year with an exciting announcement: Cutoff Crafts is now a licensed retailer for Foam Brain Games! This means we get to bring everyone even more exciting things in our online shop and at the local craft fairs. Cutoff Crafts will be happily incorporating dice, pins, dice mats, stickers, and other various loot in all kinds of new ways.

Foam Brain Games is a wonderful designer and creator of a wide variety of geeky tools and accessories. Ever since their founding in 2009, Foam Brain has actively engaged the gaming community to bring to life beautiful metal dice sets, handsome pins that double as gaming miniatures, mysterious loot bags, and so much more.

Cutoff Crafts is happy to offer a collection of our favorite Foam Brain toys for sale. The teeny, tiny, Halfling dice are hilarious as well as completely useable.

Halfling Dice from Foam Brain - Full Size d20 For Scale
Speaking of metal pins that morph into playable miniatures, here is a gargoyle boldly strutting his stuff. The book is hinged and locks into place beneath the gargoyle to act as his stand. To make things even spicier, each of the pin-atures is hidden inside a loot bag. Even we don’t know what epic monsters people will get!
Mystery Loot - Lost Tome of Monsters from Foam Brain
Of course, Cutoff Crafts will not only be selling these products but also working with them to bring forth entirely new creations! Personally, I am super excited to see Ahsoka’s designs come to fruition. All manner of cute and adorable crocheted critters might end up holding a d20. The sloths look quite happy with their new toy.
Cute Crocheted Sloth Holds a d20
Meanwhile both Ahsoka and I will be busy locking dice in cages that dangle from keychains, for when someone desperately needs an emergency die. In case of boredom, release the die!
Prototype of the Captured d20 Keychain
I also took the liberty of commandeering some of our fancy new dice cases to offer hand selected batches of tumbled stones. These are a perfect way to get a budding geologist interested in the fascinating world of minerals and stones.
Box of Stones - Quartz, Dumortierite, Petrified Wood, and Aventurine
May 2023 be a wonderful year for everyone! Here’s to a fun year full of creativity and joy!