The Power of Home Crafted Vanilla2.0

For You More Creative Types, Make Your Own Vanilla2.0

Yup – that’s right. Well, I goofed this week – I had intended to let had my guest post from Anna go live first, but some of you might have gotten a sneak preview of this one when the “now” feature got clicked. In either case, you can read Anna’s post  “Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking” once it goes live late this week, then perhaps you will be inspired to go on to the next step and try making your own version of Vanilla2.0

Vanilla is one of those elements in baking that you either love or don’t. Somewhat like using good quality Tumeric is in cooking. I got started on this road myself after watching some of the baking shows on TV that were using Vanilla Bean Paste which I hadn’t seen before. After visiting the blog which had posted a December piece “The Scandal Between Vanilla Bean Paste vs. Vanilla Extract” .and served as a good place to start (I didn’t necessarily agree with everything – they shared some great content on the post).  I started following links, speaking with other folks who do more baking and came across the whole movement of making your own Vanilla Extract.

Several great recipes are available online for making your own home inspired version of vanilla extract. But to make a good quality one, you need time and the right beans. It isn’t something you want to rush. In fact, if you get them started now. They will make great Holiday gifts this season.

Choosing which beans you want to use also takes some research. Areas to take note of include the grade of bean, the type of bean, the age of them and the source ( they can be expensive) and what liquid you intend to use to extract the flavor (a variety of options exist based on flavor or non-alcohol needs).

My next plan

I will be starting a batch in April in fact with ” Tahitian Grade B beans but I also like the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans (Vanilla Planifolia so may make some comparison batches. A few of the online sites that offer recipes for making your own, including purchasing recommendations include: 

Once you get ready to start making your own here are a few things you will need to have on hand.

If you are like me and tend to be more creative, plan early:

  • You will need the beans; that means deciding on the grade of the bean and the ration of beans to the liquid mix; I saw lots of variations on this from 1 whole vanilla bean for every 2 liquid ounces of alcohol. I think to keep it simple I may start with a 1:1 ratio as in 1 bean to each ounce of liquid (then depending on the jar size might top off)
  • Extracting liquid; lots of options for this the most common include Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, and Vodka. The key factor is the liquid has to be greater than 70% proof
  • Bottles/Jars; You will need to decide if you are making a large batch then decant into smaller ones or just go right to the smaller ones. I think I will be hitting the swap and flea markets for vintage and unusual decanters to use as gifts. One common theme I heard was to avoid clear jars (or keep stored in a dark place) and my preference to stay away from plastics. As a back up I found 4 ounce Amber jars on Amazon that I may order to have on hand for “extra” last minute needs.
  • Labels: start thinking what size you will need and how you plan to label them if you are gifting them

Note: this post has some affiliate links to Amazon





Packing the weekend with Holiday Fun

Packing the weekend with Holiday Fun & Treats

With the gift of unexpected tickets to see the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus SFGMC Elfstravaganza concert last night from our friends Paul & Ryan –  after a day of baking some treats for my Pauls office fundraiser on Monday and a trial run of an older Lemon cake recipe I had found a few weeks back. Dinner at Rocco’s then heading over to the SFGMC Concert at the Nourse was a perfect way to end the night. The Lemon “bread or cake” or jelly toast as its post was called on the blog I found it on was flavorful but super dense when we cut into it this morning – so either it needed more time to cook or a few more modifications to make it work. I also think it needed some sharpness so would mix the lemon varieties in a future batch (but.. umm yeah that didn’t stop me from eating it. I am thinking maybe convert the rest into a bread pudding. The Marbled M&M mini’s worked into the Biscotti is always a favorite!
As usual, dinner at Rocco’s Cafe down on Folsom Street is always good. FYI you crab lovers – get on Rocco’s email list to get the announcement for when it’s winning crab Chioppino will be back on the menu during Christmas week.

Packing more in as “The Men Sing On”

Nothing took the message home stronger of the power of the enduring voice of these men has had, than the simple two number reminder held by conductor Tim Seelig. Season 40 is ready to hit the bricks with the 40TH ANNIVERSARY; CRESCENDO GALA SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2018 .
This is the power that a unified voice has. Kudos to an outstanding year gentlemen and the successful Southern States tour. Not to mention some of the very exciting updates that Tim Seelig shared which you can find out more of from visiting the #SFGMC facebook page or website (
I took more shots – but have left them with Paul to whip up some editing magic on them. In the meantime… a few snaps from the show. Ff course, it wouldn’t be a proper #SFGMC concert without a political comment or two and a few special guests you might spot.

You still have a chance to see the men sing during its “Home for the Holidays” Castro show

Sunday, December 24, 2017   5:00 PM, 7:00 PM & 9:00 PM
Castro Theatre – San Francisco

Every year, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus comes together on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holiday season with three not-to-be-missed concerts at the historic Castro Theatre! This year is the 28th Annual iteration of “Home for the Holidays,” and we have quite a few tricks up our holiday sweater sleeves. These shows always sell out, so be sure to buy your tickets early.

Packing Even more

Next up this week is to try to knock out a few more treats and perhaps a remake of the lemon bread.. perhaps… but first its some Chocolate blossom cookies!

A whirlwind of tastes

Not much to say except it has been a whirlwind of food the last few weeks.

With Paul’s Birthday, Thanksgiving, a rainy Sunday – it all added up for some solid cooking time in. Below are a few image carousels of some of the more memorable “bites” from the last few weeks.

First off some of the treats from Pauls Birthday. He had requested a new cake from Noe Valley Bakers, so we decided with Thanksgiving around the corner and not traveling this year, so cooking at home – we would have a coffee & dessert theme Sunday that week.

Then for Thanksgiving, we had a few friends over for a potluck. All I needed to do is the turkey, stuffing, and a few sides. Friends took care of desserts.


Bite-Cap — get it, a Recap my BiteTheRoad week.

What a week!

From the launch of the #FoodMemories17 Guest series early in the week,  some follow up at my TechInclusion “TED” Style talk on Mentorship and LGBT at SF Armory building, getting a chance to listen to blogger and cookbook writer Cenk from talk about his newest cookbook “The Artful Baker”, dinner at some fun spots around town, a 5.4 mile local urban hike, an educational trip to the Academy of Sciences for a “Nightlife” event , a look back with a chocolate chip pie and wrapped it all up today with some killer themed food for the monthly book club (but that gets it own entry later this week). It’s no wonder I will be ready for bed early.  So here is a quick visual Bite-Cap…

Bite-Cap: 1 Food Memories; Telling Our Story

I had wanted to add a new feature to BiteTheRoad decided to use a more “crowdsourced” approach with a new guest feature called ‘Food Memories Stories Told. The overall idea was to offer a larger scope of unique stories through the common experience of food and eating and invite others to help grow it. (You can also read my initial post about Food Memories here.)

Yes, everyone is welcome to participate. From the novice to more experienced blogger, the home cook to the professional.  Each guest storyteller will share personal themes of food-related memories, recipes, moments of healing, love, transitions, and reflection and post them during the next few months. We will use the hashtag #FoodMemories2017 and all guest posts will be featured on the BiteTheRoad website and on its companion Facebook page I will also share it out via my twitter account @FVStrona,  the BitetheRoad Tumblr and  Instagram pages and of course, I encourage you to share your post to your networks. Our first guest feature went live with Travis’s 81-layer Biscuits.

Bite-Cap: 2 Talking about Mentoring LGBTs in Tech at TechInclusion

I did a 10 min “TED” Style talk and used storytelling as a way to share about the importance of mentorships and mentors for the LGBT person in Tech. It was a great afternoon with so many very cool people present, that it would have been as nice to attend and not speak. I had forgotten how I enjoy the process of planning using the storytelling technique and coaching through humor. It was fun to be back in the San Francisco Armory in this other role, even it I always enjoyed it from my regular one. As a venue – they do a great job with hosting programs. One of the folks snapped a picture of me in motion and I dressed it up a bit and shared about my social media hubs as well. You can check out my post on Monday afternoon of the blog to read more and see some of the slides.

Bite-Cap 3: Omnivore Books and The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker

Omnivore Books, (Omnivore Books has a Facebook page as well) here the Bay Area, often hosts book and author events. My pal Brad suggested we check it out last week, and I am so glad we did. This months offer was the newest cookbook from Cenk Sonmezoy, the mastermind and home-schooled blogger behind the food blog Cafe Fernando. With cookbook author and blogger for, Irvin Lin serving as local Interviewer  – Cenk did some great storytelling behind his masterful cookbook and the powerful images he took himself in addition to the recipes he wrote. If I hadn’t already purchased my copy, I would have put this on my Christmas list. Its a classic trilogy of storytelling, recipe sharing and visual enticements.  The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker is available at Omnivore or on Amazon.

Of course , hile I have finished reading the Artful Baker (Yes, I read them cover to cover like a novel), I did get inspired to pop out an old school Chocolate Chip Cookie “practice” pie. “Practice” as in it’s a recipe I hadn’t tried and it’s that time of the year when I start working on the menu for the Holiday Orphans party in December..

Bite-Cap 4: The weekend wasn’t all about food….

I did manage to get a 5.4 mile urban hike in on Saturday. This trail was a new one for me, but it has been part of Pauls exercise path previously, so it gave me a chance to explore parts of Glen Park that I hadn’t seen before. But I think poor Dino’s little legs might not have been as happy with the walk! I think other than the obvious – it’s what you don’t expect to see that always catches my eye.

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81 Layer Biscuits from Travis

This memory for 81 Layer Bisquits comes from my pal Travis.

Travis and I met here in the Bay Area, and some time back he decided to go back home to his roots in North Carolina. Through the magic of facebook, we stay in touch and he was eager to share for #FoodMemories17. Remember –  If you want to submit your own memory – check out the Sharing Our Memories Post or visit the #FoodMemories17 page for more detials

81 Layer Biscuits

Frank: So Traviswhat is your food memory you want to share?
Travis: I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, and when I think of food memories, one food comes to mind immediately: biscuits. My mother always made fresh biscuits with every meal. We never had biscuits out of a can.
F: So you mean you never cheated and used a can? or those frozen bagged ones?
T: hmm not unless you count playing with store bought biscuit dough instead of playdough at a baby sitters house; hence my nickname “Mama’s Little Dough Boy.”
F: <Smiles> You do know that this will come back to haunt you now that I know that…
T: Yes.. I know.. ok so back to Bisquits.. Several decades later, I still like playing with dough. I often try different recipes. Like many other home and self-taught bakers, at some piont I decided to alter a recipe for biscuits that had become my “go to favorites”. My goal was to see what woudl happen if I added a variation of a flaky pastry technique called lamination.
F: Is that the one that you layer butter between dough for what seems like forever and role it out?
T: Pretty much. If you’ve ever made homemade croissants or puff pastry, you’ll have used this trick. Lamination creates layers of butter in a pastry so that it will “puff” in the oven and give unparalleled rise to dough. If you’ve never laminated dough before, this is a really simple process and the result is so gratifying.
F: Did it work?
T: Sure did. This variation of biscuits have layer upon layer of flaky deliciousness and are perfect paired with any of the classics: tomato biscuit, sausage biscuit, gravy biscuit, ham biscuit, fried chicken biscuit or just the simple perfection of some homemade honey butter. Honestly, I had two of these babies today with nothing on them at all. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. Fair warning, they’re slightly addictive. 

81 Layer Biscuits


  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 ¼ Cup Heavy Cream
  • ¼ Cup Unsalted Butter (melted & cooled to room temp)
  • Self Rising Flour for dusting


To make the dough

  1. In large bowl, whisk the AP (All Purpose) Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder & Salt together ’til well combined.
  2. Add Heavy Cream & stir with wooden spoon to form dough. (Note: At this stage the dough will seem slightly dry.)
  3. Knead in the bowl for about 30 seconds.
  4. Lay out a tea towel and dust heavily with SR (Self Rising) Flour.
  5. Turn dough out onto tea towel and form into roughly 8×12” rectangle. (Note: you can do this by hand or a floured rolling pin)

Laminate Dough:

  1. Brush the top of dough with the melted Butter and sift a layer of SF (Self Rising) Flour on top of the butter.
  2. Fold into thirds by taking the bottom third of the dough and turn it onto the middle, then pull down the top third down to create 3 layers, exactly as you would fold a piece of paper to place in a legal envelope.
  3. Press out (or roll out) the dough into a rectangle again & rotate 180 degrees.
  4. Repeat this step 3 more times, remember to brush with Butter & sift with SF (Self Rising) Flour before folding.
  5. In all total you will end up with 81 fold. (First fold creates 3 layers, second fold creates 9, then 27 & finally 81 with fourth fold).


Ready for Baking:

  1. Heavily butter an 8×8” baking pan and press dough into pan in an even layer.
  2. Cool in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. 
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  4. Turn dough out upside down onto wax paper.
  5. Using a very sharp knife, cut 9 squares with single quick press through the dough, this will ensure a nice rise.
  6. Place onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper, roughly 1 ½” apart.
  7. Bake approx. 15-18 minutes rotating pan halfway through cooking.


Note – the orginal of this recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cream Biscuits Recipe

 In case some of you have never done the layered dough/butter combination – I found a few youtube videos that will illustrate the different techniques – but in the end, get your hands in it and try for yourself!







Get Your Food Storytelling & Memories Ready To Share!

Sharing Our Food Storytelling 

That’s right – starting this month I am adding a new feature to; a communal shared collection called Food Memories Stories Told 2017 that promotes other peoples stories of food, recipes, success and fails. Several folks who already read the blog, had commented about wanting to share ideas and food they themselves had but weren’t up to the managing of a full blog. So I thought it would be fun to allow   BiteTheRoad to offer the “food storytelling” equivilent of my work on for the months of October – December. Then revisit it for the New Year.

The Food Memories; Telling Our Story  and Food Memories Stories Told 2017 is part of the BiteTheRoad Guest Series and will be a open format that invites everyone to have a place to share that special recipe, moment, rememerance and even that food mishap still told when people gather. I plan to make super easy –

1) You contact me by filling out a short web-based form,

2) Answer a few strategic questions that will help me figure out what you want ot post, how will be the best way to collect and share it

3) I respond by email or phone with next steps.

Once your content is ready, I work with it to create a post like this and share it out on the BiteTheRoad website and on its companion Facebook page I will also share it out via my twitter account @FVStrona,  the BitetheRoad Tumblr and  Instagram pages and of course I encourage you to share your post to your networks.

So.. Are you ready to share? Come on.. you know you want too….

Get started by visiting the new Food Memories; Telling Our Story How To Page for more instructions. As the posts come in they will be gathered and posted and can also be found Food Memories Stories Told 2017