Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Can Do That?!?: Vanilla Edition

Did you know that garage sales can seriously change your life?
What? That was random. But really, a garage sale changed my life.
It was eight years ago, an early summer Saturday morning. Garage salers were out in force, looking for deals on chipped tea cups, dusty coffee makers, and drooled on toys. I, myself, wasn't looking for anything in particular. I was just combing through strangers houses, enjoying their collections of presidential plates and mini McDonalds edition beanie babies. While looking through a particularly large collection of cookbooks, I found one called Breads From La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton. It had a lovely cover with all manner of nicely browned breads. 'What the heck', I thought, 'I like books, I like bread, and its only $.50'. A relentless bargainer, I talked the poor book's owner down to $.25 and left with my treasure. Excited as can be about my purchase, I brought the book home and promptly forgot about it.
A few months later, I was cleaning my room and found the book. It was dusty. The bread on the cover did not look appetizing dusty. I moved to put it in the 'throw away' pile. Suddenly a breeze from my upstairs window blew open the cover. The sun came through at the same time, illuminating the words and I began to read. (Okay not really, but this was one of those pivotal moments that changes the course of life and I thought it deserved a good story.) Anyway, before I threw it away, I wanted to read what I had spent my hard earned quarter on.
Before this book, I had thought of bread as the holy grail of baking. To get bread to rise and taste good was a huge accomplishment reserved for professional bakers and my grandma. I had also assumed that using yeast was the only way to make bread. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
Get this! You can make bread (excellent, better than you've ever tasted in your life bread) with just flour and water!
This idea appealed to me. This was how people from the beginning of time made bread. They pulled out their rock, smashed some wheat berries, and fermented it with water. How cool is that? I loved the idea of getting back to the basics.
So someday, I may write about my bread adventures. (I did end up successfully cultivating an active, delicious starter and making bread from flour and water. Still gives me excited jitters.) But for now, I just wanted to write about my introduction to 'getting back to the basics'.
Pretty much every ingredient I cook with these days I think, 'how could I make this myself?' or 'How would my great, great, great, great grandma have done this?' Those questions don't always get me anywhere (I don't have the ability to mine sodium bicarbonate from the earth... yet.) but in some cases, like making my own vanilla extract, it does.
But why, I sometimes ask myself. Why, in Gods green earth, would I want to make my own vanilla? Well, I could say that it saves me money (which it does) or that I can control the quality of ingredients (which I can), or that it tastes way better than store bought (which it does). No, the real reason is that I feel pretty darn awesome about myself. When everyone else in the world is suffering from a vanilla extract shortage, raiding grocery stores for it, and swarming the one vanilla extract delivery truck that comes every two months from somewhere in Mexico, I will already have a lifetime stash of vanilla in my cupboard.
Yes, I am that pathetic.
But, I am what I am. And so, when it all comes down, you'll know who to come to for all your vanilla needs.
If you want, you can always make your own too. It's ridiculously easy. All you need is vodka (or rum) and vanilla beans. Here's how.

When I first read about making your own vanilla, the recipe said to use 'bottom shelf vodka'. Being highly ignorant of all things alcoholic, I went to the liquor store and asked for 'Bottom Shelf Vodka', thinking I was asking for some brand of fancy vodka. When the clerk looked at me funny, it all clicked. Looking sheepishly down at my feet, I mumbled something about just needing their cheapest vodka. Guess what? She grabbed it from the bottom shelf. Lesson learned. On a side note, did you know that you can get vodka in a plastic bottle for $4?

I get my vanilla beans online, which is the only way I get my vanilla beans because it is so cheap. ( is cool).
So, to make vanilla, just take three beans, split them open, cut them in half and stuff them in a jar. Cover them with about 2/3 cup vodka. Make sure to push the beans down into the vodka. Put the lid on and put the jar somewhere out of the way. It takes eight weeks for the alcohol to extract the vanilla essence, so just wait. You can shake the jar up a little every week but make sure to get the beans down to the bottom of the jar again. In eight weeks, you have vanilla extract! 
So great, huh? The best part is that, as you use it, just replace the liquid with a bit more vodka. Then you don't have to wait another eight weeks. 
There you have it. Super easy. Super fun. And you may just feel like the coolest ever for making it yourself. 
Now, go find a garage sale. It may just change your life.

My Playlist:
All things Mumford & Sons  

No comments:

Post a Comment