just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

Unique

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.
Viktor E. Frankl

IMG_1367
(spotted at the grocery store this morning / Julie Cook / 2015)

Growing up in Atlanta in the early 1960’s, the most exotic and unique fruit I can recall is maybe the occasional container of raspberries. And of course purple grapes may just have pushed the envelope as we were more accustomed to the green variety. Purple grapes had seeds and mother knew better than to buy grapes with seeds.

For whatever reason when I was little, I always enjoyed playing tag-a-long with my mom when she’d do our weekly grocery shopping. Dad kept poor ol mom on an overtly tight budget so there was never any extra money for fun, festive or exotic items. Just our regular canned tuna, chicken, hamburger meat, bananas, milk, eggs, bacon and cereal. . .Lucky Charms if I was lucky, Captain Crunch if my brother was lucky. On the rare occasion, Mother would afford for our living on the edge by allowing us to choose a box of Raisin Bran.

Those were the days before the whole current “eat bran it’s good for you” movement– Mother didn’t want us eating lots of Raisin Bran because, well you know, that whole bran thing leading to excessive trips to the bathroom—- in my mom’s mind, getting “regular” spelled trouble. Regular was all fine and good, it was the getting to regular that she didn’t enjoy.

There were apples, Tang orange drink mix, Orange juice—the kind that came frozen in a can, Coca Cola, and when the season permitted, popsicles.
Typical 1960’s Americana vittles.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older, a young teen, that I actually started paying attention to the items available to the average shopper. There was actually a world out there of things from faraway lands. Picture the aisle offering “Chinese food”. . .Chop suey in a can. . .whoa. . .

As a family we weren’t known for our travels or adventures.
The grocery store was going to have to provide all of my little adventures.
And sadly it was obvious that I was wired from the get go to be adventurous–
my parents on the other hand. . .not so much.
I blame it on being adopted and on being Sophia Loren’s love child—
Remember, that’s just between you and me. . .Ms Loren has no idea. . .

These far away places and lands called out to my young imagination through the offerings found in a grocery store.
Yet sadly the closest I had ever come to exotic lands and foods was from a roll of tropical fruit lifesavers!

I keenly remember the day Mom let me pick one of each of the most exotic fruits the grocery store had to offer—a papaya, a coconut, a whole pineapple, a kiwi and a mango.
I eagerly brought each fruit home as we, she and I, proceeded to have a true taste adventure.

I’ve never bought a whole coconut or papaya since as the coconut required a screwdriver and a hammer and I simply was not a papaya fan—not much for mangos either but I’ll eat them.

Let’s fast forward 50 years.

A grocery store today is truly a plethora of global sights, scents and tastes.

Pretty much anything you could think of is available. . .
Yucca leaves, rice noodles, Taro root, plantains, wasabi sauce, Israeli pearl couscous,
Mole sauce. . . you name it, if you want it, you can find it–
For all of us my friend, are living in the world of rapid import!

So there I was this morning ambling about the produce section, picking up a few Meyer Lemons, when I noticed a rather unusual fruit.
Now I’ve seen my share of star fruit, ugli fruit, passion fruit and even dragon fruit, but the Uniq fruit was a new one.

Looking like a cross between a giant overly ripe grapefruit and a lime, the outward appearance left a lot to be desired.
I stopped, moving in for closer inspection.
I was surprised to find it to be rather light, no heft of a juice ladened fruit–more wrinkly skin than firm fruit. It gave the impression that once peeled there may be but a thimble full of fruit hiding within the wrinkly citrusy skin.
Not feeling overtly adventurous today, I placed the Uniq back in the bin along with it’s kith n kin, and moved on to the more exotic cut up pineapples and containers of raspberries that I had actually come to purchase.

Yet my unique encounter with the Uniq fruit naturally took my mind to places besides the quest of fruit. . .

Let us consider each human.
Every human being has his or her own unique DNA, yet we are all of the people clan.
We are all pretty similar in our needs, functions, physiological makeup, physical appearance, albeit for skin coloring, hair coloring and texture as for a few subtle facial differences—but all in all, more alike than different.

And yet God, the Master Creator, knows each one of us individually.
All 7 billion and counting of us. .of you, of me. . .

7 billion plus humans and this God, this Creator knows, as in knows individually and intimately, each and every one of the 7 billion and counting folks?!”
Impossible?
Unreal?

It is unreal. . .unreal to wrap our minds around such a mind blowing concept.
That there is a God who is deep within each and every one of us.
For some of us, we already know this and cling to such a knowledge. .
For others, He is a non entity and yet. . .He remains. . .
No one is deemed unworthy, less than, too much trouble to bother with, too poor, too mean
too ugly, too hopeless, too old, too young, too smart, too ignorant,
too selfish, too self absorbed. . .

I ponder over our very being. . .
Our bodies
Our intricacies
Our ears, our eyes, our nose, our mouthes. . .
Our ability to taste, to speak, to touch,
To feel, to cry, to chew, to digest, to eliminate, to reproduce,
To feel empathy, to hate, to kill, to feel joy, to feel despair, to smile, to love. . .

The intricacies of the eye–the retina, the cornea, the rods, the cones, the ability to see color. .
The tongue, its ability to taste, to discern sweet, salty, bitter, savory
The heart which beats incessantly from womb, to birth, to death and yet it has the ability to love
powerfully as well as to break in half. . .

The finger with its own unique set of prints—no two prints are alike in all of the 7 billion plus people–and yet each finger has the ability to feel warmth, to be burned quickly, to sense that which is soft or rough, hot or cold. . .it is used to hush, to accuse, to lure, to soothe. . .

Has all of this merely evolved for survival
Or
Was it created individually, similar and yet unique. . .
Beautiful
Precious
Loved. . .

That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
John 17:21