Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vanilla Extract

I am a person of projects. I need them. They keep me moving along. My mental list of projects is long…which is really a good thing since some of my projects are probably kind of lame…or un-doable…and it might be best to never get to them (like that children’s book I wrote about 10 years ago only to discover that it already existed, ha-ha).

The list. My list of “Things to Do While in Madagascar” ranges from sewing more, to reading more, to beginning a daily meditation practice to, of course, cooking and baking. I’ve been doing my best with the baking and cooking. I committed to borrowing a baking tray from our sponsors and began experimenting with flours within our first two weeks here so I could keep up with my pizza making. The baking tray couldn’t replace my pizza stones, but it did a more than passable job I think. And, compared to Santo Domingo, the flour here (albeit in rather small bags) is fantastic. That’s the French influence I’m sure – the bread here is delish!

This past week we got our HHE so I’m now loaded down with all of my pizza making supplies and tons of other great baking and cooking utensils. We’ve unpacked all of our kitchen gear and the boys’ toys…everything else is still sitting in boxes while I set about the joys of cooking….and the children (at least the two oldest) are entertained.

I’m rambling here. Anyway, the first thing on my list was to bake some cookies. But, imagine my surprise when I headed on over to ShopRite, our local supermarket, and only found the most imitation of imitation vanilla extracts…in fact, they didn’t even try to call it vanilla extract, they just opted for “Essence of Vanilla”….which I think might also exist on the perfume aisle of CVS…next to Electric Youth.

For those of you who are not aware – Madagascar is the land of vanilla. But, to my surprise, vanilla (the type that is grown here and in the other islands of the Indian Ocean) is really from Mexico! I highly recommend a quick read of the Wikipedia article on vanilla – super interesting. So, there I was, standing in the supermarket and thinking, “What!?” When I got home I called my sponsor – “What’s up with the vanilla extract? Am I looking in the wrong place?” She said she had only seen the Essence of Vanilla. But, then she saved me – “You know, you can just put some vanilla beans in a bottle of vodka, right?” No, no – I did not know that. Definitely one of those moments when you question what other, everyday things you don’t know.

Project Number One! Vanilla Extract! Today I picked up the cheapest little bottle of vodka I could find and a big hunk of vanilla beans. I got 50 grams for about 4 dollars (that’s like 20 vanilla beans). I looked vanilla beans up on Amazon and 10 beans will set you back about $13. Needless to say, much, much cheaper directly from the source. I used this website as my guide. Only when I got to the end did I realize you have to wait three whole months to have the extract! But, Cooks Illustrated (yes, yes my favorite) says it only takes one week. I vote one week until cookies or these Wheat Thins that I saw posted on Pinterest (my new addiction).

So there you have it – what is going to turn out to likely be a two-year supply of vanilla extract is brewing away in my cupboard behind a giant bag of Malagasy pink rice.

Project Number Two? I am still, after all this time not satisfied with how my flour tortillas are turning out. Tomorrow I’m trying this recipe from the Homesick Texan.

Are you curious about the rest of the project list? ‘Cause, you know me making food in Madagascar has got to be super interesting to y’all, right?

Well, just in case, here’s a preview:

 • learn to make cheese (major development on that front – found pasteurized fresh milk today!),
 • find good fish and make beer-battered fish tacos (I have this super Canadian totally cheering me on about the tacos…I feel like it’s a challenge),
• plant tomato seeds…and attempt to have tomatoes as an end result,
• figure out something to do with Ball jars….lots of Ball jars which I bought, on a complete and total whim, before we packed out.


  1. You crack me up! I'm trying to catch up on your blog. You made me miss so many things but most of all baking with you and Central Market. I love that you are making vanilla and that you are in supposedly the land of baking vanilla yet can't buy any. I will take credit for you reference to Cooks Illustrated!


  2. You can totally take credit for Cooks Illustrated! Miss you too!