Monthly Archives: March 2012

Ode to a grocery list

I remember reading, at some point in my college career, that after World War II when women went from doing the male jobs in factories back into the home, they were quite frustrated that their only intellectual activity involved making a grocery list.  The author was implying that making a grocery list was a mindless task and these women were used to so much more intellectual stimulation.  I am not going to get into post- WWII feminism issues, but for some reason that disdain of the grocery list has always stuck with me.  I remember it to this day.

I understand what the author was getting at, but always felt the the grocery list was a bad example of what he/she was trying to portray.  I have always made grocery lists. My parents insisted that we know how to cook when we left home so that we could live by ourselves and function basically.  I always liked to bake, but it wasn’t until I got my first apartment my senior year of college that I really began to appreciate being able to cook.  My roommate at the time wasn’t much of cook.  Although now she is quite a good cook and I like to take some credit for that!  I hadn’t ever realized until that point that people couldn’t cook, it seemed just something that you did.  As a part of that, there was always a grocery list.  I have never been one of those cooks who can go to the store, buy a bunch of things and then come home and make a week’s worth of meals out of it (or in college make a big batch of something, freeze it and eat it for the next week).  I required a menu and then a grocery list to be made of the necessary ingredients from that menu.

As I got older and the cooking got more involved, the work required to structure a healthy and interesting menu for the week became more and more complicated.  It has reached a pinnacle as of late because I am at home with Walter and I am rarely happy to eat the same thing twice in a month.  The list becomes further complicated by wanting to buy things that are in season at our local farmer’s market and then the rest of the ingredients from Whole Foods.  Making a menu and the accompanying list takes a good chunk of time for me each week.  Alex even buys me stickers for each season or holiday to festoon my weekly list.  The cards themselves are made out of leftover card stock from my sister Juli’s wedding program (and ours before that).  So this grocery list means a lot to me.  It means that my family will have tasty, nutritious things to eat each week and that I will have some cooking adventures.  So to the author that made light of grocery lists in that long ago college textbook – you don’t have any idea what the true art of a grocery list is!

Homemade Vanilla

Some where along my baking career I got persnickity about my vanilla.  There is just something about good vanilla that makes cookies just have a bit more depth to the taste.  For a long time I tried different ones at Whole Foods and Centeral Market (back in the days when I lived in Texas).  Then my husband and I went to Paris two years ago for a last hurrah before we settled down and tried to make a baby (which I have to say we did a pretty good job of that!).  The trip to Paris enhanced and changed our taste palettes.  French food, to us at least, is all about the subtle flavors and boy do they do a good job of just playing with your taste buds!  It just makes me warm and happy.

We took a cooking class in Paris and the teacher made his own vanilla so naturally I wanted to know where he got his beans and how he did it.  Mostly it seemed that he put vanilla beans in rum to soak for creme burlee and eventually the rum turned into vanilla extract.  When I got home I ordered a sampler of beans from the Boston Vanilla Bean Company.  It turns out that vanilla is grown around the world and the vanilla tastes quite different from different places.  So my thought was that I would order the sampler and then make creme burlee with each of the beans to see which we liked best.  It was a fantastic idea, however, I got pregnant not too long after I put the beans to soak in their rum and pregnancy and me equaled sleeping all the time and non essential projects put on hold.

So one evening many months later when I was really, really pregnant and Alex and I were beginning to get a bit stir crazy, we decided to test vanillas.  I always add vanilla to whipped cream and I happened to have some on hand so we whipped up a batch of whipped cream and then added vanilla to it in small amounts and tasted it.  The five types of beans were from  Madagascar, Mexico, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, and Tahiti.  Our favorite was the Ugandan beans.  They were just a bit sweeter and a little more full bodied.  So this prompted me to order some more of the Ugandan beans.  I am just now, about a year later, getting around to making the vanilla.  You can use vodka instead of rum if you prefer.  However, I feel the rum has a nice sweetness to lend to the beans and vodka makes me think of dirty martinis which I don’t want near my vanilla!

Vanilla Extract

3 vanilla beans

1 c. rum

mason jar with screw on lid

Take the vanilla beans and cut them down the middle with a pair of kitchen shears until there is about one inch left on top.  The beans need to be cut in order to expose the inside of the bean to the rum.  The inside is where the yumminess is.  Then place them in the jar and pour the rum over the top.  Make sure the beans are all the way in the rum.  This time around, I doubled this recipe so the jar is filled up with rum and I don’t have to worry about the beans poking out the top.  Then place the jar in a dark place and shake it up every week or two.  It needs to sit for two month before you use it.  I put a label on the front with the “ready by” date on it on so I don’t have to try and remember it myself.  Happy baking!