Posts tagged ‘vanilla’
Nobody understands it, but for some inexplicable reason I like to work in the dark.
Well, not complete darkness. But as long as there’s a bit of gold left in the sky, I flick the light switches off before preheating the oven or leaving out the butter. I watch the lightbulb gradually dim until all that’s left is the little red glow of the filament, like the scarlet flicker of a snake’s tongue, until that too goes out in a snap. Then I get to work.
I throw open all of the curtains. Despite the chrome-colored damper of winter in Seattle, there’s a natural light that filters through the glass and brightens the kitchen in a way that artificial light cannot. I like the shadows that fall from the measuring cups on the counters. I like the burnt-edged way my photographs come out, and despite my father’s eye rolls and my friends’ confusion, I like the way I feel at home.
Some days I want to tackle big projects, like French pastries and gourmet spice profiles. I feel ambitious, and I turn on the lights to help me keep focused.
But sometimes I’m having one of those afternoons where I want my mind to de-clutter. I had one of those last week. I wore my oversized hunter green sweater and soft brown slippers to school, calling it “the macaroni and cheese of clothing.” In a word, it’s comfort. That day, I wanted to eat something just as simple and comforting as a day in sweatpants or a kitchen bathed in vanilla-sugar light.
It’s always hard to decide what to make. I usually pick based on what I feel like baking, since that’s where I derive most of my joy. But that day, I focused on what I felt like eating. I couldn’t think of anything that satisfied my craving, though, so I heated water to make myself a cup of jasmine green tea instead. That’s when it came to me.
When I stumbled upon rice pudding, I felt my heels lift off the floor a little, and then I could think about nothing else. Rice pudding is my very favorite comfort food – creamy, soft, and studded with a million little vanilla bean seeds.
It’s funny. I don’t like to waste money or ingredients, so I have a “vanilla scale” in order to save on both. I have two brands of vanilla extract – one cheap and one quality – and two brands of vanilla beans – one cheap and one quality.
I use the cheap vanilla extract for experiments and where it “doesn’t matter,” in muffins and scones. I save the good vanilla beans for dishes where they’ll shine, in my opinion where they belong: ice cream, custards, and really good rice pudding.
I didn’t even blink before deciding to use one of my most precious vanilla beans for this rice pudding. As I began to cook the rice, I had a sudden stroke of inspiration. I quickly lit another burner on the stove, poured in the milk, and added three of my family’s favorite jasmine green tea bags.
I didn’t know how it would turn out. I didn’t even consider that it might be awful and ruin my vanilla bean. I just inhaled the fragrant steam coming up from the jasmine milk, and the powerful aroma of the vanilla bean seeds speckled on my fingers. I knew I wasn’t making a mistake.
The pudding came together quickly. I felt more and more serene with every stir of the wooden spoon. The kitchen was warm, and my heart felt full. I held a warm bowl of rice pudding and curled up in the rocking chair in our living room, the one by the huge window that stretches from floor to ceiling. I took the first spoonful of rice pudding.
Oh, oh, oh, the jasmine was so not a mistake!
I didn’t taste it at first, just the beautiful woody creaminess of the vanilla. But then there it was, quietly, floral notes that crept up like crocuses in spring. The slight flowery bitterness of the jasmine green tea, complimented perfectly by the vanilla… I turned off my cell phone and put away my iPod. Then I got myself another bowl of rice pudding and snuggled into the chair until the very last ray of light went out in a snap.
I was taking my IB History test. There’s this feeling I can’t fully explain that only happens during testing season, when you tug on the metal handle of the gym door and step inside. It’s sort of like deja vu meets utter dread.
It’s the feeling you get when you walk into the room and desks have been set up, spaced neatly and equally apart, and your stomach lurches. You know that one of the chairs in this room is for you. There’s a packet with your name on it. And as you find your table and sit at it, a little part of your heart breaks. A bit of you dies. There is no escape.
There is a traditional one last stab at happiness – the whole room does a giant wave, starting with the first desk and ending in the opposite corner. Everyone laughs, then the tests are unwrapped and passed out by whichever parents or teachers volunteered to help. Absolute silence falls as the IB supervisor booms, “The tests have been opened. There is to be absolutely no talking at this point.” And the feeling settles on everything again, even more heavily than before.
All you can hear is the rustling of papers, light footsteps, and maybe the pounding of your heart, depending on how little you studied. I was watching the proctor work her way down the row, handing out papers. I never know quite how to react when the proctors reach me. It’s never pleasant. But that day something completely unexpected happened. My proctor spoke.
She handed me my test booklet, then very quickly leaned in and surreptitiously whispered, “I love your blog!” Then she flashed me a quick smile – another strange first in the IB test room – and continued down the line.
I was left feeling completely shocked! My thoughts were sent completely off balance – I went from trying to remember the causes of the Civil War to wondering how in the world she knew about 17 and Baking. I almost laughed out loud! (Which would have been bad.)
And then something equally bizarre happened – the heavy knotted feeling in my stomach straightened itself out, and I began my test still smiling.
And when I got home? I made vanilla and coffee marble pound cake.