Vanilla a la Mode

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vanilla1I remember as a kid I watched my dad scoop vanilla ice cream into his bowl (French vanilla to be exact), with the caramelized vanilla hitting wonderful notes of deliciousness in every bite. So he said.

I myself at the time couldn’t understand his never-wavering choice for vanilla. To me, vanilla was, well, just that, plain ‘ol vanilla. Boring. I wanted Rocky Road with surprise bits of chocolate, marshmallows and nuts to tantalize my taste buds with every bite.

But now, like fine wine, I’ve mellowed out to understand the subtleties in life and how a little bean pod, the fruit of an orchid, can rule the senses.

It’s calming ability is well documented, the subtle sweet scent perfect for bringing peace and tranquility. Yet its origin is seeped in a violent mythological story where Princess Goddess Xanat of the Totonac Indians ran off with her mortal lover in defiance of her father to only tragically be caught and beheaded together. As the drops of their blood touched the ground, a vine with a beautiful sweet smelling orchid rose from that very spot, I suppose carrying their undying love in every vanilla bean from that moment on.

It is true that the vanilla orchids flower only one day a year for a few hours, and if not grown in their native Mexico where the only pollinator is the melipona genus of bees,vanilla extract must be carefully hand-pollinated.

The vanilla beans within the pod then take weeks to mature and months to ripen and cure for a total of over a year to make it to store shelves for consumption.

Vanilla, oh yes, is far from boring. One of the oldest and most expensive of spices, vanilla truly rocks the senses and keeps the body in balance. It quiets the soul and lifts the spirits.

It’s essential oil is an antidepressant, a sedative, anti-carcinogenic, and has antioxidant and fever reducing properties. It is also an aphrodisiac. Aromatherapy tests have proven that most men were aroused by the scent of vanilla. It certainly brings on a whole new meaning to the question, “Would you like that pie a la mode?”

Whether you use it for the kitchen (or bedroom), vanilla extract can be easily made at home, just needs some time.

Take 10 vanilla bean pods and split them lengthwise and place in 1 liter of vodka, brandy or bourbon. Store the bottle in a cool dark place such as a kitchen cabinet for around three weeks, shaking the bottle every week for about three weeks. The longer the vanilla sits in the vodka, the deeper the taste. Even if you use the extract, refill with more vodka. The beans last up to one year.

For a fun after bath aroma spray for hair, skin and face, take 1oz Witch Hazel Extract, 3 oz of water, 2 tsp. of the vanilla extract, and pour all ingredients into a 4 oz glass bottle with a mister top and shake well. I like to place a slice of vanilla bean in the bottle for a deeper scent. The smell is heavenly.

And for a sweet culinary delight, gently heat honey with a vanilla bean in it to create vanilla infused honey and ever so scrumptious when drizzled over fresh fruit, such as a sliced grapefruit.

Bring the essence of vanilla into your home whether in candles drenched in essential oil, or cookies seeping out the scent of the extract. The ambiance of the room will dance in its sweet and innocent, yet sultry and exotic, fragrance of vanilla, bringing a moment of health to all who enter its realm.

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