Stir Crazy + Vanilla

I feel like we’ve been snowed in for ages now, which is definitely 100% not true. It’s been four days or so since I left the house. Four days! I could have left at any time of course. We live on a main road and it stays pretty clear. The men folk have found an excuse to go out every day, which I always feel is some sort of weird alpha thing to prove that they can conquer slick roads. There is just no reason for me to leave. All the various extracurricular activities for my kids have been canceled. The store gets a negligible amount of business in this weather. I can stay home.

We ran out of real vanilla from baking and I sent the guys to the convenience store at the end of the road. They returned with “Imitation Butter & Nut Vanilla Flavoring.” I can’t even imagine that flavor profile, so no more baking here until we retrieve my super precious last bottle of Vanilla from the store.

There’s been an international vanilla shortage this year, thanks to some monsoons or something destroying the vanilla crop in Madagascar or Tahiti or both. I get confused on the details. I just know that all my suppliers have pulled all my products with vanilla. I hoarded my last few good bottles of extract, even when customers came in and pleaded with me because they knew we had the best vanilla. I’m down to the very last bottle and I feel a little emotional at the thought of opening it up.

I am sure I will find some decent if exorbitantly priced vanilla elsewhere. Surely. I hope so. We have two very serious vanilla requirements in our house. (1) My 11 year old makes the best chocolate chip cookies, which are essentially just butter and vanilla with a bit of flour thrown in for good measure and the perfect dusting of Very Good Salt. He’s 11 so he can’t always be convinced to make them, but when he does, I want to eat them all on my own. (2) My Dad makes French toast every Sunday morning and the ritual has become borderline religious for me. I top it with insanely good caramel and seriously divine maple syrup. I think about it all week and any good eating decisions I make the rest of the week are undoubtedly canceled out by the caloric intake associated with just this one meal.

None of these things will taste the same with mediocre vanilla. I operate a specialty food store because I love food. I’m not a gourmet chef by any stretch, but I do love real food prepared with really great ingredients. Simple dishes reach a new level when you start with quality at the base.

Sometimes I don’t know why I do what I do. I go into Kroger and see ten bazillion dollars in merchandise stacked as high as you can see and I think, “Why in the heck am I even bothering with this?” It all seems futile, but then something like a vanilla shortage comes along and it reminds me. Really great food can’t be mass produced. Big box stores will never run out of vanilla or honey or eggs or whatever and thank God really because what a dark world that would be.

On the flip side, big box stores will never be able to capture the nuances of really great seasonal food. We have the best heirloom tomatoes you will ever eat, but only a few weeks out of the year. Our egg suppliers can never meet our demand, but we have the best eggs you can eat without a flock of your own. We live for the first harvest of sorghum, the different flavor profiles of honey at different times of year…. and the best vanilla you can find, when you can find it.

I can’t say that this is a sustainable business model, but it makes my heart glad. I’ll always be a junkie for real food and seasonal delights. I love buying from small producers, people you can look in the eye and know that you are supporting their family. You would be shocked how even the smallest purchase that you make from a local farm or producer makes such a big difference on their bottom line. Just do it! You won’t regret it.




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