A bottle of vodka, a big knife, and some magic beans. Happy Holidays.

Holidays are here and it’s time to bake a lot of sweet stuff.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am somewhat of a freak about my chocolate chip cookie recipe.

At age 9 I was first introduced to the seductive allure of home baked chocolate chip cookies with the famous Nestle Tollhouse recipe. With the help of my mother, we quickly adjusted the recipe to exclude some of the ingredients she was testing as triggers to her MS. In order to meet the fantastic taste and consistency desired, I had to learn how to compensate in other aspects of the recipe – like method.

You think I’m crazy, don’t you? You’re like, “Dude. It’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe. How can you go wrong?”

But I am telling you, my chocolate chip cookies are F-ing good. This photo is not.

Cookies are like oxygen to me. You don't have many good photos of oxygen, do you? Stop judging.

Cookies are like oxygen to me. You don’t have many good photos of oxygen, do you? Stop judging.

One of the first things I do when I move to a new place is adjust the recipe to meet the local conditions. Back when I lived in the US, that meant learning the peculiarities of a new stove. Figuring out where to buy the best local chocolate, etc. Since I moved abroad (first Denmark, then Australia, and now Italia), the test has been:

to source the correct ingredients.

Italian flour is not like American flour. That’s why they sell “farina di Manitoba” for twice the price at the local Coop. (Side note to Italians: MANITOBA IS IN CANADA… Debatable on how American that is… says the Texan, born to an English father, married to an Italian.)  

Moving on…

One of the big challenges here in Europe is the vanilla situation. Whenever I get Europeans asking for my recipe, I tell them that it will likely turn out differently when they make it at home.

this shit

They ask, “Why?”

I say, “Because you won’t have vanilla extract”.

They say, “Of course we will! Where do you think we are – some third world country?!”

I pause, ponder that odd retort, correct them, and point out that they will probably instead have vanilla aroma.

They will then say… “eh? What’s the difference?”

Everything, my dear, everything.

So – to be clear – I’m not giving you my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I hardly know you. I have only given out the recipe to a few very close friends on their wedding days. My sister is still begging me for it. I told her I need to see more evidence of commitment.

However, I will share a little trade secret with you. Vanilla extract can be made at home, even in Italia.

from my favorite recipe blog, Simply Recipes (although my version, below, is a bit more fun)

1. When you go to Coop and seek out the baking section, divert your gaze from the nasty aroma vaniglia that makes everything taste like potpourri. Nearby there should be the option to purchase a vile containing 1 or 2 long, skinny vanilla beans (called “vaniglia in bacca)… for like 200 euros each. Just kidding. Kinda.

Even better – have your mom bring Mexican vanilla beans with her to Italy on her next trip… just sayin’… who knows where these things were imported from.

2. Get those and a bottle of good vodka or brandy and head home.

3. Now, grab a big knife. (I know what you’re thinking – a bottle of vodka, a big knife, and some magic beans…. WHAT THE HELL, M?)

4. Starting a centimeter or so in from the end of the bean, slice all the way down its length until you get a centimeter or so from the other end. Do that for at least two beans per jar that you have.

5. In a shallow jar, bend your vanilla beans around the base and cover them up with vodka. Pop the jar in a cool, dark location, and wait about 2 or 3 months.

Boom. Vanilla extract.

Well… wait 2 or 3 months. Then boom. I didn’t say it would be immediate.

By the way – makes a great little Christmas gift… if you start in September / October. In fact, I’m just now realizing that this entire post is poorly timed.

Start now, and you’ll have vanilla extract in time for the end of the holiday season, for which you probably needed a lot of vanilla extract!!

(I’m here to help.)

Looks like I need to make more vanilla. The bean has already been removed here and added to someone's Christmas gift portion. I'll take photos when I make more.

Looks like I need to make more vanilla. The bean has already been removed here and added to someone’s Christmas gift portion. I’ll take photos when I make more.

17 thoughts on “A bottle of vodka, a big knife, and some magic beans. Happy Holidays.

  1. We have self raising flour in Australia for making cakes. It took me ages here to find what I call levitating agent to mix with regular flour. I have just discovered yeast!

  2. This is great, I just went looking for essence yesterday and saw the ‘aroma’ and though no way in hell and ended up buying 1 vanilla pod for 3,75 euro!!!
    Cookies look awesome and I am making my own essence now- thanks!!


    • 3,75€ for one pod?! INSANITY. Yeah. I’ve got my mom arriving next week with some direct from Texas. I hope she doesn’t forget.

      … excuse me, I have to go make a phone call.

  3. Loved this post – made me want to try making the mystical vanilla extract, amongst a few laughs. Very enjoyable! 🙂

      • Thank you, yes it’s the real deal – I was anonymous for quite some time, but eventually decide to reveal my true self 🙂 Yodel away, o gleeful one!

  4. loved your post I am going to make my own vanilla extract thanks……just for the record they do sell vanilla extract & self raising flour…. at least in Rome they do

    • You’re welcome, Angelita! Lots of things happen in Rome that don’t make it out here to the styx, unfortunately. Ah, I do miss the city sometimes… 🙂

      • styx…lol….meaning you live between earth and the underworld ?? can’t be that bad, surely there is a larger city near by, I have been living in rome since 1971 , it was difficult to adapt back then….Ah l’amore l’amore ! !

        • 1) define “larger city”
          2) define “near by”
          Yeah, I can’t imagine how you did it in ’71. At least I have the world wide web to help me!

          • no, no, I still do.
            Only I have the advantage of being fully aware of what I’m missing out on back home AS IT’S HAPPENING.

            I’ve always had major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).


          • I moved here in 1977 and it was a whole different world. besides all the “things you can’t get here” (edible and not), communicating with the folks back home was difficult. You used to have to call in and make reservations to make an Intercontinental ‘phone call and we used to write “serial” letters on those tiny airgrams.

          • Oh I know what you mean! One day I’m going to have to write about when my mom lived here in Italy in the 60s. I still have all the letters and photos sent back and forth. I mean, we used that tissue paper air mail stuff well into the 80s!

  5. FOMO I had it too, I think every expat has, and will always, especially when you have children, less opportunities etc. etc. for them..

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