Wednesday, January 7, 2009


My mom and dad got back from "their" island late Sunday night. Kevin picked them up from the airport at 11:30pm. They were gone for two weeks, over Christmas, so as soon as Nora got off the bus on Monday, we trekked next door to visit them, see their pictures, and hear about things on Huahine. I know right now you are scratching your heads and saying, "Who-a-what?" Huahine is a tiny island near Tahiti. It has a population around 500. They go there every year and plan to spend winters there when they retire in the next couple of years.

So after a bit of hugging and welcoming back, the kids, of course, asked for their present. Nothing like being straight to the point about things. There was no beating around the bush, no idle chat: they knew Grandma and Grandpa would never come home empty handed and they are fascinated by this island, so they HAD to see what it was this year.

So Grandpa says, "Grandma isn't home yet and I don't know where she put them. But I can tell you this: We bought them from our friend Stumpy. You know why they call him 'Stumpy?' Because his arm is just a stump. You know why his arm is a stump? Because a shark tore it off of him!" Those of you who know my dad know he is quite the story teller. And I have to say-I am really not sure if this story is true or not. I mean, it is totally plausible that a guy who lives on an island near Tahiti got into a little mix-up with a shark. But since Don is such a story teller, I just don't know. I mean, this is the guy who convinced all of the grandkids that there are crocodiles living in his basement, and an even fiercer, more illusive beast called a pocodile, too.

Anyhow, Grandma got home shortly thereafter and, after hugging her, the girls asked her where the presents were hidden. So she got them out and-this is so cool-they are shark tooth necklaces! Fierce! And what is so crazy about shark teeth is that they are serrated. Like a mouthful of knives. And I am honestly a little bit worried one of them will slice her finger on the serrated tooth. But that would make for a cool story I guess.

Here is Nora modeling her necklace. She wore it to school on Tuesday and showed it off to her friends.

So what did my parents bring for me? Well, they brought me 5.6 ounces of vanilla beans. That works out to 36 of the world's most amazing vanilla beans. And-this is so cool-they even showed us photos of the vanilla bean plantation/farm/whatever it is called where these beans came from! Too bad I don't have a copy that I can post here, because it is pretty neat.

So I went online and found a most wonderful website telling me how exactly to turn these things into vanilla extract. And you know what? It is pretty simple. It is basically beans in vodka for six months. So after ECFE this morning, Dana and I swung by the liquor store to get vodka. For the quantity of beans, I needed 1400 milliliters of vodka, so I picked out two 1-liter bottles of decent vodka and brought them up to the register. Dana has never been to the liquor store before and I felt a little weird about it, but I didn't want the beans to get stale and I needed to get the vodka, so I just went with it. Except that as soon as I opened my wallet and took out my check card, I realized I did not have my license. See, we went bowling on Friday night and they held my license while we bowled, I guess because I looked like the type of girl who would bowl and dash. And I forgot to get it back. So he ran my check card through and THEN asked for my ID, which I had to tell him I did not have. Which was incredibly humiliating. I mean, I bring my 3-year old into the liquor store to buy two liters of vodka and then I look like I am underage. He actually said, "I am sure you are 21 but I need to see your ID." And I was like, "I am 31, not 21." I totally get it. I am really glad he did card me. However, it was not my best moment. The crowning glory was when he bagged the vodka and set it aside so I could come back for it after I retrieved my ID. Um, no thanks. Instead, we went to the bowling alley, got the ID and then went to a different liquor store where they didn't think I was a hardcore alcoholic aged 20 or younger with an almost-4 year-old.

Look at all of those lovely vanilla beans! It took me over an hour to slice each pod open, scrape out the "caviar", chop up the pods, stuff everything into the vodka bottles and shake like crazy. And my hands will smell like a little bit of heaven for days. I am supposed to shake the bottles daily for the next two weeks, and then a couple times a week for the next 6 months. I can hardly wait to try it! The vanilla beans smell nothing like the ones from the grocery store. They are incredibly fragrant and sweet. And they were so soft and kind of oily.

Here's what it looked like after I shook it. I am told that within three days, it will LOOK like vanilla. Nora asked to smell it and it just smells like vodka. She was not impressed. "Just wait!" I told her.

So those of you who are mathematical may have noticed that I needed 1400mL of vodka and I bought 2L, which is 2000mL. I had to remove 300mL of vodka from each bottle, both to have the correct amount of alcohol and to make room for the caviar and pods and the water they will produce as they flavor the vodka. What to do with so much vodka? For starters, I made pasta with vodka sauce for dinner. This is one of our favorite meals but it is very fattening so I don't make it often. All of the alcohol cooks off, leaving a spicy, delicious sauce. The kids eat noodles with canned diced tomatoes while we eat this sauce. They LOVE noodles with canned diced tomatoes, lovely girls that they are.

And with that, here is the recipe:

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup vodka
1 cup petite diced tomatoes
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream, your choice
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the red pepper, vodka and tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the half and half and cook five more minutes. Add parmesan and stir well. Serve over noodles. Quick, easy and delicious! But like I said, spicy.

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