The Spice of Life

The hubby and I just got back from a weekend in NYC, our first in a year.  A year exactly actually, as we spent this weekend last year at J’s wedding!

We went back down to the village and hung around NYU for awhile, reminiscing about my college years, had DELICIOUS Dim Sum at Golden Unicorn, saw Wicked, and even found the spot again when K proposed to me, 4 1/2  years ago.  It took a little while to find it. It was winter then, near dark, and I was annoyed that we were traipsing around Central Park in the cold, while K was (according to him) nervous and just trying to find a quiet place.  So neither of us remembered how to get there very well in the heat of the summer.  But eventually we did.

Just perfect.

But anyway…this isn’t about that.

Despite the fact that I grew up in the shadow of NYC AND went to college there, my time upstate has made coming back to NYC more and more difficult each time I come. I get over it quickly, but each time, I feel more and more like I don’t belong, when at one time it was, well, home.

But this weekend, I found Penzeys.  Oh, I’ve heard about Penzeys before.  But when we arrived in Grand Central on Metro North and decided to walk through the Grand Central Market, all will power to not buy anything in NYC melted away when we saw the spice counter.

And I felt like SUCH a country bumpkin when I saw REAL almond extract. Not imitation.  Oh no, the real thing, nowhere to be found (that I know of) in my area.  Maybe HWFC has it, I’m not sure.  But definitely not Hannaford or Price Chopper.

Jar after jar of any kind of spice I knew existed, and some I didn’t, and I felt like one of those 1800’s country girls who goes to visit “town” to pick up those exotic supplies (you know, like white sugar or oranges) that you can only get in civilization.

And vanilla beans.

K had gone to pick up some for me a few weeks ago up here in the Albany area.  He returned home without them, because, he said, they were $13 for TWO beans.

Here at Penzeys, $7.50 for THREE.

There’s something inordinately wrong with the universe when NYC is cheaper than Albany.  Well, I guess it makes sense, but of course I had to buy them.

And then K had to buy two different types of cinnamon.  Just because. He’s always wanted the “true” cinnamon, aka “Ceylon Cinnamon” which isn’t much like the cinnamon we’re used to here, light and citrusy.  It’s supposedly great in baking, and as apple season has started, we’ll be making a lot of things with it!

So, three minutes into NY, and we’d spent $20 shopping.  On spices.  We are odd, odd people.

I was researching about vanilla beans tonight and found this. I MUST make it.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

What you need:

  • 1 quart canning jar
  • Lid and band
  • 2 cups vodka
  • 6 vanilla beans

How you make it:

Cut the beans in half, lengthwise and add them to the canning jar. Cover them with a plain vodka that is 75-80 proof. Any higher than that and it won’t soak in the vanilla bean flavoring as well.  Store in a cool, dark place and shake every few days for at least a month, but longer is better for more intense flavoring.  When it’s done to your liking, strain it through a cheesecloth into dark bottles and seal tightly.  You can use it in equal measurements to store bought vanilla extract without a problem.

I only bought 3 beans. I’m going to have to order more from Penzeys now.


5 Responses

  1. Oh I’m so happy you found Penzeys!!! Best.spices.ever! It’s my FAVORITE store! And so easy to buy online – they usually throw something free in there too 🙂

    I won’t buy spices from anywhere else now!

    The Double Strength Vanilla is to die for! But then again, so is everything else they sell 🙂

  2. My husband and I have spent that much at Penzy’s on numerous occasions, in fact last year we gave out many spice boxes as Christmas gifts.

  3. One of these days I will attempt making my own vanilla extract. Penzys’ double strength stuff is awesome, but it comes with a price tag.

    If you sign up for their catalog, they send coupons for free herbs or spices. So fun! I usually send them to family that are down in NYC, but every so often I get to use them, too.

    And oddly enough, I didn’t really grow up in NYC, although I have family there, but I feel more and more like it’s home every time I visit.

  4. You should definitely try it! My mother has been making her own vanilla extract for almost 6 months now using the same method you give and it is wonderful! I really think it needs at least several months. It makes delicious homemade vanilla ice cream. She is now experimenting using bourbon and rum.

  5. I’m amazed that you managed to get out of Penzey’s only spending $20 🙂

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