I went to the Whole Foods at California and Franklin on Saturday in quest of a vanilla bean pod. Not knowing where to begin, I inquired of three store employees where such an item might be located. Three times I had to explain what a vanilla bean pod is, since none of the workers had a clue. Upon reflection, it occurred to me that although everyone is familiar with the flavor, no one seems to be aware of its botanical origin.
I loaded some other stuff and headed for the cashier, a young woman to whom I explained my problem. Success: she knew exactly what I required, disappeared for three or four minutes and eventually returned with a little glass jar containing a single vanilla bean pod doubled over inside it.
At $9.99 it was a total rip-off, and I've meanwhile learned you can buy the bean pods en masse for a couple bucks on eBay, but at least I went home happy.
Why was I looking for a vanilla bean pod? Because I'm making my own ice cream and have been advised that beans taste better than extract (which can be made cheaply by soaking the beans in vodka).
How did I get started making ice cream? I was standing in line recently at the Safeway complaining vigorously to an older African American lady behind me about how packaged ice cream is full of candy for kids and you can't get the real stuff any more, etc, etc. She said, listen, if you want good ice cream, the only solution is to make it yourself.
Something clicked in the back of my head. I bought a Cuisinart ice-cream maker at Amazon.com for $40 and was soon on the path to perfect ice-cream. I will never return to the pathetic commercial junk again. Substituting Splenda for sugar, I have with patience created the perfect vanilla, to go on top of the currently fresh organic California strawberries. Soon I will master the perfect chocolate. In July, when the black cherries are in, I will commence production of my favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia. In the fall I shall move on to beer ice cream (add Guinness Stout in place of milk), and the next holiday season will find me luxuriating in exceptionally high-proof home-made rum raisin. With golden raisins and first-rate booze.
THE EMPEROR OF ICE-CREAM
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem*
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
from Wallace Stevens, The Emperor of Ice Cream, 1922.
* Let appearances become reality