I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

Celebratory Spring Cakes

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When I was a child my mother thoughtfully allowed me in the kitchen, not only to help her but also to bake. While I enjoyed cooking a lot, my passion has always been baking.

My mother was a good baker and excelled in the art of baking pies. Occasionally she baked cookies, but she didn’t have a sweet tooth so she baked primarily for special occasions. I, on the other hand, had a sweet tooth, and the only way to satisfy it was to bake as we lived too far away for us to walk to the local markets.

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Vanilla Bean Pudding

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 Courtesy of Carol Fenster, Ph.D. from 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes

Carol’s recipe is based on the classic, Blancmange, a sweet pudding made from milk and thickened with cornstarch, gelatin or other thickener. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, this was a food given to people who were ill to build back their strength. As we had no antibiotics, food was critically important. This is a nice treat for kids when their braces get tightened or when they’re home with the flu. Feel free to use extract if you prefer though the vanilla bean does impart a lovely flavor.

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Haute or Hot Vanilla and Almond Lace Cookies

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What a strange winter this has been. I live in Santa Cruz, not far from the beach. We’re used to having occasional sunny interludes between winter storms but this year we’ve had an occasional stormy interlude between sunny, warm days. When I say warm days I mean as warm as 70 degrees in December and January, our chilliest months of the year!

Even stranger, we had the foggiest summer in decades. The kind of damp weather that gets to your bones. And we had no spring whatsoever as it rained right up until the end of June when the fog started. Weird.

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Too Many Egg Whites? Here’s a Thought

If there is a gene that predisposes us to love dessert, I have it. For the last several days I have been eating 
myself into heavenly oblivion.  The Christmas pie I made that’s so good it makes you want to cry.  Biscotti from Bob Benish’s Bakery.  Divinely smooth fudge made by a friend.  The leftover Italian cookies from a market demo.  And, always chocolate.

I’m not sure which came first for me — discovering a love of dessert through baking or baking because I love dessert. While the answer might appear obvious,  we didn’t have daily dessert when I was a child nor did my brother or I have access to stores on our own as we lived several miles from town.

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Edible Squash Bowls

I admit it — I love to look at Martha Stewart magazines and marvel at the brilliantly clever holiday magic, the perfectly decorated cookies, the floral displays, the beautiful food.  But, that’s the extent of it — just looking.  After all, who has time?  And if I had the time, is that how I’d spend it?  Probably not.

However, for quite a while I’ve been intrigued about using squash as edible containers for serving food.  They’re quirky, fun,  add to the decor and, at the end of the day they’re off to the compost.  Sweet.

I decided that the customers at New Leaf Market provided the opportunity for  indulging my fantasy — certainly they’d be interested to see them live in 3-D even if they never actually make them at home.  I was further invested as the head of produce asked me to come up with a way to move the little decorative-but-edible squash that poured into the market in October.

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Maple Simmered Chicken with Cranberries and Vanilla

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When I was running a special culinary program at a local natural foods store, I found the basics for this recipe in a monthly magazine, as I recall. I tried it on our customers and they loved it so I posted it. The photo was too small for our current blog format, so I made it again recently and realized how versatile this recipe is.

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Back From Italy: Venice and Cinque Terra

(along with recipe for Walnut Sauce for Pansoti)

As I have now lost the 2-1/2 pounds I gained eating my way through Italian pastry shops, I will say that I am still happy but not quite as plump as I was when I arrived home. That said,
I just baked a fresh peach pie for my housemate’s birthday and I’m hoping he’ll give me a piece as I wouldn’t want to wither away, especially while writing about food.

We left Cortona for Venezia by train, arriving just before noon.

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Home From Italy Fat and Happy: Cortona

Let’s face it:  If you’re a foodie and you go to Italy and Greece  for three weeks, you’re going to gain weight.  It’s a given.  In fact, the only thing that saved me from returning as a full-on  roly-poly, was that we walked five to nine miles a day.  How do I know this?  I wear a pedometer.

My five friends and I met up at the Rome airport, caught the shuttle to the train station and headed for Cortona, 2-1/2 hours to the north.  Cortona is an Etruscan hill town, roughly 2500 years old.  The road from the train station in Tarantola meanders up the hillside to Garibaldi Square, near the center of Cortona.  From there, the town continues its upward spiral toward the sky.  A castle and centuries-old church look down on the town, which, in turn,  looks down on beautiful, verdant Tuscany.  It’s a breath-taking view.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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