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Published on September 14, 2021

Cruising to Mexico for just the right vanilla

By Shirley Prihoda
The Bulletin

On one of our cruises we docked in Cozumel. It’s my favorite port of call. I’m not the average tourist looking for handcrafted wooden carvings, T-shirts that change colors in the sun, or Tanzanite jewelry. I’m on the hunt for vanilla. Now, some would think “What’s the big deal about vanilla? Every grocery store has it.”

Well, let me tell you, looking for the right vanilla is a big deal for “wanna-be” chefs! This is a stealth mission and not one for the faint hearted or feet that tire easily, for that matter. This hunt has many variables: Is the vanilla made with water or alcohol, and is it single or double strength?

Now that Vanilla class 101 is under our belt, we move on to the next level. Is the vanilla clear, medium, or dark? It’s a slow process requiring many rest stops for Mexican Diet Coke.

My husband will quickly point out that vanilla is not my only obsession.

The other is shoes. May I interject for the record’s sake, one can never have too many pairs of black shoes or flip flops.

This realization somehow has eluded my husband. He doesn’t get it that you can’t wear the same black shoes with a dress that you wear with pants, or that the length of the pants determines the heel height.

As for my flip flops’ collection, he simply shakes his head and walks away as I try to explain that different flip flops are needed for shopping versus beach flip flops, or dress-up flip flops, and the all-important Sunday go-to-meeting flip flops.

He, on the other hand, owns one pair of brown deck shoes, one pair of black shoes, and one recently purchased out-of-necessity pair of flip flops, which was his only purchase on this entire cruise, other than nachos.

We won’t elaborate what necessitated the purchase of the flip flops other than the brown deck shoes are tightly enclosed in a plastic bag awaiting a miracle of biblical proportions!

He doesn’t get my shoe obsession, but the vanilla one is preferable since he is my official taste tester for all recipes containing vanilla and sugar.

I can’t remember ever reading a recipe that called for vanilla that didn’t include sugar. Have you?
This cake is my armchair revisit to the flavors of the Tropics.

Caribbean Cake

1 ½ Cups Sugar
2/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1 Cup Vegetable or Canola Oil
½ Cup Buttermilk (Borden’s Bulgarian is the best)
4 Large Eggs, room temperature (use cage free)
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract (Mexican, of course)
½ Cup Crushed Pineapple
2 ¼ Cups All-purpose Flour
1 ½ Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
¼ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
½ Teaspoon Salt
¼ Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
2 ½ Cups Carrots, finely grated
1 Cup Chopped Pecans or Walnuts
1 Cup Golden Raisins (you can use regular, but golden are so much better!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. The option is yours to use either cake pans, a 13x9 pan or cupcake tins. Either way, if using cake pans, liberally prepare them with Crisco and dust with flour. If cupcakes are your choice, use cupcake liners for best results.

Beat the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and pineapple together in a large bowl.
In another bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated. Fold in the carrots, pecans and raisins just until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Bake on the center oven rack until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, frost with the cream cheese frosting and top with walnuts or pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting

16 Ounces Cream Cheese, softened
1 Stick Real Butter, softened
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
4-5 Cups Powdered Sugar, sifted

To prepare the cream cheese frosting, whip the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Mix in vanilla. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until the frosting reaches the consistency you want. You may not need to add all the sugar.

(To contact Shirley, please send emails to john.bulletin@gmail.com or write to The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, Tx. 77516)