#88: The Value of Vanilla

#88: The Value of Vanilla

Saying my grandmother was fond of pound cake is like saying the Titanic had some “issues” with an iceberg. She baked one almost every week of her long life. She offered it as a dessert, enjoyed it as a snack, and even relied on it for an occasional meal. Her preferred method of preparing a slice was to toast it a little bit in a toaster oven. You know, just like they did in the Old Country.

Maw Maw has been gone a number of years now, and while I remember what her pound cake looked like, I’m sorry to say that I don’t really remember what it tasted like. It’s not that she wasn’t a terrific baker.

It’s just that her pound cake had no chocolate in it.

For many, many years, saying I was a chocoholic was like saying my grandmother was fond of pound cake. A day without chocolate… well, there were no days without chocolate. What would be the point? About as much point as a home-baked dessert with no cocoa in it. No chocolate chips. No fudge icing. No mousse layer.

For most of my life I haven’t just been a fan of chocolate – I’ve made it my mission to discover the most chocolately chocolate snacks and desserts possible. Got a brownie? I’ll have mine with hot fudge, please. Chocolate ice cream? I’d love some chocolate sprinkles on top. Chocolate bar? I’d prefer dark, with a higher percentage of cacao than might be deemed advisable for the average girl.

In addition to my grandmother and her pound cake, I submit for your consideration my late dear dad’s standing order at the Steak & Shake drive thru: a large vanilla shake. VANILLA! I mean, they have chocolate! They have hot fudge! They have chocolate chips! It boggled my mind that vanilla would actually be someone’s first choice.

I’m not sure where, when, or why the tide turned, but one day I found myself ordering something that did not have as much chocolate in it as possible. Maybe it was a brownie without hot fudge. Or chocolate ice cream with pecans instead of sprinkles. Or a chocolate bar that wasn’t dark as night, but instead, dark as, um, chocolate.

And thus began my love affair with combinations like chocolate and peanut butter. Dark chocolate and raspberry. Milk chocolate with graham crackers and marshmallows. I had failed to properly appreciate S’mores during my Camp Fire Girl days but now I was fully on board with the concept.

And then, the fateful day. It was the anniversary of my dad’s passing, and I had been thinking about him all week. I was driving down the road, giggling to myself over family jokes that were funny to no one but us (note to Mom: “He-watt!” and “you can make a hat out of it!”) when I noticed a Sonic sign up ahead. It was unseasonably warm for December, and it felt like just the right time for a milkshake. I found myself in the drive thru uttering these unfamiliar words: “Large vanilla shake, please.”

I was shocked to discover how awesome it tasted. There were no chips or sprinkles, no fudge! And it still tasted awesome! Just another piece of evidence to prove that my dad was a brilliant man.

Since shake day, I have learned the value of vanilla. It is the perfect foil for chocolate sprinkles. It goes really well with hot fudge. It’s a key ingredient in chocolate chip cookies. And whoever came up with the stuf between two Oreo wafers deserves to be living large on a tropical island in the Pacific.

I’m sure there is a life lesson in here somewhere. How we are all growing and changing as we move through life? How there are different types of people in the world, but those differences complement rather than diminish? How opposites attract, eventually?

All I really know is, my grandmother was a terrific baker, and my dad was a brilliant man. Gone many years, the both of them, but they are still teaching me lessons.

And I’ve still got a lot to learn.

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