Monday, November 21, 2011

Vodka Vodka Vodka

To alcohol! The cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems.

The Simpsons

What happens when you put six Mormon girls in a small kitchen with several gallons of booze?

It all started with my friend Heidi. Heidi, clever soul that she is, discovered that pure vanilla extract is really nothing more than vodka that's had vanilla beans soaking in it for a month. Hey, thought she, I could make that. She crunched the numbers and discovered that making vanilla herself would, in fact, be pretty darn cost-effective . . . provided she could do it in bulk. That's where the rest of us came in.

Being the good Mormon girl that I am, I have never really had much occasion to interact with vodka. Vodka and I are as ships that pass in the night. So how could I pass up on the opportunity to play with this intriguing new substance in a non-commandment-breaking environment? So I cruised on down to Tabby's house in Orem to hang with my friends and discover the wonders of alcohol.

These friends, I rush to add, are Clubbie friends. Clubbie friends are medievalists. Medievalists like making stuff. Why buy clothes when you can buy fabric and make your own? Why by fabric when you can buy thread and weave your own? Why buy thread when you know a guy who raises alpacas who will give you some wool so you can spin your own? That's how medievalists think. There's always another layer of home production to be explored. I have no doubt that by January Heidi will be figuring out a way to make her own vodka. And possibly grow her own vanilla beans.

Medievalists also have a tendency to not give a curse about what "normal" people think of them. This is particularly true in Provo/Orem, where the "normal" is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Throughout this whole endeavor, the voice of my Young Women's president was yelling in my head about slippery slopes and the appearance of evil. I'm pretty sure that everyone else's Young Women's presidents were behaving in similar fashion, because as we worked that afternoon, there were regular comments about what the other women at church would think if they knew what we were doing. Poor sheltered souls, we observed. So judgmental. And most of them, grown women with families, probably don't even know what a fifth of vodka is.

(I had no idea how much a 'fifth' was. A fifth of a pound? A fifth of a barrel? Twenty percent alcohol? No idea. I was totally faking my expertise in anything.)

When you're raised LDS, there's a taboo associated with alcohol that makes even the mere mention of it kind of exciting in a deliciously rebellious sort of way. So when my friend Drew suggested, "Let's see how many times we can say 'vodka' in one minute!" we all chimed in. Vodka vodka vodka vodka vodka. And it continued to be entertaining every time we said it all afternoon.

At this gathering, the first person to show up with actual alcohol was Melanie, who had brought a small bottle of vodka, sufficient for making two jam jars' worth or so of vanilla extract. Is this a fifth? I wondered. But then Ashley turned up with a big old glass bottle, and the eyes of my understanding were opened.
This is a fifth of vodka. Or it was.
The guy at the liquor store was even kind enough to put her fifth in the stereotypical brown paper bag.

There we go, thought I. Now I am a woman of the world, for I have seen and handled a fifth of vodka. Fifth of a gallon . . . who knew? 

Then Heidi showed up with a CASE of fifths of vodka.

She also plunked down onto the kitchen table a pound of vanilla beans, a large bag of cinnamon bark, several pounds of mint leaves and a bag of oranges. Apparently vanilla extract isn't the only thing you can make with that much liquor. To store our completed creations were cases of brown glass bottles. Brown glass helps the extracts to keep better or something, but it has the added benefit of making your creations look like patent medicines from the Old West.

Step right up, folks.
Within a few minutes, the kitchen smelled (and with good reason) like someone had been grating oranges, crushing mint leaves, and slicing vanilla beans in large quantities in a small enclosed space. It was pretty dizzying. It got more so when we actually opened the bottles and started measuring things out. But most exciting of all was when Ashley got the brilliant idea to boil the vodka before adding orange peel, so the essence would steep out like tea leaves. I'm willing to bet that even those friends of mine who are familiar with the ways of alcohol have never boiled an entire fifth of vodka in a saucepan. It's like sticking a can of hairspray up your nose.

Ashley got hold of a large funnel and started pouring the hot vodka back into its bottle (now filled with orange peel and cinnamon). As she started pouring, both she and I did a little math. It went something like this:

Room temperature glass bottle + boiling vodka = explosion???

So we decided to let the bottle warm up a little bit before filling it up all the way.

The result was a toasty warm glass bottle that I carried around with me for the rest of the afternoon. It was just so comfy. Non-teetotalling friends: have you ever snuggled with a bottle of hot vodka? I bet you haven't. But I have.

So with people pouring things into bottles and out of bottles and into saucepans and out of saucepans, under-filling and over-filling and topping off and measuring out, liquor kind of ended up everywhere. It got spilled on the table and on our hands and on the outsides of the bottles and all over the sink. Vodka, vodka everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Seriously. No one even licked their fingers. (Considering the association with hairspray, you can see why they wouldn't.) There's a big difference between enjoying the shock value of out-of-the-mainstream behavior and actually breaking the commandments on which one was raised. The former is a lot of fun; the latter is just tacky.

The next important question was Utah liquor laws. Somebody had heard that it was illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol in your car, and since our brown glass bottles weren't sealed, they would count as open containers. Plus we all reeked of booze and were very giggly off of friends and fumes. I, fortunately, was not pulled over on my way home; I hope the rest of the gang fared as well.

So now I have four little brown glass bottles lined up on my desk. One holds  a vanilla bean, slit open to let the seeds out; one holds a soggy jungle of crushed mint leaves; one holds a couple of small cinnamon sticks that I'm never getting out of there because they've swelled up inside the bottle; and one holds shreds of orange zest that look like the insides of a dark snow globe. They'll hang out there for a month, and then I'll find out just in time for Christmas if I actually succeeded in making the kind of extract I can cook with or if I've just ended up with bottles of vodka with plants floating in them.

So now there's only one thing left to say:

Vodka vodka vodka.


  1. I love that. "Why buy thread when you know a guy who raises alpacas who will give you some wool so you can spin your own?"

    I keep meaning to ask if you're familiar with the story of "Cloak Boy" at BYU. Doug is friends with his parents.

  2. I don't think your Young Women President would be at all surprised at your activities.

  3. Oh but that I could have come!

    Who is this alpaca guy, anyway, and why aren't you sharing the wool?


  4. Ok, I take it back...I wouldn't share the wool either.

  5. And if you just end up with flavored vodka rather than usable extract, do your non-teetotalling friends a favor and send it our way! I love orange vodka! ;)

    And let me know if the extract thing works. With the way Jeffry bakes, we go through a lot of vanilla extract!

  6. I remember cloak boy! He was a real individualist. We (the medieval club) invited him to associate with us, but he wasn't interested.

    As for our YW presidents, I'm pretty sure we're not the first Mormons to make our own extracts with gallons of vodka. And for those who might worry, they should know that the ones in the store are alcoholic too. Even the artificial flavorings use some alcohol. It would be very difficult to remove everything fermented from one's diet, and last I checked, Mormons believe that sort of thing ended with the death of Christ.

    And, just so you know, I've got a cinnamon-vanilla-cardamom elixer in the works for the next round in January--a "love potion" for Valentine's Day, since all those spices are supposed to have love-inducing properties. Even better used in something chocolate, I'm sure. Mmmm...aphrodisiacs floating in vodka...absolutely sinful! ;)

  7. It isn't the Young Women who make Extract from Vodka, but the Young Men who make Vodka from Extract.

  8. In soviet Russia, vanilla extracts YOU!

  9. RoseE, I just read this entry aloud to my parents. My mom was laughing so hard she had to stop chopping cranberries. She says to tell you she loves you dearly and is so happy that you're my friend.

    She also wonders if she can use your blog as an example of "personal narrative" for her AP English Language students. I told her it would probably be okay, but I'd ask you first. :)

  10. Hey, I don't weave my own cloth. *hides spindle behind back*
    I wish I'd been there for the vanilla extracting and I plan on it for the January activity.
    Incidentally, I have a friend who claims that Mormons are the only people who can act drunk without getting drunk.

    ...rum rum rum. Just to throw more in there.

  11. Medievalist? You keep saying that word. I do not it means what you think it means.

  12. "Cloak boy" is the son of Laurel and Jonathon Langford, two of George's long time friends from the Y. We heard the story about him being banned from, filking in the quad in his pre-mission BYU days. I am sitting up in the hours between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning reading your marvelous blog and finding them as compelling as a good novel... Must select next older post.

    Aunt Lenore