It’s the little things that really surprise me living in Iceland. The things that I take for granted as being the same anywhere, and then come to find are really just not. These are often the things, I might add, which Icelanders take for granted, too.
Take, for instance, The Mystery of the Missing Vanilla Extract. Last year, when I unexpectedly took to baking, I found myself, naturally enough, needing a lot of vanilla extract. (Seriously, vanilla is the sauteed onion of baking: it is nigh on impossible to find a baking recipe without it.) I had sent my spice collection to us in Iceland but hadn’t thought to send extract because they would totally have that there, right? Well, yes. Kind of. When you go to the grocery store and check the baking aisle, you will invariably find several kinds of extracts: lemon, almond, and rum are pretty standard, and then depending on the time of year and how well stocked your store is, there will also be cardamom extract and peppermint extract etc. What you won’t ever find on the shelf is vanilla extract. Vials of vanilla beans, definitely. But no vanilla extract.
Back at home, vanilla beans are particularly pricey compared to extract—I actually got a vial of nice vanilla beans for Christmas one year—and so I found the ubiquitousness of the vanilla bean in Iceland to be pretty strange. Also, why wasn’t there any vanilla extract when they had all these other types? I asked the ladies in my saumaklubbur (sewing club), and they assured me that there was, in fact, vanilla extract in Iceland, but sometimes, it was placed in weird parts of the grocery store. So I started checking spice aisles and around the candy, but still—never any vanilla extract. I checked online how to make your own and discovered that it requires a fair amount of vodka to make. Vodka costs a pinky finger here, so that was right out. And yeah, I had other things to be thinking about besides vanilla extract, so I just gave up and started using vanilla bean.
(You totally didn’t expect me to go on this long about vanilla extract, did you? Now you know.)