Vanilla.com

Hi from Tonga, where it’s the weekend and where the weekend means we’re still sorting vanilla because we’re on the countdown. So many kilos are ready every day and we can hardly keep up.

I title this post vanilla.com because Tongans add “dot com” to the end of things to make a statement about it.

I think we’re making a statement about vanilla. Raymond Lochhead, my grandfather, traveled extensively to find the best, and now I understand why. Tongan vanilla can be the best in the world when cured properly and that’s why David’s operations here are so critical.

The beans are looking and smelling so good. This morning, when we did the rotation through the containers checking all of them, the aroma is what stopped me today. The long hours, the aching back–it’s all worth it to create something this beautiful. Curing is an art form, and now I’ve seen it up close from a master. You have to trust your instinct, you have to trust your sense of nature and your common sense. I think if you have to physically train for it, too. (Taloa, one of the workers, who always lets me haul vanilla with him; Fika, the other worker, won’t–he just tosses the bags over his own shoulder, said: Strong, Sue! “Mo’one?” I said (is it true?). “Am I stronger than a month ago?” A little bit, he said. A little bit.)

I’ve become the mother of two to four girls, depending on the night, ages five to fourteen. The constants are Loisi (twelve) and Tupou (five). Princess, also known as Vika (eight) will probably become another constant. Who won’t be is Siale, David and Vuka’s oldest girl, because she gets too scared.

This morning, Saturday, we made pancakes with Cookie Vanilla, as we’re out of the vanilla powder and Pure Vanilla. And it was delicious! Just a very simple recipe but the girls loved it. We made a double batch and ate it all, piling on the butter and sugar. We also fried hopa (plantains) and cut up papaya and made Milo and Nescafe. Then we did yoga, and Siale chose the music, M.I.A., and I had to change it to Mazzy Starr.

That convinced Tupou and Princess that they just want to move in. We do have a cozy house—and the schedule is laundry every morning at six, so we can put it out on the line to dry before the girls go to school and I go to the vanilla. Then cooking at night, mostly what I like–fish with polo (the super-spicy chile), hopa, any fresh vegetables. This morning the breeze was perfect. After breakfast and dancing to our yoga routine, we hung the sheets I’d just washed and listened to the wind.

“It’s so beautiful,” Princess said. “Can we just stay?”

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