Trying Homemade (Soda) Pop and a Giveaway!

Sometime a couple of years ago my sister gifted me with a Soda Stream soda maker. I didn’t use it much, partly because I didn’t really know what to do with it, and partly because my kids both hate fizzy drinks. While the latter fact works out for me in that I don’t have to work to keep them away from pop, it also means that my plans to make fizzy orange juice as an exciting treat haven’t panned out.

Homemade Soda Pop Artisan

Recently, however, I was offered the chance to review The Artisan Soda Workshop, a book that offers 70 recipes to help you make your own pop at home. Some of them are fountain classics, some of them are very exotic, and some are even alcoholic. Unlike store bought, all the recipes use natural ingredients like fruits, herbs, and actual sugar. Thinking that I would finally have a chance to figure out what to do with the Soda Stream, I seized the opportunity.

Making a fancy drink for dinnerI have spent the past few weeks sampling six different soda recipes, so that I could give you a thorough review. Here’s what I tried:

  • Sparkling Rosemary Lemonade
  • Blackberry Lavender
  • Cream Soda
  • Concord Grape
  • Chocolate
  • Egg Cream

Cream soda syrupOn the whole, the syrups were easy to make, and they kept well in my fridge. It takes a little bit of planning because you have to cook and cool them before you use them, but it’s something you can easily do in the afternoon to have pop with dinner. I also found that the homemade sodas were, by and large, less sweet than store-bought. This could be good or bad depending on your point of view, and you could always adjust the sugar to taste.

As for the sodas themselves, I was a big fan of the cream soda (so easy, so tasty), the blackberry lavender and the concord grape. I was sort of mixed on the sparkling rosemary lemonade, but once I added a little bit of gin it was quite delightful. As for the chocolate soda and the egg cream, which are quite similar, I was not a fan. However, this is really a matter of personal taste, and your mileage may vary, for sure.

Making grape sodaI do enjoy sharing the love, as you know, so I thought I’d give you a chance to try making your own homemade soda. If you don’t have a Soda Stream, you can either see if my sister is willing to give you one too (unlikely) or you can just buy seltzer water to mix it up with. I’m giving away my copy of the book, as soon as I finish writing down a few of my favourite recipes. I’m also throwing in a copy of Mommy Mixology: A Cocktail for Every Calamity. You can find out more about that book by listening to my podcast with author Janet Frongillo.

If you’d like to win The Artisan Soda Workshop and Mommy Mixology, leave a comment on this post on or before September 30, 2012. I’ll draw a name at random and pop the books in the mail.

Ice Cream: The Pinnacle of Food Preservation

I am far from a strict locavore, but I do a lot of local eating, especially at this time of year. In fact, doing more local eating is my One Green Thing for July. In my quest to reduce my food miles I grow a garden, I belong to a local CSA program, I shop at my farmers’ market and I eat seasonally. I also preserve the harvest when it comes in. Each year I freeze, can and dry food to eat all year long.

While I enjoy all of the foods that I preserve, there’s one item that trumps them all, and that’s ice cream. In my mind homemade ice cream using local milk, cream and fruit is the height of local eating. If you ignore the sugar, it’s pretty much a health food, packed full of fresh berries (antioxidants!) and dairy (calcium!). While strawberry ice cream is probably the most classic flavour involving fruit I’ve also made raspberry, cherry (tip: get a cherry pitter) and blackberry ice cream with great results.

Homemade raspberry ice cream

To make my own homemade fruit ice cream I started with a generic strawberry ice cream recipe and tweaked it to suit my tastes. The result is an all-purpose formula that you can use with pretty much any kind of fruit. Once you’ve got it in your freezer it should last you for several months. So if you have a bumper crop of strawberries, make a couple of batches of ice cream and enjoy it all summer long. And if you need something to bring to a summer BBQ or pot luck, you can’t go wrong with a frozen dessert.

If you’d like to make your own ice cream this summer, I’m sharing my all-purpose recipe.

Blackberry ice cream

Amber’s All Purpose Fruit Ice Cream Recipe

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

3 cups fruit
1 1/4 – 1 3/4 cups sugar, to taste (the more tart the fruit, the more sugar I use)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Wash your fruit, and slice it if required (I don’t slice raspberries or blackberries, I do slice cherries and strawberries). Add the sugar and stir well, then let it sit for 20 minutes. This will draw out the juices, and allow the sugar to dissolve nicely. Once the fruit and sugar have had a chance to sit together and make friends, mash it or run it quickly through a blender or food processor. Add the milk, cream and vanilla, stir well, and freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

Do you preserve any food? What’s your favourite method?

I was inspired to write this post by Abbie of Farmer’s Daughter, who is hosting this month’s Green Moms Carnival on food independence. If you want lots of other ideas for local eating, visit her site on July 17.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

When I was in Victoria for my weekend escape with Amanda, I sampled some cinnamon ice cream. It was delicious, and I wanted more. This is when it occurred to me that I own an ice cream maker. I decided that it couldn’t be that hard to make cinnamon ice cream, so I set about searching for a recipe. I found turned several, but they all contained eggs. I have this thing against custard ice creams. They require planning, because you need to cook up the recipe in advance, and let it cool. Plus, I prefer the cleaner taste that you get without eggs. So I decided to improvise a little bit, and create my own recipe.

Cinnamon ice cream close-up

I have a standard ice cream base recipe that I use, so I prepared that then reverted to the tried-and-true method of adding a little bit of cinnamon and tasting it, then adding a little more and tasting it again. My result has a hint of heat, but not too much. Both of my kids refuse to eat anything spicy, and they enjoyed it. The creamy coolness of the ice cream creates a nice juxtaposition. I’m a fan, and this is my new favourite flavour. Plus, it’s totally gluten-free, so there’s that.

Cinnamon ice cream

Amber’s Cinnamon Ice Cream

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

2 1/2 c cream
2 c milk
1 c sugar
3 t cinnamon, or to taste
1 t vanilla

Mix all ingredients together in a big bowl, and stir with a whisk for two or three minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. This keeps your ice cream from being gritty.

Prepare the ice cream following the directions on your ice cream maker. In mine, which is a counter top electrical machine with a freezer bowl, it took about 25 minutes. Once it’s reached the desired consistency, serve it up and freeze the rest.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

This past weekend I updated my recipes, which you can find on my Making Stuff page. I added gluten-free adaptions for most of the recipes listed there. If you have a hankering for some homemade chocolate chip cookies or macaroni and cheese, gluten-free or not, I’ve hooked you up. It’s comfort food for the masses, whatever your stance on wheat.

Have you ever sampled a food on vacation that was so good you had to try to make it yourself at home? How did it go? Tell me all about it!

Look, I Made Soap!

Last Friday, I braved traffic and possible parallel parking (which I don’t enjoy) to drive all the way into Vancouver to visit Lindsay Coulter. In her day job she’s David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, which is how I connected with her originally. But the rest of the time she’s just Lindsay, and she enjoys making soap, amongst other things. I actually don’t know everything that Lindsay enjoys, come to think of it, but my point is that she’s a well-rounded person with interests outside of work. Also, David Suzuki does not personally endorse her soap-making efforts. Although I doubt that he opposes them, either.

After a conversation on Twitter about how soap-making intrigues and intimidates me, she offered to teach me. And this is how I found myself knocking on her door on a cold Friday afternoon. I was 40 minutes late thanks to the afore-mentioned traffic, but I was enthusiastic and ready to go. And immediately when I walked into Lindsay’s home, I could smell the essential oils she uses in her soap wafting my way. She made her 15th batch of soap with me, and all around her kitchen and living room I could see the other 14 batches, some drying on wire wracks, some artfully arranged in jars, some ready to be sent off as Christmas gifts.

Lindsay's soap
Some of Lindsay’s soap – this batch has coffee in it

Since it was my first foray into soap Lindsay let me choose what we would make, and I opted for star anise essential oil, with it’s lovely licorice smell. I am a black jellybean person, and I enjoy soap that carries that aroma. I also added some chamomile blossoms that Lindsay ground up in her coffee grinder to act as an exfoliant. Choices made, we set about making soap.

Soap additives
Soap additives – honey, clay, dried flowers, oats, essential oils, etc.

The part that scared me most came first – the lye. It’s a highly-corrosive substance, and highly-corrosive substances freak me out. I’ve never used bleach, for instance, because that skeleton hand on the warning label skeeves me out. I don’t want my hand to turn into that skeleton hand. Now that I have two little kids in my house, my fear is only amplified. I don’t want my babies to have that skeleton hand, either. But Lindsay assured me that while we needed to “respect the lye” it was really no big deal, and I decided to trust her.

Scary, scary lye
Scary, scary lye with the skeleton hand warning

It turns out making soap is really pretty simple. We used the cold process method. Lindsay used an online calculator to figure out the correct amount of each ingredient. First we mixed the lye crystals with water, and then took the solution outside so that we weren’t inhaling the gases. While that did its thing, we mixed together a bunch of different kinds of fat and melted them together over low heat. There were solid fats like coconut oil and cocoa butter, and liquid fats like grapeseed oil, olive oil, canola oil and castor oil. Each oil has different properties, and you want a mix of solid and liquid.

Soap block
The finished soap goes in this block mold while it hardens

Once the oil was all melted together, we had to bring it down to the right temperature. We brought the lye in and brought it to the same temperature, and then we mixed them together. Then you mix and mix and mix. I had an immersion blender, and Lindsay had a whisk, and we kept at it for a few minutes until the soap started to thicken. You want to get a “trace”, which means that when you drag the whisk along the surface a little bit of soap comes along with it and stays in place, instead of sinking back into the mixture. Once we had that, we added the essential oil and ground chamomile, and did some more mixing. And that was it.

Finished soap
My finished soap

Once the soap is done it goes into a mold. Lindsay has a soap block, and we poured it all in. It has to stay in there for a couple of days, so I had to bid my soap farewell. Once it’s ready to come out you cut it, and then you need to leave it out in room temperature air to cure for about four weeks before it’s ready use it. This means I’ll be waiting until mid-January to give you the report on my soap. I’m waiting eagerly, though, let me tell you!

I really enjoyed making soap, and I could definitely see doing it again. With my kids at the age they are now, though, the idea of handling lye around them still freaks me out. But I was really impressed with how easy it was. Other than a precise kitchen scale and a soap mold, Lindsay didn’t have any special equipment at all. It’s really quite straightforward. You’re just mixing fat and lye, the way people have been doing for centuries. Once the kiddos are a little older, I would definitely consider making soap in my own kitchen.

Have you ever made soap? What was it like? If not, would you consider it? Share your soapy stories with me!

Dandelion Blossom Fritters

Please allow me to engage in a little plug up front. Today is the last day for the early bird discount on Crafting my Life. If you’d like to live with more authenticity and passion, head on over and sign up now!

Last year I decided to try making dandelion blossom fritters. They were really good. Although I suspect most anything would be really good when fried in dough and drenched in maple syrup. Perhaps even dryer lint.

Anyways, it’s dandelion time again here in Metro Vancouver, and I am a pro at growing dandelions. Seriously, it’s like I’m not even trying, I’m so good at growing dandelions. So I decided to give the fritters another go. I got my recipe and instructions here and here. Here’s what the process looks like:

1. Go out on a sunny day and find some dandelions. Ideally, your collection spot should be someplace where there’s no chance the flowers were exposed to chemicals, and you may want to avoid parks where a lot of dogs hang out, too. I picked my own dandelions in my back yard.


2. Pluck off the blossoms.

3. Wash them thoroughly. I used a salad spinner to dry mine, and it worked well.

Clean dandelions in the salad spinner

4. Pick off the tiny little leaves at the base of the flower, and any remnants of stem. Here are before and after shots of what I’m talking about:

Dandelion blossom

Blossom with little leaves and stem removed

5. Put about 1/4″ of oil in a pan, and place over medium heat to warm.

6. Mix up your batter. I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 egg. But if you have a standard batter recipe you use, it would probably work, too. You can also use your favourite gluten-free flour blend in place of wheat flour.

7. Once the oil is hot enough that it sizzles nicely when a few drops of batter are placed in it, it’s ready to go.

Fritter assembly line
My fritter assembly line

8. Coat your blossoms in batter and fry them for a couple of minutes on each side, or until nice and golden brown.

9. Remove the fritters from the pan and place on a towel to remove excess oil.

Dandelion blossom fritters

10. Drizzle with maple syrup or honey, or cover with icing sugar. Then eat them while they’re still warm.

If you’re into local eating like I am, you can’t do any better than picking some dandelions in your back yard to have for a snack. If you’re similarly blessed with yellow flowers, why not give it a try? Eating flowers sounds a little weird, I’ll admit it, but you just might be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the weirdest fried food you’ve ever eaten? Have you sampled a deep fried Mars bar or Twinkie? Or have you fried your Thanksgiving turkey? Do share!

I Make Stuff

When I’m feeling out of sorts, and as if nothing is working out in my life, one of the best things that I can do is create. Writing is a fabulous outlet for me, creatively, but when push comes to shove, there’s nothing like making something. By which I mean, crafting something tangible that you can hold in your own own two hands. Because when you do hold this thing that you made in your own two hands, you will have absolute confirmation that you are a productive human being.

You have produced something. Therefore, you are productive. Who could argue with that?

I am a very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person, when it comes to creating. I just kind of go for it and hope for the best. My projects reflect that approach. If I get too bogged down by making everything perfect, then crafting will just be one more thing that isn’t going right in my life. I don’t need that. So I just wing it, and give myself the freedom to play. Sometimes I end up ripping out a lot of seams and swearing, but everything has a way of working out most of the time.

I have been feeling rather lackluster. When I’m so busy that I can’t think straight, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing much. I mean, I know I’m doing a lot, but I’m not always sure I can see why. Because in spite of my best efforts, there’s always so much more to do. And so, this post is my way of reminding myself that I have, in fact, accomplished something lately. Here are the knitting and sewing projects that I’ve finished so far in 2011:

Hat for my nephewI knit myself a hat

A hat for my nephew, and a hat for myself

Jacob rocking his new toqueHannah models her new skirt

A hat for Jacob, and a skirt for Hannah

Hannah in the new sweater I knit herI knit myself a sweater

A sweater for Hannah, and a sweater for myself

I made an apron for my momHannah models her Nan's apron

An apron for my mom

Hannah's homemade re-usable bag, side AHannah's homemade re-usable bag, side B

Both sides of Hannah’s homemade re-usable bag

What about you? What do you do when you need to feel that you’ve accomplished something? And what kind of projects are tickling your fancy right now? I’d love to hear!

Cinnamon Heart Bark

Valentine’s Day is almost here! It’s a time for Hallmark-card-inspired declarations of love. It’s a time for high expectations that are quite likely to be dashed. And it’s a time for candy. In fact, it’s time for one of my most favourite of all candies, the cinnamon heart. They’re probably chock full of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colouring, but man alive they’re delicious. I could eat bowls full of cinnamon hearts.

If there’s anything that’s better than cinnamon hearts, though, it’s got to be chocolate and cinnamon hearts. And so, at this time of year, I make a lot of cinnamon heart bark. I’ve honed my recipe, drawing inspiration from the fabulous Canadian Living Two-Tone Peppermint Bark recipe and the equally fabulous No Time for Flash Cards Cinnamon Heart Bark recipe.

Gathering my ingredients

(While I’m talking about Canadian Living, did you know that was named their March blog of the month? I am so immensely flattered. You can see it for yourself on page 22.)

The only downside to making bark, whether peppermint or cinnamon heart, is that it’s impossible to keep your kids from rushing in to “help” you if they’re awake and present. Just try pulling out two kinds of chocolate chips and a bag of candy and see for yourself. So if you don’t relish the idea of little hands sneaking hearts from under your nose, make sure they’re suitably slumbering.

Jacob really gets into "helping"
Jacob “helps”

Cinnamon Heart Bark

* This recipe has always been gluten-free!

2 cups chocolate chips OR 12oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups white chocolate chips OR 12oz white chocolate
1/2 cup cinnamon hearts
1/2 tsp cinnamon extract

Finished bark

Spread foil on a cookie sheet and lightly butter the surface.

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. I use the microwave, but word to the wise, only run it for 45 seconds or so at a time and then stir. If you run it for too long, you can actually burn your chocolate, which is really tremendously tragic.

Once your chocolate is melted, add the cinnamon extract and stir. Then spread a thin layer of chocolate on your greased foil. Put this in the freezer to harden.

Crush your cinnamon hearts. Because they’re a little bit chewy, they don’t crush quite as well as peppermint candy does. But still, breaking down the pieces into slightly more manageable sizes makes the bark easier to eat, so give it your best shot within reason.

Melt the white chocolate the same way that you melted the other chocolate. Remove your cookie sheet from the freezer, and spread a layer of white chocolate over the semi-sweet chocolate.

Hannah chooses her piece carefully
Hannah searches for the perfect piece

Sprinkle your crushed hearts on top. Pat the hearts lightly with your hands to make sure they stick and put it all in the fridge or freezer to harden. Then break into pieces and enjoy!

Yield: Sadly, never quite enough. You’ll always need to make more.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...