Snow and Seltzer.

Well, we finally have our snow. Since late this morning, I've been looking out the windows at the sky which is the same color as the ground, rooftops and most of the snow-dusted driveways. The monochromatic part of the year is finally here. Our land did not previously look like any January I can remember, it resembled more of a deep fall or early spring depending on the humidity and sunshine levels. I do love the first snow and how it's all anyone can talk about. I love that every person that is Wisconsin born and bred mysteriously forgets how to drive, and I love hunkering down over a kettle of something warm, thankful that I don't have anywhere more important to be than my kitchen.


It seems I'm always busy doing something culinary lately, but haven't taken the time to be a creative writer about it. Our dinners have been simple things producing leftovers, and on the bread front, I'm doing secret (and deliciously obsessive) Daring Baker trials using sourdough. Earlier this week, I tasted a kumquat for the first time. I decided immediately that I'd wait for our snowstorm and then begin a marmalade of them and I did. (But more on that in a day or two.) I realized that I haven't replenished my cilantro-raisin chutney for about 4 months, and instantly got a craving for it. A new batch is fermenting, and I intend to make egg tacos sometime soon to enjoy it with.

cilantro-raisin chutney.

I've also been playing around with my new SodaStream. It came in the mail when I was gone for my Christmas break and I think I opened the box and read the instructions before I even unloaded my car I was so excited. Who knew fizzy water could be so exciting?

I am not a soda drinker, if I have 2 full cans of "pop" a year, that's something. On occasion, I do like sugar-free flavored seltzer waters, but I usually prefer them more in the Summer. I've had more excuses to try out all kinds of fizzy drinks since this simple machine arrived. Some really singular and delightful things, and I know that more experimentation is in my future.

<span class=syrup tests.
secret tests.

While I cannot reveal the nature of my recipe tests, I can tell you that when I retried several of my tested syrups using the seltzer water produced with the SodaStream, I was incredibly more excited about them. The quality of the bubbles is amazing, like supercharged soda. I felt like it actually improved the syrups I had! I haven't felt so enamored of soft drinks since I worked at the Square Pie a decade ago, where I had fallen under the spell of fountain Coke mixed with vanilla and spiked with half and half. Lime Cokes are pretty great too.

While SodaStream does make a variety of syrups to accompany their machines, I haven't yet tried all of them. However, three tiny glass bottles contained unsweetened, clear and natural essences of fruit. I tried the lemon-lime and the raspberry, and liked them much better than the canned LaCroix waters (which was the brand of flavored water I liked the best pre-SodaStream). Outside of testing recipes, I am trying hard to remain refined sugar-free for the month of January, so I will try some of their other syrups next month after the end of my Sugar-Free January. They are mostly corn syrup free, and I am particularly looking forward to trying the blackcurrant and pear flavor.

So far some of my favorite drinks were not only homemade, but easy and naturally sweet:

plum seltzer

I do have an unbelievable sweet tooth, and giving up sugar cold turkey wasn't really all that easy for me. When I found an aging bottle of Pom pomegranate concentrate in the door of my refrigerator, I was happy that I liked it so much I was still hoarding it. A couple tablespoons of that in super fizzy water is really great, and I prefer it to plain pomegranate juice, which has always struck me as almost too tart to drink on its own. Since I've been sugar-free for a length of time, I felt that by adding some quality bubbles pomegranate juice became much more sweet than tart, and it crushed any feeling in me of wanting dessert. I've used this trick a few times now to prevent myself from caving in and making a cake. I'm not really even joking.

grape vinegar shrub.
grape drinking vinegar.

I made many drinking vinegars this past Summer, and most of them I sweetened prior to bottling. The only one I didn't add sugar to was the concord grape, which came from grapes growing on my Parents' place. It is marvelously grapey, and while I probably wouldn't mind a little sugar in it, it did make a nice shrub. I did notice that the carbonation in the one liter bottles that come with the SodaStream stays well for about 2 days. The picture above was taken on the 3rd day after carbonating, and it was still effervescent, but not nearly as active as earlier. The next time I refill one of the bottles, I'll try this again and maybe add a pinch of stevia to sweeten it.

My favorite drink so far is actually just maple syrup. I adore maple syrup anyway, and I'm not sure when the idea struck me to mix a touch of it with seltzer, but I'm so glad I did. It's amazing, and cures me instantly of any predisposition to more refined sweets. I get my maple syrup from one of my Parents' Amish neighbors, and I've actually had the pleasure of stepping inside their sugar shack in the Springtime when the air hung with thick sweetness and breezy chill. That day, many years ago now, I became a true maple convert. Each year, I ask for the darkest syrup they can spare (and they prefer this too and hold back most of it as reserve for their own family). Maple syrup seltzer needs it's own fan club.

maple syrup drink

And so it's snow and seltzer. Kitchen projects feel like they are on the way, but in a way I feel good to relax a bit and not cook solely for the sake of cooking. Enjoying little glasses of seltzer spiked with something homemade has been really fun. I'd like to figure out a way to do something savory... I keep thinking of the pontack sauce I made this Fall and I wonder if I could add it to seltzer and brine porkchops or something - maybe the way there are lemon-lime or cola hams out there. If you have any ideas for me, let me know.

I feel my sugar-free experiment is really a good thing, since I am re-training myself to appreciate less refined sweet things and all savory things in general. Other sugar-free benefits I didn't anticipate were my appetite and energy levels both greatly improved. I guess that seems like a given, but now that I've laid off sugar, I seem to have returned to my nite-owlish ways and have no feelings of tiredness throughout the day. I also am downright hungry when mealtimes roll around and those two reasons alone empower me to believe I can actually keep to a more moderate sugar consumption after my one-month commitment is over.

I hear the neighbors shoveling which is my cue. I suppose I better go dig out my boots for the first time this season and get out there. I like going into a snowy night in the city. I can pretend I'm more rural since the snow muffles the ambient noises, and it's a rare snowfall that is polluted by obnoxious snow blowers. The snow itself appears to be on the light side, but I guess I'll find out.


Disclosure: I did receive a SodaStream Genesis model for review. My opinions are mine alone, and I did find both the design of the machine and the quality of the water it carbonates to be excellent.

My first Giveaway winner (and a picture of the interior of the PIE)


As I just got back from typing in my minimum and maximum numbers at Random.org, (labor intensive I might add, as I only had 2 comments) lucky numero uno will be hand delivered the POM jelly and a matching jar of homemade muesli. Lindy attends library day at the same time as the Boy-O and I, so it's even likely I'll even get my jars back!

If you're reading this today, Lindy, I'll bring it tomorrow...

I think the jelly looks best when held up to the light.

Though I was a mite daunted with the lack of interest in my POM Jelly giveaway, I don't think it will be my last. All of you friends of mine who have trouble commenting will need to give me a call, and I can walk you through it! Also, I can add you to a list in Blogger that automatically emails you every time I post: Just click on my profile on the left and shoot me an email so I can add you.

Meanwhile, if there was a way to giveaway a pie (at least to non-local readers), I would be totally up for that since the pie making bug has struck. All but about 3 generous pieces were gone after a lovely weekend spent visiting. I realized that I never took a photo of the interior:

One staunch non-dessert eating friend declared it the best pie ever. I thought it was good, but do prefer more thickening and softness in the apples. I was really alone in my opinion however, since the others liked it for its al dente qualities and lack of thickened liquid.

I have about 3 days left of this pie, and I'll be ready to attack some other dessert. Any requests? Maybe I'll get on the ball and accomplish the Daring Baker's Challenge early this time. I owe it to myself to be a tad more organized this month...

Magic Monday, October 26th 2009 (or in which I make Magic Chile Soup and POM Jelly)

I was really only gone since last Wednesday, but it feels like in the meantime, a whole season has passed. By the time I returned, the tree in front of my house, (perennially the last to turn) was half golden, and many other trees had shed their leaves completely. On my journey around the state, I got to see snow in the Northwoods (one of my most favorite things) and varying stages of color throughout Central Wisconsin.

This time of year is always amazing to me, as things start to wind down, I almost automatically start to calculate the weeks until planting season will begin again. Somehow, every winter I become a Master Gardener in my mind, and have oh so lofty plans for spring. This winter will be no different, I suppose. I have plans to turn the shady garden into a shade perennial garden and then somehow build some raised beds for the sunny center of my back (south-facing) yard. We'll see, I guess. Half the fun is in the daydreaming.

When we returned Sunday afternoon, I figured since I'm a newly crowned "bean freak" I would have to make something beany on Monday, since there was no made food in the house due to my absence. I soaked some red beans (like how very technical I am for being said bean freak?) that my Mom gave me overnight. I started them at 8 am this morning per the Steve Sando book method: I sauteed some veg, added my beans and their soaking water, brought them to a boil and boiled 5 minutes, then reduced the heat to very low, and simmered for 5,6, then 7 hours. Still no soft beans. Beautiful beans, yes, but not edible.

Now, I have really been reading up about this beanery stuff, and it seems to me that the least preferred method is to pressure cook. But when I was up North, my Mom and Uncle pressure cooked a pot of pintos and I have to say that they were really the most delicious pintos I ever ate. I tasted them before they lovingly became frijoles refritos, and they were creamy and delicious. After they were mashed up, they were just short of divinity.

When I woke up this morning, it was overcast and rainy. A nice day for a bean pot on the stove...

The dried beans, then after cooking for about 7 hours...

I figured since I had just eaten some successful pressure cooked beans, I'd try pressure cooking my 7 hour cooked beans. I used my mysterious Magic Seal pot, that I have no idea where I acquired, and pressured them for 30 minutes. I released the seal, (after safely reducing the pressure by running the pot under cold water) and I had beautiful, creamy delicious beans! And with, my favorite new term, wonderful "pot liquor". By this time, there was really no way to turn them into dinner tonight, but they will be dinner tomorrow (and probably lunch too). I added a quart bag of frozen pork that I made with guajillo chile, some salt, Mexican oregano, cumin, powedered jalepeno and chile powder, and was pretty happy with myself.

Magic Seal. A Quality Saucepan.

Coincidentally, I took out a pint of leftover canned tomatoes that I had popped into the freezer before I left - and the jar happened to be Magic as well. Nice. My Husband likes more brothy soups, and tends to leave all the veg and bits (aka "the good stuff") behind, so I needed more liquid/nutrition anyway. I think I'll call this the Magic Chile Soup.

end part 1.


begin part 2.

I was feeling pretty bad about not making something with this POM pomegranate juice that I received from the nice people at POM... but I just have been so busy. That and I couldn't decide what to make. I Googled to get some ideas, and it seems like a lot of other food bloggers had similar ideas to mine. Now, I am not really a thorough Googler, since I don't really spend that much time on the computer. When I Google, I usually look at just the first 3 or 4 pages of the search. In this search, I didn't find anyone who had tried making jelly, so I figured I'd give it a go.

My first order of business last night was to start bread dough, and make a batch of yogurt. I think the POM Jelly is going to be great mixed into the plain yogurt. I actually love the bitterness of straight pomegranate juice, but I know it's not for everyone. In fact, in most posts I perused, people actually detest it plain. They were hiding it in all sorts of things. If I was going to hide it, I'd probably do it in a chocolate cake, but only since it would add to the antioxidant properties. Dark cocoa powder and pomegranate in one cake? Why, it would be practically saintly! If you are curious what you can do with POM juice, there are a lot of great recipes on the POM site.

I followed the Sure-Jell for reduced sugar package instructions for Grape Jelly, and used POM instead... so it was 5 1/2 c. of juice and 3 1/2 c. of sugar (plus the pectin). I'm figuring, if I use this to sweeten my plain yogurt, it will still be pretty healthy, not to mention a cheerful shade of pink. This particular pectin will allow you to use sucralose (Splenda) instead of sugar, but I would never recommend using that stuff unless you had an unfortunate dietary restriction to the natural stuff. Even then, I'd probably just do without, and drink the delicious POM plain!

Ready for breakfast tomorrow...

I had a little jelly jar leftover, and got 2 8 oz. jars and 3 12 oz. jars. It was the most marvelous ruby color in the light. I fear these dark, shorter days are going to do nothing for my photographing hobby, however.

After the jelly sets, and I eat it, I will photograph it in the light. I am also considering my first blog giveaway of a jar of POM Jelly... but I am going to do a little research on this kind of thing first. Keep checking back for updates!

So, on top of this day spent in the kitchen, it is the 26th. So that means Daring Baker Challenge day tomorrow! Did I leave this until the last minute? Did I find success in yet another challenge of my baking prowess? Tune in tomorrow, same time, same place...