Getting Busy With The Fizzy :: Homemade Cocktails with SodaStream Play

sodastreamIn the latter half of the 18th century, carbon dioxide was introduced into water creating soda water or seltzer. (Interesting food fact - the origin of the name seltzer hails from water that had natural effervescence and came from the town of Nieder Selters in Germany.) Today, anyone can make fizzy water at home and can vary the degree of the fizz and the amount of bubbles in each glass. Personalizing soda water may sound a bit bourgeois, but I liken myself to a soda water connoisseur and find most people have a preference. I like a slight, small bubble. My sister's family prefers big, round bubbles that explode in the mouth. All five of my nieces and nephews are soda water snobs - slightly flat and they turn up their nose. I've been coveting a SodaStream  for years and finally got my hands on my very own machine. This SodaStream Play comes with the options of wrapping in 'skins' of various designs - or you can customize your own skin by uploading an image of your choice. I picked the NY skyline - an homage to my roots and Eli the Seltzer Guy in Brooklyn, who used to deliver soda water to our brownstone monthly - a wooden crate full of handblown glass bottles that were made in the 30s and hail from Czechoslovakia. Incidentally, he fills the bottles at an old seltzer factory in Canarsie, where my father and all of my aunts, uncles and cousins grew up.

This nostalgic feeling likely influenced my choice in first experiment - a chocolate egg cream. Egg creams are a thing of the past, though you can find them in vintage east coast delis. The Townhouse Diner in Honesdale, PA (by my dad's house) serves them still, with no hint at irony. Egg creams have big bubbles, so I used 6 compressions on the SodaStream Play to achieve a strong, vibrant bubble.

While they're traditionally made with a heavy chocolate syrup, I made my version with a dark, organic cocoa powder. 2 cups whole milk + 1/2 cup cocoa powder + 1/2 cup vanilla sugar - heat this up over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and cocoa powder is well blended, then cool completely. For really creamy soda, make this with half & half.

1 part chocolate milk : 2 part SodaStream soda

chocolate egg cream

Given the autumnal energy in the air, I also decided on a cider beverage of some kind. I was gifted a gallon of TreeTop apple juice in honor of National Apple Month, so decided it was high time to use it. Mulled apple juice pairs well with bourbon, so that was the jumping off point. I wanted to veer from super traditional mulling spices, so opted for lavender - a heavy floral note with an earthy undertone. Once the juice is steeped with aromatics and cooled, the only trick is nailing the proportions. This cocktail was a crowd pleaser - all my girlfriends sat around sipping and singing the praises of autumn. I wanted a soft sparkle here, so I used 3 compressions on the SodaStream Play to achieve a gentle, small bubble.

: Apple-Lavender Fizz : 2 cups apple juice, or cider 3 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender buds 2 thin slices fresh ginger root 1 tablespoon cloves 1 tablespoon allspice 10 cardamom pods 1 cinnamon stick

Place a small saucepan over medium high heat, and add the juice and spices. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly, allowing the apple juice to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain the spices, pressing into the solids to release any juice, and serve.

1 part bourbon : 2 part juice : 1 part SodaStream soda

apple-lavender fizz

I also rimmed the glass with "apple powder" - essentially dehydrated apples that I pulverized with a bit of sugar. The moisture gives it a molasses-like consistency, though the apple flavor shines through.

Because I was on a roll and had company over, I whipped up an easy, refreshing non-alcoholic drink using frozen fruit juice as a base. It's smart to keep a container of this juice around (opt for an organic company, which won't use high fructose corn syrup) for quick beverages - a good pantry staple. Rather then blending with water, I used SodaStream Play soda water resulting in a light, effervescent drink. You could of course add a splash of vodka. I had some Blood Orange vodka from 3 Howls Distillery and it worked beautifully together.

1 part frozen lemon concentrate : 4 part SodaStream soda

lemon-thyme spritzer

For this lemon-thyme fizz, I wanted major bubble action, (the bubbles have to lift the syrup, which is heavy) so I used 8 compressions on the SodaStream Play. Worked like a charm.

The SodaStream Play comes with a selection of syrups, too, for anyone wanting a pure soda option.I have more experiments going now, so stay tuned for more. There is this pineapple fermentation thing that my friend declared "tastes like colors," which is a pretty spot on assessment.

[This is a sponsored post. All personal commentary, stories and recipes are original content, written by me at my discretion and whim.]

Fall Planting, Pacific Northwest

blueberriesAutumn is an excellent time to think about adding to your homes landscape. While vegetable gardens are transitioning to fall crop, Autumn is a great time to plant shrubs and perennials - the soil is still warm, while the cool temperatures and rain provide perfect growing conditions that support root growth. Plants will thrive come spring! I just found out that neighborhood nursery, Swanson's in Ballard is having an amazing sale on trees, shrubs and perennials just now - 30% off until September 30th. They have a large selection of blueberry bushes and some gorgeous low-growing native flowering plants, like these gorgeous hellebores. And check out this stunning online "August Lookbook" of plants. It is one of THE MOST GORGEOUS WEBSITES I've ever seen & will make you want to plant. Immediately. Not only are the pics amazing, each plant has a bio and short tips on growing in the Pacific Northwest.

Merlin HelleboreFurther, the smart garden folks over at Swanson's Nursery created all of these faux garden situations like the "Parking Strip Project" I highlighted on my Instagram a few weeks ago  or a "Rockery Garden" all of which give you some great ideas on how to transform your property. They are SO brilliant, you must check them out. There's more info on these on Digging Deeper, Swanson's blog.

And YES, I know this sounds like a crazy advertisement, but honestly…..get thee to the nursery, take advantage of these great prices and immediately improve your home (not to mention increase your property value) and the environment, as well. It's a smart deal at a smart time and I repeat - it ENDS on September 30th. And don't forget to let me know what you decide to plant!!!


Garden to Glass :: An Evening of Botanical Cocktails & Herb Inspiration at Swanson's Nursery

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 9.32.04 AMHey Seattle - do you have plans this Thursday?!! The weather has been so lovely and summer is here in all her glory, so it's time to get outside and get growing in the gardens. Come join me this Thursday at Swanson's Nursery for an exclusive INVITE ONLY EVENT, where I'll be shaking up a refreshing & herbaceous beverage and signing copies of Fresh Pantry! Get your personal invite here. Over the years, interest in urban gardening has continued to grow and I'm thrilled to be part of a movement that gets people out in their gardens and into their yards to grow their own food. Even more thrilled when they love to cook with it! Come learn how to maximize your herb garden and make use of those prolific perennial plants.

This Thursday, join me, Swanson's and the distillers from Sound Spirits for a festive evening event, Garden to Glass. This evening of botanical cocktails features cocktail demonstrations, botanical infused waters, an herb planting station and several of Seattle's delicious food trucks.

The Garden to Glass event will be an opportunity for people to:

  • Learn more about planting & using herbs
  • Get inspired & learn a few cocktail recipes
  • Relax on the gorgeous and peaceful grounds of Swanson's
  • Shop for your home garden

This event is 21 and over and you must RSVP HERE, so Swanson's can send you a super VIP invite!

You can find us here on Thursday from 6-9pm: 9701 15th Avenue NW


Grow With Us Project :: Swanson's Nursery

GWU_heroimageAs you know, I've started working with Swanson's Nursery to help highlight their offerings and remind people to get out in their yards and grow something this year. The beautiful thing about Swanson's, outside the gorgeous grounds and their many plant offerings, is the resource their staff offers - they all have wisdom and ideas about how best to plant damn near anything. This year, they're trying something new and recently launched the "Grow With Us" project - an innovative new way to connect with customers and offer advice and ideas. Do you need help with a corner in your yard? Don't know what plants work in shade? Not sure what plants are even ON your property? Here's how they can help:

1. Snap a Picture

2. Tag it #HEYSWANSONS & post to your Twitter or Instagram. They'll be on the lookout for your questions and projects, can answer your questions, and THEN (get this)…..

3. Get Ideas! The smarty staff will put together a Pinterest board for you with appropriate planting options and any other materials you'll need (compost, plant food, etc) and send it to you. (You can also browse their Pinterest boards for inspiration & ideas, of course.)

4. 10% Off! They will also add a 10% off coupon to your board for your shopping spree. Just show your board at the register (print it out or bring your phone) for your discount.

How cool is that? Check out this early board for a "Full Sun Rockery" to see how it works & follow them on Instagram, too.  I'll be watching also and am happy to answer any urban farming q's that come up. Have fun!

All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. This is a sponsored post. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.


May Day :: Make This Your Year to Garden + Awesome News

whereto_pruning_diagramHappy May Day! I'm thrilled to announce a new garden partnership that I hope will get everyone out in their yards and loving their gardens. As an apartment dweller, I'm always jealous of my friends that have yards while simultaneously befuddled at their lack of interest in making the plantings AWESOME. Too many of you buy a house and stick with the existing landscape & plants - let's switch it up! For the next several weeks, I've aligned myself with Swanson's Nursery in Crown Hill in order to highlight their plant offerings and take advantage of their expertise. I've been shopping at Swanson's for about 14 years now, and they are my most trusted source for both healthy plants and growing information. [Like this brilliant harvesting & pruning tip, here.]

When I first moved into my apartment 14 years ago (yup - same apartment I'm in now!) I was coming from a house fire wherein I lost everything. As in, like……EVERYTHING. Through very generous donations & support from the Red Cross, I managed to cobble together a home. What happens, however, when you're given things versus choosing them is you end up with a lot of hodge podge. I was very grateful for every piece someone gave me (a desk, a dining table, a cheap rug) but my apartment didn't feel like "me". Luckily, the apartment came with an wide balcony and I started dabbling in plants. Back then, I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wanted a space that smelled amazing and brought me comfort and peace. Swanson's helped me with that and while the house came together slowly, the garden came together quickly and was a cozy place of respite.

All of that is to say, I have a very warm place in my heart for Swanson's and NOW we are working together. Win-win, I say! Feeling blessed.

I'll be posting some pictures and growing information in the coming weeks and branching out a bit from edibles, which is exciting! I definitely don't need help on how best to grow tomatoes, but put a lilac bush or a maple tree in my hands and I'll stare blankly. Keep me posted if you want to learn anything in particular and stay tuned for an update on how to transform your yard! I'm stoked & ready to get growing.

Giving New Meaning to “Wine and Dine”

Barley RisottoHow to Enjoy a nice, vintage wine not just with your meals, but in them. Adding wine to cooking is no big trick – people have been using wine in meals for years. Think Coq Au Vin and you’re in the ballpark. I’m often asked what wines are best for cooking. If a recipe calls for a ‘dry white’ wine, which is best to use? As a rule of thumb, the better the wine, the better the outcome and flavor of the final dish. Using vintage wines will upgrade a nice and freshly prepared meal into something luxurious.

Wine has been around since the age of the Roman Empire, but in recent years wine has seen a steady increase in following, with vineyards popping up in countries far and wide. Reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency under the United Nations, show that 26,216,967 tons of wine were produced in 2012, with France pumping out the biggest volume of wine.

Having spent time in the UK this year, I've been on the hunt for a good place to pick up a bottle - something with labels or regions I know and love. Marks & Spencer is an upscale grocery here - my boyfriend buys his prepared meals at this shop (when I'm not here to cook, of course). I just learned that M&S winemaker Jeneve Williams recently introduced a range of wines from Turkey, Israel, and Georgia in the UK, and these wines are now quickly making rounds in the US. There is no end to the number of wine choices available to those who know where to look.

Wine, as if you needed an excuse, can be considered a health benefit. It is, after all, a fermented ‘food’ and I’ve taken to adding fermented foods into my diet to maximize gut health. In recent years, studies have popped up all over the place, discussing the health benefits that wine can offer. Food & Wine Magazine swears by wine’s abilities to promote longevity, lower the risks of heart attacks and strokes, and even cut the risks of developing cancer. Conveinently, just like chocolate.

The best part about wine is its versatility. The American Heart Association recommends enjoying four ounces of wine a day, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be drunk. Instead, part of this serving can be mixed into some great dishes that not only give off a comfort food vibe, but also feel sophisticated and classy.

For the holiday season, try this ‘risotto’ recipe for a hearty and healthy meal, wine included.

[This is a guest post, though all personal commentary and recipe is original content, written by me.]

Barley Risotto with Winter Squash & Mushrooms Excerpted from Fresh Pantry: Winter Squash eBook, Skipstone 2013

Serves 4 to 6

I love the idea of risotto but prefer to use a grain other than the traditional white rice. I’ve used farro in the UK and kasha in Croatia, both of which work beautifully. But pearl barley, a happy medium, is widely available in grocery stores across the country. Depending on the grain, you may need more or less stock for this recipe. Cooking this risotto takes some time, so plan ahead. I prep the squash and mushrooms on the side and add them to the finished pot of risotto just before serving. This way, each fresh ingredient stands on its own, rewarding you with big mouthfuls of texture and flavor.

1 teaspoon olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup chopped onion 2 shallots, finely chopped 1 cup pearl barley 4 to 5 cups stock or water, warmed and held over low heat 1 tablespoon butter 1/2 pound squash cut into 1-inch cubes 2 cups whole button mushrooms (chopped if small) 2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth Salt and pepper Freshly grated Parmesan

Cover the bottom of a 5-quart stock pot with a thin layer of olive oil and set over medium-high heat. Add the onions, shallots and pinch of salt and pepper and stir, cooking until soft. Add the pearl barley and let sit, browning a bit, about 2 minutes more. Add 1 cup of the stock and reduce the heat to medium/medium-low. Stir until all the liquid is incorporated before adding another cup of stock. Continue stirring and adding stock, 1 cup at a time, until the barley is cooked al dente, about 40 minutes. (Cooking time can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes depending on the grain you choose.)

While the barley is cooking, cook the squash and mushrooms. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter to a sauté pan and set over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the squash, distributing it into a single layer in the pan. Do not move the squash; instead, cook one side at a time until brown, about 4 minutes. Once a side is brown, flip the pieces to brown another side, another 2 to 3 minutes. When all sides are brown, stir the squash only until it is golden and crispy. Add the mushrooms, stirring often until they start to release liquid.

Continue cooking the mushrooms until soft and cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes total. When they stop releasing moisture, turn the heat to medium-high and stir continuously. When the pan seems dry and the mushrooms and are beginning to brown and stick, add the vermouth to deglaze, scraping up any brown bits. Cook the squash-mushroom mixture for another minute, then remove from the heat and set aside. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the risotto is cooked through and creamy, remove from the heat and portion out into shallow bowls. Add a spoonful of the squash and mushrooms to each bowl and shave over a generous amount of Parmesan. If desired, garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

PANTRY NOTE: Barley risotto holds very well covered in the fridge and should be eaten within four days. Many other grains work well using the cooking technique for risotto. Try this recipe with wheat berries, cracked wheat, farro, or even traditional Arborio rice, adjusting the amount of stock as needed for each grain.

Best Garden Boots Ever

Bog bootsI was graced with a pair of Bogs boots in early fall. Bogs are known as the one-stop shop for farmers everywhere, and the shoes are an agricultural must. I was really looking forward to using them this spring, but I had the chance to break them in early this past December when I wore them to a Tuna Tinning. That's right, tuna tinning - 1050 pounds of albacore tuna and about 25 people working in tandem to break it down and preserve it. Brilliant. I was reminded of this as Seattle is under seige from snow just now and lacking snow boots, I threw on my Bogs. Heaven in a shoe. With wool socks, my feet are warm. They are air tight and no snow gets down them even if I'm making snow angels or sledding. And as a total bonus, they look great. If you live in a city with mild winter conditions and have the need for a garden/all around waterproof boot, I highly recommend them for 2012.