I'm a Jerk!


When I went to Italy in 1984 I was exposed to many new things. Among my favorites was San Pellegrino. It is a naturally carbonated water that is just delicious. I couldn't get enough of it. The problem was it was kind of expensive. A liter cost about 1800 to 2000 Lire. At the time the exchange rate was about one dollar to 2000 Lire. So a bottle of water was about a buck. Not bad you might think. However, we could go down to the corner wine shop and get a two liter bottle of wine (you had to supply the bottle) for about 800 Lire. Now, we were art students and not especially good at math, but we figured we could get 4 liters of wine for the price of one liter of bubbly water. We would save the water for those specially occasions.

Back in the states San Pellegrino was always available but it was still no cheaper so it was never something we drank on a regular basis. Then about 10 years ago or so, Costco started selling it. We could get a case of them for something around a dollar or so. So, Mary and I have been enjoying them ever since. However, as you know, I've been unemployed for the last year and our budget is pretty tight. Even the cheaper brands of seltzer water are a little pricey for us. 

Again, not being math wizards we thought about how much we were spending on bottled fizzy water and realized that we could buy a counter top fizzy water maker for less than we were paying for the cheap stuff, not to mention the San Pellegrino. So, back in December we bough a SodaStream carbonated water maker (about $75) and went to town. In short - we love it!

What has this got to do with being a jerk? Well, if you've got all this carbonated water sitting around you might as well make your own sodas. So, I've become a jerk. A soda jerk that is! 

I've been enjoying making my own syrups for our homemade sodas, including a homemade cola! They are really easy and almost fool proof to make. The basic is two cups of fluid, 2 cups of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid (you can get the citric acid from any health food or vitamin store). Put it in a small pot and simmer it for about 20 minutes. Strain it through a cheese cloth and let it cool. 

Most of the recipes that I have found on line (there are a million of them) are heavy in the sugar and light on the flavor. For instance, an orange soda recipe would call for 1 cup water, 1 cup orange juice, the zest from two oranges, 2 cups sugar and the citric acid. To me this came out pretty weak. So I use all orange juice instead and it came put great. Once you have made the syrup, just add it to your soda in the quantities you like and drink away. 

I've made many combinations of flavored syrups, orange, lemon, mixed berry (blueberry, strawberry, and blackberry), strawberry and melon, and so on. If you stick to the 2 cup liquid, 2 cup sugar and 1/2 citric acid proportions, you just can loose.

Some have been more involved than others. The lemon and orange the major effort is squeezing the juice. With the sauces that have berries and fleshy fruit you have to work a little harder in the straining part of the process because your cheese cloth gets clogged up pretty fast. 

The cola recipe was very interesting because it has many ingredients that I would have never thought to use in a drink. Lavender, star anise, vanilla and nutmeg just aren't your every day run of the mill flavors you throw together. Yet, it came out tasting pretty much like a cola! Again as with all the other soda recipes I've tried, I doubled the flavor ingredients to make the flavor stronger. In general, I like two table spoons of syrup per 12 ounce glass of carbonated water. 

All of these drinks will be pale colored compared to the commercially available soft drinks, mainly because the drinks you make don't contain artificial colors in them. Actually, there is nothing artificial about the syrups I make, and that is what I really like about it! So, yes, I am a jerk! 

See photos of my soda making here.

Kid Cookery


For some reason, all of the kids have taken an interest in doing more of the cooking around here. Emily and William take basic cooking classes in school. When I say basic, I mean basic. Emily said that one day the made Top Ramen. Yum!

I asked Emily if they have covered taking care of their mise en place and she said that they were no where close to such concepts. Humm...what is a dad, who is a longtime student of French cooking, to do? Looks like it is time for some home schooling. 

One dish that the kids like, looks fancy, and if pretty easy is pull off is fish in papillote. This is simply cooking fish in a parchment paper envelope. the basic principle to keep in mind here is that things need to cook quickly in a hot oven (425 degrees), so the veggies need to be cut small and and the same size. The only other tricky part of the disk is cutting the heart shaped paper big enough and in the right shape, to hold your dish. Emily did a great job and got an A+ in her home school cooking class. She even let me take a few pictures of her at work. 

Paddy got the job of putting cookie dough on the cookie sheet. He did this well and didn't eat too much of the uncooked cookies. The only problem was that we couldn't account for all the cooked cookies once he was done. Humm?

William hasn't done much cooking in the past couple of weeks because he has been busy working on another major paper house project. Last year he completed a model of the Westminster Abby. This year, he wanted to make Grandma Linda and Grandpa Gene a model of the White House for their Christmas pressent. After many, many hours of painstaking X-acto knife cutting of tiny windows, he completed it and it looks great. See photos of both of these project here

Happy Holidays!

Russell, Mary, Emily, William and Paddy