SideBar: Earl Grey Gin Cocktail

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This is very much my new favourite cocktail for summer, and I’m really not a gin kind of person. Here is a very slight variation on a recipe from Sugar and Charm and I hope you find it as delightful as I do. I already had a batch of Earl Grey tea sitting in my fridge so it just seemed like a logical choice. Just remember that if you’re planning to drink these late at night you might want to go with decaffeinated tea bags.

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Grab yourself a pot of chilled Earl Grey tea (mine was vanilla Earl Grey which I think simply added to the goodness), some gin, some honey, some lavender (fresh sprigs are better but this was what I had), and a lemon.

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In a cocktail shaker (or the ol’ Captain-America-glass-and-sundae-spoon), plop some ice, a teaspoon of dried lavender, 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice, 3/4 oz honey, and 1 1/2 oz gin.

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Tip in 6 oz chilled Earl Grey tea and shake it up (or give it a good stirring).

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Strain into a tumbler over ice and garnish with another sprig of lavender. I left the dried ones in, which meant I required a straw so as not to sip them up.

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Humidifying – without a humidifier

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I don’t know what winter is like where you live (if, in fact, it IS winter where you live), but here in the Ottawa Valley winter is cold. Very cold. And very, very dry. It’s not uncommon to spontaneously bleed from the nose as you battle a searing headache and croak for more water through parched lips. And that’s not even an extreme case. In our house, the Pie’s sinuses dry up and cause him to snore. My asthma acts up, meaning I cough and wheeze all the time, and, because we have wall-to-wall carpeting, Gren has been avoiding us because we static shock him every time we pet him. It’s no fun.

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We have a humidifier in our bedroom, and it helps a whole bunch. We did our research and got the one that worked the best for the money we wanted to pay and we’re very happy with our choice (remember, kids: always do your research when buying an appliance). I also picked up a travel-sized humidifier for the various hotel rooms I seem to be finding myself in these days (and Winnipeg is even colder and dryer than Ottawa, and I’m in it as we speak).

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But sometimes you don’t want to buy a humidifier. Sometimes you can’t afford one (the ones that won’t give you Legionnaires’ Disease or fester with black mould tend to run a bit expensive). Sometimes your dormitory has ruled them out (usually for mould reasons). Or maybe you just need to give a bit of extra oomph to the humidifier you have. Here are seven quick-and-dirty tips to help you humidify your home the old-fashioned way.

1. Shower with the door open.

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Yeah, so this won’t work if you have roommates or small children or larger children or children at all. But if you don’t, skip turning on the exhaust fan and get things all good and steamy.

2. Get more house plants.

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So plants, when they’re done with all the nutrients and stuff in the water they suck up through their roots, basically sweat out water vapour through their leaves. It’s called transpiration. And sweaty plants make for a more humid environment.

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3. Skip the dryer.

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When you’re doing laundry, hang your clothes to dry inside the house in a warm spot. As the clothes dry the water on them will evaporate into the air in your house, making it more moist. MOIST. Plus you save on energy costs.

4. Spritzy-spritzy.

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Grab a spray bottle of water and gently – GENTLY – spritz your curtains with a little bit of water. You don’t want them soaked or anything, but a little misting on them will produce the same effect as wet laundry – without putting your skivvies in the middle of the living room.

5. Set out bowls.

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Place shallow dishes of water on sunny windowsills or on top of heating vents and the water will evaporate as it warms. Make them pretty crystal vases and you’ll add to the decor of your home. Add a floating bloom or some pretty pebbles. Granted, if you have small children or pets, leaving a bowl of water on the floor in your kitchen is asking for trouble, so be warned.

6. Wet a towel.

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Run a small dish towel under your tap and then wring it out thoroughly. Lay it over a heating vent (make sure the fabric isn’t so thick that it blocks the warm air completely) and let the heat percolate through and humidify the air as the towel dries. Again, probably not a good idea with small children. This is why we can’t have nice things.

7. Cook!

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When in doubt, cook. Whip up a batch of chilli or soup, anything on the stovetop that will get hot and steamy. I like to make a giant pot of tea, and when the kettle whistles and I’ve poured my pot and turned off the burner, I put the kettle back on the cooling element to let it steam itself out.

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You could also try a “simmer,” which is super trendy right now. Set a saucepan full of water on your stove and heat it to a low simmer. Toss in some whole spices: bay leaves, cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon, and allspice; or rosemary, citrus zest, and lavender – or some combination thereof – and let that sit there simmering and scenting your house while it steams it up. Just keep an eye on the pot and add more water occasionally so it doesn’t all boil away.

Rosa’s Baby Lavender and Earl Grey Cupcakes

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This weekend Mags threw a post-partum baby shower (a “Sip ‘n’ See”) for Ryder and Rusty’s new little one, Rosa.  Because the colours of her baby room are gray and purple, I decided to stick to the theme and make Earl Grey cupcakes with lavender icing.  Sounds fancy!

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I adapted the Earl Grey cupcake batter from Oh So Very Pretty and chose the Lavender Mascarpone frosting from Kitschy Girl’s Guide and I’m so happy with the results (I made three dozen, so they had better be good!). For both the cupcakes and the frosting, you need a little bit of time beforehand to prep your infusions, so you might want to do them the day before if you’re in a rush.

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For the cupcakes:

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Microwave or gently heat 2/3 cup whole milk for about a minute.  Plop 4 bags Earl Grey tea (or the loose equivalent, if you’ve got it) in the milk and let that steep for 30 minutes.  I pretty much just left mine like this until I was done doing everything else, including washing the dishes and walking the dog.  So like, an hour.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a muffin tray with cups.

In a bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cup cake flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter.

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Add in 2 eggs, 1/3 cup sour cream, and 3 tablespoons vanilla.

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Slowly mix the flour mixture into the liquid, alternating with the steeped milk, until just combined.

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Scoop the batter into your cupcake liners so that they are half to two-thirds full and bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre cupcake comes out clean.  Set them on a wire rack to cool completely. These are puffy cupcakes.

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For the icing:

Start with the lavender syrup.  In a small saucepan on medium heat, dissolve 1/4 cup granulated sugar in 1/2 cup water.

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Lightly grind up 2 tablespoons lavender flowers.

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You like my new mortar and pestle?  It was a Lee Valley birthday present from Krystopf and Atlas.

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Toss the lavender into the syrup and bring the whole thing to a simmer for about 3 minutes.  Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool completely before straining out the flower bits. I may have missed a few.

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In the chilled bowl of an electric mixer (chill your beater, too), start whipping up 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Slowly add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and keep going until the cream has formed stiff peaks.

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Add in 1 cup room temperature mascarpone and slowly drizzle in your cooled lavender syrup.  (I mixed in a bit of lavender gel paste food colouring to the mascarpone to give the whole batch of icing a pale purple colour).

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This icing is so luscious and lovely I want to actually rub it into my skin. I don’t know why.

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Shove the icing into a piping bag and have at it with your cupcakes.   Feel free to sprinkle the tops with crushed lavender or purple sugar or whatever floats your boat. The icing was a little too warm in these shots so it’s a little runny, but as long as it’s cold you’re golden.

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Big Beauty Box

Happy New Year!

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For Christmas, Teedz requested a repeat of the Beauty and the Beets package she received last year, namely, another couple jars of those luxurious shower scrubs.  So in addition to some more coffee sugar scrub and salty citrus scrub, I made a big beauty box with more aids to relaxation in it: bubble bath, bath tea, and a crowning achievement, homemade LOTION.  I’m not even kidding.  My major regret was that while every woman in my family got a jar of the luscious stuff, there wasn’t enough left over for ME.  I guess I’ll have to make some more.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Rose-Lavender Bubble Bath

We’ll start with the easiest one and get trickier, okay?

For a bubble bath, you need to start with a soap base.  You can use unscented dishwashing liquid, which is super cheap, but I like castile soap because it’s so cool and old-fashioned.  I bought a rose-scented one to use as my base.  Then you need some glycerine for slipperiness and good bubble staying-power.  I picked this vegetable glycerine up at a health food store in the beauty section, but you can also find it in the first aid aisle of your local pharmacy.  To get the lavender part of the rose-lavender scent, I also got some lavender essential oil and some dried lavender, both from the health food store.  And of course you need a container for mixing.

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Pour 1 cup castile soap and 2/3 cup glycerine into your container (I doubled this recipe because it was going to two people).

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Give those a stir, because they won’t automatically mix.

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Next, add a few drops of essential oil and stir again.

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For visual variety, add a few teaspoons dried lavender to the mix.

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Give that a stir and let it sit for a few days.  The lavender pieces will start to break down in the liquid, infusing it with more lavendery goodness.

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I decanted the resulting emulsion (you will have to shake it up a bit before using) into two glass bottles.  This is them sitting next to the new batch of salt and sugar shower scrubs.

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Bath Teas / Foot Soaks 

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These little sachets of salt are great for their versatility.  You can toss them in the tub, hang them from the faucet while it’s filling, or plop them in a little foot bath for whenever you have a few extra minutes to relax.  The epsom salts are a good healing soak for new mothers and the oatmeal and sea salt make for a skin-smoothing experience.

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I made two different flavours of these.  In the first, I started with a base of 3 cups epsom salts and 1 cup coarse sea salt.  Then a few drops lavender essential oil.

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To that I added 1 cup dried chamomile flowers and 3/4 cup dried lavender flowers.

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All stirred up!

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To the other one I started with the same 3:1 ratio of epsom salts to sea salt.

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Then I added in 3/4 cup dried peppermint leaves and 2 cups ground oatmeal.

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(To make the oat stuff simply chuck some rolled oats — not instant — into a food processor and give it a good whaz.)

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All stirred up too!

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Then I set up an assembly line.  I used some organza we’d rejected from our screen printing exercises, some hemp twine, and an old plastic easter egg as my container-holder.

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I scooped 3-4 tablespoons of the salt mixture into each little pouch and tied it tightly with the string, making a loop so that it can be hung from the faucet.  I used green twine for the peppermint ones and blue for the lavender.

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Luxury Lotion 

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This is probably one of the greatest things I’ve made.  I played around a bit with the original recipe from Girls’ Guide to Guns and Butter and came up with two separate flavours.  With the ratios I used, the resulting lotion is thick and creamy.  It will leave a bit of grease on your hands that absorbs relatively quickly, and the best part about it is that it doesn’t wash off very easily, which, during cold season when you’re washing your hands constantly, is a very good thing.  Anyway, I suggest you give the above post a bit of a read, just to understand the science of the whole thing a bit more.  I’m just going to plunge right in.

The below proportions make about three cups of lotion each, which makes them ideal sizes to give away as gifts.  If you’d like to be selfish and just make some for yourself, then adjust the amounts accordingly.

Rose Water Lotion:

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For this one I cut up a bunch of beeswax.  This is the emulsion that holds everything together.  You’ll need about 4 tablespoons beeswax.

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Plop the beeswax in a double boiler or a microwave-safe container (you can do it either way) and start adding in your other liquids.  Here I’m adding about 2 squirts of vegetable glycerine.  This is what makes the lotion all slippery-feeling.  Don’t add too much or it will be too slippery.

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Scoop out 3 tablespoons shea butter, which I didn’t realize was powdered until it got EVERYWHERE.

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Then 12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) sweet almond oil and 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) avocado oil.

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And then 3 squirts of vitamin E oil.  Not only is this good for damaged skin but it will also extend the shelf life of your lotion.

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Melt the beeswax/oil mixture in your microwave or double boiler until there is nothing solid left in it and it’s all mixed together.  Pour it into a tall narrow container (like a wide-mouthed mason jar) that will fit an immersion blender and leave it to cool for a bit.

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Basically, lotion is an emulsion of oil and water, and the beeswax is what freezes it into its emulsified state.  So now we need water for this to work.  For this first one I used 1 1/2 cups rose water (you can get this at the grocery store) and 1/2 cup filtered water (if you’re on a chlorinated city water system you’ll want to use filtered or distilled water).  The water and the oil have to be the same temperature in order to mix properly, so what I did was heat up the water to the same temperature as the cooling oil, which was about 130°F.  It just meant that I didn’t have to wait as long for everything to cool properly.  I’m not a patient person.

Now you stick your immersion blender in the oil mix and start whizzing it up until it gets light and foamy.  It will fly everywhere, which is why you should use something narrow to mix it in like a jar.  I used a bowl and things got messy.  I’ll show you a picture in a minute.  Anyway.  As you’re mixing, ever so slowly trickle in water and get it mixed in, a little bit at a time.  If you put them in at the same temperature, you can get all the water mixed in perfectly, though towards the end you’ll have to mix a bit harder to get it all combined.  I wish I had more pictures of this part to show you how cool it is, but I only have so many hands.

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It will look like rich, thick icing.  It looked so much like icing, in fact, that my mother walked past it and though that’s what it was.  So she stuck her finger in it and tasted it.  BAD IDEA.  Apparently it tastes awful.  So resist the urge to eat it.

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This is the still-warm lotion spread on my hand, so you can see the texture.

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Plop it into little jars for storage, or leave it in the jar in which you mixed it, if you’re that clever.

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But here is a dobble of the stuff after it’s cooled, and you can see how thick and rich it is.

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Orange Whip Lotion:

Here’s the mess I left after the second mixing session.  There’s lotion and oil everywhere.

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I didn’t take pictures of the mixing process for the second batch, but I’ll give you the ingredients here and you can go to town.  Just remember that the water and the oil have to be the same temperature (not exactly, but close) in order for the whole science thing to work.

In a heat-proof container, mix together and melt 4 tablespoons chopped beeswax, 2 squirts vegetable glycerine, 3 tablespoons shea butter, 8 tablespoons coconut oil, 4 tablespoons avocado oil, 4 tablespoons sweet almond oil, and 3 squirts vitamin E oil.

Add 8 drops sweet orange essential oil to 2 cups hot distilled or filtered water and drizzle into hot oil mix, blending to emulsify.

Store your lotion in a cool place, maybe in the fridge to be on the safe side.  I’m not sure how long this stuff lasts, with the antibacterial beeswax and vitamin E in it, but you’ll probably use it all right away because it’s awesome, anyway.

It’s relatively easy to clean up, as long as you wipe out your oily-waxy containers with paper towel before washing them in soapy water.

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I love me some Granola

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My morning meal usually consists of coffee, juice, yogurt, and granola.  Like I could eat that stuff every single day.

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Until now, I’ve been buying our granola, but it’s quite expensive for the amount you get and it’s full of all sorts of weird additives and the like that I don’t really want to put in my system.

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My mother used to make granola for us sometimes when we were kids, so I figured that I could probably do it myself if I tried.  And it’s easy.  And you can use what you’ve got in your cupboards, or what you can scoop up at the bulk food store.  Which means you can customize each batch.

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So preheat your oven to 350°F and get out a large rimmed baking sheet.  I took the precaution of lining mine with parchment paper, so stuff wouldn’t stick.

The majority of granolas start with a base of oats, about 4 cups.  I used four double handfuls, because I measured my tiny hands once and put together that’s about what they hold.  And thus ends my list of measurements for this recipe.  Because you can do whatever you want.  So what else have I got going on here?  In addition to the oats, I have bran, ground flax, shredded coconut, sliced almonds, nutmeg, cinnamon, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, lavender flowers (yes), and then a selection of dried fruits: apricots, mango, and raisins.

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Take all your happy dry ingredients (minus the fruits) and plop them in a bowl.

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Mix ’em up.

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In another bowl, add about 1/2 cup runny honey,

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about 1/2 cup maple syrup,

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and about 1/2 cup melted butter.

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*** EDIT: If you’d like granola that forms clumps (and that’s my favourite kind), whisk 1 or 2 egg whites into a froth and add them to the mixture as well.  The protein in the whites will stick everything together during the baking process.  Just use caution when stirring mid-bake, as the amount you stir will affect the size of the clumps you create. ***

Pour that golden loveliness into the dry mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are coated.

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Spread that stuff out on your baking sheet and chuck that in the oven for about 40 minutes.

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Make sure to stir with a spatula every 10-15 minutes or so to keep the stuff on the bottom from burning.

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While that’s on the go, get your dried fruit ready. I chopped up the apricots and mango slices a little to make them easier to get on a spoon.

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Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan, stirring it occasionally to break up the chunks.  The finer grained your ingredients are, and the more sticky wet ingredients you use, the chunkier your granola will be.

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While it’s still a little warm, stir in your dried fruit.

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Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, and enjoy whenever you want!

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The Un-Cola

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I saw this recipe on Freshly Pressed this past summer and was inspired by Krista and Jess to make this recipe from the New York Times (thanks ladies!).

My brother Ando has always been a fan of carbonated beverages.  Specifically the cola variety.  The more caffeine the better (he used to be a bit of a night owl).  Sodas aren’t that great for the teeth, of course,  as they contain a lot of sugar.  The colas especially so.  Ando’s tip for strong dentition: drink sodas only in conjunction with food, and use a straw.  When I saw this recipe, I thought he’d like it.  It’s made of all natural ingredients and contains significantly less sugar than your average can of Coke (which has 39g of sugar in it, the same as 10 sugar cubes).

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These sorts of natural syrups are a sign that we are trying to return to simpler times, and the creators of this recipe, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, are doing just that (so you can go visit them Ando and tell me how the recipes compare — it’s just over the bridge after all).

So this is his DIY Christmas gift from his little sister (SURPRISE!), which, together with all the other presents for the Manhattan Crew, I am trying to get completed and mailed out before the end of the month — how’s that for organization?

The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, but does require a certain attention to detail.  I also had to do some serious sleuthing around St. John’s to find all the appropriate ingredients, though if that means puttering around Food for Thought and Fat Nanny’s for an hour or two then I really don’t mind.

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You’ll need to grate the zest from 2 medium oranges, 1 large lime, and 1 large lemon.  I doubled my batch so that the Pie and I would have some to try, and then made up an extra set of dry ingredients so that Ando can cook himself up a refill.  Each batch makes about 3 cups syrup.

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So I grated a lot of citrus.  I’m going to save it and make a fabulous beverage soon.

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For the extra dry ingredients, I used a zester, which gets the peel without the bitter pith.

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Then I heated my oven to 150°F and spread the peel on a baking sheet to dry.

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It probably cooked for about an hour while I was doing all that other stuff.

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Take some whole nutmeg and a fine rasp and grate yourself about 1/8 teaspoon of that stuff.  Mmm, smells so good.

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Crush one section of one star anise pod with a spoon.

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Cut a vanilla pod so you have a 1 1/2″ section (that’s almost 4cm for you metric folk).  Use a knife to split that section in half lengthwise.

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You’ll also need 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers, 2 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.  You can get citric acid at stores that sell canning supplies, or try specialty or health food stores.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring all those ingredients to a simmer in 2 cups water.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

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In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar.

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Plop a colander or strainer on top of that and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth.

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Pour the contents of the hot pot over the cheesecloth and gather the ends of the cloth together so that all the solids are in a nice little package.  Use a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid from the package against the side of the pot.

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Stir the syrup occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a container and keep it in the refrigerator.

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In order for this to last the trip over the sea and land and a river to Manhattan (from one island to another) I decided to can it.  You can see my tips on canning with a stove top canner here.

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To drink, pour 1 part syrup over ice and mix with 4 parts seltzer or soda water.  It tastes FANTASTIC.  Not like a commercial soda, but one where you can taste all the flavours that went into it.  AMAZING.

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And here is the little container with the dried peel and all the other dried ingredients (minus the sugar) that Ando will need to make his own batch.

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Greenthumbing Day Three

Can you believe it?  It was sunny!  I haven’t been in the garden since the Pie and I raked up all the leaves and I laid down the Slug-B-Gone (which, incidentally, seems to have worked).

The consistent rain has meant that my weeds are flourishing.  I spent a good two hours just digging them out.  This particular weed will be the death of me.It’s completely overrun the horrible hedge in the front, and it creeps through the fence in the back.On a positive note, my peony is going strong, as is my astilbe and my columbine.  However, columbine seems to be a weed here so I’m not surprised it’s doing well. I actually divided the columbine and planted some of it in the front yard to soak up the sun.

It’s good to see some new growth on my boxwood.  I thought they might have lost it this year.My lavender from last year has survived the winter, just barely.

Another nice surprise is that the two straggly clematis that made it out of the seed stage last year seem to be flourishing this year.  As you can see the daffodils are in bloom, though they get damaged easily by the winds here, and the tulips will bloom soon.

The iris are struggling back from their battle with the slugs.  Maybe we’ll see some of those bloom by the end of the summer, who knows?  I laid down some more Slug-B-Gone, as I saw a few slimers while I was weeding.

Now that the frost season is officially over I’m going to start trying to plant some things.  I figure the slug bait and the lack of snow might stand me in good stead this time around.