Reap What You Soma

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Wellness

Like much of the country, we in Southern California are experiencing a seemingly endless series of summer heat waves. To add insult to injury, the air conditioner in my 14-year-old Beetle broke and I decided it wasn’t worth the money to fix it when I plan to buy a new car soon, so I chose instead to invest in another essential for surviving the summer: water.

I’d read about the Soma water filtration system on Tim Ferrissblog in 2012, but didn’t get one for myself, because I’ve had a high-quality, under-the-sink purifier for years. However, it’s wedged between the water pipe and the wall, making it a pain to change the filter (not to mention the slow leak that remained out of sight and undetected until water had seeped under the wooden floorboards halfway across the kitchen), and I started noticing a slimy build-up developing within the faucet pipe. Yikes!

That’s when I made the switch to Soma’s sleek countertop dispenser. Its BPA-free plastic reservoir holds a filter made from 65% plant-based, renewable materials that provide clean, great tasting water in minutes. The design is elegant and innovative, with a lid “door” that automatically opens while filling from the faucet, then closes when done. The shatter-resistant, borosilicate glass carafe makes a stylish serving vessel that holds 48 oz. (6 cups) of purified water and happens to nicely complement the shape of my tavern shrub glasses. Plus, unlike my under-the-sink model, it quickly disassembles for easy cleaning.

I swear that I’m not affiliated with Soma in any way, but their water filtration system is one of the best purchases I’ve made in years! Since buying their glass carafe and filter, I’ve been drinking water more regularly than I can remember. And with several affordable options to choose from—including family-friendly plastic pitchers that hold 6-10 cups, a portable water bottle with protective silicone sleeve, and their new brew bottle for making coffee and loose leaf tea on the go (want!)—there are Soma-ny ways to hydrate.

If all of that weren’t enough, you can sign up to receive replacement filters by mail every two months, and each time you purchase a Soma filter, they donate to charity: water, which works to provide sustainable, clean water in developing countries. I’ll drink to that! So be sure to water daily and frequently in this heat, because you aren’t the only one who’ll reap what you Soma.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Soma Water Filtration Systems

 

Soma products are also available from Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

 

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Taking Liberteas

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Holidays, Tea

This time last year, we gave three cheers, but not everyone wants to celebrate the Spirit of ’76 by adding spirits to the mix. For those who forswear alcohol (or sugary drinks), you can offer a refreshing alternative to the usual 4th of July fare with this festive trio of teas. Featuring botanically-based hues of red, white, and blue, these caffeine-free* brews will be a natural at your patriotic party.

The crimson of classic Red Zinger from Celestial Seasonings comes from tangy hibiscus leaves, which impart their trademark “zing” with an assist from peppermint, sweet orange, lemongrass, and wild cherry bark.

What white tea lacks in color, it makes up for in character, and with eight varieties to choose from in The Republic of Tea’s line of 100% rare Chinese white teas—including Pineapple Guava, Cucumber Mint, and Asian Jasmine—you’ll find a flavor to please every palate.

But the sapphire shade of Blue-Tee from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. is the real sparkler here. Made from pure butterfly pea flowers, this herbal tisane has been a Southeast Asian staple for centuries, but has found recent popularity in America due to its Instagram-worthy tint and peculiar properties. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the blue brew turns a violet hue. Mix in milk and you get something resembling Bridget Jones’ leek soup.

By taking liberties with afternoon tea, this British tradition becomes as American as red, white, and blue, so for those who want to skip the soda and bypass the booze this Independence Day, add these stars to your backyard bars and give guests their freedom of choice.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Red Zinger Tea from Celestial Seasonings
White Tea from The Republic of Tea
Blue-Tee from Wild Hibiscus Flower Co.

 

Celestial Seasonings and The Republic of Tea can be found at most chain supermarkets. Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. teas are available at many Whole Foods and Sprouts markets. If you can’t find the tea, look for their b’lure Butterfly Pea Flower Extract at BevMo.

 

*Herbal teas like Red Zinger and butterfly pea flower are caffeine-free. The caffeine content of white teas can vary widely depending on type and processing. White teas from The Republic of Tea are low in caffeine.

 

 

All That Jasmine

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink

After several days of “May Gray” here in Southern California, the sun finally broke through this week. Today has been cloudy and cool, but the weekend forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the high 80s. A whiff of summer is in the air. On my evening walks, the smell of night-blooming jasmine has been so thick that I can practically taste it, but if I want to actually taste it, I reach for a bottle of Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water from World Market.

Folks, there’s no way to describe the wonder of this water. It contains no sugar or other additives, just the essence of a thousand fragrant blossoms floating down an effervescent stream. As our regular readers know, Kirsti and I love floral flavorings, but while it’s common to find rose petal jam, lavender honey, and all that jazz on supermarket shelves, it’s more rare to come across culinary jasmine.

Of course, I enjoy drinking white and green jasmine teas, but they have a different, more delicate flavor than this sparkling water, which exudes a potent perfume similar to that of Medicine Flower’s jasmine extract. I found it tucked away on a shelf at the far back of my local World Market, so you might have to do a little hunting to sniff out this hidden gem, but it’s SO worth it.

Summer’s almost here, Swooners! Drink it in.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water

 

 

Taking the Waters

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Cold Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Fragrance, Savories, Sweets, Wellness

Here in Southern California, we’re on the tail end of yet another summer heat wave. It feels like we’ve been pummeled with them this year, barely having time to enjoy a week of “cooler” temps (90s instead of 100s) before the next one rolls in. This latest wave brought some dreaded humidity that made going outside feel like stepping into a wet sauna. Ugh. We’re only midway through the season, so to keep my cool and freshen up when there’s no time for taking a bath, I’ve been taking the waters.

I discovered the culinary delights of rose water and orange blossom water when I got to know my Persian co-workers many years ago. They explained that Middle Eastern cooks use these floral waters in cooking and baking the way that most Americans use vanilla. I quickly learned that the waters also make fragrant and refreshing toners and tonics. During the summer, my favorite cooling trick is to pour them into spray bottles and keep them in the fridge for sweetly-scented spritzing throughout the day.

For years, I could only find Indo-European brand rose and orange blossom waters at Whole Foods and the ethnic foods aisle of some chain grocery stores, but then a large Middle Eastern market opened a few miles from my house and introduced me to a whole new world of culinary waters. There were familiar ingredients, like dillweed, cumin seed, and licorice, alongside less common ones, such as borage, sweetbriar, and willow, but some of the names were unrecognizable to me. What the heck is hedysarum? And fumitary water sounds like a treatment you’d be given on the road to wellville.

I bought them all.

Since I’m more of a baker than a cook, the dillweed and cumin have languished on a shelf, but orange blossom continues to be a favorite scent, and a rose by any other name—whether Naab or Ghamsar Kashan—smells as sweet. A whiff of willow holds hints of violet and rose, while fumitary emits the unexpected essence of peppermint. On sweltering summer nights, nothing beats a mist of mint water on sheets, pillows, and overheated skin, especially under the cooling currents of a fan.

Many of the descriptions online recommend taking these waters as a tonic beverage with plain water and sugar added. According to one, chicory water can “refine the blood,” promoting skin and liver health. Another claims that fenugreek water helps lower blood sugar and strengthen hair. Willow is said to stimulate the appetite, while fumitary (sometimes called fumitory) is beneficial for treating eczema and psoriasis. Hedysarum, which has a flavor completely unfamiliar to my American palate, tastes slightly medicinal, with a sharp earthiness and a trace of fruit that is both strange and exotic … and, apparently, useful for whooping cough.

In addition to Indo-European, I have found culinary waters from Cortas, Al Wadi, and Sadaf, but the largest selection is produced by Golchin. Most of them are only $3-5 a bottle, so stock up this summer and hydrate liberally, inside and out, because taking the waters is (almost) as therapeutic as a trip to the spa.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Culinary Waters

 

If you don’t live near a Middle Eastern market and can’t find these culinary waters at your local grocery store or gourmet food shop, many are available online from Persian Basket.

 

Floral Dose

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits, Wellness

This post is guaranteed to raise your spirits, because we’ve found the cure for the common cocktail. Readers of this blog know that Kirsti and I swoon over floral flavorings, so we almost slipped into a coma when we discovered this bouquet of botanical drink mixers from Floral Elixir Company. With flavors ranging from Orchid and Orange Blossom to Lemon Verbena and Lavender, these sweet syrups will breathe new life into your libations.

Floral Elixir Company handcrafts its line of 13 drink mixers using only natural herbs and flowers. This includes its rainbow of vibrant colors, which is created from a blend of botanicals. The syrups can be mixed with sparkling water to make singular sodas, or used to sweeten lemonade and iced tea. Behind the bar, these elixirs transform mixed drinks into magical potions with palliative properties.

Years ago, Kirsti hosted a cocktail party with a self-serve bar where guests could mix floral and herbal liqueurs (like St. Germain, Crème de Violette, and Canton) with sparkling wine. It was a huge hit, but these botanical syrups from Floral Elixir Company offer even more variety and control for amateur and master mixologists alike. Get started with these recipes and grow your repertoire.

Floral elixirs are the Rx for refreshment, so we prescribe an oral dose several times per day, or as needed, to restore well-being.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Floral Elixir Company Botanical Drink Mixers

 

In their online shop, Floral Elixir Company offers a Mini Elixir Master Set , which includes sample sizes of all their flavors, as well as cocktail kits for Champagne Lovers, Tea Lovers, and everything in between.

 

Kom Down

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink

búcha Verbena Rose KombuchaWhen my favorite flavor of Wonder Drink was out of stock recently, I decided to experiment with something new. Among the sea of kombucha choices—featuring typical additions of ginger, fruit, or greens—one blend stood out: Verbena Rose from búcha® Live Kombucha. With a floral essence and no SCOBY in sight, I should have snapped it up immediately, but I hesitated over…the name?

Readers of this blog know that Kirsti and I share a passion for anything rose-flavored, but we also share an aversion to certain words and quirks of language. Setting aside the issue of proper names with lowercase letters for the moment, I bristle at the practice of dropping the first part of a word to create a shortened slang term (i.e. ’sode for episode or ’verse for universe—sorry, Browncoats!), but even though this drink is a “kom” down*, I elected to calm down and buy it.

With just a hint of sweet rose balanced by the citrus notes of lemon verbena, this flavor is a winning combo. The fermented black tea contains live kombucha culture (think probiotics), and all of the ingredients, including Damask rose petals and blackcurrant color, are certified organic. It also has a softer, less acetic bite than many other brands of kombucha. Not to get too flowery, but this floral sparkling tea is, to quote the bottle’s own label, “Enchanting.”

A Verbena Rose by any other name would taste as sweet, but I’ve been bewitched by búcha® and declare this libation to be ’licious.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

búcha® Live Kombucha Verbena Rose

 

Use the company’s store finder to locate a búcha® retailer near you.

 

*To read a brief history of búcha®, including a connection to the actual city of—yes—Bucha, click here.

 

Shrub the Right Way

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Food & Drink, History, Holidays, Recipes, Spirits

Shrub 1Here in Southern California, we’re in the midst of an early summer heat wave, but instead of searching for the cool shade of a tree, I’ve been reaching for the cool treat of a shrub. Shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars, are refreshing beverages made from sweetened fruit and vinegar mixed with still or sparkling water. Used since the 15th century and popular in colonial America as a way to preserve summer fruits, the shrub is currently enjoying a revival.

I first learned about shrubs on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg several years ago and bought a bottle of pre-made shrub syrup from the Williamsburg Marketplace to try at home. I instantly fell for this sweet/tart thirst quencher, but why buy the syrup when you can easily make your own? Shrub 2The recipe is simple, requiring only three ingredients and a bit of pre-planning. Some people recommend cooking the mixture to speed up the process, but I prefer the cold method. It can take a few days, but involves only minutes of hands-on time, and the resulting syrup has greater depth and nuance.

While fresh summer fruits are now becoming available, frozen fruit works just as well when making shrub syrup. In fact, unless you grow your own fruit, pick it yourself, or obtain it from a farmer’s market, I suggest using frozen fruit (preferably organic) to make the syrup, since it is flash frozen a short time after it’s been picked and is actually fresher and more flavorful than most “fresh” fruit. Plus, it’s convenient, having been pre-washed and prepared.Shrub 3

In anticipation of the upcoming 4th of July holiday, I’ve made patriotic red raspberry and wild blueberry shrub syrups. After bottling, it’s best to leave the syrup in the fridge for at least a week or more to cure, so if you get started now, your shrub(s) will be just right to serve at that Independence Day picnic or barbecue. The fruit flavors intensify the longer the mixture sits, and the acid from the vinegar will dissolve any residual sugar over the course of a few days.

Once your syrup has matured a bit, it will be ripe to drink. You can mix it with water to taste, but a good ratio is 2 Tbsp. of syrup for every 8 oz. of water. As mentioned above, you can use still or sparkling water, but get inventive. Use the syrup in place of sugar to sweeten iced tea or lemonade, or follow the lead of trend-setting mixologists who have embraced shrub syrups as a way to add a tart kick to cocktails. The designated drivers and teetotalers at your gathering will appreciate a sophisticated shrub in place of the standard club soda and lime.

As we get ready to revel on America’s birthday, prepare to party like it’s 1776 and celebrate colonial-style with a bottle of aged shrub. It’s the perfect “cure” for the summertime red, white, and blues.

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Shrub 4Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

COLONIAL SHRUB SYRUP

1 cup berries or fruit cut in small chunks
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar*

Put fruit in a glass bowl and stir in sugar, mixing until the fruit is coated. Cover bowl (I try to avoid using plastic wrap, so I just rest a plate on top) and put it in the refrigerator for one to several days. The longer the mixture sits, the more flavor will be drawn out by the sugar, but I find that two days is usually sufficient.Shrub 5

When you remove the bowl from the fridge, the fruit should be floating in a watery syrup. There are a couple ways to separate out the fruit. If you want to save the sweetened fruit to use later, you can either remove it with a slotted spoon, or pour the mixture through a strainer, pressing down on the fruit with a spoon or spatula to extract all the liquid, but it will still be coated with some undissolved sugar and you will need to scoop out any remaining sugar in the bowl to add back in to the liquid.

Since I like the least amount of fuss, I simply add the vinegar to the fruit mixture first and stir until most of the sugar is dissolved. Then I pour it through a strainer and press down on the fruit. Shrub 6What remains is a small pile of sweet, vinegar-infused fruit that you can toss in a smoothie or spoon over ice cream (if that sounds unappetizing, you’ve obviously never drizzled balsamic vinegar over vanilla ice cream).

Whether you add the vinegar before or after you strain the fruit, stir well and pour the mixture into clean bottles or jars. Place in the fridge or a cool pantry (shrub syrup does not strictly need to be refrigerated) for one or more weeks before serving. Makes about two cups of syrup.

Variations
If you want to get creative, experiment with different combinations of fruit, vinegar, and herbs. For a list of herbs that pair well with summer fruits, click here. You can also make shrub syrups with different types of vinegar, including balsamic, champagne, red wine, rice, sherry, white balsamic, and white wine varieties. Balsamic vinegars should be mixed 50/50 with lighter versions, such as dark balsamic with red wine vinegar (great with strawberries) or white balsamic with champagne vinegar (try it with peaches). Use rice vinegar with plums and Japanese basil for an Asian twist. You can even play around with other kinds of sugar, like turbinado, demerara, or muscovado. The possibilities are endless, so have fun!

*I recommend Bragg’s organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

 

To serve your drinking vinegars in authentic colonial style, purchase tavern shrub glasses from the Williamsburg Marketplace.

 

Wonder of Wonder Drinks

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Spirits, Wellness
Wonder of Wonder Drinks 1

I have been in a funk ever since these drinks became defunct.

I have tried my share of “wonder” drinks over the years. Like many people, I got caught up in the craze of energy drinks, enhanced waters, and herbal elixirs that began in the 1990s, but I never experienced any of their purported benefits. I simply enjoyed them for their taste, particularly some of the dry, elegant beverages that made a refreshing alternative to wine. (Two of my favorites, Aqua Libra and Golden Star White Jasmine Sparkling Tea, were discontinued and I’m still in mourning.)

One of these trendy tonics that did produce a pleasant physical effect was kombucha, which gave me a nice little buzz until a literal buzzkill discovered that this fermented tea contains a small amount of alcohol, leading to virtually all kombucha brands being pulled from store shelves for months. However, before this tempest in a tea bottle, I made a wonder-ful discovery: Wonder Drink Asian Pear & Ginger Kombucha.

Wonder of Wonder Drinks 2There are a couple of things that set Wonder Drink apart from the kombucha crowd. First, it is pasteurized.* Most kombucha drinks are raw and can have a slimy mass called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) floating around in the liquid like a jellyfish in a murky sea. Blessedly, I’ve never encountered one in a bottle of Wonder Drink. Second, it’s sweeter and more palatable than many other brands. While I actually enjoy the tart, acidic flavor of most kombucha, I always find it amusing when someone who’s never had it before takes a sip and makes “that” face.

But the main thing that, in my opinion, separates Wonder Drink from the pack is their Asian Pear & Ginger flavor. The company produces 11 varieties of kombucha, and I’ve tried most of them, but Asian Pear & Ginger is my favorite (I’m not alone, as it’s their most popular flavor). There’s something about those two magical ingredients that creates an alchemy with the kombucha, turning an ordinary element into liquid gold. I like to drink it with meals as a digestif, but it’s also delicious in cocktails, making restorative spirits to restore your spirits.

Wonder of Wonder Drinks 3

As for health claims, some might argue that pasteurization destroys the beneficial bacteria for which kombucha is known, or that more of the sugar should be consumed by the yeast than by you, but I always feel an immediate sense of well-being by merely having a bottle of Wonder Drink in my fridge. So, if you want to enjoy some fashionable fermentation, but you’ve been put off by the bite of other brews, try Asian Pear & Ginger from Wonder Drink. This potent potion will do wonders for your disposition.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Wonder Drink Asian Pear & Ginger Kombucha

 

There is only one store in my area that carries Wonder Drink, so I often purchase it online (if you can’t locate a brand of kombucha in health-conscious L.A., you might have trouble finding it elsewhere). Use Wonder Drink’s store locator to find out where to buy.

 

*Wonder Drink has now added three raw versions of kombucha tea to its line of products.

 

All’s Well That Ends S’well

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Wellness

You might find this hard to s’wallow, but when I chose the S’well water bottle as one of my picks for our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide, I didn’t actually have one of my own—yet. My employer had been bringing her 25 oz. bottle to work each day for months and s’wore that it was the best water bottle she’d ever used, but I was unconvinced. While I always made sure to reuse and recycle my water bottles, I figured one would do as well as another and used whatever was on hand, but her enthusiasm for this bottle began to s’way me.

S'well 1I asked what made it so special and she s’wiftly told me that the neck fit comfortably in her hand and she liked the smooth feel and weight of the bottle. The cap was simple to remove and replace, and the wide mouth made it easy to take a s’wig of liquid. The stainless steel interior gave her peace of mind, knowing that nothing harmful would leach into her water as it s’wished around in the bottle throughout the day. She also loved the s’wank gold finish that she’d chosen from the company’s Metallic Collection.

I got s’wept away by her zeal and decided to recommend it as a gift pick, planning to buy one for myself when the holidays were over, but she beat me to it. Among my Christmas s’wag I found a 17 oz. S’well bottle in my favorite color: green. In fact, it’s the exact same bottle as the one in the picture I used for the G.I.F.T. Guide, even though she s’wears she never saw our post. To prevent my co-worker from s’wiping my bottle, she bought her a S’well as well.

S'well 2I s’wapped my old water bottles out for my new one and have been using it exclusively for the past month. I can now say with authority that this bottle is to s’woon for. I primarily use it to brew tea, so I appreciate that it keeps drinks hot for 12 hours, but I still can’t figure out how the steam doesn’t escape with a powerful s’woosh when I remove the cap. The bottle also keeps liquids cold for 24 hours, as my employer can attest, since she left the bottle in her s’weltering car last summer, only to take a drink and find that the water was still cold. Whether it’s s’weater weather or s’weating weather, this is the only bottle you’ll need.

S’well bottles come in a variety of styles, from s’wirls of color in matte finishes to shimmering solids with a glossy shine, so s’wing over to their website and have a look. The company’s mission is to rid the world of plastic bottles while supporting charities that make s’weeping improvements to drinking water safety and access for communities throughout the world, so ditch the plastic and make the s’witch to S’well.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

S’well Bottles

Cider House Yules

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Holidays

Cider House YulesThe members of my family are not big drinkers, so our holiday table is always strewn with a selection of non-alcoholic beverages. Primary among these is sparkling apple cider, which is why, on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago, I decided to purchase a bottle of their Chowning’s Tavern Mulled Sparkling Cider to try at Christmastime. It is, without question, the most festive and flavorful sparkling cider I’ve ever tasted!

The Williamsburg Marketplace also offers a traditional Virginia Sparkling Cider, but I like to order the mulled version for the holidays. Infused with spices like cinnamon and cloves, each sweet sip encapsulates the season with the nostalgic flavors of an old-fashioned Christmas. Adults and children alike will enjoy a cold, crisp glass amidst the warmth of holiday gatherings with family and friends. Serve it at your own seasonal get togethers, or give it as a host/hostess gift in place of the usual bottle of wine.

Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia, and it makes a golden, delicious cider, so please stop to pick up a bottle—or a crate—on your annual flight next week, because I’ve been extra nice this year. Thanks a bushel!

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Chowning’s Tavern Mulled Sparkling Cider

 

I was dismayed this year to see that the Williamsburg Marketplace is not offering single bottles of the mulled cider for sale on its website. Since I don’t need a full case of 12 bottles, I contacted their customer service department and was told that single bottles are still available and can be ordered over the phone at (800) 446-9240 (Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST). Alternately, single bottles of the Virginia Sparkling Cider and Mulled Sparkling Cider can be purchased year-round from the Williamsburg Craft House by calling (757) 220-7747.