And the Oscar for Best Snack Goes To…

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Food, Food & Drink, Movies, Pop Culture, Recipes, Snacks, Television

Oscar night is my favorite night of television. For as long as I can remember, Kirsten has come over and we settle in on the couch for a long night of eating, drinking, and yelling at the television.

I love seeing all the beautiful dresses on the red carpet while I’m in comfy clothes on the couch with my dog in my lap. I was lucky enough to go to the Oscars once and, while it was a spectacular evening (Faye Dunaway cut in front of me in the bathroom line), it was super stressful.

As much as I love watching the show, (The monologue! The winners! The montage!) I look forward to our snacking tradition just as much. Every year it is the same: champagne (natch) and popcorn. And not just ANY popcorn…Oscar-worthy popcorn! Yes, friends, this snack should be on every table at the Governor’s Ball. Heck, if they gave out this popcorn in a gold-plated bowl instead of the Oscar, I think there would be zero no-shows.

So, set your DVR for Live from the Red Carpet, chill your champagne, and make yourself a big bowl of this game-changing snack that will make your microwave* variety popcorn as boring as the Price Waterhouse portion of the Oscars ceremony.


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TABASCO PARMESAN POPCORN

½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. canola oil
½ stick salted butter, melted
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. (or to taste) Tabasco sauce
salt
pepper

Get out your big pasta pot and heat canola oil on high heat until shimmering. Swirl it around so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add popcorn and put the lid on the pan. Once you hear the popcorn start to pop (this will take a few minutes), turn heat down to medium high and shake the pan a few times. When there are several seconds between pops, remove from heat. There are usually some kernels that don’t pop. That is O.K.

While popcorn is popping, melt the butter and mix in the Tabasco.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and toss with the butter/Tabasco mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and salt & pepper to taste, then toss again until mixed well.

Immediately start the second batch of popcorn, because the first bowl will be gone before Giuliana Rancic asks Greta Gerwig who designed her dress.

 

*Note from Kirsten: Kirsti has always insisted on making stovetop popcorn, which takes a little more time and effort than using the microwave, but which makes a HUGE difference. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried popcorn popped in hot oil on the stove. Don’t take shortcuts with pre-Oscars popcorn!

Second note from Kirsten: for those who don’t like spicy foods or want to put a different spin on this recipe, replace the Tabasco with 5-10 drops of liquid smoke.

 

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Poppin’ Mad

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

When popcorn lover Josh Chaney mastered his great grandmother’s secret 100-year-old vegan caramel recipe, he got a crazy idea: what if you made caramel corn…and froze it? The result was an extra crispy treat that could be stored in the freezer and remain fresh-tasting indefinitely. Along with his partner Sulmaz Rahimpour, the “Mad Popper” began experimenting with a variety of sweet and savory combinations, which culminated in the opening of California Frozen Poppers.

california-frozen-poppers

shabang

The whole ShaBang: cheddar, chile and lime.

The first thing you notice upon entering is the large chalkboard that lists the shop’s profusion of popcorn choices. I was given a chilly reception—in this instance, a good thing—with samples taken from a case typically used to serve ice cream. Spicy flavors like ShaBang, featuring cheddar cheese with chili and lime, are equally enticing frozen as candy-coated versions like Caked, a colorful confection that lets you freeze your cake and eat it too.

caked

“Let them eat Caked!”

Josh told me that his corn is air-popped and contains no oil or water, so only the topping freezes when it’s put in cold storage. This means that the popcorn can be thawed and refrozen a virtually unlimited number of times and will still taste crisp and delicious. When I asked how long the popcorn would last in the freezer, he didn’t know, because he’s had a batch on ice for six years and counting that continues to taste as fresh as the day he made it.

omg

“Like, OMG!” You’ll like OMG!

California Frozen Poppers sends its popcorn all over the country, but no special shipping or cold packs are required. It can be enjoyed at room temperature, or frozen upon arrival for an icy indulgence that will—theoretically—far outlast your restraint. In fact, your primary predicament will be choosing from their overabundance of offerings, including sweet, cheesey, nutty, and seasonal flavors. Standouts are Hefty Melons, which tastes like a spicy watermelon Jolly Rancher, and OMG!, a jaw-dropping medley of chocolate, caramel, sea salt, and peanut butter M&Ms that is NSFW (Not Safe For Waistline).

With specials and samplers, vegan and gluten-free options, and a constantly evolving lineup of flavors, you’d have to be mad not to pop over to California Frozen Poppers and get a taste of this cool concept.

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California Frozen Poppers

 

 

Pickled French Plums – The Condiment You Didn’t Know You Needed

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Starters

boat-street-pickled-french-plums-1I remember the olden days when fig jam and quince paste were exotic additions to a cheese plate. I used to really feel like an adult serving guests these fancy-pants confitures. It didn’t matter if your cheese platter was from Trader Joe’s or curated by a man with a handlebar mustache and bushy beard from the hipster cheese store—it was elevated. Now, even kids know what quince paste is, and fig jam is no longer special. You can buy it at Ralphs.

On this blog, we’ve written about rose petal jam and Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam as we quest for tasty additions to our plateau de fromage, but it has been a while since I’ve found something new that was worthy. Recently, I was visiting the cheese stall at my local Farmer’s Market and they introduced me to my new favorite: Boat Street Pickled French Plums.

boat-street-pickled-french-plums-2Made by acclaimed Seattle chef Renee Erickson, these Frenchie fruits will make your mouth sing. A winning combination of sour, sweet and spicy—the taste triumvirate—this spread creates a perfect storm when layered on top of some creamy, rich, soft cheese. Made with French plums, cider vinegar, cane sugar, coriander, mustard seed, arbol chili, orange peel, and bay leaf, it’s a complex explosion of flavor. It’s also amazing on sandwiches (grilled cheese—hold me!) or ice cream. Trust me, you will need several jars. Boat Street also makes pickled cherries, apricots, figs and raisins. So scratch that—you are going to need a boatload (see what I did there?).

There is nothing quite like a cracker spread with runny French cheese and a dollop of some magically fruity, smoky deliciousness and a chilled glass of Sancerre. Your mouth (and your guests) will say merci.

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Boat Street Pickles

 

Living on Liège

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Snacks, Sweets

Liège Waffles 1For the past week I’ve been rooting for Team U.S.A. while binge-watching the Olympics, but for most of the summer I’ve been supporting Team Belgium by binge-eating Liège waffles. Liège (lee-ejh) is a city in eastern Belgium that’s considered the birthplace of a dense, sweet waffle made with brioche-based dough and pearl sugar. It has a slightly chewy texture punctuated by crunchy bits of sugar on the inside that caramelize into a crispy coating on the outside.

My friend Mika is a pastry chef who turned me on to Liège waffles when she developed a mini obsession with this “technique Belgique” before moving to France last year, leaving the less talented bakers among us to resort to pre-made versions. While nothing compares to those gaufres in Liège that are hot from a food truck, I’ve come across some goodies in lieu that are bought from a freezer. Julian’s Recipe Sweet Belgian Style Waffles are individually-wrapped, ready-to-eat breakfast treats that can be found among the frozen items at many natural foods markets.

Liège Waffles 2When the cool weather of fall arrives, I’ll dust off my waffle iron and start making hot, hearty breakfast fare from scratch, but during the infernal heat of summer, I barely have enough energy to use the toaster. Fortunately, Julian’s Recipe waffles can be eaten right from the package—no cooking or syrup required. Those who like their waffles hot and crisp can toast them for a few minutes and enjoy a taste of European street food without setting foot on a plane.

I used to work with a Belgian lady who once brought me some pre-packaged pastries from Brussels when she returned from visiting her family. Among them was a Liège waffle that looked and tasted remarkably similar to those from Julian’s Recipe, which come in flavors like Cinnamon, Maple, Salted Caramel, and Vanilla. The satisfying crunch from the pearl sugar has me wolfing down these waffles the way athletes polish off protein bars (I’m carbo-loading for the marathon of Olympic coverage that still lies ahead).

With the world making an appearance in my living room this summer for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, I’m enjoying a staycation in front of the TV. The only Grand Tour I’m planning is through the freezer aisle, so as the athletes take their chances in Rio, I’ll be playing it safe at home and living on Liège.

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Julian’s Recipe Sweet Belgian Style Waffles

 

Julian’s Recipe waffles can be found at Whole Foods and Sprouts markets or purchased online from the Julian’s Recipe store and The Betty Mills Company.

 

Culture Cache

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Savories, Snacks

Culture Cache 1Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to entertain guests who have a variety of dietary restrictions and preferences. You yourself may be gluten-free, lactose intolerant, vegetarian, or vegan. It can be challenging to create a menu of foods to serve that will cater to all tastes and requirements, so you might find yourself returning to the same old standbys again and again. While many people are gonzo for garbanzos, I am sick of chickpea dips, so it’s time to ditch the ho-hummus and try something a little nutty.*

When chef Miyoko Schinner became a vegan decades ago, she focused her culinary talents on creating gourmet dishes without the use of animal products. However, like many people who transition to a plant-based diet, she missed the dairy cheeses she used to enjoy and sought to recreate them in her kitchen. The result is Miyoko’s Creamery: a range of aged, artisanal vegan cheeses that look and feel like they came from the dairy case and have flavors that are reminiscent of familiar favorites.

Culture Cache 2Made from a base of organic cashews and miso, these cultured nut products (labeling laws prevent Miyoko’s Kitchen from referring to its creations as “cheese” on the packaging) have a smooth, creamy texture and a piquant tang. While other vegan cheese alternatives often contain processed soy and long lists of additives, Mikoyo’s Creamery combines wholesome ingredients with a sophisticated presentation that will give you the wow without the cow.

The Fresh Loire Valley variety is wrapped in a wine-soaked fig leaf and brings a soupçon of French refinement to even casual get togethers when served with dried fig and olive crackers and a bottle of crisp Chardonnay. For a bit of dark drama, offer guests a noirish nosh of Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash on a platter of black grapes. The ash imparts a slightly smoky flavor, but for those (like me) who prefer a more intense per-fume, try the Aged English Smoked Farmhouse.

Culture Cache 3The online cheese shop at Miyoko’s Kitchen has an ever-revolving and evolving lineup of flavors, which often sell out quickly. I am fortunate to have a local market that carries a large selection from Miyoko’s Creamery, but those who have trouble finding certain varieties and are adventurous in the kitchen can make their own cultured nut products by following the recipes in Miyoko’s book, Artisan Vegan Cheese.

Whether you or your guests have food allergies, ethical concerns, or simply a desire to reduce your consumption of dairy products, get some culture and squirrel away a cache of vegan cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery for your next gathering of (health) nuts.

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Miyoko’s Creamery

 

Artisan Vegan Cheese can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble , or get an autographed copy from Miyoko’s Kitchen.

 

*Unfortunately, those with nut allergies are still left holding the hummus.

Hidden Jem

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Snacks, Sweets

Hidden Jem 1As I mentioned in a previous post, I dabbled with a strict raw food diet a number of years ago. While I didn’t stick with it for long, I discovered a few hidden gems among the store shelves and websites catering to raw foodists that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. One of these was an actual Jem: the Coconut Cardamom Almond Butter from Jem Nut Butters. This product has since been discontinued and replaced with a Cashew Cardamom spread, but it is just as swoon-worthy as the original.

Jem sprouted almond, hazelnut, and cashew spreads are full of enzymes and nutrition, but you won’t be thinking about the health benefits as you devour them by the jar, because these nut butters are true gourmet food items. Stone-ground at slow speeds for up to 48 hours, their texture is silky smooth with no separation of oils. They are sweetened with ingredients like coconut sugar and lucuma, which are nutrient-dense and low glycemic, yet have a richer, more complex flavor than refined cane sugar. Each product is raw, gluten-free, vegan, and 100% certified organic, so everyone* can love the spread and spread the love.

Hidden Jem 2The company produces four flavors of its sprouted nut butters—including Cinnamon Red Maca, Hazelnut Raw Cacao (move over, Nutella!), and Superberry Maqui Camu—but I still go nuts for the Cashew Cardamom. While there are a variety of ways to enjoy these spreads with sweet and savory foods alike, I have never managed to get past the phase of eating them straight from the jar with a spoon.

Other than online, I’ve only found Jem products in one natural foods store in my area. Like a precious gemstone, these delicious Jem stone-ground nut butters are a rare find, but it’s worth the effort to unearth them. In addition to larger jars, Jem offers a sampler pack containing each of its flavors in petite sizes. So whether you’re a raw foodist or a just a foodie, strike the mother lode and appraise all four of these scrumptious spreads.

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Jem Nut Butters

 

 

*Except those with tree nut allergies.

Flowing Smoke

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks

After a hot, dry October, fall finally arrived in Southern California this past week and I smelled wood smoke in the air for the first time on my nightly walk. The aroma instantly brings to mind cozy nights at home in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot cocoa warming your hands. But even though the season for hearth fires is short here in the southwest, I enjoy the pleasures of wood smoke year-round in my kitchen.

Flowing Smoke 1I have been crushing on liquid smoke for a while now. Just a few drops of this versatile seasoning lends a rich, earthy flavor to sweets and savories alike. From the now-defunct smoky black beans at El Pollo Loco (bring them back!) to the swoon-worthy Smoked Chocolate Chips from Hot Cakes, I have long had a fondness for the fume. Since most of us don’t own or want to fuss with a smoker, liquid smoke makes a delicious and convenient alternative.

There are many different types and brands of liquid smoke on the market, but my current favorite is Cedar House Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke. I have added it to black and baked beans, sprinkled it on pizza and eggs, and mixed it into hot chocolate and ice cream (try it with salted caramel). You can also add a dash or two to melted chocolate and pour it into molds for your own smoky chocolate bar. Top with a toasted marshmallow and sandwich between two graham crackers and you’ll be singing Kumbaya in no time. Campfire Girls, eat your hearts out!

By far, my favorite way to enjoy liquid smoke is in buttery popcorn tossed with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. Any way you like it—alder, hickory, mesquite—experiment and have fun. You just might discover an indispensable addition to your culinary repertoire…and that’s not blowing smoke!

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Cedar House Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke

 

Flowing Smoke 2SMOKY PARMESAN POPCORN

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp. canola or coconut oil*
½ cup popcorn kernels
3-4 Tbsp. butter or Earth Balance spread†
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese†
liquid smoke
salt and pepper

Directions:
Pour the oil in a 4-quart stock pot and heat over a medium flame for about a minute. Add the popcorn kernels and shake the pot slightly to coat them with oil. Cover pot with a lid, leaving a small opening at the edge to vent the steam. When the kernels begin to pop, move the pot gently back and forth over the flame in a continuous motion until the popping slows down to several seconds between pops. Immediately take the pan off the stove, remove the lid, and empty the popped corn into a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small pan on the stove or in a microwave. Add a few drops of liquid smoke to the melted butter and stir to blend. (I like a lot of liquid smoke and give the bottle a few good shakes into the butter, but you may want to start with a small amount and add more to your taste.) Pour the melted butter evenly over the popcorn and toss until popcorn is thoroughly coated. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste, then toss again to mix well. Grab a large stack of napkins and enjoy!

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*I prefer the crispiness of popcorn popped in oil, but you can make yours in an air popper or other popcorn maker, if you prefer. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

†You can veganize this recipe by replacing the butter with Earth Balance and the Parmesan cheese with ¼ to ½ cup of nutritional yeast. Earth Balance is sold at most supermarkets. Nutritional yeast can be found at many natural foods stores and vitamin shops.

That’s My Jam!

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

That's My Jam 1I have a problem with condiments. It’s not the taste (although, don’t get me started on relish), it’s the loitering. As a single person, a bottle of ketchup can sit on the door of my refrigerator for months. And yellow mustard? That’s once or twice a year, tops. Spying the partially used bottles every time I look in the fridge is almost as upsetting as watching the contents wash down the drain when I finally decide to dump them.

Jams and jellies tend to go faster, but they can still overstay their welcome—with one notable exception. Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam is so delicious that I have trouble keeping it on the shelf. It is, quite possibly, the most swoon-worthy thing I have written about on this blog to date.

That's My Jam 2My good friend Mika, a pastry chef and foodie extraordinaire, turned me on to this sweet and spicy spread several years ago when she discovered it at a local farmer’s market. While the label recommends serving the jam as a condiment or glaze for meats, we at The Swoon Society like to spoon it atop baguette slices that have been heaped with Saint-André triple-crème cheese. If you serve this as an appetizer, be prepared for guests who are too full to do more than pick at the main course.

Not content to take a supporting role, the fiery, smoky flavor of Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam shines when paired with simple foods. For an unexpected treat, heat a little of the jam and pour it over vanilla ice cream. The casein protein in dairy products helps to neutralize the spiciness of the chipotle pepper, while the cold ice cream cools the fire. (Vegans can enjoy Jimmie’s on non-dairy cream cheese and coconut milk ice cream, but these foods do little to soothe the burn.)

That's My Jam 3Uncle Berch’s Foods only sells Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam in packs of three, four, or five jars, but don’t let that discourage you from trying it. You will tear through those jars and find yourself ordering more to give away to friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors alike. Keep some on hand to use as host/hostess gifts, but make sure to always hold back a jar or two for yourself, or you’ll inevitably dip into your stash.

I’m not sure who this Jimmie is (or Uncle Berch either, for that matter), but he knows his way around a pepper. In addition to the original, he makes three other Chipotle varieties, as well as versions with Red Fresno Chili, Habañero and Ghost Pepper. The label quotes Jimmie as saying, “It’s easy to make things hot. It’s hard to make it taste good.” You can’t exactly set it to music, but his flavors completely rock. Jam on!

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Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam

 

Saint-André triple-crème cheese can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many gourmet cheese shops.

Better Late July Than Never

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Snacks

Better Late Than Never 1It might be early August, but it’s never too late to try these Bacon Habañero Tortilla Chips from Late July. As some of you know, I have a fondness for the chip, so I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss these since they were introduced in January, but a recent special at my local market brought them to my attention and they are seriously swoon-worthy.

The term “bursting with flavor” is overused, but it applies in this case. Chip Review raves, “[W]e’re willing to bet that these are probably the most bacon-y bacon flavored chips that we’ve ever tried!” And that’s saying something, since they also happen to be vegan. That’s right, no Babes were harmed in the making of this snack, so babes—and boys—of all bents can enjoy them. And don’t be intimidated by the infamous pepper on the label. While some reviewers have complained that the seasoning doesn’t have the scorching heat of true habañero, I appreciate that I don’t need to consult a Scoville scale or put my doctor on speed dial before tearing into a bag of these chips. The blend of spices provides a pleasant, yet potent, heat that deliciously complements the smoky sweetness of the bacon flavor.Better Late Than Never 2

Bacon Habañero is one of four flavors in Late July’s line of Taco Truck-Inspired Tortilla Chips. I’ll probably pass over the Crispy Yellow Corn on my way to try Nacho Chipotle and Jalapeño Lime, but that’s assuming I can break away from this bright red bag anytime soon. In addition to being suitable for vegans, these chips are gluten-free and made from organic corn and non-GMO oils and seasonings, so get ‘em while they’re hot and save some bacon by stocking up when they’re on special. The next time I see a sale, I plan to buy enough to last me until late July.

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Late July Bacon Habañero Clasico Tortilla Chips

 

Late July snacks can be found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many natural foods stores.

Join the Popsicle Revolution!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Sweets

Popsicle 1Popsicle. A happy little word that conjures memories from childhood summers, when there wasn’t anything else to do but sit on the porch with the neighborhood kids and fight over who got the last cherry one. We didn’t care that we were sticky or that it was blazing hot outside. Give a kid a popsicle and all is right in her world.

Today, popsicles have been enjoying a renaissance. I first encountered this Popsicle Revolution when People’s Pops took Brooklyn by storm with their handmade pops made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. With flavors like Raspberry & Basil, Blueberry & Buttermilk, and Apricot & Lavender, I was on board with this Frozen Confection Train.

Popsicle 2Shortly after that, I heard of a place tantalizingly named Suck It Sweets in Studio City.* Oh, my. I could drive there. And I did. And it was Awesome.

I had their Cherry Cobbler pop and, may I say, it was not disappointing. SO not disappointing.

Sometime later, while cruising the frozen section at Whole Foods, I stumbled upon paletas. These are Mexican ice pops made from Mangoes and Chilies and Hibiscus and Coconut and a myriad of other wonderful, regional ingredients. ¡Muy deliciosos!

The signs were unmistakable. My mission became clear. I promptly ordered the following gear: pop molds, sticks, and the bible of frozen confections—the People’s Pops recipe book. I started out classic…trying out Straight-Up Raspberry for a visiting relative. Then I attempted their Blackberry & Rose. Both were Crazy Good.

Popsicle 3

Monin Violet Syrup

My latest fave is Cucumber & Violet. When I saw that recipe in the book, I gasped out loud.** It was serendipitous, because I had just bought some Monin Violet Syrup and was itching to try it. This violet syrup has the truest violet flavor I’ve tried. I can’t wait to experiment with it more. And I have always loved cucumber in spa water and cocktails—I couldn’t wait to try these pops!

They are super easy to make. The only ingredients are:

cucumbers
simple syrup
lemon juice
violet syrup

Popsicle 7

Simple. The taste? Fresh Floral Deliciousness. Neither flavor is overpowering, and they aren’t overly sweet, just really refreshing—perfect on a hot afternoon or even as a palate cleanser during a dinner party. Seriously, friends, who would not be absolutely delighted by a Cucumber & Violet frozen pop between courses on a summer night? Anyone who wouldn’t is not invited to my dinner parties! Even my husband Aaron, who is continually barraged by my floral flavored food, loved them.

I admire the gang from People’s Pops for taking a common treat and turning it into something unexpected and innovative. I’m happily working my way through their recipe book—Vive la Révolution!

 

CUCUMBER & VIOLET POPS (adapted from People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop)

Popsicle 41 ¼ lbs cucumbers (about 2 or 3), peeled
2/3 cup simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup violet syrup (preferably Monin), or to taste

SIMPLE SYRUP

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water

Simmer sugar and water in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Makes about 1 cup.

Purée the cucumbers in a food processor and add to a medium-sized bowl with a pouring spout. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup. Add the violet syrup, tasting as you go, until you reach delicious violet goodness.

Pour into ice pop molds, leaving a bit of room at the top, since the mixture expands as it freezes. Insert sticks and freeze for at least 4 to 5 hours.

Popsicle 5

Unmold the pops by running warm water over the mold until they release easily. Give an adult a popsicle and all is right in their world.

Popsicle 6

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People’s Pops

 

Monin Violet Syrup is available from the company’s website. You can purchase pop moldswooden popsicle sticks, and the People’s Pops recipe book from Amazon.

 

* This location has unfortunately closed. Come back to me!

**For more violet goodness, see previous posts on The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur and Kusmi Violette tea.