When homemade is better and when it is not

I want to talk about two things here: Homemade soda and a packaged mix for pancakes.

In both cases, these are better than their opposites (bottled soda and homemade pancakes).

Go figure!

The soda saga
Diet soda is loaded with aspartame. And all sodas, diet and otherwise, clog our world with bottles and cans. So what is an almost vegetarian to do? Make our own. Truly. Let me explain.

Hello iSi and good bye Coca Cola
The iSi soda siphon is one of those too cool kitchen tools that is just plain fun to use.

This is how it works: You fill the siphon with water (tap water is fine). You insert a charger into the unit and, seconds later, you have carbonated water.

Do not read this paragraph if you are easily offended
It is so incredibly easy to make carbonated soda, that not only did it take me all of 12 seconds to teach the husband how to make some, but, in fact, he took it onto himself to make some later that same afternoon.

Then he wandered into my office, showed me his glass of carbonated water and proudly proclaimed he had made Poor Man's Perrier.

"I call it PiMP."

Vegetarian recipe for simple syrup
And what can you do with all that carbonated water? Well, you can take it and mix it with whatever you want. Such as simple syrup for some homemade soda. This is how.

Boil 1 cup water with 1/2 cup or 1 cup of brown sugar (use more if you like your soda really sweet) over a medium heat, stirring periodically, until the sugar is dissolved (ten minutes or so). Cool before using (or store in the refrigerator).

That’s it, folks.

Wait a minute. You want your syrup flavored? Okay. Just add a flavoring agent to your sugar / water mixture.
Add these to your mixture as it is boiling and strain just before using or storing:
- Lemon syrup: zest of one lemon (or the juice from a lemon)
- Ginger syrup: 1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
- Mint syrup: 1 1/2 cup minced mint leaves
- Cinnamon syrup: 2 cinnamon sticks
- Lime syrup: zest of one lime (or the juice)
- Lemon verbena: 1/2 cup fresh lemon verbena leaves
- Thyme syrup: 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Basil syrup: 1 bunch of minced, fresh basil
- Orange syrup: zest of one orange

Add these after your syrup had cooled (no straining needed):
- Vanilla: 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Raspberry: 1/4 cup of framboise liquor (or other liquor for a different taste)

Vegetarian recipe for homemade soda

8 ounces carbonated water (this is where the brilliant iSi soda siphon kicks in)
1 ounce of simple syrup

Mix!

The infamous (or famous) egg cream
You can also make a wacky little drink I (and millions of New Yorkers and Jews) like to call an egg cream.

Now, before you panic, there are no eggs in an egg cream and no cream (okay, there is milk). Fair warning: This is one of those things that you will either love or hate. No middle ground. Me? I love it.

Recipe for an Egg Cream
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup of chocolate syrup
1/2 cup of carbonated water from iSi Soda Siphon

Pour milk into a 12 oz. glass. Fill glass with carbonated water from the iSi Soda Siphon so that the white foam reaches the top of glass. Place spoon in glass. Pour chocolate syrup into glass, taking care to hit the spoon while pouring. Stir drink quickly, mixing the syrup with milk without deflating the foam. Serve immediately.

It’s not a diet drink, but . . .
Not only is the iSi soda is it a whole lot healthier than the aspartame-ridden diet soda, but it is so much more versatile, lending itself to a world of flavors.

And it’s fun.

So is all packaged food bad?
I would be inclined to say yes, yes it is. But then, I tripped across a pancake mix that is healthier than the white flour recipe I’ve been using for my homemade pancakes. Healthier, and easier, too.

Highland Sugarworks pancakes
See, what you do is you pick up their Organic Gift which comes with a 24-ounce package of Organic Multigrain Pancake Mix and an 8-ounce glass bottle of Organic Medium Amber Maple Syrup.

Then you give it to the husband and tell him to make himself some pancakes. And you don’t tell him what is in the mix.

And this is why packaged is better. See, my husband would never make pancake mix from scratch. But this stuff? He's in the kitchen, whistling and flipping and having a good old time.

Delicious pancakes through and through
I thought the pancakes (and the syrup) was amazing. But, even better, he thought they were amazing. So much so, in fact, that he made them again the next day.

A miracle!

If you just want great maple syrup . . .
Now, I have to admit it is pretty easy to make healthy pancakes yourself, so if you are already doing that and just need some maple syrup, this is a pretty good source for some amazing syrup. What I did was get the Grade A Sampler. This comes with three glass bottles of maple syrup: Fancy, Medium and Dark Amber. See, the plan wasn’t just to have a lot of the stuff, but to have three version so I could do a taste test. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

(FYI, the third time the husband made pancakes, I threw in two generous handfuls of blueberries. Delicious!)