Two new sodas: Mango-Cinnamon Soda and Raspberry Mint Sparkler

Since last posting, TWO sodas have made the rounds through the soda keg at the Makerspace. I made a simple one for the spring, a Mango-Cinnamon Soda that was extraordinarily light. When that was exhausted in less than a month, I made a more labor intensive but well worth it Raspberry Mint Sparkler.

Later this summer, I’ll be harvesting borage from my garden – a common ingredient in some older soda recipes.

Mango-Cinnamon Soda


  • 128-192 oz. mango nectar
  • 2 Tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup simple syrup, freshly made
  • 3.5 gallons water, carbonated in a cleaned and sanitized keg

Obviously, clean your keg, and add 3.5 gallons of clean water. Carbonate.

On the stove, prepare the simple syrup and stir in the cinnamon. You can add more if you like. Once it reaches a boil, lower to low heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Strain and let cool.

Mix into the keg all of the mango nectar and the cinnamon simple syrup. Allow to carbonate for one full day at least.

Note: I used 128 oz of mango nectar for mine – and it was pretty light on flavor. I recommend going closer to 192 oz to get more flavor – but the Makerspace members assured me they preferred the light flavor of the version I made.


Raspberry Mint Sparkler


  • 1 44 oz (49 oz by wt) raspberry puree – Oregon brand is available at most homebrew stores – strain so that most of the pulp is left out (this will take some time)
  • 5-6 cans of raspberry lemonade concentrate
  • 2.5 cups of fresh mint, plucked from stems, bruised and added to 2 cups of white rum. Shake the jar of rum/mint repeatedly and leave overnight. Strain infused rum, discard mint leaves
  • 3.5 gallons carbonated water in a clean keg

Obviously, clean your keg, and add 3.5 gallons of clean water. Carbonate. Straining the raspberry puree and preparing the mint from the stems will both take a while. Add the raspberry juice, the lemonade concentrate, and the mint infused rum to the keg. Mix thoroughly, and carbonate for at least one full day. Garnish glasses of soda with a sprig of mint for a nice touch.

This soda is sweeter, and has a beautiful rose color. The puree is the most expensive element, but should be available at most Homebrew supply stores.


Clementine Honeysuckle Soda

In order to bridge the time between winter and spring with something lighter than the pumpkin soda, and still have something of a “seasonal” soda, I started investigating recipes that use honeysuckle.  I found that most use of honeysuckle in beverages was in creating a simple syrup for use in cocktails. Simple syrup is actually not that different from soda syrup – just usually lighter in flavor. I also wanted to use a citrus, since it both blends well with honeysuckle, isn’t overpowering, and represents something more readily available in winter. That being the case, my experiments wound up ending in the following creation:

Clementine Honeysuckle Soda (5 gallons)

  1. First carbonate 4 gallons of water in a clean and sanitized keg. Carbonate for 2-3 days.
  2. On a stovetop, bring 5 cups of white sugar, 5 cups water, and 250 blossoms of honeysuckle (I used dried, but fresh would work) to a boil. Once you reach a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer (while stirring) for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Strain out the honeysuckle twice into a clean, sanitized container, to be refrigerated overnight.
  4. The same day, zest four clementines, and move the zest to a small container with a minimal volume of vodka. Let the zest extract into the vodka overnight.
  5. The next day, strain the vodka of the zest, and add the liquid to your simple syrup. Also add 1-2 teaspoons of orange extract, depending on how much orange flavor you wish.
  6. Add the simple syrup to the carbonated water in the keg, along with food coloring if desired. Top up with water to the five gallon mark.
  7. Let carbonate one full day and serve.
  8. Optional: spike with vodka.


Pumpkin Soda

After over a year of debating whether to give pumpkin soda a shot, I finally kegged a pretty good first batch. I learned in initial testing to use real, cooked sugar pumpkins instead of canned pumpkin (the canned pumpkin had a funky smell), and to lean a little on the spices and apple juice to give it a well rounded taste. The below recipe met with favorable reviews:


Pumpkin Soda (5 gallons)

  1. First carbonate 4 gallons of water in a clean and sanitized keg. Carbonate for 2-3 days.
  2. Cut one 4-5 lb sugar pumpkin in half. Preheat the oven to 350F and start a teakettle full of water boiling. Clean out the pumpkin of seeds and loose flesh and place face down on a baking sheet in the oven. Save the seeds to roast. Add 1/2 inch of boiling water to the baking sheet, around the cut pumpkin, and let bake for 1 – 1.5 hours.
  3. Let the cooked pumpkin cool in the oven overnight. All future steps should be performed with sterilized equipment only.
  4. The next day, scoop out the pumpkin into a food processor. Process thoroughly, scraping with a spatula to make sure there are no lumps. Add 4-5 ground cinnamon sticks and ~20 cloves (use a spice grinder). You can add fresh nutmeg at this time as well.
  5. Add 12 ounces of frozen apple juice concentrate. Continue to mix.
  6. Strain mixture through a metal strainer into a pitcher, using the spatula to push the mixture through. If desired, strain a second time through a cheesecloth lined metal strainer (there may be grit from the spices or a little pulp from the pumpkin without the second step).
  7. Add 900-950 grams of brown sugar to the pitcher and mix with the spatula.
  8. Add the thick mixture to the 4 gallons of carbonated water in the keg. Add an additional 18 ounces of apple juice concentrate and mix by inverting the full keg.
  9. Let carbonate one full day and serve.
  10. (Optional: spike with rum or cinnamon schnapps.)


Fred and Ginger, circa 2011

What a great day.

How to use garden staples

We turned over our garden recently – added $40 of compost, double dug the whole plot, weeded it (yes, the grass was moving in even this early), and formed true paths by “raising” beds using 2×6 boards acquired from ReSource. It all looks nice and accessible now, and just needs the drip irrigation rearranged and seeds to be planted!

One treasure was finding that the carrots we had left in the ground all winter were truly kept as if in a root cellar. I stumbled upon this trick last year, when I forgot to pull up all of the carrots, and found some in the early spring that were tasty and perfectly preserved. Now that we have 7 lbs, 3 ounces of carrots in the kitchen, it’s time to make braised carrots. We’ve been in luck with the following recipe, inspired by the book “Fast, Fresh and Green” (an excellent vegetable cookbook):


Braised Carrots

1. Combine 1 tablespoon of cranberry or tangerine juice, 2 teaspoons of maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon of sherry vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Cut 1/2 tablespoon of butter into four pieces and place in the fridge.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a 10 inch straight sided saute pan at medium high until melted. Add 1 lb of carrots sliced into either medallions or thin sticks and 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and toss well. Place the carrots in as much of a single layer as you are able and cook, covered (no stirring) until the bottoms are slightly brown (about 5 minutes). Toss the carrots using tongs, until both sides are turned at least a little brown and the carrots are a little limp (another 5 minutes, the pan should be darker now).

3. Carefully pour 1/4 cup of vegetable broth in and quickly cover. Let the carrots cook until only 1-2 tablespoons of the liquid remains, about 1-2 minutes. Uncover and reduce the heat to medium low. Add the juice/syrup/vinegar mixture, as well as the cold 1/2 tablespoon of butter. Turn the carrots in the mixture gently with a silicone spatula. Scrap the brown bits off the pan and make sure the carrots are well coated with the mixture and the butter is all melted (3o sec to 1 minute). Remove the pan from the heat and add 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh tarragon. Serve warm.


Thrift shopping

My brother and I meet at the thrift store halfway home from my work sometimes. We like to judge the couches (he likes long, ugly couches for their underdog factor and their ability to handle tall firefighters looking to take a nap); look at brightly colored clothes, and browse the home goods for various projects we like to do.

A while back I picked up a santa suit – a not-great handmade one, made of an athletic jacket with fake fur stitched around the cuffs and edges. Along with some terrible red 80s pants, and a hat and boots at home, I was all set. The cashier was soooo excited. “Who’s going to be santa??” she sang in an excited voice. “I am,” I said, and she seemed taken aback (I’m not particularly santa-like in appearance). I smiled and paid.

I don’t think she wanted to know it was for a drunken parade full of santas. That is definitely not what she had in mind.

Worried about a friend

A member of our warehouse-art-cooperative-project-thingy had a terrible car accident on Thursday. The car ended up upside-down, smashed into a tree off of a major highway, and our friend was thrown from the car. Her husband is also badly hurt, and both are in the hospital. She’s in an induced coma with severe edema, two broken legs, and great concern about strokes and her spinal cord. It’s hard to think about other things. I hope she pulls through and that they both make a full recovery.

UPDATE: Moon did not pull through. There is a benefit planned for February, and we are doing what we can to financially and emotionally give support to her husband, Martin. Sad news for our cooperative.

Honey Cream Soda

A new season, and I’ve cleaned out the sticky, dark pulp from the Sparking Blackberry Lemonade in the soda keg. Now on tap for the autumn is a more traditional soda – a cream soda flavored with vanilla, brown sugar, raisins and honey.

Years ago, raisins were the primary way to flavor sodas – and even wine in places in Mongolia. They add not only sweetness, but a fruity tone and if you are naturally carbonating your soda, can be a source for your yeast fermentation, since it is a great food source for yeast. In this recipe, I added honey since it is one of my preferred sweeteners, but I’d modify it next time to shift more of the sweetness to come from white sugar (both honey and brown sugar add flavors along with the sucrose).

Honey Cream Soda

  1. Clean and sterilize your 5 gallon keg. Add 3 – 3.5 gallons clean water and carbonate for 2-3 days.
  2. In a large pot, boil 1 gallon water. Add 0.56 cups chopped raisins, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1.75 cups white sugar, 1.75 cups honey and 6.5 cups brown sugar*.
  3. Let cool. Use ice packs on the side of the pot if you want to (slightly) speed up this process. Once the mixture is close to room temperature, add 1.25 teaspoons cream of tartar and 0.75 cups vanilla. Stir and strain very well to remove all raisin and cinnamon pieces.
  4. Add to the keg and mix with inversion. Add more clean water if needed. Carbonate for one more day.

*Next time, I’ll shift the balance of sugar more to white sugar to allow the other flavors to shine through: perhaps 4 cups sugar, 1.5 cups honey, 4.5 cups brown sugar.

The color is a light brown, just slightly darker than a commercial cream soda. Vegan friends have differed on whether this is a truly vegan recipe – depending on whether they choose to consume honey or not. Be sure to explain your ingredients to people so that they can make their own choices. The flavor is deliciously honeyed and barely spicy, and the raisins add a difficult to identify fruitiness.

Animation, new and old

I’ve been a big fan of animation shorts since I was a kid. My mom would grab my brother and I and head to the local university’s student center, which showed many animation festivals in between the standard artsy and independent film fare. The animation shorts at that time came heavily from Canada (whose film board seems to do a better than average job of funding animation) but were varied, of several different languages and styles, and certainly not all rated G. I was lucky (as I now see it) to have parents who shared lots of art and media with me, with a focus on figuring out what was neat about each piece.

I have hungered for good animation shorts ever since, and will join the hipster-ish cry for more independent pieces, things that reflect individual creators and concepts, instead of a future marketing plan. A short is a lovely way to explore a new art medium like animation and requires good storytelling for it to make it out into the world at large.

Lately, I’ve come across two animation bits that I really like. One old, one new – and both using stop-motion techniques, one of my favorite kinds of animation.

Cheburashka is an adorable “creature unknown to mankind” whose name comes from his tendency to “topple” over. Produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a handful of shorts starring him and his crocodile friend Gena, they get into adventures together that bring out the strange and adorable in Soviet Russia. It is surreal to watch Gena fix a corporation’s big oil leak into a river and Cheburashka pine for the opportunity to be a Pioneer (very similar to American Cub Scouts).

This youtube user has been kind enough to subtitle most of the episodes in English here.

The newer animation short is from a Canadian (yep, lots of animators up there it seems) who has been playing with his toys for a long time. This short in particular makes the anthropomorphization of a popular 1980s toy seamless. The music works well too – I look forward to other non-Transformers shorts from him.

It’s so nice to discover new animation bits. Post more in the comments if you’ve seen some neat ones lately.

An Amazing Story

On Wednesday of last week, a former grad student was in touch with some friends from Russia. Their summer job lined up in the U.S. had fallen through, but they had received a call from a guy who told them to take a bus from D.C. to New York – to meet him at a club at midnight to get jobs as hostesses.

Any alarms going off yet? Luckily for these two Russian girls, their friend did suspect something fishy – and even from a road trip through Wyoming, he called upon help at Metafilter to work on preventing what sounded like a textbook case of human trafficking.

The full thread of what happened is here. It’s pretty long, but a breathless read if you have the time. There’s a good summary from Mother Jones magazine, and it may still be unfolding as the authorities did get involved.

It blows my mind that even rational people in reach of good technology, transportation and friends can be lured into this trap. Slavery is more rampant now than it was 300 years ago, it is just couched in more convoluted terms of owing money for room and board, or being “taken care of” instead of being a burden to the family. From wikipedia,

“The organization Anti-Slavery International defines slavery as “forced labour.” By this definition there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world today, more than at any point in history and more than twice as many as all African slaves who survived being taken to the Americas in the Atlantic slave trade.”

It is relieving to see how in this case how many strangers worked together so quickly (over a 24 hour period, practically) to keep these girls from falling into a bad, bad situation. And knowing both what this looks like (job offers fall through, then once the targets arrive in the U.S., a meeting is set for a job that doesn’t seem like something that would need to recruit employees from abroad); and who are some helpful sources (Polaris Project is recommended here) is information I’m glad to pass along.

Newest/Oldest Mohawk

Looking good, Jana!

Do mohawk leftovers make up enough hair to make hair booms?

So here’s a mohawk question: let’s say I intend to be fewer than 200 miles from the Gulf Coast in three weeks, happily dispensing mohawks to those who ask. Do you think 10-20 mohawk leftovers would be enough to send to Gulf Coast relief efforts in which hair is being collected to make hair booms to help with the oil spill? Discuss.

Firecracker Stage Presence

Tuesday I got to see one of my favorite bands live: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Unfortunately, it was not a full show – just about 7 songs and discussion for a taping of a radio show, but the band lit up the stage, and Ms. Jones shimmied her way through the power packed songs. If you haven’t checked them out yet, there are snippets to listen to at Daptone Records, and they have a new album out next month. Turns out, after leaving town, they headed to Austin, where a music critic more eloquent than I says:

“Fifty-something Jones was a session soul singer turned Riker’s Island Corrections Officer, until new vintage act the Dap Kings reanimated her career in 2001. With her latest LP of new material, I Learned the Hard Way, just weeks from releasing to what will be very positive reviews, the nine-piece was on fire at SXSW, playing triple and quadruple the number of events of any other band. The 1 a.m. performance was Jones’ third of the day, and she still went at it with more tenacity than any rested indie band. Title track “I Learned the Hard Way” is pure dynamite live, an original, daringly structured track that feels as if it was beamed directly out of the late Sixties. The structure is so tricky the band flubbed one of the transitions — likely a consequence of exhaustion — but recovered gracefully. Up-close, it’s apparent that the Dap-Kings have an entire grammar of eye contact at their disposal. They are the pinnacle of the profession and they simply could not be frazzled as Jones shimmied, cajoled, and howled her way deeper into a late-career renaissance defined by winning over new fans one stunned soul at a time.”

From David Downs review

BTW – “I Learned the Hard Way” was first performed live at the show I was at Tuesday. Go Dap Kings!

March garden plans

Last Sunday we got up early for the mandatory garden meeting. In an established garden like this, there is a lot of structure, or at least, lots of leaders in fleece with rules about a lot of things. (Yes, I am a little bitter that cane fruit are verboten, since I think a Marionberry bush would be a great addition, especially to counter the aggressive hops from last year – but I guess that won’t happen here.)

We did have the opportunity to share what we do know with some brand new gardeners (70 new across the city). Namely, that installing drip irrigation is both easier and cheaper than you might think given the city’s rebate program. And I did get to ask about peonies, the other long-term investment plant I’m considering. Peonies and ants go together like any symbiotic partnership, and I’m not sure what the ants will mean for the rest of my garden. However, I didn’t hear any warnings – just explanations about planting depths for peonies – so I think I’ll be going for it. And as the sky seems to indicate snow again for tonight, I’ll just have to type up my notes for what I hope to have bursting in green in the garden in another couple months.

Pound Cake Experimental Series

So, having acquired a bundt pan from a thrift store, and my grandmother’s mixer (I am not a baker good enough to automatically deserve it, but I do OK, and hope to improve my skills through the kind inheritance); I wanted to make good pound cake. My mother has always made excellent pound cake – the kind that comes out on a clean platter for simple consumption by guests – it usually needs no more than sliced strawberries, and stands up on its own when my family eats slices later that night, or the next day, or whenever no one else is looking.

However, Alton Brown made a strong argument for some purity in preparation, so I first tried his recipe. Verdict? NOT the correct pound cake. It turned out with essentially no golden brown crust of baked sugar, and dried out very quickly, with a crumb that didn’t hold up to a fork. Next, I tried my mother’s recipe (below). Screw purity. This cake was very close to the real thing – moist crumb, golden-ish crust, delicious flavor that needed nothing at all, apparently, since most if it is now gone.

As a scientist, however, it bugs me that I still haven’t achieved the truly golden brown crust I remember from childhood. I highly suspect that either my oven conditions or the pan I use are causing the issue. This pan in particular is a heavy pan, with a non-stick coating that makes it quite simple to de-pan cakes, but since the last chocolate cake made in this pan also had no good “crust”, I think it’s preventing heat accumulation at the surface that would create the higher density at the edge. Next experiment is to use my mother’s pan, which while heavy, does not have a non-stick coating. Any other suggestions are welcome for Trial #3 of Perfect Pound Cake, too…


1/2 cup or 1 stick butter

1/2 cup shortening*

3 cups sugar (reduce 3 tablespoons.)

3 1/2 cups flour

5 large eggs (or 6 medium or 7 small)

1/2-teaspoon baking powder

1/4-teaspoon salt

1-cup milk

1-teaspoon vanilla and lemon extract

Cream butter and shortening.

Add sugar gradually.

Add eggs one at a time.

Mix dry ingredients together separately.

Add dry ingredients alternately with milk.

Add vanilla and lemon extract.

Bake in a heavily greased (with shortening), floured Bundt pan at 325° until golden brown, approximately 1 hour.  Let cake cool in pan 15 minutes.  Then turn upside down on plate.

*It is now possible to find shortening that is: trans fat free, vegetarian, and butter flavored. Not such a bad deal to get the correct cake.

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