If You’ve Gotta Have the Bubbles…

With 2017 having just begun, a number of us are reflecting on how this year will really be the best yet.  In general, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I appreciate that many people like a date to mark the beginning of significant life change.  That date provides motivation and it has a personal meaning.  (Although it wasn’t planned, I even remember the date that I decided to pursue plant-based living over FIVE years ago, which I’ll be writing about next week.  Stay tuned!)

I published my first post to this blog on New Year’s Day 2015, so I truly understand the symbolism of a new year’s seemingly clean slate.  Although raising my two little ones has had more of an impact than I would like on how often I’m able to publish new posts, I’m keeping at it in my own time.  THANK YOU for sticking with me!  🙂

As 2016 dwindled down, I had a lot of people reaching out to me for guidance in diving into a plant-based diet or just eating more healthily in general.  Today’s post is inspired by one such inquiry. We are making over the beloved bubbly beverage soda!

Several months ago, a Facebook friend of mine was looking for a smarter alternative to soda, the one unhealthy item she just couldn’t seem to kick.  She isn’t the first person I’ve chatted with that can’t get enough of the bubbles; when she was getting married, my sister Petra—a longtime Coke lover—registered for a soda stream just to carbonate water in an effort to drink less cola.  I’ve also witnessed a number of friends throughout the years make the switch to diet sodas to hold on to the carbonation without the calories.

I’ve never been in to soda myself, but I definitely see the draw.  It isn’t so much the flavor or the sugar; it’s the bubbles.  They are tingly and refreshing and a welcome alternative to flat beverages like coffee, tea, and water.  I totally get it.  I can’t bear, however, watching people I care about continue to consume high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and dyes, and manmade sweeteners when I know that there is a better way to get that bubbly fix.

When I did consume soda (or pop, as we call it in Michigan) growing up, it was almost always Sprite.  The lemon-lime flavor is light and crisp and seems a perfect match for the bubbles.  So today, I’m making my own version of Sprite.

For starters, I’m using juice from a real lemon and a real lime.  As a result, my soda will be a bit cloudier than commercially produced versions, but I’m alright with that in the name of health.  Although highly dependent on the size of the fruit, the juice from one lemon contains roughly 15-20 calories and 50% of your daily recommended vitamin C and the juice from one lime contains roughly 10-15 calories and 30% of your daily recommended vitamin C.  Adding a couple of teaspoons of this freshly squeezed citrus juice to my soda is adding a negligible amount of calories and a noteworthy amount of vitamin C.  Yes!

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Secondly, I’m using an all-natural, plant-derived sweetener that is lower in calories than cane sugar.  You know that I don’t count calories (when you eat as healthily as I do, you certainly don’t have to), but knowing the facts is important when you’re trying to lose weight or tone up, so that’s why I’m sharing this information with you.  Xylitol is a sugar alcohol naturally occurring in the fibers of certain fruits and vegetables such as strawberries and cauliflower.  It contains 10 calories per teaspoon and does not have a significant impact on blood sugar levels.  So, we score again!  (If blood sugar, diabetes, or other issues related to sweeteners is of concern regarding your health and diet, make sure to do your own research on this or any product, of course!)

8 ounces of my lemon-lime soda contains roughly 30-35 calories and no artificial flavors or dyes.  8 ounces of Sprite contains 96 calories and the following ingredients: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium citrate, and sodium benzoate.  (Check it out on Coca Cola’s website if you need to see for yourself!)  I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of club soda, fresh juice, and xylitol better.

Have a soda stream?  Carbonate your own water and save yourself the sodium often found in club soda.  You could also get through the soda preparation more quickly by simply mixing your sweetener and water and dropping in one of my water infusers, which you’d already have on hand in your freezer.  Sweet!

And one final note, after many trials and tastes tests, I developed a soda formula that hits just enough of the sweet spot for me.  If you’re coming off of a serious soda addiction, you may need to start with a tad more xylitol until your taste buds adjust. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  SODA

  • 8 ounces carbonated water –> I’m using club soda.
  • 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed fruit juice –> I’m using 1.5 tsps lemon and 1.5 tsps lime.
  • 2.5 teaspoons natural, plant-derived sweetener –> I’m using xylitol.
  • OPTIONAL: pure extracts, spices, or herbs* to taste –> I’m not using any today.

*Can you imagine how delicious a sprig of fresh mint would be?!  Yum!

Combine all ingredients and stir until sweetener is dissolved.

Pour over ice.  If you make extra, be sure to stir before serving and keep in mind that like any soda, it may become flatter over time.

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Simple Spiced Guacamole

Like my salsa formula, my guacamole formula is also no-salt-required.  Since it is likely being consumed with salty chips or layered in one of my burrito bowls, there really isn’t a need for added salt.

What I love about guacamole and salsa alike is that they are made with simple, fresh, raw ingredients.  I add a bit of dimension with the addition of spices, but you certainly don’t have to.

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The foundation of a solid guacamole is, of course, the avocado.  Avocados are rich in vitamins, fiber, and healthy fat (one of the few fats in my plant-based diet, in fact).  Their creamy texture makes them perfect for dips, pasta sauces, and even dessert bases!  I’ve seen people whipping up puddings, frostings, and smoothies with avocados, which are nicely disguised by sweet fruits.  No matter how you use them, you are adding a nutrient powerhouse to your dish.

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In addition, while guacamole traditionally contains cilantro and lime juice, I’ve substituted other herbs and citrus fruits when I’ve been out with great results.  Your guacamole will take on a totally different flavor with parsley and lemon juice, for example.  Experiment with what you like and enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  GUACAMOLE

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer*

  • 2 lbs ripe avocados
  • ½ lb tomatoes, diced  –>  I’m using romas.
  • ½ of a small onion, finely diced  –>  I’m using red.
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh herbs  –>  I’m using cilantro.
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed citrus juice  –>  I’m using lime.
  • Minced garlic to taste  –>  I’m using 2 cloves.
  • Spices to taste (optional)  –>  I’m using ½ tsp each chili powder and paprika and ¼ tsp cumin.

*Halve the recipe to snack alone or with a friend.

Halve your avocados, remove the pits, and mash.  Mine are incredibly ripe, so they have a few brown edges – this is nothing to worry about!

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Stir in all remaining ingredients and dig in.

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It will keep in the fridge for several days, but it will brown in the process.  If you can’t get past the changed in color, I would eat the whole batch right away.  🙂

Ice Cold Water, Tea, & Smoothie Infusers

Today’s post features an idea I took from my sister, Petra, author of lifestyle blog 100 Tacks.  She has admitted to me on several occasions that she just doesn’t drink enough water, sometimes even forgetting to stay hydrated in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  While she doesn’t “dislike” the taste of plain old water, she’d rather drink other varieties.  Petra bought a Soda Stream not to make soda, but to carbonate her water.  Sometimes she drinks mineral water.  Other times, she infuses her water with fruit or herbs.

Infusing water has become increasingly popular, especially for those like Petra.  She told me that she will freeze ice cube trays with lemon juice and pop them into ordinary water for a slow release of added flavor.  Today, I’ll be making ice cube infusers that include citrus juice and herbs, whole fruits, and veggies.  When the cube melts, you can eat the “prize” inside!  🙂

For these cubes, I use citrus juice that comes from fruit I would never consider eating whole.  For instance, while you could make these cubes with orange juice, I’d rather just eat an orange; I’m never, however, going to chow down on a lemon or lime, so their juice makes for great infuser cubes.  Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits of these super foods:

LEMON:  Loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, lemon juice can prevent/fight many diseases and ailments, such as cancer, diabetes, kidney stones, constipation, and indigestion.  Lemon juice also promotes healthy hair, teeth, and gums, can ease pain, fade scars, and more.  Although unrelated to nutrition per se, lemon juice is a popular all-natural household cleaning product if you’re trying to use fewer chemicals.

LIME:  Lime juice is also packed with vitamins and antioxidants, and like lemon juice, can assist with constipation and indigestion.  It can also relieve oral ulcers, congestion, nausea, and body odor, and rejuvenate hair.  It protects eyes, aids in weight loss, and is instrumental in preventing/fighting diseases such as scurvy and heart disease.

You can freeze lemon and lime juice—ideally with as much of their pulp as possible—alone, but I like to take the flavor profile up a notch by adding in yummy extras like fresh mint, cucumbers, or fruit.  As the cubes slowly melt, their flavors will release into your water or iced tea.

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I also love the idea of dropping these into piping hot tea to get it to a more drinkable temperature more quickly…and with more flavor!  And smoothies need some icy element, right?  While I typically freeze fruit to avoid needing to use ice, these infusers would be an extra punch of flavor and nutrition in the blender, too.

A few tips:

  1. Buy/grow/obtain more citrus fruit than you think you’ll need.  I ended up juicing two lemons and seven limes to make just one ice cube tray’s worth of infusers.
  2. Check your juice for seeds or seed particles than may have fallen through the grates of the juicer.  The seeds are bitter.
  3. Don’t make too many of one infuser combination unless you’re 100% certain you’re going to like it; it would be a shame to waste the cubes!
  4. Play around with flavors that appeal to you, inspired by combinations you already know you like or think that you will like.  Consider fruit salads, cocktails, mocktails, and teas that you’ve tasted.

Hopefully, these flavor infusers will help you on your quest to drink more water.  I always have a glass around and don’t even leave the house without filling up a bottle.  Cheers!

FORMULA BASE:  WATER INFUSERS

Makes 1 ice cube tray of infusers

  • Approximately 1 ¼-½  cups freshly-squeezed citrus juice  à  I’m using lemon juice for some cubes and lime for the majority (I just happen to have more limes!).
  • 1 cup additives (i.e. fruits, veggies, herbs, etc.) (optional)  à  I’m using strawberries and blueberries in my lemon cubes and two different combinations in my lime cubes:  cucumber + mint and mint + blueberry.

Juice your citrus fruits and check for seeds or seed particles.  Place any additives that you’re using, if any, in the ice cube tray compartments.  Fill the compartments the rest of the way with juice.

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Freeze and enjoy in fresh water, iced tea, hot tea, or smoothies.

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