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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Homemade Organic Almond Milk

Just like it sounds kiddies; Organic Almond Milk, made from scratch.


Simply put: because it's good, and good for you.  

We haven't drank dairy milk for almost a year now, and not only does Almond Milk fill that gap for the vast majority of intents and purposes, but it's also quite delicious.

In any case, I think that no one would disagree that almonds, almond butter (we've also kicked the peanut butter out of the kitchen), and almond milk are all great things to include in your diet regardless of what that diet might be.

So, here you'll see our first (and last - more on that after) assay in making almond milk.

What we used:

1 package raw organic almonds.

1 Nut Milk Bag.

These are available in most kitchen stores these days, although I bought mine off Amazon for like $3.00.  If you don't have a nut milk bag, you can use a few layers of cheesecloth and a funnel.  This just makes it easier, and cleaner.  Plus it is re-usable!

About 1 litre of purified water.

A high-powered blender like a Vitamix or Ninja Ultima.

A funnel, and some sort of vessel.

Other than that it is pretty much self-explanatory.

Soak the almonds in some water overnight, and it softens them nicely for their upcoming, exciting and ultimate, pulverization.

After several hours, they start to froth a little bit.  That surprised me.  I had rinsed them very well (literally, washed them in clean water).  I was tempted to use this water as the water in which the almond suspension would be suspended.  If you've followed my cooking habits in the past, or if you know me, I am always loathe to lose nutrients, and it seemed to me that there would be some nutrients in that frothy water.

Well, after tasting it tentatively, I found it extremely bitter and disgusting.  So I opted to throw that out, re-rinse the almonds, and use some fresh purified water.

But then it's just GO time.

After only a few seconds on 'high' power, this was quite clearly almond milk.

But, I'm a perfectionist with a little bit of O.C.D., so I blended it for quite some time after that.

The result was almost 2 litres of almond milk.

And it was really quite delicious.

Anyway, drinking it like this would have been really chunky... so that's where the nut milk bag comes in.

Pour it in there in batches, and then gently squeeze it out.

You can see that the bag filters out quite a bit, and the resultant 'milk' is very smooth indeed.

In fact, there was so much residue left over, I thought I'd save it for something.  I never did (and ended up throwing it out after a few days) but I think if I ever did this again, I'd probably find some use for it.

It looks much different than it felt.  In fact, it had a very, very fine consistency, and was more like flour than anything else.

Anyway, the milk though, was poured into one of my beautiful Weck pitchers.  You can see that I got almost exactly 1 litre, which was going to work perfectly.

The end result was surprisingly attractive, and delightfully delicious.

Even though this had a weck jar lid, it needs to be refrigerated.  So I stuck it in the fridge right away.

So... conclusions...

Pros of this endeavour include: 
  1. Very easy to make this way.
  2. Was the most delicious almond milk we'd ever tasted.
  3. Because I made it myself, I was aware of exactly everything that was in it.
There were cons, however... and they included:
  1. Cost.  That package of organic almonds cost over $6.
  2. Time/effort.  Even though I say it was easy and quick, if we're comparing it to store-bought almond milk, it's still much more time-consuming.
  3. Significantly shorter shelf-(fridge)-life.  This went sour within 3 days only.  Although we came close to using it all up before this, I still had to dump some of it out after a few days.  :(
So, all-in-all, this was fun, and definitely a worthwhile test, but I can't say I'd ever really do it again.  It had significantly increased cost, time and effort for something which was admittedly better tasting, but which only lasted a fraction of the time a commercially-bought carton would.

I should say that it was pretty as well, because it was.  Perhaps when I have guests staying with us for a few days, it would be nice to serve this on the table.

Anyway... we continue to purchase store-bought almond milk, because it is much cheaper, and even though they suggest using it within a few days as well, I've had a 2 L carton last for weeks.

I should say that the brand of almond milk you choose, does matter.  Make sure you get one that has as few ingredients as possible, and especially, as few preservatives as possible.  Many (most) brands contain carrageenan which is ostensibly a stabilizer, but is really NOT NEEDED.  Anyway, try to avoid carrageenan.  Just because it comes from seaweed, does not necessarily mean it's good to ingest.

Anyway, the brand which we buy regularly, and quite enjoy, is called So Nice.  

In addition to using gellan gum as a stabilizer instead of carrageenan, it is also organic, and has a nice addition of some good vitamins too.  

Which is especially helpful if you are truly trying to replace dairy milk.

A 2L carton of this stuff is significantly cheaper than buying the almonds, and it lasts way longer.  Couple that with the fact that the stuff inside the carton is all organic and actually quite decent, I feel good about buying and consuming this product regularly. 

So, even though it was fun and delicious to make my own almond milk, I think the pros just don't outweigh the cons in this equation.  

Especially when there are some decent, cheaper, and vitamin-fortified commercial options out there.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Favourite Smoothie

So, still being new to the whole smoothie thing on a regular basis, I've yet to try out all the combinations. Well, I suppose there are too many combinations for any person to try them all anyway.

But, I do have a clear favourite so far.

One that IMHO combines and balances some really healthy power-foods with delicious taste and consistency of texture.

It is:

1 cup frozen Organic Canadian Wild Blueberries.
1 Organic Banana, peeled.
1 cup (compressed) Organic Kale.
1/8 cup Cranberry Juice.

This is what it looks like:

Mostly it tastes of blueberries with a tiny hint of banana and kale.  For which I'm grateful because I'm not the biggest fan of kale, nor anything cabbage-related to be truthful.

But this tastes really good.

Not just 'kale smoothie' good, but actually good.

The nutrients from blueberries and kale go without extolling (everyone knows they're super foods), but the banana is only there to add some natural sweetening, and the cranberry juice is really only there to help lubricate the blending of it.

As powerful as my Ninja Ultima blender is, it still can't just blend a bunch of frozen fruit that doesn't want to 'fall' into the blades because it's so sticky and solid.  So a touch of cranberry juice or almond milk (or even water if you like) is good to help things along.

Anyway, this stuff is really good.  And I'm starting to come around to the whole smoothie thing.  I mean, unlike juicing, smoothies are still whole food, and you lose zero nutrients by consuming them this way.

I've thought a lot about it.  The only real difference that I can come up with (and I suppose this could be perceived as negative) is that you lose out on the chemical digestion which occurs in the mouth upon chewing.  I seem to remember that there are a lot of enzymes in saliva that help with a 'primary' digestion occurring while still in the mouth, and which makes the 'secondary' digestion in the stomach that much easier.  
So, I suppose it might be a little harder on the stomach to eat/drink a smoothie, rather than chew the ingredients?

I dunno?

I think that that is still pretty negligible, and that the positive aspects of consuming fruit and vegetable smoothies still outweigh the negative.

Besides... they're fun.  And super good.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ninja Ultima Kitchen System

So, for years (like twelve, actually) I have gotten by with my large(ish) capactiy blender being a tiny, P.o.S. Cuisinart.

There's nothing terribly wrong with it... it's just not particularly large, nor significantly powerful.

And, honestly, I used it regularly for over a decade; it was just fine for things like soups or the odd beverage or some such.

However... it could never really do juice or smoothies.  And it just winced if I tried to crush ice.  Just not powerful enough.  Also not very big.

I know people who have a Vitamix and love it.  In fact, everyone I've ever heard to own a Vitamix, swears by it.  And from what I've seen and read, Vitamix's reputation is truly well-deserved.  It seems like a truly great product, and one of the best (if not the best) blender on the market.

But I've never been one to accept things tacitly, and certainly not without doing my own research.

Well, it turns out that everyone seems to agree the Vitamix is the most powerful and versatile blender on the market.  But I also found that there are several competitors that come very close.

One such competitor is the Ninja Ultima, and is the blender I picked up last month.

It sure is noisy, and doesn't have the most finesse, but damn is it powerful and efficient.  It is so powerful I can't imagine anything being more powerful... and considering the N.U. has eviscerated everything we've thrown at it so far, I can say that it doesn't really need to be more powerful.

I haven't done any direct comparisons with other models or manufacturer's so I'm not making any claims, but it suffices to say that I am quite happy with this choice.

The way I look at it is that it is as powerful as I could ever fathom it needed to be, it was significantly cheaper than the Vitamix (by a lot), and it came with a large selection of peripherals.

Included in this system were a surprising amount of cool things.  Rather than list them all, I instead 'borrowed' a pic from ninja's website, and because I'm using it to give them some free positive publicity I'm hoping they'll forgive me the fact that I did not ask for permission.  :)

Image property of Ninja® a brand of Euro-Pro Operating LLC

Anyway, you can see that that is an impressive amount of goodies.

Although I haven't had the opportunity to try out the shredding or grating discs yet, I'm excited to use them... I imagine that if they work well, I might even need not ever get a mandoline like I kind of always wanted...

Also not tried the dough blade although I am super excited by that too.

What we have used, and used extensively in the month we've had it only, are the 16 oz. cups with separate cup blade thingy.  It is so awesome to just assemble, blend, and eat a smoothie all in the same cup!

In fact, what we've taken to doing almost everyday since we've had this system, is to make up a smoothie for the wife, the night before, and then it literally takes less than 30 seconds to blend the smoothie, swap out the blades for the lid, throw in a stainless steel re-usable straw, and even rinse the blades and put them away.

Real cool.

I've also made some large concoctions in the big pitcher.

Depending on what you blend, you can choose to have the super-mess-you-up 'top blades' inserted (as above).  But sometimes you don't want these.  Surprisingly when making a large batch of smoothies, it is recommended to take this out for better smoothness.  Fortunately it is real easy to do this.  It literally just rests on top.

So, for really tough stuff like ice, or a LOT of frozen berries or something like that, what I usually do is leave the nasty 'top blades' attachment in for a few pulses, but then take it out half-way through, to finish it off with greater consistency.

Anyway... it's still pretty new so I've not tried it out in every capacity, but I have nothing bad to say about it so far.  Recently I made some homemade organic almond milk, and it was practically effortless.

It may not be a Vitamix, but it is really powerful, pretty sleek, comes with a bevy of attachments, and is very affordable.  It even has suction cup feet, so even when you crank it up to max power it doesn't go anywhere.

All-in-all, a very well-designed product.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Berkey Sight Glass Spigot

So one of the (few) pains about the Berkey Water Filter system we have, is that it is difficult to assess how much water has been filtered and is in the ready-to-drink reservoir.

It was recommended to me to get the Berkey Sight Glass Spigot.

Basically this thing has a little glass tube within which you can tell the approximate volume of water in the reservoir.  Pretty simple.

It is certainly handy to have, for a couple of reasons (interestingly enough, the most significant of which was the surprising discovery of a substantially increased rate of flow from the spigot) however, I've run into a few difficulties.

Number one was the fact that the metre doesn't really climb that high for me, even when I know the tank is plump full.  Apparently there is a disclaimer that the addition of the fluoride filters in the base of the unit would impede this reading.  As is logical, the filters are large, and would themselves displace a fair amount of water, giving an inaccurate reading on the sight glass tube.  And I have four of these fluoride filters.  So, it makes sense, and it isn't technically faulty or anything like that... it is just unfortunate.

And I can live with that.

What I can not live with, however, is the fact that the spigot drips.  No, not any of the connections, which I assure you are all perfectly tightened by hand, and correctly assembled.  But from the mouth of the spigot itself... it sort of collects water after it's been dispensed.  Sort of like how a straw with a pressure differential holds a bit of water... for a while...

I first noticed this about two weeks after I installed the sight glass spigot, when there was a small puddle directly under the unit.  Provided you don't overfill the unit, it's never supposed to do that... so I was concerned.

It took me some time to discover the source, but eventually I found that when I would tap the spigot mouth itself, anywhere from small to large amounts of water would stream from the closed spigot.

I do have plans to contact the manufacturer about this, but unfortunately I've been reading that this problem is somewhat common.

All in all, I still enjoy it.  The increased flow rate is enough to justify this upgrade in itself.  It is pretty fast now to fill up a glass of water.  And my time is precious.


Santevia Mineralizing Stones

OK, so these sound a lot more flaky than they really are.

You know me; I wouldn't even normally do this sort of thing, except for the fact that they were cheap, and so dead easy to implement, but then... *poof*... all of a sudden we're drinking some beneficial minerals with every glass of water.

This was not borne from a desire to alkalise my water - which is how these stones are primarily marketed. For me, this was just about the minerals, rather than any pH effects.

And, honestly, because they were inexpensive, super easy, and would last for years without my even needing to DO anything hardly at all.  (Boiling them once every six months, they say).

It really just comes down to the fact that you could drink purified water, or you could drink the same purified water with cool shit like calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc in it.  These are all minerals which are generally considered to be good for you, so why not?

They're really just ROCKS... so it's pretty cool.  Apparently, over the years, they will gradually get smaller. Which of course makes sense, if the minerals are being dissolved into the water.

So now we are not just drinking purified water... but purified mineral water.


I thought it would affect the taste, but it didn't.  Not even a little.  Which is good, I suppose.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good about our water situation these days.  And while I don't necessarily recommend that you go out and add mineral stones to your drinking water, if you do happen to be interested, I will say that it is quite an easy thing to do.

And, again, even though these are marketed as alkalising, I try to think of them instead as mineralising.  


Berkey Sport

As you might now, I've been *quite* pleased with my Royal Berkey Water Filter, ever since we got it about 3 months ago.

It really is quite lovely.

So, I decided to pick up some more Berkey-related items aimed at making my life in general, easier and just... well... better.

I have a decent water bottle.  It's stainless steel and it has the WWF logo on it so I feel cool when I use it. Whenever I can, I fill it up from my Royal Berkey, of course, however I'm not always at home when I want to fill it up.

Enter the Berkey Sport:

Not much to look at.  Actually I really don't like it aesthetically... at all... but functionally it is just fantastic. 

A while back I bought a Life Straw for emergency and/or camping intentions, and it is pretty darned cool if I do say so myself.  Anything that quickly and safely turns things like stagnant ponds or even raw sewage water into healthy, potable water, is pretty amazing in my book.

However, I wanted something that wouldn't make me look like a crazy person (or an asshole), and for most intents and purposes the Berkey Sport looks just like every other sport water bottle.

There's even a cool straw that pops up when you open the lid.

The best thing, of course, is that it offers a level of filtration very close to Berkey's regular stand-alone models.

There's the carbon filter element, just smaller, and rather than working on gravity as the stand-alone models do, this one actually works the opposite way.  It is suction that gives the kinetic energy needed to pass the water through the element.

It's pretty cool, and still filters out pretty much everything you would not want to drink.

In fact, I only have one small complaint, and it is with the capacity. When the filter, and straw thingie are all attached, there is not a lot of room for water.  So, I could wish the bottle was a little bigger, but then again it really isn't that big a deal to have to refill it slightly more often, especially when you have the freedom of utilizing pretty much any water source available.