Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Easy Homemade Ginger Ale and Soda!

  With the Labor Day weekend upon us, I thought it would be fun to celebrate the end of summer with a versatile and easy homemade soda recipe.  Soda is such an unhealthy monster; the chemicals, the calories, the sugar, shesh! If a substance can be used to tenderize meat, maybe we shouldn't drink it?  This recipe allows you to make your favorite flavor of delicious and crisp soda with no chemicals and allows control of the sugar content.  It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to make - then relax with your soda on the porch watching the summer sunset!

Homemade Ginger Ale
To make homemade ginger ale, you need seltzer water, one cup of sugar, 1/4 to 1/3 cup of chopped ginger root, and fresh mint is optional.  In the photo there are also ingredients for a lemon soda with watermelon, it tastes similar to sprite or 7up.

The ingredients
Begin by combining one cup of water with one cup of sugar in a pot to make a simple syrup.  You may adjust the sugar up or down depending on your preferences.  Also add the chopped ginger.  If you like extra ginger add up to 1/3 cup.

Step One
Bring the contents of the pot to a boil.  Once the mixture is boiling and the sugar dissolves, remove the pot from the heat.  I also threw a couple of mint leaves in for good measure.  Allow the pot to cool and then sit for a couple of hours at least.  The syrup will last for a few days in the refrigerator.  The longer you allow the flavors to steep together, the stronger your soda will be flavored.

Bring the pot to a boil
 The next step is optional.  If you like mint, crush a few mint leaves in the bottom of a glass.

Crush mint leaves
 Prior to serving the ginger ale, fill glasses (with or without mint leaves) with ice.

Ice cold
Mix 1/8 cup of the simple syrup into the glass with ice and mint.

Add syrup
Fill the glass with seltzer water.  The amount is up to you based on the strength of flavor that you like.  Usually 8 ounces is about right.  You may add more or less syrup or water at this point.  Give the glass a stir.

Add seltzer water
 For a lemon flavored soda, follow the same steps as above.  Mix a simple syrup and instead of chopped ginger use lemon peel and zest in the same proportions.  Allow the syrup to steep.  Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into your serving glass along with a lemon twist for good measure.  I add watermelon chunks for added sweetness (and lycopene).  Add the same proportions of syrup and seltzer water.

Lemon soda coming up!
It would also be great to use peaches, strawberries, blueberries, or limes.   Whatever your favorite fruit flavors are - use them!  Spend the weekend relaxing with family and friends over a tall glass of yummy soda.  No sodium benzoate, high fructose corn syrup, or phosphoric acid here!


#gingerale #labordayweekend #coke #sprite #diy #delicious #homemade
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

And I'm Back.

I've been MIA from the blog for the last week.  I've had a somber few days; I fluctuated between sitting in the fetal position and drowning my stress in fatty foods.  Our family watched a loved one succumb to cancer.  We were fortunate to be with him as he crossed over so I am grateful for that.  He courageously battled the horrible, horrible disease for several years.  It wasn't unexpected, but is death ever expected?  Can we actually prepare ourselves fully for the passing of someone we love?  

But there is Joy in the Morning
It's a difficult situation you can never understand until you live through it.  I had no idea until experiencing it with my grandfather in 2007.  The death of a loved one changes life forever - everything changes.  I hate change, I hate getting used to the idea that someone I love won't be there anymore.  It takes so much getting used to and grief can be really heavy.  I don't have anything profound to say.  I'll be back to blogging tomorrow - but I'll sign off with this quote from Rick Warren that has really helped me.


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Monday, August 4, 2014

And The Winner Is...

Congratulations to Effortless and Exquisite follower breazy4444 - the winner of our Barney Butter Giveaway!  Exciting almond goodness is in your future for sure!  Barney Butter is the best almond butter I've tried in a long time and I'm happy to feature it on this blog.  

Barney Butter!
Be sure to check out Barney Butter on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are breazy4444, please contact us at effortlessandexquisite@gmail.com to claim your prize.  Stay tuned for the next giveaway that is right around the corner!
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Another Week, Another Giveaway!

Happy Monday Ya'll!  Let's start this week off on a high note - a GIVEAWAY!  This week delicious goodness comes to us from Barney Butter!  I happened upon Barney Butter a couple of months ago while looking for a non-greasy almond butter to eat with bananas.  I like to dip them; I digress.  Almond butter is great since so many people are allergic to peanuts and I don't like to keep them in my house.  I think it has a rich flavor and almonds are super healthy so what's not to like?  Barney Butter intrigued me, first because I love the name, and second the packaging is very cool.  I decided to dig a little deeper and discovered that Barney Butter is a company that I can really get behind.  So this week, Effortless and Exquisite is giving away a free jar of Barney Butter!

Photo courtesy of Barney Butter
Barney Butter is the creation of a California mom that was on the hunt for an alternative to peanut butter and those bland almond butters on the market.  The company was born in a home kitchen by an enterprising woman - girl power!  She started selling the popular butter in 2006 and the rest is AB & J history (almond butter and jelly, by the way).

Photo Courtesy of Barney Butter
Today Barney Butter is sold nationwide in supermarkets and online.  The success is because it is yummy.  There are several creative flavors to choose from. Barney Butter is Non-GMO Certified, Kosher, and Gluten Free with no hydrogenated oils in their jars.  It was fun to sample the products because I wouldn't think of certain flavor combinations - but they work and they're great!

Snack pack samples
Barney Butter sent me three flavors to try.  The Regular, Cocoa + Coconut, and Vanilla Bean + Espresso.  Snack packs are also available for purchase and they're great because they only have between 90-100 calories so an easy snack that is waistline friendly.

Vanilla Bean + Espresso
First I sampled the Vanilla Bean + Espresso.  There are whole chunks of espresso bean and vanilla bean in this butter.  The bitter of the espresso is balanced by the flavor of the vanilla.  It is interesting and I thought it tasted like a super rich almond butter.

Cocoa + Coconut
The Cocoa + Coconut is delicious.  It is like a better version of Nutella.  The consistency is very smooth.  The coconut flavor is very, very good and this one is my new favorite.  I could eat it by the spoonful.

Smooth Almond Butter
Finally I tried the regular Smooth Almond Butter.  I love almond butter and this just tastes better than most commercial varieties.  It isn't overly greasy like some butters with oil that is gross and sloshes in the jar.  It is very good with sliced bananas.  I'm a big fan.

To be entered in the giveaway, you must register to follow Effortless and Exquisite with your email address.  Enter your address on the top right side of the page under "Follow by Email."  It is easy and free!  The contest ends Monday, August 4th so hurry and enter.  Check out more about Barney Butter at their website here.  Visit the Barney Butter Facebook page here and follow Barney Butter on Twitter here.

Barney Butter  - Yum!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Christmas in July

I'm one of those...those women (or men) that get extremely excited about Christmas.  I love the meaning of the day, the goodwill, the celebratory vibe, the food, and the decorations.  I'm a Christmas fanatic.  I pack the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas with concerts, Christmas pageants, hot chocolate, Hallmark Channel movies, and driving around to look at the sights.  I love browsing the mall to smell the peppermint and visit Santa, but shopping for gifts during the holiday season makes me stressed out.  It is so much easier to get a jump on the presents now, when things are quiet and you have a minute to think.  This month is the time to start the planning and I have a super easy gift that will make you the Belle of every Christmas Ball!

Super Easy, Homemade Vanilla!
I like to make vanilla extract myself.  Because I bake often, I use lots of it.  The store bought vanilla is expensive.  Plus, the commercial vanilla, the "pure" vanilla extract has sugar and water added (things that make you go hmmm).  If you make your own vanilla, the taste difference is obvious and your cost savings are substantial.  One 2 oz bottle in the store costs about $4.75 for "pure" vanilla extract.  You can make 64 ounces for about $40 or less at home.  The price savings is huge and so is the taste and quality.  FYI - the strength of real vanilla extract is measured in "bolds."  This means single bold is store bought quality, double bold is twice as strong and so on.  The longer vanilla ages, the stronger it gets.  The vanilla recipe I will share with you is double bold.  I let mine age for months and then years so my old stuff is strong, super BOLD!

Begin by purchasing some combination of vodka and bourbon.  This is not an exact science.  I like to use more vodka and a splash of bourbon for taste.  If you like bourbon, add more.  Purchase 64 ounces of alcohol.   I don't drink so I purchase whatever is on sale at the liquor store.  The quality of the liquor doesn't matter a whole bunch because the beans will flavor the liquid.  I purchased about $16 worth of vodka + bourbon.  I order the beans online.  There are literally hundreds of places to purchase bulk beans.  Google "bulk Madagascar vanilla beans" and go shopping.  There are several websites that will take your money - you can buy 1/2 pound of beans for $20-$25.  If you pay more, you are just unnecessarily paying more.

The beans should arrive sealed in plastic to preserve the moisture and quality of the bean.  The photo above makes the beans look dried out.  If they are not pliable and they are dry and brittle, send them back.  Brittle beans are old and you shouldn't pay for that quality.  Cut the beans into small chunks.  You may split them in the middle, or not, it doesn't matter.  The aging process will break down the beans and extract the yummy goodness from them regardless of how you chop them.  

Chop the beans into pieces
Pour the alcohol into a large glass jar with a lid that will properly seal.  Use glass so that the plastic won't leach into the extract.  I've been using the same jar of extract for several years that I made several years ago and I don't think that plastic would work over an extended period of time.  Put the chopped beans into the jar as well.

Alcohol + Beans in the jar
Tightly seal the jar.  Give it a shake and place it in the back corner of your pantry.  It doesn't need to be exposed to lots of light for the next few months.  The jar needs to sit for at least 30 days before the vanilla is ready to use.  After that, it can age for a long, long time.  Below is the new jar on the left and an old jar that I made two years ago on the right.  Note the color difference.  

Vanilla - Young and Old
I like to leave the chunks of beans in my vanilla.  If you are making ice cream or a recipe that calls for vanilla beans, you can scoop a spoonful of the beans from the bottom of the jar and use them also.  I think it makes my baking taste and feel more organic with whole chunks of beans that puree in the blender.  The flavor is really rich.  You can always strain the old beans out if you want, it is totally up to you.

Finally, pour the vanilla into containers to make perfect Christmas gifts for friends, teachers, book club friends, etc in December!  I purchase 1 oz jars online for 40 cents each and they come with a special lid that seals the liquid in the jar.  It is also really creative to purchase decorative jars in different shapes or sizes to give away.  Make sure you purchase a jar that will seal.  The total cost of my vanilla including 64 small jars is about $65 for 64 jars.  It makes a very thoughtful (and useful) gift that is super unique and totally affordable for $1 per jar!  I like to tie a ribbon around the jars and PRESTO an easy (on the budget AND to make) present!  Spend this holiday season enjoying the time with your friends and family with your Christmas list already checked off.  This gift idea is simple, fast, and way less stressful than looking for a parking space at the mall so Merry (early) Christmas!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

#christmasinjuly #creativity #christmas #vanilla #diy #homemade #awesome #soeasy
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

And The Winner Is...

The winner of the 'We All Scream for Julie's Ice Cream Giveaway' is Effortless and Exquisite reader Kelly.L.Erdman!  Congratulations to the winner of a yummy gift basket of goodies, including free ice cream and fun kitchen stuff!  Julie's Organic Ice Cream is my brand new favorite go to for sorbet and ice cream.  The ingredients are organic and natural without any chemicals that I can't pronounce.  Delicious is the only word I can use to describe it and I think if you check out the brand you will agree.  There is no better blackberry sorbet on the market, hands down, no questions, and don't even think about disagreeing!  Check out Julie's Organic, your stomach will say thank you!

Blackberry Deliciousness!

Thanks to Melissa and Julie at Julie's Organics.  Please visit Julie's on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunglasses for Every Face Shape

I dislike trying on sunglasses.  I'm that indecisive person that tries on every pair of sunglasses in the store and still can't decide what looks best, maybe it's a self esteem thing.  I just have issues with picking the perfect pair, maybe there are too many choices.  I also hate to spend a small fortune on a plastic accessory that is going to fall from my head onto the floor and thus risk shattering several days in wages.  So this year I turned to my friend Keely of Made in the Shade, a trendy, yet affordable sunglasses boutique.  Sunglasses cost between $10 and $35. Their current summer sale offers buy one pair get the second half price!  The store is in NC but will ship all over the US.   Keely agreed to share with Effortless and Exquisite the tricks to selecting sunglasses for every face shape.

Keely from Made in the Shade
So the hunt for sunglasses begins.  There really are too many to choose from.  Keely starts by explaining everyone has a specific face shape - and there are more than I realized.  When selecting a pair of sunglasses, check for UV protection and comfort first.  Then decide on your face shape.  

Round Shaped Faces should focus on sharp, angular lines that elongate the face.  These shapes add angles to the face to soften and de-emphasize the round shape.  Cat eyes, square, or rectangular frames look great.

Round Shaped Faces

For Heart Shaped Faces, steer clear of straight lines across the top frame of the sunglasses.  Go for cat-eye frames;  perhaps dramatic butterfly or square frames will suit you.  Aviators and Rimless glasses also look great on this face shape.  

Heart Shaped Faces
Rectangular Shaped Faces look best in oversized lenses that will add width to the face.  The bigger, the BETTER!  Square, rectangle, or wayfarer styles are great for this face shape.

Rectangular Shaped Faces
If you are a Diamond Face shape, Keely suggests sticking to gently curved lines to compliment high cheek bones.  Rimless, Oval, and Wrap-Around Frames are beautiful on your face to accent your bone structure.

Diamond Shaped Faces

It's hip to be square!  If you are have a Square Shaped Face you should focus on soft, rounded lines to contrast with the squareness of the face.  Aviators, Oval Frames, and the more round cat-eye frames look best.

Square Shaped Faces
For Oval Shaped Faces, the sky is the limit!  Most all sunglasses look great on your face shape so have fun with your style, you lucky dog.

Oval Shaped Faces
Retro sunglasses are all the rage this season and kids are no different.  Cat eyes and retro daisies are in, in, in.  There are also aviators for kids!

Too Cute for Kids
Be good to your eyes and the planet with Eco-Friendly Wayfarers.  This model is made from Bamboo and recycled plastic lenses.  They're a great option for style, function, and the earth!

Eco Friendly!
Show your colors with these super fun Patriotic Stars and Stripes Aviators...

Show your Stars and Stripes
Thanks Keely and Made in the Shade!  To order your perfect sunglasses or browse for your favorite style visit Made in the Shade on Facebook here.

Thanks Made in the Shade!
Made in the Shade Blowing Rock

#aviators  #sunglasses #blowingrock #summer #fashion #fabulous #glasses
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