Hemp Milk and other things I’ve been making in my Vitamix

I had a Vitamix on my wish list for a few years. Every year when I didn’t get it for my birthday or Christmas, I’d spend the rest of the year telling myself that if I’ve lived this long without one, obviously I don’t NEED one. Then I finally got one this year (thanks, Smark!) and it turns out I DID need it. I use it several times a day. I’ve only had it a month and I don’t know what I’d do without it.

One thing I’ve been doing is making myself a smoothie as soon as I get home from work every day, which is great because it keeps me from binge snacking while I prepare dinner, which I’m prone to do because I come home hungry. And the neurologist I’m seeing for my headaches gave me what I consider the most awesome medical advice in the world: “don’t get hungry”. Hunger is a huge headache trigger, especially for me, so basically she just wants me to avoid the situation. So now I go around shouting, “MUST EAT, DOCTOR’S ORDERS!” whenever I’m even remotely hungry. I’m trying not to gain a million pounds while following those orders, though, so a late afternoon green smoothie is super-awesome for me.

Spinach-Pear Smoothie

3 large handfuls baby spinach
about 1 Tbsp flax seeds
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I use homemade hemp milk, recipe below)
1 or 2 dates, pitted OR a sweetener like maple or coconut syrup, to taste
1 pear, stem removed
a few pieces of frozen banana
a couple of ice cubes
contents of a probiotic capsule (optional)

Put it all in a Vitamix and blend on high just until completely smooth.

My other current favorite smoothie I call the “Omega Elvis” because it’s full of omega 3s. What I adore about the Vitamix is I don’t even need to have peanut butter on hand. I just use whole peanuts!

Omega Elvis Smoothie

a handful or two of unsalted roasted peanuts
about 1 Tbsp flax seeds
sweetener to taste; for this one I usually use coconut or maple syrup
about 1 cup hemp milk
1 frozen banana
pinch of salt

Again, put it all in the Vitamix and mix on high until thoroughly blended.

If I didn’t have a constant supply of hemp milk on hand, I’d just put some hemp seeds and water in the blender when making the smoothies. We’ve been through many phases of non-dairy milk. I’ve gone through periods of making my own soy milk and almond milk, but I’ve fallen out of those because they are too much effort and require forethought. So I’ve been buying milk, first almond and lately coconut milk for Mark, and hemp milk for myself. I’ll probably never be able to stop buying Mark milk because he doesn’t actually LIKE milk and homemade milk grosses him out for some reason. And he likes it sweeter than I do, and also vanilla-flavored. But I hate all the packaging we are wasting, and hemp milk is pretty expensive. I actually tried to make hemp milk once before I had a Vitamix and it wasn’t very good. It had to be strained and even afterwards, I just didn’t like it. The Vitamix is amazing because there is no need to strain hemp milk! It’s completely smooth without straining. Check it out:

Hemp Milk

1/2 cup shelled hemp seeds
2 1/2 cups water
1 date, pitted
generous pinch of salt

What hemp seeds look like:

Put it all in the Vitamix.

Blend on high until smooth; 30 seconds is probably enough. It will get frothy.

Refrigerate the milk. High-speed blenders add a lot of air to mixtures, so in order to fit the milk into the jar I use, I actually blend in 2 cups of water. Later after it’s settled back down, I’ll add the additional 1/2 cup of water in and shake it up. I guess I’m obsessed with jars, but something about this jar, with fresh homemade hemp milk in it, makes me very happy. It’s one of my many vintage mason jars, which by the way, Vegenaise lids fit perfectly, so if you have a hard time finding screw-on, non-canning lids, save ’em up. (In fact, Vegenaise jars in general are really nice; that’s what I’m drinking the green smoothie above out of.)

Just shake your hemp milk before using; it does separate (another reason I can’t get Mark to drink homemade milks). This is barely sweet, which is how I like it. Add additional sweetener if you must. Sometimes I omit the date entirely. It also tastes kinda hempy, I won’t lie. If your favorite non-dairy milk is chocolate Silk, this may not be the milk for you. I don’t know that I would relish drinking it straight, but I wouldn’t relish drinking ANY milk straight. I only use it on cereal, in smoothies, and occasionally in cooking (though not often because I don’t like milky things any more than Mark does).

I’ve also been making fermented cashew cheese in the Vitamix, but I’m perfecting that, so that’s coming soon to an I Eat Food post near you.

And now for my latest completely off-topic update. Other than Vitamixing it up every day, I haven’t been cooking anything all that amazing because I have a new hobby I’ve been obsessing over. I know I’ve posted a few sewing tutorials over the years, but I’ve always prefaced them by saying I’m a terrible sewer. Which I am. I don’t even LIKE sewing. I usually only do it because there is something I want that I can’t find to buy. So sewing is kind of a chore for me. Also, sewing machines break around me, which subsequently enrages me. Just over a year ago, I mentioned here that during my annual gift bag-making blitz, my sewing machine broke and I had to buy a new one. Well, guess what happened last month while making gift bags? My year-old machine broke. And it would have cost as much as I paid for it to repair it. Now, since I hate sewing, buying a new sewing machine, especially during the holiday season, is NOT fun for me. Buying a new camera: fun. New sewing machine: NOT fun. Who wants to spend a bunch of money on something they don’t like?

So I decided to do something different this time: buy a sewing machine I DO like. One that won’t break, and if it does, won’t cost a fortune to repair, as computerized machines do. I think I’ve stated here before that I don’t trust new things, that I much prefer old things, and therefore do almost all my shopping in antique and thrift stores. It seemed natural to me, then, to buy an old sewing machine instead of a crappy new one. A mechanical sewing machine. One I can open up and see the parts working. One that’s proven its worth over many years. One that is so beautiful to look at I’ve put it on display in my living room instead of cooping it up in the spare room. THIS sewing machine:

It’s a Singer 15-91; it’s cast iron (my favorite substance!), has all-metal parts, and is completely gear driven. It’s from 1949, fully restored, and complete with table it cost me about the same price I would have paid for yet another piece of crap modern sewing machine that would break in a year. You can actually get them for $50 and under – sometimes free – if you’re willing to put some work into it (they almost always require a re-wiring as the original wiring is unsafe today). It’s a thing of beauty. I’m in love with this sewing machine. Which is a weird thing for someone who hates sewing.

But I’m trying to NOT hate sewing, and this baby makes that task MUCH easier, believe me. I trust it far more than my old machines. It will stitch ANYTHING. It’s amazing in action! I’ve made a couple of rag quilts on it and it stitched through 8 layers of fabric – without me changing from a standard 11 needle – without the slightest hesitation. THIS is a sewing machine meant for Renae! Finally! [Funny: I just read the post I linked to above where I mentioned I’d bought a new sewing machine just before Christmas 2010 – I state in that post that my “dream sewing machine” has “long been an antique Singer”…why didn’t I just follow my dream then?!]

Anyway, THAT’s what I’ve been doing. Sewing, of all things! I’m even more surprised than you are. And here is a fat squirrel:

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Blueberry Lemonade

I don’t know when I became the beverage queen, but apparently that’s what I am. In fact, my first batch of homebrew is ready today! (I haven’t tasted it yet; it’s probably going to be terrible!) I don’t usually require fancy drinks: I like orange juice with my breakfast, have green tea as soon as I get to work, drink water with lunch at work, and always have wine with dinner. I also love water and drink it throughout the day. There really isn’t time for me to be drinking anything else. Nonetheless, I’ve become addicted to blueberry lemonade this summer.

I don’t know why I never made lemonade before this year, because I love lemons, and I’ll often order lemonade instead of tea or cola if I’m out. And I always love it when my aunt shows up at the parental homestead with her homemade lemonade. But the idea of juicing all those lemons at once left me daunted. Then a few weeks ago, the grocery store didn’t have any loose lemons for sale and I was forced to choose between buying a whole bag of lemons or not having any lemons at home, and I just can’t go without lemons. I add fresh lemon juice to everything. Basically I was forced into making lemonade. So I bought a contraption: the JUICE-O-MAT! I must confess I’d been looking for an excuse to buy one. It’s the greatest!

I started making lemonade regularly and it was awesome. Then one week I had a berry overload and thought, “what if I put blueberries IN the lemonade?” So I did and it was fabulous. I mean, lemonade is awesome to begin with, and blueberries are awesome, but somehow when you put them together they are even more awesome than the sum of their awesome parts. Blueberry lemonade is the summer drink! And considering it was 95 in the shade today, I’d say it’s pretty intensely summer right now. This stuff really helps.

Blueberry Lemonade
makes about 1 quart

enough lemons to make 1 cup of lemon juice (about 6)
1 cup blueberries
3/4 – 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet or tart you like your lemonade)*
about 1 quart of water, divided

* I’ve successfully substituted stevia for a portion of the sugar.

Make a simple syrup by putting the sugar in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Heat, stirring, just until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, put the blueberries into a blender or food processor and pulverize.

To help your lemons yield more juice, roll them back and forth on a surface, applying pressure with the palm of your hand. Cut each in half and juice them. This is particularly fun using a JUICE-O-MAT!

Stop when you have 1 cup of juice.

Add the blueberry pulp to the lemon juice.

Add enough cold water to make 2 cups. I just do this to thin it out, making it easier to strain.

Strain.

Add the simple syrup to the juices and whisk.

Pour into a glass pitcher, straining a second time if you are picky, then add enough cold water to total about a quart (you can add more water to make a less intense drink) and stir or shake.

Chill for at least half an hour; an hour is better. Serve with ice, garnished with lemon slices.

This would probably be equally awesome made with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or any other berry, but I’ve been so enamored of the blueberry variety I haven’t even bothered to try any others. You can also simply omit the blueberries for plain lemonade – it’s also very delicious.

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Real (or as real as it’s going to get) Root Beer

I’ve been making my own sodas for a while now. I started off cheating, which, by the way, I hear is all the rage right now. It seems like a lot of people are buying those SodaStreams and mixing the soda water they make with different flavorings. I have nothing against that, in fact, I’m planning to one day get my own CO2 tank and rig up my own version of a SodaStream so I can make seltzer. But ever since I perfected my real ginger ale recipe, I’ve been hooked on really making soda. In addition to ginger ale, I liked making root beer and birch beer, but I was daunted by the prospect of looking for roots and for a long time stuck to using extracts. The sodas I made from the extracts tasted fine, but I knew that couldn’t go on forever. I’m just not an extract kinda gal.

So I bought Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop by Stephen Cresswell. Now, I really like this book and it has a lot of great recipes I’m looking forward to trying, but nearly all of the root (and birch) beer recipes call for, well, roots. And while I’m not an extract kinda gal, I’m also not the gal who knows where to go to find these roots, how to identify them, and how to dig them up unobstrusively, and the book doesn’t go into that. One day I fully intend to make root beer from roots I have dug up, and birch beer from birch trees I have accosted (the latter seems easier, frankly), but in the meantime, I turned to my friend the internet and ordered myself some roots. The main root you need is sassafras. I bought it from Amazon, but that is way, way, way more sassafras than you need. Later I found it in smaller quantities at American Spice Company and Mountain Rose Herbs, the latter from whom I have ordered before (get the bark, not the bark powder). Sassafras is slightly hard to find, I think because the FDA thinks it’s a carcinogen or something. Don’t be alarmed: a glass of root beer every now and then is not going to give you cancer. Maybe don’t drink a gallon of it a day, but then again, don’t drink a gallon of anything a day, other than water.

I also call for sarsaparilla, though you can omit it (I made my first batch without it and it was very good). Sarsaparilla is actually a little easier to find than sassafras. I bought my sarsaparilla from Jay’s Brewing Supplies, because they are a local business, but you may find it in your own local brewing store, where you may also want to purchase bottles. (Jay’s does mail order, and I’ve ordered from them back before they had a storefront, and I can recommend them for that.)

You need champagne yeast. Stephen Creswell of Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop prefers ale yeast, but I haven’t tried that yet. Technically you can even use bread yeast, but I absolutely do NOT recommend it. I tried it ONCE the first time I made soda and it was nasty, nasty, nasty. I’m sure I did something wrong, but I’ll always use a beer or champagne yeast from now on. It’s sold in packets just like bread yeast, and you won’t need a whole packet. Just store the unused portion in the refrigerator and it will be good for a while.

Finally, you need bottles. The recipe makes about a gallon, which is 8 16-oz bottles. I strongly recommend you use swing-top (aka EZ cap or Grolsch-type) bottles. You can drink Golsch and save the bottles, or buy them. Jay’s has them. They actually hold more than 16 oz, so I always end up filling fewer bottles than I expect to. You can also buy or save non-twist-off-cap bottles and buy caps and a capper, but the reason I strongly recommend the EZ caps is I have found root beer in particular to be unpredictable in the amount of time it requires for carbonation and I like to be able to close bottles that aren’t ready yet and reseal them. I also don’t always drink 16 oz+ of soda at a time and like to be able to reseal them for that reason too.

This recipe was lightly adapted from Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop, and I’ve more or less used his technique. The author calls for mixing the sodas in a one-gallon glass carboy. I have three of these: I have two from beer brewing kits, and one that is from a gallon of apple cider. They are the exact same thing; I can’t tell them apart. Jay’s sells them too, but I paid less for the apple cider than they charge, so if you want a jug, just buy some cider. You don’t need a jug though. The jug makes it easy to shake the soda really well, but before I had jugs, I just whisked everything together in a pot.

OK, FINALLY, here’s the recipe!

Real Root Beer

1/4 oz dried sassafras root bark
2 tsp dried sarsaparilla (optional)
scant 2 cups sugar
1/8 tsp champagne yeast
about a gallon of water, divided

This is my measured sassafras and sarsaparilla.

Put the dried roots, sugar, and two quarts of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.

Then remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for another 25 minutes.

Strain the liquid. This is only half of it – I wanted to decant it into a clear container so you could see the color. You might be able to make a second batch from the roots – I haven’t tried that.

If you have a gallon jug, pour the liquid into the jug through a funnel. If you don’t have a jug, skip this step and just put the liquid in a 6-quart pot.

Add two more quarts of cold water, cap jug, and shake. (Or whisk well in a pot.) You want to cool the overall temperature of the soda to 70 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. You can do this by just letting it come down to room temperature naturally (if you are patient), by putting it in the refrigerator, or by setting it in an ice bath. Whatever floats your jug. Just make sure it cools down to room temperature (you don’t even really need a thermometer) so you don’t kill the yeast when you add it.

Add the yeast to 1/4 cup lukewarm water (about room temperature) and whisk. Let sit for a couple of minutes.

Add the yeast to the soda, cap the jug, and shake vigorously for a minute or two (or add to pot and whisk very well).

Use a funnel to pour the soda into the bottles and close or cap the bottles. Leave about 1″ head space at the top of the bottles.

Put the bottles in a cool, dark place – not a refrigerator, but maybe a basement. I’m not going to lie to you: explosions are possible and I’ve had root beer explode, so what I do is put the bottles in my laundry room and cover them up with a giant trash bag so I can contain the mess if disaster strikes. I haven’t had one explode since I’ve been doing that, so I think maybe it subdues them into submission. After 48 hours (maybe sooner if it’s really hot in your house), check the carbonation by opening one of the bottles. You can generally tell by how fizzy it seems when you open it, but you’ll also want to take a sip to judge it. If it’s as fizzy as you want it, move the bottles to the refrigerator. If it’s not, keep testing it every 12 to 24 hours. Every recipe I’ve ever read has made it seem as if it’s usually ready right around 48 hours, but I’ve had some sodas that have taken up to a week to be fully carbonated. If it takes that long, I usually put it in the refrigerator anyway and let it finish carbonating slowly.

Refrigerate the bottles for at least 24 hours. I’ve found that sodas really taste best after about a week of refrigeration, but bear in mind, although refrigeration greatly slows down the fermentation, it does not stop it, and your sodas will build up more and more carbonation if you leave them in the fridge. If you aren’t drinking them fast enough, open them periodically to release the pressure…although I wouldn’t keep doing that or you’ll have the reverse problem and they’ll go flat. You’d be wise to open your bottles over the sink regardless how long you’ve had them. I don’t know what it is about root beer, but some bottles in the same batch just seem to have different levels of carbonation, so I don’t trust any of them to not geyser all over me.

After it’s chilled for at least 24 hours, it’s time to drink! This is a little 8-oz bottle I saved from some commercial soda that I bought just for the bottles. I had a hard time choking down that soda, I’ll have you know. But I like to make a few small bottles to use when checking the carbonation, and also 8 ounces is about how much soda I really want to drink at a time.

Pour into an icy mug and enjoy!

Root beers and other sodas were originally created as health tonics. I’m not going to tell you that something with this much sugar is a health drink. I don’t drink that much of even my homemade soda, although it’s far less sweet than commercial soda (and the yeast consumes a lot of the sugar; it’s not as sugary as it sounds). But there is something about this homemade root beer that makes me consider it a restorative. I like to drink a bottle after a long, hard morning of working with raccoons. I come home exhausted and make a quick meal that I serve with my homemade root beer and suddenly I feel refreshed. And I came home tonight with a headache but a glass of root beer has given me the strength to go put together this baker’s rack that arrived today…which I’d better get working on!

This post is dedicated to my paternal grandfather, who I remember making root beer in his basement when I was a kid. He died years ago and unfortunately my father doesn’t know how he made his root beer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he used an extract, as I don’t recall him tramping around the woods collecting roots, but making root beer reminds me of him and I think that’s nice. Wish you were here to share a mug, Granddaddy!

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