One look at the average North American kitchen quickly reveals that we, as a culture, are obsessed with culinary contraptions. Whether you need it cracked, cut, mashed or crushed, the likes of Pampered Chef or Kitchen Stuff Plus have you covered with an ever-growing array of gizmos—in at least eight designer colors of your choice.
Having been long fascinated by the so-called ‘time savers’ like chocolate fountains, bread-makers and Slap Chops—albeit on other people’s counter-tops—I used to take special pride in my relatively gadget-free lifestyle, having gotten through life this far without even a microwave oven. But you could say my life has taken on a sparkling quality since I picked up a home beverage carbonation system—made by Israeli-based SodaStream International Ltd.—that turns ordinary old tap water into an extraordinarily refreshing club soda filled with sizzling sparkling bubbles to make each sip a reinvigorating beverage experience.
For those with a sweet tooth, there are plenty of flavored syrups available—including cola, lemon-lime and my own favorite Dr. Pete (a less-than-subtle facsimile of Dr Pepper)—to make your own fizzy favorites that could give national brands a good run for their money in a blind taste. The whole system consists of just three main components—a canister of CO2 to generate the bubbles, a novel carbonation delivery system and a bottle full of H2O—that are all ready to go with a simple push of the button.
If there is a ‘catch,’ it’s the fact that you need to use the patented SodaStream bottle, whose nice, large mouth enables a super-tight connection to the CO2 delivery system to form the necessary seal. While the starter kit I bought came with a one-liter bottle, I ended up purchasing an auxiliary set of two BPA-free 500-ml bottles for their extra portability. The add-on set includes one green and one red SodaStream bottle—featuring branded cartoon characters intended to appeal to both the child and the inner child—with both container lids boasting spectacular hermetic sealing performance to keep the contents effervescent for days at a time.
While extolling the virtues of my soda epiphany at work, an office colleague turned the discussion to the ongoing revival of mixology: the age-old art (and mad science?) of preparing mixed alcoholic drinks. For those quick to dismiss mixology as glorified bartending, the error of this line of thought is self-evident when you ask them to serve up something as advanced as sweet basil soda syrups or candy cap mushroom infused bourbons, which requires good understanding and appreciation of botanical bitters.
As a relative newbie to these dark arts, I started out with a 100-ml bottle of Toronto’s very own Bar 40 Bitters Sour—an infusion derived from various herbs and spices steeped in high-proof alcohol. As one of four gustatory Bar 40 Bitters flavors that also include Sweet, Salt and Umami, the Sour is a perfect match for my penchant for whiskey sours—blended with my own soda, of course.
Measuring only 100-ml, what these aromatic bitters may lack in stature is amply compensated by the intense flavor that actually requires the use of a lid dropper—something right out of a 1940s apothecary—to achieve precise measurement and dispensation for the intended end result.
This extra bit of faux alchemy makes the entire experience of mixing a fancy old-school cocktail a much more visceral and inspired bit of mischief all around, which is precisely the point.
I’m not sure how former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s favorite candy treat came around to making a move into the kitchen gadgetry market, but suffice it to say that my recent purchase of the Jelly Belly Ice Shaver snow-cone maker—manufactured by the California based Jelly Belly Candy Company—has more than earned its keep during some of this past summer’s more hot-and-humid days.
Boasting its own accessory line of Jelly Belly-branded snow-cone Cups & Straws—cleverly packed inside a see-through paper-plastic box bursting with fun candy colors—this is one utensil that’s guaranteed to bring any summertime party or barbeque’s to life with its nostalgic throwback look and a joyful visual presence.
If making your own brain-freezing slushies is not your cup of tea, you’ll find a little more mature sense of joy in the new Mike’s Hard Lemonade Frozen flavored malt beverages marketed by Canada’s own pre-mixed cocktails pioneer Marc Anthony Group Inc. of Vancouver.
Proudly standing out on the liquor-store shelf in 296-ml flexible stand-up pouches adorned with vibrant colors set against a black background, this adult treat packs a perfect mix of chills and thrills once it’s taken from the freezer’s icy cold and squeezed into your favorite glass to serve up a tasty, ice-cold refreshment that would make many a bartender feel as proud as punch.
Paul Pethick is a technical writer and editor living in Toronto.