I am so pleased to tell you that we all fully recovered from the flu and feel pretty much alive and kicking after making and eating about 3 dozen or so of those nutrient-rich blueberry, lemon, and kefir muffins for three days in a row. A delectable, bonding, and self-cognitive marathon Nicole and I both enjoyed, quizzing each other on our favorite berries, colors, ice cream, and princesses as we mixed and messed, poured and spilled, whisked and splattered. As it’d been a while since anybody asked me what my favorite berry was, and I wasn’t even sure if I had one, I blurted out the next ingredient I was reaching for—blueberries. She also helped me realize my favorite color—blue. I hope you don’t honestly think I said “blue” because the blueberries I was folding in were blue. Although . . .
“Yes, I know, mama. All your summer frocks are blue”, Nicole cleared up my momentary confusion.
“She’s got one foot in my wardrobe already”, I gasped shaken up by the thought and Nicole’s keen eye. “I never thought about my favorite color that way. Blue it is then.”
As for Nicole, she is in love with strawberries and crazy about pink. For now.
The muffins turned out exactly what we wanted them to taste like: soft, fluffy, berry-moist goodness with a pronounced lemon bite and a hint of coarse, nutty whole grains. Not too sweet. Not too oily. During the multiple taste tests that Kevin was summoned to, he kept instigating me to put more oil or butter in. But I stood by my recipe and served his share with a slab of butter on the side. How much butter was used per muffin should never be disclosed. Nicolasha had three muffins in a row—no butter on hers—from the first batch we made and one for breakfast with a cup of milk for the next couple of days thereafter.
As for me, the taste of blueberries had grown on me over the last three days to the point that I made them my official favorite berry. The blueberry-lemon combo left us pleasantly surprised and wanting more. The lemon definitely brightens up the somewhat humble and earthy flavor of blueberries. But it’s not invasive. Blueberries are clearly the star ingredient in this healthy recipe.
So the day we finished the muffins, I rolled up my sleeves to pursue the tasty trio—naturally I wasn’t going to lose the kefir to the thick of the fridge either—in another original recipe that made me turn away from the stove and fix my eyes on the fridge. I was moving on to faster and cooler things—blueberry and kefir popsicles! It’s summer after all. Well, almost the end of it, to be honest with myself, and I am just now hauling out my pop maker out of the freezer. Hey, at least I remembered to put it in there on the last day of school. Laugh or not, I live in the tropics year round but I make my frozen treats only in the summertime. This is one of the ways I enforce seasons in Florida. So every year on the last day of school I shove my pop and ice cream makers to the back of the fridge where they remain in an arctic confinement till the first day of school. It’s a tradition.
I got my Zoku quick pop maker out and smiled. I love it. For the reason the creators of it probably never thought it could be loved. I love a soft and creamy texture of the third batch of pops it delivers when you can fully and clearly differentiate and enjoy the flavors of the ingredients without freezing your teeth, mouth, and ultimately the brains. For the same reason my mixed berry frozen yogurt and vanilla bean ice cream that I make in my Cuisinart ice cream maker get polished off right from the churning bowl and for the same reason I microwave store-bought versions for a good five seconds.
The sauces I intended to use for the recipe had been made the night before. Separately. I cooked the blueberries with a little sugar and lemon juice to preserve and intensify their flavor and color. I whisked in sugar and lemon juice into kefir and put it in the fridge for the flavors to mingle and settle down. The kefir is tart and tangy by itself; but the addition of lemon simply elevates it to the level capable of resisting the sweet attack of the blueberry sauce.
Now I just had to put them together in such a way that Nicole couldn’t pick one flavor over the other. Kefir is a very healthy product. I was raised on it. And I want her to get used to it even if I have to make these pops year round! So all the straight edges, angles, and waves that the Zoku pop maker offers as part of its design were out of the question, but at the same time simply combining the two mixtures seemed an easy way out for me. The marbling technique described in Zoku Quick Pops by Jackie Zorovich and Kristina Sacci piqued my interest but still looked more like stacking individual layers. I wanted more. I wanted a better blend with a cool design. Three batches later I finally nailed it down by simply swirling the layers together with a straw. There will be no eating around that!
The pops were disappearing faster than the Zoku pop maker claims to make them. I don’t know why I even bothered with the perfect marbling technique. Nicole wanted the pops that had more of “the white stuff” in them anyway. Go figure these kids. I should’ve offered her a glass of plain kefir in the first place. I do it now every night as part of her bedtime routine. Just can’t forget the secret ingredient.
Recipe for Olga’s Original Marble Blueberry and Kefir Popsicles:
1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed and drained
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
2 cups plain kefir, available in Publix as well as many health and ethnic food stores
1/3 cup sugar
2 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
1. To make the blueberry sauce, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Lower the heat and boil gently for 8-10 minutes, or until mixture gets thick. Stir the sauce often during cooking. Let cool completely. Pour sauce in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
2. To make the kefir sauce, place all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisk together until sugar has dissolved.
3. To assemble popsicles, pour mixtures into ice pop molds, alternating as you go, to make 3 to 5 layers in each pop, using about 2 tablespoons per layer.
4. Insert wooden sticks if your molds don’t come with sticks or built-in handles. Freeze overnight or until firm, 4 to 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature about 5 minutes before unmolding.
Makes about 8.
1. You can use all fresh blueberries, all frozen or a combination of both. If you use frozen berries, please make sure to thaw them first. Then drain them and reserve any leftover liquid.
2. If you mind the seeds in the blueberry sauce, you can strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, using a spoon to scrape it so it goes through faster.
3. The marbling technique works best when you use two thick mixtures. They should both have a similar consistency. If the blueberry sauce gets too thick, dilute it with the reserved blueberry water, adding 1 teaspoon at a time. (I do this to preserve the color.)
If you don’t have it, use plain water.
4. After you’ve finished layering, you can swirl the mixtures together with a straw or a knife to put your own spin on the technique.
5. Feel free to adjust the sugar and lemon content to your taste. Always taste as you cook!