Bubbles, as everybody knows, are addictive. Why else would kids shake up bottles of soft drinks and then watch them spew all over the place? Why else would the mere fact of holding an aerosol can of whipped cream in the hand be an invitation to write your name on the counter top, or on someone else's face? Why would we blow bubbles, watch fish in a tank?
But bubbles in the kitchen are usually achieved through hard work. You have to whip and whip and whip to get air enough into cream to make it stand up in peaks, for example. Other kinds of bubbles are the work of nature, as in naturally carbonated drinks such as Perrier water. We must pay to get these natural bubbles, too, in the form of more pennies handed over at the store.
But lately I've been having fun with a form of entertainment new to me -- making bubbles with the soda siphon, the sleek-looking silvered apparatus out of which tuxedoed gentlemen in old black-and-white movies used to squirt seltzer water.
Of course you can buy seltzer water already made, either by nature or by the wonders of chemistry, but that's boring.
The other thing I've been playing with is a similar apparatus that uses a different bubble-inducing gas and produces more-or-less instant whipped cream.
These things both work essentially the same way, by forcing a gas (carbon dioxide in the case of the soda siphon, nitrous oxide in the case of the whipped-cream maker) into a liquid, producing an aerated liquid that either stiffens as in the cream or fizzes as in the water.
Why should you want an instant whipped-cream maker? Mainly because it's fun. At about $25 for the small version, you would definitely want your batterie de cuisine to be fairly complete before you branched out into this kind of a frill.
But it does allow you to put whipping cream and confectioners' sugar into a container, shake it a few times and then pipe out whipped cream. If you're making whipped-cream decorations on a dessert, for example, it's a lot easier to do it this way than with a pastry bag and your hot hand. Make sure your cream is very cold, follow the directions, and you won't have any problems.
This little vessel also makes instant mayonnaise for decoration. The mayonnaise doesn't taste especially wonderful because it uses a whole egg and not as much oil as conventional mayonnaise, but it does look nice. Mousse-like concoctions are also possible. Still, the most interesting use is for whipped cream.
The seltzer-water maker holds lots more possibilities.
Take, for example, the idea of making champagne. Of course you can't actually make real, true champagne. But by combining white wine, a little cognac and a little confectioners' sugar (always use powdered, never granulated), you can have something that tastes similar but also very good in its own individual way.
The process for making most carbonated drinks is similar. You fill the vessel with whatever it is you want to make bubbly (tap water, for example), then screw on the top, then screw a cartridge of carbon dioxide into the top. You shake the vessel a few times, push a lever and voila, carbonated tap water that tastes enough like Perrier to be its cousin from America. (The procedure for drinks with lots of alcohol in them involves letting the liquid in the container sit, refrigerated, for a few hours or overnight before using.)
Following the same procedure you can carbonate orange juice to make it taste like a healthful version of the Orange Crush of your childhood, apple cider to taste like carbonated apple cider -- the possibilities are endless.
Then the real fun begins. Take the apple cider and add a jigger of calvados and you come out with something that tastes similar to but slightly more intense than French hard cider. (Don't carry out these experiments when you are planning to drive; this stuff tastes devastatingly soft and sweet.)
Of course you can also make white wine spritzers, turn plain kirs (white wine and cassis) into near-kir royals (champagne and cassis). Or try white wine and framboise for guzzling on a cool summer's eve. Or orange juice and white wine for near-mimosas on a Sunday morning.
Don't try the soda siphon for the first time with 200 guests awaiting something fizzy to drink. At first you'll be tentative about how much to shake the bottle, about how the cartridge should sound when you screw it in and the vessel's contents begin to buzz audibly, and about how to get the fizzy stuff out of the bottle. It might squirt all over your shoes the first time, until you learn how to hold the glass.
The soda siphon, in short, is not one of life's necessities. But it does add some effervescence.