Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sweet Potato Blondies

Hello everyone! It’s been almost a month since I last wrote, but it’s not because I had nothing to write. I just can’t seem to find the time! We spent a few weeks in Montreal over the holidays, and even though it was relaxing and less work that being at home, I still didn’t exactly have much “free time” (I did get to complete two images on a coloring app while watching the evening news, which is as much as I had colored in the entire previous year, but that’s not time when I would have blogged anyway – I guess it basically replaced knitting). I think the main reasons I have less free time these days are that I have two kids (duh) and also that I’ve been spending more time in the sewing room, completing projects in an effort to declutter. On the bright side, it’s working, and I think I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but on the downside, well, obviously it’s taking time from something else. So here’s a look back at some desserts I made before the holidays, with a blondie recipe that is definitely worth making.

I tried almond cloud cookies, which I found much more sticky than chewy – so much so that I dubbed them “dental emergency cookies” and stopped eating them after the second one because I was genuinely afraid of losing a filling or a crown on those things. Maybe it was just too humid when I made them.

I also tried puffy peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, which were just okay – I actually thought they lacked peanut butter. (Honestly, I could have sworn I’d posted a similar recipe already, but can find no record of it.)

There was also a new brownie recipe, and while the Engineer and the Little Prince liked them well enough, I thought they were disastrous and much prefer my stand-by. I’m also starting to think it’s odd that so many people are wrong about what good brownies should be (there’s the great fudgy vs. cakey debate, frosting, etc., and I know what I like).

So perhaps because I was still thinking of brownies, I decided to make blondies with a sweet potato base. They seemed both healthier and more satisfying than the regular version, plus I knew that the Fox would enjoy any leftover sweet potato purée! As it turns out, these were definitely a winning dish. I’ll be making them again!

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 ½ lbs. total), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup white whole wheat flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups granulated maple sugar or dark brown sugar
8 Tbsp. (1 stick or ½ cup) lactose-free butter or margarine, softened
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips

Bring several inches of water to a boil in a large saucepan fitted with a steamer basket. Add sweet potato to steamer basket, cover and cook until tender when pierced with a knife 14 to 18 minutes. Cool completely. Transfer to a food processor and purée until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. You will only need 1 ½ cups purée for this recipe; reserve any remaining purée for another use (if I didn’t have a baby to eat it right now, I’d freeze it for later).

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Whisk whole-wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl on medium high speed until smooth. Add sweet potato and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips by hand.

Spread dough into the prepared baking dish and bake until golden and set up, 22 to 26 minutes (this took longer in my oven – I’d say to bake for 30 to 35 minutes, but even then, my blondies were still borderline too moist, so use your best judgement).

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Roasted Rainbow Vegetable Bowl

I had leftover radishes from this recipe and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I made some strozzapreti carbonara with radishes and it was good, albeit not very photogenic. Then I remembered this roasted vegetable bowl on Minimalist Baker and I just had to make it! I adapted a bit, using more root vegetables because I like them and omitting the kale because I didn’t have any. (The original post has weights for the ingredients, but I decided that it’s basically a salad and I’m not bothering to weigh things to the gram; eyeballing it and adapting to taste will do.) It turns out that the radishes were my least favorite item in that bowl, so I’d omit them next time, but the rest was spot-on! It was the perfect lunch for me, making me feel both full and virtuous. And it’s easy to make, too!

For the vegetables
3 or 4 red or yellow baby potatoes (or more), sliced into ¼-inch rounds
½ large sweet potato (or all of it), sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 (or 3) large carrots, halved and sliced
1 medium beet, sliced
4 radishes, halved (I’d omit them next time)
2 Tbsp. avocado or melted coconut oil, divided
1 tsp. curry powder, divided
½ tsp. sea salt, divided
1 cup cabbage, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup broccolini, roughly chopped
2 cups chopped collard greens or kale

For the toppings
1 lemon, juiced (about 3 Tbsp.), divided
2 Tbsp. tahini, divided
2 tsp. maple syrup (optional)
2 Tbsp. hemp seeds, divided (optional)
1 avocado, peeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 400 °F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

To the first baking sheet, add the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and radishes and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil, ½ tsp. curry powder, and ¼ tsp. sea salt. Toss to combine. Bake for a total of 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

To the second baking sheet, add the cabbage, bell pepper, and broccolini. Drizzle with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, ½ tsp. curry powder, and ¼ tsp. sea salt. Toss to combine.

When the potatoes/carrots hit the 10-minute mark, add the second pan to the oven and bake for a total of 15-20 minutes. In the last 5 minutes of baking, add the collard greens or kale to either pan and roast until tender and bright green.

To serve, divide vegetables between two serving plates and garnish with avocado and season with another pinch of sea salt, lemon juice, tahini, maple syrup (I made a dressing with those), and hemp seeds. You could also garnish with any fresh herbs you have!

Quatre-quarts au sarrasin et aux pépites de chocolat

Bon, vous connaissez le principe du quatre-quarts, hein? Une part d’œufs, une part de farine, une part de sucre et une part de beurre. Plus de la poudre à pâte et une pincée de sel. Avec des pépites de chocolat, c’est plus un cinq-cinquièmes, mais le terme quatre-quarts reste plus facile à comprendre! J’ai craqué pour cette recette sur Chocolate & Zucchini. Puisque j’ai maintenant de la farine de sarrasin blanche et que le gâteau a l’air plus pâle (et plus appétissant) sur le blogue de Clotilde Dusoulier, je l’ai fait une deuxième fois avec de la farine de sarrasin blanche, mais ça a été un désastre! Le gâteau s’est creusé en refroidissant, et toutes les pépites de chocolat sont tombées au fond. On pourrait essayer un mélange moitié-moitié, mais sinon, je recommande la farine de sarrasin brune.

Quand j’ai pesé mes œufs, j’ai obtenu 160 g.; c’est donc les quantités que j’ai mises ci-dessous. Si vous êtes habitué aux volumes, sachez que 160 g. de farine, c’est environ 1 ½ tasse, et 160 g. de sucre, c’est en gros ¾ tasse.

3 gros œufs (voir note plus haut)
160 g. de sucre, et un peu plus pour saupoudrer
160 g. de beurre sans lactose ou de margarine (ou de beurre de coco), fondu et tiédi
160 g. de farine de sarrasin (voir note plus haut)
2 c. à thé de poudre à pâte
¼ c. à thé de sel
160 g. de pépites de chocolat noir

Préchauffer le four à 350 °F et chemiser un moule à cake de papier sulfurisé ou de papier parchemin graissé (mais ne pas laisser le papier dépasser de beaucoup).

Dans un bol de taille moyenne, mélanger la farine de sarrasin, la poudre à pâte, le sel et les pépites de chocolat. Réserver.

Dans un grand bol, battre ensemble les œufs, le sucre et le beurre jusqu’à ce que le mélange soit mousseux. Ajouter les ingrédients secs en une seule fois, puis incorporer à la spatule jusqu’à ce qu’il n’Y ait plus de trace de farine.

Verser dans le moule, saupoudrer de sucre et mettre au four de 25 à 30 minutes, jusqu’à ce que le gâteau soit brun doré et qu’un couteau inséré au centre ressorte propre (c’est-à-dire sans trace de pâte non cuite, même s’il pourrait y avoir des traces de chocolat fondu). Laisser refroidir, puis retirer le quatre-quarts du moule délicatement. Déguster un peu tiède ou à température ambiante.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Figgy Buckwheat Scones

It had been a while since I baked from Good to the Grain, but when I wanted to use some buckwheat flour (since I now have two kinds in my pantry), that’s the first place I turned. I made these figgy scones not once but twice! The first time, I followed the recipe, and the second time, I used a 50/50 mix of light and dark buckwheat flour. . I actually preferred the first batch, with all dark buckwheat (as in the photo on top; the bottom photo is the one with both types of flour). These were really good, and they freeze well!

Note that the recipe for fig butter, which is actually like a fig jam, makes enough for two batches of scones. You can do what I did and make two batches (and freeze some), or halve the fig butter recipe, or use leftover fig butter as jam on toast or bagels or waffles.

For the fig butter (makes 2 cups; see note above)
½ cup sugar
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 cup red wine
½ cup port
12 oz. (340 g.) dried Black Mission figs, stems removed
¼ tsp. cinnamon
4 oz. (½ cup or 1 stick) lactose-free butter or margarine, softened

To poach the figs, measure ¼ cup water and the sugar into a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, incorporating the sugar without splashing it up the sides. If crystals do get on the sides of the pot, use a clean pastry brush dipped in water to wipe them off. (The goal is to prevent the syrup from crystallizing.)

Add the cloves and star anise. Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium flame and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the syrup is amber-colored. For even coloring, the flame should not come up around the outside of the pot.

Add the red wine, port, figs, and cinnamon, standing back a bit, as the syrup is hot. Don't panic when the syrup hardens; this is the normal reaction when liquids are added to hot sugar. Continue cooking the mixture over a medium flame for 2 minutes, until the sugar and wine blend.

Reduce the flame to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The figs will burble quietly as they are jostled together by the flame; they are ready when the wine has reduced by half. Remove the pan from the stove and cool to room temperature.

Fish out the star anise and cloves. Pour the cooled figs, with their liquid, into a food processor and purée until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the softened butter to the fig paste and process until smooth. The fig butter can be spread right onto the buckwheat scone dough or stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. If it is refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before using.

For the scones (makes 12 scones)
1 cup (135 g.) buckwheat flour
1 ¼ cups (160 g.) all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
4 oz. (½ cup or 1 stick) cold lactose-free butter or margarine, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 ¼ cups lactose-free cream (I used coconut milk, and would consider using only 1 cup next time)
1 cup fig butter (see recipe above)

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.

Add the butter to the dry mixture. Rub the butter between your fingers, breaking it into smaller bits. Continue rubbing until the butter is coarsely ground and feels like grains of rice. The faster you do this, the more the butter will stay solid, which is important for the success of the recipe. (I did this in the food processor.)

Add the cream and gently mix it into the flour with a spatula until the dough is just combined.

Use a pastry scraper or a spatula to transfer the dough onto a well-floured surface. It will be sticky, so flour your hands and pat the dough into a rectangle. Grab a rolling pin and roll the dough into a rectangle that is 8 inches wide, 16 inches long, and ¾ inch thick. If at any time the dough rolls off in a different direction, use your hands to square the corners and pat it back into shape. As you're rolling, periodically run a pastry scraper or spatula underneath to loosen the dough, flour the surface, and continue rolling. This keeps the dough from sticking. Flour the top of the dough if the rolling pin is sticking.

Spread the fig butter over the dough. Roll the long edge of the dough up, patting the dough as you roll so that it forms a neat log 16 inches long. Roll the finished log so that the seam is on the bottom and the weight of the roll seals the edge.

Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half. Put the halves on a baking sheet or plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (The dough can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 days.) While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.

After 30 minutes, take both logs out of the refrigerator and cut each half into 6 equal pieces about 1 ¼ inches wide. Place each scone flat, with the spiral of the fig butter facing up, on a baking sheet, 6 to a sheet. Give the scones a squeeze to shape them into rounds.

Bake for 38 to 42 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The scones are ready to come out when their undersides are golden brown. They are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day, though mine kept well for a few days at room temperature (that is, the ones that I didn’t freeze for later).

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Honey Buckwheat Spice Cake

Let me start by saying that this cake is delicious and that I will be making it again. Now that that’s clear, I can also tell you that it’s dairy-free, gluten-free and refined-sugar-free. If I had started by saying what’s not in it, you might have decided that it was free of too many things, but really, this one is great! The recipe is from Gluten-Free Girl, and Shauna James Ahern specifies a few things that I found interesting. First, she says that cakes made with oil are silkier and more tender than those made with butter – I’ve also read this in baking books recently. I don’t know where margarine falls on the spectrum, but in any event, that’s why this cake calls for oil. She also says that “the secret here is to cream the eggs and honey, the way you might cream butter and sugar. When they are fluffy and increased in volume, slowly slowly drizzle in the oil on the side of the bowl. This will keep the volume and make the structure for the cake.” And that’s in part why it keeps its structure even though it’s gluten-free (and technically, grain-free, since buckwheat isn’t a true grain).

Also, and this is very important: you MUST use light buckwheat flour, not the dark one that most recipes call for. I’m not sure I’ve actually seen it in stores, so I bought a bag from Bouchard Family Farms (for those of you who are wondering, it’s allergen-free and kosher parve, unless anything changes in their factory between now and when you buy a bag). This flour was a revelation to me, because it looks so much like all-purpose wheat flour! It also doesn’t have the strong taste I’ve come to expect from buckwheat. Here’s a photo of some in a bowl so you can see.

After I frosted the cake, it looked a bit monochromatic. Since I had a little bit of leftover frosting, I decided to color it with some beet powder I had on hand and pipe it on. In retrospect, I think I should have colored the whole batch that way! It was delicious (just be aware that the pink may get discolored over a few days until the cake is eaten).

For the cake
2 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
140 g. light buckwheat flour
140 g. gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
250 g. (¾ cup) honey
115 g. coconut oil, melted
140 g. (2/3 cup) non-dairy milk

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans with a neutral oil of your choice (I used a regular 8-inch round pan and an 8-inch springform pan). Set aside.

Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Turn the mixer on high and beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, about 7 minutes. (If they are taking too much time to come to stiff peaks, add a pinch of cream of tartar.) Use a rubber spatula to gently move the egg whites to a small bowl. Wipe out the bowl of the stand mixer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the light buckwheat flour, the all-purpose flour, the baking powder, the salt, and the spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix the honey and egg yolks on medium until they have become a creamy coherent liquid. Slowly, with the mixer running on low, drizzle in the coconut oil, along the side of the bowl, very slowly. Continue mixing until everything is well combined.

With the mixer running on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Pour in ½ of the milk and continue alternating dry ingredients and milk until everything is mixed in. Gently, fold the egg whites into the batter until they are fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until the edges of the cake are starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, the top has a definite spring, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 20 minutes (I found it a bit dry, though, so I would check at the 15-minute mark next time).

Take the cakes out of the oven. Prick holes in the top of the cake and drizzle a little honey over the top (I admit that I skipped this step). Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely.

For the frosting
2 cans (13.5 oz. each) of full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup honey
beet powder or gel food coloring (optional)

Open the cans of coconut milk. I like doing this from the bottom, so that I can pour out the coconut water and then scoop out the coconut cream that has risen to the top, which is what you’re after here. (You can freeze the coconut water in an ice cube tray and save it for smoothies, for example.) Put only the coconut cream in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium-high until it thickens a bit, like whipped cream, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low, add the vanilla and the honey, then the beet powder, to taste. Mix until thoroughly combined.

For best results, refrigerate the frosting for 1 hour before piping.

Green Pancakes

These pancakes are really great if you have leftover spinach that you don’t know what to do with! Not that I wouldn’t buy spinach just for making them, mind you… I decided to double the recipe, which are the amounts that I wrote below – the yield is about 10 to 12 small pancakes. Some kids will love these just because they’re green, but if your kid needs encouragement, consider calling them kelp cakes (if you have a fan of The Octonauts on your hands) or maybe dinosaur pancakes. We really liked these!

2 medium-sized very ripe bananas, peeled
2 cups (packed) fresh baby spinach
2 large eggs
½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour

Combine bananas, spinach, and eggs in a blender (or use an immersion blender). Blend until very smooth – you don’t want any big pieces of spinach in there. Add in baking powder and flour. Pulse a few times until combined (do not overmix – stir briefly with a spoon if needed). A few small lumps of flour are okay. Batter will be very thick. Set aside.

Heat a bit of oil or butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium/medium-high heat. Skillet is hot enough if a few drops of water sizzle when flicked onto the surface.

Pour desired amount of pancake batter (I used roughly ¼ cup at a time) into skillet and cook until bubbles begin to form on the surface of the pancakes and the bottoms turn golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 1 minute. Serve with maple syrup.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Matzo Ball Soup

Not long ago, the Little Prince (4 years old) was reading some of his books to the Fox (then 7 months old) – do take a moment to picture the adorable scene. He was reading him his series of books about food (see here), and when he got to Let’s Nosh, he said to him, out of the blue, “Matzo ball soup is my favorite.” I say this is out of the blue because, as far as I know, HE’D NEVER HAD MATZO BALL SOUP IN HIS LIFE. So I decided to call his bluff and make matzo ball soup. Turns out, he absolutely loved it. I mean, we’re all familiar with the phenomenon wherein a child sees a dish and proclaims he doesn’t like it, without even tasting it, right? This was the opposite. On the rare occasion that this happens, take advantage!

So here’s my matzo ball soup recipe, which is little more than following instructions on packages, really. I mean, the way it’s written at the link (on Black Table) is fabulous and well worth the read, but reproducing any of that on here would be plagiarism. That being said, because the Little Prince decided that the only vegetables he likes are “cucumbers, and the ones in matzo ball soup” and because he ate everything in his bowl and had seconds and thirds, I figured I’d share! Of course, if you happen to have homemade chicken stock on hand, use that instead of storebought, and yes you can make your own matzo balls from scratch, but if you want an easy recipe, this is the one. The yield is enough for anywhere between 6 people and a small army.

4 eggs
2/3 cup oil
2 boxes of matzo ball soup mix
6 carrots
1 celery heart
2 small onions
14 cups water (so 3.5 L; use your best judgement based on the size of your pot, up to 5 L)

In a medium bowl, stir the eggs well with a fork. Add the oil and stir again. Add the matzo meal from the boxes of matzo ball soup mix and stir well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables (in whatever size and shape pieces you want in the soup; this isn’t brain surgery).

In the largest pot you own, bring the water to a boil and stir in the packets of soup mix. Add the chopped vegetables.

Take the matzo ball mixture out of the fridge and, using heaping-teaspoon-sized amounts of dough (I think I used around a tablespoon), roll into balls (which will expand in the soup, don’t worry). Once all the balls are in the soup pot, cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 30 minutes and serve.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

More knitting for kids

At the end of last summer, I had finally started knitting a scarf for myself, a project that had been in my queue for a while. I was halfway done when I realized that I had made a mistake somewhere in the stockinette stitch (in addition to a mistake that I hadn’t corrected on literally the second row). So I decided to frog it and start over, but in the meantime, I had more knitting to do for babies!

First, for my friends D. and N., I made a cabled sweater called Get Ziggy. I didn’t know the sex of the baby and I didn’t have enough gender-neutral yarn in my stash, but that was a good thing because it allowed me to buy two skeins of the gorgeous Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted Yarn in Ysolda Red, which I’d been eying for a long time. It’s red with variegations of pink and orange, and while I’ll admit that a solid color would have shown off the cables more, I loved the effect nonetheless. It turns out that the baby was a girl, named Ezri Leora (there are so many cool names in English that just wouldn’t work in French, right?). I had enough yarn left at the end to make a hat, though I suspect it’ll be too big for the baby this winter. I’m throwing in a picture of the Fox modeling it (and trying to understand what a sleeve is), because I had done the same with the Little Prince’s Christmas sweater a few years ago!

Then, for another little girl due after the holidays (name still to be announced), I made the Clara dress that I had first seen here. I used Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light Yarn in Posy from my stash, which worked out just fine. The dress came out a bit bigger than expected (I made the bigger size to use up more yarn), so it’ll be for when she’s older… I now have about a third of a skein in each of Posy and Vermillion left in this yarn. And the button is from my stash.

Finally, when I realized that the Little Prince did not own a scarf (which he’ll need to go to Montreal over the holidays), I decided to make him this fox scarf. (For some reason, the pattern has disappeared from the page in the past few weeks, but it’s pretty basic and appears to be the same as this one.) The pattern called for a fingering weight yarn, so I was eying this one, but then I decided against it. A fingering yarn would make a small, thin scarf, and I wanted something cozier. So I went with worsted weight and bought a skein of Malabrigo Rios Yarn in Glazed Carrot (because I couldn’t resist that delicious color!). I paired it with leftover Madelinetosh Tosh Merino DK Yarn in Antler from my stash and used black embroidery floss for the eyes. I recommend worsted weight, I love the finished product!

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Fall outings 2017 - The child-friendly version

In September, we went to the Doseum (pro tip: arrive at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, to get some time to explore before crowds get there and while there’s still parking). It opened just two years ago and has gotten very positive reviews from most visitors. The exhibits there are very interactive and mostly focused on STEM. There is lots to do for little ones as well, starting with Little Town: kids under 5 can play in a small town with an airplane, grocery store, veterinary clinic, post office, bank, construction site, etc. There is also a playground outside along with a water area (interactive and educational, but kids will get wet, so bring a change of clothes for them).

The Engineer says he was as happy as a kid in a candy store, and the Little Prince was delighted. Personally, though, I confess I am a bit on the fence about the place. I really want to like it, but I feel like it doesn’t compare to places like, say, the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, the Canadian Museum of Nature or the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, or the Children’s Museum section of the Canadian History Museum in Gatineau. I mean, what’s a science center without a Van der Graaff generator? I felt like the Doseum was more of a playground than a museum in many ways. Some of the exhibits seemed nice, but the equipment was defective in some way. Admittedly, I’m not sure to what extent this is because I visited the Canadian museums as a child and the San Antonio one as an adult… Though as a mother to a baby, I do have a few complaints as well. First of all, while the nursing room is a nice idea, it turns out that the space is only made for one person at a time, so the woman who stepped in it literally 5 seconds before me locked the door behind her, leaving me to breastfeed in the (thankfully quiet) glass-walled baby room, but that felt a bit like being in a fish tank and trying not to expose myself to visitors. Then I had to change the Fox’s diaper, so I went to the restrooms and made a beeline for the family restroom. I wondered why there was just one, since it’s a brand new children’s museum and all, but anyway, I stepped in, and you know what is missing in the family restroom? A changing table. I kid you not.

There is an outpost of Bakery Lorraine on the premises if you get hungry, along with plenty of tables (assuming it’s nice enough to eat outside, otherwise it might get crowded indoors), and thoughtfully placed sinks to wash your hands before you eat.

Be aware that if you are an adult without children, you may be refused admittance. Admission is $12 a ticket for all ages. (For what it’s worth, since our initial visit, the Engineer has bought an annual pass for one adult and one child and has returned twice, so he’s fine going there for an hour or two without the pressure to visit every exhibit. The Little Prince loves it.)

In October, we went to the Witte Museum, which has been expanded and improved since our first visit. The museum now has a proper dinosaur gallery, with skeletons of species that used to live in what is now Texas (this was particularly à propos now that the Little Prince has an interest in dinosaurs!). There’s an Acrocanthosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus rex (both giant meat-eaters), along with an Agujaceratops as well as some marine species. The Dinosaur Lab lets kids “excavate” a skeleton from a sand pit, and there are displays that you can see up close – comparing the teeth of herbivores and carnivores, for example. We then visited the Texas Wild Gallery, which shows off the fauna of the various ecosystems in Texas. Plus, there are a few live specimens in the aptly-named Live Lab, like snakes and Speedy the tortoise. We then went to the Body Adventure pavilion, which is really awesome: you get to create a “Power Pass” with a bar code containing information such as your name, age, and sex, then you use it to interact with various exhibits. One allows you to see your own electrocardiogram, but the most fun one was “Pick Up Your Pace” where you walk, skip, or run over 10 feet or so and get a silhouette of your movements along with your stride length and speed. The top floor has exhibits about digestion and anatomy, and if your kid is old enough to ride a bicycle, do use the SkyCycle outside! When you’re done, you get to print out your profile containing all your results. (We were there on a Sunday afternoon and the place wasn’t crowded – we were able to get our turn at all the exhibits we wanted.) There’s also a fun treehouse outside, and we spent some time walking the beautiful grounds. The downside is that many places have steps, making them unfriendly to strollers and wheelchairs. For what it’s worth, the Witte and the Doseum charge roughly the same admission price, but at this point, I’d rather go to the Witte.

In November, we went to Kiddie Park, the oldest children’s amusement park in the country (it’s been open since 1925). It’s located in Brackenridge Park, near the zoo and both museums in this post. We went there on a Sunday morning as soon as it opened, and the weather was a bit cool, so initially we were the only ones there. This was of course a plus, but it did give the place a bit of “creepy haunted carnival” vibe! All the rides are conceived for children ages 1 to12; two of the rides are accessible to adults (the helicopters and the carrousel), but there’s one ride with a height requirement of 46”, so make sure your little ones know in advance that they may not be able to go on that one. Honestly, it’s nothing fancy, but I appreciated that adults don’t have to pay admission, and unlimited all-day admission for a child is $13, which is a pretty good deal (you can also pay per ride, but it adds up quickly). Note that the carrousel will be 100 years old next year, and will probably be renovated a bit. I really liked it as it was, though – I put my hand on the back of the saddle of the Little Prince’s horse as I stood next to him – the paint had worn away and the wood was so smooth that I knew I was part of 100 years of parents putting their hand in that spot! There are refreshments available for purchase, as well as a small arcade and the kind of games that allow you to win a stuffed animal if you knock over enough milk bottles. (The downside, as I look back through my videos, is that there’s pop music blaring from speakers. You can’t escape it.) I can’t imagine tweens having very much fun there, but for small children, it’s a great time!