Friday, June 24, 2022

Atlanta

We spent a day in Atlanta on our way north this summer. I’d been meaning to visit for a long time, and I’m glad I had my family with me! 

Our first stop was the Georgia Aquarium. We were blown away! In addition to all the exhibits, we caught the sea lion show and the 4D movie (4D means that there are 3D glasses as well as physical interventions like bubbles, wind, and sprays of water, to make the experience more immersive). We also saw the dolphins and belugas and sea dragons and more fish that I could possibly name or count. Many of the tanks have special viewing stations for kids built right in – we’re talking tunnels and acrylic domes leading right into the tank! 

The absolute best part for me was the huge tank with whale sharks. It starts with a tunnel into a tank that has huge rays, sea turtles, sharks and other fish, and every once in a while, you can see a whale shark in the distance. These are the biggest fish in the world! I remember seeing them in National Geographic magazines when I was a kid, but I never thought I’d get to see a real live one! I felt like the paleontologists from Jurassic Park when they first see the live dinosaurs! Eventually, you make your way around to a huge acrylic wall, at least two stories high, and then you can observe the pair of whale sharks in all their glory (along with a hundred other fish). It was absolutely stunning! I think if I lived in Atlanta, I’d get an annual pass and come here first thing in the morning once in a while, before the crowds. 



There was another tank with white-tipped sharks and hammerhead sharks swimming alongside a school of fish, and that was also very impressive (pardon the ambient noise). 


Then, we went to the World of Coca-Cola, which is right next door. I used to have a collection of Coca-Cola items (I technically still do, but it’s been whittled down a lot) and I had been meaning to visit this place for years and years, so I couldn’t miss it. That being said, if you are not in that situation, I have to admit that the visit might not be worth it for you. In a nutshell, there are some Coca-Cola artefacts, exhibits about the history and fabrication, more interactive exhibits about the art and honing your sense of smell… The highlight is that tasting room at the end of the tour: there are several soda fountain stations, each with ten or so drinks that Coca-Cola makes in various countries, and you get to walk around and taste as many as you want! I really enjoyed the red punch from Korea (the blackberry soda from Malawi deserves a special mention too), but was less keen on the apple soda from Germany and the Beverly soda from Italy. 




I also walked around a bit in Centennial Olympic Park, which was beautiful, albeit not peaceful like Discovery Green. It was mid- to late-afternoon by then, and there were a *lot* of people carrying clipboards and asking for donations for various organizations, with such insistence that it felt a bit aggressive. So I’m aware that I only saw a very small sliver of Atlanta, but overall, I loved it!


Thursday, June 23, 2022

Dark Chocolate Swirl Banana Tahini Muffins

 

I got this recipe from Soom and made it when we had half a jar of their (delicious!) dark chocolate tahini with sea salt to use up, and we were trying to get rid of the last of the frozen bananas as well. I really like banana muffins, tahini, and chocolate, so obviously this was up my alley! 

If you can’t get your hands on Soom Dark Chocolate Tahini with Sea Salt, you can replace it with your chocolate spread of choice, and fine sea salt to taste. 

1 ½ cups oat flour 
¼ cup instant oats 
1 tsp. baking soda 
1 tsp. cinnamon sea salt, to taste 
3 large overripe bananas, mashed 
1 large egg 
½ cup tahini 
¼ cup maple syrup 
¼ cup melted lactose-free butter (vegan if needed) 
½ cup Soom Dark Chocolate Tahini with Sea Salt, to swirl 

Preheat oven to 350 °F; line a muffin tin with 12 liners. 

In a small bowl, which together the oat flour, instant oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and sea salt. Set aside. 

Place bananas, egg, tahini, maple syrup, and melted butter in a large bowl. Using a hand blender, blend the wet ingredients until smooth. Using a large spoon, mix in dry ingredients until a batter forms. 

Scoop the batter evenly into muffin tins. Then, take a small spoonful of dark chocolate tahini and place it on top of each muffin. Swirl the chocolate into the batter using a butter knife to create a marbled look. 

Bake the muffins for 22-25 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake! Allow the muffins to cool for 5 minutes before placing on a cooling rack. Enjoy with extra Dark Chocolate Tahini with Sea Salt if you wish!




Friday, June 17, 2022

Houston

On our way up this year (our first time driving back to Canada since the onset of the pandemic), we made a first stop in Houston. I’ve always wanted to visit, but it still hadn’t happened after over 10 years in Texas! I kept thinking that we could just go on a long weekend, but this year I was forced to admit that the Engineer’s long weekends somehow never coincided with the kids’ long weekends, so if we wanted to visit, we had to make it happen in the summer. 

Our first stop, immediately following a nice lunch at nearby London Cafe, was Seismique, an immersive experience with light and sound. (To be honest, we also considered Candytopia, but decided that only one of the two was in our budget. Luckily, the Engineer had the brilliant idea to look up detailed YouTube videos of both visits, and Seismique was more up our alley.) Let’s get the downsides out of the way: first, it’s expensive. Second, it isn’t built with a logical path in mind, meaning that in order to see the whole thing, you’ll have to pay attention, double back, and follow along on a map. Except they don’t give you a map, they instead rely on you to download their app and use their cartoon map – the app is also necessary to interact with some displays, but others can be activated physically. Third, no backpacks or large bags are allowed, so plan accordingly. 

That being said, we really enjoyed our visit! The kids AND grownups enjoyed interacting with the lights and various exhibits. We loved the huge crocheted play structure, even though only the kids could use its full potential (and the Fox predictably got stuck at the top at some point, but we managed to coax him down). Really, apart from a few exhibits that were either hard to operate or not working well, everything was fun! 




We then ended the day by walking around Discovery Green, a large park downtown. There are green spaces, a pond, a playground, a splash pad, small cafés, sculptures, etc. It was a really pleasant way to unwind! Note that if budget had allowed, we would have booked a room at the adjacent Mariott Marquis Houston, which has a rooftop lazy river shaped like Texas! We then had dinner at nearby The Rustic. The openness and fans made us comfortable, and given that we had reached our noise quota for the day, we were glad there were no live performances that night. The food was good, albeit spicy. 




We started off the next day killing some time at the McGovern Centennial Gardens, which were really beautiful, especially the knoll with the spiral path! We then walked to the Children’s Museum Houston when it opened. The Engineer had suggested it the day before, so it wasn’t part of our original plan, but it’s a really nice museum, and I’m glad we went! We also had lunch there before walking back to the car. There were many other museums in the area that looked interesting and inviting! 



We then made a pit stop at the Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational place of worship and contemplation. The grounds are beautiful, and the inside of the chapel was more like a room in a modern art museum than any church I’ve been to. There is a skylight, and benches are arranged in concentric circles in an octagonal room. The white walls are decorated with what, at first glance, look like large rectangular canvasses painted black, but when you look more closely, you realize that one of them is actually purplish and has lighter brushstrokes, one is actually a burgundy rectangle on a dark grey background, etc. We walked around outside, but sadly, the adjacent Menil Collection was closed that day. 


Finally, we drove to the main event: the Space Center. I’m not a NASA buff, more of a casual fan, but this was really interesting to me. You can visit Space Shuttle Independence, a high-fidelity replica of shuttles used by NASA in previous programs. You’ll learn a lot about previous missions as well as current conditions on the International Space Station, about space and the NASA in general… You can even touch a rock from the Moon! We didn’t take the tours of the grounds because by then, we were all tired (especially the kids), so we went back to the hotel for a swim before dinner. I really liked Houston!


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Pizza with Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, and Eggs

 


This recipe is from The Weekday Vegetarians, Jenny Rosenstrach’s latest cookbook. It’s an easy recipe, though it should be said that even though it’s vegetarian, it doesn’t really have any vegetables. (I mean, technically there’s onion, but from a nutritional standpoint, does it really count?) It would be a good idea to pair it with a green salad. I really liked the addition of garlic powder to the crust edges, and the combination of flavors was really doing it for me. Both the Engineer and I liked this, but sadly, the kids did not. 

I did not stretch out the dough as required – I only had 13 ounces instead of 16, but even then, I don’t see a pound of dough stretched out that thinly! I used a smaller baking sheet and stretched the dough as much as I could. Finally, I had some trouble with the baking times. The eggs weren’t nearly done after 5 minutes! I tried baking the dough and cheese 5 minutes, adding the eggs and baking for 8 minutes and then leaving the pizza in the oven (turned off) for another 10 minutes, but that didn’t quite do it. For the second batch, I tried just putting them on the pizza right from the beginning and baking it 12 minutes total, but even then, the crust was too dark while the egg whites were not quite done. I guess the recipe still needs some tweaking. 

5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
3 large yellow onions, roughly chopped 
1 lb. pizza dough (storebought is fine), at room temperature 
¼ tsp. garlic powder 
6 oz. lactose-free sharp cheddar, grated (about 1 ½ cups) 
4 large eggs 
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish 

Preheat oven to 450 °F. Arrange an oven rack in the middle position. 

As the oven heats, combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the onions in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Stir every few minutes, making sure they are getting soft and golden but not blackened or burned, until caramel colored and slightly jammy, 20 to 25 minutes (I’m more of a realist and will tell you that it takes longer to caramelize onions). 

While the onions are cooking, brush an 18x13-inch sheet pan (see note above) with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Drop the dough in the center of the pan and, using your fingers, press and stretch out the dough to the sides and into corners of the pan. The goal is to get the crust as thin as possible. Mix together the garlic powder and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and brush the perimeter of the dough. 

Top the dough with an even layer of the cheddar, leaving a 1-inch cheese-free border, and bake for 8 minutes (see note above). Remove from the oven and top with the caramelized onions, shaping them into 4 little “nests” for the eggs (one in each corner). Carefully crack 1 egg in each nest. Bake until the whites are cooked, the yolks are still slightly runny, and the crust is golden, about 5 minutes. Top with salt, pepper, and parsley.





Saturday, May 28, 2022

Genre de millefeuille facile

 


Parfois, je fais des recettes pour finir quelque chose dans le congélateur (comme ce sorbet à la rhubarbe et au babeurre). D’autres fois, je fais quelque chose strictement parce que je pense que ça va plaire à ma famille. C’était le cas de ce dessert de Ricardo : un genre de millefeuille facile, qui est en fait un pouding étagé à la vanille avec des biscuits graham. Donc, comme un millefeuille, mais… sans les feuilles. 

Alors, le défaut, selon moi, c’est que les biscuits graham ramollissent un peu trop, même seulement après les 24 heures recommandées (et ça ramollit encore davantage à la longue, on s’entend). C’était donc difficile de démouler les morceaux, et ceux-ci s’affaissaient complètement dans l’assiette, alors que j’aurais voulu qu’ils se tiennent droits. D’autant plus que cette fois-ci, ma crème à fouetter végétalienne avait bien pris, alors ma crème chantilly avait la consistance parfaite! Donc même si c’était plus facile à couper qu’un vrai millefeuille, j’aimais un peu moins ça. Je pense que je le laisserais moins longtemps dans le frigo si c’était possible. De plus, je n’ai pas eu assez de glaçage pour recouvrir toute la surface du genre de millefeuille, alors j’en ferai un peu plus la prochaine fois. J’ai aussi eu de la difficulté sur le coup à faire de belles lignes avec le glaçage au chocolat, mais en fin de compte, ça ne paraissait plus au moment de servir. 

Par contre, l’Ingénieur a vraiment trippé! Il trouve que c’est mieux qu’un millefeuille, justement parce qu’on peut le couper facilement avec une fourchette. Le Petit Prince a déclaré que c’était maintenant son dessert préféré et que non seulement il voulait que j’en refasse, mais il pensait même que ce serait meilleur qu’un gâteau à sa fête! Le Renard, quant à lui, a aimé le glaçage sur le dessus. 

J’ai obtenu 8 portions, mais la forme allongée des morceaux a compliqué le démoulage. La prochaine fois, je pense que je couperais 9 rectangles (donc légèrement plus larges, mais moins longs, que les parts sur les photos). 


Pour le pouding à la vanille 
80 g (6 c. à soupe) de sucre 
35 g (¼ tasse) de fécule de maïs 
2 jaunes d’œufs 
2 tasses de lait sans lactose 
1 c. à thé d’extrait de vanille 
2 c. à soupe de beurre sans lactose, coupé en dés 

Pour la crème chantilly 
1 ½ tasse de crème sans lactose (la mienne était végétalienne) 
1 c. à soupe de sucre 
½ c. à thé d’extrait de vanille 

Pour le glaçage (voir plus haut) 
295 g (2 ¼ tasses) de sucre à glacer 
¼ tasse de lait 
1 c. à thé de cacao, tamisé 
36 biscuits graham carrés (j’en avais 18 rectangulaires) 


Pour le pouding à la vanille 
Dans une petite casserole hors du feu, mélanger le sucre et la fécule au fouet. Ajouter les jaunes d’œufs et ¼ tasse du lait, et bien mélanger. Incorporer le reste du lait, la vanille et le beurre. Porter à ébullition à feu moyen en remuant continuellement et en raclant le fond et la paroi de la casserole jusqu’à ce que le mélange épaississe. Retirer du feu. 

Passer le pouding au tamis si, nécessaire. Verser dans un bol et couvrir directement la surface du pouding de pellicule plastique. Laisser tiédir, puis réfrigérer de 2 à 3 heures ou jusqu’à ce que le pouding soit raffermi et refroidi. 

Au moment d’utiliser le pouding, le mélanger avec une spatule pour lui redonner de la souplesse. 

Pour la crème chantilly 
Dans un bol, fouetter la crème, le sucre et la vanille au batteur électrique jusqu’à l’obtention de pics fermes. Réserver au réfrigérateur. 

Pour le glaçage 
Dans un bol, mélanger le sucre à glacer avec le lait. Prélever 3 c. à soupe du glaçage et déposer dans un autre bol. 

Dans le bol avec la petite quantité de glaçage, incorporer le cacao en remuant vigoureusement. Ajouter quelques gouttes de lait, au besoin, pour que le glaçage au chocolat soit coulant. Réserver. 

Pour le montage 
Dans un plat en verre de 28 x 20 cm (11 x 8 po), répartir le tiers des biscuits afin de bien couvrir le fond, en les taillant au besoin (surtout les coins). Étaler le pouding à la vanille sur les biscuits. Couvrir avec un autre tiers des biscuits, puis y étaler la crème chantilly. Couvrir du reste des biscuits, puis y étaler le glaçage blanc. 

À même le bol, laisser couler le glaçage au chocolat en filet en formant des lignes dans le sens de la largeur du plat. Passer un cure-dents dans un sens puis dans l’autre en traversant les lignes de chocolat pour créer un effet marbré. Ne pas couvrir. Réfrigérer 24 heures (voir note plus haut).













Heartbeet Chocolate Cake

 


I saw this chocolate beet cake on Bon Appétit and decided to make it. I was really glad to read the comments in the original recipe, because they made my life much easier. First, instead of roasting or boiling my own beets for this, I used a 15-oz. can of sliced beets, drained them, then puréed them with an immersion blender – boom, just the right amount. Second, I used a 9” springform pan instead of an 8” pan, which would have been too small – that’s what I’m writing below. Everyone liked this cake! (The Fox doesn’t like the glaze because the chocolate is too soft, but he does like the cake itself.) 

For the cake 
4 medium beets, scrubbed (see note above) 
2 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil, plus more for pan 
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus more for pan 
1 ½ cups almond flour 
½ tsp. baking soda 
½ tsp. ground cinnamon 
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar 
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
4 large eggs 
1 ¼ cups (packed) light brown sugar 
1 tsp. kosher salt (I used ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt) 

For the glaze 
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
1 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil 
¼ tp. vanilla extract 
1 pinch kosher salt 


For the cake 
Cook beets in a medium pot of boiling unsalted water until tender, 30–40 minutes, depending on size. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle. Cut off stem end, then peel and cut beets into large pieces. Transfer to a blender and add 2 Tbsp. water. Blend, adding water 1 Tbsp. at a time as needed, until a smooth purée forms—it should be the consistency of applesauce. Measure out 1 cup purée (reserve remaining purée for another use, such as blending into a smoothie). 

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line bottom of a 9" round cake pan with parchment. Grease with oil, then dust with cocoa powder, tapping out excess. 

Whisk almond flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and remaining ½ cup cocoa powder in a medium bowl; set aside. 

Heat chocolate and remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring often, until melted. Remove bowl from heat. Stir in vinegar, vanilla, and reserved 1 cup beet purée until smooth. 

Beat eggs, brown sugar, and salt in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed (or use an electric mixer and large bowl) until more than tripled in volume and mixture holds a ribbon for several seconds when beater is lifted above batter, 5–7 minutes. Thoroughly beating the eggs is key to creating an aerated, light crumb and is a critical step when using gluten-free ingredients. 

Pour chocolate-beet mixture into egg mixture and beat on medium-low speed until combined. Turn mixer off and gently tip in reserved dry ingredients. Beat on lowest speed, scraping down bowl as needed, until combined. 

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the top springs back when gently pressed, 45–50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edges of pan, then invert cake onto a wire rack and let cool. 

For the glaze 
Heat chocolate, oil, vanilla, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring often, until chocolate is melted. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and cool enough to touch, 10–15 minutes. Place rack with cake on a rimmed baking sheet. 

Pour glaze over center of cake to cover top, tilting baking sheet slightly to encourage a few drips to run over sides of cake. Let sit at room temperature until glaze is set, 2–3 hours. The cake can be kept at room temperature for a few days.






Friday, May 27, 2022

Spring 2022 outings

In January, I went downtown to meet up IRL with a friend who is a flight attendant and was in town for half a day. I showed her around the River Walk and the Alamo, and while those locations were not new-to-me, the area has been changed lately to be more pedestrian-friendly, so it was nice to take a look around. Visits to the Alamo are still free, but you now have to obtain a ticket with a specific entry time, so that should help alleviate the long lineups on peak days! 




In March, we went strawberry-picking at Sweet Berry Farm up in Marble Falls. We were there the first weekend it opened, and based on the farm’s communications after that time, it was the best weekend to go. Berries were $3.25 a pound (the ones you see here cost us $12.48). 

So, my frame of reference here is Quebec strawberries. Texas strawberries are a spring fruit, whereas the Quebec ones are more of a summer fruit, and I assume that’s just because of the different climates. That being said, it gets hot faster in Texas than in Quebec, and I wonder if that makes the strawberries grow “too fast” in that they get big but without much flavor. This could also be because of the variety, of course. And while I’ve eaten berries straight from the plant in Quebec too many times to count, I don’t remember them ever being covered in dust like these! So even though there was soil added to the field to grow strawberries here, I think the quality of the soil in general might be more conducive to growing strawberries in Quebec. All this to say that while these Texas strawberries were better than the ones at the store, they were still nowhere near the ones I love in Quebec, and I will now just accept that it’s a regional thing, not a freshness or variety thing. 

The farm also sells some food like strawberry popsicles, and there are pony rides as well as various activities for little ones. This helped round out the day and make the drive worthwhile. 




In April, we visited the Texas Transportation Museum. I heard about it after reading this article. They have several old cars, train wagons you can visit (including a steam engine and an old Pullman car), and model trains (both indoors and outdoors), but the big draw for our kids was the train ride! You see, the boys saw a public transit train in Montreal over the holidays and were absolutely fascinated. While we would like to take a family trip on a train someday, this was something doable right now: a life-size train (much more impressive to them than the little train in Brackenridge Park). Honestly, this was a very fast visit – you can tour the whole museum in an hour – but the kids were more entertained than we thought they would be, so it was a good outing. 





Since we had skipped February, I convinced the Engineer to go on a date with me to the San Antonio Museum of Art once his classes ended in May. (To his credit, he didn’t need that much convincing!) I had wanted to visit it for a long (long) time, but with the kids, it just didn’t seem feasible. That being said, I was delighted to see various pamphlets at the entrance, depending on whether you were visiting the museum on a date, with kids, just to see the essentials, etc. They didn’t have a map, though; we had to scan a QR code to download one. The Museum has a very diverse collection: ancient Egyptian artefacts, ancient Roman artefacts, art from the Americas, from Oceania, from Asia, and modern art too! Pictures are allowed without flash, and I just snapped away the whole time. 

Our visit came at a particularly good time because shortly before, I found out that a Roman bust that had been bought for $34.99 at an Austin Goodwill is exhibited at SAMA until it is returned to Germany in 2023 (it was probably looted by an American soldier after WWII). 

We had lunch at Tre Trattoria, the museum’s restaurant. It’s an excellent restaurant by any standards! (In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel like I should point out that the ceiling was very dirty near the HVAC exhausts in the dining room, and I can’t imagine that’s sanitary, but it did look only cosmetic.) The executive chef is Jason Dady I highly recommend the cacio e pepe deviled eggs to start – they came covered in a flurry of grated parmesan and were fantastic! The pasta was good, but it’s those eggs I’m still thinking of. 








Finally, our actual May outing was a visit to Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo. We loved it! The focus is obviously on reptiles (including Athena the albino reticulated python), but there are also white lions (for which they are building a better enclosure), a jaguar and a black panther, bisons, dromedaries, zebras, lemurs, and lots more, plus a whole bunch of goats to pet. There are also hands-on educational demonstrations throughout the day, which we enjoyed. One of the main differences with many zoos is how close we can get to the animals, even those we cannot touch, and it’s really satisfying. I recommend a visit if you’re in the area!