Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On the road again

The Engineer, the Little Prince and I made the drive up to Canada the first week of June. Given that our dog is no longer with us, we were able to stop and visit a bit of Dallas and Memphis on the way, and it was really nice to have an actual vacation on this trip. We also got to eat lunch at indoor tables instead of via a drive-through window, and that was a nice change as well! And as a bonus, I got to set foot in an Aldi grocery store for the first time (and pardon the repost, but see here for the back story).

As far as eating on the road goes, we sadly didn’t get to try the new Lyfe Kitchen establishments, which I first heard about roughly 4 years ago; maybe another time. We did, however, finally go to Panera Bread. Somehow, even though we have them in San Antonio, we’d never set foot in one, probably because it sounds like a bakery and we weren’t looking for that. But, as it turns out, they have delicious healthy meals! I had a chicken Cobb salad with avocado, and it came with half a warm baguette, and the whole thing was just fantastic! There were a lot of other mouthwatering options (strawberry and poppy seed salad, Mediterranean chicken and quinoa salad, kale salad, roast turkey and avocado BLT sandwich, pasta primavera), in addition to bakery items. They even have a drive-through, so really, it’s a wonder we never stopped at one before. I will now be seeking them out, though! What a great discovery! Lest you think I’m a total health nut, I’ll point out that we also stopped at In-N-Out for the first time. I’m glad we tried it, but I don’t think I’ll be craving it over other fast food chains, while I will want Panera again. It should be said, though, that In-N-Out has an extensive off-menu and is known for being allergy-friendly (there are allergen-free options, as long as you ask, and all fries and burgers are nut- and peanut-free).

We also discovered a great restaurant in Dallas. We were in a bit of a bind for dinner, because it was Sunday night and all the restaurants near our hotel were closed. We were tired and we didn’t want to drive anywhere, so we ended up going to the one place that was open, the Rodeo Goat, even though it was burgers again and we didn’t really like the front or the inside décor. That being said, we went out to the back patio to sit: it was a really nice area in the shade, by the water, and there were fans with the occasional water spray to keep us cool, and I have to say that it was extremely pleasant! It was very informal, kid- and dog-friendly, and so much nicer than our first impression. It turns out that the burgers were absolutely delicious and nothing like fast food burgers. I took Lactaid and had the Nanny Goat (beef patty with goat cheese and garlic & herb mayo), while the Engineer had the Olivia Darling (beef patty with green olive tapenade, roasted red pepper mayo and herb cheese spread). We shared with the Little Prince. I highly recommend that place if you can sit outside!

In Memphis, I made it a point to stop at Central BBQ, where we tried the pulled pork sandwich: it had just the right amount of smokiness and sweetness in the sauce, undercut with some acidity from the cole slaw. The serving size was reasonable, too (as in, we were able to finish the sandwich and eat some fries and still feel good about ourselves), but if anything, we were a little sad once we’d finished that awesome sandwich. The best peanut butter chocolate pie we’d tasted made up for it, though! I should also mention that we were given a table right away and service was fantastic.

We still have our old stand-by, Captain Joe’s Grill in Whitmore Lake, Michigan. I’ve talked about it before on this blog (in French): this is a place that doesn’t look that promising from the outside, especially considering that it’s basically right off the highway, but it’s usually my favorite meal of the trip (we’ve been stopping in Whitmore Lake almost twice a year for a few years now, as we like walking on Main Street – this year was the first time we were there when the yarn store was open, more of that on another post). Captain Joe’s has your typical American fare of hamburgers, steaks and pizzas, but it also has a good selection of Mediterranean fare. I always get the trio plate with hummus, fatoush salad and (usually) falafel. It’s delicious on its own, but it’s especially good after several days on the road eating fast food!

As for sightseeing: we spent an afternoon in Dallas, where we made three stops that day. First, I wanted to see the chapel at Thanks-Giving Square. Its mission is to promote “the spirit and unifying value of giving thanks”; community members and visitors use the space to gather, meditate, or just find respite in the downtown area. We walked through some of the garden area, skipped the museum, and went right for the chapel with a spiral exterior that reminds me of a snail’s shell. The inside is particularly stunning because of its spiral stained-glass panels! We had to time our visit properly, because the chapel isn’t open often during the week.

We made the almost-obligatory stop at Dealey Plaza, which is remembered as the place where President Kennedy was assassinated (but it was originally created to honor the memory of a few local pioneers). It is a major tourist attraction, and some people profit from it (like a man who offers the opportunity to have your picture taken in a replica of the presidential limousine in front of the Old Court House – we thought that was crossing a line). We were also surprised to see a big yellow banner clearly identifying the “grassy knoll”, two words that seem forever associated with the assassination. It was convenient to be able to place it, I suppose. The former Texas School Book Depository building now houses a museum, but otherwise looks the same. The most obvious difference to me was that the trees had grown enough to obstruct the view if the motorcade were to drive there today. I hear that there are plans to restore the Plaza to its exact appearance in 1963, which again seems a bit over the top…

We then went to Pioneer Plaza, which is known for its bronze cattle drive. There are almost 50 bronze steers, standing at a larger-than-life 6-feet tall, along with a few riding cowboys. A new steer is added occasionally, and it is the largest bronze sculpture of its kind in the world. The plaza is also a very pleasant place to walk, with lots of shade, especially in the adjacent cemetery. The stream and limestone bluff make the sculpture all the more impressive and life-like.

The next morning, we started the drive with a pit stop at Williams Square in Irving to see the Mustangs at las Colinas, a very impressive sculpture of mustangs running through the water. I particularly liked the small fountains nears the horses’ hooves, which really make it look like they are splashing in the water as they run!

After that, we got a day to visit Memphis (well, half a day, really). We started off by standing in front of Sun Studio, which is officially remembered as the birthplace of rock’n’roll because that’s where Elvis Presley recorded his version of That’s All Right Mama in July of 1954 (but if you’re going to get technical, Rock Around the Clock was recorded a few months earlier by Bill Haley & His Comets). We then went to Graceland, which had been on my bucket list for something like 25 years – and that’s not making me feel any younger. That’s the place where I really felt like a tourist, because it’s so much more massive an industry than I thought! There are visitors from all over the world, and even though we got there a little after 9 am, the place felt like it was starting to get really busy. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit nonetheless, and I’m including two pictures of the “state-of-the-art” kitchen from the 1970s, because this is still a food blog. Also, sparkly suits, because Elvis.

After that, we had lunch at Central BBQ (see above) and then we went to the old Lorraine Motel, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. I’d love to visit it someday, but we had understandably reached the limits of the patience of the Little Prince, who was in need of a nap. It was a Tuesday, though, so the museum was closed, which meant that there was plenty of parking nearby. I realize this road trip sounds a bit like a death tour (“Hey! Let’s go see the places where Kennedy, Elvis, and Martin Luther King died!”), but we did a lot of fun stuff too, even though some moments were more solemn. Memphis actually has more that I’d like to see, such as the ducks at the Peabody Hotel, the zoo and the botanical gardens, all of which are tailored to kids, so many in another few years we’ll stop there again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fiona's Green Chicken

I got this recipe from The Kitchn. I don’t actually know Fiona, but I kept the name of the recipe as is because a) I like it, and b) it reminded me of Shrek’s Fiona, who is green, so it seemed even more fitting somehow. The Engineer and I both loved this recipe, and it was easy to make. I didn’t feel like firing up the grill (I rarely touch it, to be honest), so I baked these in the oven – those are the directions I’m giving below. I used a regular onion, not a sweet onion, because it only goes in the marinade, so I actually wanted the stronger taste. This is a great recipe for summer!

1 medium sweet onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup; see note above)
1 cup packed cilantro leaves and stems
1 ¼ cups packed basil leaves
¼ cup packed mint leaves
3-4 Tbsp. fish sauce, like Red Boat
3 peeled garlic cloves
zest of 1 lime
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (I used Korean pepper)
2 Tbsp. apple juice (or 1 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey)
kosher salt
3 lbs. chicken drumsticks or thighs
lime wedges

Make the marinade by combining the onion, cilantro, basil, mint, fish sauce, garlic, lime zest, black pepper, Aleppo pepper, and apple juice in a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste (since this is a marinade, you should add more salt than for a sauce.)

Place the chicken in a gallon-sized zip-top bag and pour the marinade over it. Let the chicken marinate overnight (marinate for at least an hour and up to a day).

Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and set a wire rack in it. Place the chicken on it skin-side down and bake for 35 to 45 minutes (or until internal temperature reaches 165 °F), flipping skin-side up at the 20-minute mark.

Serve with lime wedges.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rolled Soufflé with Spinach

This recipe is from Cook’s Country. It wasn’t complicated to make, though it did take a while, as it has a few steps – I did most of the active work during the Little Prince’s nap, and put the whole thing in the oven before dinner. The result was impressive because of how well it can be presented, and it was delicious! (Well, the Little Prince didn’t like it for some reason, even though he has liked similar things in the past, but the Engineer and I give it two solid thumbs up!) I served it as dinner with a side of sesame carrots, but it would be great at a brunch, too.

For the soufflé
¾ cup all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter or vegan margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 ¾ cups lactose-free milk
1 ½ oz. parmesan cheese, grated (¾ cup)
10 large eggs, separated
½ tsp. cream of tartar

For the filling
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 oz. lactose-free gruyère cheese, shredded (1 cup)
3 Tbsp. minced fresh chives
2 Tbsp. lactose-free milk
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. salt

For the soufflé
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 °F. Line 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with 18 by 16-inch sheet of aluminum foil, folding excess over sides of sheet, and spray foil and sides of sheet liberally with vegetable oil spray. Top foil with two 16½ by 13½-inch sheets of parchment paper, allowing parchment to overhang one long edge of baking sheet by 1 inch. Spray parchment liberally with vegetable oil spray. (I used a rimmed baking sheet that I believe is 11”x17”, a sheet of tin foil, and a single sheet of parchment paper. Everything worked out very well with all the cooking times indicated, and there was no spillage whatsoever, so I’d do it again next time.)

Combine flour, butter, salt, and pepper in bowl and mash with fork to make smooth paste. Bring milk to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, whisk in flour mixture, and simmer, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in parmesan; reserve 1/3 cup of milk mixture. Scrape remaining milk mixture into large bowl, let sit until slightly cooled, about 10 minutes, and then whisk in egg yolks.

Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Gently fold one-third of beaten egg whites into milk-yolk mixture. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain. Spread mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and set, 22 to 24 minutes. Let cool in pan for 30 minutes (it will deflate a bit, and this is normal). Reduce oven to 325 °F.

For the filling
Combine reserved milk mixture, spinach, gruyère, chives, milk, pepper, and salt in bowl and microwave until hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Spread spinach filling evenly over cooled egg sheet. Using parchment overhang, lift long edge of egg sheet and roll to opposite edge (parchment should encase roulade when rolling). With roulade still resting on edge of parchment, pull roulade to center of baking sheet, and finally roll it off seam side down onto foil; discard parchment. (If you’re making this dish ahead like I was, this is where you would refrigerate until you are almost ready to eat.)

Cover roulade with foil, and bake until hot throughout, about 25 minutes (closer to 35 minutes if it had been refrigerated). Slice into 1-inch-thick slices and serve.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Spring outings

I’ve finally finished writing about our outings of March, April and May, so here are the highlights. (I’ll talk some more about our June trip in a later post.)

In March, we visited Brackenridge Park (map here if you’re curious). We didn’t even see the whole thing – for example, we’re saving a visit to Kiddie Park, the oldest children’s amusement park in the country, for when the Little Prince is older. And we weren’t really into barbecuing (though late March was early enough that there were still picnic spots open before lunch). The highlight of the visit, though, was riding the train through the park! The whole ride is about 20 minutes long, and tickets are $3.50. We got to see parts of the trails, the golf club, attractions like the zoo and the Witte Museum, and there’s even a tunnel and two bridges. And don’t miss driving into the park itself, because you actually drive through the water to get there, and it is unspeakably fun. (The area is marked off with cement blocks, to keep debris and fowl like ducks and egrets off the road.) We also made a little stop at the Japanese Tea Gardens, because the Engineer hadn’t seen them – and I wanted to see them in a month other than February! They were nicer in March, though I don’t think that they were at their best yet, so I’ll have to figure out what time of the year that is.

In April, we went to the Poteet Strawberry Festival, which I’d been hearing about for years. The main draw for me is that I miss good strawberries, and the seasonal ones from Poteet are known to be good (as a matter of fact, they are the only good ones I’ve had in Texas on the rare occasion I’ve seen them at the grocery store). The festival itself, though, was not what I’d imagined. There was a petting zoo that was a lot of fun, and emu races, and big metal strawberries at the entrance, but the rest of the festival was basically interchangeable with most. Lots of carnival rides and games and live music, usual festival fare plus an unusual (for us non-Texans) amount of barbecue pits and smoke everywhere, as well as a few stalls serving strawberry shortcake, strawberry lemonade or chocolate-dipped strawberries. Only one little corner of the festival grounds had fresh strawberries for sale, and they were more expensive than I had thought (I got a half-flat for $18; see here and here for recipes). For the record, they were better than out-of-season strawberries, but not as good as seasonal Quebec strawberries. I also used this occasion to eat my first Frito pie: I got the plain version, but there are also some with cheese, sour cream, green onions or jalapeños, and it is sometimes served straight in the bag. For the record, it wasn’t that great. It should be noted that while there are a few covered areas in case of rain, the covered picnic tables were all wet anyway. We still had a good time, and honestly, I prefer that to the beating sun all day. For those of you considering the festival next year, be careful not to fall for the vendors outside the festival grounds: they advertise things like $10 parking, but parking is free on the grounds! Food and souvenirs may or may not be cheaper outside, but once you leave the grounds, you can’t reenter (which sucks). Buy tickets online, we saved $10 for two adults that way!

One of my favorite parts of the day wasn’t the festival itself, but the drive there: we were in the southernmost part of San Antonio and beyond, and there are wildflowers there like I’d never seen before. Up north, we get bluebonnets, but south, there were tons of (what I now believe are) Texas paintbrush flowers! They look coral in the distance, but up close, one can see they have pink sepals cradling white flowers with yellow pistils. Really beautiful! My specimen had wilted by the time we got back home, so I sadly couldn’t get a good close-up shot of it.

Finally, in May, we went to the San Antonio Zoo. This trip was not as fun as we had thought, because even though the Little Prince is much more aware of his surroundings than he used to be and even though he enjoys books and videos about zoo animals, it turns out he didn’t enjoy the *actual* zoo. I mean, it’s not that he was miserable or anything, but he didn’t find it interesting. I think that my biggest disappointment was that I had promised both him and the Engineer that they would get to see real live okapi, but the zoo changed some of the exhibits: there is now only one okapi pen instead if two, and zoo keepers were doing some maintenance work in the pen, so the okapi were nowhere to be seen. On the bright side, since we live here, we get to come back some other time. (This was my third visit, the Little Prince’s second, and the Engineer’s first; I could swear I wrote a post about an earlier visit, but for the life of me I can’t find it. Did Blogger eat it?)

The San Antonio Zoo is not that big – you could easily visit all of it in under a day. My instinct was to go early on a weekday, but it turns out that’s when schools and day camps send the kids, so that’s not always the best plan. The zoo has an elephant, but I can’t help feeling badly every time I see it, because it is all alone in a pen mostly devoid of stimulation. They are planning on adding a giraffe exhibit later this year, with the possibility for visitors to feed the giraffes, and I’m really looking forward to that! The zoo has taken advantage of the rocky cliffs to create more natural-looking enclosures for the animals. Some of the exhibits are even large enough (and contain enough vegetation) that animals can be hard to spot: the cheetah, for example, was napping in a thicket of bamboo. In fact, of all the large cats, only one tiger was moving around. I blame this on the heat - it was only in the mid-80s, but it was humid and felt borderline too hot to me, and a lot of the animals were panting. Both of my previous visits had been in February, and I recall the animals being more active.

The price for tickets keeps going up, and I must admit that my first reaction was to feel like it had gone up too much (from $10 to $14.25 in 5 years, which is way more than inflation). That being said, the zoo celebrated its centennial anniversary last year and added a carousel as well as the Beastro, a sorely needed restaurant to complement the existing hot-dog stands. It’s nothing fancy, mostly burgers and lackluster pizza, but it’s clean and has a lot of indoor seating, including high chairs, as well as clean bathrooms. Actually, one of my favorite parts of the day was lunch, because we were sitting near a big window from which we could see great egrets and other water fowl flying around in the tall trees. Surprisingly, the egrets aren’t really part of the exhibits: they happen to nest in Brackenridge Park and come to the zoo to enjoy the grounds. The downside of that, as well as of the design of some of the aviaries there is no way around: watch out for bird poop. We got hit twice (once on a shoe, once on the stroller); wet wipes came in really handy. That being said, it remains a good attraction for visitors and locals alike, and we look forward to going back when the Little Prince is a bit older.