Sunday, October 20, 2019

Strawberry Mini-Muffins

I found this recipe in Parents magazine. You can easily vary the flavor, using small blueberries instead of strawberries for example, or making a piña colada version by replacing them with finely chopped pineapple and shredded coconut and swapping lemon for lime. I ended up adding strawberry powder in the batter, to make it pinker (strawberry powder is really finely crushed freeze-dried strawberries); I mixed it in with the dry ingredients. The muffins were delicious, with or without frosting, but the Little Prince said he didn’t like the strawberries in them. While I initially thought that defeated the purpose of strawberry muffins, I think that he may have a point here – the small pockets of fruit in a miniature muffin aren’t that pleasant, and there was already strawberry flavor and color from the strawberry powder. I’ll consider just making “pink muffins” next time. Without icing, they are GREAT in a lunchbox! That being said, once the icing has dried up (say, a whole day later), that would work too.

Note that for the flour, I just used 1 ½ cups of white whole wheat flour.

For the mini-muffins
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 pinch of salt
¾ cup lactose-free milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup lactose-free butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped strawberries, fresh or frozen (see note above)
¼ cup freeze-dried strawberries (optional; I used strawberry powder, see note above)

For the icing
1/3 cup plain, full-fat, lactose-free Greek yogurt
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Grease a 24-tin mini-muffin pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, honey, butter, and vanilla. Gently fold in dry ingredients, followed by strawberries and freeze-dried strawberries.

Divide batter among mini-muffin cups, filling to the edge. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer muffins to wire rack to cool completely (I tend to let them cool longer in the pan).

Just before serving, make the icing by mixing together the yogurt, powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle icing over muffins and top with freeze-dried strawberries, if desired (I again used strawberry powder here).

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Double Chocolate Granola

I used to make granola all the time, and then my teeth started bothering me enough that I no longer wanted to eat it. This was a particular bummer when I was trying to empty the pantry, because I could no longer make kitchen-sink granola! I ended up enjoying make-ahead frozen oatmeal, though. In a nutshell, you make oatmeal, pour it in a greased muffin tin, top with nuts and/or dried fruit, then freeze until solid and transfer the frozen pucks to a freezer bag. To serve, just put a few pucks in a bowl and microwave; top with milk and/or maple syrup, as desired.

Three crowns and a root canal later, plus like three years of healing, and I felt ready for granola again. I made this nut-free double-chocolate granola, and it was delish! I baked it at a lower temperature and saved half of the chocolate chips to be added after baking; the instructions below are mine. The blackstrap molasses may seem like an unusual ingredient here, but apparently they help show off the deep chocolate flavor and they make the granola clump nicely. It wasn’t too sweet, but I still enjoyed it on top of plain Greek yogurt (or on top of vanilla yogurt once for dessert). Even the Little Prince liked it, which surprised me because I’m not sure he’s ever liked any of the granolas I’ve made when he can get perfectly good chocolate chip granola from a box. This is a win!

2 cups (190 g.) old fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup (30 g.) unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ (45 g.) cup unsalted sunflower kernels
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
¼ cup (50 g.) mini chocolate chips, divided
¼ cup creamy sunbutter (or almond butter if allergies aren’t an issue)
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
½ Tbsp. blackstrap molasses

Preheat oven to 300 °F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, cocoa powder, sunflower kernels, salt and half of the chocolate chips. Then warm up the sunbutter to a smooth consistency if it's really thick or cold. Stir in the syrup and molasses. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until it all comes together and is very sticky.

Spread out evenly flat onto the pan. Bake in the lowest third of the oven for 15 minutes; remove and stir the granola thoroughly so it will cook evenly. Place back in the oven on the low rack and bake another 8 minutes. Watch closely so the edges don't burn. Let cool 10 minutes while it crisps up. Once it has cooled down, add the remaining chocolate chips and mix thoroughly. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Purple Sweet Potato Pie

I sometimes see purple sweet potatoes at the grocery store, but they’re not always there, so I never really plan to buy them. But I knew I wanted to try this recipe for vegan purple sweet potato pie with almond coconut crust, so I made sure to have all my non-perishables on hand, including CocoWhip for the topping. I figured that since sweet potatoes are a root vegetable, it was a safe bet to expect them to make an appearance in the fall. So when I saw the purple sweet potatoes again, I bought some and made the pie!

I didn’t like the almond coconut crust of the original recipe. I mean, I liked the ingredients individually, so it sounded good, but I found that it fell apart and got soft after a while and thus did not fulfill its basic function as a crust. I think that even assuming you want a vegan/paleo/gluten-free/keto/whatever crust, there are other options. I don’t have those food restrictions, so I recommend a graham cracker crust. Parbake it if you make your own, or follow the instructions on the package if you buy it premade.

As for the purple sweet potatoes, I used this variety, but any sweet potato should do, including regular orange ones. I added nutmeg and a bit of sugar to the filling (the ingredients below are mine), and it was great! As a matter of fact, the filling was so good that I might make it my default sweet potato pie. The purple sweet potatoes obviously make the pie stand out, though, so buy them if you can find them.

2 lb. purple sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds (about 4 cups)
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup canned coconut milk
½ cup maple syrup (see notes)
1 ½ Tbsp. tapioca starch
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (I used 1 pinch of Korean pepper)
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 graham cracker crust (see note above)
CocoWhip or equivalent, for topping

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add the purple yams and boil for 10 minutes, or until the yams can be pierced with a fork. Drain the yams then put them in a high-powered blender or food processor.

Add the rest of the pie filling ingredients and blend on high until everything is smooth and creamy.

Pour the pie filling into the baked pie shell and smooth out the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the pie has set but still has some jiggle in the middle. Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool completely before serving it. Top with CocoWhip if desired.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Guide francophone du Texas

J’ai entendu parler de ce guide en lisant cet article où il en était question (partagé par un Français sur un groupe Facebook, si ma mémoire est bonne). Il s’agit d’un guide autopublié en 2017 par Sophie Auzerau, une Française qui a habité à Dallas pendant cinq ans. Comme elle le dit, « En arrivant, je craignais de m’ennuyer et de ne rien avoir à découvrir. Cinq ans après, je m’inquiète de ne pas avoir tout vu ! »

Bon, commençons par les défauts. Ce qui m'a sauté aux yeux, en tant que réviseure-traductrice, ce sont les coquilles (ou la mauvaise mise en page) et les anglicismes. Pour ce dernier cas, il s’agit surtout de mots non traduits, comme « poison ivy » laissé tel quel dans le texte. J’ai l’impression que les Européens oublient toujours de regarder ailleurs dans la Francophonie pour trouver l’équivalent d’un mot d’une langue étrangère si le concept n’existe pas dans leur pays… Au Canada, on en a, de l’herbe à puce! Sans compter la sempiternelle « Thanksgiving » pas traduite par Action de grâce… Il y a aussi des mots carrément laissés en anglais même si l’équivalent est évident, comme « park » au lieu de parc.

Aussi, il s’est glissé quelques erreurs dans le guide (par exemple, le lac Caddo n’est pas le seul lac naturel du Texas, bien qu’il soit le plus connu; les dunes du White Sands National Monument au Nouveau-Mexique sont faites de gypse et non pas de sable). De plus, San Antonio est présentée seulement pour l’Alamo (plus les lieux classés au patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO) et la River Walk, mais on a aussi tant d’autres attraits! La cathédrale San Fernando, Market Square, les musées, les parcs, le jardin botanique, la Pearl Brewery… Sans compter tous les restaurants que l’auteure aurait pu inclure dans le chapitre sur ce sujet! San Antonio est pourtant la 7e plus grosse ville aux États-Unis (plus peuplée que Dallas!), c’est donc à la fois étonnant et dommage qu’elle soit laissée-pour-compte par une locale dans un guide touristique. Rien sur El Paso non plus, tiens.

Quand même, ce guide a de nombreux bons points. Je trouve ça *génial* d’avoir un guide non seulement en français mais surtout écrit par quelqu’un comme moi, c’est-à-dire local mais sans être natif. J’aime aussi que le guide parle des attraits de chacune des régions géographiques du Texas, qui est quand même grand! Hill Country, Piney Woods, Upper Gulf Coast, Big Bend, Panhandle, South Texas Plains et Prairies and Lakes, chacune y est. J’y ai trouvé des idées pour d’éventuels voyages ainsi que pour Houston, que nous n’avons toujours pas visitée. Je vais laisser le guide dans la chambre d’amis, avec les dépliants touristiques locaux!

Vous pouvez vous procurer le guide en version papier ici; pour la version numérique, vous avez le choix entre PDF et Kindle.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Banana flour

I’d been curious about banana flour for a while, so when I saw a smallish bag of it at my grocery store, I decided to try it. It’s a good source of fiber and potassium, in addition to being gluten-free, obviously. Based on the recipes I found, it seems that you have to let the batter rest for a while so that the flour can hydrate properly before being baked; that being said, it doesn’t absorb moisture nearly to the same extent that coconut flour does.

I couldn’t resist making the banana bread recipe on the back of the package (Just About Foods brand). The banana bread recipe was a hot mess as written, so my version is clarified (but still calls for the same ingredients). I found it a bit too moist for my liking, even when fully baked, but it improved when I had a slice of it toasted and buttered the next day.

I also tried banana flour pancakes – the recipe gave me 8 beautifully golden pancakes, but I much prefer my regular recipe.

Banana flour is made with green bananas, and doesn’t actually taste like bananas at all (or at least, not like those we are used to eating); I think “unripe” would be the best way to describe it. Sadly, I’ve decided that I’m not fond of banana flour. I’m glad I tried it, but won’t buy it again. That being said, some of you might be curious, so here’s the recipe!

1 cup (160 g.) banana flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 very ripe bananas
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup lactose-free milk
2/3 cup melted ghee or lactose-free butter
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together the banana flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine mashed bananas, brown sugar, milk, ghee, eggs, and vanilla. Once combined, add the banana flour mixture little by little and mix thoroughly until you get a smooth and thick batter. Let the mixture sit for 1 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 325 °F. Grease a 9”x5” loaf pan.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool before slicing.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Adam's Ribs

The making of this top turned into a bit of a saga. (I’m still not sure whether I should call it a sweater, an open cardigan, or a wrap! I think all those terms are technically correct, but I keep switching from one to the other when I talk about it.) That being said, I realize not everyone wants to hear about all the details, so I’ll start by telling you about the pattern itself.

It’s Adam’s Ribs cap-sleeved wrap, designed by Carol Sunday of Sunday Knits; you can buy it here or on Ravelry. (It might be tricky to wear, given that it’s a short-sleeve garment yet it’s made for cold weather. As I was writing this post and looking it up on Ravelry, I realized that it now comes in a version with long sleeves, and that might work better for some people!) I have a shawl pin that I finally get to use to wear this, but you can also make a buttonhole or, better yet, a button loop on an edge to close it.

It’s a simple stitch pattern, designed over 7 rows and multiples of 12 stitches (though the full pattern is over 24 stitches). And it looks very impressive, but it’s sort of like ribbing that wanders to one side and the other, so it’s not hard to knit. It’s actually quite easy to memorize once you’ve repeated it a few times. It’s also reversible, which is nice! The wrap is knit side-to-side, from right to left, with only a few seams at the sleeves (shoulders and underarms). In order to keep everything straight as I was knitting, I ended up using just about every stitch marker and lifeline I had, so to simplify things and prevent a giant tangle, I actually finished each sleeve as I was knitting instead of leaving them both on stitch holders and finishing them at the very end. (So once I had passed the right armhole and was knitting the back, I put that on hold to finish the right sleeve, and did the same for the left sleeve once I was knitting the left front. It made things easier for me and I recommend that method.)

I learned new techniques with this pattern: Carol Sunday has created a method for wrapless short rows that works really well, and I familiarized myself with purled left increases. Overall, the pattern is easy to follow and quite well written; you should trust that it will all make sense in the end, EXCEPT where it says “Start every row with Section A” – ignore that and don’t change anything in the pattern (you’re actually starting every ODD row with Section A, as usual). Also, the pattern doesn’t mention this, but definitely use stitch markers!

So, for the personal saga… I started out with 5 skeins of Malabrigo Rios in Plomo (100 grams each). This was yarn that I had set aside specifically for this project, but… literally years ago. I just got really busy knitting for babies (mine and other people’s), and making small projects like hats when I didn’t have time to tackle something big. My receipt is dated from September 2012! But again, I was actually looking forward to using the yarn this whole time, so it wasn’t a matter of not wanting to work on this project, it was just being too busy to get started.

In the summer of 2018, while in Montreal, I finally got around to knitting several test squares to see how it looked on needles of various sizes, then I knit even more samples in the pattern stitch to try to get the gauge right. But oh, God, the gauge! Carol Sunday measures gauge in inches per stitches, as opposed to stitches per inch. Her explanation is here – it really does make more sense, but it’s hard to get used to. And I couldn’t get it quite right, even with blocking. I set it aside that summer because I was waiting to come back home and see whether I had a pair of 7mm needles in my stash, since I did own some seldom-used needles that I hadn’t brought with me on vacation and I didn’t want to buy doubles. Turns out I didn’t, so I bought some, and knit my sample in San Antonio. And you know what? It came out weird, so I went right back to the pair of 6.5 mm needles I already owned (I’ve since used the 7 mm needles for something else, so acquiring them was not a waste, but it was still incredibly frustrating at the time). I literally used up almost a whole skein in test squares! I eventually said “screw it”, because perfect is sometimes the enemy of good, and 6.5 mm would do just fine.

I forged ahead that fall, but ran out of yarn when I got about two thirds of the way through. And it’s dyed in lots of 10 skeins, so obviously it was impossible to get more of the same dye lot from 2012. I can’t even tell you how frustrated I was at that point! I had basically trusted that Past-Me had done the math right – it did work out by weight of yarn, but I couldn’t clearly remember doing the calculations, and Past-Me was less experienced, so there you go. I sewed up the one sleeve I had to try it on and decided that I liked the look of the half-finished sweater enough that I really did want to make it again.

I searched and searched for something else. I looked at what others had done on Ravelry, and there were three sweaters that I really liked (one, two, and three). Two of the three knitters had used the yarn that was called for in the pattern, the Nirvana 5-ply sold by Sunday Knits, so I caved and bought some in Charcoal, the same colorway as the pattern. It’s a mix of Australian merino and Mongolian cashmere, humanely sourced and everything, and it’s worsted weight. It’s not cheap, obviously, but I really wanted this sweater. I bought the 9 skeins recommended for my size in the pattern (50 grams each), but I used not quite 8, so I still have to figure out a small project to do with the rest. As well as something to use up the 5 skeins of Malabrigo Rios, also worsted weight!

Anyway, at least now that I’m finished with it, I’m very happy with the result.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Batch of links

- There’s a new way to reduce food waste, by making produce last longer. The company behind this is Apeel (what a great name!), and they’ve developed an edible plant-derived material that is applied to fruits and vegetables before shipping them to the grocery store. This reduces oxidation and water loss, thus slowing decay.

- I read this article stating that one should not look at a restaurant menu ahead of time (unless one suffers from genuine dietary restrictions). I read it to see the rationale behind it, only to come away thinking that the problem here isn’t that the author was making a choice ahead of time, but that he was essentially planning to coerce fellow dinners into ordering meals according to his own taste as well. How rude!

- 16 things Marcella Hazan taught us about Italian cooking. I’m a big fan of her tomato sauce, so I enjoyed these!

- I very much liked these two essays: A woman’s greatest enemy? A lack of time to herself. and Women don’t need “me time” – we need help.. In essence, not only is women’s time interrupted more often than men’s (including at work), but we tend to feel like we cannot take time to ourselves unless all the work is done. While I can see the wisdom (or necessity) in leaving some work undone to do something more fulfilling, I tend to feel unable to relax knowing that I have a to-do list hanging over my head, and guilty if I ask my husband to watch the kids solo while I do something else. A quote from each article, to whet your appetite: “Feminist researchers have also found that many women don’t feel that they deserve long stretches of time to themselves, the way men do. They feel they have to earn it. And the only way to do that is to get to the end of a To Do list that never ends: the chores of the day, as Melinda Gates writes in her new book, killing the dreams of a lifetime.” And “Y’all, if a mom is burnt out from everyday life she does NOT need a pat on the head and a pedicure, she needs HELP. […] It’s not so much the term ‘me-time’ that gets under my skin, but the thought that merely giving a mother an hour or two to ignore her problems only to come home to the same amount, if not MORE, shit for her to do is asinine.”

- Extroverts are better than introverts at facial recognition. I find this super interesting because as an introvert, I sometimes fail at facial recognition, and if I try to match a name with a feature, I sometimes choose a non-permanent feature, and that’s not always a good strategy, For example, if I meet a new woman, I might remember that So-and-so is the woman with the big hoop earrings. But if the next time I see her, she’s wearing diamond studs, then I’m SOL. The Engineer has this worse than I do, but still. Anyway, the finding still raises a lot of questions: are introverts bad at recognizing faces because of the way they’re wired or because they inherently meet fewer people? Or is there a self-feeding loop where an introvert with social anxiety might have trouble with faces and then feel even more socially anxious because of it and want to meet even fewer people?

- Having an older brother is associated with slower language development. That’s certainly true at our house! (Sample size = 1.)

- On the bright side, the critical period for the acquisition of a second language seems to stretch to about 17 years old, so there’s still hope for my kids to learn French properly.

- Finally, I realize I haven’t talked about The Biggest Little Farm on this blog. I saw the documentary on Mother’s Day and I absolutely loved it. It’s about Apricot Lane Farms in California. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that I’m aware of the film’s flaws, like how cloying it seems, what with the “happy clapping music” in the trailer and the fact that it’s tapping into the zeitgeist of sustainable, ethical, small-scale farming with which foodies and hipsters seem obsessed. It seems trite or like it’s catering to a niche audience with which you don’t identify, or even manipulative, and I get that. But I’m also a biologist, so the notions and importance of biodiversity leading to self-sustaining ecosystems are rooted into me (pardon the pun). It’s beneficial not just to the environment, including the health of those who live in it (humans as well as animals), but it helps sustainability because monoculture never works out long term. (Monoculture, over time, will deplete the environment of its resources and create conditions where a single virus can take out almost an entire crop worldwide. Poor agricultural practices can also have dire repercussions, as they did during the Dust Bowl – the drought alone wasn’t enough to cause all those problems, but farming too much land with wheat made it so much worse.) So all this to say that despite how cloyingly it’s presented, these are actually my values.

I loved this movie not just for its message, but because it showed some of the behind-the-scenes of all the effort that was needed to get a farm up and running. This was seven years in the making, with a seemingly massive investment from a private source. I was curious to find out more and ended up reading this article. It doesn’t answer all my questions (like, how much money was invested? when did the farm become profitable?), but I learned that actually, 85% of the farms in California are small-scale, though Apricot Lane Farms is one of only 66 farms to be certified biodynamic. I also saw one of their job ads for farmhands and was happy to note that they pay well above minimum wage! They also now make money from giving tours (currently sold out months in advance) and selling merchandise online, in addition to farmers’ markets. I’ve got a practical side that really wants to take a look at their financials!

The Engineer had expressed enough curiosity about it once I came back from the theater that I though he wanted to see it, but it turns out that he was just trying to figure out what I saw in it, since he had the same initial distaste for it as I did from the trailer. He’ll only watch it with me if I promise to watch something I don’t want with him, and while I could agree to the general principle of the trade, I don’t want to walk into this handing him a blank check, so to speak, so I’ve shelved the DVD for now and am waiting for someone else who’ll enjoy it. It’s a wonderful movie, people!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Pizza Rolls

I got this recipe from the Weelicious Lunches cookbook, which I still use often. This isn’t to say that my kid eats everything in it (I don’t think he’d go anywhere near the egg pesto sandwich, despite how awesome that looks to me), but there are some great recipes in there. There’s a small chapter of recipes that are all variations on pizza, and I decided to try one. I didn’t have it in me to make the whole wheat dough, so I just bought some regular pizza dough at the store, but I did make the sauce. And it’s really cool, because it’s made from a lot of vegetables! The recipe for the sauce makes about 4 cups, so I froze three portions of 1 cup and used the remainder (¾ cup) in this recipe. This means that I have enough on hand to make more pizza recipes for future lunches, and I’d even consider doubling the amounts just to have extra to freeze! In hindsight, though, I’d portion it ¼-cup mounds to freeze it, since most recipes in the book call for multiples of ¼ cup but never 1 whole cup of sauce.

The original recipe called for shredded mozzarella, and usually my two options are to shred lactose-free cheddar instead or use a vegan mozzarella. The Little Prince is not fond of Daiya, though – I could have used regular mozzarella for him, but I wanted to taste these too! I ended up using a new-to-me brand, Violife, which I heard about here. Even though it doesn’t melt, we all agreed it tasted better than Daiya, so we’ve pretty much switched household brands.

The Little Prince loved this in his lunch!

For the pizza sauce (this makes enough to freeze for later use)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, diced (I used red)
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Sauté until veggies are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

Add the tomatoes, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, purée with an immersion hand blender (or in a regular blender) until almost smooth.

Return sauce to the heat and simmer until thick, 10-20 minutes. The longer you simmer this sauce the thicker and more flavorful it will become. You can simmer up to 2 hours.

For the pizza rolls
1 lb. pizza dough
¾ cup pizza sauce (see recipe above or buy your favorite brand)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese substitute (see note above)
½ cup pepperoni or your favorite topping

Preheat the oven to 400 "F and grease 10 muffin cups.

Roll out the pizza dough to ¼-inch thick, making a 10”x20” rectangle.

Spread the pizza sauce in a thin layer across the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with the cheese and pepperoni (or your favorite topping – the original recipe called for broccoli, but I knew my kids wouldn’t go for that).

Roll up the dough lengthwise to form a 20-inch log and pinch the seam together. Slice the log into 2-inch pieces.

Place the pizza rolls in the muffin cups and pat down slightly. (The rolls are supposed to hold together on a parchment-lined baking sheet as well, but I didn’t want to risk it!) Bake for 25 minutes (20 minutes if using a baking sheet), or until golden and bubbly and the center of the dough is cooked through. Cool and serve.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Chocolate-Date-Oat Squares

My oldest doesn’t like date squares (even though he *loves* date cookies). But I wanted to make something for him to have as a snack when he comes home from school, and even though date squares have a lot of sugar, they also have dates and oats, which are healthy and filling. I decided to take a chance when I saw this recipe for chocolate-date-oat bars in Real Simple. He wasn’t sure he even wanted any when he saw them, but when I said that there was chocolate in them, he decided to try them. And even though he doesn’t love them, he’ll still eat a serving, so I consider this a win! Note that we’ve decided that a proper serving is about half the size of the bar shown below (this decision was based on everyone’s appetite and level of interest in the food as they were eating), so the pan can be divided into 24 squares. I had cut them into bars because the original recipe called them bars, but I’m hereby declaring that they’re squares. I put a third of them in the freezer for a later date. I’m not sure they’d be good in a lunchbox, as they tend to crumble apart, especially the topping, but served at home with a plate and a fork, they were great!

3 cups all-purpose flour (I always use white whole wheat flour)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup granulated sugar
1¾ tsp. kosher salt, divided
1½ cups (3 sticks) lactose-free butter or margarine, melted
1 lb. pitted dates
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup (6 oz.) chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Lightly coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on long sides.

Whisk flour, oats, sugar, and 1½ teaspoons salt in a large bowl. Add butter and stir until evenly moistened. (Dough should look like wet sand.) Set aside a third of the dough for topping. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, press remaining two-thirds of dough firmly into bottom of prepared baking dish.

Process dates, ½ cup hot water, vanilla, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Transfer to a bowl and fold in chocolate. Spread mixture evenly over dough in baking dish, smoothing with a spatula. Crumble reserved dough over top, pressing gently to adhere.

Bake until top is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan, about 1 hour. Cut into 24 squares.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Salade de quinoa, de carottes et de pois chiches caramélisés, vinaigrette au cari

Voici une recette de salade de quinoa trouvée sur le site de Trois fois par jour. C’est mon genre de recettes, les salades de quinoa! J’ai utilisé des carottes de taille normale, coupées en morceaux au lieu de sur la longueur (comme sur la photo d’origine, d’ailleurs), et une boîte de pois chiches de 15 onces.

Le résultat n’était pas ce à quoi je m’attendais, mais c’était délicieux! En fait, c’est que les pois chiches et les carottes n’étaient pas caramélisés (peut-être qu’il y avait trop d’eau?), et je les ai tout de même trouvés un peu trop sucrés. Par contre, j’avais fait cuire 1 tasse de quinoa, ce qui fait que j’en avais plus que 1 ½ tasse une fois cuit, alors ça a aidé à équilibrer le tout. J’avais des doutes sur la combinaison de saveurs avec le cari, mais en fin de compte, c’était excellent!

J’ai servi le tout pour dîner, mais ce serait excellent également comme accompagnement. J’ajoute la vinaigrette seulement avant de servir, mais ça pourrait quand même se conserver un jour ou deux une fois le tout mélangé.

Pour la garniture
8 carottes nantaises, coupées en 2 dans le sens de la longueur (voir plus haut)
1 boîte (540 mL) de pois chiches, rincés et égouttés (voir plus haut)
1/3 de tasse de miel (ou moins; voir plus haut)
3 c. à soupe de margarine ou de beurre sans lactose
1 ½ tasse d’eau

Pour la vinaigrette
½ tasse de crème sure sans lactose
2 c. à soupe de miel
1 c. à soupe de vinaigre de cidre
2 c. à thé de poudre de cari
1 c. à thé d’huile de sésame
sel et poivre, au goût

Pour la salade
1 ½ tasse de quinoa, cuit (j’en avais plus, en partant de 1 tasse de quinoa cru)
¼ tasse de menthe fraîche, hachée
¼ tasse de coriandre fraîche, hachée
3 oignons verts, émincés
½ tasse de pistaches rôties, hachées grossièrement
sel et poivre, au goût

Dans une poêle, à feu vif, déposer tous les ingrédients « pour la garniture ». Porter à ébullition, puis laisser réduire l’eau jusqu’à ce que les carottes et les pois chiches soient bien caramélisés. Réserver.

Dans un bol, mélanger tous les ingrédients « pour la vinaigrette », puis réserver. (J’ai fait ça dans un pot de confiture – vide te propre!)

Dans un autre bol, combiner tous les ingrédients « pour la salade ».

Transvider dans une assiette de présentation, garnir avec les carottes et les pois chiches caramélisés encore chauds, puis terminer par la vinaigrette au cari.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Ruby chocolate

I *finally* tasted ruby chocolate! It’s being called the fourth type of chocolate, the first three being dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, but I don’t like that definition. White chocolate is white because of how it is made (with cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids), whereas both milk chocolate and dark chocolate are made with cocoa solids from the cacao bean instead of just cocoa butter. So in theory, you could get beans from a single cacao tree and make the first three types of chocolate from it. As for ruby chocolate, it is made via a process similar to white chocolate, but only from a *specific* species of cacao bean that gives it its distinctive pink color. I first heard about it two years ago, but it wasn’t available for the general public at that point – now it is!

I saw this ruby chocolate bar by Chocolove at Whole Foods and just had to try one. To be clear, it’s not lactose-free, because there’s milk in it, just like in white chocolate. But I’ve only had a few squares at a time and I haven’t had any issues. It has a beautiful pink shade; the mouthfeel is smooth and basically like white chocolate. The taste is bright and has a sourness that is almost lemony; it’s definitely fruitier than regular chocolate, but the fruit taste reminds me of berries in addition to the citrus. That being said, to me, it’s a variation on white chocolate and it doesn’t push the same buttons as dark chocolate. So I wouldn’t eat it straight (after this bar, that is), but I’d definitely use it for baking.

Ruby chocolate was developed by Barry-Callebaut, but that brand can be hard to find in regular grocery stores. I wonder if Aubut would carry it?

Monday, September 02, 2019

Batch of links

- Here’s a really neat website called Reading Length: you start by taking a quick test to determine how many words a minute you read on average, and then you enter the title of any book (in English) and you’ll know how long it should take you to read it. This is how I figured out that I had plenty of time to reread The Complete MAUS by Art Spiegelman (just under 5 hours) before leaving for the summer!

- The New York Times published an article last week about the latest research into the effect of genes on sexual orientation, which suggests that genes are responsible for only about a third of the reasons why someone might be homosexual. Other reasons include social and environmental factors. (This is not to be misconstrued as saying that people who are homosexual have in any way chosen their sexual orientation – I’ve yet to hear of a single case where that would be true, and I for one certainly didn’t choose to be straight. It simply means that raw data from one’s DNA doesn’t account for everything. Another simplified example: one’s DNA might code for “being tall”, but if that person doesn’t get all the necessary nutrients during their growth period, thein their height will not be optimal, through no fault of their own and certainly through no conscious decision on their part.)

We already knew that DNA isn’t the only factor in determination of sexual preferences. If it were, identical twins would always have the same sexual orientation, but apparently a gay identical twin has only a 20% chance of their twin being gay as well. That being said, the most glaring omission here, in my opinion, is that this article did not at all bring up prenatal endocrine influences, which are known to play a role in sexual preferences without being directly genetic!

- I already knew that androgen levels in utero are correlated with sexual orientation, especially for female fetuses (see here or here, though some reach different conclusions with the same evidence here). In short, as far as we know, higher levels of exposure to androgen hormones for a female fetus are correlated with a higher chance of the grown woman being a lesbian.

It’s different for male fetuses. In university, I studied both biology and psychology, where I took classes in ethology, bioethics as well as sex and gender psychology, and here’s how the topic was presented. I was taught that it had to do with epigenetics, that is, that there might be one or – more likely – several genes that code for homosexuality, , but whether or not those genes are expressed depends on a specific combination of genes or on factors external to the individual’s DNA (such as the environment in which they grow up). So at that point (c. 2001), the research showed that gay men were more likely to be the youngest sibling in the family. (I don’t remember specifically hearing about whether the sex of their older siblings made a difference.) The leading theory at the time was that perhaps because they were the youngest, their mother “babied” them and they then identified with her more, and IF they had the genes that predisposed them to being gay, those genes were then activated. It was the kind of explanation that “sounded legit” and there wasn’t yet any evidence to refute it, so it stood for a while, even though a lot of men are close to their mom without being gay and vice versa. But over the summer I learned that this was debunked a few years ago: this article explains that a woman pregnant with a male fetus makes antibodies that target the Y chromosome, and the more male fetuses she carries over her life, the higher the level of those antibodies. This means that each subsequent male child is that much more likely to be gay than his older brother(s). It’s a very interesting example of the influence of the environment (in this case, the womb) on the wiring of the brain, in a way that is not technically genetic, but is still independent of any influence after birth.

Even then, there are of course other factors at play. As anecdotal evidence, my oldest paternal uncle has a male partner, but to the best of my knowledge, all four of his younger brothers are heterosexual. We obviously still have a lot to learn here.

- In more science news, there’s a vaccine to prevent being allergic to one’s cat. The catch? The vaccine is for the cat.

- Some fairy tales may be more than 6,000 years old. I really liked this article because the methodology was similar to studies of lineage through DNA, but applied to languages.

- There’s a movement called Statues for Equality that aims to increase the number of statues of women in public spaces. Did you know that less than 3% of statues in New York are women? Well, 10 new statues were unveiled last week, all women, and more are to come.

- Apparently, mothers-in-law poisoning their son’s wife is a thing. The original Dear Prudence story is gold, and I also loved this Ask Polly response to the woman with the mushroom allergy.

- And to my dismay, glass is no longer being recycled in my neighborhood. This is going on in other residential neighborhoods as well. I mean, I came back from my summer in Montreal feeling badly that we don’t have a municipal composting program, and hey, it got even worse.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Custard Tart

I had been meaning to make a custard tart (or pie, depending on the recipe). I tried the tofu-based blackberry custard pie from the Minimalist Baker cookbook, but it was a mess. I baked it for 1h45m (which was 30 minutes more than the longest time recommended, even though my oven runs hot), but it was still more than jiggly, and refrigerating it didn’t help. The pieces fell apart, and it wasn’t that good. But then, with lactose-free cream in Canada, I tried Bon Appétit’s latest recipe for custard tart. Honestly, if you skip the whipped cream garnish, which I did anyway, you could probably just use coconut milk for this to keep it lactose-free.

I’m not sure that “tart” or “pie” is a good name for that dish, because it doesn’t have a crust! I’m not sure what a good name would be, though, because I’m lacking a generic term for this type of dessert. I’m sure it would be good in a crust, too, but it held together just fine on its own. If you do use a crust, I recommend a deep-dish pie plate or springform pan instead of a cake pan. It is topped with sugar before being baked, which means that the top will darken – it’s supposed to be a bit like crème brûlée, though that’s not the effect that I got. I’d bake mine a bit less next time or top it with foil if it got too dark before it was set, because I think I would prefer it a bit paler.

The big draw of this recipe was supposed to be that you don’t have to temper the eggs, you just bring everything to a boil together very slowly. Honestly, I’ve never minded tempering eggs, but I followed the recipe. However, I didn’t at all get the custardy texture I would have expected from a crème brûlée; instead, it was much heavier, with a texture similar to cheesecake. That being said, it was delicious! You could even make it on a graham cracker crust like a cheesecake. It’s meant to be served with whipped cream and fresh fruit, whatever is in season (you could poach the fruit or serve it in syrup, too).

¾ cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar, plus more for pan
8 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
⅔ cup cornstarch
½ tsp. kosher salt
3 cups lactose-free whole milk
1½ cups chilled lactose-free cream, divided (see note above)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1½ tsp. vanilla extract or paste
1 lb. stone fruit, cut into wedges, blueberries and/or blackberries (see note above)

Grease a 9"-diameter cake pan (mine was 2” deep). Line bottom with a round of parchment paper; smooth out and grease again. Coat sides with sugar, tapping out excess.

Gently whisk egg yolks, eggs, cornstarch, salt, and ¾ cup sugar in a large saucepan until smooth, then whisk vigorously until lightened in color, 1–2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually stream in milk, followed by 1 cup cream; scrape sides of pan. Scrape in vanilla seeds; discard pod. Cook mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it starts to thicken, then whisk vigorously until it holds marks of whisk, 6–10 minutes. Immediately remove custard from heat (do not let boil); let cool slightly.

Using a rubber spatula, press custard through a fine-mesh sieve into prepared pan (I skipped the step of the sieve, because my custard seemed nice and smooth already). Chill, uncovered, 20 minutes (it should be warm but not hot). Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 400°.

Bake custard until top is deeply browned in spots, 40–50 minutes (it will still be wobbly in the center). Let cool.

Toss fruit with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar in a medium bowl. Let sit 15 minutes.

Slide a knife around sides of custard to loosen and place a plate upside down over custard; invert onto plate. Peel away parchment and invert again onto another plate. Whisk remaining ½ cup cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Serve slices of custard topped with fruit and whipped cream.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Dinosaur Valley State Park

On our way back to San Antonio, we stopped at Dinosaur Valley State Park, near Glen Rose, Texas. The first dinosaur tracks were discovered there by (white) locals in 1909, near the Paluxy River. Initially there was a theropod track, and not long after, the first sauropod tracks ever were found. They became famous when Roland T. Bird journeyed there to search for more tracks in 1937. Apparently, it’s thanks to those tracks that scientists now know that sauropods were land-based animals – up to that point, they thought that sauropods had relied on water to support their bodies. The tracks also showed that sauropods were herd animals who cared for their young and that they moved more slowly than their therapod predators. Because of all the data in these tracks, the park was designated a National Natural Landmark.

So, things to know before you go: the level of the Paluxy River varies wildly, so tracks are often submerged and trails might be closed. Check their status on the park’s Facebook page or its Twitter page before you go. Late summer is typically a good time to visit, as the weather tends to be dry. But that brings me to the second point: it can be very hot (it was about 105 °F when we visited), so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. There is also a lot of wildlife (including the biggest harvestman spider I had ever seen, in the women’s restroom), some of which might be dangerous, so stay on the trails.

It was only once we were there that we realized how steep and rugged the trails are in some areas, and since we were there with small children, this was not a good combination. Also, even when the water is low, you cannot access any of the tracks without getting wet (I had planned ahead, but not the Engineer). What I most wanted to see was the ballroom track site (map here), because it’s the one that has the most tracks, and the low water levels meant it was the best time to see it. We followed directions, using both the paper map provided by the park and the posts indicating which trail to follow. And you know what? We never even found the site. What I know is that you’re supposed to cross the river to see it, but there was no indication of where “it” was, and access to the river was limited and slippery (again, steep and rugged trails, plus two little kids). The map has exact coordinates with degrees north and west, but I had no way to figure out how to use that information, and no cell service to help me figure it out. So that was a big disappointment, and we had to turn back once we reached what looked like a camping site (indicating that we had gone too far anyway).

On the way back to the parking lot, we stopped by the blue hole site. A lot of people were swimming, and as it turns out, the water was absolutely perfect (clear water at a most pleasant temperature, so plan to bring swimsuits and towels if at all possible). There is one track there that was visible from the trail high up on the bank, but I really wanted to get closer. So I left the guys on the high bank, walked down to the river (passing an adorable lizard on the way, possibly a Laredo striped whiptail), left my backpack on the rocks, and waded in. I had to be really careful not to fall in, leaning far over the rock when the ledge almost disappeared, but I made it to the track! FYI, I had water up to my knees at its highest point. This would not have been a big deal had I been in my swimsuit, but I wasn’t, and I had my phone in my pocket, so I really didn’t want to fall in! The water was super pleasant, though.

From there, we got back in the car and drove to the main site – if you want the “easy” version of this outing, that’s where you should go. There are steps right off the parking lot going down to the river, where you can cross by carefully making your way over large rocks (but you will definitely get your feet wet). There are tracks clearly marked on the other side. The picture below overlooks that location, and you can compare it to this video to see why it’s important to check the river level before going!

And here are the tracks, belonging to Cretaceous sauropods and therapods (as best we know, they were Sauroposeidon and Acrocanthosaurus, respectively). Those are observable, but you can’t actually go touch them.

After that, we went to have lunch someplace with air conditioning, and drove the rest of the way home using Highway 281 all the way, and we found it so much more pleasant than the I-35 that we may never use the latter again.

White Pizza Sauce

There was a short article in Bon Appétit about pizza with white sauce, made with cream and herbs and, unexpectedly, lemon zest. Pizza is an easy sell for dinner in our household, so I tried this sauce. I changed it a bit because I didn’t have enough basil on hand and I didn’t want fennel fronds, but I did add a bit of fresh oregano. It was delicious, and the lemon zest really brightened it up! This makes enough sauce for three pizzas, and I used dough from the store because I didn’t want to bother making my own. I made one pizza with greens, as suggested, and two more with pepperoni, to please the children (and adults too, let’s admit it). I used two kinds of cheese: a high-moisture fresh mozzarella and a low-moisture grated parmesan. Everyone loved their pizzas!

What I really want to draw your attention to, though, is this: the fresh mozzarella I used was lactose-free. *cue angels singing* Amazing, right? I know it’s not always the case, and I wouldn’t ever assume a mozzarella pizza I haven’t made myself is lactose-free, but I looked at the nutrition label on this one, and it had 0 grams of sugar. And lactose is a sugar, ergo… no lactose. This tip works with cheeses in general: just look at the sugar content on the nutrition label. (The reverse isn’t always true. There are certainly foods that contain sugar and are still lactose-free, but then you can’t tell just from the nutrition label, and us lactose-intolerant folks don’t like to take any chances.) So even if you can’t get your hands on lactose-free cream, you can still have a pizza with fresh mozzarella!

2 cups lactose-free cream
½ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
¼ cup chopped chives
1½ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1 pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Purée cream, basil, fennel, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a food processor or with an immersion blender until thick and creamy, 15–30 seconds; season with salt and pepper.

The sauce can be kept in the fridge for a few days. Use roughly 2/3 cup per pizza (the yield is about 2 cups, so enough for 3 pizzas). You can use homemade dough or raw storebought dough and bake the pizza for 5 minutes on a pizza stone in a 500 °F-oven, or use prebaked dough and just follow the instructions.