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.

Monday, August 19, 2019


In late July, the Engineer and I took our first child-free trip and spent a few days in Maine. (I highly recommend being child-free for a few days! Also, a big tahk-you to my parents for watching the boys while we relaxed.)

We had to scramble at the last minute to find accommodations for our first night, since our original plans fell through (with just a bit over 24 hours’ notice). It wasn’t easy, because it was during what some hotel owners refer to as “peak high season”, but in the end we booked the last room at the Wells Moody Motel. It turns out it was a perfectly nice room at a good price point for us, so I recommend the place! It’s also close to the beach (a half-mile walk, though we ended up driving because of the heat wave). Wells is just north of Ogunquit and slightly less expensive (you’re welcome). We went for a swim before dinner, and the water was even colder than we had imagined. We managed to stay in the ocean by making a contest of it, and it had been a really long time since we’d laughed that hard! So it was fun, and yet, not that pleasant. Actually, the rising tide and the freezing cold water made us glad we hadn’t come with our small kids, even though it’s a family-friendly spot. We ended up spending as much time in the hotel pool, but without screaming with every wave!

When we went out for dinner, we quickly realized that it was going to be harder than we thought. We were driving south on Post Road towards Ogunquit, but restaurants were getting full and one turned us away (because they refused to fill any more 2-tops that night), others we called didn’t even bother picking up, and traffic was bumper-to-bumper already. So we made a quick decision and pulled in to Food For Thought, getting one of the last tables on the patio. And it was exactly what we wanted. The ambiance was pleasant, we had friendly service, and the food was great. I had the most perfect burger (with charred heirloom tomato, Vidalia bacon jam, and smoked cheddar), while the Engineer had lobster poutine, and we split the amazing donut bread pudding for dessert.

The next day, we went to Ogunquit, left the car at the parking lot on Cottage Street, and walked to the Marginal Way, a path that stretches along the coastline for 1 ¼ miles. It is paved and relatively easy to walk, and you get the most beautiful views along the way! (More info here.)

We also strolled through Perkins Cove before making our way back, then strolling some more through Ogunquit. And guess who had vegan soft serve ice cream at The Scoop Shack! I tasted the maple blueberry, but it was watery and not sweet enough for me, so I went with the mango pineapple coconut.

We stayed in Scarborough that night, very close to the beach, but went to Portland for dinner. I had of course read Bon Appétit’s feature on Portland last year, but since I don’t like seafood, descriptions of many of the best restaurants left me indifferent. However, I have other sources (see here and here, in French), so we went to The Honey Paw. It would not be kid-friendly, because there are only very tall chairs, but we were on a kid-free vacation, so who cares? Don’t miss the fry bread with ssamjang butter (so good!) and the pork and crab with fried noodles (or any noodles, really). Sadly, the only dessert they had was ice cream – no lactose-free options. The famous Eventide is right next door, and there are multiple bakeries and breweries in the area. FYI, there’s a Hampton Inn right in the middle of the action for all the foodies out there – we’ll keep it in mind for the future.

The next morning, after walking on the beach in the rain with blessedly cooler temperatures, we drove back to Portland and made sure to go to Tandem Bakery on Congress. My thick slice of banana bread topped with black sesame was heaven! The Engineer had a loaded biscuit with jam and butter that was absolutely delish. We then walked around Portland for a few hours, mostly on Congress Street. (Special mention to The Green Hand Bookshop, which not only happened to have a very nice second-hand copy of the next book I wanted to read, but where I also could have spent hours browsing. Also, Maine Craft had some really nice stuff, and there were so many wonderful small shops all around… I really miss neighborhoods like that in my everyday life.)

When we’d had our fill (and our parking time was about to run out), we went to Cape Elizabeth to see Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine. The lighthouse itself isn’t accessible, but there’s a neat museum where we had time to stop and read every single explanation because, again, no kids. We had a bite to eat at Bite Into Maine and chilled at a picnic table overlooking the ocean – I started reading the book I had bought earlier that day, and it was perfect. We spent the night at an Airbnb in Windham and drove home the next day.

Lait aux fraises

Vous le savez, je profite de l’été pour faire des recettes avec de la crème et du beurre sans lactose. Je n’ai malheureusement pas eu le temps de me faire du caramel cet été, mais j’ai quand même fait une sauce au caramel écossais délicieuse et simple comme tout. Et aussi des guimauveries au beurre noisette salé (par contre, truc de pro : utilisez des céréales de marque Rice Krispies – ce n’est vraiment pas la place des grosses céréales de riz soufflé du magasin d’aliments naturels!). Et puis cette pavlova au chocolat avec crème fouettée au chocolat blanc (pour la refaire, par contre, je cuirais la pavlova plus longtemps à température plus basse et j’augmenterais la quantité de chocolat blanc, car on ne goûtait pas du tout les 100 grammes que j’y ai mis). Et j’ai oublié de le dire dans mon dernier billet, mais j’ai fait une très belle sortie au restaurant Venice, qui en plus de servir d’excellents plats (comme ce poke au thon), est le premier restaurant où je vois clairement la mention « sans lactose » dans le menu (en plus des « sans gluten » ou « végétarien » qui sont plus courants). Recommandé, donc!

Mais là, j’ai aussi profité de la saison des fraises pour faire du lait aux fraises avec un substitut de babeurre sans lactose. Et en fait, je ne pensais pas en parler. C’est surtout qu’il faut avoir une bonne installation pour faire des photos de boissons, et je n’ai même pas la place de m’organiser ça chez moi, alors vous comprendrez que je ferais encore moins ça chez mes parents. Mais c’était trop bon!

La recette vient de Smitten Kitchen, mais elle est adaptée d’une recette de Gabrielle Hamilton. Le plus important, je pense, est ceci : il vous FAUT des fraises de saison, locales. Je n’en ai jamais goûté d’aussi bonnes que celles du Québec, et je ne recommande pas les fraises que l’on trouve à l’épicerie à l’année longue pour cette recette. Les fraises un peu trop mûres seraient parfaites ici.

1 lb. de fraises de saison, lavées, équeutées et tranchées
½ tasse de sucre granulé
3 tasses de lait sans lactose
1 tasse de babeurre sans lactose (soit 1 c. à soupe de jus de citron + assez de lait sans lactose pour faire 1 tasse)

Mélanger les fraises et le sucre dans un bol et les laisser macérer pendant au moins une heure, jusqu’à ce qu’elles deviennent sirupeuses. Plus elles perdent leur jus maintenant, mieux c’est! Mélanger ensuite les fraises et leur jus jusqu’à homogénéité (j’ai fait cela avec mon mélangeur sur pied, aussi appelé mélangeur à main, mais un mélangeur sur socle ou un bon robot font l’affaire), puis verser dans un pichet avec le lait et le babeurre. Mélanger et laisser au réfrigérateur pour la nuit, pour que les saveurs se marient bien. Au matin, mélanger de nouveau avec le mélangeur sur pied, puis s’en servir un verre. (Mélanger de nouveau avant de servir les restes.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Summer finds

I know people don’t always read until the end, so let me start with the best thing I have eaten all summer: the raspberry coconut swirl at the aptly named Swirl. It’s not a shop so much as a takeout window, but they have vegan soft-serve ice cream made with local ingredients, and it’s so worth the detour! There’s always a coconut-vanilla flavor, plus a second flavor that changes every week depending on what’s in season. When I went, it was raspberry sorbet (made with fresh local raspberries, obviously), and it tasted absolutely fabulous! Seriously, it’s the best dairy-free ice cream I’ve had. (Apparently, all the owners have some degree of lactose intolerance, so they get me.) Quick note: no cash accepted, only cards, and it comes out to CAN$5.75 per serving with taxes, which is comparable to others (dairy or no) around town. It was so good that I actually debated ordering a second one immediately after I finished it. I decided to be reasonable and stick to just one, but honestly, I think I should have had the second one anyway. I’ll keep it in mind next summer!

Also very much worth mentioning is Ca Lem, in NDG. It’s an artisanal creamery that offers some very original flavors, some of which are vegan. We went on an evening that had a few drizzles, so there weren’t very many people, but expect to wait in line on a nice summer day. Worth it!

As for new-to-me chocolate… I placed an order with État de choc, a chocolate shop that makes its own high-quality chocolate products and also sells a curated selection of fine, ethically sourced chocolates from around the world. They even offer subscriptions! I bought their box of 10 lingots, along with two Palette de bine bars (Haïti Pisa 70% and Tanzanie Kokoa Kamili 70% with Ethiopian Bolova coffee), one Qantu bar (maple & Maras fleur de sel) and, for the heck of it, cacao juice.

As far as I’m concerned, Palette de bine is always a good choice, as their chocolate is excellent! Some bars come with tasting notes, like the Haïti Pisa pictured here; I actually liked the coffee one more than I thought I would, as the coffee did not overpower the chocolate. Both were very smooth and satisfying.

It was my first time tasting a Qantu bar, and I loved it as well. It’s no surprise that both of these Quebec-based companies have won international awards for their chocolate! (For some reason, the Qantu bar was cheaper on État de choc than directly on the Qantu website, but like we say in French, they’re certainly not giving them away either.) My chocolate from both Palette de bine and Qantu were allergen-free.

The État de choc lingots were delicious and had original flavors. However, even though I enjoyed them, I couldn’t help but think of how expensive they were (it worked out to CAN$2.60 per tiny lingot, plus shipping for the whole order), so I don’t think I’ll get those again.

The cacao juice was such a novelty to me that I’m including pictures of all four sides of the packaging, for those of you who are as curious as I was. The best way to describe it would be “tropical”. It actually reminded me a bit of pineapple juice both in taste and appearance. The taste was quite strong, though, so I do think it would be better as a mixer, perhaps in cocktails or smoothies, or mixed with orange juice. My friend La Maman des Zigotos used to mix juices all the time when we were kids – I think she rarely drank any one type straight up – so this makes me think of her.

I also bought a bar of Flagrants Désirs 72% cocoa dark with oink salt that I really liked – I don’t see it on their (very basic) website, but for the record, I got it at Bulk Barn. And I’m still a big fan of Theobroma and Rochef.

As far as my non-summer chocolate goes (meaning, I buy this in the States), I’ve been enjoying Raaka’s pink sea salt dark chocolate lately.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Garlic Butter Steak Bites and Potatoes

This recipe is one that I had to make over the summer, since I no longer have lactose-free butter in the States. That being said, it’s probably more “seasonal” for fall or winter. In any event, this was absolutely fantastic! I ended up putting sauce only on the steak (not the potatoes), and didn’t use all of it, but man-oh-man, was it ever delicious!

1 ½ lbs. fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
4 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 lbs. thick-cut New York strip steak, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 Tbsp. lactose-free butter, cubed
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 450 °F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.

Place potatoes onto the prepared baking sheet. Add 2 ½ tablespoons canola oil; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Gently toss to combine. Place potatoes, cut side down, in a single layer. Place into oven and bake for 35 minutes, until golden brown and crisp, flipping halfway.

Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat until very hot, about 1-2 minutes. Add remaining 1 ½ tablespoon canola oil.

Season steak with salt and pepper, to taste. Working in batches, add steak to the skillet in a single layer and cook until browned on all sides, about 6-8 minutes; set aside and keep warm.

To make the garlic butter sauce, reduce heat to low; add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in butter, parsley and thyme; season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve steak and fries immediately with garlic butter sauce.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Grilled cheese au beurre d'érable, aux pommes et au cheddar fort

Quand je regardais mes recettes à essayer, avant de venir au Québec, j’ai décidé d’apporter avec moi deux recettes du magazine 3 fois par jour (que je ne retrouve malheureusement pas en ligne), parce qu’il fallait du beurre d’érable. Autant profiter des ingrédients locaux! La première recette était pour des bonbons mous au beurre d’érable et au sésame – ils étaient jolis et bons, mais je les trouvais beaucoup trop sucrés à mon goût! Je pense qu’il faudrait augmenter la quantité de tahini. Dans la recette d’origine, c’est ½ tasse de beurre d’érable, ¼ tasse de beurre et 1 c. à soupe de tahini (en plus de fleur de sel et de graines de sésame pour garnir, et on garde les bonbons au congélateur).

L’autre recette était ces sandwichs grilled cheese au beurre d’érable, aux pommes et au cheddar fort. (C’est le genre de plat qui serait génial avec un confit d’oignons, si on voulait ajouter un ingrédient.) Les quantités ci-dessous sont pour 1 sandwich; je les ai quadruplées pour faire un dîner familial. Tout le monde a adoré!

2 tranches de pain, au choix
1 c. à soupe de beurre d’érable
1/3 tasse de fromage cheddar fort râpé
¼ pomme, coupée en tranches fines
sel et poivre, au goût
margarine ou beurre sans lactose, ramolli(e)

Faire chauffer une poêle antiadhésive à feu moyen.

Tartiner l’extérieur des tranches de pain avec le beurre sans lactose ramolli. Retourner les tranches de pain et tartiner l’intérieur du beurre d’érable. Garnir avec le fromage cheddar et les tranches de pomme, puis assaisonner au goût.

Faire dorer le sandwich dans la poêle, 2 ou 3 minutes de chaque côté, pour que le fromage fonde et que le pain soit bien doré.

Couper en deux pour servir.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Quinoa Pudding with Strawberries

Picture rice pudding, but with quinoa instead of rice, and there you have it, quinoa pudding. You could serve it with maple syrup (this is just the way I grew up eating rice pudding), but in this version from Cannelle et Vanille, it is topped with strawberries – I used local, in-season Quebec strawberries, nothing but the best! I absolutely loved it, and the Engineer was fond of it as well, but the kids ate only the strawberries and left the pudding behind.

Note that I made this with lactose-free cream, but you could replace it with coconut milk or, as the original recipe suggests, simply omit it for a drier pudding. This makes 4 8-ounce servings, but I stretched it to make 8 smaller servings.

3 cups lactose-free whole milk
1 cup lactose-free cream (see note above)
1 vanilla bean
¼ cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup quinoa
1 cup strawberries, diced
1 Tbsp. sugar

Combine the milk, cream, sugar, salt and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the quinoa and stir. Reduce heat to medium low, cover the pot slightly, and cook for about 30 minutes stirring every few minutes. If skin starts to form on top of the milk, just stir it back in. The milk will reduce and thicken. Ladle into bowls or jars. Puddings can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold, depending in your preference.

Meanwhile, place cut strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle them with sugar. Toss them and let them sit at room temperature for about an hour until juices start to come out.

Top the puddings with the strawberries.