I have been a bit quiet on the cycling front.
I kind of poured my everything into the Shiner GASP and let my body (and mind) recover as needed. Rob and I kept cycling, but nothing over 50 km. There is no point in cycling if you aren’t having fun. It pales to our upcoming distances, but I just didn’t have it inside me to resume our crazy adventures.
Three weeks later and I got my mojo back. I started swapping my morning gym with longer routes to work. Rob would join me. On his road bike, no less, which was a good motivator to keep pushing it on my commuter, while carrying all my stuff for work on my back. I managed to squeeze an extra 50 km, in addition to my regular commute, over the 2 days we tried this out. Sadly, the forecast is all rain this week, so I may return to the gym after all.
With the long weekend, Rob and I had time to both relax and fit in some longer cycling. A perfect balance, methinks. 50 km and 107 km, including an urban hilly ride. Thankfully we made it home yesterday before the torrential rain, which is merely a preview for the week.
In any case, I made these delicious snack bites to tote along for our longer ride. They were inspired by a reader, Jessica, who encouraged me to try adding ginger and turmeric to Gena’s Hemp Cocoa Energy Bites. I love it when you guys know me too well!
No stranger to sharp, fresh ginger in sweets (remember my Matcha Ginger Smoothie?), I didn’t add enough turmeric for it to be a strong taste. I will admit that I added the ginger because I like its taste but its anti-inflammatory properties are a bonus. However, I added the turmeric specifically because of its anti-inflammatory properties (I really don’t like its taste in strong amounts!). The dates sweet this nicely and the hemp protein powder gives it a grassy/earthy undertone which complements the sweetness perfectly.
What do you think of turmeric? Do you try to incorporate into more of your foods? Any recipes you recommend?
You probably wept as I described Houston’s spring/summer weather a few months ago. With the atrocious Canadian winter, I started clarifying when my Mom would ask me about the weather: Do you really want to know? Do you really want to know we have bone fide summer with 30 C highs while you just lost the last of your winter snow? I thought not.
Have no fear, though, you will have your just revenge. That hot and humid weather is mere weeks away, if not here already. Hot and humid? Yeah, that’s was this weekend. Houstonians know this is peanuts compared to the upcoming summer (sad face). I am convinced that it is the humidity that makes the wind so heavy here, but I have nothing to prove it.
In any case, I made a Houston-newbie mistake last weekend. I brought these treats to a potluck. Not a problem in other cities, but Houston is hot these days. They were very keen to melting. Even in our apartment, with the air conditioner, they were quick to begin to melt. Since they were my only cooked food fit for others, I brought them anyhow. Imagine my shock when I arrived at the potluck, when they decided to serve the food outdoors! GAH!! A bit of reprieve, the desserts were to stay inside. I placed my container of mini treats with the other desserts and proceeded to pile up with all the delicious savoury options.
I returned indoors to the dessert table. The line from the savoury table now snaked indoors, right past the desserts. I had to do a double-take: only one half-treat remained. I told Christine to grab the last one. Instead of melting, within 5 minutes they had evaporated to high acclaim! Success!
One of my favourite parts of going to vegan potlucks (other than trying so much delicious food), is experimenting in my own kitchen. After seeing Lisa share these, I immediately wanted to try it. Tahini-based desserts were a definite hit earlier this year (see my Sweet Sesame Rice Crispy Treats) and I am warming up to liking a hint of coffee flavour. It pairs well with chocolate (hello Chocolate Mocha Pudding Cake!) but I was unsure about it without the chocolate. Lisa raved about it, so I gave it a whirl.
In case it wasn’t obvious: it was a definite hit. The coffee flavour was subtle enough (for me) and paired well with the sweet dates. The tahini cups were a nice contrast with a creamy base. I liked that it was nut-free, which helps for those with nut-allergies at potlucks.
I made these into mini cups, which I think worked well since you could get more filling:base ratio. Tahini can be a bit bitter, but it was tempered nicely with the sweet date-heavy filling. I still had some filling leftover, which was easily slipped into my next morning’s oatmeal. The tahini base settled a bit funny on top, which is probably because I didn’t use enough. I just barely had enough to surround my 24 minicups. I changed the recipe below to account for more base.
Do you like tahini in your desserts? I am inspired to try more! Perhaps these salted tahini caramels are in my future: tahini + coconut flour + sweetener!
PS. I am sharing this with Bookmarked Recipes.
Rob disappears and I do a cold, windy and rainy bike 100 km ride. Cameo appearance by the dreaded flat tire again. Sound familiar?
It is hard to believe, but within the span of a few days of my last solo cycling adventure, I signed up for the Tour de Houston for the 60-mile/100-km ride. More impressive (or shocking), I also dedicated some overflow vacation days to visit my parents and cycle Rideau Lakes with my Dad in June. This will be my third time on the 360 km 2-day course, I am hoping it will keep me motivated to continue to cycle throughout the summer to have fun at Cycle Oregon.
In any case, cycling season has begun. This weekend simply solidified why I love cycling so much. IT IS FUN! Even with nearly 4 hours of on-and-off again rain and fierce winds, I had a blast. Granted, I was sad Rob was missing such a fun experience but it was liberating to tackle the course at my own pace (yes, I know, Rob is usually the one waiting for me, not the other way around). I don’t know how many people showed up in spite of the weather (see the video recap here), but over 5000 people registered for the event. It is infectious to be surrounded by other cyclists. I rarely see another cyclist on my commutes to work but now, I had to jostle and wind my way around so many others.
I picked this event because it is actually run by the City of Houston to promote cycling in the city. It was well marked (save one turn) and well staffed. The course changes every year to highlight different areas of Houston. This year, the course was fantastic. Nearly all intersections were staffed to give cyclists the right-of-way (most of the time, obviously they had to let cars go through as well). I also knew it would give me the courage to try out a 100 km course with lots of support. Turns out, I needed it. I found myself with a flat tire a bit after the half-way point. When I cycle with Rob, he always brings a tube, pump, and tools to fix tires but this time, I didn’t. Thankfully, I turned around and one of the sag trucks found me and my sorry wheel. They brought me back to my last rest stop where I was able to get my flat tire. In addition, they then drove me back to where I had my flat tire so I could continue my journey.
I was a bit bummed because I had lost a lot of time and I was even turned away at one of the rest stops. I had a flat tire, I am not that slow! I kept thinking to myself. However, with the continuous rain, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the cyclists had thinned out so it was less congested but the best part was that I was mostly passing everyone. Not just a morale boost, this was incredible practical: less mud in my face! No one has mud guards, so if you are within 10 feet of the person cycling in front of you, you would be greeted with mud galore. How do I know? Right before I had my flat tire, there was a muddy patch and it landed all over my face, my glasses, my clothes and my bike.
The course was well stocked with bananas, oranges and peanuts (and pretzels which I didn’t eat) but by the time I arrived at the finish line, most of the vendors had packed up for the day. I cycled home. And only then I remembered how long rides really deplete my motivation to cook. I had the most motivation to do laundry and have a bath, though. Talk about being dirty. But before that, I treated myself to a fun recovery smoothie courtesy of Brendan Brazier’s new cookbook Thrive Energy Cookbook.
Based off the recipes from one of my favourite restaurants, Thrive Juice Bar, this is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing: the recipes taste great. If they are true to the restaurant, you will want to make that pad thai stat. However, the curse: that pad thai? It tastes great, in part, because each component is perfected. The recipe may be on one page but it will redirect to 4 addition recipes – three sauces/vinaigrettes and a vegetable mix. All for a single serving.
The photos are gorgeous. The recipes are tantalizing with many classic vegan combinations. I am salivating over the drinks: kale mojito (I have had that at the restaurant and it is great!), chocolate-truffle-caramel mocha, chocolate-peppermint matcha magic drink. The restaurant’s Big Green Energy Charger is in there, too, which I love with a hit of maca, but I don’t know how I will find my own freshly squeezed wheatgrass juice for my version to be authentic. The recipes focus on mostly whole foods, although Daiya cheese makes its appearance, numerous Vega products along with Wildwood Zesty Garlic Aioli which seems to be the base for all four aioli recipes. Some incredibly hard-to-find ingredients are included (lucuma, astralagus, ginseng, wheatgrass juice, reishi mushroom, maca) but not too many.. and most could easily be omitted. I look forward to trying out more recipes and thrilled I can share a cookbook with one of you, too.
For this smoothie recipe, nuts, chocolate and protein powder are combined to make a satisfying smoothie. I typically don’t like smoothies with ice, but this was well balanced, probably because there was a larger amount of nuts than my typical smoothies. Brendan calls this a recovery smoothie although for information on his rationale for his sports recipe (either before, during or after exercise), you are redirected to his previous books.
Thankfully, the publisher allowed me to share the recipe (with my modifications, of course) AND giveaway the cookbook to a reader living in the United States. To be entered in the random draw for the cookbook, please leave a comment below. The winner will be selected at random on March 29, 2014. Good luck!
Recipes from Thrive Energy Cookbook shared elsewhere:
This is being submitted to Ricki’s Weekend Wellness.
Remember Valentine’s Day? I reneged on my promise to make dessert. Rob had no problem coming up with an alternative. In fact, he was happy when I said I didn’t have the time to make my dessert of choice. He had already planned the whole meal!
The week post-V-Day is always special for us because we celebrate Rob’s birthday and our anniversary, so I eventually made my planned dessert, too. Our stash of avocados were perfectly ripe and could I really ignore an excuse to try out a new coconut flour-based dessert?
I cobbled together a delicious dessert from a few places. The base is inspired by Emma’s Raw Brownies but I topped it with a chocolate avocado frosting, based on my chocolate avocado mousse. To get a firm frosting, I used juicy Medjool dates as the sweetener (with a dash of agave only because I ran out of dates) along with a touch of lemon juice to balance the flavours. Next time, I might try a spiced version with cinnamon and cardamom again (like in my mousse).
Because I smushed this into a springform pan, this is more like a brownie cake. The brownie was delicious and it was amazingly fudgy and moist for a raw/no-cook dessert. Unlike my walnut-based raw brownie, this was lighter in texture due to the coconut flour (but more fudgy than my raw chocolate zucchini muffin). Plus the frosting just sealed the deal: delicious decadence. I highly recommend this. Although make no mistake, this is a decadent and filling treat.
PS. Here’s a shout-out to my Mom who got me a small off-set spatula. Which I totally used to frost the brownies. :)
Tomorrow is also the day to sign up for Cycle Oregon. After mulling over our options, we decided to scrap the Houston-Austin MS 150. Instead, Rob and I will be training for the 1-day 100 mile Shiner GASP (Great Austin to Shiner Pedal) ride this spring. For many reasons, we switched allegiances. I always prefer the first day of the long cycling rides and this will allow us to enjoy some time in Austin afterwards. (Free beer from the Spoetzle Brewery once we finish doesn’t hurt, either). And yes, it is only a stepping stone. Our master plan (provided we snag a porter) is to do Cycle Oregon this fall.
Cycle Oregon is not for the faint of heart: 2200 cyclists. 7 days. The route changes every year and this year it is over 400 miles and over 30,000 ft in incline. The hilly route mimics a portion of our beautiful roadtrip from Portland to Burning Man. This time, it will be by bike instead of by car.
Having a goal is a great way to stay on track. Even though we haven’t started training in earnest yet (blasted knees!), reading Gena’s snippet in No Meat Athlete about raw foods, reminded me why it is good to incorporate a variety of foods into your diet. Cooked or raw. And raw definitely does not need to be a salad. In the winter (even Houston’s winter), it can be hard for me to eat salads.
Filled with veggies, this is a fun twist on chili, done raw-style. A hybrid of my raw chili dip and chili salad wraps, this is a fun high-raw hearty chili. Red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes spiced with chili powder, tamarind and cocoa powder (YES!) create a smooth sauce that coats more veggies and beans. I used cooked pinto beans to make this a filling dish (and in my experience, easier to digest than using sprouted beans).
Is anyone else planning to do Cycle Oregon? We hope to have a small Cobra* contingent.
*Cobras are the name of our biker gang. We are a very inclusive bunch. Join us!
PS. This is my submission to Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food for tomatoes.
What will you make with it? What’s your plan?
It may seem like I have a plan for most of my purchases, but not this one. Reading through a new cookbook with coconut flour recipes, I envisioned running through my coconut flour fairly quickly. And while I have been pretty good with making a few recipes with coconut flour, the recipes only use a small amount.
I did the math. I
don’t think know I will not be able to finish all of my coconut flour before I leave Houston. That would be over a pound per week. No. Can. Do.
Instead, I am having a lot of fun experimenting. This dessert intrigued me as it asked for a lot of coconut flour compared to the nut flour. I wondered how it would bind together without dates or oil. I tried it out. And true enough, it did not stick together. It was dry as a bone. Natasha told me to have faith, it would clump if I pressed it really hard in my pie plate.
I pressed and pressed. And then gave up. Perhaps the secret was the refrigerator chilling. I opted to try remedy the recipe myself: I added more sweetener, some oil and lots of almond milk. Coconut flour is thirsty, give it some liquid! I added and added until I felt the batter come together. I pressed it into a 6″ springform pan (unpictured), topped it with the radacious raspberry puree and sprinkled more of the batter overtop.
With still some batter and puree leftover, I created these mini versions. Too cute not to photograph and share.
The larger pie pieces stayed together easily, but that could be because I left it in the fridge longer. These were inhaled within a few hours. Don’t wait too long to eat your dessert, though. The coconut flour will dry up (sucking it from your raspberries perhaps) and taste a bit chalky. However, with a crumbly base, it is akin to a linzertorte, the Austrian cake with a pastry base, a fruit jam topping and the classic lattice topping. Delicate lattices are for chumps when you can much easily make a delicious, delicate crumb topping. ;)
Do you have any recipes you love with coconut flour?
Vegan coconut flour recipes I love:
This is my submission to Raw Food Thursdays.
There was How I Spent My New Year’s Eve and now How I Spent My New Year’s Day.
Who did not enjoy a mid-week hump day holiday?
Because we had returned to Houston, this was a New Year’s Day like no other. It was reasonably warm outside. Rob had a taco craving. The much-hyped taco restaurant was open on January 1. We wanted to cycle. So we combined the plans.
In truth, while I cycle to/from work every day, our weekend rides have dwindled in between all our travel, cold and rainy weather and lastly Rob’s cold. By the time I became infected, I was only inflicted by a minor sore throat (so far, at least). I didn’t let that stop us from cycling for tacos.
Instead of our dawn-cracking bicycle rides of summer yonder, our winter cycling is more of an afternoon affair. In Houston, daily temperatures are at their peak around 3-4 pm, whereas in Toronto, it is more like 1-2 pm. In any case, we forged ahead. Rob picked the location that would lead best to a bike ride.
We picked a nice bike trail that is fairly sheltered from motorists. While construction has demolished its uninterrupted bicycle bliss (Houston’s construction season must be winter), it was a great ride… and surprisingly without too many other people sharing the path.
While the bike ride was fantastic, nearly 40 km and with a good pace, we had a much slower pace at the restaurant. Because it was THE place to be… we had to wait at least 15 minutes prior to being seated. Rob felt vindicated, though. He had eaten the best tacos yet, although I still feel like those in Mexico City were superior. Rob pointed out that the commute is much easier if we stay within Houston.
Hope you enjoyed your holiday, too.
After our ride, I treated us to this delicious smoothie. A little messy, but I decided not to clean up my mess. All for a better photo, no? ;)
While we have a freezer filled with frozen bananas, I like to whip together banana-free smoothies, too. Dates and lucuma powder provide the sweet caramel undertones for this creamy smoothie. Banana usually lends well to both creaminess and sweetness, and in this case, the creaminess comes from tofu, hemp seeds and macadamia nuts. It is actually a very simple smoothie but it tasted great. It kind of brought whole foods smoothie to a new level for me (due to the lack of non-dairy milk). In addition to the lack of banana, this smoothie was fun because you basically create your own non-dairy milk from macadamia nuts and tofu.
This is just one of the creative craveable concoctions from Julie Morris’ Superfood Smoothies. She has really outdone herself, because there are so many wonderful drinks here: watermelon acai, carrot cardamom, mango chili, cucumber mint, chocolate kale, mint chip, mayan chocolate, maca oat, pineapple maca, red velvet cake (with roasted beets!) and even a chocolate smoothie with cauliflower.
All of the smoothie focus on plant-based ingredients, with a special focus on superfoods. Superfoods including standard fruits and vegetables but also less common ingredients (aka expensive) like acai, macqui, maca and camu powders, dried mulberries, hemp seeds, and fresh coconut water. A handy substitution chart at the back of the book will help with substitutions, but let’s be honest: smoothies are meant to be forgiving. Most of the time, the hard-to-find ingredients could be omitted altogether since they are used in limited amount, substituted with something more common or you could splurge and just use a little bit of them for each smoothie, which would last you a long time. A bit more of a bother for me was the inclusion of different juices in the recipes – carrot, apple, orange, pomegranate, aloe, etc. I would rather throw in a whole carrot than only use its juice, but one is way more sweet than the other… and way more juicy. If you use the recipes as a guide, I don’t think you will be let down. Furthermore, while there may or may not be a conflict of interest, Julie is a spokesperson and executive chef for a company that sells said expensive superfoods. Although her work with the Smoothment (Smoothie Movement), may indeed make her an expert with such ingredients. Perhaps if you drink your way through this cookbook, you will become one, too.
Thankfully the publisher is letting me give a cookbook to one reader living in the continental United States (sorry to all my non-US readers). To be entered, please leave a comment here, telling me about your favourite smoothie. If you have yet to venture into the land of smoothies, have a look through the index of Superfood Smoothies on amazon (or any of the smoothies listed here) and tell me what you want to drink the most. I will randomly select a winner on January 15, 2014. Good luck!
Superfood Smoothies spotted elsewhere:
Lemon-Lime Smoothie (with Bok Choy!)
Cocoa Cream (aka Chocolate Dream Smoothie)
Hope everyone had a nice holiday. Back at work for me, already.
Rob and I returned to Canada, in all of its ice storm, power-deficient
stateprovince. Over half a million people lost power in the days leading up to Christmas and just before we scooted back to Houston, my brother lost his power, for the second time, on Boxing Day.
With a few short days in the GTA, we explored Toronto as tourists: fast and furious. We met up with many friends and family, reminding ourselves why we love Toronto so much. Despite the cold, the warmth comes from our social network. We cooked, we ate at both new and old (favourite) restaurants and relished in multiple Christmas feasts.
As I said, I didn’t have enough forethought to bring any treats with me from Houston. Nothing lost, as I was oftentimes filled to the brim with good food, and had no desire to cook. However, while in Woodstock, I spotted a few pantry staples that could easily be whipped into a shockingly simple dessert. I could not resist. I am shocked I am sharing another dessert with you all, but in case you are looking for a fun party dessert, this could be your treat.
I threw together almonds, coconut and dates for a simple raw pie crust. The salt and vanilla accentuate the sweet maple syrup and dates. You could replace the coconut with additional nuts, but I enjoyed the textural foil next to the rich smooth filling. The filling was super simple: a bag of melted chocolate chips mixed with canned coconut milk and lots of peanut butter. At first I thought the peanut butter was a bit odd, but when you consider that the majority of raw cheesecakes are made with an abundance of cashews whipped into a butter, the leguminous peanut butter made sense. Combined with chocolate, you have a winning treat. It is rich and filling without being cloyingly sweet. And I even used semi-sweet chocolate.
Are you back at work, too? This is my shortest Christmas holiday yet.
This is my submission to this month’s We Should Cocoa.
I have embraced being a (temporary) Texan.
Summer in November? Yes.
Biking year round? Definitely.
I have obviously already forgotten about the hot, humid summer..
One problem, though: my dates are all messed up. Time is literally flying by. I saw an event for the end of November and thought it was weeks away. It was warm and sunny at the time… my internal clock had not registered that yes, it is indeed almost winter. At home, they’ve received more snow and cold weather than I can recall seeing in November.
I would be hard to pity me, though.. That warm spell disappeared and it is cold again. It will be a low at freezing point tonight. And I forgot (or did not pack?) my winter cycling gloves in Canada. Either that, or they are lost. :( I hope it is the former.
The warm weather partially explains my penchant for raw eats despite the season. The other, is that raw is easy to make and this was a recipe I knew would be fabulous. When Rob and I visited Ellen and Andy on our road trip to Houston, we shared a veritable feast for breakfast and these were my favourite treat. I have made raw (chocolate) macaroons before, but these were simply delightful. Apple, cinnamon and caramel-like dates are pulsed together with almonds and coconut for an autumn/winter-inspired treat. A touch of maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt made the flavours veritably pop.
These are so simple to make, but absolutely delicious.
Are you building your holiday treat roster yet? What are you excited to make?
This is my submission to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes.
To all those celebrating, Happy Diwali!
While Rob remains away (he came and left again), I was whisked away by friends into a wonderfully chaotic Diwali celebration over the weekend. A huge crowd came to the Houston BAPS in Sugarland to enjoy the music, light and firework display for the Indian festival of lights. A place named Sugarland, a suburb of Houston, seems like a fitting place for a Diwali celebration which includes a lot of dancing, fun, and food including Indian sweets.
While I don’t know the difference between a laddoo, burfi, and mysore pak, I can tell you all about how make dhokla, a steamed chickpea flour bread, and baked (not fried!) pakoras. Obviously, I am all over the savoury Indian meals. While I adore Indian curries, I like mixing Indian spices with other dishes as well.
Enter this simple bok choy skillet with soy knots. I got the idea from Iyer’s newest cookbook, Indian Cooking Unfolded. Iyer, the author of one of our favourite Indian cookbooks 660 Curries, has written a new cookbook that is, in essence, a cooking class in book form. Based on his own cooking curriculum, he takes you through different cooking techniques in each chapter, highlighting ingredients, methods and tips for each recipe. What it lacks in number of recipes, he makes up for it in sharing his cooking knowledge.
So, I took his idea for a quick-and-easy ginger raisin bok choy side dish and turned it into a heartier ginger date bok choy skillet with soy knots. I swapped dates for the raisins and added in these interesting soy knots. To be honest, I prefer the texture of the yuba skins (aka tofu intestines) as they were very dense. The recipe, though, is a keeper. A colourful keeper perfect for any celebration. A bit more spicy than I am used to (darn, green chiles in the tomatoes) but it mellowed as leftovers and worked well with the sweetness of the dates.
If you celebrated Diwali, how did you enjoy it?
I know I said I don’t like to play food guessing games with others. However, Rob is fair game. He gets it all.the.time. More along the lines of How does this taste? Sometimes, What do you think I should add to this? And then the infamous, What does this taste like? Guess what is in it!
You could probably guess just by looking at these photos, but I gave Rob smaller bits to sample. In fact, this was a two-step taste-test. Sauce alone and then after dehydrating it onto the bits.
First of all, this was a real simple recipe. Just whiz the ingredients together for the caramel sauce, stir it onto your “apple” bits and dehydrate for 12 hours.
Even before dehydrating the sauce, I thought it tasted great. Rob agreed. I asked him to guess the ingredients: cinnamon, almonds, and apple. Close: cinnamon, yes; almond butter, yes; but no apple, I informed him. That sweet taste was from dates.
I proceeded with the recipe, and then tried the now dehydrated sauce: oh my gosh, it tasted like sticky, wonderful caramel. Not too sweet, well balanced by the cinnamon. It had coated the “apple bits”. They were soft and sweet. Rob tried it and loved it. He still thought it reminded him of apple. Even though there was still no apple, Rob reminded me I had just created raw caramelized apple. He knew it before I did!
And that secret non-apple? Cauliflower! It really is a textural issue. Crisp yet soft (hard to explain). Sweet. With smaller pieces drenched in the sauce, you would never believe it was cauliflower. Bigger pieces had a more pronounced cauliflower flavour (and a telltale shape), but had a nice crunch.
Dehydrating is a magical thing. Definitely more than the sum of its parts. Looking at the recipe, there is a lot of water. You need it to be able to blend it smoothly, but after dehydrating it away you, the dates are more sweet and caramelized. Eating this straight from the dehydrator, still warm, was a treat. I only wish I had made more, because this did not last long at all.
Trust me, I have nothing against apple. I love apples. I eat a minimum of half dozen a week. I also love dehydrating apples into chips but usually save that when apples are ridiculously cheap in the fall. I make a small internal sob every time I shell out more than $1/lb for apples, which is the usual in Texas. (Although I nearly flipped out when I saw Honeycrisp apples for only $1.29/lb a few weeks ago.. those are ungoldy expensive in Toronto).
Thus, the question still remains: how would this caramel sauce taste on real apples (in the dehydrator)? I don’t think they would be as crisp, but definitely more sweet. I would be afraid they would collapse more into mush, but if you try it out, please let me know! :)
PPS. I noticed my typo for ungoldy. It was meant to be ungodly, but I like my new word. It fits. :)
And then there were three.
Three Canadians in Houston!
One of my friends recently moved here and I could not be more thrilled.
After massive hugs and giggles, Rob and I tried had to pass on our new-found Texan/American wisdom:
1. Beware of the drivers and HUGE potholes. Houston’s roads are pretty atrocious (broken roads explained here)
2. Beware of the new bugs here
4. Get used to the sporadic rain. In Houston, it will rain like crazy for half an hour, then stop and dry up within another hour. I shudder to think what it will be like when a hurricane hits.
5. Locate your closest recycling depot, fastest DMV, nicest bank
6. Speaking of DMV, learn how to import a Canadian car. It needs a special anti-theft check done once a week during a 30 minute window. Yikes!
7. Lament about the terrible cell phone reception, even within our own home
8. Your SSN is very important. You need it to get paid (and open a bank account). When you are ready to get your SSN (do it ASAP, but after they resume working), show up an hour before they open. Even then, there will still be thirty people ahead of you, possibly more since they have been on shutdown
9. Saturday mail. Yes, they deliver mail on Saturdays!
10. Insurance, insurance, insurance… medical, home/rental, car, etc. Credit card? Well, we have yet to get one from a US bank.
… and many more that I have forgotten or have yet to learn
Of course, we also shared our tips for our favourite grocery stores. We tried to explain the awesomeness of Trader Joe’ but we could see it was lost in translation. Thus, we took matters into our own hands. We brought her for a personalized tour of our favourite eats. Cheap pantry staples, beer, almond milk, vegan ice cream, etc… now we’re talking!
Inspired by talking all things local, I went Southern with my meal, too. Similar to my last Southern beans and greens saute, this is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts. The original recipe was just for the citrus collards, but I swapped things around: dates instead of raisins (and less of them) along with chickpeas to make this a complete meal. Collards are local to the Southern United States, especially during the fall, and are best during the winter. I love collards in all of its forms, but it can be bitter if cooked poorly. This dish uses a few techniques to coax the collards into sweet submission.
First of all, this dish a bit more fiddly than a throw-into-the-pan stir fry. The collards are boiled, blanched and dried. This prevents the need to cook them into oblivion. Next, a quick saute is enough to infuse the greens with the sweetness to offset the collards’ astringency. Fresh orange juice and dates provide a great flavour, too. And then I threw in the chickpeas.
It is funny how our taste buds work. We thought this dish was fabulous. It exceeded my expectations. And then Rob said it: it smelled like bacon. The dish had a depth of flavour that was definitely was reminiscent of bacon even though we did not use liquid smoke nor maple syrup. It must be something about sweet, chewy things that reminds us of bacon. In this case, I think it was the caramel undertones from the pan-roasted dates.
Do you have any other tips for moving to the US? Do you feel like your pant-based meals taste like bacon, too?
Our vacation was pretty awesome. And pretty overdue. While road tripping from Toronto to Houston was fun, it definitely was not a vacation. Since tickets to Burning Man can be very hard to get, we planned this trip last winter. Rob has been a few times and only had positive things to say about it (other than the insidious playa dust). In my mind, I thought: Hey, Texas is pretty close to Nevada. We should go to Burning Man! True enough, Houston is closer to Nevada than Toronto is to Nevada, but Houston is still 2000 km from Reno. Not that close.
I plan to summarize Burning Man in next week’s posts, as I recoup and regroup this week. Suffice it to say, I thought it was hot while camping in Nevada’s desert. We boarded the plane from Reno and landed in Houston. A week away and I had already forgotten how HOT, HOT, HOT (and humid) it is in Houston. Since Rob turned off the air conditioner while we were gone, we were greeted with an empty fridge and a hot kitchen. Other than thawing some (delicious) freezer meals, I had little interest in cooking anything. Zucchini noodles to the rescue!
Zucchini noodles have been my go-to lunch this summer. Gabby warned me that Houston’s heat would lead me to more raw foods and she was right. My meals have become simpler. Zucchini noodles are simple enough and of course, are just a vector for the sauce. The end of summer is a prime time for juicy tomatoes, at least in Ontario. I have yet to find tasty tomatoes here in Houston, so I have resorted to cherry tomatoes, which, in general, have more flavour. A portion of the fresh tomatoes are pulsed with a red bell pepper and sun-dried tomatoes along with a bunch of fresh herbs (basil and oregano) and garlic. A dash of chile flakes give a bit of kick and a date balances it out with a bit of sweetness. I topped it with some hemp seeds, too. I actually used a lot more than what I photographed since I knew it wouldn’t be as photogenic. ;) I usually add the sauce and hemp seeds just before I eat the salad but I took photos of my partially packed lunch. Of course, this sauce will work equally well with your favourite spaghetti-type noodle.
What is your easy, no-cook go-to meal?
I have discovered the secret to living in Houston’s summer. You need to fall into one of these two groups of people:
1. The people who wake up early before the sun rises
2. The people who stay up late after the sun sets
Rob and I have been exploring Houston by bicycle on the weekends. At 7am, we’ll cycle the deserted streets, only to find the paths at the parks literally packed with joggers and walkers. We must be thinking along the same lines: if you are going to be outdoors, best to do it before the sweltering heat arrives.
We quickly learned that Houston is wonderful after sunset. Many public events start late in the day, again to beat the heat.
The problem is trying to fit into category 1 and 2, on the same day. Suffice it to say, after a long bike ride in the morning, I was almost asleep mid-way through a Shakespeare in the Park production later that evening. The comfortable, balmy weather was a bit too conducive to napping. We didn’t even last past the intermission, HA! It was a splendid day, though.
Speaking of cycling in the Houston heat, it is very, very important to keep hydrated and fuelled. Even short runs are more demanding. This is a portable snack recipe I promised a while back. I whipped them up with the odds and ends in my mom’s kitchen before we left for our cycle to Kingston. I must have had some forethought because I remember bringing the coconut flour with me. My master plan for a chocolate date and peanut butter combo was thwarted because the dough was just too runny. But the magic of coconut flour did the trick. It is a very thirsty flour, so it sopped up the batter into portable chewy balls. The peanut butter made them rich and decadent, balanced by the sweetness of the dates and cocoa flavour.
A treat like this is perfect for fuelling during long rides. While our weekend rides are more around 50km now; in this heat, we feel like it gets a conversion factor of 1.5x for intensity. We are still a long way from the MS 150, but we’re hoping to improve our distance as the weather improves…. you know, in October, when it is supposed to cool down.
Are you a morning person, a night person, both or neither?
Thus, when we moved to Houston, we pared down our kitchen, minimalist-style. Minimalist, in comparison, because I am not willing to compromise in the kitchen, either. Do I need 5 different whole grains all the time? No. I will repopulate my kitchen with my favourites. Quinoa, brown rice and oats. Beans? Right now, I have been mainly munching on canned beans (we don’t have containers/bags to freeze beans yet and time has been a bit sparse). OK, I will still have many beans (don’t forget, I can order from Rancho Gordo directly!) but my collection will not as big as my last.
I still don’t feel deprived in the slightest. There are constant permutations and combinations to try out. The recipe may look the same, but a change in spice can make all the difference.
While still in Toronto, I was had a cook-date with a friend after work. I suggested making Heidi’s Moroccan chickpea and carrot salad. No cooking required, it was filled with my typical pantry staples. However, not everyone always has a lemon on hand, grows mint in their backyard (I don’t have that anymore), stocks prunes (um, yeah, not me either) or has a spice grinder. So we made do with what she had. Lime instead of lemon, cilantro instead of mint, dates instead of prunes and we kept the cumin seeds intact.
It may just be a label, but I wondered whether these changes would make this salad less Moroccan. Dates, cumin and carrots are very common in Moroccan cooking. However, I typically ascribe cilantro to Indian and southeast Asian cuisine. Turns out, cilantro is pervasive in Moroccan cuisine as well. Moroccan, with a twist, perhaps. With the mix of sweet dates, earthy cumin, tart lime, bright cilantro and crunchy carrots, it was very good.
It should not come as a shock, since it is very similar to my beloved Curried Chickpea Salad with Carrots and Currants with a smattering from my Moroccan Carrot Salad. Next time, though, I think I will try the original recipe. A tasty variation on a similar theme.