Travel Treats: Montréal, Canada pt. 1

J'adore Montréal! The idea to visit this lovely city came about last year, after a friend watched an episode of Anthony Bordaine's, "The Layover." Suffice to say, he was instantly smitten and lobbied for a group vacation. Little did he realize that traveling across the Northern border requires a passport (oh Brandon) hence plans were put on hold for 2014. And so this past May, the four of us booked our tickets and went bon voyage.

Initially, I was going to do a single post about our trip but then I realized how many pictures of graffiti we snapped. My goodness! We communicate our creative sides through various medians but share an appreciation for urban art forms. In his younger days, my husband was a writer (aka "did graffiti") in Northern Virginia and honed his talents as a dynamic graphic designer.

This handful of select images illustrate the vast difference between graffiti used as a form of expression versus the stuff scrawled in bathroom stalls or used as sheer vandalism. It takes a special mind to do it right. You're essentially creating a unique alphabet within the parameters of a style and technique. There are pieces where I literally have to ask the husband to translate because my pea brain can't figure it out.

Clearly, these works took serious time and effort. When created with meaning, this art is valued and can bring out the character of a community.


There were two special treats waiting for Mike and I on the walls of Montréal. I did not realize that there is an active Portuguese community until we stumbled into their "Little Portugal" district. I was buggin out seeing the flag and various restaurants. What truly took my breath away, however, was the above image on the left. For those that don't know, the rooster is a big deal in Portuguese folklore and you can find the ceramic version in any self-respecting Portuguese family's home.  The imagery in the background represents the country's age of discoveries and the Order of Christ cross. It is a cultural piece with a touch of saudade and accurately represents the spirit of the neighborhood.

The second treat is the image pictured on the right done by one of the husband's favorite graffiti artists, El Mac. We came across this while strolling on Roy E near Coloniale corner. The pensive persona of the subject in contrast to the cool colors creates a window into another atmosphere. The artists control of the can and use of wave like style is immaculate. This is yet another example of El Mac's mastery of his median.


Lastly, the example above is done in my favorite style which is called "Wild Style." I love its intricate lettering that combines sharp angles yet round characters. The detail of the shadowing, slight 3-d effect, and stylistic accents are standard elements. I've always had a love for arrows in graffiti. Don't know why! Plus, the piece was also done in the Portuguese district and incorporates the traditional blue and white ceramic tiles, known as  Azulejo, that are a national trademark. How this artist created the vintage look and feel of tile on a brick wall with paint boggles my mind.

I find it fascinating when a city is willing to take a gamble and permits artists to share their dreams so publicly. The results can be surprising, refreshing, confusing, and inspiring.

Thank you for indulging me in this off-beat musing about graffiti. 

Current Crack: Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts

Let's get straight to the point: these Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts are culinary crack. I enjoyed them so much, that when they're not around, I resort to eating the chocolate chunk chips and walnuts straight out of the bag. They are a match made in heaven because the slight sweetness of the chip is balanced by the earthy flavor of toasted walnut.

Combine with the usual suspects like brown sugar, butter, and vanilla extract to create what is currently in my top three of chocolate chip cookies. The other contenders include recipes from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and Alton Brown. Nipping at fourth place is a recipe from Food52 by Phyllis Grant that I greatly enjoy.  Each has their own admirable qualities but if you twist my arm, this recipe is currently the top dog.

My definition of a rock-star cookie is one that is moist and thick- I have never been keen on the thin, crispy variety. It wasn't until recently that I realized the addition of nuts took things to a whole new level, especially walnuts and pecans. I don't like anything super sugary and they provide a nice counter balance.

There are various factors that one must take into consideration to create a rock-star cookie. Make sure to not over mix and give the raw dough time to chill in the fridge to create consistency in temperature. If the dough is too warm, it will turn into a puddle while baking. One reference I find helpful is this table of cookie ailments. It doesn't seem difficult, but baking cookies is an art and I learn something new every batch.

If you're not all about walnuts, feel free to switch out with any other nut. You can also use regular chocolate chips instead of chunks if you're not into big pockets of gooey awesomeness (totally not biased). The benefit of chips is that they keep their shape better since there's less mass to melt. I love dark chocolate so I use bittersweet (67%) Chocolate Baking Chunks made by the Whole Foods generic 365 brand; it's conveniently, pre-chopped chocolate.

For this top-notch Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe, check out the post on Williams and Sonoma page.

Vegan Cookie Dough Bites

No, you're not having a moment; it is August and there is, in fact, snow in the background of these photographs. Mike grabbed a memory card for the camera the other day and informed me that there were still pictures on it. Pictures from this past winter... ah geez. Bravo, Michele, bravo!

Ahem. As you can see! Last winter, I made Vegan Cookie Dough bites as a quick and sweet treat. 

Note, I am not a vegan though I do call myself a part-time vegetarian; I eat meat if it's prepared by family for a special occasion. One does not argue with a Portuguese mother, born and raised on a farm, whose been slaving away in the kitchen since 6am preparing the perfect Christmas feast as a means of expressing their love; one shuts up, gets a plate of food, and is grateful. To that end, I do my best to keep a healthy, animal-free lifestyle.

These Cookie Dough bites intrigued me. Instead of a flour base, the recipe calls for smashed chickpeas mixed with a little bit of nut butter (i.e. peanut butter) and kissed with some natural sweetener (i.e. honey or maple syrup). They are then coated in non-dairy chocolate chips which those non-vegan folks can substitute with regular chips. 

While they are not exactly the same as cookie dough, they are very flavorful and will satisfy your sweet tooth. They are best directly out of the freezer because the chill neutralizes the remnant of any chickpea flavor. Keep an arsenal in the freezer and pop 'em as needed! The center is soft  and smooth while the exterior has that chocolate crunch of an ice cream bar.  Plus, this recipe is significantly healthier then what is typically a ball of sugar and butter.

They're easy to make and great when you're on the go. For this simple yet sweet Vegan Cookie Dough Bites recipe, check out Sheri Silver's post on Babble!