Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, MI

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, MI

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If you’re anything like us, these bitterly cold temperatures have you looking for an escape. How does 75° and 60% humidity sound? We thought it sounded like paradise, so last weekend we headed to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle.

 

Opened in 1904, this conservatory is the oldest in America! It was designed by Albert Kahn and was initially joined to the Belle Isle Aquarium. The rafters were constructed of wood salvaged from the St. Louis World fair, though those had to be replace with aluminum rafters in the 1950s. It was originally called The Horticulture Building, but the Conservatory was renamed in 1955 after a Detroit News heiress who donated her assortment of 600 orchids to the City of Detroit.

 

The Conservatory is divided into five massive rooms or “houses” – the Palm House, the Tropical House, the Cactus House, the Fernery, and the Show House. The volunteers manning the Conservatory were so friendly and supplied our kids with scavenger hunts to fill out. This unsurprisingly devolved into a competition but greatly added to their enjoyment and engagement in what they were seeing. Our kids loved finding plants with fun names like the zebra plant, fairy washboard, swiss cheese plant, rattlesnake plant (above), and seersucker plant. Don’t miss the carnivorous plants in the entry room either. Our oldest had just read up on pitcher plants and was excited to see them in person!

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Know before you go:

  • The Conservatory is located at 900 Inselruhe Ave., Detroit, MI 48207.
  • Due to construction through April 2019, it is open on Saturday and Sunday from 10-5. Thereafter, it should be open Wednesday-Sunday. Check current days/hours on their website or Facebook page.
  • Parking and admission are free (donations appreciated) though you may have to pay to gain entry to Belle Isle (we discussed this in our post about Belle Isle Aquarium).
  • Winter is a popular time to visit the Conservatory, but we had no trouble wheeling our double stroller through.
  • The surrounding gardens were blanketed in snow when we visited (above), so it’s worth a visit in other seasons (autumn pictured below) when you can appreciate fully those!

 

Adventures with Food: Carnitas

Mexican food is probably my desert island food– I never tire of it. Consequently, we have a number of Tex-Mex sort of recipes in our dinner rotation. This recipe is closer to authentic Mexican flavors, and is one of our all-stars; it’s in heavy rotation during the summer months (despite its long oven time), because it tastes so fresh and makes wonderful leftovers. (Give it up for several days of no cooking!) It’s moist and bursting with flavor, it feeds a crowd, it’s economical, it’s easy, you can make it ahead, you can freeze it… the list goes on! We’ve also thrown the meat into cheese quesadillas, but corn tortillas and fresh toppings are hands-down the best. I serve it to my two year old deconstructed (meat, tortillas, and veggies separate), but my older children eat as many fully dressed tacos as we do and then several more plain tortillas for good measure (Pls. send help… Yay for good eaters and all but we still have a long time before they’re teenagers!).

I used to get slightly concerned by how brown (almost black) the bottom of my dutch oven would get as I seared the pork, worried that it would make the dish taste burned once I deglazed the pan, but it never does. I have scaled the original recipe up slightly and tweaked the spices to better suit our tastes. You can also throw the meat in a crockpot after searing if you’re in a pinch, but I find the flavor and texture better in the oven.

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Carnitas (Braised Pork Tacos)

Adapted very slightly from Healthy Food for Living

Serves 8-10

  • 4-5 lb. boneless pork loin roast, cut into large (3-4 inch) pieces (don’t trim the fat)
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 5 tsp. ancho chile powder (regular works too)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (plus more as needed to keep the pan coated)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is especially nice)
  • warmed corn tortillas (You have to thoroughly warm corn tortillas otherwise they don’t taste very good! Throw them onto a hot skillet or griddle for a minute or two. Plan on serving 3-4 per person.)
  • avocado slices
  • fresh cilantro, washed thoroughly and chopped roughly
  • lime wedges (I like to cut each lime into 8 wedges; makes a good size for squeezing.)

How to cook: Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all the spices on a large plate or shallow dish, and roll the pork in it. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat until it’s shiny, then sear the pork on all sides until browned. Set aside pork (preferably back into the pan you rolled it in).

Pour the chicken stock into the dutch oven and scrape the bottom to loosen any browned bits. Add the orange juice, and bring the liquid to a boil. Place the seared pork into the liquid, cover the dutch oven and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove lid, turn/adjust the meat as needed, and cook uncovered for another 90 minutes, or until the pork is very tender and no longer swimming in liquid. (I semi-shred and/or stir it at about the one hour mark, and then cook it the rest of the way). Shred the meat with forks while still in the dutch oven, allowing the meat to soak up the remaining juices.

Serve with warmed tortillas and desired toppings. Repeat. And repeat.

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Medieval History Alive: Guédelon, France

Medieval History Alive: Guédelon, France

The last time (part of) the Louisiana Krewe went to France, we rented a car to do a road trip around the northern half of France. It. was. fabulous. (side note: I was a little nervous about driving in a new country, but it was AMAZING to get off the well-beaten tourist paths and visit places you can’t without a car. Bring a GPS, and if you’re looking to rent a car in France you can’t beat the Join Us in France Podcast’s driving in France resource page. There are a few things I would do differently if I were to do it again, but that’s a topic for another day…)

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Reading through my munchkins’ history book got me thinking of our visit to Château de Guédelon, a castle being built using only materials and techniques authentic to the 13th century. It was started over twenty years ago, and probably has another twenty to go before being finished! Several of our AirBnb hosts remembered visiting it on field trips when they were in school, ha! It was our day trip on the way from Reims to Bourges, and was well worth the stop.

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When they say they’re only using 13th century techniques, they mean it — they twist their rope from scratch, grind and mix the pigments for paints by hand, mold every brick and paver, cut every plank of wood used to hoist hand-hewn stones in place (cemented with authentic hand-mixed mortar, obvs), and grind wheat using a water-powered mill (to make bread, which was delicious)…I don’t know how many times I watched the work being done and thought “This is how they built all these cathedrals and castles?? THIS?!?!” It made the sights we saw later in our trip that much more incredible. Many of the stations were hands-on, and if not, they were all up close. I would love to go back with all my kiddoes after doing a proper unit study on the time period. In case you can’t tell, I found it fascinating!

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Our girl making rope!

 

 

Know before you go:

  • Buy tickets ahead of time for a 1€ discount; you can then have them on your phone and skip ticket lines.
  • It’s in the middle of nowhere — be sure to visit the website for GPS coordinates!
  • Wear shoes/boots that can handle mud and walking.
  • Strollers would work for most areas, but not for all of it; it’s not paved.
  • There are plentiful picnic areas available, and parking is easily accessible. But food is also sold there and didn’t seem to be exorbitant. (It was off-season when we went, so wasn’t widely available).
  • It’s definitely French, but brochures are available in English and even guided tours during the summer.

 

 

Two-Fer: International Edition (Canada)

(Hi, it’s me, Christie! The third member of In Cahoots, the one with no kids, aka the one who gets the joy of aunting all over with my siblings!)

One of the perks of having siblings who live in Detroit is that it only takes about twenty minutes to go south of the border into Canada (yes, south! Bet you thought “south of the border” was only Mexico…). When I came up for a visit, I romanticized the idea of trotting across the border for a fun jaunt to another country. Don’t tell the Canadians I said this, but Windsor, Canada, is not hugely different from Detroit – or maybe it’s Detroit that isn’t so different from Canada. Whatever the case may be, I came up as traveling nanny and the Detroit Crew showed me a good time.

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The first thing you get to see as you cross into Canada is the lovely Ambassador Bridge, where you pay a $5 toll both ways (credit cards accepted) and, after crossing, go through customs. We timed our visit to avoid the morning and evening rush-hour traffic. If you have similar flexibility, I’d advise doing the same – there was no one ahead of us in the line for customs! Since my sister-in-law Michelle and I took the kids alone, we also brought notarized waivers authorizing the kids to go across with just one parent. While we adults only needed our passports, the waivers are an extra precaution to combat child trafficking as well as household disputes in which one parent flees the country with a child. The border patrol was super nice and let us through after a few security questions.

The next stop was for coffee. If you’re traveling with four kids, you’re gonna need it… and Michelle and I had long hankered to visit Anchor Coffee House, so really the trip was an excuse to mark it off of our respective bucket lists.

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It did not disappoint. We got a double chocolate cookie and an Earl Grey shortbread, which were both excellent – especially the chocolate! The kids helped us munch on the cookies while we sipped our coffee. The shop was open and spacious, but definitely had a quiet-studying vibe – thankfully the kiddos did not choose that time to act up (temporarily distracted by sweets, no doubt), or they might have disrupted the several customers who were there working. We didn’t linger too long, though, because we had another stop to make…

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McKee Park! We started here with a playground stop for the kids, but only stayed for a while because it was very chilly and the playground was tiny. We relocated to Windsor Sculpture Park and took a walk along the river as there were plenty of interesting modern art statues to see – and we knew that the walk would end with another park to work off the kids’ bug juice before we crossed the border back into America.

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The kids’ bug juice? Who am I kidding. I’m just grateful that Michelle puts up with my tomfoolery…

Windsor Sculpture Park was a great stop, though (free parking, convenient bathrooms, great views of Detroit). Centennial Park at the end of the sculpture walk was an awesome playground, and the kids played for about 30 minutes before we started the trek back to our car to return home. As we crossed back into America, the American border guard asked us our reason for going into Canada.
“Coffee,” we said.
He looked at us with disbelief. “You’re trying to tell me that you went into Canada just for coffee?”

Somehow, adding the playground into our explanation did not help. But he eventually let us back through, and we were all glad to be back on American soil again (I’m not saying I blared Lee Greenwood, but yeah I did). Even so, Canada, you were wonderful… we shall see you again soon.

The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, MI

The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, MI

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Want to escape to the Cotswolds but can’t find room in your budget for a ticket to England? Try taking a tour of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford house! Edsel was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford and a Ford Motor Company executive. He and his wife Eleanor knew that they wanted a house with English architecture, so they traveled to England with architect Albert Kahn, eventually settling on the Cotswolds style. Many components of the house were purchased from English manor houses that had fallen into disrepair while other elements, like ceiling design, were replicas of items they observed in their travels.

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Photos are not allowed on the house tour though I did sneak this one of the living room.

Despite having a large fortune, the house doesn’t feel overdone. That appears to have been by design. Eleanor was intent on creating a home that people could feel comfortable in. She even had her sons share a room so that they could get to know each other better.

The house’s setting on Lake Saint Clair is lovely. Edsel would often commute from their  Grosse Pointe Shores house to the Ford Rouge plant by speedboat. Be sure to allow time in your visit to explore the grounds and outlying buildings.

A highlight for our kids was the playhouse. This was designed by Clara Ford for Edsel and Eleanor’s only daughter Josephine. The playhouse is an entire house scaled for a child, including a functioning kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. Unfortunately, Josephine was a tomboy and didn’t spend much time playing there. I don’t think our kids would have felt the same way!

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Josephine’s playhouse

Know before you go:

  • The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is undergoing renovations and reopens for tours on April 2, 2019.
  • You’ll want to baby-wear on the house tour (it’s not stroller-friendly), but do bring your stroller on the bus from the parking area if you’ll want it while you’re strolling the grounds.
  • We thoroughly enjoyed the general house tour. If you are interested in a specialty tour such as the Behind the Scenes tour or the Architecture tour, be sure to check their website before you go as some of them are only available certain days of the week.
  • The house is decorated for the holidays from late November through early January.
  • The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is a Blue Star Museum, so admission is free between Memorial Day and Labor Day to active duty military and their families (up to six guests).

Belle Isle Aquarium, MI

Belle Isle Aquarium, MI

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Detroit’s tiny aquarium claims the title of “America’s Oldest Aquarium.” It was designed by Albert Kahn, the “Architect of Detroit” who built the Art Deco Fisher Building downtown as well as the Cotswolds-inspired Edsel & Eleanor Ford house. Having heard that it was small, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect from this aquarium, but the tanks were pristine and the kids genuinely enjoyed our visit. As you might expect, the fish are predominately from the Great Lakes region, with some non-native varieties present.

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In addition to viewing the fish, the aquarium’s building is worth the visit. The gallery is a single level with green glass tiles covering the walls and ceiling to evoke the feeling of being underwater. During Prohibition, the basement was occupied by a speakeasy and later served as a storage area for larger fish, which were visible via closed circuit television.

Know before you go:

  • The aquarium is located at 2 Inselruhe Ave., Detroit, MI 48207 and is open Friday-Sunday from 10-4.
  • Admission is free for all the attractions on Belle Isle but to enter the island, you’ll need to purchase a day pass ($9 at the time of this writing) or an annual pass ($31). That being said, when I’ve visited Belle Isle on Thursdays and Fridays, the booth where they check and sell passes has been unmanned. Drivers with Michigan-registered vehicles can purchase a Recreation Passport for only $11 that allows access to all state parks, including Belle Isle.
  • Go on Friday if you can – we had the place to ourselves!
  • Don’t speed on Belle Isle. The speed limits are low, so it’s easy to do but the state police that patrol it (thankfully) have little else to keep them busy.
  • Accessibility: There is a handicap ramp to the left of the building but when we visited during the week, the door was locked, so I ended up baby-wearing. That might be a good idea regardless, since it’s a small aquarium and probably gets crowded on the weekends.

If you visit when the weather is pleasant, there are several outstanding playgrounds where the kids can burn off some steam. (A favorite is the one outside the nature center at 176 Lakeside Dr., Detroit, MI 48207.) Hopefully you enjoy your visit to “America’s Oldest Aquarium” as much as we did!

Celebrating Tintin: Château de Cheverny

Celebrating Tintin: Château de Cheverny

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a throwback post in honor of Tintin’s 90th birthday! Tintin is standing in a group amongst the main characters of the comics series.

If you are unfamiliar with the Tintin books, the comic strip follows a young reporter around the world as he thwarts nefarious plots. Originally published in Belgium (and hence in French), they are widely available in English. (Here is a helpful overview and recommended reading order of the Tintin books. And the 2011 TinTin cartoon did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Tintin and weaving elements of many of the books into it too! ) We grew up reading the comics and love(d) them.

We had the opportunity to visit the  gorgeous Château de Cheverny when we went to France in November of 2017, and I may or may not have been particularly excited to visit, given that it was the inspiration for Captain Haddock’s Marlinspike Hall in the Tintin books! (If you “cut off” the two outer sections of the château, you have the Hall.) The château was delightful in its own right, but the Tintin exhibit didn’t hurt.

Our first stop was the hound enclosure; Château de Cheverny is renowned for its feeding of the hounds, which is a display of remarkably disciplined hounds waiting to be fed. It was worth timing your visit for! Our one mistake was not staking out a spot near the front of the big enclosure where the feeding actually takes place, rather than the pen where the hounds start out (if you go, say hi to the hounds then keep walking past them to the empty yard right next to where they’re milling around. That’s where they’ll actually be fed. It’s down the fence to the right in the video.)

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After watching the hounds’ feeding, we strolled the gardens, then went into the Tintin exhibit. If I remember correctly, we had to to purchase tickets that included this option. Lucky for us, kids under 7 are free! They also offer a family option for tickets. Honestly, since adult tickets are under 20€, I didn’t feel like it was exorbitant to begin with, but I’ll take my discounts where I can! Plus parking was free and easy.

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I felt like a child again myself wandering through childhood memories brought to life.

We then toured the château itself, and wandered around more of the grounds and the gardens (simple but gorgeous). We visited on a fall day and loved it, but I can see this being a fabulous place to visit in the spring (when apparently you can take a boat ride).

 

Naturally, the gift shop stocked Tintin books (in French), so we picked one out to bring home as a souvenir. (No, my daughter does not read French at all, but her Mama has dreams! Motivation.)

 

If you’re ever in the Loire valley, we highly recommend making time to visit Château de Cheverny! And Tintin. 😉

(If this post has put you in the mood to “visit” France with your children without leaving your house, check out the France Armchair Travel post.)