Potato, Po-taw-ta, Tomato, Tom-aw-ta

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There are, arguably, many ways to do or say anything; Point A to point B has many paths, and cooking basics are no exception.  Take for instance, “classic” potato salad.  It can vary drastically depending on where you live or how you were taught to prepare it.  Even “Mom’s Classic” potato salad will be different at Mr Roger’s house than it will be at the Casto residence.

With egg or without, celery or pickles, or cornichon perhaps?  Are there green onions?Mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip (yikes!).  One thing is for certain, potato salad is classic barbecue fare and even if it is not Tom’s favorite, it will always have a place at our table (albeit mostly in front of me).

Then, of course, there are the ribs.!  I can’t image a Memorial weekend or Fourth of July without them.  There are some people who are really serious about their ribs; I mean really seriously loyal; to their region, culture and craft-kind of rib-eating and making; serious business.  Usually it involves that perfect mix of spice, a particular cut of meat, a lot of smoke mixed with a low amount of heat, hangin’ out for a long period of time under cover.  Time can be our enemy, but it can also be our friend!

For those of us that just enjoy the succulent, meaty flavor of tender, tear-off-the-bone meat and are willing to forgo (or simply don’t have) the 18 hours, the proper tools, patience or know-how to do otherwise (a category that I am willing to be a part of), our ribs can be ‘fridge to fork in approximately 3 hours…or less!

They can be rubbed, par-boiled, marinated, or all three.  Grilled, broiled, smoked or baked.

Spicy, smokey, sweet.

Saucy, dry, meaty or lean.

Depending on your region, there is certainly, a predisposition for the proper method, spice and cut.  In my local region, which I consider to be wherever my dinner plate sits, I am happy to indulge myself, greedily, to any of the aforementioned methods and even some of the unmentioned ones.

I love ribs, period!  I have a special affection of the pig-provided kind.  Throw in a plate of potato salad, made using hard-cooked eggs (my only rule) and I am eating my own little happy meal.

When I am the cook, my go-to ribs are usually par-boiled in a flavorful liquid, then dry rubbed and slathered with home-made (or even bottled if tight on time) barbecue sauce.  This is all done usually hours, or days, before I plan to eat them because as they sit, they become even more flavorful.  This makes them a very forgiving treat.

They are slathered and stored on a foil-lined baking pan.  When we are nearing dinner time, I light a grill and sit the ribs out on the counter to come up to room temperature.  They take a 10 minute sauna in the grill with the lid down as the corn (yes, I usually have corn on the cob) cooks too.

After they are heated through, I remove them from the foil, move the corn to the top grate so they are not on direct heat and put the ribs, top down, on the hot, lower rack to brown.  When they have grill marks, I turn them over and brush with more sauce and let sit just a few minutes until I can get everything plated to eat.  More sauce on the side if you like, and Tom does!  It is hard to go wrong, as long as you don’t let them burn, too much, that is.

When I was young, my Mom’s go-to ribs were cooked solely in the oven, uncovered and slathered in peanut butter barbecue sauce (home-made).  They were often not on the bone, also known as country spareribs, which meant, more meat, less bone.  It was a recipe from my Great Grandma Brown.  I could eat piles of them!!

As they were cooking, I used to peak my head in the oven, willing the aroma to encompass me.  Mom would shout out for the oven to be kept closed, so the heat didn’t escape.

I waited and waited, enjoying every moment that I was able to drink in the smell.  I would peak into the oven with the oven light turned on.  I watched as they transformed from pale paisley to a rich, burnished brown.  The peanut butter wasn’t an overly obvious flavor but the depth and richness it offered permeated the meat.

Ironically, I don’t cook my ribs that way, even though if I did, I am sure I would be hooked once again.  Maybe if my Mom sees this, she will make them for me, next time she is in town?

Needless to say,  color me happy is what the (somewhat) recent weekend was about!  Heading off for a short visit with my in-laws during Memorial weekend, I was eagerly anticipating Lois’ ribs; the same she had made for us last year, adapted from Ree Drummand’s, “Spicy Chili Pork Ree-Yubs”.

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Sun-soaked, fresh-air delivered, we had come in from the waterfront after kayaking off Alderbrook Resort on the Hood Canal; even Buddy was in tow (of course).  Ginger, not being a water breed, stayed on shore with Grandma keeping guard of the lounge chairs (a very important task).

Two, or in our case, 3 hours in the oven are about the sweet-spot for these ribs that Lois made us on our return.  We passed our time well, back at the cabin, out in the gazebo, fireplace blazing, while munching on smoked trout-filled endive and deviled egg nosh.

It is now sometime between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July; more specifically, it is Father’s Day (Love to all our Dad’s…Kent (my Dad), Tom (Tom’s Dad), John & Bill (our other Dads), Mark, Scott and Jeff (our brothers who are also Dads)…and so on…Uncle Corky, Grandpa George, Tom C. (my Dad-in-law on my brother’s side) and Joe Gildner (our good friend and newly married-off-oldest daughter Dad) and Piotr (our good friend and a really good Dad)…

Oh, and a Happy Father’s Day to my love, the daddy of our furry kids (I’m talking to you, my Tom)!

On the menu tonight is, you guessed it:  Ribs, corn and potato salad.

Don’t worry, the potato salad isn’t for (my) Tom, it is for all you other Dad’s out there that actually enjoy a good potato salad!  Tom will be taken care of too, no worries there, for those of you that are worried.  He does alright.

So, rain or clouds be damn, fire up the grill and let’s get this party started!

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“Castoway’s” Classic Potato Salad – Courtesy of Lois (Bender) Casto

“2# potatoes (I used Russet, but have also used red, skinned ), 3 hard-boiled eggs, 3 rbs celery, 4 green onions.  Dressing: 1/2 cup mayo, 1-1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste.  If too tart I add a sprnkle of granulated sugar.  I boil the potatoes whole, then peel and cube, but you can peel and cube before cooking too. Either works. It’s just a basic recipe.”

I will vouch for this one and basic as it is, the simplicity makes it delicious. Think of it as a little black dress; it can be gussied up, accessorized and taken out on the town or worn on it’s own, in which case, it will stand up for itself!

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“It sure is nice to be King for a day; so glad I am a Prince!  Happy Father’s Day Dadfy!”

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“Oh Buddy, you are a Prince!  Of course that is only because I am a Princess.”

Now Playing:

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Art by my talented “Uncle” Pete (Woychick)

Dear (not my real) Doctor,

Please, allow me to explain:
I only recently met you… and  I was in a dire straight.  I came to you emergent; facts (and fiction) were all you had to assess.  I understand your concern, for me and for my comfort, but things aren’t always what they seem.

You see, I’m British, which basically means I have bad teeth.

I also mostly look disheveled; you might not be following the latest hair trends!

Yes, I am rather wobbly; I have not been frequenting the gym.  I lounge, a lot.

Since I am pretty sure you implied my time was up here, I felt it important to fill you in on all the most important facts.

Don’t misunderstand me; I know my blood work says otherwise and you have no (fact driven) data to disagree… I do understand your conundrum but, respectfully, I must tell you, you were wrong.

I am still here, because I want to be here!!  Against all odds, I remain where I should be, where I need to be, for now.

I have the staring role in “Its a Wonderful Life”!  For God’s sake!  Why the hell would I want to leave?

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I may not be as tan as George Hamilton but my coloring is better… I think our robes may be similar though.

I am still here because I am not ready to leave.  I need more time with my family and they require more time with me.  

They require much more… time.

Sometimes there is a different force, a higher power than Western medicine can see.  I don’t blame you for your thoughts.  You don’t know me like Dr. Rice or Dr. McCoy do.

For instance, I am eating.

I am eating!

I am eating ! !

Eating lots ! ! !

I want more food; please keep feeding me more!!!

I like to drink water from a glass, just like my family; I only ask that there be ice (is that weird?).

I want to sit outside and smell the fresh air that is turning from winter to spring, finally!

I want to hear the birds chirping (but to Mr. Crazy Blue Jay, I say, “quiet please”).

Did you know I am listening to the children that are beginning to come out to play?  I wish they laughed more though; why must they always scream instead?

I wish I could see my bunny and chipmunk friends in the yard; I can smell them and know they are there, happily eating and playing in my yard.  That makes me happy.

I love my sister, Ginger, and (most importantly) she finally loves me.  She acts independent but I know she would really be lonely if I were not here.  I don’t want her to be lonely.

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Ginger keeping watch whilst I nap in the sun.

So for now, I will stay put.  I will give love and be loved.  I will continue to eat… because, I am fed very good food.

Something worth living for… don’t ya think?

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Time for shade

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ASPARAGUS + CAULIFLOWER SOUP 

I like all things green and so does Ginger.  Right now, asparagus is at it’s local best and we were lucky enough to have Dr. McCoy bring us 4 spears, cut fresh from her garden, mere hours before, when she came over to give me my bi-monthly acupuncture (we were nice and shared two of the stalks, intended for us, with her cat, Rocky, before she got here).

Mom was not willing to sacrifice these lovelies to soup but did allow 1/2 of one stalk to stand in for our soup’s garnish.  Ginger and I lapped this up for our weekend “soup course” but especially enjoyed the freshest of fresh, thinly sliced asparagus from Dr. McCoy’s garden.

This soup is dog-friendly and delicious but it is also easy to divide it into our portion and your portion.  You can add other, human-friendly, things for your portion, such as full fat yogurt or cream, lemon juice, salt & pepper, butter, spices…. whatever you can dream up.  We (us pups) can eat some things extra too, but no need since this soup, as is, is simple, pure and delicious.  Good for a hot Spring day that turns to a cool Spring evening.

Coconut oil is healthy for us and has been added, recently, to our daily food to help us keep on weight since Ginger and I are both on a low protein diet.  We can’t complain since it adds a delicious flavor.

FYI, Mom added to their portion, the juice of 1/2 lemon, a few pinches of salt, some grinds from that silver cylinder device, a dollop of Elleno’s plain Greek yogurt and a bit of chopped shallot.

INGREDIENTS

Approximately 12 stalks of fresh asparagus, bottom bit snapped off and discarded.
Approximately 12 florets of cauliflower.
8 oz homemade chicken or vegetable stock or high quality, low-sodium store bought.
1 TB coconut oil.

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Roasty, toasty

TO MAKE

Put the asparagus and cauliflower on a baking pan and rub with the coconut oil just to coat.

Roast @ 375 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables to a Vitamix, blender or food processor and add the broth.  Process until very smooth.

To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with thinly sliced fresh asparagus cut on the bias (whatever that means).

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How much longer do we need to hold this pose?!  I’m hungry!

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Me first!

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Okay, you too Ginger…

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Yay, Spring!

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Best to hang in the shade, Happy Mother’s Day everyone, but mine is the best!

seventeen

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Everybody has a birthday.  A day of the year which marks the 365th day (times how ever many repetitions of that quantity of days there have been) since they were born.   It seems such an arbitrary number, especially since for me, it is unclear on which day the 365 day countdown began.

I know I was born sometime in April because there were cherry blossoms in bloom outside.  And I like Spring.  Yet, this particular year, it seems it can mean the beginning of the month, or on the other hand, it may mean at the end of the month.  It’s all so confusing.

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This year we have been celebrating my birthday since the 10th of the month, but today I was given my very special party hat, on this 29th day in April.  I am pretty sure that Dad was confused about that other day of my birth since he is only going on old paperwork when I was in limbo, those days shortly before he was my Dad.  Mom “knows” it was the 29th, but truth be told, I also know they didn’t think I would be here long enough to celebrate this particular date, so it’s been birthday month ever since.  Nothing wrong with that.

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I am told that this year I am 17 years old, in silly human years,  more confusingly, 84 years old or so in dog years, when actually to me, it seems that I am, more precisely, 6,205 days lived (period).  Wow.  When you get to be a wise and handsomely mature guy like me, you know it isn’t a given to count on that 365th day to come around again so it is prudent to count everyday, as a gift.  Everyday is a gift.  I am happy to be here and happy to still be with my loving family, many special stuffed animals and comfy blankies, with many additional thanks to my dedicated care-givers, Doctors and friends.

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The years, or even days, don’t define who you are, but what you do with them are important as to who you become, or how happy you are living them.  I will know when it is time to say goodbye, but for now, I will wear my party hat with glee, eat my (flour-less) cake and kiss my sister.

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“Happy birthday dear Buddy…”

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I might look like I am old to some, but to my parents, I am still their little boy.

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I feel young inside my head, that hasn’t changed.  I might have all sorts of things wrong with me medically but the irony is, the thing that hurts the most right now is my mouth.  So, my advice to you young ones is this: “brush your teeth”!  Lucky for me, my voracious appetite overrides those dang few teeth I have left.  More meeeat!

Love, Buddy

 

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Eggs courtesy of Dr. McCoy , my Acupuncturist & friend.  Well, courtesy of her chickens that is…

Flour-less Buddy Birthday Cake 

The only requirement for this cake, that is of the utmost importance, is this:  Use the freshest of eggs and garnish with peas (my favorite thing) and a hunk of cheese to hold the candle.

INGREDIENTS

1 tsp organic coconut oil

1 farm fresh egg

3 fresh snap peas, cleaned and sliced

To make, heat the oil in a small skillet.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg.

Add egg to the skillet and madly shake the pan to keep it from burning.

Skillfully tilt and shake with the occasional scooping on the edges with a spatula.

When it is mostly cooked through, swiftly toss the cake in the air to fold it over itself.  turn onto a plate and top with the sliced peas.

Ginger says this is actually an omelet but it’s my birthday so it’s cake if I want it to be.

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My turn next Month!

 

Lamb Belly Breakfast Pizza (slash) Gyro

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Imagine this:

You step outside your office into a crisp, rain-driven evening. A quick walk around the corner and through the cobbled square leaves you standing in front of a door, that once inside, is like a glimpse into past meets present; a fabulous butcher shop (slash) hip, industrial luncheonette. It is Friday night, so the bustling lunch has transitioned to the traditional tasks of cutting meat and doing business.  Stepping out of the rain as you remove the fashionable hat shielding the wet from your head, the cool air, all at once, turns warm and inviting, and better yet, dry!

There is a woman standing in front of the counter. She has dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and is wearing a Seattle-stylish outfit in gray and black, tall boots, smart hat and long tailored jacket with just enough sluff to be part of the casual, fun crowd. She is having a conversation with the tall, boyishly charming, young man who is behind the counter. He is slicing a beautifully marbled slab of beef into delicate, thin slices, effortlessly as if he is entertaining a guest at a dinner party. They know each other, you imagine, as their conversation is friendly and familiar.

The man briefly looks up and you are greeted, by name. You smile and turn to the women to ask her what she will be making with her slices of steak?  “Stir fry,” she says. “What is the cut of meat you are slicing?” the women asks the man.  “The Denver cut,” he replies. You had never heard of that cut prior to visiting Rain Shadow Meats but had considered buying it the week previous, settling on the thick rib-eye instead.

He wraps up the woman’s package and effortlessly begins preparing another as the conversation continues. You occupy yourself by eyeing the glass case, carefully assessing each plate of meat and pulling menus together in your head.

As the woman finishes up and pays for her packages, she finishes her story and tells the man that she will see him again soon. With that, she gathers up her goods and shoots you a quick smile before dashing out the door into the night.

Russ turns his smile to you and has already guessed as to what you will choose first. It is the steak sitting in the corner of the case, looking so enticing with it’s perfect coat of preserved lemon and parsley protecting the tender meat within. You have gotten this before and have come back more than once for more.

“It is the Denver cut this time,” he discloses, “not the ounglet” (the onglet is your favorite).

“I will take two” you reply.

“You won’t be disappointed.” he assures you, and you know you won’t be.

As you finish up your order and are about to check-out, you notice something you hadn’t seen before; lamb bacon. With breakfast in mind, you were going to ask for pork bacon but after a quick chat with Russ and then yourself, you decide you need to try the lamb bacon while it was in supply. Russ says they either have plenty or none; they make it in-house and when they run out, it can be awhile before they have more.

Russ says it starts out tasting of bacon then turns to a unique flavor instead.  It is essentially cured lamb belly, just as pork bacon comes from the belly of the pig. As he slices the six pieces requested, you are reminded of pancetta with the round form and swirling of fat and meat. Russ has a client that buys this to make gyros for dinner.  Carrying a bag filled with a dozen eggs, two thick-cut pork chops, steak, ground beef, the lamb belly, and a container of pickled onions, that is the last thought you have as you walk out the door.

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(…gyro, gyro, gyro).

As you fall asleep that night, lamb bacon invades your dreams and in the distance you can hear the echo of the word gyro (…gyro, gyro, gyro). The next morning as sit with your morning coffee, you begin to think about breakfast. Without hesitation, you go to the freezer, pull out some naan and begin mindlessly fixing a lamb belly bacon pizza / (slash) gyro.

Starts out like bacon, turns into something else.

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Lamb gyro (slash) breakfast pizza (serves 4)

This is an easy breakfast that is even easier if you use store-bought hummus, garlic sauce and romesco.  If you can’t find lamb bacon, substitute lamb sausage or ground lamb formed into oblongs, flavored with cumin, salt and pepper.  It starts out looking like a pizza, fold it up and you have a breakfast gyro.

INGREDIENTS

4 dime thick slices lamb bacon (lamb sausage or gyro meat if you can’t find the bacon)

4 pieces mini stone fired flatbread or naan

4 TB hummus (make your own or use your favorite purchased brand; I like Wholefoods brand)

2 TB Romesco sauce (make your own or purchase your favorite brand such as this)

Karam’s Lebanese Garlic sauce (It can be shipped within the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii)

4 eggs (salt, pepper for seasoning, butter for cooking)

Parsly for garnish

PREPARATION

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degree F. Put the lamb bacon slices on a baking sheet and cook until slightly browned and cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
  2. Put the flatbread in the oven to heat through. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should be soft, slightly browned and hot. Put them in a warming drawer, or wrap in slightly moistened paper towels to heat again in the microwave before plating. You could, alternatively, put them in the toaster just as you begin cooking the eggs.
  3. Heat a little butter in a skillet and fry the eggs to your liking (season with salt and pepper but go light on the salt as the bacon is salty too).
  4. As the eggs finish, put one flatbread on each of four plates. With a small rubber spatula or butter spoon, spread approximately 1/2 TB Romesco sauce over each, followed by 1 TB hummus over each.
  5. Put one slice of bacon over top of each flatbread and squirt some garlic sauce over top.

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6.  Top with an egg and garnish with some parsley. Eat it as a pizza or fold it over to make a gyro.

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That was tasty!  Time for a nap.

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Time for a spa day…

 

The house detective

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I am notorious for losing things.  Tom is notorious for retrieving them.  I’m not sure what set of genes is responsible for either of those skills, if losing (or finding) things, could, in fact, be classified as a skill.  I do know that without question, Tom is constantly following in my wake and finding the very things that I swear have been permanently lost (as I adamantly exclaim).

This is especially true when it comes to my keys.  I lose them, on (frequent) occasion.  They are always found straight away, by Tom, the “House Detective”; or, is it “Detective in the house!”  Or, perhaps, as Magnum PI, Season 6, Episode 4 is titled, “the Hotel Dick”. But Magnum would correct that and say…”Investigator”!

The latest episode of my key “disappearing act” came when Tom was out of town.  I spent the weekend inside, never leaving the house, doing my usual, um, well, tidying up in-Tom’s absence-thing-that-I-do when he is away.  I honestly hadn’t left the house; not once all weekend!  So, on Monday morning, when I woke up and could not find my car key (!!*), I was perplexed (?).  Needless to say, short of tearing the house apart, I looked everywhere! (*insert, multiple, swear words here)!

Upon Tom’s return, he had a few choice words to say as well since he was also unable to find the key.  Months went by (yes, months)!  In that time, I also managed to lock the spare car key in the car while at work.  I called the dealership to try and get them to  unlock it for me only to be told that they couldn’t.

To add serious injury to the whole lost-not-found key debacle, weeks later when Tom was out of town yet again, I went to start the car with the “spare key”, which happened to be the somewhat mangled key (since it had been in my possession mostly the last 10 years, yet the key I had lost was the “good key”), the key actually failed to start the car altogether.  As in, it was permanently broken (!!*).  No spare key to be had.  The dealership was not helpful in that, Mercedes does not allow another key to be made unless, both  the car and Owner are present in the service shop.  Given the current state of my car keys, this would require the car to be towed into the shop.

At an unsuspecting time, months later, Tom found my keys!!!!!! (?).  House Dick/Private Investigator extroirdinaire.  The keys, it turned out of course, were in my bag all along.  Well hidden, but…well, there they were n o t  i n  p l a i n  s i g h t.

He told me he had a premonition when he went into the bedroom and looked in my bags.  His little voice was saying, look in here (even though he already had). So, there we had it, mystery solved…until the next time.  Yes, it happened for the other car too, but we won’t go there…

I am not the house detective but I have become very good at detecting great new sources for food.  One of my favorite places to frequent on the infrequent occasion that I venture into the neighborhood of Pioneer Square during my work day, is Rain Shadow Meats.  They are a butcher shop but also one of the best places to grab a great lunch.  The vibe is casual, New York meat packing district cool with a high energy and a long wait during the noon hour and a slow, next-door-neighbor vibe, welcoming you in during the off-hours.  I buy most of my meat from them as well as fresh eggs, and the occasional condiment.

Friday night, along with my late-lunch sandwich that I took back to the office, in addition to other grocery necessities: two butterflied hanger steaks that had been lovingly marinated in salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and preserved lemon. I served it next to a salad of fresh butter lettuce, sweet cherry tomatoes topped with my buttermilk blue cheese dressing.  To sop up the goodness, I grilled thick slices of Columbia City Bakery sourdough that I picked up at The London Plane, a mere few doors away from my office.  I prepared the bread kissed with olive oil, rubbed with fresh garlic and swathed in a swipe of Romesco sauce before smashing avocados over top.

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HANGER STEAK SALAD

serves 4

Hanger steak is one of the most tender cuts of meat from the cow, but can become tough if overcooked.  Until recently, it had not been readily available in the market yet could be found on menus in many restaurants.  Locally, I am able to source it from Whole Foods or Rainshadow Meats.  It is a deeply flavorful cut that cooks quickly and requires little adornment, but does benefit from a brief marinade.  It should be trimmed with membrane removed by the butcher, so be sure to ask.  If you live in/near Seattle and visit Rain Shadow Meats, they will be happy to butterfly and marinate the steak for you at one of their two locations.

I used butter lettuce last week for the salad but most recently used arugula, which I feel is a more elegant and spicy partner for the rich, juiciness of the steak and blends magically with the blue cheese dressing and the sweetness of the tomatoes.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 lbs hanger steak, trimmed, membrane removed and butterflied

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp Kosher salt + freshly ground pepper (Rain Shadow uses their in-house made salt blend; I use my homemade seasoning salt blend by roasting 1 part salt to 1/2 part black pepper corn and 1/2 part coriander seeds, grind after roasting for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees)

1 TB olive oil + more for sautéing

1/4 of a preserved lemon, finely chopped

1 TB chopped parsley

Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing (approximately 1/2 cup)

12 cherry tomates, cut in half

2 green onions, chopped

4 cups baby arugula, washed and dried thoroughly

Sea salt and pepper for seasoning salad

Lemon squeeze

PREPARATION

Combine the garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and preserved lemon in a bowl.

Add the steak and gently rub the marinade into the steak with your hand.

Scatter the parsley overtop and let marinade, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan.

Add the steaks and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side.  Flip the meat every 30 seconds after the first turn until the temperature reads 120 degrees.

Let rest on a plate while you prepare the salad.

To prepare the salad, toss the arugula with just enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves.  Season with sea salt and pepper.

Divide the salad among four plates and top with the tomatoes and green onions.

Drizzle some additional dressing over top.

Slice the steaks against the grain into 1/2″ pieces.  Divide them overtop of the arugula and squeeze some lemon over each plate.

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10 Legs in the Kitchen

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Ginger:  “Buddy, you didn’t find us some steak while you were up there watching?”

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“Gee, I should have shared with Ginger cuz’ a full belly sure makes me sleepy.”

Past Midnight…

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The clock was ticking…

Anticipation was mounting…

…another year came near it’s end and a New Year was ready to be born.

It is not the end of something really, but the beginning, of new possibilities!

As the clock struck midnight on December 31st of 2016, I was, once again… asleep!

I awoke, a mere 26 (or so) minutes into my slumber, at 12:04 am, to the sound of horns tooting (thanks to my husband) and fireworks shooting.

It is not, however, what happens as the clock strikes midnight that matters as much as it is what happens after midnight passes that counts.

Today, January 1, 2017, as the world reflects on the year that has just passed and the uncertainties, and possibilities that are yet to come, I ponder just 5 things:

  1.  How is it I can stay awake, (way) past midnight, on (most) any occasion, other than New Year’s Eve?!!!
  2. Does (Princess) Ginger like wearing her hat each year or is she silently thinking, “Really, again with the @#$%! tiara?”
  3. Will Buddy and Ginger watch A Charlie Brown’s Christmas, for the third time (this year), and love it as much as us? *
  4. Did the weather man actually get it right, finally, this year, or was he just lucky it snowed last night?
  5. What the hell is for dinner, the ‘fridge is (unusually) bare? **

*Yes, they will.  Buddy and Snoopy were separated at birth, I’m convinced.  Charles Shultz was channeling him…

**The answer to that question is, inevitably, pasta! Bolognese is always a good ideaor some version of it (I smell it in the oven now…you’re welcome Tom; although this was made from grinding prime tenderloin from our freezer and using my, well stocked, frozen, home-made tomato sauce…use of whatever pasta we had in the pantry…).

PS_IMG_9246.jpgNow Buddy counts sheep.  1… snooooozzz.

Old Fashion(ed) holiday cheer!

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We pulled off the ferry late (one somewhat recent) Thursday night after spending a memorable Thanksgiving on Bainbridge Island at the Gil-wards Holiday gathering.  Tom and I are grateful for having secured two of the most-coveted seats on that Island for this year’s celebration between two households, shared with Family and Friends.

For those of you in the know, Tom and I have had a years-long tradition of spending Thanksgiving beachside in Hawaii, grilling our dinner mere feet from the ocean with our  toes in the sand.  It is easy to be thankful while romping in the clear water and warming in the sun all day before setting up a mini-kitchen on the beach, cocktails in hand.  Grateful to be watching the enormous sun slowly disappear beyond the horizon while simultaneously leaving a magnificent glow of color in the sky for those who patiently stay around.  Grateful for waves serenading us with their gentle rhythm as families, dressed in linens, pass by on their way to the nearby resorts for their turkey dinners.  During those precious moments, we always feel amazingly grateful for our lives here on earth, especially on Island.

This year, as I mentioned, Thanksgiving was different.  It was spent in the company of our Family, on an island that poured rain more dramatically than the ocean waves sang and was warmed not by the sun, but by the love (and heaters) in the home (and on the beautifully curated porch).  This was not a tropical island, but I would not have traded that night for one in the tropics. Not this year!

I was reminded of how important it is to spend moments of meaning with Family (and with Friends that might as well be Family).  As we all sat down to dinner, each of us had a name card at their plate, which I assumed was there to indicate where we were to sit.  It was there to do that, yes, but there was more.  After the meal, we were directed to pass our card to the person on the left and to write something for which we are grateful about the person on the card of that passed from the person on our right.  This would go on until the cards with our names made it back to their original spot.  At the end, we all had a card that was filled with things about us for which people were grateful. How fantastic is that?!

I am not one to write something so quickly, so I am sure to have stumbled on my words and on my pen.  To all of you seated around the table that night, I hope you each know how much I love and adore  you (well, I did just meet one of you but if you continue to make Katie happy, I will certainly love you too).  I am thankful to be a part of your lives and that you are in our lives (Tom, Ginger, Buddy and my (life)).  I am grateful for your guidance (Scott), all of your musical talents (not Scott) plus the enthusiasm to experience it all (known and unknown), including family at all important (or not so important) occasions (all of you)!  Grateful for good food, accompanied always with strong drink as well as witty, entertaining conversation, and of course, love.  Grateful that the kids have all grown up in loving and happy homes with the guidance, resources and community support needed to flourish, love and be their best selves!  And they are all amazing, individualistic and loving souls.

As we are now full bloom into the Holiday Season, Tom and I send our official Aloha, having recently returned from the (Hawaiian) beach.  We are warmed, well-fed and happy for the respite, as incredibly short as it was.  We are most grateful to be back with our pups and in our cozy home.  Just as we held up our glasses of prosecco spiked with pineapple last week, we now hold up our glasses filled with happy spirits and say, “Happy Holidays” and then clink our glasses with an a ‘Old Fashioned’ cheer.

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HOLIDAY SPICED OLD FASHIONED (big batch)

If having a party, it is a good idea to make a large batch, set it out on the bar with garnishes, glasses and ice for guests to easily pour their own.  I used Spanish orange bitters here, but it is also good with chestnut bitters, or you can use Angostura or Fee Brothers old fashioned aromatic bitters.

INGREDIENTS

3 cups of your favorite bourbon or rye (I use Bulliet Rye)

3 TB spiced simple syrup (recipe to follow)

2 tsp bitters (see note above)

Peel of 1 orange (in long strips)

TO MAKE

Add all ingredients into a glass pitcher and stir.  Be sure to set out craft maraschino cherries and orange wedges for garnish.  The best cherries are Italian, brandy-soaked cherries that can be found in specialty stores.  I use Luxardo brand cherries.  If you are able, use a big block ice cube tray to make ice for your guests so that the drink remains cold longer and does not get diluted straight away.

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HOLIDAY SPICED OLD FASHIONED (made to order)

If you are making it to order,  which I prefer, simply add a cherry and a slice of tangerine to a glass and mash it with a muddler.  Add a large piece of ice to each glass.  Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 way up with ice and pour in a healthy pour of your favorite bourbon or rye.  You can make two or three at a time this way; approximately 4 oz per drink.  Add a few dashes of bitters, 1/2 teaspoon of the spiced simple syrup (recipe to follow) per drink (or more if you prefer your drink sweeter).  Stir with a long spoon then strain into prepared glasses.

SPICED SIMPLE SYRUP

Simple syrup is great to use in drinks or sauces that are typically served cold because the sugar is already dissolved when you add it to the ingredients.  The traditional syrup consists of one part water to one part sugar, brought to a simmer and left to cool.  This is no different except that the sugar is slightly reduced (because I try to consume less sugar) and there are spices added to the simmer to infuse it with a little bit of the holiday spirit.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup water

3/4 cups (or 1 cup if you prefer) pure, unrefined coconut sugar (or raw, natural sugar)

1 cinnamon stick

1 cardamon pod, slightly smashed and lightly toasted (in the oven or in a pan on the stove top)

3 pieces candied ginger

A few shavings of freshly-grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

2 cloves

TO MAKE

Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a light boil.  Reduce heat to simmer for 1 minute, then turn off the heat, remove the pan from the stove top and allow to cool completely.

When cool, press on the ginger to help release some of the flavor and then strain.

You can reserve the cinnamon stick and candied ginger for another use, such as mulled cider or wine.  You can also use the cinnamon sticks as a garnish for stirring.

Store in a small jar for up to 6 months (may or may not refrigerate, I don’t to keep it supple).

“…and that’s a wrap!”

 

 

Kitchen Therapy

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I believe things happen for a reason, good or bad.  Every decision we make becomes part of our story and that story, often has a deeper meaning.  I chose to get a dog my freshman year of college and that dog, Buffy, became such an integral part of my life that I wouldn’t know how to describe that middle part of my life without including her, just as Ginger and Buddy consume our story now.

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it was a long journey

Most of you know Buddy of course.  The scruffy little yorkie that came into our lives at the age of 10, as if he knew he was meant to be with us all along. I sometimes picture him ringing our doorbell with a hobo stick slapped across his back declaring that he’s finally come home. The powers that be brought him to us and then tried, several times, to take him back. Somehow, he has managed to beat the odds and remains a deeply entwined part of our lives today and for everyday in the foreseeable future (knock on wood).

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mommy and daddy, i’m home

Buddy, recently, has had a newly found appreciation for food.  He has never been one to turn down a meal, or a treat (I’d go as far as to say that this one is certainly motivated by food), but now when he eats, it is with his whole heart and he is taking in every flavor, texture and aroma. Buddy eats greedily but thoughtfully, offering gurgles and sound effects that mimic what maybe Snoopy or Woodstock might express or, more aptly, a human might make as they bite into a meticulously cooked meal, enhanced with only the skill and finesse of the worlds finest chef.

He is also experiencing the finer things in life, such as spa days (with bubble baths),  acupuncture sessions and deep massages every night from his daddy. We too are experiencing the finer things in life, such as more time with Buddy (and Ginger) and much more awareness of our mortality as well as theirs. We are embracing the future but enjoying the present with much more gratitude and self-awareness.  This is a choice we should all be making but is hard to see through all life’s craziness and stress.

So to combat the craziness and stress, I am headed to the kitchen where I will emerge happier, healthier and hopefully well-fed.

I choose  Kitchen therapy.

Our lives are busy.  But we still need to eat!  There are so many shortcuts available and it is easy to take them all, which includes eating prepared meals or eating out every day.

I usually feel better when I head into the kitchen and begin cooking…anything. Buddy and Ginger eagerly follow (these days, Buddy usually gets carried along). Then, Ginger sitting on her orange square and Buddy, either stumbling blindly underfoot or tucked in one arm as I work aptly with the other, anticipate the nibbles and bites they will get as the cooking noises and smells begin to permeate the air.

Chop, chop, chop, sizzle, sizzle… A rhythm begins to take hold and an easy, familiar dance begins to carry my stress away.

I taste what I am making. It is very important to taste. Buddy and Ginger are taste-testers too.

Music is playing.  Music must always be playing…
…and Tom is playing the music.  In the background, and in the foreground, chatting with song.

Last night it was our favorite chicken dish and tonight it will be a comfortably quick beef stew.  I know a stew need not be quick, but quick is what we needed, so into the pressure cooker it went.  It emerged an hour later, prep time and all, a fragrant, creamy and comforting meal that carried us away from a busy week and welcomed us into a cozy Fall weekend.

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SIMPLE BEEF STEW (flavored with balsamic, red wine and mascarpone) – serves 4

Stew always seems to taste better the next day, but with the addition of a little mascarpone and the help of a pressure cooker, this stew tastes as good day one as you might expect it to taste on day two. I am looking forward to days three and four, if it sticks around that long.

Even though it is simple, it feels more refined due to the size of the meat, veg and potato;  I usually keep them chunkier but decided to reduce all in size. Using leeks rather than onions and balsamic vinegar along with red wine, an aroma fills the room reminiscent of Italy or France. The mascarpone is stirred in to help thicken without extra time and lends a distinct creamy, sweet quality that might typically be heavier and more familiar.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 lbs grass fed beef stew meat, cut into 1/2″ dice
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to season
A handful of semolina flour to dust the meat
1 large leak, cut in half horizontally, cleaned and diced
2-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 TB balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup diced potato (skin on is fine)
3 stalks celery, cleaned and diced
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups water
2 TB veal demi-glace

1/4 cup diced haricot vert / green beans
1- 1 1/2 cup diced potato (can be a mix of sweet potato and red or white potato)

2-3 TB chopped parsley
1-2 TB chopped rosemary and thyme combined (more or less is fine too)
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 good dollop mascarpone

PREP

1. Prepare all of your vegetables as instructed above so they are at the ready as you begin to cook.

2. Season the beef with about 1/2 tsp kosher salt and fresh ground pepper then dust it with semolina flour just to coat.

3. If you have an electric pressure cooker, turn it to brown and add about 2 TB olive oil to the pot. Brown the meat on all sides.

4. Add the leeks and garlic to the pot and continue to brown until the leeks begin to wilt slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir.

5. Add the 1/4 cup diced potatoes, celery, carrots, red wine, water and demi-glace to the pot, stir and turn to high pressure for 15 minutes.

6. When the pressure releases and you can open the lid, add the rest of the ingredients and turn the pressure to high for 30 minutes.

7. When the pressure releases, stir, adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed. If it is not thick enough, add a little more mascarpone. It should sit and simmer for at least 15 minutes or until you are ready to eat as it will continue to thicken and the flavors will meld together.

8. Serve in warm bowls with a crusty loaf of bread or a crostini. A simple salad does well to round out the meal.

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g’night Ginger, I wuv you too!

Operator, I’d like a German Oven Pancake please.

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Do you remember the game Operator? It is now known as the telephone game (so I am told); a silly game that we used to play as kids where everyone sits around in a big circle (usually during a sleep-over or birthday party) and one person whispers something into the person’s ear next to them, and that person in turn, whispers the same thing into the next person’s ear, who then repeats it to the next person, and so on.  By the end of the circle, the last person is to repeat what they heard out loud.  The original statement might have started out saying, “Hey neighbor, your cat’s on our fence.”  But the last person to hear it might have heard, “Hey dummy, your elephant is in our backyard.” or some such nonsense.

The point is, as things get passed down, they get reinterpreted, mis-told or misunderstood.  The small details or misconceptions can end up having significant impacts on the final outcome.  I thought of that game this morning as I went to make brunch.  We were down in Hoodsport three weekends ago (as you already know), and my mother-in-law made a wonderful brunch.  It was a German Oven Pancake which came from the oven puffed-up and delicate.  We slathered it with a little butter then topped it with maple syrup (except silly Tom, who decided to make it savory by coating his in ground pepper).  We also had sausages and a plate of fresh fruit.  And mimosas, of course.  The pancake seemed almost crepe-like.  Oh and I do love a good crepe.  This was a good (crepe) pancake!

As we were leaving, Lois ran upstairs and copied the recipe for me, which she had  hand-written on a recipe card, copied from Tom’s cousin Karen.  I didn’t look at it but thanked her, folded it in half and tucked it into a magazine that I was planning to read on the road (home).

The following weekend, I decided I wanted to make the oven pancake for breakfast.  I pulled out the magazine (which I still haven’t read, because it had been in the trunk of our car) and unfolded the recipe.  The copy was very faint and difficult to read.  Tom sat in the daylight (aging eyes struggling), trying to decipher the writing, reading it off to me, stumbling over some of the words and I typed what he said (sic):

“German Oven Pancake – serves 2-4 (or is that a 6?)
1/2 cup flour, sifted3 slightly-beaten eggs1/2 cup milk2 tsp butter or margarine (what?!), melted1/4 tsp saltsomething, something, confectioner sugar or lemon juice butter.

  1. Add flour to eggs, beating with rotary beater.  Stir in milk, melted butter and salt.  Thoroughly grease bakers joy baking dish pour into mold dish, bake at 450-degrees for 15-17 minutes.  It will get puffy.  Loosen at wide spatula.

     2.  Add butter to flour and eggs then add milk and salt.  Can pour over canadian bacon.”

Seriously, that looks better than what he said.  It mostly made sense, only because I had sat down to brunch with her as she explained that you could sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top, but she didn’t do that.  She also mentioned something about pouring it over Canadian bacon to make it savory.  Which, again, was not done.  If I had just taken the card and tried to follow the recipe, I would have had many more questions.  As it were, my only questions were these:

  1. Does this not use baking powder?
  2. What kind of dish do I bake it in?

I texted over those questions but was inpatient as I was in the thick of my execution and decided to Google, “German Oven Pancake” instead.  The first page that came up was from the Betty Crocker website.  Seeing that the only cookbook my husband, Tom, came to me with was a later edition of the original Betty Crocker cookbook that he had in college (and I don’t think ever used, but he claims Pete did), I suspected it was quite possible that Betty was the first person in the circle to kick-off our little game of Operator.

So it might have started out with Betty saying, “Operator, I’d like a German Oven Pancake, please.”  And I might have finished it by stating, “Operator, I’m a German with a Pancake to Please.”  Finally!  I’m ashamed to admit, it has taken me three tries.

German Oven Pancake (or so I am told)

Adapted from Lois (Bender) Casto via Karen (Bender) Lieberman, via Betty Crocker (maybe?)

Needless to say, my first attempt at this a few weekends ago was not a success.  I think it was because I used whole wheat flour since I did not have any all-purpose flour.  I used almond milk rather than cow’s milk, but it might also have been my choice of pan (Tom says sure, blame it on the pan).  I had not waited for my mother-in-law to respond to my email before heading into the kitchen.  Betty had told us to heat a cast iron skillet before pouring the batter in.  After I did this, I got the email from Lois telling me specifically not to use a hot pan.  I also decided to make it savory, using proscuitto.  Tom thinks it tasted more like a “real” whole wheat pancake.  Not what I had in mind, but edible.

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I treated it a bit like Margharita (not the best choice)

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The proscuitto was tasty.

The following weekend, I thought I might borrow a cup of all-purpose flour from my neighbor Piotr (who was away on job assignment; we were tending to his mail and his garbage).  Turned out he too was with whole wheat flour only (good boy).  So this time I used a cold pan, but still had the wrong flour.  Admmitablely, it looked prettier and (sort of) puffed up but it was a bit dense and not that great (BTW Piotr, your flour is stale).

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Puffy, yes.  Flour, a tad stale.

So now this time, I did use all-purpose flour, but had to use Greek yogurt (thinned with water) instead of milk (yup, you guessed it, I had no milk).  My cake did not bubble up, nor did it get pouffy, like a soufflé (as Lois’ did), but the flavor was spot on!  More eggy than cake-like, fluffy, light and a perfect partner for maple syrup, butter and sausage (and not appropriate for pepper).

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Ahhhh, success (even if the picture tells a different story).

Ingredients

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Prepare

Heat an oven to 450-degrees.

Butter a baking dish (preferably glass).

Whisk the milk, butter and salt into the eggs

Slowly, whisk in the flour being careful not to over-mix

Pour into the prepared baking dish and cook for 15-17 minutes.  It should puff up, but even if it doesn’t, it should still taste quite good.  Divide amongst four plates, put a dollop of butter on top and pour some warm maple syrup over.  Serve with fruit and breakfast sausage if desired.  A mimosa washes it down well (as often he case).

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Can I have some too?

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Anyone gonna’ eat that last bite?  I will, even if I’m about to lose a toof.  Did someone say toof fairy leaves treats?

 

 

 

Last one to the party (misses out on Joe’s sauerbraten!)

So here it is, that time of year again – Oktoberfest! I posted this three years ago and am wanting to let all of you out there know that it is our mission, this year, not to be the last one to the party! We are layering up and heading for the ferry, beer mug in hand! See you on the other side.

I am also going to raise a glass for my niece Catherine, who is studying abroad in Copenhagen this year. Prost!

10 Legs in the Kitchen

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Damn, turns out that was us! I got a text from our niece Catherine saying they were having a party and would we like to come? A little prodding and I was able to determine that the party was for Oktoberfest, it began at 5pm and no costumes were required. I only asked about the dress attire because my sister-in-law is part-German and a young Catherine had previously shown up for no less than three Christmas dinners wearing her genuine dirndl given to her by her grandparents. A little further prodding revealed that there might actually be dirndl and lederhosen afoot, but neighbor/friend Joe G. would indeed be manning the grill. Not sure where to start with that story other than to say, Joe cooks, we’re there (boat dependent). Plus, Grandma Doris bakes a mean tart (amongst other things) and we hadn’t seen everyone since her birthday in April. Seeing…

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