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Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Spent time up north a few weeks ago at my favorite bakery and cheese shops. I had been there once before with my girlfriend Marie, but this time Ken came with me. I love day trips, and this day out in the country about an hour and and 45 minutes away was perfect.

These are the cheeses I selected. Sooo gooood.
Many fantastic cheeses to choose from at Freestone Artisan Cheese

We headed North West and stumbled upon Valley Ford Creamery first. Ken was reluctant to stop, because it wasn’t our true destination. These are the excursions that I love the most, because you find new fun places to visit. I was excited to see they offered tuna melts, fried cheese curds, grilled cheese served with house pastrami and kimchi, crispy fried chicken and salads. There were beer, wine and cheese flights for sale which I have never heard of. And of course, I missed out on the ice cream cause I didn’t want to spoil our lunch. I ran around and purchased a salami sandwich on ciabatta and various cheeses to go as well as a bag of ice to keep everything cold. The atmosphere was fun and I will definitely go back. Oh. And I saw they sold chocolate and two kinds of biscotti- Dark chocolate and pecan, and almond anise biscotti. Here is my recipe for biscotti

It was delightful to stop at a tiny roadside stand called B-Side Farm. It’s the second time I have come across places to buy fresh flowers along a country road. If you want to buy something, you put the cash or check into a metal cash box and write what you took. Great idea. I grow flowers also, so I realize the skill and patience and love that goes into gardening and farming. Sometimes things don’t grow the way we want them to. I chose two flower arrangements, one for me and one for my mom. They were so beautiful and I was able to put the gorgeous flowers into our water bottles so they wouldn’t dry out.

Offerings at Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone California

Next up was Wild Flour Bread. This place is so popular that they have lines out the door. We were lucky to find they hadn’t yet run out of everything. We purchased their Gouda Flat Bread made with aged gouda, onion and herbs. We also bought Dragon Bread made with jalapeno oil, garlic, cornmeal and polenta. The cookies were all sold out, and they no longer make scones because they can’t find enough employees to make them. So sad. And you must know that they are open limited hours, so check before you make the drive. Of course, everything is sold as “take out” since we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Now the Delta variant is spreading to many parts of the United States, and even though we have been vaccinated, we may become infected. Enough about that.

Off we went to explore Freestone Artisan Cheese which is just around the corner. And yes, by this time we were starving. This place is everything. They have many cheeses for sale along with fancy olive oils from Capay Valley. I picked up the Point Reyes Toma Truffle, the 2019 Arbequina Olive Oil here. I was able to meet the owner Omar Mueller who gave me a map which directed me to many more foodie places to eat at the next time we visit. (I need to find that map!) I got a Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Juice for my husband and a bottle of their sparkling wine, a 2015 Blanc Des Blancs from the Santa Maria Valley in Northern California. It was much cooler there than the East Bay where we live and we were happy to be able to sit at the table behind the shop. We broke open the loaf with gouda, and ate the salami sandwich from Valley Ford Creamery and had a lovely time eating and enjoying the flower and herb garden around us .Isn’t life grand? We saved the cheese for later when I would make pizzas with the basil pesto curds. Curds are like mozzarella and go great with bread.  I made toast with the farmers cheese and served with my apricot jam on the Dragon jalapeno bread and fresh scrambled eggs from the chickens. So yummy.

Thank you for reading my blog and stopping by. I hope you are staying cool in this end of July heat. Until next time.

 

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Heart Full of Love and Gratitude in Mendocino and Cheese Zombie Recipe

Heart Full of Love and Gratitude in Mendocino and Cheese Zombie Recipe

Stole my husband away from the Bay Area a few weeks ago to celebrate his birthday. Ken has been working from home since the March lockdown and hasn’t had a vacation since our trip to Tuscany last July. So you can imagine how excited he was to learn of my escape plan to  The Albion River Inn close to Mendocino, our favorite place. Today’s blog will be about our adventure, exploring the town and local businesses. I will also share my cheese zombie recipe that my friends keep asking for.

Ken and I masking it up in Mendocino

Mendocino is special because it is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon 31 years ago. We hadn’t been back to the Albion River Inn for many years and we wanted to escape the poor air quality in Walnut Creek. California has had the worst fire season ever. Even Oregon and Washington are struggling to contain wildfires also, causing smoke all across the West Coast. Yesterday, we had our first clear blue sky in many weeks. It was so bad that no one could go outside for fear having the effect of smoking 20 cigarettes. Ugh. We escaped to Yountville in August to get away as well.

After a restful night at our bed and breakfast, we drove to Mendocino. The Albion River Inn provided hot coffee, homemade granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice brought directly to our room and left on the doorstep of our little cottage. We slept like angels listening to the ocean and breathing fresh salty air all night long.

Pandemic herbal recipehttps://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Not much of the town was open, but there were a few quaint places to check out. The streets and stores were adorned with the most beautiful wildflowers. We found a natural food store  Corner of the Mouth Co op. I bought local whole wheat flours, buckwheat, teff, cracked freekeh, and organic barley so I can bake healthy breads and pizzas. They even had an herbal section where they sold a pandemic tea for $49.00 a pound. Let’s hope we never need it. I spotted dried organic hop flowers, horehound, holy basil, hibiscus flowers, lobelia, linden leaf, maca root powder, marshmallow root, green teas from India, China, Japan, Nepal, Argentina, Ecuador, South Africa, USA, Poland, Cameroon, Hungary and more. Wild yam root, yarrow, turmeric, white willow bark, wild cherry bark, wormwood, valerian root and much much more. I saw many kinds of dried mushrooms including reishi which has healing powers. These herbs and mushrooms fascinate me since they have been used as medicine for many years.

The herbal book section at The Corners of the Mouth Store in Mendocino

We stumbled upon a small family owned business called Garden Bakery where we had fresh chicken tacos and empanadas, and a blueberry cream cheese pastry for lunch. I saw an Oreo cookie baked inside a chocolate chip cookie too! They only took cash, so we had to go back to the car. We hardly carry cash anymore. Totally worth it.

The Mendocino Garden Shop had plenty of seeds for me to buy. Have you noticed the seed shortage? More people are planting gardens since the pandemic, so it can be hard to find seeds. I also bought cover crops like crimson clover, rye grass, and fava beans to add to my soil. These fix nitrogen that have been depleted from our summer vegetable gardens.Other cover crops that I didn’t buy were Red Fescue, Daikon Radish, Bell Beans, Common Vetch, Red Oats, Journey Peas, Blue Wild Rye Grass, Meadow Barley, White Dutch Clover. If you are interested in learning more about cover crops, you can listen to John Kempf and this YouTube video. It is so interesting. Some other soil diversity experts are Chris Nichols, Jeremy Wilson, David Johnson, Grant Simms, Joel Williams, Russell Hedrick from North Carolina and Andrew Man from Alberta. If you want to grow great crops, listen to these experts.

The flowers in Mendocino are outstanding! I loved seeing the hollyhocks, sunflowers, naked pink ladies (belladonna lily), and more in bloom. It is enchanting and romantic to be where we began our marriage.

Another thrill was finding the Highlight Gallery where we enjoyed seeing exceptional fine art, watercolors and oil paintings. Erin Dertner is one of the local artists who provided us with gorgeous watercolors that adorned our walls for many years. We met Phil Chomak who happened to overhear me speaking to the sales lady at the gallery. He is one of Erin’s good friends and was able to tell us how she recently relocated to Santa Rosa. We were given her biography which revealed her philosophy, “There is no better life than to study the world with paintbrush in hand and a heart full of love and gratitude.” We love art galleries. Here is the one of the artsy blogs I wrote when we went to see my friend Margery Ammond’s art in Caramel a few years back.

Me and Ken at the Albion River Inn Restaurant
Our table view of the fog coming in

Getting to run away with my husband to Mendocino was one of the best vacations we have ever had. The time away and clean ocean air was just what we needed to get rejuvenated and reconnected. I highly recommend eating at the Albion River Inn Restaurant too. We were spoiled with free champagne, an incredible Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and anchovies, meatballs and mac, and a seafood chowder with crispy croutons. The table was set outside with the most beautiful view of the sea and coastline. Charming lights were lit and strung above us and whimsical heat lamps were nearby to keep us warm. It will be an evening I will always remember.

Our romantic setting at the Albion river Inn’s Restaurant

Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope I’ve inspired you to bake, garden, or vacation with a loved one. I’m grateful for the time you have shared with me here and outside these homebound walls.

While rifling through my recipes, I encountered this family favorite. Cheese Zombies! I first experienced tasting one of these in high school in 1978. They were sold at brunch and provided by the cafeteria ladies. I’ve since learned my girlfriend Kim Johnson’s Russian grandmother Helen Ballock who worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s came up with this recipe and it was inspired by her husband’s Piroshkis. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the Cheese Zombie. Kim’s grandfather immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1926.  I may have to make Piroshki’s next since Kim shared her family’s traditional recipe with me. 

These delicious warm balls of cheesy dough make the perfect snack. I hope you will give them a try.

Cheese Zombie with chili

MOUNT DIABLO SCHOOL DISTRICT ZOMBIE RECIPE

This recipe makes 2 ½ pounds of dough or 15 large filled zombies or 24 smaller zombies

2 C warm water

2 T Active Yeast

6 C Bread Flour

¼ C Sugar plus 1 T for activating the yeast

½ C room temperature unsalted butter

1 ½ t Kosher salt

⅛ C Poppy seeds or White or Black Sesame seeds

1 whole egg whisked

1 t black Hawaiin Sea Salt or whatever special salt you have

Whichever filling you desire:Cheese, sausage, etc… I used canned chili and cheese.

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and 1 T granulated sugar. Stir and let bubble up for about 5 or 10 minutes.

Using a dough hook, slowly begin adding some of the flour (about 2 cups) a bit at a time, incorporating the sugar and salt also while the mixer is on low. Add the room temperature butter to the dough in stages to make sure all butter is incorporated equally.

Let dough rest for 5 minutes, before adding more bread flour until most of the flour has been added. The dough should be mixed on medium high for about 10 minutes or until it is soft and pliable to the touch.  Set dough aside to rest for about another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Cheese Zombies filled with Nicasio Cheddar and sprinkled with sesame seeds and black sea salt

Divide the dough into 1pound portions and roll into long logs. Cut each log into 5 equal pieces.

Roll out each piece with a rolling pin, using extra flour as needed to keep from sticking and place your favorite filling in the center of the dough, being careful to pull dough up from the sides to cover filling. Pinch to close carefully, so the filling can’t escape while baking. Place zombies pinched side down on a well greased or use parchment paper on a sheet pan. Brush with one whole egg.Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds and Hawaiin Sea Salt. Let rise until doubled in size.

Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Fillings:

Use 1 ½-2 oz of cheese per zombie. 

Traditionally, Velveta Cheese was used, but I prefer a sharp white cheddar.

Other filling suggestions are:

Pepperoni, pizza sauce and cheese, ham and cheese, green chilies, ground beef, sausage, roasted vegetables, or scrambled eggs.

Cheese Zombies http://www.letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

I’m told these zombies were inspired by the Russian Piroshikis. My friend Kim Johnson told me her grandmother worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the zombies to use up the cheese. Kim’s grandfather would fill his dough with meat. Great history lesson there.

I’m a huge fan of these lunchtime or anytime treats. It’s comfort food during these hard times.

Ken and me on the balcony at the Albion River Inn near Mendocino
 

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The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The famous blue door to The French Laundry. We dined right next to it

I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.

I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller)  and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.

In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough. 

When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.

The Bees home in the tfl gardens
Saying hello to my chicken friends

Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.

The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them. 

My niece Marie, Sister Sue and friend Sue Baker waiting for our experience https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.

 Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.

Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that  came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California. 

And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.

Birthday Menu

I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage. 

This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster,  scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from  Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.

I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.

Dessert table at tfl

In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us. 

Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.

Our waiter and the box of chocolates
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Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.

Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.

I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art. 

To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street. 

tfl kitchen
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We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.

Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.

I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.

The four of us at the end of our tour at tfl
http://www.letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Follow my blog for more stories and recipes. 

CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder

40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk

150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar

10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso

½ T Kosher Salt

100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)

360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk

2 T Rum

480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream

1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Directions:

In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.

Mixing the egg yolks into dry ingredients
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For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.

Cooked chocolate custard
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Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.

Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm. 

This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.


 

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The French Laundry (tfl) Part I

The French Laundry (tfl) Part I
n the garden at The French Laundry

Spent last Sunday in Napa and Yountville celebrating my niece Marie’s 30th birthday and my sister Sue’s birthday. We were joined by Sue’s best friend Susan Baker, her college roommate from 40 years ago. Today’s blog is all about our day together having brunch at my house, tastings at Biale Winery and dinner at the world famous three Star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry.

I was concerned about drinking on an empty stomach, so I decided to whip up a few things to keep our tummies happy. The day before, I prepared an organic milled spelt, bulgur, heritage grain Olan wheat flour by Capay Mills, sun dried tomato and salami bread and kept it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Baked it fresh that morning, so it would have time to cool before cutting into it. I served this wonderful high protein bread with two cheeses: havarti dill, and Nicasio Reserve from Marin County California and my homemade Blenheim apricot preserves. We splurged and opened a bottle of sparkling wine and made bellinis with my canned peaches from my garden and garnished with lemon verbena from the garden.

I also served a potato Spanish tortilla and a peach crumble with vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. So yummy. I probably over did it. But this was going to be a special day and I wanted to start it out right.

We left for the winery later than expected with full bellies and smiling masked faces all piled into my Lexus. My husband Ken agreed to drive us, so we could enjoy the day. 

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My niece Marie and sister Sue at the French Laundry Gardens

We had a nice experience tasting wines at Robert Biale Vineyards. Since Susan has a membership, we were spoiled with impeccable service and attention. We relaxed looking at the vineyard, chatting and sipping some of the best Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Biale’s rare blends some of the best in the Napa Valley. We happened to be the only people there because of the wildfires and smoke permeating the area. We were lucky there was a breeze and the air quality didn’t bother us. It was much worse in the Bay Area where we traveled from. We sat for hours admiring the planters filled with prolific fuchsia pink and yellow perennials lantana, pink dianthus and red and yellow dahlias. Just gorgeous.

My niece Marie, my sister Sue and me at The French Laundry Garden

We were blessed to be able to get a reservation at The French Laundry 6 months ago for a May celebration. Covid closed down many restaurants in March, April and May, but we were fortunate enough to claim one for August so we could acknowledge Marie’s 30th birthday. Her dream came true that day, and I was ohh soo grateful to be included in her special day. I can’t forget to mention the quick stop at Bouchon Bakery where we indulged in hot chocolate, espresso, fresh French bread and pastries, not wanting to spoil our appetites for what was to come. Bouchon sells Paris-Brest, Macarons, fresh fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cupcakes, pain aux raisins, yuzu citrus croissants, chocolate almond croissants, cream cheese Danish, french baguettes filled with ham and cheese, smoked salmon sandwiches on seeded rolls,tomato and brie sandwiches, cookies, chocolates and candies like almond toffee.

It’s hard to know where to begin on describing my experience at the French Laundry. The four of us began by walking through the gardens across the street from the restaurant. They are incredible. They keep bees hives, tiny new starts of herbs in a tunnel, rows of lettuce, peppers, squash, onions, tomatoes and more. We visited the chickens who seem happy eating their fill of discarded squash. I’m curious about owning chickens and am ready to try keeping them in my home garden.

My husband took photos of us perfecting our makeup, like we were getting ready to get married or something. We were so excited and had waited so long to have this day finally happen. It had been cancelled a few times because of Covid and we were worried it would be cancelled again because of the fires and smoke in Napa County. The tables would be set up outside because no one is allowed to eat indoors for fear Covid could spread. We were fortunate to have the money and resources to afford the $350.00 per person fine dining experience. My sister Sue treated us by scheduling the date and paying many months ago. How incredibly lucky I was to be included in this special day, since originally my sister had another person in mind for the ticket.

More photos were taken at the entrance, then my husband drove off to find his own dinner nearby. Kind of sad we couldn’t include him in the event, but he wouldn’t have wanted to participate nor have wanted to spend the money on this extravagant meal.

I’m going to end here and write my next blog about the remainder of the day. I hate to see my blogs getting too long. Look forward to my next write up continuing on about our French Laundry experience part II.

First I will share my Peach Crumble and Sea Salt Caramel Recipe.

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Peach crumble made with fresh Alberta peaches from the garden. Used buckwheat, oatmeal, almonds, brown sugar, butter, baking powder and salt. Served with ice cream and home made caramel sauce

Peach Crumble with Sea Salt Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

4 or 5 medium to large size peaches peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick

2/3 C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Granulated Sugar ( Plus 2 T more sugar for peaches

2 T Tapioca Flour or arrowroot to add to peach mixture later)

½ C. Buckwheat flour

¼ C All Purpose Flour

¼ C Oats

½ C Unsalted Butter room temperature or cold cut into chunks Plus 1 T extra to coat pie dish

½ t Kosher Salt

½ t ground cinnamon

½ t ground ginger

¼ t ground cloves

1 Baking pie dish or use several individual oven safe serving size bowls 

1 Cuisinart Food Processor or Kitchenaid Mixer 

Instructions:

Crumble Topping

In a Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid Mixer or large bowl combine all dry ingredients: Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Buckwheat Flour, All Purpose Flour, Oats, Salt and spices: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves.

Pulse 5 times to mix thoroughly. Add butter pieces and pulse again until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

Peel peaches by boiling first and placing in an ice bath to loosen skins. Dry and cut peaches, remove pits and cut into ¼ inch thick slices and place in a medium size bowl. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of sugar mixed with 2 T tapioca flour onto peaches. 

In a buttered pie dish, place cut pieces of peaches that are covered with sugar and tapioca flour. Add crumble topping on top of peaches. Set the pie dish on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-50 minutes or until dessert is hot and bubbly.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Dessert can be refrigerated at this time and reheated and served later.

Serve alongside vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel sauce.

Sea Salt Caramel

Ingredients and Instructions

320g or 11 oz Heavy Cream

200g or 7 oz Light Corn Syrup

60g or 3 oz Granulated Sugar (Plus an additional100g or 3.5 oz for later)

Heat these ingredients together in a medium size pot and set aside keeping it hot.

In another medium size pot, on medium low heat sprinkle 100g or 3.5 oz of granulated sugar little by little melting and cooking sugar slowly NOT stirring, until caramel turns amber color. 

Slowly add hot cream mixture to amber caramel stirring and cooking until temp reaches 105 degrees C or 220 degrees F. The longer you boil, the thicker the caramel.

Add 4g Sea Salt, Maldon, or Fleur de Sel and cool. Caramel will thicken as it cools. 

Recipe credit to Pastry Chef and author Dominique Ansel

I’ve used buckwheat flour to add complexity to the recipe and to make it healthier. You can substitute your favorite flour or use flax meal or almond flour.

Enjoy!

Thanks for joining me today. Leave me questions or comments below.

 

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Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

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The most delicious mortadella sandwich made at Roscioli Restaurant in Rome called Pizza Bianca.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Life has gotten in the way of my writing and it’s time to stop letting things get in the way. Family illnesses during the Holidays have made me not feel like not writing and sharing my blog. I’ve been a hot mess! Luckily, things are better now and for this I’m grateful. On and upward as they say. Today is a new day. Thought I’d share a few stories and food photos about my time in Italy with my husband last Summer.

 

My husband and I had quite the year of travel in 2019, spending time in Rome, Venice, and Tuscany. We were away for two weeks celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and my birthday. We had the best time together. One of my favorite memories was learning how to make spinach and cheese raviolis at a little villa called Casale in Val di Chio with Familia Buccaletti in Castiglion Fiorentino. Our cooking instructor Simona Giorgetti was wonderful. In addition to the raviolis, we made many gnudi, farfalle, tortellini, grissini’s and poppy and sesame seed crackers. Simona also brought a few other side Tuscan dishes such as Tuna butter and parsley pickle mayonnaise, cannelli beans made with sage, garlic and tomato, zucchini, carrots and green pepper with apple vinegar, garlic and olive oil, and a boiled chick pea dish served with onion, parsley, and  olive oil. After cooking for several hours we sat down and said “bon apetitto.”  We enjoyed our delicious humongous and shared a bottle of wine together. This experience was one of the many highlights of my summer vacation and we are hoping our new friend Simona will visit us in California some day.

 

While my husband and I were exploring Rome we had a small group food walking tour in Trastevere, Campo de Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto. Our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon at Bridges World Travel organized the entire trip for us and we were pleasantly surprised. On this Rome tour we enjoyed various pizzas, pastas, cheeses, and more. We tasted a mouthwatering mortadella sandwich with pistachio or truffle in the dough of the focaccia from Ruggeri A Campo De Fiore. It is specifically called Pizza Bianca.

At Sette Oche in Altalena Ristorante and Pizzeria we ate more delicious pastas and learned that the name of the restaurant in Italian means Seven Ducks on a Swing. Just adorable, and they happen have a children’s book about it. The Catinari Ristorante & Pizzeria was another great spot where our group sat on the patio and tried a few of their fried arancini rice balls. Yum.

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Pasta Carbonara freshly made at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

Another great restaurant we happened upon was Il Maritozzo Rosso and Cucina. Ken and I were so hungry and were told to go to this famous pizza joint in Trastevere, but when we got there, I wasn’t impressed. Instead, I saw this quaint place around a corner and we went in to check it out. The owner’s wife was just sitting down for clams since it was past lunch time. The place had already cleared out from the lunch crowd. The bar stools which we were happy to take a seat in were chairs made out of books. So clever. Then I noticed they taught cooking classes and the owner Ed graciously took the time to teach us how to make our own pasta carbonara. It was a blast first watching the chef fry the guanciale (pork), then incorporate the eggs and cream and cheese into the hot pasta. It’s always a good day when I can learn something new in the kitchen.

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Me and Ed at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

 

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Pesto and pine nut pizza and Truffle and cheese pizza at Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery

After a tour of the Vatican, my husband and I came across Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery where we had this amazing zucchine pesto and pinoli pizza and funghi porcini tartufo and cheese pizza. This meal had to be one of the best bites that we had the entire two week vacation. This place has dried fruits, candied fruits, pastries, fruit crostata’s, cookies,  plus lots, lots more. I even noticed they have cooking classes in case you want to try making bread or pasta. Simply divine and if I knew about it sooner, would have taken advantage of this opportunity.

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My husband Ken holding a delicious cup of Venchi Gelato

Can we talk about the gelato in Italy? Venchi is a special gelato shop of which there are many throughout Europe, and favorite for all those chocolate lovers. I fell in love with their melted dark chocolate cup coated in fresh coconut which melts in your hand while you are eating the creamy cold espresso gelato, so that you have the perfect last bites of the most delicious chocolate and coconut on a hot summer day in Rome. Why isn’t there a Venchi in my neighborhood? Seriously, I would be the happiest girl ever. If you love chocolate my English Toffee  recipe is to die for. It is being made here.

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The best damn bite

Thank you for following along and reading my blog. I’m happy to share these experiences with anyone who may love food as much as I do. Here’s my blog on Venice.

Teri

 

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Don’t Panic, It’s Organic Ginger Chai Cupcakes

Don’t Panic, It’s Organic Ginger Chai Cupcakes

It’s that time of year again for baking. It’s December and you know what people do in December? They bake! I was talking to my friend Marie who also loves to bring holiday cheer to her neighbors every year by bringing them a plate full of treats. I randomly will bring my neighbors cookies and sweets, but not necessarily at Christmas time because I believe they feel pressure to bring me sweets also. I’m kind of picky and really only eat certain cookies and candies this time of year. So, I hate for anything to go to waste, especially since my husband doesn’t eat too many sweets. This is why I had to make my favorite dessert: An organic Ginger Chai Cake with cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with toasted coconut. This recipe will blow you away and you will crave it every year and not just during the holidays.

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I had a recipe for ginger cake with a dark stout beer and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I know I had it sitting on the counter last week because I wanted to make it. This is why I like to put my special recipes on my blog because I always know where to find them. If your recipes are anything like mine, you don’t want to take the time to look in every folder, and recipe file to find something. This can take forever! In my case I spent the whole morning looking through all of my recipes from Andronicos Cooking classes, Draeger’s Cooking classes and various clippings that I have saved over the years from all the magazines that I have read.

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#Calderas Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter Beer and Molasses used for Ginger Chai Cake

Instead, I went to the trusty internet and quickly downloaded David Lebovitz’s Ginger cake recipe which he credited Claudia Fleming’s recipe for Stout Gingerbread Cake. I can never follow a recipe exactly. I follow both of them on Instagram and am constantly inspired to bake. I have to be a rule breaker and add or remove ingredients, just because. It’s fun to see how flavors mix and add ingredients that you are fond of. So I omitted the cardamon and added the Chai Tea, Chocolate, Coconut Chocolate Porter Beer, Maldon Salt, Vanilla pod, Cocoa Powder and used a different technique to incorporate the ingredients. I’m boiling the oil, beer, molasses and spices together like my friend’s Gingerbread recipe which I blogged about last year. By boiling the spices with the oil or butter, the flavor is more intense in the recipe. 

 

I’ve recently been inspired by chai flavors. My niece Beverly told me to go to Bouchon Bakery and order their Chai Tea, because she is a HUGE fan. I also love Bouchon Bakery in Yountville and will frequent there if I get the chance. I usually walk out with their Hot Chocolate and a pastry of some sort.  So this recipe is inspired by Beverly, Bouchon and the Caldera Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter that I purchased from Whole Foods. The guy restocking the beer fridge talked me into this chocolate beer since he thought it would go perfect in my ginger cake. He was right! It turned out delicious and I’m excited to share the recipe with you so you can also have a ginger chai cake recipe anytime you  wish.

 

But first, a shout out to One House Bakery in Benicia where I get to meet a friend for lunch on Friday. This place is incredible. I was there last week after attending a Tea with my hiking friends. I bought a loaf of their sourdough bread and used it to make a stuffing for a baked turkey. Who doesn’t love stuffing? I cut up the loaf in pieces and dried them before adding chicken stock, sauteed onion, celery and garlic along with a lot of fresh parsley and poultry seasoning. So yummy.

 

As I promised, here is the recipe for Ginger Chai Cake.

 

Ginger Chai Cake

Ingredients for Cake:

1 Cup (180ml) Canola Oil (Or Bland tasting oil like Vegetable or Grapeseed)

1 Cup (250ml) Molasses

1 Cup (250ml) Dark Beer (I used Caldera’s Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter)

½ C (100mg) Granulated Sugar

½ Cup (90g)  Brown Sugar

1.5 Tablespoons ground Ginger

1.5 Tablespoons ground Cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground Cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

½ teaspoon Maldon Salt

¼ C chopped Candied Ginger or fresh peeled and grated (i make my own by boiling in equal parts sugar and water until soft) Trader Joe’s carries this ingredient.

½ Tablespoon Baking Soda (Added after mixture has come to a boil)

2 Chai Tea bags (I used Mighty Leaf Organic Coconut Assam)

 

3 large whole eggs, room temperature

1 vanilla pod, scraped

 

1 C. Sweetened Coconut. Bake on a sheet pan for 8-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven until brown. (Use to top cupcakes after spreading cream cheese frosting over cooled cupcakes or loaf.)

2 C. (280g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour

1.5 teaspoons Baking Powder

¼ C Dick Taylor’s Bulk Shredded Chocolate (Or your favorite cocoa powder. Chopped Dark chocolate would work as well.)

¼ C additional cocoa powder to coat muffin dish after smothering with butter flavored Crisco or spray with Non Stick Spray

1 T Butter Flavored Crisco to coat muffin pan (or use cupcake liners)

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#GingerChaiCupcakes with Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting

 

1 recipe Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting 

 

Instructions for Cake:

 

  1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees C). Use a loaf pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non stick spray and another baking pan or  cupcake pan with paper baking cups or liners. Makes quite a bit of batter.

 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat beer, oil, molasses, granulated sugar, brown sugar, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground Cloves, ground nutmeg, salt, and chopped candied ginger until boiling. Take off heat and Steep 2 pouches of Mighty Leaf Organic Coconut Assam Chai Tea for 10 minutes. Remove Tea Bags. Add Baking Soda and stir. Mixture will bubble. Set aside and cool.

 

  1. Measure and mix Flour and Baking Powder in a separate bowl until combined.

 

  1. Crack 3 large eggs into a bowl and add vanilla seeds.

 

  1. When molasses mixture is cool, add it to dry flour mixture with eggs and vanilla and stir until combined. 

 

  1. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, muffin pan, or cupcake liners filling ¾ full. 

 

  1. Bake until toothpick comes out clean about 18-22 minutes. Or for 45 min to an hour if using a loaf pan. Cool. Remove from pan and frost with Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting.

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Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting

 

Ingredients:

1.5 C Cream Cheese softened

½ C. Unsalted Butter softened

2 C. Confectioners Sugar

1 Vanilla pod scraped (Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out vanilla seeds) Or use 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 T Heavy Cream

½ teaspoon Maldon Salt

 

Directions for Cream Cheese Frosting:

 

Place softened cream cheese and butter in stand mixer and blend until combined. While Mixer is off add confectioners sugar a little at a time and mix until blended. (you can sift it first, but I never do). Add vanilla, salt and heavy cream until the frosting is a nice consistency. After cake or cupcakes are cool, put frosting in a decorator bag with a large tip and pipe onto cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut for decoration. Option: chop more candied ginger and decorate top of frosted cake or cupcake.

 

Enjoy!

 

If you make the Don’t panic, it’s organic #GingerChaiCake, please leave a comment below and let me know how you like them. Share the recipe with your friends and loved ones. They will love you forever.

 

 

 

 

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Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Part II of my hike through Spain. Here’s a link to Part I, in case you missed it. 

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Sylvia.Peregrina and me at a cafe in Spain

Where do I begin? Well, I have to give a few shout outs to Silvia Peregrina who I watched from afar for a few days before approaching her. You see she happened to be walking the Camino at the same time as our group. Turns out, she is a tour guide and had a big group with her. My friend Nancy and I noticed her one morning as she walked beside us singing an American tune by Bruce Springsteen with her ear buds on. She wore a cowboy hat and stood out among the others on the trail. She was happy and had a lot of energy. When we finally met, I asked her if I could take a photo of her and write about her. She said I could, and also was very helpful in giving us good places to stop and eat along the way.

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Us at dinner in Portomarin. And Wine!  from left:Jeanne, Marianne, Sharon, Me, Beth(Nancy taking the photo)

 We were excited to find a special bocadillo restaurant that served humongous sandwiches. Sylvia also recommended A Paso De Formiga Restaurant which was all about Ants. We ate at Restaurante O Mirador    on the first night of our hike walking from Sarria to Portomarin. A few of us shared a bottle of Albarino white wine, blistered padron peppers, fish entrees and pizza. I think we were just getting in the groove and relaxing a bit. After all, I basically got off a plane one night and began walking the Camino the very next morning. And we got up EARLY. 

 

It’s hard to really describe what’s it’s like to get up and walk for 6 or 7 hours every day for 6 days straight. There is something about Walking the Camino that you just can’t understand until you do it yourself. We read books, watched movies and read blogs trying to prepare for what this experience would be like. The best part was sharing the many hours chatting with my friends Nancy, Jeanne and Beth and getting to know them better. We had nothing else to do while walking through the Spanish countryside. Of course, the farm animals kept us guessing. We saw herds of sheep running through the streets of Sarria while stopping at a cafe to use the ladies room and grab an espresso. Next thing you know, we would come across a local farmers market getting set up for the day with cages of chickens, bunnies, sausages, bacon, and seasonal vegetables.

 

We were entertained by the roosters who would crow early in the morning to greet us and enjoyed listening to the variety of bird calls. There were many dogs in backyards who would run to the fence to say hello. I was amazed when I saw an older kitten drinking from his mother on the side of the road. He looked about the same size as the momma cat and I wondered about that. It was funny to see a chicken running around near a cat and a dog, like they were just another member of the family. There were herds of cattle grazing on fields of bright green as far as the eye could see. The people were friendly and hospitable to us and it was fun to see the locals, many of them little old men walking to town.  Spain is incredibly beautiful.

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Me and Nancy walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain

I haven’t mentioned the cathedrals and churches we encountered on our walk, but there were many. I am Catholic, yet I don’t consider myself as devout as most. I’m religious, but don’t consider myself as faithful as some friends of mine. This trip, I was the only person who was interested in going into these beautiful buildings. I would light candles and say prayers for my friends and family that are in need. I’m grateful for my faith that my parents gave me, especially my mother who was raised Catholic. My Dad never fully converted from being Lutheran, but always went to Mass with us when I was young. All that went away when my father stepped out on us and left when I was 14 years old. My Mother never felt accepted because she divorced my dad and the church frowned on that. We grew up going to Catholic School in the 1970’s when divorce wasn’t popular. 

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Different Routes getting to Santiago

 

I digress… I enjoyed seeing these ancient cathedrals. After a long, hard second day, we came upon Iglesia San Tirso that we hoped to get a stamp from (We had books that we stamped to prove we walked the camino), but the doors were locked. As we walked down the stairs a man with a guitar case approached us with keys in his hand. We were so grateful to have made it in time to see this beautiful place in Palais de Rei. I was surprised to find my friend crying as we walked out. I immediately began to cry too, thinking I should be feeling her feelings as well. It was moments like these that made our trip. We looked out for each other. When Nancy needed a band aid for a cut, I always had one. When someone needed Advil to relieve a headache or sore feet, one of us would share our stash. I always had extra food to share in case any one got hungry. It was brief moments like these that helped us women stay strong throughout our journey.

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One of the many older gentlemen we passed by who would be sitting along the road in Spain

I will put this away for now. I’m writing from a Casino in the wine country while my father is sleeping in the room next to me and I’m waiting for my older sister to come to bed. We are making new memories here at Twin Pines as much as I can’t stand these places. Good night and hope to share more stories and pictures very soon.

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Fashionistas at the airport heading to Milan and Bergamo for a bike ride

But first I’d like to share our family recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole which we serve at every holiday. It’s perfectly sweet and oh so good!

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Sweet Potato Casserole. Our families favorite side dish

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients

3 C.  Roasted or boiled mashed Sweet Potatoes .See article to choose your favorite variety

⅓ C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Skim Milk

2 T Unsalted Butter or Margarine melted (plus more for buttering dish)

1 t Vanilla

½ T Kosher Salt

1 t. Ground Cinnamon

1 t. Ground Ginger

½ t Ground Cloves

 

2 Egg whites whipped in a separate bowl

1 t lemon juice

 

Topping:

⅓ C Packed Brown Sugar

¼ C Unbleached all purpose Flour

2 T Unsalted Butter chilled and cut into pieces

½ C Chopped Pecans

1 t Ground Cinnamon

1 t Ground Ginger

1 t ground Cloves

 

Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Roast 3 large sweet potatoes I like garnet or jewel variety. Or peel and boil them until soft. Cool.

In a stand mixer place cooked cooled sweet potatoes and mix on low. This will help them cool down a bit.  Add Milk, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt and mix until combined. 

 

In a separate bowl, whip up egg whites and a teaspoon of lemon to soft peaks. It’s best to have the bowl super clean with no residue of oil residue which would inhibit the eggs from getting to their fullest volume. 

 

Fold egg whites into sweet potato spice mixture until combined. Place mixture into a buttered 13X9 casserole dish. Set aside. This dish will serve 6 -8 people.

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Pictured her unbaked Sweet Potato Casserole. A well loved dish

 

Topping Instructions:

 If you have a Cuisinart Food Processor this step is very easy. Place all topping ingredients brown sugar, flour, chilled butter, chopped pecans and spices into food processor. If you don’t have one, place all topping ingredients except pecans into a medium sized bowl and cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter until topping is well combined and butter is the size of small peas. Add chopped pecans and sprinkle topping over sweet potato mixture.

 

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until casserole is golden and bubbly. Your house will smell amazing and your family will ask you year after year to make this delightful dish. It is especially good served with roasted turkey or roasted chicken.

Side note: I usually double this recipe and use two 13 X 9 pans because we have about 25 people that come to our holiday parties. And we never mind having left overs if there happens to be any left. I should mention I first learned of this dish through my sister Julie’s sister in law Maryann Weigant who made this special recipe for us many years ago. I added more spices because I love to spice things up!
Thanks again for spending time with me and reading my blog. Feel free to sign up to receive and read more blogs and recipes. Every time I write a new one, it will arrive in your in box for you to enjoy at your convenience.

 

 

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Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie More Time On the Camino Plus a Fall Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie More Time On the Camino Plus a Fall Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Can’t believe we did it! My friends and I walked the Camino de Santiago two weeks ago for a total of about 100 miles. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I am happy to share my experience. Walking for miles every day with friends without a care in the world is something I would do again and again.

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Nancy from #OrindaTravel Jeanne, me and Jeanne inside the wodden heart at our first hotel in Sarria.

First off a huge thank you to Nancy Solomon at Orinda Travel for organizing the trip. She and 5 other friends from my hiking group took part of this amazing experience. Two of the women flew from San Francisco, California and began their excursion in Lisbon Portugal for a few days before meeting the rest of us in in Sarria, Spain. These ladies Marianne and Sharon decided to bike the camino instead of walking with us, yet they met up with us in the evenings at dinner and we stayed at the same hotel. I’ve known Sharon for about 20 years. She and I live in the same neighborhood, have kids similar ages and we have hiked together many Tuesday and Thursday mornings which have been organized by her. I have not known Marianne for very long, but she is a member of the hiking group as well and wonderful.

My son Andrew drove Nancy and I to the San Francisco Airport where we met up with Nancy’s good friend of 30 years, Beth. Our other hiking member and friend Jeanne met up with the three of us at the Frankfurt Germany Airport since she was enjoying a holiday with her husband in France. We shared a chocolate dipped croissant and a huge chocolate frosting filled vanilla cookie at Herberer’s Traditional Bakery. Totally hit the spot and I was already a happy girl, now even happier.

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Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport

The flight was long about 11.5 hours from San Francisco California USA to Frankfurt Germany. Then the four of us flew to the Santiago Airport in Spain. I read, listened to my book club book on my Kindle, watched movies and slept. I drank a lot of water to keep hydrated and had to use the restroom about seven times, having to climb over Beth from my window seat since she was passed out. It felt nice to get up a few times to move my body, and I wore long compression socks since I read somewhere they prevent blood clots on long flights. I’m always using preventative measures to stay healthy, but I may have gone a little over board here. Swiss Air provided plenty of food, but airplane food is nothing to rave about. I loved looking down at the clouds and the many cities and towns below.

 

After arriving in Santiago, we were transferred by car for an hour and a half to the Pension Serrano Hotel. We met our friends Sharon and Marianne outside where they were riding their bikes around town. They told me to check out the goats down the lane who happily greeted me. I’m a goat lover, I hate to admit. Goats are cute and funny and I happen to follow many farmers on Instagram. 

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All six of Nancy Solomon’s World Travel Camino de Santiago trip at our first pulperia in Sarria Spain. From left:Me, Jeanne, Sharon, Beth, Jeanne, and Marianne

We had planned on having dinner at a Cantina Pulperia Luis in Sarria, but I think our driver told us to go elsewhere. Not important, but I think the food took a while, Nancy didn’t get her beer that she ordered so I shared a bottle of red wine called Habla Del Silencio that I bought. The wine is not expensive in Spain. I may have only paid $15 euro for a bottle where in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might get a glass for that price.  Not many of us were drinking alcohol this trip, but Nancy and I made up for it and enjoyed the flavors of Spain. I wasn’t a huge fan of their wine since we are spoiled living near Napa Wine Country, but it all worked out and no one went thirsty. Jeanne was recovering from some nasty illness which she was hospitalized for in France, and ordered plain rice through Google Translate, which finally came at the end of the meal. Instead they brought her a fish dish thinking that would be best for her stomach. Beth, Sharon, and Marianne drank sparkling water and Jeanne asked for and was brought a refreshing ginger ale.

 

We went back to the hotel and slept in until 6 or 6:30Am which was early for me. We would try to eat and get on the trail by 7:30 or 8AM sometimes walking in the dark. Luckily I had my head lamp which everyone made fun of, but I was not a beauty queen by any means. Not liking to be cold, I would wear my bulky comphy jacket, plus two or three layers under that in case it got hot, hiking boots and two layers of socks: wool socks and silk liners which is the key to not getting blisters according to all the blogs out there. I always wore my Truckee Love hat that my sister Susan gave to me for my birthday, a scarf around my neck, my trustee ugly fanny pack, and my travel money belt under the LuLuLemon stretchy tight yoga pants that I’ve had for years. Yep. I was a sight to see, but I was prepared. Well, I thought so, but I didn’t bring my rain jacket and it rained on us a little on the trail the first day. 

The rest of the week, I always had my thin rain jacket strapped around my waist. Sports Basement provided me all my gear that I needed as well as a quick trip to Target for essentials. Nancy had given us a long list of things we would need to bring to be comfortable on the camino. This list even included a silk bag incase we wanted to be ready for bed bugs! Yikes. But it’s always good to be prepared. I did get in the silk bag one night, only to jump out an hour or two later cause it was too hot, confining and uncomfortable. The damn thing cost me $75.00! I’d risk the bed bugs after all. In the end, we all survived and didn’t take home any extra critters. Thank God.

It’s worth mentioning I had some anxiety around this entire trip, especially before I left. I would ask myself, do I have everything thing I’ll need for hiking 🥾 60 miles? Would I get enough sleep, since that can be an issue for me. Will the path be marked well enough, or could we get lost? ( This did happen to us in Pedrouzo. Will explain more later.) Is it safe in Spain? Will there be enough food along the trail? Of course, I had my trusty snacks, chips, mini Pay Day candy bars, teriaki beef jerky, nuts, and my homemade oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies which became a special treat. And I always carry dark chocolate. This treat can get me through the afternoon if I get tired. Would I have the stamina to hike all day, six days in a row? Would my feet hold up, after all I had toe surgery 6 months ago to clean out the arthritis in the joint. My podiatrist Dr. Edlinger at Kaiser gave me an injection in my toe the week before my trip to prevent me from having pain. (This toe did fine. It was my left toe nail that cracked and gave me problems,) 😳 So even though I prepared physically for our walk on the camino, there was an emotional aspect that I had to somehow prepare myself for.

I liken it to the Avon 3 day walk that I did with my friends Sherri and Heidi 20 years ago. That event inspired me to go back to school and finish my college degree. If I could walk 20 miles a day for 3 days, I could do anything. Except now I’m 20 years older, 55 in case this gives you a perspective. I was also going to be away from my husband Ken for two weeks. I would miss him and would he manage the house, the pets our two 15 year old cats and get by okay without me? Unless he is traveling with work, we are together. What would I do if there was a family’s emergency with one of my parents? It was all these anxiety provoking questions that I needed to prepare myself for before leaving home. I was happy to have my friends with me. We bonded in the process and became even closer. I laughed, cried and shared stories with them along the camino. It was a trip I will never forget.

Now, back to my story

 

The Camino Frances “The French Way” was where we started our trek. Many people walk from other areas and take longer routes. Our route was originally supposed to be 60 miles, but that didn’t include getting lost, walking to the cafe’s and to our hotels in town. We figured we walked about 100 miles total in 6 days. We encountered many cathedrals and churches on our walk and ventured into many to light a candle or pray for loved ones. It was a spiritual experience for me even though I didn’t walk alone quietly like many pilgrims do. 

 

The trail was beautiful. We would see herds of sheep running through town, loose horses escaping their stables, cows being milked in their barn near their baby calfs and plenty of chickens, kittens, dogs and cats. Lining the path were lots of wildflowers like foxgloves, dandelions, arugula, calendula, yarrow, alyssum, lavender, pansies, and flowering purple crocus bulbs. Fields of corn were everywhere as well as rows of apple trees, eucalyptus trees, bay laurel, chestnut trees and live oak trees with acorns, apples and chestnuts spilling all over the trail. Rows of kale, cabbage, lettuce and more filled quaint back yards for all of us to see. Beautiful hydrangeas of every color would greet us as well as some shacks with entrepreneurs selling fresh fruit like raspberries, the traditional almond cake and drinks of course. One gracious woman sold rosemary lotions, oils and herbal teas with tinctures told to be healthy and good for us. Big beautiful orange and tri color pumpkin patches were abundant which reminded us that Fall was upon us as we began our journey on October 4th 2019. Pumpkin Bread recipe here.  I would do this hike again in a heartbeat.

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Me and Jeanne posing along one of the many Camino signs which the pilgrims follow to get to Santiago

 

There are many more stories to share about my time on the Camino de Santiago, so I will save more for later. It was a memorable time and I cherish the women and people I met along the way. Please follow my blog to read more about my trips and travels and the food I encounter along the way. “Gimmie” more of walking the Camino any day of the week. Also check out What’sDavedoing.com an App about the Camino and his blog .

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for following my Camino journey. I will be sharing recipes and posting more in the coming days and weeks ahead. Here’s  Camino Part II in case you want to read more. 

Buen Camino!

 

 

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Family plus Wine, a Surplus of Stone Fruit and Apple Crumb Pie Recipe

Family plus Wine, a Surplus of Stone Fruit and Apple Crumb Pie Recipe

Being a writer has its challenges, especially for someone like me. Just finding the time to sit and write is tough, since I’d rather be out and about drinking wine and eating apple pie with family and friends. So you can imagine that I am behind on my blogging. Insert open mouth emoji here. But for today, I will cut myself some slack and reflect on my birthday lunch with my niece Marie at Wente Vineyards from last July. 

#MAKETIME with your family. Especially your niece

Me and my niece Marie in the new wine bar at Wente Family Estates

Not only am I behind on writing, but I’m behind on my quilting.  Baby Luna our newest great niece, is already 3 months old and I’ve barely begun piecing material together. Luckily, it has been hot and babies don’t need too many quilts this time of year.

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Congratulations Ben and Hajara! Baby Luna is precious

I’ve also needed to spend time in my garden clearing out dead plants. We had huge sprinkler problems when we were away in July and lost quite a bit of our annuals and perennials. In addition to that, many of my 20 tomato plants that I planted in March are in need of harvesting. I try to pick them biweekly at least, and then of course you have to cook with them, preserve them in jars, or freeze them before they go bad.

And lately we have been quite the entertainers, having guests over for dinner multiple nights of the week. Made ricotta and spinach ravioilis inspired by our Tuscany trip. It’s never boring at the Smyth house that’s for sure. 

 

Also there’s the huge crates of European plums that Andy from Andy’s Orchard gave me a week ago to make jam with. I have Reine des Mirabelles and Green Gage (Reine Claude) which are tricky to make jam with. (Another blog to write!) Yesterday, our friends The Roth’s blessed us with a huge box of Gravenstein apples which I can’t wait to process into sauce, pies and cakes. It’s exciting to think of all the goodies that should be coming out of my kitchen right now. It’s just that all these activities take time and energy and I don’t have a live in sous chef these days. My husband would rather be watching soccer games in his free time.

 

And then there’s training for walking The Camino de Santiago in Spain which I need to be in shape for in October. How can a girl choose which activity to get involved with first? I’m super ecstatic right now because my girlfriend Sandra who wanted to meet in an hour, just cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow. Yeah! More time to write and my husband won’t be home until after his soccer practice around 9:30PM. A bonus…

 

Back to the birthday lunch story. A few months ago, my sister’s daughter Marie invited me to have lunch with her where she works at the newly renovated Wente Winery Restaurant called “Vineyard Table” in Livermore. The veranda dining room is elegant and perfect for a lunch date in the country. Make sure you check the hours before driving there because the restaurant is closed on concert days. Yes! They have summer concerts and lots of wine tasting. 

 

If you’ve never been to Wente, it’s quite the Farm to Table experience serving only the best wines for a delicate palate. Marie and I met there for lunch at the Arroyo Road property and were brought Wente’s classic small lot Brut to celebrate the occasion. We were immediately put in the right mood to have a good time as we always do when we get together. She is so sweet and generous offering to take me to lunch at this spectacular oasis.

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My gorgeous niece Marie, Wente Brut and roasted olives with mozarella

I was excited to see the new menu and we started by ordering the roasted olives, my absolute favorite. Next came the Shrimp a la Plancha- caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes from the garden, chili sauce, shrimp scampi, green Goddess dressing with sourdough toast. We shared Diane’s Garden Bowl- Red quinoa, sunflower seeds and feta cheese atop a bed of fresh greens with a balsamic vinaigrette. We were stuffed, but somehow scarfed down the warm salted caramel laden plate, chocolate ganache tart in pastry, seasonal raspberries, and sliced strawberries with dulce whipped cream. This dessert is perfect way to end any meal. We would have ordered espresso, but Marie was on her lunch hour and needed to make some calls.

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#MAKETIME Amy Hoopes holding flowers from my garden and my niece Marie in the newly refurbished Veranda room at Vineyard Table Restaurant at Wente in Livermore.

It was a treat to be greeted by the President of Wente Family Estates Amy Hoopes who stopped by our table to let me know how valuable Marie was to their company. Sadly enough, Marie has since moved on to a better opportunity, but will always cherish her Wente family.

After our fabulous lunch, we had a tour of the whimsical half acre garden previously an old cabernet franc vineyard. For the past 20 years, Master Gardener Diane Dovholuk has been amending the soil and composting with kitchen scraps and green waste from Chef Josh’s restaurant just steps away. They were growing heirloom tomatoes, peppers, corn, zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, hollyhocks, grapes of course and much more.

 

The highlight for me was getting a glimpse of the rattle snake that they were transferring to another part of the property in a huge Rubbermaid garbage can by way of a small truck. They found him in a corner of one of the wine cellars trying to stay cool. 

 

I’m fortunate to have Marie in my life. My niece loves food, beer and wine almost as much as I do, possibly more. And I’m not complaining about the precious stone fruit and apples that I’ve been gifted. Everyone has to manage their time and I need to be more patient with myself. We are already in mid September, the weather is changing and life goes on. Trip to Spain blog here.

 

Thanks for spending this time with me and reading my foodie stories. Wente’s hashtag is #MAKETIME. How more relevant to today’s post can you get? Follow my blog for more adventures in food, travel and recipes.

Here’s the write up on the day Marie and I had in Healdsburg California together.

Ohhh! And here is my recipe for Apple Crumb Pie!

Apple Crumb Pie

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As you can see, I wasn’t 100 percent accurate on removing the apple skins for my Apple Crumb Pie. I’m okay with that

1 Pastry Recipe. See recipe for pie crust in previous blog post. Make this first and set dough in fridge for half an hour to rest while you slice apples.

 

 Ingredients for apple pie:

5 Cups of Gravenstein or Granny Smith Apples peeled and sliced into acidulated lemon water

1 Lemon juiced into a large bowl of water big enough to hold sliced apples

 

1/2 C Granulated Sugar 

1 t  ground Cinnamon

1 t  ground Ginger

½ t Maldon Salt

1 T Tapioca Flour

1 T Apple Cider Vinegar

4 T Unsalted Butter (to dot on top of apples before crumb topping is put on.)

 

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My ready to pop into the oven Cinnamon Gravenstein Apple Crump Pie

 

Crumb Topping

 

½ C Granulated Sugar

¾ C All Purpose Flour

½ C Cold Unsalted Butter cut into chunks

¼ t Maldon Salt

½ C Whole Almonds

1 t ground Cinnamon

1 t ground Ginger (or Cardamon is nice too)

 

Instructions:

Peel,pare and slice apples into a large bowl of lemon water.

 

Make crumb topping next. I put all ingredients sugar, flour chunks of cold butter, salt, almonds, cinnamon and ginger in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is mixed well and butter is incorporated into dry ingredients. (You can use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into sugar and flour and spices if you don’t have a food processor.) Set aside.

 

For the apples:

In a separate small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, tapioca flour. 

 

When apples are sliced take out of lemon water and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Put in a large dry bowl and sprinkle with apple cider vinegar. Then pour dry ingredients into sliced apples and stir.

 

Have pastry shell crimped and ready to go before you add apples and sugar mixture. (I always sprinkle a little granulated sugar on the prepared pastry before adding fruit. It helps the crust from getting soggy.) Pour sugared apples into unbaked prepared pie crust.

 

Sprinkle crumb topping onto apples dotted with the extra 4 T unsalted butter. Butter always makes everything taste better.

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pie on a sheet pan in the center of the oven and bake for 45 min to an hour until apples look done and topping is a little brown. Cover with foil if the crust starts to brown too quickly. 

Yesterday I tried to hurry up the baking process by using the convection oven and turning temp down to 400 degrees. I think this just dries out the pie and it’s worth being late to the party and baking at normal 400 degree oven. Never rush a good thing.

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My half eaten Cinnamon Apple Crumb Pie

 

Serve alongside vanilla Ice cream of your choice. I like Kirkland brand sold at Costco. Caramel sauce can be a nice addition, especially during the Fall months.

 

Thanks again for reading my recipe. I’m grateful for the love and hope I’ve inspired you to bake something special.

 

 

Teri

 

 

 

  

 

 

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Fanatical about Pecorino in Tuscany and Candied Ginger Biscotti Recipe

Fanatical about Pecorino in Tuscany and Candied Ginger Biscotti Recipe

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Incredible cheese platter served at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

 

I’ve been researching all the cool places my husband and I went to while in Tuscany last month. It’s been fun revisiting these photos and reading my diary of our time in a villa in Castiglione di Fiorentino with Famiglia Buccelletti 

We couldn’t have had a better experience. Weeks before our visit we communicated via email with Renee who perfectly planned excursions along with our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon with #OrindaTravel. Worth mentioning is Ristorante Da Muzzi where we shared an enormous steak cooked over a fire. My husband also loved his pasta shaped like a snail which was served with a tomato cream sauce. The waiter was a little annoyed when I asked for the bill, but I can ignore those moments after tasting their Brunello di montalcino Castello Banfi 2013. It went perfectly with the medium rare steak which they cut off the big hunk of meat before grilling. Awesome. 

 

Besides our amazing Villa, we were directed to Podere il Casale where we had a tour of their farms meeting the many sheep, donkeys, chickens and pigs. Then they took us on a tour of their dairy and shared how they make their sheep and goat’s milk cheeses, specializing in pecorino. I’ve never tasted a bite of cheese better than this in my life. The pecorino was sweet and salty and chewy and hit the taste buds in your tongue in ways I can’t begin to describe. Just go and experience it for yourself. 

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Here are our new friends Julia and Tanna adoring the gorgeous view at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

We met two adorable young professional women Julia and Tana who had joined us on the farm tour for the day. We ate, drank great wine, laughed and shared stories of our time in Tuscany. This farm was their last stop before heading to the airport and flying home, so they were making the most of this experience. 

 

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eggplant parmesean at Podere il casale in Tuscany

 

We ordered one of everything practically, including the eggplant parmigiana appetizer served on toast with ricotta cheese and anchovies. Delish! And our poor waiter could barely understand our order. Eventually, he brought the cheese platter which he didn’t realize our friends had ordered and that was my favorite. It was presented spectacularly with flowers like lavender and herbs, marmalades and fresh organic honey. This restaurant at Podere il Casale is an experience to remember. I highly recommend it. It’s a must see when traveling to Tuscany. Here is a glimpse of their cheese making process.

 

We had to order all three desserts. They served a goat milk pudding with caramel sauce, an apple cake with ginger and vanilla sauce, and homemade biscotti to die for. Just scrumptious! Here’s my biscotti recipe.

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Here I am with the goats at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

The view is stunning, the setting picturesque and the story of their farm is similar to and reminded me of Apricot Farms on Instagram and “The Biggest Little Farm” Movie. They sell olive oil, wine, cheese, pasta, sugo, pesto and spreads and much much more. You feel like a queen sitting in an outdoor patio drinking wine and relaxing with new friends. Of course, I’ve invited these ladies back to California to stay with us in case they want to go wine tasting in Napa. Since Julia lives in Chicago and Tana lives in Vegas, I’m not sure how soon they will organize a trip. My single son’s Curtis and Andrew can show them around town and we hope they will come.

 

Every day was different because we drove to new towns such as Montalcino, Montepulciano, Siena, and Florence. We ate absolutely everything (the scale doesn’t lie) and walked through piazzas, bottegas (shops), and drank to our hearts content.

 

I’m still learning how to upload movies and photos from Googe Drive. It’s a process writing these blogs. After all , I took over 2000 photos and videos in the two weeks we were in Italy.

Thanks for stopping by and please follow me. I’m honored that so many friends ask me for recommendations on places to stay in Italy, including my doctor at Kaiser Permanente who is going to Tuscany next month. Thank you Dr Young for taking great care of me.

Next time I can share more of our trip, or write about my recent day at Wente Vineyards and restaurant with my niece Marie. We walked through the organic gardens which were chock full of fresh vegetables like green beans, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. Plus we saw a rattlesnake! It was a sight to see and he wasn’t happy about being put into a large Rubbermaid garbage can to be relocated over the hills in Livermore California. Poor guy.

Enjoy time with loved ones. I’m on my way to my book club which will be held in my friend  Bonnies’ lovely garden patio. It’s truly right out of Sunset Gardens Magazine. Can’t wait. We read Ruth Reichl’s Save me the Plums and I absolutely loved it. Until next time…

 

Teri:)

 

 

 

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