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A Break From Life at the Farm and a Cocktail Themed Vacation in Disneyland

A Break From Life at the Farm and a Cocktail Themed Vacation in Disneyland

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Best fried chicken served at Plaza Restaurant Disneyland

A lot has happened since my last blog in the beginning of February. I was fortunate enough to get invited to the family Disney trip again. I went last weekend with two of my sister in-laws, four of my nieces, one nephew, his wife and their significant others. It was a nice distraction from the sadness that I have been feeling about losing four of my pet chickens.

I am sharing my Disneyland experience with you since it is not like any other. Exactly a week ago, at 7AM, my husband Ken drove my sister in law Kathleen and her two daughters Keri and Jamie to the Oakland Airport.He saved us a lot of trouble and cost not having to drive ourselves and drag our luggage from the extended parking lot near the airport. We were surprised to see the huge line going through security. Luckily, all of us have Pre TSA and were able to fly right past them in our own special line. The process of qualifying for the Pre TSA is paying extra money and showing your passport and ID ahead of time in a screening process. It’s totally worth it, in my opinion.

We stopped off for mimosas, waffles, oatmeal and fruit at the Escape Lounge which is affiliated with American Express. It is all free to members and their guests. This is a special way to begin your vacation and I feel fortunate to be traveling with my sister-in -law who is a member.

We boarded the flight without any complications and landed at the Santa Ana Airport at 11:00AM. We were given strict instructions to not remove our masks during the flight so we wouldn’t be exposed to the CoronaVirus.Since I was staying in the same room as Kathleen, I needed to be safe. After we landed, my niece called an Uber driver to take us to the Grand Californian Hotel next to Disneyland. This hotel is gorgeous. It has every amenity you can think of: Pools, jacuzzi’s, a spa, a fireplace, a bar, restaurants, a grocery store, and more. My sister in law always pays for the hotel for the family. She is extra generous to me, her daughters and to the Louie family. I wouldn’t normally be able to afford this kind of luxurious vacation. I love going with her and her daughters and my other sister in law and her family because it is extra special family time. It’s worth mentioning here that we haven’t had many family get togethers the last two years because of Covid. Before Covid, we would celebrate birthdays and see each other at least once a month.

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Decor inside Disney’s Grand California Hotel

We dropped off our luggage at the hotel even though our rooms weren’t ready. Check in time is usually at 4PM, and the front desk will text you when the room is ready. Until then, the bellhop will store your items in a secure place. Next we entered Disneyland park and went to our pre scheduled reservation at the Plaza Restaurant. The four of us shared the fried chicken platter served with mashed potatoes, green beans and a buttery biscuit and we ordered a huge piece of the dark chocolate cake (shown above). It was a large amount of food and plenty for the four of us to share. My niece Jamie grabbed two corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon next to where we were sitting for us to share. These corn dogs have the best cornbread covering. It’s enormous! I tend to purchase a lot of the food since I know it helps Kathleen with the cost of the trip. We were asked to download the Disney app ahead of time to be prepared to purchase items from the stores, bars and so we could get our lightning pass tickets. These were previously called fast passes. You pay extra for these and get a limited amount of them per day. Again, Kathleen managed all of our rides on her app the entire vacation. She was on top of it, always looking to see if a ride was open or closed. She also prepares much of the itinerary before we arrive, by booking all of the restaurants and bars for each meal. This is all new. Disneyland has changed a lot since the pandemic began. They had to close down for a year. 

Thunder Mountain Railroad was our first roller coaster ride of the day. Buzz Lightyear was our next ride. Of course we didn’t stand in long lines because Kathleen is smart and has a strategy of when to go on which ride most efficiently. We stopped for a pickle for Jamie because it’s her favorite snack of all time. They are big and juicy and hard for her to resist. Personally, I’m a sweet pickle kind of girl and usually only eat them when I’m making tuna salad sandwiches. 

Off to California Adventureland Park where we went on Soarin’. This ride is especially fun and involves a fantastic airborne hang gliding flight which takes you through the wonders of the world. Web Slingers located in the Avengers Campus was the next obvious choice since it is the new Marvel Spider Man Adventure interactive screen ride where you wear 3 D glasses. There is a huge wall outside of the ride where spider man flies around doing aerial somersaults for the audience and people walking by. It’s very cool and popular for the little ones. I’d also mention how funny it is to see many of the children wearing costumes while in the parks. It’s hilarious to me when you see a toddler sound asleep in a stroller wearing a complete Spider-Man costume including the mask. Many of the little girls are wearing princess dresses and have their hair pulled tightly up into a bun with a tiara on their head. You really feel like a kid walking around seeing the magic all around you and remembering how you felt when you were a child in Disneyland. It’s so exciting.

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Spider man at Disney California Park

The girls were ready for some shopping time. They thought that they could order clothes and have them delivered to their hotel, but that option wasn’t available this time. Kathleen uses her Disney credit card all year long and gets points to use towards the restaurants and merchandise at the stores. It’s a win win for my nieces who appreciate wearing all of Disney’s attire. Kathleen actually purchased matching Disney sweatshirts for the four of us to wear during the trip. She thinks of everything, and I love being spoiled by her.

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Girls gotta have fun
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Thirsty girls in Disneyland

We were thirsty, so we ordered drinks from the phone app from Pym Tasting Lab. They give you a time to pick them up and you tell them when you arrive. Our drinks were ready and we sat and drank four outstanding cocktails. I had the “Molecular Meltdown” a Garage milk stout with vanilla ice cream and marshmallows. Keri and Jamie and Kathleen had the X-Periment drink with Patron Silver Tequila, mango and habanero syrups,  and mango flavor filled boba. These were so good that we went back for more throughout the weekend. 

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Cocktails at Pyms Tasting Lab at Disneyland

Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster was up next because Incredicoasters ride was down. I didn’t remember going on Goofy’s Sky School before. It was twisty and turny and jerky. Not my favorite, so I skipped it the next time the group wanted to go on it. Matterhorn was our next ride. I was terrified of this rollercoaster when I was young, but decided to go for it and go with the flow. It was fun. It’s even more fun at night.

I talked the group into the Winnie the Pooh ride. He’s my favorite Disney character. I love the music on this ride. Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Roo, Owl are cute and colorful and fun. I’ve always read these stories to my kids and provided videos for my oldest son Curtis to watch when he was a little guy while I cleaned houses. 

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My oldest son Curtis as a baby

We ate at the Blue Bayou Restaurant for dinner. They offer only a few choices and have a New Orleans cajun style menu. We shared the steak and salmon which they cooked perfectly. It’s also right next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and it is a little dark but has many hanging lights. It’s very relaxing after a long day of running through the parks. Of course Kathleen had dinner reservations for us that she made ahead of time.

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My Sister in law Terri Ann and me on the Winnie the Pooh Ride

Keri, Jamie, Kathleen and me were all very excited to check out the new Star Wars ride “Rise of the Resistance.” It was an epic attraction and worth the purchase. Space Mountain was where we headed to next. This ride brings back so many memories for me because my son Curtis hated this ride when he was about 5 or 6 years old. He spitted and said it was “stupid, stupid, stupid!” We shouldn’t have tried to go on it with him. He has been scared of roller coasters ever since and this is why he doesn’t come with us to Disneyland. I don’t think he would enjoy all of the walking either. Turns out, we walked 22,000 steps that day according to my niece’s Apple watch. We landed at the pool bar called GCH Craftsman next to the Grand Californian Hotel where we were staying. We met my sister in law Terri Ann, her daughter Laura and Laura’s girlfriend Fiona at the pool bar. Eventually, my nephew Peter and his new wife Alex joined us. It was nice to connect with more of the family. I had a chocolate sundae since I don’t like to drink too late into the evening. It wasn’t that great as far as chocolate sundae’s go. The whipped cream tasted fake and it wasn’t sweet and there wasn’t enough chocolate sauce in it. But I’m a chocolate snob, so there’s that.

It was back to the hotel room to catch some zzz’s. I like to shower before bed, so I can be clean when I get into clean sheets. I’m not a morning person, so I get as organized as I can by laying out my clothes and having everything ready for when the alarm goes off.

I will have to continue this blog at another time. I have three more days to write about plus details about my sister in laws strategy to get in as many rides as possible each day. And cocktails! Lots more cocktails! I will leave you with this funny photo taken several years ago in Cancun when all three of our families the Van Winckels, The Louies, and the Smyth’s went on vacation together. Thanks for reading, and follow my blog for more recipes and stories of my travels.

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Cancun shenanigans
 

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Chaos and loss on Smyth Family Farm this week

Chaos and loss on Smyth Family Farm this week

Happy Saturday everyone. It’s been a rough week at Smyth Family Farm. I cut the palm of my hand while juicing oranges last night and spent an hour and a half in the emergency room getting stitches. The worst part of the week was waking up to feathers everywhere on Thursday morning. Four of my chickens were eaten by a neighborhood bobcat when the door to the coop didn’t automatically close.

I’ve been feeling extra sad and guilty for not checking the camera on Wednesday evening before bed. My husband would usually do a quick check on his phone so see if they had all gone to bed. It’s been freezing cold here at night, so I never imagined them not wanting to be inside the coop. It wasn’t a normal evening, because both of my son’s came over for a family dinner. They are my everything.

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Me and Burtha
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Babe. My Mother’s chicken

I know in my heart that I gave those chickens the best life they could ever have while they lived. I had them delivered to me from Mc Murray Hatchery in Iowa a year and four months ago. I ordered them while my Mother in law Nilda was still with us, and they came a few days before she died. It was cathartic to have baby chicks to care for and manage while grieving. I had many of my family name them. We had Burtha, who Michelle named. Dolly was named by my niece Laura. They were the first visitors after we got them. Caramel Corn was named by my great niece Tamara who is only 6 years old. Babe was named by my Mother Diane who loved going for a ride one day in the car to visit her. My Mother has had a cancer called multiple myeloma for the past 9 years and suffers from anxiety. Babe always comforted her and brought her joy. 

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Silly Dolly. The only white chicken I had.

All of these four chickens are GONE. I can’t believe it. They have given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning while going through Covid times. Many months of isolation were met with laughs and cuddles when I was not able to see my friends or relatives. I’m crying while I write this, but I know it’s best to feel my emotions and express myself as I feel fit. I’m pretty much a mess right now. 

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My cuddles with Caramel Corn

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My bandaged hand from my accident last night
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My injured hand with three stitches

As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.

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Sammie and Billie having story time after visiting the chickens

We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.

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Arthur and Babe.Sisters of the Ancona breed

Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. It was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there. 

It’s hilarious that Keri named Arthur a boy’s name. She didn’t know they were girls. But that’s what makes her extra special. And Keri is a special niece since she and her sister Jamie grew up in my neighborhood. We would spend time with them more than the other family, even though most of our family from both sides live fairly close by.

My older sister Susan named Mabel, who is also one of the sweetest and coolest chickens. Mabel has another name. My sweet niece Josie who is only six named her Violet when visiting the farm one day. Josie loved collecting the feathers and eggs from my girls when she would visit. It’s crazy because we haven’t seen much of anybody during the pandemic. It’s been so different from the way we lived our life before Covid. Has it been this way for you? Josie goes to school, so we haven’t felt comfortable having her here even though my husband and I have both been vaccinated and boosted. 

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Here is the art my niece Josie made while visiting the farm in December 2020.

I think I will sign off for now. It has been quite a week. And it’s not over. All I can do is heal from my hand injury and enjoy the chickens I have left. My eyes are swollen from all the crying. I can remember when I had to give Scooby Doobie Doo my rooster away to a farm in Auburn, I cried and cried. It’s like that. Only one other time did I cry so much that my eyes were swollen. It was when my friend Sherri and her son Danny moved away back to Florida. I cried and cried. She was my neighbor and a true friend. I was sad to see her leave, but she left an abusive relationship after our Avon 3 Day walk over 20 years ago. I was happy she left this guy and lived closer to her family where she was needed.  I was inspired to go back to college and get my Bachelors Degree after the Avon walk. We walked 60 miles in three days and raised money for breast cancer. It was a challenging experience, but I am grateful for the time I had with Sherri, and Heidi who also walked.

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Scooby Doo at the new farm in Auburn. I cried all the way to Auburn, but know he is in good hands

As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and at a social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.

We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.

Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. She told me that it was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there. 

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My sweet Nice Marie

What’s extra special about his week has been the wave of love and support from my family and friends. My son Andrew brought me flowers and chocolate yesterday. It was right after I cut my hand, so we had to run to Kaiser, but I was surprised he did this for me. So thoughtful. My other son Curtis called and left me a message. When I called him back he was super sweet and caring. I felt all the love. And in the morning, my niece Marie surprised me with my favorite donuts from Johnny’s in Lafayette. OMG, I was floored. Marie has the biggest heart and empathy. She is a gift to this family.

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Lucky girl getting flowers and chocolate to cheer me up

If you want to learn more, follow me on Instagram or this blog. I will share my trip to Petaluma with my friend Kathi on the next blog.

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Me and Josie my niece
 

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Brewery Hopping in Santa Rosa

Brewery Hopping in Santa Rosa

So excited to find the time to sit and write. I finally have the house to myself and can concentrate on this next post. Today I will share the beer tasting experience that my son Andrew and I had last Friday. We explored Santa Rosa and made it to four breweries: Russian River Brewing Co, Wilibees Cellar Bar and Market, Third Street AleWorks, and FogBelt Brewing Company. The last blog I wrote was in July when my husband and I went to Freestone California for Bread and Cheese.

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Me and my son Andrew at Russian River Brewing Company

First stop was Russian River Brewing Company. What a joy to finally make it there. The vibe was fun and exciting. This is the brewery that makes Pliny the Elder and usually has a line wrapped around the building to get in. Andrew and I were lucky to find a place at the bar which is where I like to sit anyway. That’s where all the action is. 

Since I was the designated driver, I drank ½ a glass of the O.V.L Stout. It’s a dry Irish beer with notes of chocolate and roasted malts. It went very well with their salami, ricotta, mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes. It was huge, so I saved the other half to share with my husband Ken. 

Beer at Russian River Brewing Company
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Plenty of beer to choose from at Russian River Brewing

Andrew had a flight of something and a medium Mediterranean style pizza which he devoured.The service was excellent and our bartender was happy and helpful. We loved our experience so much that we bought 2 six packs of beer to go. The first six pack was a mix of their Intinction which is a Sauvignon Blanc wild Ale style beer, a Merlot one, a Pinot Noir one and a few others that our bartender suggested. They are sold in these cool glass bottles with special corks and are priced $17.85 plus tax! One was for Andrew’s best friend AJ and his wife Noelle, because they are having a one year wedding anniversary party next week at St Drake’s Barrel House in San Leandro. We bought him 6 bottles of Pliny the Elder and we think they will be very happy to receive this. We also splurged on two T shirts for both of my kids. It will be a nice memory of our day together in Santa Rosa.

Wilibees Wine and Spirits in Santa Rosa
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Beer flight at Wilibees. Only $10.00

 We didn’t even have to move our car for the next beer experience. We had spotted this place while making a U turn to park. It is called Wilibees and it was quite the place. Andrew was excited to see the variety of their hard liquor, especially the fancy Scotch and whiskey bottles. They sell all of the necessary  ingredients for the perfect cocktail as well as everything else you might find at a liquor store. Wilibees has a deli counter, and tap room where they offer a variety of IPA’s Ales, Ciders, Pilsners, and Hard Seltzer. Some of the Breweries are Hen House, Laughing Monk, Old Caz, Humboldt, Belching Beaver, Eel River, Sudwerk and Old Possum. They have happy hour every day from 4Pm until 6Pm where selected beers are only $4.00 each. 

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Andrew’s happy place at Wilibees in Santa Rosa

Andrew ordered a flight of beer which included Orange Creamsicle from Third Street Ale Works, a Cherry cider from Humboldt, and a couple others that the bartender recommended. We met the owner Vikram “Sonny” Badhan and had a nice conversation about his business. He mentioned he has another Wilibees location in Petaluma which we will have to check out on our next outing up North. I sampled the Cherry Cider as well and enjoyed our time hanging out together. I was surprised that it wasn’t busier since it was a Friday afternoon, but they said the day before was standing room only because the Giants were playing. This place was warm and inviting and we will be back.

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Third Street AleWorks in Santa Rosa. The oldest Brewery in Sonoma County

Walking distance, only a block away was Third Street Ale Works Brewery. We sat at the bar where we could enjoy the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. They also offered us the back patio, if we wanted to eat outside. I wasn’t hungry yet, but Andrew ordered another Orange Creamsicle beer and their Cubano sandwich. It had roasted pork, sliced ham, a pickle, pepperoncini, dijon aioli and jack cheese served on a soft French roll. Boy can he eat! We didn’t feel as comfortable here as the lady at the counter seemed rushed and discontent. She really tried to squeeze out a smile at some point, but it wasn’t authentic. The owner/manager Kerry Macleod was super friendly and had plenty of stories about his wife growing up in Petaluma. He knew the history of the breweries in the North Bay and wanted to share them with us. 

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The Cubano sandwich at Third Street Ale Works in Santa Rosa

Third Street Ale works also sold 4 pack cans of beer to go which has been popular since the pandemic. They offered Truffle Shuffle, Blarney Sisters, Throwing Darts West Coast IPA, Apricot Pastry Kettle Sour, Jacked Up West Coast IPA, Bodega head IPA, Annadel Pale Ale, Orange Creamsicle, Your Happy Place Hazy IPA, Fresh Perspective Hazy IPA, Mr. Mosaic Double IPA, Beer is Life Hazy IPA, and Believe a Hazy IPA. Aren’t these names fun?

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Beer options at FogBelt Brewing in Santa Rosa

Our last Brewery was Fog Belt Brewing Company and only a 10 minute drive to.This place was hopping! By then it was after 6PM or later when we arrived. We sat at the bar again and found the last two chairs available. We really weren’t that hungry or thirsty by then since we had been at it all day, but Andrew tasted two of their wet hops which are only available this time of year. We ordered the pretzel bites to go which came with a beer cheese dip and a beer mustard dip so I could have something to munch on during the ride home.We loved this brewery. It was small inside, but the atmosphere was exciting and hella busy. We bought canned beers to go since Andrew had his fill for the day and I wasn’t going to drink anymore either. Wet Hop Farm Fresh Pale Ale, Wet Hop Redwood Hill IPA, and their Wet Hoptober Oktoberfest Lager. The hops are from Blossom and Bine Farm in Santa Rosa. #localhopsforlocalbeer

All in all, I would say Andrew and I had the perfect day. It was fun to get out of town and check out the breweries in Sonoma County. I hadn’t been to Santa Rosa in years. My Dad’s sister, Aunt Harriet and cousins have lived there since I was a child. We would visit Harriet when my son Curtis attended Sonoma State, but that was many years ago. And Aunt Harriet died from pneumonia at least 10 years ago. 

I hope you can get out there and enjoy a new city in your area. There are so many places to explore and so many beers to try. I guess I will have to have a beer tasting party now that I’ve got a fridge full of beer. My favorite has always been a wheat beer with a slice of orange or grapefruit. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I love learning about growing hops and would love to grow my own someday. 

Thanks for reading my blog and I hope to get on a roll here and post more often. All I can say is that having chickens and growing your own food has been a ton of work. I truly enjoy it and will make a point of sharing more of my travels again soon.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog by leaving your email so you can receive my recipes and stories as I post them. I promise to leave a recipe here soon, but for now I need to spend time with my husband on this gorgeous Fall Sunday afternoon.

 

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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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Using Our Victory Garden to Deal With Sadness During Covid and an Ahi Tuna Poke Recipe

Using Our Victory Garden to Deal With Sadness During Covid and an Ahi Tuna Poke Recipe

Spent the morning planting herbs. Last week, I went to Sloat Nursery and bought basil, parsley, cilantro, marjoram and kale. My girlfriend Marie gave me a generous gift card for my birthday. I also bought seeds for my Fall vegetable garden. Tending my garden helps me cope with the challenging times Covid brings. Also sharing my favorite Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke

I’ve really taken the Victory Garden thing seriously this year. Because of Covid and the possibility of a food shortage, I planted seeds in March. I am growing 3 types of zucchini, 3 types of pumpkins, strawberries, lettuce, kale, peas, beans, chard, several tomato plants, several corn varieties, cucumber, sunflowers, fennel, cantaloupe, butternut squash, acorn squash, and more. It brings me joy to share these organic crops with the neighbors and our family.

 

I’m harvesting peaches now. I should be canning them instead of writing, but I’ve put my blog on hold for way too long. Last month we picked loads of Santa Rosa plums from our backyard tree. Besides sharing with neighbors, I was baking crisps, jams and we ate plenty of fresh ripe plums and now peaches with our yogurt in the morning.

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Me, my Dad Ron and my sister Sue taken over 25 years ago

This has been a tough week. Thank goodness for my garden. I feel peace there and can work in the soil and feel my stress dissolve away. The first set of bad news came a week ago last Sunday. I received a call from the Veterans Home where my Father lives. He had a seizure and was taken to the emergency room at a hospital in Napa for tests. It was the worst day ever waiting for some kind of news. I wasn’t able to visit him because of Covid. All of the hospitals have strict visitation rules about keeping loved ones away. It is sad and hard knowing I couldn’t be with my Dad.

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Great day visiting my Dad Ron at the Veteran’s Home 8 years ago

Luckily, the cat scan was negative and his blood tests were normal. They released him back to the Veterans Home, but since he was away for more than 6 hours, they had to quarantine him. So he has been in the hospital across the street from his home all by himself. I talk to him regularly and he has had a fairly good attitude about his situation. He is feeling okay, but misses his home in memory care. He should be released back there this weekend if his Covid test comes back negative. Thank Goodness.

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Great time hanging out with my Dad Ron in the patio at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville 8 years ago

All in all, my Dad is well. He is a fall risk, so that is scary, but hopefully he will get stronger and regain his strength.

I cried talking to him today. This happens often, but today I was especially sad. He said I almost made him cry, and he never says that. I miss him and wish this pandemic would go away so we can go back to our normal lives and be with our aging parents.

 

The next bad news came last Sunday, a few days ago. Ken’s Mother Nilda fell and broke her ankle. She was visiting Ken’s brother Dan and fell going up a step. She has horrible knees and doesn’t get around very well. She is 89 years old and we are very concerned about her.

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Beautiful Mother in law Nilda at her aunts wedding

She had surgery on her ankle and will get a cast when the swelling goes down. She is still in the hospital at John Muir and we are not able to visit her. The family doesn’t want her put in a nursing home because people are dying in these homes from Covid. It’s a horrible time to need care. 

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My mother Nilda and her daughter Terri Ann visiting with us in her home in Rossmoor

So there is a plan to put a hospital bed in her family room when she is released and she will be cared for in her own home by Ken’s sister Terri Ann, his brother Dan and his wife Nancy who will temporarily live there with her. It’s a crazy idea and no one knows if things will work out. 

 

There are obvious things to worry about like blood clots, and pneumonia from being in bed too long, etc… It is a tough time. You can never prepare for losing a parent.

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Great day celebrating my son Curtis’ graduation at Monte Vista High School with my ex husband Eric, and his grand parents Elena and Robert 17 years ago

The last bit of sad news was hearing that my son Curtis’ grandfather Robert passed away last Friday. He was my ex Father in law. We are so sad to hear this and had heard he had a stroke a few weeks ago. My son wasn’t able to see him either before he died. It is hard to process these times. How can you grieve the pain? I work in my garden. I see the beauty in the plants and flowers. I pray for my family. I talk with my friends and I write. It’s times like these we need each other even more. We hold our spouse a little closer. We take one day at a time. We stay away from the news. We love those around us more than ever before.

 

There is more to do. I will be preparing food and helping out however I can. I hope life is treating you well.  For now, I will put the computer away and sit with my 16 year old kitty. My husband is done with his work for the day so we can hang out . Maybe we will play Scrabble and eat popcorn. Maybe we will start a puzzle. In any event, it is a good day and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. Ahi Tuna Recipe. 

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Enjoyed a Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke appetizer at Jessup Winery in Yountville California last Friday with friends

Sesame Ahi Tuna with Avocado

1 lb fresh Ahi tuna
1/2 jalapeno , 3 cloves garlic, 1 green onion, 2 shishito peppers, sauteed in canola oil
1 T soy sauce
1 T chopped fresh ginger
2 T Sesame oil
2 avocados cut in small chunks
Juice and zest 1/2 pink grapefruit
Juice 1 lime
Bunch of cilantro
1/2 t sesame chili oil
1/4 t kosher Salt
1/4 t Lemon pepper
White and black Sesame seeds to garnish
2/3 C Canola oil
1/2 package Won Ton wrappers fried in canola oil.
1 t finishing salt. Sea Salt, Himalayan salt or Fleur de sel
Cut 1 lb of fresh Ahi Tuna into bite sized chunks. Set aside.
In a blender add all other ingredients except avocado and mix until combined.
Pour dressing over raw tuna.
Heat up a frying pan with canola oil. Fry each won ton until crispy turning over after 1 minute. Place on a sheet pan lined with a paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt while hot.
Cut up 2 large avocados into bite sized pieces and fold into tuna mixture. Alternatively, you can put the avocado on the bottom and the tuna on top if desired.
Serve into individual bowls and sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds.

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Heaven on a plate. Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke with crispy won ton wrappers and a chicken pot pie for a mid day lunch in our backyard

Feel free to follow me if you aren’t already. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope to see you again very soon.

 

 

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Get a Taste of the Arts During Covid and a French Macaron Recipe

Get a Taste of the Arts During Covid and a French Macaron Recipe

It’s been almost a year since my neighbor Caroline came over to teach me how to make French Macarons. Caroline is a student and dancer at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California. She is quite an artsy person and I love her parents. She was on her summer break when she and I met to have baking lessons in my kitchen. I taught her how to make apricot jam and in return she taught me how to make macarons.

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Here’s Caroline showing off her macaron’s on the sil pat

I feel badly for all the college kids that have to return home because of Covid 19. It’s such a bummer how our lives have changed since March 2020 when California went on lock down. My kids have since graduated and moved on, but I can’t imagine how hard it is to not get the “college experience” of being on campus with your friends.

I have also been affected by this virus. I’m not allowed to visit my 83 year old father who lives in a skilled nursing facility in Yountville. He has COPD a lung disorder, diabetes and many other preexisting conditions that would make him vulnerable if he got the virus. I fell badly that he is alone without his family. We can drop off goodies and they will bring them to him. We can Face Time him and talk on the phone, but it isn’t the same as a personal visit. He has a good attitude about it all and is hanging in there.

 I haven’t been able to have outings with my mother who is also immunocompromised. We can talk over the phone also and visit at a distance from her front porch, but it is difficult. She has her husband Tom to keep her company and they are very happy.

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Me and my mom on her wedding day 7 years ago

We haven’t had any large family gatherings and that is unusual for us. We have seen our son’s who live nearby and neighbors when we walk in the evenings, but that’s about it. We are only going out for groceries and essentials to keep our exposure to a minimum.

A few of our family members have enjoyed a dinner or two at a distance in our backyard, but even that makes us a little uncomfortable.

Before the Corona Virus, I would go to my gym and exercise and write my blog. It was my happy place, but I’ve decided not to rejoin and find ways to exercise on my own. I’ve missed my hiking on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings with my friends. I can hike, but prefer to go with only one other person, usually my husband.

 I’ve spent my days keeping abreast of the news (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Late night shows, You Tube, the SF Chronicle) and talking to friends. I listen to podcasts like Macrovoices.com, The Sourdough Podcast, Rise Up, Unlocking Us By Brene Brown, Oprah Super Soul Conversations, The Southern Fork, and Hidden Brain. I have two books I’m listening to on Audible. I’m definitely informed and up to date on the latest shenanigans of President Trump. I’ve even started reading “Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” by Beverly Daniel Tatum PhD.  Our family started a book club to raise awareness about racism since George Floyd’s outrageous death by a police officer. And don’t forget Netflix.

 

I’ve spent most of my days gardening and growing vegetables in five raised planting beds. This is the first time I grew most of the plants from seed. It has been fun picking zucchini, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, and cucumbers. The pumpkins are cute and getting bigger and more orange every day. 

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ravioli’s made with semolina flour, parsley, Parmesan ricotta and spinach

 I’ve been making pasta from scratch, finding ways to fill raviolis and lasagna and serve them to my husband. I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread and brioche with my own sour dough starter, experimenting with rye, buckwheat, kamut, quinoa, beans, and millet. I learned how to make a starter with cherry pits and also one with organic red grapes. I now know how to properly score the loaves by following lots of bakers on Instagram and You Tube. It is so much fun and tasty too.

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Brioche rolls sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds

I’m cooking more since my husband is working from home. I had to cancel my cleaning people since I didn’t want to bring the virus into my home. Now I’m cleaning more than I ever have, even the dusty floor under the bed yesterday. Yuck!

One of my latest endeavors, was growing poppies. Fancy ones. I grew varieties like “Fruit Punch” Papaver, a raspberry Breadseed papaver somniferum, “CupCake”, “Swansdown” and a Papaver Atlanticum called “Flore Pleno”. I’ve let the pods dry and carefully collected the seeds so I can grow them again next year. They are beautiful and extra special additions to my garden.

Dahlia’s were my latest obsession last year and I bought more tubers a few months ago from the Dahlia Society. The first one has bloomed and I’m quite excited. 

 I dusted off the sewing machine too and started making masks for the family. I was hoping to try a new pattern today, but got involved in writing my blog instead. There is always tomorrow to start sewing more masks.

 So after almost one year, I’ve finally posted the recipe of these amazing macarons. I hope you will try them too. I don’t have the filling recipes up here yet, but I hope to get to that by next week. Thank you Caroline for the great recipe and the fun time.

 Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m grateful for my family and friends who follow me and read my posts. Hoping all of you stay safe and healthy and we can get back to our happy places whether it be a college campus or the gym. 

Hope I’ve inspired you to try something new in your kitchen or garden. Make ART.

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 French Macarons

 

 

Ingredients:

150g Confectioners Sugar

150g Almond Flour

150g Granulated Sugar

150g Egg Whites

38g water (for sugar syrup)

55g liquefied Egg Whites (Eggs that have been in the fridge for a week outside of shell  (for sugar syrup)

1.5 teaspoon Vanilla or whatever flavoring you like

Candy thermometer

Pastry bag and medium size plain tip

Sheet pans

Parchment Paper or Silicone mats

Directions:

Using a Cuisinart Food Processor, combine Almond Flour and Confectioners Sugar pulsing until combined. If you don’t have a food processor you may sift almond flour and sugar together a few times until there are no more lumps in the mixture.

In a separate large clean bowl, pour 55g of egg whites to the flour and sugar mixture and stir with a spatula until it forms a paste. Set aside after covering with plastic wrap.

Sugar syrup:

Put the 38 grams of water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat. Use a pastry brush to keep the sides of the pot clean by brushing the sides with a small amount of water. Bring to a boil and cook syrup until 116C/ or 240 degrees F using a candy thermometer.

Start mixing the egg whites in a clean bowl of a mixer with a whip attachment when sugar syrup is almost ready at 115C or 235degrees F. Simultaneously, whip eggs on medium high until the eggs are frothy. Pour sugar syrup in the mixer slowly incorporating the sugar into the eggs. Keep mixing until the meringue is white and fluffy and can hold a stiff peak about 6 minutes. Add the vanilla and any food coloring you might like. Continue to whip meringue for another 4 to 5 minutes until it has cooled to 50C and is thick and glossy.

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Meringue ready to mix into almond flour and confectioners sugar for our macarons

Mix a scoop of the meringue and fold into the almond flour/confectioners mixture. Little by little being careful not to deflate the egg whites, folding together with a large wire whisk or spatula. Keep folding meringue into dry ingredients until it gets to the ribbon stage where the batter falls off the whisk into the bowl like a ribbon. 

Scoop the batter into the pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. You will have to fill it a few times.

Get out a flat sheet pan.Place the parchment paper on top. Draw small 3cm to 3.5cm circles (1 inch diameter) onto your parchment paper about 2-3 cm apart with a pencil or use a sil pat silicone baking mat. Place a tiny amount of batter onto the sheet pan on the corners under the parchment paper to keep the paper from moving while baking. Tap the tray onto your counter to get out any tiny air bubbles. Leave tray stand on the counter for at least 30 to 60 minutes to harden the shells and form a skin on the cookie.

Preheat oven to 160C or 320 degrees F. Bake macarons for 12 minutes in the center of the oven one tray at a time, turning the sheet pan around half way during the bake. Cool completely.

Finish the macarons by filling with your favorite curd, chocolate ganache, or Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting or Italian Buttercream.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

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Passion fruit Macarons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

   It’s Tuesday. These days I rarely know which day it is. My husband and I spent last weekend in Eldorado Hills and Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley with our friends the Cowies and Castiglione’s.  It was refreshing to have social time again especially with some of my favorite people. It was nice to introduce good friends to our other good friends who happen to live in the same town. In today’s blog I will reflect on our weekend away and tell you what I’ve been up to lately.

 

The last four months have been interesting. Every day, I wake up, check on the latest news, water my vegetable garden, check email, have my coffee and a bit of breakfast, and do whatever chores are needed to get done. I’m not currently working, but I have worked harder in the past four months than I ever have. It seems there is always more laundry, more cleaning,  flour to mill and bread to bake, fresh pasta to make, pies to bake, or a new cookie or Rice Krispie treat recipe to try. 

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Two of the masks I made for friends to protect themselves from Covid19

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Covid masks made for the little people in my life

I’ve also made a dozen or more masks for family members, using up material I have had for years. It is rewarding to up cycle many fabrics that I’ve saved, knowing I could find a way to use them eventually.

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My strawberry plant blossoms. Just one of the many plants I am growing in my victory garden

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Just a few of my baby seedlings poking up through the soil

I’ve started an enormous vegetable garden, growing many varieties mostly from seed months ago. Not knowing whether we would have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because of Covid 19, I decided to grow a victory garden. I’ve had edible gardens in the past, but never like this one. It is rewarding  checking on the size and color of the tomatoes and picking them off the vine when ripe. Many of them don’t make it into the bowl, but get popped right into my mouth. So tasty.

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Many varieties of flowers from my March garden in Walnut Creek. Photos taken by a friend Linda Kwong

So when our friends Elaine and Craig Cowie invited us to their new home in Eldorado Hills, we jumped at the idea. They have postponed the visit at least three times, because the Bay Area has been on lock down. My husband and I have been good about not going out unless we wear a mask, and we social distance if we see one of our friends or family. We felt safe about going North since there aren’t as many cases of Covid there. The population is less, and it’s not as crowded there.

 

We have known the Cowies for over 30 years. We met them after moving to our second house in Concord California. They lived directly across the street, so we had many dinner parties with them.  Also included into the mix were the Faulkenberry’s.  The Cowies and Faulkenberry’s  have been friends since college at Chico State. Our son Curtis took Taekwondo classes from Ray Faulkenberry when Curtis was in elementary school and we’ve loved them ever since.

 

Every year, the three families  have stayed connected taking turns having dinner together, even after we moved to Walnut Creek. We’ve had great times together watching our kids grow up, attending weddings and sharing meals over the years. We were happy to finally meet again, this time at the Cowies new home in El Dorado Hills. They moved there in February, after selling their home in Concord, to live closer to their daughter Leslie, son in law Kyle and two precious grand kids.

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Two couples enjoying the day at Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard.

Leaving the chores, the garden and kitty cat behind, Ken and I happily drove North and were graciously greeted by Elaine and Craig when we arrived. We unpacked the car with all the goodies and clothes and enjoyed the tour of their new home. I was excited to learn their floor plan was similar to our other friends the Castiglione’s, our friends from our current Walnut Creek neighborhood who have also recently relocated to  Eldorado Hills. Kayla and I have been in the same book club for over 20 years. I was happy to set up a day for the two couples to meet. We decided to get the six of us together on Sunday while wine tasting. Unfortunately, the Faulkenberry’s couldn’t stay overnight and join us having to get home to their puppies and cats.

 

We relaxed by the pool on Saturday while snacking on chips and mango salsa, fresh fruit skewers and pinot grigio. When the Faulkenberry’s showed up, I visited with their daughter Meg, who is a writer and social media expert. She wrote a book called Summer Rain. She had all kinds of great tips about how I should use Twitter to share my blog and many more new websites to check out like Blue Host, Hootsuite Wattpad, Booksie, 750words.com, Quotev.com and who to follow on Tik Tok. She should be teaching classes on these social media tools.

The weather was warm and yet there was a nice breeze which kept us cool. Elaine and Craig made fish tacos for dinner which we gobbled down and I made two apricot dishes for dessert. The first dessert was an apricot pie. I picked these ripe and juicy Patterson apricots from a farm in Tracy a couple of weeks ago. I also made two gluten free apricot turnovers with Teff flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. These were special. I had heard about the Teff flour from The Sourdough Podcast, so when I stumbled across it at Lunardi’s Grocery Store I quickly swept it into my cart. I had a little sticker shock when I got to the register. It was over $7.00 for a small bag, but was worth the price. It is high in fiber, high in protein, has more calcium than any other grain and is the only ancient grain containing Vitamin C. Teff flour has a subtle hazelnut earthy taste, is cultivated in Eastern Africa and is found in Ethiopian flatbread called injera. I enjoyed these hand pies more than the apricot pie made with all purpose flour.

 

After the Faulkenberry’s left Saturday night, we got on our “jammies ” or pajamas and watched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Ken and I had never seen it before, so it was nice to find a new funny night time splurge. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It was so fun. 

 

Before bed I assembled my Overnight Baked French Toast recipe and placed it in the fridge. I make it with two loaves of cinnamon bread,  cut it into thick slices and pour a custard over the top to soak overnight. In the morning, you spread on a brown sugar,  butter and maple syrup mixture on top of the soaked bread and bake in the oven for one hour. I made a fresh blueberry sauce ahead of time, before we left for our trip.  I served the sauce along with maple syrup on the baked French Toast. I was introduced to this recipe from my friend Carolyn Regan. She made it when we went on a St Mary’s religious retreat in Guerneville many years ago. It is the perfect breakfast served with Italian sausage or bacon.

 

Sunday morning, Ken finished off preparing the breakfast and baked the French Toast while I stayed in bed a little longer. Most people know I love to sleep. At 9 AM, we ate breakfast and got ready to drive to the wineries. My husband Ken drove since he doesn’t drink. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to drive through the countryside.

 

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Ken and I outside at Iron Hub Winery

Our first stop was Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard. The views here were simply spectacular. They only charge $10.00 for a tasting and if you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a tasting for free. The pours were tiny, but we tried two whites and four reds. There was hardly anyone there with the exception of one other family of three tasting at the end of the outside bar.

We had an appointment at Cooper Vineyards at 12:15 and met up with our friends Kayla and John Castiglione. The six of us sat outside in a shaded patio where we shared stories and drank more delicious wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of all of us this time. We will have to go back again the six of us.  The Cowies are members there, so our wine tastings were free. That’s a bonus. The 2017 Barbera Riserva was the group favorite and the server generously gave us another pour.

The last place we ventured into was Jeff Runquist Winery where John and Kayla were members. We enjoyed the beautiful and welcoming tasting room, especially the fresh wild flowers of black eyed Susan, clarkia, yarrow, daisies and queen Anne’s lace in vases in every corner. We tried their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,  Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. At the end of the tasting, we said goodbye to John and Kayla and sat outside for a quick picnic before driving back to El Dorado Hills. It was lovely and the perfect day with friends. It was nice to see John and Kayla exchange numbers with Elaine and Craig. Especially since they are practically neighbors, living less than 10 minutes from one another.

 

We had hoped to check out the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, but it was getting late and we still had to drive back to the Bay Area. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked Elaine and Craig for the generous hospitality and good food, packed up our things, cleaned and changed the sheets and were off. Our drive home was uneventful and I had plenty of time to get home and water the garden before dark. It’s nice to know our friends won’t be lonely since they now have a new couple (The Castiglione’s) to play golf with or have dinner with.

Today, I’m back to my cleaning, cooking, gardening, baking and writing. It’s good to be home, back to my meowing kitty and small homestead. I’m grateful for friends, their generosity and love. We have so much to be grateful for, even during a pandemic.

Stay healthy. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I promise to add a recipe next time I write.

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One last photo to bless you with. This photo was taken at Ben Runquist Winery’s tasting room

 

 

 

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My First Poem

I loved you when 

 

I loved you when you were just a tiny human when your parents would drop you off at my house in your car seat

 

I loved you when you wanted to have sleepovers

 

I loved you when you decorated Christmas cookies with us

 

I loved you when you sang at the top of your lungs “Wannabee” by the Spice Girls a zillion times on the way to Disneyland

 

I loved you when I took you to choir lessons at St Isidore’s Church after school 

 

I loved you when I picked you up from grammar school and drove you to gymnastics practice with Andrew and Keri

 

I loved you when we gave you a birthday celebration with all of your friends and family at the gymnastic studio

 

I loved you when you wanted a yearbook and your dad wouldn’t buy you one

 

I loved you when you needed someone to sit by your side at the dentist 

 

I loved you when we made kitty blankets for the Tri Valley Animal Shelter

 

I loved you when I picked you up after school to volunteer for Children’s Hospital’s Family House to cook meals for the families of children that were ill

 

I loved you when the dozens of times we got lost and I didn’t have a GPS or written directions driving to a philanthropy and you were always patient with me

 

I loved you when you needed a hairdresser to comb out the tangles in your hair and give you a haircut

 

I loved you when at Christmas time, I gave you a beautifully painted pot from Mexico to plant your succulents in

 

I loved you when we spent hours shopping for the perfect dress for the many National Charity League events

 

I loved you when we made happy birthday and thank you cards for the senior citizens and we chatted for hours

I loved you when we volunteered at the Ice Cream Social and you met the 100 year old man who wanted two scoops of ice cream instead of one

 

I loved you when I brought you to Kaiser Hospital and made sure you were up to date on your immunizations and made sure you had adequate birth control

 

I loved you when Iron Horse Middle School called me because they couldn’t reach your dad. They told me you fell while playing on the monkey bars. I drove you to Kaiser where we learned you broke your arm. You didn’t want to get out of the car, but finally did and needed surgery immediately

 

I loved you when we spent the day in Capitola and Santa Cruz buying shoes because your feet hurt

 

I loved you when I had Emily at the Livorna Swim Club teach you how to swim

 

I loved you when we made macaroni and cheese with your girlfriend in my kitchen

 

I loved you when I made you a quilt for your bed and months later it was burnt up in a fire

 

I loved you when we went to the movies together

 

I loved you when I picked you up from the San Ramon Library

 

I loved you when you got transferred to San Ramon Valley High

 

I loved you when you helped out Roxanne Stone the school secretary every morning at 7AM after your dad dropped you off 

 

I loved you when you got into Treble Clef and Concert Choir at San Ramon Valley High School

 

I loved you when you and Andrew would endlessly sing “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch in the back seat of the car

 

I loved you when you took off without me in San Diego while riding a scooter at a very young age

 

I loved you when we played in the butterfly garden at Marine World and when we let the parakeets stand on our heads while we fed them at the San Diego Zoo

 

I loved you when we played on the beach in Santa Cruz and went on the “Giant Dipper” roller coaster with my Dad and Andrew at the Boardwalk

 

I loved you when we sat in Berkeley at the coffee shop and you were inspired by and watched the homeless woman do her nails and wrote a book about it

 

I loved you when we volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Bay Point painting houses

 

I loved you when we read books before bedtime and I would rock you on my lap and give you a special blanket to sleep with

 

I loved you when we played with and brushed the dogs and cats at TVAR

 

I loved you when we drove to Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek and you, Andrew and I picked out our dog Baxter after just going there for popcorn during Christmas break

 

I loved you when you were the only one who noticed I had been crying after my cat Woody died and you wanted to know if I was okay

 

I loved you when we ate peanut butter on apples for snack after school and you didn’t ever finish your drink

 

I loved you when we played with the kids at the Concord Child Care Center at the swimming pool and they hung all over you and you never wanted to volunteer there again

 

I loved you when you gave out baskets of food to the hungry at Monument Crisis Center during Thanksgiving

 

I loved you when I watched you and Andrew thrive in a summer drama program through Contra Costa Christian Theater acting in “High School Musical.” And you wanted to drop out, but didn’t

 

I loved you when you and your boyfriend Sean bought a kitten

 

I loved you when you graduated from High School around all of your family and friends

 

I loved you when you took on leadership roles in your Vista Oak NCL. Your graduation video was so inspiring that it is still used as a template for all upcoming seniors that need to write a speech

 

I loved you when you worked at the front counter at the Hospice Thrift Store 

I loved you when you went to Camp Concord in Lake Tahoe with your cousins Vince and Marie

 

I loved you when you married your cousin Vince at auntie Sue’s house in Belmont

 

I loved you when you cared for your cousin Kendall when she cried at night

 

I loved you when you danced with your Dad when he and Aly got married and you got a new Mom

 

I loved you when we spent hours at the beauty salons having our nails done

 

I loved you when Uncle Kenny took you to Oak Hill Park to take photos of you

 

I loved you when you liked auto shop and worked on cars

 

I loved you when you welcomed your baby sister into our family and loved her

 

I loved you when you fell in love with Darius and brought him to family events

 

I loved you when you began making YouTube tutorials on how to do skin care and make up

 

I loved you when you became famous on Twitter after helping a jobless man become employed

 

I loved you when you said you were married on Twitter even though you never shared it with me

 

I loved you when you took me to the Facebook and Instagram Campus in Menlo Park and showed me where you worked

 

I loved you when we spent the day in Carmel chillin on the beach, going to art museums, chocolate shops and beer tasting after my foot surgery

 

I loved you when we toured Pixar Studios in Emeryville and how Pocahontas was your favorite princess

I loved you when you and Andrew would sing “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne at the top of your lungs while riding in the back seat of my car

I loved you when you wanted to be a part of my life and family

 

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Health Scare and How I learned about the Covid19 Pandemic and a Multigrain Bread Recipe

Health Scare and How I learned about the Covid19 Pandemic and a Multigrain Bread Recipe

Today is the day. Today is the day I break my silence. I haven’t written for a few months. It’s been one thing after another that has gotten in the way of my writing. Let me explain. 

 

In mid December, my husband became ill with kidney stones and life changed. I spent sleepless nights worrying about him, driving him to ER rooms for xrays, pain medications,and fluids. Then they scheduled a surgery the same day to put in stents in his kidneys which led to his bladder shutting down the next day and another trip to the ER, this time in Oakland. The doctor immediately gave him a catheter which relieved the pressure from the blockage.

 

He needed a lithotripsy appointment which would blast the stone into smaller pieces so he could pass them. But that appointment couldn’t be scheduled because the office that does the procedure wasn’t open for two weeks during the Christmas holiday. My poor husband didn’t attend any holiday parties because he was embarrassed about having a catheter. You can’t blame him, but it made Christmas extra sad. Eventually after 5 days Ken removed the catheter himself after watching a YouTube video and from directions from his urologist. Ken could sleep better and had less pain after the catheter was removed.

 

More CT scans and a trip to Antioch Kaiser on a Sunday to get a sonogram on his kidney. This was our new life. Many phone appointments with his medical doctor, urologists but not his surgeon because he was off for the holiday break. Let me just say, don’t get sick during the holidays.

 

Finally, the Friday after the new year, the lithotripsy appointment was scheduled for January 8th at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland which is one of the few hospitals that provide this procedure in California. Later they got him an appointment sooner on January 7th since Ken had plans to travel for work in late January and we were begging his doctors.

 

A week later, Ken passed the stones at work while I was in Disneyland at a pre-planned trip with the family. A week or so later, he went back into the urologist to have the stents removed after more xrays to make sure the stones were passed. 

 

Let’s just say I have taken a new appreciation to having good health. We’ve always eaten well as I usually cook every night. Ken has had a family history with kidney problems and has had them in the past. We weren’t unfamiliar with this illness, but we never thought we would have to go through this.

 

As I said earlier, Ken had to travel to Texas in late January and was gone for most of February with the exception of two weekend visits. During this time, I spent a lot of time on Twitter following what was happening in Wuhan China. People were dying from the Covid 19 Global Pandemic in masses. Crematories were working 24/7 according to some. 

 

Around this same time, I found Macrovoices.com podcast on Twitter and began listening to Erik Townsend who would interview people about finance and macroeconomics. Listen to the January 30th, 962 Hot Topic #6: Covid Pandemic Update episode with Chris Martenson PHD from Peak Prosperity.com.

 

I learned about the asymptomatic transmission about people that can shed the virus without being detected which makes it hard to contain.These people test positive for the disease, but have no symptoms.

 

In any case, in the past few months I have been shopping and preparing for the worst. I bought a huge bag of flour (which is the way I usually buy flour), lots of eggs, extra milk, extra sugar, etc… I even bought dry milk, and dry eggs in case we can’t get these commodities.

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My seedlings getting thinned out and transplanted into larger cell packs. I’m growing tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkins, squash, beans, sweet peas, shallots, garlic, onions, and more

I’ve also spent hours and hours planting seeds for my vegetable garden knowing we could have a food shortage in the future. I listened to John Barry on Peakprosperity.com who wrote the book Author of “The Great Influenza.” He also writes a survival blog and that has inspired me to get prepared for the worst.

 

I bought a generator in case we lose our electricity so we can charge our cell phones and keep our food cold. I’ve been making bread to feed my family since it is something that I can do to keep my family healthy. I use bread flour, whole wheat flour, spelt, flax meal, rye flour, oats and sunflower seeds to make a loaf of bread and will share the recipe later.

 

The new normal is we are on lockdown here in the East Bay Area of California and we don’t know how long it will last. We don’t have a vaccination yet, and we do not have immunity to this disease. We don’t have pharmaceuticals that are effective in treatment. We are told to wear masks if we are out in public and to wash our hands often. Most restaurants and stores are closed. Only essential businesses are open like grocery stores and hardware stores. Most people are working from home and schools are closed. 

 

I have been scared that my parents will get sick since they are older and have compromised immune systems. My father lives in a skilled nursing facility which is at risk since these diseases spread easily there. We haven’t been able to visit him recently, but we can call him to check in.

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Here I am with my dad when I last saw him on Jan 18th.

 

My mother’s immune system has been compromised for 6 years because she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. It’s scary for all of us since if my parents do get the Covid 19, we won’t be able to be with them at the hospital and they could die alone. 

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Here I am with my Mom in front of my favorite tulip tree in our yard. Photo taken several years ago.

So today is the day I’ve decided to speak out about my life these last few months. I’m grateful my husband is better and my kids are healthy.  I hope all of you stay safe. 

Here is my Multigrain Bread recipe for you. This recipe makes 2 loaves.

Multigrain Bread

Ingredients:

½ C Rolled Oats plus more for top of loaves

1 ⅓ C Cooked Wheat Berries

½ C Flax Meal

1 C Soaked Bulgar Wheat

2 ¾ C Whole Wheat Flour

2 ½ C Bread Flour or All Purpose Flour

1 C Rye Flour

2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt

 

2 pkg Active Dry Yeast

½ C warm water

2 teas honey

 

6 T Softened Butter

1 ¼ C plus 2 T Warm Water

3 T Honey

1 T Molasses

½ C Guinness Beer or beer of your choice room temperature

1 Egg white plus 1 teas water mixed to brush on loaves before baking

⅓ C Sunflower Seeds plus more for top of loaves

 

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Crumb of my multigrain loaf perfect with butter and apricot jam.

Instructions:

Measure out all dry ingredients (Oats, flax meal, whole wheat flour, Bread flour, Rye flour, and Kosher Salt) into an extra large mixing bowl. Set aside.

 

Cook Wheat berries as directed on package. Cool.

 

Soak Bulgar wheat in 1 Cup warm water (drain)

 

Mix ½ C warm water (NOT hot) with honey and 2 packages of Active Dry Yeast and mix until dissolved. Will get bubbly.

 

In a large measuring cup, measure out 1 ½ warm water, honey, and beer together.

 

Add cooked wheat berries, soaked Bulgar and yeast mixture to a large bowl with dry ingredients. Can use a large stand mixer with dough hook instead.

 

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients slowly adding softened butter in as well.Add sunflower seeds and knead or process on mixer for a few minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes. 

Continue to mix or knead for an additional 10 minutes adding extra All Purpose Flour if dough is too sticky.

Place dough into a large buttered bowl covered in plastic wrap and let rest for 1 ½ hours in a warm place. 

Cut dough in half, roll into two rectangles, then fold over and place into two buttered loaf pans.

 

Brush with egg white and water. Sprinkle oats and sunflower seeds on top of loaves.

 

Let rise again for 1 hour.

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake loaves in center of the oven for 45 minutes to one hour or until golden brown. 

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Multigrain Loaf

Serve warm with butter and apricot jam.

Enjoy!

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or have something to share. 

 

 

 

 

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Secret Persimmon Recipe

Secret Persimmon Recipe
Persimmon Bars with Lemon Glaze

Persimmon Bars

I made this recipe and brought them to a holiday party several years ago after receiving a huge bag of fuyu persimmons from my neighbor. This party was a reunion for my friends who I worked with at Andronicos Cooking School in Danville California, which has since closed. We taught many wine maker dinners and lunch and learn classes to the community. I mostly worked as a sous chef, served wine and cleaned the dishes, but we all had the best time together. I was inspired to post this blog today because my friend Rose asked me for a copy of the recipe. This one is for you Rose.

Once you make this recipe you’ll never go back to your old and boring persimmon recipes.

Persimmon Bar Ingredients:


3 or 4 ripe Fuyu or Hachiya persimmons

1½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp baking soda

1¾ C Unbleached All purpose flour

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 C granulated sugar

Zest of one lemon. I use a vegetable peeler and pulse lemon peel with sugar in a food processor until your lemon peel has been incorporated into sugar.

½ C Canola or vegetable oil

1/2 C. dried apricots or dates chopped

1/2 C. dried plums or prunes chopped

1/2 C fresh blueberries

1 C chopped walnuts

Walnuts, egg, oil, lemon zest sugar and persimmon puree


Glaze

1 C confectioners’ sugar

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Persimmon Bar Directions:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13X9 dish knocking out excess flour or use parchment paper in a Pampered chef Bar Pan. Cut off and discard green stems of persimmons and puree the persimmons in food a processor or blender until combined. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds and skin.

In a separate small bowl blend persimmon puree, lemon juice and baking soda blend well. The baking soda reacts with the lemon juice and persimmon and it bubbles up.

In a food processor blend lemon 🍋 zest and 1 C granulated sugar.

In a large bowl combine persimmon puree lemon mixture, oil, lemon sugar, vanilla and egg.


In a separate bowl, sift together flour, spices and salt.

Flour and spices

Add flour mixture alternately to persimmon mixture starting and ending with the flour mixture until combined. Stir in walnuts, apricots or dates, blueberries and plums/prunes.

Spread batter onto baking pan and bake until golden and a wooden toothpick comes out clean about 24 minutes.

Glaze instructions:

In a small bowl mix lemon 🍋 juice and confectioners sugar until smooth. Drizzle over bars while warm. Cool on a wire rack and cut crosswise into 8 strips, then lengthwise into fourths, for a total of 32 bars. Bars keep in an airtight container for 3 days.Enjoy!


I made this recipe and brought them to a holiday party several years ago. This party was a reunion for my friends who I worked with several years ago at Andronicos Cooking School in Danville California, which has since closed. I was inspired to post this blog today because my friend Rose asked me for a copy of the recipe. This one is for you Rose.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine Dec 2004

In case you are wanting another recipe full of tons of ginger, try my Ginger Chai Cupcakes 

And follow my blog by signing up with so you receive more great tasty recipes. 

 

 

 

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