Monthly Archives: August 2011

College Cookies

Things Inside my Husband’s College Apartment

  • Two extremely overworked, stressed out mechanical engineering majors.
  • A life sized tiki-bar fashioned out of empty Miller High Life boxes (for decorative purposes only – not suitable for actual beer slinging).
  • A bulletin board displaying a large collection of discrete snapshots of various mullet sightings.
  • A George Forman Grill that never (and I mean NEVER) got cleaned.
  • A handmade dining table featuring an empty keg as a pedestal.
  • A giant Dale Jr. banner
  • Mason jars from which we drank everything from water to beer to cheap champagne.
  • An industrial size can of nacho cheese sauce good on everything from pizza to hot dogs.
  • Hundreds of illegally downloaded Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings songs.
  • A beer making operation of questionable safety, including a rusty wire coat hanger for stirring.
  • More can koozies than a person could possibly need in seventeen lifetimes.
  • An overflowing trashcan in the bathroom.
  • A few extra items belonging to a certain someone’s girlfriend who was over all the time. 😉
  • The Ultimate Desk.
  • Every possible variety of generic crackers. (I still don’t really understand that one. How many open boxes of crackers does one need?)
  • An ever-changing rotation of those big, soft, store bought sugar cookies with the icing and sprinkles that got all dressed up for the seasons/holidays.

Thank goodness, most of these items have been retired. Except for those ME majors…we keep them around. 😉 And we may have most of those koozies in a box in our basement. The Ode to Mullets and processed cheese product got left behind and I think most of that moonshine beer got either A) pawned off on other students who would drink just about anything, or B) poured down the drain on move out day.

We’re definitely at the point in our lives now where we look back on our college days and wonder how in the world we lived that way. I mean, I’m surprised the toxic scum on that George Forman didn’t straight up kill Eric and his roommate and I’m pretty sure there were a couple months there where I ate nothing but mini corn dogs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

A few things from college life, though, are kind of endearing – like those colorful sugar cookies. It’s Halloween! It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s St. Paddy’s Day! Everyday’s a party with those cookies! But why by buy them when you can make them? And make them taste BETTER than their store bought counterpart?

These soft sugar cookies embody all the things you love about the grocery store variety with none of the things you don’t. They are soft, rich and slightly cakey and slathered with a thick, sweet, buttery icing that’s just comfort food to the max. The dough is a snap to whip up and since there’s no rolling, cutting or piping icing, it makes for a pretty quick little project. If you want to feel like a (college) kid again, make these soon. Promise you won’t regret it the way you used to regret those 2 a.m. burrito runs.

SOFT FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES (Recipe Source: Originally adapted from Hostess with the Mostess, as seen at Annie’s Eats)

INGREDIENTS:

For the cookies:

  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to combine and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover the dough and chill the dough for 1 hour.
  2. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set.  (Do not overbake. The edges should be just barely browned.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To make the frosting, combine the confectioners’ sugar melted butter, vanilla and milk in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Add additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies.  (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.)  Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2 dozen large cookies.

ENJOY!

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The Last Song

This time of year always feels a bit odd. For years late August meant only one thing – school. The start of a new school year was a rejuvenating renewal, a chance to reinvent yourself. Start over. Forget about that highly embarrassing slip on the ice getting off the bus the previous winter. Things like that.

Those day are gone. Let’s be honest, they’ve been gone for a while. Now when late August rolls around I find myself clinging to summer, savoring those last few fire-hued sunsets that fade into inky blue and blue and black. But the heat of day has mellowed and there’s that unmistakable chill first thing in the morning as fall starts creeping in, slow and hushed. Part of me wants to give in to hoodies and scarves that are just around the corner, the spicy, smoldering scent of burning leaves, the piles of plump pumpkins, but the other part is sad another summer is coming to an end. I always hate to see it go. It’s usually when August starts drawing to a close that I start looking around wondering where another year went. September? That’s officially closing in on the end of the year. Blink and it’ll be Christmas. Scary.

I’m not quite ready to let go of summer just yet. All of summer’s bounty is at peak here in the Midwest. Piles of sweet corn fill the backs of old farm trucks. Tomatoes, perfect in their imperfections, scatter across tabletops and fresh herbs permeate the air with they’re savory/sweet fragrance. It’s hard to imagine another growing season coming into an end.

This Fresh Corn Soup with Roasted Corn Guacamole a light and refreshing summer soup to try before fall. I know what you’re thinking – soup in the summer? That’s crazycakes! But soup doesn’t have to be a weighty meal full of meat, pasta and cream. This one right here is the proof. The delicious, delectable proof.

The base of this soup reminded me of a chowder but there’s not a drop of cream in sight. Hooray! The pureed fresh corn adds a great creamy texture and I loved the slight heat in the background from the jalapeno. The soup is wonderful and flavorful on it’s own but the roasted corn guacamole really takes it over the top. The corn gets a bit crispy and pops in your mouth. The avocado adds that unmistakable richness. A bit of fresh brightness is a welcome addition here so I even went ahead and used the cilantro the recipe called for (I know! Shocking!) I did cut the amount way back so it wouldn’t overpower the other flavors. The final product creamy, sweet and savory with great contrasting textures – truly a perfect summer send off.

FRESH CORN SOUP WITH ROASTED CORN GUACAMOLE (Recipe Source: Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro, as seen at Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Roasted Corn Guacamole:

  • Kernels from 3 ears fresh corn, or 2 cups frozen corn, defrosted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped (I used 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 lime, finely grated zest and juice
  • 1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
  • 1 avocado, pitted and chopped

For the soup:

  • Kernels from 5 ears fresh corn, or 3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, stemmed and chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Roast the corn for the guacamole: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

Put the corn kernels on the baking sheet and toss with the oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. Spread the corn out evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the corn turns a deep golden brown. Remove the corn from the oven and set aside.

Prepare the soup: Put the kernels in a blender or food processor. Combine the oil and the garlic in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are translucent, about 6 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (You may need to pulse or stir the corn mixture in order to achieve a smooth consistency, but do not add any more liquid.)

Pour the corn mixrure into the soup pot and place over medium heat. Stir constantly until the soup begins to thicken. Slowly whisk in the broth. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to a simmer. Cover the soup and cook for 15 minutes.

Prepare the guacamole: In a bowl, combine the roasted corn, red onion, cilantro, lime zest and juice, and jalapeño. Gently stir in the avocado. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Spoon guacamole into the center of each bowl. Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Summer in a Bowl

I recently told Eric I would like to see us do meatless dinners at home three days a week.

You should have seen his face fall. The look he gave me can only be described as crushed. The same look, I imagine, he would give me if I scratched my name into the pretty orange paint on his precious 1969 Chevelle SS just because I thought it needed a little something extra. A look of complete devastation.

I married a meat and potatoes man, no doubt about that. But I find that pairing kinda boring night after night. There is so much more out there. So many other ways to challenge yourself and enjoy food. Plus, I shop and I cook. So….basically, what I say goes. The kitchen is not a democracy.

Sorry. Tough love and all that stuff.

Now, I love my husband very much and what I want more than anything is for him to be happy. He would not be happy if I just yanked the meat out of our dinners and told him tough noogies, you’re eating this instead. That wouldn’t be very nice.

I haven’t given up on the idea of meatless three nights a week, but until he gets a bit more used to the idea, I’ve taken a more subtle approach to ease us into this new territory – I just make meat the garnish of the meal, not the star. I find the most flavor-packed and effective way to do this is to add a small amount of bacon. Keyword here is SMALL. Small as in no more than one slice per serving. When cooked crisp, crumbled small and scattered over or mixed into a dish, bacon adds just the right amount of a salty, satisfying bite that my husband doesn’t even realize he doesn’t have much meat on his plate. The fresh bounty of local summer favorites are the star of the meal. The meat is an afterthought.

See, win-win. We’re getting there!

Let me tell you how much I loved this pasta dish bursting with summer goodies. Zucchini, fresh corn cut from the cob, and earthy basil pesto are tossed with whole wheat pasta and topped with a smattering of bacon and just a touch of Parmesan cheese. It’s ready in minutes and feels fresh and comforting at the same time.

This dish embodies everything I love about this time of year. From the vibrant colors and flavors of pop-up roadside produce stands to the breaks in the heat that whisper autumn, this meal is like summer’s last hoorah. Make it quick. The good stuff’s about to disappear into shorter days and a shower of amber leaves.

ZUCCHINI, CORN AND BASIL PENNE WITH BACON (Recipe source: Gourmet, July 2008 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 bacon slices
  • 1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
  • 3 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 6 oz. basil pesto (store bought or homemade)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel lined plate; discard drippings or save for another use.
  2. Meanwhile, cook penne in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then add vegetables to pasta in pot and cook, partially covered, until just tender, about 2 minutes (water will stop boiling). Drain.
  3. Add pasta with vegetables, pesto, and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and toss. Season with salt and add additional cooking water until sauce evenly coats the pasta, if necessary.
  4. Top each serving with one slice of crumbled bacon, shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Serves 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Grilled Corn with Tequila Lime Butter
Two Years Ago: Apple and Apricot Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Three Years Ago: Loaded Sweet and Salty Chocolate Ice Cream

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Chocolate Crush

There’s this guy. I have a bit of a crush on him. Sometimes I follow him around or try to hold his hand or pass him notes asking him if he loves me. He’s just so super cute and nice and funny and stuff. He has a nice smile and very pretty blue eyes that remind me of the color of a swimming pool on a cloudy day.

One time we went on this walk, just the two of us, and he gave me this ring. I melted into a puddle on the sidewalk. Then I married him.

Yes. I have a serious crush on my husband. And when he wakes up on a lazy Sunday morning, blinks at me with those pools of blue underneath the kind of long, thick eyelashes any girl would kill for, and asks “Can you make the little chocolate donuts for breakfast today? They taste good and have the sugar I need to get me going in the morning.“* I can’t say no. I can’t say to no to that! What am I made of stone or something?

*And if you get that joke, I think I love you. Come over. We can down a lot of donuts together. 😉

These little chocolate donuts are a relatively new phenomenon at our house but they have already reached superstar status in the heart and mouth of my favorite food critic – my husband Eric. They certainly do get him going in the morning. Once he’s had a couple of these he’s ready to tackle all sorts of important things – like watching SportsCenter, pacing aimlessly from the front of the house to back, and sitting in a chair and staring into space. Eventually the sugar coma wears off and he can get back to doing something productive. 😉

I procured a donut pan earlier this summer (because I just couldn’t resist) and I’ve already surprised myself with number of times I’ve used it. It just makes having donuts at home so easy.

Or should I say…too easy! Let’s not fool ourselves and claim we’re enjoying a healthy breakfast here just because our little chocolate donuts are baked and not fried. They’re a cupcake with a hole in the middle. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth the splurge every once in a while, they totally are, but just accept the fact that you’re eating dessert for breakfast. It’s okay. It’s less shameful than standing over the sink in your bathrobe and polishing off half a leftover pumpkin pie straight from the dish. So…there’s that.

I’ve tried a couple varieties of baked donuts but this recipe for a chocolate on chocolate explosion of deliciousness is the runaway favorite by far. There is something so satisfying about the soft, deep, dark chocolate base and creamy chocolate glaze. And the sprinkles? Please, that’s just a happy face on plate.

So easy. Seriously. You want donuts but only have an hour? No problem. You got it, man. One bowl, a whisk and a few pantry staples is all it takes. You’ll be in Tasty Town before you can say “Time to Make the Donuts.”

I used a basic baked donut recipe I spotted over at Stephanie Cooks and just adapted it by swapping a quarter cup of the flour for cocoa powder to make a chocolate base. The secret here, I think, is dutch-process cocoa. You will not find a more chocolatey cocoa powder than the dutch-process. It looks different. It smells different. It makes the cake donut base so sinful, you’ll feel the need to confess after eating one. I’m relatively new to using it myself and it has won me over hook, line and sinker. I am now obsessed. It does wonders for the flavor here.

Now, texture-wise, you’re not going to bite into a baked donut and completely forget it’s not fried. That golden, crunchy exterior – it’s just not there. However! All donut properties are not lost here. These are baked in a screaming hot oven (450 degrees) so they are done in just a few minutes and the outside gets the fainest bit of crunch while the inside stays soft. And the glaze. Whoa Nelly! I love it. I used the same glaze I used on the donut muffins I made last year and it is just perfect. Not too thick, not too runny, it grabs those sprinkles and won’t let go but yet dries to a nice bake shop consistency too.

I will say these are best eaten the day they’re made – they tend to get a bit soggy after 24 hours or so – no less tasty, of course, but I wouldn’t make them ahead if serving to guests. But since they seriously take no time at all, you really don’t have to. These are finger licking, chocolate ring around your lips, glass of milk swigging, Sunday morning perfection. Enjoy every last bite.

BAKED CHOCOLATE DONUTS (Donuts adapted from: Stephanie Cooks, glaze is the same as in these Donut Muffins I made last year.)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup dutch-process cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    (now that I’m writing this, I’m pretty sure I’ve been using only 1 teaspoon. Oopsies. I’ve been happy with my results but I’m going to use a tablespoon next time to fluff-ify my donuts further!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • Chocolate glaze (recipe follows)
  • Colored or chocolate sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and coat a donut pan liberally with cooking spray.
  2. Stir together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg, vanilla, and milk and stir together for 1 minute. Add the oil and continue to whisk until just combined. Transfer the batter to a large measuring cup (or a bowl with a spout) for easy pouring.
  3. Fill each cavity in the pan 2/3 of the way full with batter. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until the donuts spring back when lightly touched. Cool completely before icing. Yields 10 to 12 donuts.

Chocolate Glaze

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the glaze: combine the chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup and vanilla extract in a double boiler (or in a stainless steel or glass bowl over some simmering water). Stir until the chocolate is melted and everything is incorporated. Use immediately.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Roasted Corn Salad – One of my summer favorites!
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Blossoms
Three Years Ago: Skillet Bruschetta Chicken

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We Gotta Get Out of this Place

One would think with all the food making and sugar baking and what not that goes on around here, I would be the kind of person that really loved the grocery store.

Yes. A lazy afternoon wandering the aisles, admiring the colors, the textures, the tastes. It’s so inspiring. It’s so relaxing. It’s foodie heaven, right?

No. No no no. Wrong.

I love to cook. I love to gather ingredients and manipulate them into something tasty and tempting. But I loathe (and I mean loathe) the grocery store. Eric always wondered why I come home from the store in a sour mood until he lived on his own earlier this year before I arrived in our new location and he had to shop for himself for the first time since college. He got it. Quickly.

The grocery store is crowded and annoying. It’s full of maniacs wielding giant metal baskets on wobbly wheels. It brings out the worst in people. I nearly got my arm ripped off reaching into a freezer bin full of sale-priced baby back ribs earlier this summer. Relax, folks. Okay. It’s ribs.

The grocery store. The words taste bitter on my tongue when I announce to Eric that’s where I’m headed. It is one of my least favorite chores. I end up stranded behind someone waiting 10 minutes for another car to pull out of a parking space so they can take it. I will inevitably pick the wrong the checkout line. After I empty my cart it’s pretty much guaranteed the register will spontaneously combust and I’ll be left waiting just a little bit longer.

The grocery store. I almost can’t deal with it. Here’s the top 5 reasons why…

5. Chatty Cathy Cashiers – I’m not anti-social. I swear. A friendly “Hi, how are you?” is always appreciated when approaching the counter. I can smile and be cordial with the best of them. But when the cashier is so busy asking every customer about their weekend plans that she forgets to scan, I can’t help but get antsy. Every single additional second I have to spend in that place, especially when I’m so close to escaping…oh boy. Is my eye twitching? Just. Might. Lose. It.

4. The Lonely Drifter – This person walks directly down the center of cereal aisle, stops, then zigs and zags all over the place. Oblivious. May or may not be dragging two carts.

3. Failure to Yield the Right-of-Way – When you’re driving your car, you don’t come to an intersection and just blow on through without even looking to see if anyone is coming. Same rules should apply at the store. Nothing quite like getting run down by someone who plows out of an aisle with their cart like that their pants are on fire. An excuse me would be nice, it’s hard to see around those corners after all. People should try it. It’s the conversational equivalent to the rear view mirror courtesy wave. It’s always appreciated.

2. The Stop and Chat – Do people in big cities get the pleasure of the stop and chat at the store, or is this a small town thing exclusively? Let me set the scene for you. Two friends descending down an aisle approach each other from opposite directions, after a jovial hello, maybe a hug, they proceed to stop and have a deep, meaningful conversation – all while completely blocking the thoroughfare.

“How’s Bob doing?”

“Oh, he’s great. He just got a promotion at work – Head of Collating and Stapling.”

“Oh, that’s fantastic!”

“We think he’ll be supervising the Three Hole Punch Operators by the end of the year. How’s your mom?”

“Oh, pretty good. You know she fell off the roof again….”

There’s no getting around that. This is important stuff and it can’t wait. Sometimes even an excuse me doesn’t quite do it. Drives me batty.

1. The Big Empty Space – More so than any of the assorted grocery characters you meet along the way, nothing irritates me more than approaching an item I’m after only to find the shelf completely void of what I need. I make a list, people. I plan my meals! When I can’t get an item I need, it throws a giant wrench in my entire week. When it’s a funky or specialty ingredient, something I’ve never bought before, that’s different. But when there’s no pure almond extract, or red onions, or caffeine free diet….Ugh. You know that defeated feeling that just pours over you when you can’t find what you need? It makes me want to cry.

Yeah, yeah. Just stop at another store and look there, right? Well, I don’t WANT to stop at another store. I’m already AT the store. I can’t go through all these headaches again at another store. I just can’t. *Quiet sobs.*

This here’s a dish that’s a snap to prepare. Like let’s say, it’s Saturday morning and you’re in a sour-puss mode because you just came from the grocery store and the absolute last thing you want to do is make lunch. You can be on your way to sweet yet savory, melty, gooey, crunchy, comforting bliss in about ten minutes.

This grilled goat cheese and strawberry quesadilla is inspired by this lovely sandwich with the same ingredients I first saw over on Josie’s blog Pink Parsley. I had been putting off going to the grocery store and didn’t have any bread around. But I was hungry had everything else plus whole wheat tortillas. Turns out, the tortilla was a perfect substitute!

In this unexpected dish the goat cheese, strawberries and basil combine into this halleluiah chorus of simple flavors that totally satisfies. It’s another one of those combinations that leaves you scratching your head wondering why it’s so good. It just is. It’s fresh and creamy and warm and sweet. It’s a little bit main course, a little bit dessert, and all wonderful. The original recipe calls for red pepper jelly which I couldn’t find (Ha ha. OF COURSE!) so I subbed this really yummy local raspberry jalapeno jam I bought at the farmer’s market. The jam’s subtle sweetness blends well with the strawberries and the little kick of spice a the end is tamed by cheese. It’s great for a quick lunch or a fun twist on a meatless dinner.

You can’t be in a bad mood and eat this, it’s impossible – even if you’ve been held up at the store by an epic Stop and Chat. 😉

STRAWBERRY GOAT CHEESE QUESADILLA (Recipe source: Adapted from Pink Parsley, originally from Southern Living, March 2011)

*Note:* I didn’t measure any of the ingredients here – just layered ’em up until it looked right. When I make a quesadilla for myself, I’m a one tortilla girl. You may like to use two so it’s a bit bigger, that’s cool. Whatever you fancy works just fine.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Raspberry jalapeno jam, red pepper jelly, or your favorite spread
  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced.
  • Butter or olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the outdoor grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Spread a thin layer of jam or jelly on tortillas. Add goat cheese, then top with a layer of sliced strawberries. Sprinkle basil over the strawberries. Either fold the tortilla into a half moon or top with a second whole tortilla. Butter each side of quesadilla (or brush with olive oil) and grill until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Let sit for a minute before slicing into wedges. Serves as many or as few as you want it to, yo!

ENJOY! 🙂

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