Posts Tagged 'kitchen'

Party Day!!!

AKA “We’re Having a Party, Part 4″

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At last here it was – Party Day!!!! I was up very early. I hadn’t really slept very much the night before – between the pain in my legs (long-standing issue – hah hah – did you GET that???) and my whirling brain, I was lucky I got any sleep. What was the first thing I did? I fed the cats, of course. 🙂 I know what is important in this house and so do they. When I walked out to get the newspaper (yes, I am old-fashioned enough to receive a PAPER newspaper daily) I saw that someone had parked their car in front of my driveway. Although the car was about 3 feet from the apron, it still didn’t leave me room to drive on the grass to get out and get bagels. table 2 Normally this is the kind of thing in the past that would have had me calling the police hysterically demanding that the car be towed but I’ve mellowed a lot over the years. I wasn’t thrilled, because I was hoping to use my driveway for parking guests’ cars, but I wasn’t as freaked out as I might have been because my husband’s car was at the curb and driveable. But still – a bad omen or something getting rid of any last bad karma by having an inconvenience that wasn’t a show-stopper? I decided to consider it a clearing.

At this distance from the day, I have to confess that I don’t remember a lot clearly. My husband went out to get the bagels (stopping at the most likely neighbor to own the offending car). My sister showed up early to help put together the things that couldn’t be assembled the previous day – the Asian Salad Wonton Cups. There was more. I know there was. Because we were setting the table, arranging the drinks, and cleaning every utensil as it was used and putting it away. You see, I had one march of the cruditemore major request of my staff, um, I mean my family. I told them that I wanted the house to look as if I simply waved my magic wand and all the food appeared. The guest of honor at this party was the renovated kitchen, and NOTHING could be out to mar the look and beauty of the counters, cabinets, floor, and appliances. That is a big ask when you consider my menu and the work involved.

We had to cook the hot food – the quiche and the mushrooms. The turkey had to be sliced. The condiments, liquors, drink add-ons and utensils all had to be laid out. I had to make the mulled cider and assemble the cocktail punch. My husband had to run out for more sugar (we had none for coffee & tea) and beer. My brother-in-law showed up with his home-baked pretzels and salt-sticks (the most fantabulous rolls you will ever have) plus a tray of his spinach & cheese (maybe it was broccoli??) rolls he’d made for the prior night’s party. We did it all. Arranging trays and platters and drinks and paper plates and plastic utensils and vacuuming and sweeping and wiping surfaces and putting everything away.
stuffed mushrooms
We were so efficient and so on-top of everything that I even had 45 minutes to go upstairs, change into my party outfit, apply make-up (I was pretending to be a grown-up) and spray glitter in my hair (not too grown-up). My sister and her husband had everything cleaned and put away by the time I came back down. The kitchen was immaculate (except for the cider pot on the stove, where it belonged for that day). It looked as if I had waved my magic wand and all the food simply appeared!!!
walkin cooler
EVERYTHING was in place and party ready. Or was it? WHITE CAT!!!!! That cat. I wasn’t going to put this in but I changed my mind. BC and GC very quickly grasped that there was a LOT happening on the first floor and they headed upstairs (despite their memories of The Great Incarceration, I’m sure) and there they stayed – out of the way. Not so WC. She was not pleased and she was very happy to let me know that. First, she – sigh, what is the delicate way to put this??? She left a DEPOSIT in the front hall. That was still fairly early on in the morning so I removed it, washed the floor, told her that she exhibited poor behavior and carried on with what I had to do.
skewer city
On my check list for Tuesday, and you can see this in the photos, I had “take off red couch cover”. I’ve posted pictures of WC in what she considers to be her boudoir – the back of the red couch in the sun room. I keep that couch covered with a matching cover in the vain attempt to protect it from stains and non-removable cat fur. WC has the silkiest, finest fur you will ever encounter. She was ensconced on the couch. We would be in the sun room because the TV is in the sun room and people would be watching the football games. cat fur on couchMy sister went to dislodge her. Now you need to know that for 16+ years my sister has attempted to make nice to WC and for 16+ years WC laughs in my sister’s face and runs away. We all figured this was a piece of cake – my sister would walk in there and look at WC and talk to her and WC would take off, as she has done REPEATEDLY in the past. It didn’t happen that way. WC simply glared and did not move. We must have gone through this routine 3 times and each time I said, fine, leave her be, we still have time. We ran out of time. WC finally headed up the stairs when the first guests arrived. I threw my big, grand, celebration party with white cat fur matted all-over the back of my red couch. I didn’t mention it and neither did the folks watching TV. But other than that, I think the house looked great and the party was quite a success.
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Menu:

My brother-in-law baked the salt sticks, the pretzels and the spinach/cheese rolls. No recipe available from me.
I made the quiche, and I made several changes to it, including making it gluten-free (but not nightshade free *grin*). This is a good recipe for getting started on a 13×9 quiche (my pan is 14×10).
I made the marinated (fake) crab meat – *laughing* – the fake part means that the fish is really pollock, not shell fish. The original recipe is Zesty Marinated Shrimp. I probably did not do justice to this recipe as we found it too citrusy for our tastes, but to be fair I did not keep the proportions as I found them. So I still like the recipe and will do it in less of a “factory production” moment.
I mulled the cider and I do that by looking at a variety of recipes and then gathering up whatever I have and wrapping it in cheese cloth. I put the cider on a low flame and let it seep for a few hours.
The cocktail punch was delicious, simple and kept me going all party. 🙂
I considered also making several Champagne Mules but decided that even for me that might a bit much. So I left all the ingredients and the instructions out with the prosecco and other cold drinks and desserts.
I made the fruit skewers and again, they were simply what I thought might work, no specific recipe.
I also made the tahini cookies and the shortbread – I don’t have any links for those. If you are interested, leave a comment and I’ll post them.
I also made (or assembled) a sugar-free strawberry shortcake. I bought a sugar-free angel food cake and cut it in half on the y axis. The day of the party I used whipped cream and strawberries, put the top layer back on, then used whipped cream and strawberries on top. In the interest of speed, I used the canned whipped cream, which does not hold up as well as hand-made whipped cream. But it sufficed for this purpose and was eaten. 🙂
My guests also brought cookies and cakes and other very tasty desserts, so that table was much fuller than the picture shows.
My sister made the crudite cups, as I’ve mentioned. I saw a picture online and it made me think of doing something similar. We ended up using 2 oz cups, and a few 3 oz cups. 2 oz cups are more than sufficient. Next time I might not make the cups pretty, because people wouldn’t take a cup because they didn’t like EVERYTHING in it. Oy. So eat what you like and subtly ditch the rest. We did have a lot left over but they did NOT go to waste. I rinsed off the dressing from and my husband made a fantastic vegetable soup.
My sister also did the cheese skewers, which were our own creation with what we had, and she assembled the caprese skewers, which were beautiful and tasty. The only tricky part to that was adding the balsamic glaze at the last moment.
My sister assembled the Asian Salad Wonton Cups which were gorgeous and delicious but again needed to be assembled the day-of, although I had prepared everything in advance.
My husband prepared the marinade, cooked and sliced the turkey.
I made the stuffed mushrooms, and made them gluten free (yes, Virginia, there ARE gluten free bread crumbs). They were very good and there weren’t many left over at all.
My husband made the mini BLTs. We used turkey bacon and party rye bread. These were a mistake – one of my “we didn’t need so much food” mistakes. They tasted fine, but with all the other dishes, they just weren’t that popular. My b-i-l ended up taking them home, ditching everything but the bacon and used that in a different dish. It’s a shame, really. They were so cute.
Little preparation, only presentation:
Bagels, lox, cream cheese. I believe it was my husband who prepared the tomatoes, lettuce and sliced onion for the lox. (Correction – it was my b-i-l, with cleanup by my sister. 🙂 )
Store-bought cheese cake slices. Again, an unnecessary item given all the other desserts that did arrive. But I can’t count on food that I don’t know is coming (which will be the subject of another post one day). The cheesecake made my office mates very happy. 🙂

We’re Having a Party!

I love socializing. I love feeding people. I love my friends. I love throwing a good party. There are several parties/food events I do every year, some of them more elaborate than others. I used to throw a New Year’s Eve party. We had what I used to call “The Gang of Eight” – 4 couples that got together frequently during the year. After my son was born I called us the Gang of 8.5. 🙂 One of our standard get-togethers was on New Year’s Eve. menuAlong with a few other folk, we’d get together at my house for dinner and watch the ball drop. Then a few years ago some of us began murmuring about being too tired to stay up til midnight. I remember one year where I think 3 of the females were actually asleep on couches and chairs after dinner – we had to wake them before midnight. *grin* NOT ME. But you knew that. A few years ago I made an “executive decision” – I moved our get-together to New Year’s Day, called it Brunch/Lunch and invited a few more people. It was still a relatively small crowd and we did still have New Year’s Eve with a small handful of folk (who could stay awake, or at least attempted to make it to midnight).

This year, between the college football playoff games and my new kitchen, I decided a more drastic change was required. I decided that we would FINALLY have our “come see our gorgeous new kitchen” open house along with our New Year’s Day luncheon. coffe labelsOnce I drew up the invitation list, I saw I had around 60 people on the list. I’ve posted pictures of the inside of my house and you should know that it would be an extremely tight squeeze to fit 60 people on my first floor without removing furniture – even WITH removing furniture. I think the only time I’ve hosted that many simultaneously was for my son’s bris, when I think we had between 60-70 people there (and yes – we took most of the furniture out of the living room and put in folding chairs). We got lucky that day because it was in March and we had some springtime temperatures and people flowed out onto the deck as well. But I wasn’t worried. I knew that on my list there were some who wouldn’t come (just because they don’t come), some who would be away for the holiday, and some who had prior commitments. New Year’s Day is NOT an original date for a get-together. 🙂

How do you throw a party for 60 people? I start by looking at the folk I expect to show up, and noting all of their dietary preferences. *grin* My mother used to stress-out totally about entertaining. She was an ogre on the days leading up to the entertaining, and the day-of she would practically have palpitations. spiked punchAnd that would be just for having the bridge club over to play bridge (12 people there for a specific purpose eating only munchies, coffee & dessert), long before this day and age when everyone has some food preference and/or allergy. So I make my list: gluten-free, diabetic, kosher, vegetarian, no alcohol, following the keto diet, on a lose-weight diet. Apparently I also have someone who does not eat nightshade but I didn’t know that until she was there and checking ingredients. Once I have the food restrictions, I begin on my menu. There must be enough food that all of those people will have a CHOICE of something to eat. I don’t want to have a pile of carrot sticks to hand out and say “here – you can eat this”. 🙂 (Do carrots have nightshade??? Something new to learn and consider.)

When I have my basic idea of food groups – appetizers, main course, side-dishes, desserts, drinks, snacks – I being selecting recipes. I have certain staples that work for large groups – roasting a turkey, large rectangular pan of quiche, bagels/lox/cream cheese – plus the standard drinks. gluten free Paring the menu down to the selected dishes is the next step. The dish has to fit the mood, fit my loose kashrut standards (no pork, no shellfish, no mixing meat & dairy in one dish) and be tasty. For this party I decided that other than my main courses (turkey, quiche, bagels/lox/cream cheese), all the other dishes had to be new and different – NOT like my other party menus. 🙂 And that meant – turn to the internet and browse!!!

Collaboration Pie

img_0022There are many good things about posting about food and cooking. Even if people disagree about my recipes, my tastes, my process, the comments and reactions tend not to get personal or nasty. 🙂 If I’m thinking about food, I’m NOT thinking about other aspects of reality. On many days that is the REAL reason I write about food. I like creating things and cooking and baking are creative. My friend Honour talks about the difference between cooks and bakers, that one has more leeway and room for error than the other. I’m still not sure I’m convinced about that, but again, it doesn’t (usually) get personal when we discuss it. *grin*

Today I want to write about leftovers and collaborating and when cooks and bakers work together. img_0023My husband does not bake – he cooks. Oh wow, he is SUCH a great creative cook. I love to bake and while I enjoy cooking now in my new kitchen, I’m nowhere near as innovative as he is. I’m getting better, but I’m not at his level by any means. I mentioned he brought home a store-cooked chicken the other night. That meant we had leftovers. We also had rainy cold weather all day Sunday, as well as other annoying reality. 🙂 I started thinking about cooking. I decided that a chicken pot pie would be perfect for dinner. I mentioned that to my husband and he agreed.

Now *I* was thinking more of the kind of pot pie I had growing up – basically a white creamy inside. I found a picture of one online to show you what I mean but we grew up on frozen pot pies, not home-made. It was something my father would make for us for dinner when my mother was at rehearsal. img_0024As we don’t mix meat and dairy, we use coconut milk to get our “creaminess”. I also thought I’d take my leftover steamed vegetables and throw them in too – sort of a vegetable chicken pot pie. I’d already decided to use the coconut oil for that hint of flavor while making the pastry crust. I was browsing recipes online and thinking about concocting when my husband came down with a piece of paper and said “This is what I plan to make for the pie.”. *grin* Of course his recipe looked nothing like mine (his had curry and more asian flavors) and he had no intention of putting in the leftover vegetables, only the leftover chicken. I told him his concoction sounded great to me and I’d make him a crust.

That’s what we did. I made up my pie crust using margarine and coconut oil (remember, no dairy). It was a beautiful flaky crust. It’s interesting – I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem making pie crusts (except for 2 crusts for our New Year’s Day party, but that’s a different story) since I first began. I use the recipe in The Settlement Cookbook. img_0025It says that the key to a good crust is very cold ingredients and as little water and handling as possible. That very morning as I listened to the radio talk show host, she was talking about making pies and bemoaning how difficult it is to make a good crust and how it took her so long to learn. I’ve just never had that particular problem and I know people love the pie crusts I make. Thank you Lizzie Black Kander and your fantastic cookbook (which is, as I’ve mentioned before, my #1 go-to cookbook).

The new kitchen gets another rave review here because while my husband was working on the stove, there was room for me to be rolling out the top crust. That NEVER would have been possible before the renovation. 🙂 I probably should have ‘over-ruled’ him about temperature and time (I’d have picked the higher temperature and the shorter time, which is more typical for pies) but dinner was delicious. Yay us!!
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Baking Beats the Blues

Ah, New Jersey in winter, when a glimpse of the sun is a rare and wondrous moment!

It was pouring rain yesterday. (That’s redundant, isn’t it? What else could be pouring when discussing the weather? Snow doesn’t pour.)IMG_9918 I was working from home and the gray and gloom was making me blue. I’ve seen several articles lately that baking and cooking lift depressed moods and I know it’s true for me. I didn’t have much time to do anything that would require multiple steps, but I knew I needed to get in to my gorgeous new kitchen (have I mentioned that I have a beautiful new kitchen, incredibly functional as well as gorgeous?) and create!

I opted for batter bread. Batter bread is so simple, fast and flavorful. It’s not the same texture as a yeast bread, but it works for sandwiches and yummy snacking. I didn’t really like any of the recipes I found online (to be fair, I didn’t spend much time looking).IMG_9920 I knew one of my cookbooks had a recipe. (We were out with friends last night and we talked about actual paper cookbooks – would they last?) I went and pulled out one of my trusty cookbooks (I have 3) and there was my recipe. My 3 go-to cookbooks are “The Settlement Cookbook” – my very first one and I love it, “The Joy of Cooking” – 2 copies of that, and “Woman’s Day Collectors Cookbook“. And that is pretty much the order I use when I’m searching for some basic recipe.

IMG_9921Batter bread it was – less than 20 minutes prep and it pops in the oven. I had some non-alcoholic beer for the riser and I used my herbs de provence for seasoning, with a touch of onion powder. Nothing better than smelling something good from the oven as you hear the rain thundering on the skylight. Okay – it’s better to actually EAT the yummy thing from the oven!

Green Curry Paste FTW

IMG_9867Last night I wanted something ‘different’ for dinner – not my typical steamed veggies and whatever. As I mentioned earlier, I buy a LOT of produce. This past weekend I brought home green beans, bok choy, asparagus, mushrooms (a blend of oyster, shitake and crimini) and leeks. I was hungry and didn’t feel like spending a LOT of time cooking. I decided to “borrow” another of my husband’s favorite pots – the wok this time. Our stove has its own fitted wok stand for the burners (it can be used on any burner). My husband uses the wok now nearly every time he cooks.

I wok’d up the green beans, some bok choy, garlic, onions and the mushrooms in coconut oil. It looked so beautifully green and healthy.IMG_9864 Last time I was in the Asian market picking up some curry sauce I saw a package for green curry paste. I took that as well and that’s what I used last night. Wow – that was HOT. The package had called for mixing the paste with coconut milk, which I did not have handy. I’d used the coconut oil and added cream for a liquid. I figured that would get me to the coconut milk taste/consistency. It was delicious. There are no leftovers. My husband loved it too.

IMG_9868That has been unusual the last few years. I stuck to my traditional eastern European flavors: salt, pepper, onion, garlic, paprika. I think he was bored by those flavors. With the new kitchen and the easy availability of spices, and the fact that it’s just the 2 of us, I’ve been trying many new flavors and foods. I’ve begun keeping shallots and leeks on hand. Looking at various recipes online for intriguing flavors (which reminds me – I haven’t talked about the red lentil butternut squash soup). I had never cooked squash (or eaten it for that matter) before my adventures last month. It’s working quite well! (And a side note to my son who reads this blog periodically – if you use green curry paste and don’t cut it too much with milk – you can eat just about any vegetable around. *grin* It’s so hot that is the ONLY flavor you will register. Trust me.)

IMG_9865

Back to Back Baking

No more falcons, no more live concerts, so it’s back to talking about cooking and baking in the new kitchen. *smile* I got to show it off today to someone new! He said “I want to go home now and redo my kitchen”. We sat in the breakfast room at my fun round bistro table. He loved that handle and the fact that it really can move up and down.

Besides contributing a vegetable side dish for Thanksgiving dinner, I am also “responsible” for sugar free desserts. t-day apple pie This goes back to when my father, who was diabetic, was alive. My father loved desserts and once the diabetes was diagnosed I spent a lot of time learning to make desserts he (and the others with diabetes) could eat. Then a few years ago (2013) Thanksgiving and Chanukah coincided. For American Jews this was a wonderful event and inspired much holiday and culinary creativity. It was known as Thanksgivukkah. Although I fell in love with the rye crust for the pumpkin pie, I don’t really like pumpkin pie. I decided to see what I could do with the Pecan Pie Rugelach recipe.

I made the first batch exactly as called for in the recipe so I could learn the proper textures. Then I began to reduce the sugar AND to remove the dairy – I needed to make it kosher. Since we were having a meat meal, I could not have dairy in the dessert (cannot mix meat and dairy) The dairy for the dough was easy – vegan cream cheese and pareve margerine. pecan pie rugelachThe brown sugar was a bit of a ‘cheat’, but was deemed acceptable by the doctor (who is also diabetic). I use Splenda brown sugar, which is half brown sugar and half sugar substitute. This means that although it’s not sugar free, it has less sugar and fewer carbohydrates than regular brown sugar. When you factor in the lower quantity used, and spread it over the entire batch, it is acceptable for the folks at my table. And even at that, I tend to be stingy measuring the sugar, instead of generous. I’m always VERY generous measuring vanilla extract. 🙂 The other substitution is with the corn syrup. I use agave. If a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of syrup, use 1/4 cup agave and increase the liquids. The first time I made the rugelach the menfolk for whom it was made went crazy. They loved it. And so a tradition was born. I make SF pecan pie rugelach for Thanksgiving.

My father was also why I started making SF apple pies. inside of pieI changed up my recipe for the T-day pie since I wasn’t happy with the puree made with dried apricots. I did put some dried apricots in with the cranberries and the cranberry juice, but I also used sugar free orange marmalade. That gave the puree the correct consistency and liquidity needed to soften the apples and keep the pie filling moist and tender. I did the same layering with apples/puree/cinnamon & nutmeg as I did in my pie the week before the holiday. This one was much, much better although I didn’t get to eat much of it. 🙂

I’ve also made chocolate pecan pie for my sister in the past. She really loves it and it is so easy to make. That one is sugar-full and I don’t usually bring sugar desserts to Thanksgiving. pecan pie Our friends are fantastic bakers and they bring a smorgasbord of great desserts. But I was having so much fun baking and I knew they did NOT make chocolate pecan pie, so I made that one too. I used the fantastic coconut oil crust from the kale butternut squash pie. I have NO idea how the pie came out, since I never got a piece. 🙂 I brought it to my sister’s house but we did not serve it at dinner.

The shortbread was simply me going over and beyond. My sister and I spend a LOT of time talking/texting/emailing as we prepare for holidays. I tried to bribe her to come over and visit me and promised her some shortbread if she came. shortbreadWell she didn’t come but now the idea of making shortbread was in my head. I got up early Thursday morning and made up a batch of shortbread. I sent half of it to her and kept the other half for myself. I can assure you that the shortbread was delicious. I think I used a different recipe this time than the last time I made it. But the last time I made it was years ago – I have no idea which recipe I pulled. This time I looked at 4 different recipes, figured out the commonalities and made 2 pans. Yum Yum Yum.

I LOVE my new kitchen!!!!!

The Big Red Pot

le creuset oval dutch ovenThat’s what we call it – my husband’s favorite pot. Other people would call it a dutch oven or, more specifically, Le Creuset Oval dutch oven. It weighs a ton, cooks like a dream, and is easy to clean. I’d never used it until I tried another of the great vegan recipes I’d found.

Last year (or perhaps it was even the year before) I’d seen a recipe in the local newspaper for a whole roasted cauliflower. fresh from the gardenThe recipe called for removing the leaves, a little bit of the core, but otherwise keeping the head intact. Steam the cauliflower until a fork will pierce it easily, then coat it with a mix of mayonnaise, chili sauce and grated cheese, and roast it in the oven. (I’d give you the link, because it’s sooooo easy and yummy, but although I searched online, I can’t find that specific recipe. But there are many others that show up.) Normally I’m opposed to recipes that require “phases” – cook it once in one pot and be done with it was my motto. But that was BEFORE the new kitchen. My life apparently has a new demarcation line. I made many dishes for T-day that required preparatory stages.

There were 2 recipes that I thought might be perfect for Thanksgiving dinner – the cauliflower pot roast and the vegan turducken (also called vegducken). cauliflower pre roastingThe cauliflower pot roast won out for testing first because I had most of those ingredients. Of course I ended up doing things just a wee bit differently than the recipe directed, because I was (oh surprise) multi-tasking and wasn’t paying sufficient attention. But the end result was so tasty, and so satisfying, that there was no question – THIS would be the Thanksgiving dish we’d bring to dinner. My husband’s verdict on the dish: spectacular.

Here were my changes for the test run: I didn’t have fennel so I used anise. I didn’t have vegetable broth so I used chicken broth. I left out the nutritional yeast. I don’t remember if I used red or brown lentils, but I’m going to guess I used red lentils. As for following the cooking directions, I missed some steps there as well. I cut the core of the cauliflower too deeply and it was no longer one complete unit. I had one big piece and I propped that on the ones that had separated. first cauliflower pot roastAfter I cut all the side vegetables I put them into the pot with the cauliflower – I didn’t realize I was supposed to toss them with the oil and seasoning first. I ended up drizzling the oil and sprinkling the seasoning. I didn’t saute the onions – I tossed them straight into the broth (and I blame my husband for this because he was talking to me at the time 🙂 ). We did not at the time have an immersion blender (we do NOW) and so I did not puree the gravy. It smelled fantastic anyway. We also felt that the vegetables needed more cooking than the directions indicated, but that is probably because I used more vegetables than specified. When it was all done, we poured the gravy over the vegetables in the pot, rather than serving separately. It was delicious. We both purred as we ate. There were so many tantalizing flavors and textures.

For the “production” version I did much better at following the ingredients and the directions.thanksgiving cauliflower Again I used anise instead of fennel (my local store seems to only carry anise and I didn’t feel like making a special trip). I left out the potatoes since I knew there would be lots of other potato dishes. I added parsnips in place of the potatoes and I included some extra florets of cauliflower. We now own an immersion blender so I did puree the gravy. I forgot to get a picture of it, however. I believe that everyone at the dinner enjoyed the dish – there was less than a portion left. 🙂 I recommend this dish completely. I think I’d also skip pureeing the gravy – I liked it more as a broth with veggies, but obviously that is a personal preference. It tasted fantastic both times.

I’m so glad there are such creative people out there posting their recipes. I’m okay with modifying a recipe, but I don’t think I’ve ever created something from nothing. And on that note I’ll tell you that soon I’ll post about the red lentil-butternut squash soup I made for dinner last night. Yum.

And now for the obligatory cat photo.
BC closeup 2


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