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Archive for the ‘decorating the plate’ Category

This Holy Week, my contribution to my Aunt Ven’s Easter meal is a lemon cake layered with lemon curd and raspberry preserves covered in white chocolate buttercream frosting. I will decorate the outside of the cake with homemade sugar cookies in the shape of bunnies and easter eggs.

This is a little kitschy for me- I usually like my desserts minimal and elegant in decor. But I saw a picture of an Easter cake once decorated this way and it has stuck in my mind. It feels like summer outside and as a believer in Seasonal Affective Disorder- the sunshine makes me in the mood to make a happy cake.

I still have a lot of writing to do this week, so I am just doing a little at a time. Today I am making the sugar cookies that will stick to the icing all around the cake.

I bought these great cookie-cutters from Cookshop. (They should be paying me advertising fees!) That store is like heaven to me. They have great ceramic pots, a million different types of pepper grinders, a long row of pastry tools… The saleslady must have thought I was crazy, because I grazed through the store for an hour…do I have that kind of time? No, but I guess I made time!

Anyway, making sugar cookie dough is so easy and quick. It’s basically two cups flour with a dash of salt and a 1/2 tsp baking powder. I blended 1 cup sugar with 1 stick butter and then added 1 egg and 1 tsp real vanilla extract. Then the flour gets incorporated little by little until you have a nice soft dough. Make it into a disk and then refrigerate for an hour to get cold.

I rolled out the dough 1/8th inch thick and cut out my shapes! Then I sprinkled some with pink sugar crystals and others with purple sugar crystals. I put the shapes back in the fridge to get cold again for another 15 minutes.

Then I bake for around 12 min in a 170C oven. They must be covered in a tight tupperwear container. I double cover them in a ziplock bag and then inside a tupperwear container. I’m sure this is not necessary, but I just really want them to stay crisp until Sunday!

On Friday I make the lemon curd, Saturday the cake, and Sunday I will bake the frosting and assemble. 🙂 I’ll share the steps with you all along the way…

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The night of my dinner party was the first really cold night here in Greece, and it set the tone well for my Fall French Bistro fare. (Admittedly, cold for us here is 45-50F…I still cannot convert to Celsius!)

It was also Halloween night!! I nearly forgot, but my friends Peggy and Ted brought a huge, hella festive cake. I used to live in San Francisco, so I still use lame words like “hella” sometimes. forgive me. Here’s a pic:

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The rest of the meal, however, was very French. As I mentioned in my last post, the menu was: Smoked Salmon Mousse, Blanquette de Veau, Pomme Anna, Two Cheese Plates, and Chocolate Mousse with Candied Almonds.

Making this salmon mousse is effortless and decadent.

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I whipped up chopped bits of smoked salmon with marscapone, a drizzle of lemon juice, and sea salt & pepper. You can also use ricotta cheese, or any smooth farmer’s cheese. You may prefer ricotta if you want a lighter, airier texture. The mascarpone makes a thicker texture.

The ratio is 1/2 cup cheese for every 200 grams salmon. This makes enough for 12 people to have 2 or 3 bites. 20 minutes before guests arrived, I spread them on round melba toasts, and topped each one with a caper and some dill.

Meanwhile, my blanquette de veau and potato tart (pomme anna) was  re-heating.

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The heavenly veal-mushroom-parsnip-carrot-leek aroma filled the kitchen. I snuck a bite and the meat was like butter. Boiling the veal first and then letting it stew in broth must be the most effective technique I’ve used for preparing veal. I used this recipe from epicurious, but instead of celery root, I used parsnips, and instead of pearl onions, I used leeks. I highly recommend using leeks. They unravel and absorb beautifully into the stew. I also used half chicken broth and half beef broth.

Right before serving I made the “white sauce” by making a roux of butter and flour and then adding cooking juices, and some heavy cream.

Honestly, the veal tastes amazing even without this sauce. But I really do like this very thin gravy that almost gets totally soaked into the meat. It adds a very subtle creamy-ness. My boyfriend Niko, who hates creamy sauces, did not even notice the cream.

I made my Pomme Anne and while everyone seemed to like it, I prefer a light potato gratin with chicken stock made with thicker slices of potato. So I will go back to that recipe next time. Here’s a picture though:

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I loved this simple salad. Very few ingredients with BOLD flavors: Spicy arugula, licorice fennel, and a citrus orange vinaigrette:

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For the orange vinaigrette I mix a few tbs of sherry vinegar, 2 tbs honey, (1 tbs of dijon if i want it creamy and a bit spicy), 1 tbs diced garlic, 2 tbs orange zest, and juice of one orange. Whiz this up and add olive oil until it is to your desired taste and texture.

I made two cheese plates. One was a peppercorn blue cheese that I drizzled lightly with honey. The other was baked camembert spread with apricot jam and sprinkled with thinly sliced almonds.

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So this was the meal! I thought of serving cheese after dinner along with dessert like the French…but I worried no one would have any room.

We all made room for dessert though! Now, I love chocolate mousse. But I think there needs to be some variety to its one-note smooth texture. I love the airy quality, but something hard or crunchy makes it all the better in my opinion. I made candied almonds to top it with, and it worked well.

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I piped the mousse onto every plate and topped with the almonds. Again, very quick yet very elegant.

You can eat the candied almonds all by themselves! Totally addictive. And it takes 15 minutes! Just put 1 cup thinly sliced almonds, and 1 cup sugar in a pan and stir constantly over medium heat. Once toasted, golden, and the sugar has melted and sticks to the almonds, youre done! Store in an airtight container until you use them, and try not to eat them all before your party!

We had such a nice night. My friends brought that great cake and some very good red wine. We chatted, savoured, laughed, indulged. It was my version of a wonderful night.

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Remember that gloriously fragrant mint I found in the market days ago? Well I’m still smelling it everyday. I have not managed to keep an herb garden alive for more than 3 weeks, although there isn’t anything I treasure more in a kitchen than fresh herbs.

I love salads made up entirely of herbs. I don’t roast any hunk of meat unless it is covered in fresh rosemary or sage or thyme. Have you heard of creamed parsley? It’s the latest dish in a new french bistro that I’ll be trying out soon.

My grandmother taught me to extend the life span of leafy treasures by washing them, and wrapping in paper towels before placing back into the fridge. Thank goodness this works, because in my enthusiasm at the store, I bought a whole big bunch!

My stomach was a bit unsettled tonight and so I thought why not make some fresh mint tea?

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Here I am swirling my spoon while the mint infuses in boiling water. I know this picture is totally unnecessary, but isn’t it pretty? I added the tiniest drip of honey and it was lovely. The flavor was mild and the honey enhanced the mint rather than adding too much sweetness, which is distracting I think.

What else I could do with this mint that I haven’t done before? I usually cut it up with strawberries, use it to flavor lamb, or add it to salads, as I mentioned above. But I wanted to think of something special for you all to try…

As you can see from today’s blog title, I am on a new health kick. Don’t worry, I will still be addressing rich recipes! But I am now including a section of healthier choices. I won’t add anything unless it tastes amazing, I promise. I’m going to try to employ the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” policy for myself, and eat little portions of everything. I’d rather eat a teeny piece of Brie than a reduced fat plastic chunk of cheese. Gross.

SO- how can I use mint for a low-cal dessert?  Giving up dessert is NOT an option.

My first idea is reduced mint syrup. It’s nothing complicated, or especially unique. But syrup always feels decadent and doesn’t have to be especially calorific.

MINT SYRUP RECIPE- 2 servings

Steep 1/4 cup packed mint leaves and stems in 1/2 cup boiling water for 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves (but leave a few stems) from the water

Add 1/3 or 1/2  cup sugar and stir until dissolved.

Reduce on medium to low heat until the liquid is thick and syrupy.

Add as a beautiful liquid garnish to a dessert of your choice. Drizzle over chocolate cake, over ice cream (non fat ice cream or sorbet!), over berry tarts or plain berries…the choices are endless.

***Replace mint with basil and use it for strawberry sorbet or ice cream, the combination is amaaazing. Trust me.

So as not to abandon my Greek roots (I haven’t included a Greek recipe in a while)- how can I highlight mint in a traditional dish?

There are so many possibilities. Mint aioli for lamb and mint garlic yogurt sauce for Dolmades come to mind.

In my next Friday Friandises, I promis I will offer up a Greek dessert!

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This morning I woke up to thundering rain. Although I’ve enjoyed my long lovely summer, I’ve been quite in the mood for a change of season. Today was the first day it really felt like fall.

With a hooded sweater I walked to the grocery store to prep some meals in the morning while I work in the afternoon. Tonight my boyfriend is coming over and I want us to have a relaxing, cozy dinner in the house. The idea of French Onion Soup feels like a perfect choice.

I bought large yellow onions, a baguette, gruyere cheese and some fresh thyme. (I’ve tried to grow herbs in my garden for the past two years but it just isn’t fair to the poor plants to keep trying…:-/) I sliced the onions quickly and let the caramelize slowly while I got back to my editing. Later I flavored the soup by deglazing with with beef stock and brandy (I forgot the sherry), and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, and sea salt. Once Niko gets here, I will broil his ceramic bowl of soup with a baguette slice covered in shredded gruyere. I will eat mine without the bread and cheese, because I am trying to shed some pounds. No need to take pity.  It is still an incredibly flavorful soup this way, and I have some wheat bread I will use to dunk. 🙂 I don’t know if you will think I’m crazy, but I actually like to grate clove into my french onion soup before eating…I like it, what can I say?

Now onto my favorite part of the meal…dessert, and the real point of this post!

I’m very sorry I don’t have a real picture of the dessert and used a copout Rembrandt painting! But my camera is on the fritz, I have no clue whats wrong with it…

Let me say first that I used to grocery shop prepared with strict lists and a strict idea of what I would be making. I think this is a mistake. It’s important to see what is available and what is fresh the day you are at the market. I am now less dependent on recipes, and more inclined to creativity. Today I bought apples because they smelled great and it’s another great ingredient to celebrate autumn. When I turned the corner and smelled the fresh wild mint from 3 feet away, I knew I had to get it! Every few minutes while I strolled the store,  I lifted the bunch up to my nose for a deep breath of the intense mint aroma. This was not the pre-packaged herb variety!

Well, this combination of apples and mint in my buggie led to a new experiment. I wanted to pick something relatively healthy while still tasting indulgent. I decided to make Calvados Baked Apples with an Oatmeal Crumble and Apple-Mint Sorbet. This combo has not only a play in textures but also temperature, which I love.

First I start on the sorbet:

I am making a small portion for two, but you can of course double or triple this recipe:

APPLE MINT SORBET (4 servings, i will have some left over maybe for tomorrow morning) 🙂

  • 4 apples, peeled and diced
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup calvados liquor
  • juice of half of a lemon
  • a dash of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbs honey or 4 tbs sugar- or a mix- be careful not to overextend the honey, because then it will taste like honey sorbet! I’ve made that mistake before.
  • 7 big mint leaves, finely chopped.

Ok, I do not have an ice cream machine yet, so I made mine the old fashioned way!

Blend the apples with the wine, liquor,  and water. Then stir sugar/honey and lemon juice and dash of apple cider vinegar.

Stir well and place in an air tight container to freeze for an hour.

Stir well again; then freeze again- check it every 15 minutes or so to stir until its set. I can’t give you an exact time on this, you have to keep your eye on it.

When you see it’s almost ready to set, stir in the chopped mint leaves.

I love adding calvados to any apple dessert because the flavor is Apple X’s 10!

CRUMBLE

In a bowl, mix with your hands 1/4 cup oatmeal, 2 tbs honey, 1-2 butter(cut into tiny bits)- you can adjust this to your liking as well-this is just a ratio to help you if you need. I would advise to pour as much oatmeal into the bowl, add a little honey, put a few bits of butter, and see how it goes. You want a sticky, crumbly mixture. This makes very little. If you want more, double or triple this. Don’t be afraid to do this by sight and not strict measurements.

Before serving, toast the crumble in the oven on 375 for just 8 min or when it looks toasted and golden.

BAKED APPLES

2 whole apples, peeled and cored

a sprinkling of juice from a half of a lemon

1/4 cup apple juice or cider

1/4 cup calvados liquor-or brandy

2 small dots of butter- or big dots 🙂

4 tbs sugar

Preheat oven to 200C or 400F

Wash apples and score them on top (slice a shallow X on the top)

Place apples in a small baking dish

In the cored holes, but the dot of butter and pour the juice-calvados liquids over the apples

Sprinkle 2 tbs of sugar on each apple

Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on how strong your oven is- keep an eye after 20 minutes. you want them fork tender, but not mushy! There should be a nice bite, so there is a contrast to the soft sorbet.

*of course you can add any spice you like- cinnamon, clove, etc. I am keeping it simple so there is just an intense flavor of apple, enhanced by sugar/honey and accented by the apple-mint sorbet.

**make sure the apples are warm when serving.

TO PLATE:

Cut thick slices of apple and plate them attractively-overlapping on a plate.

Drizzle some of the natural sauce from the baking pan over the apples. (If you want, you can reduce the sauce in a pan to concentrate before drizzling)

Scoop a delicate quinelle of sorbet over the baked apples.

Finish by sprinkling the oatmeal crumble over the dish and top with a vibrant green sprig of mint.

I hope you enjoy this, let me know what you think after trying!

(tomorrow I will post my Ta Kioupia review, a great restaurant in Athens)

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Every Friday, I will present an enticing dessert recipe!  They will be my own creations or adaptations from other recipes. Some will be pleasantly simple, while others will require more attention and skill. Both decadent and healthy options are in the mix. Most importantly, they will be stunning and distinctively flavorful.

Flavor always means more than looks, I know. But sometimes my favorite part of baking is delighting in the colors and composition.

I idealize this indulgent joy of pretty pretty desserts.

There is something about using my time and hands and creativity to create something special for people I love.

There’s nothing like experimenting with ingredients and techniques, and seeing my guests’ eyes widen at the sight of the creations. I’ll never forget the first time I got my homemade caramel at the exact right temperature to make shapes out of it. When I topped my homemade individual chocolate lava cakes with the caramel designs, I probably enjoyed the result of my labor more than the taste…Don’t ask how I cleaned the glistening globs of dried caramel in my pots and counters!

My boyfriend’s parents came to my house for a dinner a few weeks ago. I know they are not partial to rich desserts, and they love fruit.  We had a ton of apples in the fridge, so the perfect choice was simple: French Apple Tart.

I kneaded the dough.  I feel like I’m in another era when I use my hands this way, and I love it. With dough, it’s not just the recipe. Depending on temperature and level of humidity, you really have to feel through it. The texture should be elastic, soft, not very sticky, and easily malleable. Sometimes you may need a dash more or less of water, the same for flour. The more you make it, the easier it will be.

I chose a round pan, and decided to make a rose shape out of thin slices of apple. I had seen it done once on TV years ago.

There’s really nothing to it! You basically peel and core the apple, then cut it in half. Core-side down, slice the fruit lengthwise. Each time I finish with one apple, I start arranging it, slightly overlapping, in a circular patern around the pan. By the time you get into the center, you will be overlapping more tightly, and it will finish off the image of the rose exquisitely.

I think when the apple is a little soft (not too soft) it helps with shaping them this way.

Top the tart off with dots of butter and heavy sprinkles of sugar before you bake(it needs more sugar than you would think).

The traditional thing to do once its out of the oven is to brush warmed apricot jelly over the apples. Add some liquor to the jelly for more depth of flavor. Calvados is the obvious choice, but brandy works well too! Sprinkle some powdered sugar.

Sometimes I like to shave some clove for a different kick.

Try this, it is so satisfyingly elegant.

When serving, I got the wide-eyed reaction I always love to see. 🙂

Feel free to ask me any questions! Here is the recipe (adapted from Ina Garten)

TART DOUGH

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup ice water

You will need either 8 small apples or 5 big ones for a 9inch tart.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Instead of sifting, a nice trick is just to use a whisk, and whisk all the ingredients. This provides the same result as sifting, and its much less trouble.   Add the butter and pulse in a food processor 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. Pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/ 200C. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out a little larger than the pan you’re using. Place in the pan and refridgerate again. Then get the apples ready as I described above.

Once you form the apples oh-so-beautifully, dot the apples with butter and sprinkle a lot of sugar all over the apples.

Warm 1 cup apricot jam with 1/4 cup brandy or Calvados.

Bake for 25 minutes and then keep checking every 5 minutes until the apples are golden brown. You way want to turn the tart around every so often so the crust in the back of the oven doesn’t burn.

Once you take it out of the oven, brush the apples with the warmed jelly-liquor mixture.

Let me know how it turns out!

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Ambrosia and Nectar was the first restaurant we visited in Santorini, and it was a satisfying initiation into the local food.

Above is a picture of Vinsanto wine served to us at the end of the meal. (Vinsanto is a locally made sweet liquor wine, with grapes sun dried and aged for 3-5 years). Actually only I ordered it because my dining partner doesn’t drink wine, but they seemed to take pity on him and brought him a glass as well! It was my first taste of Vinsanto on the trip. Each sip brought another layer of deep flavor-almost dark flavors of chocolate, honey and butter…

The atmosphere of the restaurant is cozy with eclectic pieces of photography and paintings embellishing the walls. Greenery and flowers are planted randomly around the seating area, lending to its casual yet endearing character.

For appetizers we ordered fava and a santorini salad.

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The fava was garnished with pita bread, caramelized onions, and balsamic syrup. It was incredible! Fava is usually served with raw onion, but I prefer it with the sweet onion. The sweet-tart balsamic reduction adds another bright layer of flavor to the fava. The punchy bitter bite of the capers balanced out the sweetness. I could have continued eating this for my main dish as well and been very pleased! (You can find a recipe for my version of this dish below).

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The Santorini Salad was fine. It was a treat to taste the local cholro goat cheese, which is much milder, creamier, and less salty than the sharper goat cheese I’m used to in the island of Karpathos. The cucumbers and cherry tomatoes were refreshing and perfectly seasoned. The dressing was a simple light vinaigrette.

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Niko had the steak fillet (pictured above) and was disappointed. The meat was not very tender and not exceptionally flavorful. The potato puree though was very tasty- dense, but not too rich, with herby undertones. The roasted veggies were simply grilled with olive oil and very flavorful.

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I chose pumpkin ravioli for my main, with a light scallion cream sauce. I made sure to ask for it with very little sauce, since Greeks usually drench everything. I hate that! I was very pleased with this dish. The ravioli had just the right firmness and the scallion flavor was a delightful match to the sweet pumpkin filling. The chef also doesn’t over-do it with the heavy cream. The seasonings for the pumpkin filling (cinnamon and nutmeg) were pleasantly subtle.

Niko and I shared a dessert of thin chocolate circles layered with white chocolate mousse and strawberries. Even though it was heavy with cream and chocolates, it tasted light and airy. The strawberries were ripely red and sweet. (I didn’t add my picture because its incredibly out of focus! Niko wouldnt stop digging his fork into it long enough for me to take a still photo!)

Here is a fava recipe I made based on the one I tasted at Ambrosia & Nectar:

FAVA WITH CARAMALIZED ONIONS, BALSAMIC SYRUP, and PITA

serves 2

Ingredients:

FAVA: rinse 1 lb. of fava beans in a strainer with cool water to clean. Pour them into a saucepan with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Strain out the froth that floats to the top. Reduce to a simmer on low-medium heat. Sprinkle sea or regular salt. Continue to stir occasionally so the fava doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cook until it absorbs the water and becomes creamy. This may take up to 45 minutes.

ONIONS: sautee onions in a few tbs. hot oil or butter and keep stirring on medium low heat for about 25 minutes or until they are caramalized and taste sweet.

BALSAMIC SYRUP: in a medium saucepan boil 1/2 balsamic vinegar until it is thick and sweet- just keep tasting until its to desired thickness and sweetness-then take off heat. the smell and smoke will be really strong at first, but dont be put off, it will pass.

PITA: toast a round pita and cut into fours.

ASSEMBLY:

-pour the mound of fava puree in a circle on a big round plate.

-place the pita slices standing up symmetrically on the fava

-add small mounds of caramalized onions on the outside of the fava decoratively

-drizzle everything with balsamic syrup

-top with a few caper leaves or capers

(if im not describing this clearly, see picture above!)

Enjoy!

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This may sound silly, but garnishes may be my favorite part of cooking…creating the decor of the plate.

I know serious chefs insist that the flavor of food always has to take precedence over the design- and I agree! But I still love (as my friend David says) those few moments after finishing the dish and before eating it, appreciating the beauty…

I just thought I’d share a few of my favorite techniques:

Once when serving a whole lamb shank, I got the idea to hollow out the protruding bone and stick whatever fresh herbs I’ve used while cooking the meat…the bone acts like a thin vase to overflowing fresh green herbs, its really lovely!

Something I’ve seen Jamie Oliver do with his soups, is to place a toasted, thin slice of bread on the top of the bowl (like a bridge over the soup), and top the middle of the bread with a garnish-for example: sauteed mushrooms. top that with a tiny bit of color (maybe a dainty trim of parsley)- this transforms a simple soup into something very special.

Here are the instructions for the caramel hazelnuts above: (you could also use macadamia nuts).

1) Stick a wooden skewer on the top of the hazelnut-make sure its secure, but still be delicate.

2) dip into warm homemade caramel, and lift straight up-let some excess caramel drip, until there is just a thin drip of caramel under the hazelnut.

3) delicately move the skewer at a 90 degree angle on a shelf of some sort securing them with a book or something to stay, while the caramel has room to hang and dry under it- it should look like a long thin string of caramel under the hazelnut.

4) once dried, carefully remove the skewer and top on a cake or individual cakes-whatever you like!

They should be used the same day they are made, and stored uncovered…

(If caramel gets hard, just warm up a bit and continue)

(also you can make different flavors of caramel-if youre making a tropical themed dessert, make pineapple flavored caramel with macadamia’s-get creative!)

(pictures below courtesy of marthastewart.com!)

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This is definitely impressive for a dinner party. it looks much harder than it actually is.

Garnishes do not need to be used just for fancy dinner parties. Go ahead even when cooking for friends or family on a casual weeknight.  Sometimes such simple touches can really enhance the artistry of any everyday dining experience.

There is a whole world of different techniques, these are just a mere few, and im sure i will post more another day…:)

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