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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Chicken Lovers

garlic that we grew in our P-Patch!

Purple potato ratio far outweighed the red. Purple Prejudice

Final Product: pre-oven

I recreated the delish’ chicken dish that I made a few weeks ago with an old friend. On date night, Matt and I decided to double the recipe (yay for leftovers). However, for some reason, the chicken wasn’t quite as succulent this time around. I have no idea why, because we recreated the recipe to a T (except for some magic seasoning called Alpine Dust).  The culprit may be the fact that we bought really cheap chicken. Impossibly cheap: we were impressed at the value per poundage. We remarked upon in while standing in line at the grocery store. It looked quite delicious in its happy yellow Styrofoam container! But I am convinced that it is the culprit. Even though I was under the assumption that all chickens are created equal, apparently that is not the case. Free range, large (but not genetically modified) breasted, happy chickens from now on.

Here’s the recipe again, for a lil’ reminder, and more specific measurements:

Lemon, Thyme, Wine and Everything Nice Chicken

Set oven to 425
3 Tb Butter
1C white table wine
2-3 potatoes
*Season and roast this, stirring every 10 minutes, for approx 25 minutes, then add:
2C Asparagus (2” pieces)
1 Lemon, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Chicken Breast medallions, seasoned (originally, the recipe called for 1 whole chicken, skin side up…would have to increase the asparagus portion as well to balance this out though)
5 sprigs fresh thyme

*Roast this at the same temperature for approximately 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

If you eat this as leftovers, the potatoes get even more delightfully flavorful with time…and I would believe that the chicken would too, if its genetically modified weirdness didn’t make it impermeable to all-things-delicious marinade…

moral of this story: don’t be cheap on chicken!

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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Main Dishes

 

Joining the Ranks

…Of the unemployed.

Of course, it’s a little different for me. Frankly, Quite. Different. I am unemployed entirely by choice: I’ll be starting nursing school in June and in the interim I am traveling to Argentina and then coming home to pack up my life (hopefully, downsizing dramatically) before moving cross-country in a little hybrid named Pedro. Not a bad next two months by any stretch of the imagination. But it is really hard for me to leave work behind! Each day so far, since my “last day” I have thought about my residents. I wonder how Addie’s* deep vein thrombosis is doing. Is she using her walker or wheelchair? What game did the ladies play at social? Mostly I feel a tremendous void in the absence of my resident interactions that nothing can suitably fill. Even as I feel surges of nervous butterflies when I imagine myself working as a nurse with patients, I crave that day too, knowing that it will satiate my hunger to help and heal.

In the meantime, I am trying my best to truly embrace and cherish each moment. As a human being, naturally my tendency is to gravitate towards all things happy and comfortable. To get past the pain, anguish and discomfort. But life is full of ups and downs and I don’t like feeling like I have been wishing away half of my life, or hurrying through it. While I don’t need to enjoy discomfort (unlikely, really) I can still let it wash over me without fighting it. The gist of this is something that a yoga teacher once taught me, and I am trying to instill as a value, as a new Chapter in my life is about to begin.

This is an excerpt from an email I just sent my sister:

It’s obvious, yet still so ironic, how much more you appreciate something once you are on the verge of losing/leaving it. The other day was our first real Seattle spring day…you know the kind– sunny but still a crisp bite in the air, puffy white clouds on a perfect blue sky. Perhaps there is a shower or two, but it is always followed by a rainbow…one of those days that would make your teeth hurt if it was sugar. Except that, thankfully, beautifully delicious days aren’t bad for you.  Anyways, I went for a short jog in the park which (quite honestly) i practically had to drag myself out of the house to go on. I get stuck inside and then feel to lazy to move, or like I simply don’t have “time” to squeeze in the exercise portion of my day. But as I crested the first hill in the park, facing the water, I saw at least 5 people flying kites on Kite Hill, a smattering of kiteboarders riding the breezy waves on the Lake and a few owners being walked by their dogs. It was too pretty. I felt surrounded by happiness and beauty and it just spilled over in me! I started smiling and wanted to beam joy onto every person I passed. So silly, maybe, but I felt like I was finally shrugging off that heavy woolen overcoat of winter that had been weighing me down (and depressing me) more than I knew. It felt so good.

I wish I could just wrap that moment up like a candy bar and take a bite whenever my own personal rain cloud comes back to haunt me. But in the interest of embracing the discomfort a little more gracefully, I’ll take the rain cloud and the rainbow, because the presence of one makes it so much easier to appreciate the other.

One side story of today that made me smile:

Today I was hurrying (always hurrying lately, it feels like) to drop off a package at a UPS store. I parked in a little strip mall parking lot and cut diagonally across it, making a beeline for the store, skirting in between two bushes that made a nice little shortcut out of the parking lot. Guess I wasn’t the first one to have that idea, though, because two people stepped through the hole in the bushes before me…and then…a crow hopped out in front of me, and made his way through the secret passageway too! Oh, but of course, Sir Crow, you first! It was silly and funny and it made me smile. And helped me to slow down and appreciate the moment, even though it only included me and a crow.

Another moment: Pouring down rain on our bike ride this weekend, but a faint rainbow to the left!

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Healing Spoonful, Miscellaneous

 

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Potato Posers: A Disguise for Cauliflower

I felt like my story of saying goodbye to my residents was anathema to mashed cauliflower. That’s why this recipe is posted separately, even though I find myself writing it mere seconds after my last post. But, to me the distinction is clear: No mixing potatoes and people. Or rather, cauliflower posing as a potato. 🙂

In our kitchen, a bottle of delicious hot chili-infused balsamic vinegar has been sitting on the counter for months. Eons, in kitchen time. We use it sparingly, or not at all; boyfriend and I still haven’t completely grasped the concept of eating the fancier perishable items that we buy in a timely manner, and too often they rot before we do. In an attempt to temper this trend, I seized the moment to use our Pike Place Market Sotto Voce vinegar in a reduction. Yum. Reduced from a cup or more to a few valuable tablespoons….oh, what to pair it with?

This:

a poser that tastes better than the original

Mashed Cauliflower with a Balsamic Reduction

Discovered in Food del Mundo

(Note: I followed this recipe to a T, but it actually turned out a little too rich for my taste…I’m writing the recipe ingredients as I found them, but my substitutions for next time are in parentheses, if you would care for a lighter version.)

One head cauliflower, chopped

– ½ cup sour cream (LIGHT! Or fat free)

– ½ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

– ¼ cup butter (I would halve this next time)

– 2-4 oz cream cheese (optional: I did not incorporate it)

– Salt to taste (Taste first, the Parmesan may add enough saltiness)

Simply steam the cauliflower until the tines of a fork can penetrate easily. Drain. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and puree with a food processor/blender or the old fashioned way–a handheld potato masher. The potato masher will give you a slightly more textured final product.

Reduction

I found an excellent commentary on balsamic reductions which I distilled down to this:

Place vinegar in saucepan. Turn on medium heat. Reduce until slightly thickened. Be patient: it takes time to make a perfect reduction. Do not add sugar. Do not add thickener. Only add your spoon every once in awhile to give it a swirl and ensure the bottom does not burn. Keep in mind that it will thicken further as it cools. After you plate your mashed cauliflower, drizzle 1-2 teaspoons over each serving.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Vegetables and Sides

 

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Impossible Goodbyes

Quote from the amazing woman who knit this for me: "Every time you use this dish cloth it will make you think, 'Gosh darn that old woman, she made me wash the dishes!'"

I felt like I was breaking up with my residents last night. And I had to do it 10+ times.

It was incredibly difficult to leave these people, knowing that it is likely I will never see them ever again. How do you leave someone who you have known so intimately? I am not an expert in this. Never before have I said “goodbye” to someone who I have cared for. Frankly, I have never cared for someone in this capacity. It is not a parental role, nor is it the role of a babysitter: God no. What is it?

As a care manager, I learned the needs of all of my residents so that I could (hopefully) anticipate them intuitively, preserving as much independence as possible in every individual. I have discovered that as a grandchild, you know your grandparents on one kind of intimate level, familiar with their personality, their love, and compassion. But peel away the outermost layers of this metaphorical human-shaped onion and you may encounter closely guarded hopes and fears, basic needs, and sometimes, the most fundamentally raw emotions. You help them do the things (what we call “activities of daily living” or ADL’s) that we, as young people, don’t actively think about because they are as natural and easy to do as breathing. As one grows older, these ADL’s become monumental tasks, oftentimes requiring assistance to complete, which may be accepted with initial reluctance and insecurity. Accepting assistance establishes a degree of dependence on another human being, from which a relationship buds, that is unique and completely unreplicable. Bathing a person, picking out clothes and dressing, assisting with bathroom needs; these are the tasks that we don’t often think about doing, but in assisting someone else, they became simple pleasures for me.

Initially, I pursued my Nursing Assistant Certification for the purpose of meeting a nursing school’s requirements, which turned out to be a school that I will not attend. Since then, however, I have discovered a plethora of reasons why this was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. First and foremost, I feel calmness in my soul. As silly as it may sound, I was seeking a place for my passions to land in the year post-college and I hadn’t quite hit it on the head. I found many things that I was interested in, but not the thing that scratched my itch in exactly the right way. Caring for people does that for me. More specifically, helping people heal tickles my pickle.

Furthermore, without this experience, I wouldn’t have these memories to look back upon when I dive headfirst into an intensely rigorous accelerated nursing program. I already imagine that as my mind’s personal helicopter whirls and twirls amid all the new and foreign clinical concepts, every once in a while it will settle peacefully on the landing pad of memories formed by working with my first patients: my residents. And as this happens, I can only hope that a reflexive nurturing quality of care will take over, and I will be a good clinician. Yesterday, I was able to hear (10 or more times) that I was a good caretaker, and I will be an excellent nurse. It felt amazing. (Tangent: However, today when I got my blood drawn, I tried to watch the needle go into my skin, and imagined myself doing the same things to another person, and I felt queasy and light headed.) All I can say is this: Oh boy, I really hope my residents are right. :-s

Yesterday, as I gave out my picture frames, my residents said a number of things to me that made me want to cry and smile all at once. My most independent resident said one thing that made my internal voice squeal, “This is something to be remembered! Scribble it on your inner whiteboard!”

She is graceful and tall and she knits a multitude of sweet dish cloths like a one-person factory. I hope I never forget her strong featured face as she looked at me and said simply, “Wherever you go, and whatever you do, think of us once in a while and we’ll think of you constantly.”

I am sure that I will think of all my residents more than “once in awhile” (just as I am certain they will not think of me as often as “constantly”). But it gives me great peace in knowing that even when I struggled, I was doing a decent job. My best is good enough and these people, who know me well, truly believe in me. I feel a deep-seated consciousness that as I progress, somewhere, somehow, my residents will be watching over me.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Healing Spoonful

 

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Featuring the Vegetables Themselves

A glorious encounter with vegetables.

Oddly enough, my house has still not replenished itself with food. Strange. Solution: I went to my mom’s. This is a good solution because food in my parents’ kitchen is plentiful, organic and delicious, (ahem) and free. It never runs out. A river of good and plenty. It’s really quite magical.

The other day at work, I noticed an issue of Bon Appetit sitting in the break room among all the other trashy magazine. I immediately snagged it. I only had ten minutes of break remaining, but I managed to find two intriguing recipes that made my mouth water, so I tore them out. I figured it was a break room magazine, belonging to the collective “us,” so I didn’t feel bad about stealing the recipes. Unfortunately, on my next break, the magazine was gone, and I felt immediately guilty about ripping out a couple of pages. To the mysterious owner of the Bon Appetit magazine, wherever you are, I am sorry! I owe you roasted cumin carrots and marinated green bean salad whenever you would like to come over for dinner.

Recipes:

Carmelized Cumin Roasted Carrots

6 servings (I cut the recipe in half)

Calories 94 Fat 5 g Fiber 4 g

– Nonstick vegetable oil spray

– 12 medium to large carrots, peeled and cut on diagonal into 1/4 inch thick pieces (I used a mandolin)

– 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

– 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (I used ground cumin seed)

– 2 tsp coarse kosher salt.

Preheat oven to 400. Spray rimmed baking tray with nonstick spray. Combine carrots and all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat. Spread in a thin layer on prepared baking sheet. Roast until tender and lightly carmelized, turning carrots once. Depending on the thickness of your carrot slices, they will cook completely in 20-40 minutes. Mine were done in 20.


Marinated Green Bean & Onion Salad

Make a quick white wine vinegarette; mix in a pressed garlic clove. Marinate paper-thin slices of red onion (again, the mandolin works magic on this) in the dressing while you steam some green beans until they are crisp-tender. Toss beans with red onions and dressing.

*I nuked the red onion and dressing mixture in the microwave for just over 30 seconds. I personally don’t love the bite of red onions, and this extra step really helped to calm the flavor.

A white wine vinegarette recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard (I ❤ dijon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Talk about amazing leftovers. We mixed the sweet carrots with the tangy green beans in with a mix of greens and other goodies. It will make an amazing lunch for tomorrow. Or a late night snack…


 
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Posted by on March 11, 2010 in Vegetables and Sides

 

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A Harmonica & Overnight Oats

Yesterday was a good day at work for stories. I can’t imagine any job being more entertaining, more full of simple pleasures, than this one. When I arrived at work, another care manager was preparing to help give a resident a hydro. She hadn’t used the hydro in a while, and requested my assistance in drawing the bath water. (A “hydro” is an overgrown bathtub that allows our residents to transfer from wheelchair to a “hydro seat” and then we pull up a self-sealing door to make it into an enclosed tub.) It isn’t exactly hi-tech, but definitely requires some practice in learning the different buttons for locking the door, starting the jets, draining the water, etc. The resident we were helping is quite an individual. Abigail* hails from Minnesota (and has the lovely midwest twang) and plays the harmonica. Who plays the harmonica these days? No one! And boy, does she play it. Any requests, no problem. Granted, the songs that she knows aren’t all in my repertoire, nor would she know how to play any Blackeyed Peas if I suggested it…but you get the gist. The residents make a request, and off Abigail goes, lustily making music. As I helped her undress in the chair next to the hydro, the last thing that she gave me was her harmonica. She looked me in the eye and said, “Better put this somewhere safe, huh?”

I replied, “Sure thing, Annie. You know how much I love it when you play for us.”

“Oh, you do, do you? Huh. That’s good. Give me my harmonica.” And without further ado, naked Abigail unabashedly played me a song on her harmonica. It is an image that I hope to never forget. And then, when she had finished, the other care manager walked in, having finished gathering bubble bath and a washcloth from Abigail’s room. Abigail said, “Oh! You missed it.” And off she went again. We looked at each other and smiled a special smile. I think it meant, “Who else has a job quite like this? We are so lucky to know these incredible individuals.”

After helping with the hydro, I went down to the Bistro to help lead social with the other residents. We have this huge white board that is blocked out in a crossword puzzle diagram. There’s a packet of 27 different crossword puzzle clues that fill the grid perfectly. A few of my residents are total pros at the crossword puzzle. They sit in their rooms and do them; they come down to social and do them. I am totally floored by how sharp they are, and how quickly they shout out the answers to the clues. Faster than I can write. One of the clues I read off was:

“For Me And My ____” I looked up from the clue, confused. I asked, “Is this a song?” 5 sets of eyes looked back at me in astonishment. “Well of course it is,” one of the answered.” “Me and my gal!” another said. “You should ask your grandma about it, I am sure she knows it!”

“But I don’t know it,” I said. “Will you hum it a little bit?”

They did better than that. Starting tentatively, but gaining confidence after the first stanza, 5 wonderful women sang for me.

The bells are ringing for me and my gal,
The birds are singing for me and my gal.
Ev'rybody's been knowing to a wedding they're going,
And for weeks they've been sewing,
Ev'ry Susie and Sal.

They're congregating for me and my gal;
The parson's waiting for me and my gal.
And sometime I'm gonna build a little home for two,
Or three or four or more,
In love land for me and my gal.

Do you know why the birds are singing,
Do you know why the bells are ringing?
I'm gonna give you a big surprise -
I'm gonna tell you why.


The bells are ringing for me and my gal,
The birds are singing for me and my gal.
Ev'rybody's been knowing to a wedding they're going,
And for weeks they've been sewing,
Ev'ry Susie and Sal.

It was so wonderful. 5 ladies singing together. They all know the words. And when they finished, one said, “Huh, we’re all gals. Maybe we should have sung, “For me and my guy.”

*Name changed.

Got home late at night, we have barely any food in the fridge or cabinets (yes, I need to go shopping) but I couldn’t stop thinking about this recipe that I keep stumbling upon on almost every single food or fitness blog that I visit. Rather, it’s not even a recipe really, but more of an approach. An approach to oats. So I scrounged together the most basic elements of the dish and, in 5 minutes, voila, done-zo. Pop it into the fridge and sleep until tomorrow. Wake up, and it is ready. Eat it. Repeat. And oh, my, goodness: it is good. I can’t wait to try it approximately 31 other ways. Baskin n Robbins, watch out. Your 31 flavors of ice cream may just be outdone by my 31 flavors of oats.

Overnight Oats

Preparation method #1 (out of at least 557)

Oats (I used a multigrain blend: rye, barley, oats, wheat)

Yogurt (any variety. This time I used Danon Raspberry Light – it was hiding in the back of the fridge)

Milk (vanilla soy this time around)

Mix-ins and Toppers (I added them in the morning but they can also be added the night before depending on whether you care for the crunchy factor or not. I do.)

Overnight oats are just what they sound like. Raw oats that sit in a bowl overnight with any kind of liquid and “magically” cook by morning. The liquid seeps into the oats slowly, like marinating them, and the texture and flavor that results is indescribable. Much better than plain Jane oatmeal (which is not bad, but this is just better). Proportions may vary. I used 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup of soy milk and 1/4-1/2 cup of raspberry yogurt. I ate mine cold the next day, but I can definitely see the beauty in zapping it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Or more. On top, I added dried blueberries, some Nature’s Path cereal, flax seed and a few pecans. Not for any reason besides the fact that it was all we had in the house. I plan on blogging about some more exciting and creative mixers and toppers once I go shopping and start experimenting. I have a feeling that this breakfast may become a main staple of my diet. ENJOY!

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2010 in Breakfast, Healing Spoonful

 

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Illuminating Nostrils

I know, I know. I said I was going to write about every single day I had left. And I missed a day. Did anyone notice? Probably, not. I get like 10 views for my blog per day and my mom probably accounts for at least 7 of those. But I noticed, and felt badly about it, because these memories are going nowhere (rather, they are going somewhere, I suppose, most likely dissolving into thin air since my brain’s file cabinet is more of a selective sieve than a tupperware).  God knows where the memories disappear to if I don’t put them down into cloud computing history. Enter, blog.

This story is worth not forgetting. I can admit it; I only have two weeks left. I have a favorite resident. I know, I know. The inner primary school teacher in you says that this is bad. I said it too! But is it avoidable? Don’t we all choose favorites to some extent? And the answer is “yes,” I do spend more time with her on average than with my other residents. But the world of assisted living is strange. People pay to live there. A lot. And they pay on a scale of care needed. This resident in particular pays for a total of 4 hours of one-on-one care each day. 4 hours! The base level (I believe) is nearly zero hours (of one-on-one time) because it is assumed that most people in assisted living are fairly independent. And the base level of care is already expensive (at least to my unrefined sense of what is a luxury). So this resident, the one I call Addie, is supposed to receive the large amount of care that I provide for her. She is. It’s just that in the process of providing all this care, I have also grown incredibly fond of her. She is funny, she is sweet, she is altogether unique, and it has become second nature for her to tell me that she loves me, and for me to respond the same words. Good god, I hope I learn to maintain some distance from my patients when I am a nurse practitioner.

Addie loves bingo. She doesn’t quite ever remember the name of the game, but she usually tells me that she wants to play “the one with the red circles.” (Our bingo marker chips are red circular tiles.) I regularly lead social, so I always invite Addie when we are playing social. In fact, Addie will come to any social that I lead, even if she prefers not to participate in the word games. She enjoys drinking her Lipton tea, delicately nibbling a cookie, and studiously observing us blurt out words that we can form out of the larger word “ILLUMINATINGLY” (“extemporaneous,” “flimflammeries,”capriciousness,” or any other 14-letter word I pull out of my hat). But yesterday was Bingo. These ladies are really into their Bingo. We have a big cauldron of fun little prizes for the winners, so it’s always at least a little exciting. I call out the numbers…and yes, it gets monotonous, so after about 4 or 5 games (always ending in one seemingly never-ending round of blackout) I am ready to call it a day. Yesterday, Addie won on of the 4 rounds that we played. She pulled a tub of body butter out of the prize bin, lavender scented.

I pulled her scooter up to her chair, assisted her to stand up, and we walked back to her room. After she was settled in her blue recliner, I proffered the prize. She asked me to open it for her. So, I knelt down beside her, unscrewed the top, and went to work slowly peeling back the annoyingly thick foil that they always stick on beauty products to soothe the germaphobes. After peeling that off, there was a big bubble of lotion burgeoning from the top. Without thinking, Addie reached forward reflexively, and with one finger, popped the bubble. A small clump sprung up with a soft “pff!” and hit her smack-dab in the nose. In surprise, she said, “Oh!” And then we both cracked up. And I mean, really cracked up. Tears welled up in my eyes from laughing so hard, as soon as we would look at each other we would snort and start giggling again. Through it all, she never touched the dab of lotion on her nose, making it all the more entertaining. And then she leaned forward, and gave me a nose kiss with her own, and we both had lotion noses. That started us off on another round of giggles…and another as we finally tried to straighten things out and smear it into our skin, alas, to no avail. There were still smudges, here, there, everywhere. She would reach out and try and help me with my smudges and I would do the same for her. It was nonsense, and so much fun. Blogging seriously doesn’t do it justice. I loved my job so much in that moment.

Today I had dinner with a fabulous old friend. Why cook alone when I can cook with a friend? The wine tasted fancier, the food was richer (or maybe that was the butter) 😮 and the company was perfect. The only thing that suffered was my food photography. It didn’t happen. Maybe next time I will drink a cupful less and remember to take out my camera. Maybe. At least I know that one of these dishes was already made, and blogged about (the broccoli) and the second dish will be made again very shortly. It was that good. Yummy yummy, happy tummy.

All-things-delicious Chicken

Heat oven to 425. Place in one large-ish casserole dish:

purple potatoes, wedged

1/4-1/3 stick of butter, sliced

Generous splash of white wine

Bake for 5ish minutes, until butter melts and delicious aroma of wine flavored butter wafts up from the oven vents. Add:

2 big chicken breasts (or whatever you got, just wing it. Hah, get it?) quartered

Bunch of asparagus, halved

lemon slices, quartered and seeded

few sprigs of thyme (fresh!)

Another 2 or 3 little slices of butter for good measure

salt+peppa to taste (red chili flakes may improve it as well)

Cook for roughly 20-25 minutes, until the juices of the lemons have mostly gone into sauce, and the chicken feels tender to a fork. Eat and Enjoy!


 
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Posted by on March 4, 2010 in Healing Spoonful, Main Dishes

 

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