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Archive for April, 2009

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I’m a little bit crazed for food from someone else’s world. I think growing up in the 70’s, with my white-bread and cream soup upbringing where everything was bland, flavorless and boring caused my tastebuds to automatically seek out foods that sing, soar and dance in my mouth. These days, I can’t get enough of the varied flavors and spices of foods from around the world.

We did a few turns to what was considered ethnic then; there was a favorite mexican restaurant we went to, although authentic wasn’t really it’s way, and we often ventured into a Chinese place to partake of a few dishes that seemed appealing at the time but the real stretching into more daring and exotic fare began when I was in college. My roommates and I began frequenting an Ethiopian restaurant in Minneapolis, delighting in the spongy injera, the potent blend of spices and the rich heady flavors of tea and coffee found there. We would drag ourselves home, stuffed and reeling and before the food even settled we would plot our next return. Ethnic restaurants were popping up more and more during that time, and a friend and I once made a huge list of them, promising to scratch one off every week in an effort to explore all these mysterious cuisines around us. We did all right by that list, and I tasted some pretty exciting foods. Exciting for the ’90’s, that is.

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The one place for me that I could return to again and again is the Village Wok on the University campus. It’s as close to an authentic Chinese restaurant as one can get in the confines of Minnesota’s borders, evidenced by the sheer number of Chinese college students who frequent the closely packed tables and chairs. They gather in large numbers, with huge amounts of food on the table in front of them; dishes I couldn’t recognize or explain and they tuck in with abandon. The smells here are mind-boggling and the plates of food fragrant and searing hot. There isn’t a single thing about this place that speaks of success beyond the food. It’s dinghy, the tables are rickety and the steps down to the basement bathroom are scary. All of that is irrelevant when the server drops a plate of food in front of you.
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As hard as I try, I am unable to create that flavor at home, although it isn’t for lack of effort; I make stir fries quite often as it’s a really good way for me to get Griffin to eat a big plate of vegetables without any fuss but I’ve always had to lower my expectations of that Village Wok kind of flavor as I raise the first bite to my mouth. It comes close; it’s delicious and it takes care of the craving. That’s what I strive for in the kitchen.
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The origin of this recipe is vague but no matter; it’s been reincarnated so many time that the original is mostly lost. It’s an excuse away from the everyday, although by no means anywhere near authentic; just a tiny slip of flavor that can tend to a craving for the genuine that I’ve neither time nor energy to seek out. The work of chopping and slicing is therapeutic, bowls all around me brimming with fresh vegetables, the rice cooker humming on the counter, blues music keeping me moving. It serves multiple purposes too; even with the vegetable content it’s one of Griffin’s favorite meals, and the look on his face when he knows I’m pulling this together is worth every knife stroke, every specific moment of timing that a good stir-fry requires. It can’t be soggy or overcooked- the best thing is the crunch- and for this go-round, it crunched and sang like I hoped it would. Watching him devour his large portion and sit back with such a satisfied look on his face was another part of the process to satisfaction and it wasn’t just about taking the edge off my craving.

Chicken Asparagus Stir Fry
(original version)

1 T. toasted sesame oil
1 bunch fresh asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1″ pieces- tips separate
1 # chicken tenders or boneless breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
2 scallions, trimmed and cut to 1/2″
1 shallot, sliced
1 red pepper, cored seeded and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 c. snow peas, strings removed and cut in half
2 T. minced fresh ginger
1/4 c. oyster sauce
2 T. garlic chili sauce
1/2 c. shelled salted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in large skillet or wok over high heat. Add shallot, asparagus and red pepper, stir fry for about 4 minutes, then add snow peas and stir fry 2 minutes. Remove to bowl, cover and keep warm. Swirl a scant 1/2 t. more of oil in pan and add chicken, allow to cook until browned on one side, then flip over and cook until you can’t see any pink. Add sauces and ginger, stir to combine. Add vegetables and stir to coat. Cook about 5 -8 minutes longer or until chicken is no longer pink. Serve over rice, if desired.

KATE’S NOTES:
The oyster sauce can be swapped with black bean sauce, as I did in this particular preparation. I’ve found that even a short amount of time marinating the chicken in the sauce can add a lot of flavor.

Obviously a stir fry is open to endless interpretation. Add more chili garlic sauce for extra heat; swap out the vegetables or the meat or remove the meat altogether and add some seared tofu. Change out the sauce or the crunchy nut garnish. The pistachios are amazing with this- who knew??

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Hi everyone- Nina Pasiuk here; I’m 14 months old and I’ve got a lot to say so listen up. If I think you aren’t paying attention, believe me- I can talk over you. I’ve got three older siblings.
kate-and-nina-010This is me- with my Aunt Kate. She’s pretty cool. I spend some time at her house playing with her cats when my Mom has stuff to do. Usually I only have lunch and a nap there, but this time when I went to see Aunt Kate and Uncle Mike, my Mom left me there for a really long time! I had three sleeps and four whole days at their house, and we had some great fun.

I used to be kind of afraid of Uncle Mike- everyone would tell me he’s a lot of fun but I just couldn’t handle it and would cry whenever he came near me- but now I realize that they’re right; he’s GREAT fun! He likes to be fed too, like me. But he’s so big! Why does he need me to feed him his snack? Oh well- I’ll play along.
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It was really warm one of the days I spent here. My legs felt sticky and Aunt Kate said my cheeks were so pink. She gave me this really cold thing she called a fruit bar. I wasn’t too sure about it at first because I’m not a huge fan of fruit, but wow did it feel good to hold and put in my mouth. And on my cheeks and in my hair and all over my arms and under my chin and on my foot……

chilean-viognier-008See? My cheeks aren’t quite so pink now that I’ve covered myself with this cold thing. I did really enjoy it a lot, but I have to tell you, the bath Aunt Kate gave me when I was done with it felt even better. That’s my cousin Griffin in the background. He was doing dishes which surprised me. My brothers don’t seem to do that.
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Aunt Kate makes some really good food and I ate a lot. I ate delicious oatmeal that was nice and chewy, she made me chicken on the grill, omelets and scrambled eggs and soup, but my most favorite dish I ate was something she called Pesto Pasta. One time for lunch she made me a ham and cheese omelet and I was really enjoying it until she sat down with a plate of that pasta. Well that wasn’t fair! I wanted that pasta! I even helped her clean off my tray of all the remaining omelet so she could put some pasta on it. So then we swapped lunches. She’s so nice. She said she didn’t even care.

The best part was after each meal she would give me animal crackers. I love those! (Mom? Are you getting all this?) The cookies were major fun to play with and eat- sometimes they would hide from me too.
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My brother Matthew came to stay at Aunt Kate’s house too, and it was fun to have him around. I crawled around the house yelling out ‘MattMatt’ to make sure he was still there. I learned how to use the stairs really well there too, and Matt liked to help.
chilean-viognier-016There was even a party one day I was there and all these nice people came over to celebrate Griffin’s birthday. I couldn’t be bothered with a nap that day because there was just so much going on, and wow did we all have some fun. I even went to the park to swing (my FAVORITE THING EVER) with Uncle Mike and Griffin and Matt. Those boys aren’t too bad after all. I can still give them the business when they get in my face too much, but they’re OK sometimes.

I enjoyed lots of fun games too- Aunt Kate and I tossed things around on the floor a lot because I’m really good at throwing whatever I can find. The boys were playing a game where they throw dice around and I wanted to play too so I got my very own dice and Kate showed me how to play. We played for a long time! It was so fun! The boys played some video games too, and I liked sitting with them and telling them what to do. I’m good at that. On Sunday I kept telling everyone that I wanted to go for a walk and go swing at the park but all they said was that it was raining. Maybe that was why it was so dark outside. By then I was pretty tired out, and I had some nice naps snuggled up to Aunt Kate- she’s really cuddly and warm. I loved curling up next to her at night too; she made me feel really safe and comforted because I kind of missed my mom. Boy was I happy to see her when she FINALLY came back to get me!!!

So that’s the deal from this end- Aunt Kate and Uncle Mike were quite fun to play with and I love those cats! Especially their toys!! They didn’t seem to be all that interested in playing with me though…..hmmmm……..

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Banana Bran Muffins

Mix in bowl until blended:
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T. butter, melted
1/3 c. unsweetened applesauce

Add in 1 1/2 c. All Bran cereal and 1/2 c. whole oats; stir to combine. Allow to sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mash two ripe bananas on a plate and set aside.

In separate bowl, sift together:
3/4 c. AP flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 T. ground flax seed

Gently stir the bananas into the milk/bran mixture. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and fold gently to incorporate. Do not overmix. Scoop into muffin tins lined with paper cups (or sprayed) and bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are springy. Cool on wire rack.

KATE’S NOTES:
Regular milk, or soy milk can be subbed for buttermilk. To make buttermilk (or sour milk) mix one teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice per cup of regular milk. Stir to combine and allow to sit until curdled. Plain or vanilla yogurt can also be used- stir about 1 cup of yogurt with half a cup of water.

This recipe is wonderful with frozen or fresh blueberries. Toss one cup of fresh washed berries with a tablespoon of flour to keep them from sinking. For using frozen blueberries, gently fold them in, undrained and unrinsed, after you incorporate the wet and dry ingredients. Lemon zest is particularly nice with a blueberry addition; use about a teaspoon or two, with an additional 2 tablespoons of juice as well. Shredded apples also make a nice fruit substitution. Core and shred about two small tart apples and add to wet ingredients. You can stir in a half cup of extra applesauce with the wet ingredients, or even use apple butter (same proportion)  for more flavor.

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There’s a glut of food blogs on the ‘net, have you noticed? I’ve been trolling for some new inspiration, awesome lurk-worthy sites that are an instant source of excitement, chock full of recipes that I can’t wait to make.

I found myself gasping at what was in front of me; I was a bit taken aback, like thinking I fell into another era. The posts talked about mac and cheese, baked potatoes covered with canned soup, casseroles with frozen vegetables and potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches with perfect squares of fake cheese…..and please excuse me for sounding snobbish as I certainly know I do right about now…. but this is the food that Jamie and I joke and laugh about, the stuff we were forced to eat coming of age in the 1970’s from mothers who only knew about Betty Crocker and The Joy of Cooking.  This is not, in all our 2009 understanding about our food, our health, the way we can nurture and protect ourselves from the plate up; this is not food. I’m sorry. Forgive the mini-rant, it’s done now.

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It gets better….I promise-  read on…….

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I think everyone is trying to eat better for their health, and subsequently, their pocketbooks. Information abounds in money-saving tips, grocery shopping tactics and ‘Quick! Fast! Cheap!’ meals are everywhere.

I’m thrilled that Springtime, and the return of fresh produce is commencing. It changes the whole tone of what happens in my kitchen, and on our plates. There are sweet baby lettuces that need barely a gasp of fresh squeezed lime juice and a tiny drizzle of balsamic, rich asparagus stems in a quick sputtering stir-fry and tiny crisp radishes dredged through a bit of french sea salt. I keep dreaming about main-dish salads of smoky grilled vegetables. I long for summer cherries, melon season and corn plucked from the field that morning, dew still clinging to the leaves and tassels. It can’t come soon enough. I long to retire my soup pot and clean out the oven; bye bye rutabagas, thick skinned squashes and heavy braises. Nights may still need those extra blankets, but this girl’s in the mood for new food.

I’ve started to move a little from winter’s heavier fare to quicker, simpler and more varied eating, mostly by fulfilling my current hankering for anything cabbage related. This isn’t the most spring-like of offerings, but it’s cheap, chock full of excellent nutrition and it keeps like a trooper in the fridge when properly wrapped. I’ve been a fan of cabbage since I was a little girl. It was one of my Mom’s continual offerings. She would chop up an entire head of green cabbage, place it in the ‘cabbage tupperware’ (reserved only for that use) and then pour on some Good Seasons Italian dressing and grate a bunch of pepper over it. The cover would be pressed into place and she would shake that thing like crazy. I can still hear the sound of all that cabbage being tossed around. Cabbage makes me think of her and I still love it with little else besides that same dressing, doctored in my own fashion, tossed with a handful of chopped almonds for crunch and extra flavor, although there’s far more to this humble vegetable than most people ever realize.

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Cruciferous vegetables-like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale-are rich in a variety of compounds that have been shown to slow cancer growth and development in a number of laboratory studies. Other larger human studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables can help to reduce the risk of lung, stomach, colorectal, prostate, and bladder cancers. (from the Living Strong Living Well website article ’11 Cancer Fighting Foods)

Cole slaw is a very favorite dish of mine as well, only I am not one to beam and shout over most recipes, drenched as they are in a mayo based dressing to the point of giving the term ‘limp and soggy’ a run for its money. Although that tastes pretty darn good on a pulled pork sandwich, from the end of a fork it doesn’t resonate quite so beautifully. Coleslaw needs to be made and eaten quickly. It’s one food where ‘leftovers’ in my fridge tend to cause immense shuddering and a wrinkled nose.

The whole idea of coleslaw has changed dramatically in my mind, thanks to the endless food blogs that pour out every variation of the stuff. It isn’t just about the cabbage anymore, and by definition, if it adds something more, is it still just humble coleslaw?

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This recipe evolved from several sources and plenty of inspiration. It mixes green and red cabbage, jicama sticks, garbanzo beans, cooked bulgur and chopped almonds, with a few cool cucumber slices on the side for color and crunch and in return, it promises you a plate of superb antioxidant protection, a powerhouse of vitamin C, omega-3 fats, whole grain goodness and loads of crunch. It sticks with you long after the fact too, with an amazing amount of fiber that leaves you feeling satisfied and full without being too overbearing. No one needs food to continually outstay its welcome; these days we want a good meal without wishing for a sofa and pillow afterwards. And it’s so good that it won’t take long for you to turn a lovely pile of vegetable goodness into a near  bare and heavily appreciated empty plate.super-cabbage-salad1-004

This is also a perfect offering for the blogging event happening over at Mele Cotte- Cooking to Combat Cancer. Chris is now in Year Three of being cancer- free and calling all food bloggers to offer up recipes with cancer-fighting appeal.

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There is no shortage of good people around me fighting with everything that they have against the ravages of cancer, and this event can help everyone arm themselves with good tools to put in their pantries and tummies that will offer some support to a body that is constantly exposed to an wide range of harmful properties. I owe an enormous amount of my well-being and overall health to the foods that I eat; whole foods, plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean meats, whole grains, nuts; it’s all there. I stepped up my efforts to make our meals even better over the winter, and we were rewarded with only a smattering of illness that took little time to disperse. While food itself isn’t the only way to stay healthy, it’s one good tool you can use to help your body be at it’s very best.

Super Slaw Salad
by Kate

1/4 head of both red and green cabbage, shredded or chopped
1/2 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. cooked bulger
1/2 c. (approx.) of thinly sliced jicama
1/4 c. chopped almonds
Cucumber slices
Dressing of choice

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and toss to mix, adding dressing to taste and seasoning with fresh cracked pepper or a dusting of good sea salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

KATE’S NOTES:
Obviously, endless variations on this abound. It’s almost silly to make a cut and dried recipe out of it. I would have added carrots if I had some. Shredded apple would be delicious. I love the addition of shredded bok choy and napa cabbages to my slaws also. Vary the dressings too for a different flavor profile, like an asian style with sesame seeds. Change up the nuts, the beans or the grain.

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If I left our menu choices up to Griffin, we’d eat meat all the time. All. The. Time. To him and his near 15-year old stomach, meat is the be-all to end-all. Especially beef.

We’re not huge beef consumers, not even ground beef. Mike isn’t particularly fond of red meat and as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered that I’m not so much either. I’ve realized that it can be a bit stressful on the digestion, and then, of course there’s the cost. Beef has the heftiest price tag of any meat found in the market. And good beef with a healthy marbling and high quality flavor is pretty much out of our budget range, especially these days and likely for good. To me, spending that much money on a hunk of meat is insane even if it is amazingly delicious. Once a season when the weather is very nice, I will grill steak for Griffin and I because really, a steak on the grill is a thing of beauty, and for an occasional treat that makes my son’s eyes shine, I can shell out a tad more cash at the checkout.

Griffin was nearly beside himself with joy on Easter morning when he discovered this chuck roast thawing in the kitchen. I had purchased this meat with the intention of creating a new recipe from it and then, in fairly typical fashion, forgot or misplaced whatever it was I was prepared to do with it. Bonus for the boy. I agreed to turn it into Pot Roast, just for him. With a quiet, restful Sunday on our hands, a meal that required little work was just the ticket.

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I’m going to break all convention here, because although there is a very vocal reverence to cooking only with a wine that you yourself would drink, I don’t necessarily agree that a poor wine is a poor choice to add to your recipe. Something quite lovely can happen to a rather crummy bottle of wine when it’s mixed in with caramelized onions and garlic cloves alongside a nice chunk of beef. The long slow heat can soften it’s harsh edges and mellow the flavor. A spoonful or two drizzled over the top of the finished meat adds a juicy compliment in your mouth. And what you don’t use simply gets tossed after serving it’s purpose. Once in a while, if a selection from the wine shop ends up a bad one for you, it can be a bonus for your meal. Everybody wins.

The method I use for Pot Roast is to cook about three sliced onions until they are nicely caramelized, stirring almost constantly over high heat to deposit a nice fond on the pan bottom. I add in about six whole garlic cloves too. Once the onions were deeply burnished, I place the seasoned meat in the super-hot pan and allowed it to sear to a deep crusty brown. About a cup of the wine is poured in to release all the good stuff on the bottom, then simmered until it’s absorbed. Dump in the remains of the entire bottle, cover the pan tight and either allow to cook slowly at the lowest flame on the stovetop, or place it in a moderate oven- 300 to 325- until the meat is tender and easily pulls apart. The timing will depend on the size of your roast. If you’re cooking on the stovetop, keep the flame very low; the liquid should bubble only slightly, not be in a rolling boil. This might make your meat a bit tough. With this method, my 2-1/2 pound roast needed barely three hours to become perfection.

Of course, the best accompaniments to a delicious, wine-soaked plate of beef are potatoes and carrots. I made smashed potatoes- not mashed, these are a bit lumpier and rustic- and the carrots were roasted to tender and sweet perfection. The best part though, of the entire meal, was watching Griffin’s face. The boy was in bovine heaven, and in the morning before school, he ate some of the leftovers for breakfast.

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Recipe after the jump

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If this doesn’t make you smile like crazy, there quite possibly could be something wrong with you. Even some of the passengers in the station looked like they were joining in the fun!

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Spring seems to be taking it’s time, again, to come full into itself in Minnesota. It’s early still, but those few days of balmy sunshine have teased us into wanting more. Can’t blame anyone for being tired of winter, tired of snow and ready for a change. It’s kind of a metaphor, if you think about it.

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We weathered, and are still weathering a tough time with nary an end in sight. It’s a vicious cycle and quite frankly, it’s beginning to wear me down. I’m tightening every string I can find and pushing myself to find more to pull taut but there aren’t many left to either eliminate or reduce. While we seem to manage, and I continue to put out feelers for employment that don’t go anywhere, there are times like I am now where I just want to pull a thick hood over it all and disappear. My insomnia doesn’t help it at all, and often makes it that much worse.

There are many things that if I choose to look at them will push my perspective into a brighter, sunnier spot. Mike is gainfully employed and as his own boss, he’s not facing the threat of layoff. He has a lot of work- almost too much sometimes- and he’s exceptionally good at what he does. We are blessed with excellent health, which is such a god-send because our insurance deductibles have increased from ‘much too high’ to ‘scary-high’ and all it would take would be one bad accident or a serious illness to send us spiraling into a deep shade of red. This is something to really be thankful for, and I credit our foods and eating habits with much of this piece of good fortune. And even before this woe settled upon us all, we had pledged to live simply and without a lot of the luxuries that many others have had to cut out lately in order to get their finances under control. For us, the idea of simple living isn’t born from our current hardship; for us it’s been a way of life. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t help during some of the lean times.

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So with Spring in the air, the sunshine feeling warmer on our faces and the earth awakening all around us, I try to stretch for a more hopeful point of view, one where the chill of an emotional winter and the constant snowfall of economic strain disapears into the warmth of a springtime renewal. I have, if nothing else, always been an eternal optimist. My glass is always half full; it’s just been lately I’ve had the sense that I could drain the last drop from my wellspring of hope and the tap to refill it would be empty. Still, despite it all, I remain hopeful. Maybe not positive all the time, but I am, with all else lacking, eternally hopeful that when it’s all over we’ll come out better, stronger and far more resilient. And that maybe I’ll find a job.

And the sense of seeking comfort in my meals has been strong. On a recent night when my planned recipe didn’t pan out for lack of one necessary ingredient, I turned a proposed Green Chile Rice and Beans meal into a Zesty Italian Chicken and Rice, and with one bite was transported back to one of my favorite childhood dishes.

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A one pan meal, Baked Chicken and Rice was a perfect and inexpensive dish to feed our big family. A cut up chicken was placed over a bed of rice mixed with cream soup and enough water, then baked until it was all moist and tender. It wasn’t perfect; sometimes the water proportions were off and it was either too dry and hard, or too mushy. And almost always, the chicken was overcooked. No, there was no perfection in the kitchen of my childhood. But I still loved the meal, and quite honestly, my most favorite part was to pry the crispy edges of baked rice off the pan and crunch my way through them. Later on when I was in college, I fell in love with a simple recipe of chicken marinated in italian dressing and then grilled, to be topped with a slice of melted mozzarella cheese.

This rice dish, the one that morphed itself into existence that night, gave me a comfort and sense of well-being that’s been lacking lately, all for the reason that it took me back, in my mind, to simpler and easier times. It had the flavor of childhood without the overcooked meat; it had the taste of my first years of freedom in college, and yet it was served and enjoyed with my two most favorite and treasured people, the ones that are holding me all together in this mess we call life. For a small moment it instilled in me a belief that everything would be all right- maybe not right away, but in time- and filled my gnawing hunger not only for sustenance, but for some hope as well.

(recipe after the jump)

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