Friday, October 28, 2011

Oodles of Noodles

No, no, not that kind!  Although I will admit ramen does have its place in the world every now and then.  I'm talking about the real thing.  My little one loves Chinese noodles.  And I love that about her.  The only problem with ordering from our neighborhood Chinese take-out place is having to (slightly) deconstruct the food.  You see, the Vivver doesn't care for celery.  She is her mother's child after all.  She is also a little wigged out by the bok choy.  I have observed some sneaking into her mouth and she's none the wiser, but when she spots it, she makes that supposition that she won't like it.  Innate in kids?  So, after I pick out the celery and greens, she's ready to chow down.

The even cooler thing is that we can whip up noodles at home and she's happy as a little Chinese clam.  Last night we were bachelorettes so a quick dinner of noodles was just what the doctor ordered.  As seems to be a pattern with me, I just opened up the fridge and pulled out what was staring back at me.  So, our noodles consisted of this:

I stir-fried onion, carrots, zucchini and baby corn.  I removed the vegetables from the wok and then stir-fried bite sized chunks of chicken.  Meanwhile, I cooked spaghetti noodles and made a sauce for the little gourmet.  For her, I mixed soy sauce, hoisin sauce, lemon juice and a little honey.  Then, I just tossed some noodles and the chicken and veggies in the sauce and there you go.  For mine, I used one of the sauces Neil picked up at that Asian market in Atlanta.  This one was labeled Coconut Curry Sauce.  Interestingly, under that it says "Portuguese Sauce."  I've been to Portugal twice and I've never encountered a Portuguese curry.  Curious.

Anyway, I used this sauce and a little water to toss with my noodles and veggies. I wasn't sure about the spice level, so that's why I made something different for Vivi.  Now I know she could easily handle this sauce next time. It was very similar to Panang curry, which happens to be one of my favorites at Mai Thai.  Next time I'll have some jasmine rice instead of noodles though, because the rice soaks up the sauce much better.  And I know from experience that Panang is awesome with shrimp.  So, this little jar from Atlanta has opened up all kinds of possibilities Chez Akre.  Stay tuned...

Friday, October 21, 2011

You like Dosai?

Today I find myself alone.  Since I walked the little one to school this morning, I've been essentially without people.  Don't get me wrong.  I like some alone time.  I can think.  I can plan.  I can write.  I can do things that no one else wants to do.  Like eat Indian food. 

Neil is about the only person who will engage in Indian cuisine with me, but since it's few and far between that we get to have lunch together or even go out at night these days, I usually only get Indian when I'm by myself.  Days like today.  There is an Indian restaurant near my office called Bombay Grill.  It's been there awhile, but I haven't found the time to go there.  All of my Indian friends tell me this is the best place in town.  That's where they go.  So, today that's where I went.

I'm sitting here typing to you with a very happy demeanor.  My lunch was fantastic.  Like so many ethnic restaurants anymore, they serve a lunch buffet.  Which is fine with me actually because it allows you to try things you haven't had and get adventurous. Today I chose lentils and chicken tikka masala which I put over basmati rice.  I had one vegetable pakora and something I've never seen was a vegetable pancake.  This is probably meant to be eaten with a chutney (which I finally learned more about today.) Another new dish for me was green beans tossed with a spicy tomato-based mixture.  It was a sauce I guess, but not in a liquid sauce sense.  The spices were subtle but definitely had some kick.  And of course, I had a piece of naan.  Theirs was just the way I like it too.  Crisp edges but soft texture inside.  Yum with a capital Y.

Then came the question:  "You like dosai?"

A nice gentleman approached my table and posed this question to me.  I looked at him thoughtfully and replied "I don't know."  To this he replied "You don't know?"  So, I said, "No, think I should try it?" and he smiled, gave me a subtle nod and off he went.  This is the kind of thing that gets me pumped. I had no idea what was going to arrive at  my table and I could hardly contain myself.  When he came back, he placed a plate on the table with a folded, thin, crispy rice crepe that was as long as the plate was wide.  I peeked inside to see that it was filled with a vegetable puree.  I stared at it.  Hmmm.  Do I pick it up?  Do I cut it with a fork?  Do I fold it up and stuff it in my mouth?  I opted for the fork. (Sorry I didn't think to snap a photo as I was deep in thought over how to approach this thing.)

Wow!  This was really good.  I learned later from the nice lady at the front desk that I had the dosai masala, which is mashed potatoes and onions and (I assume) flavored with garam masala.  She gave me lots of pointers for how to couple the dosai with different sauces, chutneys and sambar next time I come in.  I also learned that the chutneys are meant to be eaten with the "finger foods" such as pakora.  

So for a modest $8.95 I had a very satisfying lunch, tried 3 new dishes, learned more about Indian food and got all this accomplished in under a half hour.  Like my Indian friends, I can say that I recommend Bombay Grill as well.  And, do I like dosai?  Yes. Yes I do.  
Bombay Grill on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hot 'n Juicy and FREE

I know, I know.  I just went off on Wendy's not long ago.  But today, I have to give them credit.  I received a coupon from the nice Wendy's folks for a free Dave's Hot 'n Juicy burger (not related to my rant, btw.)  There is one near my office and as hunger began creeping into my tummy, I glanced over and saw the coupon on my desk.  Expires November 3rd.  No time like the present...

The Wendy's near me is the one on Bush River Road across from Boozer Shopping Center.  (For those of you not from Columbia, the shopping center is named after a family named Boozer, not for all the drunks in town.  Just to be clear; this confusion has come up before.) My coupon stipulated that I had to buy a small fry and small drink.  So basically that allowed me to eat for 1/2 price once the burger was deducted from the bill.  Pretty nice to have lunch for $3 if you ask me. 

Dave Thomas used to own a golf course here in Columbia...did you know that?
 I'm not a fast-food frequent flyer.  Generally, I go because a) I'm traveling & in a hurry, or b) I'm starving and have about $2 in quarters in my purse.  Most of the time I find that fast-food burgers pretty much just taste like the fixin's that are on it.  I'm pleasantly surprised and happy to report that this burger today was the exception. First, it WAS hot and juicy.  And, it tasted like a hamburger...nice and grilly tasting and like beef.  The  toppings were nice too, but didn't overpower the flavor of the hamburger. They used red onion, pickles, lettuce (crisp, not wilted...I hate that), tomato, ketchup, and mayo.

I love this cute little box they present it in!
The bun was soft and warm, which is one of the things they are marketing about these new burgers.  The only shortcoming in the marketing is about the tomato.  All their printed materials mention thick sliced tomato.  Not so much.  Personally, that's not a big deal to me, but if you say it, do it.  

They are also serving new fries with sea salt. Finally, fast-food fries that were not over-salted and they were crisp, not greasy in the least and actually tasted like potato.  I know, what are the odds?  And lastly, the drink.  I am a Diet Coke devotee.  I know all the terrible things people speculate may happen to me one day because of it, but I love it nonetheless.  This time, I got the size I ordered without incident (ha ha.)

Since I'm taking the time to actually write about a fast-food joint, I made some observations for your information.  This particular Wendy's has been here forever.  My first memories of it were from riding up there after church with the Blackwelders to get a bowl of chili.  Living out in the country, this was a big deal to ride all the way over to St. Andrews for lunch. That would have been approximately 35 years ago.  The dining room has evolved over the years of course.  What I noticed today was that it's very clean.  There are no molded plastic booths to slip and slide around in; actual tables and chairs.  And I saw two baby highchairs.  I inspected them both and they did not have old food and who-knows-what caked on them. This was a major deal for me when the Vivver was little.  

So, in short, what I'm saying is that the Wendy's on Bush River Road is a pretty darn nice fast-food joint and they served me a tasty, hot 'n juicy, free cheeseburger today.  I really enjoyed it and I'd order one again.  I'd even pay for it.
Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Shepherd's Pie: Quick! Call Gordon Ramsay!

No, really, don't call him.  I went kinda "semi-homemade" on this one so he'd just storm around my tiny little kitchen exclaiming stuff like "F*&k me!" and "Oh, c'mon!" I don't think I could take that kind of intensity.  But, Ramsey comes to mind because I've seen him rescue so many British pubs and restaurants by going simple and adding a shepherd's pie to the menu.  

Personally, I haven't had this dish since I was a kid.  I remember my mom making it and it was always one of my favorites.  As I recall, I think hers was pretty simple:  meat and whatever vegetables we had coming in from the garden.  Hmmm, I think I'm realizing where my "throw whatever you have in the pot" philosophy came from.  Well, we've had rain the last two days and South Carolina is still just thinking about cooling off into some semblance of autumn.  At even the prospect of a temp below 60 degrees mixed with a little rain and I start wanting cold weather comfort food.  Ok, ok...I know my brother and sister in law up in Minnesota are laughing right now.  Yes, it's true.  We don't know winter here.  Or real cold.  Or snow.  (They are soooo jealous!)

So, last night the spirit moved me.  As is my usual m.o., I started with a recipe and modified it "Wanna-be style."  The wunderkind came into the meal with an "I'm not gonna like it" attitude, which was most unfortunate.  But, under duress, she managed to eat half her plate and while she'll never admit it, I think she really liked it.  And what's not to like?  I think it turned out pretty daggum awesome.  So, I share my recipe with you...

Shepherd's Pie
  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp Sofrito
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas and carrots mix
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup cooked baby limas
Heat oil until shimmering (med-high), saute onion until becoming translucent.  Add garlic.  Stir to combine.  Add beef, salt & pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Sprinkle meat with flour and mix in.  Cook about another minute.

Add Sofrito, broth, Worchestershire, rosemary & thyme, stir to combine.  Bring to a boil then lower heat, cover and simmer until sauce thickens slightly; about 10 minutes.  Add vegetables and mix well.

Spread in a 11X7" glass baking dish.  Cover with mashed potatoes, spreading to the edges of dish to create a seal to prevent bubbling over. Spread with a rubber spatula to cover the entire dish. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 400 for 25 minutes, until potatoes begin to brown nicely.  Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Obviously, making homemade mashed potatoes is preferable.  In the interest of time last night, I used a mix.  Shoot me.  Also, using ground lamb rather than beef will impart a deeper flavor.  The recipe actually called for tomato paste, which I'm out of.  So, I substituted Sofrito. I added limas because I had them in the fridge leftover from the other night.  

If you try it, let me know what you think.  I was pretty darn pleased.  Have leftovers too!  Happy rustic eating, friends.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Village Gourmet: Salads and much more

I'm not sure how long the Village Gourmet has been open.  It's been awhile though.  For the last 12 years, my office has been within walking distance.  Needless to say, I've had most things on the menu and have watched the place evolve from a gourmet sandwich shop to today's daily menu of specials that range from a calamari salad to Kobe burgers to house-smoked pulled pork.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I've never had the pleasure of experiencing Oktoberfest in Munich, but one day.  Until that day arrives, I have to rely on Oktoberfest celebrations by my fellow German-Americans.  They range from beer specials at a bar to a bier garten set up under a tent.  Well, this weekend, Columbia hit the motherlode.  I mean, major.  Surely everyone has seen the signs and ads around town about Oktoberfest at Incarnation Lutheran Church.  I admit, when I saw that it was being held at the church, I assumed it would be an Oktoberfest-themed party sans bier.  I was wrong.  Delightfully wrong!

My best friend attends Incarnation and enlightened me to their plans.  
Eugenie & her beautiful daughter (my god-daughter)

This church invested in major kitchen renovations and additions to prepare for this festival.  Church members were there Thursday night pounding out cutlets for schnitzel.  Tents were pitched, a dance floor laid down, T-shirts made and the bier wagon came rolling in.  

This festival was OUTSTANDING, people.  I was blown away.  Incredibly impressive.  

There were German bands, Hefeweizen, Beck's, riesling, brats, schnitzel, spaetzle, frankfurters (yeah, with the crunchy casing), pretzels, sauerbraten.  
Accordions, clarinets, tubas!

I know a good bier when I see it

The food was all cooked by church members, no restaurants assisted.  I ordered the Jaeger schnitzel plate which consisted of the schnitzel, of course, sweet & sour green beans and potatoes with bacon.  This rivaled any German fare I've had in a restaurant.  And, I was amazed by how smooth an operation they were running.  They were able to accept debit cards at the food tent, plates were put together and served quickly, they had two large tents set up with tables.  These were on either side of the stage and dance floor so you could eat and still enjoy the entertainment.  

Sorry this doesn't look so good; it was getting dark
My little one probably had the most fun she's ever had at a public festival.  First, she bee-lined to the bounce house.  Next, she joined kids on the church playground and was content there for a good hour and a half.  We got her to sit down briefly to eat.  She was kinda weirded out by the casing on the hot dog, so I peeled it off and she ate every last bit of it.  Then, she announced, "I want to go on the dance floor!"  She got out there and started dancing to that oompa music as if she'd been doing it her whole life. I joined her for a few dances, but she really preferred working solo.  At one point, the singer asked for a "Chicken Dance Leader."  The Vivver ran right up to the stage and was chosen to wear a stuffed chicken hat and lead the chicken dance.  I was a proud mama indeed!  Unfortunately, this all occurred after dark, so the iPhone wasn't able to capture any usable photos.  

Hats off to the people of Incarnation Lutheran.  Their Oktoberfest was one of the best festivals I've been to in a long time and I'm delighted to know that they plan to make it an annual event.  Very, very impressive get-together.  If you missed it, make sure you get there next time.  

Auf Wiedersehen!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Things We Do For Love

For those of you who have been reading me for awhile, you know that the Wunderkind is a pretty good little eater.  She is a good sous chef and is getting more adventurous with food.  And she's funny: from time to time some real zingers come out of her mouth.  For instance, last night I made beef enchiladas.  She took her first bite and said, "It's a little bit spicy Mommy, but I'm a brave girl."  She proceeded to eat an entire enchilada and all of Neil's homemade refried beans.  But the other day, we had, well, let's just call it a vegetable soup "incident."

My mom makes giant pots of vegetable soup and puts a lot in the freezer.  Ever since the Vivver was a little critter, she's eaten this soup at Mom & Dad's house.  Not long ago, Mom sent me home with a ziploc bag full of soup.  It was like the loaves and the fishes.  So, Viv requested soup for dinner for several days and it seemed like the volume in that bag was not going down. So, a couple of days ago, it was cool and rainy here all day long.  This prompted me to say to myself, "Self," I said, "this is a perfect day to make a pot of vegetable soup."  

Veg soup is a lot like what I refer to as "trashcan" or "kitchen sink" food...fried rice, omelets, stir-fries.  Just throw in whatever you have on hand and it will work just fine.  So my pot of soup contained baby lima beans, carrots, onion, peas, potatoes and cabbage.  I mixed water, chicken broth and Worchestershire sauce as my base.  Added a pinch of oregano and basil.  Then it was time for the tomatoes.  Here's where the synapses in my brain began to misfire briefly.  I opened a can of tomatoes labeled "petite diced."  I took the lid off, I could see the contents right there with my own eyes, I saw dice that really weren't that petite, but the idea of pureeing them did not occur to me.  This was the fatal flaw.

The Vivver isn't a big tomato fan.  I tried very hard not to project my (former) dislike of tomatoes onto her, but I seem to have done it anyway.  Or, the kid just doesn't like tomatoes all on her own.   Well, she saw them in the soup and wigged.  Truthfully, after I added them to the pot, I really thought they would cook down and blend in with all the other vegetables.  So, as she's exclaiming "They're everywhere!" and not in a good way, Neil started plucking tomatoes out of her bowl.  But I'm afraid the damage was already done. She only ate a few spoonfuls and that was under duress and with threats of no dessert.

Now, I was not willing to let this entire giant pot of soup go totally down in flames.  Because I love my little one so much and she loves vegetable soup so much, the next day, I went through that pot with a strainer and picked out every last tomato.  Then, I pureed the bejesus out of them and reunited them with the other veggies.  I proceeded to ladle it out into containers and froze them.  After the tomato trauma subsides, I'll pull one of those little babies out, tell her it's Grandma's soup and all will be right with the world.  I hope. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lovin' LOOSH

The wedding was yesterday.  It was just lovely.  Ceremony in the garden at the Seibels House.  

Beautiful bride with a cool feather headpiece.  Handsome groom who is wicked on the dance floor.  Friends, wine, music...and the FOOD!

The caterer was LOOSH Culinaire.  I had not encountered this company before and let me tell you, I am one happy little wanna-be now that I've had the pleasure. As an additional bonus, our old friend Eli was working the party.  We met Eli a hundred years ago when she worked for Motor Supply.  I've always admired (and been jealous) of Eli because she attends the Food & Wine festival every year.  Yeah, I've been a whopping ZERO times.  So, needless to say, she's a wine expert which led her to the job of Wine Consultant at Green's for several years.  Sadly, Eli left Green's to attend nursing school.  So, she isn't there to guide Columbia on wine selections, but one day she might save our lives!  Anyway, having her there and being able to catch up was terrific.

During the cocktail hour, the passed hors d'oeuvres were simply fantastic.  Spoonfuls of ratatouille, tempura freshwater prawns on skewers and small ramekins filled with truffled macaroni and cheese.  Yes, you heard me right.  My favorite was the prawns. The tempura was sheer perfection: light, crisp, even the color was right on.  They were served with a soy dipping sauce that was the ideal complement.  But man, that mac & cheese was pretty darn amazing too.  

Inside the house the food fiesta continued.  Two chefs were preparing seared scallops with a citrus beurre blanc.  I wish I'd had my wits about me to snap some pix of all this great food, but I was too busy eating.  These were just beautiful and I'm not a huge scallop fan.  I'd order these babies all day long.  Next, I discovered the roasted beef (I can't remember if it was prime rib or tenderloin) with horseradish creme fraiche.  It seems impossible for meat to melt, but it does.  This was outstanding:  perfect color, amazingly tender and deep flavor.  Roasted asparagus was next on my plate.  It was sprinkled with a dark purple powder, which Eli explained to me later, was organic beets that they had purchased, dehydrated and then ground into a "dust."  If you don't know, the big mamma jamma chefs are all about dusts and powders there days. What this did was impart a deep, earthy element to the asparagus.  Winner.

The crab and corn dip was like having chowder on toast points!  I'd love this recipe.  Great party food.  Next, I came across the portabello sliders.  Not being a mushroomer, I passed on these but I think that was a cool item to serve not only for the variety it added to the menu, but to offer vegetarians or veg-heavy eaters an alternative.  I moved on to the other room across the foyer.  This entire table was devoted to cheese.  I had one twinge of panic, as I thought "Wow, I'm dead.  I'm in Heaven."  As I snapped out of it, I zeroed in on the display.  For those of you who don't know, I studied French all through high school and college and spent a semester en France.  I saw cheeses on this table that I had never heard of and if you've spent any time in France, you've been around cheese!  These were fabulous, beautiful works of art!  Creamy, rich, crumbly, firm, soft.  This was by far the most extensive and elaborate cheese assortment that I've ever had the pleasure to sample.

Later in the evening, Eli and I were chatting and the chef/owner of LOOSH walked up.  She introduced me and Neil to Crawford Pressley.  In that introduction, she included the fact that he trained at the Le Cordon Bleu in London.  Rock on!  This guy is a REAL chef.  No wonder.  Now all those foreign cheeses were making sense. The perfect seafood dishes, the perfect beef.  Impressive.  And, he's a really nice guy.  He markets his business by word-of-mouth and specializes in high-end style catering.  That was certainly evident by what we saw last night.  

I've thought about this food all day.  If I were on Death Row, I'd order Crawford's prawns and scallops for my last meal.  Maybe I'll figure out a way to learn who has hired him to cater their events and I'll become a professional culinary stalker.  Or maybe I should just ask him for a job.

BTW: I asked Neil what he thought was the best dish last night and his response was "you."  Awwwww.  Well played dear husband, well played.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

BBQ worth writing home about

If you live in the South, you eat barbeque.  A lot of it.  Often.  I'm talking about actual barbeque too.  For those of you from "up North" barbeque is a food; it's not an action or another word for a grill.  It's food.  And around here, it's most often shredded or chopped pork with either a mustard based sauce or a spicy vinegar based sauce.  For us, barbeque is a celebratory food.  We serve it when we have casual outdoor parties, we serve it for birthday get-togethers, it's an absolute given that we'll serve it on the 4th of July, and it's commonly served around Memorial and Labor Day too.  We buy it, sometimes we cook it ourselves or if it's a big occasion, we'll even hire someone else to cook it in our backyard for us.  You'll find barbeque at open houses, family reunions, church or school fundraisers, wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners.

Which brings me to last night.

Our friends John and Anne are getting married today.  Yesterday we went to the Seibels house for the rehearsal then headed to a secluded hunt club called Millaree for the rehearsal party.  This place was way cool.  It's a true, active, hardcore hunt club.  Rustic building with bunk beds, open air picnic building, dressing room (not for trying on clothes girls!) and acres and acres of land right next to the swamp.  A perfect place for a BBQ rehearsal dinner.

It was catered by Hudson's Barbeque, a well-known barbeque house over in Lexington.  

Now here's the thing.  I love BBQ as much as the next guy, but I rarely rave about it.  There are aficionados out there, to be sure.  In fact, I used to work with a doctor who was such a connoisseur, you could name a town in SC and he could tell you where to get BBQ.  So for me, barbeque is sort of a staple in Southern cuisine.  It's almost never bad, but some is definitely better than others.  Last night is a great example.

The pork was prepared exactly the way I like it.  Chopped fine, the fat and gunk removed, and some little charred pieces mixed in.  I like to dress mine first with a little vinegar sauce then top it with mustard sauce.  We had traditional accoutrements:  baked chicken (for the pork-less), green beans, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, white bread, & bread and butter pickles.  The macaroni was outstanding, the sweet potatoes had a heavenly dose of cinnamon and the pole beans were perfectly seasoned and cooked just right.  I could have eaten an entire plate of green beans to tell the truth.  I mean, that's a good green bean huh?

So I thought I needed to share this BBQ experience with you.  It was really fantastic and it's making me happy just thinking about it.  The only thing that would have made the night more complete would be if a giant, nasty, angry wild boar had charged up out of the black swamp and someone would have dropped it right there in the picnic shed with a single shot to the head.  Yeah I know; that's a really weird thought.  But knowing that black, inky swamp was right there, it coulda happened.

Hudson's Smoke House BBQ on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Great Ravioli Switcheroo

I have never made fresh pasta.  Not because I don't want to but because I don't have a pasta machine nor do I have the counter space to roll it out by hand.  One day I suppose.  So, we are forced to eat dried pasta and other store-bought pasta.  I like the "fresh" refrigerated pastas from time to time but I think they're overpriced.  But one thing I really like having in my freezer is ravioli.  They go on sale often and coupons are pretty easy to come by as well.

Why do I like this stuff so much?  It's quick and easy to cook and it's ridiculously versatile.  Obviously, you can serve it with red pasta sauce.  I like them coated in bread crumbs and toasted.  Another way that we really like to prepare them is simply with toasted walnuts and a drizzle of olive oil.  And, of course, we cannot forget about pesto!   

The wunderkind usually does well with these too.  Until the other day.  When I mentioned having ravioli, she announced that she doesn't like the kind that I cook.  She prefers ravioli from a can.  Picture me looking over each of my shoulders to see who on Earth she's talking to?  As I embark on my (very) logical explanation of why this is so much better than canned, Neil waved his hand very slowly at me and gave me that mystical "I've got this" look.  I stopped talking and just walked away shaking my head.

Here's what the genius did.  He opened a can of something, put it in a tupperware and removed the label.  Then he cooked some of the frozen ravioli, tossed it in sauce and put it in the can.  Next, he found the Vivver and showed her that he had indeed discovered a can of ravioli in our cabinets.  She was delighted and daddy headed back to the kitchen to warm it up in a pot.  Peace.  Everybody wins.  

Why the hell didn't I think of that?


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