pumpkin spice yada, yada, yada

J’adore the aroma of coffee, but never cared for the taste. All of that changed this past summer while staying in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris with my daughter. It’s nearly impossible to be sitting in a small cafe at a tiny bistro table surrounded by elegant Parisian women and not want to be just like them, sipping strong, dark coffee from miniature (by US standards) cups. There I learned that the bitter taste was easily controlled with a bit of cream and sugar. Proud of finally learning to like coffee, I took a ridiculous number of photos featuring every cup I drank there.

Now that summer has gone and the world has become a glorious vista of yellows, oranges, and reds, everything is pumpkin spice this and pumpkin spice that. I tried the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks, and although it was tasty, the 470 calorie, $4.25 beverage was not to become a regular indulgence.

On this particularly lovely fall morning, however, a pumpkin spice latte seemed like a must-have. Still bothered by the thought of consuming a 470-calorie beverage, I decided to try to make a version of the drink at home.

IMG_6821After grinding cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ground ginger together, the mixture went into my French press along with coffee grounds and a couple of tablespoons of canned pumpkin. While the coffee was brewing, a slug of fat-free half and half warmed on the stove top with a splash of good vanilla and a teaspoon of Sugar In The Raw.

Okay, there was no whipped cream or caramel drizzle, but I really didn’t miss it, and neither did my waistline or my wallet.

 

p’s please

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It’s just eight days before I head east to spend the holidays with my family, and this next week is filled with lunches, dinners and cocktails with friends, so I’m in my Eat-What-You’ve-Got mode [yet again]. Although fridge and pantry are pretty bare, there’s some decent bones here. Pulling items from both, there’s pasta, peas, prosciutto, pine nuts, parsley and Parmesan. I promise this alliteration was unplanned! Let’s call it Kismet, because the combination was actually quite tasty and satisfying on this chilly near-winter’s night.
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Here’s the details:
2 portions
5 minutes prep; 15 minutes cooking

1/2 box whole wheat penne
2 slices prosciutto
2 TBSP olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/8 cup pine nuts
2 TBSP chopped parsley
2 TBSP grated Parmesan
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 350. Place prosciutto on a baking sheet and bake in pre-heated oven until crispy, about 4 minutes. Cool on a paper towel. Meanwhile, bring water to a rolling ball and add salt and pasta. While pasta cooks, toast pine nuts over medium heat in a small, dry skillet. Add olive oil to a medium skillet. When pasta has about 3 minutes left to cook, warm olive oil over medium heat, then add garlic and pepper flakes for 30 seconds. Add peas. When pasta is al dente, remove from pasta water and add to skillet. Toss together for a minute, then add half of the cheese and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add a bit of pasta water if needed to make the sauce. Spoon pasta into warmed bowls and garnish with crumbled prosciutto and a bit more cheese.

“More p’s pretty please!”

 

 

 

veg gone wild

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My father-in-law loved vegetables. And he had an incredible capacity for food. My mother-in-law, Doris, would prepare two huge sirloin steaks for dinner. One for him; one for the rest of the family. For dessert, he’d take a half-gallon container of ice cream and carefully pack it down into his special [mixing] bowl to remove all the air pockets and eat the entire thing. At a regularly frequented all-you-can-eat buffet, the manager took him aside and explained they’d need to charge him double – to which he happily agreed. Yet this man was tall and slender and amazingly fit. For him, Doris would buy the huge cans of vegetables from the bottom shelf in the grocery, but she struggled trying to make a more interesting dinner for him than simply serving three kinds of vegetables on a plate. Doris had many wonderful talents; cooking was not among them. This Cleanse has taught me that veggies – with good preparation – can easily stand alone as a tasty, satisfying and beautiful meal. With a nod to my father-in-law, rest his dear gentle soul, here’s a dish that fits the bill.

Spicy Coconut Curry with Veggies and Rice

THE CURRY
makes about 1/5 cups
ingredients
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  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • large pinch grey sea salt
  • 1 cab unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1.5 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • chopped cilantro (as garnish)

preparation

  • Add oil to a large, wide pan, and cook onion, garlic, curry paste, and salt over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Add coconut milk and gently simmer, stirring frequently, until reduced to about 1.5 cups, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in lime juice, honey, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste.

THE VEG
makes two portions

How about any seasonal veg your heart desires? Today I used:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Broccolini, cut into one inch pieces (heaping 1/2 cup or so)
  • Cauliflower, cut into one inch pieces (heaping /12 cup)
  • Red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch strips then cut again on the diagonal (1/3 cup)
  • Sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch pieces (1/3 cup_
  • Large handful of spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 1/2 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

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how to

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high
  • Add cauliflower, and saute until it starts to soften
  • Add broccolini, red pepper and cook until just starting to soften
  • Add sugar snap peas, spinach, beans and 1/2 cup of curry.
  • Bring to a simmer. Serve overbasmati rice and garnish with chopped cilantro and a pinch of pink Himalayan salt (optional, but so fun!!).
  • IMG_2878

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A little spicy, a little creamy, all the colors of the rainbow (for Pam), a little wild. Beats a can o’ peas any day of the week.

 

e, f, ghee

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I remember the days of ridiculous eating. We’d go to The Barnsider, a north Dayton tradition with truly amazing fried shrimp breaded by hand and the best cocktail sauce ever. So good in fact, it’s now sold in local markets.  I’d order a jumbo shrimp cocktail with that head-clearing sauce, french onion soup – rich and dark – with house-made croutons and bubbly melted cheese, house salad, filet – char rare – and king crab legs with drawn butter, baked potato with sour cream and chives, cheesecake. Plus cocktails and wine. I used to call it my “farewell to fat feast”, but  eating like that never made any pounds disappear despite my good intentions. Back then it seemed like an exciting adventure and the food hangovers were not insufferable. Today I cannot imagine eating that amount of food in one sitting.

deep_pure_cow_ghee_frontI thought of that meal as I was making ghee (drawn butter kicked up a notch) in preparation for Week 4 of my Cleanse. I’d used ghee once or twice in the past, but it was store-bought and not particularly attractive.

This time, I thought I’d whip up a batch of my own. It really is like drawn, or clarified butter, but cooked for a bit longer. Back in the days when I made drawn butter at home for crab legs, I’d just melt whatever I had on hand. But all dishes are as good as the ingredients used, so Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter made its way in to my shopping cart.

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At $3.99 for 8 ounces, it was the best butter I could find at the local big box market (I REALLY need to get back in the habit of shopping at Findlay Market on Saturdays), and dreamed of the incredible Amish butter I used to get from time to time at the Second Street Market in Dayton. Try to find unsalted butter if possible. So with great butter in hand, it was time to get my ghee on. Here’s a method that worked well for me.


ingredients
8 oz. good butter, preferably unsalted

how to
Place the butter in a small saucepan with deep sides (it will splatter) over medium low heat.
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Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until fully melted and it becomes deeply golden. Solids will form on the top and bottom of the liquid; be careful not to burn.

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Strain thru cheesecloth to remove all the milk solids, and discard the solids. Note: tasting the mixture as it first started to melt, it was overwhelming salty. Removing all the solids seemed to remove most of the salty flavor.

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I strained this a second time thru an even finer cheesecloth to remove the last of the solids. The result is a beautiful golden liquid which may be used for cooking or to drizzle over veggies or rice.

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Definitely prettier than store-bought!

Keep away from light at room temperature for up to 12 months. And with a watchful eye, easy to make as ABC.

spice is nice with rice

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Three weeks ago, the first step on the road towards [possible] transformation was taken.

I’d seen friend Melissa a couple of weeks prior and she was…glowing, serene. She told of a body, mind, heart, and soul 28-day Ayurvedic cleanse at Elemental Om. Skeptical me acknowledged and dismissed the idea of attending….until the night before the next session was scheduled to begin. Wine was most assuredly involved in the 11:30pm registration process for me and my partner-in-crime. But register we did, and found ourselves barefoot in lycra capris and flowy cotton t-shirts sitting cross-legged on a wood floor the next day for an hour of restorative yoga and a two-hour lecture. Thus began our processed foods-, caffeine-, alcohol-, meat- and dairy-free journey to improved digestion. This coupled with daily meditation, yoga classes, determining one’s dosha (discover yours here), and facing our demons is proving to be a challenging, yet rewarding, road. I like the idea of getting rid of bad habits and clearing out the last of the negative cobwebs from my mind and heart.

Over the last three weeks we have been giving up a third of our bad habits each week and are moving to a vegetarian diet with the emphasis on beans, rice, cooked veggies, spices – in that order. Ethnic foods are encouraged, and Indian food really fits the bill. While I love Indian food, I’ve only dabbled in preparing it and not with exclusively vegetarian dishes. On the prowl for something curry-ish and coconut-y, I happened across a wonderful website, OhMyVeggies.com.

Here, Kiersten Frase tells a story of yearning for comfort foods despite warm outside temperatures. That really resonated, as it was the warmest day of the year at 94 degrees. So I closed up the windows, turned on the AC and began to make her Cauliflower and Chick Pea Coconut Curry.

Here’s how it goes:

ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala (See NOTE 3 below)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 3 cups cooked chickpeas)
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Cooked rice or naan for serving (NOTE 2 below)IMG_2839

how to

Heat the coconut oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook until softened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the spices and cook until they’re fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, coconut milk, and cauliflower. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook 5 minutes more, or until sauce has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish each serving with cilantro.
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NOTE 1
Ugh, totally out of canned tomatoes. A nice italian girl like me without them? I know, right? So I added about a cup of vegetable broth and a cup of diced grape tomatoes. Also tossed in some frozen peas at the last sec for color and some hot red pepper flakes. This recipe is spicy, but not particularly hot – and I do love me some heat.

NOTE 2
Indian basmati rice with toasted cumin seeds is really tasty with this dish.

NOTE 3
Also found myself with a scant half teaspoon of garam masala so, with the help of Epicurious, whipped up a batch. Here’s how:

Garam Masala

ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon dried miniature rosebuds (optional)
  • A 1-inch piece cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup cumin seeds
  • 1/3 cup coriander seeds **
  • 1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 dried red chile
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mace **
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how to

If the roses have stems, break them off and discard. Heat the roses with the cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, whole peppercorns, cloves, and chile in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the cumin becomes brown, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or coffee mill, add the nutmeg and mace, and grind until powder fine. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 months.

** Missing ingredients [again. *sigh*], I substituted ground coriander for the seeds and added a bit more nutmeg for the mace.
IMG_2838The finished garam masala is pictured above, top right. The other spices are turmeric, cumin, and coriander. It’s a boatload of spices, but again…it’s spicy, not hot.

So here I sit. Cross legged on the floor under the AC vent with a happy belly full of fire. Ommmmm.

 

the color of summer

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A few years ago on a hot summer night I was inspired to make Epicurious’ Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon. It’s a delicious dish and the preserved lemon, something I’d never tried before, was particularly good. I was reminded of the dish last week when the recipe for preserved lemon appeared on The Splendid Table. It was pouring down rain the day I visited Penzeys to purchase the juniper berries and the grey sea salt; a perfect day to dream of bright yellow lemons. After researching a number of different recipes, this combo felt right.

Preserved Lemons

6 Meyer lemons
6+ TBSP sea salt
6 juniper berries
juice from two lemons
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Scrub lemons clean

P1150734Quarter lengthwise leaving the end in tact
P1150736Stuff with a tablespoon of salt
P1150735Place in clean mason jar pressing down so the lemons release their juice and cover with juice from additional lemons
P1150737Add juniper berries
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Now here comes the hard part. Place in a warm spot and wait for four weeks. Visit daily and give them a good shake.

Today the sun is shining bright, a reminder of the yellow summery goodness that awaits.


 

 

pepper passion

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It started on Christmas Eve, this newly discovered pepper passion of mine.

The soup for our annual feast was up to me. A nice fennel, leek and spinach soup sounded like a nice interval between the appetizers and the pasta, but to make it a little more festive, a garnish of roasted red pepper puree seemed just the ticket.

I found the recipe on Epicurious.com, but decided to make some adjustments – replacing jarred roasted peppers with fresh ones and adding Aleppo pepper along with the crushed red pepper flakes and adjusting quantities of oil and spice. Because there we 26 of us for dinner, a boatload of soup and puree seemed in order. As usual, I hopelessly over-calculated what we’d actually consume. Turned out to be a happy accident, however, as the puree became a nice garnish for Judy’s insanely good take on a Bouillabaisse, which featured striped sea bass caught by my 15-year old nephew.
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The next day, we used the puree on the Christmas morning frittata. The day after Christmas, it  accompanied fish tacos. I decided to whip up another batch to give to my cousin Sally who turned me on to Aleppo pepper in the first place. Since December 24, five triple batches have been made. Addicted? Um, yes.

Try it and see if you become addicted, too. Here’s how:

Roasted Red Pepper Puree
3 red peppers, roasted
1.5 tsp garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup +/- olive oil
1/3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/3 tsp Aleppo pepper (or to taste)
pinch of kosher or sea salt

Char red peppers over a flame or under the broiler until blackened.

P1150714Peel away the char, rinse, and cut into chunks.
P1150715Place all ingredients in a food processor – a mini one works great if you have one.
P1150716P1150718Process until relatively smooth.
P1150721Eat, eat, eat! Here’s some ideas for use:
Use as a garnish on carrot and ginger soup. The spice of the puree offsets the sweetness of the carrot.
P1150710Excellent on a bowl of polenta made with parmesan, butter, and fresh thyme topped with a fried egg (here it’s cut into the polenta) and quickly sautéed asparagus.
IMG_2465Heck, it’s even good on cheese and crackers (this is a nice white English cheddar and a Carr’s black pepper water cracker).
P1150719Uh, I have to go now; there’s a spoonful of roasted red pepper puree whispering my name…

mary had a little one

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And I had shoulder chops. I love lamb in just about any preparation, but this just might be my favorite. It’s quick and easy enough for a weeknight meal, but elegant enough for company.

A couple of notes:

  • the balsamic reduction keeps well in the fridge. Add a fresh splash of vinegar to loosen up and nuke for 10 seconds, just until warm.
  • use whatever kind of lamb you like. Shoulder chops can have a lot of fat, so look for ones with the little round bone in the center. The bone makes a special treat for the dog. The reduction would also be delicious served with a roasted leg o’ lamb.
  • use a good vinegar. Cheap balsamic does not become syrupy as readily as a good balsamic; it seems to just evaporate.

Lamb Chops with Balsamic Reduction

Minced garlic (I like about 1/4 tsp per chop)
Chopped fresh rosemary (again, I like about 1/4 tsp per)
Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Lamb chops

1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
2-3 Fresh rosemary sprigs
1/3 tsp Whole peppercorns

Combine minced garlic, chopped rosemary, olive oil and seasonings, and slather over both sides of the chops. Let stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add rosemary sprigs and peppercorns. Reduce heat and simmer until the balsamic reduces by about half and becomes syrupy.

Grill, broil or pan fry chops until medium rare – about four minutes per side. Let stand for 5-10 minutes. Top with the balsamic reduction and savor.P1150553

beets. the conclusion.

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With beet juice and beet powder in the freezer, I sat back and waited for Grace to visit before making Ashed Chevreaux with Slow-Roasted Yellow and Red Beets and Red Beet Vinaigrette which appeared in Epicurious in November 1999. It’s a recipe by Thomas Keller chef/proprietor of the French Laundry. “The most exciting place to eat in the United States”, writes Ruth Reichl in the New York Times, [Thomas Keller] is a wizard, a purist, a man obsessed with getting it right. His flavors have clarity and intensity. His methods dazzle. Every mouthful is an explosion of taste”. The recipe also appears in his cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook.

I don’t know anyone who loves beets more than Grace, except possibly me, or maybe Holly. So it seemed right to cool my heels and wait for Grace  before finishing this dish. BTW, the beet juice and powder did very nicely in the freezer. After visiting the local big box grocery store as well as Findlay Market, I finally found yellow beets at Whole Foods along with the always readily available red beets.
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After scrubbing and removing the stems and leaves, the beets were ready for slow roasting (90 minutes at 300 degrees) in individual (by color) tin foil packets drizzled with a little olive oil. The beets must be roasted separately or the red color will seep into the yellow color).

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While the beets roast, heat the beet juice to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook until there are large bubbles forming at the top. Add the red wine vinegar and reduce until the liquid has a syrupy consistency. Pour into a small squeeze bottle.
P1150545I didn’t assemble the salad according to instructions. I also added plain goat cheese to the platter to counter the strong flavor of the ashed goat cheese (pictured in the foreground below).
P1150549P1150559As much as we love beets, we had leftovers. Storing the red and yellow beets together produced a beautiful bleed of red into the yellow wherever they touched. Leftovers made for a beautiful salad served over baby greens with toasted walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette.
P1150576It’s nice to have beets in the house.

right & wrong

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Adjust. Adjust. Adjust. Never ending little adjustments in life to keep one plodding thru. To keep creeping towards the light of better and better days. This week has had fabulous highs – like meeting an artist and his dog, Bill Murray The Pug. And awful lows – like finding out a dear friend’s mother had succumbed to cancer.

Sometimes the adjustments are huge. Like figuring out how to go on another day after the loss of someone you love. Sometimes they are little. And annoying. Like trying to remember all your new passwords after making a life change.

Earlier today, I predicted this would be a multi-martini day in a bubble bath, [adjust. adjust.] and wound up [thankfully] in front of the stove doing something more productive and replenishing. Cooking. It’s calming. Like Yoga, but without awkward [for me] poses. Calming. Like drinking, but without hangovers.

And, despite the truly awful temps in the 90s and the high humidity, today’s meal of choice was not a chilled soup or crisp, cool salad, but pasta and butternut squash. Dreaming of fall days ahead perhaps? Dreaming of wrongs somehow becoming rights.

Orecchiette with Squash, Chiles & Hazelnuts
based a Bon Apetit recipe

  • 12 oz. orecchiette or other fresh or dried small pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ small butternut squash, peeled, cut into ½” pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, divided
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup blanched hazelnuts
  • 4 Tbsp. torn fresh mint leaves, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • I blanched whole hazelnuts with skins in a cup of water in the microwave, then toasted on the stove top in a small non-stick over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. While still warm, roll the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel to remove the skins. Let cool, then coarsely chop; set aside.
  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and cook, tossing occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, just until garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Immediately add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to keep garlic from burning; reduce heat to low and gradually add butter, swirling skillet and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until a thick, glossy sauce forms.
  • Add pasta to skillet with squash and sauce and toss to coat. Add lemon juice, ¼ cup Parmesan, 2 Tbsp. mint, and remaining ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes and toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve pasta topped with reserved hazelnuts, more Parmesan, and remaining 2 Tbsp. mint.

P1150611Certainly not life changing. But good. Sweet and savory. Just like life’s adjustments.