Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Man is it getting cold in Toronto...yeah, yeah I know the last few days have been mild, but with some of my best friends sending me email updates several times a week, retelling stories of their travels in HOT HOT HOT Australia, I can't help but feel that cool Toronto chill a little more than usual. Although I consider myself to be much more of a savory food craver than a sweet one, it's cold, rainy, and windy weather like today that has me craving all things sweet. Not a day has gone by since the weather declined that I haven't stopped my parents, right in their tracks, and asked them if they happened to pick up a dessert on their way home from work. Pie? Cake? Donuts? Baklava? ANYTHING?! It's hard to hide the sound of desperation in my voice.

After all the times my mom thought of me on her way home, bringing me little pastries, a pie on sale, or a danish, I figured I owed her a dessert of my own. I decided to make this one a little bit more healthy to make up for all of the other sweets I had been consuming in the previous weeks. So I pulled out my trusty Williams Sonoma: Cookies cookbook to hunt for a great oatmeal cookie recipe. As I often do, I wanted to add my own little touch to their cookie recipe. Ever since not having pecan pie at Thanksgiving I haven't been able to get pecans off my mind, so I decided to substitute in pecans instead of the suggested walnuts. I also added in some dried cranberries. The cranberries were my favourite part as the beautiful deep red cranberry confetti added another textural element to the cookies, as well as a fantastic tangy flavour to cut the sweetness. The cookies were just what I was craving! Chewy, sweet, nutty, with a touch of tartness, the only thing you'll be craving after this is a warm blanket and a glass of milk.

Note: I also reduced the amount of nutmeg, as I am not the biggest fan of the spice, so feel free to add more to your liking.
Tip: Because these cookies are flecked with beautiful red cranberries, they would make great healthy holiday cookies!

Recipe adapted from Williams Sonoma: Cookies.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup dried cranberries

1. In a medium-large saucepan, over low heat, melt butter, then remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, beat in both the granulated and brown sugar until blended. Add the egg and beat again.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together into a bowl. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture. Add the rolled oats, pecans, and dried cranberries and stir until combined. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a baking sheet or line with Silpat mat or parchment paper. Drop tablespoons of the cookie batter onto the sheet, making sure to space cookies at least 2 inches apart. Using a metal spatula or the palm of your hand, flatten each mound of batter. Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. For chewy cookies, let cool on hot pan. For crispy cookies, let cool on wire rack.

Listening To:
Can't Stop - Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fried Zucchini

For all you out there that have become a fan of my Oma's cooking, here's another one for your books. Despite the fact that I think I would enjoy anything my Oma cooks...well...that is except for her pickled herring...ew...pickled herring (I cringe!). She has a handful of recipes that we have come to love as our favourites. You can bet that one of her all-star dishes will be on the table anytime you're invited over to her and my Opa's home. Although it's not too difficult to predict what the entree will be for dinner (especially with an Oma who wants to please everybody and may very well make a number of her specialties all at once!), it's always a bit of a guessing game as to what the sides and dessert will be. There are a few special side dishes and desserts that only show face a few times a year...and you never quite know when that will be. One special side dish in particular that I absolutely love snacking on is my Oma's Fried Zucchini.

Although my Oma doesn't make Fried Zucchini too frequently, that just may be one of the reasons why I love it so much. Eating Oma's Fried Zucchini feels like a special occasion, a special occasion that stirs up memories of my Oma's kitchen in her old house, with the screen door wide open, the sound of popping oil and the faint radio, the smell of batter being fried, and me leaning on the kitchen counter sneaking rounds of Fried Zucchini the moment they hit the paper towels to drain. With a memory so vivid, it wasn't too hard for me to replicate her recipe. With only a few ingredients, my Oma's Friend Zucchini is incredibly easy to make, although I added in an extra ingredient and seasoning step to evolve the dish a bit. Hot, crispy, and salty, with a hint of heat from the paprika, Fried Zucchini is sure to become your new favourite snack as well. The only issue you will run into with this recipe is keeping your friends and families hands away from them as they come off the griddle to cool. Nothing gets tummies growling like the smell of something being fried, so keep an extra spatula next to your work space to swat at people trying to sneak the zucchini before they have a chance to drain of their oils. Oma you have an open invitation to sneaking my Fried Zucchini anytime. This is a recipe that's meant to be served immediately, so unfortunately for the cook, you're going to have to be a bit of a sneak as well, and snack while you fry.

Tip: For fastest, easiest, and cleanest preparation, line up your work station in the following order before you begin frying:
  1. Sliced zucchini
  2. Flour mixture
  3. Batter
  4. Griddle with vegetable oil next to it
  5. Plate lined with paper towel
  6. Salt and pepper grinders
8 oz. zucchinis, washed and trimmed
about 1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
vegetable oil for frying
salt and pepper to season

1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 cup water

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the batter. Add water and whisk together. Cover and let stand at room temperature for an hour.

2. In a shallow dish, combine the flour with salt, pepper, and paprika. Set aside.

3. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut zucchini into 1/8-inch thick rounds. Set aside.

4. Heat a griddle or large skillet to medium-high heat. Add a layer of vegetable oil.

5. Lightly coat several slices of zucchini in flour mixture. Carefully dip slices, one at a time, into batter and place on hot, well-oiled griddle. Make sure not to crowd the griddle or pan. Let slices fry for a few minutes, or until golden. Flip slices and fry until the other sides are golden as well. Place fried slices on a paper towel-lined plate and top with more paper towel. Lightly dab at slices with paper towel to remove excess oil. While slices are hot season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining zucchini slices. Serve hot.

Listening To:
What's My Name - Rihanna ft. Drake

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You can't help but smile and shake your hips when this one comes on!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Canadian Food Blog Awards 2010

This past Sunday marked the kick off to the very first Canadian Food Blog Awards! Public nominations will run until December 21st 2010, when the finalists will be determined. Judging for all categories will take place from January 1st - January 25th. What a great way to promote the foodie community in Canada! Excited to learn about what other blogs are out there!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Broccoli & Fusilli

When I was little my mom used to take me to an art workshop that was held at Hazelton Lanes in Yorkville every month. Each month a new arts and crafts workshop would be held, everything from painting, clay sculpting, t-shirt making, etc. It was always one of my favourite days of the month, as it meant getting to spend one-on-one time with my mama, doing lots of fun arts and crafts aaaaand a special lunch out at Lettieri Cafe. Lettieri sells lots of in-house made sandwiches, baked goods, and prepared foods and when I was little I just couldn't get enough of their broccoli pasta. Every single time we would go to our art workshop, I would eagerly anticipate my broccoli pasta for lunch. I guess my mom didn't mind spending the money on rather overpriced prepared food when it meant me eating my vegetables.

I haven't had that broccoli pasta in years but it popped into my head the other day when I came home from work absolutely famished in a mad hunt for something to eat! It was the day before a big grocery pickup and it seemed like the only fresh thing in the fridge was a head of broccoli. I don't know about you, but when I'm starved like that, I don't exactly dream about eating a bowl of broccoli for lunch. I wanted something that would leave me feeling satisfied but still be healthy at the same time. It was then that memories of Hazelton Lanes art workshops and Lettieri flashed through my head, inspiring me to replicate their simple dish that I loved so much, but with a few additions of my own.

This is a really simple dish to make, not to mention incredibly fast because there is no real sauce. This is one of those times when you should use the best of the best. Because there's no sauce you need to make sure that all of your ingredients have as much flavour as possible. This means really fruity extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese, freshly ground pepper, etc. Trust me, it will make all the difference. Lightly toasted pine nuts add texture and extra flavour. I also used whole wheat fusilli, which not only added extra health benefits, but also gave the dish a great nutty flavour.

Tip: Turn pepper grinder on a thicker grind for this one. You'll love that extra kick of pepper in each bite.
Tip: Need extra protein? Grilled chicken would taste great thrown in this mix!
Note: I don't have exact measurements here because there is really no need. This is something you an play around with and adjust depending on what you like.

whole wheat fusilli
broccoli, florets and stems, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
pureed garlic
parmesan cheese, freshly grated
pine nuts, lightly toasted (optional)
salt and pepper, freshly ground

1. Cook desired amount of fusilli in salted water according to directions on package.

2. While fusilli is cooking, steam broccoli until fork tender but with a bit of a bite (you don't want mushy overcooked broccoli, you want that crunch). Once cooked, cut up broccoli into bite-sized pieces.

3. After pasta is cooked, drain and transfer back to pot. Add broccoli and drizzle with olive oil until pasta is coated. Add in some butter and garlic for flavour and toss. Grate over parmesan cheese and add the pine nuts (optional), toss together. Taste and season well with freshly ground salt and pepper. Serve with extra parmesan cheese on top.

Listening To:
Kanye West - Dark Fantasy

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baked Sweet Potato Mash

In my house, were really good about always serving at least one vegetable for dinner, but I find that we often put a lot of effort into the entree of our meal and don't really experiment much with our sides, particularly our vegetables. One of my favourite foods in the Fall is sweet potatoes, so it's not surprising that sweet potatoes can be found on my dinner plate at least 3 or 4 times a week. So one night for dinner this week, I decided to shake up our usual roasted or baked sweet potatoes by making a creamy and comforting sweet potato mash.

What was intended to be just a simple sweet potato mash turned into something much more interesting when our entree was a little behind schedule. The new rib recipe we tried seemed to be taking longer than we thought, so I had to stall my recipe so that I could still serve my mash hot and fresh. I decided to transfer the mash into a baking dish and top with some ingredients I happened to have on hand to add extra hits of flavour and texture. My Baked Sweet Potato Mash turned into out to be such a tasty dish! The sweetness of the buttery brown sugar sweet potatoes was cut by the saltiness of the parmesan cheese, with a little bit of crunch from the breadcrumbs and pecans, and a tiny hint of heat from paprika. Not only was this delicious as a side, the leftovers made for a perfect lunch to bring to work the next day!

Note: As you can see from the above picture, my pecans got a little burnt and my breadcrumbs are not very golden-brown. I made the mistake of pre-toasting my pecans, which had them browning up pretty fast with that second bake as the sweet potato topper. I had to cover the mash with tinfoil so that the nuts wouldn't burn anymore, which didn't allow for the breadcrumbs to crisp.
Note: This recipe can easily be made gluten free, just eliminate the breadcrumbs.

4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 tbsp melted butter
about 1 tsp paprika
1/4 cup pecans
grated parmesan cheese to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. Put cubed sweet potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and partially cover pot with lid. Let cook on a gentle boil for 20-25 min. or until sweet potatoes are fork tender.

2. Drain water and place sweet potatoes back in pot. In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the butter and brown sugar. Add to potatoes and mash using a potato masher or add ingredients to a stand mixer and mix using the paddle attachment. Season mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Pour mixture into a medium-sized greased baking dish. Place breadcrumbs in a small bowl and drizzle melted butter overtop. Combine using fingertips and crumble evenly over sweet potatoes.

4. Top breadcrumbs evenly with paprika, parmesan cheese, and pecans. Bake at 350º or until topping is golden brown. Serve hot or warm.

Listening To:
Paolo Nutini - Candy

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(for my Robo in Australia!)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Butternut Squash and Cranberry Quinoa Salad

If anyone saw my twitter post stating that the ultimate hangover breakfast is challah french toast topped with melted cheddar cheese, smothered in real maple syrup, and served with a side of crispy bacon (oops) may be thinking "hey, isn't this chick supposed to be eating healthy?" and the answer would be yes...yes I am...Sure I may have strayed a little this week, but let's talk about how good I was last week! Last week, after just having begun my newfound healthy kick I decided to try out a new ingredient. In my previous entry on my Bacon Cheddar Broccoli Salad I mentioned that I have been taking advice from @joyoushealth. One of the ingredients that I kept seeing popping up on Joy's twitter was quinoa and the many benefits of this super grain. After doing a quick search of some quinoa recipes, it wasn't hard for me to see that quinoa is not only amazing for your health, but also delicious and incredibly versatile.

Before I began experimenting with using quinoa as a stuffing or filler, I wanted to begin with a basic quinoa salad recipe. I quickly found a recipe for Red Quinoa with Butternut Squash from the blog Gluten Free Goddess. Although this recipe sounded awesome, I wanted to adapt it slightly to make it my own. The result was my Butternut Squash and Cranberry Quinoa Salad. Satisfying and creamy with the chunks of caramelized butternut squash, with tangy bursts of freshness from fresh cranberries, and zesty bites of red onion, all immersed in sage-speckled quinoa. This recipe was delicious as a side with my dinner, not to mention the perfect leftover to pack up for my lunch at work the next day!

Adapted from Gluten Free Goddess.
1 cup quinoa (rinsed)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp garlic, pureed or minced
1 small red onion, diced
3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tbsp olive oil
3 sage leaves, chopped finely
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375º. In a medium baking pan, toss the squash with the cranberries, onion, and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, and maple syrup. Season with salt, toss, and roast 25-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, bring the stock and quinoa to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork.

3. Add the butternut squash mixture to the quinoa. Add the sage and red wine vinegar and toss to coat. Serve at any temperature.

Listening To:
Kanye West - All Of The Lights (Feat. John Legend, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Tony Williams, Charlie Wilson, El...

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bacon Cheddar Broccoli Salad

Something you may not know about me is that I'm probably an alien. After years of discovering strange things about myself like my lack of fingerprints, my ability to turn on and off lights just by walking past them, and my skin bleaching all of my clothing, my friends have decided that the only explanation could be that I'm an alien. As much as I'd like to sit back and blame my strange discoveries and health issues on being an extraterrestrial, I've decided to finally take some action. Although changing my diet may not magically bring me fingerprints or help me with my knack for messing with technology, it will definitely help with my skin and stomach.

When I first discovered that my skin was bleaching my clothing, I learned that this is likely due to my extremely acidic body. The high levels of acidity setting up camp in my body not only led to the bleaching of my clothes, but acne issues, and terrible stomach and heartburn problems that would arise when I did not balance my body with alkaline-rich foods. For years, I would go back and forth pigging out on highly acidic foods that I knew were bad for me, and then eating properly for a few days, just to go back to the danger foods. It wasn't until very recently when I added Joy McCarthy @joyoushealth to Twitter that I decided I needed to make a change. Joy is a registered holistic nutritionist and writer for her own personal blog Joyous Health, as well as numerous other websites. Joy provides helpful tips, tricks, and recipes for creating a healthy mind, body, and soul. Joy's recent post stating that a highly-acidic body is like a magnet for disease, thankfully shook me into seeing just how harmful I was being.

It was at this point that I made a personal vow to make conscious and healthy choices about what I'm putting into my body. No, I'm not going to up and change my entire diet overnight, but I am going to begin taking small steps in the right direction. The first step I took was committing to change what I eat for lunch. Everyday I bring a packed lunch to work, and although it's more healthy than the pizza, chips, and pop many of my coworkers bring, it can certainly be improved. My Bacon Cheddar Broccoli Salad was the perfect start to my new diet. True this broccoli salad has cheese and bacon (two ingredients that Joy isn't too fond of) making it a little bit of an indulgence, but it's certainly a step in the right direction compared to the previous lunches I was making myself like sandwiches with processed meats, cheeses, and lots of spreads. Broccoli (along with other dark, leafy greens) is an alkaline-rich vegetable making it the perfect star ingredient to my lunch. This salad is bursting with flavours and textures, making it easy to forget the lunches of my past...and let's not forget how fast and easy it was to prepare!

It's easy to feel discouraged about making changes, thinking of all the sacrifices you'll have to make, but even little changes make a difference. The first steps are always the hardest, so take them one at a time. Those little changes will become healthy habits that will add up over time. Follow @joyoushealth today to begin making your own changes towards a better mind, body, and soul!

Tip: Hellman's 1/2 the fat is a great alternative to regular mayonnaise. You can't taste the difference at all!

1-2 heads broccoli
1/2 cup red onions or scallions, chopped
6 slices bacon
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup vinegar

1. Fry bacon until crispy. Pat with a paper towel to remove excess grease, and cut into small strips. Set aside.

2. Cut broccoli into bite-sized pieces, using both the broccoli flowerettes and stems. Place them in a large bowl.

3. Add the cheddar, cheese, onions, and bacon to the broccoli and toss.

4. In a small bowl mix the mayonnaise and vinegar together. Pour over broccoli mixture and toss to coat.

Listening To:
Joy Division - Disorder

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Simple Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I guess it doesn't come as a shock by now that my family is really big on holidays. Whenever there is any type of holiday my family goes all out to create a fun and festive occasion. Out of all the holidays, Halloween has always been one of our favourite traditions. Every year my dad, my sister, and I carve out our own pumpkins, which are always the most talked out pumpkins in our neighborhood. We then have a warm comforting meal that my mom has prepared, while sneaking candy for myself and opening the door for trick or treaters. This tradition has changed over the years due to busy schedules and social lives, but this year I was able to take the time to carve out my own pumpkin. Unfortunately, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked (trick or treaters were ringing the bell before I was even finished!), it turned out pretty good and I think the neighborhood kids really liked it.

Another tradition that I have is saving all the pumpkin seeds to roast off as a snack for the rest of the week. I always make Spiced Pumpkin Seeds so this year I thought I would switch it up and just make very basic roasted pumpkin seeds so they could be tossed into salads and other dishes. Crisp, salty, and nutty, these seeds are going to taste great dressing up dishes all week long!

seeds from 1 medium pumpkin, washed and dried
2 tsp butter, melted
2 tbsp sesame oil
generous pinch sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300º. Pour pumpkin seeds into a medium baking pan and drizzle with butter and sesame oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir until seeds are evenly coated and in a single layer.

2. Bake for 45 min to 1 hour, or until golden brown. Stir twice during baking. Store in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

Listening To:
Neil Young - Cowgirl in the Sand

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Slow Cooker Beef Stew and Rustic Chive Biscuits

So I've finally come to accept that I won't be tanning in my backyard for a while now (I was really counting on one more Indian-Summer-like day), so this means it's time to indulge in the best that Fall has to offer. My absolute favourite thing about Fall is bringing out the comfort food. In my mind, one of the only positives of cold weather is using it as an excuse to indulge in warm and comforting meals. One of my favourite comfort foods is beef stew. My mom has been making beef stew for years, and it's always right around this time that I begin craving that thick sauce, tender and flavourful beef, and abundance of hearty vegetables. Although my moms beef stew is outstanding, we recently purchased a slow cooker and have been experimenting with all of our classics, trying them out in our new toy. So we decided to find the most basic recipe we could and see how it did in the cooker so we could compare my moms classic stovetop recipe with the basic slow cooker recipe. We also decided that any good stew needs a good dipper to soak up all those leftover delicious juices. So I quickly whipped up some Rustic Chive Biscuits.

The stew tasted delicious although it didn't even compare to my moms classic. After finishing numerous helpings of the stew, we realized that using the slow cooker method eliminated one very important step. One of the biggest flavour boosters in making a stew is browning your meat before adding in the liquids. In a slow cooker you are unable to do this. Although the slow cooker beef stew wasn't as spectacular as my moms classic beef stew, it was still absolutely delicious and is extremely convenient for people who are unable to nurse a pot on a stove all day long. With a slow cooker you can literally throw everything into the pot, and forget about it for the rest of the day, and hours later you have a delicious, tender, warm, and hearty meal ready to be served! My Rustic Chive Biscuits were the perfect accompaniment to the stew. Crisp on the outside, and steaming hot, soft, and buttery on the inside with chive confetti throughout. Who needs a spoon when you can use biscuits?!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 pounds beef stew meat
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups beef broth
4 potatoes, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
2 cups mushrooms
1/2 cup frozen peas

1. In a large ziplock bag, mix together the flour, paprika, salt, and pepper. Add the stewing beef and shake to coat.

2. In a large, heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the stewing beef in batches, and brown on all sides. Remove and place in slow cooker. Add the red wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Scrape the bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the remains into the slow cooker as well.

3. In the bowl of the slow cooker, stir in the garlic, bay leaf, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, onions, beef broth, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and the remaining flour mixture in the bag.

4. Cover and cook on low setting for 10-12 hours, or on high setting for 4-6 hours. Add frozen peas within the last 1/2 hour of cooking.

Rustic Chive Biscuits
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cold butter
2 tbsp cold shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
1-2 tbsp chives, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450º. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. Using fingertips, rub the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles fine crumbs (work quickly so the fats do not melt).

3. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in the chilled buttermilk and chives. Stir just until the dough comes together/ The dough should be very sticky at this point.

4. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. Dust the top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times.

5. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Using a sharp knife cut dough into very rough square-or-rectangle-like shapes about 2-3 inches in diameter. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch.

6. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until biscuits have risen and are golden on top.

Listening To:
Dolly Parton - Jolene

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