Homemade laundry soap

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When trying to live a reduced chemical lifestyle, something’s gotta give. You will either end up spending more money, or more time. In the case of homemade laundry soap, it’s a win win, as it doesn’t require much time at all, and it costs pennies a load!

Most detergents today are full of toxic chemicals that not only can be harmful to you, but also to the environment by contaminating waterways. In the U.S. it is not required for manufacturers of household products to label their ingredients, and they are welcome to use known carcinogens and toxins.

You can buy less toxic detergents, but it can get really pricey. Why not try this when you have a little time one weekend? Maybe buy the ingredients when you happen to see them, and keep them for a rainy day when you feel like a little project.

BASIC LAUNDRY SOAP RECIPE
2 16 oz boxes of baking soda
3 cups washing soda (found in the laundry isle of regular grocery stores)
1 12 oz bar of Kirk’s Castile soap (can also use plain Ivory)
Essential oil of your choice (make sure it is 100% essential oil)

In large bowl, combine baking soda, washing soda, and soap that you have grated finely. Mix thoroughly with a whisk, then add drops of essential oil and whisk to incorporate.

I used a blend of oils including lavender, tangerine, mandarin, and chamomile. Use whatever you like, it’s fun to mix it up! You can make seasonal detergents too. lemon in the summer, almond in the fall, evergreen in the winter, just to name a few.

I store mine in two large mason jars. One I keep by the washing machine with a spoon, and the other in a cabinet until the other runs out.

Another simple and super cheap idea is to keep a small bottle of vinegar, (white or apple cider) in the laundry room and pour a few teaspoons in with your laundry. It acts as a natural fabric softener, and the vinegar smell disappears by the time the wash is finished.

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Super quick and healthy chewy raw bars

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I love to snack, and I don’t feel guilty about it. With simple nutritious treats like these, we can turn it around and make snacks work for us! Instead of having something useless and unhealthy, I try to give my body something beneficial that it could really use.

These bars are raw, vegan, gluten free, provide tons of energy, fiber, and necessary vitamins. The main ingredients are walnuts and dates which not only taste divine together, but provide some amazing health benefits. pregnant and nursing ladies can especially benefit from the magic of the date. For centuries in many cultures, dates were believed to aid in easing labor when consumed during the last trimester. And now studies agree this is a fact! Isn’t real food awesome?

Store-bought bars, even the healthy ones usually have way to many ingredients for me to feel comfortable about. A sweetener of some kind is usually the second ingredient, and they can be super pricy. Make your own and you control all of the ingredients. This is a basic recipe that I encourage you to tweak and make your own. Feel free to add ground flax or chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and on and on. Fill it with good stuff your body will love!

Dump into the food processor,
About a cup of walnuts (or a combo of walnuts and almonds, pistachios, pecans, or cashews)
About a cup of pitted dates
About a half a cup of preferred other dried fruit. ( I use dried figs because I’m obsessed with them, but raisins, dried apples, dried apricots, prunes, dried cranberries, or pretty much whatever dried fruit you like would work)
Pinch of sea salt
Optional: pinch of cinnamon

Pulse a few times to combine, then process a bit, stopping to check the consistency every so often. Everything should be nicely mixed, and when you pick a bit up and squish it between your fingers it should stay together. If it is to dry add some more fruit, if it is to wet, add some more nuts.
When you reach the desired texture, dump it out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and top with another large pice of plastic wrap. Begin rolling it out from the middle to desired thickness. Put onto a plate and leave in the fridge for about an hour before removing plastic and cutting into individual bars. Store in a container in the fridge for a week. Yum!
Alternately- you could line a baking dish with wax paper or plastic wrap, dump contents, top with plastic wrap and roll out or press with your fingers. This will give you straight edges all the way around.

Enjoy!


Ode to Greek yogurt

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I grew up in the ranch dressing generation. It was literally everywhere. Thankfully that fad has passed, but do we not still crave something cool and creamy? Do we simply deny certain foods that just beg to be topped with, or dipped in a lucius, sinful sauce? Sadly, we restrain ourselves, or even worse use terrible concoctions like fat free sour cream, low fat mayonnaise, and artificially flavored yogurt. We think we are being healthy, but how exactly is the fat removed? It is usually replaced with sugars, hydrogenated oils, and worst of all “natural flavors”- which means nothing, I mean ground up wood chips are considered natural.

Then comes the shinning light of strained Greek yogurt, made the old fashioned way by slowly removing the whey to produce something so thick and creamy one would swear it is indulgent. Greek yogurt has tons of protein and probiotics, but my favorite thing about it is it’s amazing versatility. Greek yogurt is the ultimate blank canvas that lends itself to your every whim, weather it be sweet or savory. It can be expensive, but when you can ditch your sour creams, mayos, and flavored yogurts, it’s actually a delicious money saver. Be sure to check the label, there are lots of greek style yogurts out there that are not strained, but thickened with agents such as cornstarch and modified food starch. These are not nearly as tasty, have a weird flavor, and sometimes contain gluten or other allergens. Here are some ideas for enjoying your Greek yogurt, the possibilities are truly endless. Play around and have fun!

Dill yogurt sauce- mix Greek yogurt with a squeeze of lemon, chopped fresh dill, salt and pepper.
A dollop of this is so wonderful on grilled salmon, with roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus. Try it on top of mixed greens, or sliced tomatoes on toast.

Roasted garlic sauce- roast a head of garlic, top cut off, drizzled with salt and olive oil in a 400 degree oven covered for 30 – 40 minutes. Allow to cool and squeeze into a small bowl. Mash garlic with a fork, stir in Greek yogurt, salt and pepper. This is also nice with the addition of smoked paprika, or fresh chopped basil.
This is my favorite with golden brown quinoa zucchini cakes. Also can be treated like a garlic aioli and served with fries or a dipping sauce for fresh veggies.

Chipotle sauce- mix Greek yogurt with adobo sauce, a little at a time to acquire the spice level you prefer. Add in a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lime, and if you like, some chopped cilantro.
This is a must for fish tacos, also nice with grilled corn, or to top your chili. Enjoy as a dip for corn chips.

Cucumber sauce- shred a washed cucumber into a kitchen towel, toss with salt to draw out moisture and let sit for a bit. Gather kitchen towel up around the cucumber shreds, and squeeze out excess moisture. In a bowl combine cucumber, Greek yogurt, squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, chopped fresh mint leaves, and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
This is similar to tzatziki sauce. Delicious with falafel, gyros, rice…. really endless possibilities!

Simple Fruit parfait- toss fresh berries into a bowl, top with Greek yogurt, honey, orange zest, and nuts or granola. Great for breakfast, or for when You are craving a cool treat.

Banana yogurt- mash ripe banana into a bowl, add in Greek yogurt, fresh grated nutmeg, ground flax seeds, small bit of maple syrup or honey. Enjoy on its own, or top with sliced bananas or berries.

Raspberry yogurt- toss raspberries with a squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of sugar. Mash and mix in Greek yogurt. Add in honey or fresh mint leaves if desired. The same can be done for pretty much any berry and can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge to enjoy on the fly.

Balsamic berries and cream- toss sliced strawberries with a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. To serve, spoon berries into a small bowl, dollop with Greek yogurt mixed with black pepper and a bit of honey. Garnish with fresh mint. A very fresh light dessert.

Lovely chicken salad- cube or shred roasted chicken, add in red seedless grapes, chopped celery, minced shallot, toasted walnuts or pecans. In small bowl combine Greek yogurt with squeeze of lemon juice, poppy seeds, drizzle of olive oil, drizzle of red wine vinegar, fresh or dried thyme, fresh tarragon, and salt and pepper. Mix all together to combine.

Potato salad- boil small Red potatoes, drain and pour potatoes onto a cookie sheet. Drizzle and toss with red wine vinegar and allow to cool. Once cool mix potatoes with chopped celery and scallions. Here you can use garlic Greek yogurt, or dill Greek yogurt sauce. Just add in a bit of olive oil to the yogurt and a touch more red wine vinegar. Toss in some fresh chopped parsley as well.

I hope these ideas get you inspired to enjoy Greek yogurt!


Make your best banana bread

I could sing the praises of a well made banana bread all day long.  This underrated quick-bread is  so versatile and simple, you can make it as a gift, or for no reason at all.  I have been making banana bread for absolutely no reason about once a week for years.   It gets along so nicely with many other flavors that the possibilities are really endless. This post is meant to show you a couple of new ways you can add to your existing banana bread recipe, or start your own by building upon my simple one below.

First thing’s first, the base of a good banana bread comes from nice  rotten bananas. The best way to achieve maximum flavor is to freeze your unpeeled over ripe bananas in a plastic bag. Thanks to my husband always forgetting to take a banana with him to work, and my next door neighbor leaving his over ripe ones for me on the porch, my freezer is always stocked and ready to go.

On bake day, take out 4 bananas and let them sit on a plate at room temperature for a few hours. When they become soft, slice them open and release all the flesh and juices into a bowl. If you want to create a super flavored bread with a very light texture, separate the juices from the flesh by lining the bowl with a strainer. Take the separated juices and heat them in a small sauce pan slowly until reduced by half and once cooled, mix back in with banana mixture. The reason for this is too much liquid can give you a more dense bread, so this way we keep all the flavor while keeping  the bread light.  I use both methods depending on what type of bread I am going for. My husband prefers it a little denser, while some friends prefer the lighter one.  Try it out for yourself and see what you prefer. If you do not have any frozen bananas on hand, you can roast unripe bananas in their skins in the oven until they are black and soft for a similar effect.

Bananas like company. Bananas go so well with others, so it is a great way to use up some fruit that may be on its way out. I like to slice a pear or apple very thin, then lightly poach it in a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar- simmered until sugar dissolves) flavored with cinnamon, maybe a clove, or some nutmeg.  I am a big fan of poaching fruit, sometimes adding a bit of dry sherry, or substituting sugar with maple syrup or honey. You don’t have to poach your fruit at all, you can just toss your pear or apple in a bit of flour and then right into the batter. For a more subtle taste and texture, grate  some unpeeled pear or apple right into your batter.

Blueberries are also great tossed into banana bread. I pick a whole bunch once a year and freeze them. Do not defrost them before adding them into quick-breads or they will make your bread blue. Just wait until the very last minute and fold them into the batter. Another fun thing to do is take about a cup of blueberries and gently heat them on the stove with a bit of sugar and water. Simmer until it looks similar to jam, when pouring batter into prepared pans, fill only halfway, then spoon in some of your blueberry mixture. Top with remaining half of batter. You will have a nice blueberry ribbon in the center of your bread.

Sliced strawberries are very very nice, as well as raspberries, or blackberries. This past Christmas I threw in some cranberries that I had left over. The important thing is to utilize what you have,  play around with combinations, and you may find some fun new favorites.

Bananas and nuts- Adding nuts to banana bread is a very personal thing, some people just hate them, while others may be allergic or simply prefer a soft bread with no crunch. The choice is yours but if you do add nuts please toast them and cool them first.  Walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, and pistachios all go nicely with banana bread.  Just chop them up, toast them either in a dry skillet on low stirring often, or on a dry baking sheet at 325 tossing and checking often.

Flour power- most recipes call for standard a.p. flour. You can also use whole wheat, or a combination of the two. If you are gluten free I recommend making a coconut flour blend. This consists of 2 cups  coconut flour, (delicious in baked goods and high in fiber) 1 cup your choice- oat flour, quinoa flour, garbanzo bean flour, brown rice flour, or any other mild gluten free flour you like, 2 tablespoons potato starch, and 1 teaspoon of xanthum gum.  Mix all together and use as you would a.p. flour. *This is also makes a nice gift for a friend or family member who is gluten free. I  put it into a large mason jar, labeled it, and gave it to my mom who is gluten free for Christmas.

Sweeter options- Growing up my mom didn’t use sugar, she made banana bread with honey and lots of cinnamon and I remember it being so delicious. Other alternatives to refined sugar are maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar.  I still am a fan of regular old white sugar for some things, so a way to begin incorporating new sweeteners into your bread, is to cut the amount of sugar in half, and mix in some additional honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup,or agave nectar into your mashed banana mixture. You can also use brown sugar, raw sugar, or even frozen fruit juice concentrates to sweeten!

Spices- My favorite part of quick-breads is the spices. I just love the aromas from the oven, and the way spices compliment both the banana itself, and also the additions of nuts, and fruits. Cinnamon is a must for me, both into the batter and on top. Another favorite of mine is fresh grated nutmeg, use just enough for the nuttiness to come through, but not overpower the bread. Feel free to also add ground clove or a touch of allspice for a slightly deeper more grown up  flavor.

Toppings- I enjoy the simplicity of cinnamon sifted on top of banana bread just before it is baked. Another easy simple topping is tossing a couple tablespoons of oats (quick cooking or old fashioned) with a bit of cinnamon and sugar, then sprinkling on top. For more texture and decadence, you can make a crumble by mixing with your fingers, chilled butter, brown sugar, spices of your choice, and optional nuts, and crumble right on top before baking.

Other additions and substitutions- To make it vegan, omit the eggs and substitute with applesauce or ground flax seeds that have been soaked in water for a few minutes. You can also substitute butter with vegetable oil or applesauce.  For a slight tang, add a tablespoon of yogurt to the banana mixture. For extra richness, add a tablespoon of mascarpone  cheese to your banana mixture.

Other things that make banana bread awesome- Banana bread makes great gifts, as pictured above I made mini loaves, tied them with raffia, and added some dried flowers. Banana bread freezes well, and is great sliced and toasted. It can be eaten for breakfast, a snack, or dessert. The list just goes on and on!!!

 My basic banana bread recipe

  • 4 ripe bananas- thawed from the freezer, mashed
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon and nutmeg

Mix bananas with vanilla, egg, butter, and sugars. In separate bowl mix flour, salt, spices, and baking soda. Fold flour mixture into banana mixture and stir just until moistened. Add your additions and pour into buttered floured pans. (this recipe makes 3 small loaves – 5 x 1/12 inches) Bake at 350 for 40- 50 minutes.


My grocery shopping tips

The holiday season is upon us, and for a lot of us that means throwing big family meals and festive cocktail parties, baking Christmas cookies, and making homemade food gifts. But by spreading all of that joy and cheer we can often end up with a deflated wallet if we are not careful.  Here are  my secrets for big savings that I have learned  over the years as a personal chef and food stylist, where shopping smart is a huge part of the job.  Sure it is more inconvenient, but that’s urban prairie living- spending more time and less money to get the best.

1) Get rid of the phrase “One stop shop”.  If you want to save money you have to go to multiple stores.

2) Avoid purchasing produce at the big supermarkets. Find a smaller produce store in your area.

What smaller produce stores offer is unbelievable and absolutely worth the trip in my mind, many offer organic produce as well.  This is the place to buy all of your fruits, (example 1  lemon at the supermarket for .99 cents. At the local produce store, 5 lemons for 1 dollar. ) fresh herbs, (large bundles start at .69 cents) onions, potatoes, peppers, lettuces, garlic and so on. Now you can stuff your bird  with as much citrus as you like, and make that twelve lemon centerpiece without breaking the bank.

These smaller produce stores are also a great place to purchase certain dry spices. Whole cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves, dried chilies, and many dried herbs sold in bags for very  low prices. I save my old spice jars and mason jars and just refill them.

Check out the nuts and dried fruit which are usually very pricey. The stores usually order them in bulk and package them in plastic containers where they are sold by weight.

You can also feel good about supporting the little guy by patronizing your local spots!

Chicago recomendations:

Stanley’s Fruits & Vegetables
1558 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 276-8050

Edgewater Produce   

5509 North Clark
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 275-3800    


3) Find a good Asian market in your area. 

You will  generally find a huge variety of wild mushrooms, fresh and dried, for a fraction of the price! I am making a wild mushroom gravy for Thanksgiving this year, only because I discovered this gem. I also like to stock up on rice noodles here. They are nearly three times cheaper than the supermarket, and offer a great variety of sizes.  The sauce isle offers huge variety, this is where I get my soy sauces, fish sauce, chili paste, sesame seeds, and more.

Chicago recommendation:

Golden Pacific Market

5353 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640
Neighborhood: Edgewater

4) Avoid presliced, preshredded, precut anything.

What you are paying for here is convenience, and that usually equals paying more for less product. Also precut veggies and fruit are not as fresh and will not last as long.

5) Go for dried beans rather than canned if possible.

There is a huge savings here, and also that funky metallic taste that sometimes occurs is avoided.

6) When making your grocery list, break it down into categories:

produce, dairy, frozen, dry goods, household items, and meats. This will help you stay focused and also help outline which stores you need to go to in what order.

7) Now that you have saved a bundle on the small things, you can afford to buy quality free range meat!

Although I am cheap, I am a fan of Whole Foods and also like to go to smaller specialty shops or local butchers for meat, poultry, and seafood.

8 ) The important thing is to explore.

As you find new grocery stores in your area take a look around and make notes of where you can get specific items for less. Every store is different and it may surprise you where you can find certain foods on the cheap.

Ah, the outdoor market in Spain. We may not have this available to us, but we do the best with what we've got.

*Disclaimer: these are strictly my opinions and am in no way endorsing anything.


Chicken Pot Pie

There is no pretending anymore, the cold weather is upon us. If you are anything like me you have gone through the denial stage, and are currently in the final stage of tearful acceptance. Yes we begrudgingly turned on the heat,  brought in the plants from the porch,  and watch as the sun sets earlier and earlier.

The bright side to all of this chill is cozy comfort food.  The cooking process itself for most comfort foods lends itself to a very cozy day, while  total cooking time may be long, there are lots of breaks between steps to tackle other projects while appreciating the delectable aromas that fill your house. There are many great comforting meals out there, but today I am talking about chicken pot pie.  This is a meal that you make when you have the time to really get in there and enjoy it.  This recipe is also very cost effective, as we are using every part of the chicken and veggie scraps we have been saving throughout the week. (see my post on STOCK)

I only cook meat when I can afford to buy quality free range meat products, and being resourceful helps to make that to happen.

FOR THE CHICKEN:

  • 1 whole 3- 4 lb chicken, preferably free range
  • celery, carrots, and onion
  • 1 teaspoon of each dried, or a couple of sprigs fresh- thyme and oregano
  • a few sprigs of parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few whole peppercorns
  • reserved veggie/ herb scraps (see my post on stock)

First thing is to slowly cook our chicken. This is going to result in tender meat, and a delicious stock. This is a great opportunity to use those random veggie scraps you have been saving….

Place your chicken in a large dutch oven or stock pot.  Add your veggie scraps, celery ribs with leaves, a couple of carrots and onions cut into large pieces, sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf or two, a few whole peppercorns,  salt, and your dried or fresh herbs. Add cold water to the pot so that the chicken is covered. Bring to a boil over medium heat. This can take a while, but it is important to let it get to boiling slowly. As soon as it is to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer for one hour.  Remove the chicken and strain the broth, reserving the liquid and discarding the rest of the ingredients. Let your chicken cool then remove all the meat from the bones and shred with two forks.

While the chicken is slowly cooking, it is a good opportunity to make the crust.  Or you can curl up with a good book because the crust can be prepared in advance, wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge for a couple days. I know this looks like a lot of butter…and truthfully it is, but this also makes A LOT of crust so you can fully bottom and top your pie, make little leaf embellishments, or freeze some dough for later.

CRUST:

  • 3 cups a.p. flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
  • 2 sticks butter- chilled and diced

In a large bowl, mix your flour and salt. Add in your diced chilled butter and cut in with an old-timey pastry cutter. You can also use a food processor by just using a few quick pulses, but sometimes its fun to really get in there and use your muscles. Once your mixture is nice and crumbly, add in your egg, vinegar, and two tablespoons of cold water. Mix together with a fork. You may need to add more cold water little by little. You want it to be just moistened enough to form into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for a half hour. (Can be refrigerated for two days prior)

(* Before you roll out your dough, put a large baking sheet in the oven while you preheat it to 400 degrees. When your pie is filled and ready to go in the oven, place it on the hot baking sheet to ensure the bottom crust does not get soggy.)

Cut your dough in half and roll out each ball on a lightly floured work surface.  Once rolled out to the desired size fit the bottom crust into a casserole dish (pictured is a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish)

FILLING:

  • Celery, carrots, and onion -1 cup of each, chopped
  • 1 cup diced potato (I like the skins on, but it is totally optional)
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup a.p. flour
  • 1 cup milk (2% or whole)
  • 1 handful of frozen peas
  • chopped fresh herbs of your choice- mix and match parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary, sage and marjoram.
  • Shredded cooled chicken meat
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups reserved chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)

In a large dutch oven, stock pot, or cask iron skillet, add your butter and olive oil, cooking on medium heat until butter is melted. Add diced potato, a couple of pinches of salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add in your garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add in your onion, celery, and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes or so while stirring, until the vegetables are nice and softened. Add your flour and stir well to coat the veggies and cook out that raw flour taste.  At this point add in the wine if using and stir for just a minute. Add in 1 1/2 cups of the reserved chicken broth, and the milk. Keep on stirring, the mixture will begin to thicken. Toss in your frozen peas, shredded chicken, and chopped herb mixture. At this point you may add a little more chicken broth if needed. Stir for a bit and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cover the pot. Filling is now ready to go whenever you are.

Spoon filling into your prepared casserole dish. Make an egg wash mixing 1 egg with a little bit of milk. Lightly brush the wash on the edges to create a glue for your top crust. Place your top crust on and crimp the edges to form a seal. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash and cut a few slits in the top for ventilation.

Place on hot baking sheet and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Enjoy!


Grilled bread

One of my favorite things to serve as an appetizer is grilled bread. Crunchy on the outside with that wonderful charred flavor and soft on the inside, it makes a great vessel for endless topping possibilities and you can customize it for any season.

I start with a nice fresh baguette that I halve lengthwise. (If it is too long cut in half width-wise also)

Get your grill or grill pan going nice and hot. I brush a very small amount of oil on the grill pan once it is hot and lay my bread cut side down. Now you want to create some weight on top to ensure those nice grill marks appear. I use a cast iron pan that fits nicely on top or bricks wraped in foil.

After a few minutes you will start to smell that burnt bread smell, don’t worry! That means its working. Take a peek and remove when you see dark grill marks.

Immediately rub the warm bread with a garlic clove. I usually use one clove per baguette.

Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and salt and pepper.

Now it is time to top your bread. I made two variations here. The first is topped with roasted grapes, goat cheese, torn salami, fresh thyme and mint, and finished with shaved peccorino.

The second is smothered with pumpkin seed basil pesto, fresh arugula, crispy shallots, and shaved peccorino.

The important thing here is that you play around with flavor profiles you enjoy.

Roasted Grapes:

Preheat oven to 400.  Using a small cookie sheet, roll around a couple handfuls of washed and stemmed grapes with a touch of olive oil, a pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar. Bake for about ten minutes or until the skins have begun to pop.

Roasting grapes brings out their rich juicy decadent flavor and lends itself very nicely to savory dishes.


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