Category Archives: Parenting

Strawberry Season

AH….my favorites!  Love strawberries, and this time of year I get to combine two things I really love!  My own granny’s scones (she pronounced them scuns) which are very much like shortcake…and some fresh home-grown strawberries!  Yummy!

My good friend and neighbor, Lucy, has a prolific strawberry patch, and she has been gathering strawberries for about a month now…and up here in the Pacific NW…they seem especially sweet!  Maybe it’s just because she gifts them to me about once a week during strawberry season!  What a friend!

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I keep intending to make strawberry jam but they are so good plain and fresh…that I end up eating them all before I get anything made from them.  So to have my (short)cake and eat it too….this morning I had scones and strawberries for breakfast! lucys strawberries Yummy!

My granny’s scone recipe is pretty simple and I often add different things to it.  Sometimes I add nuts or raisins, currants or dried cranberries, some orange or lemon zest, etc….but today I made them just plain so as not to detract from the strawberry lusciousness!

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I did put a bit of lemon rind in this batch to enhance the scones, but you can also make them plain.

Many folk like to cut them up into triangles, and although this is a very traditional shape, I don’t do it for a couple of reasons.  First, the corners of the triangles tend to burn before the center is done, and second…I’d rather use my granny’s cutter….it’s an old fluted biscuit cutter that makes just the right size scones for shortcake!

sour cream sauceI also do a variation on “cream” on top of the scones.  Granny used to serve them with strawberries and a tall glass of buttermilk…but that’s getting harder to find in stores these days, but I like the creamy tartness of buttermilk when you can get it.  Otherwise I use a dollop of sour cream sweetened with just a hint of brown sugar and that does the trick for me!

Before……and after!  Yum!

strawberry shortcake with creamlicked clean

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Simply Spaghetti

My gkids are spaghetti lovers…are yours?  They like it simple. . . spaghetti, tomatoes, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper….and then sprinkle on the parmesan. (I like some red pepper flakes on mine).   Lovely.  Simple, quick, good, filling, a kid pleaser.

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Yes they love meatballs too…but that is another story.

If you are making simple spaghetti, you want to make sure these few ingredients are the best you can possibly use.  I personally like mine with fresh, vine ripened, garden tomatoes…but up here in the Northwest…those are as rare as hen’s teeth until around the end of August.  And with our short growing season,  big, ripe, juicy tomatoes at the end of summer are not guaranteed even then!

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If your tomato supply is scarce….or the ones available in your area are the “shipped in” ones (to me these taste like cardboard!)  then my suggestion is:  POMI

Yes, Pomi Tomatoes are THE BEST.  I used to have to import them from Italy (where they are grown and processed) but now I can find them in my local organic market.  But even if you can’t find them there….you can always order them on line. there are now several stateside distributors.    Pomi Tomatoes come in a box…so they are not subjected to the “tinny” taste you can get from many canned tomatoes and they are sealed in BPA-Free packages.  I have also recently read that many of our canned tomatoes – even the organic ones –  are processed using chemicals to take off the peel.  Pomi tomatoes are 100% organic, natural garden-ripe Italian tomatoes.  steam peeled, Fat Free, Gluten Free, no preservatives, no added salt or other ingredients.  As a matter of fact under Ingredients…it says:  Tomatoes.  That’s it.  That’s all.  Pure vine-ripe tomatoes!  Best you can get!  1/2 cup serving is only 28 calories too!  pomi tomatoes

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Of course you can add whatever else you like. I personally like garlic, torn basil leaves, a few olives…and the aforementioned red pepper flakes…but keeping it simple, fresh and quick is a real treat for the cook as well as the diners!   My gkids like to make it with me too.  Cooper is our head chef….and Olivia likes to get her fingers into it.

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And frankly…my grandkids think I am magic….they even tell their mom they want “Nana Spaghetti”….nice!

 

 

 

 

Into the Souk!

I think I may have mentioned that my son-in-law spent 18 months in Qatar during his Reserve Duty recently. Randy is an adventurous eater, and he came home telling tales of visiting the wonderful baazars while stationed there.

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spices in the souk

Randy brought home some great spices for us all to try that he thought were “new”. He and my daughter don’t have time to cook a lot since they both work long hours, and Randy’s expertise mainly revolved around the grill. But he had enough wonderful “shish-ka-bobs” (as we call them) to want to try to re-create these dishes once he got home.

His favorite spices turned out to be ones readily found here as well. Turmeric, paprika, fennel seed, fenugreek, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, etc. But the one spice that eluded him was “shakta”. After some investigation, my daughter found a Middle Eastern spice called “shatta”….and we decided this must be it and the pronunciation was different in various regions throughout Africa. Randy thought it was funny that when they asked what was in this spice (he had already determined it was a blend of spices…like curry is a blend of many spices)…they just said “shatta”. Finally one enterprising vendor who’d been to school in the US said, “It’s like our catsup”. Really?  More like hot sauce…since it’s full of hot peppers.  The vendors sold him a mix they called shatta…which was powder (probably a blend of chili powders) so he brought that home, but we did finally find a “recipe” for shatta sauce using local/available peppers.  Although I am sure that the local shatta was made with their peppers.  And we have used it in several things recently to try it out.  Like these lamb meatballs served over couscous.    I like it best with tomatoes and used like taco sauce or spaghetti sauce.

Here’s the recipe for “Mediterranean Catsup (hot sauce)”  or Shatta

Ingredients:

  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 3 red jalapeno peppers, stem removed
  • 15 Thai bird chilies, stems removed
  • 1 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cup of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 6 oz of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of water

If you try it, I sure would like to know how you did and whether you liked it as much as we do!

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Cooking with Herb and Spicy

Last week my Son-In-Law, Randy, asked me about cooking with herbs and spices. Since he was deployed to Qatar last year and visited the spice baazars, he has been fascinated with cooking with some of the great flavored spices he brought home with him.  We have tried Morrocan cooking, Arabic cooking, and Egyptian cooking with him.  Wonderful grilled rubs and marinades!  We have all benefitted from the wonderful tumeric, cinnamon, fennugreek, paprika, and curry that he has given us as gifts and the fabulous stews, couscous, and spice rubs that he is experimenting with!

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But he was unsure how to use fresh herbs, or how to pair them up with food.

I have a small raised bed outside my home that I use mostly for seasonal veggies and herbs.  A couple of years ago, I  planted one rosemary bush, a small thyme, some chives and a purple sage and garlic.  They have all wintered over nicely and are large enough now to provide all the herbs I could want!  I also grow mint in a pot (it is a notorious spreader), and every year I plant fresh basil, dill, and flat leaf parsley.  I’ve tried cilantro a few times, but with less success.  The gkids always enjoy the garden, clipping, pulling carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, and planting seeds.  It’s a great family activity!

herbsCooking with fresh herbs is also very good for our bodies.  They contain large amounts of anti-oxidants and vitamins.   Herbs strengthen the immune system, lower blood sugar and cholesterol; they have anti-inflammatory properties, and prevent Alzheimer’s diseases and cancers.  And they are easy to grow and cook with.

We talked about keeping an herb garden and he specifically asked me how to use them and what to use them with, so here are some pointers:

1. Never spray pesticide or herbicide near an organic garden.  By planting “companion” plants together, you can avoid damage naturally.  Planting garlic bulbs in your garden will help drive pests away.  Cabbage, lettuce, beets, and onions all love garlic and it will keep away aphids.  Garlic is also said to improve the flavor of neighboring plants and also improve your roses!  However pulses and legumes (beans, potatoes, peas) don’t seem to like to be near garlic (or onions). Cucumbers also don’t like aromatic herbs, but sage protects carrots, parsley protects asparagus and tomatoes, basil protects beans and peas.  So by planting carefully, you can have a pest free garden without sprays! (Please!)

You don’t need a big garden…you can grow things in buckets on the patio if that is the only space you have…just water them regularly.

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2.  Fresh Herbs are somewhat stronger than dried herbs, so you can use less.  I like to use herb bundles in soups and stews instead of trying to pick off all those tiny leaves, just tie a few compatible herbs together and then fish out the stems after cooking.  I will also often add a sprig of whatever I used in the dish to garnish the plate…very pretty!  Always wash the herbs first and store in a zippy bag with a damp paper towel inside.  They should keep for quite awhile this way.  But part of the joy of having a garden is being able to go out a just clip off some fresh herbs whenever you need them!

3.  Here’s my list of what to use in what.  It is by no means exhaustive! There are lots of other variations and everyone to their own taste…but it’s a start!

Garlic:  soups, stews, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, chicken, pork, lamb, beef, everything Italian, infused oils, almost anything tastes better with garlic!

Basil:  Eggs, Tomatoes, ratatouille, fish, pizza, pesto, soft cheeses, anything Italian, especially pasta or rice.  Cocktails (muddled basil to lemonade, bellinis, or gimlets)!  Soups and salads, also good in some desserts with lemon or orange.  Infused oil, vinegars, tea.

Rosemary:  Sausage, eggs, soup, stew, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, potatoes, again, anything Italian, oranges, infused oil, vinegar,  tea, meat marinades, bread (esp. foccacia), honey.

Thyme:  Eggs, soups, stews, gravy, meats, poultry, tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, beans green and white, oils, vinegars, tea, marinades, broccoli, ratatouille, cucumber, onion, squash, honey, goat cheese.

Sage:  Poultry, flavored butters and oils, eggs, lamb, beans, pasta, rice, soups and stews, apples, pineapple, fish, pork, sausage, honey, asparagus, squash, goat cheese. Freeze in ice cubes for summer drinks.

Parsley:  tea, soups, eggs, gravy, cream sauces, tomato sauces, garden and potato salads, grilled fish, chicken, and  beef dishes, potatoes, stews, pasta, rice,  to top or garnish anything for a fresh grassy flavor.

Dill:  fish, shellfish, potatoes, yogurt, mayo, sour cream, cream sauce or gravies, beets, carrots, soups, stews, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles.

Oregano:  tomatoes, potatoes, fish, poultry, fish, pasta, soups and stews, eggs, lamb, most vegetables, tea, oils and vinegars.

This may also help….it’s from About.com.

Beans (dried) cumin, cayenne, chili, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, thyme
Beef basil, bay, chili, cilantro, curry, cumin, garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Breads anise, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme
Cheese basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chili, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Chicken allspice, basil, bay, cinnamon, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger lemongrass, mustard, paprika, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
Corn chili, curry, dill, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme
Eggs basil, chervil, chili, chives, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
Fish anise, basil, bay, cayenne, celery seed, chives, curry, dill fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, marjoram
Fruits allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mint
Lamb basil, bay, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
Potatoes basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, poppy seed, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Salad Dressings basil, celery seed, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, tarragon, thyme
Salads basil, caraway, chives, dill, garlic, lemon peel, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Soups basil, bay, chervil, chili, chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
Sweets allspice, angelica, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon peel,  mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary
Tomatoes basil, bay , celery seed, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, gumbo file, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

Enjoy!

Tea, Race Cars, and Incandescent Gas

Yesterday was a busy day with the gkids.  As I picked them up from school, we had much on the agenda.  First there was the dreaded homework :  math, spelling, a writing exercise…OK maybe later.  But Cooper did manage to sing me the “Sun Song”.

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“The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas….”  while waving his hand behind his posterior.  (He admitted that he got in a lot of trouble at school for his hand gestures….and got caught by the Principal — oh Brother!)

For full effect you can find it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=me06I9GDM_k

It was really hard to keep a straight face. . .

Then there was a painting project.  It is Pinewood Derby time again, and both kids are participating. Daddy helped them with sanding, weighting, and spray painting the racing stripes on, so now I got to help with decorating.  We pasted and glued on numbers, stickers, etc.  and then got to the really fun part!  Painting on the flames, the windshields, the door handles, and making it look like a real car!  Wow that was fun, and the gkids are very artistic.

Coopers carOlivias car

After all that concentration…we needed a little down time.  So we had “tea”.  My Scots Granny loved her tea, and it was always a special treat for me to have it with her.  I grew up loving tea parties and dressing up dolls and Teddy’s and doing a lot of pretending like I was the Queen of Sheba (I had no idea who that was, but it sounded good).

However, I had an 8 (going on 20) and a 6 (almost 7) year old very grown up crew…so we decided to make the real thing.  No self-respecting tea is without a good scone.  (Granny pronounced it scun).  So we did that first!  Learning to “knead”…which Cooper thought was “need” is fun.

Nana:  “If you wanna make really good scones, you have to knead them and then let them rest a minute.”

Cooper: ” I “need” scones.  But I especially “need” whipped cream on them! ” hahahahaha….(he’s our resident jokster).

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We cut them out with a biscuit cutter and baked.  See the recipe here.

Next it was chop up the strawberries, and whip the cream.  We don’t add sugar to our

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vanillacream, but I do add vanilla bean seeds for extra flavor!  Just split a bean and scrape the “caviar” into the unwhipped cream.  Yummy!

To complete our “tea”, along with scones, we decided to make some “fairy apples”.  (Gotta have some fantasy element, right?) Apples are peeled and then poached with red hot candies and cinnamon sticks. (They are called fairy apples because they turn pink.)

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We used the “water” from cooking the apples to pour over a couple of Pomegranate Pizzaz and Perfect Peach teabags to get a nice fruity, somewhat sweet “kid” tea.

The result was a very nice tea, and lots of giggles and fun.  And yes, Cooper again serenaded us with his “Incandescent Gas” song….this time without the hand gestures!

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Daddy’s Home!

My son-in-law, Randy flies for UPS. Sometimes his trips overseas forces him to 294454_2539300167101_1972003724_nbe gone for a couple of weeks at a time, especially if he has back-to-back routes…so this year, he missed being with his family for Easter. He is very good at bidding for trips so that they don’t happen over important family events, but is not always able to accommodate every holiday.

The grandkids are also on Spring Break and he is off for a few days before his next sojourn. Since there’s no school, the kids are loving having him at home and all to themselves for a few days. Unfortunately, my daughter still has to be at work this week…so it was Daddy and Nana to the rescue.

So in honor of Spring, Nana’s Cooking Day, Daddy’s return, and Mama’s need for a mid-week celebration…we postponed our family Easter celebration dinner until he got back. Thursdays are usually my days to cook with the kids, so we planned our feast for last night.

Our menu? We decided on a bit healthier menu this year.  Normally we have the usual Baked Honey Glazed Ham, Devilled Eggs or Potato Salad, Green Bean Casserole..you know with the mushroom soup and fried onions, etc?  But we are all trying to eat “CLEAN“…meaning less processed foods and more local, organic, farm-to-table type foods.  So this year, having found a source for local Pastured Pork, we are having Roasted Pork Tenderloin.  For more information:  http://kerryg.hubpages.com/hub/The-Benefits-of-Pastured-Pork

20130404_164644_resizedRoasted Pork Tenderloin (or round pork chops as Cooper calls them) is easy and quick to prepare…no waste, very flavorful.  I purchased two pork loins about 2 lbs a piece with plans for leftovers for our dinner for 5.  The secret to succulent pork (besides choosing pastured pork) is to marinate it.  It’s best overnight, but 3-4 hours also works.  Here’s the marinade I used:

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3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, zest of one lemon, 2 T minced garlic, 1 T chopped fresh rosemary, 1 T chopped fresh thyme, 1 T Dijon mustard.  I mixed all of the above and put it into a large ziplock bag along with the tenderloins.  Marinating it in the bag (instead of a shallow dish) helps keep the entire surface moist.

To cook, preheat oven to 400.  Remove pork from the marinade and pat dry, allowing the herbs to stick to the surface.  Sear in a hot skillet (I used coconut oil) for 3-4 minutes on a side until well browned.  Place in hot oven for 18-20 minutes until interior temperature is 137.  Let meat sit for 5-10 minutes until all the juices go back into the meat before carving.  (The pan juices make a wonderful sauce…just add a bit of sour cream or mascarpone!  Yum).

To add to our feast, we chose Maple Glazed Butternut Squash…and a true spring favorite, Crunch Pea Salad. And as a special treat, Jelly Bean Cupcakes! As my daughter Lori says…it just wouldn’t be Easter without them! (See recipe from last week).

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562297_10200982609072724_255171512_nCooper loves raw peas, so he always sneaks a nibble or two.  But it is his big sister who I trust with the knife!  She is learning knife skills very quickly!

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This salad usually calls for a quite a bit of mayonnaise.  In keeping with our clean eating,  I used only 1T Mayo and added 1T sour cream and 2T Plain Yogurt.  For a bit of zip…chopped fresh mint leaves just adds to the flavor!

Besides chicken…there is probably nothing Cooper loves more than BACON.  OK…I try to find bacon that is pasture raised, not overly salted, and humanely butchered…but who doesn’t love bacon?  This just makes this Maple Glazed Butternut Squash even more yummy!

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This is such a simple recipe and soooo good.  Peel, core, and cube one butternut squash.  Place pieces on a cookie sheet and drizzle with 1-2 T Pure Maple Syrup.  Top cubes with 3-4 slices of bacon (depending on how many cubes you have) and place in a 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes….the squash carmelizes even further with the addition of maple syrup and is sweet and salty with the bacon on top!  It will get crispy and you can just crumble it over the top to serve!  This would also work well with sweet potato, beets, carrots, turnips, acorn squash or any yellow vegetable with a naturally sweet flavor.

Put it all together?  THE PLATE

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YUMMMMM!  And dad…he even helped with dishes!

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Welcome Home Daddy!

 

Shamrock Spaghetti Salad and Leprechaun Swords!

While the kids were here last Thursday, they were discussing what they would wear that was “green” to school the next day in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  Olivia had it all planned out…her green hair accessories, her green T with the horses on it….Cooper said maybe he had a green shirt somewhere.  I really didn’t have the heart to tell them that we were actually of Scottish descent and should probably wear Orange…but I digress.

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When I asked them why we celebrated St. Patty’s day…my smartmouth grandson said “because that’s when Leprechauns were  born!  You know, we had President’s Day, now it’s the Leprechauns’ turn!” I don’t know where he gets it!

leprechaun I am going to ignore the obvious joke about comparing Presidents to Leprechauns…but I thought he might be half right.

My much more savvy and fashion-conscious granddaughter, Olivia who is nearly 10 going on 25 said, “No, St. Patrick’s Day is when a priest named Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland”…My smart alec answer was “What kind of car do you suppose he was driving?”  The Leprechauns made me say it.

Without missing a beat, Cooper says…”probably an SUV…it’s bigger.”  Pa dump dum.  Bested by a 7 year old Leprechaun in disguise.

We talked about making “green” food and the kids remembered the St. Patrick’s Day green eggs and ham their Mom made them one year as an ode to Dr. Seuss…but green dyed food is just not that appealing to me.  So we decided to add a lot of green stuff to our noodle salad along with Cooper-the-chicken-man’s request for “chicken on a stick” as he calls it, otherwise known as Chicken Satay.  Satay is made of any cubed meat, not just chicken, and skewered kebab-fashion, then grilled and eaten with a peanut  sauce dip.  In keeping with the Irish theme, we called them Leprechaun Swords! Since I already had this planned, I had marinated the chicken breast strips in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and honey overnight.  The kids then helped me skewer the strips onto the soaked wooden skewers.  I soak the skewers in water for at least an hour so that the wood doesn’t burn as I grill them.

I did not tell them that we were actually making Oriental Food…talk about confusing, so, like the Satay, the Szechuan Noodle Salad… turned into Shamrock Spaghetti Salad!  A nice invention.

Lots of chopping and nibbling raw veggies went on, and that is always a lot of fun.  While I cooked the spaghetti, the kids chopped the veggies.  We had a chance to talk about how many things (many many) we could eat raw, and how many things we needed to cook (like pasta).

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The final touch was to add chopped cilantro and chopped mint to the salad…in a green bowl of course!

Next we made peanut sauce in the food processor.  The peanut sauce was serving two purposes.  We would use it for a Satay dip, and also as dressing on the salad!  Although the original recipe calls for a hotter version….I toned down the chilis to make it more kid friendly, and used natural organically grown peanut butter.

Cooper thinks anything made with Peanut Butter is good…and you don’t have to be a Leprechaun to enjoy this meal!

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Sláinte Maithe!