July 30th, 2013
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Canning and preservation of food can happen year round, but it’s during the summer when people consider putting up the excess of the season the most. My Instagram feed is jammed with photos of …. well, jam. And pickles! Oh, the pickles. They are everywhere, veggies of every sort soaked in vinegar and spices and the giddy anticipation is felt right through the computer. It seems that the waiting time for proper pickles of any kind is now akin to the last few days before Christmas in it’s anticipation.
Growing up, my Mom did not do any preservation. During the Summer she spent plenty of time and cash purchasing cases of peaches and cherries, and maybe a pie or two was made from the bounty, but she loved fresh fruit, and we loved fresh peaches and cherries and most of that case would end up in our mouths, fruit juice staining our shirts or running down our elbows; I have the quintessence Summer memory of sitting on the back steps with a peach in hand, pressing my teeth over and over in to it’s superb flesh, and getting soaked in sticky-sweet juice like every child should at some point or another. The smell of ripe peaches catapults me backwards to sultry Summer, and the eager anticipation of that overflowing box of fruit, colanders filled in the sink while a Summer breeze shifts the window curtains, and more sweet, intense peaches, or cherries, to eat than should be legal. I love the idea of canning fruit, but there isn’t even comparison to flavor of fresh, no matter how diligent you are in the process, and that slip of difference always keeps me in check when I think of fresh peaches any other time of year. If the burning sun isn’t drying peach juice on your hands, it just isn’t the same.
My sister-in-law is the jam-maker in the family. She loves it, and makes quite a lot that she happily shares. I love a good, homemade jam, and I’ve tried making it a few times. Once, it was perfectly jam-like and I didn’t mind the process at all. We coveted the result, too; opening a fresh jar of deep and dark jam that smelled like summertime was such a treat in the dead of Winter. The next time I ventured to make it, it felt like the process was mocking me. It didn’t feel right, nor did it go right, and the final result was more like a thick syrup than anything close to resembling jam. We ate it anyway. Are you kidding? Blueberry syrup is divine. From that moment on, I just made syrup. Forget the jam. Me and pectin apparently don’t know how to figure each other out.
This raw Chia jam isn’t even like jam at all, except a bit in it’s consistency. If you’ve ever made a pudding with Chia seeds, then you can kind of get how this jam works- the mighty little Chia seed, worthy of soaking in up to 10 times it’s weight in liquid, is the binder, no pectin needed. Fresh fruit is whirred in the food processor with Chia seeds, the scrapings of a vanilla bean and a good dose of crossed fingers, then in a jar it goes for an overnight stay in the refrigerator. The next day, spread on toast, it’s fruity, with the tiny, almost imperceptible gel-like quality of Chia and the unearthly beautiful scent and flavor of fresh vanilla. I buried the vanilla bean pod in the jam for it’s overnight, to infuse more of the flavor because a vanilla bean buried in anything with fruit is magical in every way. What the jam isn’t is overly sweet. There is no added sugar, which you need a ton of in homemade jam. In this version, you taste fruit, subtle and sweet all on it’s own, but if you like the cloying sweet taste of jam with it’s sharp undercurrent of pectin to hold it’s shape, this jam might not be for you. But I encourage you to try one jar, as it’s just the simplest of simple things to make, and keep your mind open to possibility. It may ‘Wow’ you in an unexpected way.
My original inspiration came from Shockingly Delicious, who’s photos of her Raw Strawberry Chia Jam made my eyes bug out. I switched out the vanilla syrup that her recipe calls for to use the vanilla bean, and instead of lemon juice, I added fresh squeezed lime juice and a bit of zest, which you just don’t taste at all as much as it adds a dash of brightness to the final end result.
And it should suffice to say that any fresh fruit would make for a fine substitute for the Blueberries. Get crazy with it.
Raw Blueberry-Vanilla Chia Jam
1 c. fresh blueberries, washed
1 tsp. fresh grated lime zest (lemon is fine, too)
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and consistent. Alternately, you can place all the ingredients in a bowl and mash with either a fork or a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier consistency. Scrape in to a jar with a tight fitting lid. Press vanilla bean pod down in to jam, seal lid and place in refrigerator overnight. Stir jam before using. Vanilla bean pod can be discarded or left in jam to heighten the flavor.
July 24th, 2013
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Blueberry season is my favorite.
This is one trip’s worth of picking at my absolute favorite spot, Rush River Produce. I become almost giddy with excitement when the postcard arrives in the mail, announcing the fruit is ready for picking. Although there are blueberry farms closer to me, what I love most about going to Maiden Rock, Wisconsin for these beauties (and they are stunning berries) is that the 70 minutes drive to get there is one of the most beautiful road trips one can take locally. You wind and twist along the Mississippi, past Lake Pepin and through beautiful, quaint little towns. I always go as early in the morning as I can; then, when done picking, I drive to Stockholm, or even further along to Pepin and make a stop for lunch and relaxing. I can’t get enough of the scenery, and driving along with the scent of fresh picked fruit in my car is one of Summer’s most intense pleasures.
For utilizing such perfect fruit, most of what I pick goes in to the freezer. I employ the straight to the freezer method; no washing of the fruit as it begins to break down the moment you rinse the white bloom off of it. I portion the fruit in to 2-cup increments and freeze the bags as flat as I can manage. Two cups is a pretty standard amount for most recipes, and the berries freeze without clumping so you can measure easily for other needs. They are easily utilized for pancakes or waffles in this manner, too.
We eat plenty of them fresh too. And a recipe I discovered last year for Blueberry Compote with Lemon Thyme was a huge hit. Spread over fresh, creamy Burrata, it was a beautiful pre-dinner treat.
If you LOVE Blueberry syrup on your pancakes like I do, this recipe is so simple. And it’s taste is out of this world. Best part about this recipe was that it was printed in The Edible Twin Cities Cookbook.
Of course, blueberries go beautifully in muffins, and this Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut version is a favorite of mine. It’s a mouthful, all right. Both in syllables, and in flavor.
Here’s a favorite coffee cake recipe for you to try as well, Blueberry Lemon Coffee Cake, rich with pop of blueberries and the spritzy bite of lemon- one of my favorite flavor combinations. Using Rice Krispies cereal in it guarantees it a perfect breakfast food.
There’s so much more one can do with blueberries. And I’m sure you have your favorites, too. Care to share them with us??
July 16th, 2013
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When you think of the month of July, what comes to mind? Heat. Sun. Humidity. Thunderstorms. Exploding growth in the garden. Balmy, beautiful Summer nights. Popsicles. Ice cream. Grilling outside. Fresh produce from the Farmers Market.
In one word, quintessential Summertime.
It’s very warm as I write this, too; nearly 80 degrees and it’s only 8AM. Yesterday, as I walked to my car after work, the sun shimmering over the parking lot, and opened the car door to the furnace inside, I thought back to April, and it’s never-ending snowfalls. The blanket of snow we awoke to on Griffin’s birthday on the 19th, the Earth Day storm and parade of cold, sopping wet days. The May Day snow. Rain, rain and more rain in May and a Memorial Weekend at the lake where we needed to run the furnace, and a simple sweatshirt wasn’t enough to keep the chill at bay.
As I sat in my car, feeling the suffocating heat, I thought ‘This is what we waited for in the Spring. This is what we love, our theater of seasons, our scorching Summer.’ The idea of even raising one breath of complaint about it went out the window. It was hot, all right.
Thank goodness for that.
We’re not cooking much these days, although I did roast a whole bunch of vegetables the other day while the A/C churned out some crisp air. Today I plan to make a big batch of these Ridiculously Healthy Millet, Kale & Yam Burgers. And as always, with the surge of heat I get the urge to bake. Crazy, isn’t it? We’ll see what I come up with. But we still need to eat, and simple foods are passing through our kitchen, with lots of fresh salads, some quick stand-bys and a few Yee-Hawww cowboy style, throw it all together and see what happens kind of meals.
For a bit of inspiration, check out these oldies, but goodies from my Recipe Box.
Chard with White Beans and Fresh Herbs
In July, two years ago, I fell head over heels in love with Chard. We ate this quite often that Summer, and ever since.
Fettucine with Braised Kale
We also fell hard for Kale. This was one of the recipes that completely changed my mind about that green.
When zucchini, tomato and eggplant are at their peak, there is nothing finer than this dish.
Roasted Radish & Caramelized Onion Tart
We had a lot of vegetable revelation in 2011; this time was all about roasting Radishes.
Herb Flatbread with Pesto & Caramelized Onions
Simple and so delicious; make a big batch of the onions to keep on hand and it’s even easier.
Perfect on a sandwich, or just straight from the jar. I really need to do these again.
Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing
Gotta love the crunch of these raw salads. I’m addicted to them.
Super Simple Strawberry Vinaigrette
If you’re flush with strawberries (and if not, you should be!) this simple salad vinaigrette is extraordinary.
Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro
This delicious and simple recipe came from my very last issue of Gourmet magazine, back in 2009.
(A moment of silence for the loss of a great work of art)
What are you eating during our hot and wonderful Summer?? Anything good you’d like to share??
July 10th, 2013
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We rolled right in to July with perfect Summer weather. Our CSA share started too, and we’ve been enjoying a lot of wonderfully fresh organic fare, including some large and sumptuous heads of Bok Choy (Joi Choi). I promptly split one in half, dropped it on a searing hot grill and called it dinner.
Come in to my kitchen…
June 27th, 2013
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I’m fairly certain that you don’t feel like cooking when the heat index soars. No one really does, and even though we’re still a bit behind on our growing season, the bounty at the Farmers Markets is such that you can arrive home, dripping from a hot, steamy walk among the tables with an overflowing sack of fresh vegetables and make something cool, refreshing and satisfying for dinner without turning on your oven. Like this raw pea salad.
Come in to my kitchen…
June 24th, 2013
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It’s hard to keep writing a food blog for seven years, which is how long my little spot on the Internet has been around. Began in June of 2006, when food blogs raised an eyebrow of question rather than a simple nod of understanding, I never anticipated that this place would become the launching pad for so much enrichment in my life. Or so much frustration.
And with such an intense saturation of food blogs, with clamoring voices, ubiquitous styles, and everyone trying to find a way to stand out, my page just keeps plugging along in the only way I know how. It’s just me and my food.
Come in to my kitchen…
June 18th, 2013
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I’m good at so much, but lately, I feel like I’m not good at anything at all except moving through each 24-hour period.
I made an amazingly tasty batch of Kamut-Millet pancakes last week, thick and dense with the good stuff, and we ate them daily for three days. Each time I took a bite I thought ‘I need to share this recipe!’. Then my mind goes elsewhere; I end up thinking that it’s just a pancake. Everyone has their favorite pancake recipe, as do I, and right now this one is my favorite, but that might not be the case tomorrow.
So I didn’t share the Kamut-Millet pancakes. Yet.
Then there was the surprising and incredible Chickpea Fries that were made, last week too. It was a good week for food in our house. There’s still a few strips of thick dough, wrapped tight in plastic in the refrigerator and I can have them photo-ready within an hour, if I want. They are so unique and wonderful.
But I haven’t shared those yet, either.
Last Saturday I drove home from work through the most drenching rain I’ve ever seen in my life. From inside the car, it overwhelmed the wipers, on high no doubt, and filled the lowest spots on the highway with pools that covered our tires, sending waves of water as high as the pick-up truck roofs as we carefully drove through them. The drops were immense, and it lasted my entire 25-minute drive home. I kept on, doggedly driving through it, mesmerized by it’s sound on my roof and the pelting of the windows and with all the water that’s fallen on our state this Summer, I kept thinking to myself ‘Where does the rain go when it’s finished?’ The rivers and streams pour through their channels, fat, swollen, and furious; Minnehaha Falls roar over it’s edge with a noise you can hear from blocks away. The air is so thick with water and the mosquitoes so fat and starving. My legs are speckled like I have some disease, and I can’t find the bug spray.
I did manage to plant the very last of our garden; lovely and colorful Rainbow Chard, a row of Broccoli, more Basil, more Tomato plants (does 7 seem like too many???) as well as Lemongrass and a strange, lovely herb called Curry Herb, of which I have no clue how to use but it’s scent, like soft curry, is so intriguing. I run my fingers through the Lemon Thyme with each passing of the fragrant garden plot, then lift them to my nose to inhale, close my eyes to that around me and just breathe in the scent.
In our scurry around and keep busy world, this might look like nothing at all. But to me, it’s huge, that life-affirming scent, the soil under my feet, rich with black, healthy dirt and fat earthworms. Like sitting in the sunshine on my faded redwood steps, soaking up the warmth while I eat breakfast and sip coffee. It’s nothing, to the busy-ness and go go go. But to me it’s everything. Like sitting idle, magazine in hand, coffee by my side, while two cozy felines snuggle on my lap. It’s nothing, to the schedule every minute people, but to me, and to them, it’s the world.
The Kamut-Millet pancakes, those Chickpea fries, that garden, my breakfasts, purring cats. It’s all so good.
It’s Just Write Tuesday over at The Extraordinary Ordinary, who just landed in Texas to begin a new chapter of her life.
Minnesota will miss you, Heather. I’m so blessed to be able to understand, to know and to be friends with a soul like yours.
Thank goodness for the Internet.
June 10th, 2013
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As I write this, I’m snuggled in my favorite chair, with one cat curled next to me, the other on my lap. We sit this way a lot, especially in the mornings, and again in late afternoons, or on solitary days of hours stretched ahead with little plan. This is for us, to re-group.
Lately though, I think they do this for the warmth. Because as we sit here today, it’s raining. Again. It’s cold. Again. Or still, if it matters. June has arrived, and still there is no sign of warmth or heat. There is no hair curling humidity. Temps struggle in the 60′s, I still pull on a fleece sweatshirt and thick slippers in the morning, and just yesterday, I came across a new skirt in my closet, pulled excitedly off a store rack back in April, that is adorable, summery and perfect. Except I’ve only worn it once, and I’d forgotten all about it.
It’s utterly gorgeous outside though, in the deep, deep green that’s arrived with the constant rain. Walking through the trees surrounding our lake home this past week, I was struck with how lush the land has turned, and when the sun does show itself, the effect is more stunning than I’ve seen in recent years. But that sun is fickle, and the thick gray clouds hover; we don’t see enough sunshine to spur the baby plants growth, to coax seedlings from the ground or warm our starving skin. The Spring that never was in Minnesota is segueing in to a Summer that refuses to arrive.
Along with the weather woes, the farming season is deeply behind schedule, and the open air markets have begun with meager offerings. Even so, vibrant stalks of asparagus and ramps, bunches of pea shoots, the deep red rhubarb and clumps of fresh herbs aren’t necessarily inspiring a lot of cooking when I’m still thinking about soup, and warming dishes that steam as I lean over them.
But I am hungry beyond belief. Both for light, fresh sustenance, and for Summer. For heat and sunshine and bare skin.
I’ve been hard at work since February, pushing myself through 2 weekly Body Pump classes -on occasion paired with a bike ride to the Y, plus swimming 2-3 times a week and with all the work, the calories burned and energy gained, I have been just famished. I will eat a good breakfast, spend an hour in the pool or hefting weights, then devour lunch. A few hours later, my belly is loudly protesting again and still, there’s time to pass before dinner. Dinner comes and a few hours later, there’s the rumbling again. For those in-between times, I’ve been on the hunt for a snack that sustains and feeds my ever-raging internal furnace without being too heavily caloric, or outright junky. I have zero will-power against anything with a salty crunch, so having a better option on hand really helps.
These raw Fig & Almond Energy Bites are so satisfying and delicious. They’ve got the texture of cookie dough, with enough sweet to kill a craving, and the right amount of salt to balance fluid loss from an intense workout. I keep the mixture in a container in the fridge and will scoop out a small amount when I wake up to have with my coffee, as I’m usually not ready for breakfast right away. Post work-out, I always drink a protein shake for recovery, washing down a few of these with it to help stabilize muscle fatigue. The mixture can be stirred in to yogurt too, or sprinkled on top of ice cream for a real treat.
There is supposedly some sunshine coming our way this week, with a coinciding rise in temperatures. I’ve got my fingers crossed; our local Farmers Market opens this week and I’m excited to get back in to strolling the stalls and seeing my favorite vendors.
Fig & Almond Energy Bites
1 c. whole rolled oats (other grain flakes are a nice option, like barley or rye- I’ve used a commercial 5-Grain cereal from Bob’s Red Mill too and love the result.)
1/2 c. unsweetened finely shredded coconut
1 c. dried figs, minced
1/2 c. chocolate chips (or use half cacao nibs for a terrific crunch)
1/2 c. ground flaxseed
1/4 c. chia seeds
2 T. finely ground almonds (or use packaged almond meal)
1/2 c. peanut butter (of course you can use almond butter!)
1/2 c. honey
1 t. almond extract
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. sea salt
Place the oats, coconut, figs, chocolate, flaxseed, chia seeds and almond meal in a bowl and stir to combine. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the peanut butter, honey, extract, cinnamon, ginger and salt until smooth. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well with a heavy spoon, or your hands. Chill for several hours. It should hold together firmly when you pick up a small amount and squeeze it, but if not, you may need to add a touch more honey for cohesiveness.
I keep the mix in a container as is, but you can form it in to balls too.
The best part about this recipe is it’s endless versatility. Add, subtract and play with it for a personal mix that you love. Dates would be a fine substitute for the figs, but you might need to adjust the amount of honey used, as dates are notoriously sweet.
Original recipe from Ecosalon, here with modifications.
June 7th, 2013
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Gourmet marshmallows? How could I say ‘No’ to that?
Especially Mochachino, Maple Bacon, Lemon Meringue and Toasted Coconut gourmet marshmallows from Plush Puffs.
I was never a huge fan of marshmallows, even though I have eaten my fair share of them in my lifetime, toasted over an open flame and squished between chocolate and graham crackers, or fudge-stripe cookies (my favorite way to eat them). They were fine because I had no idea that they could ever be anything other than what they were, but I had a serious marshmallow epiphany in culinary school when we made marshmallows from scratch and I first tasted the smooth and supple texture, the fresh fluffy cloud-like taste of what they could be without all the garbage ingredients in them. Since that eye-opening day, I’ve been far less enthusiastic to a chemically laden, spongey mass-produced orb from a plastic bag.
Plush Puffs use all natural ingredients and top quality flavorings. The marshmallows aren’t just coated with flavor, it’s striped and swirled all through the fluff, and with each chew you get more and more taste in your mouth.
Even though my boy is an enthusiastic taste-tester at home, with four boxes of fluff to sample, I needed more mouths and varied opinions on these; my boy and I tend to like the same thing, and his reactions were predictable to me, so I gathered up the boxes as I headed out to my weekly Ladies Night gathering at my friend Mary‘s house, hoping for a break in our constant rain so that we could stab these babies on a toasting fork and get down to business.
Unfortunately, the moment I arrived at her house, it began to rain.
So…. in her words, we made ghetto S’mores over the gas burner on her stove.
Now plain Plush Puffs, right out of the package are phenomenal in their own right. They truly need nothing more to make them tastier. The texture is perfect and the flavors simply POP in your mouth. The Mochachino is ribboned with chocolate, rich on the tongue and perfectly balanced. Toasted Coconut is topped with browned toasty bits and subtly sweet. Lemon Meringue, my least favorite of the group, was a bit too sweet and cloying, with none of the fresh lemony taste that we all love, and it was our opinion that lemon and marshmallows simply didn’t mix all that well. The Maple Bacon left us puzzled, not sure what to think. Poked in to a stick and held over the flames, these didn’t scorch as deeply as we’d hoped, nor melt like we expected, but they did become slippery and runny enough to squish between graham crackers with various types of chocolate.
Our favorite was the Mochachino with a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Pure decadent deliciousness. The amount of happy groans of delight, complete with glorious eye-rolling punctuated our conversations as we toasted, squished, sampled and enjoyed.
Even the littlest lady at Ladies Night enjoyed the taste-testing.
As of right now, Plush Puffs are not available in stores in Minnesota, but you can purchase the many flavors in their online store. For a delicious treat, you really can’t go wrong.
I was provided with four boxes of various flavors of Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows free of charge for sampling purposes.
All opinions and feedback are my own.
May 28th, 2013
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There’s a mist that seems to hang in the early morning air, heavy and humid from the water lapping at the shore, the cool morning temps that kicked the furnace on at 6:45 this morning.
I’m glad to be awake actually. Dreamless and sleeping deeply, the stiff mattress transferred all it’s solidity to my shoulders and upper back and I wince slightly as I turn over, grateful to have slept for multiple hours in a row in a state so blissfully unaware. I’d left the bedroom window open, and through it, as the furnace roars it’s morning greeting from the other room, I can hear the birds conversing in the trees. The entire lake emptied out yesterday; windows closed to the humid and cool air, shades drawn and fishing poles tucked away and last night as the profound silence settled over the empty lake, I gazed out at the darkness, no campfires dotting the shores, the black expanse of water just down the slope of the yard and I thought of how alone I feel here like this, yet how safe and centered it makes me.
I sip coffee and slip on my running shoes. For more years than I can recall, my one recurring dream has been of me running; a strong and powerful dream that leaves me breathless in it’s attempt to tell me what I can do. It’s always the same, every single time; I am running, breath strong, powerful muscles and stride, determined, and capable. Every time it graces my sleep, I awaken charged and ready and think I can conquer a marathon. I haven’t dreamt this particular dream in a while, but it’s memory clings in the very fibers of my life, a reminder, or gentle prodding.
Somewhere in me, I know there is a runner that is screaming to get out. So I run.
It’s nothing like my dreams, but I don’t expect it to be. You aren’t born capable of anything, except living in the day to day. Our abilities and strengths lie deep within us, and if our dreams can show us, without doubt or hesitation what we are capable of, then we owe it to ourselves to listen. I walk, loosening my legs and that stiff upper back, and when I finally turn off the two-lane and on to the dirt road, I break in to a soft run, feeling muscles in my legs and hips loosen even more. For a few moments, it’s wonderful and just like my dreams, then my lungs start protesting, fighting with my body over control of my brain and I’m forced to slow to a walk again.
But I keep going. I walk. Then I run. Then I walk again. It gets easier, but it really doesn’t. Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight; a good relationship doesn’t just occur without a little work, homes aren’t built without careful planning, well placed boards and a solid foundation and a runner doesn’t just awaken from a dream and take on a marathon.
This is the moment where we say to ourselves “I know I am capable of so much more.” So I keep going. I run/walk around the South side of the lake to the highway, and here I have to decide- do I turn around, knowing that steep hill is behind me and I will have to run UP that if I return this way? Or do I keep going, through the woods on the other side, past the Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Woodland Violet, under the towering birch and cottonwood? I keep going, through the trees, stopping on the dirt road to raise my eyes to the green canopy above and give thanks for the strength to continue, to chase after this crazy dream of running at 49. I’m energized, and I’m warm. I’ve stripped off my jacket, I’m in my running tank and the air is cold on my sweaty skin but the dream tells me to keep moving.
To keep running.
Whether it’s about running, or just a metaphor for my life, I’m compelled to listen to the dream, to figure it out, not give up. I’m compelled to keep running, whether it’s to an eventual 5K, to the end of the month, another year of marriage, planning of hopes and dreams or just to the end of this day, on an empty lake under heavy gray sky. Maybe the dream isn’t about the act of running, but the race before us, the daily shuffle-step that often falls with a dulling thud in it’s monotony, the dream urging me to keep my head up, keep breathing, shoulders down, back straight, eyes forward. To just keep going.
Visit The Extraordinary Ordinary for this week’s Just Write.