PIG DAY!!

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, I got my pig. Well… WE got OUR pig. Part of it anyway. There was a mix up at the butcher, so I’m still minus ham, and ham steaks, and ALL THE BACON… but we’ll fix that soon enough.

Spareribs, baby back ribs, tenderloin, pork roasts, chops, shoulder steaks, sweet Italian sausage… I honestly cannot WAIT to try out all the recipes swirling around my head.

So, our visit to ION Farms in Nanjemoy was awesome! Lee and Tasha are super cool people who treat their animals a lot like pets. I got to meet a bunch of them, including the new breeding piglets. They’re all little redheads… good thing I didn’t meet this cuteness FIRST, I couldn’t stand it.

Look! Ginger piglets!


Goats, cows, chickens, guineafowl, rabbits, a mama cat and her kittens… Lee and Tasha have a cross between a menagerie and a petting zoo. As Lee puts it “we know the eventual purpose of these animals, but that doesn’t stop us from treating them like pets and spoiling them while we have them.” It sure shows too, as the animals are all just so calm, relaxed, and happy. Honestly, there isn’t a single iota of stress that shows on these animals. Also, they invite any of their customers to come and visit, see the animals, view their environment and their feed. It’s so refreshing to meet food producers with no secrets, no agenda, just the desire to bring wholesome delicious food from the farm to the table. You can read a bit about ION Farm at Eat Wild. Contact them, go see them, and enjoy your visit to the country. You’ll be impressed, I promise.

I realize also that I owe you a recipe for my ham with cabbage, apples, and carrot. So here goes… I took three organic carrots, peeled and cut them into rounds. I also peeled, cored, and diced three apples (one red delicious, one empire, and one granny smith since that’s what I had on hand). I heated up some bacon grease, and put the carrots and apples in there with some salt to let them soften. I cut half a medium cabbage into strips, and set them aside. When the carrots and apples just start to soften, I removed them, and laid the section of ham into the skillet. I laid the cabbage strips over the ham, spooned the apples and carrots on top, and then poured in enough organic apple cider to have the liquid come halfway up the sides of my deep skillet. I added a grating of black pepper and popping on the lid, I put the entire shebang into the oven at 350 degrees. I let the dish cook for a while, the liquid braising that cabbage until tender and luscious.

SO SO SO good! The apple cider, salt, and pepper added enough warmth and a hint of a spicy flavor that I didn’t need anything else. The carrots were sweet, the apples gave a tartness, and the cabbage just tasted earthy and had soaked up so much ham flavor it was incredible. It was also the perfect foil to my kale and ham hocks. The best news? There were enough leftovers that Mads and the Boy had some with mac and cheese for dinner tonight while Spouse and I went pig fetching.

OH! And in geek news, I got to help a fellow foodie @glutenfreefreak on tips to clean leeks! Look for her on Twitter and give her a follow. She’s the BOMB when it comes to gluten-free food finds. Oh, and feel free to follow me too, (@stacyo513) even though I tweet more about sports than food it seems.

Another work day awaits tomorrow, but you can believe I’ll be SO unproductive as I’m dreaming of ways to cook pork!

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It’s good to be Queen


The last 24 hours can count as my coronation.

Firstly, my apologies for no blog post yesterday, I was tied up most of the evening helping Stretch overcome an issue with her DirecTV installation. She’s in college, in her first apartment, having to deal with setting up utilities and such… and of course some yay-hoo installer decides he’s going to make her life difficult. Well, 2.5 hours on the telephone later, by utilizing a MacGyver approach at conference calling, and after speaking to nearly everyone at DirecTV, we got her a NEW installer, a NEW installation date, and a free premium channel package for a year.

I went from “Mom” to “Duchess” after making THAT happen.

Then today, knowing the weekend would take me up to college delivering furniture to Stretch, I decided to do the marketing for my eldest and my little buddy Jake. The eldest is trying her hand at the Paleo Diet in order to not only lose weight, but to finally get on the road to health. She called me a few weeks back and said “I’M SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY! HOW DO YOU DO THIS?”

I’ve done posts before about shopping for high quality food while saving money. I even did one this week, asking for reader participation. (It’s not too late, by the way… feel free to chime in anytime!) My favorite farmer’s market has weekday hours during the summer, so I took my lunch and headed over there with $50 of her dollars in my pocket. She still had a few things left from my last marketing trip – smart girl cooked up dishes and then put them in the freezer – and had done her own supplemental grocery run at the local supermarket. Apparently the grandson eats celery and carrot sticks like they’re going out of style. Atta boy!

So here’s what I got at the farmer’s market:
1 dozen of the good eggs
2 beautiful, huge globe eggplant
1/2 peck of fresh green beans
1/2 peck of peaches
1/4 peck of pears
1 large cantaloupe
1 container yellow cherry tomatoes
1 container red grape tomatoes
Slicing tomatoes
1/2 watermelon (I bought one whole and will split it with her)
3 or 4 cucumbers (again, I bought some for us and will split them)

I still had over half her money left, so I went to the local grocery store to see if I could score any good deals on meat. It’s better to be lucky than good, because they had JUST marked down the meat that had a sell by date of tomorrow. So, I then purchased:
3 packs of chicken drumsticks (the organic ones! Five drumsticks to a pack, and I spent no more than 1.34 for each pack)
4.5 pounds of ground pork
1 pack of sweet italian turkey sausages
4 pounds of ground turkey
1 pack chicken thighs

Total spent on produce and meat for my daughter and grandson: $47.92.

So she has onions, squash, zucchini, celery, carrots, (all fresh) and some frozen broccoli in addition to the things she has cooked up and frozen. She will be able to make all kinds of things from this haul. She will certainly have enough meat for at least two weeks, and I will go back to the market on my normal Saturday run next week. For now, I’ve been able to take $100 (I spent $50 on my last market run for her) and buy enough good quality food for more than 4 weeks. GO MOM!

That moves me from Duchess to Queen. I’m just saying.

As my children get older, my influence over them lessens – and that’s a good thing – I want to have strong, smart, independent children who grow into productive adults. The opportunities to be their hero also lessen, so when it happens, I definitely try to step up. But two times in less than 24 hours? I’ll take it. I’m very proud of my two oldest girls, but I’m also very proud to still be the one they call for help.

It is good to be Queen.

By request


I got a request via a Facebook friend who has recently been diagnosed with both corn and soy allergies (YIKES!) to list where I shop and get my vegetables and meats. You may be surprised to find out that Whole Foods isn’t even on my top ten … no offense to Whole Foods, I’m sure they’re lovely people, but I’d rather shop locally from farmers I have built a relationship with. I feel they are far more likely to give me the straight scoop on the food they grow and sell. With allergies being such a concern, that type of relationship and honesty really can be a matter of life and death for some!

My Saturday morning “go to” place is the Home Grown Farm Market in Lexington Park Maryland. Do yourselves a favor and “like” them on Facebook here. They post when they are open, and when new products are available. I get my eggs from Farrah and Brandon (They’re the first produce vendor on the left as you walk in), and whatever is fresh produce-wise from Even’Star Organic (across from Farrah and Brian) Trossbach’s produce (next to Even’Star) and Shlagel Farms. I also shop from WAG meats (all the way in the back, just past Shlagel Farms). I know these vendors, they know me and I enjoy spending my Saturday mornings saying hello to them.

WAG meats DOES grain finish their meats, meaning the cattle are pasture (grass) -fed for the majority of their lives, and then given grain for a short time at the very end. What this does is add a little fat to the beef (purely grass-fed animals are VERY lean). This is a good thing when it comes to hamburger since you need some fat to make luscious burgers. If corn is a problem for you, this amount of grain finishing shouldn’t be an issue since the cow processes the grain… but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to make sure to mention it. I also get bacon here, since it’s uncured (no nitrites!) and deliciously thick cut. This bacon tastes more like MEAT without the artificial sweet/salty flavors you can get from the stuff bought in the store. Seasonally, I can also get dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter) from the Home Grown Market too. Yum.

I shop ALL the vendors at the market, in fact there’s a cupcake lady at the back who is working on a gluten-free cupcake. When she perfects it, and decides to sell it, I will DEFINITELY be purchasing from her.

I usually then head to the farmer’s market in the BAE parking lot on Rt 235 across from Wal-Mart. There, I always purchase from David and Jennifer at Sassafras Creek Organic Farm. Be sure to sign up for their weekly newsletter! Every week, they send out an email letting us know what’s for sale at the market (I am addicted to their arugula) and usually giving a recipe on how to use them. YAY! Trossbach’s also has another stand here and if I’ve missed out on peaches at my first stop, I’ll get them here.

If I have time, I then head north to Charlotte Hall, to the Amish Farmer’s Market on the southbound side of Rt 5 (corner of Rt 5 and Rt 6 in front of the library). The Amish and Mennonite farmers always have not only fresh produce, but baked goods, noodles, canned preserves, eggs, flowers, herbs, etc. Or I’ll stop at Russell’s in Clements or Rt. 4 across from Fairgrounds road.

PLENTY of places to get produce in St. Mary’s County. Let’s talk about meat though shall we? This year, the spouse and I have decided to go all in and order half a pasture raised cow, and a half of pasture raised pig. The beef is going to cost us about 4.50 a pound, and we’ve ordered it from Glen Mary Farm, in Park Hall, MD. Our pig is going to cost only slightly more a pound and is coming from It’s Only Natural Farm in Nanjemoy, MD. You can find information about both of these wonderful farms at Eat Wild. We will get our meat in late October or early November from each of these farms. Chickens are a different matter, since chickens are a lot of work for not a tremendous amount of return, especially free range chickens! Luckily for me, while on my visit to the Loveville Produce Auction I met David from Zekiah Farms and he has the best prices on free range, antibiotic free chickens. David is a great guy, he was VERY helpful, and I’ve owed him this shout out for a couple of weeks now. PLEASE visit his website, and go visit HIM at the farm store.

When I’m in beautiful Calvert County, my go-to place is Chesapeake’s Bounty off of Rt. 4 in St. Leonard. I swear my car automatically knows when we are in Calvert and it leads me to their door. I ALWAYS find something delicious here. Produce, seafood, locally produced meats, and dairy… this shop is enough to make me want to move to St. Leonard so they can be my grocery store. All of the produce is grown organically, the meats sold are all raised humanely without antibiotics, and the dairy animals do not receive hormones! All great things.

For those pantry staples that I want to be gluten-free, I USUALLY order online due to price, but I’m finding that my grocery stores in the area are doing really great things expanding their gluten-free and other special diet departments. Plus there’s always the wonderful folks at The Good Earth Natural Food Company in Leonardtown. Be sure to stop there on the weekends when they are trying out new recipes in the kitchen!

So there’s my list of where I do my shopping. Some weeks (like this week) I don’t get to go to the market on Saturday mornings, so I’ll shop during the week. If I’m up in the big city, I HAVE to go to Trader Joe’s, since I love their Persian cucumbers. I’ll go to Whole Foods or Wegman’s on a special occasion, and I haven’t found enough time to make my own detergents and cleansers, so I still hit up Target, or Giant, or Shoppers, or whatever store I happen to be close to in order to do those supplemental grocery runs.

Hope this helps out, for those of you who are wondering WHERE to purchase. Here’s the secret…whenever possible, buy what is LOCAL and in season. You get a ton of food at wonderful prices. I (and my family) eat BETTER for LESS money by purchasing seasonally.

Hope you all had a delicious weekend… here’s to a very produce-tive (see what I did there?) week!

You are the salt of the earth

Aren’t these CUTE? I want them. Found on http://www.gizmodiva.com/

Well if I’m going to have an earworm, that’s a good one to have…

“You are the salt of the Earth,
You are the salt of the Earth,
But if that salt has lost it’s flavor it ain’t got much in it’s favor.
You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the Earth.”

Speaking of salt, one of my pet peeves is something my sweet spousal unit does at nearly EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Before ever taking a bite of anything I have cooked, he will grab a salt shaker and liberally dose his plate. He is not the only one who does this, I’ve seen folks in very nice restaurants receive their food and before tasting anything at all, they grab that salt shaker and salt away.

It is everything I can do not to scream.

Before y’all get the wrong idea, I am a HUGE proponent of salt. I LOVE salt. I buy and use a TON of salt, (Kosher, coarse sea salt, Fleur de sel, etc.) I have absolutely no problems with the sodium in my diet, but I almost NEVER EVER salt the food on my plate before eating it. The notable exception here is freshly sliced garden tomatoes.

Instead, I use salt on food before and during the cooking process. Why? Because the liberal application of salt to food, or to cooking liquid, actually intensifies the flavors of the food being cooked. Look up the term “osmosis.” Salting a food before it is cooked or the water that a food is being cooked in causes the water in the food to be expelled and that allows for flavors to intensify.

I liberally salt raw meat and let it sit a bit before cooking. I put salt in all of my baked recipes, I even add at least a pinch of salt to every dessert recipe I make. The water I use to cook vegetables or pasta is salted to the point of tasting like the ocean before the food ever goes in it. Salt ENHANCES flavor… but it enhances flavor most if applied BEFORE or DURING cooking.

Also take into account that there are ingredients in dishes that are inherently salty (Parmesan, feta, anchovies…). These ingredients do the same job that an application of Kosher does. Ever have spaghetti sauce that seemed a little bland? Add a little Parmesan as it heats up, and taste the magic.

Add salt after cooking and all you taste is… salt.

Now, as I said, there are exceptions. Tomatoes? Slice them thick, salt, drizzle a little high quality olive oil and I’m a happy girl. Watermelon and cantaloupe both benefit from a little sprinkle of salt. Sushi gets it’s extra YUM from the salt in soy sauce… but these foods are fresh/raw. By the way, lemon juice has many of the same abilities. If you have high blood pressure, or need to limit sodium, try lemon juice on your food. It really brightens up the flavor and “wakes up” your taste buds. Your more sensitive taste buds register more of the taste in your food and you get a more flavorful bite!

And I agree that sometimes (especially during certain monthly events) we just crave something salty. I’m all about salted caramels, and I am not ashamed to admit that I have salted BROWNIES to satisfy two cravings at once. Just keeping it real, y’all.

So, what to do? Shall I hide the salt shaker? Tell him I’ve already salted his food? Eat in another room from my spouse? Never go out to eat again?

Is there a tasteless salt look-alike that I can put in the tabletop shaker to fake out the heavy salters who eat with me? Help me out Internets, you may be the only hope left for my salty sanity.

Have a delicious weekend, folks!

My “to-do” and now feeling like “doo-doo”

This is going to be a short one, due to the fact that I have been sneezing my head off all weekend, and today my nose decided to act like a faucet, and bring friends (body aches, a headache, etc.) to the party.

Be that as it may, I had some very definite food “to-do” items on my list for this weekend and thankfully I got them all done. Of course I got my marketing done, and got okra and eggplant breaded, and frozen for future dinners. Today I tackled three zones of my house that really needed some attention: The pantry, the freezer attached to my fridge, and the stand up freezer in the garage. I think I may have shared that our house normally has TWO stand up freezers outside. One holds meat, cheeses and other dairy items, my pre-made and frozen meals, and my small stash of gluten free bread. The other holds fruit, veggies, herbs, and the very few “convenience” foods my kids eat (corn dogs from Trader Joes, frozen waffles, etc.). Well, while we were on vacation, my fruit and veggie freezer decided to give up the ghost. Luckily my mother in law discovered this quickly, and transferred all my bounty to the still functioning freezer. However I needed to re-organize the freezer to make it more family friendly. My family won’t get me anything out of my freezer unless they can easily find it. Now, hopefully, they can. A couple things I discovered that I don’t need to buy for quite a while: chicken, green beans, and tomato sauce. I may have to figure out some new and exciting ways to cook green beans, or else my kids may mutiny!

The pantry was awful. It looked like a BOMB had gone off in there, so I pulled everything out and then re-organized. I made an entire shelf for my kids, holding things like their peanut butter, fruit leathers, popcorn, tortilla and corn chips, seaweed snacks, and granola bars. I also set aside a section for my stash of gluten-free items (like my dark chocolate, and my pretzels!). Oh I know it won’t last, but for now it’s nice to be able to look in and see what I have, and what I need. I need peanut butter… I don’t need mustard or salad dressing for a while. And I have about EIGHT different kinds of vinegar.

The spice cabinet got the same treatment, and the freezer below the fridge. I know that most of you probably would find a different way to spend Sunday, but having organized, clean, food spaces free from any expired or “mystery” packages really makes me feel accomplished. The easier I can find things to make, the more likely I am to actually MAKE them!

So now it’s the start of a new work week, and if I can get this allergy, or cold, or whatever it is under control, I am planning on having a very productive week. Hope you all had a very happy weekend and that your week brings tons of good things your way.

Oh and if you have any interesting ideas for what to do with green beans…. let me know.

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About eggplant Parmesan

There are as many recipes for eggplant Parmesan, as there are cooks preparing it. Again, eggplant Parmesan is one of those ways that most of us have eaten eggplant. A Google search will give you plenty of ideas on how to make the “best” eggplant Parm ever.

Fried, baked, roasted, one dish, “skinny”…you get the picture (and all the recipes!)

However, the one thing that is crucial to GOOD eggplant Parm is ending up with tender cooked eggplant in a crispy crust, even when in tomato sauce. For this, you have to pay attention to two things: crispy eggplant and non-watery tomato sauce.

The sauce part is easiest, I think. If you make your own, make it THICKER than you normally would for pasta. Not as thick as tomato paste… but definitely thicker than you would make for spaghetti. If you use jarred sauce, put it on the stove, and simmer uncovered until it reduces and thickens up.

The eggplant part is a little more complicated and requires some work in preparation, but it starts with salt. Eggplant benefits from being salted and drained before cooking. Since it contains a good bit of bitter liquid, salting the eggplant and letting it drain gets rid of the undesirable bitterness, and firms up the texture of the eggplant slices so that they do not make the coating soggy when cooking. Cut your eggplant into slices (usually 1/4 inch or so) and sprinkle both sides of each slice with kosher salt before putting in a colander over a bowl or in the sink. Let the salt work its magic for a minimum of 30-45 minutes. I usually let mine go at least an hour, depending on how much liquid I see draining off the eggplant. Pull the slices and put them on a clean kitchen towel (or a layer of paper towels), top with another clean kitchen towel (or another layer of paper towels) and then press down on them to extract the last bits of liquid. Wipe each slice to rid it of salt before you start cooking. The bonus is, you won’t need to add salt to your breading mixture or your tomato sauce!

You can also fill a bowl about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way with VERY salty water. As in…VERY salty. Put the slices into the water and then weight them down with a plate to keep them submerged. You have to bump up the time for this method to be effective, so perhaps slicing and soaking in the morning before work, then pulling them out once you’re home and they’ll be ready to cook. Pull the slices out and again dry them between kitchen or paper towels, then bread away.

I have also found that if I bread my eggplant slices (or anything really) with a mixture of cornmeal and (gluten-free) flour, I get a much crisper texture. If my cornmeal is a little too coarse for my liking I just put it in the food processor and pulse it a bit. A mixture of 3/4 cornmeal to 1/4 gluten-free flour usually results in a breading mixture that is crisp, adheres well, and doesn’t hurt my grain intolerant stomach!

Some of the “fancier” eggplant varieties, such as the Japanese eggplant do not require salting, as they are smaller and firmer without as many seeds or as much liquid. However, I can’t see how you’d get good slices to use for eggplant Parm from these skinny minnies! In the case of eggplant Parm, I guess you could say that size really does matter.

Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens

Stretch is getting ready to go back to college in just a few weeks.  Last year she shared a furnished house with a bunch of other girls, but this year it’s an unfinished apartment.  So, as a foodie Mama sending her wheat allergy buddy off to her own kitchen, I did some ordering of essentials for her. This is when being a Consultant REALLY comes in handy!  I had her go through one of my Pampered Chef catalogs and pick out a few things she wanted, and then I ordered her a few of MY favorite things.

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Classic Batter Bowl – I use this for EVERYTHING.  I mix batters, eggs, vegetables and olive oil before roasting, if it needs combining, it goes in THIS.  I use this for making iced tea.  Fill it with water, add tea bags, and nuke for 8 minutes.  I have baked cakes in this thing, (it’s tempered glass!) and since it has a lid, I’ve also used it as storage in my fridge. The pouring spout is the best bonus ever.

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Mix ‘N Chop – So you know those nights when you get home and you’re looking for something to cook, and you have nothing but frozen ground beef?  We’ve all been there, and we’ve all thrown it in the pan anyway.  With this little baby, you don’t have to worry about it, just throw it in and go to town!  It chops the meat up into little pieces, assisting thawing and ensuring uniformity in the finished product.  It is a lifesaver when making guacamole.  It’s nylon too, so it will not mess with any kind of nonstick pan, and being round it fits snugly against the side of any pot so it’s easy to incorporate every bit of whatever is being cooked.

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Cutting Board – It’s made of polypropylene, so it’s durable and can go into the dishwasher for sanitizing.  The rubber along the edges keep it in place on any counter top. The marks along the edge also allow for measuring that 3″ strip of bacon (HA! – blasphemy…use the WHOLE SLICE) or whatever you may need to measure.  The surface is also kind to knife blades and will not dull them the way slicing on the counter or (Heaven forbid) one of those glass cutting boards will.

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Stainless Steel Whisk – Ten inches long, perfectly balanced, this thing works better than my hand mixer.  I kid you not.  Eggs for omelets, cake batters, salad dressings, WHATEVER.  It’s not too light, it’s not too heavy, and it makes life so much easier. 

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Prep Bowls – They come in a set of six, each with its own lid.  Made of tempered glass, just like the batter bowl, they are 1 cup each.  Perfect for leftovers, I use them to bring my lunch to work.  I can heat in the microwave, or store in the fridge.  No worries.  They’re durable but not too heavy, and they stack beautifully for storage.  

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Stainless Mesh Colanders – Ok, so they’re a little pricier than a plastic colander, but they do so much more and there are THREE of them.  Berries get washed in the small one, or tuna drained (not at the same time!), or herbs…. the middle one is the most versatile colander you’ll ever own, and the large one holds pasta, potatoes, or a whole mess of whatever you’re cooking.  I use mine as steamer inserts too, they set beautifully inside my pans.  I cover with a lid (or even foil!) and I can steam whatever I want in any quantity I need to.

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Measure-All Cup – Liquids on one side, solids on the other.  Perfect for measuring peanut butter, mayo, or anything that usually sticks.  No need for a spatula, just a push empties your contents into the bowl.  I even use mine for stuffing.  I put the stuffing in the solid side, insert into the chicken, give a push and the stuffing is deposited neatly into the bird!

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Mini Serving Spatula – brownies, lasagna, cookies… use it to turn veggies roasting in the oven.  It’s small but mighty.  I have THREE.  Stretch now has one of her own.

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Garlic Peeler – file this under the “things I never knew I needed until I owned one”.  So this thing, you stick the garlic in the tube, put the tube on the counter and your hand on top of it.  Just roll it under your palm until you hear the crinkle inside the tube.  It strips the paper peel off the clove of garlic for you and you didn’t even have to get that garlic smell all over your hands!  Cool stuff.

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And because I love even numbers… The Mix ‘N Scraper – it’s a spatula/scraper and a spoon all at once!  They come in three sizes, I like the small and the mini version.  They get every last drop of chimichurri out of the food processor, or batter out of the bowl, or eggs out of the pan.  Completely irreplaceable, I’ll never go back to regular rubber spatulas again.

So there it is… ten of my favorite things that Stretch will be taking off to her kitchen come the Fall.  If there’s anything on this list that would find a good home in YOUR kitchen, let me know.  I’ll take good care of you.  Shameless plug over…for now 😉