About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.


Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

Tips for Brewing Your Own Beer: Let’s Talk Wild Yeasts & A Whole Lotta Patience

July 29, 2015 by  

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Brewing beer is an act of patience and precision. Having gone through the process myself I realize just how many careless mistakes I could have made. That being said, I caution you to take this task seriously, and be prepared to invest some time to perfecting your craft. After all, the payoff is an exquisite elixir that can elevate not only your state of mind but your personal self worth. Fresh hops. Photo courtesy of Irene van der Meijs via ShutterstockWithout proper preparation and attention to detail, the outcome of your brew could easily be in jeopardy. Time and temperature are imperative to success; likewise the sanitation of all materials before and during the process is crucial.

According to an article in Popular Mechanics:

“The primary foes of new brewers are wild yeasts and bacteria,” says Chris Cohen, founder and president of the San Francisco Home Brewers Guild. “You can do everything else perfectly during your brew day, but if your sanitation practices are poor, you’ll likely end up with a beer that’s been fermented by something other than brewer’s yeast. The result is typically a bad beer that can be sour, over-attenuated, and can have phenolic flavors.”

Sanitizing Your Tools

Brewing is a multi-stage process, and each stage in the process is just as important as the last. You start with preparation, gathering ingredients and implements that will be utilized to craft your brew. Once you have collected all of your items you are ready to sanitize all instruments as well as the environment. There are several sanitizing solutions available, but you will have to experiment and find the one you prefer.

Some require that you rinse thoroughly after sanitation, and others do not. Most experts agree it is safer to rinse all sanitizers off your equipment prior to brewing.

In my research, I came across several different sources that all had the same general listing of supplies, and all of them have an important purpose. First off, you will need a fermenter, which is a sealed container that will not allow air and bacteria to contaminate your brew. According to most sources, glass fermenters are superior to plastic. You will need a large brew kettle, possibly two. The kettle should be large enough to hold the batch size you want to make. Most people have standard batch sizes, usually 1-5 gallons at a time.

brewing

Photo courtesy of Kirill Z via Shutterstock

Essential Equipment

The other items on the list are more standard and should be considered for the batch. You will need a stirring spoon or ladle, and tongs to handle items that are hot. You will need a strainer to filter out the mash, and a funnel for siphoning your batch into a fermenter. You will also need a thermometer to maintain a consistent temperature during brewing, and a hydrometer to measure the brew density before and after fermentation.

Bottling equipment is up to the brewer. You will need a dry, dark place to store the beer while it ferments for approximately 2-4 weeks, depending on the style of beer.

Creating The Wort

The purpose of brewing is to create viable wort.

“The wort (unfermented beer) must be boiled before fermenting to kill unwanted organisms, settle proteins that can cause bitterness, and release the flavors and bittering compounds of the hops or brewing spices,” according to Seven Bridges Coop, an organic brewery and purveyor of brewing ingredients.

You start with your mash, which is your specific mixture of grains and hops, to create the aromatic sugary wort. At this point, one should realize that the combinations for beer or malt are endless, and will take some time in order to find one that works for you. Several recipes are available online as well as premixed recipes for your consumption.

The proportions will vary with each recipe, but be extremely cautious with time, temperature, and all measurements. Similar to your recipes in baking a cake, attention to detail is vital to your success.

According to representatives from Northern Brewer Supply Company:

“Specialty grains are steeped as you would a tea bag in hot water. Add grains to your muslin bag, soaking in the heating water for about twenty minutes or until the temperature of the water reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not steep the grains in water over 170 degrees, as this will result in a bitter flavor.”

The Importance Of Time & Temperature

Painstaking as it may seem, time is critical to your success. During the brewing process, you will more than likely need to keep a running timer; something that has a distinct tone, and is easily programmable for working on the fly.

While you prepare your wort you will need to be careful to manage your temperature. The process of preparing your wort will not take more than an hour. In this stage you are steeping the mash in order to release the sugars into the warm water.

brewing

Photo courtesy of Aleksandra Pikalova via Shutterstock

In terms of temperature, 170°F is about as hot as you will need to go. There is a chemical reaction in the wort that starts to breakdown its sugars, which are critical to the fermentation stage. The brew will become sour, or bitter, and even flat if the sugars start to breakdown before the fermentation process.

Magical Fermentation

As you begin the cooking process, it is important to be mindful of the instruments you use, and where you place them. The tools and implements that you use will need to stay relatively sterile for the duration of the brewing process; otherwise you are liable to contaminate the brew. The bacteria will start to counteract the yeast and once again interrupt the fermentation stage. I cannot stress this enough. All the magic happens during fermentation. If you jeopardize this you might as well just drink the wort right out of the pot.

The yeast, which you will need before setting your brew in a fermenter, reacts with the sugar to create the alcohol in the beer. This is a critical stage in the process, remember to keep it clean. Sanitize anything and everything that will come in contact with the beer itself. This is referred to as “pitching the yeast.” Once you have siphoned your beer into a fermenter you will need to add the yeast to the batch. The yeast will interact with the sugars and produce the alcohol content of your beer. When the yeast is first introduced to the wort it is important to help activate the yeast. With warm water and a vigorous shake you will be set.

The end result is still weeks away. As you go through the process keep in mind that there is plenty of time to contemplate your next attempt. Once you have reaped the fruit of your labor the feeling of making something will be the best reward, other than the beer you have made.

Have you ever brewed your own beer? What tips do you have? Please share in the comments below.

CONTRIBUTED By Miguel Peña Peña, a schoolteacher & novice brewer — living in San Antonio, Texas.

Exploring the History of Chocolate in Saint Lucia

July 28, 2015 by  

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St. Lucia Chocolate

Photo courtesy of Dionisvera via Shutterstock

It’s not just savory dishes that Saint Lucia is known for. Moving on to Saint Lucia’s sweeter side, I was able to sample something I truly had a handle on, both home and away: chocolate. Saint Lucia goes beyond selling locally-made bars, but also offers bean-to-bar tours, plantation tours, chocolate hotels, chocolate spas, cocoa classes and decadent fudge-laced desserts.

As goes The Story of Chocolate, cacao was first grown by the ancient Aztecs and Mayas — it was the “food of the gods,” after all — who consumed it without sweetener. When Hernando Cortes and the Spaniards arrived in Mesoamerica, enjoying cacao with Montezuma himself, they were able to bring it back to Spain, where sugar was added and from where it was able to spread to the rest of Europe.

According to the International Cocoa Organization, the British, who also held control over the island at certain times in the 18th and 19th centuries, introduced cacao to St. Lucia in 1660, where the island’s high temperatures, sufficient rainfall and nutrient-rich soil have allowed the bean to grow plentifully. Soon, it became a major export shipped to Hershey, Pennsylvania (sound familiar?) and Europe. Today, it is enjoyed in abundance, with cocoa pods sprouting from trees all over the island, where most of it stays.

And this isn’t just any chocolate. St. Lucia’s chocolate is often touted as the “Champagne of Chocolate,” known for having a less sweet and more savory yet not bitter taste.

Along with the chocolate industry providing jobs to a large portion of the island’s population, locals today enjoy chocolate through the popular cocoa tea. Originally created by newly-freed slaves who wanted a cheap alternative to tea leaves and coffee beans, cocoa tea came to symbolize freedom, independence and capability.

st. lucia chocolate

Cocoa and cinnamon for Cocoa Tea. Photo courtesy of alb_photo via Shutterstock.

While called tea, the drink is actually made by grating local cocoa sticks into hot water, although sometimes leaf tea is also used as a base. Like with Green Fig & Saltfish, what you get when you order depends who makes it, the consistency can be light or heavy, delicate or rich.

According to Emerald Estate, part of Jade Mountain, the chocolate culture has not changed much over the years — aside for the absence of the barefoot “cocoa- rina” dance to polish the beans. That being said, certain tours will offer the chance to see it performed, such as Fond Doux Holiday Plantation, allowing visitors to step back in time to St. Lucia ancient chocolate heritage.

One look at all the chocolate plantations, many of which offer tours, classes and onsite experiences, on Saint Lucia and you’ll quickly realize the culture is still very much alive. These plantations make the local chocolate from bean-to-bar, starting with the picking of the raw cacao beans before sun-drying them on mats. From there, the beans are polished, roasted, ground and “conched,” a process that gives the chocolate its essential snap and shine. Finally, the product is molded into bars and treats.

st. lucia chocolate

Photo courtesy of Alena Ozerova via Shutterstock

Recipe: Bittersweet Chocolate Rum Mousse via Jade Mountain in Saint Lucia

Serves: 4

  • 12 oz Bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 Tablespoon Spiced gold rum
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Teaspoon Granulated gelatin
  • 2 Oz Espresso
  • 1 Cup Whipped cream

Directions:

To prepare chocolate: On top of a double boiler, combine chocolate, rum and butter. Melt over
a barely simmering water, stirring constantly. Remove from heat while a couple of chunks are still
visible. Cool, stirring occasionally to just above body temperature.
To finish the chocolate: Pour remaining espresso into a metal measuring cup and sprinkle in the
gelatin. Allow gelatin bloom for 10 minutes. Then carefully heat by swirling the measuring cup
over a low heat. Do not boil or gelatin will be damaged. Stir mixture into the cooled chocolate
and set aside.

To prepare the mousse: In the chilled mixing bowl, beat cream to medium peaks. Stir 1/4 of the
whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whipped cream
in two batches. There may be streaks of whipped cream in the chocolate and that is fine. Do not
over work the mousse.

To serve: Spoon into martini glasses and chill for at least 1 hour. Garnish with chocolate swirls.

 

Start Sipping at the World’s Best Eco-Friendly Breweries

July 27, 2015 by  

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Photo courtesy of momente via Shutterstock.

Beer has always been a much-loved staple of the beverage world, and the current craft beer boom is sweeping the world of ales. Some independent breweries, however, are not only interested in producing unique and delicious beers: they are also especially conscious of their impact on the environment. From organic brewing practices to sustainable infrastructure, these eco-breweries are the perfect mix of green and amber. Above photo courtesy: Photo courtesy of momente via Shutterstock.

Here are ten of the best eco-friendly breweries from the USA to Australia and beyond:

Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewery.

Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewery.

1. Ninkasi Brewery, Oregon

Ninkasi, in the city of Eugene, Oregon, is one of the finest eco-friendly breweries around. Not only do they work to save water and keep it clean for the environment, they recycle their cardboard, paper and even spent grain, donating it to local cattle farmers for feed. Voted one of the 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon, employees are encouraged to cycle to work, and they even run a non-profit program called “Beer is Love,” offering fundraising help to worthy organizations.

Photo courtesy of Trinity Brewing.

Photo courtesy of Trinity Brewing.

2. Trinity Brewing, Colorado

Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs is housed in a 100% recycled building. They use as many local and raw materials as possible in their brewing, also recycling their food compost, grain, glass, plastic and metal waste. Contributing to the taste of their artisanal beers is their method of storing brews in upcycled wine barrels. They also run weekly “Giving Beer” evenings, in which $1 from every beer sold is donated to a local non-profit.

Photo courtesy of West Coast Brewery.

Photo courtesy of West Coast Brewery.

3. West Coast Brewery, New Zealand

West Coast Brewery on New Zealand’s scenic South Island offers a range of organic beers. Some, like the Green Fern Organic Lager, are even vegan and preservative-free. West Coast is also located in a truly beautiful part of the world. If you’re traveling around the New Zealand south-west coast, be sure to head there for excellent local brews and their brewery tour.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Brewing Co.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Brewing Co.

4. Heritage Brewing Co, Virginia

Run by war veterans, the Heritage Brewing Co in Manassas, Virginia is a brewery partly built from repurposed and reused items. Heritage not only makes great beers, but also works to recycle as much water as possible, and to use organic and locally-sourced ingredients. This unusual craft brewery is only located about 30 minutes from Washington DC, so you can make a day trip of it if you live in the capital.

Photo courtesy of Tilted Shed Ciderworks.

Photo courtesy of Tilted Shed Ciderworks.

5. Tilted Shed Ciderworks, California

An article on green breweries doesn’t only have to be about beer; there are plenty of excellent eco-friendly cideries around, too. One such establishment is the Tilted Shed Ciderworks in Sonoma County, California. Tilted Shed’s farm is 100% organic and sustainable, and they grow dozens of different heirloom apple varieties on-site. To save water they wash their apples in a closed recirculating system and use deep drip irrigation in their orchards. The result is a delicious, organic and environmentally-friendly cider. Visit to sample their range at their charming tasting room.

Photo courtesy of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Photo courtesy of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

6. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Virginia

The large and modern Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia runs on 100% sustainable energy, including 99% wind power. They also employ water saving practices and recycle their spent grain and packaging. Head to Hardywood to try their famous Hardywood Singel, or one of their fruit series, ranging from peach to raspberry to coffee beers. Even the bar is made from upcycled wood and fixtures.

Photo courtesy of Hops and Grain.

Photo courtesy of Hops and Grain.

7. Hops and Grain, Texas

Hops and Grain, in the fabulous city of Austin, Texas, is committed to helping the environment in a number of ways. Not only does the brewery use wind power and easily-recyclable aluminium cans, but they donate 1% of their annual revenue to local environmental non-profits. And as if that wasn’t enough, they even turn their spent grain into dog biscuits! They also experiment with different craft beers in their “Greenroom”, and offer up the results exclusively in their on-site taproom, so a visit to their brewery is a unique experience.

Photo courtesy of Deschutes Brewery.

Photo courtesy of Deschutes Brewery.

8. Deschutes Brewery, Oregon

There are plenty of breweries that save water and recycle, but Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, takes it all a few steps further. They have pledged to return one billion clean gallons of water to the Deschutes River annually, as well as offsetting 100% of their power usage from renewable sources. They even donate a dollar from every barrel to community organizations; $335,000 this year alone.

Photo courtesy of Ska’s Brewery.

Photo courtesy of Ska’s Brewery.

9. Ska’s Brewery, Colorado

100% wind powered and solar lit, Ska’s Brewery in Durango, Colorado, not only uses sustainable energy in their brewery, but in their vans, too. They also use environmentally-friendly aluminium cans and recycled packaging materials and donate tens of thousands of dollars to charity per year. Customers can even recycle their six-pack containers at the brewery in exchange for beer. The building itself is largely recycled, too; their insulation is even made out of old jeans!

Photo courtesy of Mountain Goat.

Photo courtesy of Mountain Goat.

10. Mountain Goat, Australia

The brilliant Mountain Goat was not only Australia’s first 100% organic beer maker. The brewery is also made from recycled materials, powered by solar energy and linked to a huge rainwater tank. They also pH neutralize their waste water and encourage their employees to bike to work.All their brews are delicious, but if you haven’t tried Mountain Goat before, be sure to try their malty and hoppy Fancy Pants amber ale. Oh, and every single one of their beers is organic and vegan.

Do you know of a great eco-friendly brewery? Please share in the comments below!

Contributed By Gemma King

 

A Chat With Rwanda’s Imigongo Artist Kayiranga

July 27, 2015 by  

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Meet Emmanuel Kayiranga

Emmanuel Kayiranga is one of the most talented Rwandan artisans making Imigongo, a traditional art form unique to Rwanda — and definitely worth exploring on a visit to the country. It consists of beautiful black and white, although sometimes colorful, paintings crafted from dried cow dung. The designs are distinctly geometrical and provide a local Rwandan touch.

The first Imigongo paintings date back to the 18th century. Today, this art form is thriving with both locals and foreigners alike purchasing Imigongo to hang on their walls. This is helping generate the well-needed and deserved income for Imigongo artists to support their families.

rwandan culture

Black & White Imigongo

Nowadays, like in the past, the paintings are most often made by artisan women in villages near the border with Tanzania. In recent years, although remaining very few in numbers, some men have started engaging in the production of this traditional art form too. Emmanuel Kayiranga is one of them.

Here is his story…

Kayiranga is now 31 years old. Son of Rwandan refugees, he was born in Tanzania in the small town of Ngara in Kagera Region. There, he lived in a Rwandan settlement. There was no school to attend, and as his parents were farmers, they were happy to have Kayiranga help with the cows.

When he was 12, he moved to Rwanda in a village close to the Tanzanian border. There, he had no more cows to take care of. As much as farming was his only opportunity in Tanzania, in Rwanda he had other alternatives. Following his friends who had started school, Kayiranga entered primary school and graduated when he was 18.

After graduation, his parents could not afford sending him to school for further studies, so he decided to look for an alternative activity and learned Imigongo. On top of finding it an easy art to learn, Kayiranga found the paintings to be beautiful. As they are part of his Rwandan culture, he also felt an additional incentive to keep his country’s traditions alive, a very respectable and noble aim.

At first, there was not too much of a market, but he would still earn enough to cover the costs of health insurance for the family, food and rent. That being said, he still did not have enough to buy his own house, nor to rent or buy the necessary workspace to alleviate the issue of bad weather. Indeed, as cow dung needs a day to dry, without any indoor space, rain makes it impossible to practice this art.

Little by little, he is now trying to improve his living standards as well as those of this two kids, his wife and his parents who are now old. He dreams that one day he will be able to start his own large-scale Imigongo business, providing jobs to at least 100 people in the area.

Until recently, however, with a missing market, no workspace and a lack of income, he had been in no position to move forward in life.

rwandan culture

Emmanuel Kayiranga at Haute I baso’s shop in Kigali

But since March 2015, Kayiranga has been selling his pieces to Haute I baso at their small shop located in Kigali. In the light of this recent collaboration, he is hoping that things will change for the best.

Haute I baso: An Ethical Fashion Brand

Haute I baso is an ethical fashion brand designing high quality local products inspired by Rwandan culture with a global twist.

rwandan culture

Haute I baso. Photo Courtesy of Candy Basomingera

How The Collaboration Works

Haute I baso is in charge of designing every new product, with Kayiranga implementing the designs. At the end of each month, Kayiranga gets paid up front for each piece that he brings to the shop. The pieces are always original, with Haute I baso aiming to make more functional and innovative items in Imigongo-style. So far, in addition to the more classic paintings, Kayiranga has also sold picture frames, and is now working on making mirror frames.

rwandan culture

Haute I baso’s Imigongo Picture Frames Made by Kayiranga

Candy Basomingera, Haute I baso’s co-founder, admits that Imigongo is one of her favorite Rwandan art forms. She also thinks that Kayiranga offers the highest quality Imigongo around town, professional services and on-time delivery. As such, she is keen on working with Kayiranga for the long run and is looking forward to further collaborations. This is great for Kayiranga, as the shop provides him the market he was always hoping to find, the space to showcase his work, the opportunity to sell for higher and fairer prices, and a well-deserved international exposure.

Sharing His Art

“I would love to teach young people how to make Imigongo and show them how to use it as decoration. This is our culture. We can both make money and keep our traditions alive!” Kayiranga says.

Until now, he remembers the first time he made Imigongo and sold the painting as the happiest day of his life. He hopes that the youth of today will understand the value of this art and keep practicing, as, in his opinion, this contributes greatly in making Rwanda’s culture rich. Moreover, visitors to the country should keep an eye out for this art form, and if possible make a trip to Haute I baso to support the local artisans of Rwanda.

By Sarine Arslanian

Tasting Your Way Through the Ever So Cultural Saint Lucia

July 27, 2015 by  

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Salt fish

 

Saint Lucia is the definition of paradise: white sand beaches, billowing palms, waterfront villas. While this helped sway my decision of where to go for a long weekend getaway from NYC, my main purpose was to immerse myself in the island’s culinary culture — including sampling the national dish of Green Fig & Salt Fish and as much chocolate as humanly possible. It was a self-appointed mission I had gladly accepted. Above, Green Fig & Salt Fish. Photo courtesy of Spices Cooking Studio.

When I first heard the words “Green Fig” and “Salt Fish,” I immediately pictured salted local fish topped with sticky sweet figs. In actuality, Saint Lucia locals refer to green bananas — the island’s largest export — as figs. And they’re not sweet, but boiled with water and salt when green and unripe, either peeled (the purist’s way) or with the skin on.

Explains Jenni Killam, owner of Spices Cooking Studio in Saint Lucia, “Green figs are for us what potatoes are in North America. They’re an important part of the local diet, usually served as part of the main dish or in side dishes or salads. Although, in the case of the Green Fig & Salt Fish it’s part of the main course, either served alongside the fish or mixed together with it, served warm.”

The salt fish in the dish is traditionally salted cod, although today other varieties of fish might be used. Boiled, flaked and sauteed with onions, local peppers, chives, thyme and other herbs and spices, the fish makes a flavorful accompaniment with the somewhat bland boiled figs.

salt fish

The beautiful Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Borbolla via Shutterstock.

While a visit to the island of Saint Lucia allows me to taste the dish for myself, I’m still confused about how it came to be embedded in the culture. Ms. Killam, whose parents, grandparents and great grandparents all happily cooked Green Fig & Salt Fish for their families — explains to me that the dish actually originated before the mid-19th century when slavery existed, which is true for many of the island’s local specialties.

During this time bananas were over abundant, and dried and salted cod could be inexpensively imported from Nova Scotia, Canada.

“Back in the day, salt fish was among the rations given to the slaves because it was cheap, easy and a good source of protein,” says Ms. Killam. “The slaves ingeniously cooked the salt fish and added their own herbs and spices to make it tasty, which are still used in the dish today.”

The recipe has been handed down through the generations, becoming more embedded into the culture. Saint Lucia locals eat Green Fig & Salt Fish all year, typically on weekends and with a side salad of grated cucumber or lettuce, tomato and avocado. Historically the island had a large Roman Catholic population, which meant no eating meat on Fridays. Saturdays are also a popular day to eat Green Fig & Salt fish, as most families opt for something easy to prepare to save time for completing chores and errands.

While not much has changed with the dish over the years, one thing has: the price.

Ms. Killam laughs, “Today salt fish is no longer considered a poor people’s food because it is no longer cheap to make.”

salt fish

Cocoa and cinnamon for Cocoa Tea. Photo courtesy of alb_photo via Shutterstock.

One particularly special time to enjoy it is during the annual Jounen Kwéyòl (Creole Day) Festival in October. Historically, Saint Lucia was actively fought over by the French and British, with each having claimed ownership several times. There is still a rich French-based Creole culture on the island, and Jounen Kweyole is the official day to celebrate that heritage. During the festival, traditional dishes — including Green Fig & Salt Fish — can be sampled in abundance along with seafoods, sweets and beverages such as cocoa tea and fresh fruit juices.

If you visit outside of this time, a good starting point for your Green Fig & Salt fish exploration is Castries Market. Here you’ll find an array of food stalls selling the meal, each putting their own unique twist on the traditional recipe. Additionally, Green Fig and Salt Fish is a staple menu item at most local restaurants.

I always appreciate a dish more when I’ve learned its background, and as a heaping plate is set in front of me I remember the information I’ve been given, which enhances the experience. It’s definitely not the type of meal I would order at home, and actually not something the average restaurant would serve back in NYC. Not only had I never heard of salt fish before, but to me a banana was something you ate with a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, not as the base of a savory dinner.

But isn’t that the point of traveling? Being taken away from what you know to expand your knowledge and become a more worldly person?

For me, the answer is “yes.”

With my fork I gingerly break off a bit of banana and some fish, wanting the flavors of both at once. And I’m glad I did, as the firm yet soft texture of the banana and the flaky fish offer the perfect contrast, while enhancements like cilantro and parsley combine for an added layer of surprise. Sauteing the ingredients has allowed the garlic, pepper and onion to seep into the fish for a delightfully bold flavor.

What’s pleasing to me isn’t just the taste of the food, however, it’s the opportunity to explore local heritage through my palate. The dish I’m eating tells the story of Saint Lucia, tracing it’s history from the 1700s. That’s a truly special thing to be savored.

salt fish

Fishing net. Photo courtesy of Simon Dannhauer via Shutterstock.

Green Figs & Salt Fish Recipe via Spices Cooking Studio

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb salt fish
  • 8-12 green bananas
  • 1/4 c coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium sweet pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 4 seasoning peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c chives, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Parsley for garnish

Preparing the Salt Fish:

1. Rinse the salt fish to remove excess surface salt. Place the salt fish in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain water; refill the pot with fresh water and repeat boiling process for another 15 minutes.

2. Drain and set salt fish aside until cool enough to handle. Clean salt fish by removing all skin, scales and bones. Flake the cleaned salt fish and set aside.

3. Put oil in a pan over meduim heat. Add onions, peppers, half the grated garlic and saute until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

4. Add flaked salt fish, 1 tsp thyme and half the green onions to the pan and stir to mix thoroughly.

5. Cover pan and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Uncover pan, add remaining garlic, green onions and thyme and mix well. Turn off the heat, season salt fish with salt and pepper to taste. Cover pot and set aside until ready to serve.

Preparing the Green Figs:

1. Wash the green figs, cut off the two ends, make one slice just through the skin, lengthwise and put in a heat proof bowl. Pour boiling water over the green figs to cover and set aside for about 10 minutes. Drain water and allow the green figs to cool enough to handle. Carefully remove skin from the green figs, using a small knife if needed. Put the peeled green figs in a pot of boiling water; add 1/2 tsp salt and 1tsp vegetable oil. Bring to boil and simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and leave to cool enough to handle.

2. Slice each green fig on the diagonal into 3 pieces. Place slices of green figs on individual serving plates and top with a generous portion of the cooked salt fish. Garnish with chopped parsley.

3. Serve with a grated cucumber salad and/or a mixed salad of lettuce, tomato and avocado on the side.

Eating Your Way Through Atlanta on a Sunday

July 26, 2015 by  

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brunch in altanta

As schoolmates at Agnes Scott College, a small, private women’s college just outside of Atlanta, my friend Melissa and I were like most other Agnes students — we kept close to campus. After four years, it’s common for students to get a little restless. Our campus takes up only two blocks, and while it is stunning, you quickly realize when you graduate just how big the world beyond the front lawn. Above image: General brunch image courtesy of merc67 via Shutterstock.

Melissa and I remained in Atlanta when we finished college, both going to graduate school, though for different degrees. Somehow, we developed a tradition of meeting for brunch as a way of keeping in touch. And then, somehow, we came up with the idea that instead of coming back to the same place, wouldn’t it be more fun to brunch our way across Atlanta, this giant city that had figuratively sat in our backyard for four years?

Breakfast with Melissa has since become a mainstay in my grad school years, a way to stay connected to a dear friend, indulge in a great culinary experience, and dip into some of Atlanta’s best neighborhoods all at once.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best uber local eats for brunch in Atlanta we’ve had over the years, organized by neighborhood:

Decatur

Sweet Melissa’s: Family owned and operated since 1989 and located right on the Decatur square, Sweet Melissa’s is home to some hearty omelets and the Mad Platter, a breakfast plate that features pancakes or french toast, two eggs, home fries or grits, and a meat. Proceed with caution, and come hungry.

Duck’s Cosmic Kitchen: Duck’s is tucked in the East Decatur Station complex off of College Avenue. Their sugared doughnuts are so popular that they’re sold daily in the wildly popular Dancing Goats and Ponce City Goats Coffee Bars. Because Duck’s makes all their baked goods in-house, grab the pastry basket off the Saturday brunch menu. And get a glass of the blood orange juice. Another cool tidbit? You can even sign up for baking parties hosted by Chef Duck himself.

Candler Park

Flying Biscuit Cafe: The Flying Biscuit is a pretty ubiquitous restaurant in the Atlanta restaurant scene, probably one that will be recommended to those visiting Atlanta for a weekend. So, it’s worth including the Candler Park location, our personal favorite. Get there early, or expect to wait as long as an hour. Luckily Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party is a few shops up — a great place to grab a tea while you wait. And yes — definitely get a biscuit with your brunch, alongside a few of the “healthy options” their menu features.

brunch in atlanta

Radial Cafe: The best things about Radial are its farm-to-table commitment and a menu that vegan and gluten-free friendly. You can dig into a stack of buckwheat pancakes and rest assured that 80-90% of Radial’s food waste is diverted from the landfill, disposable dining materials are compostable, and that even the plants that adorn the outdoor patio are watered with gray water.

Virginia Highlands/Highlands-Old Fourth Ward

Murphy’s: A restaurant, wine shop, and bakery all in one, Murphy’s has the upscale feel of the Highlands, paired with great service and friendly staff. Melissa and I were impressed with the small touches of the meal — the biscotti nestled against my latte, the basket of biscuits and muffins set in the center of our table before we even placed our order, the dollop of cream cheese icing found on the cinnamon roll that I ordered for breakfast. A great place for a customer-oriented experience. You can even come back on Tuesdays for weekly wine tastings.

Java Jive: Housed in an old laundromat, Java Jive, originally a coffee house, now known for one of the best breakfasts in the city, was part of Atlanta before the ’96 Olympics. What I love about this place is the funky retro vibe you’ll find inside–old chrome diner furniture, colorful coffee percolators affixed to the walls. Java Jive is cash only, but worth the free refills on your (great) coffee and the divine honey cinnamon butter they’ll put on top of your pecan waffles. Wow.

Emory/Emory Village

Rise-N-Dine: This breakfast joint looks like it sprang straight from someone’s perfect Pinterest board. Nestled in the heart of Emory Village (just beside Emory University’s campus), Rise-N-Dine is a local favorite, and it’s intimate space often means the weekend morning line is out the door. A place worth getting to early. Coffee and bacon are musts. And who knows? Eat breakfast there, and the staff may post a snapshot of you enjoying your meal on their Facebook page.

The General Muir: Found across the street from Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The General Muir’s award-winning culinary aesthetic is “inspired by classic New York Jewish deli,” making it a great stop for any meal. Breakfast lovers like Melissa and I love the GM for it’s exceptional coffee bar and latkes — complete with applesauce and sour cream.

brunch in atlanta

Grant Park

Ria’s Bluebird: Though Atlanta continues the passing of Chef Ria Pell, her legacy can still be found at Ria’s Bluebird, where the pancakes were voted “the world’s best pancakes” by the New York Times. Housed in a former liquor store, Ria’s is cozy and popular–a great weekday breakfast, if you can swing it.

Home Grown: I think what I like best about Home Grown is it’s persona — the vibes I got from the website alone before meeting Melissa there told me what I needed to know: “Their quaint restaurant offers a welcome bright spot that blooms brightly in a drab strip of Memorial Drive, in the heart of working-class Atlanta. It not only brightens the landscape, it brightens the bellies of everyone in the community. Home grown offers creative and delicious breakfast options and a hearty brunch menu on the weekend.” What’s not to like? Warning: a single pancake was bigger than my face.

Midtown/West Midtown

Empire State South: ESS stopped me in my tracks. Housed in a posh space on the corner of Peachtree and 10th in the heart of Midtown, this restaurant is Southern class and culinary flourish all in one. Our server was one of the best we’ve ever had. Iced coffee, patio seating, deep friend french toast with a homemade marshmallow cream. Executive Chef Josh Hopkins’ motto of “cook good, local food” is easily found here, and more. Heaven.

West Egg Cafe: As an English student, it’s easy to like a restaurant whose name is an allusion to The Great Gatsby. And the food and coffee did not disappoint — a beautiful latte, a muffin from the bakery, and the Peachtree Plate (complete with fried green tomatoes). Since West Egg has nixed their dinner service, I’m ready to check out Oddbird, their new pop-up “restaurant within a restaurant,” featuring chicken and waffles and Nashville-style “hot chicken.”

brunch in atlanta

Kirkwood

Sun In My Belly: There is much to love about SIMB — it’s proximity to Decatur, it’s fanciful interior, it’s coffee bar, it’s sense of craftsmanship. But maybe what I love best of all is the challah french toast filled with honey ricotta. Or the honeyed bacon that comes with the Kirkwood Breakfast. I can’t decide. My favorite experience at SIMB was actually after brunch, when the owners hosted their first ever “Bellypalooza,” a night of music, local art, and great food, featuring performances by the owner, pictured below.

brunch in atlanta

Le Petite Marche: Though the interior (walls covered in artfully arranged china plates) of LPM would suggest otherwise, I love the no-frills approach to this amazing food. You go up to the counter, you order, you sit, and a server brings out the most beautiful oatmeal or breakfast sandwich you’ve maybe ever had. And its story is even better: an actual market that hit hard times in the recession, LPM saved itself and revitalized the Kirkwood community by become a mainstay on the Atlanta breakfast scene.

One could easily explore Atlanta’s food scene by way of many other categories — coffee, cocktails, burgers, and the like. But there’s been something wonderful about waking up early to meet my friend. Atlanta is sort of perfect on a Saturday morning. There’s no stress-inducing traffic, no road rage, no extra ten minutes added to your trip time. Just joggers and dog walkers and morning light and the promise of good food, good company.

What’s your favorite spot for brunch in Atlanta? Please share in the comments below.

By Paige Sullivan

10 Fun Dining Experiences Across the USA

July 25, 2015 by  

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Tired of spending every weekend at the same bar or restaurant? Epicure & Culture has collected 12 unique ideas for a special social evening in The United States — all with a culinary twist.  All of our top picks have access to quality food to keep you fueled for bowling, live music, arcade games, culinary crawls or wherever the evening will take you.

1. Picnic and Live Music At Grande River Vineyard

Palisade, Colorado: Dust off your lawn chairs and picnic blankets. Relax and rewind in a beautiful vineyard on the Western Slopes of Colorado with Grande River Vineyards “Heard it through the Grapevine” concert series. On Saturdays throughout the summer, they deliver live music, great wine and delicious food to benefit a variety of local charities. From jazz to Latin, bluegrass to classical, there’s something for everyone. You can pack a picnic or enjoy dinner prepared at the vineyard.

Grande River Vineyards in Palisade, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

Grande River Vineyards in Palisade, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

2. Interactive Sommelier Smack-down at Philadelphia Wine School- Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Ever dreamed of being on Iron Chef? The Philadelphia Wine School’s Sommelier Smackdown allows you to be the judge as they pits two of Philly’s top wine gurus in a wine and food taste-off. The contestants are challenged to pair the best possible wines for a four-course tasting menu, and you’ll savor the submissions to determine the winner. This Wednesday night event is a hugely popular and has earned mentions in both Wine & Spirits and the Wine Spectator Magazine. This latest hot culinary competition is held at the Wine School of Philadelphia on Wednesdays for $74.99.

3. Golf-themed Entertainment at TopGolf

Various cities in Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and California

Golf, Food and Fun at Topgolf. Photo courtesy of Topgolf Alpharetta.

Golf, Food and Fun at Topgolf. Photo courtesy of Topgolf Alpharetta.

Have you dreamed of playing golf after dark? Bring your family and friends to Topgolf, where the competition of the sport meets your favorite local hangout spot. This premier entertainment and event venue has fun point-scoring golf games for all skill levels, so anyone from the hopeful pro golfer to your neighbor’s 7-year-old kid will stay entertained and engaged. Pair a game with their Injectable Donut Holes and Mushi — Topgolf’s ultimate creation featuring cilantro sticky rice, drunken beans, spiced chicken and Cheddar cheese neatly rolled in a jalapeño tortilla and garnished with sour cream, avocado and sriracha hot sauce.

4. Dinner & A Mind-Bending Show At Sushi RoXx

New York City: If you want a new after-dark take on dinner theater, look no further than Sushi RoXx located within The Tuscany, a St. Giles Boutique Hotel in Midtown East New York City. Diners can experience “POP ROXX,” a nightly spectacle where waiters and waitresses take orders before morphing into the night’s stars, singing and dancing to numbers expertly choreographed by former Pussycat Dolls star, Asia Nitollano.

South Wall of Sushi Roxx.  Photo courtesy of Sushi Roxx.

South Wall of Sushi Roxx. Photo courtesy of Sushi Roxx.

The restaurant comes alive as Asian cityscapes project behind guests, dragons weave in and out of the walls and pillars transform into waterfalls. Reservations and dancing are strongly recommended at this Tokyo-themed, restaurant-nightclub hybrid.

5. Al Fresco Dinner & A Movie At Street Food Cinema

Los Angeles, California: What could be better than a summer night spent on the lawn with a cool outdoor movie, tasty gourmet food trucks and live music? Launched in 2012, Street Food Cinema brings together the best in pop culture films, gourmet street food and progressive new music to reinvent the traditional movie going experience – al fresco style. Each of these elements are carefully curated and combined to create a unique experience that keeps audiences coming back again and again. In 2015, Street Food Cinema will host 50 events in 11 different locations across Los Angeles over 27 weeks ­ every Saturday from May 2nd through October 31st.

 

Street Food Cinema Opening Night. Photo courtesy of SFC.

Street Food Cinema Opening Night. Photo courtesy of SFC.

6. Gaming Under The Influence

Chicago, Illinois: Are game shows your guilty pleasure? Every Friday from 8-11 PM, participate in the live, weekly, internet-broadcasted show Gaming Under the Influence in Chicago. Watch as three contestants battle in an interactive game show/arcade experience that consists booze, nerf guns and smoke machines. If you are in Chicago and are over 21 you can get free drinking and gaming as you watch the show. Gaming Under the Influence is in the process of adding a pop-up food element with local restaurateurs in the city so keep an eye out for that.

Gaming Under the Influence, Chicago. Photo courtesy of GUI.

Photo courtesy of GUI.

7. Vintage Dinner & Bowling At BreakTime Bowl And Bar

BreakTime Bar and Bowl. Photo courtesy of BreakTime Bar and Bowl.

BreakTime Bar and Bowl. Photo courtesy of BreakTime Bar and Bowl.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island: For those seeking a classy dinner and bowling experience, check out BreakTime Bowl and Bar in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Enjoy the atmosphere in a renovated 1920s historic mill building showcasing exposed brick, a sleek bar and comfortable leather sofas. Bring your own beverage and bowling shoes, but get ready for amazing food, not found in most bowling alleys. Meals are made at the restaurant Bread Lab downstairs, serving up “booze and bread” centric creative comfort foods. Picture cheeseburger flatbread pizzas, lobster mac and cheese, queso-ladden plantain sandwiches and nachos topped with barbecue pulled pork. In this nighttime hot spot, the duckpins are hand set each time a guest bowls, and a staff personally returns the bowling balls to you as you bowl.

9. Downtown Napa Culinary Crawl

Napa, California: Connect with other foodies or enjoy a fun evening with friends at Napa’s bi-monthly culinary crawls. In addition to the region’s legendary tasting rooms, discover the best of Downtown’s renowned restaurants with a delicious culinary crawl on Thursday nights.

 

C Casa Tacos, one stop on the Napa Culinary Tours. Photo courtesy of Napa Culinary Tours.

C Casa Tacos, one stop on the Napa Culinary Tours. Photo courtesy of Napa Culinary Tours.

These walking food and wine tour offer locals and visitors the opportunity to “Walk. Taste. Sip!” their way through Napa’s remarkable culinary scene. Each crawl lasts from approximately 5 to 8:30 p.m. and showcases three restaurants. Every evening features a different combination of stops so attendees can explore a wide variety of flavors where specially paired bites are paired with exclusive drink specials.

10. Piano Bar At Sid Gold’s Request Room

New York City: Check out Chelsea’s newest piano bar, Sid Gold’s Request Room, for a contemporary take on the classic piano bar. Cmbining an interactive performance space and socialization saloon, the glitzy Mad Man-style venue brings customers back in to a time when a person at a piano entertained a crowd with party tunes, back before discos.

 

Sid Gold's Request Room Piano Bar in New York City. Photo courtesy of Sid's.

Sid Gold’s Request Room Piano Bar in New York City. Photo courtesy of Sid’s.

Customers sit around the piano, sipping cocktails and munching timeless party pleasers like pigs in blanket and deviled eggs. The pianist determines the type of music, the style of performance and the general tone of the evening; however, don’t be surprised if you get a smattering of 60s and 70s pop, rock and soul, eighties and nineties new wave, disco and punk as well as 21st century indie rock and current pop.

10.  Table to Farm At Living Farm Cafe

Paonia, Colorado: “Farm to table” is all the rage in the current culinary scene, but how about spending a night going Table to Farm? Start with a winemaker’s dinner at Living Farm Cafe in Paonia, Colorado. During this fall dinner series, Chef Mike will construct a multi-course meal paired with local wines and spirits for an educational and social evening at a truly farm to table restaurant.  After eating, check out Chef Mike’s family farm right down the road to see where the ingredients are grown.

 

Hazelnut, one of the lambs that awaits at Living Farm's "Love a Lamb Night"

Hazelnut, one of the lambs that awaits at Living Farm’s “Love a Lamb” Night

On Tuesday nights, from 7-8pm, the farm welcomes visitors and members of the community to “Love a Lamb.”  Spend a few hours petting, snuggling and loving some of the farm’s cutest creatures.  This event helps the lambs socialize and helps create a bond between farmers and townspeople.  The Living Farm also offers felting classes in the winter, tours and other events.

Old Hollywood Walking Tour

Los Angeles, California: Do you wish you could travel back in time to Hollywood’s Golden Age of iconic, Art Deco bars, speakeasies and mobster hangouts? Join Historic Hollywood Stars & Bars tours Tuesday to Saturday evenings for the opportunity to linger at bars once frequented by Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway. This walking tour will bring you to the hidden bars and restaurants of Old Hollywood, including history, ghost stories a drink in several different places in order to experience the ambiance of these historic spots and a street food snack.

One of the Stops of The Stars Bars Tour.  Photo courtesy of Hollywood Walking Tours.

Photo: Hollywood Walking Tours

What’s your favorite unique dining experience with an activity twist in the USA?

Contributed By Katie Foote

 

5 Off-the-Beaten Path Wine Regions of the World to Explore

July 23, 2015 by  

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wine regions

There’s a reason certain wine regions are popular. And while these certainly deserve a visit, sometimes it’s nice to explore lesser-known regions for a less touristy trip. I recently shared my top unique South Australia wine experiences with Expedia, and now I’m taking it one step further to show you some of the world’s most popular wine regions, as well as their lesser-known alternatives. Photo courtesy of Csaba Peterdi via Shutterstock.  These include:

1. You Know The Barossa Valley…Go To Adelaide Hills (South Australia)

South Australia is the country’s largest wine region, with its most popular sub-region being the Barossa Valley, known for its Old Vine Shiraz and having some of the oldest vines in the world, never being hit by the phylloxera disease. When visiting the destination, we also recommend you head to Adelaide Hills to explore its 40+ cellar doors. A place where time truly stands still and lunch lasts 2+ hours, its cool climate leads to excellent white varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Semillon, as well as the light bodied Pinot Noir.

Unique wine experiences also abound. If you do one thing in Adelaide Hills make it Hahndorf Hill Winery’s ChocoVino, a selection of structured fine chocolate and wine pairings that teach you how to savor both together and separate with all your senses. Moreover, the aptly-named Longview hosts the annual CRUSH Festival and offers the most spectacular vineyard views, while Woodside Cheese Wright’s hand-made cheeses provides the perfect pairing and the chance to chat with local purveyors.

2. You Know Mosel…Go To Pfalz (Germany)

Mosel, Germany’s oldest wine region and one of the largest, has terraced hillsides, steep slopes and a cool climate. It’s renowned for its well-balanced, crisp Rieslings, with the best tasting rooms being in the village of Bernkastel. For something different head to Pfalz, a warm, dry wine region that produces both high quality whites like Riseling and Pinot Blanc and red wines, like Scheurebe and Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir). In fact, it’s Germany’s largest red wine region, comprising 40% of the production. Visit a few local cooperatives along the German Wine Road Cycle Trail before continuing your ride (or hike) through the chestnut tree-filled Palatinate Forest.

Plan your trip for September to attend Wurstmarkt in Bad Durkheim, Germany’s largest wine festival, and pair 150 local wines with regional foods, live music, amusement park rides and colorful fireworks.

wine regions

Loire Valley. Photo courtesy of stocker1970 via Shutterstock.

3. You Know Bordeaux…Go To The Loire Valley

Popular wine regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy and The Rhone Valley are known for their reds; however, the whimsical Loire Valley, with its fairytale castles and chateaus, is known for its crisp whites, from acidic Sauvignon Blancs to dry Chenin Blancs (although you’ll also get some earthy Cabernet Francs, as well). Sip some cherry Chinon at Domaine de la Noblaie, or a biodynamic bubbly at Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Vouvray. Then, burn off those calories by cycling the 500-mile (800-kilometer) Loire a Velo Route along the river to St-Brevin-les-Pins to the village of Cuffy, stopping for a shady wine picnic along the way.

4. You Know Tuscany…Go To Emilia Romagna

Many travelers have heard of — and hopefully tasted — the Sangiovese-dominant wines of Tuscany. For the wine traveler, however, there’s much to explore beyond the vines and rolling hills of this region. Like Emilia Romagna. While you’ll also find the sour cherry-tasting Sangiovese grape, it’s known for Lambrusco, a fizzy red wine made both dry and sweet. Additionally, the ambiance of the region is reason to visit, filled with medieval and renaissance castles and artwork, Adriatic sea beaches, the Appenine mountains and a stunning mix of natural and historic beauty.

Taste your way along La Strada del Prosciutto e dei Vini dei Colli, pairing local wines with delicious parma ham, black truffle and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or learn how to match wine and food through a cooking class with Academia Barilla (yes, that Barilla).

Attractions like the Basilica San Vitale, Duomo di Modena and the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita up the culture factor.

wine regions

Temecula Valley at sunset. Photo courtesy of Sahani Photography via Shutterstock.

5. You Know Napa Valley…Go To Temecula Valley

Napa Valley isn’t just America’s most popular wine region, it’s one of the country’s most visited attractions in general, known for its fruit forward Cabernet Sauvignon. While the region has much to offer, Temecula Valley, less than an hour from San Diego, is another delightful option that hasn’t yet reached mainstream tourism.

Temecula vintners typically focus on Mediterranean varietals along with Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon blanc. Head to Cougar Vineyard & Winery for a taste of Italy in California — including varietals not typically grown in the US like Primitivo, Falangini and Prosecco — paired with aerial valley views. Another recommendation is Lorimar Vineyards & Winery, where art, music and wine fuse together through decor, programming and a menu of wines like “Allegro,” “Solo” and “Trio.” Finish your trip in Old Town Temecula, full of artisan experiences and samplings at local establishments like the Temecula Olive Oil Company, Temecula Valley Cheese Company and E.A.T. Marketplace & Eatery.

What’s your favorite popular and lesser-known wine regions? Please share in the comments below.

 

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