Happy Sunshine in a Little Orange Package

This morning after breakfast I was still hungry.  It’s mid-January, I live in Arizona, and there are orange trees in the back yard so loaded with fruit the branches droop low enough for the rabbits to reach them.  The oranges have been tempting me for a while, but the last time I tried one, it was too early.  The flesh was dry and tough, and it was so bitter it took at least 15 minutes before my eye stopped twitching and I could pull my cheeks out of a hard core pucker.

Different story today.  When I got close to the tree, I could smell that they were ready.   I chose an orange near the bottom of the tree; those ripen first, and when I picked it, it nearly fell off the limb into my hand.

It’s orange season, all right.  I was a little hesitant with my first bite, but as soon as my teeth broke through the skin, “Hello, Larry!”  It was exquisitely, perfectly, sweetly ready.  The flavor was fresh and vibrant, and I wanted to stuff the whole orange in my mouth to fill it with the flavor of happy sunshine.  That’s what the orange tasted like … Happy Bright Perfect Sunshine.

There’s is a lot of ugliness going on around Arizona these days.  That orange, grown in Arizona soil, not only satisfied my hunger, it made me feel hopeful.

In honor of my morning orange, I’m happy to share one of my favorite poems:

Peeling an Orange
by Virginia Hamilton Adair

Between you and a bowl of oranges I lie nude
Reading The World’s Illusion through my tears.
You reach across me hungry for global fruit,
Your bare arm hard, furry and warm on my belly.
Your fingers pry the skin of a navel orange
Releasing tiny explosions of spicy oil.
You place peeled disks of gold in a bizarre pattern
On my white body. Rearranging, you bend and bite
The disks to release further their eager scent.
I say “Stop, you’re tickling,” my eyes still on the page.
Aromas of groves arise. Through green leaves
Glow the lofty snows. Through red lips
Your white teeth close on a translucent segment.
Your face over my face eclipses The World’s Illusion.
Pulp and juice pass into my mouth from your mouth.
We laugh against each other’s lips. I hold my book
Behind your head, still reading, still weeping a little.
You say “Read on, I’m just an illusion,” rolling
Over upon me soothingly, gently moving,
Smiling greenly through long lashes. And soon
I say “Don’t stop. Don’t disillusion me.”
Snows melt. The mountain silvers into many a stream.
The oranges are golden worlds in a dark dream.

Resource: The Daily Post, Virginia Hamilton Adair
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Super Bowl Food: Pigs in a Blanket

Hot dogs and crescent rolls.  What’s not to love?  I make these without the cheese because, you know, who needs all that fat?  Heh, heh — oh.  Dang!

Anyway, no matter how you make them, make a lot.  They’ll go fast!

Crescent Dogs from Pillsbury.com.

Super Bowl Food: Cocktail Meatballs

It sounds like an odd combination, but meatballs simmered in grape jelly and chili sauce are delicious!  Low brow maybe, but ach! Who cares? It’s Super Bowl season!

Depending on how much time I have, I either make my own meatballs or buy a frozen bag.  Either way, this is really tasty party food and they’re ridiculously easy to make.  I always hope for leftovers because the longer the meatballs sit in the sauce, the better they taste.

Cocktail Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1  16 oz jar of grape jelly
  • 1  8 oz jar of chili sauce
  • 1 bag small frozen meatballs (40 – 50 count)

Instructions:

  1. Prepare meatballs according to package directions and drain on paper towels, if needed.
  2. While meatballs are cooking, pour grape jelly and chili sauce into a large pan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until jelly is melted.
  3. Add meatballs to pan and stir until coated.
  4. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.  The longer the meatballs simmer, the more flavorful they get.

If using a crockpot, put everything in the pot and cook on low 6-8 hours. You can also make your own favorite homemade meatballs if you prefer.  Here’s a recipe I just discovered from Stove Top Stuffing.  It’s nowhere near an authentic Italian meatball, but it’s great for this recipe and much cheaper than store bought.

Stove Top Stuffing Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 6 oz. pkg. Stove Top Stuffing (Chicken flavor)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 2   eggs

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 400ºF.  Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Mix ingredients until well blended and shape into 1-inch meatballs.
  3. Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until done.
Easy, pleasy, tasty, done!

One final note, skip the meatballs altogether and use those adorable little mini-wienies.

Lentils & Luck: Oh, What to Eat on New Year’s Day?

Happy New Year!  Happy New Decade!

Nonni's handwritten cookbook is filled with family recipes and pictures, but no lentils.

My grandmother always kicked off the new year with a huge vat of lentil soup.  “It brings good luck,” she’d say.  But I was out of luck because I didn’t like lentil soup, and had to make do (suffer with me a moment) with plates full of perfection in the form of her meatballs and brasciole.  Mmm, my mouth waters thinking of them now!

I still think of her lentil soup every New Year’s Day, and considered making it this year even though I’m still not a fan.  I looked through the cookbook she put together for her family, but alas!  No lentil soup!  Then I wondered what else people eat on New Year’s Day for luck, prosperity, good health, etc.  Here’s what I found:

In the Southern U.S., it’s a tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for prosperity.  Nicole from Pinch My Salt, one of my favorite food blogs, shares her recipe for Smoky Spiced Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon.

It’s an Asian tradition to eat long noodles, a symbol of long life on New Year’s Day.  Just remember, you’re not supposed to break the noodle before eating it.  From Cooking with Alison, here’s a delicious recipe for Sesame Noodle Salad.

In Germany, Ireland, and parts of the U.S., folded greens symbolize money and eating cabbage is thought to bring good fortune and prosperity. At The Giant Cabbage, Cherie Stihler has collected more than 200 recipes.  That’s a lot of cabbage!

Greece and Turkey associate pomegranates with abundance and fertility. I associate them with delicious.  Just watching the opening photos on the California Pomegranates site made me hungry for the succulent little ruby red gems.

Throughout North America, Asia, and Europe, people eat fish to celebrate the new year.  Fish swim forward so they are associated with forward momentum, and since they swim in schools, they symbolize abundance and community.  Slow Roasted Salmon with Cabbage, Bacon, and Dill from SeriousEats.com covers a couple of the lucky New Year’s food groups and looks gorgeous!

Homer Simpson and a donutFinally, we have the Dutch, who believe the shape of a ring symbolizes coming full circle, and so on New Year’s Day they eat donuts.

What about you?  Do you have any New Year’s Day food traditions?  Want to go Dutch with me today?  Mmmm, donuts!

Sharing the Love with Oreo Truffles, et al.

Sharing the Love with Oreo Truffles

Oreo Truffles
Oreo Truffles, bite-size bits of love

Maybe I should title this post, “Aweigh with Words,” because often when I’m deep into a writing project that isn’t going my way, my mind wanders to Oreo Truffles, and I start daydreaming about treats. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be a treatelier. I just made that word up, it’s a combination baker, chocolatier and candy-maker. I love making desserts. The simple ones that don’t challenge my brain or monopolize my time too much time. I think of them as after-school snack kind of treats: double fudge brownies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate mint bars, the aforementioned Oreo Truffles.

Fancy, complicated desserts scare me. First, I don’t have a lot of time to make them. Second, my kitchen is a minimalist’s dream. I don’t have any (space for) special equipment, so I reserve my all time favorites: Crème Brûlée and Apple Tart Tatin (notice that I love them so much I am compelled to capitalize them) to restaurant visits.

Love of cooking is a genetic trait. I got it from my mother, she got it from her mother and so on. I believe the roots of it trace back to an early Cenozoic era, when an Italian mama got up early one Sunday morning and started making her meatballs and sauce. We’ve passed the tradition on through the generations, and what we’ve learned is that cooking is love. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming, belly-filling way to show someone you care.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, at lot, for me anyway. When my mind becomes too jumbled with thoughts and words, and I can step into the kitchen and get lost in the zen of cooking. It’s meditative and it works to clear my head. Afterward, I go back to my studio and get back to work … plate of cookies in hand.

In this category, I’ll be sharing some recipes that I, as the world’s first treatelier, think you might enjoy. They’ll be fast and easy, like some of my best friends, and they won’t require special equipment. At the most, you’ll need a food processor, but even that is easy to work around.

Please feel free to add your own recipes, or if you try one of mine, let me know what you think. I’ll start this ball rolling, with a ball of a different sort:

Oreo Truffles
These treats are also called cookie balls, but I giggle too much when I say that, so I just call them Oreo Truffles. Sounds more elegant.

  • 1 lb. Oreo cookies (standard 3 sleeve size)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 tubs Baker’s Dipping chocolate (7 ounce each)

Crush the cookies in a food processor until there are no large chunks. You can also crush them in a resealable bag using a rolling pin, meat tenderizer or the back of a frying pan.

Add softened cream cheese and mix until ingredients comes together and there are no lumps of cream cheese.

Roll the mixture into 1″ balls and place on cookie sheet covered in wax paper. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Follow directions on package to melt chocolate. Dip truffles in chocolate and place on wax paper-covered baking sheet.* Refrigerate until firm.

Cover truffles and store in fridge for up to two weeks. (But they’ll be gone LONG before that!)

*If you’ve never dipped truffles before, the first time can be a little tricky. It’s easiest when truffles are well chilled, so take out only a few at a time to dip. Have two forks on hand. Use one fork to dip the truffle into the chocolate. If needed, use the other fork to roll truffle and help lift it out. Allow extra chocolate to run off, or wipe bottom on the edge of container. Place on wax paper. Good luck, it’s not hard, it just takes a little practice and it is SO worth it!

VARIATIONS: Nutter Butter cookies are also delicious in this recipe. Add a drop or two of mint extract to the Oreos for Mint Oreo Truffles. For the coating, you can use white, dark or milk chocolate. Most markets now carry almond bark and dark chocolate bark. You can also gourmet it up, by drizzling chocolate across the tops once they have been dipped. If you add any crushed toppings, be sure to add them immediately after dipping otherwise they won’t stick.

Chocolate Pretzel Bites
Chocolate Pretzel Bites are cute, colorful and oh, Mmm, yum!Sweet and salty are a great combination, and these little buggers bring it home fast! They’re cute, quick, and so stinking good it’s hard to keep them on hand!

Preheat oven to 170 degrees.

  • 24 unwrapped Hershey’s Kisses
  • 24 waffle-type square pretzels
  • 24 M&M’s

Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper and lay pretzels in a single layer on lined cookie sheet.

Top each pretzel with a Kiss.

Bake for 4-6 minutes or until the chocolate feel soft when touched with a wooden spoon (or your finger, if you’re me).

Remove from oven and press an M&M into the center of each Kiss. (This adheres all the layers)

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then put in refrigerator to set for about 20 to 30 minutes. Once they are set, shove as many in your mouth as you can because once everyone else tastes them, there will be none left.

Notes:

You can make more or less than 24 at a time. I found trays of 24 to be the most manageable. Make a lot, though. They go fast.

To make in microwave: Make 6 pretzels at a time. Microwave for 45 seconds and test by pressing an M&M into the center. If it’s not melted, microwave 15 seconds at a time and test each time.

VARIATIONS:

  • Top the Kiss with Reeses Pieces, which are the perfect colors for fall and Thanksgiving.
  • Use your favorite nut in place of the M&M.
  • Use different flavor Kisses or even the striped Hugs, but be careful because the some fillings melt faster.
  • You can adapt this for the holidays by using Red & Green M&Ms or Pastel.

Mississippi’s Hometown Boys: Elvis & Faulkner at home

Mississippi's Native Sons: William Faulkner & Elvis Presley
Native Sons: William Faulkner & Elvis Presley

The Pelvis & The Pen
On our way to Memphis, Tennessee, there were two important stops we wanted to make. Both were in Mississippi, and both paid homage to two of America’s greatest icons. The first was Tupelo, to visit Elvis Presley’s birthplace. The second, Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home in Oxford.

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When you first consider Elvis and Faulkner together, they seem like an unlikely duo. Elvis was the King of Rock ‘n Roll, the Hillbilly Cat, Elvis the Pelvis. Faulkner was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, two Pulitzers, and two National Book Awards. Even though the disparities might seem as wide as the Mississippi River, these two Southern boys did share some similarities.

First, they were born within miles of each other in small north Mississippi towns. Elvis in Tupelo, Faulkner in New Albany. Second, from those small-town beginnings, they both grew to worldwide fame. It could even be said that they had more influence in their respective fields than any other artists of the 20th century. Yet, for all of their money, talent, and fame, their love of the South kept them deeply rooted there throughout their lives. They traveled the world, but home to both of them, was always the South. As someone who has moved from state to state a few times, I was looking forward to seeing the homes where those strong roots took hold.

Continue reading “Mississippi’s Hometown Boys: Elvis & Faulkner at home”

Bonaparte Breads: Ooo La La

If only there weren’t a trillion calories in a croissant and two trillion calories in pain chocolate, I would visit Bonaparte every day. Bonaparte is very nearly the perfect cafe (perfection would require wi-fi and more computer friendly tables). But I’ll take the near perfection that they offer over most other Fells Point coffee houses.

The coffee is brought to the table for you and served in a French cup and saucer with hot steamed milk instead of cream — very nice touch. They also bring you whatever tasties you’ve ordered at the counter. In addition to perfect croissants, Bonaparte offers sandwiches, breads, soups and a daily quiche. I’m so enamored of the croissants and pain chocolate that I haven’t gotten around to ordering anything else.

Service is generally a positive, although there is one server (possibly the manager?) who can be a grouch, but I figure she’s probably been there since 3 a.m. baking those perfect croissants, so she’s earned her grouchiness (just keep it away from me, please). The other servers are friendly and attentive, but sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the crowd at the counter and serving the coffee table-side. It’s not an aggravation though because Bonaparte is not a rush-in and rush-out kind of place. It’s a slow-down and enjoy kind of place.

The atmosphere is lovely, very French, nicely decorated (aside from the plastic folding chairs stacked up near the front doors), classical music piped in, and a view of Fell’s Point and the harbor. It’s such a relaxing environment that even the cell-phone junkies seem to understand that they should put away the appendage for a few minutes once they’ve entered Bonaparte’s front doors. That alone would make Bonaparte a favorite spot, but since it’s got so much more going for it, the unspoken no-cell law is just a bonus.

Bonaparte Breads is located at 903 South Ann Street (Fells Point) Baltimore, MD 21231. They are open daily, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. 410.342.3000.

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What’s French for “Dang, That’s a Big Steak?”

Hon and I went to Brasserie Tatin for a celebration dinner. (I finished the first draft of my first novel.) I had been wanting to try it since moving to Baltimore more than a year ago, and I’m so glad we finally checked it out.

It was a very quiet night … maybe three or four other tables were occupied.  It was also a very cold night, so walking in and seeing a fireplace at the far end of the dining room was warming and welcoming.  The decor is fairly low key … modern, elegant, but not stuffy.  It was a comfortable environment, although on a busier night, I can imagine that it feels overcrowded as the tables are close together.

The service was very good, friendly and knowledgeable. I got the sense that even if it had been a busier night, our server would have been just as attentive.

Now for the food.  For starters, I got the French Onion Soup or Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée.  It was perfect, and if it hadn’t been such a classy joint, Hon and I probably would have licked the bowl.  Hon got the soup du jour, which was a cream of parsnip soup.  Sounded positively awful to me, but he loved it.  Said it was a very rich, full flavor.

On to the entrees: I was looking forward to the veal scallopini that is (still) listed on their online menu.  I was disappointed to see it wasn’t on the regular menu. Instead, I went with a standby favorite, the New York Strip steak.  When the server brought it out I almost started laughing. I know that some people believe size matters, but this steak was enough to feed three people.  It was served on top of mashed potatoes and squash with bernaise on the side. I was a little concerned that the steak might be tough or not cooked well enough because of the size, but every bite of it (including the bites that lasted for two more meals!) was delicious and perfectly done.  Even when I think back on it now, I laugh because it looked like an entire side of beef on my plate!

Hon got the Seared Diver Scallops, which were also Amazon-sized. Again, there was a concern about them being too tough or chewy, as larger scallops can be, but these were fresh, tender and delicious.  They were seasoned just right and the sweet succulence of the scallops really came through with the flavor of the buerre blanc sauce.

After such a wonderful meal, I was very excited about dessert.  We selected the seasonal sorbets, which, pardon the pun, left me cold. The tastes were either too strong, too sweet or too strange for me.  We also got the restaurant’s namesake, and the reason for my wanting to check this place out … the tarte tatin, which, after creme brulee, is my favorite dessert.

I almost don’t want to say it, but I was disappointed in it.  It had a bit of a leftover taste to it..  The pastry wasn’t flaky and light the way it should be.  It was more dense, cakelike and soggy. The caramelization had gone a touch too far and seemed overly sweet and crystallized.

You definitely pay for the experience of dining at Brasserie Tatin, it is expensive, but we were celebrating and Hon was splurging on me, so we dug in and enjoyed it!

I don’t want to end this review on a bad note, because overall it was a very good experience.  I’d even be willing to try it again, but next time we’ll finish off with the creme brulee.

Brasserie Tatin is located at 105 W 39th St., Baltimore, MD 21210. They are open Sunday and Monday, 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday, 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. They serve Sunday brunch from 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 443.278.9110. www.brasserietatin.com

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Cool Pink Trumps the Heat In Scottsdale

Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant

It might be possible to walk into the Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale, AZ, in a bad mood, but it would take some real effort to leave that way. Before walking through the front doors, the Sugar Bowl will cheer you up with its bubblegum pink facade and multi-colored sign. From the outside, the Sugar Bowl could be taken for an old time carnival arcade, the kind you find on beach-front boardwalks that are filled with pinball machines, video games and skee-ball, but another colorful sign a little further down the building tells you it’s really an ice cream parlor/restaurant.

The cheeriness continues inside with more pink, more pink, lots and lots of pink. On paper, it might sound dreadful, but in person it’s not. It looks just right and the atmosphere is happy and friendly.

The décor in the Sugar Bowl looks just right because it’s the real thing, not a modern day knockoff. In 1958, original owner Jack Huntress converted an old auto repair shop into the restaurant and opened for business. The restaurant is still in the same location and still in the same family, with Jack’s nephew, Carroll running the show.

The atmosphere is family-friendly, but it appeals to all ages. On this particular Friday night we were surrounded by an older couple, a group of high school friends, and a married couple with kids and grandparents in tow. It was noisy and bustling and it seemed like everyone was relaxed and having a good time. That kind of levity is contagious and it means the Sugar Bowl is doing something right.

For starters, you can sit at a table, a booth, or the counter. Either one has its charms. The seats at the tables are classic ice cream parlor chairs in silver and (want to guess?) pink. The booths are upholstered in (you guessed it!) pink, and they’re overstuffed and cozy. The counter, an authentic 1950’s soda fountain, seats 10, and it’s the place to sit if you want to enjoy a sundae and do your people watching at the same time. There is a mix of art on the walls, but the Family Circus cartoons by local Bil Keane stand out and reinforce the family friendly atmosphere. Sugar Bowl has been featured throughout the years as a favorite location in Keane’s comic strip.

As soon as we walked in, we were met by a friendly hostess who picked up menus and brought us to our booth. The menu is four big pages long. Three of the pages are filled with a fantastic array of ice cream options: sundaes, splits, shakes, sherbets. If it’s not on the menu, Sugar Bowl will make it for you. The food selection is limited to soups, sandwiches, and salads. Mostly standard fare, done in a standard way. My burger was fresh and tasty, served with potato chips, cole slaw, and a big crunchy pickle. Hon ordered a chef’s salad, which came with two bite-sized pieces of date-nut bread and honey-nut filling. The bread was so good, Hon wanted to skip the salad and order a few more slices, but he behaved and ate the salad, which was filling, if slightly skimpy on the meat.

Our server was adorable. Once she found out that we were visiting from Baltimore she wanted to hear all about it. It was so nice to talk to a (very) young server who could actually carry on a conversation. She was so youthful and adorable that we didn’t even get annoyed when she enthusiastically gushed, “No problem!” every time we said, “Thank You.” Actually, we did get annoyed, but we were in such good moods we decided not to let it bother us.

When it was time to pick a dessert, we were a bit overwhelmed by the huge selection, so we decided to put off the decision until our next visit. I’m not sure I feel right writing about the Sugar Bowl and not getting ice cream, but we were just wrapping up a long day of travel and wanted to enjoy the ice cream when we were fresh and awake. Secretly, I think we opted out so that we’d have a good excuse to go back again and personally, I can’t wait.

The Sugar Bowl is located at 4005 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. They are open Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. The Sugar Bowl’s party room, the Fiesta, is a separate area where kids can run around and play pinball games without disturbing the main dining room. Fiesta is available for large parties and groups. Call (480) 946-0051. http://www.sugarbowlscottsdale.com

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Beautiful Burgers in Baltimore

Five Guys Burgers & Fries

Just after moving to Baltimore I told my Hon I had a craving for a great burger.  He told me to leave everything to him. He was taking me to Five Guys Burgers & Fries in Canton and he assured me I’d have the best burger blast I’ve ever had. I wasn’t sure I believed him, but I went with it.

When he told me Five Guys was a chain, of sorts, my trust faltered even further, but I kept my mouth shut and my mind open.

Then I opened my mouth. I had to!  The burger that was put before me was without question, beautiful! It was big, beefy, sloppy and loaded with my favorite toppings. And it was the best burger I have ever had!  It was fresh, perfectly cooked, and D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! 

I chose the regular hamburger, which I learned was actually two hamburgers on one bun. Daintier appetites can go for a “Little,” which is one burger. Heartier apps can opt for bacon, cheese or both. For toppings, I went with the basics: onion, pickle, ketchup.  Hon got his burger loaded with the big 5 … grilled onions, tomato, mushrooms, relish, lettuce. 

All toppings are free and plentiful, and also include mayo, raw onion, mustard, jalapenos, green peppers, A-1 Sauce, BBQ, or hot sauce.

We shared a (ha ha) small order of fries, which were enough to comfortably feed four.  Fries were amazing, too, and even though it was such a big order, we managed to eat them all and didn’t  finish until we sucked every last bit of salt off our greasy fingers.

Before our burgers were cooked and bagged up, we feasted on a handful of serve yourself peanuts. That was unexpected and fun and it’s a daily amenity at Five Guys. They get bonus points, too, for serving Coke products, instead of Pepsi.

Five Guys is not fancy.  You place your order at the counter and they call your number when it’s done.  Whether you eat in or take out, your order is served up in a brown paper bag with a fistful of napkins. The music is always obnoxiously loud and the counter guy is usually grumpy, but who cares!  These are fantastic burgers and I’d gladly suffer more abuse for a lesser burger. Don’t expect conversation because aside from the loud music, once dinner is served everyone will be too intimately involved with their burgers to be distracted with any conversation beyond, “Mmmm,” “Oh my God,” and “Can you pass the ketchup?”  

I’ve been back to the Five Guys in Canton and their various locations many times and it has always been an excellent, extraordinarily filling meal at a budget price.  If you’re feeling hungry enough, add a hot dog to your order.  They’re super, too!

The Canton location at 3600 Boston Street, Baltimore, is open daily 11 am to 10 pm. 410-522-1580. For other locations, and more info, check in at www.fiveguys.com.

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