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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Brownies with a secret

Black Bean Cacao Brownies with Peanut Butter Swirl
I'm here - just not posting on a regular basis.  I occasionally think of something to post, to share, to inspire you and me, and then I let the moment slip away.  It's been an odd year, good in some ways, i.e. getting married this past June; stressful at my full-time day job - it's so time to leave, it's been time to leave for over a year.  I teaching again, part-time at Sur la Table, in Marlton, New Jersey.  I mostly love the gig.  I wish the money were better, then again, who doesn't want more money?  If I could do it full time and make a decent living, I'd stop being a bookkeeper and be a Chef-Keeper instead!

Onto today's inspiration which comes directly from the class I taught this morning.  Because the recipes I use have been the intellectual property of Sur la Table, or their partner companies, I don't always feel that I can blog about what we've been making.  Today I feel that this recipe should be shared to a wider audience.  It is a brownie recipe that is gluten free, dairy free, low-fat and low-sugar.  Plus it's so fudgy delicious it was hard to stop eating.  Taking a moment to blog is allowing me a breather from the temptation of finishing off the batch I took home today.

I have not made many gluten free baking recipes before.  Finding this one and seeing how well it works makes me very happy.  I'm not about to adopt a gluten free diet but it sure is nice to have a variety of recipes to mix it up.  I'll be able to make this for friends and not stress about the taste or worthiness of it! This recipe comes via Sur la Table via Health Magazine. It's been tested by a variety of organizations and now by me.  It works!

The brownies use a "secret" ingredient - Black Beans!  There are also dried dates; maple syrup; cocoa powder or raw cacao for a true super food; baking powder, and not much else.  We made our batch with peanut butter swirled on top of the batter. You can omit the peanut butter or substitute a nut butter of choice.  I found the recipe to be forgiving and versatile.  What could be better? A recipe that tastes great and is easily adaptable.  Winning!

Black Bean Brownies

  • 1 - 15 ounce can of Black Beans - drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1/2 cup pitted dried Dates - about 3 ounces or 6-7 dates
  • 3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil (in Solid form); OR - Extra Virgin Olive Oil; OR - a Neutral oil such as Canola or Grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Pure Maple Syrup - divided
  • 1/2 Cup Raw Cacao Powder or Unprocessed Cocoa Powder (Not Dutch Processed)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate - 70% or higher, finely chopped
  • 1/4 Cup smooth peanut butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 
  2. Line an 8x8 square pan with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to over-hang.  Grease the foil, set aside
  3. Blend the black beans in a food processor until they are well chopped.  Add the dates, oil, 1/2 cup maple syrup, cacao powder, vanilla, baking powder and salt.  Puree the mixture until it is smooth and well combined.  The mixture should look dark and glistening.
  4. Add in the chopped chocolate and pulse a few times to mix in. 
  5. Spread the batter into the baking pan.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with the 2 remaining tablespoons of maple syrup.
  7. Microwave for 10 seconds to soften.  Mix well (it may look separated and curdled at one point; don't panic, just keep mixing.  It will come together.) 
  8. Drop dollops of the peanut butter mixture all over the top of the brownie batter.  Use a butter knife or skewer and swirl the peanut butter mixture throughout, creating a marble pattern.
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes, until firm.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.  For cleaner cuts, let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before cutting.
  10. Yields 12 brownies.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#LoveMustWin Love Must Win part 1

16 years ago on June 2, 1999, I had a first date with my now partner, Liz.  We met or rather, became acquainted with each other in Mid-May 1999, at an event that I catered for the choral group for whom Liz worked.  It was a lavish affair, in the rehearsal hall of The Academy of Music.  My best friend, Rachel, another friend, Martha, and I spent 2 days cooking and preparing food and drinks for 100 people.  Our story of this catering gig is one of those legendary tales of our friendship and relationship, filled with pathos, drama and a lot of laughs.  At the time, it felt more like pathos and chaos. It took a few years for any of us to look back at the insanity that I got us into, catering a gig out of my small apartment kitchen for 100 or more people.  

In the craziness of the event, filling up trays, cleaning up drinks and dirty napkins, I spied this dark-eyed quiet beauty.  It was one of those lightening bolt moments of my life where I saw HER and KNEW I HAD TO TALK TO THIS WOMAN.  Liz may or may not have felt the same way about me but she managed to make her way towards me at the end of the night.  We chit-chatted and made small talk.  I tried to play it cool with her in the few spare moments we had to talk.  Whatever I said struck a chord with Liz and she remembered me.  A few days later the mutual acquaintance we had (who hired me to cater the party) told me he knew someone who liked me.  Yeah, just like in high school or junior high, whisper down the lane, "I know someone who likes you..."  

It took a few more weeks for Liz and I to actually talk and find out who each of us was.  Mind you, the acquaintance was all set to play match maker, hoping that all of us could go out for drinks together - him, his husband, another friend, Liz and me.  I was sweating it not wanting him to play yenta and my really wanting to know who this mysterious Liz girl was that liked me.  Finally, phone numbers were exchanged and Liz called me.  We talked for a while and made plans to meet on Tuesday night, June 2, 1999, in between her rehearsal and my evening job working a concession stand at a local theater.  After we were both done work, we met up for drinks at a bar called Potcheen.  We shared french fries and beers while sitting at the bar on high stools.  It was a modern day grown-up version of sharing a milkshake at the soda fountain.  A few dates later we realized that the lightening bolt had struck us both.  A month into our dating I told Liz I was awfully fond of her.  Love came slowly and steadily into our lives.

Here we are 16 years later; on our 16th anniversary, we went to Collingswood Borough Hall to apply for a marriage license.  Our wedding date is June 13th.  If you asked me back then if I had ever imagined that I would be married I would have resounding said NO!  Growing up I always knew I was gay, or I knew from age 13 on. My younger years I'm not sure, but definitely from 13 it was known.  I even have journal entries describing my conflicted feelings about my sexuality.  As I grew up, matured, figured things out, the world around me did as well. In the mid-80's when I was hitting my young adult years, being gay was not a socially accepted way of life but it was far easier for me to be gay in 1985-87 than it was for generations before me.  In the 1990's those of us living in big East Coast or West Coast Cities to be closeted didn't feel the need to be closeted.  But getting married? Not possible.  So I grew up, matured, lived and loved all without the thought that I could ever be married.  Until now.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bike Sharing and Bike Riding

Now that we are no longer in the throws of winter's chill with the ice, snow, and sub-zero temperatures, a no-so-young woman's thoughts of fancy turn to biking.  As soon as it warmed up I began biking from my house to the train station in Collingswood.  It's easier all around for me to ride the one mile with no hassles trying to find a parking spot. No wasted gas on such a short trip. Bonus, I get ten minutes of exercise twice a day.  Not quite enough but better than nothing.  I'm not able to bike too far these days since my back has been such a mess of fractures, impinged nerves, herniated discs.  I had to sell my road bike because I can no longer be hunched over the handle bars; I need a ride that keeps me upright.  

I have two other bikes that fit this mode so the road bike went to a better home. It was sold to a woman I know who's athletic and appreciated a well-maintained bike.  I'm sad, real sad.  It's a chapter of my life that's over and it makes me lament what once was.  Of course I can't stay in this mind frame.  Gotta look to the next chapter I suppose.  There's always the gentle ride around town, both in Collingswood and in Philly.  I can't ride into Philly like I used to do a few years ago, I cannot carry the bike up the steps of The Ben Franklin Bridge or even up and down the steps of the PATCO train.  Unless I were to drive into town and bring my bike with me in the car, I have not had a bike to ride in Center City for over two years.  Enter the Indego Bike Sharing program in Philadelphia.  

Philadelphia is the latest city to get with the bike share program.  Launched on April 23rd, with over 60 locations and 600 bikes, the IndeGo Bike Share program has locations at all the prime hot spots in Center City, Spring Garden, South Philly and University City.  The big blue bicycles and solar powered kiosks are hard to miss.  You can step up to the service kiosk, insert your credit card and for about $8 an hour, pedal around the city on these three speed cruisers.  Or for a $15 per month fee, you can be a member of the bike share program - getting an unlimited hour's-worth of free rides and then you pay $4 per hour thereafter. Katie told me she hasn't even reached a full hour's ride yet

"I've opted for the $15/month plan, and since all my rides so far have been about 20-25 minutes, not hitting the hour-per-ride threshold, I've not paid anything other than the $15 monthly flat fee. It's really a great deal for commuting"

A third option which I joined is a $10 annual membership and paying $4 an hour as a pay-as-you-go option.  Once I read through all the legalities, debated on the merits of the program, mulled over the $1,000 liability claim waive should something happen to the bike, I decided that for my limited needs doing the pay as I go method was for me.  I now keep a spare bike helmet at my office for the spur of the moment errands and jaunts I may take throughout the spring and summer.  

There was a lot of consideration done on my part before I joined the bike share program.  My biggest issues are that this is a casual rider program, seemingly geared toward the tourist rider.  The rules of engagement are that once you remove a bike form the dock, you don your helmet (although wearing a helmet is strongly encouraged and HIGHLY encouraged by me, helmets ARE NOT provided) you ride around and then dock the bike at either the same location another station.  The bikes are not meant or allowed to be left, locked or brought into another space except for an Indego docking station.  This bothers me on a few levels.  Should I need to run an errand down to South Street, a few miles from my office, I couldn't bring my own lock with me that day and then lock the rental bicycle outside of a store.  If there's a dock station relatively nearby then I can ride form station to station.  All well and fine for mapped out errands.  

Last night I took my inaugural ride, picking up a bike at 17th and Pine Streets, riding down Pine Street to South Street.  I planned the excursion in advance, bringing my bike helmet with me into the city so that I could have it at the ready for the entire day and evening. After my leisurely ride down Pine and South Streets, I docked the bike at 2nd and South Streets. I met friends for dinner at 3rd and South, the one block walk back to the restaurant was no different than had I parked my car and walked to the restaurant.  I rode a total of 3.15 miles, for 21 minutes and was charged $4.  Cheaper than a taxi or Uber ride, faster and more convenient than had I walked saving me a lot of back pain!  The bikes are comfortable, easy to get on (a new consideration for me these days with all of my back issues and stiffness).  the bikes are a bit heavy but I'm used to riding sturdy weighted bicycles.

I've spoken with a few people about the program.  One woman I met, Jennifer B., an attorney and bicycle advocate, said she loves the program and didn't mind the fact that even though she had to walk a few more blocks to her home from the end--point stopping dock kiosk, she wanted to support the bike ride-share and it was more convenient to her than riding a bus from Center City to her home in the Spring Garden area.  A friend from Collingswood, Katie R, takes PATCO to Center City, picks up a bike at a location somewhere along the PATCO station stops and then rides up to her job in University City.  Katie checks the B-Cycle app on her phone to see which station has bikes available before she goes to that location.  Katie says that the program has been smooth sailing with the only snags so far being that once or twice the kiosks didn't have a bike available even though the app indicated that a bike was waiting for a rider.  

I'll have to try this out a few more times before I can fully endorse the program but so far so good based on my one ride and the experiences I've heard from friends and acquaintances.

In Collingswood, the bike share program that the Borough has is called  Collingswood Bike Share. I've known about the program and location for the 3 1/2 years that we've lived in Collingswood but as I have not had cause to use the program, I never explored the site.  You can basically pay a $25 a year membership and "borrow" a bike for the year, renewing each year thereafter. You can come in and work on bikes and the volunteer staff will help you fix a flat, mend a popped chain, even help you re-true a wobbly wheel.  There are spare bike parts, tires, cables and all kinds of reflectors through which to sort.  The C'Wood Bike Share is modeled in part on programs like Neighborhood Bike Works, allowing kids to come in, work on bikes and even earn a bike for their services.  People "donate" old bikes, parts, tires, etc. so this is the stock from which Bike Share Bikes are re-purposed.  

One recent Tuesday night I spent the better part of the evening hanging out at the Collingswood Bike Share. I had picked up a tag along bike for my wee lad. The fine dudes and dudette at the shop tried to help me fit it into my bike. No go. They huffed and they puffed but they just couldn't get that tag along to go. No problem señor Joseph Edward Bonaparte Junior did a mighty fine job working on the bike until we realize it just wasn't the right fit. I'll be back and I encourage all my Collingswood friends to support this amazing and hidden gem of Collingswood's bike culture.

It's really not fair to compare the two bike sharing/bike riding programs.  Bicycles to Mopeds in a way.  Yes both will allow you to ride around and get from point A to points B, C, and Z, and each have many merits.  I'm a lucky rider to have so many bikable choices in my life; my bikes, a Collingswood Bike Share if I need it, a quick zip around Center City on a rent-a-bike.  Bicycle culture is alive and doing very well.  Happy to still be a part of it while I can still get my aching tired body around!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Soup Swap - African Peanut Soup Recipe

I hosted a Soup Swap at our house this past Saturday.  The idea was floated in one of my Facebook groups and I hopped the idea and made it an event while the interest was high.  We had 11 participants, mostly from the Collingswood area, come over on a slushy/snowy afternoon, all bringing pints and containers of homemade soups.  The swap was a great way to re-introduce food swaps to friends, old and new, and it rejuvenated me with the idea of wanting to organize food swaps again.  The last swap I hosted was in May, at our 1 year anniversary.  While I've attended a number of swaps - the last one being in December, which was a lot of fun and one of the best events I've attended in terms of the people and food stuffs, I just haven't felt like organizing one.  The October event I wanted to run didn't get any interest and mine just waned.  Hosting the soup swap party truly rejuvenated me.  

I put together the invite on Facebook, on our closed group page - and many people said they would participate.  The idea was to make 5 to 8 pints of soup and then bring them over on Saturday and trade a pint for a pint of soup, stew or if someone felt like making a casserole, they could make that too.  We had pumpkin and turkey chili; pumpkin and onion soup; lentil soup; broccoli cheddar cream soup; chicken and dumplings; kale and curried chick pea; butternut squash and loaves of homemade bread; Tuscan bean soup; tortellini soup; and my favorite in terms of presentation, my friend, Lori, made a Winter Chili Soup, in a dry pack - she layered beans and grains in pretty mason jars and sealed them.  Tied around the lids, with the instructions/ingredients, was a Serrano chili pepper.  A clever and longer lasting packaged soup to take away.

Our crowd was mostly women, but a few ladies brought their husbands, so we had some male influences and Nate had a few guys to talk Star Wars Legos and show off his buildings and such.  We mingled and sampled and nibbled for an hour or more.  Some of us also enjoyed a late afternoon cocktail or two as I brought out the Firecracker Cherry Bourbon that I still have around from the holidays.  It was a very pleasant afternoon filled with a lot of laughter and good company.  And while this is a lot of work to organize and pull together, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The soup I made was African Peanut Soup, and oldie from my days at working for Jill's Vorspeise in the Reading Terminal Market.  I haven't made this recipe since 2006/2007.  When I pulled out the recipe files, from my teaching days at Williams-Sonoma, I had to laugh at myself and how much I've learned in the intervening years about cooking.  I've also learned so much more about recipe writing.  The benefits of having been a food blogger for all these years.  The recipe is easy with few ingredients and it's vegan.  But to make it taste really good, you have to be patient and coax out of the flavors of the vegetables so as to not to rely on adding extra salt or oil to this.  I wish I knew back then what I know now, that you don't need veg stock, extra fat, extra salt, or other extraneous stuff in your food to make real food taste good.
For my swap, I nearly tripled the recipe I had originally written down. I made 6 quarts total.  To re-created it to make it work the way I now know it should work is tricky.  I usually just cook out of my head, tossing in things as I see fit.  Recipes lie.  I try not to lie, but...It's hard to write a recipe exactly as it's actually meant to be made.  Don't worry about exact measurements of the vegetables.  A bit more veggies and a bit less liquid, just try to adjust as you go along and reduce the liquid down if things seem too watery.  Be careful with the salt.  The peanut butter, the soy sauce, the hot sauce, probably the tomatoes all have sodium in it.  I'd say you don't need to add in any more.  And the flavors are going to develop along the way - you'll be surprised how much of a kick this soup has, so be careful with the hot sauce - it can bite!

African Peanut Soup Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable, Canola or Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Onion - Small Dice (about 2 Cups)
  • 3 Large Carrots - Small Dice (about 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 3 Celery Stalks - Small Dice (about 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 3-4 Garlic Cloves - minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger - peeled and minced - or finely zested on a micro planer
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato - Peeled and Medium Diced
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoons Dried Marjoram
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Sauce - or more to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce - or more to taste
  • 1 Cup Smooth Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1 - 28 to 32 ounce can Chopped Tomatoes - low or no salt (if using whole tomatoes, chop into small dice)
  • 1/4 Cup Cilantro - minced
  • Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste


  1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions, carrots and celery and sweet the vegetables until they turn translucent and begin to give off their water - about 20 minutes.  As the vegetables sweat, stir them from time to time.  Sweat them until the vegetables turn a light golden brown, all told, this may take up to 25 minutes for the vegetables to slightly caramelize.
  2. Once the vegetables have caramelized, add in the garlic and the ginger and sauté for one minute, then add in the sweet potatoes, bay leaf, marjoram and water.  Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cook the mixture until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart - knife tender, but not mushy - cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. When the sweet potatoes are tender, stir in the hot sauce, soy sauce and peanut butter.  Stir until the peanut butter is mixed in through and is not clumping.  Add in the chopped tomatoes and the cilantro.  Bring the mixture back to a boil and then reduce down to a simmer again, stirring continually so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot and burns.  Cook for another 30 minutes so that the flavors can meld together, stirring frequently.
  4. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more pepper, soy sauce, and hot sauce as needed.  As with most soups or stews, this soup will improve with age as it sits over-night.  
  5. Cool in a large, shallow pan before placing the soup into containers.  Refrigerate and eat within three days or freeze and use within one month.  Reheat this soup in a pot on the stove.  If it needs to be thinned, add a bit of water to it.  
  6. Makes about 3 quarts of soup - or 8 generous servings.  This soup is very rich!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tomato Vegetable Soup Many Ways!

It's winter. It's cold, and dreary and we've all just spent a month eating and drinking WAY TOO MUCH.  We need healthy quick meals that are tasty, easy and budget friendly.  The less I need to do, spend, cook, prep the better.  If it's free, it's for me.  But I have to want to eat this too.  If I make too much of anything I never want to eat the left overs.  That's a major problem with soup making, it's hard to just make a small batch.  When I put stuff in the freezer, it's the land where food goes to die in my house.  Clean eating meals have to be meals that I want to eat more than once, preferably more than twice since I'll be making this in a larger batch.  

Someone I know posted a photo of minestrone soup on a Facebook group to which I belong.  All week long I have been craving this kind of soup.  A vegetable rich stock, full of hearty filling vegetables and tomatoes that I can enjoy at home and at work (you know, at my kosher/vegetarian required workplace by day).  I tapped into my brain storage files of soup repertoire from my days at working at Jill's in the Reading Terminal Market.  
Funny how I didn't appreciate the food nearly as much then as I should have but now I turn to it all the time, seeing the sensible recipes and ways to make good food out of almost nothing...except for that one case of having to turn potato skins scraps destined for the trash bin into something edible...but that truly is another recipe story for another day.

We didn't have much in the cupboard, pantry, larder, or vegetable bin and yet somehow, with a few carrots, onions, stalks of celery, peppers, cans of diced tomatoes, Israeli couscous, can of chick peas, frozen peas and corn and a handful of dried seasonings, I turned what might have been destined for the compost bin into a meal that's been feeding my belly and soul over through our first arctic blast.

There isn't anything hard about making this soup.  You don't even need to chop anything very precisely - you can use a food processor and rough chop stuff into small/medium sized pieces.  You can hand chop the vegetables.  You can use one of those chop-o-matics.  But do use mostly fresh vegetables.  Canned tomatoes - fine.  Frozen peas and corn.  Fine. But use fresh carrots, onions, celery and peppers.  The flavors will be better.  And you don't need vegetable, chicken, or beef stock.  As a matter of fact, it'll be better if you don't use a canned/packed stock.  Use water.  Less preservatives and salt.  Control the salt and fat.  Use more dried seasonings.  Develop flavors by slowly sautéing the vegetables and bringing out their natural sugars, slightly caramelizing the trinity of the basic three of the mire poix.  

You can make this soup like a minestrone - made with a small pasta and beans, like chick peas or small white beans.  The pasta can be pastina; Israeli couscous (which is a pearl sized pasta); or ditalini. You can add in some fresh or frozen chopped spinach.  

If you need a punch of flavor towards the end after the soups simmered for a few hours, add in some good balsamic vinegar instead of salt, and if that's not enough, add in a drizzle of a good olive oil.  Serve with some nice toasted crusty bread and a bit of cheese and you have a meal.
Tomato Vegetable Soup - Many Ways!
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Onions - Small/Medium Dice (about 1 Cup)
  • 4 Medium Carrots - Small/Medium Dice (about 1 Cup)
  • 4 Celery Stalks - Small/Medium Dice (about 1/2 Cup)
  • 3 Small/Medium Bell Peppers Red/Green/Yellow - Small/Medium Dice - (about 1 1/2 Cups-2 Cups)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - Minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Italian Seasonings
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 14-16 ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes with their juices (no or low sodium, preferably unseasoned)
  • 1 Cup Tomato Puree or Crushed Tomatoes
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 14-16 Ounce Can Chick Peas or Small White Beans - Drained & Rinsed (optional)
  • 1 Cup Cooked Small Pasta or Israeli Couscous (optional)
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar - to taste (optional)

  1. Use a large stock pot - 6 to 8 quarts.  Heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Add in the diced onions, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until the onions and celery turn translucent and the carrots start to turn tender, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add in the diced peppers and sweat the vegetables another 10 minutes, until all the vegetables begin to caramelize slightly and take on a light golden colour.
  3. Add in the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding in the dried Italian seasonings and dried red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and bloom the dried seasonings flavors.  
  4. Pour in the cans of diced tomatoes with their juices, the tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes), water and beans.  Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer the soup, uncovered, for about 2 hours.
  5. After two hours, taste the soup and season.  Add in the cooked pasta, if using, and the frozen peas and corn. Taste and adjust the seasons, adding in pepper, more dried seasonings if needed and a dash of balsamic vinegar.  Use the salt sparingly.  As the soup cooks and reduces the flavors will intensify.  If the soup is too watery, reduce it down further.  Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.  Makes about 5 quarts of soup.  Keeps for 1 week.  Freeze in small batches for up to 3 months.
  6. The second way to make this soup, is to either make it as a pure vegetable soup, with no beans and or no pasta.  Or to make it with the beans and pasta.  Or with beans or pasta.  Or with beans, pasta and spinach....or kale.  Okay.  I'll stop.  but you get the point.  It can be adapted to suit your tastes and what you have on hand!