Healthy Chocolate Avocado Mousse

mousse 4

Had enough sugar yet? Are you counting the days until the Holidays are over and you can get back to healthy eating? I know I am. For me, the Holiday Season means a free pass to eat anything and everything that I normally would not dream of eating.  By the time I get to New Year’s Eve, I’m always moaning that “I just can’t eat or drink another thing!!!”   If I had my choice, I’d toast the New Year with a glass of vitamin packed green juice or smoothie. But not to be a “kill-joy,” I’ll finish up 2017 by indulging (hopefully one last time) in too much food and alcohol

My pre- New Years Eve tradition is to go through my recipe files and cookbooks, and pull out some healthy recipes to start off the New Year.  At the very least, it makes me feel pro-active, and always gives me hope that the end of this insanity is in sight.   As we all know, healthy food can be very delicious, but it takes some time to plan and prepare, and honestly, who has the time during this hectic time of year.

As my sugar high is in full swing, and we still have several days to go until I can officially declare my kitchen a safe haven for those who want to feel better about what is going into their bodies, I have found a recipe that will make you think you are indulging in a decadent dessert, but are actually eating something very healthy. The best part is that the ingredients are staples in my kitchen, so I can whip this up any time. Whip it up indeed…. as all you have to do is throw the ingredients in a blender! It couldn’t be easier.

Chocolate avocado mousse is one of those desserts that every time you serve it, your guests will want the recipe (usually after one bite), and then can’t believe the ingredients. I’ve seen variations of this recipe floating around the internet and on some food shows for years and always thought it looked good, but couldn’t possibly be that good. Well I was wrong. This is decadently delish. It’s so rich that you really do need a small dollop of whipped cream or some berries on top.

If you are in need of a dessert recipe to finish out this year, or start the new one, you can get a head start on healthy eating by making this delicious chocolate avocado mousse. If you don’t share the recipe, your guests will think they are indulging in another rich and delicious dessert before staring their new year’s resolutions. Only you will know that you have started them on their way to a healthy 2018!

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2018!

Happy New Year!

Recipe:  makes 6 servings

6 – 7 medjool dates, soaked (you can find these in the fresh produce section)

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 very ripe avocados, mashed

3/4 cup organic cocoa

1/2 cup water

  1.  Once your dates have soaked for 20 minutes or so, pit them and put in the blender or food processor with the maple syrup and vanilla and blend until smooth.
  2. Add the mashed avocado,  cocoa powder and water and process until smooth.  You may have to scrape the sides a few times in-between to mix the ingredients.
  3. Fill each small ramekin or dish.  Top with berries or whipped cream or both.
  4. Serve chilled or at room temperature.mousse ingredients.jpgmousse datesmousse avocado mashmousse dates blendermousse cocoa:vanilla:watermousse closeupmousse plated again




Mashed Potato Pie

potato pie baked **

Mashed potatoes are just not my thing. We never had them in my home growing up. If my mom thought a dinner guest might enjoy mashed potatoes, out came the box of “Hungry Man instant mashed potatoes” and she whipped up an absolutely disgusting blob of “fake” mashed potatoes.   It was hard not to gag if you were brave enough to scoop up some of this bland mush. I learned quickly to avoid it at all costs, and I felt sorry for any non-suspecting guests. It was fun to watch their faces as they happily dug in, and then didn’t know what to do with this blob of something unfamiliar in their mouth. It became a family joke until we finally convinced my mom not to bother any more. Just make pasta!

In 1977, my mom and I decided it was time to break this mashed potato curse. It was my daughter’s christening, and we had planned to make all the food for the party. We would make everything the day before, and then serve it buffet style for the 20 or so family members attending. I’m sure we made a baked pasta dish, but I remember deciding that this was a perfect time to try out her friend’s recipe for baked mashed potato pie…….using real potatoes! I should have known it was a mistake when she took the recipe over the phone, with no measurements or directions. I must admit it sounded easy enough.

We peeled 10 pounds of potatoes, and cut them into cubes. We salted the water as if we were cooking pasta, and kept an eye on the boiling potatoes , testing frequently. Once they were soft and easy to mash, we shut off the water and left the potatoes in the hot water while we prepared the rest of the ingredients……set the table….fed the baby, etc. All in all, the cooked potatoes must have been resting in the hot water for over an hour.

We melted the butter, and started to mash with an electric beater.   It was like glue!! It looked like we were making taffy. We honestly had no idea what we had done wrong. This was unknown territory to us. We continued fighting with the potatoes, stretching and pulling, and finally made one very large pie. We convinced ourselves that once baked, it would be delicious.

I think by now you can guess what happened.  It was inedible! Everyone was very polite, and ate a bite or two. We questioned what we had done wrong, and we learned that you never leave the potatoes in the hot water after they have cooked. You must drain them immediately.

Since 1977, we have made many successful potato pies. It’s simple, delicious and can be made ahead of time. It’s a lovely change from plain mashed potatoes, and infinitely better than instant potatoes!

I hope you enjoy!

Recipe:  serves 6

2 to 3 pounds of potatoes

1 stick of butter, melted plus 2 TBSP for greasing the casserole

8 ounces mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, plus 4 tablespoons

1/4 cup (approximately) Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

salt and pepper to taste

  1.  Boil the potatoes in salted water.  Drain immediately when soft.
  2.  While the potatoes are boiling, heavily grease a casserole dish with the 2 TBSP butter.  Then coat the buttered dish with breadcrumbs.  Also slice the mozzarella and set aside.
  3. Add the melted butter to the drained potatoes, and mash.  Add 1/4 cup of the grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add half the potato mixture to the casserole.  Top with some mozzarella and more grated parmigiano.  Then add the remaining potatoes, mozzarella, grated parmigiano and sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs.
  5. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling.

** I’ve come across a secret ingredient for my mashed potatoes. It’s totally not necessary, but truffle salt (just a little ) turns regular mashed potatoes into something special, and it also added that “extra something” to this dish as well.  It’s worth a try sometime.  It’s certainly a long way from that box of “Hungry Man!”

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Sweet Potato Pie

sweet potato pie baked

Need a change from pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? Your family and guests would probably revolt, but I do have an interesting addition/replacement.   Sweet potato pie is very similar to pumpkin pie, but with a texture all it’s own. Also, the taste of the sweet potatoes is very apparent and sweeter than pumpkin, but not in a sugary way. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, with so much flavor, that you barely taste the spices.

This handwritten recipe is from Thanksgiving, 1973. I was teaching second grade in Camden, New Jersey, and all the teachers were preparing a “Thanksgiving feast” for the children. The second grade teachers were in charge of potatoes. I brought in my mom’s recipe for candied yams (the recipe is in the archives), and Audrey brought in sweet potato pies, her grandmother’s recipe. With these two side dishes, the turkey and stuffing were just an aside.   Everything was devoured, and I certainly did my part on the sweet potato pies.

I couldn’t wait to get this recipe down on an index card, and file it away in my brand new index file. My collection of recipes was very new and rather sparse in 1973. I treasured this recipe then and I still do now. I can see all the happy, smiling faces on some very grateful second graders.

NOTE* This recipe will make one deep dish pie, or if you add 1 more large sweet potato, you can get 2 shallow pies, without increasing the other ingredients. Also, you can adjust the sugar to taste. I never use the full cup because I like to get the sweetness from the potato.


1 nine inch unbaked pie shell

1 1/2 cups masked cooked (or substitute canned) sweet potatoes.  This is usually 2 large sweet potatoes.

1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

1 cup sugar ( I usually use 3/4 cup)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg ( I use a little more)

1/2 tsp. allspice

1 tsp vanilla

3 eggs, slightly beaten

  1.  Bake sweet potatoes in a 350 degree oven for one hour, or until soft.  I usually do this day before, just to make it easy.
  2. Peel and mash with a fork.
  3. Combine mashed sweet potatoes, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla, and mix until blended.  Beat in the eggs.
  4. Turn into pastry shell.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

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Sandy’s Pear Custard Squares

pear tart plated

You know how there are some desserts that after just one bite, you know you must have the recipe? Well this pear tart is that dessert. A friend brought this to a dinner party, and after one bite, I asked her for the recipe. She said she was happy to write it up for me. I was already planning when I would make this, and who would be the lucky ones to share in this delicious dessert.

Receiving her handwritten recipe (I always love the handwritten ones), made me very happy.   It brought me back in time to my index box full of handwritten recipe cards. My first little yellow box had dividers, such as poultry, fish, meat, desserts, appetizers, etc.   I cherished each handwritten 3 by 5 card. I still do. But this handwritten recipe had an extra special twist. She had painted a beautiful still life in watercolors of pears on the front of the card! This might just be the most beautiful recipe card I have ever received.

I was very careful while preparing this, as I wanted to make sure the painting didn’t get stained with ingredients. I tend to be a messy baker. Now that I have this posted, I plan to frame this picture and put it in my kitchen.

If you’re looking for an easy, crowd pleasing dessert, you must give this a try!



1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

1/4 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts


1 8 ounce pkg. cream cheese

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 pears, sliced 1/8 inch thick

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

  1.  To make curst, cream butter and sugar.  Beat in flour and vanilla.  Stir in nuts.  Press into greased 8 inch square pan.
  2. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
  3. Cool.
  4. Meanwhile in mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar, egg, vanilla until combined.
  5. Pour over cooled crust.  Arrange pear slices over filling.
  6. Combine the 1/2 tsp sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over pears.
  7. Bake 28 to 30 minutes (center will be soft set and will become firmer upon cooling).
  8. Cool 45 minutes.  Then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting.

*Recipe can be doubled

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Island Rum Punch

rum punch glass**?

Please bear with me for just one more cocktail recipe.  I must share this with you!  Who knew that having no kitchen for a few weeks would turn me into a “mixologist”?  Well, not really.  I’m just following recipes, but it gives me the same satisfaction that I get after creating a delicious dish…only with an extra “kick,” if you get my gist.

I love the way this recipe for rum punch came to me.  I was in my writer’s workshop class, and my classmate began to read her piece on St. Kitts island and her family’s rum business, Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum.  I was immediately carried away by the beauty of her description of what sounds like an absolutely magical island.  I was mentally making plans to visit this paradise, as it sounded irresistible.  Then, in the middle of her piece, she included a recipe for Leeland’s rum punch, and gave us each a glass of this nectar from the St. Kitts gods.   One sip and I had to have the recipe.  We all asked her to repeat the recipe , and I furiously wrote it down.  I knew right there and then that I was headed to the liquor store after class to buy the necessary ingredients for my dinner guests that evening.  They would love this!  Well, actually this was a bit off a gamble as no one was a rum drinker.  But neither was I until I was introduced to this brand of rum, and the creative recipes provided by the owners on their website.  I’ve converted many a “non-rum drinker” this summer, so this punch would certainly do the trick for this crew.  I was certain of it.

It was a perfect night for this indoctrination.  The sun was out, and there was a delightfully cool breeze, so sitting on the deck made it feel like you were on vacation.  I had the pitchers of punch chilling in my (new and shiny) refrigerator (I had just polished it).  Everyone was game for “just one drink.”  They looked skeptically at the pitcher, but only I knew what would transform this pitcher of what looked like plain fruit juice, into something so heavenly that they wouldn’t have just one drink.  What is that special ingredient?  Freshly grated nutmeg, atop each individual drink, is the key to this delicious, tropical libation.

Everyone loved it.  Everyone had one more. Everyone wanted to know when I would start using my ovens.  I told them “next week for sure.”  Cheers!

Recipe:  makes a lot

2 cups Shipwreck White Rum  (1/2 bottle)

1 cup Shipwreck Coconut Rum (1/4 bottle)

1 cup fresh lime juice

4 cups orange juice (I used less….maybe 3 1/2)

4 dashes of bitters

freshly grated nutmeg ( on each glass)

Combine all the ingredients except the nutmeg in a large pitcher and keep chilled in the refrigerator.  Serve over ice.  Grate fresh nutmeg on top of each individual glass.

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Halibut Baked with Mushrooms

halibut plated **

Finally…..I have my kitchen back! It looks beautiful. I’m absolutely in love with my appliances. However, I need a PhD in “Appliance Use and Cleaning.”   Seriously, I have about 4 hours of tedious reading to do before I will feel comfortable using them. Instead of cooking, I seem to be busy polishing away every fingerprint that might mar their beauty. I find myself gazing fondly at them, and then I spot a mark on the gleaming stainless, and out comes the “recommended polish, and chamois cloth”! I’ve got to gain some control, and start cooking again.

I’m now using the range top. I haven’t figured out which burner is high speed and which is the lowest “special” simmer, as I was told in the showroom, but that’s not so important. I’ve never been such a careful cook. I don’t want anything to spill over and stain the burners or grates. I use a “recommended polish and soft cloth” after every use, and make sure it’s sparkling before I leave the kitchen. I’ll check back later to make sure there are no streaks.  I don’t know what’s come over me!

I just can’t bring myself to use the ovens. One is a steam/convection oven and I have no idea how to use it yet (the manual is enormous!). The other is just too gorgeous to get dirty. To deal with this dilemma, (and some hungry people who are sick of grilled food), I’ve decided to use my outdoor gas grill as an oven until I’ve gotten over this love affair with my new ovens. Plus, it’s summertime, and why not cook outside as much as possible? This is what I tell myself…and anyone who might ask!

I decided to try a new recipe, so no one would complain that it didn’t taste as good as perhaps the last time I made it. I had been holding on to a recipe for “halibut baked with mushrooms” for sometime now, and it looked like it would fare well baked in a pan on the grill. My sister loved this recipe from Lidia Bastianich, and gave it to me ages ago, telling me I must try it. Neither Lidia, nor my sister, is ever wrong about a recipe, so I was excited to try it. I made a few changes to accommodate the fact that I would not be baking it in an indoor oven.

It was indeed delicious, and a big hit. I can tell that this is a recipe I’ll be making over and over. And yes, eventually I’ll be baking it in my new oven.   Just not yet!

Oh dear, I see a spot on the fridge…..gotta run……where did I leave that polish??????


Recipe:  serves 6

1 lb. assorted mushrooms of choice, sliced

7 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium onions, thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

6 halibut filets, about 2 1/4 pounds in total

Juice of one lemon

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley ( I forgot this somehow….maybe I got distracted by a fingerprint)

  1.  Preheat oven (no!!!) or gas grill to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, and add the onions and garlic.  Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.
  3. Spread the onions and garlic on an oiled sheet pan.
  4. In the same skillet, over medium high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and then add the sliced mushrooms.  Drizzle with a little bit of water, and cook until softened and browned, about 5 minutes.
  5. Spread about 2/3 of the mushrooms on top of the onions on the sheet pan, and season with 1/2 tsp of salt.
  6. Season the halibut with half the lemon juice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil.  Pour the remaining juice and the white wine over the vegetables and sprinkle with parsley.
  7. Set the halibut on top, and top each filet with the remaining mushrooms.
  8. Bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes.

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Vodka Cucumber Smash

vodka smash

Still no kitchen! So what am I cooking tonight? Vodka Cucumber Smash.

There’s not much back story to this recipe, and frankly, at this point, who needs a story??!! I need my kitchen back. With my kitchen in turmoil, I’m like a fish out of water. I know it won’t be too much longer, but in the meantime, I’ll spend my time collecting (and making) recipes for cocktails. I have to admit, this has been fun!

I first had this cocktail, “Vodka Cucumber Smash,” at Tommy Bahamas Restaurant, in St. Armands, Circle, near Sarasota, Florida. It was so refreshing, and I’m a cucumber lover, so I was instantly in love. The bartender was nice enough to show me how to make it, while he was making me my second one.

Of course, the key to just about any drink is to use your favorite brand of alcohol.   I know that most of you have a favorite brand of vodka, but I’m going to recommend my new favorite…”Fair Quinoa Vodka.” Yes, quinoa. It’s really delicious. And could it be healthy??? Probably not, but if you are gluten intolerant, this is a good choice since most other vodkas are made from wheat.   Even if you aren’t gluten intolerant, it’s a delicious vodka. “Fair” is not easy to find, but I get it at “UnWined Boutique” in Millburn, New Jersey. As a matter of fact, this is a great little wine/spirits store, where you’ll find many uncommon wines and alcohol from boutique vineyards and distilleries. This is where I found  “Fair Quinoa Vodka,” and I’ve been a fan ever since.  It’s a great store to visit. Check out UnWined Boutique at   You just might find something as unique as quinoa vodka.

Cheers and Happy Forth of July!


2 ounces vodka

1 ounce St. Germain

juice of 1 lime

4 or 4 slices of peeled cucumber

splash of sparkling water, if you like

1  Peel and slice the cucumber, putting 3 or 4 slices into a glass, reserving one slice for garnish.

2.  Squeeze the limes into the glass with the cucumber.  Muddle (which really just means smash).

3.  Add ice cubes to the glass, then the vodka and St. Germain.  Stir well.

5.  Garnish with lime and cucumber.  Add a splash of sparkling water, if you like.

*Note:  You can make this in a shaker.  Shake it well and then pour into a glass and garnish.

**Note:  If you want this a little sweeter, you can always add a little sugar when you are muddling.

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Brinley’s Summertime Rum Drink


rum glass closeup fixedWhere have I been?   Well, honestly, I’ve been right here. I’ve just been without an oven, and most of my kitchen appliances have, one by one, stopped working. You can just imagine how frustrated I’ve been. Even the outdoor grill has been on it’s last leg, so I couldn’t do much cooking there. Now the next two weeks, I’ll be without a kitchen all together, as these all need to be replaced, which of course led to a larger project.

What to do? Drink! YES!

I’ve been very interested lately in all these fancy drink menus at bars and restaurants. Some of them look as complicated as a fancy French recipe might be. They are a little bit daunting to me. But as luck would have it, a wonderful rum drink recipe, just perfect for summertime, was given to me in a most usual place.

Every Tuesday morning, you can find me, and several other fellow writers, gathered around a table, at a writer’s workshop. We go around the table, sharing our work, one at a time, and giving each other feedback.   A fellow writer has been sharing her story about how her family started a rum business in St. Kitts. The story is absolutely fascinating, and she always pulls a bottle of their rum out of her bag, and we share a taste as she reads. It really sets the mood for her tale….or so we tell ourselves, as we sip away on these delicious flavored rums at 11:00 in the morning! This is my kind of writing class!!

Along with the sipping, Mary Ann usually shares a recipe or two for some fabulous rum drinks, which you can find on their website,   However, the one that I’m in love with right now is not on the website, and I think it’s a perfect drink for a lazy, summer afternoon. Let me warn you. They go down easy. My trick is to add a little sparkling water or seltzer to my second (or maybe third), and reduce the rum amount.

For the remainder of my time without a kitchen, I’ll be trying out the recipes on their website, one by one. Life’s really not that bad without a kitchen. It’s opened up a whole new world or recipes to me, and I’m happy. Who wouldn’t be?!


RECIPE:  makes 1 drink  (don’t kid yourself, you’ll have more than 1)

Brinley Gold Shipwreck Mango Rum ( 1 1/2 ounces)

1/2 cup ruby red grapefruit juice

plenty of ice

fresh mint leaves

Fill a shaker with ice.  Add the rum and the ruby red grapefruit juice.  Shake vigorously.  Pour the contents of the shaker into a glass.  Add the mint.

  •  When you make your second drink ( and you will), add a little club soda or sparkling water to the shaker as well.
  • For a party, you can make pitcher of this in advance (minus the ice because you don’t want it to melt).  Then just shake them up one at a time, or simply pour over ice.  Don’t forget the mint.  It makes a difference.

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Dandelions, Tomatoes & Beans (Oh My!)

dandelions pan 4 **?

“Eat your vegetables!” is every parent’s mantra. We know their nutritional value and want to make sure that our children and grandchildren reap all the benefits of a highly nutritious diet.   However, it has always been my experience that vegetables need to be disguised in some delicious sauce, because boiled with a pat of butter, never was a hit in my family. Luckily, growing up in an Italian family, boiled with a pat of butter, was rarely the case. Vegetables were always flavorful, sauteed in olive oil with garlic, or maybe onion and prosciutto, or with a few tomatoes thrown in for good measure. Or better yet, tossed with pasta. Many times, beans, such as cannellini or chick beans, were tossed with a leafy green vegetable in garlic and oil. When in a rush, my mom would just sprinkle some Italian grated pecorino or parmigiana cheese on top of just about any vegetable, and transform a bitter green into a delicious dish. Such creativity!!

My love of dandelions, especially at this time of year, when they are beautiful and plentiful in our markets, has caused me to embrace my creative side (which isn’t much to speak of), and come up with some different ways to make this bitter green. I could indeed make them every night, but sautéed with garlic and oil and sprinkled with Italian cheese was starting to get a little boring. (But please do check out that recipe in the archives. It’s delicious in all it’s simplicity.) So I started to think with the creative side of my brain, and an idea came to me! We make escarole and beans (please check that out in the archives as well)….why not dandelions and beans? Dandelions are bitter, so I then thought that maybe I should add some tomatoes to sweeten the dish a bit.   The result was amazing! I’m sure many of you already have made this discovery for any number of vegetables, but I get very excited when I make something delicious without using a recipe. Perhaps is it my love of recipes that has thwarted my creative side!

Let me assure you that no matter how hard you try to disguise or enhance the taste of most vegetables, you’ll still have that one child, who won’t eat them. However, my experience has shown me, that once they are grown adults, they will start to beg you for these very dishes. Don’t give up. They will come around….eventually!

RECIPE:  to be eaten as a main dish or a side dish

2 to 3 bunches of dandelions

2 lbs cherry tomatoes, halved

2 15 ounces cans of cannellini beans

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, sliced

1 TBSP sea salt, plus more,  to taste

Black ground pepper to taste.

  1.  Cut off some of the ends of the dandelions and soak in cold water.  You may have to drain and repeat this process several times to make sure the dandelions are clean and free of sand and grit.   I usually put 2 tsp. of white vinegar in the water for the first soak, as I read somewhere (who remembers where?!) that this will help in the cleaning process.
  2. Once cleaned, put in a large pot, covering the dandelions about 3/4 of the way with water.   Add the salt.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, uncover and cook for about 30 minutes, until tender….but not too tender.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (large enough to hold all the dandelions and the sauce), saute the garlic in the olive oil for several minutes.  Then add the tomatoes, another sprinkling of sea salt, to taste. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes or so…..until broken down a bit into a sauce.
  4. Add the beans and cook until heated through.
  5. Once the dandelions are cooked, drain well.  Add to the tomato mixture and toss well.  Adjust the seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve with grated pecorino romano or parmigiana cheese.
  7. Call the kids.  They’re going to love it…….maybe!

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