Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Turkey Cranberry Wreath

Hopefully everyone had a happy and festive Thanksgiving whether it was just two people or a whole house full around your table!  Now that we've managed to eat our way through all the goodies, its time to tackle the leftovers! My all time favorite use for leftover turkey is to make a turkey cranberry wreath.  I originally got this recipe at a Pampered Chef party I had as a newlywed (so about 14 years ago...) and its really become a family favorite!

One of the things I love about this recipe is that you can customize it in a wide variety of ways-- the easiest (and most helpful if its not the day after Thanksgiving or your brother Joe hogged all the leftovers) is to substitute ready-made rotisserie chicken for the turkey. Once I changed out the craisins for sun-dried tomatoes and swapped in feta and olives and got a really great Mediterranean flavor.  I've substituted in broccoli for the celery when I ran out. The only limit is your imagination!

Recipe: Holiday Turkey Cranberry Wreath
(adapted slightly from The Pampered Chef Kitchen Catalog, Fall/Winter 2000)

Outer crust
     Shortcut Method:
           2 packages (8 rolls each) refrigerated crescent rolls
     Scratch Method:
            Make a half batch of Make-Ahead Butterhorns from Money Saving Mom
                     *1 pkg  (2 1/4 tsp) dry yeast, 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 eggs

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups cooked turkey, chopped (about 12 oz)
1/2 cup celery, sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries (Craisins)
4 oz Swiss cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

1) If using the scratch method, prepare your dough about an hour or so before you'll need it.

2.  Preheat oven to 375 F. Unroll crescent rolls and separate into triangles. On a baking stone or parchment covered baking sheet, arrange 8 triangles in a circle with wide ends toward the center and points directed outward. Slightly overlap touching corners.

2) With the other 8 rolls, align wide ends with first circle and points toward the center. Tips may need to temporarily overlap. Press wide ends of outer and inner triangle circles together.

3) Prepare and mix all filling ingredients together. If mix seems too dry, add mayonnaise until slightly moistened clumps form.

4) Spoon filling over circular seam between inner and outer ring of rolls.

5) Gently fold one triangle point from outside, over the filling, to the inside of the ring. Take the opposite triangle from the inside and fold it over the filling towards the outside of the ring.

6) Continue until all 16 triangles are wrapped around the filling. Press all seams closed.

7) Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 4-6 large servings or 8 smaller servings. Pair with a salad (or other Thanksgiving leftovers!) for a complete meal.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Simple Joys of the Season: Mummy Dogs!!

Going along with our Fall theme, we've got to throw in a few fun Halloween related treats. This one is a favorite with my 6 year old. It's super simple -- one of the things he loves is that he gets to help make it! This is certainly not anything new but its just a fun way to do dinner for Halloween or the days leading up to it!

As a side note, I do break my standing rule about processed foods to use the pre-packaged Crescent rolls from the market. Mostly because I rarely have the time to make a batch of dinner roll type dough just for the small amount we'll use here but also because I think its okay to eat these things as treats from time to time. It reduces the mystery and allure of "forbidden foods". It also reduces the whining. For example, my older son knows that the only time I'll buy him sugary cereal (like his favorite Lucky Charms) is on vacation. So he doesn't even ask the rest of the year and he's happy because he knows he when he will get it.

Mummy Dogs:

1 pkg hot dogs (I like uncured, no preservative/nitrates/nitrites)
1 pkg crescent rolls (not the reduced fat ones)

1) Pop open crescent rolls. Unroll and reseal the perforations.

2) Cut thin strips (about 1/4-1/3 of an inch) across the dough.

3) Wrap the dough strips around the hot dog, making sure to tuck or press together any loose ends. Be sure to let some of the hot dog peek through.

4) Place mummy dogs on a baking sheet and bake according to package directions (approx. 10 min @ 350) until golden brown.

5) For an extra bit of fun, add some eyes with ketchup. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simple Joys of the Season: Sliced Apples with Vanilla Cheesecake Dip

Whew! It seems like its been a while since my last posting. Fear not! I have not abandoned you! I've been working a lot in my sewing room, trying to really make a go of my Etsy craft store. Right now I've just been putting up napkins-- see this post for how to make your own. I am also working on a few other items, baby quilts and the like that I hope to finish and sell as well. Of course, it seems like every time I finish a baby project, I find out someone I know is expecting. I haven't managed to have a surplus yet!

Living in Southern California, I don't get much variation in the seasons. Even so, Fall has always been my favorite. I thought I'd do a series of short-ish posts sharing a few of my favorite Fall recipes and projects.

One of the quintessential fruits of Fall is, of course, the apple. A few years ago, when we moved into this house, we were delighted to learn that it had several different fruit trees. The first summer we got a few pieces of fruit here and there. Then, last year, came the great squirrel catastrophe of 2012. We never saw a single piece of fruit-- not one apple, peach, plum or pomegranate. Sigh.

This year we were much more vigilant (and lucky) and were able to get a nice sized crop of all our fruits. We finally saw a decent amount of peaches and plums. And, some of the largest apples we've seen this tree produce. After picking all we could, making three ginormous batches of applesauce and giving away boxes and boxes, I'm still left with a whole crisper drawer plus a big box full of apples. Thankfully we know from past years that these particular apples will save in the fridge for MONTHS!!

While I'm looking forward to many pies, sauces and even just throwing them in a few savory recipes, sometimes its nice to just eat an apple. Now, I happen to be a fan of eating apples with something-- peanut butter or cheese are old favorites. But sometimes you are looking for something a little different. This dip is slightly sweet, easy to throw together and will transform a simple afternoon snack into something special. It has all the flavor of cheesecake without all the baking. Besides being really good on apples (both green and red), it is also fantastic on strawberries and even grapes. This could also be a fun dish for a party, appetizer or a light and simple dessert.

This recipe is ridiculously simple-- I'm almost embarrassed to share it-- but really its too good to keep to myself. The inspiration for it came a few years ago when I picked up a pre-cut fruit platter from Wal-Mart. What was interesting about this tray was that it came with a creamy vanilla bean dip. It was so good, it didn't last even halfway through the party. I thought it'd be nice to find a tub that didn't come with a whole tray of fruit. But alas I wasn't able to find it except prepackaged in the fruit tray. I took that as a challenge and created my own version that I'm sharing with you here. After we started eating less processed foods, I was glad that I already had my own recipe as the original was loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Recipe: Vanilla Cheesecake Dip
(double for a big batch)

1 4oz package of cream cheese
2 Tbs packed brown sugar
1 vanilla bean split and scraped--- OR you can substitute with 1/4 tsp vanilla extract. its still GREAT!

1) Place the cream cheese in a microwave safe bowl. Gently warm in the microwave-- I know this is kind of obvious but please do remove the foil wrapper first! Just 10-20 seconds at a time. You want it very, very soft and slightly warm, not liquefied!

2) Stir in vanilla and brown sugar. Taste and adjust sweetness & vanilla to personal preferences.

3) Serve with cut fruit-- apples or strawberries are my favorite! Store covered in fridge. Re-warm and stir before serving leftovers!

As always, feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear how this worked out for you. I'm always curious about different perspectives & ideas!

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

More Freezing Techniques for More Real Food!!

I don't know about you but I've been pretty busy around here. Always seems this way at the beginning of the school year. Getting the kids set up, starting back into routines, new activities & friends-- getting the house back together after the tornado of summer -- putting away outgrown toys and clothes (not something to be done unless all little people are out of the house!!) and lastly-- trying to get all the abundance of summer and fall produce into long term storage.

One of my all time favorite household tools that makes my life easier in this busy time is the freezer! I know I've spent what seems like an excessive amount of time extolling the virtues of the freezer, but when you are committed to eating real food, it is an absolute necessity! Even though I've talked about some of these in past posts, I'd like to kind of get everything combined into one entry here. Hopefully these techniques will help you  1) save time  2) save money and 3) eat better.

Let's begin with materials.  Its not necessary to go out an buy a vacuum sealer or any fancy gadgets. The main items I use are found in most kitchens: a small size baking sheet (you know the one that doesn't even really hold a dozen cookies but comes in the set anyways?), some wax paper and an ice-cream scoop (the old-fashioned kind with the lever that blops out the scoop) and a supersized box of high-quality zipper freezer bags.

Saving Time: My Favorite Convenience Foods
(note: I almost never cook for the freezer, I just make extra when I'm already making stuff!)

1) Pasta:  Cook your pasta as directed on the package. Drain thoroughly. Cool and pour into gallon ziptop bag. Gently press out excess air and zip closed. Lay baggie flat on its size on the baking sheet and freeze overnight. The next day, whack the bag on your counter gently until the pasta separates into its pieces. This works best with piece-y types of pasta-- penne, macaroni, wheels, bow-ties, etc.

To use: Scoop out desired amount of pasta into a microwave safe bowl. Cover with water. Microwave single servings for approx. 3 min. Drain water, top with pasta sauce, butter/parmesan or pesto!  This is a great way to get your kids off of that blue box junk and takes the same amount of time!

2) Mashed potatoes: Prepare potatoes as you would normally. Allow to cool completely. Use your ice-cream scoop to dish out approx. 1/2 cup servings onto wax paper lined baking sheet. Freeze uncovered overnight. Put frozen potato blops into gallon ziptop bag, press out air, seal and return to freezer.

To use: 1 scoop is a pretty good sized serving for a kid, an adult will probably want 2. Put scoops into a microwave safe bowl or plate and cook for approx. 1-2 minutes. You may need to add butter or milk if they have dried a little but wait until they are completely heated to decide. You can get surprised at how the texture changes when the temperature does. Pair this with a quick seared piece of chicken or fish and a salad and you've got dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes!!

NOTE: Any side dish with a scoopable texture will work well here-- I've had good success with cooled homemade refried beans, sweet potatoes, stuffing, as well as mac-n-cheese. Follow directions as above. If reheating something with cheese or a LOT of butter, you may want to reheat on low to prevent the sauce from separating.

3) Ready Meals: Double recipes when making casseroles and soups. My favorite freezer meals include Chicken Tortilla Soup, Taco-sagna and spaghetti. I just make as usual but increase the quantity. Then, I portion out the leftovers into either freezer safe containers or quart size baggies. My hubby, in particular, gets almost all of his work lunches this way. For him, I always put things into freezer/microwave safe containers. My favorite right now are by Pyrex. They are made of glass (so no yucky plastic!) and have a lid with a rubber seal. His food starts frozen but by the time he gets to lunch time, its pretty well defrosted and ready for the microwave. Since you can't safely take glass from the freezer to the oven/microwave, for at home leftovers, I'd use the baggies. Then, when I was reheating it, I'd be sure to put it in a microwave safe NON-PLASTIC container. You really don't want to be heating up your food in plastic-- this is when most of the chemical transfer occurs. I strictly stick to glass (I do have a LOT of vintage Pyrex and Corelle) or ceramic dishes for hot dishes or reheating.

4) Waffles, Pancakes and Muffins: These I know I've covered extensively. See assorted recipes here, here and here. I always make a double batch of these items.

To use: Waffles in particular are a popular weekday breakfast. Just like the ones from the store, you can take these straight from your freezer to the toaster. For pancakes, place in a single layer on a microwave safe plate. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, flip each pancake and cook for 20 additional seconds. Add time as needed. Muffins also take 30-45 seconds to defrost, depending on size. My oldest actually likes muffins for his mid-morning snack. So, I send his frozen (to prevent breakage!) and by the time he gets to first recess, its thawed and ready to go!

5) Precooked meats. When the hubby is grilling, I always have him throw a few extra on. This is especially good with chicken parts and burgers. If you have grilled chicken in the freezer, and some mashed potatoes or pasta, you can get a dinner together in less than 10 minutes (which should beat the time it takes to pick up food!). Simply wait for food to cool and bag.

Saving Money: Things You Can Buy in Bulk and Freeze!

1) Any Bread Item: If you've found a bread, bun, bagel, pita, etc. that you like and its on sale BUY it! Bread items freeze beautifully! You can also, of course, freeze any homemade baked items! In general, I've found that these things will last a good 6 months or so without any noticeable freezer burn.

To use: If you are toasting, any of these items can go straight from the freezer to the toaster. If you want it defrosted right away, you only need 10-15 sec. in the microwave. Be sure to flip your slices after heating or you may end up with dry spots. The easiest (and most effective way) is to just put the package on the counter at room temperature for a few hours. This works especially well for loaves of bread.

2) Butter: I did not know until about a year ago that you could freeze butter! Now that I am trying to use pastured butter, which tends to be expensive, whenever its on sale, I buy as much as I can carry. Last time I ended up with 8 or 9 pounds. The check out clerk might look at you funny but it can definitely be worth it! Leave the butter in its wrapper and cardboard box. Stack 4 or 5 boxes in a gallon ziptop bag (just to prevent odor transfer and drying) and seal. This should last 6-12 months.

To use: Put the whole box of butter in your fridge overnight and by morning it will be ready to go. It should be completely indistinguishable from fresh. I have never been able to notice a difference in taste, texture or color!

3) Meat:  Of course we all know about this. My only advice here is to portion when you get home. It doesn't do you any good to have 3 lbs of ground grass fed beef if its all in one frozen brick. Separate it into useful units-- do you use it by the pound or 1/2 pound? Would patties be better? A little bit of work when you get home from the market (or the day after) will save you a lot of hassle (and probably wasted meat) when its in a convenient and ready to use portion.

To use: I will probably incite the ire of food safety personnel somewhere but for quick defrosting, I prefer the water method. I know you are supposed to defrost overnight in the fridge ideally but realistically, I might not decide what I feel like eating or cooking that night for dinner until an hour before. And if you've ever tried to defrost meat in the microwave, you know what a losing job that is-- all you are likely to end up with is cooked edges and a frozen center. So, for the water method, I take the meat in question and LEAVE it in its freezer baggie. I submerge it in a big pot or sink full of water (usually room temp/luke warm) for about a 1/2 hour. For chicken breasts and fish, this is usually sufficient. Big chunks of ground beef might take slightly longer.

Eating Better!

To get a variety of fruits and veggies, you can freeze at the peak of the season. This lets you buy at the best prices, get the best quality and often has higher nutritional values of canned or shipped out of season produce. Here are a few of my favorite techniques.

1) Fruit: Wash fruit and drain or pat dry. Prepare the fruit as you'd like to eat it- I usually leave berries whole, pit & peel peaches and plums, peel and halve bananas for example. Spread an even layer on a wax paper lined baking tray. Freeze overnight. Transfer to ziptop bag, remove excess air and seal.

To use: Fruit that has been frozen will have had all water/juice burst the cells. This means that this fruit isn't really suitable for out-of-hand eating. But it is great in cereals (hot or cold!); swirled into yogurt for a nice parfait; mixed into baked goods-- muffins, pancakes, waffles, breads; smoothies (you're just going to blend it up anyways!); jam/preserve making; desserts-- pies, tarts, etc. and you can make fruit leather as well.

2) Corn-- Cook first-- anyway you choose but I have to say I'm partial to grilling! After it cools, use a sharp knife to CAREFULLY cut the kernels off the cob. Put in a baggie and freeze!

3) Broccoli/ cauliflower: cut florets off stem, bag and freeze. I often get a better price buying bagged raw broccoli and freezing it over buying bagged frozen broccoli.

4) Fresh Herbs: rinse, pat dry and prepare as you would normally (de-stem, etc). Lightly macerate in food processor or blender with a SMALL amount of water or olive oil. Something like basil that I know will be going into an Italian sauce I'd use olive oil. Something like cilantro I might use water. You only want enough to keep it from getting pasty. Then fill up an ice cube tray with your mix. Freeze overnight. Pop out cubes and store in baggie.

5) Prepared sauces: A great way to save a lot of seasonal produce is to turn them into the sauce you use the most. Around this time of year, I'm making large batches of pesto-- freezing it in 1/2 cup portions. I also just got finished making about 2 gallons (not exaggerating!) of salsa! For that, I'm treating it like a soup. Pouring it into the gallon baggie, laying it flat and freezing overnight. When we want it, I'll defrost the bag in the fridge and pour it into a jar or container for use. This saves me having to buy a lot of expensive jars or containers AND it saves space by lying flat in the freezer!  Tomorrow I have a big ol' load of apples that I'll be turning into applesauce and doing the exact same thing.

Bag #1, there are 4 others stacked on top!

I'm sure there are more ideas out there and I'd love to hear about them. If you have a great idea to add to our freezer prep list , please let us know in the comments below!

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sewing Project: Foldable Lunch Sack

So after I finished the last blog entry, I was feeling all ready for school. Then, as I was setting up both boys' backpacks I had a "doh",  forehead smacking moment-- the super cute fire truck lunch box I had gotten for my preschooler didn't actually fit in his tiny preschool backpack. Oops!!  His backpack is a cute hand-me-down from brother that has Elmo and is sized just perfectly for preschool-- it will just fit his snack and his spare set of clothes. Unfortunately the full size lunch box was just too much for it!

Last year, he started part way through the school year and I never got around to getting him an "official" lunch box. Since he only takes a snack at school, we don't need anything really big, so we mostly were using a cheapy sack that I think had originally come in a Subway kids meal. I really wanted him to have something a little better this year (and something new too, since his backpack wasn't being replaced). Since the new lunch box was a bust, I decided I'd just whip something up. As I wasn't working through anyone else's tutorial or pattern, I had a bit of trial and error here but I think, in the end, it worked out pretty well!

I opted to use a Sesame themed fabric (to go with the backpack) but obviously you could pick anything here--- simple solids or fun checks, or how about the popular chevrons? The fabric stores (even in Wal-Mart) also have plenty of branded fabrics featuring other popular characters (Dora, Mickey, etc) as well as professional sports teams.  You could also go super feminine for yourself -- if I needed a lunch sack, I'd do one in a lovely floral with pink trim.

Sewing Tutorial: Foldable Lunch Sack

Materials List:

1/2 yard main body fabric (this is more than you'll need but will allow for pattern matching-- if you go for a solid, you'll only need 1/4 yard)

1/4 yard nylon (basic windbreaker type material-- any color, I used white-- this helps to increase the water/moisture resistance of the fabric and makes it possible to wipe up many spills with a damp cloth)

1/4 yard stiff, iron on (fusible) interfacing (I have a super craft weight that I love)

1 package of single fold bias tape (4yd & 1/2 in wide) in coordinating color

matching thread

5" of hook and loop tape (velcro) -- sew-in style NOT adhesive!!!

Equipment: basic sewing machine, iron


1) From your main fabric, cut 2 pieces 7" x 11" (piece A) & 2 pieces 5"x 9" (piece B), the short sides are the top & bottom, so make sure to be aware of patterns and directionality!!  Also cut 1 piece 4 1/2 x 7 (piece C) -- the long sides are the top & bottom for that one.

2) Cut 2 pieces 7" x 11" ,  2 pieces 5" x 9" and one piece 4 1/2" x 7" out of your nylon.

3) Cut 2 pieces 7" x 11" out of interfacing.

4) Following the manufacturer's instructions, fuse your interfacing to the WRONG sides of your main body fabric (do not get your nylon anywhere near the iron or you will have a melty mess on your hands!!)

I know this shows a margin but after I finished, I found that it would be better with a full width of interfacing.

5) Line up one piece A of main fabric with its matching piece A of nylon, RIGHT sides together. Sew a seam with a 1/2" seam allowance across the TOP of the fabrics. Turn fabrics right ways out and use your fingers to press the seam. Top stitch across the top, approximately 1/4" inch from the top seam.  Repeat with 2nd set of A pieces.

I actually did the top stitching later on but it was a real pain to work around seams.
 So, even though you see pins here and elsewhere, go ahead and do the top stitching now.

6) Line up one piece B of main fabric with its matching piece B of nylon, RIGHT sides together-- repeat as above in step 5 for both pieces.

7) Take both finished piece A sets and turn so right fabrics are facing together, nylon to nylon and main fabric to main fabric. Sew a 1/2" seam for each end. This will make a kind of long tube. Turn right sides out and finger press.

8) From your bottom seam, measure out approx. 2 inches & mark with a pin on both sides. Gently crease along this line -- a ruler or straight edge of a table might help to keep it even.

9) Take one piece B set and line up the top seams with the front & back edges of your bag. Moving carefully, match up edges , with nylon meeting nylon/insides together. You may have little bits dangling at the bottom corners, don't worry about that right now! Just make sure that the fabrics are lined up as smoothly as possible, with no wrinkles or folds.

10) Stitch along this edge, using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Go slowly and carefully and be sure to catch all layers of fabric. It will take some finessing along the bottom corners, just keep stopping and realigning as necessary. Be sure to reinforce the beginning and ending of this stitching by reversing!!

11) Repeat for other side.

12) Trim seam allowance to just under 1/4 inch.

13) We will make the top flap now-- Sew together the main fabric piece C with its matching nylon-- RIGHT sides together, both TOP and BOTTOM, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Turn fabric tube right side out and finger press both seams. Ensure that width of flap matches your bag width or is slightly wider.

14) To attach flap, line up top seam of flap with top seam of backside of bag. They will only overlap for approx. 1/4". Sew right down the middle of this overlap area to secure the flap. WATCH your patterns here --remember that the bag back and flap will be going in OPPOSITE directions. Double check before sewing or your flap will end up being upside down! Trim flap to match bag width.

Inside view of flap attachment. Trim after this.
Inside view of sack-- note all seams are finished!

15) Measure and cut enough bias tape to go from front edge of lunch sack around the bottom and up the back to the end of the flap TWICE + 2 " (approx. 24").  Cut in half.  Open the folds of one end on each piece. Keeping right sides together, line up tape (right side toward right side of fabric) with raw edge of side seam. Start at front edge of sack and go all the way to the end of the flap. Do this for both sides, making a sandwich.

16) Stitch along small fold closest to seam. Be sure to catch all the layers of the fabric!

17) At front edge of lunch sack, sew a small seam across cut edges of bias tape as close as possible to sack WITHOUT touching the sack. Trim to 1/4" inch.

18) Return bias tape to its natural fold. This should make an enclosure for the raw seam on the side of your sack. Pin together.

19) Repeat steps 15-18 for the other side.

20) Measure and cut enough bias tape to go around entire lower flap edge + 2" (approx. 16"). Open bias tape and sew a seam (right sides together) to make a loop that is the EXACT width of your flap. Trim seam to 1/4 inch. Place the unfolded loop with right sides in over the flap edge. Sew along small fold closest to edge. Be sure to reinforce beginning and ending stitches.
Forgot to take a picture, sorry! This is how to line up the new piece of bias tape (in grey, transparent here to see the bottom layers) in relation to the ends of the previous pieces. Stitch along black line. 

21) Return bias tape to its natural fold. This should enclose edge of flap + cut ends of bias tape from sides.

22) Top stitch 1/8" from edge around the entire sack to close up bias tape.

23) Close lunch sack and determine placement for hook and loop enclosure. Cut approx. 2 inches (or personal preference!) . Sew hook side onto flap and loop side onto sack. Pin and double check alignment before stitching! You can either sew a straight line 1/8" inside edge of tape OR zigzag the edges.

24) Open flap, fold bottom of lunch sack towards flap, fold over again. Mark placement of second piece of LOOP ONLY on new location (if you want it to be secured in the folded position!). Attach new piece of loop.

You are done! Marvel at your handiwork!

This should be completely washable but the more you run it through the machine, the softer the interfacing will become. Also, I wouldn't recommend drying it in the dryer as the nylon could be sensitive to excess heat! For the most part, the nylon should make it easy to wipe up/sponge off any spills. If you really need it to be fully washable/dryable, consider subbing in a cotton canvas material for the nylon. It will also provide a decent moisture barrier but isn't temperature fussy!

As an aside, this project cost me a sum total of $3.50!!  I bought the Sesame fabric for $2.50 (10 a yard @ .5 yards and a 50% off coupon at JoAnns and the bias tape for $1.99 and a 50% off coupon at JoAnns . The nylon and interfacing were leftovers from a previous project. If you are buying new, this will add about $2 to your total-- so expect to spend between $5-10 depending on coupon use, sales, etc.

As always, feel free to ask questions or comment on the project! If you like what you see, "like" us to add us to your Facebook feed!