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Iced Coffee

I know it’s fall and I wish I could snuggle up in a woolly sweater with a hot spicy latte or tea, but it is 90 degrees in LA today.  So even though I need my morning caffeine fix, I also need to stay cool.  Thus I reached for a Tupperware tumbler instead of a mug and poured myself an iced coffee.

Iced coffee is incredibly simple, with cream and/or sugar to taste just like a regular cup of coffee and poured over a glass full of ice to cool it down.  The only problem I had was that all that ice waters down the coffee when it melts.  I believe it was that mecca of inspiration Pinterest.com that led me to the brilliant idea of pouring left over coffee into an ice cube tray.  Ta da! Ice cubes for iced coffee that doesn’t get watered down!

With a houseful of coffee drinkers we regularly drink a whole pot, but on the days when there is a cup or two left at the bottom of the pot I make up an ice cube tray and keep a small bowl of coffee cubes in the freezer for days like today when a cold cup of coffee sounds more refreshing.

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This spring we caught the gardening bug.  Well, I caught the gardening bug, Danielle just re-potted a couple plants she already had.  I picked out a few packets of herb seeds and started growing them out on our little patio.  Since there are quite a few cats and squirrels running around our neighborhood, I’ve been looking for a way to get my little herbs off the ground.  I also looked for something that could serve as a sort of trellis for the ivy Danielle has.

I like the idea of using a chair as a plant stand/trellis and painting it a fun color. This article at Apartment Therapy featured a chair planter that was really inspiring.  I checked out Goodwill for old chairs that I could use for my project, but it was a new chair in the As Is section at Ikea that I ended up taking home.  The Ivar chair was 30% off of the retail price of $19.99 because it was missing packaging, and because it is an unfinished wood chair it was perfect for my project.  A tube of acrylic paint and an old t-shirt rounded out my supplies.

I wanted the paint job to look weathered, which is why I used cloth instead of a brush, and I was using a paint that was transparent enough to let the wood grain show through.  I think it turned out pretty good!  The bright color is also complimented by the colorful planters I picked up at Target to grow my herbs in.

After

Before (image from Ikea.com)

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Apple Crisp

I’m aware that back home, it’s not so much fall anymore as it is that brown, damp time that occurs between fall and winter.  The days of tolerably cool weather, with the sun shining through trees that still have [beautifully colored] leaves on them are long gone.  Here in SoCal, however, we live in what I’ve taken to calling a perpetual summer.  This is especially accurate for us Sconnies, as we’ve often endured summers where the high rarely hits 70 🙂  Though it’s been cool and wet by California standards in recent weeks, that actually makes it prettier here.  Things get green and lush and the smog clears away for a few days, providing gorgeous views of the Hills.  It reminds me of that good Wisconsin fall, and I love it.  Combine that feeling with the fact that my mom sent Alison out here with a large bag of orchard apples (Macs or Cortlands, we couldn’t tell…oops), and you create the urge for a yummy fall treat.

Although I enjoy apple pie, my two go-to apple desserts are apple squares (kuchen to those of us with heavier German influences) and apple crisp.  Both easy and freakin delicious.  Apple crisp takes less time, however, so that’s what I opted for.

Any time I cook with apples, I think of my Grandma.  She made a wicked apple pie, and my sisters and I spent many hours helping her peel apples (usually picked in the “orchard” in her backyard on a rickety ladder).  As a reward, she’d use her extra pie crust to make us “pie sticks,” simple strips of crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  I’ll still do the same when I bake at home, however I usually get busy elsewhere and forget them…meaning our childhood treats turn out looking more like bricks of charcoal.  Anyways, we used to compete to see who could make the longest chain of skin while we peeled.  Nowadays, we’ve gotten so good we can pretty much do an entire apple in one go.  We’d also pretend said chains were money (tasty money, too).  My college friends found these stories hilarious.  I find them heart-warming.  It’s cute how easily we were amused.

I don’t recall Grandma ever making apple crisp (why would she, her pie was too good).  The recipe I use is from the Holy Rosary Church cookbook.  Which is wonderful.  As most church cookbooks are.  I mean, collecting all the best recipes of all the little old ladies of the parish in one collection?  You’re just asking to gain 20 pounds.  This recipe couldn’t be easier.  You CANNOT screw it up.  But you’ll get plenty of praise for your slight efforts (Chris just walked downstairs asking “what is that amazing smell?”).  Cortlands and Macs are my favorite baking apples, but I’m sure you all have your favorites.  The rest of the ingredients are likely already in your pantry.

Peel and slice at least 6 cups of apples and put in a 9×9 or 10×10 baking dish.  (This is the great thing about this “recipe”…it’s totally flexible.  You don’t really have to measure out 6 cups.  Just eyeball.)

Sprinkle with a teaspoon each of water and lemon juice (I’ll skip the lemon juice if I don’t have any).

For the “crisp” part, mix:

  • 1/3 cup softened butter (not melted)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

I always double the amount of topping per pan.  It’s like having streusel on muffins.  You don’t eat the muffin for the muffin, you eat it for the streusel.  Or at least I do.  If I wanted mushy apples on their own, I’d eat applesauce.  I eat apple crisp for that amazing topping!

So, mix up these ingredients and pour over the apples, patting down so they’re all covered.  Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes and ENJOY!  Preferably hot, with vanilla bean ice cream 🙂

 

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More California Adventures

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been pretty quiet lately.  I can’t speak for Danielle (although she has been busy with work and whatnot) but for me it has been due to our recent move.  Chris and I have officially been calling Los Angeles home for a week now.   Which meant a lot of organizing, unpacking, purchasing dining room furniture, and updating resumes.  We’ve also been super fortunate to have a network of friends out here who have helped us out and gotten me a one day job on a corporate video shoot and Chris an interview.  We’ve also managed to squeeze in a little eating, drinking and cooking though so I thought I’d pop back in to catch y’all up.

Our cross country journey took us the same route Danielle and I drove in September, so we knew roughly where we would stop for major meals.  Our first day landed us in Kansas City for dinner so we checked out a different BBQ joint: Arthur Bryants.  I had a burnt ends sandwich and Chris got the beef.  Both were delicious, the beef especially was different as it was more dry and smokey, not like the brisket I expected, but very good in its own way.  The burnt ends here were chopped up bits of meat that seemed to have been hanging out in sauce all day; in other words, yum.  This place is definitely on the come again list.

Our second day, from Wichita to Albuquerque, was shorter so we planned to leave a bit later and grab lunch at Irma’s.  We both got the “No Name” organic, grass-fed beef patties and devoured them between nibbles of fried pickles.  Did I mention we pulled in a few minutes before they opened on a Wednesday and we were not alone?  The place got packed quickly and for good reason, their burgers are amazing and worth a detour to Oklahoma City.

Now that we’ve settled in we’re trying out places in the neighborhood and sharing some recipes with Danielle.  We bought some Sriracha  hot sauce right away, and made her Spicy Thai Noodles.  We made her check out World Market and she took us to Trader Joe’s – where we went gaga over the beer and wine selection.  We also checked out a BBQ place at the Farmer’s Market, found good pizza and wings places that deliver, and trekked out to find a good happy hour close by.  The BBQ wasn’t about to beat out the Missouri places as our new favorite, but it’s a decent place within walking distance if we get a craving.  Rocco’s Pizza delivery was fast and delicious, they offer the standard topping options, along with some interesting ones (peas? eggplant?).  We chose spinach, mushrooms, fresh garlic and prosciutto… did I mention it was delicious?  When Chris craved wings the other night we tried Hoagies & Wings‘ Mambo and Honey Mustard wings.  They were smothered in the  yummy – and in the case of mambo, uber-spicy – sauces.  Both have made our list of places to order from again.

Yesterday Danielle was home early, just after Chris had returned from his interview, so we decided to checkout the neighborhood for a happy hour place.  There are plenty around, but we narrowed our search to somewhere that served food.  We settled on Burger Kitchen, but they weren’t open yet when we walked over, so we headed down the street in search of somewhere else to start, picking Tasca Wine Bar and their $8 happy hour menu.  We shared a pitcher of Sangria and each picked something to eat: Chris the fried calamari, Danielle and I each a potato and chorizo soup.  It was a very good restaurant, but looked like it could get pretty pricey beyond of the happy hour specials.  After finishing the Sangria, we wandered back to Burger Kitchen for a beer and after perusing their menu decided to share a couple of appetizers: sliders with caramelized onions, fried pickles, and bacon-wrapped tater tots.  Everything was awesome, but my favorite was the fried pickles.  It tasted like the pickles were homemade, because you got an initial taste of fresh cucumber before the vinegary bite of pickle and greasy goodness of the batter.  As a bonus, in addition to the “wall of beer” displaying the varied bottled selection they had a handful of beers on tap, including one of Chris’ favorites Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.  We’ve never seen it on tap before, so Chris had to have a pint and it turned out to be smoother than from a bottle.  I tried a couple sips and decided it was so smooth I could probably even drink a glass, not usually being a fan of dark beers like stouts and porters.  We headed home full and happy, with plans to return for more beer and burgers.

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Currently, I live alone and only spend about 5 hours a day awake at my apartment.  My cooking is still pretty minimal, seeing as only one person is eating here.  I made spaghetti one night last week and ate it for three days.  I need to do some more research on recipes for one or two, or start cutting my own recipes in half.  I know Rachael Ray has quite a few good recipes that fall into this category…

Anyhoo, I’ve decided to tell you a little about my new surroundings and all the eating possibilities they present 🙂  Just some random observations and a description of my new ‘hood.

First off, I once told somebody when I was job hunting “I hope wherever I go, they have good ice cream.”  He laughed, asking if it would be a dealbreaker if there wasn’t.  Well of course not.  But considering I come from America’s Dairyland, I have a thing for ice cream (and custard, never forget the custard).  I can’t tell you how many times in the past two years alone Holly & I decided we needed an ice cream break and would run to Kopp’s, Culver’s…McDonald’s 😉  Seriously, one afternoon we took a walk and at the end we stopped and got a 49 cent cone and McD’s!  So much for exercise.  In college, we lived 2 blocks from a Coldstone.  That worked out well.  On a side note, is it normal to get ice cream cravings in the middle of a Wisconsin winter?  As soon as I spent three seconds in L.A. one thing became apparent: they love frozen yogurt here.  The places are EVERYWHERE.  I’ve had it from a couple places now, and it is yummy.  And I can put candy on it if/when I want.  AND, the shops have such delightful names (Froplay anyone?).  But sometimes, I just want my hot fudge sundae made with vanilla custard…and 2500 calories 😉

Though groceries in general are ridiculous here compared to Wisconsifn, the produce is cheap and generally of much better quality than back home.  I love how cheap and beautiful the bell peppers are (about a buck apiece).  The grapes are huge and delicious.  Yummy.  Once place that is shockingly affordable is Trader Joe’s.  Please see the Tuna Risotto post and my ravings there.  Anyways, I was expecting it to be really expensive what with all the organic and natural stuff they stock.  I had only been there twice before in Milwaukee, and though it piqued my interest it wasn’t worth the nearly 20 minute drive to buy their stuff.  Well, let me tell you…it’s my new favorite grocery store.  There’s one a few blocks from my place.  I actually found eggs and milk at reasonable prices 🙂  Not to mention their everyday price on things like granola bars and canned goods are cheaper than Ralph’s sales prices.  So yeah, the raving continues!  I’m sorry for all of you back in Wisconsin with no easy access to one 😦

Let’s see, what else?

I tried my first In N’ Out burger a couple weekends ago.  Friends I met on our cruise this spring that live in San Jose (hi Danny & Sabrina!) raved about them.  The celebs I follow on Twitter rave about them.  For one, they are pretty cheap.  But I didn’t even order anything special (i.e. I got the sauce and lettuce/tomato on it just to pick the latter off) and they were pretty slow in getting it to me.  It was a little small, but in terms of fast food burgers, it was pretty good.  Definitely edible, unlike McDonald’s.  I don’t remember the last time I ate beef at McDonald’s.  It makes me gag to think about it.  I’d compare it to a George Webb burger (mmm those drunken post-Brewer game trips getting 6 for $5 or whatever the deal was!).  I’d eat it again in a pinch, but considering they’re aren’t any super-close, I won’t be searching them out…not with all the other options I have.

Also, they don’t have rail mixers here.  They have “well drinks.”  I know this because they do have phenomenal happy hours here where well drink=rail mixer.  Interestingly, one of my Facebook friends recently posted about a University of Nebraska fan he encountered at the bar last week asking what a rail mixer was.  I didn’t realize that was such a Wisconsin thing.  I become more proud of my home state the longer I stay away.  We’re a unique bunch 🙂  (Last night I met an anesthesia fellow who was born and raised in Madison…I love how many Sconnies I am running into out here!)

The last interesting tidbit I have for you all is to talk quickly about The Farmer’s Market.  Please Google or Wikipedia it.  It’s a five minute walk from me, and it’s going to be a major destination for Alison and I once she’s out here 🙂  It’s essentially open air but permanent, so you wander the aisles and search out fresh produce, meats, cheese, spices, artsy stuff, all kinds of goodies.  Then there are little restaurants spread out throughout the whole complex.  Alison and I found an authentic tapas place there before she went back to Wisconsin.  With the little counter to sit at and everything.  The croquetas (jamon, of course!) were reallllllly good.  Almost like being in Spain (oh….tapas and sangria in Barcelona, how I love/miss you).  The tortilla espanola was pretty decent too (I’ve  had better, but it’s nice to see someone that serves it here).  All too often in the States, “tapas” is just the idea of “little plates” instead of authentic Spanish food.  This place is the real deal, and I will definitely try to make it a regular spot!  It also doesn’t hurt that adjacent to the Farmer’s Market is the Grove, a beautiful mall with even more restaurants and a theater.  The fact that I can get tapas, Victoria’s Secret, and Banana Republic in the same quick walk means pay day is going to be quite dangerous for me coming up!  Haha.

I apologize that this post isn’t as cohesive as some I’ve written.  It took me about a week to sit down and write it all.  You will definitely be hearing more about my culinary experiences out here as they occur!

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Okay, okay.  I know I’ve been missing in action for over a month now.  The last post I made talked about an interview in Los Angeles, a city which is now my home 🙂  Yup, I got the job!  Which explains why for the past four or five weeks I haven’t focused much on cooking or blogging (or working out, haha).  Making the arrangements to move your life some 2300 miles is time-consuming and exhausting.  However, this big tumultuous event in my life allowed me to check two more things off my current food bucket list!  Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? 😉

As my moving date got closer, there were a lot of good-byes happening.  The week before I left, my mom and I met my aunt and uncle and two cousins in Green Bay for dinner.  My aunt suggested the Green Bay Distillery, which is pretty new.  I love me some good pub food, so we agreed.  She had seen my blog post about my food bucket list, and the fried pickles entry caught her attention 🙂  She’d had them at this place, so when we met up she said we had to try them.  As a side note, her and the boys also said I needed to try the “Wisconsin White Buffalo Cheese Curds.”  The menu describes them as “Breaded deep fried cheese curds tossed in our championship hot sauce. Topped with Bleu cheese crumbles and served with a ranch dipping sauce.”  Okay, seriously?  That’s like three of my favorite things (curds, wings, bleu cheese) in one food item.  I was in heaven, to say the least.  I will be dreaming about those things out here in California until the next time I can get home to Wisco!  The real excitement came when the fried pickles came out with our entrees (I had the cheese curd burger on a pretzel bun.  Delicious.)!  The Distillery uses dill pickle chips in this case, though I’ve been told you can also get dill spears deep-fried.  This was pure salty, crunchy heaven!  The pickles were very thin, and the breading was too, so they balanced each other well.  This resulted in a really deep, salty flavor from the pickle without it tasting too much like an actual vinegary pickle (is this even making sense?!).  I can best sum up my experience as YUM.  Thanks Aunt Suz for a delightful going away meal…I still have to pick up some wine to christen my new glass, though 😉

So, I’m 2 for 2 on bucket list entries.  Feeling pretty good.  And then Alison and I finalize the route we’re taking to drive out to California and it becomes apparent…I’ll be able to check off a third entry.

Why?  Because I can be a bit of a panicky driver, and even though it was September, I didn’t feel like driving the “short” route from Wisco to Cali through Denver and the heart of the Rockies.  I’d never really seen what the interstate through the mountains looked like, though I’d had plenty of experience with other roads full of switchbacks in March.  I decided I’d pass.  A more southern route would allow us to see new parts of the country (we’d both been in Colorado before), including the Grand Canyon!  And a more southern route meant we’d be able to spend our first night on the road in Kansas City.  Home of Oklahoma Joe’s!

Our first day of driving was our easiest by far.  I had driven a lot of these roads before, which always makes you more comfortable.  Plus, it was a short day.  I left home at 7 a.m., and we were in KC by 6:30, even with an hour stop in Madison to have breakfast with our littlest sister one last time (“hey Oney!” 😉 ).  We grabbed a light lunch at Subway somewhere in Iowa in anticipation of our barbeque dinner feast.  Once we checked in to the hotel, we freshened up a bit.  Not sure why, as we were heading to a gas station to eat bbq.  Haha.  Anyways, we got there, and the line was to the door.  Not out the door, thru the hall and into the parking lot (like Pappy’s), but to the door nonetheless.  This is when things got ugly.  We picked up a menu, scoured it…and to our dismay, found NO burnt ends anywhere on the paper.  Or on the huge menu written on the wall.  My heart sank a little.  But clearly, with a line this long and so many people happily chowing down, whatever was on the menu was pretty tasty.  So we sucked up our disappointment.  It only took about 30 minutes to get our order in.  We decided this food experience would be more about comparisons than trying something new & both ordered the brisket.  The selection of side dishes here was smaller and less exciting than Pappy’s (and you only get one).  I got regular creamy cole slaw and Ali got a spicy version.  I liked mine just fine, but my favorite cole slaw will always be the one served at home during Hunting and Fishing Club trout boils with that amazing oil and celery seed dressing.  I tried Ali’s, and the only difference was some added spices (probably one of the bbq rubs).  It wasn’t really spicy or anything to rave about, but it wasn’t not good.  Our meals also came with what was essentially Texas toast.  We agreed we did like the fact that the bread was toasted, unlike the plain old slices of Wonder bread you get at Pappy’s 🙂

Now to the meat.  (I love being able to type phrases like that, they make me laugh!)

It was perfect brisket!  Not too fatty, but enough so for some nice flavor and tenderness.  Thinly sliced and amazingly seasoned.  It was definitely a little more peppery than Pappy’s (and the sauces here had a bit more kick too).  So there were subtle differences.  And we stuffed our faces in about 15 minutes 🙂  In the end, we were full and happy and the phrase I used was “this isn’t any better or worse than Pappy’s.”  I think the overall experience (besides the waiting) is better over in The Lou when comparing these two joints.  And the sides (oh that deep-fried corn on the cob) are DEFINITELY better over there.  And of course, there’s the disappointment of not actually getting to try what was actually on my bucket list.  So I suppose I can only count this entry as half done.  In fact, I think I’ll go edit my list to reflect this fact 🙂

Once I got to L.A. and got cable hooked up, the Travel Channel was doing a big thing on barbeque.  It made me giggle.  On their Top Ten list, KC got a a place in the #2 slot.  Arthur Bryant’s, here I come!  Well, someday.  If I can help it, I will never make that drive in reverse!  Oklahoma and northern Texas were awful wastelands (no offense to the fine citizens of these places, in fact…God bless you!).  The saving grace of that second day driving through these areas was when a Google search sent us to lunch at Irma’s Burger Shack in Oklahoma City.  Oh.  My.  God.  The beef down there.  The charbroiled goodness.  Oh, and….Irma’s has damn good fried pickles too 😉

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What’s in a Wardrobe?

I know Danielle has been busy lately, but I really have no excuse for my lack of new posts.  I have just been plain lazy.  Well, not that lazy.  I did whip up something tasty to share in a guest post on my friends blog.  You can check out Nibs, Nabs, Knots for our recipes for Friendship Dip and Pizza by the Yard as her Tasty Tuesday article.

Other than that, I haven’t been up to much in the kitchen, but this post’ll give you a peek at what I’ve been up to in my closet.  During my recent move out of my apartment I did a purge and sent quite a load of clothes to Goodwill.  Along with skirts and sweaters I never wear anymore I also sent away my classic white shirt.  I had bought it on sale years ago and still loved it, but I had to face facts: it just didn’t fit quite right anymore, I needed a new one.

As I did a little virtual window shopping for a new white shirt I started thinking about the rest of my wardrobe.  I’d had a little epiphany: it was about time I graduated from a (worn and torn) jeans and (graphic printed) t-shirt wardrobe to a more classic and professional wardrobe.  I turned to the great and powerful Google to guide me on my search for what this new wardrobe should entail.  There are a lot of articles and lists out there, but a few things keep popping up on nearly every one; and it turns out I’ve got a pretty good start already.

According to a quiz attached to one of the articles (which of course I can’t link to because I forgot to bookmark it) I have a classic style, or a combination of casual and classic.  Clearly the answers are geared to pigeonhole you into one style genre and depending on what I’m wearing I could fit into a couple different ones, but casual/classic does seem to work the best.  I’m not overly trendy or really up-to-date on the latest styles, nor am I very eclectic in my clothing choices.  I wear simple comfortable clothes in a mostly white/black/brown/denim palette with some bright colored t-shirts thrown in.  The great thing about having a “classic” style is that the building blocks of a classic wardrobe are already some of my favorite pieces and they virtually never go out of style.  I do have a few gaps, and I should start spending a little more on these items when I buy them, but I don’t have a bad start.

Where I’m Set:

  • Black Trousers – a few years ago I dropped a couple pants sizes and bought a better fitting pair at New York & Company, they’re still hanging in my closet and still look great when needed.
  • Black blazer – I just snagged one at the Gap that fits like a glove and was on sale for over 50% off that I can’t wait to have an occasion to wear.
  • Knee Length skirt – last year I went on a hunt for a high-waisted black pencil skirt and found one I love at JC Penney, I’ll probably have to hunt again in a couple years when the style is too dated but for now I got this one covered.
  • White button-down shirt – I found a replacement for my old favorite at Express.com so I don’t have to put this one back on the wish-list.

Speaking of… My “Wish-List” of Wardrobe Staples

  • Jeans – ok, I’ve got quite a stack of jeans, but only 1 or 2 pair that really fit great and I like the look of.  I’m making it a goal to stop buying whatever style/wash is in my size on the clearance rack and buy some quality denim that will last a while and I will love for the duration.
  • Trench coat – I live in Wisconsin (for now) so I have a good everyday winter coat and a cute wool one in a houndstooth pattern that’s a bit dressier, but I always lacked something for nice events if it was rainy or cooler in spring/fall.  This is number one on big buys for myself as I want to invest in a quality coat that will last years from a brand like London Fog, and the price tag will probably be well over $100.
  • Little Black Dress – my junior year homecoming dress was my first LBD.  I fell in love with it immediately and it lasted me through my college years, but it’s time for a new one.  There are about a bajillion choices out there so I’m waiting for another love-at-first-sight dress rather than splurging on any old thing.
  • Cardigans – I feel like a black sweater has been on my list of clothes to buy forever.  I somehow still have not replaced the one I lost my freshman year of college.
  • Evening clutch and a nice purse – I am not a purse girl (I go in Coach just to ogle the sneakers).  I have been rocking one made out of juice pouches for years – and still get lots of compliments on it – but I admit I need to get something that will look good when I’m wearing anything other than jeans and hoodie.

These are the biggies, the things I feel are missing from my wardrobe and make me feel like I have nothing to wear sometimes.  There are other pieces that pop up on the lists, but they aren’t a priority for me right now.  Also there are things I wish I had that would not add anything to my overall wardrobe options, but would be fun to have on occasion [for example: bright colored wellies :)]

I’m making it a goal to narrow down that wish list by the end of this year (maybe have everything except the trench coat).  It makes me feel very grown up and happy to know that I have the makings of a classic professional wardrobe.  That same feeling I get buying something from my kitchen wish list, like my chef knife or cast iron skillet.

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