Tarragon ice cream

Tarragon ice cream

Tarragon ice cream

Many ages and ages ago, I told you that David and I are going to try to watch as many movies from 1967 as we can find. And I promised I’d tell you all about them. Well, we’re making a slow go of it, and it’s taken me weeks to even tell you about the first film we saw. That film was La Collectionneuse, by Eric Rohmer. Rohmer begins the film with a sort of prologue, introducing the three main characters; two men and one woman. The men are introduced in their natural habitat, in the natural habitat of a Rohmer movie, they’re with friends and they’re talking, they’re all talking. The woman, Haydée, is introduced in a bikini on a beach. I thought, “Please let her talk, please let her talk,” but she doesn’t, she doesn’t say a word. And this seems to be setting us up for a movie in which the young woman is just an object and the men are more interesting and likable. But in fact, in many ways, Haydée’s silence is her strength, and the men trip themselves up with talking. The character of Haydee is not very thoroughly-drawn, but she is a strong, compelling presence in the film. The film takes place in the south of France during a couple of idyllic weeks. The three main characters share a home owned by an absent mutual friend. We catch glimpses of the mens’ lives before and after this summer interlude, but we don’t know anything about Haydée, we don’t know where she comes from, or where she’ll go after the vacation. The men think they have her all figured out…she’s just a little slut, with a different boyfriend each night. She’s younger than them, and they think she’s flighty, thoughtless, easily dismissed. They can’t help but be attracted to her, against their will and judgement, though they try to laugh it off. They feel obliged to seduce her, though not very determined to actually go about it, and they discuss who should do it, giving each other permission as though she was the last ripe plum in the house, and they don’t want to be greedy in their enjoyment of it. Rohmer lets the men talk more than Haydée, and he gives them enough words to tangle and hang themselves. Rohmer has said, “You should never think of me as an apologist for my male character, even (or especially) when he is being his own apologist. On the contrary, the men in my films are not meant to be particularly sympathetic characters.” A fourth character enters the film, an American antiques dealer, a collector. He sees Haydee as something the men will give him to ensure his business, a beautiful object he expects to collect. He’s a crude and brutal man–we’re not expected to like him and we don’t. He acts as a sort of mirror for the other men, showing what they really are, in a harsh and unflattering light. The men accuse Haydee of being a collectionneuse, using young men for her own shallow pleasure. She says she’s not collecting, she’s searching, and she has never yet had a lover in the true sense of the word. She doesn’t have many words, but she has the most honest and sincere of the words. In the end Adrien leaves her by the side of the road to an uncertain future. He goes back to the house, and this man who is always talking is suddenly afraid of the silence and aware of the loss of something he had not valued at all. “I was overwhelmed by a feeling of exquisite freedom. Now I could do whatever I wanted. But once back in the emptiness and silence of the house, I was seized with anxiety and unable to sleep.”

Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon ice cream! Following on the success of my tarragon cookies a few weeks back, I did what any sane person would do and made tarragon ice cream. It’s sooooo delicious, with a haunting unplaceable flavor. I stewed the leaves in the milk of some time, and then I saved a few leaves to chop and add at the end, to give it flecks of color and flavor.

Here’s The Blossom Toes with Love Bomb. They did some music for the film, don’t you know.

 

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Almond tarragon cookies

Almond tarragon cookies

Almond tarragon cookies

It’s been such a strange week, with Malcolm starting middle school and summer coming to a close and me sort of starting a new job. I’ll tell you what I keep thinking about, the image that keeps playing over and over in my head. One evening we went down to the river. The sun was beautiful as it set in the blue-shadowed clouds, the trees were beautiful as they settled into fall. Isaac danced around collecting conkers with David, who could reach into the branches. Later Isaac would bring the conkers home and leave them on a table with a sign that read “choos yore chestnut.” He labeled them small, medeum, and large. I’d been asking Malcolm all day long about school. I get little snatches of information, but I really have no idea how he feels about it all. I was trying not to hound him, but you could tell he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Well, he went into the water, and he went way out to the middle of the river, all by himself, and he stood battling the never-ending current. It came gently but relentlessly towards him, and he splashed against it, in a world by himself, in his element, thinking.

Almond tarragon cookies

Almond tarragon cookies

Tarragon in something sweet! In cookies! Light lacy almond cookies! I’ll admit I was a little scared to try this, because I’ve always thought of tarragon as a savory flavor. But I’ve also always thought that the lemony anisey taste would be nice in a sweet setting. So I only added this to half the cookies. They turned out absolutely delicious, with a light, haunting addictive flavor.

Here’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Down by the Riverside.

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Cherry, white peach, chocolate and frangipane tart

Cherry peach chocolate almond tart

Cherry peach chocolate almond tart

Last night Clio and I went for a walk after dinner, as we almost always do. It wasn’t even close to 8 o’clock yet, but it was getting dark. There was a chill in the air, but we could feel the warmth radiate from the wall of rocks, which had soaked in sunshine all day. Earlier in the day, we’d seen that someone had stuck a piece of tassly grass into the trunk of a tree. It looked like a little bouquet, or a little spray of fireworks. However, at dusk, it seemingly took its true form.

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The spirit of the end of summer. He’s laughing at us from behind a tree, full of mischief, but a little sad, too, maybe even slightly scared. He seems substantial, but if you run your hands through his tresses, as we did today in the bright afternoon light, he falls to nothing. Through his winking eyes and gaping mouth, you can see the beautiful darkening light along our towpath, and watch the leaves fall like bright shadows.

Cherry, white peach, chocolate, and almond tart

Cherry, white peach, chocolate, and almond tart

This tart contained many of my favorite flavors. It was fun to make, and I realized I hadn’t made anything slightly complicated in some time. It’s not complicated as in difficult, but it does have a few steps, a few layers. The first is a sweetish buttery crust. But you don’t roll it out, you just press it down with your hands, so it’s not that hard. The second layer is bittersweet chocolate. I melted the chocolate chips over a low heat till they were just soft, and then spread them into a thin layer with the back of my spoon. The third layer is a frangipane, but on the firm side, not too custardy. And finally, of course, the fruit! I like the rich, tangy, sweet but not too sweet quality of this tart, and ate if for breakfast and before bed for days. We also ate it with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, and I recommend these presentations as well.

Here’s The Ethiopians with Feel the Spirit. Love this one.

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Almond cake with blueberry & chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

We went to look for eagle feathers though we knew we wouldn’t find any. As with most things in life, it was more about the journey–the walk on the towpath, over the old train bridge, down the hill through the tall ferns and prickly vines, up to the tower where the eagle had lived. Maybe we’d go farther past it, all the way to the river, maybe we’d see the eagles flying over the water, looking for fish. We didn’t see the eagles, we didn’t find any feathers, the prickly vines scratched our ankles, but it was a wonderful walk. The wild ferns and flowers and vines are taller than me down by the eagle’s tower, and it’s a strange bright green world with narrow paths, some that lead into the woods, some that lead to the river, and some that lead up the hill back to the path. Under the staring blue sky, with small white clouds and grasshoppers flicking across our path, this felt like summer. Is it the dog days? Because we’re living like dogs, sun dogs, dogs of summer, here at The Ordinary, with no plans. We snooze in the warm sun, and wake to eat or run to the river for a swim, or chase wildly through tangled ferny paths. Clio is the leader of our pack, she shows us how it’s done, and the boys are attentive pupils. We’re trying to slow down the days, with our lazy ways, but they’re flying by anyway. Evening falls earlier, and there’s almost a chill in the air in the mornings. So we’ll follow Clio into the sunshine, and soak it up, we’ll store it inside of us against the cold days ahead.

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You know what I’ve been making a lot this summer? Flat wide cakes with fillings inside. Almost like a gateau basque. This one had blueberries and chocolate chips. (They almost always have chocolate) I’ve made some with ground almonds or almonds and pistachios, and I’ve filled them with jam or other kinds of fruit. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crispy like big cookies. This one was quite soft inside, and a little crispy on top. It was very juicy, you can’t turn it out of the pan or anything, because it will fall apart. David said it’s like blueberry fudge. I’ll tell you about the other cakes another time.

Here’s Summertime by Sam Cooke.

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Fresh mint sorbet

Fresh mint leaves

Fresh mint leaves

Well, I have two boys. They’re different in many ways, but they’re alike in this. Sometimes you can tell that something is bothering them: they get distracted and quiet, or they talk a lot, they seem nervous, they want to be alone or they’re extra clingy. And with both of them it doesn’t always help to ask them what’s wrong, because they’ll say “nothing.” They’ll both say “I’m fine.” But if you stay with them long enough, if you can get them go for a walk with you, or if you just sit by them on the couch with the dog, or take them for a ride to some place or another, they might tell you what’s eating at them, they might share their worries. Sometimes it’s best just to be there and to be quiet, so when they’re ready to talk, you’re around. It’s hard to do, of course. It’s hard to wait, when every instinct is yelling at you to go in there and figure it out, to fix it and make it better right away. And sometimes when they finally tell you what’s bothering them, it’s not something you can fix in an instant. Sometimes it’s not something you can fix at all, ever. At some point you lose the magical ability to soothe every hurt with a kiss. It’s the hardest thing to do, to just sit and wait and listen, but sometimes it’s the most important. Because it does help to talk about things. Sometimes a worry, which grows larger and uglier in the darkness of your own mind, shrivels to nothing when you expose it to the light by sharing it with another person. Sometimes just saying that you feel pain helps to lessen the pain. And maybe somebody says “I’ve felt that pain, too,” which helps you to know you’ll live through it. Because people like to make connections, they need to. We need to. We all need someone to listen to us with no judgement, no advice, just open caring warmth. And we can wait and listen not just to our own children, but to other people’s children as well. And everybody is somebody else’s child. We’re all in this together. It’s hard to wait and be silent. It’s hard to listen for what is really being spoken. But sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do.

When I was little my mom used to buy Family Circle and Woman’s Day magazines. If you knew my mom, this fact would probably be surprising to you. I used to look through them for helpful household tips and recipes. Once they had a recipe for mint ice. Made with fresh mint leaves. I LOVED it. I still remember exactly how it tasted. I don’t remember the recipe, though. So I’ve tried to recreate it based on how it seems like it should go. We have a wild and unruly bunch of fresh mint in our garden, and I harvested some to make this. You can use any kind you have, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint…anything! I used my ice cream maker to make this, because I love my ice cream maker. But if you don’t have one, you can make this as a granita. Let it partially freeze, then stir it, then let it freeze some more, and stir it, till it’s all frozen and all broken up. That’s how I made it when I was little. This was really delicious. Really refreshing. If I do say so myself, and I do!

Here’s Velvet Underground with I’ll Be Your Mirror.

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Chocolate pecan cherry cake

Pecan chocolate cherry cake

Pecan chocolate cherry cake

Hello Ordinary friends! I hope everybody is having a wonderful summer. Ours is melting away in a dreamy succession of trips to rivers and creeks, just as summer should. I took another brief Ordinary sabbatical, and I’ll tell you why. Somebody read my novel! I gave it to my neighbor. I don’t know her very well, but I like her a lot and I respect her opinion. She’s a poet and a teacher. And she read my novel as you would hope a poet and teacher would, and had some generous things to say about it that made me nearly cry with relief when I first read them, and she asked some thoughtful questions that made me want to change a few scenes and add a few scenes, and that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s an odd feeling, like slipping down a pebbly hill. Once you start changing things, you could change anything! You could add scenes or take them away. You could make whole characters disappear; characters who you’ve come to think of as living, feeling people. You could explain everything! You could take away all the explanations! You could make the characters (your friends, as you’ve come to think of them) happy or sad, sick or well. And I wasn’t going to talk about my novel! I’ll tell you a story instead. Yesterday after dinner Malcolm and I and Clio went for a walk. We were all a little tired, but the weather has been so ridiculously perfect this week that it felt wrong to stay inside. By the time we got to the other side of the canal Malcolm’s stomach hurt and I had a blister on my toe. So we decided to come home and sit in the yard instead. Well, what should we see on the way back but a rambly bush with perfect tiny bright red raspberries on it! We ate a few, and they were lovely. Whenever I eat a raspberry I always say, aloud, that raspberry is the most perfect flavor in the world, which is not surprising because as everybody knows, the milky way tastes like raspberries. So we decided to collect a little handful to bring home to Isaac and David. And then, before I knew it, I was up to my knees and elbows in stinging nettles. By god it hurt! Malcolm found me some jewel weed, which helped to calm the sting, but it didn’t really go away. I think I got poison ivy, too. All for a little handful of raspberries. There’s a moral in there somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is.

Chocolate cherry pecan cake

Chocolate cherry pecan cake

Next to raspberries, I love cherries. And they’re perfect this time of year. I thought they’d be nice with pecans and chocolate, and they are. I made this cake, which is almost more like a bar cookie, because it’s thick and chewy and delicious, in the toaster oven. It was very easy to put together, and very easy to eat!

Here’s Charlie Haden with Silence. Beautiful.

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Almond cake with blackcurrants, cherries and bittersweet chocolate

Almond cake with cherries, black currants and bittersweet chocolate

Almond cake with cherries, black currants and bittersweet chocolate

We’re watching L’eclisse at the moment, so today I’m going to wander around town in low-heeled but surprisingly noisy shoes, looking serious and wistful but bursting into laughter at life’s absurdities. Also, it’s my birthday, so I’m going to claim birthday privilege and write the most nonsensical rambling post ever. First of all, here’s a scene from L’eclisse that I like a lot. We haven’t watched the whole film so I’ll reserve judgement, but this scene I found surprising and beautiful.

Second of all, let me tell you about my lunch. I’m very excited about it. It was: a saltine cracker topped with brie, avocado, tomato, castelvetrano olives and lots of black pepper. I don’t usually eat lunch, but I’d been thinking about brie and avocado for a while now, and I had to try it. Everything tastes good on a saltine cracker.

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Finally, I’ll admit that this birthday is a hard one. 45. The only good thing you can say about turning 45 is that it’s better than not turning 45. For some irrational reason, birthdays ending in five or zero are harder than any other birthdays. So I’ve been in a blue mood all week. And then one evening after dinner the boys and I walked to the store to buy ice cream novelties. I was feeling heavy and tired and discouraged. We walked through a big open space in town, and Malcolm said, “Mom! Sky Dive!!” He grabbed my hand and flung his other arm out. Slowly, I caught on, and stretched my arm out, and then he took Isaac’s hand and Isaac stretched his arm out. We were flying and buoyant and weightless in the sweet air of a perfect June evening. And I feel alright, I feel grateful for all of it, for everything.

Almond cake with blackcurrants, cherries and bittersweet chocolate

Almond cake with blackcurrants, cherries and bittersweet chocolate

Our blackcurrant bush is bonkers. Full of fruit. You pick a bowlful in the morning, and it’s completely laden again in the evening. The berries seem to ripen as you pick them. So I boiled them for a long time with lots of sugar, and then pressed them through a sieve and ended up with a thick beautiful sauce. I added this to a custard one night and made ice cream. And yesterday I made a cake. I made a soft almond cake, and put a layer of blackcurrant sauce, fresh bing cherries and bittersweet chocolate chips. The whole thing is tart/sweet/soft and juicy. You have to eat it with a fork, though, cause it’s delightfully messy.

Here’s Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. Sounds like a June day, doesn’t it?
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Chocolate chocolate chip cake with white chocolate-mint ganache

Chocolate chocolate chip cake with white chocolate-mint ganache

Chocolate chocolate chip cake with white chocolate-mint ganache

I worked this weekend, like I work most weekends. I can’t complain because I only work two days a week. Most of the time I like waiting tables, for reasons I’ve talked about plenty here at The Ordinary. Mostly, it’s because, although I’m dubious sometimes about the goodwill of humanity as a whole, I like people, much of the time. Sometimes I feel good about my job, I approach it with great cheerfulness, I want to keep busy and turn lots of tables. Lately I’ve been in a slump. I suppose this happens to everyone, no matter what their job. I’ve been doing it too long. It’s gotten to the point where my heart sinks a little every time the door opens and new customers walk in. It will pass, I know it will, but that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Yesterday was supposed to be warm and sunny (they promised!) but instead it was spitting grey and cold. Which means we weren’t very busy, and the day passed in a slow sort of blur, and I did my best to be friendly to everybody, but I was feeling a little grey myself. And then around 3:30 the sun came out. The door opened, and my heart didn’t sink at all, because in walked Malcolm, and I thought I’d never seen anything so bright and beautiful. He wore a bright green shirt, and bright green-and-yellow sneakers, and his green eyes were bright. He wore a purple backpack, and it didn’t have anything in it but lemon drops. I was all done taking tables, so we sat outside on a wall in sunshine that felt almost bewildering, after all the rain. The glad trees around us were suddenly vivid, vibrant, spring green. I drank out of a bright green cup, and I had lemons and limes in my water. Malcolm dropped a lemon drop in my cup, so sweet and tart. And we just sat in the sunshine, in a bright green-gold world, not talking at all. It felt like waking up.

The secret to this cake is that it has a melted easter bunny on top. We bought Malcolm a white chocolate mint easter bunny, because he doesn’t really like chocolate, but he wasn’t too crazy about this, either. If you don’t happen to have a leftover white chocolate mint easter bunny, you can melt white chocolate and add a drop of peppermint essence. If you like, you could add a drop of peppermint essence to the cake itself as well.

Here’s Tom Waits with You Can Never Hold Back Spring

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Flourless hazelnut walnut mocha torte

Flourless hazelnut walnut mocha torte

Flourless hazelnut walnut mocha torte

Today is, once again, take your child to work day. David usually takes one or both boys up to his shop, but his job is too stressful and his deadline too close at the moment. So they’re spending the day with me. I had very mixed feelings about this, I must say, which made me more than usually cranky from the very beginning. I knew they’d think of it as a day off, a day to stay home and watch cartoons and play video games and chase each other around the house yelling and eating never-ending easter candy. Because, obviously, that’s what I do all day while they’re at school. I woke them up at seven, like I usually do, and I made them help me pack lunches and make breakfast. We went for a walk, because part of my job is taking Isaac to school. I usually go for a jog after they’re in school, so we tried to do that, and I apologize to anybody whose house backs on to the towpath. I realize you probably didn’t want to awoken by a small boy yelling “SLOW DOWN I’M GOING TO PUKE! DO YOU WANT ME TO PUKE?” And then, sigh, we did laundry we dusted and vacuumed and washed dishes, and I thought how incredibly tedious my day must seem. We got all the cleaning done in the morning, like I always try to do, and then they instantly made a complete mess of everything again, and I announced that I was going to write for the rest of the day so they had to as well. And how is writing “work”? How do I justify this way to spend the day? Sometimes I get paid for it, and I do have a job and a deadline at the moment, although I’m fairly successfully ignoring it. But mostly I don’t. Mostly I’m writing this novel, and I’m completely obsessed with it, and it feels incredibly important to me, despite being frequently confounding and disappointing. I lie awake thinking about it, the characters are living in my head, and if I don’t write it down I’ll lose it all. But that doesn’t make it “work.” That makes me crazy. I see that, but most of the time I don’t acknowledge that fact. As long as nobody is watching me and saying, “Why do you get to sit at the computer if we don’t get to play video games?” (and I honestly can’t say that my novel-writing is any more important than their video game-playing), as long as nobody is watching, I’m okay. But what kind of life is it, if you can’t look at it from the outside without everything falling apart? If you can’t justify your existence if you stop to think about it for a minute? The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life sometimes doesn’t hold up to all the questions. Of course it all boils down to money. If I was getting paid to write a novel, as many people are, then it would be work, then it would be justifiable and even admirable. But I’m not and probably will never be, if my past history of creative success is anything to go on. And yet, perversely, I want my boys to see that I write and that I read, and that both pursuits have great value for me. I want to see them write. I want them to grow up to write stories, and to think of it as work, even if they don’t get paid for it. I want them to know how good it feels to create something you feel happy about, even if you know the next time you look at it you’ll wonder what the hell you were thinking when you made it. I want their values to be as skewed as mine, so that creating something that they need to create becomes more important than making money, although of course I want them to be financially secure as well. I want them to work hard at something, with passion, and know the great pleasure of completing something that has taken great time and energy and thought. I want them to feel good about their life, even when events make them look at it from the outside, with questions and judgement. Malcolm wrote, of today, “The day with mom was fun cause we took walks and I also figured out what her life is like.” He figured out what my life is like! Now if I could only do the same!

Flourless hazelnut, walnut mocha torte

Flourless hazelnut, walnut mocha torte

There was some discussion, last week on The Guardian’s website, of a coffee walnut cake. One commenter mentioned a cake he or she remembered from their youth, flourless, with coffee and walnuts and hazelnuts. It seemed like a pleasant challenge to try to recreate a recipe based on this small amount of information, so I did. And I think it turned out very good! This is one of the best flourless cakes that I’ve made, light but substantial, with a lovely flavor.

Here’s REM with Finest Worksong

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Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

There’s a crow in my backyard making the strangest noises: throaty, urgent, with just an edge of rudeness. They’ve been all around my house all day, these crows, calling to each other, calling to me, trying to tell me something. It’s not just what they’re saying, either, it’s the way they fly as well, it feels studied, with a pattern and a purpose. It’s quite dramatic and beautiful. And it’s all around my house, circling my world. Of course, once I ventured outside of my house, beyond my block, I realize that they’re all over town behaving strangely, these crows. It’s spring, they’re in a tizzy. But as long as I’m sitting in my own home, searching for meaning everywhere, it feels as thought they’re speaking just to me. I passed a man on the way to school today who was talking to some friends in a truck idling in front of his house. He said that every morning, when he steps onto his porch, he sees the vulture who is nesting in the abandoned house next door, and the vulture is staring down at him, watching his every move. It doesn’t bode well for his day, he fears. I’ve been studying the calls and flight patterns of birds, lately, because I’m applying for an exciting new job. I want to be an augur. It’s a stressful job, I know, with a lot of responsibility, but I feel up for the task. My duties, as an augur, will involve studying the flight paths of birds, listening to how they sing or call, identifying patterns and directions, determining the kind of bird, and whether it flies in a group or alone. If a flock of birds takes into the air all at once, in a confusion of movement, in certain waves, with small sure speed, like an explosion of fireworks, I will know what this means. If a lone bird soars far above the clouds in great lazy circles, I will understand what that bird is telling me, because I will take the auspices. I will decide what is auspicious. Of course the job of an augur is not to determine the future, but to decide if a path already begun upon is the right path to take, if a plan of action is pleasing to the gods. And the gods show us this on the wings of birds, the delicate, powerful, inexplicable, beautiful wings of birds. And this is where I think I would shine as an augur. Because I always think birds are beautiful, I love all of their calls and songs, I love the birds with dusky feathers as well as those with jewel-like plumage. I admire vultures and revere crows, practically anything a bird can do seems like a happy portent to me, except maybe flying into a window. So if you want some good news, you want to feel hopeful about a project you’ve started or a journey you’re taking, come to me. I will read your auspices, I will watch the birds busy in you back yard, feeding in your garden or floating dreamily high above your house, and I will find encouraging signs there.

Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

This cake was inspired by memories of a good humor toasted almond bar. It has a simple, shortbread like base, with chocolate chips, of course! And it’s topped with a crunchy almond crumb.

Here’s Flying Birds by the RZA

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