Category Archives: Recipes

More Pumpkin in Review: The Pies Have It!

Gentle Readers, it is with great relief that I’m winding up this personal pumpkin challenge. To be frank, I almost wept openly in Trader Joe’s when I saw the number of pumpkin items yet untried, mainly in the frozen dessert aisle.

The cutest pumpkins ever. Clementines with an apple stem. One more pumpkin and I'll scream like those bananas though.

The cutest pumpkins ever. Clementines with an apple stem. One more pumpkin and I’ll scream like those bananas though.

But enough is enough–why do I need to buy pumpkin bread pudding when I’m more than capable of making my own? In spite of the toll my real life schedule takes on my cooking time (and my blogging time for that matter), every day that I cook something from scratch, or simply feed myself and TPCs Jr, feels like a victory.

Almost from scratch pumpkin pie. Hold the Cool Whip please.

Almost from scratch pumpkin pie. Hold the Cool Whip please.

So making a pumpkin pie from “scratch” (air quotes to honor the Trader Joe’s frozen pie crust deployed into this fight) seems worthy of a ticker tape celebration. I even served it with Pumpkin Ravioli. Thus the pumpkin tales end where they began.

Three More Favorite Pumpkin Things:

1. Pumpkin Ravioli. These are actually good, though the batch we had was less than smooth in the filling of a few of them. Serve with a simple brown butter and sage sauce–melt butter, fry sage, toss with cooked pasta, call it gourmet. This is a family favorite, worthy of serving special guests.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage--Nom!

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage–Nom!

2. Pumpkin Pancakes. Still the house favorite, using the Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle mix as a starter, we often add ground flaxseed, applesauce, almond meal, and/or chopped walnuts. It’s very flexible, have at it. On rare occasions, we add chocolate chips. I still don’t like them in my pancakes, judge me if you will.

World's Largest Pumpkin Pancake. I totally flipped it midair, no spatula. #win

World’s Largest Pumpkin Pancake. I totally flipped it midair, no spatula. #win

3. Pumpkin Pie. I made the recipe from the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can, a time-honored approach. I swapped in the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice, which I adore, and used the aforementioned frozen crust, also from TJ’s. I know it’s got no trans fats in it, but I found it a bit doughy and brittle, and that’s not just operator error. It’s crust in the end, so it’s still good, but apparently I like a little more trans fat in my pie crusts.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice: With Cardamom and Lemon Peel, I Love This Stuff

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice: With Cardamom and Lemon Peel, I Love This Stuff

Honorable Mentions:

  • Pumpkin Toaster Pastries. Not my favorite, but TPCs Jr gave these a thumbs up as a seasonal travel food.
  • Pumpkin Bars. Not a bad entry, bordering on the dessert category.
  • Pumpkin Biscotti. These were also not bad, but having made my own, I’m now permanently spoiled.
  • Pumpkin Blondies. Okay, but I didn’t really see the point here.
  • Pumpkin Loaf Bread Mix. Again, a pretty strong contender, but quick breads aren’t hard to make from scratch, and you have more control over the flavor profile. Secretly, I still greatly prefer Starbucks Pumpkin Bread. It’s the seeds I tell you!
  • Pumpkin Butter. A nice side with apples or the Trader Joe’s Triple Gingersnaps.
So much pumpkin at Trader Joe's: butter and mix and decorative gourds oh my!

So much pumpkin at Trader Joe’s: butter and mix and decorative gourds oh my!

And thus ends my pumpkin journey. I’m now heading into Thanksgiving season with a healthy portion of condensed soups and fried onions from my favorite alternative grocery store. It’s casserole and stuffing season, and I’ll pay allegiance to other winter squashes henceforth. Acorn and Delicata, I’ve missed you.

What’s your favorite of the pumpkin products? Send a Tweet or comment below! The pumpkin polls are open!

Until next year, leaving the largess of pumpkin behind. TPCs Jr celebrate the overlarge veggies at N.C. State Fair!

Until next year, leaving the largess of pumpkin behind. TPCs Jr celebrate the overlarge veggies at N.C. State Fair!

Send your Cool Whip, maple syrup, and spooky thoughts to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Next up on Sunday, Weekly Menus: Casserole Edition!

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Weekly Menus: Week of 10/27/2013, N.C. State Fair Edition

Gentle Readers, so much for good intentions! Apologies for the delayed posting, but this weekend has been slam-packed with fall festivities. Let’s run down the list, shall we: pumpkin selecting, pumpkin carving, costume provisioning, bowling with friends (do not take on POTUS2040), Neko Case, soccer, and the N.C. State Fair!

Fear the pumpkin uprising!

Fear the pumpkin uprising!

We are full up to our eyeballs with pumpkin and deep-fried, shaken and not stirred. Thank goodness it’s a school holiday so I can recover. As a result of all of this, you’ll find a grocery list that’s light on pumpkin but otherwise very heavy on vegetables and ease of use.

Dinner Grits, an idea whose time has come.

Dinner Grits, an idea whose time has come.

I found that we were less crazed about the deep-fried aspects of the fair this year. Perhaps because we haven’t held back the previous years, the novelty has worn off in favor of rides and games. However, I continue to display hound-dog like accuracy in discerning one fried food from another, and could detect the difference in funnel cake vs Krispy Kremes at several hundred feet and in an competitive smell environment. It’s a gift and a curse.

We tried the new deep-fried red velvet Oreos with cream cheese drizzle. Good, but not my favorite fried.

We tried the new deep-fried red velvet Oreos with cream cheese drizzle. Good, but not my favorite fried.

None of us were interested in the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe, the new offering at the fair this year. They need to work on the KK McGriddle–think doughnuts and pig people, not cow! We also bid farewell to The Pork Chop Shop.

Farewell Pork Chop Shop. #blessyourheart

Farewell Pork Chop Shop. #blessyourheart

In a testimony to my kids’ amazing manners, we were offered free sheets of ride tickets not once, but twice, from folks who had to leave before using their allotment up. Thank you to both donors–you are reinforcing the use of “please and thank you” with several underlines and an exclamation mark or two.

Free ride tickets paved the road here: the swings.

Free ride tickets paved the road here: the swings.

But I digress. On to this week’s recovery Weekly Menus:

Weekly Menus: 10/27/2013

Weekly Menus: 10/27/2013

And the Four-Square Grocery Shopping List:

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 10/27/2013

The Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: 10/27/2013

Which all means:

Sunday: Spinach Quesadillas
My pantry staple, and a good quick end to a long day at the fair. We paired them with homemade refried black beans (which really just means rinsing a can of black beans and heating with some salsa of your choosing, mashing a few of the beans with the back of a spoon to thicken the texture, and then thinning and simmering with a bit of water).

Monday: Salmon and Couscous
Did I mention I had to get my cholesterol checked soon? Every year right after the fair. Sigh.

Tuesday: Nachos
A great way to use up a little of this and that. We have another pack of veggie chili to go. When you add mushrooms and avocado, you can make something pretty interesting.

Veggie Nachos Perfected! With pickled jalepeno on top, for good measure.

Veggie Nachos Perfected! With pickled jalepeno on top, for good measure.

Wednesday: Thai Tofu
I have a jarred sauce I need to try. I’m going for broke and pairing with the much maligned tofu.

Thursday: Tuna Melts!
High protein and interesting courtesy of being open faced and sprinkled with cheese, we go for a bit of hot sauce kick and a lot of pickle relish.

Peanut Butter Tuna Salad Being Invented

Peanut Butter Tuna Salad Being Invented

Friday: Pasta Primavera or Omelets
Read: I need to use up little bits of vegetables accumulated during the week.

Saturday: Dine Out!
Adventure dining awaits, I look forward to see what it will be!

Raising Rock Stars: Before the Neko Case Concert at DPAC

Raising Rock Stars: Before the Neko Case Concert at DPAC

What’s your fall quick meal these days? Don’t say pumpkin or I’ll scream. We always strive for something simple and attractive pre-Halloween candy march. Post a comment below, let me know you’re out there!

Send your deep-fried, exercise tips, and non-gummi Halloween candy to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Wednesday (or thereabouts), Pumpkin Madness Take 2! Oh there’s more.

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Smoothie Recipes and Tips: Drinking Your Lunch

Gentle Readers, it’s confession time. I like to chew my food. Having grown up in an era of diet plans that included SlimFast, I have never understood how people lose weight like that. If I drink calories, I’m still hungry. So I can not in good faith recommend a drinkable only diet.

My preferred means of cold yogurt consumption! (And current addiction--I love toppings.)

My preferred means of cold yogurt consumption! (And current addiction–I love toppings.)

However, when it comes to feeding growing kids who have loose teeth and/or braces something nutritious in a short time, I’m willing to go outside my own personal set of rules. Smoothies are very calorie dense, and when that’s important, they are a great option for portable snacks, breakfast on the go, and infinitely variable lunch additions.

Here are some of my findings.

The Practical Cook’s Smoothie Recipes and Tips:

1. Use frozen fruit instead of ice to achieve good smoothie texture. No one likes a watered down smoothie. My favorite trick, throw that last banana that’s almost too ripe in the freezer, in its own wrapper.

2. However, let the frozen fruit come up to temperature a bit, or pop in the microwave to speed the blending process. Remember that banana? Thirty seconds in the microwave and you can peel it and blend.

Start with the liquids before adding the fruit to avoid the dreaded blender jam.

Start with the liquids before adding the fruit to avoid the dreaded blender jam.

3. Put the liquids and yogurt in first. This will absolutely aid the blending process. I’ve blended a lot of food in my time, in commercial and home settings. Trust me on this. No matter how much you paid for your Blend-O-Matic, this rule holds true.

4. Try orange juice or another whole fruit juice as your liquid/sweetener. If that’s not enough, add a dash of honey!

Mango Raspberry Smoothies--Pretty Snacks!

Mango Raspberry Smoothies–Pretty Snacks!

5. Mix your fruits. This goes without saying, the blends usually work better. The house favorite right now is plain low-fat yogurt, OJ, mango, raspberries, and a dash of honey. My personal favorite? The Elvis: plain low-fat yogurt, peanut butter, a frozen banana, a little milk, and honey.

The best way to transport? We’re saving the drinkable yogurt bottles for re-use with homemade concoctions. It’s a great hit of protein and calcium that can be consumed very quickly while talking during a short school lunch period.

So drink up, and share your favorite combinations! Post a comment or tweet in my direction. I can hear you out there.

Send your frozen fruit, lucrative ideas, and travel cups practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Doctoring Store-Bought Food: Tailgating Recipes Edition

Gentle Readers, sometimes one has all the time in the world to create a culinary masterpiece, and sometimes one must PUNT! In the spirit of football season and tailgating parties, here are two recipes devised to save time and save face.

Speaking of saving face, looks like the crowd approves the side dishes. Or you took selfies with my phone.

Speaking of saving face, looks like the crowd approves the side dishes. Or you took selfies with my phone.

If you have to feed a crowd in a hurry, what better choices than baked beans and potato salad? But on a busy weekend during the school year, however much I may like to start from scratch, I will compromise and doctor store-bought. I even signed my name to one of them.

Mildly doctored blondies: wasn't blown away by this mix, better from scratch. But they are pretty.

Mildly doctored blondies: wasn’t blown away by this mix, better from scratch. But they are pretty.

Doctored Potato Salad Recipe

I bought this beauty from SuperTarget, selected for quantity, price, and not being overly mayo-filled or celery seed laced. I have evolved in my acceptance of celery over the years, but I am unyielding on those celery seeds. They are not delicious to me. I digress.

Specially doctored by The Practical Cook: SuperTarget Potato Salad!

Specially doctored by The Practical Cook: SuperTarget Potato Salad!

1 container of potato salad that meets your personal needs (size and flavor profile)
yellow mustard
sweet or dill relish, or  a combination
chopped parsley (optional)
dash of hot sauce
sliced cherry tomatoes

Now you have a decision to make–is the container large enough to stir in your add-ins, or do you need to mix in a separate bowl? I’ll wait while you sort this out. Now you also must decide whether you own the doctoring or go full out and pass it as your own in a nice bowl.

Regardless, stir in the yellow mustard (a healthy dose if you want to offset mayo), relish, parsley (will make it taste fresh, don’t overdo it), and a dash of hot sauce (like Tabasco, and I mean just a dash) until fully blended. Top with sliced cherry tomatoes. Serve with a smile on your face.

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans Recipe

I adapted this recipe from Beer-Can Chicken, an amazing little cookbook that I worked on promoting many years ago. It calls for ribs and a grill, but bacon and an over work just fine, too.

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans before the oven!

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans before the oven!

1 large can of pork-n-beans (yes, the ones with the fatback and tomato sauce that are crazy cheap and taste bad by themselves)
1 can each: black beans, pinto beans, dark red kidney beans–rinsed thoroughly
smoky meat: can be leftover ribs, a bit of ham, or my favorite, cooked bacon
1 small onion, diced
1/2 – 3/4 cup diced mixed peppers (the sweet kind, I use the frozen mixed ones)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup barbecue sauce (doesn’t have to be fancy, I use Kraft because it’s cheap)
2 healthy teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 of a beer, the rest is for the cook
Ground black pepper to taste
a shot of your favorite hot sauce, to taste

Mix it all up in a 9 by 13 glass dish (or aluminum one if you’re wanting to toss it later), heat in a grill or in a 375-400 degree oven until bubbling and reduced. Thank me later, but feel free to invite me to your tailgate party now.

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans Completed!

Beer and Bacon Baked Beans Completed!

What are your favorite things to buy and make better? Post a comment here or Tweet my way! Special thanks to #vGingerBeard and family for the invitation and the unsolicited thumbs up.

Send your good ideas, lucrative offers, and free chocolate samples to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus!

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Weekly Menus: Week of 8/11/2013

Gentle Readers, another week, another road trip. One of the biggest challenges is coming home to an empty kitchen. So I try to shop and plan accordingly. I’ve been stocking the pantry with healthy snacks, and we’ve got fruit in the fridge that can last a bit longer.

Peaches: I'm addicted to you.

Peaches: I’m addicted to you.

I’m eating peaches and nectarines like it’s my part-time job, so no waste there. Quesadilla fixings hold for a bit, so that’s also at the ready. And eggs, which I waxed on about last time, are always there.

So the very light Four-Square Grocery Shopping List: milk, bread, eggs, fruit. On hand, Almond Bars, cereal, pasta. I can live a long time on these things. It’s like shopping for a snowstorm, only add fresh items. I am Southern you know.

Southern Survival: Milk, Bread, Eggs

Southern Survival: Milk, Bread, Eggs

The weekly menus:

Sunday: Dine Out!
Otherwise, rotisserie chicken would be my dinner weapon of choice.

Speedy Salad: Strawberries, rotisserie chicken, almonds, goat cheese, greens.

Speedy Salad: Strawberries, rotisserie chicken, almonds, goat cheese, greens.

Monday: Frozen Pizza
That’s what it’s there for. Just add salad and fruit, welcome home.

Tuesday: Open-Faced Sammies
This has been a real break-through this summer. We’ve done tomato, tuna, egg salad, and more. I think the “stuff to bread” ratio is much better, and we fill in the blank with celery, carrots, salad, fruit. It’s working for us.

Some nice person gave me a canteloupe at the car wash. It's a hybrid of canteloupe and honeydew. Delightful.

Some nice person gave me a canteloupe at the car wash. It’s a hybrid of canteloupe and honeydew. Delightful.

Wednesday: Spinach Quesadillas
This is podcast night, and I need to make food efficiently so I can get on air. Making anything in a cast-iron skillet makes it feel like homemade to me.

Thursday: Pasta Primavera
We got a garden-load of veggies from TPCs Parents. Looking forward to some combo tossed with pasta. Simple and to the point.

Friday: Stir-Fry
I have some frozen rice leftover, eggs, and more vegetable bits. Add soy and ketchup, steam some edamame, break out the chopsticks.

Leftover Fried Rice

Leftover Fried Rice

Saturday: Dine Out!
More field research! Another country, perhaps Malaysia? 😉

Send your dinner inspiration my way! It’s almost time for school again, so we’re warming up the lunchboxes. What are you cooking? Post a comment below!

Send bugspray, sharp cheddar, and your cooking secrets to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Wednesday: The Big Easy in Review: Eating in New Orleans

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Adaptable Pumpkin Pancake Recipe (Halloween Is Everyday)

Gentle Readers, seasonal eating is great, but rulebreaking also tastes delicious. Why store food or have pantry-safe items if not to violate the rules of the season? Enter Pumpkin Pancakes. Having developed a serious taste for the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake mix, and lacking any spare boxes, it was time to take action.

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancakes with a side of bacon and walnuts. Winning!

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancakes with a side of bacon and walnuts. Winning!

For those out there who are Halloween fanatics, rolling in pumpkin lattes and beers, this post is for you. Usually, I would tell you to avert your eyes, because I will not touch either of those beverages. Pumpkin, in my humble opinion, belongs in pies, custards, and pancakes. Especially pancakes.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix is both festive and mildly generic looking.

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix is both festive and mildly generic looking.

I don’t drink pumpkin, as delightful as Harry Potter makes it seem. Maybe I’m Vitamin A deficient this week, but wow, these rocked. I ate the leftovers cold.

Adaptable Pumpkin Pancake Recipe

For the sake of testing, I used Trader Joe’s Pancake and Waffle Mix. Any pancake mix should work, or make your own and adapt from there.

Use the pumpkin puree, get orange pancakes!

Use the pumpkin puree, get orange pancakes!

To pumpkinize, make 12- 14 pancakes according to recipe (using about 2 cups of the pancake mix), adding 1/2 can pumpkin puree (NOT PUMPKIN PIE FILLING, the plain stuff), 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (assuming  a plain mix), and 2 Tablespoons sugar (I used vanilla sugar, because I can). You can omit oil in the recipe if you’d like, but I added a smidge for texture.

Vanilla Bean Buried in a Jar of Sugar, Voila, Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla Bean Buried in a Jar of Sugar, Voila, Vanilla Sugar

For those of you that insist on chocolate chips, you can add a handful of those too. I do not care for them in my pancakes.

The pumpkin pancake batter will be thick--you can thin with a bit of extra milk as desired.

The pumpkin pancake batter will be thick–you can thin with a bit of extra milk as desired.

We served with toasted walnuts and maple syrup, side of bacon. They were spicy (not overly, even with that much seasoning, but if your pumpkin pie spice is fresh, back it off a bit and smell the batter first), warm, and wonderfully orange. They aren’t as crispy as some pancakes, but they were fluffy and filling.

Beware, these pancakes are addictive, reasonably nutritious, and available year-round. What’s your favorite pancake adaptation?

Send your pumpkins, questions, and food challenges to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Sunday: Weekly Menus on the Road!

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Chorizo Hash Recipe: Leftovers You Will Love

Gentle Readers, we meet again. I’m happy about that, just like I’m happy to have leftovers visit the table again. However, to keep things interesting, it’s fun to dress them up a bit. Hash is the perfect vehicle for the second meeting. Infinitely flexible and fast, this Chorizo Hash came from some leftover baked potatoes and a dream.

Chorizo Hash: I think I love you

Chorizo Hash: I think I love you

To be fair, I baked extra potatoes on purpose without a clear vision of their future, just because turning the oven on for so few potatoes always seems ridiculous to me.

Why not make extra baked potatoes?

Why not make extra baked potatoes?

Also, topping anything with a runny egg makes it more delicious and beautiful in my opinion. Do not skip the eggs, even if you like yours a bit more firm. I won’t judge. Much.

Chorizo Hash Recipe

1 lb (or whatever you have on hand) chorizo sausage (this is bulk, not the Spanish link style)
dash of olive oil
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 leftover baked potatoes, skinned and diced large (bake them now if you  must, boiled potatoes would also suffice)
1/2 bag baby spinach
3 scallions, whites and greens, chopped
1/2 cup or so shredded cheese
salt and pepper to taste
runny eggs (completely not optional, runny being relative to personal taste)
hot sauce (optional I suppose)

1. In a large skillet, brown the chorizo over medium heat. Drain excess fat, and put cooked chorizo on paper towels on a plate while you complete the next steps.

2. If the skillet is now quite dry, add a splash of olive oil. Heat to medium, then saute the onion until soft and wilted, add the garlic. Saute until you smell it. Quickly add the potatoes and stir to mix. Feel free to season with salt and pepper to taste at this phase.

Toss and wilt the spinach. Feel free to say "Bork Bork Bork" like the Swedish chef. I know I did.

Toss and wilt the spinach. Feel free to say “Bork Bork Bork” like the Swedish chef. I know I did.

3. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture is well mixed and heated through. Add the reserved chorizo back to the skillet. Stir and cook until flavors meld, another few minutes. Add the baby spinach and stir into the mixture. Cook until it wilts.

Cheese, just because it adds dimension and adhesion to the chorizo hash.

Cheese, just because it adds dimension and adhesion to the chorizo hash.

4. Toss the green onions and cheese in, leaving the pan on the burner, but turning off the flame. Let the cheese melt and the flavors meld while you make eggs. I’ll wait.

5. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve a portion topped with eggs and hot sauce. Thank me later.

Are you a fan of the runny egg topping? Now is the time to come clean. Confess in the comments box below, or on Twitter for all the world to see. I’ll be waiting.

Send your questions, queries, and quips to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today! Also, follow the food pictures on Instagram @amylewi.)

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Coming up Sunday, Weekly Menus time!

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