Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels

Well here it is my first post as a Daring Baker. I admit that I joined the Daring Bakers with some trepidation. This group of adventurous cooks had made puff pastry for goodness sake. The baking pinnacle as far as I am concerned. So it was with a beating heart that I peeked through fingers at my first challenge - BAGELS.

My first thought, oh yay yeast, I can cope with yeast. While I only started cooking with yeast about a year ago, I am quite comfortable with it.

My second thought was, oh no bagels. I have never even seen let alone tasted a proper bagel. Here in Australia, we have bagels but they wouldn't dare show their face in New York. They are, as another Daring Baker described them, bread rolls with holes in them.

But I am nothing if not determined at least some of the time, so one Sunday afternoon I rolled up my sleeves and took myself into the kitchen. To set the mood I switched on the radio. A local station was counting down the most popular 1000 songs as voted for by the Canberra public (I disclaim all responsibility for the outcome). To the soothing sounds of song No.337 I Can't Stand the Rain (just as well it was brilliantly sunny then) by Eruption I got started.

Step 1- Proof Yeast

I poured three cups of hot water into a mixing bowl, added 6 tbspn of sugar, 4 tbsn of dry yeast , and 2 tspn of salt. Whoops, the salt was a mistake it should go in step 2, but I am hopeless at reading recipes.

After the panicky moment of realisation I hovered over the yeast like an anxious mother hen. Was I going to fail this task in the first two minutes? After a minute or so the mix seemed to be bubbling away okay, so I calmed down and just left it. I don't think it made any difference in the end.

After about about ten minutes I had a nice fluffy yeast sponge. Excellent. The first step is always the hardest.

Step 2- Make Dough to song No. 333 Under Pressure by David Bowie (you and me both David, you and me both!!!!!!!)

So now I slowly added flour to the yeast mix. Moment of panic number 2 - the recipe said bread flour I had something called baking flour. I had just pulled this off the shelf without really thinking about it too much. Were they the same thing? What to do, what to do? Figuring there was nothing to do but press on and hope, I pressed on and hoped, with my fingers crossed.

Now the recipe said 6-8 cups. I probably added about 51/2. I'm always wary of making bread dough too dry. I don't like crumbly bread.

This apparently was a mistake. Subsequent discussions between the Daring Bakers concluded that it is important to add all the flour in order to get the correct dense chewy texture........Crumbs.

Step 3- Knead Dough to song No.331 Come Monday by Jimmy Buffet (oh leave off Jimmy, no way I'm looking forward to Monday).

This is the fun bit. I love kneading dough. It's a great receptacle for petty frustrations and annoyances (like Jimmy Buffet for example). I pounded the dough back and forth serenading it to I Want to Take You To Heaven. I'm not sure which the dough hated more.

I ended up with a lovely silky smooth ball. Not exactly the stiff mixture it was supposed to be, thanks to the lack of flour (developing theme alert, developing theme alert).

Step 4- Let Dough Rise to song No.328 Fool If You Think It's Over by Chris Rea (tell me about it Chris, tell me about it. Still five steps to go - not even half way. No need for the name calling though. These songs were getting scarily phrophetic.)

The dough went into a lightly oiled bowl. I covered it with a damp tea towel and put it in the oven with the light on to provide enough warmth. This is a widely used method and I find it the best way to get dough to rise at this chilly time of year.

The dough really shot up at a rapid rate. The ratio of yeast to flour is quite high. One minute you have a cute little baby ball of dough, twenty minutes later it wants to leave home and get married.

Step 5- Prepare Water for Bagels to song No.322 Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do by Neil Sedaka (the bagel dough and I agreed on this point. Would we ever see the back of each other?).

I filled a stockpot and brought it to the boil and then turned it down to a simmer. Only then did I remember that I was supposed to add 3-5 tbspn of sugar or malt syrup. Doh. So I turned the water back up to the boil, added the sugar and turned it back down to a simmer, again. I really must learn to read a recipe.

I went for sugar because I have never seen malt syrup anywhere. Sugar was just easier.

So far so good.

Step 6- Form Bagels to song No.317 Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth by Meatloaf (literally. I've got nothing here.)

I punched down the dough and divided it into balls. I kept them small to ensure that I could fit more than one at a time into the stockpot. Otherwise, this was going to take all night. I have to admit that my, okay rather pedantic nature there I said it, got the better of me. I weighed each bagel ball to ensure they would be even sized. I just like things to be symmetrical and regular. It's a blessing and a curse.

Some daring bakers used the method of forming them into a rope and joining the ends together to form a circle. I went with the poking your finger through the middle and pulling them into a ring shape approach. This seemed far more satisfying. What's not fun about poking holes in things. It's a primal thing I'm sure.

Anyway it worked perfectly well, and a I had a lovely row of bagels. It was impossible to get them smoothly neat and even. It was slightly lumpy bagels or nothing. I chose lumpy bagels.

Step 7- Pre-heat Oven to song No.315 Beast of Burden by Bette Middler (sing it Bette, hear that bagels!!!!)

I was all over this step. Oven at 200C. Done. Man I am good!!!

Step 8 - Half Proof and Boil Bagels to song No.313 Please Forgive Me by Richard Marx (Oh alright then. Bagels and I - friends once more.)

Okay this is where things started to go slightly awry.

As instructed I let the bagels sit for about 10 minutes. The idea is that they should rise by about 25 per cent. This done, I set one sacrificial bagel into the water to see how it would go.

It floated. This was not good. Theoretically, if you have the texture right the bagels will sink first, then float to the top. My bagel was one of the most bouyant things I've ever seen. It sat right on the very top of the water. It would put most ducks to shame. Lucky I really like faux Australian bread roll bagels then.

I simmered the bagel for three minutes on each side. Turning it out onto a clean tea towel. After the first one, I simmered three at a time. But it still seemed to take forever. This is definitely the most tedious part of this recipe. Fortunately, I had Natalia Cole and her Dad to get me through with Unforgettable, sadly inapposite as it was.

The bagels are supposed to come out shiny, thanks to the sugar. I can't say I noticed this. They kinda looked much the same as when they went in.

Step 9 - Top the bagels to No.308 Twistin' by the Pool by Dire Straits (I wished).

I brushed the bagels with a wash made of 1 egg white and 3 tablespoons of water beaten together. I sprinkled some with poppy seeds, because these are my favourite. Some I sprinkled with sesame seeds and the rest I left plain.

Step 10- Bake Bagels to song No.307 Teardrops by Womack and Womack (It's a lie. I held tough. I also love this song.)

To totally avoid any likelihood of the bagels sticking I both lined a baking tray with baking paper and sprinkled it with cornmeal. This worked perfectly.

In the oven they went. I reverted to my mother hen act and hovered anxiously by the oven door. To my worried eye they seemed to shrink. And keep on shrinking. It was most alarming.

After 25 minutes, I got to turn them over to stop the bottoms from going flat. This was a great relief because I was able to see that my fears were groundless and they hadn't turned into little dried out husks. Now, however, I was worried that all the carefully applied topping would just fall off.

I'm really not sure about the whole turning over thing. It just seemed to make them go flat on both sides, kind of like donuts. I didn't bother for the remaining batches and I think they were much better in appearance.

Anyway, another ten minutes and it was time for......

Step 11 - Out of oven and eat to song No.285 The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. (Too perfect. Know when to walk away, know when to run. It never even crossed my mind, honest.)

And here they are.....

As expected, and as you can see below, they were breadier than I'm sure they should be. But on the other hand they were denser than bread rolls. And they had a lovely crunchy chewy crust. The cornmeal on the bottom also added a nice crunch. So I would still recommend using it even with baking paper.

As for the taste, well that was fabulous. They were yeasty with a just a hint of sweetness from the sugar. The second and optional part of the challenge was to fill the bagels. There was never any chance of that. They were promptly ripped apart and eaten plain. They were that good.

Some did survive to the next day. But they go stale remarkably quickly and were pretty much inedible. It's a case of either freezing or eating with these bagels.

Overall, I consider them to be a huge success. I was so pleased to have gotten through my first challenge with a credible effort. Despite my lighthearted sarcasm, I had great fun. Bring on the next challenge I say.

Thanks to Jenny and Freya for choosing such a great task. The recipe in it's original form can be found here. I would also encourage you to check out how some of my fellow daring baker's went with this recipe, links here.

And the number one song of all time according to the good people of Canberra, well it was by a Liverpudlian who wondered about things a lot. Exactly what I imagined it would be.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

SHF#32- Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream Sundae

What is your favourite, most craved dessert? This is the question Jennifer the Domestic Goddess has posed for this month's Sugar High Friday.

I had to think hard about this one. Chocolate cake, pavlova, trifle, apple crumble and custard. The thing is that they all fit the bill. What I feel like eating really depends on the time of year, the weather, what mood I'm in, who I'm with, what I had for breakfast. A squillion different things. How could I pick just one?

The way forward was clear. I had to decide what I most wanted to eat at that very moment in time - 7.38pm on 10 June 2007 - and just stick with. So that is what I did and here it is.

An ice cream sundae with chocolate sour cream ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate and sour cherry sauce.

This is so yummy. I love this ice cream. It's an adaptation suggested by the reviewers of an Epicurious recipe. It can be found here. I make the ice cream exactly as directed but add 200gm of dark chocolate to the custard once it is thickened and still hot. Then I stir until melted and continue on with the recipe - refrigerate, add sour cream, churn and freeze.

It's an incredibly smooth, rich and creamy ice cream. The chocolate flavour is underpinned by the faint bite of the sour cream. It is quite simply delicious.

As for the sauce, well there are few combinations that beat chocolate and sour cherry. It is one of my favourites. The recipe is very simple. Melt 120gm of chocolate with 3 tbspn of thickened cream. Add half a cup of juice from a jar of morello cherries and add chopped morello cherries to taste. Allow to cool and enjoy.

The final touch is whipped cream. It adds to the total sinful decadence of the dish. And quite frankly, it's not an ice cream sundae without it. It would be ice cream with topping.

So there you have it. And if I could make my choice all over again at 6.12 pm on 24 June 2007? I would be tucking into pancakes with honeycomb butter. But that will have to wait for another post.

Daring Bakers

As you may have seen by the rather oddly placed (stubborn thing) logo on the sidebar I have joined the Daring Bakers. Who are they? Well ,they are a group of intrepid food bloggers who join together each month to tackle a specific recipe. The group was originally formed when Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis at La Mia Cucina made a pretzel recipe together. The group has now grown substantially.

Past efforts of the Daring Bakers include croissants, red velvet cake, Martha Stewart's Crepe Cake and St Honore Gateau.

The next challenge is due very shortly and I will be posting my very first attempt. I hope to see you back here then. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out some of my fellow member's terrific blogs. Here they are.

Peabody at Culinary Concoctions

Brilynn at Jumbo Empanadas

Helene at Tartelette

Quellia at All Things Edible

Veronica at Veronica's Test Kitchen

Mary at Alpineberry

Hester at Hester in Geneva

Tanna at My Kitchen in Half Cups

Elle at Feeding My Enthusiasm

Morven at Food Art and Random Thoughts

Jen at Canadian Baker

Breadchick Mary at The Sour Dough

Valentina at Trembom in English

Freya at Writing at the Kitchen Table

Dolores at Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity

Becke at Columbusfoodie

Anita at Dessert First

Mercedes at Desert Candy

Laura at Eat Drink Live

Claudia at Heal My life

Sara at I Like to Cook

Ilva at Lucullian Delights

Marce at Pip in the City

Devra at Puu Cooks

Patricia at Technicolor Kitchen

Jery at Food and Photo

Sher at What Did You Eat?

Meeta at What's For Luch Honey

Sara at Kitchen Pantry

Stephanie at Cup Cake My Love

Heather at The Domestic Diva's Recipe Rush

Karen at Baking Soda

Leslie at Definitely Not Martha

Minko at Couture Cupcakes

Swee at Self Proclaimed Foodaholic

Heather at Eating For One

Alice at Alice Q Foodie

Nazca at Food Is Good

Jenny at Jenny Bakes

Kelly-Jane at Cooking the Books

Erin at Chiles and Chocolate

Rose at 64 sq ft kitchen

Kelly at Sass and Veracity

Gattina at Kitchen Unplugged

Wendy at WMPEs Blog

Cheryl at Gruel Omelet

Anne at Simply Annes

Jenny at My Food Geek

Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict

Tara at Should You Eat That

Amy at Nook and Pantry
Jes at Cupcake Punk

Jenn at Leftover Queen

Sarah at Corner of 94th

Amanda at Little Foodie

Pille at Nami Nami

Glenna at A Fridge Full of Food

Nicole at Sweet Tooth

Amanda at I Cook, Therefore I Run

Valerie at Val's Kitchen

Holly at The Glutton

Chris at Mele Cotte

Deb at Smitten Kitchen

Gilly at Humble Pie

Monday, June 18, 2007

What is that?

If I were to ask you "Would you like a CWA Fluff, or maybe a French Rock, or how about a Roman Candle?" Your answer like mine would probably be - "What is that?"

These are just a few of the mysterious recipes that populate the CWA cookbook. For anyone non-Australian the CWA is the Country Women's Association - an Australian institution. The CWA has a long tradition of lobbying the Government on rural issues and baking. Oh yes, the baking.

The CWA is all about good solid traditional home cooking. The reason I bought this book is because it reminds me of my Nanna. I spent a lot of time with her growing up and she took me on all her social outings. I was a regular at bingo, hoy and CWA meetings. She made the best bread and butter pudding, not to mention her jam roly poly.

Even on its own the CWA cookbook an interesting read. It's now in its 52nd edition and I don't think the recipes are ever updated. They still talk about putting things on the fire, cooking in kerosene tins and using a good quick oven. There's a whole section on liver recipes, a cure for chiliblains and a treatment for scaly legs on chickens.

Perusing this book, I decided that I was in need of adventure. With nothing more than the general catergorisations to guide me, I set out to make some of the more obscure recipes to see just what I would end up with. So here they are.

CWA Fluffs (Afternoon tea cakes, scones and girdle cakes)

Okay, I was kind of expecting these to be like powder puffs, you know those little sponge cake drops. But instead I would describe them as a cross between shortbread and a butter cake. The shortbread accent comes through from the rice flour that is used. At the same time they are very light and crumby. Overall, they were really enjoyable. They are on the dry side so they would go brilliantly with a good cup of tea.

French Rocks (Confectionary)

These were a huge success. They turned out to be a boiled lolly. They start off hard, but quickly soften in the mouth and if you aren't careful they clamp onto your teeth. I coloured them pink and added a few drops of rosewater. Gorgeous.

They were tricky to make as it requires you to make a hot sugar syrup, allow it cool sufficiently, and then mould it with your hands. The first time you go to touch it is nerve racking. But now that I have made it once, and I know how it works, it will be a breeze. I have some particular tips which I have included with the recipe below.

Roman Candles (Cold Sweets)

So I had a pretty good idea of what these would be, but I couldn't resist seeing them for myself. These may have been a huge hit at dinner parties in the 1930s, but I doubt they would make much of an impression in these days of sophistication, except perhaps with small children.

While I understood the concept, they just didn't say candles to me. More there's a banana with a cherry on top. So I went wild and draped the egg white all over the banana to give a truer representation of wax. While this did make them more candely (so to speak), it pretty much made me not want to eat it.

So there you go. This was a lot of fun. I will be making a lot more things from this book. Here are the recipes.

CWA Fluffs
(adapted from the CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints)

Cream 125gm of butter and 60gm of caster sugar. Beat in 1 unbeaten egg. Mix in 60gm of ground rice, 90gm of self raising flour and 1 tspn of vanilla. Spoon into greased patty tins. Make a small hole in the centre of each one and add a drop of raspberry or strawberry jam (enough to go on a saltspoon apparently). Bake in 180C oven for about ten minutes.

French Rocks
(adapted from the CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints)

Place 500gm of sugar, 1 cup of water and a pinch of cream of tartar in a saucepan. Stir until the mixture boils, and then leave for eight to ten minutes. Do not let the mixture colour. Turn out onto a large, lightly oiled teflon coated tray. Leave to cool for a few minutes. Sprinkle with desired food colouring and essence (vanilla, mint, almond etc). Turn over and over with a stout metal spatula. It should start to turn opaque.

Once the mixture is cool enough (PLEASE BE VERY VERY CAREFUl HERE) stretch and fold the mix for a few minutes and then shape into long twists, logs or other desired shapes. Generally, the mixture will be getting close to cool when it is solid but still malleable. I found using food safety gloves to be ideal. By this stage the mix will not be hot enough to melt the gloves, but if it is still too hot to handle comfortably you can pull the gloves, and therefore the sugar away, from your fingers quickly and easily. The mix will peel away from the gloves once it has cooled sufficiently. This is also why it is important to use a teflon pan, as the mixture cools it will easily peel away from the base of the pan.

If you have shaped the mix into ropes, cut into lengths with clean kitchen scissors. If you have left it too long and it has become too hard, hold a sharp broad bladed knife over the lolly and snap down. It will break relatively cleanly.

Roman Candles
(adapted from the CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints)

Place a round of pineapple onto a plate. Place half a banana into the centre and top with a glace cherry. Beat an egg white until stiff and drape around the bottom of the candles. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Labna - Yoghurt Cheese

I love eating cheese. I love eating things with cheese on it. I love eating things with cheese in it. I just love cheese.

I am strangely fascinated by the West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, probably the world's most famous cheese. It can be seen here in all it's cheesy glory. I have never seen anything actually happen to this cheddar. Sometimes the lights are on, sometimes they are off. The tag moves every now and then. The cheddar lives a sedate life. But I keep tuning in for some crazy reason.

I also love making cheese. People are always dead impressed when I mention this. But it's bit of a fraud really. There is simply nothing simpler than labna.

Labna is a traditional yoghurt cheese from the Middle East. It's basically yoghurt mixed with salt, drained, rolled into a ball and stored in oil. That's it. You have cheese.

For this tiny bit of effort I end up with something totally delicious. I add some bruised rosemary stems and garlic cloves to the oil to add additional flavour. The smell when you open the jar is heady. I generally have a jar sitting on the benchtop which gets munched through pretty much constantly.

The way I like to eat them is spread over crisped bread croutons. For an extra touch I sometimes sprinkle over some smoked prapika. I'm constantly experimenting - lemon pepper is good, so is a small dollop of tomato salsa or some finely chopped basil. Sometimes, I roll the yoghurt balls in dried herbs before placing them in the oil. It's all good.

(adapted from Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander)

Mix 1 tspn of salt into 600ml of greek yoghurt. Place in a double sheet of muslin. Gather muslin over the top of the yoghurt and twist to enclose. Place in a strainer resting over a bowl. Place in the refrigerator and leave to drain for 2-3 days. Scoop mixture into small balls and place in a glass jar and ensure they are covered with oil (I use either extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil if I want a milder taste). Add bruised peeled garlic cloves and bruised stems of rosemary. Leave overnight for flavours to develop. Use within two weeks.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mole Poblano

Do you ever suffer from foodie ennui? My list of sweet treat 'I must try this one day' recipes is endless. Yet when it comes to what to have for dinner I struggle. I can't always get excited about yet another variation of meat and vegetables.

A few weeks back I reached a point of total and complete uninspiration. I went through cookbook after cookbook and nothing looked attractive. Same old, same old. I decided that what I needed was something completely new, a totally different direction, something totally outside my realm of experience.

But what? The answer came when I spotted this in my in favourite cookware store.

This is Ibarra chocolate from Mexico. A coarse chocolate mixed with granulated sugar and cinnamon. I simply had to make mole poblano. This rich sauce hails from the Mexican state of Puebla and is made from a mix of dried chiles, nuts, spices and of course chocolate.

I have never been to Mexico. I have never tasted or even seen a mole. South and Central American cuisines are fairly obscure here in Australia. Here in Canberra, I have a choice of two Mexican restaurants doing the standard tacos, burritos, enchiladas or pre-packaged tacos, burritos, enchiladas from the supermarket. Perfect.

The first step was to find a recipe. I settled on this one (Mole Paste #1 and Mole Sauce #1).

The second step was to find the dried chiles - ancho, mulato and pasilla. Each has a distinct flavour adding depth and layers to the flavour of the sauce. Now obviously I wasn't going to pick these up at the supermarket. So I went online. Nothing is out of reach these days. A few days later three plump packets dropped into my mailbox and I was all set.

The whole process did take time, but it wasn't difficult. The basis for the paste is ground nuts and seeds, principally almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and raisins.

A range of spices are then added - cinnamon, cloves, pepper and oregano. The chocolate goes in right at the end. You end up with something like this - a beautifully rich brown unctuous paste (chanelling Nigella here. you can just hear her saying this can't you. tis true though).

The paste is added to a fairly basic tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic and chicken stock.

Traditionally mole is served over turkey. Again, turkey is not a big thing here. So I went with chicken. I grilled some flattened chicken breasts, poured the sauce over and braised in the oven for 15 minutes. And here it is. I served it with plain steamed rice and broccoli. From what I have read, traditionally the mole is the meal. Everthing else, inluding the meat, is just there to support it.

So after all that what was it like. Well, interesting. The mole had a very complex flavour. It was quite earthy thanks to the chiles and the chocolate. The chiles also provided heat. It was at the upper limit of my comfort level which is pretty much at the bottom of the scale for anyone else.

I have to admit, at first bite, I thought 'oh no this is not for me'. But the more I ate the more I liked it. By the end I was really enjoying it. So now I am keen to try some other moles. There are many different types - mole negro or green mole for example - which don't use chocolate.

Overall, it was well worth the effort. It was new and exciting, it was energising and it was FUN. This is what cooking is all about.

Of course mole is not the only thing you can make with ibarra chocolate. It makes the best hot chocolate. Melt two of triangle segments in a cup of hot milk. Creamy, cinnamony and delicious.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Panpepato - Peppered Bread

This is panpepato. A peppered bread from Italy. I admit that I had never heard of it until I stumbled across a recipe in an old Delicious magazine. I was on a search for foodie inspiration and I found it.

Marsala and raisins and figs and cocoa. That on its own is enticing. Add the unusual twist of pepper and then serve it with sharp cheese. How could I not try it. My mum packed little tubs of diced dried apricots, cheese and sultanas in my school lunchbox. I've never considered the dried fruit on a cheese board to be a garnish.

This panpepato recipe is pretty simple. Mine came out much softer and stickier than I think it should be. It was not particularly breadlike. Maybe more flour next time. The consistency didn't subtract from the taste though. I loved it.

The original recipe uses walnuts, which I loathe. So I used almonds instead. I also think it could stand more pepper as it comes across as quite a subtle hot aftertaste if you see what I mean. It's really a matter of taste.

The recipe calls for it to be served with crumbled parmesan reggiano. But really it goes perfectly with any sharp dry cheese. I have served it here with a sheeps milk cheese. I would give you the name if only I knew it. I buy it at the farmer's market from a refrigerated van stall run by an elderly gentlemen with a strong eastern european accent. Every time I ask what it is but I have never managed to catch it yet. I think it starts with a C or a K. Not much help I know. All I can tell you is that it goes perfectly and is delicious.

(adapted from Delicious Magazine May 2005)

Soak 1/2 cup raisins in 1/4 cup dry marsala overnight. Place raisins and soaking liquid in a bowl and add 200g of toasted almonds, 1 tspn of cinnamon, 50g of chopped dried figs, 100g of chopped candied peel and 1 tspn of ground black pepper. Sift over 1/3 cup flour and 11/2 tbspn of cocoa.

Melt 2 tbspn of unsalted butter over low heat together with 150gm of caster sugar and 4 tbspn of honey. Mix into dry ingredients.

Pour mixture into a lined 8cm x 25cm bar pan or 20cm round tin and flatten. Bake in a 150C oven for 20 minutes. Cool completely and slice thinly. Serve with parmesan reggiano or another sharp dry cheese.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

A small slice of Wellington

I have spent the last week in Wellington, New Zealand. A beautiful city in a beautiful country. As I was there on business I wasn't able to get out and about much. I was pretty much limited to the Lambton Quarter where I was staying. Still, there was much to see and enjoy. These are some images of things that caught my eye.

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