Category Archives: Food

Beans on shaved ice and chile on fruit

Shaved Ice + Azuki Beans

Sometimes I feel like when I moved to LA, I actually moved to a different country. Several countries, actually. Good thing I’m not running for President because at this point I am completely out of touch with middle America, at least culinarily speaking. I eat “meat and potatoes” literally once a year – when my boyfriend and I commemorate St. Patrick’s day with a special meal (note that neither of us are of Irish descent).

I’ve always been a California girl – I literally do not remember a time in my life when tacos, pad thai and sushi weren’t part of my basic diet. Since moving to LA, my eating has only gotten more adventurous.

I’m referring, of course, to dessert. This is where it becomes evident that people from different cultures don’t just eat different food; we actually have different palates.

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Yummy + Healthy + Easy Recipes from Foodie Cleanse 2013

I love trying new recipes, but half of them don’t make it into my binder of standbys. They must pass three tests: 1) Be outrageously good; 2) Be very to fairly easy; 3) Not result in me having to clean every dish I own.

This was the second year that I have done Bon Appetit Magazine’s Foodie Cleanse. It’s fun, it resets me after the holidays and it pushes me to try dishes that I wouldn’t otherwise make. Last year, just seven recipes made the cut. Many others were unduly complicated and had ingredients that I struggled to find, even here in Los Angeles!!! Crossroads of the world!

This year, they kept it simpler and I certainly appreciated that. Here are all the recipes and foods that I’ll definitely continue munching on through 2013:

This was the pair of recipes that really knocked my socks off – and they’re vegetarian!

Cod + Greens: It seems that you can season cod any old way and pair it with bok choy or chard or collard greens and you simply can’t go wrong. Plus cod makes the very short list of recommended/approved seafoods on the Seafood Watch list! Download their free app or order the pocket guide.

Smoked paprika: A spice that packs a wallop. I got it for one recipe, then started sprinkling it on my deviled eggs.

Black rice It is exactly what it says it is. It’s easy and a good trick to have up your sleeve for a dinner party. I easily found a bag at Ranch 99.

Clams – Clams are really easy!

Sake steamed clams – Totally different flavors that my typical cooking. Served w/ Bok Choy w/Chili-Black Bean paste – Wow, does that stuff pack a wallop! If you don’t like spicy, don’t use this sauce. Very tasty.

Salmon + Lentils – A classic combo for a reason

Confetti lentils – I did all the veggies in the food processor and made this using Trader Joe’s cooked lentils and it was a snap.

Squash – The tomato and squash soup was pretty good, but ultimately I like both separately so you can fully enjoy the tomato or fully enjoy the squash. However, I did like the cooking method used – putting a few cloves of garlic under the squash half, then baking it. Smelled and tasted delicious!

Salad + Fruit + Nuts + Goat Cheese – You can’t go wrong. So delicious, so fancy looking.

Radicchio and Persimmon Salad with Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese – Looks super fancy!

Toss 4 cups radicchio and 1 Fuyu persimmon (the flat variety), peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks, with 1½ Tbsp. Sherry Vinaigrette. Top with ½ oz. crumbled goat cheese and 2 Tbsp. toasted hazelnuts. You can substitute arugula, spinach, or a good dark salad mix for the radicchio, and use walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds in place of the hazelnuts.

Curry – This was already a standby for me, as it should be for every working mom in America. A can of coconut milk, a dollop of curry paste and any mix of veggies or meats. You can’t go wrong!! I often put in potatoes, but had never tried sweet potatoes…not bad.

To take to the office

Smoked salmon on rye crisps with avocado – The avocado actually tastes better than cream cheese…go figure.

Winter Citrus Salad – I eviscerated a grapefruit and mixed the chunks with halves of orange slices. A great mid-morning snack.

And a bonus recipe: Ahi or cod or halibut with Bok Choy (Serves 2)

The back story: I accidentally bought ahi tuna instead of cod. I love seared ahi, but my boyfriend does not, so I had to devise a way to prepare this. I found this recipe, which happened to have a very simple, but very delicious sauce that I plan to use for years to come. I also had a recipe that I had been meaning to try for a while – Miso-glazed halibut. I did the two different meals and this is the best of both:

Ingredients

  • Enough fish for two people – fillets, medium thickness
  • 1 lb. of baby bok choy – the smallest you can find (then you don’t have to cut it up)
  • 1 bunch of green onions (scallions)
  • Fresh ginger – piece the size of your hand
  • Garlic
  • 1 lime
  • White miso (you can get this anywhere, even Safeway, just ask – it’s usually near the refrigerator with the tofu)
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce

Miso Glaze – Whisk together.

  • 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons white miso
  • 2 tablespoon bottled or fresh minced ginger

Spread the glaze over the fish, both sides. Then put the fish on tin foil and broil in the oven for 7-8 minutes. Keep an eye on it and flip it when you think you should – when its just turning brown around the edges.

Bok Choy

Mix together:

  • 2 Tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce (or 2 teaspoons of wheat-free tamari for gluten-free option)
  • 1 Tbsp of grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice

Cut up 5 green onions, split the white part and the green part. Use a pot with a lid. Bring 1/4 c. of water to a boil, toss in the bok choy, turn down the heat to medium, cover and steam for 3 minutes. After that, take the lid off, toss in the white part of the green onions and keep cooking for a few more minutes, until all the water boils off. Add the sauce and serve immediately with the fish on top and rice on the side. Garnish with sesame seeds and the green part of the green onions.

And if you are interested in food and nutrition, I’ll just put in a plug here for all Michael Pollan books, starting with “Food Rules.”

Food Rules: An Eater's ManualFood Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Both elegant and useful in its simplicity. I’ve read reams of books and articles on nutrition over the years and it sometimes feels like the more you know, the more confused you get. This small guide takes us directly to the heart of eating well: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I would absolutely put this in my friend’s X-mas stockings.

View all my reviews

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A Cleanse for People Who Hate Cleanses

I am very, very anti-cleanse. I know – that’s practically un-American. When people gush to me about their amazing, soul-cleansing juice cleanse or bizarre cabbage soup colonics, I just bite my tongue. I love to eat and I ascribe to the Michael Pollan approach to diet: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” so I consider cleanses to be just another form of extreme, whacked out eating.

That is, until I spotted Bon Appetit’s “Foodie Cleanse.” The rules were not unreasonable (avoid dairy, caffeine, alcohol and sugar) and the food looked…like food. Rather than a strict regimen, it looked like a food adventure – a chance to reset myself after the holidays and try some recipes I’d never otherwise do.

Mmmm…Day 1.

I was not let down. Some of the recipes had ingredients that seemed impossible to track down within 10 miles of my house, which says a lot considering I live in the heart of LA. Some were needlessly complicated and time-consuming. But many were amazing and the whole endeavor was quite fun.

The only part missing was the social aspect so this year, I’m going full bore – following the recipes (for the most part) and writing about it each day whether just a few comments on the Bon Appetit page, posting some pics to my Facebook and doing a wrap-up right here. Join me!

Recipes from Foodie Cleanse 2011

Here’s the dishes from the cleanse I did last year that I would make again.

Warm and Nutty Cinnamon Quinoa

A great alternative when you’re getting bored of oatmeal – 101 Cookbooks is a fantastic blog.

Salmon in a Bengali Mustard Sauce  with Black-Eyed Pea Curry

WOW. Enough said.

Edamame Hummus

Different, but tasty.

Crudités

I need to remember to cut up veggies at the start of each week and put them in containers ready to go. Something about calling them “crudites” just makes them that much tastier and makes me that much classier.

Rye crisp crackers

SO good! A bit elusive, but definitely make my Top 10 list since they are tasty, healthy and don’t go stale very quickly.

Tuscan Kale Chips

Can’t believe this actually worked. Definitely not transportable, but definitely yummy.

Smoked salmon

This is on the approved list? My new favorite lunch.

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January 1, 2013 · 6:03 pm

Don’t Try This at Home

If curiosity killed the cat, my boyfriend is convinced I am going to kill him in my curiosity-driven attempts to recreate ethnic dishes in my home kitchen.

I get plenty of culinary inspiration in LA, an eater’s paradise. You can not only find food from any country on the map, but find the best of everything.

In many parts of the country, procuring the right ingredients could be a challenge. In LA, that is little deterrent, considering I live at the nexus of Little Tokyo, overwhelmingly Mexican East LA and Monterey Park, the largest settlement of Chinese people in the U.S. The only things I’ve had trouble finding within a 2-mile radius are hummus, almond extract and blackberry-flavored kosher wine. Fish sauce and obscure dried chiles? Not a problem (Poor dear friends who live in terrible places like Vermont and Italy – I will send you anything you like!)

Pad thai, Indian curry, Yucatecan papadzules, Filipino chicken adobo – I’m all for culinary experimentation. The results fall along a spectrum between, “Wow, that was easy and delicious” to “Well worth $7 to spare me the blood, sweat and tears of slaving over that dish for three hours.” Well, I’ll save you the trouble by sharing a few of the dishes we’ve successfully integrated into our repertoire so you can spice up your life!

Go for it!

Pad Thai – it took us three go-arounds to get us all the way there, but honestly, it’s a pretty darn easy weeknight recipe. We use this recipe. What we’ve learned: Get a wok! And buy the flat noodles, not the round ones, and don’t soak them too long or they get sticky.

Gnocchi – These yummy Italian potato globules are the ultimate comfort food. It’s time-consuming to make them, but consider the undertaking your pre-dinner entertainment and queue up a good play list on your IPod. Totally doable.

Aguas Frescas – You know those big glass jugs filled with brightly-colored beverages at Mexican restaurants? The whole family of drinks is called “aguas frescas” (fresh waters) – they are essentially fresh fruit mixed with water and sugar and the possibilities are endless. Seriously, just toss fruit in a blender with some water and sugar and keep adjusting until it tastes great. I’m a big fan of agua de pepino (cucumber water) and agua de sandia (watermelon) is hard to botch. The line-up also includes three classics that are made differently – horchata (a mix of rice, cinnamon and milk), Tamarind water (it’s the brown one) and jamaica (bright red, made of hibiscus flowers). I highlight recommend making jamaica at home (pronounced Hah-mike-uh). The powdered stuff they serve at some restaurants is the pits. The real thing has an extraordinary tart flavor and it’s SO easy.  Here’s an easy explanation: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/000172.html

Filipino Chicken Adobo – I went out on a limb with this one. I’ve never been to a Filipino restaurant nor to the Philippines so I don’t know how this is supposed to taste, but I am a huge fan of the Splendid Table radio show and have yet to go wrong with any recipes from their cookbook. I took the ultimate gamble and it was phenomenal – the flavor is out of this world. Do the recipe, then buy the cookbook!

Hummus – It’s cheaper to make at home and the possibilities are endless. You really do need the tahini (sesame paste) because it makes it creamier, as does a liberal dose of olive oil. I like to roast red peppers and toss them in.

Enchiladas – We did an uber-authentic Rick Bayless recipe. I was able to do it, but it took three hours and dirtied just about every dish in my kitchen. For a quick and satisfying alternative, just use our recipe!

I have been vanquished before, but I refuse to quit

Mexican beans – This is depressing, but I cannot make beans!!! Folks, consider this a call for help, bring on the intervention! Although I have figured out one thing – when beans taste REALLY good, it’s because they have lard.

Indian curry – I’ve only tried once. It was mas or menos. I blame myself. Going to try getting a better cookbook from the library.

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

Don't do it!

Food from the Yucatan- I actually fell in love with the district regional cuisine of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico through an amazing restaurant I used to frequent when I lived in Mexico City. The fragrant sopa de lima was bewitching, the papadzules surprisingly tasty (how do you coax egg and ground pumpkin seeds into that?!) and the cochinita pibil had depths of flavor that couldn’t be equaled. Needless to say, we tried to make papadzules and sopa de lima and it was the most disastrous dinner ever (We went out for burgers). I might try again if German didn’t have PTSD from the last go-round.

Mole – Haven’t tried it, why would I?! Just look at a typical list of ingredients and instructions and you’ll know why. And with Guelaguetza so close, well…

 

On my hit list

Sushi – And German thought my other attempts could kill him…bra ha ha!!

Tamales – I have a Sunset mag recipe I haven’t done for years, nor tried out on German. He’ll be the judge..

Chiles en nogada – a phenomenal and very unusual seasonal recipe from Mexico. I will first attempt to find a restaurant here in LA that serves it, but I may have no choice but to make it myself…

Korean beef – German and I saw a cooking demonstration on one of LA’s obscure public TV channels – Korean beef has that yummy sweet flavor, you will never guess what’s in the marinade – Asian pears!! We were shocked. I’ve gotta try it.

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Mexico vs. USA: The Breakfast Showdown

If you’re from California, you probably grew up on Mexican food – tacos, burritos, carne asada. But how often did you hit up the chilaquiles, champurrado and conchas? Americans don’t usually eat Mexican food for breakfast (probably because it doesn’t come with margaritas). This is a big mistake because Mexican breakfast is DELICIOSO. I’m already hearing you: “But American breakfast is the best! It can’t be beat! It’s world-renowned!” That may be true, but let’s put it to the test. It is time for an official round of BREAKFAST vs. DESAYUNO.

Round 1: Baked goods

We may be off to a slow start here, folks. As we well know, baked goods are not a national strength for either of our two contenders today. US loses two points for plagiarism – pretty much all their baked goods were ripped off from Europe: croissants from France, strudel from Germany, donuts from…Dutch people? However, I’m hearing a counter- argument “Isn’t that the American way – taking the best every culture has to offer and making it our own?” The Dutch did this:

Americans somehow made it THIS:

Well-played, USA. Let’s turn our attention to the Mexican bakery. Two points for the interactive experience. Rather than pointing at things behind the counter, at the Mexican bakery, you grab a metal tray and tongs and grab everything that strikes your fancy and take it to the counter in the back. That’s great, but the selection is not…we’re getting a lot of booing from the Mexican fans, who are starting to chant: “Conchas, conchas, conchas…” The referee is conceding that conchas are pretty darn delicious, but everything else is pretty so-so…The Americans have brought up the Mexican chain: Los Bisquets Bisquets Obregon, pointing out that their “bisquets” are “weak sauce.”

Bisquets from Los Bisquets Bisquets

Referee has stated that the big, buttery, flaky traditional American biscuit is an estimated 10 times more delicious.

American biscuits

It’s not looking good for Mexico, but wait…what is this? It appears Mexico is bringing one last item to the table – is that a fresh CHURRO? Smothered in cinnamon and sugar?! Mexico appears to be breaking the churro in half…something is oozing out…that’s right, folks, the churro is filled with hot caramel sauce! This is going to be a tough round to call!

Churros filled with cajeta (caramel sauce)

Conclusion: Americans won’t get dinged on plagiarism since they took European baked goods to a new level – they get one point for sprinkle innovation and one point for baking powder biscuits. Mexico gets two points for interactivity, but loses two points on overall quality, regaining two points on the strength of churros alone. That’s right, folks – we have a draw.

USA: 2

Mexico: 2

Round 2: Beverages

The US opens the round by putting it all out there…and it appears that all they have is coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice, not a strong start…Mexico points out that they actually get to keep coffee since they grew the beans. Excellent point. However, for being a coffee-producing country, they sure drink a lot of instant Nescafe – ouch! Then again, so does the American midwest….what’s that? Did I hear cafe de olla? One point for Mexico in coffee-brewing style points – brewing coffee in a mega pot with cinnamon and sugar was a brilliant idea. We’re getting some whispering from the Americans – one word, “Starbucks.” Well-played, USA! Two points for gourmet coffee chain domination! Mexico is taking the hit – they appear to be admitting they can’t deny their intense love of Starbucks.

Starbucks Coffee in San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico

Mexico appears to be reaching deep for this next hit…CHAMPURRADO!

The Americans tried to answer that with…

Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix with Mini-Marshmallows

Are you kidding me, America? One point for marshmallow innovation, but Abuelita kills Swiss Miss any day, much less bona fide homemade champurrado!

Grandma is smiling because she knows she can kick that little Swiss girl's butt any day

America is faltering, but Mexico does not appear to be backing down. They’re going in for the lethal blow…Fresh-squeezed juices including el vampiro and jugo anti-gripal (anti-flu juice)!

Mexican Juice Stand

Jugo Vampiro/Vampire Juice: Mix of beet, celery, orange juice

Jugo Antigripal/Anti-flu juice: Mix of lime, orange, guava, pineapple and honey

That’s it, folks, America is down and doesn’t appear to be getting up!

Conclusion: US gets two points for Starbucks, Mexico racks up points with cafe de olla and champurrado, garnering two more points for their outrageous selection of fresh-squeezed juices, and they didn’t even have to pull licuados out of their sleeve!

US: 2

Mexico: 4

Round 3: Main dish

It has been a knock-down, drag-out fight so far. It’s a hard one to call at this point…Main dishes are America’s strength, but the Americans team admit they don’t really know what Mexicans eat for breakfast. Will their hubris and ignorance be their undoing?

America opens the round – they are holding up a picture of American folk hero, Paul Bunyan, and daring Mexico to come up with a breakfast big enough to feed him.

Paul Bunyan: American folk hero and big eater

An interesting approach – America could have come out on the quality of its offerings, but they appear to think they’ll dominate based on serving size alone. Those ARE some pretty huge flapjacks!

Obesity epidemic? What obesity epidemic?

Average American Breakfast

The Mexican team looks slightly shocked, and possibly a bit disgusted…but they are quickly regrouping…Their answer – that staple of American breakfast menus everywhere – Huevos Rancheros!

Huevos Rancheros

It looks like it’s coming to blows…America answers with: Biscuits and gravy!

Biscuits and gravy

Mexico: Chilaquiles!

Chilaquiles: Fried tortilla dunked in red or green sauce, with eggs or chicken on top, plus sour cream and cheese

America: Pancakes with real maple syrup!

Pancakes/Flapjacks, known in Mexico as: "Panqueques"

Mexico: Tamales!

Tamales...for breakfast?!! Simon!

The American team has a question for the judge – it appears they did not know you can eat tamales for breakfast in Mexico…that threw them for a loop…We didn’t catch their other question, but they seem to have regrouped and have a response…Denny’s Grand Slam!

Denny's Grand Slam

A new tactic – we thought they might present egg dishes and bacon separately, but they seem to be trying to overwhelm Mexico with the ultimate breakfast combo, at prices that can’t be beat…

Mexico: Machaca con huevos!

machaca con huevos y frijoles refritos

The Americans look really confused – they clearly did not fully investigate their competition – one of the Americans appears to be looking up machaca on his cell phone. For our viewers, machaca is dried beef, which may sound a bit peculiar, but we can confirm that it is indeed delicious. How will the Americans answer that one?

America: Breakfast burrito!

The Breakfast burrito: Origins unclear, Genius unquestioned

Wait a second! Are the Americans attempting to claim the breakfast burrito? Is that not Mexican food? We have a debate starting to emerge…The referee is asking for clarification about what exactly the Americans are talking about…it appears their point of reference is the Jack in the Box breakfast burrito, made with sausage, American cheese and hash browns. The Mexicans have confirmed that they disown that concoction. They are smiling and laughing – they clearly don’t think they need this one in order to win…The Americans are retracting the breakfast burrito and substituting the: Egg McMuffin!

Egg McMuffin

Mexico answers with: Huevos a la Mexicana with a side of chorizo!

Mexican-style egg scramble with tomato, onion and jalapeno

Mexico seems to be running out of options…their team is discussing some regional specialities for its next move…The Americans are clearly seeing an opportunity to secure their domination here, they are conferring with the ref….they are stepping out with:

Brunch!

Brunch: You cannot resist its charms

The audience is confused…Many Mexicans do not appear to be familiar with brunch…we have a debate between the judges about whether brunch is an off-shoot of breakfast or another meal entirely. The Americans are being asked to clarify what they mean by brunch. They have put up a definition on the main screen:

Brunch = all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional American breakfast foods + seafood buffet with crab and shrimp cocktails + eggs benedict + quiche + Bagels and creamcheese with lox + baked goods + mimosas + Bloody Marys

WOW! America is throwing down! But it’s not clear if this is entirely legal…folks, we can’t call it – it is going to a vote of the people – Post your votes in the comments section below or on my Facebook wall. Who will prevail?!!

Don't let those alcoholic breakfast beverages addle your mind!

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Jamie Oliver, would you mind popping over here?

The thing that I love most about Jamie Oliver is his relentless optimism. The man will not be daunted! Whether taking on the lunch ladies or the FDA or kids from the inner city, he will never sway from his fundamental conviction that it is possible for anyone to prepare healthy, fresh food from scratch.

Now, I agree with Jamie. I too am all about fresh, healthy, organic, locally-sourced food. I grew up in Sonoma, a bastion of back-to-the-land foodie culture if there ever was one, not to mention I put in several years in Portland surrounded by vegetarians, vegans, freegans and the odd fruititarian. That said, I no longer live there.

I now live in a majority Mexican neighborhood, within a short drive of Monterey Park, a diverse Asian community. Which is to say, I have to go out of my way to buy hummus. However, I have no problem getting a wide variety of great produce, any cut of meat and practically any ingredient needed for any ethnic cuisine. The issue is fish.

For Christmas, I got Jamie’s book “Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook.” I was particularly excited by the sections on fish and meat since I’m not particularly adept at preparing either of these, nor do I know anything about how to select the right items at the market. I realized Jamie is from another planet when I reach the section: “At the Fishmonger’s.” I have never seen a fishmonger in my life, which will probably make it tough for me to befriend him and call him in the morning to check on the latest catch. So I moved on to the other tips.

Fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy.

Ranch 99, the massive Asian supermarket, has a vast selection of fish. That said, the entire place reeks of fish – all the way over to the produce on the opposite side of the store. I’m not sure about the particular fish I’m considering buying because the stench of fish is overpowering me as I sniff it. Is that a bad sign?

The eyes should be clear, bright and shiny.

One day I was at Ranch 99, when suddenly there was a stampede. I had a pretty great view, since I am a full head taller than all other people in Monterey Park, which would be awesome if there were more rock concerts over here. I realized one of the guys had just popped out with an enormous tub of live fish that he dumped into a vat in the aisle. People went CRAZY, grabbing the wiggling fish and wrangling them into their bags. Confirmed: the eyes were bright and shiny. On the down side, they were all gone by the time I got up there. Jamie, you might want to add a tip about the need to be assertive and not hesitate to use your elbows in the quest for fresh seafood.

If there are sustainability issues with a particular fish, it’s probably a good idea to use something similar in its place.

Since going to Monterey Bay Aquarium years ago, I’ve been carrying their Seafood Watch Guide in my wallet. Talk about buzz kill. Mercury in tuna!? Overfishing of Chilean sea bass!? Will it never end?! This guide has a bajillion varieties of fish in it – however, it was no match for the staggering selection at Ranch 99. There were varieties that I googled that only came up on the some sort of international fishing website that sounded like it was written by the CIA.

I mapped it. Click here to see all the varieties available on an average day.

I was able to pretty conclusively decide that farmed anything wasn’t going to cut it and imported was generally a hit against it. That left me with U.S. wild…fish paste. It looked like quivering gray mass of fish-based jello. And no-go on the salmon, usually my staple. At the end of the day, the only two items I could decisively conclude met sustainability standards were the lobsters and crabs. So I guess I’ll be eating like a queen…

So, Jamie, I could definitely use a hand over here pinning down this fishmonger business. I know you’ve been slumming in LA lately, so I’m not asking you to take a transatlantic flight or anything. Those westsiders you’ve been hanging with will probably not actually be able to locate my neighborhood. Just go east. You’ll know when you get there. I’ll treat you to a taco – and a boba tea.

 

 

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