A Simple Pot of Cannellini Beans with Sage

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Sometimes it all comes down to a pot of beans. A simple pot of beans.

My cooking over the last few years has become more and more simple. Gone are the days of fussily-plated, multi-course meals that took days to prepare for, days to clean up from and would, more often than not, leave me exhausted. Nowadays, I am more likely to invite friends and family over a day or two in advance, plan a menu that can be prepared a few hours ahead of time and allow people to give me a hand. As I have gotten older I feel less pressure to impress my guests with complicated food and fancy wines. I no longer try to pull off extravagant dinner parties all by myself. There is just too much pressure for both the cook and those gathering around the table. Allowing people pick up a knife to help chop the garlic, or a dishtowel to help wash the dishes or a corkscrew to open the wine is just more fun. For everyone! These days my food reflects this sense of sharing.

Simple food can be deceiving. Back in my twenties, when I first started cooking and heard older (wiser?) cooks talk about their love of “simple” food I all but rolled my eyes. What could be interesting, challenging or exciting about something like a roasted chicken or an apple pie or a pot of beans.  Yet! Think of roasting a chicken. In my mind, it takes years (years!) of practise to really master it. Same thing with pastry crust. I am still working on turning out my idea of a perfect pâte brisée consistently. I just keep trying.

One thing I feel like I have mastered over the past year or so is a very good pot of beans. Sure, it is easy to open up a can but there is something so satisfying about simmering a pot on the stove for a few hours. Plus they really do taste way, way better.

There are many variations of how to cook a pot of beans. To soak or not soak, boil or not boil, add sodium bicarbonate? Herbs, onion or tomatoes?

My version is, well, simple. Pre-soak the beans. Then drain and rinse. Into my old cast-iron enamel pot they go. Add water, sage leaves and some good olive oil (this is key). Bring to a simmer, never a boil. Cook over a low flame until the beans are cooked through but before the skins split. Drain and season generously with salt, pepper and plenty of good olive oil. I could happily eat these beans every day. I have made these beans (and pots of flageolets and garbanzos and navy beans) for many, many dinners with family and friends who also seem to love them. Simple and perfect.

 

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Spaghetti with Artichokes

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Hello again. It has been a busy few weeks with classes and supper clubs and especially with the planning of our upcoming culinary tour in Puglia!

Things are really starting to come together and we have been working hard on the 8 day itinerary which I am very, very excited about. Trips to local bakers to learn the art of making a true Altamuran loaf (the only D.O.C. bread in all of Europe), pasta making workshops, wine tastings and visits to local vineyards to see the vines and talk to winemakers. There will be plenty of time for informal, hands-on cooking classes in the Masseria La Selva kitchen to learn the simple, authentic, vegetable based cuisine of southern Italy. Long, leisurely outdoor lunches, picnics at the beach and exploring the art and cultural scene in nearby towns of Gravina, Matera and Alberobello. I am so excited to go back to Puglia and introduce our group to the beauty of the landscape, the amazing people and culture, the incomparable food and overall magic of this very special place.

If you would like any additional info about our September tour please email us at events@kitchenculinaire.com We currently have 5 spots remaining.

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Also in the works is an opportunity for me to spend three weeks in France, just outside of Toulouse, cooking for an art restoration workshop. The food in that region is some of my favourite in all of France. Think duck confit and cassoulet and garbure and Toulouse sausages. I will be posting more about this adventure in the coming weeks, especially as I spend more and more time in my kitchen testing recipes and planning menus. So many ideas are swirling around in my head right now and I can’t wait to translate them into recipes one dish at a time.

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Before I head back culinarily to France I wanted to leave you with a recipe that reflects all of the recent focus on bella Italia. This dish is decidedly Roman but artichokes are found all over Italy and beloved in the south as well. A simple dish that is perfect when the first baby artichokes start showing up at the local greengrocers as they recently have in my neighbourhood. A jumble of artichokes placed in a bowl or on a pedestal platter on the kitchen counter is just so beautiful to my eye. So much more beautiful than a bouquet of flowers.

As I pass by them over the course of a day or two or three I dream about what they will become. A soufflé with a bit of Gruyere? Sautéed with some garlic and pancetta to serve alongside a roasted chicken? Sliced very thin and served raw as a salad dressed with good olive oil, lemon juice, Parmigiano and celery, or as a tapenade with rosemary oil to spread on toasted bread. But honestly, this slightly spicy, garlicky pasta that gets a hit of saltiness from the Pecorino cheese is my go-to and very favourite way to feature the humble, yet beautiful artichoke. Let me know if you agree…

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A Taste of Puglia – Our Upcoming Culinary Tour

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Exciting news to share! Kitchen Culinaire is going to Puglia and you are invited.

Located in southern Italy, Puglia is renowned for its stunning landscapes and local produce. Last summer I spent three weeks volunteering with Messors, an organization that runs art restoration and culinary workshops in the region. I fell in love with the landscape, the people, the culture and especially the food. Learning to make orecchiette by hand, foraging for wild edibles, picnicking in olive groves, visiting local cheese makers. Everyday there was a new and amazing culinary adventure.  I was so inspired by my time at Messors, I couldn’t wait to start planning a Kitchen Culinaire Puglian adventure for September 2015. Sarolta and I have been hard at work putting together a food-centric itinerary to showcase the magic of this region.

My room at La Selva Wheat harvest at the Creanza farm photo 2
Altamura kids on bikes Our daily bread  DOP bread
Pasta made by hand with love Bell tower - Masseria La Selva Masseria kitchen - last breakfast

Our 8-day journey will include walking tours of markets in nearby villages where the freshest local, seasonal food is enticingly displayed, visits to the shops of artisan bakers, butchers and cheese makers, stops at vineyards and olive groves, and of course plenty of cooking classes to make the most of all of our delicious daily discoveries.

Accommodations will be at the Masseria La Selva, an elegantly rustic 18th century hunting lodge. This magnificent location will be our home base for the cooking classes, wine, cheese and olive oil tastings, and al fresco dining under the stars. An experience not to be missed!

Dates are September 10th to 17th. Autumn in Puglia!

Check out all the details here.

Space is limited to 14 participants so drop us a line to reserve your spot. We would love to have you join us!

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Chickpea and Kale Soup

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It is cold, dark, rainy and nearing the end of November. It is a month today until Christmas. How did this possibly happen?!

This week is a busy one, filled with dinners, classes, parties, fundraisers and beloved family visiting from out of town. I am already beginning to feel stressed and stretched and the holiday season has yet to begin. Then, I stop and think and remember what is the thing that always makes me feel calm and happy and centred. Cooking of course. But nothing complicated. Something simple and warming and filled with good things. A pot of soup.

Nothing is as comforting as a bowl of soup. Here is one of my very favourites of late. Kale and chickpeas with lemon and Parmesan. Perfect for a solo lunch, a family dinner rounded out with some good bread, a salad, some cheese and fruit. Perfect too for a lazy afternoon when you feel like inviting good friends over but don’t want to cook anything too fancy.

This, like most of my cooking lately, has a decidedly Italian bent and comes from a cookbook that I have been cooking from a lot (A LOT) lately: Franny’s – Simple, Seasonal, Italian. Pizza, pastas, salads and soups. Might just be the way that I get through the upcoming crazy holiday season.

Speaking of Italy, I have some very exciting news to share. It has to do with travel, a certain Masseria in Puglia, and cooking, eating, and wine drinking. Full details will be available here in the next few days. To say I am excited and thrilled would be an understatement!

Until then, stay dry, stay warm!

xo J

 

 

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Orecchiette with Tomato Sugo and Wild Arugula

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Image courtesy of Melissa Quantz

As many of you already know, this summer I spent an inspiring three weeks in Puglia volunteering at an art restoration workshop hosted by Tonio Creanza with his organization Messors. I have used the words “magical” and “life-changing” to describe my time at the Masseria La Selva and even after being home for close to three months these feelings have yet to fade.

I have spent the last twenty years of my life cooking. Going to cooking school, cooking in restaurants, working at catering companies, hosting cooking classes, leading culinary tours and cooking for family and friends. I figured I knew quite a bit about good food and how to make it.

And then I went to Puglia.

I’m still not sure how to explain it. In 21 short days I learned so much about food and cooking and how to take simple yet beautiful ingredients and make them taste so very good. I wonder if the way the Italians prepare food and gather people around the table just perfectly reflects where I am at right now in my journey as a cook and that is why the experience felt so powerful. That simple food is really what I love to make and to eat and to share with others.

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Images courtesy of Melissa Quantz

Orecchiette and tomato sugo. When I think of all of the dishes I learned to make in Puglia this is the one that represents everything that is meaningful to me about my time cooking and learning in the kitchen at the Masseria la Selva.

I learned how flour and water can be transformed into something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. That it takes some real muscle to make a decent pasta dough and plenty of patience and perseverance to roll it and form it into the shape of a little ear, known as orecchiette. That care, attention, years of experience and certainly love are the most important ingredients in making this typical Puglian pasta by hand. That I learned all this from Tonio’s mother, Grazia Berloco, who has been making orecchiette for close to 70 years, is a gift that I will cherish forever.

Forming the little ears

Image courtesy of Melissa Quantz

But what about the sugo? It is so dead simple I feel a bit embarrassed to call this a recipe. Still, when I first made this in Italy it was a real revelation to me. How can some tomatoes, garlic and plenty of good olive oil be transformed into something so magical, so delicious? I have been making this tomato sugo a lot since I have been home and each time I teach it at a class or serve it at a dinner party people seem as surprised as I am by the depth and complexity of the flavour from such a simple combination of humble ingredients.

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Images courtesy of Melissa Quantz

A few weeks ago I asked my sweet friend and talented photographer Melissa Quantz if she would be willing to come by and visually document the process of making the orecchiette by hand. It is one thing to read a recipe but I know that making orecchiete can be a bit tricky and I thought being able to see each of the steps could really demystify the process. Always enthusiastic, Melissa readily agreed and we spent an lovely, light-filled afternoon together kneading dough, rolling and shaping the orecchiette and preparing the sugo. All of the beautiful photos in this post are Melissa’s.

Orecchiette in the kitchen

Image courtesy of Melissa Quantz

Over the next weeks we will be collaborating with Tonio Creanza to host some Puglian dinners here at Kitchen Culinaire headquarters in Vancouver. Tonio will lead us through a comparative olive oil tasting, I will be doing a demonstration of how to make orecchiete by hand and together we will be cooking up a five course menu of traditional dishes from Puglia. Dates and details to follow but if you would be interested in attending one of these evenings please drop us a line at events@kitchenculinaire.com

There are still some wonderful early fall tomatoes out there – happy sugo making!

xo J

 

 

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Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with Italian Prune Plums and Whipped Mascarpone Cream

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At long last, a recipe!  I am particularly excited to share this cake with you as it is everything I love in a dessert. It is dead simple to make, uses some lovely seasonal fruit (in the form of Italian prune plums) and some unusual ingredients (in the form of ricotta and olive oil) that people don’t usually associate with dessert. It is rustically beautiful to the eye. It feels perfect for these final days of summer, early days of fall.

Our plum tree in the garden has just a few deep purple, jewel-like plums left on its gnarled old branches. Most of the plums were picked by family and friends although a good number were pilfered by the local Italian gentlemen who pass by the tree on their way to play bocci in the park, just down the street. When caught in the act (one guy had a cardboard box that he was busily filling up) they smile sweetly and murmur something about being friends with the owner or that they (or their brother or their uncle) planted this very tree, so many years ago. In my neighbourhood the plums and figs, grapes and tomatoes growing in the private gardens are always seen as public property. As I am generally open to sharing I tend to think of this as a somewhat charming yet quirky aspect to living just off of Commercial Drive.

We have a big bowl of plums on the counter in the kitchen and while I love to eat them out of hand, make plum preserves or a plum tart my very, very favourite way to enjoy them is to make this olive oil and ricotta cake. Be sure to use a good quality, extra virgin olive oil and, if you are feeling up for it, you can even make your very own ricotta.  This year’s plums from our tree have been a bit on the tart side and I think that is what makes them such the perfect compliment to the rich and moist cake, but feel free to toss them with a drizzle of honey if you like things a bit sweeter. Served with a dollop of whipped mascarpone cream, this is one of the best desserts ever.

The prune plums should be around for at least another couple of weeks, depending on your neighbourhood. Make this cake before they are gone for another year!

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A Trip to Italy with Messors

Masseria La Selva

Hello again at long last!

I can’t believe how much time has passed since my last post and honestly I had no intention of staying away from here for so long.

After a wonderful trip to Paris where we hosted our 2nd annual culinary tour, I set off for Italy to volunteer for three weeks at an art restoration workshop at a masseria (farmhouse) near the town of Altamura in Puglia. I have now been back in Vancouver for over a month but somehow it’s taken a while to sort through my photos and talk about this amazing experience. I wasn’t sure how to do it justice through clumsy words and iphone photographs. And maybe I wanted to hang on to this place in my heart and my mind without sharing it for just a little while longer.

Earlier this year, through a series of happy coincidences, I was invited to go to Italy by Tonio Creanza, the founder and director of Messors, an organization that runs art restoration and culinary/shepharding workshops in southern Italy. I have been using the Creanza family olive oil for the past four years and have been avidly following the development of their annual workshops. To be offered the opportunity to go as a volunteer was truly a dream come true.

My last trip to Italy was with my sister, some 15 years ago. It was a package deal through Alitalia for seven days in Rome priced at something like $599 for air, hotel and transfers. I remember our plane was delayed and we lost one precious day. I remember the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese and that my sister wore her backpack under her jacket for fear of being mugged. I cannot remember a single thing I ate.

I was unprepared for what Italy had in store for me this time.

My room at La Selva Wheat harvest at the Creanza farm picnic lunch
Canvas restoration Flowering artichokes Masseria bedroom
Altamura kids on bikes Our daily bread  DOP bread
Our group! Tonio Creanza First supper
At the Fornello project The cheese maker Fresco

Not to sound overly dramatic but my three weeks at the Masseria La Selva were life changing.

I fell deeply in love.

In love with the people, the art, culture, traditions and the true reverence that the Italians have for family and for gathering people around the table. The stunning physical landscape with groves of olive trees, fields of wheat, and crumbling trulli. Seeing the Masseria La Selva for the first time with its imposing stone farmhouse and the crooked-trunked trees lining the driveway, all bathed in golden light, literally took my breath away.

While Messors offers amazing culinary and shepharding workshops, I was in Puglia to volunteer at their art restoration workshop. This, in fact, was a real blessing. I was able to stay at the Masseria for three weeks and really got a sense as to how the workshops are organized and run. I spent time living with ten lovely participants from around the world while working alongside the beloved masseria crew who cook, clean, drive, organize, and help facilitate all of the behind-the-scenes stuff with so much care. Tonio loves his homeland and is passionate about art and culture preservation and I learned an astonishing amount about the region and fresco and canvas restoration. There were fieldtrips to nearby towns of Altamura, Gravina and Matera all rich in history and art and culture. There were walks through archeological sites gathering and identifying shards of pottery from the 3rd and 4th century and an epic trip to visit the ruins in Pompeii. We toured museums, attended live musical performances, enjoyed dinners at the beach complete with a full moon, swimming and a bonfire. Something magical, something unexpected, happened every single day.

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It might not have been a culinary tour but this being Italy there was a deep and serious focus on food and wine.

Knowing my keen interest in cooking, Tonio was also incredibly kind and generous to include many, many food-centric moments over the 21 days.

There were impromptu foraging adventures for wild arugula, thyme, green chickpeas, figs and almonds, while visiting archeological sites. A detour on our way to visit some frescos to meet and chat with the local cheese maker, see his aging cave and pick up the Pecorino for our lunch at the masseria. We took trips to the vegetable market in Altamura to fill crates with the eggplants, chicory, onions, tomatoes, fennel bulbs, potatoes, watermelon, peaches that were part of our daily meals. We sampled fresh, raw baby octopus and prawns at the fishmonger and bought our daily bread from the local Forno Antico which was founded in 1724. Tonio’s mother came to teach us how to make orecchiette pasta by hand. We picked apricots and yellow plums from the trees at the Creanza family farm where we also picnicked in the groves where the olive oil we used in copious amounts originates. The same olive oil that I use in my Vancouver kitchen, half a world away.

While I was lucky and grateful to be invited to attend all of the activities and outings with the group, I was aware that I was supposed to be there to work.

Thankfully at Messors, the role of the volunteer is not rigidly defined and so I rather quickly determined that the best place for me to help (and to learn) was in the Masseria La Selva kitchen. The kitchen is run by Tonio’s boisterous sister-in-law, Rosanna, and just thinking about this woman brings a huge smile to my face. Always talking, singing and laughing, Rosanna made the masseria kitchen the most wonderful place to be. She cooked with a quiet confidence and ease, managing to produce some seriously delicious food for the 20 to 30 people she needed to feed each day at both lunch and dinner. She was a patient teacher and it would be no exaggeration to say that I learned as much from Rosanna during my time in the masseria kitchen as I did during my time at cooking school. I speak no Italian and Rosanna speaks very little English but somehow we managed to talk about food and life while she gifted me with the most incredible crash course in the regional dishes of Puglia. On our final day together, she shyly presented me with a beautiful apron covered with delicate white and green flowers with potholders and a dishtowel to match. It was such a sweet and thoughtful gesture, it made me cry.

Dinner on the patio Gravina Me and Rosanna
Fresh almonds Weekly vegetable pickup Chicory
Lunch en masse at the Masseria Ancient ruins Magical night at the beach
Pasta made by hand with love Masseria La Selva Laundry on the line
Staircase at dusk Masseria kitchen - last breakfast Bell tower - Masseria La Selva

Coming home was wonderful, yet a bit hard. I was so glad to see my family, and the last days of summer in Vancouver have a magic all their own. Still, Italy managed to capture my heart in a way that I was completely unprepared for. I still miss the beauty of the landscape, the people and the anticipation of learning and discovering something new every day.

As always, it is my time in the kitchen that has made the transition somewhat easier. I am cooking all of the dishes that I learned from Rosanna at the masseria and sharing them with my family and friends here. It helps to bridge the gap. I am cooking with love and care and a slowness these days. I have never, ever felt so inspired in the kitchen. I have many recipes that I can’t wait to share here.

They are coming. I promise. Soon.

xo J

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A Magical Visit to The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune, Burgundy

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The Cook's Atelier Cook's Atelier Tomatoes for roasting
Radishes and salted butter Charentais melon with prosciutto Duck breast with spring vegetables
Cheese course Apricot tart Fini!

It is almost time to say goodbye to France for another year but before I do I just had to put up a post about the most extraordinary culinary experience of our trip.

Sarolta and I love hosting our annual culinary tour in Paris because, well, we love the city and the amazing food and drink and markets and boulangeries and patisseries and fromageries etc. etc. We love cooking together with our guests and showing them around Paris and after all these years visiting we feel pretty good about finding our way around the culinary hotspots. But then again France is an amazing country!  Sarolta and I started brainstorming about the possibility of offering a culinary tour that perhaps could offer the best of big, vibrant Paris as well as the small, bucolic countryside with it’s vineyards and pretty vistas of some other region of France. A place where the regional culinary scene is exciting yet steeped in tradition and the wine is amazing.

After last year’s tour my husband and I went on a little cycling holiday in Burgundy. Our first two nights were spent in Beaune and it was love at first sight. Beaune is a picturesque walled city with an amazing Saturday market and many great, family owned food shops. It is surrounded by some of the very best vineyards in the world and the art of eating well is taken very seriously here.

After this year’s Paris tour concluded  Sarolta and I were able to take some time to do research for next year’s trip and so we decided this was the perfect opportunity to go and re-visit this beautiful part of the country. We hoped to see if somehow we could add on a few days next year and provide a taste of Burgundy that would complement the Paris portion of our current tour.

With my sweet Mum in tow we booked an apartment, packed our bags, took an easy 2 1/2 hour train ride and arrived in beautiful Beaune in the mid afternoon. It was everything I remembered it to be. Lovely light, amazing wine and a good number of foods shops and restaurants that looked inviting. It was then I remembered that I had seen an article in Food and Wine about a place called The Cook’s Atelier run by a mother and daughter duo who host culinary tours and cooking classes in a beautiful light-filled store and kitchen space right in the centre of the city.

Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini own The Cook’s Atelier and love good food, good wine and Beaune, Burgundy. We checked on their website and realized that we were right in between the days when they offer scheduled classes but Sarolta emailed Marjorie, who couldn’t have been more accommodating, and a private shopping tour/cooking class was soon booked for the following day.

It may sound strange for people who teach cooking classes to be taking cooking classes, but here is the thing: cooking is all about learning. Anyone who genuinely loves to cooks understands that they will never know everything there is to know about ingredients and techniques, that there is always something new to learn and taste. This is what inspires me everyday. Also, if we were to bring a group to Burgundy we would need to find someone who really knows the local markets and shops and wine scene. From looking at The Cook’s Atelier’s beautiful website I knew Marjorie and Kendall were not only living the dream in Beaune but they were also sharing, in a thoughtful way, all of their knowledge of a place they obviously love.

The day we spent with Marjorie and Kendall was beyond magical. We shopped at some of their favourite places and made our way back to their atelier which is filled with an interesting selection of small production wines from France, Italy and Germany, linens and carefully curated cooking tools. Antique (refurbished) mezzalunas, French rolling pins, vintage marble mortars with wooden pestles and gleaming copper pots. From the main floor retail area you climb a flight of stairs to the kitchen and on the very top floor is a welcoming dining room complete with a long, zinc-topped table that can comfortably accommodate 10 guests. Flea market silver, vintage white linens, cream coloured ceramic plates and bowls, small vases filled with flowers and plenty of flickering candles. The entire place in everything I love in a kitchen/dining space.

We headed to the kitchen, tied on our aprons and made the Burgundian classic gougeres. We snacked on radishes with demi-sel butter, thin slices of cured meats and enjoyed well-chilled glasses of Crement. We had the most delicious salad composed of perfectly ripe chanterais melon and San Daniele prosciutto with purple basil and glasses of Chablis. The main course was a seared duck breast with spring vegetables that Kendall paired with a local Pinot Noir followed by the most amazing cheese course featuring the classic cheese of Burgundy, Epoisses. Dessert was an apricot tart, served with a good strong espresso. Just for good measure there was a plate piled high with freshly baked madeleines. We were presented with small jars of homemade apricot preserves when it (sadly) came time to leave.

I loved it all. The conversation and the introduction to some great shops in Beaune. The instruction and hands-on cooking together. The tips and techniques that we picked up along the way. The amazing food we enjoyed and the perfect simplicity in the way it was plated. The thoughtfulness of the wine pairings. Seeing the real ease, but very strong work ethic, of a mother and a daughter working together to make their dreams come true.

We spoke with Marjorie and Kendall about our plans to bring a group to visit next June. They are enthusiastic to show us around the city, cook together and even arrange for a wine tour by car or bike.

We can’t wait to go back and hope that some of you will be able to join us. Paris/Beaune Culinary tour 2015. That has got a pretty nice ring to it!

xo J

 

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