51 meatless things to try in Madison before Lake Mendota thaws

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Several weeks ago I stumbled upon Andre Darlington’s blog where he listed 50 things that are quintessential Madison. And then last week I discovered this blog and a woman named Holly who took Darlington’s list on as a challenge. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. And that somebody is not me (too meat-centric). However, I have decided to riff on their idea and simultaneously one up them with my list: 51 Meatless Things to Try in Madison Before Lake Mendota Thaws. And because it is one of my favorites, I will borrow Darlington’s #15 and make it my #1.

51 Meatless Things to Try in Madison Before Lake Mendota Thaws

1) Walnut Burger at Harmony Bar (add blue cheese and fried onions)

2) Veggie Ramen at Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar

3) Blueberry Scone at Lazy Jane’s (or Raspberry or Blackberry)

4) Whiskey Old Fashioned Press at Weary Traveler

5) Three Cup Tofu at Natt Spil (the best tofu dish in Madison, in my humble opine)

6) Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar at Batch Bakehouse

7) Sweet Potato Fries with Tarragon Mayo and Jalapeno Blackberry Jam at Alchemy

8) Margherita Pizza at Pizza Brutta

9) Popcorn at Graze

10) Cesar’s String Cheese at Willy Street Co-op

11) Black Bean Tacos at Burrito Drive (don’t forget to add pickled onions!)

12) Any Tapper (preferably post-Packer victory) at Laurel Tavern

13) Butter (really more like savory frosting) at Tornado Club (bread optional)

14) Spinach Nan at Taste of India

15) Bottle of Miller High Life and Bag of De-lish-us Chips at Old Duffer’s (a hop, skip and jump from Madison out Highway 18/151)

16) Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Avocado at Lazy Jane’s

17) Plantains at Cafe Costa Rica

18) Big Country Bread from Cress Springs Bakery at Dane Co. Farmer’s Market (tastes even better if you take it home and eat it while listening to ‘In a Big Country’ by Big Country)

19) Warm Beet Salad at Graze

20) Frites at Jacs

21) Margarita at Pasqual’s

22) Asian Slaw at Restaurant Muramoto

23) Pineapple Curry with Tofu at Lao-Laan Xang (Atwood location)

24) Rejected Truffles (any flavor) at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier (free samples!)

25) Macaroni and Cheese at The Old Fashioned

26) Sardine Caesar* at Sardine (*has anchovies, which technically could be considered meat… I guess I like to live on the edge)

27) Bottomless Cup of Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee (and a game of cribbage or Scrabble) at EVP

28) Wedge Salad at Tornado Club

29) The Ramblin’ Vegan’s Chili at Weary Traveler

30) Sake Bomb at Karaoke Kid (where I once witnessed a rousing rendition of aforementioned ‘In a Big Country’ in the VIP lounge)

31) Bella Burger at Alchemy

32) Steamed Tofu Dumplings at Ha Long Bay

33) Dark & Stormy at Cafe Costa Rica

34) Aloo Chana at Taste of India

35) Onion Bagel  at Bagels Forever

36) Sexy Fries at Mickey’s Tavern

37) The Smell at Fraboni’s (just walk in and inhale.. you’re welcome)

38) Frozen Cheese Pizza at Crystal Corner

39) Kale, Lemon, Green Apple and Ginger Juice at Willy Street Co-op Juice Bar

40) 2% Latte at Bradbury’s* (*only attempt if you have the moxie to attempt the maze of hipsterdom)

41) Maize Salad at Alchemy

42) Egg Sandwich (hold the bacon) at Crema Cafe (so good I had to eat it twice this weekend)

43) McLovin Irish Red Ale at Vintage Brewing Co. (go on a Wednesday and check out the Madison Blues Co-op blues jam!)

44) Vegetarian Antipasta Platter at Greenbush Bar

45) Whole Wheat and Cheddar Scone from Cress Springs Bakery at Dane Co. Farmer’s Market

46) Mediterranean Plate at Jacs

47) Red Beans and Rice at New Orleans Take-Out

48) Veggie Empanada at Victory

49) Cucumber Salad at Sa-Bai Thong

50) Gruyere-Filled Roll at Batch Bakehouse

51) Rathskeller Ale and Bag of Popcorn at Memorial Union (watch the ice thaw)

Did I forget anything? Please add any favorites in the comments!

I was fast asleep until the mariachi band and pirates showed up

Happy Sunday morning. I’ve got a cat on my lap, a mason jar full of blueberry smoothie in my hand and this album on repeat.  It’s a strange January Sunday without the Packers, but we can’t win them all. The good news is we finally got some snow and I have a couple of kale recipes that I have been wanting to share with you. They are really more like suggestions, because I don’t have exact measurements, but they are deliciously simple and I think you will enjoy them. And they both pair kale with parmesan cheese, which is a match made in food heaven.

The first one comes via my friends Martha and Dominic, who had us over for a dinner party a couple of weeks ago. In addition to making a kale salad that I inhaled like it was oxygen, they introduced us to Boggle and a riff on the old Telephone/ Operator game that left me laughing harder than I have in a really long time (it involves drawing pictures and folding the paper and then writing phrases and passing the paper around the circle until ‘Mom said you have to take out the compost’ becomes ‘When you grow an afro, then you can have a dishwasher’ and ‘No Jam sessions, cause you’ll wake up the militants’ morphs into ‘I was fast asleep until the mariachi band and pirates showed up.’)

Whether or not you are a fan of party games, I highly recommend this salad:

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Lemon-soaked Kale Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Clean and dry a bunch of kale and tear it into bite-sized pieces. Marinate the kale in lots of lemon juice (Meyer lemons, if you can get them) and olive oil (allow to sit for several hours, if possible). Right before serving, toss the kale with a pinch of salt, slivered almonds, pomegranate seeds and good shaved parmesan cheese. Devour.

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The second recipe is one that I made up last week when I was craving bean soup, and it turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. I like to call it:

White Bean Soup with Kale, Two Ways

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, chopped

1 or 2 carrots, sliced into rounds

Kale, divided

olive oil

2 cans (15 oz.) of white beans (I used Eden Organic Cannellini and Great Northern Beans)

1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

Red wine

Water (6-8 cups)

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Seasonings: Thyme, Freshly ground salt and pepper, Red chili flakes

Directions:

Warm the olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) over medium in a heavy soup pot. Add the onions and saute until fragrant (about 3-4) minutes. Add the sliced carrots, some of the kale, and thyme and red chili flakes and saute for a couple of minutes. Add some red wine (the rest of that bottle that has been open too long to drink) and the cans of beans (drained). Add the can of tomatoes with their juice and water (6-8) cups. Cook over medium until it just bubbles and then turn the heat to low, partially cover and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours. 20 minutes before serving, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the rest of the kale on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the kale is crisp, but not charred (about 8-10 minutes) and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and salt. At this time, check the soup for seasonings and add salt and pepper. To serve the soup, ladle into warm bowls and top with kale crisps, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with a hunk of good bread (warmed in the oven) and glass of wine. Especially good on a cold, winter evening.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes. To mis-quote Richard Gere from “Pretty Woman:” ‘I’m high on kale, can’t you tell?’ Cheers.

I’ve got a black belt in keeping it real

On a recent rainy (football) Saturday, Dan and I ventured right into the belly of the beast; the eye of the storm. I had a hankering for miso soup and cupcakes and no crazed badger fans nor a lack of parking for a 3-mile radius was going to stop me. We negotiated the sea of red and white with my station wagon as our trusty vessel and headed straight for Monroe Street. Our destination? Macha Teahouse. We miraculously found a parking spot and sloshed our way (opposite the crowd) through the puddles and into the dry and warm tea lounge.

Despite what you may have heard,* Macha Teahouse is not owned and operated by the black belt and civil engineer-former manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Ken Macha. But it is run by these friendly folks. We were greeted immediately upon entering and directed to take a look at the chalk board menu of teas. The selection may seem a little overwhelming, but don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Dan prefers his tea coffee-flavored, but I like to embrace my Scottish roots and drink tea occasionally, especially in the afternoon (it’s tea time!). We ordered a variety of black tea, two cups of miso soup and a dark chocolate and zucchini cupcake. Our host inquired if it was our first visit to Macha, which it was Dan’s- I had once ordered an iced tea to go a couple of years prior which I felt validated my comment, ‘Oh no, I have been here before’ (after living in a tourist destination for several years I have a heightened sensitivity to coming off as a gaper). But because it was Dan’s, we also had a few tea cookies thrown in with our order to sweeten Dan’s first visit.

The atmosphere at Macha is serene…

…yet eclectic.

I love manatees.

We took our tray upstairs to a room painted pink where we sat at a low wooden table with pillows as our seats.

Our tray came with a sand-timer hourglass that kept track of the minutes that our tea was to steep in its shiny ceramic black pot. I recommend that you feel free to use this time to discuss your favorite storyline from ‘Days of our Lives,’ which leads me to the first-ever poll featured on Wisconsin Fun Next Exit.

Thank you for participating.

As soon as our tea was ready to drink, our timely host arrived with our miso soup. I opted for a scoop of rice in mine, and it also featured shiitake mushrooms and bok choy.

The soup was hot, healthy and it hit the spot. It was just what I was looking for after a few nights of holiday weekend indulgence. The tea warmed the soul and the chocolate cupcake was nothing short of divine. The thai basil lemon tea cookies were also a welcome addition.

I look forward to returning to Macha and sampling more teas and cupcakes. That Saturday it was a much-needed rejuvenating late lunch that gave me just the boost of energy that I needed for sticker shopping at Orange Tree Imports (a rare but favorite pasttime of mine).

Happy tea drinking.

*Okay, so that was the rumor that Dan and I tried to start.

Macha Teahouse+Gallery on Urbanspoon

Sake hammered

Okay, so I didn’t get hammered on sake last night. But while eating at what is probably my new favorite restaurant in Madison, Umami, Dan and I decided that sake hammered would be a good name for a band. Or, at the very least, a post (considerably better, said Dan, than my original name for it, U-yum-i).

If you haven’t been to Umami yet, I think you should go. The dumplings with smoked tofu and boky choy are delightful and cooked to perfection and last night we splurged and also had the special- vegetarian buns, a spin on their popular pork buns. The spongy ‘mantou’ (steamed) buns were filled with hoisin sauce, pickled cucumbers and crisp tofu (“the best ever” said Dan-the-meat-eater). I hope these find their way on to the permanent menu. This was all before the main entree, a bowl of veggie ramen that is the epitome of comfort food. I don’t know how they make the earthy mushroom/ seawood broth, but I could eat it morning, noon and night (with a spicy bomb on the side). Interestingly enough, the locally-made (3 blocks away) ramen comes from RP’s pasta where I once worked as a waitress when there was still a restaurant associated with the pasta factory. It’s also home to one of my favorite moments in waitressing history when one of the cooks, fed up with habitually being yelled at by another cook, washed his hands at the sink, declared “No more work,” and walked out the door as I stood by, cheering him on for fulfilling one of my waitressing fantasies. It was brillant. While the restaurant end at RP’s had its issues, they produce wonderful pastas and the fresh ramen noodles employed by Umami are delectable (to think that I once thought ramen came in a brown and orange package with a packet of msg powder… I’m glad my definition has changed).

In addition to the consistenly-delicious food at Umami, I love the ambiance.

Sit in the bar area and pretend you are on vacation. Somewhere where the word ‘recall’ still means, “Hey Dan, do you recall the time B.J. Raji intercepted that ball during the playoff game against the Bears, ran it back for a touchdown and then shook his buns in the endzone?”

In other awesome news, tonight I disovered that one of my furry roomates, we’ll call him ‘Tuff Puff,’ loves kale. This came to my attention during dinner when he dug his claws into my leg as he swiped a piece of the nutrition-packed leafy green that had fallen on my lap and then devoured it (pepper flakes and all). Also, yesterday Dan came home with a bunch of new (to us) records, including Van Morrison, The Band and this one:

And finally, I made the peanut sauce from this, one of my new favorite blogs, tonight again for dinner and oh yum, is it tasty. I hope your week is off to as banner of a start… Cheers.

Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Ashley’s sayonara breakfast

Happy heat wave.

This afternoon as I sat idling in sweltering contruction traffic on Willy Street my eyes were drawn to the sign posted outside the gas station that stated: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Pondering this, I decided no truer words have ever been spoken. At least not today.

It’s been a week since Dan and I rolled up in my dusty car after 23 1/2 hours on the road from our trip to Wyoming. I’ve got loads of stories and even more photos, I’m not even sure where to start. So I’ve decided to begin at the end, with Ashley’s breakfast.

Ashley was one of our two lovely hosts when we were in Jackson and she made us a delicious breakfast of egg sandwiches with truffle aioli and arugula the morning that we had to skip town. The truffle aioli made the sandwich and I intend to pick up a bottle of black truffle olive oil as soon as I win the lottery this week (maybe from the aforementioned gas station).

Forgive me for not having the exact recipe, but all great recipes are meant to be experimented with and modified (for example, I asked Ashley to hold the bacon on my sandwich.) Any way you slice it, it’s going to be delicious…

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Ashley’s sayonara egg sandwiches with truffle aioli

Ingredients:

English muffin

egg

arugula

black traffle infused olive oil

mayo

cheese (optional)

Directions:

Fry an egg over medium. Mix together a small amount of truffle olive oil (maybe a tablespoon) and a couple of tablespoons of mayo (to taste). Toast an english muffin. Spread the truffle aioli on both sides of the english muffin. If you feel so inclined, slice a piece of white cheese and place on one side of the muffin. Place the egg and a layer of arugula (the spicer the better, says Ashley) on the muffins. Make into a sandwich and eat. Enjoy.

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I’ve got to run (into a lake), but stay tuned for more stories, recipes and photos from Wyoming… Until then, stay cool.

Bellingham roasted potatoes

Okay, potatoes. When Dan and I were on our trip in Washington last month, my sister took us to Bellingham to visit her dear friends, their two cute kids and their adorable dog, Chester, aka ‘Butter.’ This was a fun adventure that included a ferry ride to Lummi Island, an extended happy hour on the beach, an encounter with a beavare, and, because we reveled too long on the beach, missing dinner on the island and ending up at a taco place/ bar in Bellingham where my sister, in a moment of brilliance, discovered that you could order a bowl of nacho cheese to accompany your burrito.

Whose cheese? Nacho cheese!

The next morning, our lovely hostess made an asparagus and egg frittata for breakfast and enlisted my help in making the roasted potatoes. I had been roasting cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts all winter, but it had never occurred to me to roast potatoes. So while my sister nobley fumbled with the coffee maker, I had to ask for guidance in making the potatoes (I’d like to think that what sometimes comes off as our ditziness is really just a profound desire to ask questions and to make sure that we do things right!) Now, I can’t stop making these potatoes… It’s the easiest thing and they turn out oh so delectable.

Clean and dried organic potatoes

I’ll give you the same directions that were given to me. Pre-heat the oven to 375 or 400 degrees. Rinse off and dry organic potatoes (I’ve been using yellow ones from Willy Street Co-op and picking out the smallest ones I can find.) Place potatoes in a bowl and toss with olive oil, minced garlic and whatever savory spices or herbs that you have on hand. I have used oregano and Penzey’s country french vinagrette. My neighbor has been keeping me in the fresh basil the last few weeks, thanks to his indoor herb garden, and I have been using this too, but adding it after the potatoes come out of the oven. Transfer the potatoes to a baking sheet and place them in the oven and roast for 25-35 minutes, or until the skins just become golden brown crisp; you may want to give them a good shake a couple of times during the cooking process. Place the potatoes in a bowl and toss with freshly ground pepper and sea salt to taste. Serve these potatoes as a breakfast side dish, a light meal with a salad and bread, or any way you want, really… I don’t think you could go wrong. Enjoy.

Hello old friend

Well hellooooo there. It feels like it’s been ages. How have you been? Since we last spoke the lilacs have bloomed, I have written a few concert reviews, celebrated my birthday (in a tent outside of Viroqua), found a new place to live (a house! with a yard! and chickens next door!), attended my first music festival of the summer season, obtained my first sunburn, and made a few new dishes that I want to tell you about. There’s more that we need to catch up on, but I’m going to start with the recipes for now.

Birthday morning view from the tent, Sidie Hollow campground, Viroqua, WI

The first two recipes that I want to tell you about come from a cookbook that I have had for longer than I would like to admit, because I am just now finally starting to use it. The book is Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson and it’s a very good thing that the pages are now starting to look splattered with oil and stained with fingerprints. I have had my eye on this one recipe for lime-bathed peanut salad (mainly because of the name) for awhile, but finally busted it out two weeks ago an a Tuesday evening when I was in the mood to celebrate (it has to do with a long and convulated housing situation, I’ll spare you the details, but it resulted in the aforementioned house where we will move into in June). This salad is the epitome of flavorful. As soon as I prepared this dish, Dan and I proceeded to eat 3/4 of it out of the bowl with one spoon, before dinner was even served.

Mmmmm... lime-bathed peanuts

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This recipe comes from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups usalted raw peanuts

4 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 large jalapeno chile, seeded and diced

3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice along the way. If the peanuts have skins, rub them clean in a dish towel to remove the skins, but don’t obsess over this. I acually like the visual texture you get from having some peanuts with skins and some without.

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl. In a separate small bowl, wisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Add to the tomato mixture and gently stir to combine. Just before serving, fold in the peanuts. Taste and adjust the seasonings with more salt if need be. Serves 4 t0 6.*

*Yeah, right. More like two, if you are anything like us.

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To accompany the peanut salad I made a main dish called otsu that has soba noodles, tofu, cucumbers and a citrusy-gingery sauce. This recipe also comes from Heidi’s book and is equally delicious.

Soba noodles

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This recipe comes from Super Natural Cooking

Otsu

Grated zest of 1 lemon
Fresh ginger, cut into a 1-inch cube, peeled, and grated
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown-rice vinegar
1/3 cup shoyu sauce (wheat-free soy sauce)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

12 ounces dried soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm nigari tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 small handful of cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Make the dressing by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.

Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water.

While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (½ inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the ¼ cup cilantro, the green onions, cucumber, and about ⅔ cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and the toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6.

A serving of otsu with sauteed spinach from the farmer’s market

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I have to run, but I promise it won’t be so long until we talk again. I owe you a (simple and tasty) recipe for potatoes.

May Day

I love May. The magnolia trees are blossoming, summer is on its way and my birthday is in a couple of weeks.

When I woke up Sunday morning I looked outside, saw the sunshine and decided that I wanted to make dinner for some friends whom I hadn’t seen awhile. They said yes. I love improptu, Sunday night dinner parties. A couple of weeks ago when I was in Seattle (it feels like a lifetime ago already) I got to meet one of my writing idols, Ms Molly Wizenberg. I will save the details for a future post, but it was a magical moment that left me buzzing for awhile. In honor of this encounter, I decided to make a meal from her book, A Homeade Life.

There is this French yogurt cake that I had been wanting to make (and when I re-read the description on Sunday afternoon Molly wrote that it is the sort of cake that French grandmothers make on Sunday afternoons. Well, perfect…) and I flipped through the index for a main entree. A spring salad caught my eye. Radishes, check. Cilantro, check. Feta cheese, check. Molly mentioned that she likes to serve this as a light dinner along with a hunk of bread or roasted potatoes. Done.

May Day Dinner Party

First course: White wine, beer, green olives, crackers

Main course: Sliced spring salad with avocado and feta (pages 246-247), Bellingham roasted potatoes (look for this recipe tomorrow), wholewheat sourdough bread, beer

Dessert: French-style yogurt cake with lemon (pages 204-205)

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French-style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

From A Homeade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola

For the syrup:

1/4 cup powered sugar, sifted

1/4 lemon juice

For the icing:

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep stirring, and it will come together into a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (after buttering, I sometimes line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, and then I butter that too).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan. Combine the syrup ingedients in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the warm cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup. Cool completely.

Combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar completely. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake.

Serve immediately- the icing will be soft and a bit juicy- or wait until the icing has firmed up, about 1 hour. Whichever way you like.

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Happy May.