Day 72–Learning to Can-Can

Preserved food in Mason jars

When I was in my mid-twenties, and had vast stretches of free time, I learned to make apple butter. I liked it, but that’s about as far into canning as I ventured. I think a trip to the mountains of North Carolina spurred that experiment. Faced with an abundance of apples that were brought back as tasty souvenirs, I decided to do something constructive with them. Along the way, I stopped canning apple butter and moved on to other things.

At the Dig In! conference last weekend, Ellie and I took a class on home canning and I was reminded of how satisfying it was to can my own creations. Now we are inspired to make the most of our spring strawberries and summer tomatoes and–the most fun part–we will be doing it together as a mother/daughter project. Hopefully this will help us make the most of our local produce and eliminate our need to purchase preserves (although the preserves we currently purchase are all locally made).

According to our instructor, beginning canners should heed a few rules:

  • Cook from well-tested recipes to start
  • Use real canning jars (not other recycled jars from home)
  • Buy canning tongs–do not remove hot jars with your hands (from the chuckles around the room, this is apparently more common than I would have thought)
  • Use the hot water bath method, not the inverted jar method of sealing jars as it is more reliable and consistent
  • Make your own pectin or cook the old-fashioned way (cook your food longer) so that you don’t need it. Commercial pectin has very suspicious origins that involve slaughterhouse by-products.

The first two points were very useful, the third and fourth had never occurred to me and the fifth was just gross.

I also learned that, at least in NC, food stamp (EBT) recipients can use their grocery funds to purchase vegetable or fruit plants. I had no idea! There is a movement afoot to get this information out to folks so they will have the opportunity to have, for example, tomatoes all summer for the same price as a few tomatoes. And if folks can preserve their food, that extends the quality and availability of local, sustainable foods for people in food desert areas.

Do any of you can your own produce? What works well for you? We won’t have any strawberries to start with until next month, so in the meantime we will be reading up on the process and on interesting recipes!

 

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Day 68–Roasted Broccoli and Shrimp a la Jerry

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Roasted Broccoli, Peppers and Shrimp--Easy and Healthy!

My friend Jerry sent me this recipe (thanks, Jerry!) and I finally had a chance to add it to our weekly menu. Fresh, local, organic broccoli and NC shrimp–a simple, and amazingly good combination. Although it wasn’t in the original recipe, I added some sliced red bell pepper since I had it handy. This recipe is light, but satisfying and quite tasty. Don’t skimp on the coriander seeds or hot pepper–they infuse the entire dish and make it something special. Healthy, quick and easy to make, this recipe hits all the marks for a succesful, weeknight dinner. And even better, it only uses one bowl, a cutting board and one baking sheet, making cleanup super quick.

A note about shrimp. I bought large-sized shrimp and 10 minutes was just right for roasting. If you buy medium or small shrimp, you may want to back off on the roasting time. If you don’t have access to local or U.S. shrimp (or you just don’t like shrimp), you could probably try this with a thick, locally available fish (here that would be tuna or swordfish) cut into chunks. Scallops might be good also!

You could also play around with what vegetables to include, and make this a truly seasonal dish. I can’t wait to see how we can work our Produce Box veggies into this dish over the spring and summer!

Roasted Broccoli and Shrimp a la Jerry

This makes 3 servings or 2 servings for hungry seafood lovers!

  • 2 lbs. broccoli
  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • One red bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp. of ground)
  • 1/8 tsp. hot chili powder (I used red pepper flakes)
  • 1 lemon, zested with lemon reserved for serving
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
  • Rice, quinoa or other cooked grains
    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    2. Cut the broccoli into large florets with some stem remaining.
    3. Cut the red bell pepper into strips and cut each strip in half crosswise.
    4. In a bowl, toss the broccoli florets and bell pepper with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, coriander, cumin, hot chili pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.
    5. Put broccoli and pepper mix on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
    6. In the bowl, toss shrimp with remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
    7. Add to the broccoli mix and pop back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and opaque, but not overcooked.
    8. Serve over rice with lemon wedges and you are done!

      The broccoli and peppers before roasting--so pretty!

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The final product just before the feast!

Day 65–Roast Chicken

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Roast chicken is a great way to make the most of a whole chicken!

I love roasting foods, especially when it’s cold outside. There’s just nothing like coming inside from the cold and smelling the aroma of roast chicken wafting through the air. It’s like a big food hug. All winter vegetables seem to benefit from roasting as well–broccoli, carrots, turnips, beets, Brussel sprouts–as the roasting process brings out the inner sweetness of the vegetables. I’ve been reading about roasting whole fish and I may try that soon as well.

This week I scored not one, but two fresh, pasture-raised chickens at the farmers market. This is a big deal for me because fresh birds (chicken, turkey, duck) have a better texture when they haven’t been frozen. And pasture raised chickens just plain ol’ taste better than what you find in the grocery. Our chickens were tasty and beautiful and with two chickens, I have enough for leftovers and chicken soup later in the week.

Roasting a chicken is an easy and forgiving process. I like to roast mine at a higher temperature (400-450) because the skin gets nice and crispy. But you can roast a chicken at 350, too, it will just take a little longer. I use Herbes de Provence on my chickens, but you can use whatever you like–just salt and pepper, a fancy homemade spice blend, rosemary from your garden, etc. I don’t typically stuff my chickens with anything, but you can put some cut up onion or a lemon half if that makes you happy.

A note about washing chickens. I’ve seen people wash chickens in the sink before they prep them for cooking, but this actually doesn’t stop any possible salmonella issues. I have also read that washing the chicken could possibly contaminate other parts of your kitchen, including your faucet, as the water sprays around. So, I do not wash my chicken, but I do make sure it is cooked to a safe (but not overdone) temperature of 160 degrees.

After roasting chickens for about 20 years, I learned two new things last night. First, cooking two chickens takes a lot longer than cooking one. Not sure why I hadn’t computed that, but the longer cooking time meant I had some kitchen chaos going on for a while. I also learned that meat thermometers can apparently take on a life of their own. Mine decided to go all HAL on me, telling me the chicken was cooked, when it was clearly still mostly raw (and yes, I made sure it was not touching bone).

All was well in the end, but I do not recommend trying to cook two chickens, a pan of biscuits and a lemon pound cake simultaneously. Oi. Kudos to my loving spouse who did not gripe about the dishes and the chaos. He is awesome. Even more awesome than a fresh, roasted chicken 🙂

Roast Chicken

  • 1 whole roasting chicken (thawed if purchased frozen); giblets and neck removed
  • 1 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Herbes de Provence
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare chicken by putting it breast side up in a shallow roasting pan.
  3. Rub the chicken with butter or olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic and herbs over the entire chicken.
  5. Put in the preheated oven and cook until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. I’ve found with most chickens, this is about 1.5-2 hours, depending on the weight of the chicken.
  6. When chicken reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees, remove the roasting pan from the oven, cover the chicken with a piece of foil and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. This will allow the meat to relax and the juices will return to the bird, ensuring a more tender and juicy chicken.
  7. Carve and serve to you amazed and loving family. Or, tuck in and enjoy on your own!

Day 62–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Busy Bee

The Busy Bee is located in what was the Busy Bee Cafe in the 1920s.

I have to say that lately, I’ve had such great lunches from home that I haven’t been eating out for lunch much (good for my health and my wallet!). But when I do get lunch out, I typically frequent one of our many downtown lunch spots that serve local food. The Busy Bee on Wilmington Street (www.busybeeraleigh.com) is one of my all time favorites. They were, in fact, the catalyst for my new love of the fish taco!

Located in a former cafe of the same name, the Busy Bee features fresh, local, organic produce and NC sourced seafood. Their beef apparently comes from a distributer (according to my server), but much of the rest of the menu comes from local and/or sustainable sources. My favorites are the fish tacos and the spinach and artichoke burger (a hand-made veggie burger with spinach, artichoke and feta). Their sides are also wonderful. If you are a mac & cheese lover, get thee to the Busy Bee! Lighter than many mac & cheese dishes, it is very flavorful and filling. I usually go the unhealthy route on the sides with either the mac & cheese, tater tots (seriously–so good) or the fried green tomatoes.

I’ve also gone to the Busy Bee for staff happy hour, and the place has a terrific vibe in the evening. If you like beer, they have a pretty incredible selection of artisanal brews. If you don’t like beer, I can vouch for the Queen Bee martini with local honey and elderflower (a note: I do not sample adult beverages at lunch. Not that I haven’t been tempted, but still…).

If you’re in the Triangle looking for wonderful, fresh, locally sourced food, give the Busy Bee a try! And if you’re not local, check out their menu for some great flavorful inspirations that you might try at home!

Day 60–Steel Cut Oats to Fuel a Body

Traditional 28-ounce tin of McCann's Steel Cut...

I love to run. And that’s really pretty funny because I completely stink at it.

Growing up, I never ran and wasn’t even athletic. I was the “creative” one, and somehow that excused me from participating in sports. When I was about 30, a friend loaned me a book that changed how I viewed running. The book was “The Courage to Start,” and it detailed the progress of John Bingham from heavy, smoking, drinking, middle age dude to svelte, non-smoking, still slow-as-molasses runner. I wasn’t in terrible shape when I started running, but it was comforting to have someone tell me it was ok to be the penguin, not the gazelle.

It sounds dense now, but it never occurred to me that you could be athletic and not be consumed with competition. Or with being super fast. And maybe you get out and run every day and you are still last in every race. What is important is that you cross the finish line with a smile on your face. Because at the end of it all, you had a great day. I loved that book, and it encouraged me to find a love of running and an appreciation for what my body can do and not be critical of what it can’t. I will never be a gazelle, but I can be the penguin who thanks each and every child handing me water during the race. Even if the pace car is bumping me in the behind (really, this happened).

Running makes me hungry, and in the spring when I get back outside to run, I become voracious. But if I eat what I feel like eating, I will be way less of a gazelle and ultimately the pace car may be running over me. One of my favorite fill ‘er up foods is steel cut oatmeal.  If you haven’t tried steel cut oats and you think you don’t like oatmeal, I’d encourage you to try it. It’s a whole different animal from those paper packets of highly sugared, processed oats. Steel cut oats are very high in fiber, higher in protein and high in iron. In fact, I don’t know why Popeye wasn’t eating oats, because they have more iron than spinach!

Steel cut oats take longer to make (about 30 minutes) and that can be daunting when you’re hungry and tired. They are, however, a great make-ahead dish. I like to make a batch, pop it in the fridge and heat up single servings in the microwave as I need it. Also, steel cut oats can be made in a crock pot overnight, so you’ll have hot oatmeal first thing in the morning. Easy peasy.

Think oats are boring? Add dried cranberries or any other dried fruit and maybe even a tablespoon of brown sugar. Or maple syrup. Or chopped nuts. My favorite is dried cranberry, pecan and brown sugar. The trick is to keep the sugar to a minimum.

So fuel up, get outside and have fun! Just watch out for the pace cars.

Steel Cut Oatmeal (stovetop)

  • 1 c. steel cut oats
  • 4 c. water
  • dried cranberries, chopped pecans, brown sugar, whatever makes you happy
  1. Combine oats and water in a small pot and heat to boiling.
  2. Boil oats for about 1 minute and turn the heat down to medium. Stir.
  3. Cook oats on medium for about 30 minutes or until it is very thick like porridge. Stir frequently to keep from sticking to pot.
  4. Ladle into bowls and top with your favorite toppings.

Steel Cut Oatmeal (crock pot)

Note: you will need to experiment with your slow cooker to see what setting works best. For mine, the low setting was still too high, but the “keep warm” setting works like a charm.

  • 1 c. steel cut oats
  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 c. milk or cream
  1. Add all ingredients into crock pot.
  2. Cover and heat on low or warm.
  3. Cook for 7-8 hours
  4. Ladle into bowls and add your favorite toppings

Day 56–Warm, Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

Pancakes being cooked on a griddle.

A reader recently asked what we do for breakfast. I spend a lot of time blogging about our dinners, but nothing about breakfast (but see our smoothie recipe from Day 53). Typically, our breakfast involves toasted Ezekiel bread w/local apple butter, a bagel or, my tween’s favorite, homemade pancakes. Actually, our dog and cat love pancakes so much that they turn into little pancake lunatics when they smell them cooking. This past week, we had our one and only “snow” delay of the winter. It was so nice to make a fresh batch of pancakes, a pot of coffee and watch the 1/4″ of snow on the ground. Almost as cozy as a real winter.

Barring the rare snow delay, our morning schedule is pretty rushed (we are all out the door at 7:00 a.m.). There is no way this mom is making fresh pancakes every morning at 5:30 a.m. Fortunately, pancakes freeze well and warm in the microwave in just a few seconds. So, 30 minutes in the kitchen on Sundays makes for an entire week’s worth of hot, warm breakfast. Here is our recipe for whole wheat buttermilk pancakes that are much more nutritious and delicious than the frozen toaster variety you can buy in the grocery. While the first side of the pancakes cook, you can add fresh fruit, wheat germ or (if you’re feeling indulgent) chocolate chips. When I’m feeling like super mom, I even warm the syrup up for a few seconds in the microwave. YUM!

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or whole wheat all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. organic sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. Maple View Farm buttermilk (or any good quality buttermilk)
  • 1/2 c. organic milk
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Pure maple syrup
  1. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, soda, salt, sugar) in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Combine milk, buttermilk and egg in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and mix.
  3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until moist.
  4. Spray a large skillet or griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium.
  5. When skillet is hot, ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into skillet for each pancake.
  6. Cook until golden brown (about 3 minutes). Sprinkle the raw side of the pancake with fruit, wheat germ or chocolate chips, if you like.
  7. Flip each pancake with a spatula and cook until golden brown. This could be 1-2 minutes, depending on your stove and pan.
  8. Keep pancakes warm on a plate in a 200 degree oven or just serve ’em up as they come off the skillet.
  9. Serve immediately with real maple syrup.
  10. Recoat your skillet with non-stick spray as needed and continue cooking until batter is gone.

For freezing and reheating:

If you are going to freeze these, cool pancakes completely on a cooling rack.

Pack in a freezer safe storage container, putting a sheet of wax paper between pancake so they don’t freeze together.

When ready to reheat, take however many pancake you want and wrap them in paper towel.

Put the towel wrapped pancakes on a microwave safe plate and heat for 30 seconds-1 minute. Start with 30 seconds and if that is not enough, heat in 10 second increments until pancakes are hot.

Serve to your family, making sure they take note of your super parent status.

Day 51–Sweet Harukai Turnips

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Every once in a while on my trek through the farmer’s market, I find a new vegetable or fruit that causes me to veer from my shopping list and take a chance. This week I was at the Coon Rock Farm tent and saw what I thought were the prettiest white “radishes”. I found out that they weren’t radishes at all. Rather, they were Harukai turnips, also called Japanese baby turnips. You may have tried these already, but they were new to me. The folks from Coon Rock Farm suggested sautéing them–they are so small that they don’t need the heavy-duty roasting or boiling that large turnips require. Cute and easy to cook? Sold!

We were going to have them Monday, but I just couldn’t wait, so I made them as a side to our braised beef ribs. I washed the greens and turnips and cut the greens off and reserved them. Then, I halved the turnips and sautéed them in about 1 tbs. of olive oil until they were mostly soft. When they were about done, I added the greens and a little kosher salt and pepper and sautéed them for about 3 minutes more.

Not only were the turnips really cute (yes, I’m a sucker for mini vegetables), but they had a mild, delicious flavor that would pair well with many dishes. I’m glad I didn’t add any extra seasonings or garlic because these turnips are so mild that extra ingredients would have overwhelmed the flavor.

This is a definite “do again” at my house! If you happen to see these little, white turnips, give them a try!

Have you had success with new or unusual vegetables?

Day 48–Pasta Con Sarde

Sardines

I am still perplexed as to why Eat Italian Food Day is not Eat Italian Food Month, but whatevs. We are not beholden to whoever makes those decisions. So in open rebellion of the “food of the day” policy makers, here is another recipe that we will be making this weekend. It takes advantage of Italy’s coastal waters as well as its love of the tomato. I am planning to buy fresh pasta at the farmer’s market tomorrow and I’m excited about that, but when left to my own devices, I like whole wheat angel hair pasta for this dish. Pasta con sarde is high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and relatively low in fat. Basically, this is a fast, healthy and very inexpensive dish that is perfect for weeknights when you really don’t feel like cooking.

What? You don’t like sardines? My suggestion would be to have an open mind and try sardines that are packaged boneless and skinless as they have a milder taste to them. Trader Joes carries these for about $2 a can. And indeed, this dish would be better with fresh sardines rather than canned, but until global warming really kicks in, I don’t know that sardines will be swimming off the shores of North Carolina. If you are (like my child) absolutely resolute in your dislike of sardines, you could use cooked salmon or tuna and you would need very little (6 oz), just increase the amount of olive oil you use or the sauce will be dry. This is a great dish for stretching out what you have. And who doesn’t want to do that these days?

  • 1 package whole wheat angel hair pasta (16 oz.)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 (4 oz) cans sardines packed in olive oil
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (about 3-5 slices bread toasted and run through food processor)
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon, juiced + 1 Tbsp. grated zest
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions for al dente pasta.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 2 minutes until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook about 1 minute more.
  3. Stir in sardines with their olive oil and tomato sauce and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. When sardines are heated through, add bread crumbs and stir. Remove from heat.
  5. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce.
  6. Add drained pasta to the sauce in the skillet and combine. If the sauce is too dry, add pasta water 1/2 cup at a time until you get the consistency you like. The sauce should cling to the pasta.
  7. Add lemon juice and lemon zest to the pasta, stir and serve with parmesan cheese.

Buon appetito!

Day 38–Fresh Fish Tacos

Fish taco stand

It took me years to wrap my brain around the concept of a fish taco. First, the control freak in me despises crunchy taco shells–they shatter and make a mess. In my mind, if I’m going to eat a taco with a fork, it may as well be a salad. Second, the tacos of my childhood were pretty typical 70s fare: seasoned ground beef in an El Paso taco shell topped with Kraft cheese and maybe some baked beans on the side. Yes, Boston baked beans. Hey, don’t judge–that was “ethnic” food in 1970s suburbia. So in my mind, taco = ground beef. NOT fish. That was just unnatural.

Then, on one particularly inspired day, I visited a local restaurant and threw caution to the wind. I ordered the fish tacos. They were amazing. Warm, soft (soft!) tortillas filled with grilled catfish and a spicy cabbage slaw, they were delicious and (at least for me) revolutionary. I have been hooked ever since.

Armed with a pound of freshly caught NC catfish, I took the next culinary step this week and made fish tacos for my family. I had a recipe for a great sounding marinade that involved a lot of spices, but arrived home too late and too tired to put a great deal of effort into it. So, I ditched the recipe and made a few substitutions. In the end, it was still delicious, although I wish I had taken the time to make a chipotle cabbage slaw. The ‘tween in my house loved the tacos and I liked it a lot. My husband, who is way too nice to criticize my cooking, probably would have preferred more stuff in the taco than just fish (not a fan of avocado), but said it was good. Note to self: pack more yummy stuff in the tacos.

Here is my after-work-get-dinner-on-the-table-quick version of fish tacos. I’m including the chipotle slaw recipe, too. Next time, I’ll make this the night before so it’s ready quickly, because I think it would really be delicious.

Chipotle Cabbage Slaw

  • 3 c. chopped or shredded red cabbage
  • 1/2 c. organic mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. (or more to taste) of chipotle adobo sauce

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Quick Fish Tacos

  • 12 small corn tortillas (about 3 per person)
  • 1 lb. locally caught mild white fish (cod, tilapia, catfish)
  • 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix (we used Trader Joe’s taco seasoning packet)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup queso fresco or organic sour cream
  1. In a glass bowl, mix canola oil and taco seasoning together. Add fish, turn several times to coat, and let marinade for about 20 minutes.
  2. While fish is marinading, cube avocado and reserve in a bowl.
  3. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Put some olive oil on a paper towel and wipe the pan with oil. Add tortillas, one at a time, and warm them in the pan, turning once. Keep the tortillas warm in a piece of foil or wrapped in a warm tea towel. You could also microwave them, but I think they taste better warmed in a pan.
  4. When tortillas are warmed, increase the heat to the pan a bit. When pan is hot, add fish fillets to the pan. The marinade on the fish will serve as the oil, so you will not need to add more.
  5. Pan sear  fish until browned, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Fish is done when it flakes easily. Flake fish in the pan with the remaining marinade.
  6. Plate the dish by filling each tortilla with a few pieces of fish and cabbage slaw. Serve with avocado and queso fresco.

Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!